Labour Research December 2009


Can we afford the future? The economics of a warming world

Frank Ackerman, Zed, 129 pages, paperback, £12.99

As world leaders meet in Copenhagen to agree the way forward on climate change, this book provides welcome clarity on the underlying economic debates.

The book debunks the use of economics to hold back action to tackle climate change. The conventional economic framework tends to overstate the cost of climate protection: by ignoring the drivers of technological innovation in energy, by denying the existence of costless or low-cost opportunities for emissions reduction and by overlooking the employment and other benefits that result from climate policies.

As the author points out, money spent insulating buildings creates jobs and incomes. Construction workers go home and buy food, clothing and so on, indirectly creating other jobs. With more people working, tax revenues increase while unemployment payments will decrease. State support for wind power in Germany and Denmark has made it a viable alternative — the UK government should take note after the closure of the Vestas factory.

The book advocates the approach of the Apollo Alliance in the US, a coalition that includes many trade unions and environment groups. Its 10-point programme for clean energy and jobs includes promotion of hybrid vehicles, public transportation, energy efficiency and renewable energy. For a cost of £180 billion, it would eliminate 23% of US greenhouse gas emissions and create an estimated 3.3 million new jobs. A similar plan for the UK is needed.