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Friday, May 11, 2007

Global Warming on The Cheap

We're heading for disaster. NASA brings us one of those 'good news/bad news' things.

The Independent:

Researchers at Nasa have warned that unless growth in greenhouse gas emissions can be successfully curbed, large areas of the eastern United States, from Washington DC to Florida, can expect to suffer through catastrophically hotter summers within just a couple of generations.

A study released by Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University finds that by 2080 average summer high temperatures in parts of the east will be about 10F higher than now, pushing them from the low to mid-80s to the low to mid-90s.

Moreover, in particularly dry years with only limited rainfall to cool conditions, average high temperatures in cities as far apart as Atlanta, Washington DC and even Chicago to the north could peak at a baking 110F roughly the kinds of readings seen today only in the desert south-west.

That's obviously the bad news. The good news is that, by the end of the century, we'll be able to grow lemons in Richmond, VA. You know what they say; when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.

Of course, we could do something crazy -- like, say, make changes to avoid this entirely forseeable future. Failing to would be like being run over by a glacier; it'd be really hard to argue that you didn't have time to get out of the way.

We also have the money to avoid it. The Bush administration has always argued that fighting global warming would be bad for the economy. Thing is, they never actually explain why. Fighting global warming would mean new technologies, which means new industries, which means new businesses and jobs. Seems to me that that's pretty much the definition of 'economic growth.' Would old technologies and industries fall by the wayside? Sure. But go ahead and name a time in history when that didn't happen anyway. The invention of steel really put a dent in the bronze industry and it's one hell of a lot harder to sell horse feed than it was one hundred and fifty years ago. It's hard to see how hurting existing industries would be a valid argument -- it never has been before.

Not that there won't be costs, but those cost will be offset by savings. Doing things like using less energy -- surprise, surprise -- are less expensive. And the things that are bad for the planet also turn out to be bad for us. Much of what we spend on cutting emissions now will be offset by health savings down the road. The Bush administration's argument is like saying you shouldn't quit smoking because the patch costs money -- meanwhile, you're dropping a fiver a day on smokes and looking forward to a wheezy old age walking around an oxygen tank... If you're lucky.

We can spend 0.12% of our gross domestic product fighting global warming or we can deal with the economic loss of turning the eastern seaboard into Death Valley.

Suddenly, cutting emissions seems like a bargain.


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