If you ask the average person in the U.S. about global warming, you’ll learn a lot about how they were raised, who they trust, and how they vote. It’s tempting to think of climate change as a cultural issue rather than, say, a fiscal one. At times the conversation can feel abstract or otherworldly, as if driven more by personal feelings or beliefs than the actual, material concerns of the present moment.
As three books released this fall illustrate, anthropogenic climate change is, in fact, already a trillion-dollar category of economic activity. This has been well-documented by writers and activists like Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben, but bankers, builders, brokers, developers, oil-tank workers, Marine Corps colonels, insurers, and engineers also share in the consensus. To many in these professions, it is abundantly clear that the U.S. derived a century and a half of comfort and security from the assumption that fossil fuels did more good than harm and were available in infinite supply. It was fun. But now anyone who cherishes that comfort and security will have to adjust their plans and rethink how they work, invest, travel, or simply make a living.
In denying the reality of climate change, many commentators depict these adjustments as prohibitively expensive or a magnet for careless spending. Staying the course, however, can be even more wasteful. As Pulitzer Prize winner Gilbert Gaul observes in his probing new book The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America’s Coasts ($28, Sarah Crichton), the ever more frequent hundred-year hurricanes of the past two decades have already cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. And perversely, these costs create a windfall for FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies that help towns and cities recover from floods. 11-14-19
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