'Devastating Climate Shock' Needed to Spur Climate Change Policy
On his trans-Arctic journey aboard an icebreaker ship, global systems professor Thomas Homer-Dixon notes the increasing patchwork of open water and small ice chunks where formerly there had been one continuous expanse of 8 foot thick sea ice. His observations highlight scientists’ claims of accelerating climate change that is hitting the Arctic twice as fast as anywhere else.
Writing in an op-ed in today’s New York Times (‘Disaster at the Top of the World’), professor Homer-Dixon suggests that a reluctance to implement effective climate change policies–particularly in the U.S.–is the result of a perceived challenge or threat to our identity. Referencing Yale University professor Dan Kahan’s theory of “protective cognition”, and noting the exploitation of identity threats by powerful coal and oil interests, Homer-Dixon asserts “we’ll almost certainly need some kind of devastating climate shock to get effective climate policy.”
In his alarm-ringing NYTimes op-ed on Climate Change, professor Homer-Dixon* draws a comparison with the 2008 financial “meltdown” which finally led to new financial regulations, even though warnings of a housing bubble (and an emerging recession) were being made prior to the crisis. He advocates societies designing a contingency plan (‘Plan Z’ ) to deal with the immediate after-effects of one or more climate change disasters.
Though noting the Kennedy School of Government’s recent study (‘Responding to Threat of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes’), the author cites a general lack of adequate and realistic plans in place to deal with an acute climate crisis and calls for “aggressive preparation”
Homer-Dixon goes on to ask the difficult questions that will inevitably arise, such as: where will the money come from to rapidly over-haul the world’s energy systems? Homer-Dixon acknowledges that there will be different climate impacts in different parts of the world and questions whether poorer nations will be able to adapt quickly enough to forestall wide-spread devastation and/or a consequent armed conflict (such as from a major crop failure or drought).
He also brings up the controversial issue of geo-engineering and who will undertake these operations (such as injecting sulfates into the upper atmosphere to cool the planet).
To read the complete op-ed, click here.
This is the second, rather alarmist (perhaps necessarily so), climate-related op-ed to appear in the NY Times in two weeks. The first, ‘The Sun Also Surprises’ penned by Lawrence E. Joseph, focused on the likely, negative impacts to agriculture, infrastructure and communications during a future phase of high solar activity (sunspots, flares, etc.). That op-ed may be found here
As I conclude this post, I will note that the floods in Pakistan, and more recent ones in Northeast China, continue.
* Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Canada
photo: Sunny Skies over the Arctic in Late June 2010 – by MODIS / NASA