Six Issues That Should Make Progressives Care About Agriculture Policy

Jan 5, 2012Lauren Servin

At the heart of our food policy lie core issues such as national security, energy and the environment, and public health. We should pay attention.

At the heart of our food policy lie core issues such as national security, energy and the environment, and public health. We should pay attention.

Agriculture is possibly the most critical issue of our time. Our food system is increasingly vulnerable to complications created by risky farming practices, climate change, and instability in international markets. While the media covers sensational food stories such as Congress declaring pizza a vegetable or Michele Obama planting an 'organic' vegetable garden at the White House, the everyday American public does not typically scrutinize agriculture policy.  Rarely are issues of agriculture featured in political debates, nor do politicians use it as an issue to court voters. While politicians and the media may not find it as spicy an issue as abortion or gay marriage, progressives need to make this our issue. We need to push our representatives to ensure that our tax dollars are spent on the foods that keep our kids healthy, promote practices that do not harm the environment, and enact policies that contribute to our long-term food security. Because sound agriculture policy leads to a safer country, a better environment, less energy use, a diminished role for big money, improved foreign policy, and a healthier citizenry.

1. National security: Agriculture plays a large role in our national security. More people than ever depend on fewer farmers for their food. As of 2009, the 285 million people living in the U.S. were fed by 960,000 farmers, meaning that well under 1 percent of the population supports the other 99.6 percent, while they also export their harvests around the globe. Our most basic necessity is concentrated in the hands of a few and entangled in international trade, leaving U.S. citizens and the world's ability to feed itself vulnerable to oscillations in the global marketplace, fluctuations in climate, and large-scale crop disease.

2. Environment: Agriculture, specifically industrial agriculture, has an immensely damaging impact on our environment and is one of the world's largest polluters, contaminating both air and water. Toxic pesticides and fertilizers leach into our waterways, destroying river ecosystems and contaminating our drinking water. Animal farms are major producers of green house gases such as methane, and animal waste products are also a major source of runoff that creates dead zones in rivers by providing algae with abundant nutrients, causing it to grow out of control and deplete the water of oxygen, killing fish and other organisms that we depend on for food.

3. Energy: Energy usage and creation is also a major aspect of the agriculture sector, particularly in industrial agriculture. Such agriculture is a very heavy user of fossil fuels both as fuel for its machinery and in the production of fertilizers and pesticides. A study by the University of Michigan in 2000 estimated that 10 percent of U.S. energy consumption is used by the food industry and 40 percent of that is used in creating fertilizers and pesticides alone. Agriculture also affects energy usage through the production of corn for ethanol. President Bush saw corn ethanol as a way to get off of foreign fuel, but the sad reality is that for every gallon of fossil fuel we use to make corn ethanol, we get a gallon or so of product, making it not worth the effort.

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4. Big money: The inputs necessary for industrial agriculture require financing from big money, giving large corporations an upper hand and enabling them to harness large portions of the market. Monsanto, the big seed giant, is known for capitalizing on patented seeds and suing farmers whose fields have accidently been contaminated by their product. The other top two seed companies, Pioneer Hybrid (Dupont) and Syngenta, together with Monsanto, garner almost 50 percent of the market. Last month, farmers marched on Wall Street. "[F]ood has become a commodity that enriches a few at the expense of the many," wrote Kerry Trueman in her article about the protest. Large agriculture companies continue to control more and more of the market as they file lawsuits against small farmers, putting many out of business. Agriculture policy has greatly benefited such companies, as they have lobbied the government for subsidies and against regulating their risky patented and genetically altered seeds. They are pushing "the 99%" out of the farming business and ruining the livelihoods of family farmers across America and the world.

5. Foreign policy: Foreign aid also plays a huge role in global agricultural markets and in systems of farming around the globe. Our food aid program began when surpluses in the U.S. were high. President Eisenhower explained that program's aim was to "lay the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and peoples of other lands." While food aid has saved many lives during emergencies, it has also flooded rural areas in poor countries with cheap or free food, which has undercut local farmers, thus creating a dependency on such aid. Now USAID is trying to rebuild the agriculture sector in many developing countries with the aim of making them self-sufficient. However, the practices USAID is trying to instill in farmers make them even more dependent on outside sources for their sustenance, as they are providing small farmers with costly inputs such as "improved seed," fertilizers, and pesticides. Farmers will eventually have to purchase all of these inputs every year without many government subsidies. Our farmers are able to afford these inputs as our government provides them with subsidies. Most governments in developing countries do not have the capacity to provide agricultural subsidies, especially to individual smallholder farmers, whom the USAID programs target. If such farmers have one bad season, they are left with no seeds, as the "improved" variety produces sterile seeds. The soil is left in poor condition, as the pesticides and fertilizers have killed many of the vital microbes that build soil nutrition. Many farmers, particularly in India, have committed suicide due to their lack of ability to feed their families.

6. Health: We are increasingly seeing public health issues in the U.S. involving obesity. Agriculture policy has played a huge role in creating this epidemic, as it influences which crops are grown. The food that receives subsidies has led to the abundance of cheap sugary and fatty foods, while fruits and vegetables receive few to no subsidies and as a result are more expensive. As of 2008, 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children in the United States were considered overweight or obese, leading to an estimated health care cost of $147 billion annually. If Congress shifted some subsidies to fruits and vegetables, healthy foods might be more readily available and affordable for all Americans. Now that Michelle Obama has planted her garden, she should push for these changes in agriculture policy so that the rest of America can experience healthy food, like her and her family.

Those are just a few of the issues affected by agriculture policy. Progressives must care about the issues that involve our food system and look deeper into its incredible complexities.

Lauren Servin is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow focusing on agriculture policy and food security.

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We Need FDR-Style Proposals to Solve All Our Big Problems

Jan 3, 2012Jon Rynn

fdr-signing-papers-150The New Deal took on many interconnected issues all at once. We need to do the same.

fdr-signing-papers-150The New Deal took on many interconnected issues all at once. We need to do the same.

Both Democrats and environmentalists seem to be searching for new sources of support, according to articles from Thomas Edsall and Leslie Kaufman. For Democrats, the problem is the state of mind of the “white working class,” while for environmentalists the problem is to convince the public that something should be done about climate change. In both cases, the dilemma is the same: the solutions offered do not solve the existing problems, and the public knows it. The working class would likely be wooed if someone proposed a government-led policy of putting millions of people to work rebuilding our infrastructure and the manufacturing base. The general public would likely back policies to prevent global warming if someone advanced a credible program of building a carbon-free economy. Both could be combined in a program that would employ tens of millions to build sustainable transportation, energy, and urban infrastructure, as I have proposed. It will take a holistic -- and therefore credible -- plan to convince voters.

Edsall’s article, and much of the discussion surrounding it, neglects to mention an obvious problem: working class voters are working class because most of them, throughout history, have had manufacturing jobs, and in the United States, those manufacturing jobs have been disappearing by the millions. The Democratic Party, for all of the policy proposals that address the decline of manufacturing, has never put forward a convincing plan to revive manufacturing and the millions of jobs that would go along with it. Surely if the central plank of the Democratic Party was to revive manufacturing -- and if there was a credible plan to do so -- then much of the white working class would come streaming back.

Part of the problem is that the Democratic Party never faced such daunting projects like rebuilding the core of the national economy. When FDR or even LBJ were president, the United States was the manufacturing colossus of the world. Their problem was to redistribute wealth, create a safety net, and increase demand for a never-ending supply of domestically manufactured goods and good, middle-class manufacturing jobs. There is no precedent in the United States for what needs to be done now -- a focused industrial policy led by the government.

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But the New Deal offers a political lesson on the importance of an interlinking set of policies that cut across issue areas, a lesson that can help both the Democratic Party and the environmental movement. FDR’s programs incorporated labor policies in the form of the Wagner Act, legalizing the activities of unions, which helped lead to a thriving middle class. It included conservation policies, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, that employed millions of people who helped to rebuild forests, parks, and agricultural areas. There was the TVA, which used a holistic approach to build up the economy of an entire region based on an energy plan. It included the first plans for a national road system, which eventually resulted in the Interstate Highway System. The mortgage industry, and thus the basis for the later housing industry, was virtually created from scratch. Social Security and the first welfare programs were designed to give people a safety net. Glass-Steagall and the Pecora Commission restructured the financial system.

The parallels are clear for what is needed today. We need millions of green jobs, and tens of millions of jobs, period. We need energy plans and a rebuilding of the agricultural system, and we need an interstate transportation system, this time centered on electric rail. We need a different financial system, perhaps centered on public banks. But what we probably most need is to interconnect all of these issues and create a base for a majority coalition of the electorate, just as the public came to support FDR’s programs under the label of the New Deal.

Similarly, policies for overcoming global warming and other environmental catastrophes will need to be incorporated into a wider rubric, perhaps a "Green New Deal," that encompasses manufacturing, jobs for the tens of millions who are unemployed or underemployed, renewable energy, transit, rebuilding infrastructure, and financial reform.

The point is not to idealize the New Deal or deify FDR. We need to learn the lessons of American history that can be useful for us today. We now face a linked set of economic crises, as did progressives in the 1930s. A program that says, “We will hire tens of millions of people” lets people know that the problem, unemployment, will be solved. A program that says, “We will build the wind farms and solar panels and transit and buildings that will make our economy carbon-free” informs people that the proposers of this kind of program know how to solve the problem. A truly believable plan has to convince people that both outcomes will be reached.

These ideas may seem politically impossible, but all great changes seem impossible before they happen. It is possible to propose policies, and the Democratic Party could propose programs that would be guaranteed to put the working class, and the rest of the employable population, to useful, well-paying work. Environmentalists could propose policies that have a reasonable chance of correcting civilization-endangering environmental problems – which would also involve putting everyone who wanted a job to work. Let’s think outside the box.

Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science and is a Visiting Scholar at the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems.

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How the CCC Blazed a Trail for Conservation and Education

Dec 22, 2011David B. Woolner

A new book details the history of a program that educated and employed millions of Americans and established one of our most precious resources.

A new book details the history of a program that educated and employed millions of Americans and established one of our most precious resources.

In a remarkable new book entitled Our Mark on this Land: A Guide to the Legacy of the CCC in America's Parks, Ren and Helen Davis remind us of just how powerful and long lasting visionary leadership can be. The book details the enormous impact that Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had on our country, not only through the massive reforestation programs that resulted in the planting of over 3 billion trees, but also through the restoration and expansion of one our nation's most treasured public resources: our state and national parks.

Over the course of its 10-year history, the CCC employed over 3 million men in what the authors describe as the largest peacetime mobilization of manpower in U.S. history. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that this mobilization began within the first 100 days of FDR's administration, in the midst of the worst economic crisis in American history and at a time when there was little to no state apparatus to launch such a program. Moreover, like many of the New Deal programs, the CCC was multifaceted. It was designed to accomplish multiple goals simultaneously and was in fact much more than a conservation program. It was also a youth unemployment program, an urban assistance program, and -- as is largely unknown -- an educational program.

Within months of its inception, CCC administrations discovered that there was a critical need for technical training and, above all, basic literacy instruction. As such, CCC workers were also tasked with building their own classrooms where CCC employees could take remedial classes. As the CCC program progressed, more advanced instruction was offered in a variety of subjects, including mathematics and history, along with more basic technical and vocational training. These programs also helped to employ many jobless teachers. Over time, the educational mission of the CCC became extremely popular and by the late 1930s more than 90 percent of the CCC workers were enrolled in some sort of educational program.

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But it is the more tangible work of the CCC that is so magnificently catalogued in this book. As the Davises note, the legacy of the CCC lives on in hundreds of parks across the country. Here, CCC workers cut thousands of miles of trails, built innumerable bridges and roads, designed and constructed thousands of rustic cottages and other buildings, and helped transform the National Parks Service into a truly national agency. Most important, however, was the effect that the CCC had on the ethos of the nation. For in sponsoring what the authors call a "second golden age" of conservation, and by providing through their labor unprecedented access to our nation's wild places, the CCC fostered greater appreciation for the preservation and enhancement of our nation's natural resources. And as more recent scholarship reveals, it also helped sow the seeds of the modern environmental movement.

At a time when the United States is once again struggling with high unemployment and growing level of poverty, especially among the urban poor, launching a program like the CCC to help restore our nation's blighted and impoverished inner cities makes sense. Such a program could do much to help restore both the physical and ethical challenges we face as nation. It would also provide the millions of young people trapped in the despair of poverty with meaningful employment, a chance to further education, and the one thing that FDR was determined to provide above all else: hope for the future.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. He is currently writing a book entitled Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden and the Search for Anglo-American Cooperation, 1933-1938. He is also the co-author with Henry Henderson of FDR and the Environment.

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Powering Forward: The Case for Renewable Energy Incentives

Dec 20, 2011Cory Connolly

To create jobs, encourage economic growth, and ensure a sustainable future, Congress must continue to support clean energy.

To create jobs, encourage economic growth, and ensure a sustainable future, Congress must continue to support clean energy.

Since the recession began, renewable energy, the environment, and climate change have taken a back seat in political discussions. However, the development of the renewable energy industry has been a rare bright spot during tough economic times. The clean energy economy continues to grow, creating jobs, mitigating carbon emissions, improving energy security, and carving out a place in the international market. For this progress to be sustained and even accelerated, federal tax incentives need to be extended.

Clean energy industries, like wind, solar, and biodiesel, have taken advantage of federal tax incentives like the Production Tax Credit (PTC), Investment Tax Credit (ITC), and the Treasury Cash Grant to carve out an important and growing sector of the U.S. economy. However, many of those incentives are now in danger. The PTC, which provides 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind energy produced for the first 10 years of a project, is set to expire at the end of 2012. Its extension is currently being debated in Congress and is critical to the continued viability and progress of the wind industry. With 54,000 new or saved jobs at stake in wind, industry leaders are also advocating for a four-year extension of the PTC. The cash grant, also known as program 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is slated to expire at the end of 2011. According to an SEIA report released last week, this will spell trouble for the solar industry.

With calls for austerity measures and government cutbacks on basic social services, these incentives may not seem affordable, but what many aren't aware of is the progress and innovation that these policies have stimulated. Solar energy is expected to reach grid parity in the short term, wind energy is becoming more competitive, and in a few regions of the U.S. both technologies are now claimed to be competitive with traditional sources. In the last four years, wind generation has accounted for 35 percent of all new generating capacity, and at the current rate the wind industry alone is expected to create 500,000 jobs by 2030.

The SEIA report also showed that installed generation capacity from solar has increased 10-fold since 2005 and that the third quarter of 2011 saw 140 percent growth in capacity installed compared to the same quarter in the previous year. In 2011, federal incentives helped the industry reach a total of over 100,000 solar-related jobs in the U.S. The cash grant has made 3,600 grants, totaling $1.5 billion, and, according to Milbank's Alan Marks, has leveraged over $22 billion in private investment. Having funded 22,000 projects in 47 states, the cash grant's impact has been remarkable and its ability to support a still developing industry is proven.

As these incentives have stimulated progress in clean energy industries, they have clearly had an economic impact at the state level. As of early 2011, clean energy technology was the fastest growing sector in Michigan, the auto capital of the world. California is home to 25,575 solar-related jobs alone. Combined with state renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which set a target percentage of renewable generation by a specific year, and other state and municipal incentives, the federal tax incentive programs have had amplified success in numerous states.

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Not only have the tax incentives accelerated the adoption of clean energy and driven the creation of manufacturing jobs, but they have also helped stimulate innovative and entrepreneurial activity in the energy sector -- something that has rarely been done in an industry that is traditionally centralized, concentrated, and unaccommodating to entrepreneurs. Innovative business models have been developed by companies like SunRun and Sungevity. These companies utilize incentives to help make solar affordable and accessible for consumers in the short term and are helping build the foundation for distributed energy generation in the long term. While nonprofit ventures like Solar Mosaic are not necessarily qualifying for federal incentives, they are also infiltrating the energy generation sector with models for community ownership of clean energy generation, thanks to the continued advancement of the industry. As new business models develop and this industry "booms," the only thing less desirable than the current uncertainty is the actual expiration of federal tax incentives.

Some might balk at or criticize subsidies for clean energy, and Congress clearly doesn't want to be seen as "picking favorites," particularly in light of the recent Solyndra controversy. Given these likely talking points, there are a couple of factors that need to be kept in mind when talking about subsidies for clean energy. First, the extension of the federal tax incentives is not indefinite -- federal incentives will be removed as soon as the technologies and the sector have matured enough to compete and thrive. That is to say, they will be removed when they have done their job. Second, subsidies and tax incentives are pervasive but unbalanced in the energy industry. According to the 2011 IEA World Energy Outlook, global fossil-fuel subsidies amounted to $409 billion in 2010, while global renewable energy subsidies totaled a mere $66 billion. Renewable energy technologies are advancing rapidly but need support to compete with established carbon emitting fossil fuels and the already existing subsidies.

While monetary support is clearly lopsided internationally, it is important to note that from 2007 to 2010 renewable energy subsidies increased from $39 billion to $66 billion globally. This indicates that, despite the global economic downturn, governments are seeing an upside to increased investment in renewable energy. As Steven Cohen pointed out in a Huffington Post piece supporting the extension of 1603, "Destroying solar energy in America will not kill the industry worldwide, it will simply eliminate America's prominent role in a very promising, emerging industry." With volatile oil markets, continued climate concerns, and the electrification of developing countries, it is clear that there is an important place for clean energy in the international market -- it is just a matter of America's ability to capture it.

A clean energy economy is in sight, but if we don't embrace its successes and support its growth, we'll lose its economic and environmental benefits. We need to find better ways to advertise and communicate the progress of clean energy and the important role of incentives in these and future successes. The wind and solar industries have seen unprecedented success in recent years thanks in large part to the Production Tax Credit and the section 1603 cash grant. These industries aren't yet prepared to stand on their own, but given enough time and support they may become strong enough to fuel a rejuvenated U.S. economy.

Cory Connolly is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow focusing on the development of the clean energy economy.

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Seven Reasons Climate Change is a Fact, Not a Belief

Dec 14, 2011Nick Santos

Information is most trusted when it comes from a credible source, so there's no time like the present to talk to family and friends about the science behind climate change.

Information is most trusted when it comes from a credible source, so there's no time like the present to talk to family and friends about the science behind climate change.

Anyone paying attention to the debate around climate change understands how difficult it is to even talk about it. People feel the need to reject the credible science on climate change in order to reject policies they disagree with -- often with valid concerns that must be addressed. The U.S. public understands that climate change is a hot topic, but the knowledge mostly doesn't go deeper than that due to misinformation and "belief." One of the primary changes we need in order for our polluting country to take action on climate change is to foster the knowledge that climate change is a fact -- not a belief. This requires credible information to be delivered by the credible sources.

Here are seven reasons that climate change is a fact and not a belief:

1. Over 98 percent of the most respected scientists studying climate change say that it is occurring and it is caused by human activities like burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

2. The increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is attributable to human sources such as fossil fuel burning. Across multiple studies, the ratio of different isotopes of carbon in the atmosphere -- slightly different versions of the same element -- has changed in a direction consistent with burning more fossil fuels. (1,2)

3. Far from being something that "might" happen, hundreds of studies have shown that climate change is already occurring and damaging our economy and ecosystems.

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4. Satellite data verifies that as we increase concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere, less heat escapes to space (and thus, more is trapped in our atmosphere, warming the planet).

5. While energy output from the sun has decreased over the past few decades, the climate has warmed significantly.

6. Temperatures today are significantly warmer than at any time over the last 100 years -- or even the last 1,000 years.

7. Models of the Earth's climate that don't include greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide fail to align with experienced temperature, but once greenhouse gas emissions from human sources are factored in models match known temperatures.

Ultimately, it matters who delivers this information. Research has continually shown that it matters more who says something than what they say, and the best messengers are family, friends, and trusted organizations. We need those messengers now more than ever. In a 2010 Yale study, 52 percent of Americans sampled would have failed a climate change exam, with another 40 percent receiving a C or D. So, if you know someone who disagrees with climate science, ask them to talk to you about their specific concerns so that we can move this debate into the realm of viable solutions.

Nick Santos is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow working on climate change education. He runs Environmental Consumer, a nonprofit, and works with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

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We Need a World War II Effort to Tackle Global Warming and the Great Recession

Dec 12, 2011Jon Rynn

earth-150If the government doesn't go bold on the environment, the economy and the earth will continue to suffer.

earth-150If the government doesn't go bold on the environment, the economy and the earth will continue to suffer.

The news from the world of global warming science is grim. We need to keep the planet from warming by more than 2 degrees centigrade or the climate could become extremely dangerous. To stay below that level would require a drastic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the next several years. Many commentators, from Al Gore to Thomas Friedman to Lester Brown, have argued that we need a World War II type effort to prevent the worst of global warming. Such an effort would have the bonus effect of reviving the economy. When FDR was confronted with a world war, he converted as much as one third of the economy to that effort, with the federal government in the lead. The result: fascism was defeated along with what was left of the Great Depression. Can we do something similar today?

When World War II started, the federal government converted several industries, including the automobile industry, to make tanks, planes, and other military goods. A planning department was set up, and all resources that were necessary for the war effort were carefully counted and controlled. At the peak of the war, about one third of all output (GDP) in the United States went into the military. One third of today's economy would be about $5 trillion dollars.

While there is a debate about whether the war actually ended the Great Depression, it certainly finished off the scourge of high unemployment. The construction of new machinery for the factories laid the groundwork for the post-war boom, as well as enlightened policies like the G.I. Bill, which paid for college for returning soldiers and made housing loans available through the government.

Today we have a different problem, but it could become just as deadly as a world war. Modern global civilization will become difficult if not impossible to maintain if the planet overheats, according to a new report. Our society is not designed to deal with increasing sea levels, indefinite droughts in some areas and unpredictable deluges in others, forests destroyed by warm weather pests, dead oceans, and disappearing glaciers that lead to the destruction of many of the world's most important rivers.

So what would a World War II-type program to prevent global warming and end the Great Recession look like? As I argued in my book, Manufacturing Green Prosperity, we would need to spend on the order of one trillion dollars per year, for 20 years, in order to build the necessary transportation, energy, urban, and agricultural infrastructure. And by "we" I mean "we the people" -- that is, the federal government.

I recently completed a chapter for a book about a green energy economy that should come out in 2012, and I proposed that with a budget of $1.2 trillion dollars per year we could employ about 24 million people, of which over 5 million would be manufacturing jobs. A revival of manufacturing sparked by this program is vital to ending the Great Recession.

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Here are the federal programs needed to create a full-employment green economy, along with the annual budget required:

1. An Interstate Wind System that would generate all of our electricity, which is currently provided mostly by coal and natural gas plants at $150 billion

2. An Interstate Electricity Grid that would be able to carry all of this electricity throughout the continent at $85 billion

3. Solar photovoltaic panels that would generate a quarter of our current electricity needs, which would make up for the electricity that the wind system would require at $150 billion

4. Geothermal heat pumps under all residential buildings that would provide all heating and cooling needs at $50 billion

5. Weatherizing half of the homes in the country at $25 billion

6. A 17,000 mile Interstate High-Speed Rail System at $30 billion

7. An expanded freight, medium-speed, and commuter rail system at $25 billion

8. A vastly larger transit system at $60 billion

9. A 100 percent organic agricultural system at $10 billion

10. Recycling/reusing almost everything at $100 billion

11. Last but not least, housing half of the population in dense, walkable neighborhoods, which would cost $500 billion per year if 100,000 250 unit apartment buildings were constructed

At the end of this 20-year program of economic reconstruction, the United States would emit virtually no greenhouse gases. As added benefits, it would not use petroleum, whose supply is shrinking and on which the U.S. is very dependent, nor would it destroy the water, soil, and forests of its ecosystems. We could also implement a "government as employer of last resort" system so that everyone who wanted a job could have one.

Even this program would not actually be at the level of a World War II-type effort, since $1.2 trillion constitutes less than one tenth of the economy, whereas the real WWII effort required one third. We could double the rate by doubling the budget to $2.4 trillion, which might be required to avoid out-of-control global warming -- particularly if, as I suspect, it took 10 years to accumulate the "political will" to implement such a program (assuming it could happen at all).

The good news: it is technologically feasible to create a thriving civilization without emitting greenhouse gases. The bad news: there will have to be major shifts in economic, and therefore political, power in order to build a sustainable civilization.  We have a much different political constellation than in FDR's era. In 1941, the top 1 percent constituted a much smaller portion of national income and thus had less power. There was an 81 percent top tax rate in place, which peaked at 94 percent in 1944-5 (and was still 91% in 1963).The Democrats, a significant percentage of whom were truly progressive, were dominant in Congress, and FDR sat in the White House. This was all accompanied by a very strong set of left-wing movements and institutions, including strong trade unions.

And how would all of this be paid for? There are several ways to come up with $1.2 trillion. First, we can do it the same way that the government did for the Iraq war or the financial bailout: we could simply go into debt (preferably through a public infrastructure bank). World War II was paid for with debt -- which was brought down very quickly because of the post-war boom. Second, the top 1 percent makes about 24 percent of national income, which in 2009 was about $12 trillion. So we could obtain, say, half of the needed $1.2 trillion by imposing a 25 percent tax on that income bracket. We could pay for the whole thing with a 50 percent tax. Third, we currently spend almost $1 trillion on the military. The Defense Department keeps its budget high not because we need such a large military, but because it has created a "military-industry-congressional complex" that doles out money to almost every congressional district in the country -- and creates good factory jobs. Most of the 6 million people either employed directly by the Department of Defense or indirectly through the industrial complex could be converted to working on our number one national security issue: creating an economy that will not implode.

Ultimately, an economy cannot thrive if the ecological foundations on which it rests are collapsing. That is where we are heading, and unless the government steps in directly, and in a big way, there will be no nation to secure.

Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science and is a Visiting Scholar at the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems.

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John Deutch's Four Steps Toward a Functioning U.S. Energy Policy

Nov 21, 2011

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter has brought a lot of top thinkers together to discuss what the Next American Economy should look like. But it's hard to imagine future economic policy without also figuring out energy policy. As Bo's latest guest points out, American energy policy has largely failed. John Deutch, professor at MIT and former Director of Central Intelligence, explains how "we have not had an energy policy for 40 years" and why "it is a hard slog to improve this." In this excerpt, he lays out four key steps to making real progress:

John Deutch :: [excerpt] from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter has brought a lot of top thinkers together to discuss what the Next American Economy should look like. But it's hard to imagine future economic policy without also figuring out energy policy. As Bo's latest guest points out, American energy policy has largely failed. John Deutch, professor at MIT and former Director of Central Intelligence, explains how "we have not had an energy policy for 40 years" and why "it is a hard slog to improve this." In this excerpt, he lays out four key steps to making real progress:

John Deutch :: [excerpt] from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

His imperatives to get us on the right track:

1. Something must be done to "integrat[e] domestic and international policy in the White House." Energy issues can't be fixed solely within our own borders.

2. In order to have a "coherent voice following energy" at the federal level, we must "establish a single energy commission between the House and the Senate in the place of the dozens and dozens who fool around in it."

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3. "There should be a rule adopted both by Congress and the [OMB]... to say no proposal goes in unless you attach to it a serious analysis of its projected costs and benefits." Without this, he says, "you don't have the basis for a discussion with Congress."

4. "You have to do something about personnel to get good people" working on these policies, he concludes.

Above all, he says, "You have to make people understand that if we don't change this system, things are not going to get better." And that could be disastrous for the economy and the planet.

Watch the full discussion:

John Deutch :: lecture from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.

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How Occupy Wall Street Can Help Revitalize Environmental Justice

Nov 16, 2011David Weinberger

earth-150By sparking a national dialogue about inequality, Occupy Wall Street is highlighting the link between economic and environmental justice.

earth-150By sparking a national dialogue about inequality, Occupy Wall Street is highlighting the link between economic and environmental justice.

It would seem that progressives have finally found in the Occupy movement the kind of populist momentum for which they have long hungered. Health Care for America Now, Green for All,, and a number of unions have come out in support of Occupy Wall Street, fashioning different narratives that would tie their organizations' various missions to the values espoused by the protesters.

No sector of the progressive movement has yearned for this change more than the environmental movement, whose claims to populist underpinnings have long been met with skepticism. The arrival of populism on the left and the attention that is now being paid to institutionalized inequality align well with the heightened priority that environmentalists in and out of Washington are now placing on environmental justice issues.

Environmental justice is premised on a simple notion: that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background, is entitled to a healthy environment. In the United States, the majority of hazardous waste sites, power plants, and truck depots are sited in low-income neighborhoods, where the land is cheap and the communities' political capital is weak. As a result, these communities are subject to heightened frequencies of chronic illnesses, including asthma and obesity, that most often preclude long-term economic mobility. Environmentalists, seeing these historical inequities that have come with traditional, market-based patterns of infrastructure distribution, advocate for land-use solutions that account for externalities in the host communities and ensure equality of opportunity across class lines.

Though there is still much more to be done, the environmental justice movement has made strides. Environmental justice assessments, through which the federal government evaluates particular policies' impacts on equal access to clean air, clean water, and green space, are now commonplace. At the same time, there is a growing understanding that access to ecological services and natural resources is directly related to the populist notions of economic mobility and opportunity.

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Despite this progress, neither the 112th Congress nor the Obama administration has given environmentalists many victories. Election promises of a climate bill and renewed focus on alternative energy have gone unfulfilled. The State Department's decision on the Keystone XL tar sands oil project was delayed, but plans to reroute the pipeline are imminent. Yet with the world's attention turned to Zuccotti Park and the hundreds of tent cities across the country, environmentalists are now perfectly poised to have their agenda items thrust onto the map.

Occupy Wall Street presents a perfect opportunity for proponents of environmental justice. In fact, the General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street held a Climate Justice Day last Sunday to explore opportunities for injecting environmental justice concerns into the policy conversations taking place in Zuccotti Park every day. The event, titled "Capitalism and the Roots of the Ecological Crisis," was one of many interest-specific conversations, including a number of series on financial reform and access to health care.

Occupy Wall Street protesters come from a variety of backgrounds and carry a number of different "pet" interests. Environmental justice is simply one of the concerns on the minds of the protesters. Yet the overarching concerns of Occupy Wall Street -- economic inequality, exploitation of the masses, and economic immobility -- are epitomized by the environmental justice movement. As such, the environmental community should do everything in its power to ensure that environmental justice remains a significant part of the protesters' agenda.

The legacy of Occupy Wall Street, more than a list of concrete policy demands, will likely be a shift in decision-making paradigms of governments and businesses. It was just this summer that national political discourse centered on deficits and the risk of government default. In the two months since protesters took Zuccotti Park, policymakers at all levels and in both parties have been forced to confront the frustrations of the 99%. Civic dialogue is being altered and the battle for economic opportunity is taking center stage. It is now up to environmentalists to seize on this new populist momentum and finally give environmental justice the attention it deserves.

David Weinberger is the Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

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Left and Right are Both Dead Ends for Tax Policy

Oct 18, 2011Bo Cutter


The tax debate can be about values without devolving into a battle between good and evil.


The tax debate can be about values without devolving into a battle between good and evil.

Some day, but certainly not until after the 2012 presidential election, we will have to arrive at an economic policy that supports our economy in the short run and brings fiscal deficits and the growth of federal debt way down in the middle to long run. When we do this, we cannot accomplish much without raising tax revenues -- and actually improving economic performance while we change our tax structure would be a fine thing. While this set of thoughts may be complicated, it is not particularly hard to understand, nor should it be impossible for a functioning political system to accomplish.

But given our current political structure, we won't. One reason is that both the left and the right in America see tax issues entirely through ideological lenses. The right sees any effort to raise tax revenues as either an attempt by socialist leftists to further impose the nanny state on an unwilling America or a drive to destroy entrepreneurship and free enterprise. The left sees taxes virtually entirely as a redistributive mechanism and an opportunity to whack the undeserving rich, and so tax policy is reduced to the Buffett Rule and a millionaires tax. Thus, virtually any tax debate is instantly transformed by both sides into an epic Manichean battle between good and evil, between those who are really trying to destroy free enterprise and those whose incomes, and perhaps existence, are an indication of evil at work in the world. Tax issues are hard enough to contend with, but the battle between good and evil will never, ever, be resolved.

But there is another, simpler, more pragmatic perspective. Tax policy right now ought to be about raising revenue in ways that are fair and that help, rather than hurt, the economy. How do you accomplish this while no one, with the exception of Warren Buffett, wants to pay higher taxes?

I've never understood why it is constantly pointed out that Americans favor taxing the rich as though this were some startling revelation. Of course they do. Most Americans do not think they, themselves, are rich. This opinion is simply a special case of the truest and most profound words ever spoken about tax policy, which consist of a poem often recited by Senator Russell Long of Louisiana: "Don't tax you; don't tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree." This is as close as you get to absolute truth in politics.

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I believe that the tax policy that comes closest to accomplishing the more simple goal of raising revenues without doing too much damage and maybe actually improving the economy a bit is, as I've suggested before, the following:

1. End as many as possible of the current endless list of tax deductions from both personal and corporate income taxes and make the ones we keep more progressive.

2. Use much of the revenue this set of actions would free up to lower marginal tax rates for all classes of individuals and corporations. Reasonable top marginal rates would be around 25 percent to 28 percent. To reach these numbers, we would probably have to end special capital gains tax rates but lower overall rates. The argument that slightly higher capital gains rates would lower economic growth is hard to sustain.

3. Create a consumption tax of about 10 percent. If we really wanted to do some good, tax the consumption of "bads" -- carbon, pollution, green house gases. Bill Nordhaus calculates in the New York Review of Books this month that taxing "bads" could yield $300 million per year in additional federal revenue, or $3 trillion over a decade (three times the amount the Super Committee is trying to find in total). After the necessary exclusions, a progressive consumption tax would yield roughly 4 percent of GDP as net new revenue -- which, viewed over a long period of time, is about what we need.

This tax system, created as an integrated whole, would be much more progressive than our current system, encourage more investment, make America a bit less of a consumer economy, improve the environment, drive more economic growth, and raise the revenues we need. By any standard, this integrated tax system would represent radical change and an improvement over the present. And the seeds of this tax system were included in both the Simpson-Bowles and the Rivlin-Domenici budget proposals of last fall -- the ones the entire political establishment, including the Obama administration, rejected well before they were written. (Within the next year, that decision will be seen as one of the two biggest strategic mistakes of the Obama administration.)

However, this system does not meet the psychological needs of the left or right. Who cares if a pragmatic balancing of interests might solve a major issue, when instead you can have an interminable and unresolvable ideological debate? Nothing even remotely resembling an actual tax policy will be debated until after 2012, if ever. (Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan has many of these elements, but its numbers don't make sense.)

All of which brings me to David Brooks's New York Times column on Friday. In a wonderful piece that is largely an appreciation of prosaic, dull efforts to recognize the real world and do something sensible, Brooks says about our politics, "nearly every practical question becomes a values question... It would be nice if there were more leaders...inclined to disenchant problems and stare at specific contexts. Sometimes circumstances compel you to raise taxes; sometimes circumstances allow you to cut them."

Values are always going to be, and should be, an intrinsic part of political debate -- nothing is ever just pragmatic. But there is a question of balance and of what we need right now. I believe, and it is reasonably clear there is a vast middle in the American electorate that also believes, that right now much more pragmatic movement toward actual decisions and real progress is desperately needed. Ask yourself how likely it is that we will get that pragmatic movement from either party over the next year.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic presidents.

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The Hidden Costs and Blatant Danger of Keystone XL

Sep 29, 2011David Weinberger

oil-rig-150TransCanada's tar sands oil pipeline poses a threat not just to the health and reliability of local ecosystems, but to investment and productivity in rural America.

oil-rig-150TransCanada's tar sands oil pipeline poses a threat not just to the health and reliability of local ecosystems, but to investment and productivity in rural America.

On September 12, hundreds of low-income residents in Nairobi spotted a leak in the pipeline that runs adjacent to their slum. Hoping that they might be able to cash in, many began to pack close to the pipeline to collect the spewing gasoline. A stray spark ignited the fuel and generated an inferno strong enough to kill over 75 people and injure many more. Homes were destroyed, families were torn apart, and livelihoods were decimated. This tragedy is an illustration of the risks associated with long-distance fossil fuel transport.

Of course, this is an extreme example. Regulatory oversight and accountability are not exactly the same in developing countries in Kenya as they are in the United States. Still, there is a high degree of risk and exploitation in fuel transport programs here at home. Earlier this year, for instance, a pipeline owned by Exxon Mobil sprung a leak, sending 42,000 gallons of crude oil directly into the Yellowstone River. (Incidentally, Exxon is reporting that it will resume operations along the Yellowstone.)

If scenarios like these seem isolated or unimaginable in your backyard, think again. TransCanada’s Keystone XL project is a risky $13 billion capital investment program that will connect crude, tar sands-derived oil from Canada to the American energy market. By bringing oil from tar sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma, the pipeline poses a direct threat to the many ecosystems and communities that it will traverse.

There is no doubt that the oil sands extraction, delivery, and processing mechanisms are extraordinarily injurious to the environment and to public health. High-profile protests have sprung up across the U.S. and Canada to fight the project’s execution, which environmentalists like Bill McKibben claim would pose a threat to potable water supply, Canadian boreal forests, and global climate.

TransCanada, which has recorded liabilities of approximately $84 million for remediation obligations and compliance costs associated with environmental regulations, estimates that its pipeline could reasonably leak 11 times within its first 50 years in existence. Others argue that this number is very conservative, especially given the existing infrastructure’s track record, and that a more honest estimate would be to say that the new stretch could leak more than 50 barrels close to 91 times within 50 years. But as TransCanada rightly admits on its website, “it is not possible for the Company to estimate the amount and timing of all future expenditures related to environmental matters.” With such immeasurable environmental and economic externalities to consider, risk assessment is more of a defensive posture than a display of corporate ethics.

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Risk to an ecosystem is not a factor for which advance remedial funds are sufficient. Instead, given that the economy of a locality is so deeply rooted in its ecology, environmental risk should be integrated with economic risk in upfront cost-benefit analysis. A program’s potential effect on ecosystem services, such as potable water supply, waste detoxification, crop pollination, disease control, game and seafood supply, and carbon sequestration and climate regulation should be internalized in calculating its lifetime cost.

After the oil spill in the Yellowstone, ranchers in the region reported a loss in biodiversity, a decrease in productivity, significant damage to their land, and contamination of their water supplies that will no doubt affect output. These long-term effects on land, a crucial factor of production for local farmers, must be considered when planning for risk.

Indeed, the EPA expects that several hundreds of acres of wetlands will be affected by the new stretch of pipeline, which will carry 830,000 barrels of oil from tar sands each day. A leak would also threaten water quality in the Missouri River, which provides for more than half of all Missourians’ drinking water, as well as services related to “recreation, power generation, water supply, river commerce, and fish and wildlife.”

Water quality is in fact key to a number of ecosystem services, and with potable water supplies at heightened risk with the new project, local economies in these areas could suffer exorbitantly in the event of a leak. Moreover, a leak that affects water supply in otherwise productive rural regions of the country could prove disastrous to the entire country’s economy, which depends in part on agricultural markets.

Beyond the environmental risks, theres is investor uncertainty. Development in the states that will be cut by the pipeline is already scarce. Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska contain extreme pockets of rural poverty, the conditions of which will likely be worsened with the introduction of a volatile fuel pipeline. According to the EPA, Keystone XL will put low-income, tribal, and minority communities at particular risk. With the threat of a spill looming over these areas, one can be sure that any business will need a hefty incentive to build or grow there.

Still, these externalities have only begun to be internalized. Much of the cost to communities along the pipeline will be paid in uncertainty, not only for the ecosystems at risk, but for the prospect of development surrounding the pipelines. If TransCanada and the Canadian and U.S. governments viewed environmental costs as part of a larger picture--one that accounts for the relationship between ecosystem services’ reliability and private sector confidence in the surrounding region--there is no doubt that the company would have had a great deal more trouble proving that Keystone XL would be in the economic interest of the United States.

David Weinberger is the Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

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