I was watching a little Bloomberg this morning. An interesting moment occurred when Tom Keene was discussing the talks going on in Paris. I wish I had the exact phrasing, but he said something like, “We really need to wait until we see the impacts [of climate change] before we can try to prevent them.” His tone sort of trailed off at the end as if the contradiction of that statement occurred to him mid-sentence. His point was, I believe, that it would be irresponsible to spend big money trying to prevent something that might not happen. They then moved on to the massive smog alert going on in Beijing and how the health impacts of burning coal have brought the Chinese government to the table sooner than anyone had imagined possible. Unfortunately, he and his fellow commentators failed to put these two ideas together:
- If we wait until we see the impacts, it will be too late to avoid them. When inaction risks many lives, the only prudent thing to do is act now.*
- There are short and medium term health benefits to climate mitigation strategies that offset some or all of the cost of acting now.
The key is thinking beyond the next business cycle & in the interest of the whole public, two things our political leaders actually did (sometimes) before their careers centered on lobbyists and fundraising.
*Fun fact; this is essentially the same rationale Dick Cheney used to justify the Global War on Terror. In their case, the real chances were far lower than 1%. For us, they are far greater.