We are often told that the costs of global climate change will disproportionally fall upon the poor. Unfortunately, the same is also true of many efforts to address global climate change.
In 2007, Oregon legislators passed Senate Bill 838 which established a state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), effectively forcing utility customers to purchase renewable energy. A recent economic analysis by Cascade Policy Institute reveals this bill has significant negative consequences…”
Specifically, Wynn notes that “[i]n 2010, approximately one in 30 Oregonians had their electricity cut off due to inability to pay.” Some of the blame can be attributed to the recession, but rising energy costs caused by renewable portfolio standards certainly worsened the financial hardships faced by low-income Oregon residents.
[T]hese mandates [mean that] the average Oregonian household will pay an additional $1,706 in higher electricity costs; the average commercial business will spend an extra $9,641; and the average industrial business an extra $80,115 over the period of 2015-2025. Overall, the mandate will cost Oregonians nearly $7 billion more than conventional energy sources until 2025.
The Oregon experience cautions policymakers around the world to consider the potential impacts of global climate change in light of the current reality of poverty. Policies that cause economic pain in Oregon—which had a per capita income of $36,125 in 2009—would wreck economic devastation upon developing countries. GDP per capita figures for India and China in 2009 were merely $3,200 and $6,800, respectively.
Harming the poor today in hope of helping the poor tomorrow is a dangerous foundation for public policy. Forcing low-income individuals out in the cold is never acceptable—and we must adjust our pursuit of renewable, low-emission energy sources accordingly.