10/19/2010 11:15 am ET Updated May 25, 2011


Many conservatives are going on and on about the heavy economic blow that Cap and Trade and other possible anti-global warming measures would deal to American society, both present and future. It doesn't seem to have dawned upon them that the expense for doing something would be chicken feed compared to the cost of doing nothing. Ideological anti-government fervor has evidently blinded objective evaluation of the climate threat (as well as driven these conservatives to grossly exaggerate the net cost of global warming regulation).

Their hyperbolic rant omits a stark reality. Any modest increase in the price of energy resulting from reduction in industrial greenhouse gas emissions would be dwarfed by what it would eventually cost us if we procrastinate. [A government rebate system could soften the impact of any energy rate increase, especially for low income folks.]

If they don't get their heads out of the sand, ostrich-minded lawmakers railing against increased energy costs because of the imposition of climate change measures risk the enmity of future generations.

Numerous studies show that the costs are modest compared to the benefits of taking on global warming whereas if climate change is ignored, the fiscal ramifications are staggering. With a do-nothing approach, the planet will heat up unabated, resulting in lower agricultural yields, increased evaporation of ground water supplies, coastal flooding and the spread of tropical diseases, to name but a few disquieting trends.

Following are some of the recent studies that corroborate this economic reality.

The British Government Economic Service calculated in 2006 that if no carbon dioxide emission reduction program is instituted, international costs caused by environmental disruption will ultimately amount to at least five percent of global gross domestic production (GDP) and perhaps as high as 20 percent. Contrast that with the cost of one percent of GDP if we directly tackle rising temperatures with energy efficiency, expanded renewable fuel use, some form of carbon tax, and other emission reduction strategies.

The Tufts University's Global Development and Environment Institute estimated that a $12 trillion a year hit to the world's economy from global warming could be avoided by conservation measures at one-fourth the cost.

In 2009, the International Energy Agency concluded that the benefits of greenhouse gas emission reduction far exceeded the costs. So did the widely respected public interest organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What we don't need at this juncture are ideologically-driven leaders who are "penny wise, pound foolish." Should these individuals ever gain control of the nation's reins of power, they have the potential to put us in an environmental and economic bind from which we might never fully recover.

Edward Flattau is an environmental columnist residing in Washington, D.C. and the author of the forthcoming book, Green Morality, now available for pre-order.