The man who was at the center of the global financial crash of 2008 — Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson — knows a thing or two about crisis. And he sees another one bearing down on us. He wrote about it in a hair-on-fire op-ed piece in the New York Times last weekend. The headline: The Coming Climate Crash. And he’s a Republican!
‘This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.”
Secretary Paulson writes briefly about the progression of events in the 2008 crash — wretched excesses (of debt then, of greenhouse gases now), failure of government, strident warnings from experts unheeded, and then collapse — and makes the obvious point that while government was able to step in at the last moment and save the edifice of global finance, no such last-minute intervention is possible with the planetary climate crisis. It’s too big not to fail.
Even in the throes of his epiphany, Paulson retains scraps of his former belief system. The “climate bubble,” he writes, “poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy (the emphasis is his)”. Wow. He has just realized that you cannot destroy “the environment” without affecting the “economy.” Moreover, he insists that the solution to this existential problem must be “a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response.”
It’s touching really, that a man who was present at the near-destruction of the world’s financial system by the unrestrained greed ot the “marketplace” now places his hope of salvation in the hands of its “efficiency.” Likewise his faith that there is a quick fix for the mess we’re in — a carbon tax that will bring the marketplace to its senses.
Nevertheless, he has done a real service in stepping forward as a high ranking, orthodox Republican who sees the danger and is willing to challenge the Know-Nothing wing of his party:
“In a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities, public funding to pay for adaptations and disaster relief will add significantly to our fiscal deficit and threaten our long-term economic security. So it is perverse that those who want limited government and rail against bailouts would put the economy at risk by ignoring climate change.”
The sudden, massive response to climate change by the governments and societies of the industrialized world is simply not going to happen. Mr. Paulson might as well skip down Wall Street sprinkling pixie dust as urge his fellow suits to change their profitable ways. But he has a couple of things right: “Climate change is the challenge of our time,” he says. “Each of us must recognize that the risks are personal.”
Bingo. Brace for impact.