Climate Change: The ‘threat multiplier’


In his latest column for Salt, Sam Gill, CEO of ET Index, explains why we need to act now if we’re to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

I was at an event recently where the ‘point person for carbon’ from a well-known bank told me 10 degrees of warming was not such a big deal because “there are other places in the world where it is already 10 degrees warmer than it is here – and they are fine”. If only it was so simple…

For those yet to trawl through the hundreds and hundreds of pages of scientific evidence on the matter, the global average temperature is rising, which is why it is called global warming. There will always be regional variation. Sadly the problem is very real.

So just why is climate change such a problem?

It is not so much that the world will end. In fact planet Earth will be fine; it has been through all of this before in its billion year-long history. It is the people, animals and wildlife that live on it that are in trouble. Extreme shifts in the Earth’s climate have previously wiped out virtually every living organism on the Earth’s surface. In humanity’s relatively short existence on Earth, civilisations have collapsed as a result of rapid changes in climate by failing to adapt in time. The challenge will be adapting to such a rapid shift in temperature in such a short space of time, and the ensuing global systemic stresses that will be magnified as a result.

Climate change has been dubbed a ‘threat multiplier’. It will exacerbate every existing tension within what is already a fragile global system. Take for example the recent flux of refugees seeking to enter Europe. What is likely to happen when large swathes of the Earth become uninhabitable? How much violent conflict are we likely to see as resources such as water become ever more scarce? Sadly the answers to these questions are bleak. A recent Foreign Office report has likened climate change to the threat of nuclear war.

Climate change is a risk because it will lead to devastating consequences that some commentators argue are not compatible with globally organised society. Indeed respectable scientists point out that in a 4 degree world by the end of this century the planet will likely be able to sustain less than one billion people, which means approximately 9 people being wiped out. That really would be climate Armageddon.

Fear not. We have the tools to tackle the problem. The key is to create the incentives to use them. But the window of opportunity for action is closing. In the last post in this series we will explore a concrete mechanism designed to address the climate crisis.

In the next post we explore the notion of ‘carbon risk’.


Photo credit: CIFOR from Flickr