Climate and Money: a Tale of Two Accounts

Pulp mills, Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In 1908, Charles Abbot and F.E. Fowle gave a presentation titled “Income and Outgo of Heat from the Earth, and the Dependence of Its Temperature Thereon.” A lot’s been learned since then, but the importance of income and outgo on Earth’s temperature has been proven again and again.

The basics are as straightforward as the income and outgo of a checking account. In one case, it’s all about income and outgo of money. In the other, it’s all about income and outgo of radiant energy in the form of incoming light and outgoing heat. 

Incoming solar radiation in the form of sunlight is a deposit in Earth’s radiation account. In the September 1970 issue of Scientific American, scientist Abraham Oort reminded readers that when this radiation reaches the surface of Earth in the form of sunlight, it is “stored,” or deposited, as heat. 

As he said then, the outgo begins as the deposited heat rises away from the heated surface, now heating the atmosphere “from the bottom up.”

Just as we affect our checking account balance if we limit the outgo of money, we affect the radiation balance if we limit the outgo of radiant energy. In either case, an unbalanced account can be trouble. 

But there’s a big and important difference between these two accounts. Limiting the outgo of money can be good  for the balance of a checking account. Limiting the outgo of heat can get us in trouble.

Oort said, ”The most likely way the climate could be influenced by either natural or artificial means seems to be through a trigger mechanism that ultimately changes the radiation balance.”

So, what can pull the trigger on the radiation balance? Volcanic eruptions are prominent in the list of natural triggers. They’ve done it before, and can do it again. But we can do nothing about those. 

There is, however, a trigger under human fingers. We pull it as a matter of daily routine.

The same September 1970 issue of Scientific American that published Oort’s analysis also published one by Fred Singer.

Pinpointing the outgoing heat — a.k.a., infrared radiation — rising from Earth’s surface, Singer said, ” The molecule of carbon dioxide has strong absorption bonds, particularly in the infrared region,” and that “carbon dioxide reduces the amount of heat energy lost by earth to outer space.”

In other words, CO2 limits the outgo of heat, so that Earth becomes a hotter place to live. This has been known for decades, has been going on for decades, and we’ve reached the point where the world of money is at risk of head-on collision with a threatened radiation balance.

American Banker magazine, for example, has already warned that, “The planet is warming at an alarmingly rapid rate, and unless swift action is taken to curb the emission of greenhouse gases, the economic costs will be severe.”

Specifically citing “huge costs seen in climate inaction,” Business Insurance magazine points directly to what we all face if we fail to limit “the potential dire economic consequences of climate change.”

The Bloomberg Climate Changed newsletter summarized the situation on February 7, 2019: “Climate change isn’t just an expanding threat to the environment; it’s already a massive drag on the economy.”

It would pretty clearly be a drag on many states’ balance sheet if and when, for one quick example, increased outgo for firefighting joins up with reduced income from tourism spending in fire season.

More articles by:

March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
Christopher Brauchli
Banking, Wells Fargo-Style
Jeff Mackler
After Week-Long Strike, Oakland Teachers’ Contract Falls Short
Chuck Collins
Bring Back Eisenhower Socialism!
Binoy Kampmark
Grounding Boeing
James Munson
Why Are We Still Sycophants?
Jill Richardson
Politicians Are Finally Catching Up on Marijuana
Warren Alan Tidwell
Disasters Don’t Discriminate, But Disaster Recovery Does
Robert Koehler
Artifial Morality
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Goodenough Island in MacArthur’s Wake
Alex McDonald
U.S. Iran Policy: What is Great?
Tracey L. Rogers
Stop Making Women Apologize
John Sarbanes – Michael Brune
To Clean Up the Planet, Clean Up DC First