Don’t Thank the Virus for Saving the Climate Yet

And it’s much easier to move the agenda forward on a bipartisan basis. A great deal can be done if you’re willing to sit down with the leaders in both parties and take seriously the concerns that they bring to this debate. My Yale students and people of the young generation have no sense of the possibility of broadly collaborative efforts, and I think that’s a tragedy. I don’t think there is a path forward on climate change in a timely fashion that doesn’t involve bipartisan efforts.

I hope that one of the lessons coming out of the Covid-19 crisis is that we can’t afford to have significant parts of the political leadership in denial of the facts. We have to have some effort to create a scientific foundation for policy debate.

The role of business and harnessing its capacity for technological innovation has been at the center of your work at Yale, and also in state government, particularly with the creation of Connecticut’s Green Bank. What is the role of business specifically, and what changes need to happen to make business a more productive partner on climate change?

One of the dramatic changes that I think has occurred in the past several decades is the change in business’s role in promoting and protecting the environment. In the 20th century, business was seen as the problem, and business really was inattentive to emissions, water pollution and waste of all kinds.

Almost all businesses now understand that they need to be good stewards of the environment, which isn’t to say that government can go away. Rather, government should understand its role a little differently and create incentives for environmental care, and to harness the innovation capacity of business.

We also need to move away from an outdated model based on shareholder primacy. If the business community is going to play a deciding role in decarbonization, we need to have the corporate world broadly adopt a stakeholder business model.

We need to be honest about the trade-offs. At the core of policy needs to be transparency to understand where environmental harms are coming from and some structure of pricing to make people pay for the harms they cause. If big polluters pay for their harms and everyone down to the household level pays for their emissions, there would be a huge incentive to change behavior.

We cannot afford to have the price for our choices hidden with the result that imposing harm and consequences on others goes unaccounted for. We need to ensure transparency so we can see where those harms are. We must make people stop their harmful behavior, or else pay fully for their environmental impacts more broadly and climate change impacts in particular.

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