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The Cost of Everything, the Value of Nothing

March 13, 2013 – It has always seemed strange to me that some people’s attention is riveted by the cost of preventing/mitigating climate change.  Whatever the cost, it’s too high!  I would have thought that death was too high a price to pay, and that compared to death, we would do anything to survive.  Ultimately I think this has to do with an underperforming imagination.  Climate change deniers do not believe they or their progeny will die because of global warming.  A trifle clammy on an August afternoon?  A few inches of water in the basement?  A brief tornado touchdown in a town suitably far removed from one’s own?  What’s all the excitement about?
Let’s see: forest fires, landslides, valley fever, tsunamis, malaria, drought, bird flu, crops destroyed, earthquakes, houses torn off their foundations, famine, dengue fever, avalanches, influenza,  floods,  ebola.  There sure are a lot of ways to die, and some of us haven’t got brains enough to be afraid of them.  Of course, there will be some outcomes that won’t kill you.  You might wish you were dead, but your designated role will be as a witness to suffering.  One of these nonlethal results is homelessness.

According to the Global Estimates report, just released by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Publications, 32.4 million people were forced to abandon their homes last year because of floods, storms and earthquakes.  The vast majority of those affected were displaced from Asia and West/Central Africa.  Those of us residing in the so-called developed world did not escape without a scratch, however – 1.3 million people in wealthy countries were also dispossessed.  The United States ranked first among them.
Flood disasters in India and Nigeria accounted for 41% of global migration due to climate change.  Monsoon floods in India dislodged 6.9 million people. Six million Nigerians were also hard hit.  A total of 8.2 million Africans were displaced because of calamitous weather in 2012.  Lord Nicholas Stern had this to say when interviewed by the Guardian newspaper (UK): “It is increasingly likely that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced from their homelands in the near future as a result of global warming.”   Stern, who is the Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, elaborated by saying that massive movements of people are likely to occur over the rest of the century because global temperatures are likely to rise by as much as 5C (9 degrees Fahrenheit).  This is due to carbon dioxide levels having risen steadily for the last 50 years.

Furthermore, Stern believes people will leave their homelands only as a last resort, after their crops and animals have died.  Without diplomatic preparation, many emigres will be stopped at their destination’s border, if not before.  At this point, refugee camps might be the best outcome for which the world dared to hope.  Not only does Lord Stern believe that armed conflict will result from this forced migration, he believes it will become a common occurrence.

Not quite the equivalent of a flooded basement, eh?


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