Trapped Between the Falling Sky and the Rising Seas: The Imagined Terrors of the Impacts of Climate Change

81 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2010 Last revised: 22 Apr 2012

Date Written: December 13, 2009


Some advocates of drastic greenhouse gas controls claim that the costs of global warming are underestimated and that a proper accounting of the full costs raises the specter of economic and political instability, conflict and mass migration as weak governments in developing countries with low adaptive capacity are buffeted by floods, droughts, famine, and rising seas driven by global warming. No country, least of all the US, will be immune from the spillover effects. Accordingly, they argue, the costs to the US of a unilateral pursuit of GHG reductions would be justified by the benefits to the US itself. This chapter shows that the central pillar for this argument, namely, countries’, and specifically developing countries’, adaptive capacity will be low, is flawed. Specifically, it shows that under the IPCC’s warmest scenario, which projects a 1990-2085 warming of 4°C precisely because it assumes healthy economic growth worldwide, developing countries will in 2100 be twice as wealthy as the US is today, even after subtracting the costs of warming per the Stern Review’s overblown estimates. Industrialized countries will be thrice as wealthy. Moreover future societies will have superior technologies at their disposal. Accordingly, their adaptive capacities should be much higher than it is today, the costs of warming have been overestimated, and fears of economic and societal breakdown are precisely that – fears. Moreover, empirical trends suggest that warming is currently proceeding slower than the IPCC’s projections, nor is there any hint of any deterioration in climate-sensitive indicators of human well-being that might presage such breakdowns. Specifically, agricultural productivity has increased; hunger has declined; deaths from hunger, extreme weather events, malaria and other vector-borne disease have dropped; and people are living longer and healthier. Regarding environmental well-being, the Amazon and the Sahel are becoming greener, as is most of the world. Ironically, much of this improvement in human and environmental well-being has been enabled, directly or indirectly, by technologies dependent on fossil fuels or economic surpluses generated by the use of fossil fuels and other GHG-generating activities.

Keywords: climate change, global warming, impacts, national security, developing nations, catastrophes, economic spillovers, impact assessments, risk analysis, migration, mitigation, economics, science, policy analysis

JEL Classification: D81, I10, I18, K32, Q40, Q20, Q48, O30

Suggested Citation

Goklany, Indur M., Trapped Between the Falling Sky and the Rising Seas: The Imagined Terrors of the Impacts of Climate Change (December 13, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

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