The Economic Case for Addressing Climate Change

It’s the biggest issue missing from campaign season.

As the Democratic primary was coming to a close, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not Bernie Sanders’ voters (especially young people) would eventually support Clinton or be attracted to Trump-style populism. Here is how Eugene Robinson answered that question:

Trump apparently believes that he can defeat his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, by winning the votes of some disaffected Democrats who support Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Yet while Trump has called climate change a “hoax” somehow perpetrated by the dastardly Chinese, Sanders calls it “the single greatest threat facing our planet” and proposes urgent and sweeping action to limit atmospheric and oceanic warming. Clinton basically agrees with Sanders, as evidenced by her unfortunately phrased promise to “put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business.”

Just like that, Sanders supporters for whom climate change is a paramount issue are out of Trump’s reach. It is hard to imagine how they could vote for a man who would renounce the landmark Paris deal, no matter what they think of Clinton.

For a variety of reasons, the issue of climate change hasn’t garnered a lot of attention during this election season. But the anti-science approach embraced by most Republicans – including their current presidential nominee – is one of the big reasons that party has so little credibility – especially with the millennial generation.

That’s why I found this column by Ed Rogers to be so easy to dismantle. To his credit, Rogers points out right up front that he works as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry. Perhaps that’s all you need to know. But he tries to make an argument that the economics of action on climate change is going to be a big loser for Democrats. It is important to note that Rogers doesn’t attempt to make a climate change denier argument. He doesn’t even touch that one. Instead, he goes for the old Republican line that we have to chose between addressing climate change and boosting the economy.

The Democrats can’t have it both ways when they talk about expanding costly programs to combat climate change and the need to create jobs. Republican candidates need to hold the Democrats’ feet to the fire and force them to be more precise. Exactly how much do Obama and Clinton want a gallon of gasoline to cost? Exactly how much do they want your electricity bill to go up? What else do they want you to pay for, and what else about your behavior do they demand you change in the name of saving the world? They should be specific.

Perhaps because he is focused on the fossil fuel portion of the economy, Rogers leaves out a few specifics. Like this:

Americans in their 20s and 30s could lose trillions of dollars in potential lifetime earnings as climate change disrupts the global economy and weakens U.S. productivity, according to a new report by NextGen Climate said.

If countries fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the amount and pace of global warming, a 21-year-old college graduate today could lose $126,000 in lifetime wages and $187,000 in long-term savings and investments, the report found.

This would outrank the lost income due to student debt or wage stagnation.

The truth is: failure to address climate change will have HUGE economic costs too – not to mention the human and national security costs. Or how about this specific?

A boom in solar and wind power jobs in the US led the way to a global increase in renewable energy employment to more than 8 million people in 2015, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

More than 769,000 people were employed in renewable energy in the US in 2015, dwarfing the 187,000 employed in the oil and gas sector and the 68,000 in coal mining. The gap is set to grow further, with jobs in solar and wind growing by more than 20% in 2015, while oil and gas jobs fell by 18% as the fossil fuel industry struggled with low prices.

In other words, a good way to slow economic growth is to stifle the innovation currently underway in renewable energy resources. This is why, when President Obama announced the new fuel efficiency standards for trucks, the argument included the economic impact.

Today’s final standards will promote a new generation of cleaner and more fuel efficient trucks. That means 1.1 billion fewer tons of CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere, and operators will save 2 billion barrels of oil and $170 billion in fuel costs. The additional cost of a new truck will be recouped within 2-4 years, saving truck owners more over the long haul.

So yes, Ed Rogers, let’s talk about the specifics of climate change and the economy. You can tout the numbers put out there by the guy who made a laughing stock of himself by bringing a snowball on the Senate floor. And we’ll just keep tallying up more data like I’ve highlighted above.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .