Why is climate change like the financial crisis?

Tuesday 29 December 2009, 12:37

Charles Miller Charles Miller edits the College of Journalism blog and produces documentaries for BBC History and Business. Twitter: @chblm

Tagged with:

If the job of journalism is to analyse as well as report, it's surprising that so few connections have been made between two of the biggest stories of our time - the financial crisis and climate change. 

In an updated edition of his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has rewritten the first few chapters to do just that. 

Friedman argues that the crises of the environment and the financial system are linked by politics and culture that lead to long-term damage by, as he puts it, "privatising gains and socialising losses".

"When you look at them side by side," he writes, "the parallels between what has been happening in the Market and what is happening in Mother Nature are eerie ... In both realms industries that benefitted from the underpricing of risks - whether they are credit-default swaps or carbon emissions - quietly lobbied the political authorities to keep loosening regulations so they could continue to reap large private gains at the expense of the greater public good."  

He quotes the climate physicist Joseph Romm, who describes reckless exploitation of natural resources as a "Ponzi scheme", in that "we have not generated real wealth ... real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy."

The probability of disaster in the environment far exceeds the percentage risks that brought the financial system to near collapse: as Friedman points out, "Mother Nature doesn't do bailouts." 

It's an appropriately sobering read for New Year's Day, but Hot, Flat and Crowded is not entirely a pessimistic book: Friedman calls for a renewal of purpose by a group he dubs the "re-generation", to make the creation of a sustainable economy as much a national goal in the States as the fights against fascism and communism that gave purpose, and elicited sacrifice, from previous generations.

The new edition of the book was published in November. Would Friedman have been as upbeat if he'd rewritten it after Copenhagen? Well, his views on that are in his New York Times column.

He says we shouldn't be surprised that legally enforced emissions and massive cash transfers to developing countries weren't agreed. Instead, he would like to hear a call from President Obama to compete in green industries: 

"In the cold war, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth.

Maybe the best thing President Obama could have done here in Copenhagen was to make clear that America intends to win that race. All he needed to do in his speech was to look China's prime minister in the eye and say: 'I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. This is my moon shot. Game on.'

... If you start the conversation with 'climate' you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a 'whole new industry' - one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry - you get the country."

     Test your knowledge of environmental issues in a CoJo quiz here

Tagged with:


Be the first to comment

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Can news be free?

Tuesday 22 December 2009, 11:50

What we'll be thinking about in 2010

Thursday 31 December 2009, 15:11

About this Blog

A blog for the College of Journalism at the BBC Academy, discussing current technical, ethical, production and craft issues in journalism.

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

Follow us on Twitter

New twitter image News and comment about journalism and interaction with the College:


Also from the College


Expert tips for finding people online by Paul Myers

Searching for people online








How to shoot video on a smartphone by Marc Settle

Marc Settle








Finding original stories locally by Hayley Brewer

Hayley Brewer








Work in a multimedia newsroom at BBC London

Multimedia newsroom


Other great places to follow debates about journalism and media:

George Brock: thoughts on journalism past, present and future from City University's head of journalism

The Media Blog: lively and often funny topical detail about UK media output

British Journalism Review: selected pieces from the authoritative quarterly journal

MediaShift: PBS monitoring of the changing media world from a US perspective

Arts & Letters Daily: more interesting ideas and good writing than you will ever have time to read

Alltop Journalism: links to the most recent posts on many journalism blogs

About the BBC: varied BBC blog about all things BBC-ish

Columbia Journalism Review: US academic perspectives

Facebook + Journalists: Facebook's own guide to its use by journalists

Jon Slattery: UK media news from the former deputy editor of Press Gazette

Meeja Law: Judith Townend's guide to media and legal issues 

Roy Greenslade: Guardian blog by the former Mirror editor now journalism prof

Wannabee Hacks: information and experiences from aspiring journalists.