Economists have long known something that politicians apparently do not: If you need to impose expensive environmental regulations, there’s no better time than during a recession. Or so says macroeconomist Josh Bivens, writing in New Scientist.
In fact, says Bivens, when the economy is sucking wind, environmental regulations actually create jobs, for three reasons:
Maybe the reason we can't do anything about the existential crisis of climate change -- or, indeed, any of the other existential crises we're facing at present -- is that 80 percent of humanity has what's known as an "optimism bias." (If you're reading this, I'm willing to bet you're among the "lucky" 20 percent whose perceptions of reality are demonstrably realistic.)
People who have an optimism bias do irrational things in the laboratory, like systematically ignoring concrete information about risk, reports Scientific American Mind.
You’ve heard it before: Politicians say they’d love to take action against climate change, but they’re reeling from sticker shock. Today, a new report from the U.K.’s leading climate change watchdog refutes this oft-cited argument that climate action will herald economic Armageddon.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report, with the hairy-sounding title “Statutory Advice on Inclusion of International Aviation and Shipping,” says that in 2050, the U.K.’s emissions reductions across the whole economy will cost 1 to 2 percent of the total GDP. This updates, in greater detail, the range predicted half a decade ago by the watershed Stern Review.
Just how much is that? For a rough comparison, one percent of the U.K.’s 2011 GDP is a little more than what the country currently spends on public housing and community amenities, and is nowhere near the big-ticket public spending items like healthcare.
The U.K. has enshrined in law an emissions reduction of 80 percent on 1990 levels by 2050.
“It’s a very compelling economic case to act,” says David Kennedy, CEO of the CCC, an independent statutory body charged with advising parliament on all things climate. “You don’t need radical behavior and lifestyle change to achieve our climate objectives. It’s a very, very small impact on growth. And what you get for that is a whole range of economic benefits.”
Here's a theme we're going to see a lot in the 21st century:
Payback is a bitch.
The president who nixed America's commitment to the carbon-reducing Kyoto protocol, whose administration censored reports on climate science, and whose State Department thanked Exxon executives for their "active involvement" in helping to determine climate change policy, is watching the town in which he grew up squirm in the grip of Texas' epic, climate change-enhanced drought.
In my post on the new EPA carbon pollution rule, I drew attention to an important distinction: The rule issued today governs new power plants only; carbon pollution from existing power plants has not yet been regulated.
This matters a great deal. Today's rule effectively means there will be no more coal plants built in the U.S., but that was more or less a fait accompli due to market forces. What to do about existing plants is in many ways a more fraught and important question. It could have much larger effects on near-term pollution from the power sector.
On a conference call with reporters this morning, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "We have no plans to regulate existing sources." That caused me a few moments of panic (and, um, a few outbursts on Twitter). If there are really not going to be any existing-source regulations, that would make this whole process a massive, massive fail.
But I've talked to a few people and gotten a better sense of the lay of the land, and I'm here to tell you, in the words of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Don't panic.
After long anticipation and many delays, EPA is expected to issue its first limits on carbon pollution from power plants this week. With Republicans increasingly desperate in the face of economic recovery, they are sure to treat this as a lifeline, a focus for renewed attacks. They will try to make the rule a stand-in for government overreach, job-killing regulations, and Obama's secret plan to raise gas prices. Also probably Sharia. These conservative attacks will be meritless, flying in the face of the considered judgment of credible, independent analysts. But the political media is unlikely to play "truth vigilante" by …
If you like cool weather and not having to club your neighbors as you battle for scarce resources, now's the time to move to Canada, because the story of the 21st century is almost written, reports Reuters. Global warming is close to being irreversible, and in some cases that ship has already sailed.
The Washington Post deserves enormous credit for the editorial on climate change it ran this weekend. There is usually no more reliable barometer of elite conventional opinion than the Post, but in U.S. politics, CW has been running away from climate for the last few years. In this case, the Post is standing up for a plain truth that is almost never spoken in U.S. media: that climate change is a crisis, already upon us, and every bit of delay in responding raises the eventual (and inevitable) costs of doing so. Others will rehearse the Post's past journalistic sins on climate -- they are many. I choose to hope this marks a new seriousness.
That said, I would quibble with a detail or two. (You are surprised.)
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is about as green as they come. Since his election in 2005, Villaraigosa has instated a massive climate action plan, slashed air pollution at the Port of Los Angeles, pulled more than 2,000 diesel trucks off the roads, retrofitted more than 64,000 street lights with energy-efficient LEDs, enacted some of the nation’s strictest green building standards, championed the restoration of the L.A. river, created 51 new parks, slashed the city's water use, increased recycling, and started work on an ambitious mass transit expansion in a city that is famously enamored of the automobile.
Granted, Villaraigosa has a tendency to lay plans that will have no chance of coming to fruition before he is term-limited out in 2013: Build 1,600 miles of bikeways! Plant a million trees! And now he wants to wean L.A. from coal power by 2025. But at a time when most cities are struggling just to meet residents’ basic needs, he can be forgiven for being overly ambitious.
One of Villaraigosa’s policy centerpieces has been Measure R, a voter-approved tax that will raise $40 billion over 30 years to fund transportation infrastructure. Almost half of the money will go to mass transit. And to speed progress, Villaraigosa has convinced Democrats and Republicans in Congress to support a plan called America Fast Forward, which would allow L.A. to get the work done in 10 years, rather than 30 -- and similarly reward other cities that are taking on ambitious transit projects.
At press time, America Fast Forward is tied up in Congress, where the House and Senate are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken over passing a new transportation bill. But political high jinks in Washington aren’t stopping Villaraigosa from dreaming big. He says he’ll move forward with or without help from Washington.
We caught up with Villaraigosa this week to see how he’s managed to stay green in a time when, as a famous frog once lamented, it’s anything but easy.