Cornell University economist Robert Frank makes the case for why action on fighting dangerous climate change makes more sense than doing nothing.
Scientists say that even the 3.6-degree (2 degrees Celsius – BD) increase would spell widespread loss of life, so it’s hardly alarmist to view the risk of inaction as frightening.
In contrast, the risk of taking action should frighten no one. Essentially, the risk is that if current estimates turn out to be wildly pessimistic, the money spent to curb greenhouse gases wouldn’t have been needed to save the planet. And yet that money would still have prevented substantial damage. (The M.I.T. model estimates a zero probability of the temperature rising by less than 3.6 degrees by 2100.)
Moreover, taking action won’t cost much. According to estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a tax of $80 a metric ton on carbon dioxide — or a cap-and-trade system with similar charges — would stabilize temperatures by midcentury.
This figure was determined, however, before the arrival of more pessimistic estimates on the pace of global warming. So let’s assume a tax of $300 a ton, just to be safe.
Under such a tax, the prices of goods would rise in proportion to their carbon footprints — in the case of gasoline, for example, by roughly $2.60 a gallon.
A sudden price increase of that magnitude could indeed be painful. But if phased in, it would cause much less harm. Facing steadily increasing fuel prices, for example, manufacturers would scramble to develop more efficient vehicles.
Even from the existing menu of vehicles, a family could trade in its Ford Explorer, getting 15 miles per gallon, for a 32-m.p.g. Ford Focus wagon, thereby escaping the effect of higher gasoline prices. Europeans, many of whom already pay $4 a gallon more than Americans do for gasoline, have adapted to their higher prices with little difficulty.
In short, the cost of preventing catastrophic climate change is astonishingly small, and it involves just a few simple changes in behavior.
He closes with this:
WE don’t know how much hotter the planet will become by 2100. But the fact that we face “only” a 10 percent chance of a catastrophic 12-degree climb surely does not argue for inaction. It calls for immediate, decisive steps.
Most people would pay a substantial share of their wealth — much more, certainly, than the modest cost of a carbon tax — to avoid having someone pull the trigger on a gun pointed at their head with one bullet and nine empty chambers. Yet that’s the kind of risk that some people think we should take.