By Janelle Clausen
Arts and Features Editor
Mark Schapiro, a renowned environmental journalist, said that environmental issues “ultimately get to the fundamental struggles of our society” on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at the Charles B. Wang Center at a lecture about climate change’s impact on the global economy.
Environmental issues are really boiled down to “the allocation of resources, the matters of geopolitics, the core of economics” and questions of how business operates,” Schapiro said.
“Carbon Shock: A Tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of the Disrupted Economy” documents how climate change is restructuring the global economy. But the trip is also one of many over the course of his lifetime as an award-winning journalist, who frames the climate change issue as an economic one.
Earth’s average temperature has already risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century due to humanity’s mass burning of fossil fuels, which leads to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases build-up that traps heat in the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This has meant more floods, droughts, severe heat waves, melting ice caps and more because of the changing climate. Currently, the world is at a point called the “end of stationarity,” the baseline at which scientists measure change, Schapiro said, because the change is so rapid.
The general costs of climate change “has many names,” Schapiro said, like crop insurance in the U.S., which shows losses jumping from $10 to 17 billion in recent years. This is but a small piece in the “hundreds and hundreds” of billions that would go towards things like addressing inadequate infrastructure, droughts and northward creep of diseases as climate change intensifies.
The fact that these costs are considered “externalized” with oil companies, he noted, is a sign of a “dishonest economic system.”
“One of the greatest banners of a big climate march would really be something as simple as honest accounting,” Schapiro said, “because the minute you start doing honest accounting, the relative inexpensivity of fossil fuels vis-a-vis renewables begins to dissolve.”
But companies and large entities are beginning to recognize threats from climate change. Schapiro noted that General Mills, one of the world’s largest grain processors, had periodic calls to investors about extreme heat and violent storms disrupting supply chains, the Department of Defense considers it a national security threat and a Global Economic Forum report acknowledged that the two biggest threats were rising inequality and declining water supplies, both tied to the stresses climate change puts on resources.
Challenges to the status quo, however, are dotting the planet. When it comes to dealing with something like a “transnational pollutant” that knows no borders, Schapiro said as an example, there are “few models” ready to address it, but people are challenging this.
“What’s interesting right now, about this time period we’re in- thank God you guys are all studying this in one form or another- is you’re in a period of enormous dynamism when it comes to the responses to climate change, which are beginning to rewrite the fundamental legal, regulatory and financial rules in response to this huge challenge we all face,” Schapiro said.
Some students expected to learn more, but his message seemed clear.
“I think that everything he said is true,” said Danica Warres, a marine biology major involved in conservation, “and something that we need to be thinking about right now that people don’t want to think about.”