Diffusing Public Anger Over Climate Change

Study tests emotional reactions to different frames

If you live in an American city, chances are this summer you have experienced the health effects of climate change.  As Richard Harris reported at NPR News earlier this month, people who live in cities -- where there are far fewer trees and lots of pavement -- are more vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat. Rising temperatures associated with climate change not only put people at risk directly, but can also lead to more severe asthma and allergies.

Focusing on the human health effects of climate change -- and the benefits to health if we take action -- opens the door to an important new way of communicating about climate change, a strategy that can inspire hope among those disengaged on the issue, while diffusing anger among those otherwise opposed to action.  As Richard Harris reported in a follow-up story at NPR News, research that I have been conducting with Edward Maibach and colleagues shows that people across the political spectrum respond more favorably to warnings about climate change when the issue is framed as a public health problem rather than as an environmental threat. 

As I told Harris about the strategy: "Not only does it lead to emotionally engaging responses among a broad cross section of Americans, it also helps to localize the issue for people and to view the issue as more personally relevant."  The research offers evidence of a frame of reference that could help define common ground on the issue:  "The idea of protecting people, the innocent especially, from harm, and caring for the innocent, is a value that's widely held across the political spectrum,"

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Should We Swap Energy Subsidies for a Carbon Tax?

The Surprising Reality

Over the past few months there has been increased talk in Washington of taxing carbon emissions. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) has introduced legislation, while former Rep. Bob Inglis has proposed replacing today's subsidies with a carbon tax.

The view among most economists is that a tax would be more efficient at reducing emissions than subsidizing clean energy. Over the years, Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, an advisor to George W. Bush and now Mitt Romney, along with President Ronald Reagan's economic advisers, Martin Feldstein and Arthur Laffer, have all endorsed carbon taxes, along with environmental economists, like Harvard's Robert Stavins.

Breakthrough Institute is on the record supporting a low carbon tax (here and here), subsidy reform, and increased federal spending on energy innovation. We were thus interested in calculating how much of a price incentive a carbon tax would offer for the deployment of solar, wind, nuclear, and natural gas, the leading low-carbon technologies.

What we found surprised us. A $20 per ton carbon tax would offer just one-half to one-fifth the incentive of today's zero carbon subsidies — but at nearly 10 times the cost. (Our full analysis can be read here, and an Energy and Environment story on the study follows below.)

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Reflections on Mann and Ornstein’s Quest for Democratic Accountability

Liberals Should Lead on Rebuilding Our Civic Culture

Earlier this year, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein published It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.  As they detail, to the extent that both parties have become more ideologically consistent in their makeup, hyperpartisanship in Congress has collided with a Constitutional system that depends on compromise and collaboration to get things done. But as they also argue, things are made much worse by an asymmetry in American politics, as the Republican party has veered far to the right relative to a Democratic party that has moved more modestly to the left.

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Friedrich List and Economic Nationalism

A Personal Credo, Part III

In my two previous posts, I argued that Epicurean ethical theory and Lockean political theory are the most useful guides to ethics and politics in a universe that scientific discovery has emptied of magic and divinity. I’ll conclude this personal credo by explaining why I think that economic nationalism, in the tradition of Friedrich List, is the tradition of political economy most compatible with the republican liberalism of John Locke.

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In Defense of Obama’s Compromise Strategy

The Burden of Proof Rests with Liberal Critics

In a speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick admonished viewers across the country that “it’s time for Democrats to stiffen our backbone and stand up for what we believe.”  His remarks were aimed at mobilizing Democrats to rally in defense of President Obama’s achievements, particularly passage of health care reform. 

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Where Did the Jobs Go?

What Obama and Romney Can Learn from the Recession

US unemployment rates remain high and a major issue in the US presidential campaign. This post seeks to explain with simple math where the jobs went as a first step in understanding how unemployment might be reduced. The math is simple, and it helps to show how most debate over economy and employment miss what actually matters most – and that is innovation policy. 

In December, 2007 the US economy employed about 138 million people. In February, 2012 that number had shrunk to about 133 million (data). Where did those jobs go? Two recent studies provide some important insight to this question.

 Last month, Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce published a study looking at job losses from 12/2007 to 2/2012 (hence my use of those dates) by economic sector and educational attainment (here in PDF).  The Figure below shows their overall results.

 

The graph shows that for those who attended some college, or with more post-secondary education, employment had recovered to December 2007 levels by February 2012. The balance of “lost” jobs was among those with secondary (i.e., high school) education or less.

A longer view, beyond the time frame of the recent recession, shows that all job growth in the US since 1989 has come from those with some post-secondary education, with a 14% drop in those employed with a secondary degree or less. Thus, the recent recession amplified trends that were already in place and part of the ongoing structural change in the composition of the economy.

The Georgetown report also looked at job losses by economic sector by educational attainment. This is shown in the figure below, which shows the dramatic loss of jobs by those with the least education in construction, IT, manufacturing and financial services. Together, these four sectors account for the loss of 5.6 million jobs from December 2007 to February 2012. Within those sectors 3.7 million, about two thirds, of the job losses were among those with the least education, secondary or less.

A big part of the loss of jobs of course is the nature of the recession itself, originating in the finance industry and the housing bubble – hence the large loss of jobs in construction and financial services and the bubble burst.

The loss of low-skill jobs in manufacturing and IT (and other sectors in the economy) is arguably the consequence of industries in these sectors trying to maintain productivity growth to remain competitive by shedding the lowest skilled jobs at a rate faster (slower) than the decline (subsequent rebound) in output. These numbers are borne out by looking at productivity data.

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John Locke and Republican Liberty

A Personal Credo, Part II

See Part I here.

By explaining everything in nature, including the evolution of humans and consciousness, as the result ultimately of impersonal forces working on atoms, materialists like Democritus and Epicurus swept away all moral and political systems justified by appeal to the commandments of supernatural beings. Although he had much to say about ethics in the world that science has revealed, Epicurus had little to say about politics, other than defining justice as agreements about people neither to harm one another nor do harm.

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Epicurean Ethics in a World Without Magic

A Personal Credo, Part I

T. S. Eliot described himself as "classicist in literature, monarchist in politics and Anglo-Catholic in religion." Daniel Bell said that he was a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture. For what it is worth, I would describe myself as an Epicurean in ethics, a Lockean in politics, and a Listian in economics.

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Welcome to The Breakthrough

It is with great excitement that we today announce the launch of The Breakthrough, the new web site of Breakthrough Journal, the Breakthrough Institute, and all of our programs. We designed the site to provide visitors with a better understanding of who we are, what we believe, and what we do.

We hope you'll take a minute to read about our mission, our history, and our community of Senior Fellows, Fellows, Staff, and Authors.

We are especially excited to announce three new Breakthrough columnists:

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Where New Ideas Are Born

“The old is dying and the new cannot be born:  in the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms will appear,” wrote the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.  “Morbid symptoms” is an apt description of the state of politics and public philosophy, at this crisis in American and world history.

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