Okay, so they’re a little late to the party, but the Economist’s editors have read their Reapers. They also recognize that environmentalism is, in fact, changing already despite its recent setbacks in the United States.
If this new green revolution is to succeed, however, three things must happen. The most important is that prices must be set correctly. The best way to do this is through liquid markets, as in the case of emissions trading. Here, politics merely sets the goal. How that goal is achieved is up to the traders.
A proper price, however, requires proper information. So the second goal must be to provide it. The tendency to regard the environment as a “free good” must be tempered with an understanding of what it does for humanity and how. Thanks to the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the World Bank’s annual “Little Green Data Book” (released this week), that is happening. More work is needed, but thanks to technologies such as satellite observation, computing and the internet, green accounting is getting cheaper and easier.
Which leads naturally to the third goal, the embrace of cost-benefit analysis. At this, greens roll their eyes, complaining that it reduces nature to dollars and cents. In one sense, they are right. Some things in nature are irreplaceable–literally priceless. Even so, it is essential to consider trade-offs when analysing almost all green problems. The marginal cost of removing the last 5% of a given pollutant is often far higher than removing the first 5% or even 50%: for public policy to ignore such facts would be inexcusable.
If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.
I’m going to ignore that last slur and the general historical inaccuracy of the piece and just say: welcome. There’s room for everyone.