What’s really driving coal power’s demise?

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The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

We studied the retirement of U.S. coal-fired units from January 2008 to September 2016 and compared the effects of various market factors, regulations and activism on their early closure. In all, 348 coal-fired units either retired or switched to natural gas during that time.

Among the many pressures on coal power that we reviewed, a federal regulation implemented in 2015 had the biggest overall effect. The Cross State Air Pollution Rule requires states to reduce soot and smog pollution that blows across states lines, including from power plants. We estimate that it was responsible for reducing the expected production life of the coal power units that it affected by a total of 1,170 years.

Looking at coal units individually, however, we found that the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, backed by over US$174 million to date from Bloomberg Philanthropies, had the most impact per targeted plant.

The campaign works by generating public pressure on utilities and state and local politicians to close down coal-fired units, often through targeted lawsuits. When the Beyond Coal campaign targeted a coal-fired unit, we found that the unit’s life expectancy, normally 50-60 years, was reduced by an average of just over two years.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule was the second-biggest factor per individual plant, though it affected more plants. It reduced the expected life span of each coal-fired generating unit that it affected by an estimated average of about 21 months.

We were surprised to find that neither low natural gas prices nor the adoption of renewable energy significantly reduced the life of coal units. Both have been widely touted by politicians and business leaders as the market-based drivers of coal plant retirement.

Chart of the changing costs of coal and gas
Falling natural gas prices had little impact on coal-fired power plant closures.
David Drake and Jeffrey York, CC BY-ND

However, while adoption of renewable energy alone did not reduce coal units’ life spans, the average use of each source of renewable energy in an area did have a significant impact. Coal units operating in regions with high average renewable energy use retired an average of 15 months earlier.

It is important to note that a large number of coal plants were already nearing the end of their lifecycles during this period. But through statistical modeling, we were able to isolate the impact of each of these interventions on accelerating the retirement of a given unit.

Why it matters

A rapid transition away from carbon-intensive energy sources such as coal is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. Burning coal releases nearly twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced as natural gas does, and natural gas’s contribution to global warming is significant.

From 2011 through 2018, coal-fired generating capacity in the U.S. contracted by 23%. We estimate that the emissions impact of the accelerated retirements we studied was equivalent to taking 38 million typical passenger cars off the road.

The common narrative has been that market forces and economics have driven the demise of coal. However, our research suggests that a continued focus on federal policy is a more effective route for reducing emissions.

The Biden administration has already halted new leases for coal, oil and gas extraction on federal lands. And its climate task force – which includes the Cabinet-level department and agency heads – met in February to start coordinating governmentwide climate change solutions. Those likely will include new regulations and could include a price on carbon.

What’s next

Our current work sheds light on where responsibility lies for the acceleration of coal-fired power unit retirements through late 2016.

Next, we are interested in expanding on our findings about differences between renewable energy use and initial adoption. Understanding how to increase use of renewable sources, while creating new businesses and jobs, is a critical research agenda for addressing climate change.

Tags: #Whats #driving #coal #powers #demise

Written by David Drake, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Operations Management, University of Colorado Boulder

This article by David Drake, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Operations Management, University of Colorado Boulder, originally published on The Conversation is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International(CC BY-ND 4.0).

how thousands working in the UK’s gig economy could benefit

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It’s been a long old journey for former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yasseen Aslam. But after a five year legal battle, the pair arrived at their chosen destination – a court ruling that drivers for the taxi app firm should be treated as workers rather than independent contractors.

It is a distinction which could have significant implications for the earning rights of Uber drivers, at a potentially heavy cost to the firm, which is fighting similar challenges around the world. The ruling could also have a marked effect on the wider gig economy, paving the way for similar claims that could come from online tutors, supply teachers or freelancers.

Future cases are likely to test how far the February 2021 judgment stretches. But the court ruling certainly strengthens the message – from both academia and an official 2017 review of modern working practices – to other online platforms in the gig economy that the “misclassification” of their workforce will not be tolerated. For example, the judgment may encourage Deliveroo riders who were previously unsuccessful at asserting their employment status in court.

The Uber case began when Aslam, Farrar and their fellow claimants successfully took on the firm in an employment tribunal in 2016, contending they were workers and therefore entitled to a minimum wage and paid leave.

Uber lost a string of subsequent appeals, culminating in the latest unanimous judgment against them by the UK’s Supreme Court. Giving the judgment, Lord Leggatt held that the original employment tribunal was correct for five key reasons:
1. drivers have no say over their fares
2. a standardised written agreement is essentially imposed on drivers
3. Uber exercises a significant amount of control over drivers, including penalising those whose acceptance rate falls below Uber’s expectations
4. Uber dictates the way in which drivers should deliver their service and uses a rating system to manage this
5. communication between passengers and drivers is restricted by Uber (preventing the formation of any future relationship between the driver and the passenger).

The balance of power

In short, the Supreme Court believed the drivers were subordinate to Uber, leading to an imbalance of power. Beyond increasing the hours spent working via the platform, drivers had no means of improving their economic position through entrepreneurship – something which could reasonably be expected of an independent contractor.

The judgment was welcomed by Farrar and Aslam, who told the BBC they were “thrilled and relieved” by the ruling.

Farrar added: “This is a win win win for drivers, passengers and cities. It means Uber now has the correct economic incentives not to oversupply the market with too many vehicles and too many drivers. The upshot of that oversupply has been poverty, pollution and congestion.”

For its part, an Uber spokesman said: “We respect the court’s decision which focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016. Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way. These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury.

He went on: “We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see.”

Whatever changes lie ahead, the landmark judgment is indeed a major step in tackling how vast numbers of working people are treated, with the the potential to change the shape of the gig economy as we know it.

Cyclist with food delivery bag
More gig claims ahead?
Shutterstock/Nikolay Sirota

But it is worth noting that this judgment has been five years in the making.
What is that compared to the speed at which online platforms like Uber can update its terms and conditions or business models?

It seems as though the law has engaged in a game of cat and mouse in attempting to hold platforms accountable for the way they treat their workforce. It may be that a future legislative response at government level will be required to level the playing field for workers who may otherwise feel bound by the terms of their agreements.

For now, drivers have found a rare moment of certainty in the ever-changing gig economy. But while the drivers have won this battle, the question remains over who will win the war. We might be in for a bumpy ride.

Tags: #thousands #working #UKs #gig #economy #benefit

Written by Jessica Gracie, PhD Candidate, York Law School, University of York

This article by Jessica Gracie, PhD Candidate, York Law School, University of York, originally published on The Conversation is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International(CC BY-ND 4.0).

How entrepreneurial skills can equip young people facing the bleak prospect of unemployment

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There seems to no end to bad news these days, be it new variants of the coronavirus, business closures or rising unemployment. A particular concern is youth unemployment. By November 2020, unemployment for 16-24 year olds in the UK had increased by 13% since the start of the pandemic. This amounted to 68,000 young people who wanted jobs but could not find one.

But there are many more young people who have lost jobs and may have stopped currently looking, as the number of people in employment fell by 231,000 between March and November 2020. While the figures are currently not as bad as during the 2009 financial crisis, this fall in employment has generated real fears that COVID-19 and its after-effects may lead to a lost generation. Previous research has shown that youth unemployment can lead to a long-term scarring on job prospects and earnings.

We know that even relatively short spells of unemployment lead to loss of self-esteem, confidence and increases in mental health problems, while longer spells have even more detrimental effects on mental health – and this is particularly true for young people.

In this light, any schemes that provide work experience, be it through apprenticeships or the Kickstart scheme, which provides funding to employers to create six-month job placements for 16-24 year olds on universal credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment, are critical. Job placements such as this allow young people to gain work experience, to improve their skills and confidence, but also help prevent poor mental health. From our perspective, government interventions to improve the employability of young people could be more effective by considering how to develop entrepreneurial competencies as well as offering work experience.

Mentor talks to young male apprentice planing some wood
Apprenticeships also provide valuable work experience.

Entrepreneurial competencies

Entrepreneurial competencies are the knowledge, skills and attitudes that help a person start a company. These competencies encapsulate the mindset and know-how for identifying opportunities, creative problem solving, taking initiative, communicating, reflecting, adapting, and attitudes such as curiosity, open-mindedness, proactivity, flexibility, determination, and resilience. While some believe that entrepreneurs are born, there is robust evidence that such entrepreneurial competencies and “the entrepreneurial mindset” can be taught.

Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but entrepreneurial competencies not only help people to start their own businesses, they help boost employability. Entrepreneurial competencies are transferable skills that help people succeed in diverse careers. They equip people to be proactive and to successfully navigate uncertainty and overcome resource constraints – all elements characteristic of businesses and organisations in the current environment.

Fostering the entrepreneurial mindset

First, it is important to offer work experience in small businesses, so it was good to see that the Kickstarter scheme was expanded in January and which makes it easier for small businesses to apply. This way young people while getting work experience also become familiar with the more flexible working environments of small firms that typically offer more complex and interesting tasks to work on, because work is much less centralised and compartmentalised than in large firms.

Second, existing schemes (Kickstarter, apprenticeships) could be complemented with dedicated interactive training modules to develop entrepreneurial competencies. These should not be centred on “starting a business” but rather on helping people to develop and sell their ideas, to understand entrepreneurship as a process and as an approach to problem-solving and making projects happen – competencies useful for all employment.

Third, an expansion of existing schemes is needed to recognise setting up one’s business or social enterprise as a valuable learning experience in its own right and to provide support to young people who have an idea they want to pursue. Before COVID, around 8% of 18-24 years olds in the UK were involved in setting up their own businesses and many more have start-up ideas that could offer learning opportunities. Indeed, young people who started entrepreneurial projects and businesses during the pandemic say it gave them a sense of control and helped with their mental health.

Inspiration on how to design such a “start-up apprenticeship” scheme could be drawn from start-up visas, the government scheme that allows people with innovative start-up ideas with the potential for growth to be granted UK visas, which has a model of timings and mechanisms of accountability for projects.

We are not arguing that everyone should become an entrepreneur and create their own job. The evidence indicates that pushing unemployed people to start businesses often results in low-quality start-ups and many young people would also benefit from work experience before starting a business. Yet there is a potentially large upside to equipping many more young people with entrepreneurial competencies: enabling them to lead potentially more fulfilled work-lives; providing a larger supply of desirable talent to businesses and organisations, and the potential for the creation of new jobs when those equipped with entrepreneurial competencies feel inclined to try out setting up their own organisation or business.

Yet the biggest upside is the avoidance of a lost generation and of limiting suffering from mental health problems – unemployment, even short spells, at a young age is not just an economic concern, it is a public health issue too.

Tags: #entrepreneurial #skills #equip #young #people #facing #bleak #prospect #unemployment

Written by Anna Rebmann, Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship, King’s College London

This article by Anna Rebmann, Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship, King’s College London, originally published on The Conversation is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International(CC BY-ND 4.0).

Huge numbers of the formerly incarcerated are unemployed, but there are some promising solutions

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People who have been incarcerated face major challenges finding work after their release. About 45% of formerly incarcerated Americans were unemployed one year after leaving prison, according to a multiyear study the Brookings Institution released in 2018.

This is far higher than U.S. joblessness levels, even during the coronavirus pandemic. The overall U.S. rate spiked to 14.7% in April 2020, receding to 6.7% by December – nearly twice where it stood at the end of 2019.

Three factors essential to a successful transition from prison are employment, housing and transportation, and no one can afford stable housing or reliable transportation without employment. I’m researching two innovative ways to combat unemployment among the formerly incarcerated.

One approach relies on social enterprises, organizations that pursue a social mission while seeking to earn money. These organizations employ formerly incarcerated people for short periods of time. Some examples include Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehabilitation and reentry program, and Center for Employment Opportunities, the largest reentry employment provider in the country.

The other method, exemplified by the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, is to have business professionals teach people who are incarcerated how to become entrepreneurs so they can launch their own businesses once they leave prison. These programs provide the skills, knowledge and connections needed to succeed as entrepreneurs.

Formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs include Coss Marte, who runs a fitness company; Teresa Hodge, who founded a Baltimore-based nonprofit focused on financial literacy, inclusive entrepreneurship and community engagement; and Marcus Bullock, who created an app that turns photos into postcards that get delivered to individuals who are incarcerated.

People who participate in social enterprises and prison entrepreneurship programs tend to earn more money and are less likely to return to prison than their peers.

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Tags: #Huge #numbers #incarcerated #unemployed #promising #solutions

Written by Kymberly Byrd, Ph.D. Candidate, Community Research and Action, Vanderbilt University

This article by Kymberly Byrd, Ph.D. Candidate, Community Research and Action, Vanderbilt University, originally published on The Conversation is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International(CC BY-ND 4.0).

South African internal migrants fare better in the job market in two regions

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Labour migration is an essential – and potentially beneficial – part of all economies, regions and countries in the 21st century. One of the main reasons for migration is to enjoy better employment and earnings prospects.

The usual flow of people is from developing to developed countries at the international level, and domestically from rural to urban areas or from poorer areas to richer ones.

In South Africa two provinces – Gauteng and Western Cape – stand out among the full complement of nine – as the most attractive destinations for labour migrants. They contribute most to the economic success of the country, accounting for 49% of the gross domestic product in 2019.

Our study used the South African Census 2011 data to examine the impact of inter-provincial migration on the labour market in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Our specific focus was on whether the inter-provincial migrants fared relatively better in the labour market in the destination provinces.

Our key finding was that migrants from other provinces were more likely to be employed than the permanent residents of Gauteng and the Western Cape. But, the intra-provincial migrants – people who moved from one area to another within the same province in search of better job prospects – remained the best-performing group with the lowest unemployment rates, especially in the formal sector.

As not all inter-provincial migrants find work in the destination provinces, the provincial unemployment statistics should be interpreted with great caution, as they can be distorted by these migrants.

The study

In our study, we used the Census 2011 data – the most recent – to examine the personal, socioeconomic status and labour market characteristics of eight groups of people aged 15 to 64 years.

The categories were, in the case of the Western Cape:

  • permanent residents,

  • intra-provincial migrants,

  • long-term migrants from other provinces,

  • short-term migrants from other provinces.

In the case of Gauteng:

  • permanent residents,

  • intra-provincial migrants,

  • long-term migrants from other provinces,

  • short-term migrants from other provinces.

Short-term and long-term migrants were distinguished from each other based on the time periods before and after 2006. The short term refers to those who migrated within the last five years. Long-term means they migrated more than 5-10 years earlier.

The findings point to the need for the national government to consider inter-provincial migration when allocating the national budget to provinces, districts and municipalities. More of the budget should go to the Western Cape and Gauteng, given their ever-growing populations because of migration from other provinces.

Key findings

The majority of migrants into the Western Cape came from the Eastern Cape (53.64%) and Gauteng (20.95%). In contrast, migrants into Gauteng were more evenly spread. They came mostly from Limpopo (30.92%), KwaZulu-Natal (19.30%), the Eastern Cape (14.22%) and Mpumalanga (11.15%) provinces.

Inter-provincial migrants’ previous province of residence and current province of residence

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Note: intra-provincial migrants and immigrants from overseas are excluded.
Sipplied by author

The statistics also indicated that the majority of migrants from other provinces into the Western Cape settled in the City of Cape Town (over 70%). On the other hand, nearly 90% of migrants into Gauteng resided in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni districts.

The results suggest that these popular destination districts are most likely associated with better living conditions and labour market prospects.

Furthermore, both short and long-term migrants into Gauteng and the Western Cape were likely to be young, aged 15-34 years. They were mostly unmarried African urban residents with 11 to 12 years of education on average.

These migrants into Gauteng and the Western Cape enjoyed lower unemployment rates than the permanent residents. One interesting finding was that the intra-provincial migrants had the lowest unemployment rate, compared with the inter-provincial migrants and permanent residents.

Labour force participation rates and unemployment rates of the eight groups of individuals

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Supplied by author

The figure below shows that the proportion of workers involved in skilled occupations was the highest for the intra-provincial migrants. More short-term and long-term inter-provincial migrants were in skilled work compared to the permanent residents.

Percentage share of employed in each skills level by migration status

file 20210108 19 zvtneq.JPG?ixlib=rb 1.1

Supplied by author

Lastly, after controlling for differences in other personal and household characteristics, the econometric analysis found that, compared to the permanent residents, both short and long-term inter-provincial migrants into the Gauteng and the Western Cape enjoyed a significantly greater probability (of 3%) of finding work. Migrants within a province enjoy the lowest unemployment rate and probability of engaging in skilled occupations.

Policy implications

Job-seeking migration into Gauteng and the Western Cape will certainly continue for as long as these two provinces are associated with better economic conditions and job prospects than the migrants’ home provinces. In particular, these migrants are most likely to cluster in certain districts with more lucrative job opportunities; namely Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Tshwane.

Gauteng and Western Cape provincial governments will continue to face important challenges in addressing the increased burden on providing basic services, housing, health, education and social service systems because of the flow of migrants.

The findings indicate that not all the inter-provincial migrants eventually find work. This adds to the unemployment burden for Gauteng and the Western Cape. This has implications for the provinces’ job creation and entrepreneurship development strategies.

Joseph Kleinhans, an Economics Masters graduate at the University of the Western Cape, collaborated on the research on which this article is based.

Tags: #South #African #internal #migrants #fare #job #market #regions

Written by Derek Yu, Professor, Economics, University of the Western Cape

This article by Derek Yu, Professor, Economics, University of the Western Cape, originally published on The Conversation is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International(CC BY-ND 4.0).

the COVID work revolution has increased digital overload

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Are too many online meetings and notifications getting you down?

Online communication tools – from email to virtual chat and video-conferencing – have transformed the way we work. In many respects they’ve made life easier. Without them we could not have made the shift to remote working during the COVID pandemic.

But are we now overly connected?

I and my colleagues have interviewed 120 experts from around the world to get a handle on the effects of 2020’s working-from-home revolution.

What they told us suggests the desire to compensate for the lack of physical interaction is compounding digital overload – the phenomenon that technology researchers Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel described in the Harvard Business Review way back in 2015 as perhaps “the defining problem of today’s workplace”.

As Rosen, a pioneer in the “psychology of technology”, explains in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, his 2016 book co-written with neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, our brains have not evolved for media multitasking.

So many technological innovations have enhanced our lives in countless ways, but they also threaten to overwhelm our brain’s goal-directed functioning with interference. This interference has a detrimental impact on our cognition and behaviours in daily activities. It impacts every level of our thinking, from our perceptions, decision making, communication, emotional regulation, and our memories.

This interference is increasing as we embrace ever more tools that facilitate virtual communication and collaboration, always “on” and in touch through a barrage of messages and notifications.

Woman video conferencing.
The desire to compensate for the lack of physical interaction is compounding digital overload.
Girts Ragelis/Shutterstock

Read more:
Vital Signs: Shorter meetings but longer days – how COVID-19 has changed the way we work

Using nine tools a day

Our research is part of a global project on the future of work and education involving 14 university, corporate and non-profit partner organisations.

We interviewed managers in the private sector (from start-ups to corporations), the public sector and academia. We talked to each for an a hour about how their work environments had been affected by the pandemic, and how they imagine the future.

Almost all agreed digital overload had increased due to too many digital tools, too much information and too many hours spent in online conferencing.

On average, they reported using nine collaboration and communication tools every day. If that seems excessive, count how many you use. More than likely you have software for writing, email, instant message, calendars, file sharing, conferencing, work organisation and password management. That’s nine just there.

Read more:
With management resistance overcome, working from home may be here to stay

More online fatigue

Our respondents also reported increased fatigue from being online all the time, and from being expected to send and respond to messages. As one of interviewee put it, the old problem of lack of information has been overtaken by how to keep up with all the information we are expected to take in and provide.

Online meetings were cited as particularly exhausting. This concurs with research showing the demands of constantly observing ourselves as performers leads to “Zoom fatigue”.

Read more:
Hide self: one tip on video conferencing good enough for Matthew McConaughey

3 tips to manage digital overload

You may not have much influence over the number of tools you use. But you can control how you use them. The key is to reduce “goal interference” – anything that interrupts or distracts you from the task in front of you.

Here are three simple principles to manage the load.

1. Switch between tasks less often

Research shows the idea of multitasking is a myth. Maybe we can cope with two things at time, such listening to music while working. But for any task requiring focus we have to make a cognitive switch. Studies show the more we switch, the worse we get at focusing on what’s relevant to the task before us. Make fewer switches to maximise your ability to filter out interference from thoughts about other tasks.

2. Schedule set times for regular tasks

Behavioural experiments show those who check emails just a few times a day report lower stress than those who constantly check throughout the day. Make the effort to do related tasks in set times blocks (say 30 minutes). Give yourself the opportunity to really concentrate. Switch off unnecessary notifications and other distractions.

3. Limit unnecessary communication

Sharing information is important – knowledge is power, after all. But too much information becomes just another distraction. As another adage goes, data isn’t information, information isn’t knowledge, knowledge isn’t understanding, and understanding isn’t wisdom. Information in the digital age is a bit like food. Tens of thousands of years of scarcity has conditioned us to crave it. But abundance means we have to consciously check ourselves from consuming too much.

Changing work culture

These three tips are far from a complete solution, of course. As our interviewees underlined, addressing the problem of digital overload at work requires radical reflection on the temptations of technology – including thinking yet more technology will solve the problem.

Read more:
50 years of bold predictions about remote work: it isn’t all about technology

There have been many lessons to learn from 2020.

From our unplanned leap into a work future long predicted would come from digital technology, we have the opportunity to understand the pain points. We’ve had a technological revolution in workplace communication and collaboration. Now must come a cultural revolution.

Tags: #COVID #work #revolution #increased #digital #overload

Written by Olga Kokshagina, Researcher – Innovation & Entrepreneurship, RMIT University

This article by Olga Kokshagina, Researcher – Innovation & Entrepreneurship, RMIT University, originally published on The Conversation is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International(CC BY-ND 4.0).

Why Tom Steyer, hedge fund billionaire and Biden adviser, is disillusioned with the free market

Why Tom Steyer, hedge fund billionaire and Biden adviser, is disillusioned with the free market


One of Joe Biden’s top climate advisers has a message for people who oppose fighting climate change on the grounds that it would infringe on the free market:

“The whole idea of a free market, like God came down and in the state of nature created a free market? There’s no such thing.”

Salon has interviewed Tom Steyer on several occasions. The hedge fund manager and philanthropist was one of literally dozens of Democrats who sought that party’s presidential nomination in 2020 and pushed long before he entered the race for President Donald Trump to be impeached. In his primary campaign Steyer ran as a full-throated progressive, one who could point to years of environmental activism to give him credibility on the literal life-and-death issue of climate change.

Now that the Democrats have chosen former Vice President Joe Biden as their nominee, Steyer is co-chairing the candidate’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council. (In one of history’s great ironies, Trump was eventually impeached because of his allegedly illegal efforts to smear Biden during the primaries.)

Yet as Salon discussed with Steyer during our interview earlier this week, many on the left feel that capitalism itself is the underlying problem behind not just global warming, but many of the other ecological and economic woes facing humanity. While Biden has made it clear that he hopes to pattern his administration off of that of one of America’s most influential liberals, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, there are questions about whether his Build Back Better plan for creating jobs goes far enough.

Is it possible to be a capitalist and save the planet from its impending apocalypse? I asked Steyer about that, plus plenty of other things related to climate, consumerism, and economics. As usual, our interview has been condensed and edited for print.

I think you and I are going to agree that when it comes to the “choice” between [former Vice President Joe] Biden and President Donald Trump, it’s not a choice. But the question is, do you think Biden’s plan goes far enough? Because during the most recent debate, he did say he opposes a Green New Deal. So I’m curious, how aggressive do you think he needs to be in averting a climate crisis? Is he going far enough?

The Build Back Better plan is $2 trillion in the first four years of federal spending on clean infrastructure. That is by far the most amount of money anyone’s ever talked, ever, about clean infrastructure, and it is a reaction to our climate crisis, a reaction to the need for job creation of good middle-class union jobs. It’s a reaction to our need to address environmental injustice in terms of the concentration of air, water, and toxic pollution in underserved black and brown communities.

In addition, I mentioned that a hundred percent clean electricity generation by 2035, that is aggressive. A hundred percent net zero carbon emissions by 2050 economy-wide? That is aggressive. So I think that what we’re seeing here is a broad plan, a climate/jobs plan/environmental justice plan that deals with the series of crises that are affecting us as a country. 

That shows that Joe Biden gets this issue, cares about it, sees it through the lens of the human beings — the Americans who are effected — and is providing real leadership. And that was my experience in talking to him while I was campaigning and talking to him subsequently. He really does care about and get this issue. He does it by caring about people. That’s his sort of entree into policy. This is appropriate for what he’s doing. He is making a real push here and he’s going to, as he said right off the bat, boom, “I’m going to do this.” And it’s really important that we do it. And he’s right.

I just want to again play a little bit of devil’s advocate. I’ve spoken to a lot of climate change experts and economists who have argued that free market economic structures require constant consumption of resources and are therefore inherently unsustainable, ecologically as well as economically. And they’ve argued that we need even more government regulation, more government control over large businesses and wealthy individuals in order to save the planet. What would your response be to that?

I think if you look at where we’re going — and I promise you, Matt, I have thought about this a lot — we’re going to have to rely on a lot of innovation, research, entrepreneurship, new ways of thinking. People always want to say “free market.” I mean, those were the words you used, “free market economic structures.” There are no free markets! Every market has rules. And so do we need to change the rules in the market? Heck yes! The whole idea of a free market, like God came down and in the state of nature created a free market? There’s no such thing. And just think about the labor market: Once upon a time, I could have hired a 12-year-old kid for 25 cents a day and worked him for 14 hours a day. Can’t do it now. 

You know why? Because they changed the rules. Because all markets are driven by rules. I will say this: unchecked capitalism in this respect has failed and will fail. The way that we’re going has failed and will fail. Do we need government to stand in and put in rules that will protect us and will control corporations from doing exactly what you’re saying, which is destroying the natural world? Absolutely! Do we also need innovation and new products so that we can do it in a way so that we can power right through it in terms of the way we live? Absolutely! So I’ve never felt there was this conflict about whether the government should act. We absolutely need the government to act! If you look at the statement, ‘We’re going to have 100% clean electricity generation by 2035,’ that’s the government acting. That is an absolute statement that we have to do this. And the elected representatives of the will of the American people are going to have to act. So there ain’t no free market. And if you’re waiting for people in the free market to act on behalf of other people and save us, that is not a realistic expectation.

[Earlier in the interview you said] that the news about JP Morgan and the Hong Kong bank [both JP Morgan and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority have recently pledged to do more to fight climate change] are signs that actors in the market are doing the right thing, for reasons that are consistent with what they perceive to be their own financial interest. I want to make sure I understand.

Absolutely! Look, I’m not down on the free markets and business. I think that government has its role and business has its role. And business’s role is to work within the rules, set up by government, for the good of the people. I don’t want business setting up the rules because they’ll set up rules for themselves. The government sets up the rules, sets the framework, provides the infrastructure for business to innovate within. Business is good at innovation. Business is good at entrepreneurship. And we have to rely on them for that. But when it comes to making sure that the rules serve the people of the United States and the world, that’s why we have democracy. So people’s voices can be heard. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of the broadest democracy and set up NextGen to try and engage and empower young voters who otherwise wouldn’t vote. I definitely believe in a role for government and a distinct role for business. They’re going to have to work together, but a government reflects the values of society and sets the rules so those values are protected.

According to [a 2017] Carbon Majors Report, there are 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of all carbon emissions. And I remember when that report came out, some of my friends who are environmentalists were like, ‘Well, why don’t we just crack down on those 100 companies? Why am I going through all these efforts to reduce my carbon footprint? Why can’t some international organization or these individual governments tell these 100 companies to knock it off?’ What would your response to them be?

I understand their frustration and I agree with their point in a general way. And let me rephrase what they’re saying in a more general way that would reflect the same result, which is this: Do I think it’s important that Matt and Leah [Steyer’s press secretary] and Tom compost? Yes. But do I believe that the voluntary composting of Matt and Leah and Tom is going to save the world? No.

This was my point about governments. They’re basically saying we need government action at the highest level to step in and change the rules to make sure that private interests do not destroy the public good, namely the health and safety of humans across the planet and in effect the natural world on which we all depend, whether we know it or not. And I agree with them.

This article by Megan McLaughlin, originally published on Megan McLaughlin Source.