Paul Krugman: The Fate of the World Is at Stake in This Election


Paul Krugman writes in Monday's column that no less than the fate of the planet rides on the results of this year's election. And, while that is a pretty scary way to start a column, the rest of Krugman's argument, which is devoted to climate economics and how they are improving, is fairly optimistic.

It is well known that last year was by far the hottest on record, although that fact has not put a dent in climate deniers helmets of denial. What is less known, according to Krugman, is that the "prospect of effective action against the looming catastrophe" has changed "drastically for the better in recent years, because we’re now achingly close to achieving a renewable-energy revolution."

Krugman is also heartened by the fact that it won't take a political revolution to achieve an energy revolution. (Might this be a subtle dig at Bernie Sanders supporters with whom Krugman as tangled recently? Maybe.) At any rate, Krugman lays out the current state of climate economics as he sees it:

Most people who think about the issue at all probably imagine that achieving a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would necessarily involve big economic sacrifices. This view is required orthodoxy on the right, where it forms a sort of second line of defense against action, just in case denial of climate science and witch hunts against climate scientists don’t do the trick. For example, in the last Republican debateMarco Rubio — the last, best hope of the G.O.P. establishment — insisted, as he has before, that a cap-and-trade program would be “devastating for our economy.”

But things are actually much more hopeful than that, thanks to remarkable technological progress in renewable energy.

The numbers are really stunning. According to a recent report by the investment firm Lazard, the cost of electricity generation using wind power fell 61 percent from 2009 to 2015, while the cost of solar power fell 82 percent. These numbers — which are in line with other estimates — show progress at rates we normally only expect to see for information technology. And they put the cost of renewable energy into a range where it’s competitive with fossil fuels.

Of course, there are still problems, especially those associated with the fact that renewable energy can be intermittent—the sun does not always shine; the wind does not always blow—while customers demand energy constantly. But Krugman is sanguine on that issue as well, and fairly confident that storage technology is improving to keep pace.

Then there is the small issue of effective policy to shift people en masse to renewables, "a shift to sun and wind instead of fire?" All it would take, Krugman argues, are a few financial incentives in the form of tax credits, which we have already had in Obama's stimulus plan and that even got extended in the recent budget. "The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which if implemented will create strong incentives to move away from coal, will do much more," he writets. 

All of this, Krugman argues, might just provide the tipping point we need to break the grip of the fossil fuel industry. And it could happen even "if the crazies retain control of the House."

But if a crazy gets the White House too? All bets are off.

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