Earlier today, in a very interesting session featuring Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sven Teske (Greenpeace), and Joe Romm (Climate Progress), Greenpeace released the latest in their series of Energy [R]evolution analyses. This high quality report conducted by the German Aerospace Center lays out, using quite conservative estimates, how “the United States can meet the energy needs of a growing economy and achieve science-based cuts in global warming pollution – without nuclear power or coal.” And, do so not just cost-effectively, but profitably.
Save the planet and make a profit. Sounds great. As Senator Sanders said, “We should congradulate Greenpeace for recognizing, as does President Obama, that amid the crisis is a great opportunity.”
Even so, perhaps the most striking thing about this excellent study is what is missing.
For the average American, Greenpeace is some ‘loony, left-winger, enviro-extremist’ group, known for direct action like being out in small boats, in rough seas, disrupting whale fisheries or climbing coal plants to hang signs. This report comes from what many in the US view, quite incorrectly we should add, as some form of “environmental extremists” and yet … and yet … these “extremists” have issued an extremely conservative report that quite significantly understates the real value of pursuing the path that they outline.
What is missing?
- The avoided costs from catastrophic climate change.
- The avoided costs from reduced acidification of the oceans.
- The savings and benefits of reducing the 24,000+ deaths annually, in the United States alone, attributable to pollution from coal-fired electricity plants. (Not to mention the 500,000+ asthma and 38,000+ heart attacks).
- The improved average IQ (in the US and globally) through reducing mercury (from coal emissions) inthe food chain.
- Improved water supplies due to reduce fossil-fuel processing and power plant demands, and reduced pollution of supply sources.
- Improved National Park views due to reduced fossil-fuel pollution.
- Improved business productivity (”greening” work spaces leads to 10-25% productivity improvement) and educational performance
And, the list can go on, and on, and on …
Greenpeace should be applauded for the quality of result from their project. This is a meaningful study. A study that shows that we can achieve a prosperous and climate-friendly society, meeting scientific targets for greenhouse-gas emission reductions, and do so at a “profit”. While recognizing this, we should also be clear: this report greatly underestimates the true value of pursuing an energy efficiency and clean energy future.
To be fair, many of these costs are not “missing” from the reprot, as pages 4-5 has a section “global warming: the challenge of our times”. This includes information on the risk of mass extinctions, sea level rise, etc. It mentions that Sir Nicholas Stern has estimated that Global Warming could reduce global GDP by 20 percent and includes this paragraph:
The economic cost of global warming to the U.S. economy from just four impacts (hurricane damage, water shortage, energy costs, and real estate losses) are projected to reach $271 billion by 2025.
Thus, the Greenpeace team is far from ignorant about “external” costs. In their cost/benefit calculation, however, none of those costs (avoided costs as benefit) are included.