Edward Luce: “Is democracy on course to duck the biggest challenge of our age?”
Edward Luce (right) reports that the big reinsurance companies have called on Washington to take urgent steps to stop catastrophe, which threatens to make nonsense of their risk models.
He writes: “You would never guess it from the US election. But for the third year running the world is on course to exceed a record temperature in 2016 — having suffered the hottest July in history last month”.
The hidden costs of climate change — the federal disaster relief, higher insurance rates, bigger levees and so on — will also grow.
Before the public reaches a verdict on global warming, we may be reaping the whirlwind. As Eric Reguly wrote in 2013, no climate-change deniers are to be found in the reinsurance business.
Most people encounter life through day-to-day problems. As Luce says, it is natural to worry more about job security, or the family’s healthcare, than about the grander themes of our time.
Though people fear that their children may not ‘have it as good’, they look at economic forecasts, complain about immigration and seldom mention the impact of global warming; they also fear that mwasures to address global warming, such as having a “carbon tax”, will raise the cost of living.
Luce points out that global warming is affecting daily lives in a growing number of ways:
- Last month, America’s east coast suffered from summer temperatures so high the authorities in New York, Washington and elsewhere urged people to keep their children inside and stay well hydrated.
- Washington was hit by two nights of electricity outage and many more such cuts are expected as. The underground cables were not designed to withstand so many days of daytime temperatures near 100F (38C).
- Southern California has suffered from a rise in the ferocity of wildfires;
- Louisiana, earlier this month was flooded by “once-in-a-thousand-year” rainfall;
- Westerners may find it hard to identify with people in the Gulf, where
- insurance rates have shot up in low-lying coastal areas, such as Florida, Alabama and even New Jersey.
- Zillow, an online property site, forecast that one in eight homes in Florida would be underwater by the end of the century.
- farmers in the midwest fret about the uncertainty of “extreme weather”.
Public scepticism about science and an allied distrust of funding-dependent experts has been rising in the past few years, with fear about the side-effects of vaccines on children, the impact of pesticides and fluoride in drinking water.
Most people don’t have the time or the education, to understand climate science. Luce reminds readers that scientists have consistently said that global warming will take place unevenly, unpredictably and by step-change rather than on a linear curve: “That means next year may be less hot than this year. It will not mean that global warming is a hoax. Here is one prediction: next time it snows in Washington DC, several US senators will send tweets mocking global warming.”
To avoid the unpopular policy of taxation, governments have resorted to cap and trade schemes, which are floundering, ‘run by bureaucrats and vulnerable to lobbying’, but Luce believes in letting the market decide how to cut emissions by putting a price on carbon – charging those who emit carbon dioxide (CO2) for their emissions. For every dollar raised from carbon, we should receive a dollar in tax cuts — or better still, have it rebated in our tax returns.
He emphasises that the purpose should not be to raise money but to cut emissions.