Politics

Mr. Clinton goes to the public-goods markets

The promise of governmental buyers’ clubs

We often wonder whether the government is better suited to solving many of our problems, or whether the market should take the lead. The current issue of The Atlantic Monthly has an article concerning the efforts of Bill Clinton's foundation which addresses this issue. The article shows how governments can work with markets for the benefit of large numbers of people and the planet by guaranteeing demand for a particular product or service. By doing this in the long-term, the production of beneficial goods and services can achieve the economies of scale that will make them practical to use within a few years, instead of decades from now. The Clinton Foundation used this powerful idea to cut prices for AIDS drugs in Africa and the Caribbean for hundreds of thousands of people. In Clinton's words, "All we did was take something that people would naturally do in a purely business market and apply it to the public-goods market." I'm not sure if Clinton is referring to the technical definition of "public goods" here, which refers to a good whose consumption does not reduce any other's consumption of that good, and a good that all have access to, such as information or air. The Earth's climate is most certainly a public good, and its radical warming would most certainly be a public bad. So the Clinton Foundation worked with a new group of cities, the C40, to create large-scale demand. If big cities could come together to provide a market to jumpstart new, energy-savings technologies, it would give quite a boost to efforts to mitigate global warming. As the author of The Atlantic article points out, cities have quite a source of demand at their disposal:

Setting an example for the feds

State renewable electricity standards create jobs while cutting pollution

Since the federal government has so far refused to adopt a nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES) the states have stepped in. Some 25 states, plus D.C., have adopted an RES, also known as a renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to purchase a rising percentage of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar. A new report by U.S. PIRG details the myriad benefits of state action to promote renewables: "Reaping the Rewards: How State Renewable Electricity Standards Are Cutting Pollution, Saving Money, Creating Jobs and Fueling a Clean Energy Boom." Here are some of the conclusions: In 2006, more than two-thirds of all new renewable electric generating capacity in the United States was built in RES states. In 2007, more than 70 percent of planned renewable generation is expected to be built in RES states. Texas stands out as the state with the most aggressive renewable energy development in recent years, adding 2,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity. Texas is followed by Washington, New York, and Colorado. Renewable energy is addressing a greater share of new energy needs in RES states. In 2007, renewables account for about 38 percent of planned capacity additions in RES states, compared to just 12 percent in non-RES states.

Environmentalism is <em>so</em> not dead!

Carl Pope reviews Break Through by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger

This is a guest essay by Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. Two years ago, Ted Nordhaus' and Michael Shellenberger's widely discussed essay "The Death of Environmentalism" predicted that the cause in which I've worked most of my life was about to gasp a grim last breath. The self-proclaimed "bad boy" authors must be embarrassed now. With their new book on the same theme about to land in bookstores, environmentalism is alive and perhaps prematurely giddy over progress made and even victories won in the fight against climate change. But don't dismiss Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility just because its authors are lousy soothsayers. The book's secondary thesis -- that progressive politics, including environmentalism, is in dire need of optimistic grounding in 21st century reality -- is too important and intriguing to leave unexplored. Progressive politics, the authors persuasively argue, is rooted in economic, social, and environmental nostalgia. Nostalgia for the New Deal era of solidarity driven by shared material scarcity; nostalgia for the post-war era of homogeneous and stable communities held together by neighborhood, workplace, and church; nostalgia for an American landscape not yet reshaped by industrial society. Stubbornly refusing to move beyond this nostalgia, progressives cling to an interest-based politics and an almost fundamentalist faith in rationality. When their efforts fail, they conclude that the problem is corporate money or media monopolies or human nature -- anything but their own politics.

Karl Rove, global warming, and Bush's legacy

Rove believes that Bush’s policies will look good in hindsight

Karl Rove thinks history will be kinder to President Bush than the public and the pundits are today: I believe history will provide a more clear-eyed verdict on this president's leadership than the anger of current critics would suggest. President Bush will be viewed as a far-sighted leader who confronted the key test of the 21st century. Not! On the path set by Bush's do-nothing climate policies, future generations -- including historians -- will be living in a ruined climate for centuries, with brutal summer-long heat waves, endless droughts, unstoppable sea-level rise, mass extinction, and on and on. If we do stop catastrophic global warming, it will only be because succeeding presidents completely reject Bush's approach. Either way, President Bush will be viewed as a short-sighted leader who ignored the key test of the 21st century. Rove actually has the chutzpah to claim:

Fifteen years ago

Gore in 1992 talking about the ‘spiritual crisis’ behind environmentalism

Thanks to frequent tipster LL for sending along this very, very interesting video: So much to say about this, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts first.

Alt-fuel industry recycles rubber tires, contributes to air pollution

A decade-old industry that recycles old rubber tires into fuel is chipping away at the stockpile of 1 billion retired tires in the U.S. But the laudable recycling effort is balanced by a negative impact on air pollution, as the U.S. EPA’s clean-air regulations for burning solid waste include a loophole loosening requirements for facilities that “recover energy.” Now a recent appeals-court decision in favor of environmental groups is forcing the U.S. EPA to come up with a new definition of “solid waste” — if tires are included, it may have a huge impact on the industry, which touts tire-derived …

Iraq flushes Blackwater: Time for a real debate on troop levels?

When Gen. Petraeus faced down Congressional questioners last week, few of his interlocutors were impolite enough to ask about what I have called the "rent-a-soldier surge": the some 180,000 private contractors, many of them heavily armed, now serving in Iraq at the pleasure of President Bush, on the dime of the U.S. public. To put their number in perspective, note that the number of official U.S. soldiers in Iraq now stands at 160,000 (of whom President Bush has magnanimously proposed bringing home 5,700). In Bush’s father’s Gulf War, official soldiers outnumbered mercenaries 60 to 1, according to Jeremy Scahill, who …

Mankiw very much

Conservative economists agree: Taxes rule!

Stalwart Republican, former Bush advisor, and Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw makes the case for the carbon tax. He also thinks a carbon tax is the most achievable global policy: A global carbon tax would be easier to negotiate. All governments require revenue for public purposes. The world’s nations could agree to use a carbon tax as one instrument to raise some of that revenue. No money needs to change hands across national borders. Each government could keep the revenue from its tax and use it to finance spending or whatever form of tax relief it considered best. I guess …

Judge tosses out lawsuit brought by California against automakers

Automakers gained an edge yesterday in the Big Auto vs. California debate, as a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit against the world’s six largest auto companies brought by California Attorney General Jerry Brown. Brown had claimed that because of the harmful environmental effects of vehicles’ greenhouse-gas emissions, the Big Six were running afoul of California’s public nuisance laws. But U.S. District Judge Martin J. Jenkins ruled that the issue should be legislated, not litigated; that calculating the exact percentage of blame to be pinned on automakers was impossible; and that a ruling in favor of Brown would threaten the …