The way we talk about climate change and the economy is wrong

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  • Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and co-host of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast.
  • In a recent episode, he spoke with two professors at the Institute of New Economics at the University of Oxford.
  • There are many flaws in the way we discuss issues and solutions to climate change.

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For decades, our conversation about climate change has been held up by mixed signals. The speeches of our elected leaders aim high, with lofty speeches about coming together to avoid calamity, but their policies fail to cope with the scale of the crisis. Today, with most parts of the country regularly experiencing extreme weather events, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the government should do more to tackle climate change – but world leaders still haven’t taken action. spectacular measures to limit the global rise in temperatures during COP26. climate conference convened by the United Nations this fall.

In the last episode of Fork economy, two professors at the Institute of New Economics at the University of Oxford, Erick Beinhocker and Doyne Farmer, join Nick Hanauer in addressing the flaws in the way we discuss issues and solutions to climate change.

“We have had bad economic ideas about how climate change is framed,” says Beinhocker. As an example of this misguided thinking, he cites the work of Yale Nobel Laureate economist William Nordhaus, who has warned since the 1990s “that it is going to be very expensive and costly to shift our economy from fossil fuels to clean energy. economy, but these costs must be weighed against the benefits of avoiding ecological collapse and a potential mass extinction event. “

Nordhaus’s models have helped frame the conversation about climate change as negative. We have been told since the dawn of the modern environmental movement in the 1990s that saving the planet will cost us all a great deal in profits, convenience and quality of life.

Environmental groups often explain their policies in terms of what ordinary people will have to give up, both financially and in terms of convenience, in order to save the planet.

New research indicates that this punishing, eat your spinach style of thinking may be completely wrong. “We believe converting to renewables, and doing it fairly quickly over a period of about 20 years, is going to save the world money,” Farmer said. “It will make energy cheaper for us, while preventing climate change.”

Farmer participates in one of two major academic groups that study the rates of technological advancement, and the indicators point to a fast-growing future for affordable green energy. As green energy continues to decline, fossil fuels and their associated costs have remained virtually unchanged for almost a century and a half. If solar, wind and hydrogen power continue to follow their current development path for another decade or two, and the storage capacity of batteries continues to improve as well, green power will overtake fossil fuels to become the main source of energy in the world.

“We’re going to see energy cheaper than it has ever been” in the history of the world, Farmer predicts.

“We still have a long way to go,” warns Beinhocker. “Today, only about 20% of the world’s energy comes from non-fossil fuels and 80% from fossil fuels. But the growth [of green energy] was amazing. “

Beinhocker says renewable energy capacity increased 45% in 2020, making it “the only source of energy to actually grow during the pandemic, and 90% of new electricity additions around the world currently in the electricity sector come from renewable energies “. The global shift to green energy is approaching “a tipping point,” he says, “but it is a race against time.”

This research, however, should mark a significant shift in the conversation about climate change. Rather than focusing on punitive policies that make fuel more expensive for the average American, our leaders should instead invest deeply in research to advance cheap clean technologies, as well as accelerate the construction of green infrastructure, making the adoption of clean fuels more desirable. . As we have seen with the increasing adoption rates of electric vehicles around the world, consumers are happy to switch to a clean alternative, when presented with an affordable and convenient option.

The evidence is clear: it’s time for the environmental conversation in America to become an additive and positive story, rather than a negative story of sacrifice and punishment. When it comes to the green economy, it is no longer a question of saying no to Exxon; it’s about saying yes to building a faster path to a cleaner, cheaper future for all of the human race.

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