The cost of inaction vs action

April 25, 2020

You know what we’ve seen a lot of during this pandemic? Models and graphs of what it would cost in terms of lives and money to NOT act on the coronavirus crisis. It is very obviously not an ideal way to talk about crises – but due to the way we’ve structured our economic system this is how we frame horrific events now.⁠

But, if that’s what we’re going to do, the climate crisis has far higher costs of inaction. It will be massive in lives lost and detrimentally impacted for generations (and we know this in turn causes further impoverishment and deaths of despair). Some estimates suggest that if we don’t reel back from the track we’re on, we might have one billion climate refugees by 2100. In lives alone, studies are showing we might save over 780,000 premature deaths from air pollution this year if lockdowns had/will continue throughout the rest of the year.⁠

In terms of money, it would cost the economy far more. Project Drawdown has quantified and compared the upfront costs of deploying climate solutions to limit warming to 1.5 – 2 degrees with the long-term savings reaped from avoiding climate breakdown. While the upfront costs are substantial – around $USD 25 trillion globally – the resulting savings and profits are four to five times larger, at around $USD 145 trillion. And to stump that up even more, the figures don’t account for the additional value of climate action such as healthcare savings from reduced air pollution and avoided climate damages (e.g., agricultural losses).⁠

So while some of the climate action plans and policies we’re seeing float about from politicians to think tanks seem high (and many are much lower than needed), they come nowhere near to the cost of inaction.