Climate advocates lack a realistic strategy to a global low-carbon economy. This proposal provides one. No magical thinking is required.
Climate advocates, including submissions to "Global Plan," use "magical thinking" to imagine political conditions exist for radical policies, when they clearly do not. This proposal provides a realistic geopolitical means to a global low carbon economy
Key Problems, Insights and Solutions
- Climate change is a global threat. People have a natural right to take collective, democratic action to defend themselves, creating however, political winners and losers. Solution: Restructure incentives
- The majority of carbon fuel reserves and capital are controlled by fossil elites, who will not give up their interest without coercion, and act anti-democratically to protect assets. Only where democracy is strong is there effective policy. Solution: Realism, understand power relationships involved
- Climate change and democracy itself are related in a dynamic political system. Fossil elites are anti-democratic. Climate change destabilizes while mitigation strengthens democracy, weakens fossil elites. Mitigation and democratization are therefore required. Both or neither. Solution: Understand system dynamics
- There's no way forward without capitalism. No time for "magical" political theory. No alternative theory can win key elections in time for 2020-2050 GHG goals. Solution: Keynesianism -- a historical solution this kind of problem, moderates capitalism, politically achievable
- Ecological economics would be better, but is electorally out-of-reach, requires time, money, education. Solution: Staging to get there
Global Plan strategy
- Green Keynesianism (GK): Coordination by democracies to gain control of this combined climate-democracy problem: a growth-oriented, moderately pro-capitalist climate/economic policy
- Green Protectionism (GP): Spreading benefits of GK to democratic developing nations, isolating dictatorships, using a global climate free trade area, tariffs
- Ecological Economics: Even green growth is not possible on a finite planet
- Vigilance: Prevent the rise of non-democratic regimes
Category of the Action
Integrated action plan for the world as a whole
What actions do you propose?
Situation: In key nations, primarily the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia, elite individuals that own fossil fuel reserves and related capital fund political campaigns to spread denial, buy politicians, and stall GHG regulation. They are closely connected to parties in power. They are currently succeeding.
Similarly, around the globe various non-democracies, fake-democracies, and dictatorships whose rulers combined control much of humanity, also control vast fossil reserves and capital. They too are stalling process, as well as rendering current GHG policies moot by adding emissions of their own, and have no plans to stop. Even if they had plans, they couldn't be trusted to carry them out.
In what follows, these two kinds of powers are jointly named "fossil elites".
Effective mitigation would inevitably confiscate value in fossil fuel investments controlled by fossil elites and their regimes, who should be expected to defend their narrow interests without regard to the ethics of the means used and are doing so. Such anti-democratic action is the primary reason why strong climate policy has not yet been adopted globally.
Additionally, successful mitigation as currently proposed by the Copenhagen process would also be recessionary, likely weakening democracies, strengthening fossil elites, while capitalism remains popular in many democratic countries, including the four key ones mentioned.
Most climate advocacy proposals, including a majority of those submitted to the "Global Plan" contest, ignore such realities. They therefore require miraculous or "magical" political conditions that do not currently exist, and perhaps never will.
Currently, climate advocates are unrealistic, expecting that our climate knowledge and good ideas will suffice. Climate advocates are also economically and politically naïve. We can't afford recessionary forms of mitigation or unpopular political theory, or we may extend this struggle beyond the key mitigation years of 2020-2050 or lose it.
We should instead expect a protracted geopolitical struggle for climate protection, and require realistic economic and geopolitical strategies for this struggle.
The strategies must be coordinated. Each affects the other in a "feedback" system.
We apply geopolitical realism, systems thinking and Keynesian economics to propose such a strategy for adoption by a new moderate political consensus:
Stage One: Green Keynesianism (GK): The first stage is a populist, growth-oriented, moderately pro-capitalist climate/economic policy, whereby developed nations and important developing democratic allies (India, Brazil, others) regain economic leadership by stimulating our economies using Keynesian economic multipliers intrinsic to the spread of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency measures, as well as related carbon fees, green energy subsidies, and direct government stimulus. The physical result would be accelerated replacement of fossil fuel consumption with renewable energy capital in developed nations and allies, while avoiding recessionary effects, and strengthening democracy. Successful mitigation using decentralized energy systems also denies resources to fossil elites.
Stage Two: Green Protectionism: The second stage is to spread the benefits of GK growth to democratic developing nations, trying deliberately to isolate and transform non-democratic regimes. The democracies develop a global Climate Free Trade Area, within which protectionism is practiced on the basis of compliance with GHG reductions and democratization milestones, stimulating both at the same time, by requiring them as a condition of untrammeled access to trade. Only nations compliant with democratization and mitigation milestones determined collectively by the democracies will be allowed to trade without tariff barriers. This works because it is essentially how the EU currently extends environmental regulation and human rights. The physical result will be greater GHG reductions and the spread of democracy.
Stage Three: Ecological Economics: Even green growth is not permanently possible on a finite planet. Once stages 1 and 2 above have been achieved, once democracy is spreading and GHG reductions working, a transition to a third stage is then (and only then) possible, the shift away from GK/GP-moderated capitalism to a fully ecological economics. To achieve this, much education will be required, eventually setting up preconditions required for a new ecological economic polity, the physical result of which would be a "steady state" of economic throughput in which overall biophysical growth itself is stabilized or reduced on the basis of a more complete economic calculus.
Stage Four: Vigilance: Even at this point, great care must be taken to prevent the rise of non-democratic regimes. The democracies must unite and democracy expand wherever possible. The development of global policing and conflict resolution systems must continue, as must the education of electorates in all countries.
Where will these actions be taken?
In a growing global democratic/climate compliant free trade area.
Following successful introduction of these ideas (GK and GP) to the democratic world via success in Climate CoLab, and through further development of the ideas by online and other debate, political action will take place in western and other democratic countries, establishing a movement towards global GK and GP, which will succeed economically. The Climate Free Trade Area will grow, eventually admitting current dictatorships, which will have become democratic.
This combination of strategies is required because nations and individuals have interests, because fossil elites in particular have fossil fuels interests, and because democracy, although spreading, is currently neither sufficiently strong nor widespread to require GHG reductions from these elites.
The worldwide struggle for human rights and democracy is now, and will always be, intrinsically intertwined with the struggle for climate protection.
Idealism, found in many other Climate CoLab submissions, does not necessarily aid in this project. Undemocratic regimes with vast weaponry led by one-party states, dictators, and juntas crowd every continent except Europe and North America. Some have WMD. Democratic institutions, particularly the Internet, are often the only sources of political and/or religious freedom. Insurgencies and brigandage also prevent the spread of democracy. Within democracies, fossil elites buy politicians and whole political parties.
Opposing these forces requires real power and real economic strength to pay for that power.
The alternative is to further cede power to anti-democratic forces, within and without current democracies, likely postponing or terminating effective climate regulation.
Accordingly, the democracies need economic growth, an economic and military advantage over non-democratic states and brigands, and regulatory power over our own fossil elites, if emissions are to be reduced.
GK and GP provide this.
Who will take these actions?
Electorates, academicians, business leaders, politicians and ultimately governments in the democracies, working in their enlightened self-interest. Most likely, this will first occur in the EU and North America.
GK and GP ideas will be introduced to the public dialog through Climate CoLab.
These ideas will then be taken up by the electorate and political parties. This seems likely, given publicity. They are a natural extension of current progressive theory, solve several major current political problems, and can appeal to both sides of the political divide within democracies, i.e., to the "left": liberals, democratic socialists, unionists (because of protectionism), and moderate environmentalists; and to the moderate "right": business leaders, moderate conservatives, moderate capitalists, and democracy advocates everywhere. A broad coalition can result.
Not all will agree. Should these ideas succeed, some backlash is to be expected from those whose interest is threatened, particularly the far right wing of western politicians, from China, and from Russia. Most likely, backlash will be funneled through media outlets controlled by these forces.
Neither do these ideas appeal to leftists and extreme greens, who typically reject both capitalism and militarism. This is because of ideology, but also because policing in many democracies is associated with the political right, and the police power of the state is used to oppress the left.
Some backlash is also to be expected from the far left and non-realists, and has already occurred to some mild extent in the comments (earlier, under the "Shifting Perceptions" contest).
However, Orwell's insight applies now, as ever: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
GK and GP thread the gauntlet of powerful but mutually-cancelling extreme views on the right and left, finally making possible the deep moderate consensus required to combat climate change.
What are key benefits?
- Reduction of GHG emissions in time
- Eventual climate stabilization
- The enhancement and spread of democracy globally
- Eventual demise of dictatorships, weakening power of fossil elites
- Set-up preconditions required to transition to ecological economics
- Eventual transition to ecological economics
Ultimately, human society must transition economically and demographically to live within limits on planet earth. This will require much more education and democracy than we have presently at our disposal.
It is, however, just possible to imagine an earth in one or two centuries time in which there are perhaps as few as a billion humans, where the "problem of production" has truly been solved, in which war is non-existent and politics unnecessary, in which wilderness and biodiversity are cherished and even expanding, and in which education, and care for and appreciation of our planet, are the primary human occupations.
Paradoxically, it will take a lot of quite ruthless thinking to get to this utopia.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Far less than the alternatives (climate chaos and the resultant destabilization of democracies).
Part of the complexity of climate change is that it is only in democracies with strong human rights protections that emissions are mitigated. In these nations, science affects public policy through open debate, and analysis of costs and benefits is part of the debate. In dictatorships, emissions are growing, while many dictators directly profit from fossil fuels.
Yet most democracies are, paradoxically, economically supported by capitalism, an undemocratic economic system which led to the emergence of fossil elites. Democracy is also costly in terms of police and military costs. Yet, if emissions are to be reduced, stronger democracy is required, with yet higher regulatory, policing and military costs.
Most solutions so far proposed would directly weaken the economies of democracies, relative to what could be achieved under GK and GP and to the dictatorships.
GK and GP navigate this maze.
Stage One: Green Keynesianism: This approach is currently being adopted by some nations and some (fragmented) policies, although it is not yet labeled as such, nor efforts coordinated. GK should be extended deliberately throughout the democracies in what remains of the current decade and the decade of the 2020s.
Stage Two: Green Protectionism: Begins as soon as is practicable, as soon as a global political consensus can be formed in the democracies.
Stage Three: Ecological Economics: By the 2030s or later, if stages one and two are successful. The author believes that a GK and GP era is a pre-requisite to wider adoption of ecological economics, due to its education requirements. It will be costly to provide the wide public education required for ecological economic policies and politicians to be electorally successful.
Stage Four: Vigilance: Ongoing, continual. GK and GP will together provide an initial context for humanity to move forward together, eventually as a global democracy.
My text provides an explanation of how this proposal will aid two categories of sub-proposals. Please continue reading.
Green Keynesianism and Green Protectionism are an overriding geopolitical polity, a "Global Plan" proposed to replace the current polity, which might be characterized as a mix of disparate, powerful forces, including (but not limited to) EU and UN-backed multilateralism, US unilateralism and the power of the "Washington consensus" economic regime through trade organizations such as the WTO, as well as the economic and military power of the leading dictatorships, China and Russia. As the Climate CoLab "Global Plan" documents themselves state, no force has unilateral power to control outcomes in the current system.
Unfortunately, this means that the collected citizens of all the democracies on the planet currently lack the power to defend themselves against climate chaos by requiring emissions reductions by their own citizens, particularly the fossil elites, and by the various fossil dictators and dictatorships, an irrational and immoral situation.
GK and GP, if adopted by the democratic world, would replace the current multilateral geopolitical context with a more unilateral one, in which outcomes could be determined by the democracies collectively, creating a global economic environment wherein many other mitigation proposals might flourish.
Currently, many such proposals are either too idealistic or utopian, or lack effective means to implementation (or both). In many cases, the missing means is investment, which would be provided by GK. In other cases the missing means is geopolitical legality, a result of trade regimes that deter strong environmental regulation. Such legality would be provided by GP.
The current author is currently agnostic about which specific Climate CoLab sub-proposals would be best suited for linkage to GK and GP within the framework of the Global Plan contest. Some are, frankly, nuts. Others poorly developed, missing sections required by the various contests. Others lack basic science literacy. As the contests proceed, the best candidates will emerge. The author will monitor the other contests to identify them and add them here, as required by the "Global Plan" contest format.
In the meantime, readers are asked to consider that my intent is to introduce a set of realistic economic and geopolitical ideas (GK and GP), ideas so powerful that their adoption would be game-changing for almost all other mitigation and adaptation proposals. A competitive "marketplace of ideas", strengthened by open-source debate within Climate CoLab, will then necessarily whittle and hone other proposals.
The following partial list is therefore offered as exemplary of sub-proposals whose implementation would be enhanced by GK and GP.
Another way that sub proposals fit together with GK and GP is that this proposal provides at least a theoretical means for the world to stage from growth economics to ecological economics. While economic growth will be required in the short to medium term to strengthen democracy and to pay for climate mitigation and adaptation investments under GK and GP, ultimately economic growth on a finite planet is Kenneth Arrow's "Impossibility Theorem."
A more ecological economics that is compatible with the Laws of Thermodynamics will eventually be required.
However, there are currently no electoral means for this transition. Due to an overall lack of understanding of ecological economics among ordinary people and opinion makers, no political party in any democracy exists that is of sufficient scale and potential electoral success to introduce such an economics in the wholesale way that would be required.
Additionally, up to this point no ecological economist has provided an outline of any political means by which this political innovation might more swiftly occur. The various "Green" Parties in western nations are arguably the most likely vehicles, but even in those European countries where the Green Party movement has been most successful, the most that has so far been achieved is the occasional "tie-breaker" or coalition candidate status of a Green Party minority within a relatively static system of more powerful mainstream political parties of the left and right. Additionally, Green Party power has been weakened by the adoption of marginal or unpopular "cranky" ideas. Green party politics will remain marginal, and so unlikely to be able to introduce ecological economics in the foreseeable future.
The primary requirements for the eventual adoption of ecological economics are 1) a better educated electorate, 2) a serious political debate about economic ideas that are currently the purview of a small number of academics, and 3) economic security in which 1 and 2 might occur. This is a chicken-egg type of problem. In particular, although there has been success with some ecological economic ideas such as micro-finance, an overall barrier is that nations must attain high middle class standard before the labor of sufficient people can be discarded with in order that large numbers of ecological economists could be academically trained. Recessionary policy will slow this transition or reverse it.
The idea that we can eventually stage from GK and GP to ecological economics with sufficient investment in education and in public debate is a novel proposal to navigate this maze. Other potential exists, in for instance the spread of the Internet and open-source learning, particularly in developing nations.
Many Climate CoLab proposals are based, whether their authors understand it or not, on ecological economic thought, and so a national or global political paradigm where ecological economic ideas can be implemented (such as GK and GP) is a prerequisite for these proposals.
The sub-proposals that are relevant are thus those that depend on ecological economics in one way or another, but lack electoral means.
Proposals that require understanding of the essential thermodynamic basis of the economy, that point to a more "circular" economy in which waste from one process becomes material or energy input to another, that require new and different notions of sustainable economic welfare beyond growth in GDP, or that require new concepts of the theory of money, or any such combinations, would all be likely candidates.
What follows are examples:
How do these sub-proposals fit together?
In general, proposals that require government investment/coordination in clean technology are suited to GK, while proposals that require changes to the international legal framework of trade are suited to GP. GK and GP thus provide a geopolitical context in which other mitigation and adaptation ideas can flourish.
GK and GP also provide means for the world to stage from growth economics to ecological economics, the basis of many other Climate CoLab proposals.
The two primary assumptions are realism and Keynesianism.
Historically, Keynesian economics provides a theoretical explanation and "play book" on how to strengthen democracy within a growth economy context. Keynesian economic thinking explains how the economy is a complex system, and how economic growth feeds back into the government's power to get physical projects (eg: building the Hoover dam, winning WW2, implementing the renewable energy solution to climate change) done, and vice-versa.
Keynesian economic multipliers also result from reducing fossil energy expenses and replacing with green energy capital, increasing returns over time and denying revenue to non-democratic elites, internally and externally.
Continued economic strength within the democracies is required to counter strength within the dictatorships (primarily Russia and China), and to counter internal anti-democratic forces.
Realism in geopolitical affairs proposes that countries (and individuals) have interests, legitimate or otherwise, and that these interests need to be taken into account in computing courses of action if success is to be expected.
Most climate advocates are idealistic, hoping, that nations and individuals can be persuaded by argument and altruism to give up primary interests, such as value in fossil fuel reserves. This is only likely if renewable energy capital becomes yet cheaper. A realistic approach suggests other means, particularly international legal coercion, police power, and possibly military force will be required.
Explanation of model inputs
Click on the "model" tab, results slowly appear.
Models are simplifications of reality used for study and to discern courses of action. This submission proposes a new model of the human polity on earth, which, if adopted, would change the geopolitical and economic context within which any other climate action must function.
The model is one in which nations and individuals within nations (fossil elites) are assumed to have interests, an assumption also known as geopolitical realism; and economic conditions are controlled by demand-side functions, also known as Keynesianism.
Both are 'feedback" (ie, self-reinforcing) functions, in a complex dynamic system.
In particular the pace of mitigation is a function of how interests are guarded by fossil elites versus measures advanced by democratic power, more mitigation leading to greater power and yet more mitigation; while the value of renewable energy and energy efficiency capital is itself a function of economic growth, a cause of market demand and caused by market demand.
Recessionary measures, such as a heavy carbon tax that was used for purposes other than mitigation, would lead both to the slowing of renewable energy capital production and weakening of the democratic power to implement mitigation.
The GK and GP model is proposed to replace the current model, of which the Global Plan contest itself gives the following description:
"Under the current state of the world’s governance system, there isn’t any one organization or even a defined group of organizations that could take such a vision and readily enact it. Instead, successful action will require work by many people across multiple organizations around the globe.
Articulating a vision for the world as a whole... can demonstrate that there is a plausible path forward... a roadmap for the many disparate organizations and actors whose efforts must be enlisted."
GK and GP are such a "vision" and "roadmap," resulting in faster mitigation input (to the Stanford EMF27 model).
- These ideas began as a response to a book group convened by Dr. Peter G. Brown of McGill University in the early 2000s, resulting in The Commonwealth of Life: Economics for a Flourishing Earth. The author was a member, but dissented from the final product because he felt it was unrealistic and economically naïve. This proposal is the result of reflection since that time, (especially blogging here), and through interaction with colleagues, primarily the faculty and students of Unity College.
- This proposal also owes much to the overall geopolitical and economic thought of John Maynard Keynes, particularly in The Economic Consequences of the Peace, the General Theory and in How to Pay for the War. Few thinkers who read Keynes understand his geopolitics, but he believed in democracy, particularly Anglo-America and the former British Dominions, and was prepared to cede limited rights to capital in order to provide the growth needed to protect democracy. Keynes helped think through the British Empire's successful economic responses to both World Wars. His theories were used by the west during much of the Cold War, including, paradoxically, the Reagan period (AKA "military Keynesianism"). Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union thus comprise non-democratic slave empires that Keynesianism ultimately defeated, in 1945 and 1991, respectively. Keynes also realized that economic growth is essential to regulation and government, and vice versa. This kind of complex strategy is the essence of Green Keynesianism, adapted from the original.
- Herman E. Daly, in Steady State Economics (1977) and For the Common Good (1989 and 1994, co-authored with John Cobb), and his mentor Nicholas Georgescu-Reogen, provided the theory by which we can understand the human economy as a biophysical entity. Daly does not, however, provide a means by which we could establish ecological economics as polity through the ballot box, particularly when there is so much momentum in the status quo. Neither has any other ecological economist. That is what I attempt in part to do here. The author was a graduate student under Dr. Daly in the 1990s, remains a member of ISEE, and agrees with much of ecological economics, but does not see how it can spread if pre-conditions of wider democracy and more public education do not also exist. Ecological economics, while likely more scientific than growth economics, may currently be a luxury only available in upper middle class countries. Paradoxically, getting to the point where these preconditions do exist may require several more decades of unsustainable growth.
- Kenneth Arrow first introduced the term "Impossibility Theorem" in work explaining voting in the US. Herman Daly adopted the term to encapsulate the impossibility of infinite economic growth on a finite planet (Chapter 14, Sustainable Growth, an Impossibility Theorem; page 267, in Valuing the Earth: Economics Ecology, Ethics, MIT Press, 1993, Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend, editors).
What combination of actions can be taken in the world as a whole to address climate change?