In my podcast series, “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” I’ve enjoyed chatting with economists who have been leaders in the realm of environmental, energy, and resource economics. My most recent guest fits in that group, because I was joined by Kathleen Segerson, who in addition to her academic and scholarly research and teaching, has served on numerous state, national, and international advisory boards. The podcast is produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. You can listen to our complete conversation here.
Segerson, the Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Connecticut, is a Member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, and the Bayer Institute of Ecological Economics in Stockholm. Her advisory roles have included time spent as a Member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), where she had a close-up view of Washington political battles over environmental issues, including climate change policy. She acknowledges that the politics have only gotten worse.
“I think that it is really quite concerning how polarized we are now in this country, at least, on some of these issues,” Segerson remarks. “Some approaches, or at least concerns that might have been bipartisan in the past have become quite polarized now and that makes it very difficult to think about policy and how to move forward.”
Segerson says that many of the policy tools currently used to address climate change in the United States are less than ideal.
“One of the things that we’ve done, of course, recently is to enact the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a lot of climate measures. Many of those are subsidy based. And as you know, economists wouldn’t typically be looking to subsidies as the ideal policy instrument to use to try to foster transformational change,” she states. “That, I think is a concern because it sets a precedent for policy. It obviously has large budgetary implications. We’ll see whether those subsidies can be effectively phased out if and when [they are] no longer needed. Let’s hope they’re no longer needed at some point, that they’ve been sufficiently successful, that they aren’t needed in the future.”
Segerson also addresses the issue of environmental justice and the Justice40 Initiative, which seeks to ensure that a certain level of investment is targeted for disadvantaged communities that have historically been underserved or highly affected by pollution.
“The challenge is identifying those communities. Which communities should be considered eligible for helping to meet the Justice40 goals? How do you define that? How do you measure it? Of course, the challenges are very different across different communities. So, how do you compare [and] calculate cumulative burdens?,” she asks. “There are a lot of … challenges associated with implementing policies to try to address the environmental justice concerns that are out there, and obviously very legitimate and need to be addressed.”
Segerson also expresses her optimism about the increase of youth movements of climate activism in recent years, saying that while she may question some of the tactics, she supports the objective of focusing attention on important climate policy issues.
“We need the young generation to be the ones who are, in some sense, drawing increased attention because the older generations, at least some parts of them, are not stepping up to that challenge,” she states. “I know that the people who are young parents … or teenagers or college students now, it’s really about their future and their right to feel indignant that those of us who are much older are not doing what we can or should be doing to try to ensure that future.
“I think at this point, they’re sufficiently young that they can try to demand it, but actually putting it in place is more challenging. Let’s hope that they can translate that activism or that it does translate into some real change at some point.”
For this and much, much more, I encourage you to listen to this 48th episode of the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month. You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. 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.
- Richard Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Kelley Kizier, Associate Vice President for International Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.
- David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser, Shell International.
- Vicky Bailey, 30 years of experience in corporate and government positions in the energy sector.
- David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego.
- Lisa Friedman, reporter on the climate desk at the The New York Times.
- Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy for The New York Times from Washington.
- Spencer Dale, BP Group Chief Economist.
- Richard Revesz, professor at the NYU School of Law.
- Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environment and Law at Yale University.
- William Hogan, Raymond Plank Research Professor of Global Energy Policy at Harvard.
- Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
- John Graham, Dean Emeritus, Paul O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University.
- Gernot Wagner, Clinical Associate Professor at New York University.
- John Holdren, Research Professor, Harvard Kennedy School.
- Larry Goulder, Shuzo Nishihara Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Stanford University.
- Suzi Kerr, Chief Economist, Environmental Defense Fund.
- Sheila Olmstead, Professor of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin.
- Robert Pindyck, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Professor of Economics and Finance, MIT Sloan School of Management.
- Gilbert Metcalf, Professor of Economics, Tufts University.
- Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
- Paul Joskow, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics emeritus, MIT.
- Maureen Cropper, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland.
- Orley Ashenfelter, the Joseph Douglas Green 1895 Professor of Economics, Princeton University.
- Jonathan Wiener, the William and Thomas Perkins Professor of Law, Duke Law School.
- Lori Bennear, the Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor of Energy Economics and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.
- Daniel Yergin, founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and now Vice Chair of S&P Global.
- Jeffrey Holmstead, who leads the Environmental Strategies Group at Bracewell in Washington, DC.
- Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry & Environmental Engineering at Harvard.
- Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, University of Chicago.
- Billy Pizer, Vice President for Research & Policy Engagement, Resources for the Future.
- Daniel Bodansky, Regents’ Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.
- Catherine Wolfram, Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, currently on leave at the Harvard Kennedy School.
- James Stock, Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University.
- Mary Nichols, long-time leader in California, U.S., and international climate change policy.
- Geoffrey Heal, Donald Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise, Columbia Business School.