Towards an Environmentally Just Climate Policy

By Noah Enelow

In the face of the political gridlock impeding the U.S. government’s progress towards a smart climate policy, independent researchers and activists are continuing to make progress on outlining what such a policy might look like and how we might get there. James K. Boyce and Manuel Pastor have provided us with the latest contribution to the climate policy research effort with their recent article in Climatic Change, entitled “Clearing the air: Incorporating air quality and environmental justice into climate policy.”

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Follow the Plastic Bag Example, Nudge Polluters to Pay

By Gernot Wagner. Originally posted on EDF Voices.

Nudge is the best kind of book. It presents the type of head-slappingly obvious solutions to public policy problems that make you wonder why you needed a book to tell you about them in the first place. Place the veggies before the French fries in the cafeteria, and people will eat more greens. Enroll employees into retirement programs with the option of opting out rather than in and they’ll save more as a result.

Such nudges are the best kinds of policy interventions: minimum intrusion, maximum freedom of choice, maximum relative impact. But one area in which Nudge comes up short is global warming. Putting smiley faces on your electricity bill as a reward for using less electricity than your neighbor, something Power has done with utilities around the country, helps bring down electricity use by 1 to 3%. Better than zero, but not the solution by a long shot.

That solution would be making polluters pay: putting a price on carbon dioxide through a direct cap or tax on carbon pollution. Cass Sunstein, who wrote Nudge with Richard Thaler, says as much in his latest piece on the topic. He laments the fact that we don’t seem to be able to get these kinds of taxes passed, and then adds a few items to his running list of things we can do, all under the broad heading of setting “clean-energy default rules”: Change the default printer setting to “print on front and back,” and people will. Enroll people into programs where they spend extra for clean energy (with the option of opting out), and 90% will choose to stick with the clean energy.

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