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A New Breakthrough Needed for Greens ? Maybe Not …

New Deal 2.0 – excellent blog that it is otherwise, does not give much space to environmental issues.  This piece one of two blogs by Jon Rynn critiques one influential critique of environmentalism i.e. Nordhaus and Shellenberger  of the The Breakthrough Institute.  It is very thought provoking for an environmentalist like myself as I discover I suffer from some of the faulty thinking he convincingly identifies.  Smart Taxes supports Cap and Share for instance; Feasta our lead NGO has devoted years to its promotion. Jon Rynn says…

It pains me to criticize not just cap and trade legislation, but carbon pricing in general (which includes carbon taxes, generally considered an alternative). So much of the energy of the environmental movement is caught up in carbon pricing, and it has spent so many resources, so much time, and so much, as N and S point out, “political capital”, that it is heartbreaking to criticize the sincere work of so many people. The sense I get from my contacts and interaction in the environmental movement — and I include my time blogging for — is that the overwhelming majority of environmentalists think that cap and trade (again, including carbon taxes) is the only realistic policy for tackling global warming in time to do anything about it.

This stubbornness is the curse of what John Kenneth Galbraith identified 50 years ago as “conventional wisdom” — that is, a large public spends a considerable amount of time and energy understanding and constructing a self-reinforcing set of ideas, and this group of people is loath to give up their hard-won understanding and consensus. Like a scientific paradigm, people can use this conventional wisdom as a basis for further discussion without going back over first principles and main tenets every time they want to discuss something. This makes policy-making more “efficient,” but can put the group adhering to this set of ideas into a kind of death grip — thus the “death of environmentalism.”

But it is true for him.  We have indeed neglected the policy option of good old fashioned central government investment in making the transition to a low carbon/energy world.  The argument that we cannot afford a war-type mobilisation has been undermined by our discovery of Modern Monetary Theory.  Smart Taxes has now set itself the task of targeting environmental objectives with this new economic delivery weapon in our struggle for planetary survival.  The Employer of last Resort or Job Guarantee which is part and parcel of MMT could fund and direct a veritable army to tackle climate change mitigation – such as restoring the bogs – climate change adaptation such as  creating flood plains, invasive species eradication, reconfiguring our water and waste infrastructure, energy upgrading buildings etc.

Rynn concludes in his first article thus..

The problem was and continues to be that a serious effort to create green jobs and a greener economy requires what the other global centers of manufacturing, Europe, Japan and China, have done. That is, it is necessary to create an industrial policy. The government has intervened, and continues to intervene, in a massive way in those economies to build a new set of industries. Contrary to N and S’s assertion that the green collar sector is low tech, green industries in other manufacturing countries, such as high-speed rail and wind turbines, are very high-tech. After all, the clear economic lesson of the New Deal and World War II is that during an economic downturn, the government should spend more than it takes in. By pursuing an industrial policy that encourages the creation and expansion of cutting-edge industries, like wind and high-speed rail, we could learn from the short-term Keynesian lessons of the New Deal while at the same time increasing the long-term competitiveness of the United States. It would be a win-win policy.

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York. (link to full article)


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