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Latest to Sound the Climate Alarm: Doctors, Lawyers, Generals, Bankers and Diplomats
Alex Steffen, 19 May 09

Latest people freaking out about the steadily worsening news on climate change? Doctors, soldiers, diplomats, lawyers and insurance bankers.

A major study by the renowned British medical journal the Lancet and University College London calls on the world's medical and health professionals to mobilize, declaring, “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

"Climate change will have devastating consequences for human health from: changing patterns of infections and insect-borne diseases, and increased deaths due to heat waves; reduced water and food security, leading to malnutrition and diarrhoeal disease; an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme climate events (hurricanes, cyclones, storm surges) causing flooding and direct injury; increasing vulnerability for those living in urban slums and where shelter and human settlements are poor; large scale population migration and the likelihood of civil unrest."

12 retired U.S. generals and admirals working together at the Center for Naval Analyses issue a major report calling on the U.S. and allied defense agencies to mobilize in preventing and adapting to climate change, saying "climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security."

“More poverty, more forced migrations, higher unemployment. Those conditions are ripe for extremists and terrorists ...the chaos that results can be an incubator of civil strife, genocide, and the growth of terrorism."

"Many governments in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are already on edge in terms of their ability to provide basic needs: food, water, shelter and stability. Projected climate change will exacerbate the problems in these regions and add to the problems of effective governance. Unlike most conventional security threats that involve a single entity acting in specific ways at different points in time, climate change has the potential to result in multiple chronic conditions, occurring globally within the same time frame. Economic and environmental conditions in these already fragile areas will further erode as food production declines, diseases increase, clean water becomes increasingly scarce, and populations migrate in search of resources. Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflict, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies. The U.S. may be drawn more frequently into these situations to help to provide relief, rescue, and logistics, or to stabilize conditions before conflicts arise.

Reinsurance giant Munich Re (the people who insure your insurance company) moves to reassure the insurance industry that insuring the world is still possible "at the right price" despite increasing natural catastrophes"

"So far, nowhere in the world is uninsurable," said Georg Daschner, member of the board of management at Munich Re. "It is a question of getting the right price and whether people are prepared to pay that price." Daschner said the company was getting "close to its limits" in Florida, but is seeking ways of passing on its risk exposure to the capital market. "At the right price there is always a way of insuring."

(I feel reassured, don't you?)

The Maldives prepares to become a refugee nation, as their government secures a new home for its 300,000 people now that sea level rise is making their home islands uninhabitable. Diplomats warn that this is just the first of many unprecedented international agreements driven by climate change emergencies.

Finally, an upcoming legal conference, Three Degrees: The Law of Climate Change and Human Rights Conference will explore the international law and human rights redresses available to those suffering from climate crisis disasters:

"Increasing drought, the spread of tropical disease, storm surges with rising duration and severity, and unprecedented human dislocation will reduce food security and access to freshwater, promote the spread of disease beyond normative ranges, and uproot millions of people who inhabit coastal regions. It is projected that the survival ability of many of the world’s indigenous and most disadvantaged peoples will be at stake. The application of both codified and customary international and national human rights law will be critical in addressing the massive humanitarian crises... Numerous scholars have suggested that human rights law may provide the most adequate and responsible remedy for climate-related impacts, and this conference will create an international forum to thoroughly test the available remedies, raise the legal issues associated with these remedies, and collaborate over necessary advancements in the law."

This all reinforces something I've been thinking more and more lately, which is that not only would addressing climate change yield more direct economic benefits than losses, but that the failure to do so will have societal costs orders of magnitude more costly. Given what we're learning, there is simply no credible position to be found in opposing climate action on economic terms.

Which is the basis of my problem with the whole debate around the Waxman-Markey bill (which would introduce a very limited cap-and-trade system to the U.S.): that debate is surreal. It bears no relationship to reality. At very least, we need a widespread recognition that the politically possible in D.C. is at odds with what is in the real world scientifically grounded and necessary in practical terms.

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