Scholarly treatise suggests that only collective action can forestall the onrushing disaster of global warming.
The former chief economist of the World Bank, Stern takes a centrist approach to the thorny matter of how nations and industries should respond to this threat. Asked by then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in 2005 to undertake “an economic analysis of climate change,” Stern concluded that the potential risks to large swaths of the population were enormous, but so too were the opportunities for innovation and international cooperation. “We have to anticipate the catastrophe to avoid it,” he writes. “We have to act together, to create a global deal.” The author begins by sketching a grim, albeit familiar portrait of the dangers posed by a five-degree rise in global temperatures over the next several decades. That seems to be the scientific community’s worst-case consensus, but Stern points out that even a one- or two-degree temperature rise would drastically alter numerous regions, including Florida and the mid-Atlantic. Yet his tone remains optimistic, in part due to the departure of the intransigent Bush Administration; contrastingly, he notes of Barack Obama, “no American president has ever been more forthright on the subject.” Stern takes a jaundiced view of the role business has played in amplifying the problem, declaring that “greenhouse gas emissions constitute the greatest market failure the world has seen.” He notes that developing nations like India and China will bear the brunt of necessary change, even though Western nations, particularly the United States, have already benefited from the practices that led to global warming in the first place. “Moving to a low-carbon growth path will involve real economic and political costs,” he warns, and those costs will be inequitably distributed. His assessment that distinct actions can be pursued by individuals, communities and business firms suggests that the greatest obstacle to collective change—a lack of political will—is not insurmountable.
Erudite and effective, but also dense and repetitive, hence less likely to find a mainstream audience.