Implications

The implications of the five challenges of the long emergency are becoming clear. The first priority for government now is to take preventive measures to avoid the worst of what could lie ahead (see www.climateactionproject.com and Becker, 2008). This requires urgent steps to reduce our own CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050 and to lead the global effort to prevent a temperature increase above 2°C (Hansen, 2008). An effective climate policy is predicated on an energy policy that rapidly moves us away from fossil fuels before supply interruptions and climate consequences become unmanageable and catastrophic.17 For those who say we cannot do anything about climate destabilization in the present unstable economic situation, the answer is obvious. Part of the reason we landed in the current economic crisis is that we've been spending upwards of $1 trillion each year on the wrong energy choices and another $600+ billion for imported oil.18 We have been unnecessarily hemorrhaging a stupendous amount of money for a long time, by one estimate upwards of $48 trillion since 1960. A McKinsey & Company study in 2007, however, showed that we could conservatively eliminate 30 percent of our carbon emissions by 2030 by improving energy efficiency at no net cost (McKinsey & Company, 2007). A more aggressive approach would lead to cuts perhaps as high as 50 percent, still at no net cost. Sharply improved efficiency and desubsidizing coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear would free revenues that could be put to better use stabilizing the economy and capital markets while building the foundation for a green economy ( Jones, 2008). In addition, the auction of permits to release carbon as part of a cap and trade system would generate ~$200+ billion each year, part of which could be used to finance the transition to an efficient solar and wind-powered economy. In short, a major cause of the present economic crisis is energy waste and inefficiency, but by the same logic radically improving energy efficiency and deploying solar and wind technologies can be a major part of the solution because these are the fastest and least costly solutions for multiple problems. Said differently, adoption of a robust energy policy is the fastest and cheapest way to improve the economy, environment, health, and equity and increase security. It is the keystone issue, not just another stone in the arch.19

Standing in the way of that transition, however, is an army of lobbyists hired by the coal, oil, and nuclear industries. Among other things, they argue for a "balanced" energy policy, one that "keeps all options on the table." Doing so appears to be reasonable because we have not developed a coherent way to make "apples to apples" comparisons among various alternatives, including efficiency, distributed solar energy, coal, nuclear power, and biofuels. Were we to do so, we would insist that choices be made on the full costs of various options, including:

• The energy required to capture, process, and transport energy in its various forms,

• Opportunity costs measured as carbon removed per dollar invested,

• All environmental impacts, including those of future climate change,

• Costs of all federal, state, and local subsidies, including levies not collected,

• Costs of insurance against potentially catastrophic failure, and

• Social impacts, especially to the poor.

It makes no sense whatsoever to choose policies that switch from potentially catastrophic problems to those that are merely ruinous. Proposals for "clean coal," for example, ought to be evaluated against all of the effects of mining on land, water, and people, as well as the costs and uncertainties of sequestering carbon in perpetuity at a cost that competes fairly with all other alterna-tives.20 Similarly, consideration of nuclear power must include the subsidies for fuel enrichment and the costs of insurance against accidents, decommissioning power plants, and storage of highlevel wastes in perpetuity, as well as the civil liberty implications of securing the nuclear fuel cycle and guarding its waste products for thousands of years, the effects on weapons proliferation, and an analysis of the risk of catastrophic failure on a Chernobyl scale, whether by acts of God, human error, or malice.21 In short, compared to every other choice nuclear power is slow, expensive, dangerous, incompatible with democracy, and uncompeti-tive with benign, cheaper, and more agile alternatives. All energy choices, however, must be measured against the potential for radically increased efficiency at the point of end use, distributed solar technologies, and better design of communities, neighborhoods, and public transport that would eliminate the need for a large fraction of current fossil energy use.

Second, under the multiple stresses described above, it is likely that economic contraction, not expansion, will become the norm. If so, many things that we associate with economic growth will be at risk. Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman, for one, argues that broad-based economic growth is directly related to the moral advancement of society, by which he means greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and democracy (2005, pp. 4-5). The relationship is at least questionable; as per capita wealth has increased, our willingness to help alleviate both domestic and global poverty seems to have declined. It is just as likely that, beyond some threshold, economic growth generates consumerism, selfishness, and egoism, corrodes character, and foreshortens concern (Douthwaite, 1993; Sennett, 1998).

In either case, governments in the long emergency will have to learn to manage the economy under conditions in which quantitative growth will slow and eventually stop. Many otherwise credible analysts, however, recoil at the idea of limits to growth, in part because the ideology of growth has become so deeply embedded in our economic orthodoxy, politics, institutions, and personal expectations that we cannot imagine living with less in a steady-state economy. More seriously, limits to growth would require that we face the daunting political challenge of distributing wealth fairly.22 Instead, even the most progressive politicians call only for "sustainable development," one suspects without a clue what that means or what it might entail. "What politicians will not admit," in University of Surrey professor Tim Jackson's words, "is that we have no idea if such a radical transformation is even possible, or if so, what it would look like. Where will the investment and resources come from? Where will the wastes and the emissions go? What might it feel like to live in a world with 10 times as much economic activity as we have today?" (2008). What is clear, however, is that growth predicated on the availability of cheap fossil fuels and the belief that we could burn them with impunity is coming to an end. So, too, the power of the developed world to offload the ecological costs, risks, and burdens of economic growth on the third world and future generations. One study shows, for example, that between 1961 and 2000, 87 percent of an estimated $91 billion of global ecological debt was imposed on third-world countries, a number three times their total foreign debt.23 The doctrine of perpetual growth was also impervious to the evidence of mounting constraints imposed by the global drawdown of natural capital of soils, forests, and resources, and the larger ecological effects of waste disposal on the atmosphere and oceans. The faster economies grew, the greater the cumulative damage. Finally, the idea that the global economy can grow continually in the 2i st century requires one to believe that we will make a seamless transition from a profligate consumer-driven economy to an era of natural capitalism, that decision makers will choose wisely, and that corporate chiefs will act for the long-term good—not that there will be what appear later to be mistakes, greed, panic, and a mad scramble to seize whatever one can get while the getting's good. The effect of the boom years was a kind of success trap in which we built economies on the shifting sands of illusion, greed, ill-will, and fear.

Economic growth, as presently conceived, cannot be sustained nor should it be. The economy, in Herman Daly's words, "is now reaching the point where it is outstripping Earth's ability to sustain it" (2008). As Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins argue in Natural Capitalism, there is a better economy to be created that does not depend on drawing down natural capital, imposing costs on the poor or our posterity, confusing prosperity with growth, and risking global catastrophe (1999). But the development of that economy will require clarity about the fair distribution of wealth and risk and shrewd public policies.24 It will require us to relearn the arts of frugality, sharing, and neigh-borliness. It will take a bit of ingenuity to craft what Howard and Elisabeth Odum call a "prosperous way down" (2001). But as the largest debtor nation in world history, we have less of a cushion to soften the effects of the downturn than had been presumed. The Congressional Budget Office forecast of the U.S. debt in 2050 cited above does not include the likely costs of climate change and damages from drought, storms, and degradation or loss of ecological services that we take for granted. Nor does it include the costs of possible terrorist events in the United States.

A third implication of the long emergency is that government will be required to take unprecedented measures to relocate people displaced by drought, storms, and continuously rising sea levels. A sizeable fraction of the U.S. population now lives within 100 miles of a coast and is therefore vulnerable to both increased severity of storms and rising sea levels. Hurricanes Katrina (in 2005) and Ike (in 2008) preview what lies ahead as larger and probably more frequent storms batter coasts. The scientific evidence cited above indicates that ice in Greenland and Antarctica is melting much more rapidly than previously thought. As a result, sea levels will eventually inundate coasts worldwide, including U.S. cities such as New Orleans, Miami, Charleston, Washington, Baltimore, New York, and Boston. We may choose to protect some with dikes, but that will be hugely expensive and probably doomed to failure if global temperatures increase much beyond 2°C. In that situation, the more likely scenario is that millions of people will be forced to leave their homes and property and move to higher ground. But it is not just the people living along coastlines who are at risk. As the mid-continent becomes hotter and drier and subject to more severe tornadoes, storms, and floods like that of 2008 in Iowa or worse, the region will become less habitable as well. As rainfall diminishes in the Southwest, one plausible scenario is that:

Businesses and families begin to abandon Phoenix, creating a Grapes of Wrath—like exodus in reverse. Long lines of vehicles clog the freeways, heading east toward the Mississippi and north toward Oregon and Washington. Burning hot, parched, and broke, the city that rose from the ashes achieves its apogee and falls back toward the fire. (Powell, 2008, p. 240)

In short, governments will have to relocate and house growing numbers of people. In the decades ahead, we must prepare for a future in which large storms, flood, fire, and drought, as well as acts of terrorism, will become the norm. The capacity of emergency management will have to be made much more robust and effective, not just for intermittent events but for multiple events, which may occur regularly. When climate change—driven emergencies become normal, government must have the capacity to quickly and effectively rebuild shattered communities and economies on a more resilient basis.

A fourth implication follows. In the foreseeable future the food system will become increasingly vulnerable to higher prices for fertilizer, pesticides, and fuels for farm operations, transport, processing, and distribution. Moreover, the stresses of higher temperatures, prolonged drought, changing crop diseases, and storms associated with climate destabilization could reduce farm output. The study cited above (p. 20) by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research indicates that by 2050 much of the American Midwest will be unsuitable to grow wheat.25 In other words, after the peak of oil extraction and in a greenhouse world, the dependability of food supply cannot be taken for granted. To till, harvest, process, transport, and market food 1,500 miles from farm to kitchen, the present agricultural system is said to require a dozen fossil fuel calories for each food calorie. All of this is to say that in the long emergency ahead we may plausibly expect that governments once again will have to deal with the ancient scourge of famine, new technologies notwithstanding.

A final implication of the long emergency concerns the necessity of mobilizing a coalition large enough and steady enough to change our politics, economy, and manner of living to fit biophysical realities. The problem is that many people tend to deny bad news, especially when it is complicated and solutions may be costly and inconvenient. Improving the state of the environment has long been that kind of problem. From Plato's observations about soil erosion in the hills of Greece in the 4th century b.c. to George Perkins Marsh's observation in 1864 that humans were everywhere a disturbing environmental force, no government and no society took the evidence seriously enough to do much about it. The reasons are not hard to find. The rate of environmental change was often slow enough as to be virtually invisible to any one generation, which assumed the deterioration to be natural—the problem of "shifting baselines." Many of the causes of ecological deterioration were simply unknown or operated at a scale—either too large or too small—or at a velocity—either too fast or too slow—that we could not comprehend. And much enamored of science and technology and blinded by the 18 th-century ideology of progress and economic growth, we did not see what was happening right before our eyes. In the 20th century, the warnings came more often and helped to launch the environmental movement of the 1960s. But the totality of the problem remained shrouded in political controversy and concealed by complexity and was mostly ignored by much of the public, which was happily diverted by consumption and mass entertainment. In the opening decades of the 2i st century, the evidence of global environmental collapse is unmistakable—the result of decades of failed policies and inadequate remedies (Speth, 2008).

But how do we say such things to the public effectively enough to galvanize a constituency for significant changes in government, business, and daily life? On one side of the debate are many with a deep concern about the state of the environment who believe that the public, told the full truth, would either ignore it or become despondent. On the other side are those who believe that the only chance to mobilize the public in the brief time available is to speak the truth without exaggeration, but without diluting it with "happy talk." There is, in other words, a serious difference between those who, like T. S. Eliot, believe that "human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality" and those who advocate an approach like that of Winston Churchill in i940, who summoned the British people to a considerable level of heroism, while offering only "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." With bombs falling on London, Churchill did not talk cheerily about the new opportunities for urban renewal or the possibilities for defeating the Nazis at a profit. But one of the unknowns of our time is whether we are still the kind of people who can be summoned to heroism when it's all on the line. I write in the belief that we are, but more than ever before a great deal of that optimism is based on the hope for wise and farsighted leadership at all levels.

Our models of great leaders, however, are most often military figures in situations in which the stakes were clear, the adversary dependably loathsome, and the duration of the crisis reasonably short. Public morale was expressed as fierce devotion to the nation or the cause until a final victory quickly won. Morale in the century or more ahead, however, will require an extraordinary stamina and more extensive loyalties that unleash creativity, not animosity. In such circumstances, people will respond with greater intelligence and alacrity if they see themselves as part of something noble, not just as consumers and cogs in an economic machine. In short, beyond better technologies and policies, morale in the years ahead will depend on a widely shared vision of a livable future in radically altered conditions.

The list of things to be done is long. We must, accordingly, summon the clarity of mind necessary to separate the urgent from the merely important and identify strategic leverage points where small changes will generate large effects. To stabilize and then reduce concentrations of greenhouse gases we must make a rapid transition to a resilient economy organized around energy efficiency and solar energy while reversing ecological deterioration and fending off probable terrorist attacks on cities and critical infrastructure. On the global level the United States must help to lead the effort to forge a global bargain that fairly distributes the costs, risks, and benefits of the transition within and between generations. Theologian Thomas Berry calls this our "Great Work" (Berry, 1999).

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