FALMOUTH — Climate change deniers warn that reducing carbon emissions will cause economic disaster. Meanwhile, left-leaning author Naomi Klein has written that climate change can only be addressed by uprooting modern capitalism.
Both are wrong.
In fact, addressing climate change will improve our economy, save money for families, create good jobs and generate opportunities. Lasting solutions may be disruptive to some sectors, but not revolutionary.
Many businesses now understand that protecting the planet from global warming may open the door to extraordinary economic possibilities. Traditional financiers and aggressive entrepreneurs alike are going far beyond the predictable feel-good PR statements. They’re investing hard cash in new energy, efficiency and mitigation technologies – and making a profit.
AN ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
Outside the financial sector, businesses, thought leaders and governments have concluded that they can’t afford to ignore the threats – or the opportunities. When Florida established its program to adapt to rising sea levels, it was placed in the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.
The Financial Times has opined that “saving the climate need not destroy the economy” and that “curbing global warming could support growth, not kill it.”
As Jose Maria Figueres, the former president of Costa Rica, has noted, “Climate change is the greatest economic opportunity of our generation.”
In addition to mitigating risks to the climate, reducing emissions will increase productivity, stimulate infrastructure investment and improve public health. The Economist recently wrote that “much of what is needed to reduce (climate change’s) risks would be a good idea anyway.”
These optimistic projections should not be surprising. Great national infrastructure projects like the Transcontinental Railroad, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Interstate Highway System solved momentous problems while also creating jobs benefiting the middle class and generating a profit for businesses. Transformation creates opportunity.
This is not to minimize the imperative of reducing harmful emissions as rapidly as possible. Nor should we overlook the loss and suffering resulting from climate change, a global crisis with far-reaching humanitarian consequences. We must reduce emissions to lessen these risks, which fall most heavily on those in poverty.
My point is that the cost of taking action has been exaggerated, and the benefits overlooked.
For example, preventing agricultural methane from entering the atmosphere produces triple benefits. It eliminates a potent greenhouse gas while also capturing a lower-carbon energy source that can displace fossil fuel. The U.S. alone could support 11,000 agricultural biogas systems – enough to power 3 million homes – creating substantial opportunities for job growth and private profit.
The federal Clean Power Plan quantifies the annual climate and health benefits of reduced power plant emissions at between $30 billion and $100 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency calculates that each dollar invested in reducing carbon emissions also cuts other pollutants, producing $7 of public health benefits.
Technological innovations in efficiency, transportation, renewable power, and even the consumer sector make increasingly smart investments. According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, “everything from laundry detergent to building insulation to vehicle tires” entails opportunity for innovation – and profit.
One commentator recently noted that businesses are responding to climate change “because of self-interest, not altruism; the relentless demand for profit is compelling an increasing percentage of the world’s largest companies to take concerted, forceful action.”
Investors have taken notice. One study found that S&P 500 companies that manage their climate impact have higher profitability, lower volatility and stronger dividend growth than their peers.
DISRUPTION BUT NOT DISASTER
Climate change is an economic issue in Maine, already affecting seafood, wildlife, tourism and the agricultural sector. Tackling climate change can reduce those threats, while also enhancing local opportunities in solar, wind and tidal power, home weatherization, efficient lighting and lower-cost manufacturing processes. Energy from sustainable biomass is another place where Maine can excel.
Not everyone will benefit. Fossil fuel reserves will lose value, and coal and oil businesses will have to adapt. Although significant, this disruption pales in comparison to the threat of unmitigated global warming.
We can meet the challenge of climate change while also enjoying continued prosperity. Solving the global warming crisis will not create an economic disaster. Smart, strategic, market-driven solutions will lead to a robust economy for the 21st century and beyond.
— Special to the Telegram