Don’t worry about climate change, says Matthew Kahn – just invest in real estate in Detroit, because it’s way above sea level and will have warmer winters. Or in dried fruit, due to drought-hit orchards.
In spite of Khan’s subtitle, his real subject is capitalism. An environmental economist from California, he figures we are too selfish to cap global warming, but will be alright thanks to the market. “At the heart of my belief,” he says, “is our freedom of choice, not to mitigate but to adapt.”
According to Kahn, capitalism may have created the climate problem, but its ability to reinvent itself will help us to adapt. At the end of the day, the story will have a happy ending: “A small cadre of forward-looking entrepreneurs will be ready to get rich selling the next generation of products that will help us all to adapt.”
Optimism is good. But this article of economic faith lacks humanity. The poor will not thank him for being told that their best coping strategy is to grow richer. And it is based on illusions about the nature of global warming: Kahn says he has taken it for granted that the changes will unfold gradually. Why? Most researchers think local climate change impacts will be sudden and often unexpected. The laws of economics cannot trump the laws of nature.
Fred Pearce is the author of The Climate Files