Deep Dive: Climate Change

By: Jim Cowles


Insurance: protection against loss incurred as a result of certain events. Most people take out some form of insurance to help cover losses from unfortunate occurrences (fire and flood insurance), or from unexpected costs (health insurance), or to provide financial security (life insurance). We do this because the future is uncertain, full of unknowns and we want to protect ourselves against bad things happening.

 So, do you believe human activity is contributing to climate change? If yes, then you probably think we should be taking more steps to stop, slow down, or reverse the trajectory predicted for how climate change will impact our existence.

 If you don’t believe humans are having an impact, then are you 100% certain that you are right?  No chance you are wrong?  Zero? Well, if you will acknowledge that there is some chance, however infinitesimal, that you are wrong, then perhaps you would agree we should take out some ‘insurance’ if in fact humans are accelerating climate change. In this case, insurance means that we should look at additional policies to help curb the causes of climate change. 

Just to be clear, I do believe human activity is contributing to climate change. If smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer because you are pumping smoke into you our body, then it stands to reason that pumping carbon emissions into the atmosphere is bad for the earth. So the question is what policies should be adopted to help stem the impact? Recognizing that most policies have some sort of cost: economic (e.g. detrimental to certain industries and workers), inconvenience (e.g. recycling), or change of life style (e.g. banning barbecuing-yikes) the question becomes where on the policy spectrum do we draw the line? 

 This is, of course, where political chaos reigns. People become polarized and go to the extremes Of the policy spectrum and then nothing gets done. If you believe that we are approaching the tipping point of no return in climate change then you want drastic, draconian measures taken to protect our future. You believe that we are facing a massive problem, an existential threat, and therefore you believe that the action we must take, the solution we must embrace, has to be as big and as bold, as extensive and all encompassing as the problem. If you are obstinate in that view and hold out for policies that truly transform and disrupt industries and society, then you will end up with no progress. This is because there is no political majority appetite for your policy. A recent poll showed that 72% of Americans believe accelerating climate change to be a threat but 70 % also said they would not support policies that cost them an extra $10 per month. So Americans want action but not if it costs them 33 cents a day.

 Yet, there are a lot of things we can do which start to make progress. Then, perhaps as we do take those first steps and see the impact they have, maybe we will become more accepting of other policies. One step that has had bipartisan support in the past and that is also endorsed by most economists is that of a carbon tax. 

In last week’s issue of The Venn our Deep Dive topic was Climate Change: An Inconvenient Truth. We highlight three podcasts that focus on the history of climate change politics and the current proposals being offered by the Democrat candidates for the 2020 election.

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