Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the British Government's Stern Report on potential global climate change economic impacts, gave a presentation at University of California at Berkeley on Friday evening that implored government policymakers to act to reduce carbon emissions, and put the pressure on the public to urge their leaders to do so above all else.
The former chief economist of the World Bank, Stern is thought of by some economists as a traitor to his class by asserting that government has a responsibility to mitigate future climate change impacts by addressing "the economics of risk" that climate change represents. (Conspiracy theorists shouting out from the audience, "It's all a hoax!" had to be dragged out.)
Most mainstream economists have tended to dismiss the so-called "externalities" such as pollution or carbon emissions cause from economic activity.
But Stern said, with a one percent worldwide investment in climate change mitigating technologies and development he is confident climate change can be turned back. Without such an "insurance policy," the Stern Report predicted damage to the global economy ranging from 5 to 14 or even 20 percent on an annual basis.
"The cost from deterring climate change impacts are less than the damages," he said. "Ignoring this stuff because it's in the future 30 to 40 years is what I refer to as pure time disruption--discriminating against people by their date of birth. It's like putting half the weight of a life born in 2010 versus one born in 1975."
"If we all wait for Holland to be underwater, it will be far too late to do anything about this." He gave a disturbing vision of a global temperature increase above 5 degrees Fahrenheit causing hordes to migrate en masse from the equatorial regions.
Besides the carbon dioxide-level analysis from the fourth Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change, Stern was clear on the message that reducing carbon can be an economic driver. "I'll put it crudely--you can be green and grow. This will be about doing things differently and continuing to grow."
"California with its 80 percent carbon reduction target by 2050 is in the right place," he told the rapt audience while giving a PowerPoint presentation of black and white text and graphs only, no cute photos.
And he said the world is now experiencing the effects of carbon emissions built up over the past 30 years, mostly from western nations, despite those that argue that all is in vain unless China takes action. "China is reforesting, not deforesting, it has has more fuel-efficient cars, and a five-year plan underway that is aimed at achieving a 20% reduction of energy."
His parting advice to the populace: "(Engaging in) the political process is absolutely fundamental. Eat less meat--that wastes a lot of energy. Insulate your houses better. Use public transit. They have a great new program encouraging free bike use in Paris. Buy carbon offsets."