A Bludgeon for Climate Change

As a retiree in my seventy-third year, I have time to sit at my computer and ponder questions ranging from the trivial to the profound. I usually find reasonable answers for the former, rarely for the latter. 

One question, trivial or profound according to one’s own conscience, is how to convince the US population to reduce its carbon footprint. Each of us has a role in fighting climate change by modifying our lifestyle to accomplish this.

What does it mean to “reduce our carbon footprint”?

It means reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Thinking about places I’ve lived when my kids were younger, here are some simple examples: how about having your kids take the bus rather than driving them to school, how about encouraging school districts ban kids from parking on campus, how about being conscious of your gas mileage, or your driving habits or purchasing a higher mileage or electric powered vehicle. It’s potentially easy to take action if you care about your carbon footprint and what it means to your children’s future. I asked a friend once why he drove a certain vehicle. It was, at the time, the largest and most expensive model. His terse reply “ Because they don’t have anything bigger”. It’s not just a responsibility of Monsanto or Exxon Mobil or Ford, for example, to take action. Each of has a role. Each of us has a responsibility.

Climate change is real. The science is clear. The implications of climate change are all around us. Issues associated with climate change are not future events. They are NOW and going to get worse without immediate planning and action. Documentation surrounds us and, at times, overwhelms us with its ubiquity. Look out the window. Where are the butterflies? Fewer bees? More mosquitos? Drive on the highway lately? Bug splatter? As much as when you were younger? Probably not. Climate change is driving extinction events. I wrote about that in a prior blog piece and the latest Report from the UN recently published declared that one million species are at risk of the consequences of climate change.

We have reached the need for a creative approach to curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to an aggressive push toward alternative energy sources and systems, for example, how about ubiquitous tax incentives and penalties at the federal and state level that reward and penalize inaction and/or action with respect to climate change, the emission of greenhouse gases, or personal reduction of carbon footprint. Effectively, a personal/family scorecard. Think of it like your health plan with a personal deductible (incentive to act) influenced by a host of factors (i.e., mpg of automobiles, geographic location, etc.) and a maximum out of pocket (penalty) based on a series of factors aggregated into a family addendum state and federal income tax filing. Just random thoughts to stimulate creative thinking. The status quo is untenable. 

We are dealing with an existential global crisis, climate deniers notwithstanding. Everyone should be rewarded for their actions in lowering their carbon footprint and held accountable for their failure to do so. Wishful thinking, no doubt, on my part, as it would likely be stopped by corporate sponsored politicians.

Make no mistake, though, that the greenhouse gases that are being emitted into the atmosphere are no less dangerous than the poisons emitted by cigarettes, or by the toxins released from the use of lead in gasoline, or the CFCs that were used in hairspray, aerosol cans, and refrigerators, or the unfettered use of fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides that release their toxins into the soil and atmosphere, or by legitimate prescription drugs being used for illegal and illegitimate purposes. They all pose a deadly health risk and should be treated the same from a legal, criminal, and regulatory standpoint.

The latest Gallup Poll indicates that approximately 70% of the American public now recognizes the need to protect the environment. I published a blog piece indicating that the likelihood of human activity being the cause of climate change is 99.9999%. The Independent newspaper in the UK published an article in July 2018 with the following statistics:

-“Denver, Colorado, tied its all-time high-temperature record of 40.5º C on June 28

-Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, tied its all-time warmest low temperature of 15.5ºC on July 2

-…Vermont’s Burlington set its all-time warmest low temperature ever recorded of 27ºC. 

-Montreal .. recorded its highest temperature in recorded history of 36.6ºC on July 2

-Scotland provisionally set its hottest temperature on record

-Tbilisi, Georgia, on July 4, … soared to 40.5ºC, its all-time record

-Yerevan, Armenia: on July 2, …the capital city soared to 42ºC

-Quriyat, Oman, posted the world’s hottest low temperature ever recorded on June 28: 42.6ºC” 

Still a doubter? The average global temperature is trending up.

The Paris Agreement was ratified in 2016 and signed by 195 countries. The United States disgracefully withdrew. The target was to keep global temperatures from rising above 2.0º C above pre-industrial levels. In 2018, we reached 1.0º C of warming above pre-industrial levels. The current projection from the IPCC indicates that we will reach 1.5º and 2.0º in 2040 and 2060 respectively. WE have about twenty years to take the steps necessary to reduce global emissions plus the amount of emissions currently in the atmosphere to remain under an additional 0.5º of global warming by 2040. Keep in mind, per the IPCC Special Report “in the 10 years spanning 2006 – 2015, 20 – 40 percent of the global population had already experienced warming of 1.5º C in at least one season”. Climate change isn’t coming. It is already here, though it’s currently irregular. Testing us, warning us, to see whether we, as a species, are smart enough to recognize it and act on its warnings to save ourselves. Judging from much of the public discourse, I doubt it. I hope I am wrong. Mother Earth is giving us a warning and about to shake us off like one of Carlin’s fleas.

If you don’t think 0.5º C of additional warming is a big deal. Think again. The IPCC report indicates that 70-90 % of coral reefs will disappear with 1.5º C of global warming. Per the Office of Coastal Management healthy coral reefs absorb 97 percent of a wave’s energy buffering coastlines and preventing worse damage than would otherwise be caused, $27 trillion is spent globally by recreational users, and approximately 25 percent of all marine species rely on coral reefs. “More than 500 million people rely on coral reefs for food, fisheries, and storm protection.” 

A combination of heat, drought, and lowered sea levels likely caused the large scale death of Australian mangrove forests several years ago, per an article in The Conversation. “Tropical rainforests in Central America would suffer a 20% reduction at 1.5º C, 30% reduction at 2.0º C, 50% reduction at 3.0º C”, per the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

And, for all the duck hunters, the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) will be adversely affected. The Region is the most important and threatened waterfowl habitat in North America, per Ducks Unlimited. The region is comprised of five US states and five Canadian provinces. 

The aforementioned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the UN in 1988 and chartered with monitoring the effects of climate change.

Let’s look at some of their findings. At 1.5º C, the effects will be major. The greater likelihood is global environmental and social catastrophe as changing the growth trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere is, I believe, a pipe dream unless action is taken to transition to alternative energy sources and institute technology to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere on a global basis.

Whatever actions may be taken in the US to slow the carbon growth trajectory become irrelevant if Russia, China, Brazil, India, and others grow their investments in coal and other carbon emitting forms of energy and add to the global greenhouse gas burden rather than transitioning to alternative energy sources and taking other actions to lower it. The US must lead on this issue.

I highlighted a speech by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, in a prior blog piece, indicating that most executives are not going to act on the problem of climate change. The time horizon is too distant, it’s too far in the future for short term focused decision makers. They don’t want to incur short term costs to address long term problems. I understand the thinking. Quarterly results matter. Profit motive trumps the morality motive. It’s true. It’s unfortunate. However, I believe that it’s an example of the unfettered capitalism now practiced in our country. Win at all costs without giving a damn about the fallout. Winner take all. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. It can best be summarized in three words: Me, Me, Me. 

Let’s look at a recent example as reported by the New York Times. The article is called The End of the Line and relates the impact of the closing of the Lordstown, Ohio General Motors plant. This plant closing and four others resulted in the lay-off of 14,000 employees. All plants manufactured sedans which would no be major factor in GM’s domestic strategy. The plants which would remain open manufacture SUV’s and trucks which generate more profit per vehicle. The strategy of GM, then, is to focus on those vehicles with a larger carbon footprint (and, yes, larger profit). 

At the US federal level there appears to be no understanding, no willingness to understand, perhaps compromised ethics precluding understanding, amorality, or, possibly, even ability to understand what is at stake. Enough said. Vote pro-climate in 2020. 

At what point are shareholders and voters going to wake up to the crisis ahead and hold accountable those who have rejected the call to action and failed to curb the cause of the crisis – greenhouse gases? That’s a rhetorical question. We critically need effective state and national leadership that puts nation ahead of Party, recognizes the crisis we are facing, communicates it effectively to the public, pulls the necessary resources together in a climate change Manhattan-style project, organizes action partly through a CCC-type of project corps, and is willing to do whatever is politically necessary to fight this problem. Imagine a mobilized “army” of 325 million cohesively and cogently addressing our national emergency and acting on it together with determination, duty, and self-sacrifice. How old-fashioned. 

Are corporate decisions to continue investments in physical assets in coastal or riparian flood zones rational economic decisions? Are corporate decisions to invest in new assets in lower Manhattan or downtown Boston? The Gulf Coast? Houston, Miami or New Orleans? At what point will state attorneys general hold accountable the real estate developers who continue to build and sell in areas that will likely be underwater in a decade or two? At what point will morally corrupt politicians be held accountable for the likely financial disasters their greed and avarice will have precipitated? 

Will the catalyst for action be political or economic. I’d argue economic. Catastrophic economic disasters. And, then, of course, everyone will be looking to the federal government for solutions as the problems will be categorized as Acts of God, beyond our control. BS. The problems are based on the ignorance and avarice of man, who ignored the warnings, the science, and the pleas for action. “Heckuva job, Brownie.” Executives, Board members, politicians, etc., will act when they recognize that their personal risk exceeds the cost of fixing the problems they have ignored/precipitated. At that point, of course, it will likely be too late because we, as a nation, ignore risks until a massive response is inevitable. Kind of like a bigger Pearl Harbor or 9/11.

Where else could we look for action? Shareholders holding executives and Board members accountable for their inaction? When are regulations requiring analysis and financial exposure of potential risks of climate change to organizations going to be enforced? When are the financial and accounting governing boards going to demand reserves be established to accommodate corporate risk estimates, likelihood of shareholder and consumer suits, and projected expense recognition recognizing the long term financial implications. This strikes me as similar to the need they filled when they required annual pension accounting to be based on projected expense rather than annual expensing, which I dealt with in the 80’s and 90’s. (Maybe it is already required, I’ve lost track.)

When are consumers going to begin vigorously boycotting recalcitrants? 

Should governmental entities take legal action against advertising and marketing executives as well as right wing “think tanks” paid to obfuscate the issues and problems. 

How many urbanites and suburbanites really need barge-like vehicles for their daily transportation? Don’t you tire of their excuses? “Climate change is a hoax.” “It doesn’t affect me. Why should I care?” “I have a right to buy what I want, not what you think I need.” “We’ll find a solution in the next twenty years.” Hopefully. That line of thinking is as much a problem as a factory spewing waste in the air. Or, the polluter dumping his waste product into a nearby pond. Or, the smoker who decides it’s her right to smoke wherever and/or whenever she feels like it. There is no difference. Remember Steve Martin’s great routine where he posited being asked by a woman if he minded if she smoked? He replied “do you mind if I fart”? 

Think about the closing of Lordstown and all the damage to the community and the lives affected, the layoffs, and the GM strategy of more SUVs and trucks. Think about it when the next annual 500 year storm hits and your neighborhood is underwater but this time the water doesn’t recede. Isn’t it disheartening? No? Call FEMA. Oh, one small detail. There won’t be any money because all your neighbors, and their neighbors, and everyone else for miles around are also calling. Then, look in the mirror.

Until next time, my friends.

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