The Scientific Activist (Archives)


Jan 23, 2006

Their Hearts Might Be in the Wrong Place...

...But it's hard to argue with this!

When I think of the reasons to curb greenhouse gas emissions—and I can think of quite a few—helping the economy generally doesn't top my list. In fact, the effort to save the environment often takes the form of a battle against corporate interests. It may be time to rethink that idea, as the LA Times reports today that two separate groups of economists have found that California's new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may actually be good for its economy.

California, the 12th largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, is currently considering a draft of a Schwarzenegger-backed plan that is apparently one of the most ambitious long-term plans in the world, with one of its goals to by mid-century reduce greenhouse gases to 80% of the level they were at in 1990. Although, as expected, businesses have not embraced this idea, two recent studies, one from UC Berkeley and the other from the Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington, DC, show that they should consider changing their stance.

The new studies demonstrate that the new plan would actually improve the California economy by protecting it from the economic damage global warming would cause, increasing fuel economy, and creating new jobs in the technology sector:
The Berkeley report found that the cost savings on fuel and gas generated by curbing greenhouse gases would translate into more money for consumers and more jobs. In addition, they predicted that investment in technology to reduce greenhouse gases could pay off for the state in the way that investment in computer technology has paid off for Silicon Valley.

The Center for Clean Air Policy's report found that the state could meet its 2010 emissions reduction goals at no cost to consumers and that they would save money if the 2020 goals were met. The study described a number of cost-effective ways to cut emissions, including capturing methane from landfills and manure and using it to generate energy, and switching freight transport from diesel trucks to rail.

This highlights an important point: you don't have to be a bleeding-heart liberal to be an environmentalist. For many, an interest in protecting the environment comes not from the heart but from a rational desire to secure a successful future (or any future for that matter) for humankind.

These studies come on the heels of another U.S. study, which found that the U.S. ranks 28th in terms of environmental performance, behind the other major western powers. Although the study gave the U.S.—the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter—a lot of credit, results such as these should make anyone think critically about our environmental policy. Still, the business lobby remains unfazed, but the new studies could possibly make some rethink their stance.

As an environmentalist myself, I like where this is going, although large corporations have not given me much of a reason to concern myself with saving them money, especially when they flagrantly resist any progress that could hurt the bottom line:
The climate team is planning to submit a final report to the governor in mid-February. Because of complaints from business leaders, state officials extended the public comment period on the report until Jan. 31 and will hold open hearings today in Sacramento and Tuesday in Los Angeles to gather more information on economic aspects.

"We must ensure that California's ability to create and retain jobs is not compromised through this process," Allan Zaremberg said in a statement. He is president of the California Chamber of Commerce and a member of a new coalition formed to ensure that climate regulations do not harm business.

Other members of the new group, called Sustainable Environment and Economy in California, include the California Farm Bureau Federation, Western Growers, the California Nevada Cement Promotional Council, the Western States Petroleum Assn., the Rubber Manufacturers Assn. and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

The two new analyses agree with the state draft report in suggesting that many industry fears are unfounded.

Regardless, if the new policy is good for the economy, good for the environment, and good for the general public, then it's pretty hard to argue against it. Continued action in opposition would indicate not only that the opponents do not care about the environment, but also do not have much of an interest in their long-run prospects. This should not be surprising, since if we sell out the environment for short-term gain today, the future is really immaterial.


  • Schwarzenegger wrote an amazingly clear and hard-hitting article about global warming that was published a few weeks ago in New Scientist. Very refreshing.

    By Blogger decrepitoldfool, at Tue Feb 07, 10:40:00 PM  

  • What those companies are trying to increase is not the economy, it is their profits. While replacing imported oil is (very) good for the economy, it enriches other companies (that will be created), not the ones operating now.

    By Blogger Marcos Dumay de Medeiros, at Wed Feb 08, 03:29:00 PM  

  • Economists have a saying: there's no such thing as a free lunch. This sounds like free lunch at its worst.

    You're never going to be able to achieve real emissions reductions without real costs. And it's certainly not going to create tens of thousands of jobs (on net). This doesn't mean that emissions reductions are never desirable from a cost-benefit standpoint, merely that this is bad economics.

    By Blogger Jackson, at Wed Feb 08, 07:25:00 PM  

  • Yeah, it sounds like they aren't doing it for the "right" reason. But I agree. At least it is being done. You can't argue with that.

    By Anonymous Laptop Computer Backpacks, at Sat Dec 23, 05:45:00 PM  

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