Super Cities №215—When Climate Change Becomes Real

Brendan Hart

The science is so clear that even ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil and gas company, claims "climate change risks warrant action."

The unanswered question is how businesses, governments, and the social sector will intervene.

Years ago, elder statesman from the Republican Party – George Schultz and Jim Baker, both Secretaries of State, and Hank Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury – advanced a "conservative climate solution based on free-market principles."

Their solution centered on a carbon-tax that, unlike most tax systems, would return all revenue to consumers through a "carbon dividend." The group estimates that a family of four would receive ~$2000 every year.

Baker et al. plan never saw the light of day. It died on January 20th, 2017.

Believers in small government may regret dismissing the opportunity to shape how the American government – and the global system by extension – regulated exploding levels of carbon.

For decades, climate change activism has focused on science and policy. Activists incorrectly assumed that risk-mitigating policies would follow clear and provable science.

But it now looks like climate change – not the yes-or-no narrative, but the quantifiable risks it poses – will move from the fringes to the center of the global system of finance.

Rostin Behnam, a powerful Trump-appointed regulator overseeing systemic risk in the financial system, is comparing today's climate risk to the toxic assets that brought down the financial system in 2008:

Among the many lessons learned from the 2008 financial crisis, the interconnectedness of our global financial system is one, if not the single, most important.  All risk analysis, including risk derived from climate change, must include a holistic examination of the systemic relationships throughout all of our financial markets.

Behnam's statement is significant because it links two previously separate policy issues: climate and financial markets.

Climate activists could be sidelined by policymakers when their warnings were marginal to the flows of capital. Yet, after the trauma of 2008, systemic risks to the financial system must be scrutinized and, in some cases, regulated.

Behnam just made that possible. The climate risk variable may now be part of the global financial equation.

If the business of America is business!, as Calvin Coolidge once said, the best way to mobilize a nation is to risk its capital.

After forty years, the climate change community may finally have its opening.

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