How Many Hurricanes Must It Take?

Edward B. Barbier

Edward B. Barbier is Professor in the Department of Economics and Senior Scholar, School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University

In November 2013, I posted “Typhoon Haiyan and a Global Strategy for Protecting Coastal Populations” on Triple Crisis. I argued that:

“Given the scale and frequency of recent coastal disasters—Typhoon Haiyan, Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Rita, the Fukushima and Indian Ocean Tsunamis—it is time to develop a global strategy for protecting coastal populations. There should be two elements to this strategy: a short-run emergency response and investments in long-term global adaptation.”

I developed this theme further for a Perspectives article in Science, “A global strategy for protecting vulnerable coastal populations,” which was published in September 2014. In 2015, on the tenth anniversary of the US Gulf Coast disasters, I was asked by Nature to reflect on “Hurricane Katrina’s lessons for the world.” Once again, I called for coastal protection plans, similar to the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, for the world’s most vulnerable people.

As I stated in the Nature article:

“The most vulnerable are poor, rural populations in developing countries that live less than 10 metres above sea level, in low elevation coastal zones (LECZs). In 2010, around 267 million people lived in the rural areas of LECZs. By 2100, the figure is projected to be 459 million.”

The recent devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria across the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas are yet another sober reminder that it is the poorest nations, regions and populations that are the most vulnerable to coastal disasters, and which need assistance in terms of immediate emergency response as well as long-term recovery efforts.

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Climate Change, Imperialism, and Democracy

Questions and Answers with Liz Stanton

Part of the ongoing Dollars & Sense special series on the “Costs of Empire,” this Q&A with Liz Stanton (forthcoming July/August 2017) addresses the ways that global climate change—and the unequal distribution of benefits and costs from greenhouse gas emissions—are related to global inequalities in wealth and power. Stanton is a climate economist and the founder and director of the Applied Economics Clinic, a non-profit energy and environment consulting group affiliated with the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE), Tufts University. She answered our questions via email. —Eds.

Dollars & Sense: Some of the discussion of global climate change has been framed as “we’re all in the same boat and have to share in the effort to keep it afloat.” However, the distribution of benefits and costs from climate change is quite unequal, isn’t it?

Liz Stanton: Both things are true. We’re all in the same boat, but some are on the first class deck and some are in steerage. If the ship sinks, everyone is in big trouble. We only have, as they say, one Earth.

Short of a total climate disaster, however, we have the incremental degradation of natural environments and the well-being of the communities that rely on them the most. Richer families can protect themselves with houses outside of flood zones, air conditioning, and access to high-cost foods and private water supplies. Poorer families are far more vulnerable to severe weather, losses of natural resources, and limitations on the supply of food and water.
It’s helpful, as a rallying cry, to emphasize that everyone is affected by climate change—but some are more affected than others. The “same boat” analogy also misses the impacts on future generations, who lack a voice in today’s decision making.

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America Last

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord sets the US economy back

James Boyce

The alarm that greeted President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord was an overreaction in one respect. The pace at which the world moves away from fossil fuels won’t, in fact, be greatly affected. The other countries that together now account for 85% of carbon emissions will not change course even if the U.S. drags its heels. In another respect, however, Trump’s latest proclamation is truly alarming: in what it means for America’s economy.

The U.S. joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries in the world that are not parties to the Paris accord. Syria’s absence stems from the fact that the country is in a horrific civil war and its leaders are under international sanctions. Nicaragua refused to sign not because it considered the accord too onerous, but because it didn’t go far enough to combat climate change.

Oddly, Trump echoed Nicaragua’s position when he said the accord would reduce global temperatures by only 0.2 degrees Celsius in 2100, calling this a “tiny, tiny amount.” His main rationale for pulling out, however, was not the modesty of the accord’s benefits. Instead it was “the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes” on the U.S. Never mind that the agreement “imposes” nothing: All commitments under the Paris accord are voluntary and non-binding, and each country’s policies can be changed at will.

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Casting Away Despair

Triple Crisis blogger Liz Stanton delivered the following talk at a Brookline (MA) Climate Week event on April 1. Stanton is the founder and director of the Applied Economics Clinic at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE), Tufts University, described as follows on its website:

“The Applied Economics Clinic provides technical expertise to public service organizations working on topics related to the environment, consumer rights, the energy sector, and community equity. Founded by GDAE Senior Research Fellow Liz Stanton in February 2017, the Clinic is a non-profit consulting group offering low-cost and pro bono expert services from seasoned professionals, while also providing on-the-job training to the next generation of technical experts on public interest issues.”

Liz Stanton

It’s been a hard week for hope. It’s been a hard six months for hope. And I say that as someone who’s spent a career dedicated to building our societal knowledge regarding climate change. It’s easy to despair, and I know that I’m not the only person here today who feels that: Our hope has been trampled on quite a bit, and it’s looking a little worse for wear.

It is easy to despair. But I want to do something harder. And I’m guessing there are folks in the audience that feel the same way. I don’t want to despair. I want to fight.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is I’m fighting against. The root of the problem. And here’s what I’ve got for you.

Selfishness.

A set of values currently espoused by our nation’s elected representatives that boil down to nothing more or less than selfishness. The foxes are guarding the hen house, and they are desperately short-sighted. Concerned with nothing but lining their little fox pockets in this minute, this theft, this deal.

Well to me the values that have taken over in Washington—in word and in deed—look a whole lot like the values of toddlers and sociopaths:

  1. Me, Me, Me: It’s all about me. A cult of individualism.
  2. More, More, More: More stuff means I’m more powerful.
  3. Mine, Mine, Mine: Do unto others before they can do anything unto you.

Those are the values behind the policies to end climate regulation, strip access to healthcare, and defund Sesame Street.

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DAPL Doesn’t Make Economic Sense

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) imposes huge environmental and health costs, creates few jobs, and generates little government revenue.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is a postdoctoral associate at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Last week, Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. This should come as no surprise, as Trump continues to fill his administration with climate deniers, ranging from the negligent choice of Rick Perry as energy secretary to Scott Pruitt as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, a man who stated last year that “scientists continue to disagree” on humans role in climate change may very well take the “Protection” out of the EPA, despite a majority of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—wanting the EPA’s power to be maintained or strengthened.
As environmental economists, my colleague Anders Fremstad and I were concerned. We crunched the numbers on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The verdict? Annual emissions associated with the oil pumped through the pipeline will impose a $4.6 billion burden on current and future generations.

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Goodbye 2016, a Strange and Difficult Year

Martin Khor

The year will be remembered for the West ending its romance with globalisation, and its impact on the rest of the world.

Just a few days before Christmas, it is time again to look back on the year that is about to pass.

What a strange year it has been, and not one we can celebrate!

The top event was Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. It became the biggest sign that the basic framework and values underpinning Western societies since the second world war have undergone a seismic change.

The established order represented by Hillary Clinton was defeated by the tumultuous wave Trump generated with his promise to stop the United States from pandering to other countries so that it could become “great again”.

Early in the year came the Brexit vote shock, taking Britain out of the European Union. It was the initial signal that the liberal order created by the West is now being quite effectively challenged by their own masses.

Openness to immigrants and foreigners is now opposed by citizens in Europe and the US who see them as threats to jobs, national culture and security rather than beneficial additions to the economy and society.

The long-held thesis that openness to trade and foreign investments is best for the economy and underpins political stability is crumbling under the weight of a sceptical public that blames job losses and the shift of industries abroad on ultra-liberal trade and investment agreements and policies.

Thus, 2016 which started with mega trade agreements completed (Trans-Pacific Partnership) or in the pipeline (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and Europe) ended with both being dumped by the President Elect, a stunning reversal of the decades-old US position advocating the benefits of the open economy.

2016 will be remembered as the year when the romance in the West with “globalisation” was killed by a public disillusioned and outraged by the inequalities of an economic system tilted in favour of a rich minority, while a sizeable majority feel marginalised and discarded.

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Keeping America’s Promises: The Green-State Climate Agreement

Frank Ackerman

In January Donald Trump will endorse climate denial, renouncing the Clean Power Plan and climate targets in general. This will damage the fragile global momentum toward emission reduction, established in last year’s Paris agreement. If the United States refuses to cooperate, why should much poorer, reluctant participants such as India do anything to cut back on carbon?

But among many things that this dreadful election did not represent, it was not a statement of (dis)belief about climate change. Large parts of the country recognize the validity of modern science, understand the urgency of the problem, and remain committed to ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Suppose that many of our state governments got together and told the rest of the world about our continuing commitment to action: we are still abiding by the U.S. pledges under the Paris agreement, or even planning to do more. Not just NGO reports, blog posts, or individual signatures, but an official, coordinated announcement from government bodies with decision-making power over emissions – primarily states, perhaps joined by Indian tribes and major city governments.

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Cheaper, Quicker, Safer: Green Transportation for All

Liz Stanton

Getting ourselves, our kids, and all of the material goods of our economy from point A to point B resulted in 1.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in 2015. That’s 35 percent of all U.S. carbon pollution and 6 percent of global carbon emissions—just from U.S. transportation. Worldwide, transportation is responsible for one-seventh of all greenhouse gas emissions. To keep global temperature rise below 2°C (or even below 3 or 4°C) we’ll need a vast, all-encompassing transformation. Incremental changes—a little bit better gas mileage, a few more people taking public transit—aren’t going to cut it. Staying below 2°C, and thereby avoided a climate catastrophe, will require us to completely reimagine our way of getting around.

A new report from the Frontier Group does a good job laying out a detailed agenda for decarbonizing the U.S. transportation sector. The report discusses not just the policy reforms needed to achieve the basics—electrification of all vehicles paired with decarbonization of the electric grid—but also the more transformative, and therefore more difficult and more amorphous, changes that will be needed.

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The Clean Power Plan’s Day in Court

Elizabeth A. Stanton

In one week, the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals will begin hearing oral arguments regarding the Clean Power Plan—that’s the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants that the Supreme Court put on hold in February. In staying the rule, the Supreme Court flagged concerns that EPA had failed to take the rule’s economic impacts into account. The 27 states challenging the rule have focused their arguments instead on its legal niceties claiming that the federal government is overstepping its authority.

Of the 27 states suing the EPA, 21 have already achieved their 2024 emission reduction targets and 18 have enacted policies that put them on track to reach their 2030 targets. Reuters quotes EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as saying, “We are seeing reductions earlier than we ever expected. It’s a great sign that the market has already shifted and people are invested in the newer technologies, even while we are in litigation.” Economics are driving large-scale adoption of wind and solar generation around the country at the same time that low natural gas prices mean less reliance on coal-fired generators.

Carbon emission are falling and will continue to fall in the electric sector—without help from federal climate regulation. But in the absence of a strong national climate policy these reductions will not cut emissions quickly enough for the United States to play its essential role in keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. It is no exaggeration to say that the decisions made by the D.C. Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court will set a precedent for federal regulation of carbon pollution that will have long lasting impacts felt around the world.

The quality of public debate sparked by the Clean Power Plan’s day in court will benefit from a grounding in facts not just about climate change and the U.S. role in changing the composition of our global atmosphere, but also in the legal issues at the core of the challenge to and stay of the rule. Here’s some recommended reading to that end:

·        A helpful blog piece from the Institute for Policy Integrity explaining the challenge in the context of U.S. law and history

·        A brief history lesson from the Law360 website describing the U.S. legal decisions that paved the way for the Clean Power Plan

Cross-posted at the author’s blog, lizstantonconsulting.com.

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September 22, 2016 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments Closed

The New Extreme Reality of Floods

Sunita Narain

Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, whose state is submerged under water reportedly told the prime minister that he wants to cry. We should add our tears to his. This year’s floods not only have the imprint of our gross and near criminal mismanagement, but also mark the beginning of the world risked because of climate change. This should worry us. In fact, scare us. We need to realise that we do not have the luxury of delayed action and petty party politics. In this climate-risked world, where we are hit by a double whammy, we need to ensure that not only do we get development right, but we also need to do this at a scale and speed we have never done before.

The 2016 floods are huge in its scale—virtually all parts of the country have been hit by devastation. And remember, it is not just about some water that enters homes. Floods claim lives, destroy property and crops. In this way, all the years of developmental efforts are lost in one stroke. It is also clear that we worry about floods only when it affects the urban population. Even during the deadly 2013 Uttarakhand floods, the tragedy reached our television screens only because of the large numbers of people who died or were trapped in the swirling waters. Floods do not, otherwise, get serious media coverage. We do not know how bad the situation is or how it is getting worse. Floods then have become part of the cycle of boredom; they will come every year. So, what is new?

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