American Policy: Three Reasons Politicians Wrong to Slowly Mitigate Climate Change

A majority of American policy makers believe waiting 6 - 20 years and gradually mitigating climate change is the best way for America to act. Self proclaimed pragmatists, their argument goes something like this: to sign on with current climate change mitigation plans would require replacing functioning equipment prematurely at an ineffective cost. We should instead wait until equipment needs replacement- because emitting a ton of carbon in the atmosphere now is the same as emitting it 20 years later- we should wait to act. Unfortunately, they are dead wrong.

Reason #1 To Act Sooner: A ton of carbon in the atmosphere now is not the same as a ton of carbon later on. Currently, the atmosphere has 380ppm of CO2e in the atmosphere; we will reach 550ppm by 2050 (IPCC, 2007). An increase of 380ppm to 381ppm isn't alarming. An increase from 550ppm to 551 and you start to play dice with the planet. Many American politicians don't address this "fat tail" problem: events that are low probability, highly catastrophic. Even if we become carbon neutral at 550ppm, there's a 4.2% probability of reaching an 8°C rise in temperature (Stern, 2008); to date, no politician has mentioned such probabilities in the States.

Reason #2: The studies are overly optimistic. Prominent economic studies have consistently used the low-temperature change scenario (2-3°C) as a basis for much of their analyses. American politicians also miss the fine print in climate and economic papers that point out the studies' inherit flaws: models created out of incomplete data sets and considerations too hard to quantify (so they are left out of the analysis). Considerations left out would include spillover effects, loss in biodiversity, and national security, "Although such costs are hard to quantify, the difficulty of quantification is not a reason to count them as zero" (Freeman & Guzman, 2009). Also as common practice, scientists admit to reporting conservative estimates. Understandably so in situations like the IPCC FAR report (2007) which required 2,800 reviewers to agree.

Reason #3: The science changes quicker than the presses. Many of scientists' predictions on the effects of climate change are increasing their rate to materialize. As soon as a paper is published, the game has already changed. For example, arctic ice is retreating much more rapidly and the arctic will be seasonally ice-free 30 years sooner than expected (Freeman & Guzman, 2009). Similarly, the arctic permafrost (arctic frozen dirt) is melting much faster and may release a catastrophic amount of methane. Melting ice and permafrost would add to sea level rise which is now projected to "substantially exceed" 2 feet than previously reported (Sciencedaily, 2008).

American politicians that are not climate change illiterate can be accused of being climate change underachievers. Climate Change is the subject and the majority of politicians who are slow to realize solutions receive a failing grade. In my next post, I continue the Climate Change Policy Series, to show America should act now because it will be cheaper!

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