Friday, November 14, 2008

Change--Not Just a Slogan but a Darwinian Imperative

According to University of California Berkeley adjunct professor David Roland-Holst, California will face billions in costs to mitigate the effects of climate change on the state.
Roughly $2.5 trillion in real estate assets is at risk. The report calculated an annual cost to the state between $300 million and $3.9 billion in damages from the physical impacts of climate change. The ultimate cost depends on how warm the earth gets and how quickly we adapt. The report ominously quotes Charles Darwin: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
As with the US auto industry, a refusal to accept looming reality, a hubristic insistence on clinging to the status quo, or a simplistic belief in a false dichotomy between the economy and the environment will lead only to a disaster of much greater cost. Write the authors:

Markets can deliver profits, but they may not deliver sustainability. For this reason, the public interest must be secured at all times by policy foresight and responsible leadership.
The authors note that the "political challenges may be greater than the economic ones" in addressing the problem, which suggests to me a need for education. Political movement is easier to achieve if it can be shown clearly and objectively that economic costs to individuals and society as a whole are less when applying an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of cure.

Climate response — mitigation to prevent the worst impacts and adaptation to climate change that is unavoidable — on the other hand, can be executed for a fraction of these net costs by strategic deployment of existing resources for infrastructure renewal/replacement and significant private investments that would enhance both employment and productivity.
There are several conclusions. On energy, government is urged to facilitate adaptation policies to overcome "market failures" by

More extensive and, where appropriate, intensive promotion of renewable energy technology, including innovation, diffusion, and adoption.
The Berkeley web site has the full report PDF and executive summary PDF. The report was also supported by California nonprofit Next 10. Professor David Roland-Holst also authored the report on green jobs in California about which I posted here.
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