Jem Bendell doesn’t shy away from doom and gloom.
The lockdowns and social distancing caused by the coronavirus are giving humanity a taste of the disruptions to daily life that will be caused by climate change, he said.
50,820 Million metric tons of greenhouse emissions, most recent annual data
$81.9B Renewable power investment worldwide in Q4 2019 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 7 6 5 4 3 .0 2 1 0 9 8 0 4 3 2 1 0 0 5 4 3 2 1 0 7 6 5 4 3 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 8 7 6 5 4 Parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere 76% Carbon-free net power in Germany, most recent data
Baicheng, ChinaMost polluted air today, in sensor range 0 3 2 1 0 9 ,0 8 7 6 5 4 0 1 0 9 8 7 0 0 9 8 7 6 Soccer pitches of forest lost this hour, most recent data
“In modern industrial societies, the fallout from Covid-19 feels like a dress rehearsal for the kind of collapse that climate change threatens,” Bendell said in an interview. “This crisis reveals how fragile our current way of life has become.”
TheUniversity of Cumbria social-science professor is well-known among environmentalists for his theory of “deep adaption.” In a 2018paper, Bendell said that time was up for gradual measures to combat global warming. Without an abrupt transformation of society, changes in the planet’s climate would bring starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war — the collapse of civilization — within a decade.
Now he’s focusing his scalding assessments on the parallels and links he sees between climate change and the pandemic.
As edgy as people may find him, Bendell shares common ground with some of the world’s most sober-minded financial types, like formerBank of England Governor Mark Carney.
Bendell is a former consultant to the United Nations, has presented papers to theEuropean Commission, co-authored reports for the World Economic Forum and advised Britain’s Labour Party.
He said the first effects of climate change are disasters such as the wildfires in Australia and California, African hurricanes, South Asian typhoons and harvest collapses in the Middle East. Because those factors can disrupt wildlife migration, the second effects of climate change are pandemics, he said.
While there’s no direct evidence linking global warming with Covid-19, animals are moving to cooler areas, according to Aaron Bernstein of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. That’s brought humans in closer contact with them and the diseases they carry, he said. Epidemiologists say the novel coronavirus originated in bats.
Bendell is more willing to make the connection between coronavirus and climate change. He says that a warmer habitat may have caused the bats to alter their movements, putting them in contact with humans.
Partly because of that connection, Bendell said governments should commit only to “fair and green” bailouts, and shouldn’t save carbon-intensive industries such as airlines, oil, gas, coal or cement. Instead, they should let the companies approach bankruptcy and nationalize one or two of them to get them aligned with national climate policies.
“Keeping the most polluting industries afloat will increase the likelihood of future pandemics,” Bendell said.
Returning to business as usual is a “fantasy,” Bendell said. Policy makers and business leaders must recognize that climate change will be even more disruptive than the coronavirus, he said.
Not everyone is on board with Bendell’s view of the future and his paper, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.”
The paper wasn’t peer reviewed, and Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, said that Bendell “gets the science wrong on just about everything.”
“Bendell’s paper is a classic example of climate doomism, where the science is exaggerated grossly in favor of a doomist narrative,” Mann said in an email.
Bendell, a professor of sustainability leadership, said it was strange that climate scientists are viewed as authorities on predicting climate’s impact on human societies. He said academics in areas such as sociology, economics and politics are better suited for that.
Some authorities echo Bendell’s views. Carney said financial companies could face a “climate Minsky moment,” or a sudden collapse of values, if they didn’t address climate change. Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co.warned that the most extreme risks of climate change, including the collapse of human civilization, can’t be ruled out. Consulting firmMcKinsey & Co. said intensifying climate hazards could put millions of lives at risk, as well as trillions of dollars of economic activity.
Steven Desmyter, co-head of responsible investment atMan Group, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, also agrees with Bendell.
“No one saw Covid-19 coming,” Desmyter said. “With global warming, there’s a catastrophe of equal or greater magnitude on the horizon that we can still do something about.”
— With assistance by Eric Roston
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