We cannot conventionally afford the huge funds needed to resolve climate change in time. Let’s be unconventional.
No entity on Earth – nation, union or alliance - can afford to take large or fast enough action to avert or adequately mitigate the climate change science is predicting. But unless such large-scale and rapid action IS taken we can expect sea level rise, resource conflict, mass population displacement and shortages of food and water. Ocean acidification and ocean circulation changes will have long-term irreversible impacts.
Because we cannot act in time, the costs of relief and relocation will be many, many trillions of dollars of “bad” expense, ON TOP OF the “good” expense of climate change mitigation needed anyway to prevent/ slow further deterioration.
So total cost is “bad” PLUS “good” – FAR higher than “good” alone.
If instead we fund this “good” expense NOW to make the needed investments NOW in green energy, flood defense, novel agriculture etc. we can dramatically reduce these “bad” costs, secure our future, and save enormous suffering to human and other populations. That's enormous economic, social and ecological sense.
SO: if we accept our planet will have to spend vast amounts globally ANYWAY, why not “create” funds NOW to take the actions needed TODAY, paid for by saved future “bad” costs?
We’ve already used quantitative easing to “create” trillions of dollars to resolve the economic crisis of 2007-2010; climate change represents a threat orders of magnitude greater.
Nations, unions and alliances cannot fund enough without borrowing from other creditors, so won’t do so for fear of budget deficit. By creating a global virtual fund, owed to the planet instead of each other, we free-up the will and resources to act effectively, immediately.
The upside includes - depending on actions taken (below):
- stabilized climate
- accelerated research
- boosted global economic activity
- boosted employment
- boosted tax take
- food security
- energy security
- reduced conflict drivers (poverty, resources, land)
The downside is…?
Category of the action
Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change
What actions do you propose?
It is not possible to here lay out in detail the actions needed; these will emerge from the strategy as it develops and it would be premature to assume any particular direction or way forward at this point, partly because my own knowledge of the gamut of potential solutions is limited but also because the extent of current research is not yet visible.
Accordingly at this stage only a high-level approach is described, from which detailed strategy will evolve of its own accord as discussions proceed. For the same reasons the proposal does not cite other proposals, it being left to Action 1 below to identify what of these is an effective contributor.
The proposal is at a global level, and considers building consensus and delivery at that level. The difficulties of achieving this are recognized, but ultimately climate pressures will force governments to accept that the “global” in “global warming” means precisely that. It may yet prove to be the greatest factor in history in uniting Earth’s people.
It must be recognized at the outset that the project will not – and cannot – deliver The Best Solution for mitigating climate change. There are many variables (including unknown ones), and technology is progressing constantly meaning that today’s Best will be tomorrow’s Outdated.
We cannot wait for a perfect solution; we must instead seek an adequate one, deliverable within the agreed timescale, that will adequately mitigate climate change and adequately adapt to the change that does occur. This will certainly combine various technologies and approaches and will cut across political and geophysical boundaries. It may also have to address religious and philosophical aspects, such as limiting our reproduction in order to foster our limited resources.
Suggested overall project Goal is then “Were money immaterial, what actions with what technologies would result in limiting global warming to 2ºC by [year] and would best address the consequences to the planet”. “[year]” is deliberately left to be decided by those suitably qualified.
The discussion below is around this Goal and considers the (high-level) actions needed. These are not sequential and will occur with varying degrees of overlap and pauses, and there is unsurprisingly extensive interaction between them.
ACTION 1: ACHIEVING INTERNATIONAL BUY-IN
Nations are reluctant to cooperate on climate change for a number of reasons, but the largest single factor appears to be ability to afford it; all are constrained by budgets.
Since this proposal bypasses that constraint, funding today’s investment in climate change mitigation from the savings that we make by not having to fund climate-caused harm in the future, I would hope that every government – from the US and Russia, down to the smallest island state – would be willing to cooperate in developing these solutions.
For the first time progress will be independent of a nation’s wealth or size; benefits will be implemented based purely on the priority of “global benefit” Nowhere on earth is immune to rising temperatures and seas, and only joint action can provide a solution.
The UN will have to launch the programme, and will need to do so “gloves off” in terms of the data and predictions available; this is not the time to be reassuring. Russia and China can be expected to be among the most difficult nations to get on board with such a project; however, NOAA data for Jan-March 2015 (see graphic below) clearly shows that the trend is affecting both Russia and China to a greater extent than it is Europe or the US. As a result the likelihood of crop failure and other difficulties in these nations should help bring them on board.
It must also be agreed that current differences will be set aside from the project. A (rather extreme) parallel may be alien invasion or global pandemic; were that to occur we can (I hope) assume that we would stop fighting each other to repel a common foe. It may not be too fanciful to consider climate change as just such an enemy.
Obviously not every nation may buy-in initially, and the project may well launch with only key players.
ACTION 2: DEFINING TECHNICAL ROADMAP
What do we need to achieve to deliver “adequate” technical solutions to the Goal? And how?
This action needs to establish the technical factors to be addressed to move forward, which will require expertise drawn from many sectors and disciplines. There is an obvious risk that such a committee is likely to be quite partisan to their own pet solutions, and will need pragmatic and strong leadership to obtain an optimal – or good sub-optimal – outcome.
We must recognize there will always be better technology over the hill. However, climate science is making it very clear that we have pretty immovable deadlines by which to act if we are not to enter potentially deadly levels of temperature rise.
Therefore it is suggested our technical strategy must be based on technology we have now, and be one that can only be revised by emerging technologies where a) the benefits of these are indisputable and b) they can be implemented to the required extent within the fixed timescale. We cannot afford to deviate from, for example, a PV-based solution that will achieve the goal in time, on the basis of an emerging nuclear technology which will be cheaper and less intrusive but will miss the deadline by 10 years.
It is suggested that some factors to be considered in Step 1 (this list is far from exhaustive) would be to identify:
- What suitable technologies are available NOW;
- What could be the potential global contribution to the Goal of each technology, evaluated from a range of extent/location scenarios
- What limiting factors exist (maturity, manufacturing capacity, raw materials, social acceptability, skillset shortages…)
- The extent of any negative effects of these technologies, globally and locally
- How quickly these technologies could be implemented and where
From this it would be logical to pick a “top 5” or “top 10” to pursue, with multiple models being run to identify the resulting benefits and costs of various options and combinations. Does massive-scale wind energy with capacitative storage outperform massive PV installation? In what location(s) and under what future weather scenarios? How resilient in fact are the solutions to climate change?
Repeated optimizing runs and scenarios should yield a global plan of technical action for implementation.
ACTION 3: MODEL AND PARAMETER DEVELOPMENT
A lot of our modeling techniques today are quite limited. To be able to reliably model the different scenarios, considerable effort also must go into designing and proving adequate modeling capability to provide the optimization modeling at Action 2.
Alongside this will need to be the provision of appropriate supercomputing capacity to allow models to be run in sufficient number and at sufficient speed to generate a reliable solution.
ACTION 4: DEFINING SOCIAL AND OTHER FACTORS
Not every factor in climate change is technical. For example, a key factor in CO2 levels is reduced carbon sequestration in forest, driven to a considerable extent by the amount of forest cleared to feed/house growing numbers of people. There are various reasons populations continue to grow; however, this growth is increasingly unsustainable. Population control presents significant religious and ethical difficulties, but ignoring this major lever in climate change is not an option.
The project should consider these other factors alongside the technical aspects, and the make-up of the team should include expertise in these aspects.
ACTION 5: PLANNING
A vast amount of material will need to be extracted, transported, processed and installed and it will be essential that the capacity to do so exist in appropriate time. As soon as possible in the modelling stages, once clear winners start to emerge but probably before details of the volumes of each are apparent, planning will need to commence on these aspects and scalable solutions developed. These will need to be “scalable” in the sense that once volumes needed of each option are clarified, the capacity to deliver these is able to be quickly implemented.
ACTION 6: IMPLEMENTATION
Other than in terms of scale, this phase of the project is similar to any large international challenge. The tools and expertise already exist and Action 5 should have enabled the infrastructure needed to be planned ready for building.
Since time is of the essence for Actions 1 – 5 a 5-year timescale is suggested. The project is based on existing or imminently-available technology so there should be no other holds on progress. Action 6 will be ongoing thereafter.
Who will take these actions?
The World Bank and United Nations will need to agree implementation.
National governments will need to implement audit measures OF EACH OTHER – not themselves! – to ensure funds are used as intended.
National governments and scientific communities will need to agree the program of measures to be implemented, and identify lead contractors.
Multidisciplinary working groups – science, government, industry – need to be set up to agree and implement deliverables, prioritized as agreed by UN for greatest global, NOT national, good.
A secure transaction tracking system needs implementing by appropriate players to allow funds associated with the action to be traced and ensure correct application.
Finally, to be successful and accepted the program must be “whiter than white”; globally there is huge distrust of wealth and of financial trading, and I strongly recommend that the funding be so organized that any “trading” on the back of it be impossible. One option may be to employ a new currency and enforce all related transactions to be in this currency, with conversion to actual national currencies being permitted only at the end of the chain where the contractor involved is paying personnel and suppliers. A strong audit trail of funds must be demanded and enforced to ensure public trust is maintained – there can be no hint of “pork barrel” if the scheme is to succeed. This action must lie with the UN and World Bank.
Where will these actions be taken?
Worldwide, with actions prioritized on a scientific and GLOBAL economic and benefit basis agreed by the international scientific community and UN.
Care should be taken to distribute activity globally as far as possible, partly to avoid overloading of one particular resource - such as national computing capacity - but, equally importantly, to ensure and maintain comprehensive buy-in across all involved players and nations. The emergence of "prima donnas" (donnae?) must be discouraged.
It also needs to be remembered that some of the biggest potential losers from climate change are some of the nations least able to contribute. Nonetheless their full participation must be ensured
What are other key benefits?
Even excluding climate change effects, our world is already seriously stressed for food and other resources and with growing population is extremely vulnerable to other - inevitable - perturbations such as volcanic activity, earthquake or more “out there” events such as asteroid strike or solar flare. The actions funded will greatly strengthen the ability of Earth to continue to support our survival should one or more of these other events occur.
The proposal not only helps us to overcome climate change, but massively reinforces our survivability into the future on this much wider front.
Acting and controlled globally, the proposal also moves much of humanity’s power out of the hands of global corporations and the mega-wealthy and into the control of Earth’s population as a whole, for the greater good. In so doing it frees-up the resources of those corporations to explore wider-reaching technologies that we cannot otherwise afford, including medicine and space/ocean research.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Almost certainly negative considered over the next 100 years.
The large outlay should be (amply) more than funded by savings of “bad” costs identified in the Summary. When this is extended to include much greater planetary resilience to future natural disasters – and the associated savings – the picture becomes even more convincing.
Costs related to natural disasters have increased from $50 billion a year in the 1980s to $200 billion in the last decade and this is expected to continue to rise. This isn’t all due to climate change – earthquakes and volcanoes happen irrespective – but we expect to see many more extreme weather events.
Hurricane Katrina for example “could cost the Gulf Coast states … an estimated $125 billion”. The total impact on the state’s economy of California’s drought is “is estimated to be $2.2 billion”, and looking forward “with climate change, the entire US will likely face some level of drought”. By 2030 researchers estimate the cost of climate change and air pollution combined will rise to 3.2% of global GDP - in 2013 this stood at US$ 75,621,858 million, of which 3.2% is US$ 2.419.899 million, EVERY year.
Depending on how extensive climate change becomes, and so the level of associated future “bad” costs, it's VERY likely that by bringing forward this expenditure to take planned action now, we save much more than this in reduced “bad” costs later.
Finally, I suggest there’s also strong likelihood that not only will costs DIRECTLY associated with climate change effects actually be negative, but also that additional economic and social benefits outlined in the “upside” in the Summary will make these costs STRONGLY negative with a significant boost to global economic and social health.
Why not spend now to save FAR more later – and future-proof mankind at the same time?
We have much of the technology to mitigate climate change available now, but lack the will and resources to implement it. This proposal will free up both resources and will.
If we then allow 5 years to figure out the model, process, security measures etc – which shouldn’t be an impossible timescale – we can start massive investment in 2020. Allowing 5-10 years for planning and construction of the facilities, we should start to see significant emission reductions by 2030.
A number of ideas potentially link to this proposal, and the selection process should include these. For example, future-proofing our agriculture is a cornerstone of our future;to this end, the proposal by Dennis Wilmeth in the Agriculture section of CoLab, and my own thoughts on resilient agriculture and hydroponic carbon capture, expanded upon at www.gas2green.org (of which my preliminary version made Finalist in last year's CoLab contest) - will help to ensure that we can feed ourselves while dramatically reducing water and land demand, and at the same time proofing crops against disease, pests and climate effects.
In so doing vast amounts of land currently under inefficient agriculture can be freed-up to be re-forested, providing a major global carbon sink (and a much nicer world) as well as greatly extending living habitats for a wide range of species.
Embedded in the above as hyperlinks.