When it comes to plans to cut carbon emissions, a lot of people label them “infeasible” simply because of the cost… as if you can put a price tag on the health of the planet. Nevertheless, even people who are primarily concerned about the economic ramifications of reducing carbon emissions have to admit that efforts to improve the environment have pretty immediate economic benefits, as well. A new study conducted by MIT finds that strategies implemented to slash emissions wind up paying for themselves — and then some.
Too often, the real financial benefits of emission programs are overlooked. The mistake that most carbon reduction plans make is failing to estimate the benefits and subsequent money that is saved through improved air quality. “Policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution,” said Noelle Selin, one of two lead authors of the study.
Pollution is responsible for plenty of health effects like heart disease, lung disease and asthma attacks. By cleaning the air, the government ends up making the money back by spending less money on medical care for the population and workers not having to take sick days.
To have a better understanding of the financial benefits, MIT examined three of the government’s schemes for cutting emissions:
- Cap-and-trade: By far, cap-and-trade programs earned back the most money. Societies earned back an average of over 10 times more money than they spent on instituting these programs in the first place by reducing the need for healthcare costs.
- Clean energy standards: Instituting clean energy standards was found to essentially break even in terms of money recouped. Given that clean energy programs have many more benefits than just saving money, that makes it all the more enticing considering that no money is lost in the process.
- Transportation changes: Alas, altering transportation policy is not a proven money-saver. Only 26% of the money spent on clean-energy public transit efforts was ultimately earned back. That’s not to say these changes aren’t important, but the MIT scientists are unable to honestly say that it makes as much sense as the other plans from a financial perspective.
Alas, by the researchers’ own admission, there is a limit to how much money can be recouped. The data shows that, at some point, the air will be cleaned to a certain extent that the financial benefits will no longer make up for the money spent to curb emissions. The need to reduce carbon emissions even further will still be imperative in order to save the planet, but the monetary incentive won’t be there, meaning that groups will have to be convinced that our own survival is reason enough to continue with the programs.
At least it’s a start, though. Realistically, we probably need the financial motivation to get these critical programs off the ground sooner than later. We’ll just have to worry that people within the capitalist system will see the value in continuing them once it’s not as concretely earning money back for the government.