The Green New Deal as an Anti-Neoliberal Program

By Robert Pollin (guest post)

Second in a series of posts on neoliberalism and what might come next, organized to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Dollars & Sense, which publishes Triple Crisis. 

In 2007, Nicholas Stern, the prominent mainstream British economist and former chief economist at the World Bank, wrote that “Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen.” Stern’s assessment was extreme, but not hyperbolic. This is for the simple reason that, if we take climate science at all seriously, we cannot avoid the conclusion that we are courting ecological disaster by not stabilizing the climate.

Neoliberalism is a driving force causing the climate crisis. This is because neoliberalism is a variant of classical liberalism, and classical liberalism builds from the idea that everyone should be granted maximum freedom to pursue their self-interest within capitalist market settings. But neoliberalism also diverges substantially from classical liberalism: What really occurs in practice under neoliberalism is that governments allow giant corporations to freely pursue profit opportunities to the maximum extent, and governments even intervene on corporations’ behalf when their profits might be threatened. How the oil companies reacted to clear evidence of climate change represents a dramatic case study of neoliberalism in practice. In 1982, researchers working at the then Exxon Corporation (now Exxon Mobil) estimated that by about 2060, burning oil, coal, and natural gas to produce energy would elevate the planet’s average temperatures by about 2° Celsius. This, in turn, would generate exactly the types of massive climate disruptions that we have increasingly experienced since the 1980s—i.e., heat extremes, heavy precipitation, droughts, rising sea levels, and biodiversity losses, with corresponding impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, and human security. In 1988, researchers at the Shell Corporation reached similar conclusions. We now know what Exxon and Shell did with this information: They buried it. They did so for the obvious reason that, if the information were then known, it might have threatened their prospects for receiving massive profits from producing and selling oil.

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Neoliberalism and Climate Change

By Juliet Schor (guest post)

This is the text of a speech that Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, gave at the 45th anniversary celebration for Dollars & Sense, which maintains Triple Crisis blog, on November 14 at the Nonprofit Center in Boston, Mass. Schor was a D&S collective member in its early years.  This is the first in a series of posts on neoliberalism that we’ll be posting at Triple Crisis. 

We are in the midst of a terrifying climate emergency. Whether it’s the record-challenging cold of this week, devastating wildfires, Category 5 hurricanes, flooding on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, Mass., when it’s not raining, the permanent disappearance of glaciers, intensifying drought and climate migration, or the relentless upward march of average temperatures, signs of climate disruption are all around us. This is partly due to the power of neoliberal economics.  Naomi Klein has made an interesting observation about the relation between the two, which is that it was bad luck that neoliberalism surged just as we figured out the need to do something about greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not convinced that the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t have done just what it did and been as successful even if we were still, in the famous words of Richard Nixon, “all Keynesians now” but that’s something we’ll never know. In any case, evidence of the ability of a now discredited economic approach (neoliberalism) to hang on long past its sell-by date is all around us.

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Rome Summit Takes Bold Step Toward Agroecology

By Timothy A. Wise

This was originally published at Common Dreams.

The Climate Action Summit at the UN last month was widely considered a disappointment, failing to garner the kinds of government actions needed to address the climate crisis. Sadly, the same can be said for actions on agriculture and climate change, despite a well-publicized commitment of $790 million to “to enhance resilience of over 300 million small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.”

That is not because the investment isn’t needed. It is, desperately. Small-scale farmers in developing countries are already bearing the brunt of climate change yet they have received little of the promised funding to help them adapt to drought, flooding, heat, and other climate changes.

These new initiatives won’t bridge that gap. Just as government actions to date are proving far too weak to address the climate emergency, these agriculture programs support familiar measures that have thus far failed to help small-scale farmers. Some measures have left them even more vulnerable to climate change.

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We’re All in the Same Lifeboat Now, Pt. 2

Climate change comes for farmers – from Mozambique to Iowa

By Timothy A. Wise

Originally published at  Medium, as a contribution to Climate Media Week as people the world over strike for climate action and justice.  Find Part 1 here

Part 2: Iowa: implicated in climate change

As Amnesty International’s secretary general Kumi Naidoo told the BBC, “There is one inescapable and burning injustice we cannot stress enough. The people of Mozambique are paying the price for dangerous climate change when they have done next to nothing to cause this crisis.”

You can’t say the same about Iowa. Every part of Iowa’s industrial model of agriculture is implicated and threatened by climate change. Implicated because industrial agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses; 14 percent are attributed directly to agriculture. That jumps to 23 percent, according to a recent UN report, when deforestation from agriculture-induced land-use changes, is taken into account. High rates of nitrogen-fertilizer applied to Iowa’s corn fields contribute to emissions of nitrous oxide, more potent than carbon dioxide. The state’s factory farms add to the problem when concentrated manure is sprayed on farmers’ fields.

Threatened because the evil twins of climate change are coming for Iowa’s farmers too. NASA modeling for Iowa shows a high probability of more intense storms, like the recent cyclone, with a growing threat of long droughts. Rising temperatures are making nights too warm for optimal production, and high daytime temperatures are drying out the plants in soil no longer rich enough in organic matter to retain much moisture. Summer rains are less consistent; farmers can’t count on rain in that critical two-week period after the corn tassels.

Many years it is now just too hot and too dry, depressing yields. A University of Minnesota study estimated that by 2075 Iowa corn yields could be 20-50% lower than they are today.

Like their Mozambican counterparts, some Iowa farmers could face the loss of two years of production to the recent flooding. Many lost this year’s crop to late planting, and some lost last year’s as they watched storm waters destroy last year’s stored crops to water damage. They hadn’t sold their corn and beans because prices were so low and President Trump’s trade war had destroyed the export markets they have come to depend on.

Many farmers now fear losing their farms. Debt levels are rising and farm prices remain low despite the flooding. Most vulnerable are those who owe on mortgages or farm equipment, purchased in the boom years when ethanol drove crop prices to unprecedented highs. Those who rent land are also struggling, and more than half of Iowa’s farmland is now rented. Many expect the floodwaters will add to a wave of consolidation as large landowners and outside investors buy up distressed farms at auction, further hollowing out rural areas.

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September 30, 2019 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments Closed

We’re All in the Same Lifeboat Now

Climate change comes for farmers – from Mozambique to Iowa

By Timothy A. Wise

Originally published at  Medium, as a contribution to Climate Media Week as people the world over strike for climate action and justice.

Part 1: Mozambique

It felt ominous when I was in Iowa in March that both Iowa and Mozambique were underwater from cyclone-induced flooding widely attributed to climate change. I’d studied and written about both places in my recent book. These farming communities are as distant from one another – geographically and developmentally – as they could be, yet there they were in the same metaphorical lifeboat trying to save their families and farms from the floods.

I saw the devastation in central Mozambique in June – houses still missing their roofs, schools barely functioning, and farmers without seeds for the coming rainy season. The March cyclone wiped out crops that were nearly ready for harvest, leaving communities dependent for the present on food aid and without seeds for this year’s planting.

Parts of Iowa were underwater when I was there in March, and today Iowa and much of the Midwest is still suffering periodic flooding from the wettest year on record. Many farmers couldn’t plant because the ground was too wet, or they got their crops in late, reducing yields. There were only three reported deaths from the flooding; Iowa had the lifeboats to get people out of danger. But they are not out of the destructive path of climate change, and I sensed a new awareness of that danger, suddenly clear and present.

With farmers on opposite sides of the globe suffering the same types of severe storms provoked by a changing climate, I imagined them all in the same lifeboat. They would have a lot to learn from one another. The Mozambicans might tell their Iowan boat-mates that U.S. farmers, with their greenhouse-gas-emitting industrial-scale farms, bore at least some of the responsibility for the rising waves of climate catastrophe. But those African peasants might also share their secret to surviving climate change, one that could help reverse Iowa’s own self-destructive agricultural path. Listen closely, Iowa, can you hear it? Diversidade, whisper the Mozambicans. Diversity. It may just be the key to climate resilience, from Africa to Iowa.

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September 27, 2019 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments Closed

Local Responsibility for a Global Problem: Juliana v. the U.S.

The following is the text of the speech that Liz Stanton gave at Wednesday night’s event at Tufts University celebrating the life and work of Frank Ackerman, who died in late July. Frank was one of the founders of Dollars & Sense, which maintains Triple Crisis blog, and was a frequent contributor to Triple Crisis. Cross-posted at the Dollars & Sense blog.

I’d like to talk about some very recent work of Frank’s.

Frank wrote an expert report wrote last year and made a deposition in that same case. Some of you may have heard of it.

Twenty-one kids are suing the U.S. government for knowingly failing to protect them from climate change. It’s Juliana v. the United States, filed in 2015. It’s been tossed back and forth between courts, included the U.S. Supreme Court for going on four years and has yet to see an actual hearing, a day in court for those kids, some of whom are now young adults.

In his expert report on behalf of Kelsey Juliana and her 20 co-plaintiffs, Frank explains that the conventional methods of economic analysis employed by the federal government in its decision making undervalue or dismiss altogether serious risks of climate damage. He writes about some pretty wonky, esoteric topics: the discount rate, fat-tailed distributions, contingent valuation, and credible worst-case risk assessment. He was one of quite a few witnesses offered by the plaintiffs. But it’s his testimony—full of formal economic theory, moral philosophy, and a chapter on pricing the priceless—it’s that testimony on which the judgment in this case may well hinge, if it ever gets that day in court.

September 20, 2019 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments Closed

Why the Climate Crisis Is Also the Crisis of Capitalism

By Ying Chen and Güney Işikara (guest post)

Many people are wary of bringing a critique of capitalism into the discussion of climate change, even if they are genuinely concerned about the crisis and actively looking for effective solutions. All it takes is the mention of any word ending with “-ism,” and skeptics will conclude that the discussion is unnecessarily ideological.

However, looking at the climate crisis through a Marxist lens can give us greater insight into the political inertia that has stalled the implementation of any kind of coordinated national response to climate change. The way capitalism operates in the United States, with its all-encompassing forces that have played a major role in creating today’s environmental disaster, is also standing in the way of the implementation of a comprehensive solution. We can only understand the impact of capitalism on the current crisis by viewing capitalism as a specific economic system and assessing its historical impact—as well as its limits and contradictions.

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Greening the New Deal

By Shaun Ferguson (guest post)

The Green New Deal is desperately needed, and arguing about a price tag is like Henry Ford wondering if the country will be able to afford his brand new automobile.  With the introduction of a House Resolution by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), a debate has surged across the country on the affordability of the Green New Deal. The sheer distraction of the affordability discussion is enough to ensure that very few people will pay attention to what is really at stake. For when the bigger fish eat up this little fish we will need to remember how we got here and what matters most.  As the bright young critics have quickly observed, the Green New Deal could hardly be too green. Time is wearing thin and we need to make haste.

Methane Measurements and Short Attention Spans

By Frank Ackerman

Third in a series of posts on climate policy.  Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) represents most, but not all, greenhouse gas emissions. In EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 2016, CO2 represented 82 percent of gross U.S. GHG emissions, while methane represented 10 percent (measured as CO2-equivalents). The top three sources of methane are agriculture, the energy industry, and waste management.

As fascinating as some of us may find such details, the general public has a short attention span for new information about climate change. Within that constraint, what do we want to communicate? For methane, there are two choices, an introductory and an advanced message.

The introductory message emphasizes that methane, the principal component of natural gas, is an important cause of global warming under any version of the data. It is therefore crucial to reduce and eliminate all fossil fuels, gas included, as soon as possible, replacing them with efficiency, renewables and energy storage.

Climate Damages: Uncertain but Ominous, or $51 per Ton?

By Frank Ackerman

Second in a series of posts on climate policy.  Find Part 1 here.

According to scientists, climate damages are deeply uncertain, but could be ominously large (see the previous post). Alternatively, according to the best-known economic calculation, lifetime damages caused by emissions in 2020 will be worth $51 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, in 2018 prices.

These two views can’t both be right. This post explains where the $51 estimate comes from, why it’s not reliable, and the meaning for climate policy of the deep uncertainty about the value of damages.