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Noah Smith

Markets Aren’t Buying Denial on Climate Change

Investors who put money at risk behave as if it’s not a hoax.

Just another high tide at South Beach.

Just another high tide at South Beach.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America

How big of a threat do Americans think climate change is? On the political left, and increasingly in the center, almost everyone now agrees that it represents a significant danger to the American way of life. On the right, skepticism remains, as evidenced by the committee President Donald Trump has proposed setting up to assess the threat. The Presidential Committee on Climate Security will be headed by William Happer, a physicist who argues that worry over global warming is unfounded. One policy adviser for the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, crowed that the panel would rebut “the dishonest/know-nothing climate bedwetters.”

Moreover, even among those who do recognize the threat, doubts may remain as to its severity. Supporters of the Green New Deal, as well as many of those who have proposed alternative plans, believe that the danger is so great that it warrants a transformation of much of the world’s economy and industry. However, a recent poll by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago found that just 16 percent of Americans would be willing to pay $100 a month to fight climate change. If the average American paid that amount, it would total only $390 billion a year — much less than the $1 trillion or more needed annually to shift to carbon-free energy, industry and agriculture.