A report released this week concluded that extreme weather, exacerbated by climate change, caused economic losses in the United States of approximately US$240 billion per year in the past decade. In 2017 alone, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, along with 76 wildfires across nine Western US states (including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) caused nearly US$300 billion in losses and damage, according to the Universal Ecological Fund. They expect the cost to rise to US$360 billion per year in the next decade.
Climate change isn’t a major source of anxiety for most Argentines. A recent UADE-Voices! survey showed only nine percent considered it the most important global issue, behind drug-trafficking (18 percent), wars (14 percent), and humantrafficking (10 percent), and just ahead of global hunger (seven percent). Yet, intense flooding in Cordoba, Santa Fe, La Pampa, and Buenos Aires, along with draughts and wildfires, have caused extensive damage and loss in the “breadbasket of the world,” figures which end up being forgotten in the face of rising yields for soybeans and the Mauricio Macri administration’s favourable taxation treatment of the agricultural sector.
Whatever you may think about manmade climate change, it has become crystal clear to scientists that global warming is happening, leading to hotter days becoming hotter and more frequent, along with droughts and heavy storms occurring with greater intensity. At Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory — where they first proved plate tectonics and successfully predicted El Niño’s devastating weather patterns — the focus has been put on lowering CO2 levels, addressing rising sea levels, and predicting extreme weather. They are developing a method to convert CO2 into rock and trying to predict how melting at the poles will affect coastal regions, where 2.75 billion people will live — and be at risk — by 2025.
At the political level, it is disappointing to see US President Donald Trump call climate change a “hoax” and claim that he will pull his country out of the Paris Agreement, despite it being a voluntarily imposed target of CO2 reductions. Looking to generate “energy independence,” Trump has rolled back a variety of the Barack Obama administration’s climate projects including the Clean Power Plan and the Climate Action Plan, leading the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) to label US policies “critically insufficient” to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The US is the world’s second largest emitter of CO2, well ahead of Russia and India, and behind China.
In Argentina, the Macri administration has been good at marketing its intentions to tackle climate change, but this is still not enough. This year has een declared the “year of renewable energy” and the government has committed to meeting eight percent of Argentina’s electricity demand with renewables by 2018 and 20 percent by 2025. We currently stand below two percent. The government has already awarded more than 2,400 megawatts in competitive renewable energy auctions in the context of their RenoVar project, with the support of the World Bank.
Even having passed a BioFuels law and a Renewable Energy law, CAT considers Argentina’s voluntary Paris Agreement targets absolutely out of reach under current policies, with CO2 emissions projected to increase 50 percent above 2010 levels by 2030.
Cognitively, we have an automatic decision-making process that makes analytical and deliberative thinking draining, as famed neuroscientist Facundo Manes explains. Our decision-making process is also moulded by emotions and the social context in which we interact. Thus, Manes argues, the decision-making context of people in conditions of poverty exacerbates that same poverty.
“Economic growth doesn’t reduce poverty,” Manes explains, “instead we must focus on what’s most important, our brains.”
Climate cognition has been studied by sociologists, linguists and communicators, and it refers to the analysis of how one’s personal world view can lead to denying the impact of the climate, or a person’s impact in solving issues like climate change.
In the same way as we feel outraged by violence, poverty, and corruption, Argentines should acknowledge the perils of climate change and begin to take action to reduce our CO2 emissions. Change is difficult, as Manes explains, but we have no alternative. As Pope Francis put it, “everyone, great or small, has a moral responsibility […] we must take it seriously […] history will judge our decision.” Speaking of climate change deniers, he added it reminded him of “a phrase from the Old Testament: man is a fool, a stubborn man who will not see.”