HKS Professor Robert Z. Lawrence and Harvard Professor Dustin Tingley say better economic policies can boost clean energy projects in communities that oppose or are wary of them. 

FEATURING Robert Lawrence and Dustin Tingley
51 MINUTES AND 01 SECONDS

Populism—the political term that describes a group of self-described “common people” who oppose a group of elites—has turned up in what for many is an unexpected place: the push for a worldwide transition to clean energy. Even though clean energy measures are vital to preventing the most catastrophic consequences of the manmade global climate crisis, they are encountering pushback from multiple sources, ranging from local citizens groups to cost-conscious consumers to self-styled conservationists to right-wing politicians to corporate boardrooms. Harvard Kennedy School Professor Robert Z. Lawrence and Professor Dustin Tingley from Harvard’s Department of Government say a number of forces are shaping the new clean energy pushback, including genuine popular resentment in some communities left over from economic transitions like the loss of manufacturing jobs due to globalization. Robert Lawrence is a former member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers and an economist affiliated with the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government who studies trade policy. Dustin Tingley of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences is a political scientist researching the politics of the climate crisis and is co-author of the new book “Uncertain Futures: How to Unlock the Climate Impasse.” With time running out for the world to make significant reductions in fossil fuel use, they join PolicyCast host Ralph Ranalli to discuss strategies and policy ideas to keep the momentum going toward a sustainable energy future. 

Robert Z. Lawrence’s Policy Recommendations: 

  • Move away from protectionism and use international open trade to create opportunities for developing countries to contribute to the energy transition and grow economically. 
  • Accelerate investment in clean energy technology development to ensure that green energy solutions are significantly more cost-effective than fossil fuel alternatives. 
  • Replace current incentive-based government programs to encourage clean energy development with a carbon tax to bring in increased revenue and fund clean energy research and infrastructure changeover. 
  • Exempt imported steel from current U.S. tariffs when it is used in making clean energy infrastructure such as wind turbines. 

Dustin Tingley’s Policy Recommendations: 

  • At the federal level, systematically analyze the public finance challenge that states and communities are going to face from the clean energy transition and plan support. 
  • Prioritize transparency when making green investments in communities to ensure they are effective and that companies are playing by the rules.  
  • Pass legislation to share revenue from wind and solar project leases on federal lands with state and regional governments in the same manner those governments receive funds from oil and gas leases. 
  • Encourage clean energy technology companies to get more civically involved with the communities where they are located. 

Episode Notes

Robert Z. Lawrence is the Albert L. Williams Professor of International Trade and Investment at HKS, affiliated with the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses on trade policy and he currently serves as Faculty Chair of The Practice of Trade Policy executive program at Harvard Kennedy School. He served as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1998 to 2000 and has also been a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author or co-author of numerous books, including “Crimes and Punishments? Retaliation under the WTO;” “Regionalism, Multilateralism and Deeper Integration;” and “Can America Compete?” Lawrence has served on the advisory boards of the Congressional Budget Office, the Overseas Development Council, and the Presidential Commission on United States-Pacific Trade and Investment Policy. He earned his PhD in economics at Yale University. 

Dustin Tingley of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences is a Professor of Government in the Harvard Department of Government and Deputy Vice Provost for Advances in Learning. His research has spanned international relations, international political economy, climate change, causal inference, data science/machine learning, and digital education, with most focus now on the politics of climate change and energy transitions. His new book with Alex Gazmararian, “Uncertain Futures: How to Unlock the Climate Impasse,” was published with Cambridge University Press. The book features the voices of those on the front lines of the energy transition—a commissioner in Carbon County deciding whether to welcome wind, executives at energy companies searching for solutions, mayors and unions in Minnesota battling for local jobs, and fairgoers in coal country navigating their community's uncertain future. His book on American foreign policy with Helen Milner, "Sailing the Water's Edge," was published in fall 2015, and was awarded the Gladys M. Kammerer Award for the best book published in the field of U.S. national policy. He teaches courses on the politics of climate change and the environment, data science, and international relations. In the fall of 2023 he is teaching a new course called Energy at Harvard Business School. He received a PhD in Politics from Princeton and BA from the University of Rochester. 

Ralph Ranalli of the HKS Office of Communications and Public Affairs is the host, producer, and editor of HKS PolicyCast. A former journalist, public television producer, and entrepreneur, he holds an AB in Political Science from UCLA and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University.

Editorial support for PolicyCast is provided by Nora Delaney, Robert O’Neill, and James Smith of the HKS Office of Communications and Public Affairs. Design and graphics support is provided by Lydia Rosenberg, Delane Meadows, and the OCPA Design Team. Social media promotion and support is provided by Natalie Montaner and the OCPA Digital Team.  

Preroll: PolicyCast explores research-based policy solutions to the big problems we’re facing in our society and our world. This podcast is a production of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  

Intro (Robert Lawrence): People are seeing what's happening to their environment in a palpable way, and I think they need to be reminded that they are custodians of this world, and in sense what they care about because a lot of these people, a lot of what's driving populism is a concern about people's children and their future. And you need to tap into that when you talk about climate change because what this is about is preserving the world as we know it, and that's why we love it, in order to be sustainable. So I think that's a pitch that isn't stressed enough to relate it directly to people and what they are concerned about.  

Intro (Dustin Tingley): So I sometimes ask my students: Electricity transmission is a big part of this, and we need to get the electricity from where the renewables are really good to where we actually use the electricity. Now to do that, we've got to build high voltage, direct current lines, really big ones. Not your telephone pole electricity distribution, I mean, these are the big guys, and I ask them—these are students who are scared about climate change, they want to do something in the world, they're getting going—"How many of you would want that in your backyard or within a kilometer even?" You don't get many volunteers. And so I think we have to start with the fact that some of these things are disruptive.

Intro (Ralph Ranalli): Hi, it’s Ralph Ranalli. Welcome back to the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast. Populism is a funny word. When you say it out loud, it sounds like it should mean something good or beneficial. It comes from the Latin term “populus,” or “the people,” the same root that gave us words like “public,” “popular,” “publish,” and “population.”  It first appeared in politics in the late 19th Century, when it was adopted by an alliance of reform-minded farmers in the American Midwest. The Populist Party advocated for economic democracy, as well as electoral, banking, land, and monetary reforms. Its proposals include many things we now take for granted: a graduated income tax, secret-ballot elections, and the direct election of U.S. Senators. But things took a darker turn after that. While the original populists did oppose the financial and political elites of the Gilded Age, populism would come to connote not only a conflict between the ordinary people and the elites, but also the manipulation of the populus by demagogues and other elites who stoked popular anger to advance their own ends. And now that darker version of populism as popped up in what for many is an unexpected place: the push for a worldwide transition to clean energy to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of the manmade global climate crisis. Clean energy measures are encountering pushback from multiple sources ranging from local citizens groups, to cost-conscious consumers, to self-styled conservationists, to right-wing politicians, and to corporate boardrooms. My guests today, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Robert Z. Lawrence and Professor Dustin Tingley from Harvard’s Department of Government, have been studying this phenomenon, it’s root causes, and ways to address it. Robert Lawrence is a former member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers and an economist who studies trade policy. Dustin Tingley is a political scientist researching the politics of the climate crisis and co-author of the new book “Uncertain Futures: How to Unlock the Climate Impasse.” They say a number of forces are shaping the new clean energy pushback, including genuine popular resentment in some communities left over from economic transitions like the loss of manufacturing jobs due to globalization. With time running out for the world to make significant reductions in fossil fuel use, they’re here to discuss strategies and policy ideas  to keep the momentum going toward a sustainable energy future.  

Ralph Ranalli: Dustin, Robert, welcome to PolicyCast.

Robert Z. Lawrence: Thank you.

Dustin Tingley: Hey, thanks for having us.

Ralph Ranalli: So I'm generally a pretty upbeat person, but I find myself being sorely tested when I tackle this subject of anti-clean-energy populism. It’s just hard to fathom people actively working against saving the planet we live on. But I think before we start, we should go over some definitions, because I'm not sure that everybody knows what populism is exactly, and what we mean by the term climate populism. Robert, would you like to start? What is populism?

Robert Z. Lawrence: Well, it's a very complex phenomenon, often used for a variety of different political situations. But I would say characteristics of populism are firstly the idea that the society is split between an elite and the common people. That's a major feature. Second is that the elite is pursuing its own interest as opposed to that of the common people. And so what we have are leaders who now either get elected or get power in order to advance the interests of what they define as the real nation, or the real people, as opposed to everybody who lives in a particular country.

Ralph Ranalli: So what do we mean then when we talk about climate populism, Dustin?

Dustin Tingley: Yeah, I think what we mean by climate populism is that the pursuit of goals related to the reduction of the climate threat are being pursued by elites at the detriment of the broader public. The broader set of constituencies that they have. And this can take the form of a variety of things; just making things more expensive. When you make energy more expensive and you're a hardworking person who is having difficulty making ends meet, then that starts to hit … it starts to hit home. And the sort of backlash against climate policy that we're speaking about today, it's real and it is lived through the experience of people and is egged on by populist leaders who will claim that they are not the elite, that they're just out to save the common person, the common family. And sadly, at the end of the day, this wraps up into opposing policies that are designed to make everyone better off in the longer term, but that in the short term can pose some real costs. And so how political leaders can navigate that tension is the million-dollar question of the day.

Ralph Ranalli: There are various sources of this climate pushback. Can you talk a little bit about that, about the places its coming from?  

Dustin Tingley: Yeah, I think there are at least a couple different buckets and then Robert, of course, will have thoughts here. I think one source of pushback is when it comes to policies that have a very direct impact on communities that historically have been producing energy products that are used by the rest. And so this is a type of pushback that would come from regions that historically have producing coal. And so when you talk to folks in those regions. They'll say, "Hey, what gives? We have powered the rest of the country on our backs. We have lived through miserable working conditions, black lung disease, so on and so forth, and now you're coming along and you're putting us out of work and you've got nothing for us."

And so that is one type of pushback that is in a sense highly geographically and economically targeted. There's a second type of pushback, at least, that is much more diffuse, which is your canonical the price of gas, the price of electricity, the price of living is going up due to your elite climate policies. So one is very concentrated, it's oftentimes geographically concentrated, and later we can talk about strategies to unlock that, and then the other one is much more diffuse that would apply to many people. That's one way that we might be able to think about that. There are definitely others that Robert can speak to.

Robert Z. Lawrence: No, I agree with that distinction. I also think that the whole issue of climate change is almost ideally designed for a populist agenda. The first thing is we are being told by the experts, by the scientists, that we have to do this. We have to curtail our emissions of CO₂. So this is not the politics of choice or volition. This is the politics of they are telling us exactly what we have to do, and so we have to accept science. And we saw in the experience of COVID, how certain groups of people reacted when they were told to take vaccines or wear masks. So that's one dimension I think that makes this kind of an ideal, say, topic for populist leaders.  

The second thing is that generally, we're myopic in the sense that it’s hard to mobilize a society to implement policies that are going to pay off over the long run. Now just think about what we're talking about with climate change. We're saying you need to adopt this policy to avoid something that is going to take place in the long run. And indeed, if you do, you may never know that your policies actually succeeded. So showing tangible evidence that the policies themselves are working is very difficult and it takes persuasion. So I'd say that's a second dimension.  

And then just a third is that this also when we are talking about climate populists here, those who are against tend to be on the right. You see, for people on the left, we said populism has this division. And there's an elite and there are the people. The left looks at what's going on and says, “Well, the elite is actually holding back action on climate change because it is the corporations who benefit from fossil fuel production that are promoting resistance. On the other hand, it's the ordinary people who are being hurt by the climate change policies.” So because the left in a sense approaches this particular division in that way, they actually are quite supportive of populism.

Ralph Ranalli: Right. The definition of who is in the elite group is in the eye of the beholder. To me that’s always been the interesting paradox of populism: When the so-called common people rebel against a certain elite, they do so at the urging of—and to the benefit of—a different elite. On the right, they’re demonizing scientific and governing elites, while on the left they’re saying, “No, the elites you need to watch out for are the financial elites, the people who are still getting rich from fossil fuels.” But partisan polarization aside, I think it’s fair to say the scientific consensus now is that the consequences for the future livability of the earth for future generations will be very dire if we don’t take make significant progress on the clean energy transition soon, so it’s important to know exactly where the opposition to that progress is coming from. I’ve read that you can roughly put the opposition into three baskets. First, there are local governments and communities where you have opposition to economic policies or land use policies, like siting power lines or wind farms. Then there are corporations that benefit from the existing fossil fuel infrastructure. And when we talk about the political right in the United States we’re talking about the Republican Party, which has lumped urgent energy transition measures in with everything else they dismiss as “woke.” How do you fight this battle on all those fronts?

Dustin Tingley: Well, I think there's one starting point—and it is a starting point that isn't necessarily as familiar maybe to some elites as it should be—which is to recognize and have a conversation about where are there more or less legitimate concerns? So I sometimes ask my students: You know electricity transmission is a big part of this; we need to get the electricity from where the renewables are really good to where we actually use the electricity. Now to do that, we've got to build high voltage, direct current lines, really big ones. Not your telephone pole electricity distribution, I mean, these are the big guys, and I ask them—these are students who are scared about climate change, they want to do something in the world, they're getting going—"How many of you would want that in your backyard or within a kilometer even?" You don't get many volunteers.  

And so I think we have to start with the fact that some of these things are disruptive and that is not then a statement of, well, we should just concede and not proceed with figuring out how to build renewables and transmission. But it is starting with a premise that there are in some of these cases, legitimate concerns. And that is something that I think is important to do, because it's taking away the elite narrative. Because it is very easy to say, well, the elite doesn't have to have these electricity cables, or they don't have to look at the wind turbines. They only benefit from the net proceeds. So I think that's one example.

A second example, again, more addressing the local opposition side. We can talk about some of these other groups as well. There's a common refrain, I already said it, but I'll just reinforce it, that the benefits of all of this new renewable energy, electricity... That the benefits all go to the other side, whatever the other side is. They all go to the elites, they all go to the cities on the coast, is a sort of one way to think about it. So when you talk with folks from Wyoming, and that will be something that comes up. Where are the benefits for us? Where are the direct benefits? In the words of economics, where are our rents from this? And I think that that's a very reasonable conversation to have. I think it becomes challenging because quite frankly, not all green energy companies are the savior heroes. There can be evil corporations on any side of this. So having real conversations about where do the economic benefits of these things flow?

Robert Z. Lawrence: And I think when it comes to who's going to benefit, the politicians, and I think the Biden administration would be a prime example, they actually don't have much faith in selling the policy as a climate policy. When President Biden wants to talk about climate change, he wants to talk about the jobs. He has to accentuate some other positive benefit. And when they have designed the policies, it's quite remarkable how, as a byproduct of fighting climate change, there are incentives in the program. You get four times as much if you pay union wages, you should be locating in energy communities, or poor communities. He's trying to achieve climate justice. He's trying to remedy the past—by the way, we don't like being dependent on the Chinese for all of the technology and for the electric vehicles. So we need to enhance our competitiveness. So what we have is the climate policy on itself by itself isn't really being sold purely as a climate measure, but rather has all these other efforts at forming coalitions, so that we'll get some support for the policy.  

And there tends to be a tendency to accentuate the positive and not really to have the adequate programs in place for those who are genuinely hurt. Because that's a downer. And I think politicians don't like talking about that. But we saw the experience with international trade, that when we had disruptive trade, say with China, inadequate policies in place to take care of those who are hurt. And not being able to do that can really result in antagonism and ultimately opposition. And our whole country and advanced countries have moved in a protectionist direction, I think partly because of inadequate policies. And Dustin's done a lot of good work on how we could make those policies more effective.

Ralph Ranalli: We've been through this before with the so-called China shock and the loss of manufacturing jobs in the American heartland. There are communities who are saying, "Look, fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on us," because the policies to mitigate the economic damage caused by the loss of those manufacturing jobs were not adequate. And Dustin, you define this as what you call a credibility problem. Can you talk a bit about that concept of a credibility problem: Where it comes from, and maybe how we can start to move toward restoring some of that lost faith?

Dustin Tingley: Yeah, sure. I'm going deconstruct this into two separate pieces. The first one is what Robert brought up, which I just want to hammer home, and then I'm going to get to the more kind of the credibility problem side of it.  

So the first one is that when we had these shocks from opening up to international trade, and we had mechanisms to compensate the "losers", the reality was there just wasn't much there. These were slivers put in as if say, "Hey, you might lose your job, but it'll be okay." And then when the sort of policy came through, it was like, "Oh, well here's some worker retraining money. And oh, by the way, you need to get a job working anyways while you're getting retrained because how else are you going to pay the bills at home?" And then a lot of this money was only being targeted at individuals rather than thinking more holistically about investments in communities. And why did they do that? They didn't have the money. And so just the paltry amounts of investment into this then led to these feelings of despair, hope, decline in hope, and ultimately many communities just really still being in a very hard place. So that's one bucket.  

The second is what we call more of a credibility problem. That's the idea that I, as a political administration, could say, "Look, I'm passing some policy now that I know is going to hurt you" to say, for example, a traditional fossil fuel community. "And I recognize that. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to try to get some investment. I might do it through what the Biden administration's doing by saying, "Oh, I'm going to give extra tax credits if you invest in this area," so on and so forth. But here's the problem. These things are taking place over time. They are not some right-away snapshot thing. We make an investment and the next year everything's fine. This is decades long transitions that we're talking about. So the credibility problem is that I could say that to you right now: "Hey, I'm going to make some investments in you, but two years from now, if I'm still in power as that politician, well my priorities well could have changed. There could be other communities and people that I want to help. Or you know what? I might get booted out of office and someone else could come in and they've got their own problems or priorities, et cetera." And so the credibility problem ultimately is that it is hard for me to make long-term commitments that last into the future because when the future arrives, my preferences, my incentives might have changed.

And this is a canonical problem in politics and political economy. But in a setting like this where we're talking about these long-term transitions that require sustained investment over long periods of time, that's really hard for politics and politicians to get right and be able to credibly commit. And that's a challenge. And so, I think it's really important to recognize that communities have gone through these sorts of things. So in some of my book we talk about the Pacific Northwest and timber. I was largely raised in tobacco country in North Carolina. My dad's family is from West Virginia. They have seen all of these things over time. And so this climate stuff is just, just another rodeo.

Ralph Ranalli: You did a lot of survey work in Appalachia, including West Virginia, where your dad is from. What concerns did the people in those the surveys have?

Dustin Tingley: A systematic lack of trust that the government commitments to see them through and make them whole would actually follow through. They also had hope and a very strong sense of: "We're good people, we're hard workers, we're smart, but the deck of cards being dealt to us isn't even giving us a chance." So I think that was definitely one theme that came through. I'll tell you something I didn't see as much of as you might think. You didn't see this... You got opposition to the science and the elitism, but you'd also then get pulled aside and say, "Look, I know climate change is happening. I'm a hunter." But because the messaging is so elite and so these prestigious scientists, there's this like, "No, I've got to reject them. I've got to reject them." Even though these are smart folks, these are naturalists. And you see a lot of that.

Robert Z. Lawrence: So I would like to add onto what Dustin has said. One of the things he said was we're not allocating enough resources to help the losers. And this is particularly the case in the United States, where our federal system has a huge problem of directing resources to place-based policies, which are inherently at the state or the county level. And if you look at how much money we spend in total, its a pittance of what is required. So we traditionally leave this up to the states in the same way as we make local communities pay for their own schooling. And when we're talking about climate change or any one of these adjustments where the benefits are accruing to the nation, and in the case of climate change to the world, then these losers are expected somehow to find the resources to look after themselves. And basically, that's I think part of our problem.  

If you look at other societies, Scandinavia and elsewhere, where they have active labor market policies, they do much better, in a sense, helping those losers. And they're devoting a hugely large amount of resources to help people adjust to change. So I think that's a very fundamental issue that is sort of uniquely American. So the way we try to sell these policies, and the way we've done it actually in climate change is to define what an energy community is, so that it includes almost a third of the whole country or more. And they're all now energy communities. They're entitled to get these tax breaks, and that kind of is the way you'll get it through Congress, but it's not the way you will focus enough resources in helping the people who really need it. So prioritization in our federal government is virtually impossible.

Ralph Ranalli: How much is the federal government helping the states and local communities fund these place-based responses?

Robert Z. Lawrence: We have an economic development agency that provides, I would say a maximum about $4 or $5 billion. And the states themselves, the estimates are, spending $50 or $60 billion in trying to do these place-based policies. So it just gives you an order of magnitude difference. And yet you would say if you're taking something like international trade where the benefits accrue to the nation and the redistribution therefore should be by the nation, it's just inadequate.

Ralph Ranalli: So what's the consequence for the world if the United States—which should be a leader on climate—doesn't get this right? US credibility is important for the worldwide effort on the green energy transition, especially because while developed countries have issues, the developing world has a set of issues that are even tougher. They don't have the resources that the developed world does to tackle these tough problems.  

Dustin Tingley: Well, we've got a real credibility problem on our hands when it comes to helping the developing world. So just to give you some examples, the Paris Agreement—which is one of the more recent climate agreements—a big part of that was a commitment to send $100 billion per year to developing countries to aid in their own climate and energy transitions. All right, fast-forward. How are we doing? How are we doing not so well? A lot of that money is coming in the form of loans and we're not coming close to hitting those targets. And that's not just the US; a number of countries are struggling to meet those commitments. So then you go and talk to these countries, and I have a little bit of research here, and you sort of ask, "Well, yeah, so how's it going?" And they'll say, "We've got no money. Our interest rate context is through the roof. To install renewables, that's an upfront capital expenditure.  

I mean, it's neat and terrifying about renewables. You make the upfront capital expenditure and then you get pretty really cheap energy after. But you got to have that upfront capital, so the interest rates are hitting them even harder. And by the way, all of all those promises that you made us, you're not carrying through on. So you know what we're going to do? Well, we'll go into renewables where it makes sense, but we're going to take advantage of burning our coal and burning our oil and doing whatever it is." Of course.

Robert Z. Lawrence: What we see is that the most adverse effects of climate change are on the poor countries in the world. So they are being expected to bear the biggest... I mean they are going to have to do adaptation, and their adaptation challenges are much larger than those of the rich countries. But in terms of emissions, with the exception of China, the bulk of the emissions are coming from advanced countries, from rich countries.  

And so, from the standpoint of the typical developing country; you are asking me to take steps to mitigate, to try to limit my amount of CO2 emissions, which is going to hinder my ability to grow economically. You are not giving me any money to compensate me either for the money I have to pay in order to do that mitigation, and particularly, where's the money that's going to help me adapt to the mess coming from the advanced countries? Our earlier discussion was of the United States and how we can compensate the losers, but this problem is even larger when it comes to the global issue where the brunt of the burdens are on these poor countries.  

And in a way, the only real... I think there are only two real ways in which you're going to change the behavior of the poor countries. One is there's got to be technological improvement so that actually it makes economic sense for them to go green. So green power has to become cheaper than brown power. And we're not quite there yet. There are some places where we are, but you have to make advances really in that area for them to come on board. The second thing is that you need to show them how they can benefit from helping in the green transition, so that when we look around the world, what we see is a huge amount of minerals, which are located in many places that don't have the resources to exploit them, but are vital, say for things like batteries and other kinds of inputs. We have the ability to use forests as sinks. So if we could have a system where we paid them to do that, they could then see it's in their economic interest actually to contribute to the world's mitigation challenges.  

So I think that's very important, because that'll galvanize them to actually see this as compatible with their long-term strategies. So when we take a technology like solar panels, which are very labor-intensive, and we say, "Well, these should be made in the United States with huge subsidies," we are depriving in a sense, developing countries from specializing in products in which they have a natural advantage. So I actually think our trade protection is hindering. We talk about friend-shoring, but we really need to look after our friends in a sense and invest in their minerals so that we and they benefit.

Ralph Ranalli: Again, that's a tough political sell, though. It doesn't sell quite as well as: "We're going to build a factory here in your town as part of the Inflation Reduction Act." It's our major climate legislation and the word climate wasn't even in it. It was sold as inflation reduction.  

So bringing it back United States on a more local scale, is this a situation where well-designed policies can change hearts and minds and counter this trend towards populism? Perhaps with a from-the-bottom-up versus a top-down approach?

Dustin Tingley: So in some sense, that's the $100 million dollar question that certainly the Biden administration is pretty hopeful that the answer to that is yes. I think there are some things that really hinge on the phrase "well-designed policies," that make that more or less likely. Robert already spoke to one of them, which is, if we have policies that take these investments and so spread them out that the places who actually really need them really aren't getting all that much, then that doesn't sound like a very well-designed thing that's going to change a lot of hearts and minds. I think a second thing is making sure that, to the extent these investments are happening, they're actually good investments that are to the benefit of the communities that they are being located in. And when you get an investment where, yes, there might be some prevailing wage requirements, this sort of thing, but the companies themselves are kind of monkeying with the numbers, the average salary versus the median salary such that if you get some well-paid CEOs, it drags that number up, but you look at what the rank and file are getting, it's a different story that becomes pretty concerning. That doesn't sound like that great of investment, even if the outcome is making batteries or something that's good for the environment. So I think there needs to be sustained attention on making sure that these investments are being made, and that there's accountability, quite frankly. So if you are benefiting from a tax incentive and you are found to not having met the conditions of that tax incentive, there needs to be consequences. And guess, right now, lo and behold, some of those consequences are like, "Oh, you just have to pay the back wages." Well, I mean, come on. That doesn't sound overly well-intentioned.

And this is something that there is a tendency right now in US discourse, to do a couple things. One is to make all potential climate policy that we're interested in thinking about be through the lens of the Inflation Reduction Act. And I think that's fundamentally a mistake. And it's a mistake for a couple of reasons. One is the political sort of motivations of the Inflation Reduction Act, that is to say, how you got it done and through Congress then meant that it was sort of... I don't know what the right expression is, a sort of Christmas tree of policies where there's all these different ornaments on it, and for all sorts of different objectives. And that then that can make it hard. The second, Robert already mentioned, which is we've got to be really careful about the extent to which we're jettisoning the affordances and the advantages of a more open trade system. I completely understand why there are incentives to bulk up our ability to make our own solar panels, or be more independent, et cetera. The reality is cheap solar panels from China has been a boon to saving the planet. You can't run away from that. Now politically, as you said, it's a tough pill. The third is there are policy opportunities or changes that could happen. They need to happen likely through Congress, that we can think a lot more that would start to address some of the local community ability to tap into the advantages and benefits of things like renewable energy. I'll give you just one, it's something that I've been working on as have others.

So there's a lot of federal land in this country, especially out west. On federal land if you are extracting oil, gas, coal, other minerals, and you're leasing your land from the federal government through the Bureau of Land Management, etc., that money goes back into the US Treasury. And then a huge chunk of it goes back to the state and surrounding counties and communities of that federal land that's for oil, gas, coal and mineral resources. Under current law, if you locate a renewable energy site on federal land, the money that is say the lease, other things that are generated from that, that all stays with the Feds. And the reason is literally in the legislation, it is written that for oil and gas, this is how much has to go back to the communities. And it just has not, in some sense been updated to do that. Now that's money that's going back to these communities, and there are a couple of congresspersons that have proposed changes to this, but in a dysfunctional congress, it's hard to get through, and there's some complexities about how this would score with a Congressional budget office. 

But nonetheless, there are things that are smaller, aren't the big signature legislation, but there are vehicles that in some senses could in principle counter some of this populist rhetoric. No, no, the federal government is getting this money back to your community. And the reality is the renewable energy developers love this. The communities and the association of counties in our country, they love this because it's getting money back to them. But it's not going to be through this one legislative vehicle of the IRA, which oh, by the way is in the cross-hairs of a future Republican administration. So I think it's important to think more holistically about what are all the other levers that we can do and leverage that can chip away at this climate-populist opposition side of this?

Robert Z. Lawrence: Let me, if I may start with your question, which had to do with kind of the narrative. How are we going to convince people that this is an important issue? And I also think that is a very important question. I think this whole issue has to be couched in terms that are relevant to the people you're speaking to. And so what do they care about? I mean, Dustin mentioned earlier, hunters. People are seeing what's happening to their environment in a big way, and I think they need to be reminded that they are custodians of this world, and in sense what they care about because a lot of these people, a lot of what's driving populism is a concern about people's children and their future. And you need to tap into that when you talk about climate change because what this is about is preserving the world as we know it, and that's why we love it, in order to be sustainable. So I think that's a pitch that isn't stressed enough to relate it directly to people and what they are concerned about.  

At the same time, I'm quite depressed, because this issue has become so politically polarized. So we're all seeing around us, this evidence of climate change. Everybody knows this—those who are in favor of these policies and those who are against. But for those who are against, it seems that we have become two tribes. We have a Republican tribe and a Democratic tribe. And the Republican tribe have defined themselves and put a huge priority in being against climate change policies, as the Democratic side has done the opposite. And so people may oppose these policies because they feel it's not part of their tribe, it's not part of the positions they were supposed to be taking in order to keep in line with their party members. And that's why I’m kind of pessimistic that the narratives that I was describing are really going to change people's behavior. I think at the end of the day, it's going to have to be a huge investment in technology that literally makes taking action for climate change the smart thing to do. And that's why people will buy... When electric vehicles are cheaper than combustion engine ones, they'll be buying the electric vehicles and it doesn't matter what they believe about the future. And so I would take much more of the money that we're currently allocating to encourage people to buy technologies that are going to become obsolete and use it to promote research into finding those cheaper alternatives. I think that's a crucial thing.  

I think another is that we don't allow... The future for these communities who have been hurt does not necessarily rely in energy. The wind and the sun are not the places necessarily where the coal came from, or the oil came from, or the natural gas came from. For some places, yes, they have a future in energy, but many don't. And so you need to go down to the local level and work with the community in a strategy which is unique to their circumstances and in which they have ownership. And so, it has to be developed by the communities themselves. In Europe, they try to do this with just transitional plans that go down to the local level, and Brussels kind of tries to orchestrate them. The United States has made some progress, but has taken the coward's way out, and that is rather than put a price on carbon and tax it, we have subsidized people to invest in renewables. Now what does that mean? Well, you can say, look, it's just as good if you pay for the renewable as if you penalize the CO2 emitting technology or product. But there is a huge difference, because in the one case, if you use a tax, the government lands up with money. In another case, where's the money coming from? Well, we've pushed it down the road, and so our federal debt is going to grow with our climate change policies, and then we're going to have to figure out how to finance that debt. And that's been pushed out into the future. By contrast, if you use a tax, you can then take the money, and some countries in Europe have done it, Switzerland's done it, and European countries are free to do it. They've raised money through a tax, and now they can have a green dividend in which they give the money back to the citizens so that the citizens on average are not made worse off, and those who conserve do even better. So there is a mechanism there, but you've got to start with the tax, and you've got to put the price on carbon. And I think that's where unfortunately, the United States policies are a failure.

Ralph Ranalli: Robert, well, thank you because you anticipated my final question, which was for some concrete policy recommendations, you just gave us some good ones. Dustin, I want to throw it back to you. If all of a sudden there were a bipartisan committee of Republicans and Democrats who came to you and said: “OK, we’ve agreed that despite our differences we must address the climate crisis, so please give us a couple of policy recommendations that you would prioritize in the near term,” what would they be?

Dustin Tingley: Yeah, so I think one already mentioned, let's figure out the public finance challenge that states and communities are going to face. In Wyoming, 40 to 50% of the state budget is coming from taxes from the extraction of fossil fuels. So we get rid of all that. What the heck are they going to do? Right now, some of my earlier comments about we'll be able to raise some money through taxing renewables, but in those contexts and certainly more than we currently are, but there's a range of things that can be thought about. And those are local public goods. Those are the football stadiums. Those are the libraries, the sort of glue, the social fabric of a lot of places that is going to be hit. So I think we need to systematically take a good look at that.  

The proposal for a carbon tax. I am in the camp of like, yeah, we need to get there for political reasons. We've been hard-pressed to, I have this sneaking hope that all the inefficiencies of this industrial policy and the amount of money it's going to cost to keep doing it is going to kind of wake people up. It might be Republicans to say, "All right, well, given that we jump started this green energy economy with this industrial policy, we can't sustain that, so maybe we should get this carbon price back on the table." Because you know what? At one point it was back on the table, or it was on the table. We just couldn't take advantage of it. And so maybe there's a way, our meandering way to a carbon price in the future is something that I would love to help do that. I think there needs to be more transparency such that when we do have these green investments in communities, that they're actually good and that these companies are playing by the rules and making them be green investments.

At the same time, this is less of a policy thing, but I would implore these companies to get involved with their communities. I'll give you a little story based on just some recent research data I collected with some undergraduates here at Harvard. We went out to a sample of counties throughout the United States that had mixtures of fossil fuel extraction and renewable energy in the mix, and we looked at who sponsored the county fair. Who sponsored the county fair? Maybe all of our listeners don't know what a county fair is, but I'll tell you what a county fair was, for me, which was you go and there's a livestock display. I grew up a little bit more rural, but whatever, it doesn't matter. It's the county fair. The county gets together. We barely found any renewable energy companies sponsoring. And we found loads of fossil fuel companies sponsoring. So that's kind of a message for this new industry to, in some senses, take the playbook of the earlier oil and gas and fossil sector about, well, how are they investing in these communities? So that's less of a policy solution and more of a real business strategy sort of thing that needs to be part of it.  

The final one is, and this is going to connect up with Robert's commentary about research into new technologies. And I don't think it's just a research thing, because we need to scale the innovation, but we also need to have a way to scale the production of that in ways that are efficient. So some of it will be here, some of it can be overseas, and we can do that in partnership. I also think that that helps speak to things like technology transfer to developing countries. We could make investments here in the United States, building, inventing, scaling the production of green energy technologies, some of which would be deployed overseas as part of our commitments to these other countries, and working with them to figure out how that can then further scale their production of similar things. And you know what's good about that? That still involves American companies. That still involves American companies that can be a part of that larger harnessing of new technologies. And that's good politically, and it would be good for the planet.

Robert Z. Lawrence: Let me just add on. If we really place a priority on decarbonization, we want, take the renewables power to be available, the components to be available as cheaply as possible because that's going to encourage the diffusion and use in the United States. So what have we done? We have at the moment, a 25% tariff on imported steel. Think about a wind turbine. It's like the tower with a propeller on it. It uses a huge amount of steel and aluminum and metals. But we've raised the cost of that. Now, the steel tariffs exist for their own purposes. I don't think they're a good idea at all. However, at a minimum, I would exempt the importation of the steel that is used in wind turbines.

Take solar panels. There again, we actually have put very large tariffs on those solar panels that come from China. The Chinese companies have moved to other parts of the world and we're buying from them. But again, we have to look at each of these items and ask, is there a national security risk? Is there an alternative in other countries which would be cheaper? But instead, we have a policy that is obsessed with creating more jobs in the United States at a time when our economy is totally at full employment. So what scares today is not jobs. It's people. So there's completely a win-win option that would involve us buying cheaper components for renewables than the one we've been following.

Ralph Ranalli: Great. Well, I want to thank you both for being here. It's been a very interesting conversation and let's hope that someone's out there listening to these great policy recommendations.

Dustin Tingley: It's great to be here. Thank you.

Robert Z. Lawrence: Thanks. Thank you very much.

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