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Getting Real on the Environment and Jobs

by Robert Pollin

At the moment, I am looking out my home study window, and hoping that the 40-mile an hour wind gusts from Hurricane Sandy don’t do anything worse than keep the tree swaying strongly. If need be, I will even settle for a temporary loss of electricity, as long as our windows and roof all stay where they belong.

Of course, this is an appropriate moment to think about what we are doing to our environment by burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We know that an overwhelming majority of climate scientists contend that our environment faces a severe—and perhaps even existential—threat if we do not control the changing climatic conditions that result through the emissions of greenhouse gases generated by human activity. Hurricane Sandy is one more data point amid a steadily growing mountain of evidence on the effects of climate change.

I do not claim any special knowledge whatsoever on the science of climate change.   It is possible that the research by this majority of climate scientists is wrong.  After all, scientific matters are never settled on the basis of majority rule.  However, the warnings by these climate scientists are both credible and serious enough that we have no choice but to take concerted action to control greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to continuing to play Russian roulette with the future of our planet. This means that we need to mobilize both public and private investments to a level that will be sufficient to dramatically restructure the energy sector in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Despite this, throughout the Presidential campaign that will mercifully end in only eight more days—assuming it isn’t delayed due to any aftereffects from Sandy—climate change has become a non-topic. Or actually, worse:  it has become an object of mockery by Romney and the Republicans, while Obama and company have not only not fought back, but have chosen to relentlessly avoid the subject.

I address these economic and political  issues in the most recent installment of the regular “Economic Prospects” column I write for New Labor Forum. The column is called “Getting Real on Jobs and the Environment:  Pipelines, Fracking or Clean Energy?” From a somewhat different and more technical perspective, I consider the same questions in a lecture I gave a few weeks ago to the Japanese Society of Political Economy, “Building the Green New Deal.”

The link to “Getting Real on Jobs and the  Environment” is here.

My “Green New Deal” lecture is here.

By the way, I don’t normally deliver lectures from a wheelchair, as I am doing in this video. But in this case, I was unable to travel to Matsuyama, Japan to give the lecture in person, as scheduled. This is because I idiotically rode my bike home from work in the most recent heavy windstorm before the one we are having now, despite my wife’s strong warning not to do so. The result was I fell off my bike and broke left my hip.  I would also have cracked my head in half if I wasn’t wearing a helmet. My hip has now been healing pretty well for six weeks. You can be sure I am resisting the urge to get out on my bike now while Hurricane Sandy keeps blowing through.

I should also mention that I have a much larger study on this issue coming out soon.   Stay tuned for details.

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