President Trump has announced that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement while also expressing openness to climate action if the U.S. can get a better “deal.” President Trump is correct about one thing: policy should not be just about the expected benefits from the action, but must also consider the costs. In the area of climate change, more than many areas of policy, costs are often forgotten or ignored. Including those costs in the bargaining or legislative process and comparing those costs to benefits will not only lead to better policy but also points a way that conservatives and free market proponents can get behind climate policy.
Even if one grants to the climate change alarmists that the trend in global temperatures is upward, that a fair share of it is man-caused, and that really, really bad things will happen to the environment (and indirectly us) if we don’t slow or reverse this trend, policy responses should still have expected benefits that are larger than their anticipated costs. The problem with many of the policies proposed to combat climate change is that the costs are substantial and occur now (and for many, many future years) while the benefits won’t be realized for a century or more.