Recently I read an obituary of a “Tax Court Judge turned Environmental Activist” in the Washington Post which offered a striking commentary on the current state of affairs on environmental policy. This tax court judge turned environmentalist was Russell Train, Republican. As the director of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1970 through 1977, he led the agency through some of its toughest early years (the EPA was launched in 1970 – its first director left after a short stint). As noted in the article above, “Mr. Train embodied an earlier era in which conservatives embraced the label ‘environmentalist'”.
So the question I posit is, When did the Environment become a partisan issue?
We all want clean air, clean water, safe products, and a world that is sustainable (whether WE know it or not – ecosystem collapse would be devastating, even for the richest among us). The real questions are, have the environmentalists on the left pushed for standards that are unreasonable and unjustified on economic or other grounds? Or have those on the right ignored an earlier era of bi-partisan environmentalism and abandoned environmental values for profit or other values? Possibly encouraged by incentives created by campaign contributions from the companies that are the largest polluters and cause the most environmental damage?
As a good friend of mine likes to say, “we need to get down to causes and conditions”, and I would like to get to the causes and conditions of the current partisan divide on environmental policy. I have some thoughts on answers to these questions, but will save them for future posts. For now, I ask you, When did the Environment become a partisan issue? and should it be???
Graphic Source: http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/Political%20Parties.jpg
In the debate over climate change and the best response to it, the answer may reside in the words used to describe the action. Obvious in the current debate in Washington, there is little understanding of the difference between consumption and investment. Both are spending, but spending on investment increases income in the future. The same logic needs to be applied to carbon “tax” debate. Isn’t a carbon tax really just an “ENERGY INDEPENDENCE INVESTMENT”? I think so
Let’s assess a Energy Independence Investment (EII) Fee and LOWER income taxes. A win for conservatives and liberals – lower taxes, green growth, stimulate renewables, love it… We need to change the language to get this done.
On the flight back from Montreal (which is a great city BTW) I read a somewhat scary essay in the July/August edition of Foreign Affairs Magazine titled, “Environmental Alarmism, Then and Now” by Bjorn Lomborg.
The author sought to discredit the Club of Rome report completed 40 years ago that predicted potential environmental collapse due to human activity, but did not bother to cite ANY current Literature on Sustainability. He described paper recycling as unnecessary because some countries have sustainable forests and that organic farming is “killing tens of thousands of people”. Because a scientist made an incorrect prediction 40 years ago does not release us from our current situation: we need to change the way the economy functions – its is unsustainably using finite resources. There may be some factual truth to his arguments on some issues, but regardless of some errors in the report or some environmental successes, sustainability needs to be a priority as we look forward. Yes we can extract more resources from the earth, but at what cost? What are the long run implications of loss of habitat, ecosystem destruction, climate change, aquifer poisoning, fishery destruction, loss of rain forests,…?
I do agree with the author in some of his criticism, I think it can be counterproductive to ONLY have a doomsday scenario scripted. I believe in people and their ingenuity – if properly harnessed I believe WE can create a sustainable economy in which we all can prosper (and have clean air to breath, clean water to drink, and clean food to eat). I believe is starts with good policy, politics, and economics.
Had an interesting conversation today with Barry Matchett of The Environmental Law & Policy Center (elpc.org),
“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization. We develop and lead successful strategic environmental advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural heritage. We are public interest environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business deal making with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress and economic development can be achieved together. ELPC’s multidisciplinary staff of talented and experienced public interest attorneys, environmental business specialists, public policy advocates, and communications specialists brings a strong and effective combination of skills to solve environmental problems and improve the quality of life in our Midwestern communities.”
They are doing great work to find market based solutions to the environmental challenges we all face. We discussed the challenges and opportunities in renewable energy in the Midwest.
I found inspiration in our conversation today – please support organizations/politicians that support this work – it is imperative to creating a sustainable economy.
My plan for this blog is to offer salient and interesting commentary on public policy within the following areas: sustainable development, environmental economics, green growth, macroeconomic,energy policy, environmental policy, energy efficiency, renewable energy and trade policy.
I am particularly interested at the intersection of macroeconomic policy and environmental/energy policy (impact of trade agreements and monetary policy on the environment).
Essentially I would like to offer advise on saving the world from ourselves. Most of the “problems” in the above areas are a direct result of people acting in their own best interest, but the result is a collectively unsustainable economy overly focused on excessive growth at all costs (environmental, social, other). I am by no means negative or pessimistic on these issues, but we do have challenges in these areas that need to be addressed as soon as possible. As a society we have been amazingly successful in the technological sphere (this blog is a testament), but we now need to apply the same amount of effort in the public policy realm. I am pro-business and pro-prosperity, but we need to find a way to live in harmony with our world. I firmly believe good economics and good policy are means to that end. As they say, “Follow the Money!!”.
If you are reading, welcome aboard.