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Thank god I'll be dead by then

It has been way too easy to ignore those with the most to lose from climate change - future generations


Chart showing the impact of different degrees of global warming

I can't be the only one who looks at estimates of global warming, like this one from Datawrapper, and feels a bit grateful that I won't necessarily be around when the planet boils. Having been born in the 1980s, some global warming is happening in my lifetime. But I will probably be dead, or very old, by the time the worst effects are felt.


Concern and guilt are in the mix too. I know that there will be people suffering, and I've played a role in that through my emissions. I do reduce my carbon footprint.


Unfortunately, COP26 is running into challenges with Russia, India and China refusing a pledge to cut methane emissions, a major driver of climate change, demonstrating yet again that humanity struggles to do what it takes on climate issues. Frankly, climate change is probably less of an issue than peoples’ ability to agree on stuff - to the extent that if people could agree, we could probably solve climate change.


The biggest inequity today is intergenerational


Humanity is already seeing death due to climate change, but it's going to get worse. It is enough to make you understand why people are choosing not to have kids. This is of course good news for the climate, saving nearly 8 tonnes of carbon per year per child (this figure is a reflection of consumption, rather than simply 'being alive'). Nevertheless, people shouldn't be forced to make a choice on that basis.


Intergenerational equity has been a relatively small issue over the past few centuries for developed economies with the next generation usually being better off than the last. Being better off than one's parents feels like a right.


There is some intergenerational inequity on a 'small' scale, for example the cost of housing. Government borrowing is another example, with future generations paying off the debt governments incur today, but also benefiting from some expenditure e.g. infrastructure. These examples don't worry me too much - that's a reflection of priorities, not that they don't matter.


Climate change is in a whole different league in terms of the equity impact. Humanities' actions since the industrial revolution have created a situation where, at a very specific moment in time, humanity could face an existential crisis.


Could we see a tax on retirees to foot the future bill for climate change? Who knows. I wouldn't blame the generations most affected by climate change for wanting to address some of the inequity.


Ghost rising from a dead person's body

It has been easy to ignore climate change while the people that will suffer most from it aren't here, that's changing


One of the principles of democracy is that everyone has a voice. That's been impossible with climate change because the generations seriously affected haven't been able to vote until relatively recently.


An ageing electorate in developed countries probably hasn't helped tackle climate change either. Younger people are more vocal supporters of climate action. Older people have less incentive, not that it's a non-issue.


Nevertheless, as the population seriously affected by climate change gets bigger, there will be even more sustained pressure on governments to implement carbon-neutral/reducing policy.


Perhaps there is a case to issue huge amounts of green debt to fuel a transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Kick the can down the road, but less in a way that destroys the environment. Better to pass the future generations lots of debt than a messed-up planet. Such an approach may create the mother of all economic hangovers, but hopefully, it could shift emissions onto a more sustainable path.


Will extreme climate action be too late? Possibly. Irreversible, runaway global warming as a result of glacial melt and deforestation etc. is possible even if humanity is more diligent. It's all a bit depressing. Best not to think about it.


 

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