Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Greening the ghetto and other randomish

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 7, 2009

1. In this week’s New Yorker*, Elizabeth Kolbert has a good article on Van Jones, author of “The Green Collar Economy”. Jones’ has added a third win to the green-jobs debate, by claiming that not only can we solve climate change and create jobs, we do so in a way that ensures those jobs go to troubled urban youth. In other words we can “green the ghetto”. Interestingly, the piece starts out in New Bedford, MA, where my mother’s family is from. New Bedford was once the whaling capital of the world**, but, like many old cities on the east coast, it enters the 21st century crippled by unemployment and gang violence. It has also been severely affected by the recent wave of home foreclosures.

Now I think we all have a responsibility to help places like New Bedford make the transition into the 21st century, but am unconvinced that Jones’ solution is the best one, for either the city or the environment. The city needs more teachers, police, and affordable healthcare. The environment needs high quality, low cost clean energy alternatives. Given that our society is resource constrained, it’s not obvious that paying troubled youths to caulk up New Bedford houses maximizes aggregate welfare along these dimensions. In the article, Van is quoted as saying, “Your goal has to be to get the greenest solutions to the poorest people.” I’ll let ya’ll decide what, if anything, that actually means.

* This week’s edition also has great articles on Hannah Arrendt (what would she say about green jobs?), Barney Frank (IMO the smartest man in the House), and Bon Iver (eh).

** In re whales and New Bedford, this is pretty crazy.

2. In other news, California is still totally effed. Grist has a good summary of how the Governator is blowing up environmental commitments (albeit comparatively ambitious ones) in search of stimulus. I’m not sure how exactly a state with balanced budget mandate and a $42 billion deficit seeks to create stimulus…..   Just another example of what’s the matter with California.

3. And in super secret news, word on the street is that outgoing Treasury Secretary, and, apparently Christian Scientist, Henry Paulson will be at RFF this Monday to discuss TARP climate change. Deets to follow soon.

One Response to “Greening the ghetto and other randomish”

  1. Carlos Ferreira said

    Well, I suppose if the problem is coming up with reasons why we should go on with the investment, pretty much everything can be used as a reason. Here’s a road map on how to do it:
    1. Take, from marketing research, something people dislike.
    2. Come up with a way to make it green. It has to be hopeful, moral enhancing or populist.
    3. Sell it. Make all sorts of airy claims, but provide no numbers.

    Hell, we’ll be 20-fold-win this time next week.

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