[Listen to the testimony to the Senate by clicking on the title above. It is 30 important minutes for the planet.]
Sir Nicholas Stern, the UK economist who caught the attention of the business world, when he warned of the huge costs of ignoring climate change, testified before the US Senate Energy Committee on February 13th, 2007.
This hearing would never have been held before the Democratic takeover of the Senate and its committees. It is a sea change in the development of American climate policy. Sir Nicholas advises former heresies, like a cap on total carbon emissions for the United States, a carbon tax, and even a higher tax on gasoline.
Let’s go straight to the Senate, for the ten minute testimony of Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Report. Then we’ll pick up on a couple of key questions and answers between Senators and Mr. Stern, on contentious problems like the lack of carbon controls in China and India. Here is Nicholas Stern:
[clip of 10 minute presentation; based on his report prepared for the British Government, estimating the costs of continued growth of our greenhouse gas emissions with no global action to contain them – and the resulting damage – compared to the cost of taking action to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The future is difficult to predict, but if the world atmosphere exceeds 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide, as it will by the end of this century at our current rate of pollution growth, then the climate could rush anywhere from 3 degrees to 6 six degrees warmer, as a global average. Some places would increase more than that. And those are degrees Celsius, meaning up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit change.
He finds the cost of inaction will result in so much damage to the world’s agricultural and economic systems that a future generation will “pay” or lose, anywhere from 5 percent, up to 20 percent, of the total economic wealth of the world. Yet preventing the worse, and most rapid, climate change would only cost 1 percent of our current annual production. Even in the best case scenario, he says, where only 5 % of the global gross production is lost due to climatic change (storms, droughts, heat waves, insect and disease increase, etc) – it is still far cheaper to spend the 1% and control carbon.
This 1 percent is still trillions of dollars over the next decade or so. Stern explains the application of this study to the American situation, backing his statements with the recent Working Group One report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.]
That was British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, testifying before the Senate Energy Committee on February 13th, 2007.
Stern also warned that adaptation is becoming as important as cutting emissions.
[clip: some climate change is now inevitable, and we must prepare]
Now let’s look at China. The America Senators brought up the common excuse for inaction in their country. Why should we regulate carbon, or capture it using expensive new systems, when the Chinese do nothing to control their vast coal burning emissions?
[this clip is fascinating. A Senator asks a question, where there seems to be a code word “productive powers” or the like, for “international corporations”. He complains that these “powers” have frustrated other efforts globally by moving their manufacturing operations, and jobs, to places where two factors exist: a low wage work force with lax or no government regulation; and a location with lax or no environmental regulations or enforcement. If carbon is captured and stored, or other expensive technologies are required of industry in America, he asks, what stops American jobs from disappearing yet again to places where dumping carbon in the atmosphere is still free.
He gives the example where multinational corporations over-ruled an effort by the Philippine government to raise the minimum wage there. And says there is no enforcement of carbon or pollution laws in Chinese industry, despite green statements made by officials there, or laws on the books. Why should the U.S. spend all this money on carbon control, when China and India do not?
Sir Nicholas answers that concern. He talks of steps the Chinese are taking – especially since leaders in both India and China are well aware that their civilizations are threatened if the massive glaciers in the Himalayas melt. These are the sources of major river systems of India and China. The glaciers are also a type of stabilization system, preventing some floods, and yet providing a steady flow until harvest time, even without rain. Perhaps a billion people depend on this system.
He says he has spend decades living in both India and China. Sir Nicholas then says it is up to wealthier more developed countries to develop and apply the technology of carbon capture and storage, apply regulations about energy efficiency, put a cap on national carbon emissions, and tax carbon, especially gasoline, heavily. All that is what he advises these legislators of America. In his presentation, he does not mention or recommend either nuclear power or the most benign sources of energy, solar and wind.
Applying carbon control would cost America about 1% of its GDP, Stern says. And that is an affordable cost that would not cripple the economy.
An American Senator points out there has been some progress using carbon capture and storage in his state. Here are several short clips about carbon capture and storage technology, as a way to make sustainable fossil fuels.
[the Senator from North Dakota describes America’s only coal-gasification plant, which captures the carbon and pumps it through long pipelines to depleted oil wells in Alberta, Canada. The carbon goes back down into the ground, and stimulates a bit more oil production from the older wells. Nicholas Stern offers his approval of carbon capture and storage, describes its importance, and is echoes by two other American economists present. ]
Finally, Stern is asked what American legislators can learn from the European experience with cap and trade, so far.
[Stern says the first experiment in Europe did poorly because too many pollution permits were sold. So, the price of carbon for trading fell too low. But another round is beginning, and this time the agency is not offering so many permits, and the price is expected to rise. Stern hopes the Americans will design a system that will be able to hook up to the European trading scheme, and any developed in other parts of the world, especially Asia. But no one needs to wait for a new global treaty, he says. The time to act is now, and in the country where you are.]
This compilation of Stern’s testimony before the Senate comes from a Senate broadcast site, at:
The video says it is over 2 hours long, but in fact, if you go to view it, the title screen sits there stupidly for about 19 and a half minutes. To view, click on the link, wait for your viewer (Windows Media Player, Real Player, or whatever) to come up, wait a minute or two for more of the broadcast to load, and then pull the slider to 19 minutes and 45 seconds. The show starts after that, and runs for about an hour and 40 minutes.
The point of my audio is to save you some time, and hit the key points in less than 30 minutes. This testimony is important, as a key representative, of European thought and planning for government, arrives in the United States, to a new Democratic Senate and House, and a new awareness in the American media – and public – about the threat of climate change.