Report: Curb Carbon Emissions or Grow Money Trees

Transitioning to clean energy is like saving for retirement: Invest a little now, and you’ll earn bigger dividends than investing a lot more later.

Citibank would agree. Its recent report says investing in low-carbon energy now would save everyone $1.8 trillion through 2040. In contrast, if everyone sits on the couch, eats potato chips, watches Netflix and waits until 2060 to take action, it will cost an additional $44 trillion.

To put that in perspective: You would have to spend $10 million every day for 273 years to spend just $1 trillion — now, multiply that by 44. (You would think this would not be a difficult decision to make.)

However, several politicians are saying, “Sorry, not sorry.” In fact, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the plan “will cause Americans’ electricity costs to skyrocket at a time when we can least afford it.” Apparently he has a Magic 8 Ball that says paying an additional $44 trillion will be no big deal in a few years.

But the longer we wait, the more issues we will have to fix like damage from droughts and floods. Hurricane Sandy, for example, cost $65 billion in damage.

Citibank isn’t alone in its view. “From where I sit, climate action is a must-do,” said Shaun Donovan, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. “Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars.”

The Citibank report goes on to say that improvements aren’t going to break anyone’s wallet.

“The incremental costs of following a low-carbon path are in context limited and seem affordable, the ‘return’ on that investment is acceptable and moreover the likely avoided liabilities are enormous,” the report’s authors state. “Given that all things being equal cleaner air has to be preferable to pollution, a very strong ‘Why would you not?’ argument begins to develop.”

In addition to saving money and having cleaner climate and better health, there is even another perk to reducing carbon emissions. The report suggests that acting now might boost the lagging global economy. (Go ahead, you can toast to this good news.)

If Thomas Edison were alive today, he would likely agree making changes now is a good idea. Back in 1931 he said: “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!”

Image credit: Flickr/Wonderlane