Climate Currency

If the recent record-breaking temperatures and freak thunderstorms in Washington were nature’s way of telling Congress that climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s time to do something about it–it didn’t work.

Just before lawmakers left for summer recess, they let a comprehensive climate and energy bill–albeit riddled with loopholes and corporate giveaways–die in the Senate. R.I.P.

But nature can’t give up on delivering this message. While incumbents and electoral hopefuls are busy stumping back home, severe monsoon floods have left hundreds of millions of people homeless in Pakistan, heat waves and wildfires have transformed Russia into an inhospitable inferno, and three days of back-to-back storms have turned creeks in Iowa into dam-bursting torrents.

These catastrophes are well in line with the extreme weather events that scientists warn are par for the course on a warming planet. We can either get used to it or get serious about putting the brakes on rising greenhouse gas pollution.

Since it looks (shamefully) unlikely that we will do much in the immediate future to stem climate change here in the United States, it’s time to step up our support for developing countries to do so. Yes, even during an economic downturn–in fact, because of the economic downturn. There are at least two reasons why.

First, investing money overseas is investing in America’s future. Three-fourths of the increase in global energy use between now and 2050 is predicted to occur in developing countries, making the global South the largest future export market for clean industrial and renewable energy technologies. The International Energy Agency estimates that $27 trillion in clean technology investment will be needed in developing countries during that time. According to a study by the World Wildlife Fund, capturing just 14 percent of the clean tech export market–equivalent to our current market share of environmental goods and services in these countries–would generate between 280,000 and 850,000 new long-term jobs for American workers.

Second, the cost of doing nothing is more expensive than acting. The droughts, floods, rising sea level and loss of human life associated with climate change pose a real threat to the supply chain of American companies, and in turn their long-term sustainability. Oxfam America recently released a report showing that investing in climate resiliency in the countries where much of our raw materials come from is good for the U.S. economy.

We need public money to prime the pump for private investment in clean energy. And we need public money to help people in climate-impacted countries adapt to a warmer world–an investment not often seen by the private sector as a profit-maker, and thus chronically underfunded.

Here’s the good news: There are some great ideas about where to get this money.

The Investing in Our Future Act, introduced in July by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), would put a tiny levy of 0.005% on currency transactions–a slice of the financial market that is largely untaxed. The levy is big enough to raise tens of billions of dollars each year, but small enough to be barely noticeable to the average day trader. Anyone trading less than $10,000 would be exempt.

As an added bonus, a currency transaction levy would help curb the kind of speculation that creates bubbles and crashes our economy. More than 50 organizations in the U.S. have already endorsed the idea.

The U.S. is hemorrhaging jobs, we may be facing a double dip in the worst recession our generation has seen, and because of climate change the one thing certain about our future is that it will look remarkably different from our world today. Sure, we should support impoverished countries to deal with climate change because it’s the right thing to do–but also because it’s in our best interest.

Real recovery from the economic meltdown must be a global recovery, and real investment in job creation and climate stability in the United States means investing in climate stability globally.

Janet Redman is co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network (SEEN) project at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS is a community of scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally.