Economic Growth and Emissions Cuts: Not Mutually Exclusive – 4/25/16

Falling clean power prices and increasing public concern over climate change are convincing many conservatives to go green. Conservative support for policies tend to focus on economic growth, not climate science, so support for renewables started rising with Republicans around the same time cheaper wind and solar power started bringing in more jobs and revenue. Still, a record number of conservative Republicans are considering global warming a threat even if the Republican presidential front runners deny it.

The underlying source of conflict in climate change acceptance is the economic impact associated with cutting emissions. Whether or not carbon emissions can be uncoupled from economic growth is a major concern since greater economic activity often means using more coal or oil to fulfill new energy demand. Humanity faces a Sophie’s choice between environmental disaster and economic stagnation. Countering climate change will always have some cost, but the counter argument is that doing nothing will be much more expensive in the long run as cities start going underwater.

Fortunately there is evidence that economic growth and emissions cuts are not mutually exclusive. The rise of shale fracking. setting aside fracking’s own environmental drawbacks, has allowed the U.S. to replace older, dirtier coal plants with cleaner natural gas-fired power plants. Combined with the rapidly falling price of wind and solar farms, natural gas’s increased popularity could mean a declining emissions even as the economy recovers.

Early carbon-cutting programs have so far had positive results. Nine northeastern states would have produced 24% more CO2 emissions without their Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in 2009, while their combined GDP still grew by about 8%. Meanwhile, British Columbia enacted a carbon tax in 2008 resulting in emissions per capita falling 12.9% below its pre-tax year with no obvious harm done.

Any emissions regulation is likely to go through the Environmental Protection Agency, which faces criticism from those saying it goes too far, as well those saying it should go further. Officials must weigh business interests against those of public health, seeking an acceptable balance during countless lobbying meetings and court cases.

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