By Richard Ottinger


With the proposed appointment by President-elect Donald Trump of a climate skeptic, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and with many other individuals opposed to climate action proposed for key environmental positions, I suggest a new approach be proposed to him and to them. 

I propose that action on climate change be treated as an insurance policy to insure the country and world against the risk that 95 percent of the world’s climate scientists may be right that human-caused global warming will threaten the future of our children and grandchildren if not mitigated. This insurance approach should be appealing to President Trump and the businessmen who support him.

Businessmen and individuals insure against all kinds of threats that they do not expect to happen to them. Businesses, homeowners, drivers—virtually everyone—insures against fires, thefts, floods, liability and many other risks that would cause large financial losses should they occur. Businesses and governments routinely insure against unexpected events—they call it risk management. 

Even through the worst dangers of climate change may never come to pass, climate skeptics should not feel excused from joining the rest of the world in taking climate mitigation action—particularly since the consequences of those dangers are so staggering.

For example, many countries are having great difficulty coping with refugees from the devastation of ghastly wars, and President-elect Trump campaigned to stem immigration into the United States, alleging that it results in job losses and security threats. Yet if sea levels rise as predicted by the scientific majority, the refugee problem will become many times worse as people flee low-lying coastal areas.

I cannot imagine that those who resist climate action are prepared to take responsibility for the devastation that will occur should they be wrong—the displacement of millions of people; disruption of agriculture causing massive starvation; spread of tropical diseases to areas not now experiencing them; expanded hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, droughts and fires, causing huge loss of life and property.

The U.S. military views the consequences of such risks to be a major threat to national security. Surely a security-conscious Administration does not want to bear responsibility for national security disasters that may occur should its view of climate change prove to be wrong.

In the improbable event that the skeptics are right and these catastrophic consequences do not occur even though no climate action is taken, how wonderful that would be! But would any prudent business executive ignore these risks and take responsibility for failing to insure against their occurrence? I doubt it. 

The President-elect should reconsider his climate stance and insure against the terrible consequences of climate change. It has been determined conclusively that the costs of failure to take action will be many times the costs of mitigation. Furthermore, the measures required to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions are also the same needed to avoid deadly air, water and land pollution. Tackling emissions would have major health benefits, reducing medical expenses and early loss of life. And, today, energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies are so cheap that substantial savings can be achieved by transitioning to them. All of us should embrace the potential of clean energy and abide by the time-honored adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Richard Ottinger

EESI Board Chair Emeritus; Former Member of Congress & Chair, Energy, Conservation & Power Subcommittee; Chair, IUCN Energy & Climate Change Specialty Group, World Commission on Environmental Law; Dean Emeritus, Pace Law School.

This is an abridged and edited version of an op-ed first published in The Hill on December 16, 2016