Among several frightening articles on climate change I read this weekend, the most disturbing was this one from Fortune magazine, which makes the not-so-distant future sound like a Mad Max movie. Yes, that's Fortune magazine, many a business major's first magazine subscription. Hardly a liberal rag like the NY Times or the Post. When business majors use over-the-top language to describe something other than windfall profits, you know we're in trouble:
How bad could it get? Imagine Europe suffering floods and heat waves on a vastly greater scale than those endured in 2002 and 2003, while northern regions experience intermittent deep freezes as atmospheric and ocean circulations struggle to find new equilibrium. At the same time, droughts and floods not seen since ancient times would afflict some of the most densely populated regions on earth. The probability of drought in the American breadbasket would rise, and along with it the possibility that the U.S. grain surplus--which accounts for the dominant share of world grain exports--would disappear.
A flickering climate wouldn't just clobber countries with the wealth and technological resources to try to cope. It would affect every part of the planet, and in so doing reduce the resiliency of the global community. With every nation dealing with local emergencies, it would be more difficult to mobilize resources to aid victims in other areas, and there would be fewer resources to mobilize.
After frightening the pants off the reader, the article goes on to detail the damage many businesses, especially the insurance industry, will face as climate change makes its presence felt:
Already the pain of weather-related insurance risks is being felt by owners of highly vulnerable properties such as offshore oil platforms, for which some rates have risen 400% in one year. That may be an omen for many businesses. Three years ago John Dutton, dean emeritus of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, estimated that $2.7 trillion of the $10-trillion-a-year U.S. economy is susceptible to weather-related loss of revenue, implying that an enormous number of companies have off-balance-sheet risks related to weather--even without the cataclysms a flickering climate might bring.
But one insurance company is fighting back, so to speak:
What Swiss Re is after, says Christopher Walker, who heads its Greenhouse Gas Risk Solutions unit, is reassurance that customers will not make themselves vulnerable to global-warming-related lawsuits. He cites as an example Exxon Mobil: The oil giant, which accounts for roughly 1% of global carbon emissions, has lobbied aggressively against efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. If Swiss Re judges that a company is exposing itself to lawsuits, says Walker, "we might then go to them and say, 'Since you don't think climate change is a problem, and you're betting your stockholders' assets on that, we're sure you won't mind if we exclude climate-related lawsuits and penalties from your D&O insurance.' "
When talking about the economic costs of reversing climate change, the Bush administration tends to look at the worst-case scenarios—exactly the opposite approach it takes when discussing the threat of climate change. Which leads, of course, to inaction. An ill-informed public goes along with the Do-Nothing plan, since they're lulled by the media to believe they're safe from dangerous scenarios—unless they're a white girl in Aruba.
(This article was via Perfect.co.uk, and is an extract from a book by Eugene Lindon, The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations.)