The United Nations has published a very instructive manual for a civilization hurtling towards the increasingly expensive catastrophes looming right ahead of us, and projected to cost world governments, and their taxpayers, an expected $185 billion every year by the end of century.
Jam-packed with data and conclusions, the UN manual is intended as a how-to guide for the finance ministers of governments on mitigating the catastrophic expense of the increase in natural disasters, whether due to climate change, like the increase in floods, droughts, and hurricanes and cyclones, or not (mitigating tsunamis and earthquakes is covered as well).
But it is not just some bureaucratic tome. It is so beautifully written, (and with such hope and faith in human intelligence) that the wealth of lessons it offers in its 290 pages are easy to absorb for the rest of us too.
And that’s a good thing. Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention is full of smart ideas for improving our resilience in ameliorating the expected expenses of the expected increase in disasters.
Some pieces of advice take no investment on the part of governments. One example is just altering laws on the books that currently offer perverse incentives for poor building practices, such as building in forests now prone to wildfire, or with inadequate engineering for coastal flood zones.
Where investments are needed, they come with data-rich cost/benefit analysis. For example, (pg 150) comprehensive data on exactly how big an investment in a mangrove forest will yield how large a savings in dollars for its natural services, based on past disasters.
Some things we cannot prepare for. We don’t even know what all of the effects of climate change will be. While some effects can be modeled and predicted, as was the now melting arctic, and estimates can be made for the increased cost of the modeled increase predicted in floods, droughts, crop failure and sea level rise, there will be more surprises.
While scientists can (and did) generalize that eco systems will adapt at different rates, leading to new pest invasions in general – no scientist specifically predicted that the pine beetle would decimate forests from Colorado to British Columbia, for example (to my knowledge). There will be more surprises ahead.
As future climate changes rip yet more of our complex ecosystems out of sync with each other, there will be more unexpected effects that no one could have predicted.
Both the scale of the oncoming disasters, and the surprises it will bring, is unprecedented in human history.
Yet the tone of the manual is positive, and its faith in human intelligence in finding solutions for the problems that we face makes for a refreshing read in these times when it is easy to doubt that we are Homo Sapiens, and not those other guys that didn’t make it past history’s big evolutionary IQ test.
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