Walter Russel Mead, the Henry Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy for the Council on Foreign Relations, and a professor at Yale University, just wrote an unconventional and thought provoking analysis on the state of climate policy.
Mead, a Democrat who voted for President Obama in 2008, says, “the Big Green Lie is falling apart:”
“And it’s not about Climategate and Glaciergate. It’s not about the science. It’s not even about public confidence in the integrity of the green movement — although this confidence is unlikely to regain the levels of 2009. Humpty Dumpty has fallen from the walls, and all the establishment commissions and investigations in Europe cannot glue him together again… Both the greens and their opponents need to understand that the reason that the Great Global Green Dream is melting lies in the sad truth that whatever the scientific facts of the matter, the global green movement is so blind and inept when it comes to policy and process that it has deeply damaged the causes it cares most about.”
Mead compares environmentalists to anti-alcohol activists before Prohibition:
“Who convinced Americans that the problem of alcohol abuse was real, destructive, and likely to get worse unless addressed. These farsighted activists were absolutely correct: with the introduction of the motorcar alcohol was more destructive than ever; with more than 500,000 alcohol related highway deaths between 1982 and 2008, more Americans have been killed on our roads as a result of drunk driving since 1915 than have died in our wars. The problem is that the remedy proposed, Prohibition, not only failed to solve the problem — it made the problem of alcohol abuse worse, and it also reduced respect for the law and led to the rise of organized crime in the United States on an unprecedented scale.
The Prohibitionists were brilliantly, scientifically correct about the problem: they were foolishly and destructively blind about how to deal with it.”
Mead also compares environmentalists to Peace Activists who predicted World War II and tried to outlaw war to prevent it. He also brings up comparisons to the Nuclear Freeze movement in the 1980s. Mead views the sum of Green policy prescriptions as Malthusian panic attacks, with anti-growth policies and corporate resentment sprinkled on top. He acknowledges that Global Warming is a problem, but what does he think we should do about it?
Mead proposes that we simply “nudge” the economy towards energy efficiency, and lower
taxes. Mead proposes local solutions that will not be organized under one grand agreement, but rather be aimed to work on local problems; he brings up the example of the Indian government pushing to end fuel subsidies. But will “relatively small steps, or larger steps often undertaken for reasons that have little directly to do with the climate” work?
Mead blithely describes criticism of neo-classical unending growth as “Malthusian fantasies” He ignores the real and growing evidence that the Earth has a limited carrying capacity, and we are creeping towards Earth’s limits. By comparing environmentalists to an alarm clock “making shrill and irrational noise,” one wonders if he truly understands what it will take to create a sustainable world. He prescribes, above all, serious attention and careful thought to the question of how to create that sustainable world. He pines for a humanity that leads “richer, fuller lives in a cleaner, sustainable world.” The mystery for me is how we will be able to continue this unending growth without reaching the Earth’s limits. Ecological economists like Herman Daly and Robert Costanza are creating a new economics that boldly goes beyond the Copenhagen policies. Certainly, environmentalists would be well served to carefully consider what steps need to be taken. I agree that we will not solve our problems with one global treaty. However, we cannot simply rely on the whims of laissez-faire economics to deliver us to the sustainable future that Mead hopes for.
Today, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman and Conservative wunderkind Ross Douthat present competing theories on why climate change legislation is dead this year. Douthat, surprisingly, admits that Global Warming is a genuine problem:
“…Conservatives who treat global warming as just another scare story are almost certainly mistaken. Rising temperatures won’t “destroy” the planet, as fear mongers and celebrities like to say. But the evidence that carbon emissions are altering the planet’s ecology is too convincing to ignore. Conservatives who dismiss climate change as a hoax are making a spectacle of their ignorance.”
Douthat blames the demise of legislation on conservatives; in his words there is “seemingly an unbridgeable gulf between the conservative movement and the environmentalist cause.” Of course, that framing of Global Warming is purposeful. In Douthat’s mind, Global Warming is a problem for bird watchers to worry about. In fact, Douthat provides the argument for inaction by making a dangerous assumption:
“…The assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world — and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime. But it’s also grounded in skepticism that such a regime is possible. Any attempt to legislate our way to a cooler earth, the argument goes, will inevitably resemble the package of cap-and-trade emission restrictions that passed the House last year: a Rube Goldberg contraption whose buy-offs and giveaways swamped its original purpose… Not every danger has a regulatory solution, and sometimes it makes sense to wait, get richer, and then try to muddle through.”
Douthat does not discuss the concept of externalities, and this is key. An externality is the result of a transaction that is borne by neither the buyer nor seller directly, but rather by a third party. In the case of our fossil fuel supplies, the externalities are only growing. In addition to greenhouse gasses, you have pollution from coal plants that has measurable health impacts on communities surrounding them, and you have the ghastly side effects of hydraulic fracturing of shale for natural gas. Of course, don’t forget about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The scary thing? We subsidize these fossil fuels. Douthat, however, just wants to rely on unending growth to solve all of our problems. Unfortunately, the Earth will not support unending growth. Douthat would be wise to read Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth.
Paul Krugman, on the other hand, points the blame for the demise of climate legislation in a more
believable and useful direction. In Krugman’s mind, we need to just follow the money:
“The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines. Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades. Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.”
That is the key of course. Producers of fossil fuels do not want to have to account for externalities of their products. They would rather society at large bear those costs. We are slaves to growth and slaves to consumption, unable to see the forest for the trees. As Krugman points out, 2010 is the hottest year on record. Inevitably we will need to place a cap on carbon emissions; the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be.
How do we solve these problems? Herman Daly, an ecological economist, offers some viable prescriptions. I will highlight one of the most important ones, which you will not see any politician advocate: ecological tax reform. Right now labor and capital (the value added) is taxed; ecological tax reform would end value added taxes and instead tax that to which value is added: the throughput of resources extracted from nature (depletion) and returned to nature (pollution). Ecological tax reform would reward entrepreneurs who are able to add value and innovation efficiently. We want to encourage value added, and discourage depletion and pollution. It sounds simple, but it goes against the neo-classical devotion to unending growth. As such, Douthat and his fellow conservative denizens continue to believe in Business as Usual.
Dr. Robert Costanza, Professor of Ecologcal Economics at the University of Vermont, spoke last month at Yale University about ecological economics, a field that he helped create along with Herman Daly. In 1997, he wrote the seminal article “The Value of the World’s Ecosystems and Natural Capital,” which helped to define the economic worldview encompassed in ecological economics.
At Yale, Constanza spoke of creating a shared vision about a sustainable future:
“A key element in allowing us to do this is to create this vision of what a sustainable and desirable future would look like. A vision communicable enough to a broad enough audience, to make the point that it is not a sacrifice to make this transition, really it’s a sacrifice not to make this transition. I don’t think that choice has adequately been put before the public; I don’t think the public has been adequately involved in creating that vision.”
With ecological economics, Constanza is helping to create that vision. He contrasts the empty worldview, in which growth is limitless, more is always better, and no resource is sacred, with a more realistic view of a full world, which considers the natural capital that is not considered within traditional economic measurements like Gross Domestic Product. The full worldview considers the biophysical and sink services that the Earth provides, and many other assets that we take for granted, like water.
Constanza is onto something with his goal of creating a shared vision. Many people look at the environment as a competitor with the economy; a resource can be protected, but only if it doesn’t constrain growth. Unfortunately, that constraint is inevitable. Finding a way to break through that traditional binary logic is a key to involving people in this discussion.
Last night in Boston, my friend Ryan and I were talking about how the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries are ripe for reform. Unfortunately, there are few examples of sustainable companies to use as a model. Aveda stands out in that regard.
In May, the Sustainability Officer of Aveda spoke at the Marlboro College Graduate School to MBA in Sustainable Management students. Aveda, founded in 1978 with the goal of providing beauty industry professionals with high performance, botanically based products that would be better for service providers and their guests, as well as for the planet, manufactures professional plant-based hair care, skin care, makeup, and lifestyle products.
Aveda stands out as a company doing the right thing. First of all, they use plant based materials as much as possible, and source as much organic material as is available. Second, they do a life cycle analysis of all packaging, with the goal of minimizing packaging, maximizing the use of post-consumer recycled materials, using materials that can be and are recyclable, and designing packaging so that the individual parts can be separated for recycling. Third, Aveda now purchases all of its power from wind sources. Aveda also parters with their salons to engage with their local communities, and with the communities that they source their materials from. In short, the industry would do well to model themselves after Aveda.
Unfortunately, as Annie Leonard shows here, the industry is not following Aveda’s lead. In fact, the industry is a disgrace. The Environmental Working Group just released the results of a study on sunscreen. I was shocked to learn that the sunscreen I had used contained oxybenzone, which can cause developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation, and biochemical or cellular level changes. As Annie says, toxics in, toxics out. We use many products with ingredients that we know are harmful, even carcinogens. In fact, the beauty industry is not sufficiently regulated. Think about the shampoo, the conditioner, the soap, the deodorant, the suncreen, the moisturizer, the detergents, and the countless other products you use, and you get a sense of how pervasive all of these chemicals really are.
Until we demand that our government really screen the chemicals used in these products, and until we demand that words like natural and organic have real meaning when it comes to beauty and lifestyle products, we will all be putting ourselves at risk. Aveda has had the right idea since 1978; it is time we all started to listen.
By the way, if you have not seen the original Story of Stuff, I encourage you to check it out.
It appears that wind energy in Rhode Island may finally be moving forward. Last Thursday, the State Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to restart the hearing process for the Block Island wind farm development. That was possible because of new legislation, signed by Governor Carcieri that compels the PUC to take potential rate reductions from cost savings as well as economic and environmental benefits to the state into account while making their decision. EcoRI writes that the new law “basically forces the PUC to approve any new power purchase agreement from Deepwater Wind,” including the newly proposed rate of 23.57 cents per kilowatt-hour. The Conservation Law Foundation and Attorney General Patrick Lynch remain opposed to the project, because they believe the law favors one developer, violating language in Rhode Island’s Constitution that “all laws be made for the good of the whole.” However, the hearing process is resumed, and the PUC may issue a decision by the beginning of September.
As I mentioned earlier, the project includes an underwater cable connecting Block Island to the mainland. The proposed rate of 23.57 cents kw/h is higher than current rates on the mainland, but it represents a savings on Block Island, which relies on diesel generators which cost residents as much as 62 cents hw/h.
Until externalities are taken into account, fossil fuels will always appear cheaper than wind energy. In fact, once we truly understand the health and environmental impacts of fossil fuels, renewable energy will appear a bargain in retrospect. If you live downrange of a coal plant, the sulfur dioxide coming out of the smokestack affects your health. If you live around a shale deposit being targeted by natural gas developers, you may have polluted drinking water that can light on fire and damage your brain. If you live on the Earth, continued increases in Greenhouse Gas emissions may lead to a less and less hospitable planet. This project by Deepwater Wind is a pilot project in preparation for a utility-scale project in Federal waters off Rhode Island. However, we need more development. Rhode Islanders need to embrace wave energy, solar energy, and geothermal energy. These developments will not all be utility scale. The revolution of micro power is one that will help communities find ideal solutions for their energy needs.
I was born in 1976, and came of age in Ronald Reagan’s ‘Morning in America.’ After reading Naomi Klein’s 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, I feel as if a veil has been lifted from my perception of history, and the important events of my youth stand out in new significance. The story told in this important book centers around Milton Freidman, and the fundamentalist capitalist beliefs espoused at the University of Chicago School of Economics, where Freidman taught.
Klein’s main thesis in the book, which travels across continents and decades, is that in order to implement the fundamentalist economic policies espoused by the Chicago School, a clean slate is required. The technique to facilitate that clean slate is what amounts to the shock doctrine. Klein uses a quote from Freidman’s introduction to his seminal work, Capitalism and Freedom to quantify the shock doctrine. Freidman observes that:
“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
The crisis that Freidman describes is crucial. To analyze how that crisis and the clean sheet are created, Klein uses torture as a metaphor, tracing the ghastly experiments at McGill University by psychiatrist Ewen Cameron, under the direction of the CIA (through its MK FrUltra program).
Cameron believed that in order to teach his patients new behaviors, old pathological patterns needed to broken up to create a tabula rasa. The way to create that blank slate was to attack the mind with electricity, uppers, downers, and hallucinogens to, in Cameron’s words, “disinhibit [the patient] so that his defenses might be reduced.”
The CIA provided grants to Cameron starting in 1957; at this point Cameron started upping the number of shocks to unprecedented levels, increasing the dosage of drugs, and experimenting with sensory deprivation and extended sleep. The CIA took the fruit of Cameron’s research and produced a handbook, Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a secret manual on the interrogation of resistant sources. The CIA taught these methods to authoritarian governments including Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, and Iran.
Klein traces the introduction of this fundamentalist form of capitalism over the last 40 years and finds that:
“Seen through the lens of this doctrine… some of the most infamous human rights violations of this era, which have tended to be viewed as sadistic acts carried out by antidemocratic regimes, were in fact either committed with the deliberate intent of terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for the introduction of radical free market ‘reforms.’”
Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia were part of the first wave of the imposition of Freidman’s reforms, and those junta regimes used disappearances, as well as torture techniques from the Kubark handbook, to eliminate opposition to the implementation of reforms. Klein also views the 1990s crises in China, Russia, and Asia through the lens of the shock doctrine, and closely looks at the role of the International Monetary Fund in creating the necessary shock condition. Ultimately, Klein turns to 9/11, Iraq and Sri Lanka to show the rise of disaster capitalism as a global movement.
In the 1960s, at the University of Chicago, Freidman saw a United States where its capitalism was tainted by “interferences” (fixed prices, minimum wage, public education); while they may have provided benefits to the public, these interferences polluted the equilibrium of the market and inhibited market signals. Freidman and his fellow Chicago economists (including his mentor Friedrich Hayek) wanted to purify the market, to get rid of these interferences. Friedman saw the mixed economy supported by John Maynard Keynes as the enemy to be defeated.
Freidman’s prescription was as follows: remove as many rules and regulations as possible, privatize most state assets, and cut back most social programs. Taxes should be low, and flat, if they should exist at all. Protectionism was sacrilege to Freidman. The invisible hand should determine prices, and there should be no minimum wage. These were bold steps to take, even in the capitalist United States. In order to prove his theories, Freidman would have to demonstrate them in the real world. He found a laboratory in Chile, one of the Developmentalist, mixed economies in South America that sought to find a middle road between the Cold War economic extremes.
These economies were linked around the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, based in Santiago Chile, and headed by economist Raul Prebisch. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Developmentalist economies prospered, and nurtured a burgeoning middle class. However, American multi-national companies like Ford convinced the United States government create a program that, starting in 1956, educated 100 Chilean economists at the University of Chicago. These Chileans, indoctrinated in Freidman’s fundamentalist beliefs, were unable to change Chile, however, without America’s help.
After the 1970 election of leftist Salvador Allende, the new government promised to nationalize sectors of the economy that were being run by foreign corporations. President Nixon declared a virtual war on Chile through the Ad Hoc Committee on Chile, which included ITT, owner of 70% of the Chilean phone system. Ultimately, in September 1973 General Augusto Pinochet took power in a military coup, but before the coup, the Chicago boys prepared a set of laws and regulations known as “The Brick” which went into effect immediately, a 500 page economic bible full of deregulation, privatization, and social spending cuts.
Unfortunately, by 1974, counter to the expectations of Freidman and the Chicago Boys, inflation doubled to 375%. The Chicago boys argued that the medicine wasn’t strong enough, and Freidman himself came to the country in 1975 to personally make the same case. Freidman urged another 25% spending cut, and even more deregulation. Unfortunately, in the next year the economy contracted by 15%, and unemployment reached 20%. In fact, the economy did not start to improve until 1982, when Pinochet was forced to follow Allende’s advice and nationalize many companies. Ultimately, the real legacy of Freidman’s prescription in Chile was that by 1988, 45% of the population had fallen below the poverty line, while the richest 10% had seen their incomes increase 83%. But it wasn’t just poverty that eviscerated the middle class; Pinochet used the techniques in the Kubark manual to torture prisoners, who instead of being arrested, were “disappeared.” In fact, the CIA trained Pinochet’s security forces, along with those in Uruguay and Argentina. Ultimately, in South America, that was the effort required to create a tabula rasa: military coup, economic shock, and torture.
Klein’s conception of the Shock Doctrine is most clear when she looks at the brutal dictatorships in South America, as well as South Africa’s transition and Russia’s paradigm shift in the 1990s. Klein’s analysis of Russia under Yeltzin is powerful. I was in high school and college during those years, and my impression was formed from the jingoistic American press. Klein makes clear that the IMF and Jeffrey Sachs, economic wunderkind, produced the kind of pressure that resulted in tragedy and mass killings.
However, Klein’s argument loses coherence when she looks at China, the United States, and Sri Lanka. In the United States, Klein makes the leap from Freidman laissez-faire economics to the privatized homeland security apparatus. I applaud the critique of Donald Rumsfeld, a Freidman acolyte, but it doesn’t fit the overall thesis. In China, Klein describes the protestors as resisting the free market reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Klein argues that most of the protestors opposed free market reforms, and that Xiaoping attacked those protestors to quell the rebellion and implement reforms while the Chinese population was still in shock. This narrative is historically tenuous, at best.
However, the larger point of Klein, particularly as demonstrated in South America, is valid. Freidman’s fundamentalist free market reforms require a tabula rasa, and the middle and lower classes will naturally oppose the lowering of their standard of living. In order to create the tabula rasa, some level of force will be required. The research that Ewen Cameron completed at McGill University is particularly troubling, especially in light of the torture that the United States implemented in Iraq. In fact, Iraq is a Pandora’s box that should continue to produce troubling revelations. Hopefully, those revelations will remain in the public consciousness the next time that we want to create the kind of fundamental change that President Bush wanted to in Iraq, that General Pinochet wanted to do in Chile, and that dictators have long sought to do in the name of the free market.
This video, produced from the work of Jeremy Rifkin, is based on research he conducted for his latest book, The Empathetic Civilization. Rifkin argues that empathy is crucial to how our civilization is organized, and how we humans evolved over time. Rifkin believes that empathy is key to solving the big problem of our day, namely, how will we create sustainable societies where future generations will flourish? This is another great whiteboard animation from the Royal Society of the Arts.
Tomorrow I will have a comprehensive book review of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, and then I will be off to Vermont and Marlboro College for the weekend, but I will be back on Monday.