Though I deal with economic issues all day, I am not an economist and I have no formal economic training. That’s one of the reasons that I really like NPR’s Planet Money podcast. Yes, it has a little too much of a free-market bent for my tastes, but it does a very good job of explaining basic economic issues in lay language and, even more important, it is intellectually honest (which you can’t say about some key business media).
Planet Money recently aired a provocative episode called “Will economic growth destroy the planet?” Their jumping-off point was ostensibly the (purported) trade-off between economic and environmental health, but I found the real lesson in an important insight about how economists think and talk.
Let’s assume that we all agree that economic growth is a good thing. Almost every day, we see some headline or another touting the promise of a government policy or tax incentive or corporate investment to create jobs,
Energy efficiency building upgrades have been widely hailed as the low-hanging fruit of the clean energy sector, easy pickings for energy savings that can help jump-start the green economy through job creation and cost savings
But what IS an energy efficiency building upgrade (or retrofit, as it is sometimes called)?
Buildings are improved so that they use less energy and are more comfortable, but without requiring anyone to change their behavior. Think about it: with old, poorly insulated buildings, we are basically paying to heat or air-condition the outdoors. With inefficient heating, cooling, or lighting systems, we are doing something equivalent to burning a paycheck right next to our appliances.
Here’s how an energy efficiency building upgrade works: Typically, a building is first inspected by an energy “auditor” (a horrid word – having an “auditor” come in before a “retrofit” sounds like someone from the IRS is prepping you for a particularly nasty medical procedure – but those are the terms).
If you’re not a subscriber, I guess you’ll have to pay for access to this recent New Yorker piece, but it is well worth it. Evan Osnos took a look at Japan and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown seven months after the terrible tsunami destroyed so many lives and very nearly killed many more.
This is compelling writing and reminds me of something I’d forgotten—hadn’t we all agreed that nuclear disaster was a real and legitimate fear again, and change was needed? What happened?
The article raises a theory that resonates. In a long section in the middle of the piece detailing the history of nuclear power in Japan, Osnos notes that post-Chernobyl Japanese officials actually became less safe and at the same time more assertive of the safety of nuclear power.
The idea was to defend the industry against attacks by distinguishing the practices in Japan from those in the USSR,
I am particularly fond of Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler.” At a recent hearing for the Los Angeles City Council Ad Hoc Committee on Waste Reduction and Recycling, I kept thinking about this song as I heard many business groups and trade associations lobby against true reform of L.A.’s waste collection system.
The debate stems from how the City of L.A. should reform its system for dealing with waste at businesses and large apartment buildings. On one end, you have the Don’t Waste L.A. coalition, to which I belong through the Natural Resources Defense Council. It is a broad coalition of environmental, community, faith-based, economic justice and labor groups, advocating for a comprehensive solution to dealing with L.A.’s waste woes, instead of kicking the can down the road. You can read more about the coalition’s positions here and here. On the other hand, some business lobbying groups and trade associations are advocating for a system that keeps the status quo in place.
For years, NRDC, working with allies in labor, have disproved the myth that environmental protection and good jobs can’t co-exist. We are not alone in this: NRDC, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Union of Concerned Scientists are members of the BlueGreen Alliance, which also includes the Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, SEIU and other national and international unions representing tens of thousands of members.
NRDC has focused particularly on promoting the new clean energy economy which brings with it good-paying, local jobs in the manufacturing, construction and service sectors. We have seen this in California where the clean energy sector is growing faster than any other sector, accounting for over 90,000 in Los Angeles area alone. This is apparently news to the Los Angeles Times. In a misguided editorial on the recent Ninth Circuit ruling in the Port of Los Angeles clean trucks case,