Afford to do, afford not to do

What is the concept of afford, and does it work both ways? The question is not whether it can work two ways, but for the concept to be meaningful at all, it has to be fully operational with regard to meaning.

We’re not just deciding what to spend money on — wait, yes we are! In so doing, any action must be considered in the context of its opportunity cost, and with further unpacking of the consequences of not spending money on certain things, the consequences this decision assures.

For instance, Mr. Sarda said, it’s relatively straightforward for businesses to calculate the potential costs from an increase in taxes designed to curb emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Indeed, this is one of the most common climate-related risks that companies now disclose. But it’s trickier to take scientific reports about rising temperatures and weather extremes and say what those broad trends might mean for specific companies in specific locations.

Previous studies, based on computer climate modeling, have estimated that the risks of global warming, if left unmanaged, could cost the world’s financial sector between $1.7 trillion to $24.2 trillion in net present value terms. A recent analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change warned that companies are reporting on these risks only “sporadically and inconsistently” and often take a narrow view of the dangers that may lie ahead.

The financial context of whether or not to do something – can we pay for doing the thing – extends in validity only as far as this framing is reversed: can we afford not to do something.

That is, the so-called cost of addressing climate change – or homelessness – large problems who’s answers supposedly involved gross amounts of expenditure that could be determined to be too large must also be considered in their reverse outlines. What is the cost of doing nothing? Is this affordable? Here the concept actually has meaning and may provide a constructive way forward.

But if we decide not to spend money on ameliorating climate change expressly because the measures are deemed prohibitively expensive, and yet the broad effects of climate change prove to be even more expensive than the proposed steps, then the affordability argument is invalid, if not disingenuous. While it may be the case that some consequences are unknowable in advance, that truth equally invalidates the affordability argument in advance. If it can’t be known whether a step would be worth it, it likewise cannot be known whether ignoring a step might be a price too high.

TL;Dr – Decisions made to ignore the effects of climate change must be taken for a reason other than the affordability argument.

Green Quiz

Which is the more eco enviro? No fair if you recognize your ‘hood.

1. Paris3rd

2. allemagne

3. alpharhetta

Measures of Affluence

Is it how fat you are? Or how skinny? An iPhone or Samsung? Clothes, car, house… surely all of these. But like so many things, of course, it depends.

The consumption model flows from conspicuous to discreet, along a kind of progressive continuum, whereby once you achieve a certain stage or level of affluence and find momentary reprieve from keeping up, your benchmark then changes to reflect the new set of priorities of those directly above you. And the fun begins again.

So what if (!) other variables experienced a, um, shift, in their ability to reflect the wealth of their bearer? For example, let’s say that once upon a time only the rich could abandon the bustle of the city and afford lengthy commutes to far flung homes, to live out in the country and venture into town only on occasion. Even if they had to travel in everyday, this too was a sign of how much they could afford to spend on personal transportation. But then the dirty, dangerous city becomes more desirable for some reason, or life in the country less so (bears, Sasquatch) and a switch occurs wherein a long commute is suddenly a symbol of penury, while the short drive or the ability to even occasionally do without a car becomes IT among the fashionable set. Wow. That’s convoluted. You see what we’re up against. But is there another way to have get fancy trains and buses and trams and funiculars?

There’s no way to pull back on burning seas oil drilling without dramatically stepped-up conservation; and there’s no way, in this culture, to make conservation work without making it part and parcel of status and/or something people want. I guess we might at least look at this as something that can happen, however far-fetched it may seem.