Stern, in center of climate pessimism, hopeful about U.S.

July 15, 2011

Nicholas Stern, the British economist who warned five years ago that global warming could cost the world’s GDP as much as 20 percent a year by 2050, hasn’t given up on the United States  taking action on climate even though he’s down on Washington for not passing a bill that would do just that.

“If you look around the world, of all places to sit and wonder where (climate policy is) going, this is probably the most pessimistic place — this city,” he told a small gathering of reporters at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. late this week.

But all one has to do is travel out of the U.S. capital to see enormous potential for taking action, he said. Stern is optimistic about U.S. companies in Silicon Valley and Boston and other places developing low-carbon technologies such as batteries for electric cars, or new biofuels that aren’t made out of food crops.

“There are so many technological ideas on the table that you don’t need all of them to work, just some,” he said.

 He also takes heart in state level mandates for renewable energy and the reelection of Jerry Brown, the pro-solar governor of California, who wants to set the bar even higher for renewable energy.

Be that as it may, Stern is even more deeply concerned about the risks of climate change.

He thinks he underestimated the risk in the Stern Review issued five years ago. But now he doesn’t describe the risks in terms of percentage points of lost GDP. He believes hundreds of millions of people could be forced to migrate in coming decades because of global warming, resulting in conflicts, or even wars.

“The kind of scale of risk we are talking about is important to focus on, rather than a particular number or what output loss might be for a particular crop,” he said.

Ever the economist, he hasn’t given up entirely on numbers. In the 2006 review, Stern said preventing the worst effects of climate change would cost 1 percent of annual global GDP. Now he thinks it will cost 1 to 2 percent, but he emphasizes that those won’t just be costs, but investments that can have good returns – energy security, less pollution and increased safety.

And though the United States shows potential with technology, the risk remains that the policy that will lead to emissions cuts will languish.  If the United States falls too far behind, it could face risks.  When the U.S. Congress was considering a climate bill, one of the measures it was considering was adding a tariff on exports of developing countries that were not taking action on climate.  But if Washington does not move on climate the table could turn: Those same countries, that are moving on climate,  could put tariffs or other limits on the U.S. in 10 or 15 years, Stern said.

7 comments

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In terms of farm land risk, the largest masses of land are in Canada and Russia. A warmer earth gives more food. A cooler earth less food. Many climatologists are going back to the theory of the 70s and that is that we will see global cooling which is a much worse danger than global warming.

Posted by TheNewWorld | Report as abusive

TheNewWorld, your view of global warming is myopic at best and dangerously shortsighted. As the planet warms more farmland will be made viable in the short run. However, if the planet continues to warm that farm land will also be turned to desert because of a multitude of factors not the least of which are anthropogenic.

Perhaps your editorial staff should assign some writers with a molecular physics and geologic back round to do a more in depth study of the phenomenon of climate change, particularly global warming. The under lying fact is all mass extinction events are accompanied by global warming, sort of part and parcel. These events throughout geologic history have unfolded gradually over tens of thousands of years.

There are 15 major mass extinction events over the last 500 or so million years. Humans are presently living through beginning of the 16th such event. Since the end of the last ice age (12,000 years ago), the largest and wooliest of the mega fauna died out. Many others are “Dead Genus’” walking that will disappear in the next 10 or 20 thousand years.

It is folly to argue the cause. The question is can man mitigate what is already happening? We don’t let buildings burn down without attempting to put it out first. Who knows, there might be people inside?

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

I find it highly amusing that all the global warming deniers who so highly touted the record cold temperatures we had for a bit back in January as “proof” that global warming was a scam perpetrated by the “liberal lamestream media” have been strangely silent as we move into the third straight week of a national heat wave…

Posted by 4ngry4merican | Report as abusive

KISS! Drop the National Freeway limit to say, 62.5 mph/100 kilometers max 50 states! Get instant, significant emission reductions Nationwid overnight, it’s proven, saves lives, reduces oil consumption, it’s fair and can be done for next to nothin! Most vehicle emissions spike above 60 mph FYI-FACT!

Posted by DrJJJJ | Report as abusive

No one obeys the speed limits in Illinois. Whether autos cruise at 70mph or 60mph as long as they maintain cruising speed, emissions are low and mileage high. The real problem is traffic congestion which causes people to speed up and slow down repeatedly. When accelerating the fuel processor dumps fuel into the engine. In essence emission control is disabled for performance. Hence high fuel consumption and high emissions.

If we want to put people to work we must invest heavily in renewable energy and public transportation. The dividends that will be paid to future generations will be enormous.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

the people pushing global warming are the same people in the 70s 80s that said we were heading for the next ice age the reason they do this is because they cant work in the real world they leach off goverment grants goverment pay out if thier not flapping thier gums about warming ice age they have no job curious how man created global warming during the last ice age since we weent even here these people are dishonest as well as the people in goverment that dont have a clue

Posted by bst23 | Report as abusive

bst23, how do you explain shrinking polar ice caps, vanishing large fresh water lakes, increased desertification and rising sea levels globally? Also how is it that atmospheric oxygen content is diminishing while CO2 is 30% higher right now than at any point during the last 600,000 years? These are facts that our Congress has been well aware of since the early 1960s. Scripps was the first to start collecting such data as early as 1957 and reports their findings every year to Congress.

For those interested in the truth google “Scripps Institute of Oceanography” and open their website. Their work has been duplicated and verified by universities and research institutes around the globe. Everyone can find the answers for themselves.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive