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May 022012
 

Missing the Point on Climate

Andrew Winston

The media seems intent on giving climate skeptics much more than equal time. On Monday, the New York Times printed a cover story about the last arrow in the climate skeptics arsenal, the argument that cloud cover will adjust to a warming world and let more heat escape to space.

The science of cloud cover is important for understanding how our climate will change and how fast, but the scientific debate here isn’t actually the point. The big problem with this article, and nearly every other discussion of climate change, is that it rests on a deeply false premise: the idea that tackling climate change will just cost too much. This is hogwash.

It does not cost more to reduce carbon emissions; it costs less. Companies, consumers, and countries save money when they reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Study after study — and the constant experience of companies saving billions in eco-efficiency — prove this point over and over.

Some great books cover this terrain well. See Climate Capitalism by Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, for example. Or explore the latest data-rich entry into the canon of eco-savings from one of its founding fathers, Amory Lovins. Just peruse the executive summary of his latest book, Reinventing Fire for the calculations.

We can cut out huge quantities of carbon from our economy while saving literally trillions of dollars at a high IRR by investing in energy efficiency — just looking at the built environment, buildings have nearly $2 trillion of untapped savings over the coming decades at an IRR of 33%. (For this story at the microeconomic level, watch this video of Tony Malkin, owner of the Empire State Building, talking about the business benefits of the energy retrofit of the world’s most iconic building — a 38% cut in energy use, less than 3 year payback, higher rents from tenants.)

And none of these purely fiscal calculations include the significant health and national security benefits, which alone are enough to justify a quick exit from a carbon-based economy.

So it’s absurd, yet not shocking, that the Times lets two seemingly damning quotes in the article go completely unchallenged. First, GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher: “There are people trying to tell us that we have got to accept draconian changes in our way of life.” Second, the climate skeptic and self-proclaimed cloud cover savior featured in this article, Dr. Lindzen: ” “If I’m right, we’ll have saved money” by avoiding measures to limit emissions.”

Very few people are looking for “draconian” changes at this point — radically more efficiency perhaps. But explain to me how insulated buildings with top-notch windows that make us more comfortable at far lower cost…or cars using no oil and causing no money to go to petro-dictators abroad…constitute threats to our way of life? Still, Rohrbacher is right to some extent but not how he intends: the longer we listen to naysayers like him and avoid making smart investments in our future, the harder the change will be. We will most certainly face draconian changes if we wait any longer. And Lindzen’s comment that we’ll save money by continuing to pump carbon, which is a waste product, into the atmosphere is just false.

Let’s be clear: These denier statements are big, fat, ugly, dangerous, and very expensive lies.

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