Polluter Pays?

Storm Clouds approaching Bellis…
While politicians bicker about the ‘cost’ of sustainable action, the balance sheet changes under their feet.

A Dutch environmental consultancy has revealed that the coal industry is costing the international community $170 billion damage each year due to natural disasters caused by Global Warming.

Warming is one disaster. Ocean acidification is another gift of fossil fuels. Rising carbon dioxide levels are increasing acidity in the oceans more than ten times faster than scientists thought, posing a greater threat to shell-forming creatures such as coral, crustacea and shellfish.

Last winter two major population centres in the USA gained first hand experience of the consequences of Global Warming: New Orleans and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The BBC reported that the US has called on the world’s eight most industrialised nations to invest in a $10bn (£5bn) climate change fund, to mitigate its effects. It’s an utterly inadequate sum when compared to this one aspect of Global Warming: storm-related costs.

In 2005, the worst storm to hit the US was Hurricane Katrina. More than 1,300 people died and more than 80% of New Orleans was flooded. The total damage bill was estimated to be $96bn (£51bn).

According to the BBC, six US states have became temporary swamps. The volume of water swamping Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas and Indiana created a pulse in the ecology of mid-west USA.

“Our biggest problem is having fresh water. The rains flooded the city wells so we are all on water rationing…Most of the country’s food comes from here in the Midwest and this flood has destroyed most of the crops” said David Howell, Cedar Rapids resident and video editor in a BBC report.

The ABC reported that the “floods will mean more food inflation, not only for US consumers, but also for dozens of countries that buy American grain. The United States exports 54 per cent of the world’s corn, 36 per cent of its soybeans and 23 per cent of its wheat”.

There will be winners and loses in a range of inter-related areas, from species (beneficial to noxious), aquifers, water tables and forests, town planners to farmers and farmland. The mid-west is highly valuable for sustainable food production in the USA, however this land has recently been converted to growing corn for agrifuel. Flooding ruined much of these crops, so the US has lost both food and fuel. Global food prices will rise further.

Parasites, like midges and mosquitos, will probably be winners, as will depleted aquifers in those intensively irrigated croplands. Rivers, especially the Upper Mississippi river system will scour their narrow protective riparian zones, dumping huge quantities of silt in deltas – fish spawning grounds. Rampant undergrowth will add to fuel loads.

There’s a concept called polluter pays, a concept proposed in the case of GM companies. So GM companies would pay for cleaning up their escaped GMOs. It’s a taxpayer/ environment-friendly way of accounting. It builds in the true cost of a business operation, shifting the cleanup cost away from government, making tax cuts possible.

Doubters should make a nice cup of tea and read ‘Global Environmental Environmental Outlook: GEO4’ published by the United Nations Environment Programme.

No government, no corporation and no human, has the right to change the course of evolutionary history with such vandalising force. Instead of setting up a woefully inadequate climate fund perhaps these two US cities and their insurers should be billing cleanup and reconstruction costs to their oil and coal companies?

Jerry Coleby-Williams
28th November 2008