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SEA Change: Bad economy no excuse for neglecting environment

Published: December 5, 2008
Section: Opinions


Before the economic crisis, activists, environmentalists, scientists and economists warned climate change could affect the economy. At the end of 2006, the British Government released a report warning the failure to “curb the impact of climate change could damage the global economy on the scale of the Great Depression.” The climate change movement shifted from an environmental fringe movement to a concern that ranked highly on the agendas of many governments around the world. The world began to realize the measures to curb climate change were needed to do more than protect our ecosystems – to protect our economy.

The global economy is damaged. Its official, the US is in a recession. In fact, we have been since last December. The exponential increase in oil prices sparked conversations on reducing our use of oil through driving less, developing new technology that would use energy efficiently, and increasing our clean energy use. Although the oil prices have compounded the economic crisis by increasing the prices of just about everything, especially food, it also was a push for real action to be taken to reduce our carbon emissions. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the oil prices have gone down. For you and me, this is great news. For the environment – this could be deadly.

Just as Brandeis has “tightened its belt” in terms of spending, so has the rest of the country. Investment in clean energy and other sustainable products requires money. In the long run, they will pay off; however, in the short run they are costly. Costly is not an option right now.

A few days ago, Reuters released an article on the Poznan UN Climate Change Conference titled “Economy Offers Excuse to Avoid Climate Fight.” In two years (and one month), the economy has gone from being the reason to promote the climate fight to the scapegoat to not fighting it. However, we cannot afford to stop fighting. Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the UN climate panel said rich nations need to be at levels 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels to keep temperatures below what some countries see as a “dangerous” 2 degree Celsius rise by 2020.

I do not believe the responsibility lies only within the “rich nations” to spend the extra money needed to reduce and eventually stop climate change. However, I do believe that we cannot allow the economy to be used as a scapegoat. If anything, we need to continue to look at what was being said two years ago. The effects of climate change – to the extent it is projected without any action taken now – will still cause huge economic problems. It is our responsibility to tighten our belts in ways that will continue to benefit the environment. Continuing to buy local foods (which are often less expensive), continuing to buy quality goods that last so you can reduce use, continuing to encourage friends and family (and yourself if your lucky) to buy hybrid vehicles (or diesel), and continuing to pay that 10% extra for a good you know was made with clean energy will prevent this recession putting a halt on change that is vital to the future of our economy.