The Oct. 11 editorial “UN climate report is our Pearl Harbor” is compelling on the need for action on climate change. Since views on climate change are sharply divided about the wisdom of further carbon emission reductions, can enough common ground be found to motivate policy change?

Possibly. Think about reducing emissions with a climate policy as buying insurance against climate risk, much like buying a homeowner’s policy against the risk of fire.

What would that insurance cost? A major study by Stanford University’s Energy Modeling Forum provides the answer by using 11 different modeling teams to examine the cost of implementing perhaps the most widely discussed approach to reduce emissions — a revenue-neutral carbon tax. In every policy scenario, the U.S. economy was estimated to grow at or near its long-term average (no policy) baseline rate, deviating from reference path by no more than about 0.1 percentage points. Apparently, the cost of this insurance would be very small.

How about the risks of not having insurance, of not reducing emissions? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they include major threats to our planet with very high associated costs.

Most homeowners buy fire insurance despite the fact that do not believe they will experience a fire. The potential losses if they do experience a fire are so high as to make this smart risk management. Similarly, the prudent vote for all voters is to support those candidates who call for additional emissions reductions as a very cost-effective form of insurance against the grave risks to our planet. Perhaps that is why a recent poll from the Yale Program on Climate Change found that nationwide, a strong majority of registered voters (70 percent) now agree that the United States should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps all is not lost after all.

Tom Tietenberg


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