Are We In A Climate Doom Loop?
As the realities of climate change are increasingly felt around the world, in the form of more frequent and extreme weather events, rising global temperatures and water stress and scarcity, it’s possible that having to deal with these symptoms more regularly will hinder efforts to address the root cause of the situation, creating a doom loop that will become increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves from.
A new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Chatham House has suggested that the world is now approaching a trickier stage of the climate crisis where the symptoms are proving obstructive, with huge resources being used to respond to climate-related disasters and crises related to environmental destruction.
While perhaps unavoidable, the researchers have now issued a warning that these demands could come at a great cost, taking resources, time and effort away from the green transition that’s required in order to decarbonise the global economy.
This, the report continues, could create a doom loop where the impacts of the climate crisis draw focus and resources away from the underlying causes and the urgent action that’s required to address them properly.
Various recommendations were included in the publication to help governments and environmentalists respond, including developing narratives that prove to be motivational, even in the face of deepening climate and nature crises.
Additionally, it was suggested that the focus of environmental politics be shifted decisively towards realising economic transformation. This could be achieved by moving beyond describing the problem and putting climate targets in place instead that focus on the necessary economic policies to transform societies, such as an approach to public finances that enables government-led green investment.
And training future leaders was also put forward as a potential solution, ensuring that younger people are better prepared to head up the green transition despite the distractions presented by a world where temperature increases are close to or above 1.5 degrees C… or even two degrees C.
One example of a doom loop presented in the report was the disagreement over how best to inspire the accelerated changes that are now necessary in order to prevent a rise above the 1.5 degree C target for global temperatures.
While some believe that declaring that this target is still in reach is the most powerful motivator to enact change, others think that breathing the limit could serve as a robust wakeup call to encourage policymakers to ramp up their efforts.
However, both these viewpoints can potentially be exploited by so-called climate delayers, who want to block transformational change and who don’t want to deliver rapid greenhouse gas emissions.
As an alternative, these delayers recommend the use of technologies that are both untested and potentially dangerous, such as finding ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere on an impossible scale or injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere to reduce heating by the sun. These could both possibly be used to justify the continued use of fossil fuels.
The report went on to liken this doom loop strategic risk to a ship that has been sailing too long towards a storm on the horizon, without changing course. As the storm starts to take over the ship, it becomes increasingly difficult for the crew to escape, as they’re too distracted by the immediate impacts of the squall.
Commenting on the findings, Laurie Laybourn – associate fellow of the IPPR and visiting fellow at Chatham House – said: “It’s too late to avoid the climate storm altogether, and the challenge of navigating around a storm is very different to the challenge of navigating through it. Our ability to steer out of the storm is frustrated by having to manage the impacts of the storm on the ship.
“This is an analogy for the challenge facing environmentalism as we head closer to 1.5 degrees C of global heating. The worsening symptoms of the climate and ecological crisis – storms, food price shocks, conflict – will increasingly distract us from realising action to tackle its root causes.
“Slower decarbonisation and restoration of nature will create worse crises, which could undermine the support and resources needed for the green transition. Breaking out of this doom loop requires governments, businesses and environmentalists to more actively preempt these threats.”
Making the green transition and operating more sustainably across the board will also bring with it other benefits aside from reducing climate-related impacts, it seems.
Previous research from the IPPR suggests that investing further public funding in net zero could actually drive economic growth, as well as reducing the damage caused by our changing climate… action that would also prove to be particularly popular with members of the general public.
It was found that making investments now to tackle climate change head on is the most responsible and cost-saving policy that the government could enact, providing an opportunity to boost economic growth and increase public revenue.
It’s estimated that net zero will boost GDP by two per cent by 2030 and three per cent by 2050, off the back of high-value high-skilled new industries and cheaper energy. And, interestingly, a 0.5 percentage point increase in GDP would allow around £12 billion more in public spending.
But on the flip side of this, not taking climate change action is becoming increasingly expensive. For example, flooding events seen in 2019/2020 cost the country’s economy £333 million. And investing in cleaner air, more green spaces and less pollution would reduce the NHS burden by some £2 billion a year.
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