Saving in multiple areas for spending in one. That is conclusion of a new MIT study on cutting carbon emissions. The costs of reducing our global carbon footprint would be dwarfed in savings related to health care spending and other costs associated with pollution.

Research is showing that cutting carbon emissions would essentially pay for itself. That makes for a great sound bite, but the reality is that they are vastly different industries. Our energy companies are not health insurers or vice versa. The costs put on one would translate into savings for another.

“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” notes co-author Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

Of course, Congress could get creative in the carbon cutting programs. Tax rebates for those companies willing to go green. It can’t just be a decree from the EPA to make it so. All that leads to is increased lobbying to bend the rules. Companies have to come and walk away from the table on their own.

The researchers looked at three different carbon programs; a transportation policy, the clean-energy standard and the much derided cap-and-trade program. Savings on health care spending were greatest in the transportation policy, with cap-and-trade second. The clean-energy standard program barely made a dent in cost savings.

There is a ceiling to how much clean air policies save on health care spending. Once that happens, it will be up to society as a whole to demand more cuts even when the benefits in health aren’t seen. You then get into future planning, something we have shown we are not adept at.

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“While air-pollution benefits can help motivate carbon policies today, these carbon policies are just the first step,” Selin adds. “To manage climate change, we’ll have to make carbon cuts that go beyond the initial reductions that lead to the largest air-pollution benefits.”

Do we need to go green? Of course. Even if you don’t believe in climate change, think of it as insurance. No one buys health insurance because they are aiming for a heart attack. It is just in case. Same here, why risk being wrong? And the benefit is cleaner air, rivers and lakes. What’s so wrong about a cleaner environment? Instead of arguing, real solutions are needed. Everyone can enjoy a smog free day at the park.

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