(This post is part of a series.)

I meant to get to this last Friday, but life had other plans. Still, if you haven’t seen it already, this New York Timesarticle from late last week is definitely worth a read.

The article does a great job describing just how far ahead of the rest of the country California is in tackling climate change. The state’s recent CO2 law—mandating a 25 percent reduction by 2020—is just a starting point. California has been the nation’s climate-protection trendsetter in other ways as well, from its recently passed emissions standards for cars, to mandatory efficiency increases for electrical appliances, to its “decoupling” rules that let power companies reap higher profits from lower sales. (The wonky side of me is especially pleased to see decoupling get some love from the Gray Lady.)

One quibble about the article, though: it portrays California’s actions as an economic risk:

California, in fact, is making a huge bet: that it can reduce emissions without wrecking its economy, and therefore inspire other states—and countries—to follow its example on slowing climate change.

I don’t see it that way. First off, most of the initial greenhouse reduction steps are likely to boost California’s economy: buying conservation & efficiency is cheaper than buying new generation. And think about Japan and Germany—they’re already more energy efficient than California, and have been for decades, and their high level of energy efficiency hasn’t hurt their economic competitiveness.

And second, if you’re thinking long-term, the real economic risk is runaway global warming. The potential for massive increases in floods, drought, storms, etc., coupled with higher insurance costs, economic uncertainty, yada-yada are far off, perhaps, and hard to calculate, but nevertheless very real. Inaction on climate is as risky as action.

As I see it, the risks are more political than economic—that is, some California politicians could face some dicey challenges in the next decade or so, as the greenhouse laws kick in. Greenhouse reductions are likely to create some economic winners and losers; but the losers will probably be pretty upset. Overall, I have few worries about California’s economy; but that doesn’t mean that the state’s climate leaders haven’t had to exercise some courage to do what they’ve done.