The other day I was checking my IRA and updating the free retirement plan tracker. And it reminded me that I really don’t know if my retirement plan is on track because I do not know how long I will live.
It occurred to me that most policymakers still have not settled climate change’s comparable question: What climate are they planning for? (And I base this observation on the more than 600 conversations the Alliance for Market Solutions has had with policymakers about climate change over the last four years.)
The ongoing debate over climate science has created an aura of uncertainty about climate forecasts. And this may upset some of my fellow climate advocates, but discussions about limiting the rising global temperature to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius have had a deleterious effect, as it causes some policymakers to think there are credible scenarios to limit the impact of climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, advocates, like me, proposing various policies—like hawkers at a fair—have created a cacophony when the need for calm, clear consideration of the issue is more important than ever.
All of this leads me to believe that our climate change conversation really needs to consider that we are not on track to stabilizing the climate. Our country is not close, developed nations are not close, and developing nations are going to exacerbate the problem before they can start contributing to the solution.
We need a base case.
We should acknowledge and emphasize that global temperatures are on course to increase 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit and seas to rise 3.5 to 4 feet by 2100. That is not being climate alarmists. It is equivalent to an actuary’s estimate of how long we will live for retirement planning purposes. The estimate may be off, but it is what we need to plan for. (MIT’s En-ROADS policy simulation model and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration model are my go-to sources).
Once we accept the base case, there is a myriad of challenging issues we need to consider. Sea level rise is not the only problem we will face, but it is one of the clearest. And it alone raises some important questions:
- Should we try to prevent flooding in low-lying areas like southern Florida, Louisiana, and Manhattan? Or should we retreat?
- Should the government intervene to limit financial losses by continuing to subsidize the federal flood insurance program? Or should rising insurance costs be one of the pressures that cause people to leave low-lying areas?
- Could losses on federally backed mortgages in areas that flood destabilize the federal mortgage portfolio?
- Should we move Naval Station Norfolk?
These are only a few of several sea level rise-related questions. And, again, sea level rise is not the only problem. Plus, there are several policy questions that should be considered about all the climate-related issues.
We could adopt policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we could eventually reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses. There are a range of policies that could do that, and that is what climate advocates are clamoring for. But we need to be clearer about why we think those policies are important. And we must acknowledge that “solutions” to climate change will not stop climate change. They will only lessen its severity and impact.
Currently, my retirement planner estimates I will live to be 92, so I am saving accordingly. And scientists forecast an average global temperature rise of 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, so we and the rest of the world need to enact climate policies accordingly.