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Fighting Climate Change is Cheap

Many economists conclude that slacking off is the expensive choice.

Over the past few decades, climate scientists have gradually converged to a consensus about global warming:  it's real, humans are causing it, and over the next century or less it could be a very, very big deal.  Sure, there are still a few naysayers out there; but the large majority of the nerds in the world's climate labs -- the ones who devote their lives to thinking about this stuff -- are now convinced that climate change is the real deal.

little piggy bankThis article claims that top economists are gradually converging on a parallel consensus: that over the long term, it's much, much cheaper to fight climate change than it is to let global warming continue unchecked.  

Obviously, transitioning to a cleaner energy system isn't free.  But according to the emerging consensus among economists, it could be a lot cheaper than people expect -- and far, far cheaper than you think if you only read coal industry propaganda. On the flip side, paying for the consequences of climate change -- dealing with droughts and floods, safeguarding homes and cities from rising sea levels, managing the flow of global climate refugees, and so forth -- could be a lot more expensive over the long haul than a shift to cleaner energy. 

It's possible that the economic consensus isn't as solid on this issue -- not yet, anyway -- as the scientific consensus is.  Still, the article is very much worth reading. and I imagine this isn't the last time we'll hear about the high cost of slacking off on the fight against climate change.

This piece originally appeared on the Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score.

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Why would we allow the economists to make this decision?

Posted by: Josh Stack on 17 Feb 09

The conclusion that it's cheaper to act on climate change might elicit a response of 'well, DUH!' to regulars here. We don't need convincing, politicians and policy controllers do, however.

So, it's good news that groups other than scientists are starting to get it. Economists, in particular. It's a question of who has whose ears, Josh.

I found Pooley's main point in the article Clark refers us to is, not that economists agree, but why it hasn't been reported more. (a mix of bad investigation, and a tendency of economists to disagree on method, even when there is an agreement on result)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 17 Feb 09

Tony...thanks for the clarification. I should not have been as short in my (somewhat rhetorical) question.

I understand the preeminence of economists in our political economy. I just happen to believe that most economics is a simplified fiction of the world, and the force underlying most destruction of cultural and natural systems.

So, sure the economists must come around. Or as the article indicates, a consensus of economists could be a good thing. I don't think it's as simple, partly for the reasons you mentioned. Given two choices, the economist will build a model so simplified as to be wholly fictional (think of all the current models simply failed to include any assumption of a decrease in housing value or financial assets), then go out and beat politicians and the public over the head with returns, marginal costs, etc.

The process itself is so incorrect as to be invalid.

Posted by: Josh Stack on 18 Feb 09

Simple is an understatement!

I recall reading an anecdote about a report to the World Bank in which a simple diagram outlining economic fundamentals was given. It was pointed out that, while this was a good idea, the diagram lacked context. Its components appeared to exist in a void whereas, in fact, they existed in the Earth's environment. Wrapping the diagram in a box marked 'environment' would solve the issue, and demonstrate the impact of consumption and waste.

Draft 2: the diagram was dutifully boxed. Better, now please label the box 'Environment'?

Draft 3: the diagram was removed.

Clark's article suggests that things may have moved on from when this sad tale occurred.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 19 Feb 09

Raivo Pommer

Rumenien ja Lettlands geld

Die Reaktion fiel gelassen aus. Obgleich nach Ungarn und Lettland mit Rumänien nun der dritte osteuropäische EU-Mitgliedstaat die Europäische Kommission in Zahlungsschwierigkeiten geraten ist und um Hilfe gebeten hat, zeigen die Finanzmärkte nur verhaltene Reaktionen.

Die Landeswährung Leu wertet zwar um 0,8 Prozent auf 4,3077 Leu je Euro ab, doch ist sie damit immer noch unter dem Tief von Anfang Februar bei 4,3614 Leu. Die Kurse der rumänischen Staatsanleihen gaben immerhin leicht nach.

Posted by: leva ruma on 10 Mar 09

It's cheaper and our future generations actually get to live on the planet. Just because we are born on this planet does not mean we own it. Let's start investing in keeping earth as or better than we found it. Apply the Scout Motto to the world civilization "Zero Trace Camping" :-)

Posted by: CoachPalmer on 12 Mar 09

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