Say your house has a weak foundation. A big fracture is growing wider and wider by the day. Cracks are appearing in the walls throughout the building. You bring in a team of top structural engineers to analyze the situation. They calculate that they can put in supports to stabilize the structure and repair the foundation, saving your house from complete collapse. Doing so would mean investing 1 to 2 percent of your annual income. You don’t like that analysis, so you bring in more and more teams of engineers and architects, but they all come to the same conclusion: Delay only means mounting bills. Act now or lose it all.
No, it’s not a perfect analogy to the climate situation. For one, if we miss our chance and allow climate change to spiral out of control, we can’t simply up and move to another home. Earth is our one shot. Yet we’re the ones enlarging the crack in the foundation.
Scientists and economists have made it clear that the costs of delay far exceed the investment needed now to move the world away from a polluting fossil-fuel based economy. (See for starters the review by former World Bank lead economist Sir Nicholas Stern; analysis by McKinsey showing that the costs of curbing climate change may be far smaller than we think; the latest findings of the International Energy Agency; and discussion of the economics conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
We cannot just wish away the future costs of climate change. If we do nothing, they will come. The U.S. intelligence and security communities acknowledge the extent of the climate threat (see National Intelligence Council’s Impacts of Climate Change analyses or the report by eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals). The investment in energy efficiency, clean energy, and forests needed to curb global warming is dwarfed by the astronomical costs of massive migration, crop failures, droughts, floods, heat waves, and wildfires that unchecked global warming would bring.
By Janet Larsen, Director of Research, Earth Policy Institute