In the world of environmental policy, it is frequently the case that pragmatism and effectiveness are framed as being at odds with passion and ambition. Even more so, in the realm of climate change, it is the rare individual who can successfully merge ambition and pragmatism in the pursuit of intelligent and effective public policy. Richard Schmalensee, my guest in the newest episode of our podcast, “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” is just such a person.
In my conversation with Dick Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he reflects on his many years working on environmental policy in public service and in academia. Abundant insights arise, including important lessons for current climate policy deliberations in the United States, Europe, China, and other countries.
Professor Schmalensee was Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management for 10 years, and Director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research for 12 years. Before and during those years, his research and teaching were in multiple areas of application of industrial organization, including antitrust, regulatory, energy, and environmental policies.
He is a Fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Director of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Directors of Resources for the Future. And I’m pleased to say that Dick is also an Associate Scholar of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, and in recent years, has been my frequent co-author (for example, here, here, and here).
In this latest Podcast episode, our conversation begins with Dick’s upbringing in a small town in southern Illinois, his move east to college and graduate school at MIT, his dissertation research, and the professional path that took him after receipt of his Ph.D. degree, first to California, and then back east to MIT’s Sloan School of Management. We turn to his career in regulatory economics and policy – both his scholarly research and his close involvement in policy development and implementation, where he was “in the words of ‘Hamilton,” in the room where it happened.”
You won’t be surprised that we take time to focus on: the pathbreaking cap-and-trade program launched by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990; and political changes in the United States that have moved environmental policy from being a truly bipartisan issue to a partisan one in today’s highly polarized politics. Much of our conversation is about the current state of climate change policy – and policy research – both domestically and globally.
Throughout the interview, Dick is at home in his disarming style of candid conversation, with no punches pulled. He terms current U.S. climate change policy “a disaster,” saying it was a mistake “walking away from Paris, walking away from any sense that it’s important that we deal with our emissions and indeed walking away from the potential federal role in helping states and localities adapt to change.”
All of this and more is found in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.” Listen to this latest discussion here, where you can also find a complete transcript of our conversation.
My conversation with Dick Schmalensee is the eleventh episode in the Environmental Insights series. Previous episodes have featured conversations with:
- Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Nick Stern of the London School of Economics discussing his career, British politics, and efforts to combat climate change
- Andrei Marcu, founder and executive director of the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Transition
- Paul Watkinson, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Jos Delbeke, professor at the European University Institute in Florence and at the KU Leuven in Belgium, and formerly Director-General of the European Commission’s DG Climate Action
- David Keith, professor at Harvard and a leading authority on geoengineering
- Joe Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, with considerable experience working on climate change policy issues in the U.S. government
- Scott Barrett, professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University, and an authority on infectious disease policy
- Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, and founding co-director of the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School.
- Sue Biniaz, who was the lead climate lawyer and a lead climate negotiator for the United States from 1989 until early 2017.