Daily Archives: July 3, 2008

Fixing the climate-change problem is still affordable

But the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets.

Severe adverse effects from climate change can be avoided at a reasonable cost but only if politicians stop talking and start acting, a major report from PricewaterhouseCoopers said today.

Updating a study it first did two years ago, the accountancy firm said that inaction on reducing carbon emissions in the interim means the necessity for action has become even more urgent than before. It called on leaders of the Group of Eight leading economies, particularly the United States – the world’s largest per capita polluter – to commit themselves to firm timetables for emissions reductions at next week’s summit in Tokyo.

It estimated the cost of a 50% reduction in global carbon emissions by 2050 at around 3% of global economic growth, at the top of the 2%-3% range it estimated in 2006. This is slightly higher than the upwardly revised figure of 2% estimated by Lord Stern recently but PwC stresses that its forecasts are broadly in line with Stern and both are affordable.

Meanwhile, progress continues at the usual rate.

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Making transit an appealing choice

Photo credit: “Old Bus,” Flickr/Mike9Alive

Tim Haab at Environmental Economics relates an anecdote about a car-loving friend switching to a form of mass transit:

“There’s a luxury coach service that has a park and ride stop 6 miles from my house.  The bus is equipped with laptop hook-ups and comfortable seats.  It takes 45 minutes to get downtown and it drops me off at the door to my office.  And it only cost $5 roundtrip.  Also I’m working at home 2 days a week.”

So now I’m doing the math.  That’s a savings of $16.50 a commuting day ($5 in fare plus $2 in gas).  He’s saving $96.50 a week.  $4,439 a year.

This is somebody with a pretty tremendous commute, making the trip at increasingly staggering expense. And still, it’s the luxury coach service that gets him onto the bus.

You shouldn’t make public policy based on anecdotes (even if that’s what politicians do all the time), but there’s plenty of history to suggest that it’s this kind of service that’s most likely to get drivers out of their cars — not a crowded, hot, smelly old bus where they might even have to stand for much of the trip, but a pleasant luxury coach, if not an even more comfortable train. The premium people are willing to pay for comfort is very significant. With the rising cost of gasoline, more people are butting up against their limits, but it’s still not a choice based on pure financial rationalism.

So that’s the challenge for cities and regional authorities hoping to save road money, make planning more efficient, and clean up their air: they’re not just in the business of making transit available, they’re in the business of making it desirable. And in that regard, they’ve got an awful lot to learn from the private sector.