I think this post’s headline could be applied to a large number of groups, but in this case economists are grossly under-valuing the lives of young people in particular.
So, you know, only the future of the species:
Many economic assessments of the climate crisis “grossly undervalue the lives of young people and future generations”, Prof Nicholas Stern warned on Tuesday, before the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.
Economists have failed to take account of the “immense risks and potential loss of life” that could occur as a result of the climate crisis, he said, as well as badly underestimating the speed at which the costs of clean technologies, such as solar and wind energy, have fallen.
Stern said the economics profession had also misunderstood the basics of “discounting”, the way in which economic models value future assets and lives compared with their value today. “It means economists have grossly undervalued the lives of young people and future generations who are most at threat from the devastating impacts of climate change,” he said. “Discounting has been applied in such a way that it is effectively discrimination by date of birth.”
This is increasingly obvious to anyone who’s paying attention to the world, and as has been pointed out many, many times, in addition to being short-sighted, dangerous, and cruel, the mainstream economic perspective is also much more about protecting those who are currently wealthy, than it is about creating a vibrant economy, even by capitalist standards. The amount of work that needs to be done to stop our contribution to global warming and adapt to what we can’t stop is astronomical. Even within the “endless growth” model that’s currently driving us towards extinction, there are more “opportunities” for work than ever before. Renewable energy, nuclear energy, prepping cities for sea level rise and extreme weather, creating a climate-proof food production system, and so on. This could have spurred a new golden age, if capitalism worked as advertised, but instead we’ve had stagnation and increasing misery as the planet becomes increasingly hostile to human life.
Stern’s remarks are based on a paper to be published in the Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society and made to mark the 15th anniversary of the landmark Stern review on the economics of the climate crisis in 2006. It concluded that the costs of inaction on climate were far greater than the costs of action and that the climate crisis was the biggest market failure in history.
Since the publication of the report, carbon emissions have risen by 20% and Stern was scathing about much of the economic analysis that has informed policymakers. “Cavalier treatment of risk, and the missing of the very rapid technical progress, means the models have been profoundly misleading,” he said. The theory of discounting had not been related to its ethical foundations, he added, or allowed for the risk that global heating will make future generations poorer.
Political action has been slow since 2006, Stern said, because of the persistence of the “damaging” idea that climate action cuts economic growth and also because of the global financial crisis, which diverted attention and cut middle-class incomes, making politics more “fractious”.
Even if climate action was somehow “bad for the economy”, so are things like sea level rise and global crop failure.
Oh, and people dying. Lots of people dying is bad for any economy.
Here’s the thing, though – “young people”, including children, can see how little their nations value their lives. They can see the increasingly bleak future being forced upon them, and they’re watching their own chances of reaching old age decrease as world “leaders” continue to dither and delay, all to protect the wealth and power of the rich and powerful. Millennials are now middle-aged (or reaching it), and it’s been a running sort-of joke for years now that our retirement plan is to die before we reach that age. I have a vague feeling that the anxiety behind that might be worse for Gen Z.
Under these circumstances I have to wonder how much longer kids will feel there’s any point to half the things demanded of them as we’re all forced to pretend that everything’s normal. Why bother with school, if it feels like you’re just waiting until the annual wildfires move a bit faster than expected? Why bother worrying about a future that seems increasingly unlikely to exist? For that matter, why pay taxes to a nation that would rather murder foreigners than save the lives of its own citizens?
On the one hand, it’s getting easier and easier to see the need for revolutionary change, and I’m seeing a lot of interest in things like direct action and alternatives to capitalism. On the other hand, this is a crushing emotional burden that is both unfair and unnecessary.
This is just a thought, but maybe we shouldn’t continue making decisions based on the advice of people who got us in this position?