We cannot ignore the potential risks. The one thing a CEO learns is, that no matter what, you never risk the entire company. Whether or not one “believes” in the scientific data, the risks are formidable. What if those denying the scientific data are wrong? Can we risk that? No prudent business person would do so.
So what are the major risks? And what is reasonable vs. the doomsday version? Major threats we should not prudently ignore include more intense weather, sea level rise, changes in agriculture, changes in precipitation and water deficits, threats to defense, heat related disease, and economic loss.
As the ocean warms, hurricanes (and cyclones in the west Pacific) will increase in intensity, and possibly in frequency. Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 had sustained winds of 190 to 195 mph when it struck the Philippines, making it the strongest cyclone ever at the time of landfall. Hurricane Sandy, which hit the US Atlantic coast in 2011, caused US$62-65 billion in damage. Precipitation has changed with drought in the western US and colder and wetter in the northeast, although there is still debate about the magnitude of the link of precipitation to climate change.
Sea level rise has been modest so far, but is expected to rise by perhaps 1 meter (3.3 feet) but probably less than 2 meters by 2100. But sea level rise may be faster. Glaciers are melting at increasing rates. The amount and rate of sea level rise is very poorly understood, but it will rise, and it will continue to rise over time.
Agriculture is impacted by changing climate, particularly by warmer temperatures, weather patterns, and even by increasing CO2. Some crops are withering or producing better in different areas. Some farmers are scratching their heads wondering when to start planting this year, or planting entirely different crops.
Climate change is changing weather patterns, wind patterns and ocean currents, and consequent precipitation patterns. Some areas will be wetter, some dryer, even to significant drought. How these patterns will emerge over time is still poorly understood.
Our Defense Department recognizes climate change as a “threat multiplier”. People displaced by sea level rise and other climate change, loss of arable land, and water stresses will add to civil unrest and hence our defense.
Loss of biodiversity is accelerating. In fact we are in the sixth largest extinction in half a billion years. That’s most of the time life has had on earth. And biodiversity is critical to human health.