By Paul MacRae

A report written by top U.S. business magnates, including former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, warns that damage from climate change will cost billions of dollars and urges businesses to take action to stop global warming (“Global warming is serious business,” June 27, by Shannon Corrigan).

The report, entitled Risky Business, predicts that over the next century many parts of the world will be seared by heat and coastal areas will be inundated by several feet of rising sea levels, all caused by humans and their carbon emissions. For example, the report suggests that by the end of the century temperatures in Hawaii could be 2.2°-4.4° Celsius higher than today, with sea levels almost four feet higher.

Human activities have been raising CO2 levels over the past century, from about 300 parts per million to 400 ppm today. However, even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits in its latest report that, despite this increase in CO2, the planet has barely warmed since 1998.[1] The IPCC’s computer models predicted warming of at least third of a degree Celsius in that time.

Clearly, the warming effect of carbon emissions on temperature isn’t as powerful as the IPCC and Risky Business authors would have the public believe and the computer models can’t be trusted. Therefore, Risky Business report’s temperature predictions are almost certainly inflated, perhaps wildly.

Apart from the lack of warming over the past decade and a half, the report ignores two other basic facts.

Sea-level rise is inevitable

First, the report is correct that, over time, sea levels will rise several feet and this will be a major problem. However, we are in an interglacial, a warm period between ice ages. In the past 12,000 years, since the glaciers began to melt, sea levels have risen 120 metres (400 feet). Sea levels continue to rise a fraction of an inch each year as part of the normal interglacial melting, and will continue to rise no matter what we do or don’t do. At worst, our carbon emissions might speed up sea-level rise by a few percentage points.

By comparison, the previous interglacial, which peaked 125,000 years ago, was 1-3°C warmer than our interglacial so far, long before humans had developed industry or agriculture; the world didn’t “burn up.” More importantly, sea levels in that interglacial were 4-6 metres (14-20) feet higher than today.[2] In other words, as long as we’re in an interglacial, we’re going to have some, perhaps considerable, sea-level increase. Our problems will truly begin when the current interglacial reaches its tipping point and we gradually return to glacial conditions.

Report ignores costs of a damaged economy

Second, Risky Business warns of billions of dollars in costs if we don’t tackle global warming. It doesn’t consider how many billions of dollars in economic productivity will be lost through carbon taxes and the like to stop warming. These measures will almost certainly damage our economy, perhaps very badly, with major losses in jobs and a fall in our standard of living, to no end. We can’t stop interglacial sea-level rise any more than King Canute could stop the tides.

Many environmentalists suggest that “green” energy can take up the economic slack as we force a cutback in fossil fuels. The facts say otherwise.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that renewable sources like hydroelectric dams, biofuels, wind, geothermal and solar power currently make up 11 per cent of the world’s energy. The EIA estimates that 15 per cent of the world’s energy will be renewable by 2040.[3] At that rate our economies won’t be fully “green” for more than 500 years. Until then, we need fossil fuels if we wish to keep our economies strong and growing. The more prosperous we are, the more easily we can cope with whatever climate changes do occur.

WWII experience shows cities can be rebuilt

For example, Risky Business warns that coastal cities may have to be abandoned due to rising oceans. During the Second World War, many European cities were utterly destroyed. And rebuilt, often within a decade. If we need to move cities due to (inevitable) sea-level rise, which will take place over hundreds of years, not a century as the report claims, a strong economy can afford this. A damaged economy cannot.

And in agricultural areas, such as B.C.’s low-lying Delta region, which do you think would be cheaper and more effective: hamstringing the province’s economy with anti-carbon taxes in the hope that the seas will stop rising (again, shades of King Canute)? Or building dikes, as the Dutch have done so effectively? The answer is obvious.

The main financial risk we face isn’t coping with slightly rising temperatures and several feet of sea-level increase over hundreds and thousands of years. A strong economy can afford to deal with this. The real risk is wasting billions of dollars in anti-carbon measures that will throttle our economy while doing nothing to stop sea-level rise that, as part of the interglacial cycle, is inevitable.


[1]  See IPCC AR5 (2013) Summary for Policymakers, p. 3. It’s available online.

[2] IPCC 2007, Summary for Policymakers, “A Paleoclimatic Perspective,” p. 9. “The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 metres of sea level rise.”

[3] Available at