Archive for March 4th, 2010|Daily archive page

We are not prepared for what Mother Earth is throwing at us

In order to truly understand the geopolitical and geoeconomic paradigm of the world, we have to understand the geophysical. That was the main point Cleo Paskal made at yesterday morning’s New America Foundation event. She is the author of the new book Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map. Sounds interesting right? It was very interesting actually.

Her speech touched upon a few topics, the main ones being how environmental change presents challenges for physical infrastructure, service infrastructure, and legal structure. Before we take a quick look at these, let me clarify on what Cleo Paskal means when she says environmental change. Environmental change is a broader term which includes changes that would exist in the absence of climate change.

So Cleo Paskal cites hurricane Katrina as an obvious example. The levees broke, there was a lack of town planning and there was large scale subsidence. The damage to physical infrastructure was immense. The main point being that all of those things could still happen in the absence of climate change.

Furthermore, damaging physical infrastructure naturally leads to damaging service infrastructure. What if Washington DC were to experience a flood? What would that mean for the metro? I think it’s very easy to see how service infrastructure would be affected.

The not so obvious challenge environmental change presents is the legal one. For example, there is a type of bilateral maritime border agreement called equidistant borders which basically means that the maritime border is drawn right down the middle between two nations. So for example, if there were two countries that were 100 miles away from each other, the border would be drawn 50 miles out from the coast. But then the problem becomes what to do if you lose some of your coast due to rising sea levels? Do we redraw the border?

What about small island nations? Once they disappear, who controls that area of the ocean? Cleo Paskal stressed that our current legal structure is not sufficient to take into considerations those factors. These are very complicated issues that we need to figure out if we are to avoid conflict.

To stress my point again, we are not ready for Mother Earth. We are not ready politically, economically or physically. The bottom line is that we have to learn how to adapt to environmental change or else Mother Earth is going to kick our butts.



Evil Lobbying: It’s All Connected, Man

From Matthew Yglesias:

But by the same token, firms that don’t rely on an unusually large quantity of dirty energy inputs would actually benefit from reasonable carbon pricing even when you leave the environmental benefits aside. And, of course, even evil CEOs have children and grandchildren who stand to benefit from not wrecking the climate.

But “business” has largely stood together as a bloc on this.

And in general that’s what you’ve seen for decades—a highly ideological business community standing together against taxes and against tough regulations. Of course firms are always going to lobby vigorously in their own interests, but it would be plausible to imagine a world in which when you have an issue like climate change that firms who aren’t directly affected by the issue focus their energy on trying to see that it’s addressed in a responsible and economically optimal way.

The Chamber probably lost Microsoft and the other companies before because they were going out of their way to mean about climate. Yes, actually mean. They could have thrown their weight against the bill and made a point to talk nice about why or at least sound like they live in the 21st century, but instead they made an effort to trash not just the bill, but the entire idea of climate change.

The more important issue is that it’s not just some cultural elite tendency for big business to stick together, but a functional strategy. It’s much more important that powerful people in government listen to and defer to business and generally perceive elite ‘capture’ of their corner of the universe as the standard set of affairs.

If Microsoft wants to be socially responsible and support rational climate policy, as they appear to, then that creates a conflict of interest with the many of the lobbying firms, Chamber, or other groups which might help them lobby on anti-trust issues. Microsoft is big enough that they can go their own way and still get their core things done. But it’s always going to easier for the Chamber to put on a smiley face when bashing climate legislation and Microsoft to keep it’s head down.