Thursday, January 08, 2004

I.M.F. Report Says U.S. Deficits Threaten World Economy

Two cheery reports from the NY Times and Washington Post today raise the question whether the US can continue in its fiscally and environmentally profligate ways.

First, an International Monetary Fund report concluded that the United States is running up a foreign debt of such record-breaking proportions that it threatens the financial stability of the global economy, warning that large budget deficits posed "significant risks" not just for the United States but for the rest of the world. Times article. IMF Occasional Paper 227: "U.S. Fiscal Policies and Priorities for Long-Run Sustainability." A small but important part of the planned deficit, of course, is the recently enacted Medicare prescription drug benefit that we cannot afford.

Second, the Post reports that researchers have published a study (abstract) in the science journal, Nature that concludes that "[m]any plant and animal species are unlikely to survive climate change. New analyses suggest that 15-37% of a sample of 1,103 land plants and animals would eventually become extinct as a result of climate changes expected by 2050." They continue:
For some of these species there will no longer be anywhere suitable to live. Others will be unable to reach places where the climate is suitable. A rapid shift to technologies that do not produce greenhouse gases, combined with carbon sequestration, could save 15-20% of species from extinction. The cover shows a species in the firing line. Boyd's forest dragon, Hypsilurus boydii, is found in Queensland, Australia. About 90% of its distribution would become climatically unsuitable by 2050, on maximum climate warming scenarios.
At some point, industrialized societies have to start getting serious about their ethical obligations to the planet's other inhabitants, as well as to the future. My colleague, Jeff Gaba, has amply demonstrated that arguments about "our obligations to future generations" are fraught with ambiguity, hidden assumptions, and various forms of bad logic, but the rhetorical point somehow seems to survive, at least for me: What gives industrialized nations the right to consume not only a disparate share of the world's natural resources to support their economies anlifestyleses, but also up to a third of the world's species (that's 1.25 million species), as well? This is a bioethics question of transcendent importance.
posted by tommayo, 6:12 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter