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Keeping CO2 Emissions from Rising Would Be Costless

Wednesday, 01 May 2013 04:28

Brad Plummer has a useful post showing that with current policy in place we can keep CO2 emissions constant over the next three decades. The piece notes that this would be inadequate to prevent dangerous levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; for that we would need substantial reductions in emissions.

It is worth calling attention to one comment that may mislead readers. At one point the piece tells readers:

"Some of these measures [continuing current policy], such as re-upping the tax credits for clean energy, would require Congress. (And that wouldn’t be free; the recent one-year extension of the wind credit, for instance, will cost $1.2 billion per year for 10 years.)"

It's unlikely that many readers have a clear sense of how much money $1.2 billion a year is relative to the budget. Spending is projected to average more than $4.7 trillion a year over the next decade. This means that the extension of the clean energy credits would cost less than 0.03 percent of projected spending. This likely would provide more information to readers than the dollar amount.

Comments (10)Add Comment
Tax Credits for Alternatives Paint Big Energy Monopoly Monsters as "Competitive"
written by Last Mover, May 01, 2013 5:30
The disgrace is that tax credits must be relied upon at all rather than genuine head-to-head price competition from alternatives to carbon based fuels, which was crushed long ago by Big Energy.

This forces yet another economic issue of false equivalency designed to make alternative fuels appear to require government subsidies to survive in the market, when in fact they could beat out carbon based fuels in most areas most of the time by a wide margin.
Saving the World is Cheaper than Destroying the World
written by Robert Salzberg, May 01, 2013 6:14
The first fusion reactor is currently being built in the South of France. Fusion energy powers the sun and converts matter into energy and is the most efficient way of producing energy.

The United States has spent around $10 trillion dollars on nuclear weapons since 1940.

Isn't global warming just as big a threat to humanity as Hitler and the Soviet Union?

Why is it politically viable to spend $10 trillion dollars for weapons that could destroy the world, but politically impossible to spend the same amount to save the world?

$20 billion vs $10 trillion
written by Robert Salzberg, May 01, 2013 7:28
34 countries, including the U.S., Russia, China and the EU, have invested 20 billion dollars in the first fusion reactor being built in France. Fusion is the clean energy solution that we are looking for. We need Manhattan Project levels of funding worldwide to accelerate this process.

The U.S. has spent $10 trillion on nuclear weapons.

$20 billion to save the world vs. $10 trillion to destroy the world. Which do you think is a better investment?
written by JParks, May 01, 2013 7:43
A quote from Eduardo Galeano via Tom Dispatch yesterday seems appropriate. (referring to the US)
"If nature were a bank, they would have already rescued it."
the worst of two worlds
written by Jennifer, May 01, 2013 7:45
Mainstream media coverage of economics and environmental issues are generally poor, put them together and they are the worst. As @last mover says if you actually put "alternatives" and fossil fuels head to head "alternatives" would probably win. Most people have no idea just how much subsidy the fossil fuel companies get while every "green" project that doesn't do well gets a ton of press (re: yesterday's btp post). On top of that every EPA regulation is a "job killer" meanwhile corporate chemical companies are, in fact, killing us.
written by Skeptic, May 01, 2013 8:01
According to NumbersUSA the Gang of 8 immigration bill would add 33 million people to the US by 2024, basically all from countries with less per capita emissions. Back of the envelope suggests that just not doing this would swamp all other carbon control measures. If climate change is really a species-destroying issue then reporters (and liberals) are not doing their jobs by avoiding discussion of the ramifications of immigration policy.
written by liberal, May 01, 2013 9:18
Robert Salzberg wrote,
Fusion is the clean energy solution that we are looking for.

No it's not. Almost all fusion reactions produce a neutron flux which will inevitably destroy the materials the reactor itself is built out of.
written by liberal, May 01, 2013 9:21
Jennifer wrote,
As @last mover says if you actually put "alternatives" and fossil fuels head to head "alternatives" would probably win.

The problem with most alternatives is not generating the energy, but storing it.
written by AlanInAz, May 01, 2013 9:26
Fusion a long way off if ever. We already have technology for electric generation that is clean and can be deployed. In my subdivision of 50 homes in AZ I have the only house powered by solar panels. The southwest is one of the best places in the world for solar energy yet we lag far behind a country like Germany with far less sun. Every home and business in AZ, CA, NM TX etc should be at least partially powered by solar. This could be a major stimulus for the region. Solar is not a total solution but can be a major contributor, especially during the hot air conditioning season when peak loads occur during the daylight hours.
written by M, May 01, 2013 2:02
Couldn't you argue that all govt spending in a depression is essentially costless? (unless it is spent on completely destructive activity)

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.