EPA Proposes New Way to Evaluate Social Cost of Carbon: Unequal Values for Lives Lost
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new way to evaluate the cost to humanity of emitting greenhouse gases. This cost is expressed in a single number: the social cost of carbon. It adds up all the damage from carbon emissions – the lost crops, flooded homes and lost wages when people can't safely work outside, plus the cost of climate-related deaths – and expresses it in dollars. For every ton of carbon dioxide emitted, the current social cost of carbon is $51.
Most climate experts agree that the current number is too low, and that the benefits to humanity of reducing emissions are being underestimated. The proposal for a new way to evaluate the social cost of carbon is an “absolutely enormous improvement”, says Tamma Carleton, a climate economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara who is an expert on the social cost of carbon. This is the primary method we have for major climate initiatives at the federal level; there are no other options.
The social cost of carbon is potentially a powerful tool for the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and dramatically. Daniel Hemel, a law professor who studies how policymakers assign value to lives saved for the purpose of regulations, says the EPA's social cost of carbon does put a dollar amount on human lives, and this has implications for who lives and who dies due to climate change.
However, the EPA does not assign the same dollar value to every life. A life lost in a lower-income country due to climate change is worth less than a life lost in a higher-income country; this is an unfair reality. A comparison of the value of a climate-related death in the United States with other countries reveals that it is equal to approximately 9 deaths in India, 5 deaths in Ukraine, and 55 deaths in Somalia. Qataris are said to be afforded a life that is almost twice as valuable as that of an American.
Vaibhav Chaturvedi, a fellow at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in New Delhi, India and a leading expert on global climate economics, says this approach is “inherently inequitable”. “All lives are equally valuable,” he says.
Ultimately, a higher social cost of carbon would theoretically push the U.S. government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more quickly and dramatically.
0. “Why the EPA puts a higher value on rich lives lost to climate change” MPR News, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/02/08/npr-why-the-epa-puts-a-higher-value-on-rich-lives-lost-to-climate-change
1. “The EPA is updating its most important tool for cracking down on carbon emissions” kclu.org, 4 Feb. 2023, https://www.kclu.org/2023-02-04/the-epa-is-updating-its-most-important-tool-for-cracking-down-on-carbon-emissions
2. “Why the EPA puts a higher value on rich lives lost to climate change” WBHM, 8 Feb. 2023, https://wbhm.org/npr_story_post/why-the-epa-puts-a-higher-value-on-rich-lives-lost-to-climate-change/