Yves here. I am sure a lot of readers will object to the thesis of this Real News Network show. But the reality is that a lot of minor conservation efforts have a big impact. Many readers are old enough to remember that during the 1970s energy crisis, office building were ordered to keep their thermostats at 77 degrees in the summer. I have to confess to being a bad actor by turning on a space heater when it gets cold in my apartment, rather than get a heated mat to put under my feet, which I am pretty sure would do pretty much the same job more efficiently. I wonder how Amazon would fare if it had to pay (or more accurately, have its customers pay) the full cost of its greenhouse gas externalities.
And this factoid is a reminder of how much low-hanging fruit there is in terms of carbon-reduction, and that investments in reducing energy use pay off. From the Guardian in 2007:
John Browne of BP in 1997 broke with big oil omerta and committed BP to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below 1990 levels by 2010. They met the target in only three years for an expenditure of $20m; the company actually made $650m in savings.
One thing that is frustrating about this interview, however, is Bob Pollin’s tendency to stay at the 50,000 foot level and argue (correctly) that the net economic impact of full bore push to lower greenhouse gas emissions would be positive for growth. What he oddly omits is that the “bad for growth” is a big fat phony excuse for a different set of issues: a lot of rice bowls of currently powerful incumbents would need to be broken. Start with airline flight. That would need to be taxed in a big time way to make airline ticket prices reflect its environmental cost. You can expect a lot fewer family get-togethers at Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays. The one upside would be that private jets would be whacked even harder. And the US cannot pretend to be serious on this front if it does not make one of our more profligate energy users, the armed forces, similarly more parsimonious in how it uses energy.
To the Real News Network interview:
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. Im Paul Jay, were in the PERI institute in Amherst, Massachusetts. We’re carrying on our discussion with Bob Pollin, the co-director of the institute. He joins us now, thanks for joining us.
So as I said, co-directs PERI and hes the author of the book Greening the Global Economy. After COP21 most of the media was all elated. Finally, the world had agreed that there is a climate change problem. Carbon emissions and climate change is for real, so on, and serious. We were not so elated on the Real News. We did various stories because nothing binding had come out of it, it was nice at least the language said something. But now we’re in an election campaign, the United States, and you wouldn’t know there ever was such a meeting in Paris. Climate change is a little bit on the radar between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton. Hillary says the words; Bernie says a little more. Of course on the republican side, I think, most of the candidates deny it exists.
But there are a lot of serious issues and debates taking place in Paris, and it seems it is part of what seems to paralyze this discussion. One of the big issue is China and India are as big or bigger, in Chinas case, carbon emitters than the United States. The United States has no way to make China do anything about it or India. And if they don’t, why should we because without them doing it, [it doesn’t] just the U.S. doing it anyway. That’s one of the logics and then you get a fight on the other side. You know, as most people know you’ve had a hundred years of development so you can’t treat developing countries the same way.
So what do you make of that debate? And how does that debate get unglued? Because every time there’s a big international meeting, everything kind of stops there. In spite of “we all agree” rhetoric.
POLLIN: Well look, lets take the case of India. I mean, it so happened that I was in India giving lectures on this issue immediately before the COP21 meeting in Paris. There didn’t seem to be a high level of consciousness, in India around this issue. At least among the people that I was discussing. The Indian government did make its commitment for the conference. It sounded pretty good.
But [if] when you looked inside it, what it said was that the Indian economy, we weren’t going to sacrifice economic growth and I agree with that. But they were going to get emissions down, they were basically going to stabilize the ratio of emissions down to GDP. Now if you, kind of work through all of that, what it means that in 20 years instead of having emissions grow 5 fold, you know, 500%, in 20 years, theyre only going to grow 300%. You can tell the same story for Indonesia and other big developing economies. Now when Prime Minister Modi of India got to the Paris conference, he made a point of saying we can’t, we Indians cannot be bullied into accepting the premises that were going to have to sacrifice growth and poverty reduction in the name of climate stabilization.
I agree with that. But my point in my book and elsewhere is that for India, for Indonesia, for the United States, for every country, there is no reason to have to sacrifice economic growth, employment creation, poverty reduction. Because if you invest in the green economy that is going to generate jobs. That is going to reduce poverty, it is going to create opportunities for small scale development of electricity and rural areas of India. That message didn’t get through and you’re absolutely right. The whole thing seems to have gone way into the back burner and is not being discussed.
So what we did not succeed in doing in Paris, in my mind, is two fundamental things. Number 1, we still don’t have a sense of the magnitude, the urgency if we believe climate science. China is talking about stabilizing emissions in 2030. They need to get emissions down by 20% by 2030. You know realistically, India needs to stabilize emissions where they are now or even get them down modestly; not let them grow 3 fold. Now, secondly, the United States needs to reduce emissions by 40-50%. Thats the magnitude of the challenge.
Secondly, the point is all of this can be done in the context of economic growth by investing in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy. It’s good for jobs, it’s good for poverty reduction, it’s good for community development, it’s good for urban development. Those are the messages that need to get through and thats the way through which, in my view, is the only way we’re going to generate enough activity that is going to reach the stabilization goals.
JAY: In the United States the problem is, that requires public investment. If you can create the conditions, perhaps some private investment will follow. But to really get this thing going you need public investment and you cant pass anything like that in the current Congress.
POLLIN: So we need public investment at the municipal level. I mean, I myself am working, for example, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That has made a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2040 and Im helping them develop a plan to do that. And we can do that for various municipalities. [The key idea for] why should we be able to do that for a municipality? Because again, energy efficiency investments pay for themselves. Small scale community development of green energy is a reality; its realistic. So all communities, can do it on their own. Then well have to have a movement that bubbles up and then eventually it will hit at the level of congress.
JAY: China, in some ways, is ahead of the United States on this, if I’m not right. In a sense, theyre way out ahead in producing solar panels less expensively and other forms of renewable energy.
POLLIN: Right. So, China is, yes, very committed to advancing a green energy sector. For the most part theyre using it as a basis for exports, to date. They’re not using it to reduce their own emissions. They are putting up clean energy. But they’re also still building coal power plants. They’re talking about stabilizing emissions by 2030 as I said. That’s not good enough, that’s not close to good enough. China is the biggest generator of CO2 emissions in the world. More than the United States. Historically, yes of course, the U.S. has done way more than China. The ethical position says that the United States and other rich countries have to do more than China. I agree with that. But China does not have to sacrifice economic growth. But what the rich countries, the United States should do, is set up a fund to support green investments, in Indonesia, in Latin America, in the Caribbean. I mean, you know in Haiti, again, half the worlds sector has no electricity at all. So bring in green electricity. It’s a tremendous historic opportunity. Thats what I think should come out of COP21. It didnt but thats the direction the global economy needs to get to.
JAY: So in the U.S. the breakthroughs are possible, the city levels, maybe some state levels. While Congress if it continues to be controlled; because it’s not just Republicans, there’s a lot of Democrats that dont want to put money into it as well.
POLLIN: Well, you know, Democrats are of the view that this is bad for jobs as well. I’m trying to convince them that it’s not bad for jobs. Of course its bad for coal miner jobs, no question about it. But we need to think of a way to cushion the transition for coal miners and that can be done fairly easily. In fact, I’m working on a study on that right now. But as it is, theres 80 thousand coal miners in this country. Theres 157 million jobs, people in the labor market. We should be able to come up with a way to create at least a decent transition for everyone in the coal mining sector, that should be critical. Once we do that I think that will dissipate the opposition among labor and democrats to agree an agenda.
JAY: Alright, thanks very much for joining us, Bob.
POLLIN: Okay, thanks very much Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.