NY ALESUND, Norway (Reuters) - Climate change is the biggest security challenge since the Cold War but people have not woken up to the risks nor to easy solutions such as saving energy at home, experts said on Tuesday.
“We’re not yet collectively grasping the scale of what we need to do,” British climate change ambassador John Ashton told a seminar of 40 scientists and officials from 13 nations in Ny Alesund, Norway, about 1,200 km (750 miles) from the North Pole.
He said global warming should be recast as a security issue, such as war or terrorism, to help mobilize support for tougher global action to cut emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
“The Cold War was the last big problem the world faced on so many fronts — economic, political, industrial,” he said.
Other experts at the talks, in an Arctic scientific research base, also said there was too much focus on costs of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, rather than on risks of rising seas, droughts or floods projected by U.N. studies.
Global warming “should be looked at as a totally different type of challenge instead of asking ‘what does it cost?’,” said Joergen Randers, a leading Norwegian economist. Casting global warming as a security issue could make it easier to confront.
Most said that costs of fighting global warming were likely to be manageable. A report by the U.N. climate panel this year said that even the most stringent measures would mean a loss by 2030 of just three percent of global gross domestic product.
But the experts said it was hard to persuade millions of individuals to cut energy use or to get businesses to invest in new technologies to avert long-term damage from global warming.
Randers said that the cheapest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions in cooler climates would be to get everyone to turn down the temperature at home by a degree Celsius (2 Fahrenheit) and wear a sweater if needed to keep warm.
“This can be done with no loss of comfort,” he said, adding jokingly that it might be have to be enforced by “sweater police”. Another solution would be to charge higher prices for heating homes beyond about 18C (64F).
Researchers noted that people often act without weighing up long-term consequences — many smoke cigarettes or eat too much without rationally reviewing risks of lung cancer or obesity.
In a similar way “most people don’t see the benefit of switching to a more expensive bulb that will last longer,” said Nebojsa Nakicenovic, of Vienna University of Technology.
Still, in some areas, behavior is changing.
Labeling of electricity appliances in Europe on a scale of A to G according to their energy efficiency meant that shops no longer sell machines less efficient than a C, said Christoper Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey.
He said the most effective way to get people to cut electricity use at home was probably be to give them a large dial showing their current electricity use — rising, for instance, when the cooker was turned on.