Time Coming for Big Spending on the Planet

April 26, 2020

Kim Stanley Robinson for Bloomberg:

Getting human civilization into a healthy and sustainable balance with the biosphere is going to be expensive. It will never be the most profitable investment out there, being a matter of mitigations, infrastructure replacements, decarbonization, and the creation of new and cleaner technologies. The market misprices things such that none of these activities will turn the largest short-term profit, so they are insufficiently attractive to private investment, and we are therefore headed for a mass extinction event.

Oops! Just the way it is! Nothing to be done but proceed!

But not really. An adjustment is needed, and more people are becoming aware of that necessity. It has to be big, and yet something that the currently existing legal and economic order can execute. And now, months into the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re seeing both the scope of the need and that the world can turn on a dime when there’s a perceived need this serious. Government fiscal policy can get very creative when things are overwhelming. That may be the story of this century. 

We have to save the biosphere from catastrophic heating. We also have a market that won’t invest enough in this project. So governments need to do it, by way of creating new money specifically targeted to pay for rapid decarbonization.


In a fiery half-hour interview with POLITICO, the presumptive Democratic nominee sounded a bit like his angrier and less moderate primary rivals, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, though in unexpurgated Biden style. The former vice president said that the next round of coronavirus stimulus needs to be “a hell of a lot bigger” than last month’s $2 trillion CARES Act, that it needs to include massive aid to states and cities to prevent them from “laying off a hell of a lot of teachers and cops and firefighters,” and that the administration is already “wasting a hell of a lot of money.”

Energy Research and Social Science:


The US Green New Deal (GND) resolution introduced by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey is the first comprehensive program combining climate change mitigation and the elimination of economic inequality that could, conceivably, soon be adopted as policy in a major economy. We outline its main features, together with Senator Bernie Sanders’ more detailed, fully costed version, exploring its implications for policymaking and social science-based energy research. We focus on two of its most striking characteristics: its macroeconomics; and its inextricable linkage of climate change mitigation and the reduction of economic inequality. We find Sanders’ GND economically credible and argue that the GND’s use of Keynesian demand-side macroeconomics challenges governments, policymakers and citizens to think anew about the nature of money. We suggest social scientists need to challenge neoclassical economic assumptions, which, we argue, enable both climate destruction and inequality to continue. We find the GND’s combining of climate protection and equality credible, and argue that shifting the debate away from neoclassical understandings of public debt to careful assessments of inflationary impacts and resource needs will generate more productive analysis. We offer these insights as a first look at the GND and challenge others to join in this research.


To stave off any risk of inflation, the new study’s authors suggest setting a 40 percent tax increase on the wealthiest citizens in the U.S. That may sound like a lot, but the U.S. has done it before: That tax rate would be in line with the one the country had from the 1940s to 1970s.

Both Sanders plan and last year’s Congressional resolution include calls for a number of improvements to social programs, including addressing racial and gender inequities as well as retirement and leave. Those ideas are broadly popular, and the study argues that’s key to climate policy’s success.

“To sustain an intensive shift in policy, industry, commerce and lifestyle over a long period of time you would need widespread political and societal support,” lead author Raymond Galvin of the Institute for Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior of the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, told Earther in an email.

Plans that focus solely on lowering greenhouse gas emissions could end up screwing the people who need help the most. For instance, when France aimed to decrease emissions by increasing fuel prices in 2018, working class protesters who were forced to bear the brunt of that cost hike held mass mobilizations in the streets for weeks.

“You need to ensure good incomes and prospects for all citizens, to keep all citizens on board,” said Galvin.

This isn’t just a practical consideration. It’s a moral one. Low-income people are the least responsible for carbon pollution. Research shows that the carbon footprints of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are up to 20 times larger than the average American.

4 Responses to “Time Coming for Big Spending on the Planet”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    The problem is that the world has now far more money than goods and services exist. The balance between the financial market and the real market has grossly changed since 1980. Deregulation of the banking sector has been taking its toll. Another example for unhealthy exponential growth.

    Nowadays, banks can create money out of thin air. The magic of capitalism.

  2. pendantry Says:

    I came up with a solution to this years ago, but I’m nobody, so naturally nobody listens to what I have to say. Here’s my solution.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    Sign the petition calling on Marsh to help insure our future, not Adani’s climate-wrecking coal project!


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