Environmentalism has a bad rap. It’s associated with hippies in hemp shirts, with pungently medicinal smelling beard wax and salt in place of deodorant. The reality is that a shift to clean energy helps everyone. It will improve living conditions, drive down prices and free up human capital for choice-creating innovation. And the shift does not need to be subsidised or blackmailed into existence, it is coming. It makes sense both to the markets, and to the people who make them up and want to see the coral reefs survive. Oil and gas get more expensive as they get more scarce, and as finite resources they are getting more scare, this makes the opportunity cost of prioritizing finite resources over clean energy greater. Geopolitically, many oil and gas resources are held by volatile state powers such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, meaning they are subject to price fluctuation and the stable prices of clean energy are more appealing to risk averse markets. As well as solely economic reasons, there are a lot of rich people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk who value a continually healthy planet and fund research into things that preserve this.
After initial research costs, clean energy is astronomically cheaper than the dirty energy of old. It can be largely automated, no permits are needed to dig for it, and even a judge on their first case wouldn’t award a payout to a solar worker claiming black lung. These reductions in costs can be passed on to consumers, in the form not only of cheaper energy for the home, but of cheaper consumer goods created using clean energy, and cheaper services provided in energy intensive places like office buildings and sports facilities.
Secondly, many public pressures to resist international trade are reduced, freeing up cross border trade. Agreements like the Paris Accords, which instruct members to sanction heavy polluters are a tricky issue, with politicians often made to demand lower emissions and less industry on threat of losing valuable, earth conscious voting blocs. If China and India moved to cleaner energy, such as solar panels which could generate plenty affixed to the roof of a Mumbai factory, these pressures would be reduced. This would allow greater free trade with these countries and their cheap, loose labour markets, and this would push down the prices of many goods for consumers as well as offering a wider range.
Finally, in a long-term point, human capital would expand. Pollution is not only bad for your lungs, it’s bad for your brain. Many pollutants inhibit the development of brain tissue, making people exposed to it in infancy less intelligent and capable of innovation. Additionally, a lot of intelligent, qualified people are tied up in projects such as making mines safe, or flood defences from global warming, or trying to develop mouth guards that prevent carcinogenic particles entering the human body. A move to clean energy could free up this human capital, and allow more to be created, which facilitates greater innovation and development. Pollution could be stopping us from perfecting self-driving cars and space travel, if that’s not a reason to curb it, nothing is.