Global warming will get worse over the next 40 years, according to a leading climate expert.
"I'm deeply worried because our future could have been so much better than it is going to be," Jorgen Randers, a Norwegian scholar, said in an interview with The Korea Times, Thursday. "Climate change will get worse and worse over the next 40 years."
Randers visited Korea to participate in the ICLEI World Congress, an environmental conference for local governments worldwide. He delivered a keynote speech on the dangers of climate change to representatives from 203 cities in 87 countries. The five-day forum, which will continue until Sunday, shares ideas about building a sustainable future and reaffirms commitment to tackling global climate change.
The scholar said he "desperately" hopes his forecast will be wrong but declined to offer false hope.
"I spent 40 years of my life arguing for action. And no one has listened. The world is less sustainable now than 40 years ago," he said. "I'm doing this because the world is going be a little bit better than it would otherwise be."
Randers, co-author of the seminal 1972 report "Limits to Growth," which highlighted the devastating impacts of economic and population growth on the Earth, argues that capitalism and democracy will continue to hamper climate action.
"Many of the solutions are expensive. Capitalism allocates resources to projects that have the highest return. This means that the money will not be allocated to things where benefits come many years later," he said.
Even if some people become willing to spend money on tackling the problem, it will be difficult because of the short-term nature of democracy, in which politicians' biggest interest is to get re-elected with what they achieve in only four to five years, he said.
"People say politicians are stupid. But it's not true. Politicians are very smart. If they propose to increase the price of gasoline, they won't be elected," he said.
"People don't want to pay high taxes. They don't want to buy expensive clean cars when they can buy dirty, cheap ones."
And capitalism and democracy will remain strong for a very long time because people have trust in that system as it delivered impressive improvements in many people's quality of life over the past century, he said.
Given that the world is already in a perilous state, what does he suggest?
Randers said "smart" politicians, who can come up with climate policies that attract voters' short-term interests, might be able to make a difference.
For example, he said that those who are willing to install solar panels on their rooftops or windmills in their fields receive huge government subsidies in Germany, although the effects did not last long.
Critics say his pessimism belongs to the past and largely ignores the possibility of more progress.
In response, Randers said, "I desperately hope not. But you will see that my forecast is right."