Like many good political arguments, this one has worked because it contains some truth. China and India are growing, and while China in particular is investing billions in low-carbon energy, it is also burning more and more coal. China’s energy policy really is “all of the above” and its carbon trajectory is frightening, but also reversible. And utility bills may indeed go up in some areas of the country that rely on older coal-fired power plants. (The natural gas boom could be a mitigating factor here.)
In the face of these arguments, proponents of carbon reductions have lacked an effective response. It’s time to take their cost argument head on. Coal and other high carbon fuels may look cheaper on a power bill, but that bill doesn’t reflect the true cost of carbon. For example, extreme weather events cost our nation $188 billion between 2011-2012. And January’s painful fiscal cliff deal to raise revenues to reduce the deficit? The first year of reductions was completely off-set by the disaster relief package for Sandy. But for an even more vivid example of the costs of carbon, check out this article in Rolling Stone. In South Florida, sea level rise is already forcing local officials to spend millions to protect drinking water supplies from salt-water encroachment. And, in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed spending billions to protect the city against flooding from rising seas. The costs of carbon are no longer theoretical; they’re real and growing.