Tuesday, December 29, 2015

You'll Know They're Serious When It Hurts

Think of it this way. When the bank manager calls to tell you that he's giving you until Friday to clear off your overdraft, the next day or two could be a bit uncomfortable. Or if your doctor tells you it's lights out for you unless you lose 40 pounds in the next six months you're going to miss Tim Horton's for a good while.

It's a bit the same when it comes to climate change. It's going to be tough both slashing our carbon emissions (mitigation) and preparing ourselves for the unavoidable impacts of global warming (adaptation) both of which have become critical to our future.

A few extra pennies a litre at the gas pump won't do it and promises that carbon taxes will be revenue neutral are bollocks.

Governments - federal, provincial, regional and municipal - are going to need hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade, where possible, and in many cases replace essential infrastructure that is becoming incapable of supporting our society. By essential, I mean to the continuation of our economy, our public safety and the functioning of our society.

That's a lot of money that has to come out of somebody's pocket and that's going to be painful. You may begrudge having to cough up your share but know this, it'll be far more painful if we don't secure those funds. Without that infrastructure you'll find your future somewhat more akin to Third World conditions.

On infrastructure, we're deeply in overdraft. The stuff we still rely on is old and, worse, we've been more than a bit slovenly when it comes to maintaining it. A lot of it is already decrepit. Ask the folks of Montreal or Toronto. Drive the 401 across the prairie. Check out the state of many municipal water and sewer systems. Take a look at your electrical grid. Even without climate change, we're behind the 8 ball, right where we chose to be.

Climate change only makes our predicament worse. When the electrical and the mechanical and the structural engineers got out their slide rules (remember those days?) they designed essential infrastructure to meet the environmental demands of their day. They could not foresee radical environmental change within the span of just one or two lifetimes. They did not design for a world of regular extreme weather events. You may have already forgotten but the 60s and 70s were a far different world than we confront today, much less what's coming in another 20 or 30 years.

So now we need our engineers back to the drawing tables to design not for today but for 20 or 30 years from now and beyond. They've got to design for heavy and regular floods and droughts, extremes of heat and cold. They're going to need to rely on stronger and more resilient materials and tougher standards. Put it this way - your grandpa's bridge will not be the bridge your grandkids will need. That won't do at all.

If we're going to make this work, we need to get ahead of the problem. If we don't, we risk being overtaken by events and forfeiting the costly benefit of half-measures. There is only great risk by languishing behind the power curve.

We need to begin having a serious discussion about this and the ramifications of our options. This may require a significant degree of societal change. It's no exaggeration that we're looking at a problem in the hundreds of billions of dollars. That could be an ever greater problem when the impacts of globalization are factored in. We may find it unaffordable unless we can keep that economic activity and the wealth and debt associated with it to ourselves, in-house. These are aspects we have to explore and open for discussion.

The thing to keep in mind is that time is not on our side.


Lorne said...

While the neoliberal agenda holds sway, Mound, I don't see anything significant getting done to address these urgent matters. If we could wrest away control of that agenda, even for a brief time, I would say that a good starting point to raise the necessary funds would be a small tax on currency transactions, a.ka. the Tobin tax. That the entire world isn't discussing such measures tells us all we need to know about who is running the show.

Tim said...

This is right on! For me, personally, I am trying to figure out what mix of solar water and electricity I can afford to install. It sure would be nice if the government gave a rebate incentive...

Les Smith said...

We've been playing "You Bet Your Civilization" for a couple of decades now, but the recent Paris conference is the first real indication that the Serious People are aware of it.
If humen society is to get through the next century in any recognizable form, a lot of radical ideas are going to have to be implemented.
The very notion of raising funds will almost certainly have to go.
In the various adaptations that will have to be made, it will be necessary to ignore money. Although our economy is based upon the assumption that money is more immutable than the elements, it is simply a human invention. If there isn't enough money to pay for the ameliorations that will be needed, then they must be accomplished anyway.

At very best, it'll be pretty grim. Estimates of the maximum sustainable number of numans that can persist on the planet run as high as about half the current population, but that assumes no environmental degradation reducing the biosphere's capacity.
The total world population in, say, 2120 - this is just a guess, but I'd be surprised if it were off by more than a factor of 2 - will be around 2 billion. The trick will be getting from here to there with anything like a coherent society intact.

Anyhow - Happy New Year!

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Les. How mankind and our global civilization emerges from this difficult century will depend in many ways on our ability and willingness to get ahead, and stay ahead, of the changes that are now inevitable. If we continue with policies that are a dollar short and a day late, we'll handicap ourselves and be overtaken by events. It's no small irony that the nations that have done the most to create this mess are also those that will be the last and least affected. The most densely populated nations and the countries in closest proximity to the tropics will be the most devastated.

And, on that uplifting note, a very Happy New Year to you as well.

Toby said...

"The most densely populated nations" are not innocent. Over population of any species is destructive and ultimately suicidal. There have been warnings ever since Malthus.