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Sept. 4, 2019, 4:23 p.m. EDT

Stopping climate change will be easier and cheaper than Democrats think

Most of the money will come from the private sector, not from government

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By Tim Mullaney


Astrid Riecken/Getty Images
Democrats are responding to public pressure to act on climate change, but they exaggerate the money and the changes that will be needed.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But maybe it doesn’t have to if you look closer.

That’s the simplest way to think about the climate-change plans Democratic presidential candidates may propose in Wednesday’s CNN’s marathon town hall on climate with 10 front-runners: Yes, people will spend tons of money to phase out carbon-based electricity, move to electric cars and trucks, further weatherize our houses, and all the rest.

Also read: Where the 2020 Democrats stand on climate change

Private sector

But that doesn’t mean all the money — or even most of it — must come from the government, or that climate change should be a pretext for left-liberal goals like guaranteed government employment.

Instead, most will come from the private sector, says a new study from Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s team studying socially conscious investing . It also doesn’t have to happen all at once — and a change that is fast, but simpler and less heavy-handed, may be easier to make happen.

“About 20% of the world’s energy is from electricity,” said Sameer Chopra, the head of the team at Merrill. “That needs to go to 50%, and the electricity needs to have 80% less carbon.”

It doesn’t take long, covering Washington, to begin pining for covering Wall Street, where economists and pundits are judged by whether their calls are right (i.e. describes reality and helps clients make money) rather than political loyalty.

Also read: UN chief warns of ‘dramatic climate emergency’ as G-7 pledges $40 million for Amazon fire

In climate, one thing that means is that people on both sides tell different half-truths (or even lies) about what’s needed.

Republicans from Donald Trump on down lie about renewable power’s costs and reliability. Some Democrats wildly exaggerate the scope of change needed: Climate has nothing to do with guaranteed government employment, discouraging suburbs or driving, or convincing people that they should go vegetarian because cows fart methane.

Government data makes clear: The greenhouse gases that matter come from electricity and transportation. Fix them, and the rest is details.

Counterpoint: Adair Turner says Business as usual won’t beat climate change

What must be done

With that in mind, consider Chopra’s team’s major conclusions, which square with work by consultants at Mercer and the British firm Wood Mackenzie.

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