Welcome to The Age of Endless Recovery! Climate change is now a permanent drag on economic growth.

Some time back, I started thinking of the era we’ve entered as The Age of Endless Recovery. The basic concept is more or less what it sounds like – the severity and frequency of climate disasters is going to keep increasing, which means that we’re going to keep falling increasingly far behind in terms of recovery. Even if the same place isn’t hit every year, enough places around the world are being hit that just dealing with climate disasters is already imposing a sort of tax on everything we do. It’s not currently the primary cause of economic deprivation around the world – that’s still the profit-obsessed system that’s driving climate change – but it is making everything more difficult, even for those of us who are not directly recovering from a disaster.

The idea first occurred to me well over a decade ago (I’m sure I probably got the idea from someone else, but I have no idea who), but it wasn’t until the last three or four years that I felt pretty certain that we had entered that stage of global warming. I think to most people who’ve been paying attention, this isn’t exactly a radical suggestion, but for any who might think I’m exaggerating, well, now there’s research to back me up on this.

The study found that economies are sensitive to persistent temperature shocks over at least a 10-year time frame. It also found that climate change impacts economic growth in about 22% percent of the countries analyzed.

“Our results suggest that many countries are likely experiencing persistent temperature effects,” said lead author Bernardo Bastien-Olvera, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Davis. “This contradicts models that calculate metrics like the social cost of carbon, which mostly assume temporary temperature impacts on GDP. Our research adds to the evidence suggesting that impacts are far more uncertain and potentially larger than previously thought.”

Previous research examined the question by estimating the delayed effect of temperature on GDP in subsequent years, but the results were inconclusive. With this study, UC Davis scientists and co-authors from the European Institute on Economics and the Environment in Italy used a novel method to isolate the persistent temperature effects on the economy by analyzing lower modes of oscillation of the climate system.

For example, El Niño Southern Oscillation, is a three to seven-year temperature fluctuation in the Pacific Ocean that affects temperature and rainfall in many parts of the world.

“By looking at the GDP effects of these types of lower-frequency oscillations, we’re able to distinguish whether countries are experiencing temporary or persistent and cumulative effects,” Bastien-Olvera said.

This is what climate scientists and activists have been trying to avoid for decades. Now, in addition to the enormous task of changing our society to stop destroying our environment, we also have the additional burden of constantly rebuilding and recovering from ever-more-frequent disasters.

The upside is that we can respond to this proactively. As with so many other problems these days, we knew this was coming, and that means that we also know how to start getting out of this trap our “leaders” have led us into. This will sound obvious to some, and drastic to others, but if we want to get ahead of this problem, we should invest in relocating people. We should build housing in areas that are likely to be able to support more people (in the United States, that would probably be places like the Northeast, and over to the Great Lakes region. Nowhere is climate-proof, but we should be moving to areas that are going to have an abundance of fresh water, to avoid drought to whatever degree we can.

But we do need to move people. Ideally, cities like Miami won’t just be evacuated, but we’ll also dismantle them, to re-use the materials, and to reduce the amount of pollution that would come from just leaving the city to crumble into the rising seas. It would be a huge, costly endeavor. It would also be far cheaper to invest those resources to do it now, than to just “let the market decide” through countless lives being destroyed. As I keep saying, the world into which most of us were born is gone. That world has ended, or if you prefer, it’s in the process of ending. It a very real way, we are living through an apocalypse – a period of ending, and of revelation – and it may be that there’s nothing we can do to prevent that.

What we can do is lay the groundwork for a better world on the other side, and hopefully in doing that, we can find ways to make this era, well, less apocalyptic.

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  1. Alan G. Humphrey says

    I agree that we need to move our population to areas with less heat, but we should preserve the areas less prone to drought for the industrial farming that will still be required until fully integrated agri-cities are developed.

  2. says

    Agreed, Alan. I think we should build up and down, more than out, but yeah – the ideal would be to feed everybody with conventional agriculture as we develop and scale up new food sources.

    And then (again, in an ideal world), as new food sources prove themselves reliable and sufficient, excess food (after EVERYONE is fed, not just rich people in rich countries) can be put into biogas digesters, rather than just letting it rot.

    But, of course, all of this requires a majority of our collective resources, which brings us back to political change :-/

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