Carbon pollution — the main source of global warming — doesn’t cause only long-term damage. It also affects life today.
Carbon emissions cause lung diseases that kill thousands of people a year. The emissions also reduce worker productivity. And the storms and droughts associated with climate change destroy houses, offices, roads and farmland.
Add up all of these effects, which scientists and economists have done, and each ton of carbon dioxide costs society about $36. If anything, this number is conservative, because it was calculated before recent evidence of the accelerated effects of climate change.
Whatever its imperfections, an estimate like this is important, because it can help government officials decide which environmental regulations make sense — and which would do more harm than good. The number allows for cost-benefit analysis, a staple of serious economic thinking. Conservatives, infact, have generally been fans of cost-benefit analysis because they see it as a way to ground naive liberal thinking in reality.
Which is why the attitudes that some Trump transition officials have toward cost-benefit analysis is so disturbing.
Two leaked documents from the transition suggest that a Trump administration — presumably acting on behalf of energy companies– may scrap cost-benefit analysis of pollution and simply act as if pollution were harmless.
If that happens, Michael Greenstone and Cass Sunstein write inan Op-Ed today, “it will defy law, science and economics.” Greenstone, of the University of Chicago, and Sunstein, of Harvard, helped design the government’s current approach to cost-benefit analysis.
Economists like to say that there is no such thing as a free lunch: Nearly every choice brings downsides, trade-offs and costs, even if those costs are obscured.
There is certainly no such thing as free pollution, no matter what polluters may try to claim.
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