Announcing Breakthrough Journal Issue 3

Wicked Polarization

While the three weeks between President Obama's second inauguration and his State of the Union next month offers a reprieve from partisan warfare, few doubt we will soon return to new fights over the debt limit, entitlements, taxes, immigration, and guns.

How did America become so divided -- and what can we do about it? As individuals focused on climate and the environment, two of the most polarizing issues today, we set out last year to answer that question.

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Partisans, the Weather, or the Economy?

The Dynamics of Public Opinion about Climate Change

In a report released today, the Pew Center for People and the Press details the issues that Americans view as the "top priority for the President and Congress," with the economy and jobs dominating the list for the fourth straight year (the national debt is a close third). Out of 21 possible priorities, protecting the environment ranks #12 and dealing with global warming -- for the fourth straight year -- ranks last. 


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Why Economists Don’t Get Technology

Beyond Behavior Change

The gap between the cultures of technology and academic economics was on display at the 2013 meeting of the American Economic Association in San Diego last Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, January 5, Rice University’s Kenneth Barry Medlock moderated a panel entitled “The Future of Energy: Markets, Technology and Policy” that featured Jim Sweeney of Stanford, Dale Jorgenson of Harvard, and Adam Sieminski of the US Energy Information Administration.

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America’s Honest Brokers

How Scientists Can Effectively Engage Society

In 2009, I contributed a chapter to an edited volume that was a first attempt on my part to dig deeper into the the normative and ethical dimensions of science communication, particularly many of the questions that had been raised by the growing attention to communication research over the decade and the correlated attention to the role of scientists in high-profile political debates over stem cell research, climate change, evolution and other policy controversies.  In doing so, I drew on on my experience in discussing and giving talks specific to the role of framing in science policy-debates.  I also drew on the contributions of science policy scholars, most notably Roger Pielke Jr.'s and Daniel Sarewitz's work on "politicization" and the different roles that scientists and their organizations can play in managing policy conflict.

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Should Scientists Rule?

A Review of The Geek Manifesto

In The Geek Manifesto, British journalist Mark Henderson makes a passionate case for why science and scientists deserve a greater role in politics. He argues that political views ought to be measured beyond two axes representing economics and social policies. “Politics,” Henderson explains, “has a third axis, too. It measures rationalism, skepticism and scientific thinking.”

The champions of this third axis are the “geeks” — those “people with a passion for science and the critical thinking on which it is founded.” Science, Henderson explains, “is not a noun but a verb.” He continues, explaining that science “is provisional, always open to revision … comfortable with your changing your mind … anti-authoritarian: anybody can contribute, and anybody can be wrong … [tries] to prove the most elegant ideas wrong … [and] is comfortable with uncertainty.”

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Diversifying the Climate Movement

New Narratives and Investments Needed to Engage Minority Communities

At Politico today, there is an important article focusing on the inability of the environmental movement -- for the most part -- to move beyond a primarily white, liberal base and to engage minority communities.  As Politico's Talia Buford reports, many greens blame the failure of the cap and trade campaign to engage minority communities on opponents who warned of the damaging economic costs to low income communities.  Yet this rationale overlooks the differential costs that cap and trade would have placed on minority communities -- one reason why some greens were pushing for a cap and dividend program.  The explanation also overlooks the failure of greens for the most part to make an issue like climate change relevant to minority communities, or to even devote significant resources and staff to engagement.

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It’s Not About the Machines

How Leading Economists Misunderstand Productivity and Jobs

Writing in the New York Times last week, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that “a wonderful ride” began to unravel in the late 1990s when employment growth became “decoupled” from productivity growth.

Their contention is that something fundamental has changed in the economy over the past decade, illustrated in the following graph by the increasing gap between gains in productivity and employment, described ominously as the “jaws of the snake.”

A closer look at the data shows, however, that the “jaws of the snake” have been open for more than 30 years. More fundamentally, rather than a “great decoupling” between trends in employment and productivity, it is clear that productivity and employment have been diverging for a very long time as the composition of the economy has changed.

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The Progressive Case for Modernization

Against the 'Infantile Left'

It is virtually impossible to discuss manufacturing, energy, infrastructure and related subjects from what I consider a center-left perspective without being challenged by anti-industrial or post-industrial Luddites who claim that the genuine progressive position is an amalgam of Mathusian anti-consumerism and energy austerity, often combined with support for old-fashioned, premodern methods of making artifacts and growing food.  I had thought that this debate was limited to the liberal left, and was surprised to learn, from an interview with Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa, that a similar debate occurs within the less familiar (to me) circles of the radical left.

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The Future of Food

Ending Agriculture to Feed and Re-Wild the Planet

I have criticized him before for investing in projects like sovereign libertarian island-states, but I am glad to see that Paypal founder Peter Thiel is investing in the worthy cause of in vitro food production. The sooner we manufacture most of our food from stem cells or chemicals, rather than grow it, the sooner vast amounts of land on the earth’s surface can be partly or wholly “re-wilded.”

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Energy “Access” Is Not Enough

Why We Need to Talk About Energy Poverty

Access to energy is one of the big global issues that has hovered around the fringes of international policy discussions such as the Millennium Development Goals or climate policy, but which has been getting more attention in recent years. In my frequent lectures on climate policy I point out to people that 1.3 billion people worldwide lack any access to electricity and an 2.6 billion more cook with wood, charcoal, tree leaves, crop residues and animal waste (an additional 400 million cook with coal).

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