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New Report Urges Quick, Aggressive Action to Stem Carbon Emissions

by Abby Haight

A group of economists have come up with a simple formula for climate stabilization: Pay now, or pay a whole lot more later.

The sound way to deal with the threats of climate change is to spend the money now to rapidly convert the world to carbon-free energy, according to a report that debunks claims that acting quickly will destroy the world economy.

"The Economics of 350" looks at the benefits and costs of climate action. The report arrives as world leaders prepare for the United Nations summit on climate change this December in Copenhagen, as the U.S. Congress grapples with bills to reduce greenhouse emissions and as a grassroots movement -- 350.org -- gains momentum toward its Oct. 24 International Day of Climate Action.

The report was released this week by Economics for Equity and the Environment, a network of 200 economists that is a project of Portland-based Ecotrust.

Impetus for the report, the biggest project by the network, grew as more world leaders accepted 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere as the limit for the planet's health -- the Earth's carbon budget. Emissions are at about 385 parts per million now.

"As the news keeps sounding worse and worse, what we're talking about is not that the cost of doing something has changed -- the cost of doing nothing is really what's escalating," said Frank Ackerman, of the Stockholm Environment Institute at Tufts University.

The economists estimated a cost of about 2.5 percent of the gross world product would be needed to begin transforming the way we live and work in the world. Such a radical action could create jobs, they said, and could hurry technological advances -- much like the Cold War did in the 1950s and 1960s.

"It does not mean stopping growth," Ackerman said. "It does not mean living in caves.

"The Cold War spending jumpstarted technology -- really transformed our lives now," he said. "Nobody looks back at that and says it was a bad deal because our grandparents had less to spend at the department store because they were paying a few extra on taxes."

Delaying or taking smaller steps against carbon emissions risks even greater financial and human costs as temperatures rise, ice sheets melt and ecosystems die, the reports says.

Its authors hope the report will get wide readership.

"We need people on the ground to convey to lawmakers that this is the price they're willing to pay, that they've seen the future and the future scares them," said Kristen Sheeran, director of Economics for Equity and the Environment and co-founder, with Ackerman, of RealClimateEconomics.org.

"We aren't going to get there by small actions," she said. "We aren't going to get there by turning out the light and walking to work a few days a week."

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