at College of the Atlantic's conference on "Cooperation, Community and
Complexity" later today. The conference is sponsored by the new American office ofnef, one of my favorite think tanks, and I'm very pleased to be asked to speak.
"Which economic theory will actually work to
stop global climate change?"
My starting thesis is that we don't actually properly practice any economic theory at all -- what we finish up with for economic policy in American and most western countries is a mish-mash of superstition, alarmism, bigotry, and factionalism, with a little self-serving theorizing, hand waving at Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes, mixed in.
This is as true for American Democrats as it is for American Republicans, and indeed for most western nation political parties. It's also true for American environmentalists.
If we were rational we'd sit down and think it all out, eventually adopting ecological economics or something like that.
("Eco-eco" is the closest humanity has come to a scientifically literate economics. I'm proud to be one of its early adopters.)
But we're not going to do that, not just yet, anyway. Look around. Other than the afore-mentioned superstition, alarmism, bigotry, and factionalism, many Americans still think economics began and ended with Adam Smith, possibly crediting Milton Friedman for a few apocrypha. That portion of the remainder who cares probably assumes that progressive economics, such as that of the Obama administration, is "good enough for government work," and would simply like to see more of it. The rest just don't care. They're distracted by kittens on YouTube, or the War on Terror, or TV, or other drugs, legal and illegal, or, bless 'em, by just trying to make a living (just to name a few of the more common distractions we economics teachers encounter).
So we're heading into disruptive, dangerous climate change with both politics and economics, not to mention levels of public science education, that are wholly inadequate to the problem.
And, when you consider the climate change problem in this light, you begin to realize we don't have time to do much better. We have only another ten or twenty or perhaps thirty years here, in which we either have to eliminate more than 80 percent of current fossil fuel use, or find a cost-effective way to sequester an extra gigaton or two of carbon from the atmosphere each year, or do some combination, to avoid potentially clvilization-destroying climate change.
But we live in a democracy, and presumably value that fact.
So our distracted friends and neighbors, the folks with the wholly inadequate economics and politics, well they have a right to be distracted and to be climate-illiterate.
This is a right that may kill the planet, but we can't deny them that right without repealing the Enlightenment, the sacrifices of two world wars and a cold one, and the hundreds of years of social evolution and sacrifice that went into developing democracy itself.
What to do?
(That's my outline. I do have an answer to this question, but no spoilers!)