The other day, contemplating an Economist story on geoengineering, Andrew Sullivan said, “I much prefer the idea of developing new non-carbon technologies or experimenting with technology to deflect or arrest warming to throwing the global economy into a permanent slowdown.”
Sullivan has no particular knowledge of or expertise on climate legislation (not a dig — it’s just not one of his interests). What he’s doing here is reflexively passing along center-right conventional wisdom: serious constraints on greenhouse gas emissions will slow down the economy (permanently even!).
Note some unstated assumptions. First, not constraining GHG emissions will not slow down the economy, as much or more than carbon constraints. Second, such constraints are an alternative to “developing new non-carbon technologies,” instead of a mechanism to accelerate them. Third, not only are GHG emissions coupled to economic growth, but they are permanently coupled — it is categorically impossible to grow the economy on clean sources of energy.
All these assumptions are false, for reasons covered many, many times over the history of this site. Rather than review them, I’ll just draw your attention to the latest data point: the California Air Resources Board did two comprehensive studies of the likely effects of AB 32, the state’s ambitious climate change mitigation program.
According to CARB, reducing the state’s GHG emissions 30 percent by 2020 would create the following economic benefits:
• Increased economic production of $27 billion
• Increased overall gross state product of $4 billion
• Increased overall personal income by $14 billion
• Increased per capita income of $200
• Increased jobs by more than 100,000
And the following public health benefits:
• An estimated 300 premature deaths statewide will be avoided
• Almost 9,000 incidences of asthma and lower respiratory symptoms will be avoided
• 53,000 work loss days will be avoided
Does that sound like “permanent slowdown”?