The leader of the European Union has seen the light: Ursula von der Leyen has discovered that doing nothing about climate change is getting too expensive. Sir Nicholas Stern came to that conclusion more than 15 years ago when he wrote his much-discussed report about the cost of climate change. In 2008 he corrected his earlier conclusion: the costs of climate change turned out to be much higher than anticipated in the first calculations. About political smalltalk in a killer climate.
As it took 15 years for EU bureaucrats to absorb a 662-page report, it would take 272 years to decide on its own climate proposal “Fit for 55”, which holds some 12000 pages and is to be approved by 27 Member States, if processed at the same speed.
The publication process of the IPCC series of climate reports follows a similar path. These too, contain an almost incalculable amount of pages about the risks of climate change, which are already obsolete at the time of publication and which have been politically watered down beforehand because of the required consensus about the articulation of scientific facts.
Belgium is like a third-world country
Meanwhile, at some 100 kilometers from the European capital, the rubble and wreckages of the first real European climate disaster are still piled up in the streets of – also still electricity and water-deprived – villages, because the local crisis response in Belgium hardly reaches the level of an average third world country.
That is where the measures that have to save the world from climate Armageddon have to come from since the rest of the world still regards the EU as a forerunner in the fight against climate change.
Meanwhile, politicians continue to chatter as climate change creates a killer climate. The numbers of fatal climate change-related casualties are carefully kept out of the main news media, even as those numbers are significantly higher than those of the victims of the corona pandemic. By way of comparison: more than 4 million people died from corona in almost a year and a half, while in 2017 alone more than 5 million deaths were directly linked to climate change. These numbers don’t even include deaths by starvation.
These are not forecasts and predictions, these are the confronting numbers from the recent past and the present.
The outlook is even more confronting.
Although scientists are well aware that climate change is not gradual, they calculate with models that do suggest just that. Also, they express the risk of an event as a probability, as a percentage within a period of time. And their data are running years behind. That doesn’t work well, as we’ve noticed: the event of flooding in Europe of the present magnitude was calculated not to occur before 2050. Things are getting worse much sooner than expected.
The same applies to the rest of the world and to the effects of accumulating climate events. Tipping points in various types of climate change show the risks of sudden acceleration. Look how heat leads to more wildfires, which release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing even more heat.
Or melting ice as a result of a warmer climate creates a larger ice-free and dark water surface that absorbs more heat and makes ice melt even faster.
Stacking disasters and costs
Hardly any research has been done on the mutual reinforcement of various tipping points. Or the interplay between climate and environmental disasters (such as leaking oil pipelines in burning tundras). Perhaps this will soon no longer need to be investigated, then we will see it happen ourselves.
And just as tipping points can pile up, so will the costs of climate and environmental disasters. At an ever-increasing pace, we are going to pay for slowing down climate change (it has long been impossible to stop), for repairing damage after disasters, and for preventing more damage in future disasters.
The political mills are now standing still for a while; it’s vacation after all. These will slowly start again in September and in Brussels, they will then start a long grind to get 27 countries to agree with 12000 pages of new measures. With notorious climate criminals in and around the club, you can be sure that they will be slowed down and wrung out. And by the time a decision can be made, the money has already partly disappeared because it has been spent on recovery after subsequent climate disasters.
Climate change is not our fault
Last minute, I read a commentary by John Sutter on CNN that holds an interesting view: Climate change is not our fault, as consumers and citizens. It is certainly the fault of waning big business owners and politicians who have been shifting their actual responsibility onto us for decades. Instead of buying tofu burgers, we should put more pressure on politicians to finally take action. Sutter naively assumes that it would work in the current system and that it will work in the rest of the world in the same way as it does in the US. Nevertheless, he has a point.
Maybe ballot papers from now on should show a warning: voting for unwilling politicians kills.
Peter van Vliet