Monday, July 14, 2014

GK and GP

I needed a place to store my Climate CoLab proposal, independent of MIT (in case of computer crash, hacking, etc).

Here it is, only slightly reformatted for Google Blogger. I may have to tweak the final version for MIT in time, as in the later stages of the contest there will be (or should be) more interaction with judges and other Climate CoLab members. But I'm pretty pleased with it so far. I think it solves some major geopolitical problems.

(I ought to be pleased with it. I've been working on it for months!)

Eventually, I know I'll have to reformat it and rewrite it for some other publishing venue. The Climate CoLab template is a little forced in some respects, channeling particular kinds of information into specific format sections, and this makes it harder to get some ideas across.

But all-in-all, it's been a good experience for me to use the Climate CoLab entry process as a kind of muse. Before I began with Climate CoLab, I had most of this material in my head, and even had it kind of coordinated, but the process of writing it out in this particular format itself was very helpful. It made me think through things a little better, and make a few connections, than I otherwise would have done.

I'm looking forward to the judging period, hoping to get some more feedback. So far the comments I've gotten were from hopelessly inexperienced commentators, and hardly of any use at all.

Green Keynesianism and Climate Free Trade Areas


Democracy versus the "fossil elites"? Get serious: Apply realism, Keynesianism, political science, ecological economics.



Climate change is a complex geopolitical phenomenon. These observations condition solutions:
  1. Climate change is a threat to human life globally. People have a natural right to take collective, democratic action to defend themselves.
  2. Climate change and democracy are related in a "feedback" system. Apply realism: The majority of carbon-based fuel reserves that cause climate change, and much related capital, are owned by dictatorships and "fossil elites", who will not voluntarily give up their interest without legal or other coercion, and act, often anti-democratically, to preserve their assets. Only where democracy is strong is effective policy implemented. Climate change can destabilize democracy and is doing so, while mitigation improves it.
  3. Simultaneous action on emissions and to strengthen democracy is therefore required. You can't do one without the other, or you won't be able to do either. Democracies must also remain economically, politically, militarily strong.
  4. There's no way forward in the short term without capitalism. No other socio-economic-political theory exists that can win election in time for 2020-2050 GHG goals. Apply Keynesianism -- a historical solution to this kind of problem, moderates capitalism.
  5. Capitalism, realism and democracy all thus required, a second- or third-best solution, but necessary. Ecological economics would be better, but is electorially out-of-reach. But we can stage to get there.

Solutions (staged over time):
  1. Green Keynesianism (GK): Coordination by the democracies to gain control of this combined climate-democracy problem: a growth-oriented, moderately pro-capitalist climate/economic policy: interventions, stimulus, tax, and subsidy.
  2. Green Protectionism (GP): Spreading the benefits of GK to democratic developing nations, isolating dictatorships, using a global climate free trade area, tariffs.
  3. Ecological Economics: Even green growth is not permanently possible on a finite planet.
  4. Vigilance: Prevent the rise of non-democratic regimes.

Category of the Action

Integrated action plan for the world as a whole

What actions do you propose?

(This proposal was originally published under the "Shifting Perceptions" contest. Comments there helped shape this draft.)

Situation: In key developed nations, primarily the USA, UK and Australia, rogue capitalists, elite individuals that own fossil fuel reserves and related capital have funded political campaigns to spread disinformation, buy politicians, and stall the regulatory process. There are close connections between these elites and the political parties in power. Similarly, around the globe dictators and dictatorships of various sorts control vast fossil reserves and capital. Effective mitigation would inevitably confiscate value in fossil fuel resources controlled by these individuals and regimes, who will defend their narrow interests without regard to the ethics of the political means used. I identify this aggressive action as the primary reason why strong climate policy has not yet been adopted. I am calling these "fossil elites" and their actions "anti-democratic". Successful mitigation as currently proposed by the Copenhagen process would also be economically recessionary, weakening democracies, strengthening fossil elites. No climate proposal that ignores these facts can be expected to be successful. Currently, climate advocates are unrealistic, expecting that our climate knowledge and good ideas will suffice. We should expect a protracted geopolitical struggle for climate protection. Climate advocates are also economically naïve. We can't afford recessionary forms of mitigation, or unpopular political/economic theory, or we may extend this struggle beyond the key mitigation years of 2020-2050 or, worse, lose it. We must find geopolitical/economic solutions that thread this maze.

I apply geopolitical realism and Keynesian economics to propose a novel set of staged solutions to this complex of problems.

Stage One: Green Keynesianism (GK): The first stage in a concerted attempt by the democracies to gain control of this combined climate-democracy problem is a populist, growth-oriented, moderately pro-capitalist climate/economic policy, whereby developed nations and important developing democratic allies (India, Brazil, others) regain economic leadership by stimulating our internal economies using Keynesian economic multipliers intrinsic to the spread of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency measures, as well as related carbon fees, green energy subsidies, and direct government stimulus. The physical result would be the accelerated replacement of fossil fuel consumption with renewable energy capital in developed nations and allies, while avoiding recessionary effects, and strengthening democracy.

Stage Two: Green Protectionism: The second stage is to spread the benefits of GK growth to democratic developing nations, trying deliberately to isolate and transform non-democratic regimes. The democracies develop a global Climate Free Trade Area, within which protectionism is practiced on the basis of compliance with carbon emissions reductions and democratization milestones. The goal is to stimulate democracy and emissions reductions at the same time, by requiring both as a condition of untrammeled access to trade. Only nations compliant with democratization and mitigation milestones determined collectively by the democracies will be allowed to trade without tariff barriers. We know this works because it is essentially how the EU currently extends environmental regulation and human rights, by requiring reform on the part of candidate countries, such as Turkey, as prerequisite to access to the very prosperous European free trade area. The physical result would be the spread of emission reductions to newly-formed, increasingly prosperous democracies.

Stage Three: Ecological Economics: Even green growth is not permanently possible on a finite planet. Once stages 1 and 2 above have been achieved, once democracy is spreading and emissions reductions working, a transition to a third stage is then (and only then) possible, the shift away from GK/GP-moderated capitalism to a fully ecological economics in which overall biophysical growth itself is stabilized or reduced on the basis of a more complete economic calculus, a gross national happiness or sustainable economic welfare. To achieve this, much education will be required. Ecological economics will also inevitably result in the trammeling of capitalism. But capitalism, like all other ideologies, has to prove itself by usefulness -- a point routinely ignored by those who wish us to take its helpfulness on faith.

Stage Four: Vigilance: Even at this point, great care must be taken to prevent the rise of non-democratic regimes. The democracies must unite and democracy expand wherever possible. The united democracies must retain a military arm that is larger than the next two or three non-democratic competitors combined. The development of global policing and conflict resolution systems must continue, as must the education of electorates in all countries.

Where will these actions be taken?

Where?: In a growing global democratic/climate compliant free trade bloc.

Following successful introduction of these ideas (GK and GP) to political/economic debate in the democratic world via success in Climate CoLab, and through further development of the ideas by online and other forms of debate, political action will eventually place in the public dialog about climate change in western and other democratic countries, establishing a movement towards global GK and GP. The GK and GP regime will be economically successful. The Climate Free Trade Area will grow, perhaps eventually admitting a (newly) democratic China and a (more) democratic Russia, whose elites will by then be more properly motivated.

This proposed mechanism (GK and GP) is required because nations and individuals have interests, because fossil elites in particular have interests in fossil fuels, and because democracy, although spreading, is currently neither sufficiently strong nor widespread to require emissions reductions from these elites.

The problem of sustaining and growing democracy has therefore to be addressed at the same time we address climate change and strengthen the economies of the democracies relative to the dictatorships.
Idealism does not aid in this project. Undemocratic regimes with vast weaponry led by one-party states, dictators, and juntas crowd every continent except Europe and North America. Some have weapons of mass destruction. Democratic institutions, particularly the Internet, are often the only sources of political and/or religious freedom. Insurgencies and brigandage also prevent the spread of democracy. Within democracies, fossil elites buy politicians and whole political parties. Opposing these forces is expensive.

Accordingly, the democracies need economic growth and an economic and military advantage over non-democratic states and brigands, as well as police and regulatory power over our own fossil elites, if emissions are to be reduced.

GK and GP provide this advantage.

Who will take these actions?

Who? Electorates, academicians, business leaders and politicians in the democracies, working in their enlightened self-interest.

GK and GP ideas first need to be introduced to the public dialog in democratic countries. That should be achieved by a "win" or even a runner-up position in Climate Colab.

These ideas ought then be taken up by the electorate and politicians and political parties. This seems likely. These ideas solve a major current political problem, and can appeal to both sides of the political divide within democracies, i.e., to the "left": liberals, democratic socialists, unionists (because of protectionism), and moderate environmentalists; and to the moderate "right": business leaders, moderate conservatives, moderate capitalists, and democracy advocates everywhere. A broad coalition can result, a new global politics of the "middle way."

Not all will agree. Should these ideas succeed in Climate CoLab, some backlash is to be expected from the far right, as well as from China and Russia. DOS attacks on Climate CoLab by Chinese government hackers are possible, for instance.

Neither do these ideas appeal to leftists who do not appreciate realism or Keynesianism. The main problem is that the far left and extreme greens reject both capitalism and militarism. The policing lobby in democracies is associated with the political right, and the police power of the state is used to oppress the left. However, George Orwell's quote applies now, as ever: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
Some backlash is also to be expected from the far left and non-realists, and has already occurred to some mild extent in the comments (under "Shifting Perceptions").

GK and GP navigate the gauntlet of powerful but mutually-opposed extremist views on the right and left, while allowing for the development of consensus among moderates.

What are key benefits?

  1. Reduction of climate emissions, eventual climate stabilization.
  2. The enhancement and spread of democracy globally, using coordinated western/democratic economic power to achieve that goal.

The conventional solution, continuing or expanding the Kyoto/Copenhagen process of negotiating with, and thus legitimizing, dictatorships such as China, and/or through negotiating with and pandering to with non-democratic fossil-fuel owning western elites, fails to take into account the fact that democracy and associated regulation are a precondition for effective mitigation within nations and globally. The likelihood is also strong that Kyoto/Copenhagen without Keynesian support would weaken the democracies through recession. It follows that major dictatorships and fossil elites would be strengthened relative to the democracies. The two goals must be pursued simultaneously, in coordinated fashion.

What are the proposal’s costs?

Far less than the alternatives (climate chaos and the resultant destabilization of existing democracies).
Part of the complexity of climate change is that it is only in democracies with strong human rights that emissions are  mitigated. In these nations, science affects public policy through open debate, and analysis of costs and benefits is part of the debate. In dictatorships, emissions are growing, while many dictators directly profit from fossil fuels.

Yet most democracies are, paradoxically,  economically supported by capitalism, an undemocratic economic system. Democracy is also expensive in terms of police and military costs. If emissions are to be reduced, stronger democracy seems required, and yet higher regulatory, policing and military costs must therefore be borne.

Yet most solutions so far proposed would directly weaken the economies of democracies, both relative to what could be achieved under GK and GP, and relative to the dictatorships.
GK and GP navigate this maze.

Time line

Stage One: Green Keynesianism: This approach is currently being adopted by some nations and some (fragmented) policies, although it is not yet labeled as such, nor efforts coordinated. GK should be extended deliberately throughout the democracies in what remains of the current decade and the decade of the 2020s.

Stage Two: Green Protectionism: Begins as soon as is practicable, as soon as a global political consensus can be formed in the democracies.

Stage Three: Ecological Economics: By the 2030s or later, if stages one and two are successful. The author believes that a GK and GP era is a pre-requisite to wider adoption of ecological economics, due to its education requirements. It will be costly to provide the wide public education required for ecological economic policies and politicians to be electorially successful.

Stage Four: Vigilance: Ongoing, continual. GK and GP will together provide an initial context for humanity to move forward together, eventually as a global democracy.


(Sub-proposals are linked below. Please continue reading to see them. My text provides an explanation of how this proposal will aid relevant sub-proposals.)

Green Keynesianism and Green Protectionism are an overriding geopolitical context, a true "Global Plan," proposed to replace the current context, which might be characterized as a mix of disparate, powerful forces, including (but not limited to) EU and UN-backed multilateralism, US unilateralism and the power of the "Washington consensus" economic regime through trade organizations such as the WTO, as well as the economic and military power of the leading dictatorships, China and Russia. As the Climate CoLab "Global Plan" documents themselves state, no force has unilateral power to control outcomes in the current system.

GK and GP consensus, if adopted by the democratic world, would replace the current multilateral geopolitical context with a more unilateral one, in which outcomes would be determined by the democracies collectively protecting themselves against climate change and anti-democracatic forces. This new context of GK and GP would necessarily create a global economic environment wherein many other Climate CoLab proposals might flourish. Currently, many such proposals are either too idealistic or utopian, or lack effective means to implementation. In many cases, the missing means is investment, which would be provided by GK. In other cases the missing means is geopolitical legality, a result of trade regimes that deter strong environmental regulation. Such legality would be provided by GP.

The current author is currently agnostic about which specific Climate CoLab sub-proposals would be best suited for linkage to GK and GP within the framework of the Global Plan contest. Some are, frankly, nuts. Others are poorly developed, missing sections required by the various contests. Others lack basic science literacy. As the contests proceed, the best candidates will emerge. The author will monitor the other contests to identify them and add them here as required by the "Global Plan" contest format.

In the meantime, readers are asked to consider that the intent of the current effort is instead to introduce a set of realistic economic and geopolitical ideas (GK and GP) to the overall debate about climate policy. These ideas are sufficiently powerful that their adoption would be game-changing for almost all other mitigation and adaptation proposals. A competitive "marketplace of ideas", strengthened by open-source debate within Climate CoLab, will necessarily whittle and hone such proposals.

The following partial list is therefore offered as exemplary of sub-proposals whose implementation would be enhanced by GK and GP.

The Little Engine That Could: Carbon Fee and Dividend
U.S. Government-Shrinking Carbon Business Opportunity Act
Marine BECCS (biofuel) Investment as Carbon Credit for Fossil Fuel Companies
Carbon PACE Bond
Use currently available efficient technology to replace fossil fuels
Solar Asphalt Heat Recovery System SAHRS
Rapid Increase in Science Education - RISE
Kick Starting A Global Transition To A Green Economy; Financing Climate Change

Another way that sub proposals fit together with GK and GP is that this proposal provides at least a theoretical means for the world to stage from growth economics to ecological economics. While economic growth will be required in the short to medium term to strengthen democracy and to pay for climate mitigation and adaptation investments under GK and GP, ultimately economic growth on a finite planet is Kenneth Arrow's "Impossibility Theorem."

A more ecological economics that is compatible with the Laws of Thermodynamics will eventually be required.

However, there is currently no democratic electoral means by which an ecological economics could be adopted by any significantly populous democratic nation. Due to an overall lack of understanding of ecological economics among ordinary people and opinion makers, no political party in any democracy exists that is of sufficient scale and potential electoral success to introduce such an economics in the wholesale way that would be required.

Additionally, up to this point no ecological economist has provided an outline of any political means by which this political innovation might more swiftly occur. The various "Green" Parties in western nations are arguably the most likely vehicles, but even in those European countries where the Green Party movement has been most successful, the most that has so far been achieved is the occasional "tie-breaker" or coalition candidate status of a Green Party minority within a relatively static system of more powerful mainstream political parties of the left and right. Additionally, Green Party power has been weakened by the adoption of marginal or unpopular "cranky" ideas. Green party politics will remain marginal, and so unlikely to be able to introduce ecological economics in the foreseeable future.

The primary requirements for the eventual adoption of ecological economics are 1) a better educated electorate, 2) a serious political debate about economic ideas that are currently the purview of a small number of academics, and 3) economic security in which 1 and 2 might occur. This is a chicken-egg type of problem. In particular, although there has been success with some ecological economic ideas such as micro-finance, an overall barrier is that nations must attain high middle class standard before the labor of sufficient people can be discarded with in order that large numbers of ecological economists could be academically trained.

The idea that we can eventually stage from GK and GP to ecological economics with sufficient investment in education and in public debate is a novel proposal to navigate this maze. Other potential exists, in for instance the spread of the Internet and open-source learning, particularly in developing nations.

Many Climate CoLab proposals are based, whether their authors understand it or not, on ecological economic thought, and so a national or global political paradigm where ecological economic ideas can be implemented (such as GK and GP) is a prerequisite for these proposals.
The sub-proposals that are relevant are thus those that depend on ecological economics in one way or another. Again, the current author of GK and GP is agnostic about which ones would be best.
Proposals that require an understanding of the essential thermodynamic basis of the economy, that point to a more "circular" economy in which waste from one process becomes material or energy input to another, that require new and different notions of sustainable economic welfare beyond growth in GDP, or that require new concepts of the theory of money, or any such combinations, would all be likely candidates. What follows is a list of tentative examples:

The Product Passport: A Practical and Scalable Standard
Consumption Conundrum
The Calorie Currency
Global 4C: Empowering Humanity for Carbon Transition with Smart Money

How do these sub-proposals fit together?

In general, proposals that require government investment or coordination in clean technology would be well-suited to GK, while proposals that require changes to the international legal framework of trade would be best suited to GP. GK and GP thus provide a geopolitical context in which other climate mitigation and adaptation ideas can flourish.

Another way that sub proposals fit together with GK and GP is that this proposal provides at least a theoretical means for the world to stage from growth economics to ecological economics.

The GK and GP context itself is thus how it all "fits together," how the sub-proposals become mutually compatible.

The two primary assumptions are realism and Keynesianism.

Historically, Keynesian economics provides a theoretical explanation and "play book" on how to strengthen democracy within a growth economy context. Continued economic strength within the democracies is required to counter strength within the dictatorships (primarily Russia and China), and to counter internal anti-democratic forces. Keynesian multipliers result from reducing fossil energy expenses and replacing with green energy capital, increasing returns over time and denying revenue to non-democratic elites, internally and externally.

Realism in geopolitical affairs proposes that countries (and individuals) have interests, legitimate or otherwise, and that these interests need to be taken into account in computing courses of action if success is to be expected.

Most climate advocates are idealistic, hoping, that nations and individuals can be persuaded by argument and altruism to give up primary interests, such as value in fossil fuel reserves. This is only likely if renewable energy capital becomes yet cheaper. A realistic approach suggests other means, particularly international legal coercion, police power, and possibly military force will be required.

Explanation of model inputs

Models are simplifications of reality used for study and to discern courses of action. This submission proposes a new model of the human polity on earth. This model, if adopted, would improve the geopolitical and economic context within which any other climate proposal must function.

The proposed model is one in which a) nations and individuals within nations (fossil elites) are assumed to have interests, an assumption also known as geopolitical realism; and b) economic conditions are controlled by demand-side functions, also known as economic Keynesianism.

Both are 'feedback" (ie, self-reinforcing) functions.

In particular, within this model the pace of adoption of mitigation measures is a function of how interests are guarded by fossil elites versus measures advanced by democratic power, more mitigation leading to greater power and more mitigation; while the value of production of renewable energy and energy efficiency capital is itself a function of economic growth, a cause of market demand and caused by market demand.

Recessionary measures, such as a heavy carbon tax, would lead both to the slowing of renewable energy capital production and weakening of the democratic power to implement mitigation.
The GK and GP model is proposed to replace the current model, of which the Global Plan contest itself gives the following description:

"Under the current state of the world’s governance system, there isn’t any one organization or even a defined group of organizations that could take such a vision and readily enact it. Instead, successful action will require work by many people across multiple organizations around the globe.
"Articulating a vision for the world as a whole... can demonstrate that there is a plausible path forward. And such a vision can serve as a roadmap for the many disparate organizations and actors whose efforts must be enlisted."

GK and GP are such a "vision" and "roadmap," resulting in faster mitigation (used as input to the Stanford EMF27 model).


  1. This proposal owes much to the overall geopolitical and economic thought of John Maynard Keynes, particularly in The Economic Consequences of the Peace, the General Theory and in How to Pay for the War. Few commentators who read Keynes understand his geopolitical thought, but he believed in (an admittedly elitist version of) democracy and the ultimate goodness of the west (particularly Anglo-America and the former British Dominions), and was prepared to cede limited rights to capitalism in order to provide the growth needed to protect that democracy. This kind of trade-off is the essence of Green Keynesianism, adapted from the original. Keynes also realized that economic growth is essential to governance and police and military power in any country, and Keynes himself helped think through the British Empire's successful economic responses to both World Wars, and his theory became that used by the US and UK during much of the Cold War, including paradoxically the Reagan period (where military spending was used to outpace that of the Soviet Union). Keynesian theory should therefore be viewed in the context of the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the non-democratic slave empires that Keynesianism ultimately defeated, in 1945 and 1989, respectively. A Keynesian campaign is currently needed to stimulate the response to climate change and spread democracy.
  2. The ecological economic thought of Herman E. Daly, in Steady State Economics (1977) and For the Common Good (1989 and 1994, co-authored with John Cobb). Daly, and his mentor Nicholas Georgescu-Reogen, provide the theory by which we can understand the human economy as a biophysical entity. Daly does not, however, provide a means by which we could establish his theory as policy through the ballot box. Nor does he detail how we might stage into an ecological economic geopolitics when there is so much momentum in the status quo. That is what I attempt in part to do here. The author was a graduate student under Dr. Daly in the 1990s, and agrees with much of the theory in ecological economics, but does not see how ecological economics can spread if pre-conditions of wider democracy and more public education do not also exist. Ecological economics, while likely more scientific than growth economics, may be a luxury only available in upper middle class countries. Paradoxically, getting to the point where these preconditions do exist may require several more decades of economic growth.
  3. The term "Great Prosperity" is taken from the work of former US Secretary of Labor and economist Robert Reich.
  4. Kenneth Arrow first introduced the term "Impossibility Theorem" in work explaining voter patterns in the US. Herman Daly adopted the term to encapsulate the impossibility of infinite economic growth on a finite planet (Chapter 14, Sustainable Growth, an Impossibility Theorem; page 267, in  Valuing the Earth: Economics Ecology, Ethics, MIT Press, 1993, Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend, editors).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Island Energy job

Community Energy Associate

Posted By Nancy Carter on 6/20/2014 12:00:00 AM   |  Last Edited By Nancy Carter on 6/20/2014 3:09:07 PM
Summary: The Island Institute, a nonprofit community development organization located in Rockland, Maine, seeks a Community Energy Associate to provide technical, community outreach and administrative support to the Community Energy team. The CE team assists the Institute’s community partners in Maine's year-round island and remote coastal communities to better understand and confront their unique energy challenges. This is a one-year position renewable based on secured funding.
The Island Institute’s Community Energy program undertakes projects that address island and remote coastal communities' priorities related to their energy challenges and opportunities, including energy efficiency, the evaluation of ocean renewable energy and community-owned renewable energy projects, and formal and informal energy education.  This work is motivated by the economic and climate implications of island energy use and seeks to result in concrete, measurable impacts in our partner communities.
Working closely with other Community Energy program staff, the Community Energy Associate will implement projects that seek to:
  • Increase home and business owner access to energy efficiency retrofits and related incentives;
  • Provide technical analysis and translation to local stakeholders evaluating the potential for community-owned renewable energy projects;
  • Engage with coastal stakeholders on the potential impacts and benefits of offshore wind development in Maine;
  • Build local capacity to work on energy issues through intergenerational energy education programs.
  • For the complete job posting, including required and preferred qualifications, please visit:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Your help needed

MIT's Climate CoLab contests approach the judging phase, to begin July 14th. My proposal is the only one so far within its category to complete all the judges' requirements and so likely to place highly, but no-one so far has voted for it.

There have been few votes cast thus far in any case, so this isn't necessarily any indication that no-one likes my proposal, but I'll need all the help I can get if I'm to win or even to place.

I'm asking readers of Sustainability Thought and Deed to register and log in to the MIT Climate CoLab overall contest, navigate to the specific Global Plan contest, read my proposal, and consider voting for it.

If you don't want to vote for it, that's fine. Tell me why, in a comment.

Within the Climate CoLab context, the more comments a proposal receives, the better.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lower court decision with major ramifications

If this goes unchallenged, or perhaps even if it is, it sets a precedent, one that even the five conservative Supreme Court judges may think twice before undoing. Normally the use of cost benefit analysis, required for all executive branch actions since Reagan, and quite wide form of analysis since Bill Clinton issued Executive. Order No. 12,866, pushes public policy  towards moderate or conservative decisions, but in this case the courts interpretation leaves a major barn door open through which to drive many climate mitigation cases, including perhaps some international ones.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Update on my Climate CoLab "Global Plan": Green Keynesianism

Regular readers of Sustainability Thought and Deed will already know of my "Green Keynesianism" proposal to the Climate CoLab competition at MIT.

Climate CoLab represents a new format for the distribution of ideas and for academic debate, a kind of crowd-sourcing. There's also a prize, and the promise of promotion for the winning ideas. You get comments and feedback as you work up your proposals, and this strengthens your work. Later in the process you'll get feedback from a team of "blue ribbon" judges.

All of this sounded pretty good to me, my idea of "fun", but I also entered the competition because my ideas to combat climate change don't really fit any particular traditional academic format. I could perhaps have published them in one of the more radical economics journals such as Ecological Economics, or have written a book, which would necessarily have been a polemic, and I may yet do one or both of these, but in this summer when Aimee and I are expecting a baby, and after a particularly busy academic year, with an even busier one looming, this was what I had time for. I wouldn't have had time for either of the two alternatives, at least not enough time to do them well.

Originally my proposal was filed under a section titled "Shifting perceptions", intended to be a receptacle and forum for proposals about how to influence and educate folk about climate change. Since my particular proposal was fairly global in reach, it sat somewhat uneasily in this section.

The competition organizers have come up with a whole new section to accommodate more global proposals, and invited me to shift my proposal over there, so I did so.

The new section is called "Global Plan"

Here's the lede:

"This contest invites Climate CoLab members to create an integrated vision for what actions the world as a whole can take.
Under the current state of the world’s governance system, there isn’t any one organization or even a defined group of organizations that could take such a vision and readily enact it. Instead, successful action will require work by many people across multiple organizations around the globe.
Articulating a vision for the world as a whole has great potential value, since it can demonstrate that there is a plausible path forward. And such a vision can serve as a roadmap for the many disparate organizations and actors whose efforts must be enlisted."

Here's my particular proposal. Please feel free to read and, if you feel it warranted, to support it.

These ideas grew out of a couple of articles I published on Andrew Revkin's New York Times blog. You can read the originals here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Advice to a non-traditional (mature) student

(I sometimes post some of my correspondence here, if it's interesting or useful to other people. This seemed to fit the bill.)


Hey Mick,

As my adviser, I was hoping you could advise me :)

I am struggling with the increase in tuition and what is needed for rent. I've been applying for scholarships and trying to find a job. I want to stay in school and accomplish something in life. I have family and friends that tell me to quit and get a "real" job, but that is why I am in school, to better myself, to help others who want to succeed and encourage people to make a change to preserve the world instead of depleting it.

I need direction because I have none, not many people I know have graduated a four-year program, let alone are doing something to preserve the environment.

It is a dream to graduate from Unity College and I'm now wondering if its even a possibility. I'm not afraid to work for it, I just don't what to do.

thank you for your time,




Good. We’re ready to think things through properly.

First up, one purpose of a four-year degree is to train leaders to solve complicated, convoluted problems. You seem to have a private personal complicated convoluted problem that is something like “WTF do I do with my life?” Am I right? Is there a better way to put it? Try to nail it for me. I’m serious here. Get to the bottom of things. Don’t hold back. Be a good critical thinker.

If that’s the root problem, “WTF do I do with my life?”, or something like it, then one solution to the problem is “Get a four-year degree and get a good job and a serious career.” There are other equally good solutions, like, “Drop out and become a lotus-eating Zen master” or “Join the marines and see the world.” As a college professor of long experience advising undergraduates, I am agnostic on which solutions are best. It’s your life, after all. Who am I to say what you should do? What I want out of the deal are willing students who are motivated to learn, so your choices must be freely made.

It’s important to also note that some of these other solutions are WAY cheaper than a four-year college degree. Like, the marines will actually pay you to see the world. In the interest of full and fair disclosure, I also have to say that it’s possible to have a great career without even getting a college degree. If you’re Steve Jobs, that is, or someone creative and driven like he was. Most people aren’t, so they take a degree to make up for it.

If you put your thinking cap on and work from the “WFT.?” question and eventually do get to the solution of “Get a four-year degree and get a good job and a serious career,” then it naturally follows that another decision must then be made: “Where to go to school?”

Unity College is one place to go to school, but only one of many, and middle-of-the-road expensive. Why pick Unity?

One answer is that Unity College is an acknowledged leader in a thing called the "sustainability movement” and has been for over a decade now, since the late 1990s, in fact. This is a very broad and hard-to-define movement, but it exists, and can certainly be an environment where a person can have a serious interesting career helping to solve some very difficult problems like climate change or biodiversity loss. So coming to Unity can definitely help you join the sustainability movement, if that is what you really, really want to do.

Note that these environmental problems are not very well understood by the majority of people. The average person, even someone who had a decent education, if given the exhortation “join the sustainability movement to help solve climate change” would be very confused, and one response they might have to that confusion would be that this is bad advice and they might then tell you so. This is I think where many students' friends and families who tell them to go to a “real” college and to get a “real job” are coming from. They simply don’t understand that thousands and thousands of people have interesting, well-paid, real jobs solving climate change in the sustainability movement or working with biodiversity protection. But they do.

Me, for instance. I have one such job. So does my wife. And we’re not doing too badly.

However, at this point it’s important to note that you could have a very good and even socially redeeming carer going to some other college and becoming, say, a lawyer, an accountant, or a business professional. Or “join the marines and see the world.” See, we’re back to square one.

And it’s certainly possible to go to a four-year second tier state-run college and get a degree in accounting or business for much less than the Unity College degree. To make it yet more complicated, you could even go get that degree and graduate and join the sustainability movement. There’s no law to say you can’t. So, for instance, you could get a plain Jane four-year accounting degree for less than $40 K from East Overshoe State College in upstate New Guernsey, and then go to work for a solar PV installation firm organizing finance for household solar installations, and in a lifetime’s work making several hundred such installations happen, getting paid pretty well for this service, and when all is said and done, who would be able to say say that you wouldn’t have contributed as much if not more to solving climate change than, say, a fat old professor of Sustainable Energy?

No-one, that’s who.

The only thing that would be required to go down this other road is that you find your own ways to think about the sustainability movement and climate change. This is because they aren’t going to cover that in the curriculum at East Overshoe State. Not in any organized way. They may have the classes on the books, but they won’t be "joined up” in any way that makes sense. Not right now, at least. In twenty years they will be, and all boring old accountants graduating East Overshoe and all the hundreds if not thousands of other places like it will be made to take courses in climate change and renewable energy technology. That’s what society will need, and so that’s what will happen. But not right now, not right away.

Whereas at Unity College they will be joined up and they would make sense. (Not necessarily right away, but eventually, after a semester or two or three.) This is probably what we mean by “interdisciplinary" or “transdisciplinary” sustainability studies: that the ideas with which we work are joined-up, organized and connected and function across the traditional disciplines, which are rapidly being made obsolete by the demands of the marketplace for ideas. This is what we do at Unity College and we do it particularly well if you’re willing to pay attention.

(Note that not all of the students in all of the classes you’ve been in so far are paying attention. If they’re lazy students, or drunk, or smoking weed, they probably don’t know what a good sustainability education they’re getting, and so some UC students will add to the confusion by not being aware of their own situation. Don’t be like them. You can’t afford it, for one. But for another, it’s a very silly way to be in this world. Education is often wasted on the young.)

More complications and convolutions: If you went to Flagship State University instead, it’s possible and even likely that you could get a half-way decent joined-upsustainability education for about the same price as UC, or even a bit less. Most of the big state colleges, like UMaine Orono, by now have such programs. I’d like to think that they aren’t quite as thought-out and joined up as the Unity degree, but I’m a little biased, and some of them probably are pretty well organized by this point.

So, to summarize: If, after doing all this thinking you decide that you want a career solving climate change or biodiversity loss, then you’ll almost certainly need a four-year degree, and by all means Unity College is a good choice, but not the only choice at this point. If you decide you want to go someplace else, just tell me and we’ll think it through and find you a place to go.

Now the housing problem. I’m going to say right off the bat without even looking at things properly that most housing problems are in fact budget problems. If they were not, all students would be living in ten-thousand square foot MacMansions with poolside bars, right?

Budget problems are always solvable. They require some accounting skill, and, when they’re college budget problems they require some knowledge of the federal financial aid system. But they are solvable. The way to begin is to list all the expenses and income. I would go monthly since that’s the way bills tend to appear in the mail: list all the monthly expenses required. (Some annual expenses or annual income will need to be divided by 12 to make them monthly.)

Make a two column list “Monthly Expenses for my College Degree.” You could use Excel or paper and pencil. Here’s an example.

Item/Monthly Cost
Rent  $500
Electric bill $100
Food $150
Car payment $150
Car insurance $50

Etc, etc. Leave tuition out, for now.

When you get to the bottom of the list and have listed everything and added it up, make another list: "Monthly Income for my College Degree.”

This second list should look like something this:

Item/Monthly Income
Student loan $1000
(divided by 12)
Part-time job $800
Summer full time job  $700
(divided by 12)

Etc, etc.

This will be likely a much shorter list. Unfortunately.

If after you do both lists, income is greater than expenses, then you are probably OK, at least for now.

If expenses are greater than income, then we have to add income or reduce expenses. More likely, we reduce expenses. Break it down and work on one item at a time, but don’t forget that some items are joined together. So rent might be more expensive in Unity, Maine, but you wouldn’t perhaps need to have a nice car if you could walk or bike to school until the snow flies. An old beater might do. Or you might find cheaper rent in Waterville, but need a better and more fuel-efficient car to exploit this. Remember, nothing on the expenses list is sacred, not if you’re serious about your goal. (Except maybe food.) Do you really need a $100/month cell phone when a $14 one would do? And so on. More than likely your real list has different items and problems than the examples I’m using, but you get the idea.

You may need to up your loans. We can talk at more length when you come back to school about student loan repayment plans and forgiveness programs and whether or not loans are worth it, but bottom line is, they’re much more generous than they were five-six years ago. This is one really useful nation-building thing Congress has done in the last few years, that most folks don’t know about.

Think of student loans as an investment, as if you were starting a business. If you were starting a business, like a bakery or an auto shop, you’d probably get a bank loan of several tens of thousands of dollars to buy equipment, but you’d need to show the bank your business plan. In this case we’re starting a business called “XXX’s Career,” and making a similar investment. The investment needs to pay off in the sense that you can afford to pay the student loan when you get done, and still have money left over for other goals like a nice life, a house, or retirement, so this also has to be a very well-planned investment. That’s not as hard as it sounds with the new lower interest rates, pay as you earn, forgiveness and wotnot.

And people in the sustainable energy business are hiring. To properly plan, we need to start looking at some of these jobs, think about which kinds of jobs you’d like to do, and see how much they pay. We can talk more when you get back. If you’re a serious student, and plan, student loans shouldn’t be a problem.

One thing: Never, ever take out a private student loan. Make sure all your loans are federal.

Never eat at a place called “Moms," never play poker with a guy called “Doc,” never take out anything but a fixed interest mortgage, and never, ever take out a private student loan. (That’s all the fatherly advice I have, I’m afraid, and even this is partly stolen from an environmental writer called Ed Abbey.)

Hope this helps,