Gary Johnson’s Plan Of Inaction On Climate Change
“When it comes to global climate change, Gov. Johnson believes too many politicians are having the wrong debate. Is the climate changing? Probably so. Is man contributing to that change? Probably so. The important question, however, is whether the government’s efforts to regulate, tax and manipulate the marketplace in order to impact that change are cost-effective — or effective at all. Given the realities of global energy and resource use, there is little evidence that the burden being placed on Americans is making a difference that justifies the cost.”
That’s what libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has to say about climate change. Could it be true? Could it be that the “burden being placed on Americans” isn’t economically justified?
Gary Johnson doesn’t offer any evidence whatsoever to support this assertion. At Irregular Times, we believe in the importance of fact-based politics, so we’ll do what Gary Johnson is unwilling to do, and look at the numbers.
According to an analysis by CitiGroup, a financial company that deals out loans and credit cards, the cost of doing nothing to slow or stop climate change will be $44 trillion dollars over the next 44 years. The math is easy: That’s a trillion dollars per year.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a publication historically opposed to environmental regulation and friendly to economic libertarianism, puts the annual cost of the Paris Accords (the “burden being placed on Americans” to slow down climate change) at somewhere between $28 billion and $170 billion per year by 2030.
Just to give Gary Johnson’s argument the best chance for success, let’s ignore the massive pro-corporate bias of the Wall Street Journal and use their highest estimate of a cost of $170 billion per year.
Again, the math is simple. An investment of $170 billion per year in order to save costs of $1,000 billion per year is extremely prudent.
Johnson doesn’t have an alternative. His proposal is just to sit back and allow climate change to happen.
Johnson proposes that the mythical, infinitely wise Invisible Hand of the marketplace will fix climate change all on its own… somehow… by letting people buy and sell things.
“In a healthy economy that allows the market to function unimpeded, consumers, innovators and personal choices will ultimately bring about the environmental restoration and protection society desires,” Johnson writes.
This libertarian fantasy that climate change would just fix itself if all environmental regulation by the government went away can only be justified by someone who willfully ignores history, human psychology, and environmental economics.
Historically, we see that climate change has been fueled, not impeded, by market forces. Businesses seeking to make quick profits put fossil fuels at the center of our society, without thought of the consequences. Corporations used their power to suppress the development of sustainable, clean energy.
Psychologically, markets are fueled by short-term interests, rather than long-term needs. The marketplace is littered with the stink of rotting businesses that use their dominance to keep their maladaptive, anti-innovative behaviors going long after they have ceased to benefit anyone, believing beyond reason that what worked for them in the past will keep working despite how much external conditions change. Consumers who are struggling to get by in an economy in which wealth has been concentrated in just a few hands focus on buying goods and services that get them through the immediate future. They can’t afford to make big, long term investments in expensive technologies that are both ecologically wise and economically prudent.
Economically, the marketplace has rewarded corporations that shifted the cost of dirty energy onto consumers who lack the political power to do anything to stop it – unless they work through the power of elected, representative government. Gary Johnson’s marketplace-only libertarian ideology seeks to take this power away from the people, so that we are forced to pay the costs of pollution and climate change, while corporations make the profit from it without any democratically-established regulation in place to stop them.
Gary Johnson is right about one thing. The Paris Accords aren’t enough to make the difference we need to avert disaster. If the Accords aren’t making enough difference in the effort to confront climate change, though, that’s because the cost of its provisions isn’t high enough.
To avoid the massive economic damage of tens of trillions of dollars, we need to invest more, not less. In order to save the cost of $1 trillion per year, we should invest larger amounts now, when each dollar yields a greater impact than it will in the future, given the cumulative warming effect of greenhouse gases over time. An annual investment of $750 billion to save $1 trillion per year would be quite reasonable…
…and the benefits would be shared across society, quite the opposite of the economic impact of Gary Johnson’s do-nothing Invisible Hand plan, which would result in costs disproportionately paid by people with low incomes.
But then, that’s what libertarian ideology is really all about in the end – helping the wealthy to grab more stuff while giving everyone else the shaft.