As the week’s news can attest, the current financial system is in pretty bad shape; we’re not at complete meltdown, but it’s pretty scary. Here are a few thoughts for the environmental community (aside from the general concern we should all share as citizens):

  1. When “bread and butter” economic concerns rise, the environment as an issue tends to recede (even more than usual).
  2. This makes it important to try to link environmental policies directly to economic strength; e.g., a comprehensive energy policy can help reinvigorate the manufacturing sector, create jobs, and decrease energy prices.
  3. Stringent environmental regulation can help to give us a competitive advantage by leading the world in a “race to the top” for the highest environmental compliance (for more on how the E.U. is already doing this, see Mark Schapiro’s work).
  4. To help stimulate the economy, the government could subsidize the retrofitting and improvements of power plants and water systems, which will result in both new jobs and life-saving environmental improvements (instead of just sending out rebate checks).

One final point.

It is times likes these when people should take a step back and be grateful that people like Ben Bernanke, trained in complex economic analysis for decades, are at the helm of our financial system (and doing it for a pittance, I might add).

Those — a minority at Grist — who think that economics is little more than fancy mumbo jumbo should ask themselves who they would rather have in charge right now, when the world economy is on the line. Be honest. And if you’re still in doubt, peruse Paul Krugman’s blog to get a sense of how complex this stuff really is.

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I’m making no claim that economics can solve everything, but more often than not, when crises arise, it’s a good thing to have world-class economists on the scene. It’s one thing to express legitimate criticisms of how we got into this mess — mostly the usual suspects: greed, stupidity, and the far right ideology that says markets don’t require regulation — but now that we’re here, it’s good to know that the adults are in charge.

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