International Sustainability Expert David Refkin on Obama’s endorsement of cap and trade


President Obama has announced his support for Cap and Trade legislation and has asked
Congress for a bill this year. What has followed this announcement has unfortunately been rather predictable. The typical context has been “how much will it cost me or our organization”?

People are not asking the question, “What will it cost if we don’t start to deal with climate change – now.”? The Stern Report was published in the UK in the fall of 2006 to analyze the economic impacts of climate change. That report stated that 1% of global GDP needs to be invested in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Failure to do so could risk a reduction in global GDP of up to 20%. Lord Stern later revised the cost to 2% because climate change is occurring far faster than the worst fears of the scientific community.

We all know that we are living in challenging economic times. The warning signs were out there but virtually everyone was in denial. What were we hearing back in 2006: Don’t worry about real estate values they have NEVER gone down from the previous year; Mortgages don’t require income or assets – doesn’t seem be causing a problem; We continue to run huge budget and trade deficits, despite strong economic growth – who me worry. One could say we are just as much in denial now as it relates to climate change – we’ve seen the highest average temperatures in the last ten years; we are seeing incredible variability in our weather and draughts in many places throughout the globe. Three years ago the prediction was an ice-free Arctic summer by 2040 – the latest predictions now say 2012 – just 3 years from now. Yet, when we get 20 degree weather in March, people say “global warming – sure.”

We should have learned by now that living in denial means just deferring the pain and increasing the level of suffering. Can we afford to disappoint our children yet again?

David Refkin is an international recognized sustainability expert based in New York.

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