June 28, 2017

What can we do about global warming?

This is one of a series of six talks by Edward Goldsmith, broadcast on the World Business Report programme of the BBC World Service, 15-19 December 2003.

See Related Articles on the right for others in the series.


Tuvalu is an island in the South Pacific with a population of 10,000 people. They know that they will soon be evacuated and are hoping to move to New Zealand, for climate change is causing sea levels to rise and already salt water intrusions are depriving them of drinkable water, and this is only the beginning.

This year’s heat waves, droughts, storms, and floods, have prompted the World Meteorological Organization to warn that “whereas climate change has long been a prediction, now it is a reality”. More so, it is going “haywire” – a term that this highly conservative body has probably never used before. However, the Bush administration is preventing anything from being done about it on the grounds that to do so would be bad for the American economy.

He does not realise, of course, that not to do so would be still worse. What would happen, for instance, to the tourist industry once temperatures rise and mountain areas and ski resorts no longer have any snow, and when, as sea levels rise, beach resorts no longer have beaches? What would happen to our travel agencies, to the hotel industry, the aircraft industry, the aviation industry? What would happen to agriculture when afflicted by worsening heat waves, longer droughts, and more destructive storms, not to mention when the sea level rises and agricultural lands are correspondingly affected by salt water intrusions and temporary or permanent flooding?

What too would happen to the insurance industry? Munich Re, one of Europe’s biggest insurance companies, tells us that whereas in the 1980s there were 3 climate-related natural disasters, costing the insurance industry more than a billion dollars each, in the 1990s there were 25 of them. If this trend persists there would be 200 during the present decade and 1,600 in the next.

Andrew D. L. Dlugolecki, when director of the biggest insurance group in the UK, has calculated that, on current trends, it will only take 62 years before the cost of climate-related storm-damage exceeds ‘Gross World Product’. How would this affect the US economy, Mr Bush? The answer is simple; there wouldn’t be a US economy – at least as we know it today.

What then should Mr Bush be doing? The first thing of course is to reduce the use of fossil fuels by increasing energy efficiency, and, in the USA, it could probably be increased by as much as 60 to 70 percent. Also clearly essential is a campaign to promote renewable energy.

However, this is not enough. Our natural forests must be religiously preserved, as must our soils and our wetlands, as well as the integrity of our seas and oceans, for they serve as sinks that absorb some 50 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. If they become too degraded, they will cease to do so, and could instead become sources of carbon dioxide, which would be catastrophic.

All this means rethinking the very nature of the world economy It claims to be geared to ‘sustainable development’ but there is precious little that is sustainable about it, and very deep changes are required if we are to have any future on this planet.

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