Cass Sunstein makes a point I made months ago--though Sunstein makes it in very concrete terms. By going to war in Iraq, we've spent the money we could have--should have--spent to counteract global warming.
For the United States, the cost of the Iraq war will soon exceed the anticipated cost of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement designed to control greenhouse gases. For both, the cost is somewhere in excess of $300 billion.
With respect to the Iraq war, careful estimates come from Scott Wallsten, a former member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers who is now at the American Enterprise Institute. Writing at the end of 2005, Wallsten estimated the aggregate American cost at about $300 billion. With the costs incurred since then, and an anticipated appropriation soon, the total will exceed $350 billion.
With respect to the Kyoto Protocol, the most systematic estimates come from William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer of Yale University. Writing in 2000, they offered a figure of $325 billion for the United States, designed to capture the full costs of compliance over many decades. This staggeringly large figure helped support Kyoto skeptics in the Bush administration and elsewhere, who argued that the benefits of the agreement did not justify its costs.
For the price of the Iraq War, we could have implemented the Kyoto Protocol.
Now, when I made a similar point months ago, I advocated comparing the cost of the Iraq war with what it could have bought us in terms of alternative energy development (and, as a greedy bastard, I used the larger Stiglitz-Bilmes estimate for the total cost of the war).
What if, rather than going to war, we had invested that trillion dollars into an energy Manhattan Project? What if we had used that money to develop new technologies and manufacturing systems that would diminish the importance of oil in geostrategic equations and in setting the reserve currency?
I would imagine such an investment would have been a massive stimulus to our economy, creating a bunch of high-paying jobs and an economic sector where the US would be dominant internationally. I would imagine it would create technologies the US could export again--stuff other countries wanted to buy. I would imagine such an approach would minimize insecurity, one of the costs Stiglitz and Bilmes associate with the Iraq war. Like I said, I'm not really qualified to answer these questions, but I would imagine that such an approach would have gone a long way to resolve the threats that underlie our reasons for war. All without getting anyone killed.
And as an added bonus, it would have addressed some of the causes of global warming.
But the point is similar. We may have (may have?!?!?) been better off not fighting the war, but instead investing in fixing the problems our oil economy fosters.
This is a point I'd love to see Democrats making in the next six months. And what better time to do it then to coincide with the release of Gore's new film? We had a choice between two "wars" to fight in 2003 (and note, both of these are in addition to the WOT, which as Helen Thomas knows, has nothing to do with Iraq). We could fight an optional war against a country that posed no threat to us. Or we could fight to move beyond the oil economy that leads us to fight such wars of choice.
Cheney is now pushing us to go for double or nothing. What better time to ask, "Should we spend a trillion dollars attempting to band-aid our fundamental problem, or should we spend it fixing the root cause of the problem?"