We find ourselves in a period when concerns about climate change impacts are increasing (see the report just released of the IPCC’s AR6 WG3 Summary for Policymakers), federal climate legislation seems less and less likely, the U.S. Supreme Court may significantly restrict EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and other U.S. courts are at least temporarily preventing the administration from using the Social Cost of Carbon. In the midst of all this, it’s worthwhile thinking critically and dispassionately about the benefits and costs of environmental protection. There is no one better to reflect on this than my podcast guest, Maureen Cropper, Distinguished University Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland. You can listen to our conversation in the latest episode of my podcast, “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.” Our full conversation is here.
In these podcasts, I converse with leading experts from academia, government, industry, and NGOs. Maureen Cropper fits well in this group. In addition to her professorship at the University of Maryland, she is a Senior Fellow with Resources for the Future, a (very active) member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
She has long focused her research on valuing environmental amenities (particularly in regard to environmental health effects), the discounting of future health benefits, and the tradeoffs implicit in environmental regulations. Her current research focuses primarily on the costs and benefits of air pollution control efforts in India, and on the valuation of climate amenities.
When I ask Maureen Cropper to assess the Biden Administration’s environmental and resource policies, she remarks that it seems to be heading in the right direction, at least on one important component.
“I do think that there has been momentum to further the cause of estimating and using the social cost of carbon. After all, on Biden’s first day [in office], he actually reinstated the Interagency Working Group, which had been disbanded by President Trump and … announced that we were going to make progress in revising the social cost of carbon. I do think that a lot has been done along those lines,” she says. “Although … what we see and how it’s used may be affected, is likely to be affected … by recent [court] rulings.”
Current estimates of the social cost of carbon range between 50 and 60 dollars a ton, but Cropper notes that it could be increased to 100 dollars per ton or more if the discount rate is changed from three percent to two percent.
She goes on to express some doubt about the effectiveness of current U.S. climate policies, noting that she is “not particularly optimistic about the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced.” But she also expresses her admiration for recent youth movements of climate activism.
“I actually do see the attitudes that they have which really are very encouraging to me in terms of what’s happening in the country as a whole,” she says. “It does seem like a very good indicator perhaps, or bellwether one hopes of things to come.”
For this and much more, I hope you will listen to my compete conversation with Maureen Cropper, the 33rd episode in 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.