Next week, our leaders will begin to debate legislation that would significantly curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions--the Lieberman-Warner bill. This legislation is nothing if not moderate--not strong enough for many environmentalists, but way too strong for the likes of George W. Bush. I've done my latest Center for American Progress column predicting how the debate is going to go, and focusing on one point in particular: Detractors of the bill are assured to cite its economic cost. But of course, those who argue in this manner all too frequently downplay the very real--and probably massive--price tag that we will pay if we don't do anything about climate change. To wit:
...it's not really possible to put a price tag on, say, a Pacific island state that runs the risk of going under water--or on an ice-covered North Pole. Or on polar bears and the ecosystems that support them. But unchecked global warming will have many costs that can indeed be monetized--and some estimates suggest that even over the short term, they're comparable to the U.S. cost of the Lieberman-Warner bill. Take, for example, a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which attempted to update the famous 2006 UK Stern Report--which found that by 2200 global warming's costs could be simply massive, equaling 5 to 20 percent of the world's GDP--and apply it to the United States in particular. NRDC projects that if we don't deal with global warming at all, costs to the U.S. could be as high as 3.6 percent of GDP by 2100, and that's just from four projected impacts (hurricane loses, sea level rise damage to real estate, rising energy demand, and water supply costs to battle drought). There are problematic aspects to the NRDC study--for instance, the hurricane issue is very murky, and it's hard to tell whether the study authors took its complexity into account--but there can be little doubt it's a step in the right direction. It is simply ridiculous to presume that the economic impacts of global warming won't be anything to fret about, or to leave them out of discussion. On the contrary, depending on how quickly we act to stave off the problem, those impacts could be absolutely massive. And they ought to put to shame any short term whining about the expense of dealing with climate change.
You can read the full column here. This might also be a good time to give a shout-out to a cool new website, Coal is Dirty, started by my buddies at DeSmogBlog and others, which blasts the idea that "clean coal" is our way out of this mess. Check it out.