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Cheaper to Do Something

Here’s something interesting from a source I would not have expected. A new comprehensive report from Citibank (the third largest bank in the US) found that taking climate change seriously and doing something now to lower carbon pollution will save the world $1.8 trillion through the year 2040. Not acting, on the other hand, will not only not save that money, it will cost an additional (and stunning) $44 trillion through 2060, caused by the negative consequences of climate change.

Ironically, the investment costs for the two scenarios (inaction versus action) are almost identical, with the “action” scenario costing a bit less. That’s right, it will cost us less to do something to reduce carbon pollution than to not do something about it, because of savings from reduced fuel costs and increased energy efficiency. Money invested in renewable energy now will pay off because of the rapidly falling costs of renewables.

The report starts with a prescient quote from Thomas Edison:

We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

Unfortunately, critics of taking action to reduce carbon pollution (when they aren’t denying it outright), claim that it would cost too much to do something about it. Some, like Charles Koch, claim that the cost of doing something would cause an economic disaster, saying “So do we want to create a catastrophe today in the economy because of some speculation based on models that don’t work?”

The report specifically addresses this concern, and dismisses it as false. Even not counting the cost of the damage caused by climate change, they found that investing in renewable energy will save money. But so far, the Republican party refuses to even consider doing anything about climate change.

The bottom line? Climate denial will cost us trillions of dollars, while doing something about it will save us money.



  1. ebdoug wrote:

    Is Charles Koch use of the phrase “economic disaster” equal to “less money in my pocket”?

    And the irony is that the hotter it gets, the more air conditioning we use, so the hot output from the air conditioner causes more heat. Had someone say to me “I’m lucky, I have full house air conditioning.” Clueless.

    Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 4:52 am | Permalink
  2. Dave, TN wrote:

    “I’m lucky, I have full house air conditioning.”, another instance of the “haves” and the “have nots”. Those without AC are out in the cold{or hot in this case} and will pay the price. But if it gets so bad that a stable electric grid cannot be maintained, the playing field will be leveled and those not adjusted to the heat will not fare well. But hey, that’s infrastructure and we don’t need to spend money on silly things like that. Just desserts in my eye for all those naysayers conservatives who think investment in our country’s highways, plumbing and grid are a bad thing. I see these republicans candidates spouting these tax cutting views as having a poor hindsight and thereby a poor choice for any office short of dog catcher.

    Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 7:41 am | Permalink
  3. John wrote:

    Yeah, and I don’t know why those clueless New Englanders heat their houses, either. There are plenty of folks living North of them who have adapted to the cold.

    Maybe we should just be focussing on developing sustainable, renewable energy resources rather than rationing civilization.

    Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    John, I’m with you. I am against rationing and conservation of energy because we actually have plenty of energy. Why we chose to end up completely dependent on finite and polluting energy sources like fossil fuels is beyond me.

    If somebody wants to air condition their whole house using energy they capture directly from the sun, that’s great. In that case, the hot output from the AC is balanced by the captured heat from the sun that is converted into electricity.

    I would claim that people who think we have to stop using so much energy, not have cars, not have AC, etc. are actually making the political situation worse. Those people are telling you that you have to do without, that progress is bad. The real message should be that progress, specifically progressing from fossil fuels to sustainable and non-polluting energy sources, is the answer, and has so many other benefits as well.

    Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  5. David Freeman wrote:

    I agree with you IK about the bad messaging but some of that is actually due to Frank Luntz and his ilk making it sound like those who are pushing for energy efficiency are really asking us to ‘do without’. A more efficient light bulb or refrigerator reduces energy without reducing quality of life. Energy efficiency makes sustainability so much easier to achieve.

    Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    David, you have a good point. But it did sound like Eva and Dave were asking the AC people to do without.

    Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 9:25 pm | Permalink
  7. Michael wrote:

    Dave does bring up a very important point, though: the distribution of the costs. The report, from my quick, cursory skimming, says very little about this. Pages 102-104 mention the issues relating to developed vs. developing countries, but that is far too coarse-grained to address the issue. If action places costs on the rich while inaction mostly places costs on the poor, things are unlikely to change. As an example, look at all the celebrities in CA that have been watering the lawns of their mansions during a drought.

    Monday, September 7, 2015 at 7:19 am | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    Incidentally, when I first saw that quote from Edison, I thought this was like the quote of Abraham Lincoln warning you that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. The fact that Edison was discussing the merits of solar over coal and oil, and nothing has changed in almost a century, is really sad.

    Monday, September 7, 2015 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    I want to point out that the drought is a real crisis, while the energy crisis is not really a crisis as it is easily solvable.

    Monday, September 7, 2015 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  10. Michael wrote:

    I agree. My point was that, in both cases, since the rich are protected from the costs of the problem, they have no incentive to cooperate.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at 7:06 am | Permalink