Environmentalists Need to Make Being Green Keynesian

Jonathan Harris of the Global Development and Environment Institute has a new post at Triple Crisis, Green Keynesianism: Beyond Standard Growth Paradigms, in which he argues that pro-growth policies need to find a way to deal with environmental/resource constraints. On the one hand, a lot of NC readers will find that argument to be welcome, if a bit overdue, since quite a few members have been arguing that growth-oriented economic policies need to acknowledge environmental constraints.

Having read Harris’ well-intended post, I’m increasingly convinced that environmentalists have it backwards. If you read Harris’ list, you’ll see his pro-environment recommendations are weak tea. For instance, he argues for green energy investments and “large scale building retrofit”. I know from the paper industry, and I suspect it is true for a lot of other industries, that retrofitting old, environmentally unfriendly plant is costly and not very effective, while building new and clean is actually pretty cheap once you’ve figured out how to do it. (One really important exception is water distribution, where municipal systems lose a huge percentage of potable water due to leaks, and patching and selective rebuilds would make a big difference. I hope readers will flag other big exceptions).

But the problem with “building new: is you get the Prius problem (that what looks environmentally friendly really isn’t). For instance, consider the idea of building light rail. How many neighborhoods do you have to rip down? How much does it take to get the materials to the sites? How much material, anyhow? How long does it take to build? How long does it take to get the needed usage level to have an impact? I assume we are talking a 15 year time horizon and we don’t have 15 years to start changing habits in a big way.

Similarly, there is a lot of emphasis on “green technology” which will take decades to be widely implemented (except for technologies already in production and at good efficiency levels, like solar panels).

The only solution that will make a difference in the next decade, particularly as far as climate change is concerned, where the runway is short, is by conservation. But business and most of the public believes that conservation will kill growth, and when the global economy is already weak, that is not perceived to be an acceptable solution. People will eat their seed corn if they are hungry.

So as unfair as it may seem, the only way to get aggressive enough pro-environment measures implemented is to develop an environmental program that is pro growth or at least not inimical to growth. And if you environmentalists turn up your nose at the list below, as I suspect many will, the onus is on you to come up with a better set of proposals. I have to confess I cringed at the “Large-scale building retrofit publicly financed but carried out by private contractors.” Without adequate oversight, that is a prescription for pork. Nay saying is not to stop the search for new growth ideas. Showing how serious conservation efforts can be attractive to businesses and communities might.

By Jonathan Harris, the Director of the Theory and Education Program at the Global Development And Environment Institute. Cross posted from Triple Crisis

In the wake of the global financial crisis, Keynesianism has had something of a revival. In practice, governments have turned to Keynesian policy measures to avert economic collapse. In the theoretical area, mainstream economists have started to give grudging attention to Keynesian perspectives previously dismissed in favor of New Classical theories.
This theoretical and practical shift is taking place at the same time that environmental issues, in particular global climate change, are compelling attention to alternative development paths. Significant potential now exists for “Green Keynesianism” : combining Keynesian fiscal policies with environmental goals.

But there are also tensions between the two perspectives of Keynesianism and ecological economics. Traditional Keynesianism is growth-oriented, while ecological economics stresses limits to growth. Expansionary policies needed to deal with recession may be in conflict with goals of reducing resource and energy use and carbon emissions. In addition, long-term deficit and debt problems pose a threat to implementation of expansionary fiscal policies.

I suggest that these apparent contradictions can be resolved, and that Green Keynesian policies offer a solution to both economic stagnation and global environmental threats.

Policies for Full Employment, Climate Stabilization, and Ecological Balance

What would a Green Keynesian policy mix aimed at a combination of economic and environmental goals look like? There are many options, but here are some possibilities:

• Increased hiring in public sector: teachers, police, transit and park workers, etc.
• Large-scale building retrofit publicly financed but carried out by private contractors
• Increased public R&D expenditures with accompanying higher education investment (like the “Sputnik” push for stronger science education in the 1950s)
• Major energy efficiency and renewables investment, partly public and partly incentivized private investment
• Investment in public transit and infrastructure
• Carbon tax or equivalent (cap & trade with auction)
• Recycle carbon tax revenues for energy efficiency, renewables, progressive rebates
• Infrastructure investment – hi-speed rail, public transit, green buildings
• Efficiency standards for cars, machinery, buildings
• Preferential credit or subsidy for energy efficiency investments
• Financial reform and re-regulation including the equivalent of Glass-Steagall “firewall” between basic banking and risky investments (another Keynesian precedent).

And at the international level:

• A Global Investment Fund for efficiency and renewable energy investment (like the World Bank but with a non-carbon energy focus).
• Integrated cap-and-trade schemes for industrialized economies with carbon credits for developing countries, including agriculture and forestry.
• Efficiency and renewables technology transfer, with waiver of intellectual property and WTO subsidy rules for least developed economies
• Microcredit schemes for local solar, wind, ecological preservation, etc.

This list of policies is by no means comprehensive, but it is meant to suggest the outlines for a new and more optimistic approach to economic policy. Just as the impact of Keynesian analysis helped to break through the seemingly intractable problems of the Great Depression, a revised and “greened” Keynesian vision can help us escape the daunting problems of economic stagnation, debt crisis, and global environmental threats that confront us today.

The needed theoretical and policy reorientation requires a turn away from the narrowed vision that has until recently characterized modern economics. The tools are available, drawing both on the historical tradition of Keynesianism and the modern vision of ecological economics, to guide a new social response that can mobilize the strengths of both human capital and technology to respond to economic, social, and environmental problems. The main difficulty lies not in the practical challenges, large though they are, but in overcoming the restrictive habits of thought that limit the scope of economic theory and policy.

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  1. Richard Kline

    Environmentalism is first and foremost a moral postion—“Live right”—not and economic position—“Invest well.” reducing environmental decisions whether public or personal to a profit/loss calculus inherently surrenders most of the power of the approach at the get-go: it is a route guaranteed to fail. At the fist cost-spike or pinch, out go the environmental standards and programs because they have been put _on the same level_ as pennies and cashflow of the moment. ‘Green economics’ types have already sold out mentally, and are in a very poor position to advocate. It’s not that the ideas advocated in Harris’ article are bad per se; some of them are even good. As a program, it’s futile.

    But it gets worse than that. The real problems with shifting to environmentally viable infrastructure and production practices are _not_ economic ones per se but political ones. Established production/provision practices have huge, self-interested, profiteering constituencies. These ‘make money and influence [powerful] people’ NOW. Such interests don’t have any new situation wired to their advantage, don’t see a profit in it for them, and don’t really care if their practices are devastating or unsustainable. These interests will still be running their nuclear power plants behind the sea levees that the powers that be will have built on the public dime at great cost to protect them. People are that dumb and selfish in the large sense. We have a colossal homebuilding industry which turns out power-seive, grid-locked, rotting cardboard boxes to live in which have a life span of 30-50 years after which they have to be replaced with more of the same. That industry has no stake in converting to, say, rammed earth, power-neutral, survivable domiciles which can last for 200 years despite equivalent construction costs NOW. All our present infrastructure, industry, and power grid are designed into an economic reality of extraordinarily cheap fuel sources which are further buffered by massive hidden tax and other subsities to both the fuel extractors and the power providers. Those huge interlocked constituencies have no stake in and a major antipathy to a transition to a true-cost power production/provision system, and have done everything possible to obstruct information and action toward that latter end.

    _This_ is the real problem, the political power of the constituency attached to the waste-and-burn late industrial regime that is themselves and their profits. No ‘green economic’ argument has a violet’s chance in a furnace against that, because as soon as one surrenders to the ‘economics trump all’ the present regime can nearly always show that they are bigger, better, here now, and (with all their subsidies NOT mentioned) cheaper.

    Rather than the mental submission to the Machine which is green economics, a much better position likely to be appreciated in America and elsewhere is ‘own your own usage.’ ‘Off the grid’ is the way that environmental change can and must be sold, so to speak. Energy autonomy through solar and better design. Minimal water use and maximal water capture. The idea isn’t to do it because it’s cheaper. Yes, it may be, although the start-up costs are higher without the public subsidies which should be in place. But the way to present the idea is ‘out from under Big Industry’s thumb.’ That can be advocated on the personal level. That can be advocated on the local level. That is how and why solar is steadily growing now, for instance; not because some vested interest has bought in but because many private individuals and business have seen it in their own interest and value to get out from under the present regime. Secceed: that is the the argument that succeeds.

    Backing that up is the moral argument with which I began. Using less and using smarter is desirable on the individual level; it’s desirable on the level of values related to the environmental outcomes; it is desireable on the level of values in opposing a corrupt, sick, sickening, and dastardly [there’s a fitting use for that word] terminal industrial politico-economic regime. Arguing against the subsidies and chronic tax avoidance of the power regime on the basis of _fairness_ noton the basis of economics is the way to go; many will support that position even when and where it is prima facie ‘less economically efficient,’ only to find that alternatives aren’t any more expensive and are desirable for their own reasons. We will NEVER be able to convert ‘the system’ because all the money and all the politico-conomic power is completely committed to keeping that system as it is until, unless, and regardless of the powerlever pullers dying at their control panels: that is their vision if they even have one beyond stacks of Franklins in their paws. But change doesn’t just come from changing the system, change comes from changing ones _engagement_ with the system, until the system isn’t cutting it economically. We need not to spend anymore time than unavoidable arguing with ‘the system’ and spend most of our time in building around/outside/alongside the system. That is my view, contra Harris.

    1. Andrew not the Saint

      Well said Richard.

      I’d add another purely selfish, rather than moral incentive for people to switch off the grid – it massively reduces the impact of a steadily rising risk of infrastructure failures. Even with very good governance infrastructure will be harder to maintain in a lower-energy economy, let alone in the current climate of predatory politics.

    2. Papermoon

      Presenting environmentalism as a moral issue is an excellent way of getting around the simple reality that environmentalism has no popular support. It has to be forced on people. Political arguments about what’s better for society just won’t cut it, because in a democracy you actually have to win those arguments. So instead it’s now a moral issue, like the death penalty or women’s suffrage, it simply doesn’t matter what people think.

      I also like how you propagandise poverty (using less and using smarter) as “independence”.

      Environmentalism is just another example of the left abandoning the working class.

      1. from Mexico

        Papermoon said:

        Presenting environmentalism as a moral issue is an excellent way of getting around the simple reality that environmentalism has no popular support. It has to be forced on people. Political arguments about what’s better for society just won’t cut it, because in a democracy you actually have to win those arguments. So instead it’s now a moral issue…

        I wholeheartedly agree. Moral imperialism won’t work. A yin needs its yang. As Martin Luther King put it:

        But in spite of these shortcomings Rauschenbusch had done a great service for the Christian Church by insisting that the gospel deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body; not only his spiritual well-being but his material well-being. It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried. It well has been said: “A religion that ends with the individual, ends.”3


        Kline does a good job of identifying the problem –the entrenched special interests living in the protected environment of their government-funded zoo, completely oblivious to what life in the wild the rest of us have to live is all about (and of course I love the “waste-and-burn regime” phrase he coined) — but that’s about all. His solution, to put it in King’s words, “ends with the individual.” It’s all about “energy autonomy,” the “personal level” and what “private individuals” can do, and proselytizing the one true faith: that rugged individualism is as good as it gets when one goes up against that omnipotent and invincible “industrial politico-economic regime.” And if this all sounds familiar, it should, because it’s the same ideology that’s drilled into our heads day and night by the libertarians and neoliberals and the MSM.

        When I read these libertarian-neoliberal screeds that assert one can slip “out from under Big Industry’s thumb” by merely retreating back into one’s own private little fortress, I’m always reminded of what Hannah Arendt wrote in On Revolution:

        The extent to which the ambiguous character of the revolutions derived from an equivocality in the minds of the men who made them is perhaps best illustrated by the oddly self-contradicting formulations which Robespierre enunciated as the ‘Principles of Revolutionary Government’. He started by defining the aim of constitutional government as the preservation of the republic which revolutionary government had founded for the purpose of establishing public freedom. Yet, no sooner had he defined the chief aim of constituional government as the ‘preservation of public freedom’ than he turned about, as it were, and corrected himself: ‘Under constitutional rule it is almost enough to protect the individuals against the abuses of public power.’ With this second sentence, power is still public and in the hands of government, but the individual has become powerless and must be protected agaisnt it. Freedom, on the other hand, has shifted places; it resides no longer in the public realm but in the private life of the citizens and so must be defended against the public and its power. Freedom and power have parted company, and the fateful equating of power with violence, of the political with government, and of government with a necessary evil has begun.


        On a more sophisticated level, we may consider this disappearance of the ‘taste for poltical freedom’ as the withdrawl of the individual into an ‘inward domain of consciousness’ where it finds the only ‘appropriate region of human liberty’; from this region, as though from a crumbling fortress, the individual, having got the better of the citizen, will then defend himself against a society which in its turn gets ‘the better of individuality’.

        — HANNAH ARENDT, On Revolution

        1. Nathanael

          One correction. The entrenched interests are not, for the most part, directly *government*-funded. (Though some are.) They are funded by *pollution and mistreatment of people* and by the fact that the government does not prevent this pollution and mistreatment, which it should be doing.

        1. Susan the other

          Thanks diptherio. I read Papermoon and it took my energy away. Very preemptive. I do believe you are right. There is so much to be gained by environmental responsibility; no one needs to be disenfranchised in the slightest.

      2. McMike

        “Presenting environmentalism as a moral issue is an excellent way of getting around the simple reality that environmentalism has no popular support.”

        I disagree with that assessment. A sizable majority of Americans support environmental issues across the board and in both parties, even if it means paying more taxes to do it.

        A sizable portion of Americans also walk their talk to varying extents. Yes, some right wingers must be dragged kicking and screaming to recycle their big gulp bottles, seeing it perhaps as a global UN communist conspiracy.

        But the number of people who voluntarily or willingly try to “reduce their footprint” numbers in the tens of millions. They will happly comply with whatever structures and requirements are put in place. That is why the enviros advocate government leadership, because they observe that most people will comply with what is made accessible to them, and because the globe never stops spinning even after automobile fuel efficiecy is raised a few mpg’s.

        1. from Mexico

          There’s certainly nothing wrong with punching people’s moral, spiritual and religious buttons, and no argument can win without those. But if you’re going to win the day, it’s gonna take more than that. What’s required is taking the plunge into the “icy water of egotistical calculation,” as Marx put it. Give Marx his due, he knew how the Modernist game is played, and he was absolutely brilliant at formulating political apologetics.

          Jimmy Carter tried playing the moral-spiritual-religious card with no other cards in his hand in his “crisis of confidence” speech, which he gave in 1979 in response to the energy crisis. Americans had strayed from the path of righteousness, he intoned. “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God,” the president continued,

          too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumpiton. Human dignity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence of purpose.

          And with that, Carter killed any chance he had of securing reelection.

          Ronald Reagan portrayed himself as a conservative. He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the poltiican who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. It was “moring in America,” and Regan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: Credit has not limits, and the bills never come due.

          1. McMike

            Agreed. There are a variety of books these days lecturing the left on how much better the right is at this.

          2. Susan the other

            Time to redefine “choice.” In the consumer context, that is. So that we are free to choose from among environmentally sound options. The rest of the options should be closed down and replaced. Everything Harris is suggesting does work to that end. But there is more. As Richard listed above. I think the environmental abuses of big agriculture should be dealt with – they are the biggest polluters next to cars and the military. Instead we coddle them all. The military is actually starting to do something on its own. Will wonders never cease. The military could turn out to be the environment’s best friend – they have the means. I still think we should outlaw combustion engines, aka cars; but for sure we won’t get Scalia to go along on that one.

      3. J Sterling

        The environment is the greatest common wealth the people have, until the rich strip it in the name of “job creation”. When the trees are all down and the sea empty, where are all your lumberman sons’ lumber jobs, or your fisherman sons’ fishing jobs, then?

        To adapt the famous saying of August Bebel: anti-environmentalism is the socialism of fools.

        1. jrs

          Yea really so much BS in a single sentence here:
          “Environmentalism is just another example of the left abandoning the working class.”

          And who do you think will bear the brunt of environmental destruction? If you answered everyone, you’re probably right, but if you answered the working class will suffer before and more than the capitalist do, that’s also likely exactly how it will play out, I suspect they are counting on it in fact.

          Not to even mention what utter nonsense this is:
          “Political arguments about what’s better for society just won’t cut it, because in a democracy you actually have to win those arguments.”

          So that’s how our government works, straight out of a high school civics tests. And if you’ll buy that …

      4. Nathanael

        Papermoon, environmentalism has massive supermajorities of popular support. Read a poll sometime.

        People like having clean air. People like having clean water. People like having food which isn’t full of poisons. People like it when their climate is stable. People like it when the animals and plants they knew as a kid still exist rather than going extinct.

    3. Claudius

      I second (third?) your comments. You have, in my opinion, accurately articulated the exhausted realization that for many non-professional ‘greens’, over the last thirty years or so, conscientious living is not just about addressing bad politics, greedy multinational, skewed data, lost rain forests and ice-caps, or a myriad other environmental concerns. That at its heart it’s also about the fundamental common denominators – the ability to educate and persuade people ( those ‘rational agents’) that their self-interest and self-preservation is more than ‘just’ the day to-day grind of working a job, keeping a job, raising kids, paying a mortgage, eating safely and living with one eye fixed firmly on day-to-day security for their family ; the ability to persuade them to move on from broad stroke idealism to practical pointillism in the re-drafting of their own personal eco-nomic role in society for larger, generational issues of environmentalism – “live right’. And, sadly, to that end, the ideals of environmentalism have failed to stand up against the stark reality of economics.

    4. Stephanie

      I agree. Self-sufficiency is a big part of ‘being sustainable’ that isn’t often advocated, and hasn’t been explored very well. And, I’m not talking about bunker-style, prepper sustainability…but, rather, like you say…finding ways to be autonomous in your community. This means not only making sources of energy closer and more local, but for a number of people refusing to have their own ladder, or their own power drill, or their own apple press. Better sharing in environments of scarcity is critical, and we can learn a lot from how people in exisiting environments of scarcity get by (like in the so-called developing world)

      1. Stephanie

        Also, I’m a big fan of the idea that measurements of well-being need to change to actually more broadly reflect broad societal dimensions of sustainability. There’s a relatively new approach to generating indicators, which is much different than the ‘triple bottom line’ approach, which IMO, only sustains the present economic growth model. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circles_of_Sustainability . The approach is about locating sustainability as a ‘social issue’ rather than a technical or economic one (which I think gets at your point about sustainability being a moral issue…)and recognizes that ‘the systems’ we produce are only articulations of our values. The references will point you in directions for getting other interesting documents.

    5. taunger

      Here in Massachusetts, this list is not only exactly what environmentalists pushed for over the course of years, but is in fact what has been executed under Gov. Patrick, with the large scale public funded/private contracted energy retrofits starting in the past few years.

      We have some grumbling when the immediate costs may exceed lifetime ROI or simple payback on certain programs, but the show rolls on. We are a pretty liberal state without entrenched fossil fuel interests, because we don’t have any fossil fuels.

      More importantly, our solution will be different that Kline’s own your own. This frontier mentality won’t work in dense urban/suburban areas, but we do have pretty effective political structures from town to region to state, unlike many states. I’ll admit there is horrible corruption here, but at least TPTB tend to move in a similar direction to what the electorate wants (unless you’re an MA-R, which are living proof going Galt is BS. Why are they still here?).

      tldr: it won’t be one solution in everyplace – it will be a diversity of solutions, exactly antithetical to the centralized grid and power structure we now have.

    6. Ray Phenicie

      “All our present infrastructure, industry, and power grid are designed into an economic reality of extraordinarily cheap fuel sources which are further buffered by massive hidden tax and other subsities to both the fuel extractors and the power providers.”

      Don’t forget the huge write off for so called externalities-pollution on the land in the air and water. All fossil fuel extraction (and nuclear fuel as well) places a huge burden on the physical environment which is not calculated directly into the price at the point of consumption. The cost is added later in the way of loss of life (see the American Lung Association on this one) from poisoned air or increased health care costs in the form of cancer treatments that cost 100 or 1000 times as much as caring for a healthy person. Other costs are missed opportunities for increased efficiencies that are incurred when we as a society rely on outmoded technology that is past the wave of initial savings. Modern extraction for fossil materials could be made safer and more efficient and that needs to be done but marginal results on that side of the journal entry will not sustain us. Solar fuel holds much promise but looking at lessons learned in the area of petroleum development show that we should cautiously explore at a small level first.

      1. Ray Phenicie

        I should have added the loss of environmental purity-think of Deepwater Horizon and the toxicity that was spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico-as an externality. The world around us has value for what it is as it is without trying to figure out what economic value it serves, or how many widgets we could have versus the nubmer of destroyed critters’ homes. We need to stop equating loss of critters with a gain in the number of widgets built. That way lies stupifying death and destruction. We have already done that. There is a value to miles and miles of forests vs. miles and miles of McDonalds and widget stores.

    7. McMike

      I completely agree about entrenched industry being the true obstacle.

      However, I think that the strength of the enviro movement is not just a moral argument – hell, just about everyone aside Rush Limaugh listeners already knows that green is the right thing to do – they have merely been conditioned by right wing framing to see the question as “green-versus-jobs/business”. A false choice manufactured by dirty industry PR.

      As I said below, the Keynesian argument is already there and already being made. Being green already owns the moral high ground. They need to refine their arguments to show that – done wisely- being green also occupies the economic high ground.

      (And yes to be sure this includes the externalization argument, in which again, being green holds both the moral and the economic high ground)

    8. Brian

      Environmentalism is not a moral problem. It is a physical science unknown, or at least, unaccepted by most people that want to be “environmentalists”. There is no room for growth any longer, because to grow is to cause destruction of the ecosystem that provides for us all. Small pockets of destruction spread, everywhere. We live on a community that we destroy daily. We kill it by compromising. When 1 or 2 billion people think “but I need to do this and I will make up for it later”, soon there will be no later. Can you trade a poison for another, a disease for another, a collapse of a biosphere for another? Not when you are causing something evolution might take centuries or millennia to affect. Gaia will give it to you cold turkey, and will be right to do so. Soon, she will have to wash and wipe out the bacteria that are causing things to stink. The remains can try to recolonize the host, if she doesn’t use a permanent disinfectant.

    9. steelhead23

      It may be intellectually stimulating to view environmentalism through an economic lens, but I cannot imagine how such a frame could improve global environmental conditions – primarily because in today’s environment, public opinion is well divorced from intellecualism. Today we see unemployed folks supporting the concept of austerity – in large measure because the believe in their heart of hearts that government never does anything well and the less government, including government jobs, env. laws, etc. the better. Similarly, when the Limbaugh’s aren’t crucifying government, internet screamers are busy unearthing JMK and unloading all the ills of poor governance on his corpse.

      While I perceive a value in identifying how environmental protection and economic opportunity can coexist, I believe the NGO environmental community would achieve more were it to ignore the issue of economics to the maximum extent possible. My argument is about avoiding loading the guns of the polluters and their apologists who dominate the airwaves and blogosphere.

      As regards green energy – I must tell you I have been in the electrical energy regulatory business for about 20 years – non-polluting sources like wind and solar are creating serious problems in some areas – problems adverse to the environment as well as the economy. Take for example the experience of the Bonneville Power Administration which tried to curtail wind generation when high river flows and high winds create conflicts between environmentally protective dam operations and delivering wind energy, which carries federal tax credits for each kilo-Watt-hour delivered. As a result of BPA attempting to protect the environment from rapacious wind energy operators, the Administration took the agency to the woodshed and may have had something to do with the recent departure of Steve Wright, the Administrator. I am not anti-green energy in the least. I am against the label of “green energy” being used to support environmentally destructive actions. But that’s well outside this thread – I just needed to vent.

    10. Veri

      Well, another reason the “green economy” is going next to nowhere is because of vested economic interests and the concept of guaranteed revenue streams.

      For instance, oil and the production of gasoline coupled with the overwhelming use of gasoline-powered vehicles produces well-established revenue streams for very wealthy and powerful corporations who use that cash to influence the rules in their favor. It is not in the best interests of those well-established and well-funded corporations to invest or change their business model; a business model that has existed for a very long time. It is in their nature to resist with all resources threats to their guaranteed revenue streams.

      Consequently, “green power” is still developing and the R&D costs are very expensive… to the point of being prohibitive to private corporations that are interested in guaranteed profits. Normally, the way to alleviate such costs is what has already been done countless times: public financing of basic R&D through taxpayer monies. The irresponsible government, however, has mired us in debt and the perception is that we can not afford to lead in research anymore as the costs add to the budget deficit.

      We can’t afford not to lead.

      Most items in everyday use, from the microwave to the Internet and computers, nuclear technology (one TRILLION dollars – today’s dollars – the government spent on developing nuclear tech), and items such as pacemakers…

      Developed or improved with government, taxpayer monies.

      Politics follows the money.

      It is that simple.

  2. Mark P.

    [1] That’s a pretty “to-do” list. It’s hard to disagree with any items on it.

    Except for the cap-and-trade auction, which is a open invitation for more manipulation and looting. Note the European experience —


    [2] That aside, the bad news is that, humanity being what it is, very little of this list will get acted on till the crap hits the fan.

    The good news — in a sense — is the crap already is hitting the fan. We just haven’t figured that out yet.

    1. Mark P.

      James Hansen’s testimony to U.S. House Ways and Means Committee re. “Carbon Tax & 100% Dividend vs. Tax & Trade”


      Hanson supports straight carbon tax and absolutely rejects cap and trade (or ‘tax and trade,’ as he calls it.) Among other things, he says:-

      “The alternative to carbon tax and 100% dividend is Tax & Trade, foisted on the public under the pseudonym ‘Cap & Trade’. A ‘cap’ increases the price of energy, as a tax does. It is wrong and disingenuous to try to hide the fact that Cap is a tax.

      “Other characteristics of the ‘cap’ approach:
      (1) unpredictable price volatility;
      (2) it makes millionaires on Wall Street and other trading floors at public expense;
      (3) it is an invitation to blackmail by utilities that threaten “blackout coming” to gain increased emission permits;
      (4) it has overhead cost sand complexities, inviting lobbyists and delaying implementation.

      “The biggest problem with Cap Tax is that it will not solve the problem. The public will soon learn that it is a tax. And because there is no dividend, the public will revolt be
      fore the Cap Tax is large enough to transform society….

      “We need a tax with 100% dividend to transform our energy systems.”

      1. Nathanael

        The unpredictable price volatility has a tremendous upside. It kills future investment in coal mines, coal power plants, offshore oil drilling, hydrofracking, tar sands, and so on and so forth.

        I say, bring on unpredictable price volatility for fossil fuels. It’s one of the best ways, under our current system, to drive investment in renewable energy.

    2. taunger

      [2] it can be done. it has been largely put in place in MA (we’re just getting to the mass transit investment, which will be too small in context).

      1. from Mexico

        Both Richard Kline and Mark P. are evangelists of pessimism and defeatism, which leads to political paralysis and inaction, passive nihilism, and rule by despots. As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in “Optimism, Pessimism, and Relgiious Faith”:

        The world is not only a cosmos but a chaos. Every universe of meaning is constantly threatened by meaninglessness. Its harmonies are disturbed by discords. Its self-sufficiency is challenged by larger and more inclusive worlds. The more men think the more they are tempted to pessimism, because their thought surveys the worlds which lie beyond their little cosmos, and analyzes the chaos, death, destruction and misery which seem to deny their faith in the harmony and meaningfulness of their existence in it. All profound religion is an effort to answer the challenge of pessimism.

        1. from Mexico

          And oddly enough, Marx came to very similar conclusions as Niebuhr:

          Religion is the general theory of the world, its encyclopedia, its logic in popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and general ground for the comsumption and justification of the world… Religious suffering is at once the expression of real suffering and the protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.


          The bourgeois…drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—free trade…All that is solid, melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.

          1. different clue

            It’s been thirty three years since they made us read The Communist Manifesto in History Class at college. So my memory may be wrong after all these years. But it seems to me that I remember Marx writing in that Manifesto that his Marxists absoLUTEly called for Free Trade, precisely in order to wash away the social cultural conservatism of national economic protection.

            In other words, Marx suPPORTed Free Trade preCISEly in ORder TO destroy national societies throughout Europe in order to Marxify the social and economic wreckage. Am I wrong?

    3. Veri

      Cap-and-trade was designed to produce profits. Much like the Euro was known to be a flawed currency with deep structural problems.

  3. Conscience of a Conservative

    Disagree here. This is basically infrastructure meant to increase the productivity of the American worker. This like any other technologyor investment needs to be justified on an ROI basis. Calling it Keynsian removes all fiscal responsibility from the decision wiht talks of multipliers etc ignoring the very real possibility of mal-investment.

    1. Thorstein

      Excellent point. The only (principal) way in which “Green Economics” should be seen as anti-growth is in stopping the growth of greenhouse gas emissions

      1. Paradigmatic

        I disagree. The economy is FAR TOO BIG, this is the fundamental problem behind not just climate change but all the many, many ways we are destroying our home. I’m not sure it’s possible to have “degrowth” though, we’ll probably just have to be a miserable species for a very long time. Or else a fairly short time and then be extinct.

        1. Birch

          Growth in development, not growth in throughput. We definitely need to shrink throughput (resource extraction and waste), but we’re so ridiculously wasteful, that’s actually quite easy to do.

          The trick is to develop the usefulness of the resources we do use, while using less resources (and creating less waste). This is also easy to do, after the age of conspicuous waste.

          And also have less kids. All of us.

          Solutions are aplenty, and not necessarily that complicated. That is why they have given us the education system: to prevent patterns of thought that might lead to solutions.

    2. from Mexico

      @ Conscience of a Conservative

      I have no problem with the idea that “investment needs to be justified on an ROI basis.”

      But there’s one important caveat: private sector actors can no longer be allowed to externalize large portions of their costs.

      1. Conscience of a Conservative

        I agree here. For example natural resource companies don’t absorb thei true costs with tax payers often left holding the bag. Many companies pollute because their’s no cost in doing so. You see it in mining and energy exploration.

      2. McMike

        I diagree about infrastrucuture and ROI. It is that sort of thinking that puts off useful and important changes of the sort that can never “pencil out” up front.

        The national highway system, the space race, the internet… our defense budget… none of these things would have passed an ROI test. Even the national rail system required massive government subsidies, legislative preferences, and regulatory forebearance to incentivise industry to build the damn thing.

        Yet all of these ridiculously expensive programs led to new technologies, economic growth, and secondary economic effects that are still emerging to this day.

        This is how it works, ROI fundementalists stand in front of the bulldozers and complain about the cost-benefit, and then five or ten or twenty years later, the cost is forgotten and no one can imagine a world without that project.

        1. from Mexico

          I’m not sure I completely buy that argument.

          There was a post the other day that dealt with this issue, specifically in regards to China, but reviewing the history of the success or failure of infrastructure investments in various nations and and at various times over the past couple of hundred years. It’s not automatic that infrastucture investment always pays off, and it’s still an open question whether China’s unprecedented infrastructure investment will pay off or not — too many ghost cities, etc.

          Then you get into the whole public debate about projects like Palin’s “bridge to nowhere”:

          The bridge, a span from the city to Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people, secured a $223 million earmark in 2005. The pricey designation raised a furor and critics, including McCain, used the bridge as an example of wasteful federal spending on politicians’ pet projects.

          When she was running for governor in 2006, Palin said she was insulted by the term “bridge to nowhere,” according to Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein, a Democrat, and Mike Elerding, a Republican who was Palin’s campaign coordinator in the southeast Alaska city.


          1. McMike

            Yes, it is surely more nuanced that I generalized.

            Hiding within public projects can certainly be cronyism and rip offs, home district featherbedding (Palin’s bridge), and perhaps good ideas run amok (Chinese overbuilding).

            Even the highway system we built had to overcome all sorts of politcal meddling and contract fraud.

            ROI needs to be evaluated, along with basic project management competency. But the ROI can’t be pure math, because it doesn’t work that way.

            My objection is that crony industries (like coal) are standing in the way of green tech buy framing it is a purely math cost benefit calculation.

            This is always the challeneg on the green side – how much money is clean air worth? How much money is 10% less cases of childhood cancer?

    3. diptherio

      What’s more important, ROI or cui bono? Or, more directly, shouldn’t we also take into consideration who benefits from the returns? Having positive returns means nothing if they all go to the top .01% and having negative returns is no problem, so long as there are overall benefits (not just financial ones).

      Anyone who would ask what the ROI is on saving a rain forest or reducing air pollution is a pure cynic: one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  4. mmckinl

    No problem … the environment will take care of itself … it just won’t take care of us …

    1. Conscience of a Conservative

      There are better solutions to cutting down on pollution. Start with higher gasoline taxes at the pump. The motorists who drive the most will switch to public transportation or more fuel efficient vehicles.

      1. Deloss

        “Start with higher gasoline taxes at the pump. The motorists who drive the most will switch to public transportation . . . ”

        I’m afraid I think this amounts to a regressive tax. Have you, Conscience of a Conservative, spent much time in any city in the Midwest smaller than St. Louis? There ISN’T any public transportation. Yes, in St. Louis you can theoretically take the Metrolink, and in Peoria you can take a theoretical bus, but neither runs often, nor are they easy to get to, nor do they go where you want to go. And suppose you want to get from Peoria to St. Louis? Right now?

        I don’t have any solutions of my own to offer, but I am very, very glad to see this topic brought up. There truly are all sorts of solutions, but they aren’t being considered or funded. I do not know if we pointy-headed intellectuals can have a real influence on society, but at least our noisy discussion will keep the subject visible. Thank you, Yves.

        Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/03/environmentalists-need-to-make-being-green-keynesian.html#RhTtqALSWHJvJSGW.99

        Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/03/environmentalists-need-to-make-being-green-keynesian.html#RhTtqALSWHJvJSGW.99

        1. Conscience of a Conservative

          I’m afraid I think this amounts to a regressive ta

          So what? We do this with cigarette taxes and lotteries and soda taxes. Is forcing Detroit to build more expensive cars a better solution?

          1. diptherio

            How about building out public transportation so people have the option of not driving? Around here, pretty much everyone has to drive to work, regardless of income, unless you’re willing to brave the elements on a bike. Suggesting that we increase gas prices without doing anything to offset the negative impact this will have on the most vulnerable in our community is thoughtless, to say the least. The only way many people could drive less would be to work less.

            Sin taxes are so 20th century…I think we can think of something better, if we really put our minds to it.

        2. different clue

          How about using those gas taxes to rebuild in those smaller midwestern cities ( and non-midwestern cities too) present-day useful versions of the mass transit systems which existed in all those cities before they were torn out and destroyed in America’s Bonfire of the Trains and Trolleys and Streetcars. That would make the regressive tax worth something directly to some of the people who would pay it.

          But if we want less gasoline use, we will have to tax gasoline more, maybe as high as they already tax it in Japan and Europe. If you want to reduce the use of something, you have to punish its use. If you don’t punish its use, you won’t reduce the use of it. And if we tax it now, at least we the public may in theory capture and use the regressively obtained money, whereas if we wait for the private oil industry to raise the price as supplies get shorter, that will also be a regressive tax. But it will be a strictly PRIvate regressive tax, ALL of it going to the black hat perpetrator oil industry.

  5. AbyNormal

    “Unfortunately, people are not comprehending the fact that Mother Nature doesn’t have a bullet with your name on it, she has a infinite supply of bullets inscribed ‘To Whom It May Concern’.”

  6. F. Beard

    It is the money system that drives environmental destruction; usury requires that debtors grow exponentially (to service their debt) and credit creation drives people into debt (or be priced out of the market by those who do borrow).

    But hey, go ahead and divide the anti-bank movement by dragging in non-essentials?

      1. F. Beard

        No they don’t. Witness the UK wasting billions on bird-chopping, noise-polluting windmills.

      2. Birch

        Environmentalism and _a_ money system can dove-tail, one that is sanely devised. F has a good point that the boom n’ crash nature of the money system we currently have contributes heavily to the rape and waste of the land. Rape while we’re boomin’ walk away when we crash.

    1. different clue

      What was “the money system” in Communist Russia, with all its environmental destruction?

  7. juliania

    “Traditional Keynesianism is growth-oriented, while ecological economics stresses limits to growth.

    Simply the fact that the environmental urgencies have been ignored here for so long as wealth and employment factors makes them growth-oriented. They are crying out to be done, and they will have to be done when more Sandys devastate new cities, wreck our infrastructure, rampage through our forests, while more and more people lose employment and wonder about the inequalities between rich and poor.

    To see growth simply in money-economics terms is very shortsighted. That dog will hunt for a while, but soon there will be nothing left to hunt.

  8. don

    This reflects an anthropocentric view of environmentalism with so many implicit assumptions that one hardly knows where to start. Environmentalism (conservation) pertains not only to the human constructed environment but also to the non-human. This is the case not only with climate change but pertains also to biological evolution, loss of bio-diversity and species extinction, the loss of intact and functioning large scale ecosystems, etc. Failure to address this as a compass for engaging in discussion surrounding the economic growth fetish and the human and (wild) natural environment results in a discussion that is at best simply unbelievable or at worse ignorant.

    1. from Mexico

      That’s very romantic.

      I have this huge book called The Great Book of French Impressionism. And in it is a four-page fold-out of Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece that he painted in 1897, D’où Venons Nous…Que Sommes Nous…Où Allons Nous?


      The inscription reads as follows:

      Gauguin’s artistic output in Tahiti and later in the more remote Marquesas Islands was enormous, but there were few buyers for the works he sent back to Paris. Suffering from poverty, malnutrition, and syphilis, he contemplated suicide in 1897. Yet somewhere he found the inspiration and strength to work on this oversized composition, which he clearly viewed as both a personal testament and a new interpretation of the traditional religious and philosophic view of human destiny. Using a rough-texutured sackcloth, he created a friezelike composition whose flat but monumental forms and exotic color create visual equivalents of the peace and harmony he had admired among the Polynesian natives.

      1. don

        That’s very obscure.

        Nothing obscure about protecting and restoring diminished ecosystems, whether ocean fisheries, wetlands, forests, deserts, corral reefs, on and on.

        In the American West, for instance, much of the land is publicly owned, it is the commons, and it has been under assault since its origins. Today the threat goes on with the rush to drill oil and gas on these lands owned by the citizens of this country. Protecting and restoring these lands isn’t about web site policy wonk discussions or moralizing meanderings. It is real work with real and pragmatic results.

        Wilderness needs no defense — only more defenders.

      2. patricia

        from Mexico: don’s statement is no more romantic than the fine quotes by Arendt, King et al that you bring here—quotes that remind us, over and over, that we exist in context at least as much as we exist inside our skins.

        It is only a step from that position to recognizing that the globe is not kept in balance by us humans but by all of its creatures as well as itself. And that large tracts of land (as a start) need to be set free of human impingement if we are to remain here without massive die-offs.

        Gauguin was a primitivist, fleeing the social constraints of a middle-class stockbroker life/family to a logical conclusion. And he came to it as an arriviste. His story is only tangentially related to don’s statement.

        1. from Mexico

          There’s a much better word for the sentiments don is expressing, and that’s panthesism. But I still think it’s pretty romantic to think one is going to find enough pantheists to build any sort of popular political movement in this day and time.

          Einsten, given his great admiration for Spinoza and his own writings, was undoubtedly a pantheist. “Cosmic religious feeling” Einstein called it. “The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought,” he explained. “Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.” Einstein argued it was this cosmic religious feeling that motivated great scientific achievement:

          Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction…Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.


          Einstein believed most religions, however, fell under the category of “religions of fear” or, on a plane somewhat above this, “social or moral religions.” “Common to all these types,” he said, “is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God.” But “only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level.” So it’s very romantic to believe that pantheism can serve as the driving force for a popular democratic movement.

          My first acquaintance with pantheism was with the native American religions, the convergence and syncretism of the native American religions with Christianity, and the representation of divine beings in Spanish colonial art. Here, for instance, is an image of The Virgin Mary of the Cerro Rico of Potosi:


          And here is a photo of the Cerro Rico, the mountain it is modeled after:


          These Potosi Madonnas are less an example of convergence and more one of syncretism, in which the Andean artists and their patrons united the Christian figure of the Virgin with elements of indigenous religion, fusing the two traditions into one. It is neither the Andean earth mother goddess Pachamama per se nor the Virgin Mary in her Europena guise, but a new, Andean Madonna. Like Nahua sculptors in Mexico, the Andeans brought the two cultures together in a way that allowed them to hold on to their own identity while surviving within colonial society.

          The strong associations that Andean peoples brought to the worship of Mary are made clear in the work of Garcilaso de la Vega (1559-1616), the mestizo son of a Spanish conqueror and an Inka noblewoman:

          [N]ot satisfied with learning from the priests the titles given to the Virgin in Latin and Spanish, they have tried to render them in the general language of Peru and add others so as to be able to address Her in their own tongue and not in a foreign language when they adore Her and seek favors and mercies of Her…They say, Mamanchi, “our Lady and mother”; Coya, “queen”; Nusta, “princess of royal blood”…;Diospa Maman, “mother of God.” They also say Pachacamacpa Maman, “mother of the creator and sustainer of the universe.”

          1. patricia

            From Mexico: don can say whether he is pantheist or not but what he wrote didn’t signify as such. It is not required to believe that “all is god”, nor that “all is in god”, to understand that value resides in the whole and all its parts and carries a balance that demands respect. It can go there, but it needn’t.

            In freshmen painting class, I had to help students dismantle the categories that they had developed towards the visual world. When painting an apple, I had to help them see what exactly “this apple” looked like, its setting in space, its edges blurred and then sharp, its middle grounds between shadow and light, the bounce of warmth and cool and of intensities. After that class, students still used their old visual categories in order to traverse the world but they now understood a completely different world, one where context and substance blended, smeared, melded. And the only requirement was that they learn how to see what is.

            Categorization is vital but permeable and the ideas-systems they contain are ever-moving, as you show regarding the Potosi Madonnas.

            I agree there is little chance of convincing people who haven’t learned to see and who haven’t learned to think and who are frightened and pressured and trapped. But one can’t be certain, and we need everything from every angle we can. And don’s statement is still part of the requirements going forward, if we are to do so.

            Good night, from Mexico. Wish I were expat.

  9. McMike

    I think that many people are already making the green keynesian argument. Albeit not necessarily by name.

    Many of them believe what they are saying, althgouh sometimes the enphasis is driven by a desire to co-opt right wing memes. (“it’s not about being green; it’s about being pro-business”)

    Quite often, when people talk about investing in new energy technologies, or improving efficiency, or builing public transit, they will also talk about the benefits of jobs, money multipliers, and the overall argument that new disruptive technologies and government-led infrastrucuture projects seem inevitably to lead to broad economic growth in what was previously either a nonexistent market or a stagnant, calcified, and top-heavy industry entrenched in its perks. (Which is of course the real reason there is opposition to pursuing green tech).

    And I have yet to meet an enviromentalist who was not also in favor of more investment in education and classic public sector jobs like fire, transit, and teachers.

    1. Susan the other

      There’s growth and then there’s growth. What we need are lots of low productivity, high social and environmental value jobs. Teachers, nurses, legal agencies for the public, foresters, professors, engineers, researchers, artists, musicians, Bloggers, maybe an army of extension agents to promote new applications in permaculture, etc. What we do not need are manufacturers of toxic and unnecessary products which rob society of good paying jobs merely to increase the productivity of their corporations and the banksters’ interest on their toxic debt.

  10. diptherio

    I share the misgivings of some commenters here about binding enviromentalism to economics. On the one hand, environmental projects require economic justification through the Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) process if they are to be implemented. On the other hand, environmental values and economic ones are fundamentally incommensurable, i.e. they cannot both be measured using the same metric. There is no amount of money that can justify increasing congenital birth defect rates or killing a river ecosystem, or turning our grandchildren’s inheritance into a foul, sweltering, inferno. As soon as you start measuring everything in terms of money, non-monetary values are placed at a distinct disadvantage.

    Concepts like ROI refer to financial realities, which are highly malleable and susceptible to arbitrary manipulation by society. Environmental realities, however are real and exogenously determined. We cannot create more environment with keystrokes like we can money. This is an important truth that is easy to forget once economists get involved. What we need is for environmentalists to suggest ideas for projects and economists to remind everybody that “money is no object” and can be created as needed.

    1. from Mexico

      diptherio says:

      There is no amount of money that can justify increasing congenital birth defect rates or killing a river ecosystem, or turning our grandchildren’s inheritance into a foul, sweltering, inferno.

      Not according to neoclassical economic theory. As Amitai Etzioni points out in The Moral Dimension:

      Goodin (1985) points out that economists tend to presume that if we can compensate people we can do “anything” to them. After all, they freely choose to accept the trade-off.

      Thus, for neoclassical economists absolutely nothing is sacred. “The neoclassical paradigm does not merely ignore the moral dimension but actively opposes its inclusion,” Etzioni notes. (Have you read some of the latest from the Chicago Boys, like Posner and Becker?)

      “One characteristic of these ‘sacred’ moral principles, Goodin (1980) suggests, is that in the areas of behavior to which they apply, they repudiate the instrumental rationality which includes considerations of costs and benefits,” Etzioni continues. “Only after these principles are violated do people enter into a second realm of decisions, in which moral considerations are weighed as against others, and calculations enter.”

      But, as Etzioni goes on to explain:

      [The choices which are “impermissible, even with compensation] are historical and cultural matters. What is considered a fair exchange or proper trade and what is tabooed is, to a significant extent, a matter of the specific morals of a given society (or even a subsociety such as a class or region), and historical period. Blood is traded in the United States while it basically is not in Britain (Titmuss, 1970). We now are repulsed by the idea that draft exemptions could be bought, for $300, in 1863 (Walzer, 1983, p. 98), or absolutions in the pre-Reformation Church, but it seems in those days and places it was acceptable. And, while we argue that most American middle-class parents would not consider sending their children panhandling when suddenly faced with a financial shortfall, obviously this is not the case for parents in poor classes and countries.

  11. looselyhuman

    Some other ideas:

    1.) Ubiquitous Electric Vehicle charging and/or battery swap stations.

    2.) Solar Highways: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/solar-panel-highway.htm

    3.) R&D – for example would it be possible to combine 1&2 – EVs charging on a Solar Highway through their tires?

    All this accepts the basic premise laid out in the argument against massive light rail projects – cars and highways aren’t going anywhere. So let’s put people to work making these tools in the fight against the primary focus of all reasonable environmentalists – climate change.

    Yes we have resource issues as alluded to in the “prius problem” but I consider that of secondary importance to the ongoing catastrophe that could easily extinct 50% of species and destroy or otherwise modify every habitat on this planet.

    As to the time investment involved (back to the light rail argument), from both a Keynesian and Environmental perspective, short-, mid- and long-term projects/planning are needed. We need to bring emissions down and put them on a decreasing curve. We may not stop CO2 from reaching 400ppm but could possibly prevent 500…

  12. McMike

    We actually already have the model: WPA/CCC.

    It worked.

    They spent money building uesful infrastructure and recreation and cultural facilities that have lasted the test of time and become cherished icons that also continue to perform as very real economic drivers – entire communities sprung up around for instance the forest roads and trails and bridges, and rural communities still using the civic meeting spaces.

    They also got money into people’s pockets.

  13. roots

    Does not say anything about encouraging and expanding local agriculture and home gardening.

  14. William Neil

    I really have to protest whoever edited my comment about the McKinsey energy efficiency retofit proposals and the banks attempt to develop a securitization market in this nitche – Lambert, was that you? I hope there is still room at NC for reporting facts on the ground, no matter who is making those facts. From my closing and comments, I would have thought that it was clear that I preferred a modernized New Deal approach, but was inviting futher comments from folks who knew what happened to the banks- Bill Clinton efforts. And I have to chuckle over their entry into the field…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No one “edited” your comment. If you are at all familiar with this site, it has both spam and moderation filters. You do not have a previous comment on this post (which is what “edited” would mean, that someone let a comment through but edited the content) and when a comment does not appear, it is because it hit one of the tripwires.

      Do not accuse Lambert of operating in bad faith. And don’t malign this site by saying that impersonal, automatic processes are directed at your views.

      1. William Neil

        So what are the tripwires, Yves: in this case a link to the now four year old McKinsey report? What does having a first comment on this topic have to do with it?

        And who is maligning anyone? I spent fifteen minutes writing something directly relevant to what you contributed, didn’t claim you were wrong, but pointed out something factual – the McKinsey analysis, and then events around the topic which I experienced first hand…so I have just this dialogue to show for my efforts?

        What was left out readers, was my observation that the Banks and Bill Clinton tried to move into the energy retrofit efficiency market…via a form a securitization…now I have as much skepticism about that venture and the motives as Matt Taibbi did when he described Goldman Sachs salivating at the thought of a “carbon credit” trading market that they would be on the ground floor of…

        The banks-Clinton effort centered on urban buildings both privately owened and governmental buildings…they didn’t go the residential route…and their efforts,for better or worse – I really don’t know what they evolved to, were seemingly mimicked by the private solar installation industry.

        I think you’re being a bit touchy here Yves. No apologies from my end. Can’t see those tripwires if they are buried.

  15. Brooklin Bridge

    Energy conservation is going to be a huge part of any climate sustainable solution regarding buildings, and retrofitting will be a huge part of that no matter what the model; residential/commercial – private/public funding/implementation. I don’t believe there is much choice in that. It’s simply not feasible to build all from scratch at each significant iteration/generation of conservation technology.

    There are sophisticated disciplines for forecasting and measuring results on residential and commercial buildings in both existing and new stock, both before and after work (projecting before work on new stock means from plans). These measurement disciplines and standards, such as HERS, are often used as part of a finance plan (not that that is always a good thing, but the finance schemes rely on consistent, provable measurements where payout depends on meeting projected goals).

    An issue I see with many of these efforts, however, particularly in the residential sphere, but I would imagine in the commercial sphere as well, is that more and more, they are designed to be all or nothing projects requiring a huge up front investment with slow pay back, rather than an iterative affordable, but highly measurable, process. They will probably also be increasingly tied to licensing and permit requirements that make them prone to abusive pricing such as with lead and asbestos removal and abatement.

    These trends mean more and more involvement from banks being mandatory. Oh happy days, getting out from under a mortgage only to be forced into taking out a loan from the mafia bank for massive mandatory home improvements.

    1. William Neil

      Brooklin Bridge:

      And that was what was interesting about the Mckinsey study, especially on the residential side; they found that the mix of remedies that delivered the greatest energy savings at the meter were surprisingly mundane improvements in the range of 1500 to 3,000 dollars if I recall, well under the solar panel installation costs or big energy retrofit bills. This would brought the capital costs way down so that a gov’t loan or grant program might have been feasible (and there have been some pilot voluntary ones); what was missing to drive the market was the requirement to get an energy audit and the work done before a house could be sold. The real esatate industry, I was told, blocked this effort in Montgomery County MD and at the state level, even though in the same time frame, by executive regulatory powers, state building codes were updated to require each new home, and renovated home to install a sprinkler system!

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        For large industry, such as paper mills, this simply wouldn’t apply. Yves is probably correct that new is more cost effective than trying to bring the old up to snuff.

        I did, however, read about a mill in Lawrence or Lowell, MA., converted to condominiums where instead of spending a lot of money on high tech insulation, the owner used geothermal to reduce heating costs – and it worked! Costs were lowered to such a degree that the inefficiency of the insulation treatment was still cheap. Better yet, as I was mentioning above, that solution didn’t preclude high tech conditioned space at a later date. Affordable, successive treatments.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Also, I realize that we are not simply talking about conditioned space when referring to industry such as paper mills, but to the manufacturing and other processes as well.

  16. Hugh

    I could understand if Jonathan Harris had concentrated on just the environmental side of things. Even there though I see no commitment to better community planning which would entail massive change to our zoning laws. Our communities are structured in a very anti-social, anti-environmental, energy wasteful way as if endless growth and expansion were an iron law of nature.

    But he also touches, albeit briefly, on financial reform. I remember back in 2008 I wrote the first of a series of Christmas lists concerning mostly financial and some political changes to reform our system. It was quite a bit longer than just re-enactment of Glass-Steagall. Nowadays I think it would be easier and fairer to simply recast the financial system rather than trying to reform it piecemeal.

    This is all a way to bring me back to a comment I made in the Dave Summers post yesterday. We have two major sets of crises. The lesser but more immediate of these is the triad of kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war. We need to work through it before we can address the larger, even existential, crisis posed by this innocuous looking formula:

    PT = ER


    P = Population
    T = Technology level
    E = Environmental degradation (global warming, species loss)
    R = Resource depletion (peak energy, water, etc.)

    Much of the stress on our country and the planet comes from our sheer numbers. Consider what our needs would be if the US population were stable at say 150 million, half its current size. Consider what they will be on our current trajectory to nearly three times that size.

    Technology is a double edged sword. It could help or hurt. As Yves notes, even when it looks to help, it really is only a Prius effect. For now, it is a proxy for energy and resource use. The higher the technology, the greater demand on energy and resources.

    Climate change must be addressed globally but this is not an excuse not to act locally. Only by creating programs that work can we move the rest of the world to act. This means ending, not reducing, our use of fossil fuels. There are of course other aspects to this. We must stop cutting down the world’s forests, turning farmland into subdivisions, polluting our ground water, treating the ocean’s as a garbage dump and fishing out its fisheries.

    And then there is the question of resources. Everyone obsesses about oil but water ultimately could be even more important.

    If we fail to successfully meet all these challenges, the world’s population could well plunge through starvation, disease, and war 80-90% by 2100 to a billion or less, many under post-apocalyptic conditions. I have yet to see any convincing work on what the carrying capacity of the earth is with regard to us, but if I had to guess, given current technology and resource constraints, I would say it’s about 3 billion. We could plan and manage a natural and painless decrease to this or another level or we can refuse to deal with the challenges we face, let nature take its course, and condemn our grandchildren to a Mad Max existence.

    As always, the choice is yours.

    1. Nathanael

      We already know how to reduce the population. Educate women, give them legal and economic power, and give them access to birth control. Within one generation the birth rate will drop to replacement level or below.

      High population growth is caused by patriarchy, period.

  17. Expat

    As usual, Hugh offers wisdom and insight. I, too, noticed the absence of the concept of “planning,” which seems elementary to any social change, whether personal or societal. Neoliberalism disdains any planning for purposes other than maximizing short-term profits, and neoliberal governments (such as Ontario’s) are so averse to planning that even their positive enviromental actions are tempered by the chaos brought on by lack of planning. Years ago, I read “Solartopia,” a vision of what our society could be if we used our collective ability to plan for a desirable future. Taking on the 1% requires imagination and strategic thinking as well as planning, and we have yet to begin.

  18. https://greenerlivingstore.com

    I agree that to make green inovations work, we need to make them profitable. Like it or not, if we can’t make money, we can’t move forward. It is the government’s job to make these options economically viable & the entrepreneur’s job to run with them and make them work.

  19. Brooklin Bridge

    Rather than teaching people how to use computers, we have taught computers how to use people and much the same thing goes on in energy conservation when profit is the focus.

  20. Gaylord

    I have come to the conclusion that no significant change can be accomplished until corporate capitalism is defeated, either through revolution or by its own collapse. The reason is that its goals and methods are absolutely antithetical to sustainable life (human and all other).

  21. Alejandro

    Economy and Ecology both have the root word eco, which implies environment. I don’t think that you can honestly de-link Economics from the environment. I truly believe that the aberration comes from “finance” and we have been bamboozled into believing that it is synonymous with Economics. So we un-wittingly (and sometimes willingly) use the language of finance to solve economic problems. We have acquiesced to a system where our “Economy” serves Finance instead of “Finance” serving our Economy. I don’t think that solutions are forthcoming from the Economists nor Politicians entrusted to serve us, because we all know who they work for. I do think that any hope has to come from a generation of viscerally honest “semioticians”, whatever we decide that means.

    Side note to consider; the leading candidate to become our next chairman of the FED (a world renowned “Economist”) is on record as endorsing a memo that stated “”the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that…. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted.”

  22. steve from virginia

    Here is the political problem right here:


    “The only solution that will make a difference in the next decade, particularly as far as climate change is concerned, where the runway is short, is by conservation. But business and most of the public believes that conservation will kill growth, and when the global economy is already weak, that is not perceived to be an acceptable solution. People will eat their seed corn if they are hungry.

    So as unfair as it may seem, the only way to get aggressive enough pro-environment measures implemented is to develop an environmental program that is pro growth or at least not inimical to growth.”

    Here is the ‘other side’

    @Bruce Krasting:

    “If America is going to accomplish anything with the debt/deficit issue it needs to either generate more revenue, or cut expenses …”

    Growth subsidies or austerity, Keynes or von Mises, what is it going to be? Kill the evil bankers or kill intrusive government. Release our wonderful productive economy from bondage and let slip the dogs of industry!

    What people don’t understand is that what is underway right now is not a child’s game, there are no dogs. Tapping on the other side of the door is Mr. Entropy. He doesn’t give a fuck … about your game, about your stuff, about your status, about your brilliance or your kids … he doesn’t care about what car you drive or your future or your children’s futures or about anything at all, he puts the ‘Deux’ in your ‘ex Machina’ …!

    “People will eat their seed corn if they are hungry.”

    How do you think that is going to work out? What happens next Ms Brilliant Finance Analyste? Indeed, any atrocity or monstrosity can be rationalized … right?

    As a matter of fact, the country and the world has a severe and growing non-renewable resource shortage, reflected in increased market prices, of strategically important minerals, fresh water, topsoil/soil fertility, waste-carrying capacity, biodiversity … credit … of course, all important sources of energy: coal, fissile materials, natural gas and the master resource, petroleum.

    Petroleum shortage = diminished/zero gas, coal or precious reactors. What do we do with our valuable petroleum? Waste it for nothing driving aimlessly in circles in unaffordable metal boxes.

    +$20 petrol has stranded all the infrastructure built assuming -$20 petrol to infinity and beyond … such as the United States of America. We’re broke! Brent ended Friday $110.40. People wonder why banks, governments, industries and enterprises have failed/are failing!

    C’mon, Sherlock! It’s not that hard. They all lent long while borrowing (fuel) short.

    Like it or not conservation is here, conservation by the impoverishment of entire continents and total ruin, by collapse and war: conservation by other means. Conservation by the iron hand of entropy, for that is the product of your precious industries. Regardless of what you ‘want’.

  23. mac

    Somewhere in this ramble it mentions “the Prius Problem”, I have a Prius,
    it uses less than half the fuel my previous 2011 vehicle used, it is a 2012.
    Now that may or may not be “friendly” but is uses less gasoline and ethanol, so it is friendly to me, I don’t belong to horse riders or bicyclers so it is fine by me. And there is no light or heavy rail where I live.

  24. Nathanael

    You want another “big exception”?

    For uninsulated or poorly insulated double-walled wood-built homes, it’s usually cheaper and more effective to insulate them than to tear them down and build now.

    Factories are a case where retrofitting old factories often works out poorly.

    However, in *commercial* and *residential* construction, retrofitting is often highly effective and cheaper than building new. An awful lot of the cost of residential construction is in the foundation, frame, and roof, and those are usually fine.

    Admittedly, gutting is cheaper than “spot retrofitting”, but my point is that gutting is also generally cheaper and better than complete demolition.

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