For years – for decades – climate scientists have been telling us that global warming was going to have some seriously bad, seriously expensive effects on the environment. Slowly, the population at large has gone from considering this a “unproved theory” to a “concern”, but it’s never been a real “problem”, at least not in the sense that a ten cent increase in the cost of gas is a problem bordering on a crisis.
We know this is human nature. As a species, we evolved to deal with immediate threats, with clear and present dangers. So while climate scientists and environmentalists move from worry, through to desperation, and finally hopelessness, the political will to take action doesn’t materialize.
“Theory” is making a rapid transition to “evidence”, as the severity of weather disruption increases around the world. We donate funds for disaster relief amid a growing concern that maybe all that science is right, that maybe we should take action before things get really bad. But then the headlines fade and we go back to bitching about gas prices, demanding rollbacks in electricity rates, and not electing politicians who dare to advance environmental policies because they’ll be “too expensive”.
Back in reality, well over 300 people have been killed by “unprecedented” tornadoes in Alabama. Damages from this one event are estimated to be between two and five billion dollars1. Half the North American continent is experiencing “unusual” weather, and the season for this sort of storm has just begun.
So I wonder if this is the year that we have our collective watershed moment. Is this the year that we wake up and realize that we should have been taking dramatic action a decade or more ago? Because this is the new reality. It’s going to be expensive, it’s going to cost lives, it’s going to make food more expensive – if not scarce. Even if we fixed the problem overnight (an absolute impossibility), we’re stuck with a least a decade of “what you see is what you get and it’s going to get worse before it gets better” weather.
Unfortunately no epiphany seems forthcoming. A quick survey of commentary surrounding the current Canadian election campaign has more people concerned with paying five cents more for a litre of gas today than they are about food shortages or dying in a “freak storm” in a few years. As the New Democratic Party surges in the polls, the most resonant criticism of their policies seems to be that a carbon tax could increase gas prices by four cents a litre, with a corresponding increase in a vast array of goods.
We have transitioned from “people will die” to “people are dying”, and we’re not scared yet. At least not scared enough to take meaningful action. I really hope we wake the f— up, and soon.
— Estimate from Eqecat, a catastrophe risk-modeling firm that advises insurance, reinsurance and financial companies, as quoted by upi.com.