by Kiley Kroh
President Barack Obama raised expectations for climate action when he said in his election night acceptance speech that “we want our children to live in an America that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
But in his first post-election press conference, he backed away, implying that climate must take a back seat to dealing with the country’s economic woes – a distinction echoed by his spokesperson Jay Carney shortly thereafter. The President is exactly right in his first statement and dead wrong in his second.
Sweeping action to address climate change faces enormous political opposition, especially when the economy is the dominant issue of the day. But the reality is that they can be approached simultaneously. In fact, this decision to separate the economy and the environment is a marked reversal from the president’s previous statements.
In March, for example, Obama stated quite clearly that environmental and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive:
“There will always be people in this country who say we’ve got to choose between clean air and clean water and a growing economy, between doing right by our environment and putting people back to work. And I’m here to tell you that is a false choice. That is a false choice. With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today and protect our environment for ourselves and our children.”
In addition to addressing the urgent need to curb our carbon emissions, the economic benefits of dealing with climate change should merit their inclusion in both short-term policy discussions about deficit reduction and long-term economic growth strategies.
For example, a recent analysis from the Congressional Research Service found that a modest carbon tax of $20 per ton that rises 5.6 percent annually could cut the projected 10-year deficit by 50 percent — from $2.3 trillion down to $1.1 trillion. If designed correctly, a carbon tax could help shift the burden of paying for pollution (and solutions to it) from taxpayers to polluters, as well as generate much-needed revenue that could be used for a variety of purposes, including paying down the debt, incentivizing clean energy, and building our resiliency to climate change.
Climate action through clean energy investment has a variety of economic benefits in both the near and long term, driving investments that put people back to work now and increase our economy’s productivity over time. Such policies simultaneously reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, curb carbon emissions, and mitigate the negative effects of climate change. A few specific examples: