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Bringing Ambition and Pragmatism to Climate Change Policy

Robert Stavins's picture
Professor & Director John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Robert N. Stavins is the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development, Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Programs in Public Policy and in Political Economy and...

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  • Jun 9, 2020
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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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The post Bringing Ambition and Pragmatism to Climate Change Policy appeared first on An Economic View of the Environment.

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Thank Robert for the Post!
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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 9, 2020

Robert, a general observation: economists tend to look at environmentalism through an economic lens - one favoring profitability and growth. In your opinion, is there not an inherent conflict between growth-centric goals and environmental ones?

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