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Trump’s energy plan will cost the nation trillions

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To anyone following the U.S. presidential race, it’s no surprise that Biden and Trump sit at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their future visions for energy in America — with Biden proposing to move the nation towards cleaner sources such as solar and wind, while Trump would rather continue powering the nation with traditional fossil fuels.

To the increasing number of Americans concerned with climate change and the recent uptick in record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes, heatwaves and other extreme events long-predicted by scientists, Biden’s plan represents the obvious choice. 

One that will help bring the world closer to reaching the greenhouse gas reductions targets needed to keep Earth under the critical 1.5-degree Celsius warming limit identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Meanwhile, President Trump struggles to articulate any new energy plan — mostly pledging continued support for the coal, oil, and gas resources that he embraced over the last four years.

As American’s weigh these two very different futures for the country, it would be naïve to think that questions of economic impact don’t come to mind. After all, everyone loves a thriving economy. On this point, the Trump campaign has attacked Biden’s energy plan as one that threatens job losses across the oil and gas industry, while in contrast, the Biden plan promises to grow jobs, mostly through increases in clean energy infrastructure and renovation. So, where does that leave us? 

According to a new report by Quantum Energy Consultants, the total costs of decarbonizing the U.S. power sector according to Biden’s plan are substantially less than the continued fossil fuel embracing policies of the Trump administration.

A key aspect of the cost comparison was the consideration of not just traditional economic metrics, but also the environmental and health costs of the respective energy plans. This novel approach represents a departure from traditional economic models, which often fail to account for so-called externalities that negatively impact the public through increased rates of disease, medical costs, environmental pollution, etc. By considering these key factors, the report is able to offer a more complete picture of the true economic impact of each candidate’s plan.

While Biden’s plan comes with many costs, the report finds that, overall, it saves a non-trivial $351 billion per year by 2035 relative to the “no new energy policy” path of the Trump Administration. While acknowledging that electricity decarbonization will produce some level of environmental and health costs due to, for instance, the mining of raw materials, the report concludes that once fully decarbonized, total cost savings will amount to a staggering $1 trillion per year. 

A large fraction of these savings stems from the avoidance of “catastrophic climate impacts, air pollution, human and marine and terrestrial toxicity, acidification, eutrophication, land transformation and water depletion,” each of which directly impacts Americans and others around the globe. These results help lay waste to the age-old misconceptions that protecting the environment is bad for the economy. 

What’s more, the finding is in theme with another recent estimate that placed the annual economic impacts of climate change in the United States at around 5 percent of GDP, or roughly $1 trillion per year, by the end of this century.

As I noted in a prior article, climate-related natural disasters in the U.S. have already racked up over $800 billion in economic costs in this decade alone, a number that is up over four-fold compared to the 1980s. Meanwhile, the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment estimates future warming to cause up to 2 billion lost labor hours annually by 2090 due to temperature extremes, costing an estimated $160 billion in lost wages.

As Europe is now stepping up to take action by rolling out the first legally binding framework to meet the Paris Agreement, requiring each member nation to develop and implement national energy and climate plans as well as long-term strategies to transition to carbon-neutral economies, a key question going forward will be whether or not the U.S. follows suit. The answer to this question will of course largely depend on which way the American public leans in this historic election on Tuesday. 

Shahir Masri, Sc.D., is the author of “Beyond Debate: Answers to 50 Misconceptions on Climate Change.” He is an air pollution scientist at the University of California at Irvine, and also teaches at the Schmid College of Science and Technology at Chapman University. Follow him on Twitter at @ShahirMasri.

Tags Climate change Donald Trump Effects of climate change Emissions reduction Energy Environmental impact of the energy industry Fossil fuel Low-carbon economy
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