An Ounce of Prevention: The Case for “The Great Green Technological Transformation”

by Tripp Brockway

When faced with budget constraints, most middle class American families would cut unnecessary spending, such as trips to the beach or season tickets to the local baseball team. They would not cut the spending deemed crucial to the future well-being of their family, such as health insurance or their child’s education.

The same applies to the United States government. Even in a budget crunch, the government should continue to invest in the future by funding infrastructure maintenance, public schools, and research and development for new technologies.

The UN’s 2011 World Economic and Social Survey, released on Tuesday, highlights the importance of investing in new technology to ensure a sustainable, safe, and prosperous future for our planet:

The “green economy” has been promoted as the key concept in this regard—the concept that embodies the promise of a new development paradigm, whose application has the potential to ensure the preservation of the earth’s ecosystem along new economic growth pathways while contributing at the same time to poverty reduction.

The report, entitled “The Great Green Technological Transformation,” focuses on three pillars vital to the development of a sustainable economy.  First, the world must accelerate the transition to non-greenhouse gas emitting, renewable sources of energy. Second, sustainable food security must be achieved through the promotion of small-holder agriculture and environmentally-intelligent farming technology. Third, new technology must be used to reduce disaster risk and ensure that countries around the world are prepared to adapt to a changing climate.

All three of these pillars are crucial to developing a sustainable economy. Experts around the world, however, are beginning to recognize the previously neglected importance of investment in adaptation. From disastrous droughts in East Africa to dust storms in the United States, we are already feeling the effects of climate change. And the poorest countries, who have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions, will bear the brunt of the impacts according to the UN:

Developing countries tend to suffer more from the adverse consequences of natural hazards through multiple vulnerabilities associated with lower levels of development and inadequate resources, which constrain their efforts to build more adequate and resilient infrastructure and implement adequate disaster risk management strategies

Without enough investment in adaptation coming from the developed world, increasingly common and powerful natural disasters will have devastating impacts on developing countries. As the global leader for disaster response, the United States will be obliged to provide humanitarian assistance more frequently. Besides the obvious nightmarish effects on human welfare, these natural disasters will present security and economic challenges to the United States.

Disasters in ill-prepared developing countries will create unprecedented instability worldwide. It is in countries like Somalia, one of the most unstable in the world, where violence proliferates. A drought-ridden and resource barren Somalia makes the world a more dangerous place, as evidenced by piracy on the Indian Ocean and the prevalence of the emergence of the terrorist group al-Shabaab. It is therefore in the national security interest of the United States to provide financing for adaptation to climate change in the developing world.

Furthermore, in a budget-constrained environment, investments in adaptation in the developing world are essentially a form of insurance for future natural disasters. Rather than risk being financially and logistically overwhelmed by large-scale disaster response and recovery efforts, the United States should invest in efforts to mitigate disaster risk through the creation of new technologies and the deployment of existing ones.

Investments in research and development can create huge economic benefits in the future. Whether it is through the development of clean energy, food security, or a reduced burden for disaster-response, investing in environmental sustainability makes clear economic sense. We must break the fallacious concept that economic growth and environment sustainability are unrelated. They are, in fact, intimately intertwined.

— Tripp Brockway, CAP energy intern

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