Our response to Covid-19 has shown us that national security depends on more than tanks, planes and climate preparedness
The vast sums spent in the UK and globally on climate change mitigation have never been subject to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. To date they have had no measurable impact on the climate, let alone climate change and have thus been a colossal waste of money. Recent events have shown us that climate change is just one of many challenges facing our world today, so it is sensible to ask for every pound spent on climate change, how much money should be set aside to prepare us for other threats: Carrington events (solar electromagnetic storms), pandemics, global financial collapse, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis and more? What is the appropriate level of global insurance, and where is the insurance for poorer countries?
These are not hypothetical questions: a global pandemic is upon us and desperate attempts are being made to stave off a global financial collapse resulting from it. But where is the money coming from? The answer is that the vast sums being spent on climate change mitigation come from the same pot that effectively holds our insurance against all threats.
The body responsible for advising how to spend this money is Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up under the Climate Change Act of 2008, consisting of experts in climate science, economics, behavioural science and business. It is mandated to drive towards the targets set in the Climate Change Act at any cost, apparently on the assumption that the benefit of continued survival would be worth any price. The current pandemic shows up the fundamental flaws both in this approach and in the constitution of the Climate Change Committee.
The monomaniacal focus on climate has undoubtedly detracted from our ability to respond to the pandemic, and the costly recommendation of a futile attempt to achieve net-zero carbon emissions now looks like madness in project engineering terms. It is therefore time to instigate a programme entitled “Resilient Britain”, with a new committee, along the lines of the CCC, considering a much wider range of threats:
- The collapse of an unstable subterranean rock formation in the Azores could trigger a large tsunami along the whole south coast of England.
- A solar electromagnetic storm, like the one that struck the Earth in 1859 (the original Carrington Event), would take out all space-based electronics (including GPS) and all north-south electricity transmission lines globally. A similar storm in 2010 missed us by only a few earth diameters.
- A mega-volcano in Iceland could take out all northern hemisphere air traffic for many months.
- A cascade of mistakes could trigger a thermonuclear, biological, chemical or cyber war.
- The huge debt hanging over the globe could become unsustainable (e.g. if this pandemic continues for a year or more) threatening a collapse of trade, commerce, manufacture and wealth.
- A pandemic could go global, but combining Covid-19’s ease of transmission with rather higher levels of mortality.
- A rapid change in climate over an extended period could threaten the global supply of food and water.
- The rise of terrorism, populism or other extreme actions at scale.
- Societal collapse could happen under any of these or other threats.
- Regular preparedness exercises for each of these threats.
There have been numerous official and unofficial warnings about the possibility of a future pandemic over the years, but these have not resulted in the creation of an equivalent of the Climate Change Committee, and without a champion the warnings have gone unheeded.
If a Resilient Britain Committee had existed instead of the CCC, there would have been a much better state of preparedness for the current pandemic; not in the sense of keeping ten hospitals on standby just in case, but at least having regularly updated and sizeable stores of personal protective equipment and continuing support for the research on pandemics and preventative measures.