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Global warming could cause economic depression, report warns

As a Green, I am extremely concerned about global warming. Finally, even conservatives are beginning to acknowledge the current reality of global warming and what this could mean for rising ocean levels. Our local Pacifica Radio station, WPFW, was discussing new findings today. And then I ran across the following article. Signing onto the Kyoto Protocols should be just the first step for our government.

By William Neikirk

Chicago Tribune


WASHINGTON - Left unchecked, global warming could drive the world economy into a depression similar to the devastating downturn of the 1930s, the British government said Monday in a report that appeared designed to influence politics in the United States.

The report, written by Nicholas Stern, head of the British Government Economic Service and a former World Bank economist, said the environmental cost of global warming could range between 5 percent and 20 percent of the world's gross domestic product, or total annual economic output, after 2050.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has sought to persuade President Bush to take a more aggressive stance in tackling global warming, hired former Vice President Al Gore on Monday to advise his government on climate change - an action that could be considered a political shot across the bow. Gore, who has warned of the dangers of global warming for years, is one of Bush's sharpest critics on the environment.

Blair told reporters in London the report called for "bold and decisive action" and "demolished the last remaining argument for inaction in the face of climate change."

Supporters of proposals to reduce "greenhouse gas" emissions, as called for in an international agreement in Kyoto, Japan, in the 1990s, hailed the report for putting global warming in an economic context, and added that this could help change U.S. policy. Bush has refused to sign the Kyoto treaty because of the economic impact it would have on the U.S.

The report said the world could avoid drastic economic and environmental consequences by acting as soon as possible to cut industrial emissions that contribute to global warming. Bringing these emissions under control would cost the equivalent of 1 percent of annual economic output by 2050, the report said. That is a relatively modest cost to avoid a possible catastrophe, environmental groups said.

But critics said the Stern report is flawed. Jerry Taylor, an economist at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said it exaggerates the economic costs and the extent of global warming that would occur if allowed to go unabated. Previous global warming studies have shown relative modest economic impacts on the world, he said.

While Bush opposes the Kyoto treaty, he has proposed new "clean" energy initiatives that he said would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent by 2012. These include clean coal technology and expansion of alternative energy sources.

Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement that "the president has long recognized that climate change is a serious issue, and he has committed the U.S. to advancing and investing in the new technologies to help address this problem."

As for Gore's hiring, she said, "the U.K. can hire whomever they want."

Many Republicans think that Bush hasn't gone far enough. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., teaming with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., has proposed bipartisan legislation that would cap greenhouse gas emissions in the utility, transportation, industrial and commercial sectors. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have sponsored similar legislation.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he doubted that Bush would support either the Kyoto treaty or legislation that would require reduction of emissions. But he added that he believes the next president would sign on to an emissions-reduction program to cut global warming.

"The Stern report exposes the bankruptcy of the arguments of President Bush and some in Congress and industry that taking action on global warming will hurt the economy," Meyer added.

But Cato's Taylor said the report appeared to overstate the extent of global warming that would result if nothing were done to check it. The new British report estimates that, at current trends, global average temperatures would increase by 3.6 degrees to 5.4 degrees over the next 50 years. That's roughly double the amount of warming projected in other studies, Taylor said.

But if global temperatures should rise by such an amount, the report said, glaciers would melt and sea levels would rise. There would be drinking water shortages, widespread malnutrition and outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever. Such major cities as New York, London and Tokyo could be hit with flooding.

The report praised efforts by California and other states. Blair signed an agreement earlier this year with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to develop technologies to address climate change. Last month, the governor signed a measure imposing an emissions cap on utilities, refineries and manufacturing facilities.


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