Clarity on climate

Clarity on climate

Clarity on climate
Climate Shock
Gernot Wagner &
Martin L Weitzman
Princeton University Press
2015, pp 250, Rs 1,270

This book is for those who not only think that climate change is an urgent problem, but also agree that getting the world off fossil fuels is difficult. If you support either of these two positions, this book should be compulsory reading for you. Because if you agree only with the ‘first’ position, then you are fooling yourself that getting off fossil fuels will be simple. And, if you accept the ‘second’, then you have not yet accepted the fact that climate change is the defining problem of our generation.

Unlike any other environmental problem, climate change is not only uniquely global, but is uniquely long-term, uniquely irreversible, and uniquely uncertain. Thanks to over $500 billion a year on fuel subsidies, the world has already spewed around 940 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, busting the 400 ppm mark with a potentially devastating 2°C rise in global temperature. Worst still, a 10 per cent risk of a 6°C rise may not be ruled out if business-as-usual scenario persists in this century. Digging deeper into the science of climate change and cutting across heaps of misguided solutions, Climate Shock argues for not only cutting down on emissions, but paying the true costs of releasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Wagner and Weitzman are convinced that unless 7 billion inhabitants collectively bear the cost of pollution, the planet will continue to get dangerously warmer. Not only getting 7 billion to agree is impossible, but inter-governmental co-operation for cutting down on emissions and taxing carbon has been no less daunting either. Everybody’s problem is nobody’s challenge. Merging academic research with the economics of climate change, the authors contend that each ton of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is worth $40 of environmental damages which need to be ‘paid for’ if the economy ought not to take a plunge. In addition to restricting emissions, carbon taxation alone can help everybody to contribute to fixing the problem. 

Written and re-written over the last decade, seven chapters constitute only 2/3rd of the book while the remaining accounts for extensive notes and a rich bibliography. Rich in insightful analysis, the book goes beyond the scary narrative of melting glaciers, rising sea, intense hurricanes and untimely floods in weaving a picture of potentially viable alternatives. The authors are worried that multiple implications of climate change may cloud our cognitive abilities, which may end up proposing geo-engineering solutions to the problem. From releasing solar rays reflecting particles in the atmosphere to enriching oceans with iron pellets to sequester excess carbon are the technological solutions that are fraught with uncertain implications, many of which will further complicate global weather patterns. The authors argue that delayed affirmative action will only fuel impulsive geo-engineering solutions which the world can ill-afford. 

Climate Shock is loaded with all that we ought to know about climate change, from pre-historic evidences of climate change to post-industrial age carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, and from uncertain certainty of global warming to economic implications of guarded optimism. What we know about climate change is alarming enough, what we don’t know enough is even more alarming. Whether or not we agree, the planet has been witness to similar rise in temperatures some three million years ago when sea level had risen by up to 20 metres, and camels lived in Canada. History is unlikely to repeat anytime soon, but the scenario is scary.

In a world where growing knowledge confronts as much ignorance, Climate Shock comes up with thought-provoking clarity on the defining environmental and public policy issue of our time. It wades through individual and community action to thwart the inevitable, but argues in favour of moratorium on carbon emissions with an add-on carbon tax to create a carbon economy that steers the world clear of risks and dangers of climate change. After all, climate change is largely an outcome of environmental conditions that can and should be managed.

Climate Shock may not be a page turner, but it is overflowing with analytical insights and simple suggestions to transform the way we live and manage ourselves. As much we insure ourselves from the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns like accidents, fires, earthquakes and even hurricanes, the world needs to rally together to ensure mankind against the most unlikely of environmental consequences on account of our own follies. Unless questions are raised on fossil fuel subsidy (almost $15 a ton) that helps us involuntary pollute the atmosphere, we must keep ourselves and the future generations ready for an irreversible Climate Shock.