Skip to main content

Misusing the Inaction Argument

One commonly repeated argument for doing something about climate change is based on comparing the cost of action with the cost of inaction. This argument sounds compelling, and almost every major politician in the world uses it, but it turns out to be entirely fallacious.

SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA – One commonly repeated argument for doing something about climate change sounds compelling, but turns out to be almost fraudulent. It is based on comparing the cost of action with the cost of inaction, and almost every major politician in the world uses it.

The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, for example, used this argument when he presented the European Union’s proposal to tackle climate change earlier this year. The EU promised to cut its CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, at a cost that the Commission’s own estimates put at about 0.5% of GDP, or roughly €60 billion per year. This is obviously a hefty price tag – at least a 50% increase in the total cost of the EU – and it will likely be much higher (the Commission has previously estimated the cost to be double its current estimate).

But Barroso’s punchline was that “the cost is low compared to the high price of inaction.” In fact, he forecasted that the price of doing nothing “could even approach 20% of GDP.” (Never mind that this cost estimate is probably wildly overestimated – most models show about 3% damages.)

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/Mi2sAsF;
  1. reinhart39_ Sha HantingChina News ServiceVisual China Group via Getty Images_jerome powell Sha Hanting/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images

    Jerome Powell’s Dilemma

    Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent Reinhart

    There is a reason that the US Federal Reserve chair often has a haunted look. Probably to his deep and never-to-be-expressed frustration, the Fed is setting monetary policy in a way that increases the likelihood that President Donald Trump will be reelected next year.

    0
  2. mallochbrown10_ANDREW MILLIGANAFPGetty Images_boris johnson cow Andrew Milligan/AFP/Getty Images

    Brexit House of Cards

    Mark Malloch-Brown

    Following British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament, and an appeals court ruling declaring that act unlawful, the United Kingdom finds itself in a state of political frenzy. With rational decision-making having become all but impossible, any new political agreement that emerges is likely to be both temporary and deeply flawed.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions