Leaving Neverland: the costs of climate change

You may not have heard of the Pembina Institute and David Suzuki Foundation’s release of a report analyzing the economic implications of two greenhouse gas reduction targets in Canada, but if you have, I can nearly guarantee that all you’ve heard is “dealing with climate change is the end of the economy in Western Canada and too divisive to even contemplate” or “what are you talking about, it’s not that bad.” Which is a shame, because the real problem with the report isn’t about the cost of dealing with climate change or the geographic disparities and implications of that cost or the job gains to be had with transitioning to a clean energy economy.

The real problem is that the entire report is mythical.

Imagine this: you are the owner of a home with a leaky roof. You have hired someone to tell you how much it will cost to fix that leaky roof, and have received an estimate of the cost. When you consider whether or not you can afford to fix the roof, do you compare it to the imaginary cost of living in a house that does not require any roof repairs for the next twenty years? Or do you compare it to the cost of not fixing the roof and experiencing constant flooding and water damage for twenty years?

You own a car with an engine that is on the brink of disintegration. Do you compare the cost of fixing the engine or replacing the car with the cost of having an imaginary car that requires no repairs for twenty years, or do you compare it to the cost of not having a car to get around in?

For some unaccountable reason (and I’ve read the report, and they don’t explain it), the consultants chose to compare the cost of dealing with climate change over the next twenty years to an imaginary future in which climate change itself imposes no costs of its own, as if we have the option of living in a Canada for the next twenty years which can simply opt out of precipitation changes, shifts in tropical disease patterns, heat waves, the enormous die-backs in Western forests and possibly the boreal, the loss of permafrost, the likely extinction of thirty per cent of terrestrial species, the acidification of oceans, and so on.

This has the entirely expected effect of making climate change mitigation look expensive. Much as it would look really expensive to fix a leaking roof if you could just wish it away and pretend to live in a different house for twenty years.

Any economic analysis of the costs of climate change over the next couple of decades shows that it far, far outstrips the cost of dealing with it–and that we can successfully deal with climate change using current technology at a price tag of about 1% of global GDP.

All they had to do was compare the cost of dealing with climate change to the cost of not dealing with it–even the most basic, preliminary estimate–or at least of explaining why they could not do so but where interested readers could go for such estimates.

Boys and girls, climate change is not free. There is no potential Canadian future where we and our children will not pay through the nose for it–economically, socially and politically. Let’s stop living in Neverland.

2 thoughts on “Leaving Neverland: the costs of climate change

  1. I don’t disagree but we shouldn’t understate what 1% of global GDP represents. A 1% drop in GDP globally is a big deal. It may be worth it (and perhaps a false choice really considering the effect on GDP of massive climate change) but its not a small dip.

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