It took a major storm striking America’s most densely populated coastline to draw attention to global warming during the recent presidential election, after months of deafening silence. In Europe, the reaction raised hopes that cracks might show in US politicians’ frosty disdain for all things climate.
Impacts of Sandy were initially estimated at up to $50 billion, but will there be real consequences for policy or planning? One isn’t optimistic when media pundit economists bicker about whether this is just a messy form of economic stimulus.
Andrew Guzman’s blog post on Sandy is informative. Among other consequences of the storm, wastewater treatment systems failed, releasing tonnes of sewage. The damage will cost billions to repair. Not the most high-profile of issues, but indicative of the myriad ways we are vulnerable to impacts, often with hidden costs.
Guzman is an international law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and has taken a fuller look at climate impacts in a new book, Overheated, coming out soon. It sets its sights low – that is to say, examining what’s already happening, and how this will get worse at 2 degrees, the agreed international limit. Considering we’ll hit nearly 3.5 degrees of warming if countries implement their current pledges, it’s a conservative picture, but still dire.
A deeper awareness of climate impacts will give us an even better idea of why we’re better off trying to head off serious warming. Acting in advance gives you the benefit of all that GDP-boosting investment, without the messy business of destroying lives in tragic disasters – something even a media pundit economist might want to take into account.