Sunday, July 11, 2010

Climate change and disaster capitalism

I've been reading a great series of articles in the current Mother Jones on the subject of climate change.  Clive Thompson's "Disaster Capitalism" is particularly good. As he notes:
IF YOU LOOKED merely at the realm of politics, it would be easy to believe that the question "Is climate change really happening?" is still unresolved. In the last year, skeptics have attacked climate science with renewed vigor. Doubters seized on "Climategate"—leaked emails from bickering atmospheric scientists—to argue that the evidence in favor of warming is being cooked. Other skeptics unearthed shoddy parts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report, such as the fact that it cited non-peer-reviewed work by an activist group when it predicted that most of the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. And all along, conservative politicians have hissingly denounced global warming as a shady liberal scheme: Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma famously called it "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." These attacks appear to be working. A spring Gallup poll found that Americans' concern over global warming peaked two years ago, and has steadily declined since.
But there's one area where doubt hasn't grown—and where, indeed, people are more and more certain that climate change is not only real, but imminent: the world of industry and commerce.
Companies, of course, exist to make money. That's often what makes them seem so rapacious. But their primal greed also plants them inevitably in the "reality-based community." If a firm's bottom line is going to be affected by a changing climate—say, when its supply chains dry up because of drought, or its real estate gets swamped by sea-level rise (see "Buh-Bye East Coast Beaches," page 40)—then it doesn't particularly matter whether or not the executives want to believe in climate change. Railing at scientists for massaging tree-ring statistics won't stop the globe from warming if the globe is actually, you know, warming. The same applies in reverse, as the folks at Beluga Shipping adroitly realized: If there are serious bucks to be made from the changing climate, then the free market is almost certainly going to jump at it.
The article cites a number of examples of individual companies and industries as a whole (like insurance) that are quite certain climate change is happening and, unlike the dithering politicians in Washington, are doing something about it.  In some cases, like with the shipping company mentioned, they're seeing opportunities to either save or make money.  In others, they're realizing they'd better start adapting now if they want to survive.  I was reminded of a brief news blurb I read someplace else a few months back about the wine industry:  Vintners are establishing vineyards in places where the growing season used to be too short for grapes, but that's no longer true.  One reason for the shift:  they've also realized that the traditional locations for their vines were becoming too hot and dry. 

In fact, if you look around, about the only industries still spouting nonsense about climate change being a hoax are the ones peddling fossil fuels.  Unfortunately, they've got deep pockets and make a lot of noise, so the weather may have to get a lot more erratic before some folks decide it's time for serious policy changes.


  1. Thanks for pointing me toward those articles. Yes, we can still follow the money. That bit about the grapes hit home with me. Makes perfect sense.

  2. Yep - perfect sense. Unlike the way our government seems to work.


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