The Great Debate

A new vision for the Summit of the Americas


– Jeffrey W. Rubin is professor of history and a research associate at the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs at Boston University, where he directs the Enduring Reform Project. Emma Sokoloff-Rubin is a Yale undergraduate and an associate editor of The Yale Globalist. The views expressed are their own. –

As leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies debated stimulus packages and financial regulation at the G20 in London in early April, policemen kept at bay protesters’ calls for attention to inequality, hunger, climate change, and human rights. The leaders talked economic shop as the protesters demanded new visions — and the disconnect did not offer much hope for addressing the ravages of crisis worldwide.

The Summit of the Americas this week is where leaders could link the issues discussed in G20 meetings to the concerns of citizens protesting outside. The Summit brings together the largest regional group of democratically elected, progressive leaders in the world today. By adopting a broader view than that taken at the G20, leaders of the United States, Canada, and Latin American countries could look for ways of responding to the economic crisis that also tackle the deep inequality facing nations across the hemisphere. As elected representatives of majorities seeking inclusion and change, these leaders have the unique opportunity to begin a conversation that will transform the terms of debate and action in the global public sphere.

In Latin America, economic crisis has started nations on the path to social and political transformation before. While memories of the depression in the United States focus on hardship, the 1929 global depression in fact ushered in an era of dramatic positive change in Latin America. No longer able to count on a stable world market, Latin American governments abandoned their reliance on agricultural and mining exports and instead began to stimulate dramatic and ultimately successful processes of industrialization. At the same time, populist leaders articulated new notions of nationalism, accepting and even welcoming long-excluded groups of rural peasants and urban workers onto the scene and granting them new citizenship rights.

In response, Franklin Roosevelt attempted to reverse a history of U.S. military intervention in Latin America with his Good Neighbor Policy, emphasizing trade and cultural exchange as a means for peaceful coexistence. This commitment to inclusion and alliance was crushed in subsequent decades by elite opposition to socioeconomic reform within Latin America and anti-communist operations on the part of the United States, which together produced military coups and state policies of repression and torture. By the late 1980s, however, dictatorships across Latin America were overthrown by a second wave of commitment to democratic citizenship.

Democratic divisions stall U.S. cap-and-trade

John Kemp Great DebateProspects for enacting a cap-and-trade program regulating U.S. greenhouse gas emissions later this year have receded following a vote in the Senate exposing deep divisions within the Democratic Party.

On April 1, 26 Democratic senators broke with the majority of their colleagues and both the party’s Senate leaders to join all 41 Republicans voting for an amendment to the annual budget resolution forbidding use of the budget reconciliation process to pass climate change legislation involving a cap-and-trade system.

In effect, the amendment ensures approval of a cap-and-trade system will require a minimum of 60 votes rather than a simple majority of 50 in the 100-member chamber. Since Democratic leaders do not currently have anywhere like that number of votes for the measure, and little time to build popular support, it is going nowhere in the near term.

from Felix Salmon:

Another reason why inflation is a good idea

Megan McArdle is unhappy with the state of green consumption:

When I look back at almost every "environmentally friendly" alternative product I've seen being widely touted as a cost-free way to lower our footprint, held back only by the indecent vermin at "industry" who don't care about the environment, I notice a common theme: the replacement good has really really sucked compared to the old, inefficient version.

(Scare quotes Megan's, natch.)

The problem, as Megan admits, is that she's looking at the "cost-free" replacements: the bottom-of-the-line green products which can be used to replace legacy products which are the result of decades of development and economies of scale. It's hardly surprising that these first- and second-generation products can't compete on price.

But my feeling is not that the new products are too expensive, so much as that the old products are too cheap. That's certainly the case with food: chicken, beef, and other corn byproducts -- including the famous high-fructose corn syrup -- are so underpriced that their cultivation is destroying the planet and causing mass obesity.

First the stock market, now water

Jonas Minton– Jonas Minton is Water Policy Advisor for the Planning and Conservation League, an environmental advocacy organization.  Previously he was deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources. The views expressed are his own. –

In many ways, water policy in the Western United States mirrors the economic policies which created our financial catastrophe. Here in the West we’ve seen a massive development boom fueled by unrealistic expectations of ever-increasing supply.

Water contracts have been issued for many times the amount of water that nature can reliably provide. Wildly optimistic appraisals of water availability are being used to justify long-term, otherwise infeasible projects. Long held cautionary principles are being overlooked or eliminated in the rush to fulfill promises and support dreams that are unsustainable. And the public is being actively encouraged to invest billions more in bonds to subsidize the very system that is driving us to the crisis point.

Climate change and the WSJ

wsjIn “The Wall Street Journal of Atmospheric Sciences“, Stuart Gaffin, a climate researcher at Columbia University, takes on the newspaper’s presentation of global warming.

“They have fed their readers so much misinformation and confusion one can only conclude they consider complete fabrication fair play in the discussion,” Gaffin writes.

Holman Jenkins, a Wall Street Journal columnist and member of the WSJ editorial board, rejected the critique, stating:

U.S. cap-and-trade choice inferior to carbon tax

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

President Barack Obama’s first budget puts climate change at the heart of the administration’s long-term economic plan. But despite the clear theoretical advantages of a simple carbon tax, he seems set to follow the EU and California in opting for a cap-and-trade system.

The budget plan commits the administration to work with Congress on an economy-wide emissions reductions program, based around cap-and-trade.

Clean energy investment needs greener light

– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

paul-taylorInvestors in clean energy are like motorists stuck at broken traffic lights. The public policy light is green but the price and credit lights are deep red.

Investment in wind, wave and solar power should be booming after the European Union last year adopted an ambitious goal to draw 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 to help fight global warming, and U.S. President Barack Obama made green power a central plank of his government’s policy.

First 100 Days: Obama’s first climate change target

Mary D. Nichols– Mary D. Nichols is Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, the lead agency for implementing California’s landmark climate change law, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The views expressed are her own. –

After eight years of inaction on climate change by the federal government, we can now look forward to the Obama administration tackling global warming head on. With not a minute to lose, Lisa Jackson, the soon-to-be new head of the EPA, should move quickly to capitalize on the momentum of states that have so far been the leaders in fighting global warming. There is no better place to start than by establishing a national greenhouse gas emission standard for automobiles based on California’s landmark clean car law.

California has always been a pioneer in setting tough automobile emission standards. Our regulations paved the way for lead-free gas, the catalytic converter, and many other innovations that were later adopted as the national standard. As a result, we have eliminated 99 percent of harmful pollution pouring out of autos today compared to a 1960s era car, leading to clearer skies and cleaner air in our cities.

Obama spurs EU on climate, economy

Paul Taylor Great Debate– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

He wasn’t present and he isn’t even in office yet, but Barack Obama was the elephant in the room at last week’s European Union summit on economic recovery and climate change.

The 27 EU leaders knew they needed strong agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give their recession-hit economies a big fiscal stimulus to make themselves credible partners for the U.S. president-elect.

Will EU live up to its green ambition?

Paul Taylor Great Debate– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

European Union leaders this week face a crucial credibility test of their ambition to lead the world in fighting climate change, just as President-elect Barack Obama is making it a top priority for the United States.

Will the EU give real teeth to its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020, draw 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources and cut energy consumption by 20 percent over the same period, or will it fall short?