Addressing Global Warming Won’t Hurt Economy, Not That it Matters

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman wants you to know that it would cost very little to fight climate change, Errors and Emissions. In fact, he wants you to know that doing so might actually improve the economy and spur economic growth. I want him to know that I already knew that. I discussed this last year, Environmentalism Good for Economy Right Now. But he does provide some new work that shows things are even better than anyone thought.

The problem is that this doesn’t matter in the least. Let us consider the twentieth century during which time many tens of millions of Americans had their lives shortened and degraded all in the name of cigarette company profits. Was this good for the economy as a whole? Certainly not. People actively poisoning themselves did not make the auto industry more competitive. It didn’t expand the steel industry. It didn’t make the United States the biggest in the world. No. It made a very small number of people very rich. And in the name of those profits, we let millions of people die. The damage continues to be done.

So even if we discovered that taxing carbon would increase the standard of living of Americans by 50% and make roses smell ever so much better and provide lollipops for the kids, we would not tax carbon. I hate to be a killjoy, but this bears repeating at least a hundred times per day: we do not live in a democracy. It doesn’t matter what is best for the people or the country. What matters is what is good for the powerful. And even though doing something about global warming might be good for the computer industry, the privilege of the computer industry will stop it from standing with the people and against the oil industry.

If the government chooses the people over of the oil companies, who’s next? First they reduced the profits of the oil billionaires and I did not speak out — because my billions came from a different industry…

You know how conservatives are always complaining about how poor people lack impulse control? They are a paragon of virtue compared to the rich. At least the poor know that there are limits on their power. For example, they know that if they jaywalk, some police officer might shoot them in the head because he was “afraid.” But the rich live in a different world where their economic desires are all fulfilled. Thus, they have no impulse control. And why should they have impulse control? Global warming is very unlikely to be so bad that they can’t move to a good location and watch the billions of little people suffer and die from a distance.

Still, I think it is important to get the news out that addressing climate change is not bad for the economy. There are a whole lot of people who argue that it is. I’ve discussed before the three stages of global warming denial, It’s Raining, But Not for Long:

  1. There is no global warming!
  2. There is global warming, but humans aren’t the cause!
  3. Humans are causing global warming, but there is nothing we can do!

But the truth is that there is a fourth stage: “There are things we could do about global warming but it will destroy out economy!” And so it is satisfying to bat down that claim as well. But it won’t matter. There will always be another stage of global warming denial. If all else fails, they will start claiming that addressing global warming will not really provide lollipops as I promised earlier. So it’s hopeless!

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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.

2 thoughts on “Addressing Global Warming Won’t Hurt Economy, Not That it Matters

  1. The fundamental problem among the white working class is unemployment, underemployment, low wages and labor insecurity and since neither political party will do much about those problems, the tea party can step in to provide all sorts of short term fixes for the vast white working class. If questioning the status quo about the relationship between labor and capital is off the table, then almost everything else is on the table.

    Feel emasculated because you cannot provide for your family? Open carry an AR15. Upset that you cannot make ends meets? Blame the coloreds and their high-on-the-hog food stamp driven life style. Wages too low? Kick out the Mexicans. Is College unaffordable for your kids and they face a bleak future? Your sons can join the Military and/or become police officers. Are gasoline and home heating costs eating up too much of your paycheck? Blame environmentalism and deny global warming.

    Obviously some of those conservative solutions produce merely a public and psychological wage but opposing measures to prevent climate change do produce tangible and beneficial results in the short term. For rural and exoburban people, who do not make very much money, energy is a very big part of their budgets and conservatives are seen as the people who keep those prices in check and Democrats are the people who wish that gas was at European levels.

    That is why big, green projects and programs should be tightly bundled with genuine full-employment programs. White working class people feel like they are the only group that did not get a bailout in 2008 and 2009 and they are partially right. All colors of working class folks did not get a bailout but between TARP saving the very rich and ARRA mostly helping white collar workers in the green and public sectors, working class whites have a point.

    If the ARRA had been bigger and had it brought construction workers and small sub-contractors into the fold by getting them good jobs retrofitting buildings and building solar and wind farms, the situation would be different five years on. As it stands, Keynesian economics and environmentalism are seen as expensive wastes of money that do not create jobs. Teacher Unions, civil servants and minorities are seen as benefits of unearned government largess. GDP is a mere abstraction and its rise does not at all seem to indicate an end to bad economic times. While Solyndra and other green energy projects may be small in scale they are symbolic of a government that enriches everyone else but the white man who works with his hands.

    Until the green movement can be associated with immediate and tangible benefits for the white proletariat, climate change will be seen as an expensive and frivolous hobby for the upper-middle class and the white working class will join their votes with the money of the rich and hold this country back on a whole host of policy items.

    • The only thing I disagree with you about it nothing. That’s exactly right. Here’s my pitch to coal workers: the coal industry is dying. You’ve been losing jobs not because of the government but because of the way that coal companies are extracting coal. So here’s what we are going to do. We are going to provide you with job training in basically whatever you want — but mostly in green technologies and also in environmental remediation. You don’t feel up to working on solar panels? How about planting trees? But we aren’t just going to train you and let you loose in the “free” market. We are going to provide you with jobs for the rest of your working lives.

      But somehow, these kinds of programs are never on the table. And the truth is that they would be cheap. Stop subsidizing Chevron and give money directly to the workers they lay off. People who grew up in areas where the only decent jobs were in the coal industry have been screwed in exactly the same way as people who have been screwed by hurricanes destroying their homes. A proper use of government is to help them.

      The problem is that the Democratic Party has been taken over by neoliberalism where the philosophy is that we absolutely can’t just give checks to people for working for the government. No! We must give tax incentives to coal companies to not fire quite so many people as they normally will. It’s madness, except from the perspective of the rich. From their perspective, it makes perfect sense.

      I’ll tell you, I am so close to abandoning the Democratic Party…

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