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Climate change

Okay, the debate is over, I think it has finally become apparent that the consensus in the scientific community is that climate change not only is happening but it is most likely caused by human activity. The question is, what can we do now?

I believe the short answer is: nothing.

If indeed this is really a problem there is very little we can do now that will make a difference in the foreseeable future. The effects of climate change will not be immediate but gradual. When environmental problems occur and governments can realistically do something about them within a reasonable amount of time, as was the case with the London fog emergency in 1952, they do. In cases like that, it was very clear what needed to be done and there was a marked improvement in the situation in a very short time.

The case of global warming is very different. First of all, it is not very clear what can be done. Yes, cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions may eventually improve things, but we don't really know how long it might take, or if it would work at all. It is not as if we can stop emitting carbon dioxide today and see an improvement in climate in the next couple of years.

Also, climate change is a global problem so unless every country agrees to reduce admissions the amount of carbon dioxide will not diminish. This is complicated by the fact that reducing emissions puts a country at an economic disadvantage against countries that do not. Recent experience is a good illustration of this; most countries that have adopted that Kyoto protocol are not abiding by its requirements. Even Canada and Japan are not sure how they will meet their targets.

So what will happen? The effects will be slow even though perhaps dramatic in some places. Low-lying areas will be flooded but people will adapt. There will be an enormous economic cost for sure, but that will not lead to the end of civilization as some people predict. There may be wars but we have wars now too. Industrialized countries will be able to deal with this better than poor countries will, but such is the case today for other types of catastrophes. In the end, populations will move to higher grounds and people will adapt to the new climate conditions. And life will go on.

What role can government play?

Probably none. Governments tend to have a very short term view of problems and climate change is a long term and abstract issue that requires a long term commitment. So, even if there was something they could do they won’t.

Also, in many ways, governments can make things worse. Think of New Orleans: the government is investing billions of dollars in reconstructing levees and rebuilding areas that will probably be flooded in a few years anyway.

Stay tuned.

Comments

Dextra said…
Great work.

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