The topic of climate change often drives a wedge between advocates of business and the environment.
But it doesn't have to be that way, according to the keynote speaker for the Society of Conservation Biology's research symposium in Missoula this week.
"The future of energy will be the biggest business opportunity the world has ever seen," said Mike Philips, a state legislator from Bozeman and director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. "But if energy is the connective issue of the 21st century, climate change is the glue that holds it together. And climate change is a classic example of a failure of the market."
World energy consumption is expected to grow by 30 percent to 40 percent in the next few decades. Meeting that demand will spur new technologies, new manufacturing jobs and a lot of wealth for the innovators who supply it. It will also likely produce more pollution.
And accounting for that pollution, especially carbon, is something we've failed to do, Philips said. In economic terms, a positive externality is the free lunch you get when you work for a friend. A negative externality is the parking ticket you got while eating it.
When we pay $2.85 a gallon for gas, we don't factor in the cost of basing U.S. Navy warships in the Persian Gulf to protect our oil supply. It's negative externalities like that, Philips said, that make the world's economy such an uneven playing field.
In another example, the United States accounts for worker safety and environmental protection in its economy, which tends to drive our price for goods higher than China's. But China isn't accounting for those same safety factors. It's passing the cost to future generations.
"We have this tendency to discount the future," Philips said. "We have to be fastidious about the damage we do to natural systems, because we are utterly dependent on those systems for our needs. Maybe ecological economics is a better way."
Factoring those environmental costs into energy policy would bring economic durability, national security and environmental integrity to future generations, Philips said. The challenge is convincing today's leaders to make a true accounting of the damage we've done to drinkable water, sustainable food supplies and breathable air.
"I think my colleagues in the Legislature, and all Montanans would like to feel they're doing their fair share for our national security," Philips said. "We've been able to dump our trash for free. That has to stop."
Philips' lecture begins at 7 p.m. Thursday in the University of Montana's University Center Theater. It is free and open to the public.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.