We are learning once again that we typically incur a cost, sometimes unimaginably high, when we ignore what experts tell us.
Scientists have long warned about the looming peril. Yet, when we saw the first signs of the catastrophe they had predicted, we thought it was overblown, or it wouldn’t really affect us here or, even if it did, that we could quickly engineer a solution.
So when we had a chance to combat the threat early enough to significantly reduce or possibly even stop it, too many around the world dithered. Precious time was squandered. That was especially true in the United States, where President Donald Trump labeled it "a hoax" and assured all who would listen that dire warnings by experts should be ignored.
We refer, of course, not to the raging COVID-19 pandemic but to the impending disaster still ahead of us — climate change, which figures in the coming decades to inflict several orders of magnitude more pain and human suffering as sea levels rise, growing zones shift, diseases spread, storms intensify and huge populations are displaced.
In addition to immense human costs, it also will come with staggering financial burdens. The COVID-19 pandemic is certain to cost the global economy unknown trillions — currently projected to be $4.1 trillion — but that will be dwarfed by the bill for allowing climate change to go unchecked. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global economic damage will be $54 trillion if world temperatures increase by 1.5° C by 2100 and $69 trillion if the world warms by 2° C.
The really bad news? Temperatures are already 1° C above pre-industrial age averages and, at our current trajectory, will increase by at least 3° C by the end of the century.
And it’s too late at this point to stop global temperatures from rising — because of the levels of greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere, a global increase of 1.6° C is "baked in."
So, just as with our current efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the best we can do is to try to mitigate the damage, flatten the rising temperature curve by implementing measures like pricing carbon to reduce the use of fossil fuels, subsidizing clean energy, using nuclear power and embracing other solutions.
The 2015 Paris Climate Accords were a good first step in that direction, proving that necessary coordinated global action is possible, even if many countries likely will fail to meet their emission targets. But that is only a first step, and much crucial work and difficult decisions remain.
What we can’t afford to do is go backward, and yet the Trump administration last week took the mind-numbing step of gutting future fuel efficiency standards set during Barack Obama’s presidency. We have to hope that action, sure to be challenged in court by states and environmental groups, will not be allowed to stand.
Of course, many skeptics not only question the science of climate change but cite the high cost of moving toward a greener, more sustainable future. They say we simply can’t afford to take the steps necessary to avert that potential calamity.
But the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us again the even higher cost of ignoring the warnings of the experts.
Just imagine how unbearably high that cost could be next time, when there would be no hope of a vaccine to save us.
— Akron Beacon Journal