In 2005, the British government asked Stern to lead a team of economists in preparing a review of the economic impacts of climate change. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is the seminal work on the issue, and it is an overwhelming read. But he now says it is dated. He now says it underestimated the dangers and the damages. Last week, he succinctly summarized his new understanding of the depth and intensity of the climate crisis:
It is increasingly likely that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced from their homelands in the near future as a result of global warming.
"When temperatures rise to that level, we will have disrupted weather patterns and spreading deserts," he said. "Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to leave their homelands because their crops and animals will have died. The trouble will come when they try to migrate into new lands, however. That will bring them into armed conflict with people already living there. Nor will it be an occasional occurrence. It could become a permanent feature of life on Earth."
Almost two years ago, I wrote that climate change is the most important issue humanity has ever faced. As Stern's words make clear, the crisis has only grown worse. The research and reports come in almost daily.
On Monday, a British newspaper reported on America's first climate refugees. That same day, British and Australian scientists announced that without climate mitigation, more than half of all plant species and one third of all animal species will lose more than half of their climatic range by 2080, with biodiversity declining almost everywhere. On Wednesday, came news that after a year that saw privately insured property losses of $35 billion, which is $11 billion and almost 50 percent above the past decade's average, the insurance industry accepts the scientific reality that by burning fossil fuels humans are causing climate change, which the industry expects to get worse. On Wednesday, we also had this:
“We are in the midst of dramatic assault on the security of the food supply,” said Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The group promotes ecological research into the nexus of diet, food production, environment and human health.
The primary culprit of all this menu mayhem is climate change, which is choking off certain crops already weakened by both genetic tinkering and chemically based farming, some experts contend.
A couple weeks ago, the World Meteorological Organization announced that 2012 was the ninth hottest year on record, and the years 2001-2012 were among the hottest thirteen on record. That same week, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached levels not seen since before humans existed, a time when the Arctic was a stunning 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is now.
And the climate crisis is growing worse.