So now that the spread of coronavirus is slowing a bit in China, the Chinese government is beginning to ramp back up its manufacturing facilities. However, given the shutdowns in the largest exports markets in Europe and U.S., the demand for Chinese products is still way down.
Right now, while factories have slowed or shut down in China, Europe, the U.S. and other places, would be a perfect time to put a lot of people to work upgrading and improving energy efficiency and pollution control measures, and installing renewable energy options in the furloughed factories around the world. This should be a component in any economic stimulus package and it should be acted on right now while people desperately need jobs and the factories are in time out.
In addition, though we are still in the acute crisis and that must be the primary focus of action just now, it would make immanent sense to begin very thoughtful, visionary yet practical strategic planning effort for how we might be able to come out the other side of this with much healthier, saner and resilient economic systems.
It should serve as a stunning existential wake up call that the only real winner in this crisis at this point is the planet. Air pollution is down, climate change emissions have dropped precipitously, water pollution is down – the canals of Venice actually look like water again! Even wildlife trafficking and consumption is down. All of this is happening because we’ve been forced to push pause on an economic system that “creates” stuff at the price of destroying natural systems and our planetary life support structures. The respite being delivered by the pandemic-induced time-out could be no clearer evidence that we have built a global economy that is dependent upon the destruction of our planetary life-support systems.
The Coronavirus is the most immediate, but it is not the biggest threat before us. The bigger issue, and far greater challenge and opportunity, is what the COVID-19 crisis reveals about our fundamentally unsustainable, consumption-driven global economic system. If we really open up to taking a hard look at that, we have the potential to shift from crisis to evolution.
As nations begin to think through how to ramp up economic activity in the wake of the pandemic we will likely hear the dangerous but familiar rallying cry of “buy, buy, buy, grow, grow, grow.” If the sole focus is to just get things going like they were before we will simply return to the perilous delusion that economic growth trumps the health of the planet. We must get very clear and innovative in considering the type of economic growth we want and the type we do not want, such as highly polluting, poor paying industries and disposable plastic widgets.
I’ll be posting a more detailed piece of growth of what and for what in days to come. In the meantime, I see four major steps and opportunities in handling this crisis.
First, put everything into controlling the virus and protecting front-line workers and directly supporting people who have lost jobs and income. . The Trump administration failed us disastrously by, once again ignoring science and the advice of advisors who were urging major action as early as January – now we need a full-court press to catch up. At the same time we need aggressive, non-pork economic support and stimulus. Congress just passed a massive and essential economic stimulus package. It remains to be seen exactly what is in it but it does include direct payments to citizens and I am delighted to note, it does not include bailout of the cruise ship industry.
As soon as we can get better access to testing and masks, etc., there should be a massive retraining of workers from currently devastated industries like restaurant and hospitality into health care and elder care support positions.
Given that President Trump finally listened to scientific advisors and acknowledged that the health threat will require the social distancing policies for at least another month, the economic implications for the record number of laid off workers is going to be very severe. We will need a number of additional stimulus packages just to help people meet basic shelter and food needs. As I wrote in an earlier post, this is a time we should be seriously considered a Guaranteed Basic Income approach.
There will likely also need to be measures to try to prevent implosion of the banking and financial transaction systems. We must not let this implode to the point where banks lock people out of accounts, ATMs are shut down, etc. as has happened in the collapse in Greece in 2015.
Second, as I noted above, while industry is at a slow down this is the time to put people to work upgrading, cleaning up and reducing carbon footprints of manufacturing facilities. Funding for these measures would be a smart component of governmental economic stimulus packages.
Third, develop and invest in a massive workforce transformation campaign. This should include some of the lasting changes that are likely to result from this unprecedented time such as the shift to remote working, the increase in online shopping and associated delivery options. Another aspect of this should be an aggressive shift from employment in non-essential, highly polluting industries to employment that is productive for society.
Fourth, as we clear the immediate crisis, gain control of the virus, develop a vaccine, we need to be very strategic about the kind of economic growth we pursue. This would be the perfect time to implement some version a Green New Deal that would provide jobs, business opportunities by tackling climate change, income inequality and the poverty pandemic.
Some areas to consider. The coal industry continues to clamor for governmental aid to overcome a steep decline in demand due to growth in renewables and the natural gas boom. The coal industry makes the claim that it absolutely critical to securing a domestic supply of affordable electricity and providing jobs. Based on this claim, as reported by Reuters, the industry has requested executive action from the President to suspend or reduce royalties and reduce its legal obligations for environmental clean up of mining sites and health assistance to victims of black lung disease.
Meanwhile the renewable energy industry is facing severe downturns as a result of the pandemic. The Solar Energy Industries Association has reported it’s the solar industry could lose up to half its workforce due to the virus because a significant share of solar jobs is dependent on large projects being built that are likely to be out on hold. Similarly, the wind industry was set to have a record-breaking year this year but is now facing massive scale backs due to the virus.
As we think through how to keep people employed and get them back to work here’s an interesting comparison. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the coal industry employed 50,600 people in February, down 35 percent from ten years ago. According to the Energy Information Administration coal-fired power plants generated 23.5 percent of U.S. electricity last year, down from over 44 percent ten years earlier.
By contrast renewable energy has been growing steadily. It produced 17.5 percent of U.S. electricity last year. According to the Solar Foundation, solar alone employed over 249,800 people in 2019. Add wind, geothermal, etc. and it is clear renewables dwarfs coal in employment. An another fossil fuel note, the oil industry has been massively subsidized by the federal government for decades and with new technologies in drilling there is now a global glut of oil and prices have plummeted. Not even accounting for the environmental damage caused by fossil fuel extraction and consumption, the economics don’t add up.
It seems to me a solid plan to add stimulus to industries of the future and to support people currently employed in industries that are in decline to transition into new, more needed and secure career tracks.
Another aspect of Green New Deal type of stimulus package could include attaching strong climate, environmental and fair labor requirements to industries that do get bail outs and stimulus funding. After the 2008 financial crisis, President Obama required General Motors and Chrysler to implement stringent new fuel economy standards in exchange for the bail-out money they received. This was a huge step forward in auto efficiency and competitive strength for the U.S. auto industry.
Make no mistake, this current economic time-out is going to have lasting effects and it is going to require massive public investment and rethinking to recover. Now it the time not just to try to go back to normal, but to stimulate economic growth that will benefit all of society. This is the time to create jobs doing what society needs to have done – rebuilding our infrastructure in a way that reduces global warming pollution, cleans our air and water and increases resiliency to the environmental changes already underway, building and repairing affordable housing, restoring wetlands, rivers, forests and beaches, strengthening local agriculture and community businesses, caring for our elderly populations.
If this seems too big to take on remember, the coronavirus pandemic is a force of Nature; the economy is not! The economy is a human construct. We created it and we change and shape it all the time. We invented it so we can reinvent it. The goal should not be to restart the economy but to reset it.
A final note: down the road a ways we are going to need to figure out how to deal with a staggering amount of national debt by most major nations. Prior to the pandemic crisis a vast percentage of the much-touted growth in GDP has been accomplished through unprecedented increases in debt. Debt is now growing at a skyrocketing scale with the various stimulus and bailout measures that nations of the world are implementing to deal with the coronavirus situation. On the other side of the crisis the debt burden will be a truly unmanageable and unstable situation, which, though tricky, is yet another potential lever for fundamental economic reset. I will be doing an article about the need to shift past GDP, and especially debt-driven growth, as a metric of economic success in my next article.
I have worked for twenty-five years as a sustainable economy strategist, trying to raise awareness about the need to shift to a saner economic system. With the COVID-19 crisis it is time to get very serious about not just bailing out the current economy but harnessing this upheaval to fundamentally redesign an economic system that is currently destroying the planet and failing millions, even billions of people.
Here are some components of redesign we should be considering right now. Warning these ideas are not for those with hidebound thinking who can’t see past status quo.
First, individuals and families need immediate assistance. Send the first round of checks immediately but don’t stop there. This is a time to get serious about considering a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) program. Basic Income is a regular monthly payment from the government to every citizen to meet basic survival needs. The goal is to stabilize people financially and, over time, downsize the many, many stop-gap poverty relief programs currently in place for people in lower income brackets.
Guaranteed Basic Income is not a brand new idea nor is it completely untested. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged that a guaranteed income would abolish poverty and reduce skyrocketing income inequality (which is higher now that when King was alive by the way).
In 2018, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes argued that U.S. workers, students, and caregivers making $50,000 or less a year should receive a guaranteed income of $500 a month. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates agree, arguing that automation has fundamentally changed the structure of the U.S. economy. Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk are also on record saying automation, Artificial Intelligence and robotics have so changed the workforce situation that a Guaranteed Basic Income is the only solution.
The State of Florida has implemented a GBI since 1982. Canada, Finland and Kenya are running GBI pilot programs. Several U.S. cities are developing GBI type programs.
When I was serving as First Lady of Oregon, heading the Oregon Prosperity Initiative, we ran some numbers on the possibility of some form of statewide Basic Income and found that it was cost competitive with the many poverty relief programs already in place in the state. If ever there was a time for such innovation that time is now.
The second key piece of upcoming stimulus packages needs to be an extreme focus on Main Street not Wall Street. The Trump Administration is pushing for the bail out of airlines, cruise ship lines, casinos and even big oil. Come on people! Do we really need fossil fuel powered mega cruise ships and casinos in our world right now?!
The airline industry is a particularly interesting case. Unlike cruise ship companies, airlines do provide some essential services to society and commerce. However, bear in mind, according to The Guardian, over the past five years, the major airlines spent $45 billion in payouts and bonuses to CEOs and shareholders! Reports show that the four big ones – Delta, Southwest, American Airlines Group, and United Airlines Holdings — together bought back $39 billion worth of their own stock over the past five years, much of it since passage of massive corporate tax cuts in 2017 pushed through by Trump and Republicans. Any assistance given the airline industry must be in the form of loans, with aggressive claw back measures and must forbid payouts of executive bonuses, pay raises or stock purchases. The investment needs to rescue workers who have been laid off not fat cat CEOs. One would think this would be obvious but lobbyists are fighting hard right now to get a stimulus package that would allow these greedy, gauging measures.
Instead of propping up megalithic, and in many cases, superfluous industries, we need to focus on small and mid-size businesses and the creation of aggressive retraining programs to help people currently employed in non-essential, environmentally destructive industries transition into more societally beneficial sectors.
It is the local, communal business structures that should be the focus of stimulus efforts. Local stores and restaurants are a source of jobs and critical threads in the fabric of society. They connect us to people like and unlike ourselves. They provide a sense of communal identity and connectivity.
Our nation is already sitting with an unprecedented amount of debt due in part to corporate bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy. That debt is going to truly become atmospheric with the current COVID-19 crisis. What we need is not just stimulus for business as usual but as stimulus to a saner economy and way of living and doing business. We can’t just throw money at old status quo industries and measures that are digging us further into the hole. A Guaranteed Basic Income and an intense program of support for small and mid-size businesses provides bottom up versus trickle down support.
The coronavirus pandemic is a force of Nature; the economy is not! The economy is human construct. We invented it and we change and shape and tweak it all the time. We created it, which means we can recreate it. This is the time to do exactly that.
Here’s to harnessing opportunity while navigating the danger.
I just got back from delivering a Sacred Activism workshop at the Unity Worldwide Annual People’s Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Unity is one of many spiritual paths known as New Thought that are totally non-denominational, inclusive, and believe we are all one with the Divine Source that created us and everything else. I have been a Unity member for nearly twenty years but haven’t really gotten all that involved until the past several years.
Now among other things, I serve on the Unity Worldwide EarthCare Team: EarthCare is the program that helps Unity congregations adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. The EarthCare team had been asked to present a workshop on Sacred Activism and I was one of the presenters.
Sacred Activism is an approach that blends both social action and spiritual groundings. It aims to take concrete action on difficult social issues without falling into the level of consciousness that created the problems in the first place. Sacred Activism works to find a balance between the meditation mat and marching. It acknowledges that we will only be our most effective in the work we do for the outer environment when we also do the work to clean up our own inner environments.
One of my favorite definitions of Sacred Activism comes from Andrew Harvey in his book, The Hope. He writes,
“Sacred Activism is the fusion of a mystic’s passion for God with the activist’s passion for justice, creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart which longs to help, preserve and nurture every living thing.”
I certainly feel that burning fire and I suspected a number of people in the room did as well but I did not know how they would respond to information about the insanity of a limitless growth economic system and how GDP is a flawed metric for economic success.
However, the point of the Sacred Activism workshop was to help spiritually awakened people become more effective activists on behalf of protecting our planet and improving people’s lives. I believe nearly every single big, gnarly issue facing us today – climate change, poverty, the massive gap between the uber-wealthy and everyone else, even institutionalized racism – is a symptom of an insane and dangerously flawed economic system. And so, that’s what I said.
I briefly explained that GDP simply measures the amount of money flowing through the economy and not whether that money is making us better or worse off. For example, the GDP registers the money spent to keep a child in juvenile jail as exactly as positive as the same amount of money spent to give a child an education. I explained how virtually all the global rise in GDP over the past decade has been debt-based and is completely unsustainable.
The crowd was totally engrossed and we had a rich conversation about steps individuals and faith congregations can take to begin to disengage from the insane, status quo, consumption-crazed story we are all caught up in.
Earlier in the day, from the main stage, Unity Worldwide (the Mother Ship if you will) made a strong commitment to the EarthCare program, encouraging congregations across the globe to step up their sustainability programs and remember the sacred covenant we all have with our planet. At the conference itself, held at a very nice hotel, Unity conference organizers even went so far as to remove the use of plastic straws and provide reusable, washable bamboo straws in the swag bags attendees received. It was a pretty great thing to be part of.
More importantly, given the tremendous level of dysfunction in our political systems and the media, faith-based organizations are positioned to play a significant role in taking peaceful, powerful action toward a healthier planet and culture.
To my amazement, I am two years into the program to become an ordained Unity Minister (sure didn’t see that one coming and man is it fun). I am honored and excited to be able to play a role in bringing New Economy concepts and actions to New Thought spiritual communities.
I’m not going to lie, the recent report that climate change is moving far faster than scientists had expected hit me in the gut. It breaks my heart to think of our world without coral reefs, polar bears and so many of the amazing creatures who share the world with us now. It sickens me to know that lives and lands are going to be savaged by bigger, more frequent storms. And my heart bleeds for those, mostly in poor parts of the world, who are going to get hit the hardest.
So yes, it hurts. And it makes me furious. It just flat out pisses me off that the pure greed, ego and boneheadedness at the helm of the U.S. is putting us on a course to accelerate climate change even faster.
I know I’m not alone. Heartbreak and anger are part and parcel of caring deeply about this planet and what we’re leaving behind for our kids and grandkids. I have such deep respect for our environmental and climate action movements. We have the courage not to just pretend the problem isn’t there and the toughness to keep working for solutions despite the pain and frustration. To put it bluntly environmentalists are Bad Asses! And we’ve never been more important. No matter the pain we have to stay in the fight.
So here are a few tips and tools to help build our Resiliency Muscles and make our efforts even more effective:
Never waste a good crisis. The IPCC report is a crisis moment. There has never been such a dire statement supported by the world’s leading scientists that we need to act NOW. The good news is news is paying attention to it. I was pleasantly amazed at how much media coverage the report has been receiving. Climate action groups and grass roots activists all over the world are taking their voices and actions to new levels. Let’s all use our voices, communications platforms and direct actions to keep accelerating this momentum.
Get on a balanced news diet. As advocates we like to stay informed. Many of us are news junkies. I confess I fall into that category. But I’ve learned to be selective in which sources I plug into. I watch plenty of CNN, MSNBC and even FOX to see what’s being put forward there. However, I turn off the shows that have several talking heads talking over one another, hyper-sensationalizing everything. That does not help the issue or our own wellbeing. I also plug into certain positive news outlets and solutions journalism outlets like NationSwell, Media Matters, Positive News, Yes Magazine.
Take care of your inner environment. I learned the hard way that despite our best intentions we activists are often at the same level of consciousness that created the problems in the first place. We are often stressed out, burned out, more focused on blaming the bad guys than loving what we’re trying to save. Sometimes being stressed out and exhausted is even worn as a badge of honor in advocacy causes. But I assure you, you are not your most effective if this is your state of being. Learning how to step out of stress and fear and hate, becoming a more peaceful centered warrior is a profound act of power. Developing a presencing and mindfulness practice, simple regular meditation, unplugged time in Nature should be top priorities on every social changemakers’ Do List. Cleaning up our inner environment is critical to doing our best work for our planet’s environment. Here’s a recent post with some tips for how to go about it.
Shifting the consciousness we bring to our work can be like adding a turbo boost both to our productivity and our peace of mind. And we need to hit turbo. Our political leaders are not going to fix this for us – the systems they operate in and sometimes their own moral codes are just too broken. We activists, advocates and Bad Ass Environmentalists are the solution we’ve been waiting for. This amazing planet deserves our very best. And we deserve a little more peace and empowerment doing our sacred work.
Here’s are some encouraging words from author and rebel, Howard Zinn:
Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t ‘win,’ there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile.
As someone who has been in the New Economy arena for many, many years I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book yet. What I love most about it is that it lays out practical policy change options AND the much more causal cultural and even spiritual aspects of THE MESS we are now dealing with.
It offers some beautiful insights into the spiritual aspect of activism.
“We try not to act from anger or fear. We act because, in this life we have been given, we believe we can help make things better. … Acting out of our compassion to lessen suffering and improve the lives of others is he way we celebrate the spirit. Knowing that each of our acts, however small, builds the vitality of the Web of life, brings us joy, satisfaction, and power.
In the Spirit-driven model, it doesn’t matter whether a person is ‘successful’ in changing the condition. While practical goals are important, the spiritual goal is to awaken the compassion that lies at the root of all change. ‘Success’ doesn’t mean I’ve saved an endangered species or cleaned up a toxic waste dump or fed hungry children. Success means awakening in myself a Spirit that can help make better life for others. Success means I have acted in the world as though I were a part of it, not apart from it. Success means becoming conscious of and faithful to my values and to my soul.”
I LOVE this! This is exactly what I bring in the Resiliency and Empowerment trainings that 3EStrategies offers to activists and change-makers. We do our best work when we are focused on what we’re for and truly about rather than what we oppose and resist.
I would love to hear from those of you who have read or do read this book.
Stressed? Worried? Tired? Having a hard time feeling optimistic given the barrage of bad news on “the news”? Well, you’re not alone. Research shows that 83 percent of American employees are stressed out about their jobs. A majority of self-employed social entrepreneurs report being overwhelmed and overworked. And mountains of evidence show that consuming breaking news, cable news and our own news feeds on social media has negative impacts on our moods, stress levels and overall wellbeing.
And yet, for those of us who are trying to do our part to make the world a better place staying active and informed is important. So how do we find a balance? How do we stay informed without stressing out and stay engaged in a hopeful, empowered way?
As someone who has been an activist, social entrepreneur and political figure and who has been through some rough, rough stuff as a result I’ve put a lot of personal and professional effort into developing resiliency and empowerment strategies.
One of my very favorite things these days is working with fellow social entrepreneurs, activists and leaders to become more resilient and empowered. 3EStrategies offers workshops, webinars, materials and individual/ organizational coaching to help change-makers become healthier, happier and more effective in our important work. We are getting phenomenal response to these services. Here are what a few clients had to say:
“I was feeling so overwhelmed by all that is happening in our country and our world that I’d become sort of paralyzed. After the 3E resiliency training I am so much more balanced. You helped me start seeing hope and new opportunity.”
“I had no idea that adding short times for mindfulness and reflection could make our team so much more effective and motivated. Thank you for that.”
“Our whole office feels lighter and more optimistic.”
“I was having a terrible time dealing with the loss of a position I had put my heart and soul into. Working with you really helped me see that I still have much to offer.”
If you or your organization are interested in learning more about our Empowerment and Resiliency training just drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime here are a few key strategies for shifting from stressed out to empowered.
Breathe deeply. Usually the more stressed we are the shallower we breathe. Just the act of taking deeper, fuller breaths will begin a relaxation response.
Develop a meditation/mindfulness practice. This is easier than it sounds and doesn’t require hours of sitting still or visiting monasteries in the Himalayas (though the latter is pretty cool). This really begins with just practicing becoming fully present and aware of your thoughts. I know for sure this practice will change your life. There is no question that my long-term meditation practice is one of the main reasons I’ve been able to survive and thrive through really difficult challenges.
Get out into Nature. Stopping to smell the flowers really does reduce stress and increase optimism. This is especially true for all you hard-working environmentalists who often are so busy saving the planet you fail to enjoy it! Be sure to leave the devices turned off!
Bring Nature to you. Lots of research shows that having living plants and even cut flowers nearby reduce stress and elevate mood.
Turn off social media notifications. Unplug once in a while! Period.
Be media savvy. Remember in our uber-competitive, clickbait-driven media culture sensationalism is all the rage. Breaking news is scientifically designed to trigger us emotionally. Balance it out with healthy doses of positive news. This 3E blog post shares more tips for healthy media management including good sources of positive news. (In fact, our Change Maker Times newsletter focuses on positive developments in the movement toward a healthier economy. There are more than enough sources of doom and gloom what’s not working – we help spread the word about the under-covered good stuff that’s also taking place.)
These are a few empowerment basics. If you’d like to learn more about developing empowerment and resiliency strategies for yourself or your team just drop a note to email@example.com or call us at (541) 617-9013.
Those of you who have been clients and colleagues of 3EStrategies for a while know that we bring a deeper more philosophical, even spiritual perspective to our consulting work. That’s part of our company’s culture and DNA.
Those who follow us more closely might also know that I personally have been through a pretty tough politically motivated media onslaught the last couple years. It’s been one heck of difficult challenge and I’m grateful, though not surprised, that the false allegations have been revealed to be just that and are finally laid to rest.
However, one of the two media outlets responsible for most of the false reporting continued to try to discredit me when 3EStrategies published our first Sustainable Cannabis Tips and Tools newsletter. On what must have been a really slow news day the Oregonian actually featured this as the front-page article in a way that was clearly a smear attempt, trying to make me look bad because I am offering social enterprise and sustainability services to the cannabis industry. As thick as my skin has become it still rankled a little. I mean really what does it take to shake these particular fleas?!
But then I drew upon all the growth and resiliency muscles I’ve developed these past few years. I have worked a lot with a Course in Miracles and remembered the teaching that advises to consider that maybe the situation before us isn’t what it looks like. Maybe it’s not happening to us but happening for us? And, what’s the risk in considering that possibility?
Well, as it turns out, the smear piece got noticed by some others. Culture magazine ran a positive article countering the Oregonian’s false narrative and we’ve had a flood of business inquiries and our largest canna-client to date!
There is massive, massive power in learning to monitor our thoughts, drop initial judgments about every situation and just consider that, despite appearances, the uncomfortable thing happening might be happening FOR us.
So, take heart all of you pioneering social entrepreneurs and activists. Though the old status quo institutions and systems may resist your positive intentions and directions you have more power and support than you know.
Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement is a beautiful example of American exceptionalism. Exceptionally stupid. Exceptionally arrogant. Exceptionally selfish. Exceptionally short-sighted. We now join the exceptional nations of Syria and Nicaragua in opting out.
This is such a pathetic example of belligerence and ignorance trumping leadership and sanity. Any system that allows such a reckless vocal minority to rise to power is not a shining beacon — it’s cancer.
Trump has said there is no global community, only nations competing with one another. Competition or not we are a community. Thank god some of the actual leaders in the world are stepping up and they will continue to move to address the most serious threat of climate change.
It’s a sad and frustrating day, but don’t lose hope or resolve. There has never been a more important time for activists and socially responsible business leaders to keep up the good fight.
On this Earth Day 2017 I hope all of you take some time today to get outside and enjoy and appreciate our beautiful planet.
I’ll be celebrating here at the New Economy & Social Innovation Forum in Malaga Spain. We’ve had an incredible event so far and I am truly inspired by all the positive developments, energy and deep commitments to really positive change. Here is a recent article about why I think the event is so important just now in these challenging political times.
And in honor of Earth Day here are a few pieces of good news (that you rarely hear about in the news) about what’s happening on our lovely blue planet.
Vegetation cover globally has actually increased since 2003 due to the natural regrowth of savannahs in Australia and Africa and forests in Russia, and also large-scale reforestation programs in China.
Clean energy is growing at a record pace. Last year the U.S. added 11 Hoover Dams worth of renewable energy and the world broke records for solar and wind installations.
Electric vehicles soared past 1 million in 2015 and are on-pace to reach 20 million by 2020.
As you read this a Conservation Optimism summit is taking place in London where environmentalists and wildlife biologists are sharing the many conservation, restoration and species recovery successes going on right now on the planet
Today I celebrate this gorgeous blue planet and the incredible diversity of life she supports. I also celebrate the successes we environmentalists, eco-entrepreneurs, scientists and advocates are having in protecting her.
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.