Wanted: A Global Green New Deal

by Joseph E. Stiglitz – October 8, 2019

To live within our planetary means, we will have to change many aspects of how we live – how we organize our economies, our cities, and our transportation, energy, housing, and food systems. The good news is that most of the world now recognizes this; the bad news is that its largest polluter does not.

Nearly a quarter-century ago, I was a lead author on “Climate Change 1995 – A Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” In that report, we made one big mistake: we should have sounded the alarm louder. But we lacked the overwhelming evidence that we have today concerning the pace and consequences of climate change, so we didn’t fully anticipate the extreme weather events that have had such devastating effects on our planet and on our lives and property.

Back then, we thought the impact of climate change would be focused on the world’s tropical countries. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and northern Europe might actually benefit. The beaches in places like Maine and Nova Scotia might actually become swimmable.

Who would have anticipated that the US would be among the major losers, with damage in 2017 alone – from hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and the consequences of heat waves and severe frosts – amounting to about 2% of GDP, with cumulative costs since 1980 totaling $1.6 trillion (in inflation-adjusted dollars). And who would have anticipated the rapidity with which the Greenlandic and Antarctic ice caps would melt, or that glaciers around the world would retreat so rapidly? We knew that sea levels would eventually rise, but so rapidly?

We now know that we have no choice but to live within our planetary boundaries – nature is not always forgiving – and that we have not been doing so. The enormous increases in standards of living over the last two and half centuries have been based on taming energy, and – especially over the last century – that has meant using fossil fuels, taking carbon stored deep in the Earth and burning it, spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a far faster pace than natural processes can remove it. The consequences of this profligacy are now upon us.

Originally published in Project Syndicate. Read full article here (subscription may be required).