Ecomodernism 2021: Quiet Climate Policy

Sunday, October 3 through Tuesday, October 5, 2021

October 3-5 | Salamander Resort & Virtually | Middleburg, VA & Global

Quiet Climate Policy

As the nation and the world emerge, haltingly and unevenly, from the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates for climate action will need to grapple with a set of contradictions. On the one hand, the pandemic showed what type of society-wide response is possible when faced with an emergency-level threat. On the other hand, that response revealed just how thin our willingness to sacrifice is, how little trust our major governing institutions still command, and how our cultural cleavages will politicize even the most universally distributed challenges.

The early days of COVID gave some hope that some combination of mass behavioral change, sweeping public investments, and breakthrough technologies would one day soon be pressed against the climate challenge like they appeared to be applied against COVID. Yet the public’s patience with lockdowns, social distancing, and masking proved short-lived. The federal government spent unprecedented amounts on COVID relief in 2020, but in 2021 Congress seems hesitant to keep the spigot open. And perhaps of the most impressive technological marvels in recent memory, the COVID vaccines, have proven just as capable of igniting the culture war as any of our other policy and behavioral disputes.

In the end, the comparisons between COVID and climate policy may reveal more by where they diverge than where they overlap. Our post-lockdown climate politics may resemble less of the New Deal or Great Society or even the pandemic response than they resemble something much quieter.

Here as elsewhere, we have referred to climate policy as “quiet” if it swims with the tide of existing sociopolitical institutions and economic growth, if it uses technology and infrastructure as its main lever, and if it disrupts, rather than exploits, political partisanship. Such are the qualities, after all, of the types of government policy that have driven investment and deployment of lower-carbon technologies for decades—in short, the types of policies arguably responsible for most decarbonization to date.

At Ecomodernism 2021, taking place between a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, we will consider whether quiet policy is enough. And if it is not, what will supplement it or, even, take its place? Is it credible to imagine political support for such an alternative? What other avenues towards climate action are available to us, on either the political Left or political Right, or via foreign policy? And even if COVID failed to reorient our politics as much as many would have preferred, are there political or policy lessons yet to glean from our response to the pandemic?

Resident Scholar, UC Berkeley
Climate Policy & Solutions Reporter, Grist
Executive Vice President, American Conservation Coalition
Politica Director, Data for Progress
Co-Director, Climate and Energy
China Researcher
Former U.S. Congressman
Co-Founder & CEO, Monarch Tractor
Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, New College of Florida
Director, Justice is Global
Associate Professor, National Taiwan University
Publisher, The Bulwark
Research Manager, Low Carbon Technology Policy, Niskanen Center
Opinion Columnist, Bloomberg
Senior Correspondent, Vox
Energy Security and Climate Change Director, CSIS

Is Quiet Climate Policy Enough?

Quiet Climate Policy copy


Matt Yglesias, Slow Boring

Marcela Mulholland, Data for Progress

Mark Paul, New College of Florida

Shannon Osaka, Grist (Moderator)

Monday, October 4, 2021
9:50am-11:05am EST

"Quiet climate policy" is shorthand for low-profile, behind-the-scenes policymaking that advances climate action via investment in innovation, technology, and infrastructure. It contrasts with more sweeping, marquee proposals such as a carbon tax or a Green New Deal, which have rallied considerable elite support but run aground of legislative politics. While quiet climate policy has arguably delivered most climate progress achieved to date, on this panel we will consider whether it is sufficient to match climate targets, whether the global two-degree target, various net-zero emissions commitments, or other goals. If quiet climate policy isn't enough, what would be? How would our politics have to shift to accommodate more aggressive climate agendas? How credible are programs to achieve such a shift? And if significant gaps remain between our scientifically-derived targets and political capabilities, what does that tell us about either the science or the politics of the targets themselves?

Is There Room for Conservatives in the Climate Debate?

Is there room for conservatives in the climate debate copy


Danielle Butcher, ACC

Steve Hayward, Resident Fellow University of California Berkeley

Carlos Curbelo, DEPLOY/US

Sarah Longwell (Moderator)

Monday, October 4, 2021
2:30pm-3:15pm EST

Republican advocates of climate action have long insisted that addressing climate change is fully consistent with conservative principles. Conservation, innovation, and efforts to efficiently price environmental externalities all have rich histories in Republican policymaking. Yet Democrats and progressives have long dominated debates over climate action in the United States. Why? A growing coalition of Republican lawmakers and advocates are responding to this imbalance, advancing a conservative climate politics including efforts to build a grassroots movement to rival the environmental left. This panel will consider the contours and prospects of these efforts. Should a conservative climate coalition learn or borrow anything from progressives? Or do conservative ideology, demography, and values demand an altogether distinct climate politics?

Advancing Both Climate Action and Justice in Asia

Climate Progress Amidst Estrangement with China Xi Jinping Arrives at COP21 copy


Seaver Wang, Breakthrough Institute

Tobita Chow, Justice is Global

John Chung-En Liu, National Taiwain University

Yaqiu Wang, Human Rights Watch (Moderator)

Tuesday, October 5, 2021
9:10am-10:25am EST

Asian people in and around China today confront two troubling trends--rising temperatures in a warming world, and mounting attacks by Beijing’s government against their human rights, civil freedoms, and political autonomy. Yet while Washington and Beijing both recognize the need for greater climate action, this narrow consensus breaks down upon the incorporation of equity and justice criteria into discussions of climate progress. How do tensions between the US and China’s government over human rights, Taiwan's future, trade, and other issues intersect with the imperative that both Beijing and Washington must act decisively to reduce emissions? Amidst difficult disagreements, could Washington leverage competitive pressure to encourage bold, mutual climate ambition? How should Americans respond to the exploitation of forced Uyghur labor in producing solar photovoltaic modules or other conflicts between human rights and trade concerns? This panel will explore Asian perspectives on what an effective and just US foreign policy and climate policy approach towards Beijing and Asia might look like moving forwards.

How to Spend a Trillion Dollars

How to spend a trillion dollars copy


Joseph Majkut, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Karl Smith, Bloomberg

Liza Reed, Niskanen Center

Dylan Matthews, Vox (Moderator)

, October 5, 2021
10:50am-11:00am EST

If quiet climate policy is comprised of inconspicuous, behind-the-scenes investments and reforms, what happens when the vehicle for such reforms becomes the focus of our political attention? That is the question raised by ongoing Congressional negotiations over infrastructure and social spending. Congressional leaders and the Biden Administration have proposed over three trillion in new federal spending this year, including investments in clean energy and resilient infrastructure. In whatever form they ultimately take, these proposals would amount to one of the largest packages of federal investment in American history. And while there is more support for the infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills in Congress today than there have been for things like cap-and-trade or the Green New Deal, their path to full approval is not guaranteed. Can such large and controversial investments in the American economy still be considered a form of “quiet” climate policy? What are the promises and pitfalls of one-time surges in federal spending? What are the obstacles to investing in clean energy and other infrastructure efficiently? And what is missing from legislation that, at least at first glance, seems designed to address all economic and social issues in one fell swoop?