Bashing economists is not helping

Bashing economists is commonplace within the environmental movement, and while some of the criticisms are justified, they need to to put into proper context. The fact is that a large majority of economists agree that we need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and that placing a price on carbon (be it via a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system) is the best way to do it. Economists and environmentalists are on the same page, and bashing economists without explicitly sating this context only serves to further the denier talking point that any mitigation action will kill the economy, and that environmentalists are out of touch with reality.

the animosity of some environmentalists towards mainstream economists (coupled with confusion about them) is wrong-headed: economists are by and large strongly on the side of environmentalists, especially with respect to climate change.

This is not just a rhetorical issue with implications limited to bragging rights on blogs; the stakes are extremely high. This is because the political right in the U.S. has mastered the art of messaging, and thoroughly dominated the public policy narrative over the past couple of decades. On the issue of climate change they have clearly dominated the left in every way, sowing widespread confusion that has led to declining public support for bold action…

Writers like David Roberts and Bill McKibben, who routinely characterize mainstream economics as somehow antithetical to environmental concerns, are inadvertently spreading the exact narrative that the Right wants everybody to buy into. There is nothing that the coal, oil, and gas lobbies, the anti-environmentalists at the Chamber of Commerce, and the extreme libertarians at the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute want more than for the public to believe that mainstream economics oppose sensible environmental regulations that are fair, transparent, and put a significant price on greenhouse gases. This makes it easy to characterize those in favor of tougher climate policy as leftists who are anti-business, anti-jobs, anti-economic growth, and anti-competitiveness.

But they are wrong.

The overwhelming majority of mainstream economists favor stronger environmental regulation on many fronts, especially climate change. It is the rightwing economists who are out of the mainstream, who believe, contrary to basic economic theory, that an unfettered market can solve environmental problems despite all evidence to the contrary. There’s is not the consensus view.

By routinely bashing mainstream economics, often through faulty reasoning, environmentalists play into the hands of those with an-environmental agenda. The public needs to know that most of the leading minds in economics come down squarely in favor of strong climate change legislation, as well as efforts to improve water quality, clean air, and biodiversity protection.

This will only happen when environmentalists better educate themselves about economics, and realize that it is actually one of their greatest allies.

The sooner we realize that economists are arguing for the same thing we are, and the sooner we communicate that to the public the less deniers will be able to use that talking point against us.

It simply isn’t true, and we need to stop pretending that it is.

(h/t Lou Grinzo)

2 thoughts on “Bashing economists is not helping

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  1. In some sense yes, that is an issue (though I would argue that growth isn’t the real issue), but such criticisms need to be placed in context. And that context is that economists overwhelmingly support the notion that greenhouse gases need to be cut.

    Without that context, one just ends up propping up a false denier talking point.

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