A Depressed Economy Is the Time to Address Global Warming

Paul KrugmanOn Monday, Paul Krugman wrote an interesting article, Crazy Climate Economics. And today, he’s written another global warming related article, Points of No Return. They are both worth reading, but I wanted to bring up something that Krugman doesn’t: environmental remediation as economic stimulus.

Marco Rubio has gotten a lot of attention recently for saying that doing anything about global warming would have a “devastating impact on our economy.” Krugman mocked him for this by noting:

Normally, conservatives extol the magic of markets and the adaptability of the private sector, which is supposedly able to transcend with ease any constraints posed by, say, limited supplies of natural resources. But as soon as anyone proposes adding a few limits to reflect environmental issues—such as a cap on carbon emissions—those all-capable corporations supposedly lose any ability to cope with change.

But there is a deeper issue here. Our economy is depressed. Corporations are not investing because they see no demand. Corporations are notorious for their lack of long-term planning. The government forcing the business community to clean up its act and move to green energy would be great for their long-term prospects. But there’s more.

Marco RubioForcing companies to make these necessary environmental changes would create jobs. It would act as a stimulus program and that in turn would increase demand and so company profits would go up. So Rubio’s claim that addressing climate change would hurt the economy is backwards. What’s more, every day that we wait to deal with global warming makes fixing problems that much more expensive. It is one thing to invest in windmills that will more than pay for themselves in the long run; it is quite another to build a ten foot tall sea wall all around Miami.

Conservatives will tell you that if we are going to deal with our environmental problems, we must do it when the economy is good. This is exactly backwards. Now is the time that corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars. Now is the time when banks are desperate to loan money. When the economy is roaring along, environmental mitigation will take resources away from other uses. Now, mitigation uses resources (human and capital) that are going unused.

Now is the time to act! People like Marco Rubio know as little about economics as they do about climate science.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “A Depressed Economy Is the Time to Address Global Warming

  1. It could be the biggest jobs program since the WPA, and should be. I live in Phoenix. If the Germans can get a third of their energy from solar, what can we accomplish? And wind, Meteor Crater is surrounded for miles by flatlands. And the wind blows like mad there. I have read that hearty, drought resistant hemp is very efficient at converting CO2. So let’s plant it everywhere, plow it into the soil for water retention, and plant more. And put Appalachia to work on reforestation. And put the solar and wind manufacturing in the communities that are or were coal and oil country. And we need a national water management project. Collect and store rainwater (and snow), particularly in areas that are getting flooded by the changing weather patterns. I’m thinking of the Fremen in Dune and their ecology program. And on the subject of science fiction, Lockheed Martin supposedly has a fusion reactor that looks promising. If they make that a reality I might forgive them for the F-35.
    I was talking to my wife last night about the Antarctic ice sheet. She had heard about it, which surprised me because she gets most of her news from Jim Dobson’s vile radio network (Fox effect lite). I told her that in the year 2100 the climate on Earth might be inhospitable to human life. She said “That’s only 85 years. That’s in our daughter’s lifetime.” I said “Maybe. If she has children they certainly should live to see that.” I didn’t push much past that, didn’t want her to dig in.

  2. @Lawrence – Your first paragraph makes we want to march down the street like at the end of [i]They Might Be Giants[/i]. Very inspiring! Of course, you are right. We don’t need to pay people to dig up bottles of cash; there are tons of things that we ought to be doing.

    As for your second paragraph: that’s a switch. Usually the women are the liberals. But this is an issue on which liberals and conservatives should agree. And [i]did[/i] agree until the disinformation campaign really got going. This is probably the most frustrating thing for me: I find that one-on-one, I agree a great deal with conservatives. But somehow, they don’t vote on what we agree on. They lack perspective. I will admit that welfare fraud is terrible and they will admit that crony capitalism is terrible. And we will both agree that crony capitalism is a [i]far[/i] bigger problem. But they go to the polls and vote for the candidate who will give out the big checks to the corporations and screw the poor in the name of going after food stamp fraud. But I think your slow approach is good.

  3. Perhaps a little off-topic, but historically in North America, dealing with environmental issues only has been perceived as politically possible in good economic times.

    More on-topic: I don’t want, specifically, to deal with carbon emissions by giving companies/parasites economic incentives. I want new government programs – new crown corporations, in Canada. The much-vaunted efficiency of private companies is greatly exaggerated, if not entirely mythical.

  4. @RJ – On the first issue, that’s just because people really don’t understand demand side economics. It is counter-intuitive. But there are a lot of other policies we pursue that are similarly so.

    I’m with you on the second issue. I’m not big on cap and trade. I like regulations. All cars have to get get above 50 mph. All power plants must be 50% green energy by 2020. No more coal power plants. All this stuff about the private sector being able to fix these problems on their own is nonsense. People have been saying the same thing about healthcare for decades. And what do we have? A system that works worse than other countries at twice the price.

    And speaking of efficiency: our intellectual property system is a farce. We would be better just doing direct government funding of drugs and get rid of drug patents altogether.

  5. @Frank
    There are so many off the shelf cheap, practical interventions in climate that we ought to be doing. Every step taken now as opposed to later could claw back some valuable piece of the world we know from the world we are creating. I have read critiques of geo engineering that suggest that faith in such outcomes relieves us of the need to act now. Really, we need both. What the anti geo engineering critiques lack is the understanding that when things start to go really bad there are things that will be tried that may have terrible consequences. Dumping iron oxides into the ocean or spraying sulfur aerosols into the atmospheres are two I have heard of. Maybe the nuclear war between India and Pakistan over water will kick up enough dust to buy us a decade. I’d rather not find out. By all means, in addition to all the programs I recommended, and in addition to the list from people who are actual experts, we should be researching the tech to build the Weiand-Yutani corp atmosphere processor. Maybe it can be done. Maybe we just save what can be saved.
    Yes, I agree. When did ecological stewardship become partisan? "Leave the campsite cleaner than you found it" was the mantra when I was a Boy Scout. Clearly, having the Cuyahoga river catch fire was a glaring red flag about pollution, but I will say I would rather have the Tellico Dam than the snail darter. The right wing response to ecology is now either a cynical "I’ll be gone. You’ll be gone" approach, or an appeal to science denial or superstition. But it has become one of the markers of their tribal identity.

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