05/30/2014 07:15 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2014

The Greatest Generation Redux

At the slightest mention of the government instituting measures to combat global warming, climate change deniers respond that such steps would kill jobs and devastate the economy.

Wait a minute. Greater energy efficiency and large scale reforestation are pillars of a national remedial climate strategy. Not much traction for economic alarmists there!

Another component of the strategy to counter global warming is to orchestrate as rapidly as possible a shift from carbon polluting fossil fuel to clean renewable energy sources. Prices of wind, solar and other renewables have steadily declined, even making them cost competitive with heavily polluting coal and oil in some locales. As for impact on jobs, the renewable energy industry is more labor intensive than its fossil fuel counterpart and employs more than 3.1 million individuals. That is a total which exceeds the number of workers in the fossil fuels field.

Deniers contend that renewable technology is still not advanced enough to replace mass use of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

That is not what the National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers concluded back in 2012. If significant upgrades were made to the electric grid system, they determined that renewables could meet 80 percent of the nation's electricity demand by 2050.

That said, the global warming skeptics still have what they perceive to be their ace in the hole. It is demonization of the Obama Administration's early June unilateral release of a rule to regulate carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. Critics accuse the Administration of an abuse of executive power that will send electricity bills soaring and cripple the economy.

Omitted is that the technology exists for coal-fired plants to meet the White House's new carbon emission standards. Yes, there will be additional pollution abatement costs that will undoubtedly be reflected in some obsolete plant shutdowns, temporary job dislocation, and slightly higher electricity bills. But job training programs could fill the void, and what analysts estimate would at worst be a modest rise in electricity bills could be offset by government subsidies to low income wage earners in an emergency.

In the big picture, any energy price increase would be chump change compared to what it would cost us if we chose to ignore global warming. Some estimates would have us losing $1.9 trillion annually with a do-nothing strategy, and don't think our energy bills wouldn't reflect that. Furthermore, that figure does not include the ancillary health costs that would result from the rising temperatures of a degraded climate.

So what are we to believe? Is regulation of carbon emissions a prelude to economic collapse or essential to our economic prosperity?

The overwhelming scientific consensus supports prompt action to reduce humanity's carbon footprint. ButIf the science isn't enough to ease economic qualms, maybe we should pay heed to big hitters in the corporate world. While some in their ranks sponsor and echo the deniers, no industry is more sensitive to the nation's future economic pulse than insurers. Those companies are expeditiously integrating into their business plans specific provisions to deal with global warming. On an even more dramatic note, the major oil giants have begun following suit, whether begrudgingly or not, demonstrating a belief in the inevitability of an eventual tax on carbon.

Upon reflection, another strong incentive exists for us to take decisive action. If we as a nation can meet the global climate change challenge, those who follow us will have another "greatest generation" to place alongside the one that foiled totalitarian domination in World War Two.