Carbon Pricing: Good for You, Good for the Planet") and the other, the New Climate Economy Report, is authored by a blue ribbon panel advised by top economists. The message from both reports is that when one accurately counts even the short term benefits of carbon pricing measures (e.g. reductions in mercury pollution from coal burning) they will outweigh the short term costs.
Over at the New York Times, star economist Paul Krugman uses these reports to argue against the "dangerous" doctrine of what he calls "climate despair": that the "only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth." As he points out, this assertion can cut two ways: on the right, to claim that since growth must continue at all costs, we cannot afford climate policies that might reduce it; or on the left, to argue that physical constraints will sooner or later bring growth to an end, and that we should start planning for that era now.
It's the second of these positions that seems particularly baffling to Krugman. With astonishment, he acknowledges that even some hard scientists argue that economic growth is physically constrained - according to Krugman, because "...they don't understand what economic growth means. They think of it as a crude, physical thing..."
Apparently, if those like UCSD physicist Tom Murphy truly appreciated the non-physical (a.k.a. spiritual, what else should we call it?) aspect of economic growth, they would understand how it could float free of those pesky laws of thermodynamics!
In their book How Much Is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky demonstrate that from Adam Smith to Keynes and beyond, economists treated "growth" (they would probably have said "improvement") as a short-lived phase through which they hoped societies would pass until they reached the stage of "enough", the point where all their citizens could enjoy the resources needed for a good life. It is only recently that "growth" has become detached from the objects that it was sought in order to attain, and has become regarded as an end in itself.
From this perspective, and whatever the short-term costs and benefits analyzed in the two reports I mentioned (and all can agree that the news in them seems good), the environmental limits revealed by climate change are important news, an euaggelion, not a message of despair: a message that calls humanity back to what really matters.
Message to Krugman: Crying "More" for ever is not what really matters. Growth is an idol. And bowing down to an idol is the true despair.
Image of Paul Krugman from the New York Times, believed to be fair use.
EDITED: Response to Krugman by Paul Heinberg of Post Carbon Institute here.
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