GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - 2018

Paper No. 76-12
Presentation Time: 11:10 AM


STONE, George T., Board of Directiors, Wisconsin Clean Cities, 231 W. Michigan St. P321, Milwaukee, WI 53203

Fossil carbon is being transferred from natural subsurface sequestration to increasing accumulations in Earth's atmosphere and hydrosphere. The impacts of this unnaturally rapid chemical redistribution are becoming increasingly problematic, and the rates of change are accelerating. Manifold impacts comprise collateral damage that is already stressing most of our planet's ecosystems, including the habitats of hundreds of millions of people.

Shifting climate patterns are disrupting long established water supply and agricultural systems. Extreme climate and weather events have increased dramatically in recent decades: record- breaking rainfall and snow accumulation contribute to catastrophic flooding; prolonged droughts and historic heat waves reduce crop yields, increase wildfires and degrade human health; rises in temperature (especially nighttime minima), precipitation, and humidity facilitate expansion of insect ranges and insect- borne diseases; and escalating sea levels enhance coastal flooding, erosion and salt-water intrusion thereby reducing available living space.

These increasing impacts inflict immense human suffering in the form of death, disease, and bodily harm as well as enormous property damage. Who is liable for these industrial by-products so often euphemistically dismissed as “externalities”? It is a cost of doing business, the fossil carbon business. According to present practice, the financial burden is borne by the victims themselves (“victim liability”) and/or by the public at large through taxes and higher insurance premiums. This is contrary to fundamental ethical principles of fairness and justice. The party that is responsible for the damage is liable for the damages.

As emphasized by Jason Mark in his excellent analysis The Case for Climate Reparations (May/June 2018 Sierra), the mounting price tag of extreme weather events and the prospect of greater destruction to come have brought into focus a question that has been lurking at the edges of climate change conversations: Who should pay the costs of the death and destruction caused by human-driven global warming? A reckoning must be made. After all, we are not merely consumers seeking compensation for a product defect. We are citizens insisting that impunity is unacceptable in a republic governed by the rule of law.