Cobb: Global Warming Threatens Economic Growth, But Economic Growth Drives Global Warming
The leaked draft of a landmark report on 1.5°C scenarios, due for release later this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has the relationship between global warming and the global economy exactly backwards, consultant Kurt Cobb writes on Resilience.org.
The report, segments of which were reported last week by the Reuters news agency, projected that average global warming will break through the 1.5°C guardrail by about 2040. Although the analysis “seemed slightly less pessimistic about prospects of limiting a rise in global temperatures that will affect the poorest nations hardest,” according to one official with access to the report, it warned that warming above the 1.5°C threshold would threaten global economic growth.
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“This kind of thinking is so obviously inverted, and yet the inversion is entirely invisible to most people,” Cobb responds. “While it may be true that global warming threatens economic growth, it is far more salient to say that economic growth threatens us with global warming.”
In contrast to a number of past 1.5°C studies, the IPCC report “outlines one new scenario to stay below 1.5°C, for instance, in which technological innovations and changes in lifestyles could mean sharply lower energy demand by 2050, even with rising economic growth,” Reuters noted. But lifestyle changes sufficient to alter energy demand to that extent “would mean an end to economic growth,” Cobb counters. “What is supposed to keep growth going in this scenario is, of course, technological innovation. While it is true that innovation can make energy production less carbon intensive, what it can’t do is prevent people from using more energy, especially if supply continues to grow and the price remains affordable.”
But scenarios involving much less demand for energy and other resources are rarely on the table.
“No politician is going run on a platform of less for everyone. And pursuing such a strategy could easily condemn the world’s poor to poverty indefinitely,” he writes. But a serious response to climate change would mean slowing the global economy, and “only a society marked by generous redistribution and shared sacrifice could likely weather such a strategy intact.”