How To Make Money Drawing Oil – On February 22, 1989, Duane Levin, Exxon’s chief technology officer, gave a report to the company’s board of directors. Governments around the world have come together to save the ozone layer and phase out chemicals used in aerosol sprays and refrigeration, Levin said. Fossil fuels may be targeted next.
Here’s a moment: Seven months ago, during an unusually hot summer, James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Goddard Space Research Institute, warned Congress that signs of global warming were already upon us, making the issue front-page news. Nationwide. By the end of the year, politicians have introduced 32 climate bills in Congress, and the United Nations has formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists and policymakers seeking to implement global climate policy.
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In light of these developments, Levin advised Exxon to assuage public concerns about the planet with a “proper response” — one that not only claims the science is unsettled, but also emphasizes the “costs and political realities” of dealing with emissions. In other words, the main problem isn’t fossil fuel emissions, but that it costs too much to do anything about them.
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That view was supported by then-President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, John Sununu, who immediately after Hansen’s testimony pushed to stop a global treaty to reduce carbon emissions. Sununu feuded with then-EPA Administrator William K. Reilly because he believed that global warming legislation would hinder economic growth. In 1989, as Hansen prepared to give an update on the greenhouse effect to Congress, he was surprised by some strange editorials in the White House Office of Management and Budget, which was run by a Sununu ally. They hope Hansen will say the science is unreliable and encourage Congress to pass legislation only if it provides immediate relief to the economy “without worrying about increasing the greenhouse effect.”
Today, the country faces an equally important moment. When President Joe Biden took office a year ago, pledging to “listen to the science” and “deal with the climate crisis,” the stars seemed to align, with political parties supporting a climate action that newly took charge of both houses of Congress. But the Democrats’ narrow majority tempered negotiations within the party, with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia casting a decisive, final, pro-coal vote. Once again, the focus on upfront costs stifled the once-in-a-decade chance to pass climate legislation.
Manchin’s complaints centered on the price of the sticker. In September 2021, as Congress began considering restoring Biden’s social and climate policy package, Manchin wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “Why I Don’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.” He urged Democrats to pick and choose which policies are really needed and to stop and think about how a big spending bill could worsen inflation and increase the government debt. Another reason for the “strategic pause,” he continued, was to “allow for full reporting and analysis” of what the bill would mean for “this generation and generations to come.” The article doesn’t mention climate change and doesn’t give any thought to how these future generations will fare on an unsustainably warm planet.
Manchin is not alone in designing things this way. Economics has become the de facto language of debate for public policy and how they evaluate solutions to ameliorate planetary problems. His persuasion and rhetoric have been used by the fossil fuel industry and its allies, who have argued for decades that climate action is a killer of economic growth, even as it becomes increasingly clear that inaction is itself a killer. A narrow view of short-term costs and benefits has led to a failure of vision, experts say, in an abstract debate about how to make climate change financially viable, giving the bigger picture of what really hurts and who benefits. , whether the earth burns – will disappear.
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Republican Senators Mike Crapo and Rick Scott hold a press conference to criticize spending related to Biden’s Build Better Agenda at the U.S. Capitol on December 14, 2021.
“Sometimes there are other things we want to value besides efficiency,” says sociologist Elizabeth Pope Berman, author of the new book.
For several months, headlines about “Back Back Better” highlighted the price tag, which was eventually cut from $3.5 trillion to $1.7 trillion. The coverage often misses the essential: these trillions are budgeted over 10 years, or $170 billion a year. However, Congress passed a $768 billion defense budget in December without much criticism from the mainstream media. Even Manchin voted for him. “Why the Pentagon never asks, but how do you pay for it?” Read a headline from The New Republic on the left.
The general public has a “highly skewed” economic understanding of climate change, said Benjamin Franta, a historian who studies climate disinformation at Stanford. “There is a tendency to focus on the cost of movement rather than the cost of movement,” he said. He blames this in part on concerted industry efforts to emphasize the price tag of climate policies, without mentioning who they help (thousands of lives saved) or even save the public money in the long run.
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Not long after Levine advised Exxon to highlight the economic costs of climate policy, the fossil fuel industry began paying off economists who believed the legislation would be costly. Franta said that when people talk today about climate change being too costly, “the industry has its fingerprints on that message.”
Since the field of economics began to dominate the debate around government spending in the decades before that famous Exxon meeting in 1989, it is not always accepted that money is the guiding light for legislation. For many politicians, the first step is to recognize that there is a problem. The second step is to figure out if it’s cost-effective to fix if it’s not considered an existential threat like a world war. This way of thinking even shapes the words they use to talk about nature: forests are ‘natural resources’, fish are ‘reserves’.
“Economics is the mother tongue of public policy, the language of public life, and the ideas that shape society,” writes Kate Raworth, a self-proclaimed Oxford economist.
Economists themselves, however, were not always comfortable with the authority they were given. “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both right and wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is run by other things,” wrote English economist John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, who changed how governments spent money. “Practical men who consider themselves quite exempt from any intellectual influence are generally the slaves of some feeble economist.”
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Thanks in large part to the success of Keynes’s ideas, the industry’s special role in government only expanded from there. During World War II, economists helped the U.S. government find ways to finance the war and use military resources more efficiently. Later, they helped rebuild Europe and formally infiltrated the American government.
The Truman administration created the Council of Economic Advisers in 1946, making economists the first social scientists in the president’s inner circle. Because economic theory included computational models, mathematics became a “science”—seeming it more scientific and therefore more authoritative than before.
In 1965, inspired by how economists were managing the Pentagon’s budget using cost-centered analysis, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to extend the view to other agencies. By the late 1970s, economic thinking had permeated government policy and guided legislation around poverty, health care, and the environment. In 1975, the Congressional Budget Office was created to provide lawmakers with nonpartisan budget analysis, “which formalized the way we should think about legislation,” Berman said.
President Gerald Ford hugs Alan Greenspan, the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, at the White House on September 5, 1974.
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The growing influence of money-driven policymaking has combined to shrink the debate about public policies, call attention to the desire to solve the environmental crisis, and shift the attention of many mainstream economists to the risks of public debt and inflation. Consider the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act of the early 1970s, the foundations of environmental law in the United States. They set strict standards for pollution control, regardless of the economic consequences. According to Berman, by the 1990s, environmental policy had moved away from this moral framework that discriminated against polluters.
“There’s been a lot of progress in trying to update environmental policy around thinking about cost considerations,” he said. Pollution was seen as “external” to assess rather than just try and stop it. A top-down regulatory approach replaces a cost-sensitive strategy, which is inherently at odds with ambition
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