Ecomodernism 2019: Environmental Policy After Neoliberalism?

Sunday, September 22 through Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The term neoliberalism is a diss - poorly defined and indiscriminately used but almost always derogatory. For some, it is just a fancy word for capitalism. For others, it refers to the turn away from Keynesian economic policies and the rise of the “Washington Consensus” in the 1980’s and 90’s. For still others, it reflects a shift toward efforts to incentivize markets to produce socially desirable ends that they would otherwise fail to produce.

Since the financial crisis, many on the Left have argued that the neoliberal era has collapsed, beset by slowing economic growth, rising inequality, and climate change. But it is not just the Left that appears to be reconsidering the economic and political consensus that defined the possible politically for the last 4 decades. The populist Right today still at times pays obeisance to free markets but has also turned away from free trade and liberal immigration policies and seems more than happy to countenance industrial policy when it suits their purposes.

But how much has really changed and what are the implications for environmental policy? Beyond the rhetoric, the debate about neoliberalism and its alternatives has mostly involved what blend of market and state is the right mix in a mixed economy. That is especially true in climate and environmental debates, where what is mostly being contested is market-based policies (carbon taxes, trading systems, valuation of ecosystem services) versus more traditional regulatory strategies or some version of green industrial policy.

At Ecomodernism 2019, we’ll ask whether is something new here, or are we just relitigating debates that environmentalists have been having for decades, pitting innovation against regulation and carbon pricing versus clean energy subsidies? Why, despite the nostalgia of the Green New Deal, is almost no one involved advocating for public power? Does the Populist right have a vision for the environment beyond exploiting it? Is there still a role for markets and innovation? And is there a Hamiltonian fusion where some of these differing agendas might intersect? Please join us for two nights this fall at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Virginia.

What is Ecomodernism 2019?

Ecomodernism 2019 is an invite only Dialogue hosted by the Breakthrough Institute for the Washington policy community. For ecomodernists, fellow travelers, and interested observers, it offers an opportunity to take stock of how critical debates might be shaped to better advance human wellbeing and environmental protection, how policy initiatives might shrink the human footprint while raising economic productivity, and how cross-cutting coalitions of stakeholders and policy-makers might succeed in transforming U.S. environmental politics. You can view previous keynotes here.

Food studies scholar
Program Officer for Environment, The Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust
Adjunct Senior Research Scholar, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy
Staff Writer, The Atlantic
Bridgeforth Farms
Senior Consultant, Pittsburgh Technical
Co-Founder and CEO, Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy
President, Farmworker Justice
Research Fellow, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
Executive officer, International Programme Office of the Global Land Programme
Graduate Research Assistant, University of Wisconsin Madison
Policy Director, The Neoliberal Project
Senior Fellow, Brookings
Senior Fellow, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Policy Lead, New Consensus
Reporter, VICE
Director, Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets
Founder, People's Policy Project
Fellow, New America
Assistant Professor, UC Santa Barbara
Chief Executive Officer, Urban Ingenuity
Director, Governor's Office of Planning and Research
Vice President of Programs, Berggruen Institute
President, Niskanen Center
Assistant Professor of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley
Founder and Executive Director
Vice President for the Clean Energy Program
Senior Writer, Grist
Energy for Growth Fellow
Research Associate, Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University
Lecturer, University of Southern California

Lessons for the Green New Deal from the Apollo Alliance

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  • Kate Gordon, California Governor's Office of Planning and Research
  • Bracken Hendricks, Urban Ingenuity
  • Dan Carol, Milken Institute
  • Ted Nordhaus, Breakthrough Institute (Moderator)

Over 15 years ago, a small band of environmental outsiders set about rethinking the politics of climate change. Hailing from the labor movement and other quarters of the center left, the founders of the Apollo Project set out to reframe the energy transition necessary to deeply cut US emissions as an investment in America’s economic future - in infrastructure, technology, and manufacturing that would create jobs and economic opportunity for working class Americans. By 2008, clean energy investment and green jobs had been embraced by both the environmental movement and the Democratic Party and would constitute much of the new Obama Administration’s response to the Great Recession.

Today, a new generation of progressives have called for a Green New Deal to address climate change and economic inequality in the United States. In its general thrust, if not all of its particulars, the Green New Deal sounds much like Apollo. In this panel, we ask a number of veterans of the Apollo effort to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work in that earlier effort. What lessons might the Green New Deal learn and pitfalls might be avoided? Is all that’s old new again or are there substantial new opportunities that the Green New Deal might be well positioned to seize?

Perspectives on the Green New Deal

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  • Rhiana Gunn Wright, New Consensus
  • Jerry Taylor, Niskanen Center
  • Matt Bruenig, People's Policy Project
  • Leah Stokes, UC Santa Barbara
  • Emily Holden, The Guardian (Moderator)

Last winter, calls by progressive Democrats for a Green New Deal swept the Capitol by storm. The national environmental movement quickly embraced the idea as its own and Democratic presidential aspirants rushed to embrace the notion. Today, the prospects for a Green New Deal seem far less promising. Advocates have had difficulty agreeing upon exactly what a Green New Deal would do. The Senate voted 57-0 against the Green New Deal resolution forwarded by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, with most Democrats voting present to avoid recording a vote for or against the measure. Controversies have erupted over whether it is wise to yoke climate policy and Medicare for All together in the same policy initiative, whether the Green New Deal should embrace nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage, and what if anything, proponents intend to do about beef production and air travel. Is the problem with the Green New Deal that it is too ambitious or not ambitious enough? What would be necessary for a sweeping social and environmental agenda of this sort to succeed? Is America really ready for a state-led alternative to the market-based climate frameworks that have been the focus of past efforts to pass federal climate legislation and are Green New Deal proponents really prepared to propose such a thing?

From Food Justice to Social Justice

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  • Margot Finn, University of Michigan
  • Jenn Bernstein, USC
  • Bruce Goldstein, Farmworkers Justice
  • Nathanael Johnson, Grist (moderator)

Recent years have seen the rise of a food justice movement that argues that lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods, farmers markets, and urban farms in low income communities of color represent a major source of social injustice. Taking a page from the environmental justice movement, food justice advocates argue that disparities in access to these amenities are key drivers of disparate health and economic outcomes and that by mobilizing low income communities of color to demand them, the food justice movement aims to remake America’s food system in ways that are healthier and more sustainable. Yet many of these claims don’t hold up to much scrutiny. Poor Americans of color don’t eat diets that are much different than most other Americans nor is there much good evidence for a strong relationship between the diets of poor Americans and their health. By contrast, Income inequality, lack of access to good health care, and high crime and incarceration rates are all strongly associated with inequitable health and social outcomes in low income communities of color. So why food justice? What social purpose does food justice really serve? And what, as panelist Margot Finn recently asked, would a food justice movement worthy of the name actually care about?

Populism & Environmentalism

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  • Lydia Bean, New America
  • Nils Gilman, Berggruen Institute
  • Iddo Wernick, Rockefeller University
  • Gaby Del Valle, Vox

From Les Gilet Jaune to the War on Coal, reaction to environmental policies in many parts of the world has provided fuel for populist discontent with liberal democratic governance and institutions. But there is also ample evidence that ethnonational populism might accommodate many notions of nature and ecology quite comfortably. Neo-malthusian notions of scarcity produce zero sum political calculations that are well suited to both eco-panic and nationalism depending upon the context in which they are deployed. Environmental obsessions with purity and contamination similarly might fit quite comfortably with ethnonational identity politics. And indeed, there is some evidence that "avocado politics" (brown on the outside, green on the inside), as panelist Nils Gilman has dubbed it, may be on the rise in some quarters of the "alt right."

In this panel, we will consider the complicated relationship between environmentalism and populism. Ethnonational movements around the world appear to be both in revolt against the costs and restrictions that they fear environmental policies will impose and the cosmopolitan project that tackling global ecological challenges requires and also, in some cases, to be repurposing ecological ideas in service of the ethnonationalist project. How serious a challenge is the current populist moment to environmental objectives? How likely is it that populist movements will repurpose ecological concepts toward illiberal ends? Is it possible that either environmentalism or ecomodernism can or should constructively accommodate nationalist populism?

Is Climate Bipartisanship Possible?

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  • Ken Kimmel, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Sarah Hunt, Rainey Center
  • Josh Freed, Third Way
  • Rob Meyer, The Atlantic (Moderator)

Like so much else in American politics, recent years have seen growing partisan polarization on the issue of climate change. That gap has been reflected in Congress. Prominent elected Republicans once supported cap and trade proposals and federal clean energy standards. Today there is little support on the Republican side of the aisle for either. And yet, important, if less high profile legislation to support nuclear and carbon capture technologies has recently passed Congress with strong bipartisan support. A number of Republican members of Congress have publicly called for a tax on carbon. And strong bipartisan coalitions in the House and Senate have defended energy innovation budgets. In this panel, we ask whether climate bipartisanship is dead, or whether it is just mostly proceeding out of view? Is a grand bargain between Democrats and Republicans on a carbon tax possible and is Congress even capable of ambitiously legislating anymore? Does progress on climate change even require climate legislation? Can Republicans offer an alternative to Democratic calls for caps, regulations, treaties, and renewables subsidies? Is there an alternative Republican agenda to be constructed with nuclear energy, carbon capture, natural gas, and adaptation?

Future of Technology Talks

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  • Advanced Nuclear Power
  • Carbon Capture & Use
  • Advanced Crop Breeding

Concurrent Sessions

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Consolidation & Agricultural Sustainability

Corteva, ChemChina, Bayer - where once there were many agricultural seed and chemical companies, now after a spate of mergers there are a handful. Some farmers and politicians have cried foul, calling to reverse the mega-mergers and break up Big Ag. Consolidation, many argue, increases seed and chemical prices for farmers, reduces the competitive need for businesses to innovate, and ultimately leads to greater environmental impacts. Yet, the economies of scale that come with mergers can also enable businesses to cut prices and bring together disparate research groups under one roof. This panel will explore these dual perspectives, the pathways through which consolidation may affect environmental sustainability, and possible policy responses to recent agribusiness mergers.

  • Kyle Bridgeforth, Bridgeforth Farms
  • Jim MacDonald, USDA
  • Aaron Shier, National Farmers Union
  • Leah Douglas (Moderator)

Carbon Pricing Problems - Live Recording of Neoliberal Podcast

  • Adele Morris, Brookings Institute
  • Philippe Benoit, Columbia University
  • David Hart, ITIF
  • Jeremiah Johnson, The Neoliberal Project (Moderator)

Managing Agriculture’s Global Footprint

Agricultural practices and policies in single countries can shape global environmental outcomes, often in dramatic ways. As the world’s largest agricultural exporter, US farming practices have an outside impact on global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen pollution, and other impacts. But agriculture’s environmental impacts are often less direct and measurable. With escalating US tariffs, for instance, China has replaced much of its US soy imports with Brazilian soy, spurring increased deforestation and possibly forest fires. Mitigating the environmental footprint of domestic agriculture is difficult enough, but arguably insufficient. This panel will explore some of the biggest levers, such as trade policy and private sector commitments, for managing domestic and global supply chains for environmental sustainability.

  • Steve Shwartzman, EDF
  • Ariane de Bremond, Global Land Project
  • Allison Thompson, Field to Market
  • Lee Ann Jackson, World Trade Institute
  • Michael Grunwald, POLITICO (Moderator)

Nuclear Big Vs. Small

When the Bush and Obama Administrations attempted to reboot a “nuclear renaissance,” they did so by replicating what had worked in the first major deployment of nuclear power over 50 years ago. Most nuclear plants in the United States are large, light-water reactors, artifacts from a time when electricity demand was growing steadily, electric power was a vertically integrated enterprise, and big nuclear plants were the technology of the future. None of those conditions hold today. So while emerging economies like India and Korea have shown some success in economies of scale (building reactors as big as possible), it is not at all clear that the same model can work anymore in the United States. What, then, are the prospects for a new generation of smaller, non-light-water reactors? What are the economic conditions where deployment of big reactors still make sense? And how, if at all possible, could those conditions emerge in the United States?

  • Katie Mummah, University of Wisconsin Madison
  • Jessica Lovering, Breakthrough Institute
  • Alan Ahn, Global America Business Institute

Climate Risk Management

At the moment that long-standing international efforts to establish a legally binding global treaty to limit global warming to 2 degrees were abandoned in Paris in 2015, much of the climate advocacy community decided to rachet up their demands, insisting that the only way to avoid catastrophe would be to limit warming even more implausibly to 1.5 degrees. The belligerent commitment of some climate activists, however, should not deter reality based discussion of how best to manage climate risk. These efforts must continue to focus on climate mitigation, even if those efforts are unlikely to limit warming to 2 degrees. But the risks associated with a warming climate also require that we at least explore other options. In this panel we discuss how three alternative climate risk management strategies:: adaptation, carbon removal, and solar geoengineering. How do we balance the moral hazard associated with exploring responses to climate change that might undermine political commitment to decarbonization with the moral hazard associated with promoting implausible mitigation scenarios that undermine serious efforts to prepare for a warming planet, or to use other means to slow the rate of warming?

  • Holly Buck, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
  • Jane Flegal, The Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust
  • Melissa Roberts, American Food Coalition
  • Susan Fancy, University of Michigan