On garnering resources needed to cope with “slow-onset” hazards.

Continuing the thread of the previous post:

“The threats from climate change, sea rise, drought and desertification, food security and many other slowly developing crises are not linked to dramatic events that focus media, public, and political attention. How well do we recognize and understand these threats? How can existing scientific approaches help our understanding? What can be done to increase our resilience to them? What strategies could be used to obtain the resources necessary to make significant changes?”

Great question!

Really important, for several reasons. First, many meeting organizers might have been content to stop with the previous question: what can be done…? Second, some organizers might have asked the simpler question… “what resources will be needed?” Instead, those running the session are asking, “what strategies can we employ to gain the needed resources?” And finally, the emphasis is on significant changes – changes that will make a real difference. Changes that are more than just symbolic moves in the right direction. Changes that we can make in time.

This framing helps lift next week’s meeting at Virginia Tech out of the ordinary.

The answer to today’s question? Not clear that there is one, but here are some pieces of the puzzle.

First off, the resources needed involve more than just money. They also include, for example, people. More about this in a moment, but for now, let’s start with the money.

And the key part of the strategy here is to emphasis that not much money is involved. This is of paramount importance. The slow-onset challenges such as climate change, drought, food shortages, etc., etc., seem so basic and so pervasive as to invite us to assume that to address them will require vast sums. In fact, the opposite is true.

Instead, as described elsewhere, the solutions to this challenge lie in four directions:

–         Tweaking existing policies with respect to the Earth as resource, victim, and threat;

–         Harnessing social networks and networking;

–         Developing a relative handful of leaders, as opposed to trying to change the mindset of seven billion people at a single stroke; and

–         Adding to our store of facts, through Earth observation, science, and services.

This realization immediately transforms the problem from an insurmountable challenge to a realistically achievable goal. Viewed through this lens? The cost is in the several tens of billions of dollars a year. Countries of the world, even in their current straitened circumstances, can easily find such sums.

Where to look? Any time over the past several decades, the answer would have been simple – and should still be so – the world’s national governments. But those governments are suffering from a great worldwide malaise, of historic proportions. In the United States, politicians are unwilling to tax, unwilling to spend, and unwilling to cut existing programs. By handcuffing their scope for action in these three ways, they’ve taken a problem that all previous generations have experienced no difficulty solving, and defined it to be intractable. In Europe, the European Union and the EU zone are in a muddle over the plight of their finances.

Stunning. So much so, that perhaps these wholly artificial constraints might be subject to change, perhaps even sometime soon. But even if national governments fail to act, the sums required are small enough that alternative sources might be considered. Start with state and local governments. Though burdened by collapsing revenue, skyrocketing pension costs, and aging infrastructure, governments at this level could nonetheless come up with the funds needed.

For that matter, so could the private sector. Big oil might be a place to start.

In fact, donors and foundations might be able to make a substantial dent in the funds required. The Gates Foundation, for example, could fit the bill.

Fact is, done correctly, the actions embodied in the four bullets above, would make money for the world’s peoples, not simply represent a sunk cost. The dollars needed are therefore limited to whatever amounts are required to prime the pump.

One possible strategy? Build awareness, through a blog. How? Write a post. Then write another…

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