Our belief systems are one of the most powerful forces in existence. As history has shown this is true whether or not those beliefs are accurate. Inaccurate but firmly held beliefs fuel racism, sexism, Nazism and genocide.
One of the most dangerous, self-destructive beliefs alive and well in America and beyond is that protecting the environment damages the economy. Environmental regulations are said to cost too much, slow economic growth, hurt businesses, cost jobs and give other less-environmentally sound countries a competitive advantage.
The belief that environmental protections harm our economy is at the heart of the Trump Administration’s economic growth approach. Trump’s team is rolling back environmental protections from slashing clean air and water programs to allowing dumping of coal mining waste into rivers to loosening the environmental and human health regulations related to fracking. Their reasoning is that these types of environmental protections are harming the U.S. economy.
That reasoning is not supported by factual evidence. First, the costs of environmental regulations are not as high as right-wing pundits claim. Second the costs of lack of regulation aren’t factored into the total costs equation. Third, environmental programs and clean economy sectors produce jobs and economic activity in and of themselves.
So what do environmental protection and regulation programs actually cost? A common drumbeat in the political discourse is the need to shrink the size and cost of government. If that is the goal, dismantling or slashing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is the current strategy of the Trump administration, isn’t going to work.
Here’s why. According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the total U.S. federal budget for 2015 was approximately $3.8 trillion. $2.45 trillion of that was in the category known as mandatory spending which is comprised primarily of entitlement programs including Medicare, Social Security and veterans’ benefits. $1.11 trillion of the total budget was allotted to discretionary spending which includes the military, food and agriculture, another chunk of veterans’ benefits programs, another chunk of Medicare, all general government administration costs and the energy and environmental regulation programs.
In sum, Social Security, Medicare, military expenditures and veterans’ benefits account for three quarters of the total federal budget. Payment on national debt is another 10%. That means everything else – education, transportation, science and space, housing, energy and environmental programs make up about 20% of the total budget. Energy and environmental protection programs account for less than 5% of total governmental costs. To make a direct comparison, the total annual EPA budget is approximately $8 billion. The budget for military and veterans’ benefits is approximately $758 billion. In fact, the EPA accounts for less than 1% of total federal spending. And yet, the Trump administration is planning to add approximately $50 billion to military by slashing the EPA. That math doesn’t work.
The other piece of the argument that environmental protections harm the economy is the belief that such regulations are so burdensome they drive businesses to failure. There isn’t a lot of research on the economic impacts (bad or good) of environmental regulation. The research that does exist doesn’t support the argument that regulations are a significant cause of industry failure.
Consider the coal industry. Anti-regulation proponents wail that clean air and water protections are to blame for the huge downturn in the coal industry. That’s just not true. The coal industry is falling victim to market forces including the unexpected influx of cheap natural gas from fracking and the rapidly dropping costs of renewable energy options. Sources including the New York Times, Time, and Reutersall document the market conditions that are the real culprits in coal’s demise. Recently, at a rally in coal country Trump promised to, “turn the EPA from a job killer into a job creator.” That same day Dayton Power & Light announced plans to close two of its coal-fired plants by next June, stating that “without significant changes in market conditions,” the plants would not be economically viable beyond 2018.
Consider also the automobile industry. General Motors didn’t tank because of regulation. It tanked in large part because Japanese automakers perfected smaller, more highly fuel-efficient cars to meet customer demand and GM failed to follow suit. This was coupled with the crippling costs of the ridiculously expensive U.S. health care system and GM’s contractual agreements to provide health care to employees. Foreign automakers do not deal with the burden of such expensive private health care costs. Whether or not you agree with the Obama Administration’s bail out of GM (and Chrysler) it worked and the companies are now going strong. It’s rarely pointed out that right in the midst of the bail out the government mandated significant increases in vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. Obviously those regulations weren’t too burdensome. Possibly, they contributed to the kind of innovation necessary for GM to redesign itself.
Now, Trump’s team has rolled back the most recent required increases in fuel-efficiency standards. This will add more profits to Big Oil but it likely won’t strengthen the U.S. automobile industry. The rest of the world is moving ahead with increasing efficiency and a burgeoning electric vehicle market. Failing to match these innovations will just make U.S. auto companies stagnant again.
So, there’s little evidence to suggest environmental regulations hammer the economy. Meanwhile there is strong evidence showing lack of regulation can be extremely costly, right now in the near-term. According to EarthJustice, despite significant progress in addressing the air and water pollution issues, air pollution still kills 1 in 20 Americans and more than 4 million women of childbearing age are exposed to levels of mercury that can harm fetal brain development. There is substantial evidence that growing asthma numbers, especially in children, are linked to toxins and particulate emissions from coal-burning power plants.
The health and human suffering concerns are clear but the direct economic costs have been less so. However, the Washington Post recently reported several new studies assessing the direct economic costs of pollution caused by energy production in the United States. In the year 2011 alone, those costs amounted to a staggering $131 billion. That’s a big number but it’s also a sign of progress because in 2002 those costs were even higher at $175 billion. During that decade the U.S. certainly didn’t consume or produce less energy, but there was a decrease in the amount of pollution associated with energy production. Regulations and pollution abatement technologies have been working.
EarthJustice notes that, according to the OMB, the benefits of all major environmental rules over the past 10 years have outweighed the costs by at least 2 to 1 and in some cases as high as 14 to 1. As high as these returns on investment are they cover only health care savings. If costs of environmental clean up efforts were factored in the benefit to cost ration would be even higher.
The third piece of the regulatory cost-benefit equation typically overlooked by anti-regulation proponents is that environmental protection and regulation programs are jobs generators in and of themselves.
A recent study by the OMB estimated that an EPA-mandated clean up of the Chesapeake Bay, which is on the chopping block under the proposed Trump budget, is “anticipated to create 35 times as many jobs as the proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline”, and “jobs in the coal industry actually increased by 10 percent after the EPA cracked down on mountaintop-removal mining in 2009” since more workers were required to do the extraction. Pollution abatement and control products and construction and environmental restoration projects create jobs.
In Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pinchon noted, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” The question is not whether we should and can grow jobs – the question is what kind of jobs do we want to grow? And perhaps the most important question of all is, do we really believe we can have a thriving economy on a decimated, depleted planet? At the end of the day the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment that sustains us. To believe and act differently is not rational, but ideological.
There is no question we are living in turbulent times. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump change is afoot and a whole lot of it is unsettling. Although this brings additional uncertainty for socially conscious entrepreneurs it also provides new opportunities to exercise important leadership.
As old systems rumble and shift, there will be increased opportunities for innovation and new life to push up through the cracks. Identifying and developing those opportunities is the purpose of the New Economy for Social Innovation (NESI) Forum taking place in late April in Spain.
NESI is bringing together nearly a thousand business, government and thought leaders from all over the world to think through and work to lay the foundations of a new economy, one specifically designed to serve the common good.
Such an economy would be in stark contrast to our current situation. Katherine Trebeck, who will be a speaker at the NESI conference, outlines the flaws in the current model in a recent article. She notes:
Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, while 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry and others see their living standards stagnate. As the richest 10 percent of people create almost 50 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, we are facing the sixth mass extinction and dangerous climate change.These statistics illustrate the profound unfairness generated by economic systems geared up to increase GDP and by those businesses that are geared up to maximize short-term returns to shareholders.
Also called “the Davos of the new economy”, the NESI Forum will focus on key topics such as moving beyond a limitless growth economy, reshaping banking and finance, conscious consumption, philanthropy in the new economy, democratizing energy and the role of media and social media in the new economy.
With many major governmental institutions and policies in serious flux there has never been a better time for social and eco-entrepreneurs to step out of their everyday work routines and into serious leadership. Besides, given the current political climate couldn’t you use a few days spent with totally positive, forward-looking entrepreneurs and new economy advocates who are stepping outside of fear and status quo and getting real about designing the future?
Consider the current instability from the perspective of a caterpillar. During its incredible transformation and evolution, while in the cocoon, as the caterpillar’s body begins to break down it starts to produce what are called “imaginal cells”. These cells are so foreign the worm’s immune system attacks them. That kills some of the imaginal cells but it also increases the overall disintegration of the status quo caterpillar body. Despite the resistance the imaginal cells keep coming and at the point of maximum disintegration and upheaval of the caterpillar body the new cells begin clumping together and eventually realize they’re now a butterfly!
The purpose of the NESI forum is to bring together new economy imaginal cells so that we can find our wings.
Today is International Happiness Day. Since 2013, the United Nations has celebrated the International Day of Happiness as a way to recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. In 2015 the UN launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet – three key aspects that lead to wellbeing and happiness.
This has me thinking about the work I’ve done in Bhutan regarding their Gross National Happiness Index. Bhutan is one of the world’s newest democracies and it is running a really important experiment. Instead of just measuring economic success based on overall growth and the size of the economy (e.g. Gross Domestic Product), Bhutan is being much more intentional and considering what kind of growth it wants. Of course they are working to grow jobs and income, but not at the cost of destroying their culture and natural environment.
Some cynics scoff at the idea and brush it off as quaint and trivial, but that is a mistake. The Gross National Happiness Index is actually a robust set of metrics that are used to make real world economic and societal decisions. Governmental infrastructure and budget decisions are run through four overarching criteria:
Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development
Preservation and promotion of culture
The values of wellbeing, environmental protection, and cultural promotion are imbedded into early learning programs and schools as well as governmental processes. For example, I was amazed when I learned that young children in schools in Bhutan do a regular mindfulness practice. The teachers help them to get quiet and meditative for a few minutes each day. They call it “Mental Flossing” as in the mental hygeine equivalent of dental flossing. In other words getting yucky stuff out of our minds is just as important as getting yucky stuff out of our mouths!
In a fun twist this year the Smurfs teemed up with the U.N. to put their blue enthusiasm into International Happiness Day. Here is a Smurfy video about it.
I am delighted that there will be several representatives for the Gross National Happiness Center in Bhutan at the New Economy for Social Innovation Forum that I will be speaking at in Spain next month. And I just learned that at the forum there will be an unveiling of a new GNH Center for Spain and Latin America. Outstanding!
Here’s to spreading a little more happiness in our world today and all days.
Most of us have cut our teeth and careers on the notion of business competition, survival of the fittest and dog eating dog. Turns out that’s very narrow view.
More and more companies and social entrepreneurs are moving toward collaborative, mutually-supportive, network-building business models.
Premium Cola is just one of myriad examples of successful businesses that are taking a more collaborative, ecosystem approach. Details can be found here.
Collaborative economies and business models is just one of the exciting New Economy trends and possibilities that will be explored at the upcoming New Economy for Social Innovation (NESI) Forum. 3EStrategies’ CEO, Cylvia Hayes, will be a speaker and media partner at the NESI forum.
We would love to hear about your collaborative business experiences and examples.
I’m struggling. And I know I’m not alone. As a person who likes, and works at, being informed on the major issues facing our country, I am having a really hard time knowing what to believe from the news we are getting. I’ve heard this same concern from so many people – Trump supporters and definitely not Trump supporters alike.
I know from first-hand experience that for-profit, corporate media outlets are not objective and “Breaking News”, which is intentionally designed to trigger us emotionally, is rarely purely factual reporting. And yet, bad as these news outlets can be, they’re still not the true “fake news” sources that have been created to undermine our democracy and make a lot of money generating clicks by coming across as real news with a totally made up claim imbedded in the story. And now, on top of all of that, we have a White House team that has been the source of major false reports – from the significantly wrong and repeated statement that there had been a terrorist attack in Bowling Green (never happened) to the less significant but still blatantly false claim that Trump had won more electoral college votes than any president in recent history (not true).
As people who want to be informed and engaged one of our biggest challenges just now is staying genuinely informed without getting sucked down the vortex of sensationalized, crazy-making media coverage. Here are a few tips for staying informed and somewhat sane in the process.
1) Limit your fixes and fixations
Take the news in doses. It’s something of a universal principle that what we focus on expands. For example Trump’s “War on the Media” has actually driven up cable news ratings. Most importantly, be very wary of “Breaking News”. I mean, really, don’t we all have something better to do until the actual facts surface?
2) Educate yourself about biases
Network news like ABC, NBC and CBS are not usually terribly biased in their reporting. However cable news like CNN, FOX and MSNBC have very definite liberal or conservative slants. Watching FOX and MSNBC is like seeing the same events but from two different planets.
Research shows that the majority of news-watching Americans only watch the stations that align with their pre-existing beliefs. This just increases ideological and political polarization, lack of understanding and empathy and our culture of “othering”. It’s important, even if uncomfortable, to make a conscious effort to get out of our own echo chambers and listen to different perspectives.
3) Pay attention to independent news sources – Since bias and spin is currently rampant in mainstream for-profit media outlets, independent, public and subscriber supported news outlets are more important than ever before. Some of my favorites and most trusted include NPR, BBC, Reuters, Nation, Guardian and The Week.
4) Remember the Purpose of “News”
I think this one is really important and really helpful. News after all is about pointing out the unusual, the “newsworthy”. Everyday goings on are not usually deemed newsworthy. This means the news is sensationalized and all about “If it bleeds it leads” shock value.
The truth is there are massive positive, beautiful, loving developments going on in our country and world. But those everyday “mundane” stories are rarely given any airtime because they do not count as newsworthy.
If you really think about this it means under the current corporate media model we should be really concerned if they start covering only positive stuff, because that would mean the positive stuff was unusual!
Just think about how many good things you’ve done that never received any media coverage? And if you really can’t think of anything you should consider therapy! Seriously, what’s your typical daily experience? Is it the ugliness we see on TV or is it mostly kind, positive (or at least benign) interactions with other people?
I think it’s really important to balance out staying informed about challenging issues, politics, catastrophes and tragedies with a healthy dose of positive news. Some of my favorite sources include Positive News, Yes! Magazine and NBC Nightly News’ Inspiring America segments.
5) Unplug and actually connect
Resist the temptation of the 24 hour news cycle and ceaseless social media. Go outside, take a hike, play with the dog and don’t take a screened device with you! Hang out with positive people. Volunteer in your community. Helping others is such good food for the soul.
These are some strategies for staying well-informed and sane! I hope they’re helpful because we need all the well-informed and healthy citizens we can get right now.