I was so pleased to see a piece called “Climate change is our World War III. It needs a bold response” today by the venerable Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
A great all-around mind, Stiglitz brings an economist’s wide take on money, stuff and people to the question of whether the world can afford the investments needed to fight the climate crisis, specifically the Green New Deal.
His angle: “It’s a cliche, but it’s true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Here, we are already experiencing the direct costs of ignoring the issue – in recent years the country has lost almost 2% of GDP in weather-related disasters, which include floods, hurricanes, and forest fires. The cost to our health from climate-related diseases is just being tabulated, but it, too, will run into the tens of billions of dollars – not to mention the as-yet-uncounted number of lives lost. We will pay for climate change one way or another, so it makes sense to spend money now to reduce emissions rather than wait until later to pay a lot more for the consequences – not just from weather but also from rising sea levels.
While I’d expect an economist to talk about, well, the economy, after reading what Naomi Klein has to say about this type of argument, I’m less enthusiastic arguing that saving money over the long term is a good reason to try to slow global heating.
As Klein writes, in her 2015 book This Changes Everything,
We will not win the battle for a stable climate by trying to beat the bean counters at their own game — arguing, for instance, that it is more cost-effective to invest in emission reduction now than disaster response later. We will win by asserting that such calculations are morally monstrous, since they imply that there is an acceptable price for allowing entire countries to disappear, for leaving untold millions to die on parched land, for depriving today’s children of their right to live in a world teeming with the wonders and beauties of creation.
That’s why I wish Stiglitz had stuck with his original point, that it doesn’t matter how much it costs to fight the climate crisis, we have no choice if we want save civilization.
When the US was attacked during the second world war no one asked, “Can we afford to fight the war?” It was an existential matter. We could not afford not to fight it. The same goes for climate change.
Overall, I’m glad that Stiglitz has added his respected voice to the increasing number of experts who are calling for a war-time mobilization against the climate crisis.
Of course, to get that highest level of emergency, all-in dedication from all sectors of American society — that is, to get everyone on a war footing to cut greenhouse pollution drastically and quickly — is going to require more than a few experts asking nicely.
It’s going to require a mass movement to deal with powerful opponents who’ve killed serious climate action so far. And that means pushing fossil fuel companies to adapt or get out of the way.
As Frederick Douglass said,
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
— Erik Curren, author of the Solar Patriot