Plans to Slash Emissions Wind Up Paying for Themselves

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.


Warren Webber
Warren Webber4 years ago

Live long and prosper

Heidi Wood
Heidi Wood4 years ago

More Trees less a-holes

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

US Navy funds R&D seeking sustainable cost-competitive substitutes for petroleum products. The latest candidate involves electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, then capture of CO2, then combining hydrogen with CO2 to get assorted hydro-carbon fuels plus oxygen in a high temperature and pressure contraption similar to an oil refinery. They hope to get it cost-competitive in ten years. If they succeed and buy the patents, they should be able to get our too big to fail oil firms started on mass-producing these hydro-carbon fuels, over the ten years following the achievement of cost-competitiveness. And they will use up some of the excess CO2 in the environment. Federal government buying extra inventory of the new sustainable hydrocarbon fuels for strategic reserve would be a way to store carbon and get oil firms to use up even more of the excess CO2 in the environment.

Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago

Absolutely, there is no price for every living organism and its service to the planet, and therefore us. Shame humans are killing this beautiful planet :(

Erin H.
Erin H4 years ago

Interesting article, thank you!

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

It is always better to look at the bigger picture not just the very short term.

Tina M.
Tina M4 years ago

If the oil companies had diversified from the start they wouldn't be fighting a losing battle.

Michael LaGassey Sr.
Michael LaGassey4 years ago

Love the positivity.

Marcia Geiger
Marcia Geiger4 years ago

I am all for improving air quality, asthma will do that choice for me.

Donnaa D.
donnaa D4 years ago