Trillions have been plowed into bailing out banks, investors, and whole countries during the economic crisis. The cost easily exceeds total investment in tackling climate change. Is it, as George Monbiot argues, that elites just look out for themselves, or are humans just incapable of perceiving the danger of large, slowly-building problems?
“capping climate change would cost around 1% of global GDP, while sitting back and letting it hit us would cost between 5 and 20%. One per cent of GDP is, at the moment, $630bn. By March 2009, Bloomberg has revealed, the US Federal Reserve had committed $7.77 trillion to the banks. That is just one government’s contribution: yet it amounts to 12 times the annual global climate change bill. Add the bailouts in other countries, and it rises several more times.
This support was issued on demand: as soon as the banks said they wanted help, they got it. On just one day the Federal Reserve made $1.2tr available – more than the world has committed to tackling climate change in 20 years……
Much of this was done both unconditionally and secretly: it took journalists two years to winkle out the detail. The banks shouted “help” and the government just opened its wallet. This all took place, remember, under George W Bush, whose administration claimed to be fiscally conservative.
But getting the US government to commit to any form of bailout for the planet – even a couple of billion – is like pulling teeth. “Unaffordable!” the Republicans (and many of the Democrats) shriek. It will wreck the economy! We’ll go back to living in caves!
I’m often struck by the wildly inflated rhetoric of those who accuse environmentalists of scaremongering. “If those scaremongers have their way they’ll destroy the entire economy” is the kind of claim uttered almost daily, without any apparent irony.
No legislator, as far as I know, has yet been able to explain why making $7.7tr available to the banks is affordable, while investing far smaller sums in new technologies and energy saving is not……..
………So why is it so easy to save the banks and so hard to save biosphere? If ever you needed evidence that our governments operate in the interests of the elite, rather than the world as a whole, here it is”
I wonder if there isn’t more parallel between the reactions to the two situations. Governments were actually warned through-out the 2000s that the house-booming/credit explosion was unsustainable but their short-term interest was in growth and happy voters. So, they let it slide until it all came tumbling down and even partial fixes have been enormously expensive. Is it the same with climate change? We could act now at relatively low cost. But we seem determined to ignore the problem until it becomes so big that facing it will be an all-consuming battle.
In many ways, we’re just hairless chimps – our minds just aren’t built to understand and rationally react to big, long-term issues. What we do understand is short-term fight or flight, and how to fight over who has power.