Paul Krugman has good news: "Climate despair is all wrong"

The New York Times columnist continues to argue that stopping climate change won't be as hard as we think

Published September 19, 2014 1:05PM (EDT)

Paul Krugman                                                                                                                                                       (Reuters/Chip East)
Paul Krugman (Reuters/Chip East)

In his latest column for the New York Times, award-winning economist and best-selling author Paul Krugman steps a bit outside his comfort zone as a pundit — rather than castigate the hysterical inflation cult or deride the hapless GOP, he brings good news. "This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free," Krugman writes. "But will anyone believe the good news?"

The news "may sound too good to be true," Krugman acknowledges, "but it isn’t." The connection between economic growth and carbon emissions, the economist argues, is all but severed. According to a pair of new studies from highly regarded experts, Krugman writes, "strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth."

That's a big deal, Krugman writes, but it's not clear it's news everyone wants to hear. "It’s easier to slash emissions than seemed possible even a few years ago, and reduced emissions would produce large benefits in the short-to-medium run," Krugman writes. But "the prophets of climate despair, who wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth," Krugman argues, will not be easily persuaded.

Many of these prophets will be right-wingers or industry insiders with a patent self-interest in nixing any kind of cap-and-trade or carbon tax plan, Krugman writes, but some will be nominal lefties, too. "[C]limate despair produces some odd bedfellows," Krugman notes, "Koch-fueled insistence that emission limits would kill economic growth is echoed by some who see this as an argument not against climate action, but against growth." This position, Krugman says, is "marginal" — but "widespread enough to call out nonetheless."

The big takeaway, Krugman insists, is that "climate despair is all wrong" and another example of the supposedly serious people in America embracing a destructive, but emotionally appealing, policy:

The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Cap-and-trade Carbon Tax Climate Change Koch Brothers Paul Krugman The New York Times