Empirically Yours

Discuss the Horizon


 Goose 1: Nice view up here this morning, especially toward the horizon.

Goose 2: Just reading my Goose-mail, Homo sapiens (H sap) says there’s a “tragedy of the horizon” out there. The head of the Bank of England said this at a meeting of European bank and insurance company H saps.

GOOSE 3: What do they mean by tragedy? What do they mean by horizon? The horizon I see looks fine.

GOOSE 2: The message said that climate change poses a threat to global financial security, and not dealing with it could at least lead to a decline in the economy, and at worst to a financial crisis. The threat is so great that it’s not within the normal view of most businesses and many governments and their politicians. The concern is that people who control the banks, insurance companies, and companies that rely on fossil fuels don’t get the big picture.

GOOSE 3: So what are the central bankers doing?

GOOSE 2: The G-mail says that at least in Europe, they’re talking with big companies to test their resilience to climate-related risks. Examples would be banks that give mortgages for homes built on flood-prone land or companies that rely on fossil fuels but want to sell bonds. They will get a lecture from the central bank on climate-related risks.

GOOSE 3: So even some bankers are pointing out that due to the world’s current path of carbon emissions, the risk of financial disaster increases as the planet gets hotter.

GOOSE 2: True. Even the Chinese central bank is now offering incentives to banks that give out green loans and requiring obligatory climate-related stress tests in key industries.

GOOSE 3: So, H sap is finally beginning to talk about the economic risks of the changing climate on sea levels, droughts, powerful storms and land degradation.

GOOSE 4: Yes, I heard that a recent drought in Europe was so severe that a portion of the Rhine river dried up, blocking shipping traffic.

GOOSE 5: Who cares about Europe? This spring, here in North America unprecedented amounts of rain fell throughout the upper Midwest and it caused the Mississippi to flood neighboring towns and farms for hundreds of miles. Some farms located near the river never put in crops this year. In Louisiana, some oyster beds died because there was too much fresh water heading to the Gulf of Mexico. No oysters — now that’s serious.

GOOSE 4: And Panama! Did you hear the drought in Panama means the lake in the middle of the canal system is so low the heaviest ships can’t use the canal at all.

GOOSE 5: Didn’t these events along with the fires in California and Australia, and all the hurricanes over the past few years cause politicians to take notice? How could they be so ignorant?

GOOSE 2: Well, they’re not ignorant of these events, they’re simply ignoring them. Ignoring the obvious and inconvenient takes actual work, and this is leading to the tragedy of the horizon.

GOOSE 4: OK, so these European bankers are learning about their blind spot. How about the head banker of the U.S., Jerome Powell? Doesn’t he agree that the demonstrable effects of global climate chaos on the U.S. economy poses a genuine risk for U.S. financial institutions?

GOOSE 2: Apparently his view is that climate change risks are a “longer-run issue” and therefore outside the scope of the Federal Reserve.

GOOSE 3: Well, if that’s his view he can’t see the horizon. I know a nice beach house with a goose-friendly marsh behind located in North Miami I’d like to sell him.

GOOSE 4: It seems to me that if H sap ignores destructive wildfires, sea level rise, hurricanes, flooding rivers and droughts, these events will destroy the nesting sites H sap uses. They won’t have safe places to give to their heirs.

GOOSE 11: What are heirs?

GOOSE 2: Heirs for H sap are like goslings, except that they never learn to fly.

GOOSE 11: Oh. So sad.

Richard Gelinas, Ph.D., whose early work earned a Nobel prize, is a senior research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology. He lives in Lakebay.