When dealing with climate change, politicians often talk about the need to ‘balance the economy and the environment.’ I think this is a misleading categorization for two reasons.
Firstly, the balance has always been tilted virtually 100% towards the economy, in Canada at least. When the government talks about the need to scale back climate mitigation programs for economic reasons, they are talking about scaling back a handful of ineffectual programs that are not proving effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The ‘balance’ dial between environment and economy is already twisted sharply towards the latter.
Secondly, even if we completely ignore the natural environment, the need to mitigate emissions remains. The Canadian economy could not survive the consequences of unrestrained emissions and climate change, with a temperature increase of 5.5°C to 7.1°C by 2100. If we care at all about the state of the economy 20, 50, and 80 years out, we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The economic analyses of mitigation that have been undertaken in the UK, Australia, and elsewhere have painted the same broad picture: it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly at a modest cost, provided you start early. The costs associated with inaction are much higher than those associated with this mitigation programme. To succeed, the whole economy needs to be pushed in the direction of decarbonization – a fact that remains true regardless of what balance you care to strike between economic health across the long term and environmental protection.