The Best of Both Worlds

The struggle to find a balance between environmental and economic concerns continues


Deniz Bölöni-Turgut, Focus Editor

With a shift in power in the White House comes a shift in public policy. President Biden plans to enact environmental policies focused on using clean energy and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Opponents of these policies often cite economic disadvantages such as the immense cost and possible job losses in emission-heavy industries.

However, climate change has already started impacting the economy in the form of natural disasters. According to an article from ABC news, the 2020 California wildfire cost is estimated to be around $10 billion. Even without the regulations that many environmentally friendly policies suggest, the economic landscape of the United States is shifting. Science teacher Jonathan Gray said that climate change has forced many places such as Miami to consider how to combat rising sea levels and building damage from erosion.

“I think the biggest source driving climate change is the emission of CO2, so not only decreasing the emission of CO2 but also offering opportunities for scientists to come up with carbon sequestration methods, or getting carbon out of the atmosphere [is important],” Gray said. “I think we can start to sort of retain that balance that we used to have if we tackle it both ways.”

Individuals can lower their carbon footprint in simple ways such as conserving electricity, turning down the air conditioning during the summer or even installing solar panels, something the federal government encourages through a solar tax credit. The federal government could also take the lead in environmental issues by creating policies which incentivize clean energy and sustainability.

“Our government subsidizes, meaning gives breaks to, oil and gas companies [so that] they don’t pay the full price of production,” Gray said. “I think those subsidies should be taken away over time and if the government does want to be subsidizing industry, they should be subsidizing clean energy to make clean energy be able to compete with fossil fuels.”

Upper school Dean of Students and economics teacher Kelly Aull said that such environmental policies usually benefit the economy in the long run.

“There’s always going to be an economic impact when you’re creating new rules and regulations that somehow intersects with the way people do business,” Aull said. “There are pieces of the Green New Deal that involve investing in new or emerging sectors of the economy related to clean energy, those things should have a net positive impact especially when you consider the cost … of dealing with a lot of the impacts of industries that pollute, industries that are unsustainable for our environment. Those things make it difficult for us to maintain our economic capacity long term.”

The balance between maintaining the economy and helping the environment is hard to achieve, but Aull and Gray agree that it’s crucial to consider both when developing policies.

“If [you’re] addressing an environmental issue, you want to do what’s best for the environment but you also have to … maximize benefits for the economy and maximize benefits for society,” Gray said. “When your solution addresses each of those, then that becomes more viable to politicians, to policymakers, to CEOs. … I think there’s this false dichotomy out there that it’s either the environment or the economy and that’s not going to get us anywhere.”

Another important thing to consider is the cost-effectiveness of any proposed environmental solution.

“If you do this wrong, there’s a big potential for us to create a lot of costly rules and regulations that either don’t get the environmental effects we really want or have negative side effects on the economy where we slow things down, [or] we make things harder to get a hold of,” Aull said.

It’s undeniable that investing in these clean industries or committing to lower greenhouse gas emissions would increase government spending and likely taxes. Estimates for the cost of the Green New Deal vary greatly, but most are in the trillions. The question becomes how can an increase in taxes be justified?

“The way we justify taxes generally as a society is by saying that they’re going to things that benefit everyone,” Aull said. “For every dollar you pay in taxes, if it creates at least a dollar’s worth, hopefully more than a dollar’s worth of benefits for society, then it’s worthwhile. … It’s either an investment in creating a good society today or it allows you to be earning money well into the future.”

For people already working in industries or living in towns which are supported by emission heavy factories or companies, there are many options to lessen the negative impact. Aull said that some industries, such as the auto industry, are already seeing a smaller range of available jobs. This isn’t because of any environmental regulations, but because of automation and improvements in technology. The solution is to fill the job slots with new industries focused on renewable energy.

“As the environment changes, we have to change with the environment,” Gray said. “If we hold on to our old ways of doing things, then it won’t be good for anybody as opposed to not being good for a subset of people. If we could train those people in clean energy and technologies, then we could maybe avoid a lot of those job losses.”

When addressing environmental issues, Gray said it’s also important to have plans for people whose houses and lives are threatened by the effects of climate change. There are a myriad of natural disasters which have been increasing in frequency and severity every year.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in recorded history with 30 named storms and wildfires in various parts of the world displaced many people from their homes. The challenge of creating environmental policies which address all of these problems and garner widespread support is real and should be tackled sooner rather than later.

“There is still time,” Gray said, “We humans have the unique ability to at least think far ahead to the future. We’re not only living in the here and now, even though I feel like that’s certainly our base instinct at most times. … I think with the proper funding and the proper way of managing clean energy, … we can certainly cut out on that in time.”