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Stavins weighs in on “the Stavins quote”

Posted by Rich Sweeney on March 8, 2009

And clarifies his apprehension about killing two birds with one stone much more calmly than Tim or I did:

Whether trying to kill two birds with one stone makes sense depends upon the proximity of the birds, the weapon being used, and the accuracy of the stoner.  In the real world of important policy challenges — such as environmental degradation and economic recession — these are empirical questions and need to be examined case by case, which was my point in the brief quote.

Go read the full post here, along with Michael Levi’s Slate piece.

H/T to Environmental Econ*

(I’m not sure why I feel compelled to repost links that John and Tim put up, as there are probably zero people out there who read CT but not Env Econ. Oh well.)

Posted in Green Collar Jobs | 1 Comment »

Twisted green stimulus logic of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 23, 2009

From, which, by the way, is one of the best sources for renewable news on the web. Tam Hunt, who’s is apparently a lecturer at Daniel’s alma mater, thinks we can mandate our way out of recession. He wonders, “Where the local stimulus packages are?”. When I saw that title my initial reaction was “states can’t run deficits, so that pretty much takes Keynesian stimulus packages of the table.” Despite acknowledging this budgetary reality, Hunt suggests some crazy other ideas states can use to promote green growth:

One way states can provide a boost is through enacting aggressive renewable energy standards.

Local governments can also enact their own building energy efficiency standards. By doing so, they can spur local investment in energy efficiency projects, creating jobs and leading to cost savings for homeowners and businesses through energy savings.

Last, by choosing to build renewables under CCA, local governments can provide jobs and local infusions of capital that will help kick start local economies more generally.

This is pretty brilliant stuff. If we want to avoid depression, but are concerned about the deficit implications of fiscal stimulus, we can instead simply mandate people to build things. The mind boggles….

Posted in Government Policy, Green Collar Jobs, RPS | 9 Comments »

More on the Stavins quote

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 9, 2009

To recap, what Rob actually said was this:

“Let’s say I want to have a dinner party. It’s important that I cook dinner, and I’d also like to take a shower before the guests arrive. You might think, Well, it would be really efficient for me to cook dinner in the shower. But it turns out that if I try that I’m not going to get very clean and it’s not going to be a very good dinner. And that is an illustration of the fact that it is not always best to try to address two challenges with what in the policy world we call a single-policy instrument.”

Translation: just because two things can be accomplished simultaneously, doesn’t mean that doing them simultaneously is more efficient than doing them separately.

This does not mean that Stavins (and others who question the coupling of labor and environmental policy) doesn’t think that its a good idea to promote employment or to reduce carbon emissions because such policies are costly. In fact it means the opposite. It means that promoting work and mitigating climate change are both so important that we should at least attempt to maximize our success in achieving both goals in the face of resource constraints. No one’s saying that it’s impossible that climate policy will create jobs, we’re just saying its not obvious either.

UPDATE: Great minds think alike (riiiiight……). As I was writing this Tim was apparently making the same point. His translation is even better:

the point is not that we shouldn’t try to meet both goals–good dinner and good shower–but rather, the policy of addressing both at once is STUPID.

Also while I’m at it, Romm’s comment (or post of a comment) on John’s post highlight’s my point exactly. Romm writes:

BTW, it’s quite unclear that the poor would be hit the most by energy tax increases; the rich generally consume way more resources than the poor and would thus bear a higher burden of energy taxes. It’s empirically clear that energy subsidies in the US, in China or India go overwhelmingly to the well-off. Conversely, an energy (or CO2) levy would fall mostly on the rich.

Ummmm, no. This is just like the green jobs myth. Its sounds great, the greens want to believe it, and, you know what, its even technically possible. But its not obvious, and should therefore be verified before we allow it to define our public policy. And when you look at the data, alas, it’s not true. It turns out energy price increases are in fact regressive, just like we thought. Note that my paper does not take this to mean that we shouldn’t raise energy prices instead, but simply that we should take economic reality into consideration rather than our green wishes when we design a carbon bill.

Posted in Green Collar Jobs | 8 Comments »

John, Tim – HELP!

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 9, 2009

All of us at CT don’t even know how to begin to respond to this:

Seriously, Dr. Stavins, just because you haven’t figured out how to walk and chew gum at the same time, doesn’t mean nobody else can.

I’m hoping that Environmental Econ can help clarify Stavins’ point in a simple (and funny) manner. I can think of few people who have done more to advance environmental regulation than Rob Stavins, and find the whole post infuriating.

I’d just like to quickly point out that one of the related posts at the bottom of an article deriding environmental economists is titled “RFF Must Read – The Stern Report Got it Right”. Things to note:

  • Apparently economists suck, except when they agree with climate progress
  • Stavins is a university fellow at RFF
  • Apparently RFF is “center-right”. WTF?

UPDATE: John weighs in.

And, another by the way, walking and chewing gum at the same time are much easier dual activities than cooking dinner in the shower. My guess is that Rob CAN, in fact, walk and chew gum at the same time. Stimulating a macroeconomy and cleaning the environment are both difficult things to do by themselves. Trying to do both at once is like, well, trying to cook dinner in the shower.

Posted in Green Collar Jobs, Idiots | 3 Comments »

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.

Posted in Events, Green Collar Jobs | 1 Comment »

In which Seinfeld meets environmental policy

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 6, 2009

Robert Stavins on green jobs:

“Let’s say I want to have a dinner party. It’s important that I cook dinner, and I’d also like to take a shower before the guests arrive. You might think, Well, it would be really efficient for me to cook dinner in the shower. But it turns out that if I try that I’m not going to get very clean and it’s not going to be a very good dinner. And that is an illustration of the fact that it is not always best to try to address two challenges with what in the policy world we call a single-policy instrument.”

New rule: if an idea is analogous to something Kramer did, you shouldn’t base policy on that idea.

H/T: Environmental Capital via EnvEcon.

Update: Maybe we could get out of this recession if we take all our bottles to Michigan.

Posted in Green Collar Jobs | 2 Comments »

Hot off the press

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 2, 2009

From the inbox:

January 7, 2009
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
House Minority Leader John Boehner
Dear …
We, the undersigned sustainable energy and environmental organizations, businesses, and individual advocates, are writing to urge that you support provisions in the proposed stimulus bill that will promote sustainable energy technologies and create “green jobs.”
More specifically, funding should be targeted at those energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that can be brought on line quickly, will maximize job creation, will curb greenhouse gases and energy imports, and have the least adverse social and environmental impacts.
Nuclear power and fossil fuel technologies should not be included among those supported by the stimulus bill. These technologies cannot be brought on line quickly, entail unacceptable environmental hazards, and produce far fewer jobs per dollar invested.
Rather, emphasis should be given to “shovel-ready” projects that can be deployed in the very near term (i.e., preferably within 6-24 months) either to reduce wasteful energy use or to produce renewable energy as well as create jobs. Longer-term investments in sustainable energy research and development merit federal support but should be addressed in the regular annual appropriations bills rather than in this stimulus legislation.
The most attractive investments in terms of cost-effectiveness, jobs creation, carbon-reduction, and time-frame may well be those designed to reduce energy use in residential, commercial, public and other buildings. Accordingly, a high priority should be funding aimed at the permanent weatherization of older buildings and the replacement energy-inefficient lighting, appliances, and HVAC systems. Likewise, investments in advanced meter and demand-response programs are warranted.
In the transportation sector, emphasis should be given to lower-carbon options such as expansion of bike trails and pedestrian walkways, acquisition of more energy-efficient government vehicles including municipal buses, construction or expansion of light-rail and other mass transit systems, and repair of existing roads, tunnels, and bridges. However, funding the construction of new roads would tend – in many, if not most, instances – to encourage increased fuel use and oil imports and result in greater greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, such proposals should be closely scrutinized and probably given very low priority.
Investments in renewable energy projects should support the broad range of technologies (i.e., wind, water, solar, geothermal, biomass/biofuels) with funding directed at smaller, distributed, and off-grid systems as well as larger, grid-connected, central station projects. Investments to upgrade existing transmission systems or create new “intelligent” ones to bring renewable electricity from remote locations to urban areas may also be justified. However, priority should be given to those projects and technologies that can be brought on line most quickly, have the lowest environmental or social impacts, create the largest number of jobs, are most cost-effective, and produce the most energy.
We appreciate your consideration of these views.
cc. Members, Senate Committee on Appropriations
Members, House Committee on Appropriations
Couple of quick thoughts:
1. I love how politicians attempt to subvert criticism of their decisions by including the obvious downsides as “priorities”. Money should be spent as quickly as possible, but also wisely. We should create the most jobs, but also spend funds cost effectively. Blah, blah, blah…..
2. I’m a staunch proponent of the Smart Grid, but remain skeptical of plans to get the ball rolling by installing a toothless advanced meter in everyone’s house. Reminds me of the car shell idea, and thus of 5 year plans.
3. I’m obviously happy to see transmission in there. However, even absent any siting and permitting holdups, I don’t see how this fits the 6-24 month criteria.
4. Bike trails – Werd.

Posted in Government Policy, Green Collar Jobs, Stimulus | 1 Comment »

Batteries not included

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 18, 2008

For some reason, we’ve reached a point in this country where no policy is supportable unless it promises to kill at least two birds with one stone. Even if an individual goal, like say mitigating climate change or boosting employment, is worthwhile on its own, we need to tie its solution to some other end before we’ll support it, even if the marriage reduces the policy’s effectiveness along both dimensions. As someone who’s clearly pro “green” (whatever that is) this has been my main problem with the green jobs movement. If jobs become an acceptable metric of climate policy success, we’re all in big trouble.

Which brings me to batteries. One of scarier shotgun marriages being tossed around liberal circles lately has been the green auto bailout. This is the idea that we can save Detroit by giving them money in exchange for their commitment to build a fleet of electric vehicles. The only problem is that they don’t currently know how to do that. Specifically, the battery technology is years away, while Detroit needs the money yesterday. But many of the true believers remain undeterred, suggesting that we can pay Detroit to build the car “shells” now, and store them until the batteries are ready. [I’ll let you insert your own 5 year plan joke here.]

So I was already thinking about this today when Tmoney emailed me a Wall Street Journal article (sub. required) reporting on a consortium of US battery manufactures seeking $1 billion in US loans to manufacture batteries in the United States. Now I’m all for subsidizing R&D, but there were some unsettling justifications for the program subtly weaved into the narrative. It’s not that electric car batteries don’t exist, they just don’t exist at a competitive price. Tesla will gladly sell you an electric roadster for $100K. So you’d think that if we really want a fleet of electric cars, we’d be trying to get the batteries from the cheapest source available. Think again. The battery industry has largely migrated from the US to Asia over the past two decades because of cheaper costs and locational spillovers (where do all of your electronics come from?). But this loan would stipulate that all of the money be spent in the US, creating green jobs (there’s bird number two). There is also the vague warning from unspecified “experts” that “battery technology and manufacturing capacity could become as strategically important as oil is today” (and there’s the third bird, national security). I’m no battery expert, but I fail to see the parallels with oil, a geographically concentrated, finite natural resource.

Posted in Green Collar Jobs, Political Economy, Transportation | 6 Comments »

Education policy and energy R&D

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on June 30, 2008

In the run up to America’s first comprehensive piece of climate litigation, the idea of government R&D subsidies has been bandied around quite a bit.  As images of the Manhattan Project and the Space Race have been invoked, much of the debate has centered around how much money the feds should be throwing at energy R&D.  In this rush to find a magic number, a major question has been overlooked.  That being, does increasing R&D funding actually increase the amount of R&D performed? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, Green Collar Jobs, Technology Policy | 1 Comment »

Question of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on June 4, 2008

If we really can create new, high paying jobs with government policy, and if voters really think this is a good thing to do, then why do the advocates of such a policy need to hide behind the auspices of tackling global warming?

As Kevin Doyle recently wrote on Grist, “the drumbeat of interest in green-collar jobs just keeps getting louder.” Too loud, in my opinion. I say this not because I hate green collar jobs (I work in one, I think), but because I’m concerned first and foremost with tackling climate change, and fear that this ill-considered, possibly misleading rhetoric about green jobs could end up doing more harm than good. I’ve written about the encroachment of the “make work bias” on environmental policy before, so I’m not going to repeat everything here (For more info, John Whitehead has been the most consistent and cogent green jobs skeptic. See here, here, and here for starters). Instead I’ll just list the causes of my apprehension about the viability of a marriage between jobs and climate change. Thoughts on all the arguments/ questions in this post would be appreciated.

1. Creating jobs isn’t categorically desirable. Daniel summarized Bryan Caplan’s point on this issue in my previous post.

You want to create jobs? Just ban all modern farming equipment and force everyone to grow their own food. Rather than 5 people being able to grow the food for every 100, it will take 90…. This would create millions of jobs, but I don’t see many voters getting behind this one.

2. Green jobs <> new jobs. Far too often green jobs advocates take evidence that climate policy will increase employment in a given sector, and report it as if this translates into a net increase in jobs economy wide. In reality, ex ante, it’s unclear what the net effect would be. Today’s Wonk Room report on the new PERI/ Center for American Progress study is a good example. The researchers actually only looked at the workers/ industries that would benefit from climate legislation. Ideally, assuming you thought employment was a relevant metric, this would be compared to the cost to workers who would be harmed by the same policies.

The fact is that some workers will lose their jobs once we put a price on carbon. If they didn’t, the policy wouldn’t be working. Now we can almost certainly offset these costs with targetted training and transfer programs, but the short run effects on jobs is ambiguous, which is why it’s dangerous for advocates of tackling climate change to tie these two issues so closely together. Which brings me to my final point.

3. We don’t need to talk about “green jobs” in order to pass comprehensive climate legislation. Both parties’ candidates for the fall support cutting carbon emissions substantially in the coming decades (although, in typical “maverick” style, McCain appears to oppose many of the steps necessary to achieve this goal). Economists of all stripes are in almost universal agreement that rising carbon emissions are the result of a market failure, and that this failure can be corrected by pricing the right to emit. The EU, which is far more concerned with labor outcomes than the US, is about to enter the second phase of its carbon trading program and ten northeastern states are slated to begin capping and trading electricity sector emissions next January (RGGI). While Lieberman-Warner will probably die (which, in my opinion is a good thing), there are a host of other, much less flawed, bills being worked up in both Houses as I write this. It took a long time, but we’ve come this far knowing that truth and scientific evidence where on our side. Lets not compromise all the progress we’ve made by writing green checks our policies can’t cash.

Posted in Climate Change, Green Collar Jobs | Leave a Comment »

Assorted links

Posted by Daniel Hall on April 8, 2008

1.  New York City’s congestion pricing plan dies in Albany.  Felix Salmon and Ryan Avent are depressed and disappointed, respectively.  Disgust comes to mind as well.

2.  Tyler Cowen has been providing a thought-provoking discussion on Jeff Sachs’ new book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet.  The first three installments are on climate change, water policy, and biodiversity.

3.  Someone was listening to Rich’s complaint about the lack of coverage of escalating food prices: Paul Krugman discusses it on the New York Times Op-Ed page.  Plus the blogosphere is on the case — Energy Outlook examines the food-energy nexus, Free Exchange questions whether grain markets are behaving rationally, while this guy just wants to know he’ll still be able to afford his craft beer.

4.  David Zetland is blogging on the economics of water.

5.  Tim Haab issues a green jobs analysis challenge.

6.  And speaking of Env-Econ, UCLA couldn’t push me past Tim on Saturday night, so he edged me out in the Env-Econ NCAA tournament pool. But the combination of the Memphis win and UNC loss actually put Evan in front of both of us and gave CT bragging rights in the EE-CT showdown.  I think I’m now supposed to thank Evan for providing me cover when my “mouth starting writing checks my ass couldn’t cash.”  Or something like that.

Posted in Agriculture, Biofuels, Climate Change, Green Collar Jobs, Random, Transportation, Water Resources | Leave a Comment »

Thank God for John Whitehead

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 7, 2007

Commenting on John Edward’s statement on global warming legislation, he writes,

Climate policy won’t create jobs. Whenever a politician mentions a government policy and jobs as a measure of its success or lost jobs as a measure of its failure, put your hands over your ears and say “LaLaLaLa, I can’t hear you” really loud. Jobs and the environment: the non-issue of any political campaign.

Somehow climate policy and employment policy have become inexorably linked in DC, and it is driving me insane.  There is nothing more frustrating than showing your better-than-expected (in terms of costs) climate policy modeling results, only to have one of your proponents point out, “and it will create a lot of jobs”. Huh?

John also had a great post in response to my last green jobs rant, summing up in one sentence what I was trying to get at with 3+ paragraphs.

Jobs aren’t benefits of government policies unless there is some sort of failure in the labor markets.


Posted in Climate Change, Green Collar Jobs | Leave a Comment »

The “make-work bias” meets energy policy

Posted by Rich Sweeney on November 13, 2007

Last week I attended an Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) event at the Hart building on “Green Collar Jobs”. The event was co-sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society, which was presenting its study on how many jobs energy efficiency and renewables would create in the US over the next 25 years. The answer? 40 million new jobs by 2030.

Now this “study” was about as rigorous as the Power in the Public Interest electricity deregulation paper the NYTimes cited last week. When I saw the title for the talk, I naively assumed that said study would involve some sort of macro model, with efficiency and renewables supply curves and labor explicitly defined as a factor input. Clearly, as the tone of this post indicates, I was mistaken. Yet what I really want to talk about today is not the shortcomings of the ASES study, but the fact that nobody at the briefing cared. Among the attendees were Senate Energy Committee member Ken Salazar and Washington Director for the State of Ohio Drew McKracken. Despite the glaring lack of substance or specificity, both felt compelled to loudly tout the study as justification for the renewables and efficiency spending bills currently being pushed through Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Climate Change, Efficiency, Green Collar Jobs, Renewables | 5 Comments »