I’m With Paul
Krugman claims that climate motion doesn’t mean an end to growth. He’s right.
In a recent column, Paul Krugman argued that cutting carbon emissions doesn’t must mean an end to economic growth. He’s right about that. Carbon emissions and growth aren’t joined on the hip. He could have added that economic growth and quality of life don’t necessarily go together.
The numbers are really clear concerning the disconnect between the trajectories of GDP and emissions. US emissions went down by around 15% between 2007 and 2019, while GDP per person went up around 25%. In California, the state with the strictest climate policy, the trends were even clearer. And comparing states, Texas’s carbon emissions are almost twice as high as California’s, while GDP per person and median income are significantly lower.
It’s also essential to bear in mind that GDP is a highly imperfect measure of human welfare. What we actually care about is making people higher off, not growing their bank accounts. Income per person is about twice as high within the US as Italy. But life expectancy in Italy is over 4 years longer. Infant mortality in Italy is just half as high. And despite the image of Italy as a violent mafia-plagued country, the murder rate in Italy is a couple of tenth that in the US. So in some ways, despite the fact that average Americans have far more money, they’re less well off than average Italians.
If there are tradeoffs between climate policy and economic growth, they’re much weaker than some people imagine. One reason, as Krugman points out, is that growth can involve improvements in product quality moderately than quantity. One other is that the prices of renewable energy and electric vehicles have declined so greatly prior to now ten years, making them kind of competitive with their fossil-fuel alternatives. Additionally they reduce air pollution and profit public health. We must always also bear in mind that climate change itself is more likely to be a drag on economic growth. In brief, possibly we can have our cake and eat it too.