As humanity continues to heat the planet, there are winners and losers. Let me rephrase that. Ultimately nobody wins; in the long term if global warming isn’t halted it will bring down global civilization and we will all lose. But in the shorter term there are net winners.
Alberta for example. Yes, the province suffers wild fires and drought aggravated by global warming, and the glaciers—source of water for our cities and agriculture—are melting, but the oil and gas royalties pour in and the province prospers. We have the highest income in Canada.
And then there are countries like the Republic of Maldives. a small archipelagic state in the Indian Ocean. Maldivians just lose. And lose big, potentially their entire country.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if sea levels continue to rise at their present rate, by 2100 the ocean will cover most of their country. A sorry fact of life for those living in the small island nations of the South Pacific. In the meantime, their groundwater is increasingly contaminated by salt water, their coral reefs are dying, their fish populations are declining, etc., etc. They are losing everything.
At one time, a flood or fire was a country’s business alone, but now fires, floods and the sinking of cities and entire countries below the waves, are the business of all of us because we all contribute to the tragedy, some much more than others.
In 2009, wealthy nations agreed to provide $100-billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries adapt to climate change. That promise hasn’t been kept and, in any case, it isn’t enough.
Perhaps we can simply move the inhabitants of the Maldives and other small nations in the South Pacific to higher ground. But it won’t be so simple when cities such as Mumbai, Shanghai and Bangkok are overwhelmed by sea level rise. or when large parts of the planet become uninhabitable because of rising temperatures. When millions of climate refugees are on the move because of global warming, the prosperity that we gain from the burning of fossil fuels will start to look like a very risky bargain indeed. When global order destabilizes we will all be in peril.
The Maldivians may be very few and on the other side of the world, but Alberta’s prosperity comes largely at their expense and we should give very serious thought to the debt we are creating.