“Burning fossil fuels harms the health of both the planet and its inhabitants.” – The Economist.
As the following image courtesy of dreamstime.com suggests that buring has given the planet a fever. It has hydration issues and its pH is out of whack. Its homeostatic imbalanced is sufficiently acute that intervention is warranted. The economic model required to restore the planet to health and therefore to preserve our own is the pharmaceutical industry. Rather than the planet’s pathology however the purveyors of the fuels that have brought us to this juncture insist that the price of their wares is the all-encompassing issue.
Just as we are only viable within a range 4oC below or above the norm of 37.2 to 37.6oC, and are considered hyper or hypothermic 2 degrees either side of that level, so too is our planet’s ability to support life constrained. Although measured temperatures on Earth range between 58 and −89.2°C; unprotected very few life forms can survive anything close to those extremes and a scientific consensus has emerged that a global rise in average temperatures of more than 2°C over the pre-industrial average of about 12.9°C would be “dangerous”.
Some will point to the fact that with sufficient energy we can survive temperature extremes, sea level rise, powerful storms, acidifying oceans and even water scarcity but this is the ultimate One Percenter’s response. For the majority of us those conditions mean suffering at best and in many instances death.
Of note, the 20th century average for global land surface temperatures was 5.9°C, while the average sea surface temperature was 15.8°C and it’s the seas that are being the most impacted by climate change and where remedial action is needed the most.
In support of the notion that the pharmaceutical industry is the right model for addressing climate change, the World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 deaths annually are already attributable to this problem and by 2050 this will increase to 250,000. Since roughly 56,000,000 people (8.78 deaths annually for every 1,000 people on the planet) die every year, about the same number of people are killed annually by climate change as die daily.
By comparison the Center for Disease Control and Prevention counts 8371 deaths as of January 10 as a result of the West Africa Ebola Outbreak.
A rare disease such a Ebola, which nonetheless has received significant attention, is generally described as one that affects less than 1 in 2,000 people so climate related deaths are anything but rare.
There are between 7000 and 8000 rare diseases and treatments for only about 5% of them because the incentive for developing remedies does not exist. The business model is to develop and market drugs for large markets and as a consequence the pharmaceutical industry is — and has been for years — the most profitable U.S. businesses.
Climate change is the greatest malady facing mankind because although not everyone is in imminent peril, none of us will go unscathed. No other disorder threatens trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure and climate is the threat most likely to metastasize into an existential problem if the worsening condition goes unaddressed.
The market for a cure is therefore immense as is the potential for profit and unfortunately also larceny.
A cure is the end of a medical condition and in the case of climate change that will not be brought about by a cessation of fossil fuel burning alone. Carbon is forever a 2008 Nature article points out, because CO2 emissions and their associated warming linger for millennia.
My colleague, Dominic Michaelis, published an article this week claiming Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion can slow climate change. He bases that slowing on the production of 5 terawatts of OTEC power but since the ocean’s potential output is three times that great; the process comes as close to a climate “cure” as there is, particularly in terms of a source of energy.
As he points out OTEC reduces the temperature of the oceans, eliminates carbon emissions, and increases carbon dioxide absorption, generates fuel that is portable and efficient, food and desalinated water, creates jobs and reduces sea level rise and cyclonic action.
As is the case with drugs, the cost of a cure has to be amortized across the number of patients, which in the case of climate change is all of us. This reality hasn’t sunk in however, therefore the cost of a climate solution is touted as too high to be undertaken even though market saturation is a long way off as are the costs reductions associated with economies of scale.
One Percenters no less than the rest of us benefit from spreading the climate risk as well as the rewards for taking action.
Essentially the market for a climate solution is wide open regardless of the price of fossil fuels. As The Economist points out, the fall in the price of oil and gas provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix bad energy policies. We need to seize the day.
Even with aspirin sized, rather than orphan drug, margins the business opportunity is unparalleled and doubtlessly will be capitalized on ultimately by souls wise enough to save the rest of us from ourselves. And rightfully so, how many pharmaceuticals can power our transportation, homes, appliances and devices; heat and air condition our homes and offices and in the process pay for themselves while performing a life saving function?