Presidential hopefuls pushed to go big on climate change
By ELANA SCHOR
Tuesday, December 11
WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental activists are ramping up a pressure campaign designed to drum up Democratic support for a sweeping agenda to fight climate change, with the 2020 presidential campaign in their sights.
Hundreds of young demonstrators turned out Monday on Capitol Hill to push Democrats on a package of ambitious environmental goals — including a nationwide transition to 100 percent power from renewable sources within as little as 10 years — that’s collectively dubbed the Green New Deal. Already embraced by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., an increasingly influential figure on the left, the Green New Deal is designed to nudge prospective Democratic presidential candidates to stake out aggressive positions on climate change. Some cast the goals as idealistic and politically risky.
Organizers with the Sunrise Movement activist group frame it as a make-or-break issue for Democratic voters, particularly young ones. But they’re fighting recent history on that point.
Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., jockeyed during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary over their plans to stave off the devastating effects that scientists have warned of as temperatures continue to rise. Ultimately, however, other issues dominated the debate, and climate change barely registered during the 2016 general election.
Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, said, “Any senators or any other politician who wants the votes of young people in 2020 needs to back a Green New Deal that would transform our economy and create millions of new jobs stopping climate change.”
As he weighs another White House run, Sanders has staked out an early claim on the issue, hosting Ocasio-Cortez for a climate change town hall last week and preparing a forthcoming proposal that an aide said is likely to align with the broad goals of the Green New Deal.
“Next Congress I will be working on legislation that addresses the scope of the crisis we face, creates tens of millions of jobs and saves American families money while holding fossil fuel companies accountable for the enormous damage they have done to our planet,” Sanders said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Our job is to be bold, to think very big and to go forward in a moral struggle to protect our planet and future generations.”
When Sanders introduced single-payer health care legislation last year, most Senate Democrats also considering presidential runs signed on at the outset. It’s not clear, however, whether other prominent Democrats eyeing the White House would back Sanders’ forthcoming climate change bill or seek to carve out their own territory.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said last week that “obviously, we have been doing a lot of work trying to find some bolder things we as a nation could be doing” on climate change. Booker spokeswoman Kristin Lynch that his staff has held dozens of meetings since the summer aimed at shaping a broad climate bill and that he welcomes the activists’ effort to spotlight the issue.
The staff of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has been in contact with the organizers behind the Green New Deal push, according to spokeswoman Lily Adams, who said the senator is broadly supportive of the sort of sweeping climate change agenda that the effort envisions. As legislation aimed at enacting the Green New Deal begins to take shape, Adams added, Harris plans to take a close look at it.
The Green New Deal deliberately omits details on how to reorient the United States toward the drastic carbon emissions reductions it calls for, instead calling for a select committee in the House to devise a plan by 2020. That timetable is designed to rally Democrats behind a climate change strategy as they’re picking a nominee to take on President Donald Trump, who has rolled back multiple environmental regulations and cast doubt on the scientific consensus that human activity is driving global warming.
Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist whom Sanders tapped to help write the Democratic National Committee’s party platform in 2016, said that it would be “hard for me to imagine a serious Democratic candidate emerging” in the 2020 presidential race who doesn’t support a version of the Green New Deal, single-payer health care and a $15-per-hour minimum wage.
A Capitol Police spokeswoman said that 138 people were arrested during Monday’s demonstrations by Green New Deal supporters.
The plan, named for the New Deal that reshaped America under former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, envisions a costly and dramatically remodeled U.S. energy infrastructure as soon as 2030. It’s a shift from where Democrats laid down their symbolic markers on climate change as recently as last year. Sanders and Booker, as well as potential presidential hopeful Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced legislation then that aimed to shift the nation to 100 percent renewable and clean energy sources by 2050.
Fossil fuels, mostly natural gas and coal, generated 63 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017, compared with 17 percent for renewable sources such as wind and solar, according to the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration. Nuclear energy comprised the remaining 20 percent.
“Is it all that realistic? Probably not, in the environment where we work. Certainly not now,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the party’s senior member on the environment committee, said of the Green New Deal’s target. “But it’s a good aspirational goal.”
Sarah Dolan, communications director for the conservative opposition research group America Rising, warned that Democratic presidential hopefuls’ “race to the left” on climate change, as well as on health care, minimum wage and immigration, would backfire in 2020.
“Being the first to take the most progressive position of the day will only lead to a party that can’t compete in the general election as it becomes unrecognizable to independent voters,” she said.
Nobel prize winner: no progress from Trump on carbon taxing
By IVANA BZGANOVIC
Friday, December 7
STOCKHOLM (AP) — A winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics who advocates carbon taxes as the best way to address greenhouse gas emissions says he does not expect U.S. President Donald Trump to back his view.
William Nordhaus’s comments to The Associated Press on Friday followed Trump’s recent dismissal of his own government’s report warning of the dire consequences of climate change.
“There will be no forward progress under the Trump administration; I think that’s virtually inconceivable,” Nordhaus said. “It will be good if it didn’t go backwards.”
Nordhaus will split the 9 million-kronor ($1 million) prize with another American, Paul Romer, who was recognized for his work on how markets can encourage innovation.
Carbon taxes, which involves the imposition of levies on companies that burn fossil fuel, are criticized as being detrimental to economic growth, according to opponents. And that’s a sensitive issue in the wake of the global economic downturn a decade ago.
“Nobody can predict with any accuracy what will happen in a year or two years,” he said at a news conference with Nordhaus and the winners of the physics and chemistry Nobels.
“On the other hand, everything in history suggests there will be another decline in output. I think we should expect that there will be additional financial crises.”
Two of the chemistry prize laureates said excessive concerns about genetically modified foods and other substances can inhibit mankind from benefiting from developments in the field.
“We’ve been modifying the biological world at the level of DNA for thousands of years,” said American Frances Arnold, citing examples such as new dog breeds. “Somehow there is this new fear of what we already have been doing and that fear has limited our ability to provide real solutions.”
“There’s a lot more we could do with directed evolution if there weren’t regulatory hurdles to doing it,” Britain’s Gregory Winter said. “If we want to do something about it we’ll have to loosen up some of these regimes.”
They were named winners along with American George Smith for advances that the award characterized as speeding up evolution of enzymes and proteins.
Arnold was one of two female winners of science Nobels this year. The other, Donna Strickland of Canada, said she sees progress in attracting women to traditionally male-dominated science, engineering and mathematics.
“I think women are going into most of the fields. Physics still lags behind and I don’t really know why that is the case; it depends, I think, a lot on whether society looks at physics as something to do,” she told the AP. She credited the popular TV program “The Big Bang Theory” as having “helped make physics seem cool.”
Strickland, Gerard Mourou of France and American Arthur Ashkin share the physics award for developments in lasers. Ashkin, at age 96 the oldest-ever Nobel winner, was unable to travel to Stockholm for Monday’s awards ceremony.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on Monday in Oslo. No winner of the literature prize was named this year.
Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story
Do climate policies ‘kill jobs’? An economist on why they don’t cause massive unemployment
December 11, 2018
Associate Professor of Economics, Georgia State University
Garth Heutel receives funding from the Alliance for Market Solutions and the National Institutes of Health.
Georgia State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Climate change will hammer the U.S. economy unless there’s swift action to rein in greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, according to the latest National Climate Assessment report.
But President Donald Trump has dismissed this forecast, even though his own administration released a comprehensive synthesis of the best available science, written by hundreds of climate scientists and other experts from academia, government, the private sector and nonprofits. Like most opponents of policies aimed at slowing the pace of climate change, he has long wanted actions to reduce these emissions off the table because, in his opinion, they are “job-killing.”
As an environmental economist who is studying the relationship between regulations and employment, I find this question vitally important both economically and politically. What does the research on this question say?
Opponents of climate regulations embrace a straightforward and long-standing argument. In their view, anything the government forces businesses to do will negatively affect their ability to employ workers. To them, everything from safety regulations to raising taxes makes it costlier and harder for businesses to operate.
Trump has taken this philosophy to heart by pledging to eliminate what he calls “job-killing regulations” across the board.
Some supporters of strong climate policies counter that the costs of climate change are high enough to justify climate policies even though they might negatively affect workers.
They base this argument on observations that environmental rules and clean energy can benefit public health, even by saving lives. They also point out that these policies could counter the economic damage the National Climate Assessment forecasts.
What about those jobs, though?
The evidence on how environmental policies affect unemployment is generally mixed. The book “Does Regulation Kill Jobs?,” edited by University of Pennsylvania professor Cary Coglianese, covers regulations generally. It concludes that “regulation overall is neither a prime job killer nor a key job creator.”
Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist, found that 1970s-era environmental regulations, which in some ways resemble the climate-related rules debated today, led to the loss of more than half-a-million manufacturing jobs over 15 years.
Another team of researchers, which reviewed the impact of environmental policies on four heavily polluting industries, found that environmental regulations have no significant effect on employment.
To be sure, the number of coal mining jobs has plummeted, falling from over 150,000 in the 1980s to about 53,000 in July 2018.
But this mainly has to do with two other factors. Due to increasing automation, it now takes far fewer workers to mine coal than it used to.
And a drilling boom has increased not just oil output but natural gas production. The increased natural gas supply cut prices for that fuel, prompting a raft of coal-fired power plant closures. It also eroded coal’s market share for electricity generation while creating new jobs in other energy industries.
Greener job growth
A weakness I often see in the standard regulations-kill-jobs argument is a focus on the regulated industries that ignores the fact that those same regulations tend to spur growth in other industries.
In this case, climate policies are proving to be a boon for jobs in renewable energy industries like wind and solar, as well as in efficiency efforts like weatherization.
For example, the stimulus bill enacted during the Great Recession included provisions designed to bolster renewable energy.
That spending helped spur the creation of millions of new jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency, predicts that the number of solar panel installers will increase by 105 percent and the number of wind turbine technician jobs will rise by 96 percent between 2016 and 2026, making those the nation’s two fastest-growing professions.
The power the U.S. gets from wind, which increased more than 30-fold between 1999 and 2017, now accounts for 6.3 percent of total electricity.
One study concluded that retraining all coal workers to become solar panel installers is feasible and in fact would mean a raise for most of these American workers. More than twice as many Americans work in the solar energy industry than in the coal industry.
The whole employment picture
So what is the net effect on jobs when some energy industries shrink and others grow?
Resources for the Future, a think tank that researches economic, environmental, energy and natural resource issues, has developed complex computational models of the economy that clarify the whole picture on the connection between regulations and jobs.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan group assessed the impact on unemployment, something that – believe it or not – these large-scale economic simulations usually don’t do.
The think tank predicts that a hypothetical US$40 per ton carbon tax, which would translate into an increase of about 36 cents per gallon of gasoline, would increase the overall unemployment rate by just 0.3 percentage points. The effect is even smaller, at just 0.05 percentage points, if the government were to uses the carbon tax’s revenue to cut other tax rates.
This effect is one-third as large as previous estimates, such as a 2017 study from NERA Economic Consulting, a global firm, that were not as detailed in their unemployment modeling.
Some studies have even detected a net gain in jobs from climate policies.
For example, University of California, Berkeley researchers found that California’s efforts to cut emissions have bolstered the state’s economy and created more than 37,000 jobs. And the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Political Economy Research Institute has determined that every $1 million shifted from fossil fuel-generated power to “green energy” creates a net increase of 5 jobs.
Based on my review of the research, I see little evidence that policies to reduce pollution from fossil fuels have or will likely result in widespread job losses.
Different types of policies can have different effects – and some can minimize labor market disruption more than others.
A carbon tax, like other revenue-raising policies such as cap-and-trade systems with auctioned permits, has the advantage of generating revenue that can be used to offset any economic harm from job losses. Policies that do not generate revenue, such as renewable portfolio standards, which require utilities to get a set proportion of their electricity from renewable energy, lack this advantage.
Despite the spread of these efforts in states, there is no federal carbon tax or cap-and-trade system yet.
The evidence suggests that climate policies will cause some industries to lose workers, while others will employ more people and that the overall employment effects are modest. But what is going on with displaced workers? Are solar and wind companies hiring all the jobless coal miners?
My current research is examining how easy – or hard – it is for workers to move between industries due to changes brought on by these regulations. So far, my colleagues and I are finding that when we account for the costs of workers switching jobs, unemployment rates rise slightly more than predicted when ignoring those costs, but the overall effect on unemployment is still just 0.5 percent.
We also are seeing that the effects are much more severe for some workers, such as coal miners. That is why I believe that the government would be wise to do more to train dislocated workers for new professions and help them land new jobs while at the same time implementing climate policies.
Steve Crook, logged in via Google:
There’s one point though. If the factory or mine or whatever, closes in your community, it can kill all the nearby towns who’re utterly dependent of the jobs from that one source.
Overall, in the economy, other jobs will be created, but they’re rarely in the communities affected by the loss and rarely require the same skills.
So far at least neither corporates or government have been prepared to pick up the tab for completely retraining someone and relocating them and their family where there’s work.
Particularly for anyone past 40.
Which gives us years of resentment going all the way back to those 1970’s environmental regulations you mention. Necessary, and inevitable as are many of the changes we’re going to see over the next several decades. But.
When we calculate the cost of these decisions, it might be wise to add in the social cost of poverty, premature deaths, drug addiction, alcoholism and the fact that it’s not just the generation who get made redundant, but their children and grand children who feel the effects.
All of which gives us The Donald and a suspicion of immigrants and immigration.
Virtual reality tours give rural students a glimpse of college life
Updated November 21, 2018
Author: Carol Cutler White, Assistant Professor, Community College Leadership, Mississippi State University
Disclosure statement: Carol Cutler White led the development of the GEAR UP VR app while serving as Principal Investigator of GEAR UP NC from 2013-2018. She currently consults with the UNC System on the GEAR UP VR initiative and with the UNC Emerging Technologies Lab and SeeBoundless on college access and workforce strategies to expand the reach of the app.
Partners: Mississippi State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The first time that Nyah visited the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for a campus tour, there wasn’t much of a chance to see what takes place inside the classrooms.
“We just walked by buildings and the guide talked about what goes on inside,” Nyah recalls of the campus tour this past spring.
But during a second “tour” of UNC Greensboro this fall, Nyah, now a senior, got to see students in a science lab, even though she never left her high school in Roxboro, North Carolina, a small city of about 8,400 more than an hour from the Greensboro campus.
Rather, Nyah got to “see” UNC Greensboro through cardboard goggles and an immersive 360-degree virtual reality college tour app that I’m helping to develop and test for the University of North Carolina System. The project is being funded through a federal grant for North Carolina’s GEAR UP program. GEAR UP – an acronym that stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs – is a federally funded program to increase high school graduation, college readiness and college enrollment at low resource high schools.
If the virtual college tour initiative is successful – that is, if it ultimately leads more rural students to enroll in college – I believe it could radically change how students in rural or otherwise remote places do their campus visits, which are a critical part of a student’s college selection – one of the most consequential decisions of their lives. The app can be an introduction to college for rural communities without a university campus. Research shows that fewer students attend a university if it is not within commuting distance, that is, about 25 miles or less. This is particularly true for students from families with low incomes, the same research has found. About one out of every four students is rural, federal data show.
Thus far, the app – which only features UNC universities – has been tested in four GEAR UP high schools in Rockingham and Person counties. Anecdotally, students have a positive view of the virtual college tours.
“I like this better,” Nyah said of the virtual college tour in comparison to the physical tour she took earlier this year.
Other students told me similar things as I visited schools throughout North Carolina to educate students about the virtual college tours. The students’ real names are not being used because the research project I am doing on the virtual college tour app does not allow student participants to be identified.
Some school administrators also reported enthusiasm for the app. “I like that the app has the tour and the ways to communicate with each campus,” said Person High School Assistant Principal John Koket. “That will really help us get our students connected to college.”
Costs and benefits
GEAR UP NC and the Emerging Technologies Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill teamed up to develop the new virtual reality college tour app. A 360-degree video company was contracted to create immersive video content. The app – officially known as the GEAR UP VR app – is available for free download from the Google and Apple stores.
Cardboard goggles and earbuds were given to 16,000 students at 21 GEAR UP NC high schools at the cost of US$28 per GEAR UP student and $1.75 per UNC campus tour. This estimate reflects the app development, video footage, and the manufacturing and shipping of the cardboard goggles. The the cost per student may drop further since the app has already been developed.
The app uses language to draw students in. For example, the introductory video opens with “Hello, we’re excited for you to join us as we explore college campuses all across North Carolina. Every college has unique experiences to offer, and there is a place for you no matter what you want to do.” The tours and app create an experience and a connection to campuses.
The GEAR UP VR app was launched with federal grant funds at a cost of $450,000. However, in order to sustain the project, more funding is needed. Costs include the video content server, video updates, chatbots, and cardboard googles for future high school students. GEAR UP NC plans to explore ways to secure funding to keep the initiative going if it proves worthwhile.
Students in this initial phase of the project were able to keep the goggles to explore the 16 UNC campus tours on their own and share the experience with family and friends.
That’s what Kailee, a student at Reidsville High School, says she intends to do.
“I’m going to show this to my little brother,” Kailee said. “He needs to think about college.”
Anyone can download the app onto their phone. The goggles allow sharing the 360-degree video. The video content can also be viewed without goggles on a desktop computer or a phone. The app also enables parent exploration of college choices, a key factor in a student’s choice.
Many colleges and universities already have some form of virtual tour to recruit students. The GEAR UP VR app is different. In addition to the virtual reality campus tour, the app provides web links to campus admissions and financial aid, features a chatbot to immediately answer questions, and links information about degrees and campus life and campus social media.
While students and administrators have expressed positive views about the app, the app is not without its challenges. For instance, right now, it’s up to high schools as to how to make the virtual tours a part of their college search activities. A guidebook might be helpful in the future.
Also, broadband and internet signal strength were a challenge in some rural schools. For example, when an entire class of 25 to 30 students attempted to download the app at the same time, the school’s internet connection was stretched and download speeds were significantly slowed, if it worked at all. This problem occurred at all of the schools I visited. Some students indicated the app could not be downloaded on the latest model phones.
Even if the app works flawlessly from a technological standpoint, schools still need to help students make college decisions. Schools play a particularly influential role for rural students when it comes to deciding whether to go to college. One of the questions I’m exploring is whether the virtual college tour app can help rural schools play this role even better.