The Pareto principle or 80-20 rule is a “phenomenon primarily used in business and economics that explains how 20% of efforts or inputs can yield 80% of results or outputs.” It should also be used for environmental policy because it “helps identify and focus on the crucial factors to create maximum value while delegating the least important ones”. It can also be thought of in the context of environmental risks: 20% of the efforts remove 80% of the risks.
In the context of environmental policy, the proper pragmatic approach is to use risk management principles when making policies. The key to a proper risk management strategy is to not aim for safest but rather safer. New York’s Climate Act and all net-zero energy transition policies ignore this principle because the over-riding rationale is the precautionary principle that has been interpreted to mean that we have to eliminate all risks as a precaution.
The pragmatic approach to climate change would be to use the Pareto principle for decarbonization strategies. If we could accept the environmental risks of nuclear energy and natural gas combustion, then we could get significant reductions in emissions and all the associated benefits but we would not risk the reliability and affordability of a complete re-vamped energy system.
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