Bringing Ambition and Pragmatism to Climate Change Policy

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 addition to all of this, during a leave of absence from MIT, he served as a Member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in the George H.W. Bush administration.

Professor Schmalensee in his home study in Boston, 2020

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.” 

Speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School, 2020

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.

Delivering Keynote Address at the Toulouse School of Economics, 2017

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:

 “Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

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A Second Podcast Discussion from the UN Climate Negotiations in Madrid

Greetings once again from Madrid!  In addition to my speaking engagements and meetings here at COP-25 (What to Expect at COP-25 in Madrid), I’m recording discussions with some key individuals participating in the climate talks who can provide substantial insight.

Today, I offer up my discussion Paul Watkinson, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).   He provides a valuable review and assessment of the latest developments at the UN Climate Change conference (COP-25) in a new episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.”  You can listen to the interview and discussion here.

 

Watkinson has been closely involved in international climate change negotiations for many years, and in the discussion he expresses his hopes and expectations for agreement in Madrid this week on a mechanism designed to accurately measure the performance of the signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016 in cases in which the parties have transferred emissions amongst one another under the Agreement’s Article 6.

The discussion with Watkinson is the fourth episode in the Environmental Insights series, and the second recorded at COP-25 in Madrid, the first being an interview with Andrei Marcu, founder and executive director of the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Transition, released on December 8th.

Let me remind you that our very first episode of “Environmental Insights” featured my interview with Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (who is leaving Harvard to become President of the Natural Resources Defense Council).  Our second episode featured Nick Stern of the London School of Economics discussing his career, British politics, and efforts to combat climate change.

Overall, “Environmental Insights” is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection.  In hosting these podcast episodes, I interview interesting and accomplished people who are working at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

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Memorial Service at Harvard for Martin L. Weitzman

The world lost a remarkable scholar, a great economist, and a gentle soul on August 27th of this year, when Martin Weitzman sadly passed away.  In my previous post at this blog (A Gift that Keeps on Giving: The Contributions of Martin Weitzman to Environmental Economics), I described in detail how Marty’s contributions advanced the thinking of environmental and other economists, as well as the thoughts and actions of policymakers on many fundamental issues, including policy instrument choice, discounting, species diversity, and environmental catastrophes.

Today I wish to follow up on that essay to inform readers of my blog that on Saturday, October 26th, at 1:00 pm, a Memorial Service for Marty Weitzman will be held at Harvard’s Memorial Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a reception following at the Harvard Faculty Club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marty Weitzman was a real treasure – a ‘gift that kept on giving’ – for both the research and policy worlds.  His work changed the way economists and others think about the environment and policies to protect it.  Marty was – and is – a gift that keeps on giving.

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