In one of her first interviews with the national press since being named to office, Lisa Jackson, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, started well in her defense of the need for government action to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases. She pointed out to National Public Radio that corporate lobbyists have a long history of melodramatizing the costs of government action to reduce air pollution, water pollution, acid rain, and CFC emissions. 

If you look at the history of environmental laws in this country, big ones — because climate-change law, energy law would be big new legislation — every time that’s ever been attempted, the lobbyists out there say, “Oh, that will shut down the American economy, every last one of you will lose your job.” It’s always these hugely overblown doomsday scenarios that overlook the important missing ingredient, which is American ingenuity, American innovation, and the fact that you can indeed build an economy around a move to green energy.Michele Norris

But as the interview progressed, and NPR’s Michele Norris pressed Jackson about the potential cost of regulating greenhouse gas emissions, Jackson moved to issuing a weak call for legislation from Congress. She claimed, improbably, that “resistance” to such new laws in Congress was “too strong” a word, despite admitting that opposition was regionally based. She lauded “the great environmental laws we have in this country,” and wistfully said that “it would be lovely to have Congress add one more to the list.”

Her idealism is admirable, but misplaced. She failed to make the common sense argument most likely to move ordinary folks, which is simply that climate change is coming, whether we like it or not, and if we fail to prepare, we will end up spending far more than if we act now.

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In the words of The Stern Review:

The evidence shows that ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth.  Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century.  And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.  Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term, and it can be done in a way that does not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries. The earlier effective action is taken, the less costly it will be.

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Or, as your grandmother might say, a stitch in time saves nine.