Economist: Saving the Planet is Very Affordable

earthEban Goodstein, an economist and professor at Bard College, along with two of his co-authors of their recent in-depth study of the costs of climate stabilization, has an interesting editorial in today’s Washington Post: “We can afford to save the planet.”

In the editorial, professor Goodstein says:

Some have argued that the worrisome climate news is that the cost of preventing climate change is too high. In fact, estimates of the cost of acting to mitigate warming have remained relatively stable, while estimates of the likely cost of inaction are becoming unbearable. Whether the goal is 450 or 350 parts per million, this is still a problem we can afford to solve. Stopping global warming remains fundamentally a problem of political will.


Our report shows that a comprehensive global strategy is well within the range of what most nations are willing to pay to avoid far greater damages from climate change down the line. With investments of roughly 1 to 3 percent of global gross domestic product, or $600 billion to $1.8 trillion, we could rapidly transition from oil and coal to renewables and clean energy sources, including wind and solar, and replenish global forests, which would help trap billions of tons of carbon. These efforts would create jobs and stabilize the climate in the process. Fluctuations or changes in some factors, such as the price of oil, could mean these investments might actually save us money.

To some, the price of 1 to 3 percent of global economic output may seem too high. But examine the amount in context. Suppose, for instance, that the cost of climate protection turns out to be 2.5 percent of global GDP. In an economy like that of the United States that is, say, growing at a roughly 2.5 percent annual rate, spending 2.5 percent of its GDP on climate protection each year would be equivalent to skipping one year’s growth and then resuming. Put another way, Americans in 2050 would have to wait one additional year, until 2051, to be as rich as they would have been had they not been investing in the transition to clean energy.

Consider another comparison: Military spending is greater than 4 percent of GDP in both the United States and China. Because of concerns about potential future dangers, both countries are already diverting from annual consumption more than the high-end estimates of what it would take to stop global warming.

Business lobbies have argued that even the moderate reductions called for in recent U.S. climate and energy legislation would cripple the economy. Yet academic research and findings by the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency show that recent U.S. legislative proposals would have very little if any negative impact on the U.S. economy. Our report surveys the economic studies of the costs of achieving the far more ambitious target of 350 ppm and finds only estimates of moderate net global costs.

Read full editorial here.

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