Is Climate Change Prevention Economically Feasible?

Climate Change

Climate change. Pressing as the issue is, the mention of it often induces an eye-roll reaction from most people who fear being subjected to yet another lecture on the topic. Environmental protection is a major area of concern for the human race which has unfortunately acquired quite a bad name; the governments of some counties, in fact, deny global warming’s existence as a phenomenon altogether. More importantly, though, the exasperation with which the everyday man broaches the subject is something which needs to drastically change, and change fast. As much as people know that climate change needs to be combated and the ecosystem has to be preserved, the usual “So the earth is slowly dying. Tell me something I don’t know” reflex action most people have towards these issues directly affects policy making.

In India, the economic viability of climate change prevention is questionable. The Indian Government runs budgetary deficits year after year, with several hundred crores already invested in campaigns to improve environmental conditions. Despite its attempts and the massive amount of money going into it, however, there are very few results to actually show. For the Government to spend even more money on environmental awareness campaigns and eco-friendly drives, the money would need to come from somewhere. The question now becomes whether or not the Government would divert funds from unemployment and poverty alleviation measures and channelize it into climate change prevention instead. The issue is arguably as pressing as the former two, but the division of funds is a matter of priorities. The Government needs to decide which issues are in the most dire need of addressing, and accordingly allocate funds – not just to the things it deems important, but to the things deemed important by its voters (for obvious reasons). While moves like the Swachh Bharat campaign definitely do help in the achievement of this goal, there is a limit to which people will tolerate spending on the environment.

The primary reason for this is an obvious lack of education amongst the majority of the Indian population. While campaigns like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are inherently easy for people to understand (due to the fundamental premise of cleanliness being one which is intuitively easy to accept), we have a long way to go before we can teach these people about the benefits of bio-degradables and renewable sources of energy. Going back to the question of economic feasibility, most rural Indians live day to day, running monthly household deficits – savings are an alien concept to them. Convincing these people to see the ethical benefits of solar panels would be difficult enough, but asking them to undertake the large financial burden of it (solar panels are cheap in the long run, but have a large installation cost), would be next to impossible.

The renewable energy sector, as it exists today, is not nearly developed enough for it to be economically feasible. Battery powered cars and aeroplanes which run on water may be the way of the future, but at present, these are still extremely expensive propositions. That’s not to say that it’ll always be that way – innovation is bound to happen, and it is organic. Competition between private firms in the renewable energy sector will lead to the creation of cost-reducing and innovative technologies which will drastically reduce the price of these products and lead to an eventual increase in their use. Until that happens, however, the earth will continue to bear the brunt of human activities.

What Governments of the world need to do is an urgent cost-benefit analysis. Climate change prevention might not yield returns in the present, and it might even pinch the Government’s pocket, but it has substantial long term benefits. If we consider this approach, any short run losses would be offset by the inarguably essential long run gains of such a move, thus justifying losses in the present and debunking arguments about economic feasibility. Moreover, some argue that adverse climatic conditions have very real impacts on the health and welfare of people at present – cyclones, droughts and erratic monsoons are just a few of the problems faced by rural Indians. On the urban front, the recent smog which hung over the city of New Delhi is a clear indication of just how harmful climate change can be if it goes unchecked. The role of the Government is therefore to make the best use of its limited funds by juggling issues like climate change and poverty, and attempt to address both.

There is no doubt that if we continue on our present course, climate change will one day become so large an elephant in the room that we will no longer be able to ignore it. Left unchecked, the environment will deteriorate to the point where Governments the world over will have no choice but to divert not only funds but also their complete attention to the issue. One can only hope that by that time, it isn’t too late.

-Contributed by Prithviraj

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