Today's guest is Adele Morris, a senior fellow and policy director for Climate and Energy Economics at the Brookings Institution. Her research informs critical decisions related to climate change, energy, and tax policy. She is a leading global expert on the design of carbon pricing policies.
She joined Brookings in July 2008 from the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) of the U.S. Congress, where she advised members and staff on economic, energy, and environmental policy. Before her work in Congress, Morris was the lead natural resource economist for the U.S. Treasury Department for nine years. In that position, she informed and represented Treasury’s positions on agriculture, energy, climate, and radio spectrum policies. On assignment to the U.S. Department of State in 2000, she led negotiations on land use and forestry issues in the international climate change treaty process. Prior to joining the Treasury, she served as the senior economist for environmental affairs at the President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the development of the Kyoto Protocol. Morris began her career at the Office of Management and Budget, where she oversaw rulemaking by agriculture and natural resource agencies. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton University, an M.S. in Mathematics from the University of Utah, and a B.A. from Rice University.
In this episode we discuss:
Adele’s background and her climate focused work at the Brookings Institution
The political make up of the Brookings Institute and how they work on both the left and right side of the aisle
Some of the recent projects Adele has been working on including a deep dive into carbon taxes
The no nonsense straightforward approach Adele takes to her work and how she hopes it is received in this current polarized political climate we find ourselves in
Adele’s advice to others: vote and educate yourself, and talk to others
I hope you enjoy the show!
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 and email at firstname.lastname@example.org, where I encourage you to share any feedback or requests for specific topics/guests to have on the show!
Links for topics discussed in this episode:
The event with the members of Congress on June 20: https://www.brookings.edu/events/leading-carbon-price-proposals-a-bipartisan-dialogue/
The paper on the policy insights from our big modeling study: https://www.brookings.edu/research/policy-insights-from-comparing-carbon-pricing-modeling-scenarios/
The book I mentioned: https://www.amazon.com/Implementing-Carbon-Tax-Explorations-Environmental/dp/1138825360
How to find your representative in Congress: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
Contact information for U.S. Senators: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=state
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change, and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Jason Jacobs: Hey, everyone, Jason here. Today's guest is Adele Morris, Senior Fellow and Policy Director, Climate and Energy Economics Project at the Brookings Institution. The Brookings Institution is a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington D.C. Their mission's to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national, and global level.
Jason Jacobs: I reached out to Adele to get coffee while I was in DC, and I was excited to meet with her because she is probably one of the most experienced people on carbon pricing policies that I've seen. She's been with Brookings since July of 2008, and she was on the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, where she advised members and staff on economic energy and environmental policy. Before that, she was the Lead Natural Resource Economist at the U.S. Treasury Department for nine years. Her bio goes on and on and on.
Jason Jacobs: So I was very excited to meet Adele. I got in there, we started talking. I explained to her what I was doing. I had not met her before. It was a cold email, it wasn't even an introduction, and once we got to talking, she said, "Oh, this is great." And then she said, "What questions do you have for me?" So I started asking questions, but I got two or three questions in, and said, "So Adele, there's a couple of different ways this can go. One is I can ask you all these questions and learn a lot. And then, if you feel comfortable, we can set up another time for me to come back to D.C. and do a podcast episode, or I've got the equipment in my bag, I could just take it out, and we could do an episode right now."
Jason Jacobs: So that is exactly what we did. I took out the microphones, I pressed record, and we did a great episode on carbon pricing. We covered a ton of ground. I asked all the beginner questions that people may be afraid to ask if they were in front of one of the world-renowned experts on carbon pricing. But in a shameless way, I did my best to learn as much as possible and get to the truth. So, without further ado, Adele Morris, welcome to the show.
Adele Morris: Well, thanks very much, Jason. Great to be with you.
Jason Jacobs: I'm excited. And this one is a little different because I had a mostly full calender when I came to D.C., but carbon pricing is something that has come up in so many of these discussions, has many different forms that that can take, and also, it's a controversial issue. There's very strong opinions in terms of whether we need one, whether we should have one, et cetera.
Jason Jacobs: And when I saw your background here at The Brookings Institute and how deep you've been into carbon pricing and for how long of a time, I thought, "Gosh, if I can squeeze in a meeting with Adele, I would really love to, and then, 10 minutes into the meeting we turn the microphones on.
Adele Morris: And why not?
Jason Jacobs: This is the most adventurous I've been in years.
Adele Morris: Well I'm fortunate that I get to talk about carbon pricing all the time. So, I'm very comfortable with this topic.
Jason Jacobs: Well you're much more comfortable with it than me, but I'm comfortable being uncomfortable, so therefore, we're both comfortable.
Adele Morris: It's a deal.
Jason Jacobs: Well, maybe a good place to start is just, tell me a little bit about The Brookings Institute and about your work.
Adele Morris: Sure, sure. So, my research, and I'm a PhD Economist, I do economic research, and a lot of what I've been doing is analyzing potential different policies to address climate change. And so, sometimes it's energy policy, sometimes it's climate policy, but the broad theme of my work is around the design of policies and their environmental and economic outcomes.
Adele Morris: So, I'm really focused on work that's going to be useful to the policy discussion here in Washington, like what kind of new legislation should we consider, what are the different options for designing that legislation, how would it get implemented, what should we expect in terms of the outcomes of those policies. I'm also interested in state level policy, I talk to state level policy folks and try to advise them on what to do. And I'm also really interested in how carbon pricing can feature in the international agreements, that the United States and other countries have been undertaking for decades.
Adele Morris: We haven't had a lot of discussion internationally about carbon price agreements, for example. But I think there are some potentially interesting ways forward there as well. So really, any kind of policy at any level that has to do with pricing carbon, that's kind of my daily work.
Jason Jacobs: And before we get narrow and deep, maybe we should take even another step back, and it would be great to hear a bit just about the Brookings Institute and history, and what Brookings does.
Adele Morris: Well, so Brookings is a think tank in the common [inaudible 00:04:59], basically we're a policy research institution. My colleagues on this floor where we're sitting right now do everything from healthcare policy to tax policy, all kinds of economic work, but with a focus on how do we implement good economic ideas through policy, whether it's legislative, or regulatory. The people I work with are generally all PHD economists on this floor, and we have some healthcare experts also within my programs at Brookings.
Adele Morris: There are other programs at Brookings that work primarily on foreign policy relations. We have a China center, we have a center also in India, looking at challenges in India and the policy issues there. You name it. If it pertains to policy we've probably got somebody good here working on it.
Jason Jacobs: And how does it work in terms of when there are entities like this that are like this working on policy? Does it tend to be one side of the isle or the other, or in a bipartisan way? Is it think tank specific?
Adele Morris: Brookings is officially not partisan. We don't take institutional positions on anything. The individual scholars might advocate or recommend particular policies, but Brookings doesn't have its own institutional positions. We don't lobby. I can't lobby for a particular part of legislation. What I can do is talk about the pros and cons of different ways of doing things. But we're strictly non-partisan. I think overall Brookings probably has the reputation of being center left, but that's not necessarily true of every scholar, and we have scholars here who've be appointed under republican administrations, so we really do kind of run the gamut.
Jason Jacobs: When it comes to policy work that you specifically are working on, what's on your plate now, and also how consistent is that over time? Is that something that tends to be pretty static where you're focused on the same handful of things over a very sustained period, or is it constantly shifting?
Adele Morris: Well I have a variety of projects I'm working on right now, broadly on the theme of how should we or could we design carbon pricing policies. For example, last year I wrapped up a big project that really went over the course of about three years, of a major multi-model analysis of different ways of imposing a carbon tax in the United States, looking at different potential carbon tax trajectories, looking at different ways of using the revenue. We convened a collection of 11 different major modeling groups. And what we were trying to do in that study is really understand what results from all that modeling are robust across modeling platforms, across different assumptions about what was going to happen without the policy.
Adele Morris: And that really gives us guidance for what we can tell policy makers with confidence. We can tell you with confidence that if you put a price on carbon, you will get less of it. And we can give you kind of a basic guidance for how effective environmentally a particular carbon priced trajectory might be. And what some of the other outcomes that are of interest. For example, maybe you're not just interested in carbon dioxide, you might be interested in sulfur dioxide, and all the other benefits that come from reducing CO2 in the form of cleaner air.
Adele Morris: You might be interested in the economic outcomes. What happens to GDP, what happens in various sectors of the economy, which fossil fuels are reduced the most, that kind of thing. So really kind of understanding and anticipating what different policies might accomplish.
Jason Jacobs: And we talked a lot about PHD economists that work here. How much overlap is there between the economics world that is sounds like you come from, and the science world, and do you have a similar number of scientists on staff as well?
Adele Morris: No, we're not a science research institution. We do have people who aren't economists, for example, they're foreign policy experts, or they're political scientists. We're really pretty much focused on, speaking for myself, I'm focused on, okay, lets stipulate the science of climate change. Now what do we do about it? And that's really in the core-competency of the economics profession, of looking at, okay, how do we save the planet cost effectively, essentially? And then using that advice, what does that mean for what we should be telling members of congress, or stakeholders in the economy and environmental community? What guidance can we give to provide really good solid peer reviewed research to the people who are furthering this action?
Jason Jacobs: And how do you go about prioritizing where to conduct that research? Does the hypothesis come first or does the research then lead to a hypothesis?
Adele Morris: Well generally speaking, what I find most interesting is to hear the questions that are being asked from policy makers. For example, let's say okay, we're looking at a carbon pricing policy. One of the concerns that's raised in a number of corners is well, what is that going to do to that trade competitiveness of American manufacturing? Or what is that going to do to our ability to compete in the global economy if the United States has a price on carbon, and our trade competitors don't? And so what we can do then is we can do some modeling. We can look at what happens to trade, what happens to imports and exports of different sectors as a result of a carbon policy.
Adele Morris: And then we can look at analyzed policies that might mitigate any concerns about competitiveness. For example, one of the common features of the carbon tax legislation that's been proposed so far, is something called the border carbon adjustment. And this would be a fee on imported goods that have significant amount of carbon in their supply chain. This means primary metals and chemicals and glass and other energy-intensive good. So you would put a duty on those goods as they were imported into the United States, and those same goods would get a rebate upon export.
Adele Morris: So how would you design that? What would it look like? Some of my work is very academic, and I contribute to the peer review literature, and some of my work is really just policy guidance and analysis. Options, pros, cons, and it really helps policy makers think through, well okay, I have to make this decision. Do I put in a border carbon adjustment or not? What does it look like? What goods should it include? And then so I try to give them ideas and suggestions about what might be some more economically efficient ways to do things or what some of the unintended consequences might be of their choices.
Jason Jacobs: And what does that feedback loop look like? Do you take input from them directly, and the go off and do work a sustained period of time and then come back with some findings? Or are they actually involved in your process as you're going through it, in a more interactive way?
Adele Morris: I think it varies. I think the nature of the questions I'm asked, like for example, most projects take a little while. If it's a very hard question to answer, I really do have to go and do research, whether it's modeling, or some other kind of research. And oftentimes I coauthor with scholars at other institutions, but sometimes it's just I go off, I'm asked a question or there's a question arising in the policy debate, and I go off, and I do research, and I publish a paper. Sometimes, again, it's more of a policy brief that goes on my website. Sometimes it's a journal article that comes out in a peer review journal. Sometimes there's two versions of the same project that come out in different fora.
Adele Morris: But they'll try to produce something that's responsive to that question, like how should we help workers who have been in the coal industry, and their communities? Once we solve our climate goals, the coal-reliant areas are going to be very impacted. So I have a project on thinking through, okay what are those impacts going to be, and what could, in particular, federal policy do to help ameliorate those.
Jason Jacobs: So it's actually quite broad.
Adele Morris: Yeah, well basically, serious climate policy is serious economic policy. And there're going to be important economic outcomes if we don't do anything about climate, there's going to be important economic outcomes if we do. And so trying to understand the variety of approaches we could adopt and understand really the far-reaching ramifications of our choices, both environmentally and economically. That's what I'm really interested in.
Jason Jacobs: So here's a question then. I mean it seems like what you're actually doing is all of the hard work to make substantive, rational choices, but we don't live in a substantive, rational time. And so I guess I'm trying to reconcile that, because on the one hands it's like of course you should being doing this work because this is the work that rational people use when they make decisions. They try to educate themselves with as much information as they have available, and then they try to make decisions based on facts, and they try to minimize the risk of the unknown. That's now how we're operating right now, right? It's much more partisan. It's much more my team against your team. It's much less fact-based at all.
Jason Jacobs: I guess, one, do you agree with that, and then two, how does that impact the work that you do, or the approach that you take, given that ultimately that you want to get stuff done and not just do your work for the sake of doing it?
Adele Morris: Yeah. You're absolutely right, it's a polarized topic. There's no question about it, and there're people with very strong feelings on all sides. I really believe, maybe this is corny of me, that there's a role for solid, impartial, serious analysis, and that-
Jason Jacobs: One would hope.
Adele Morris: One would hope, right? Like hope springs eternal.
Jason Jacobs: That is actually... I feel like that's a controversial statement, which is insane, but that's where we are.
Adele Morris: Well, you know we all come to this issue with our value systems and that's mine. I have worked in government for many years before I joined Brookings. I've worked at the White House, I've worked at the treasury, I've worked in congress, and I really understand what should be the appetite for the kind of work I do, and that's what I'm producing. I like to think that there's definite contingent, both on Capital Hill and just more generally, for this kind of work. And I feel strongly that this is work that needs to be done. We're making very serious decisions with critical implications for the environment, and the economy, so let's do our homework, and let's do it right.
Adele Morris: And where there's polarization, maybe that means that's that much more value added for that impartial, analytical voice, and substance.
Jason Jacobs: I don't know, you sound like a costal elite to me.
Adele Morris: Do I?
Jason Jacobs: No, I'm just joking. I'm totally kidding. I guess one question then is what customers do you serve? I'm not saying, who pays you, but-
Adele Morris: Right. What's the audience?
Jason Jacobs: Yeah.
Adele Morris: Yeah. No, I totally get that question. I can tell you who I want my audience to be. I want my audience to be policy makers of all stripes, and stakeholders, people who are impacted or care about the outcomes of the policies that we're considering. The general public, to help them understand, kind of, the issues that we're grappling with, and the trade offs that we face. And other academics, because part of the goal of what we're publishing in peer review literature is to move that literature in a direction that we think is broadly productive. And so sometimes if we do an influential paper, maybe that makes somebody else's paper better, and so we can contribute to the intellectual marketplace as well as inside the Beltway.
Jason Jacobs: And when you're going and conducting this research, there's a number of different groups, or kind of a number of different types of proposals for how to price carbon, and how do they think about the Brookings Institute and the work that you do? Are you someone that they need to influence the way that, when I ran a technology company we cared what the research analysts thought or, I guess, are they collaborators. Do you have some that you work with closer than others? I'm just trying to get a sense for, kind of, for the landscape.
Adele Morris: Well, I mean, I don't know who's trying to influence me. I'm just trying to be useful. I'm trying to provide information that people think is useful. Just for example, today I was speaking to a group of major American cooperations and multinationals, and explaining the economics of how a carbon tax would work. I give talks like that all the time. I give guest lectures at universities. I talk to students. I talk to groups of environmentally-oriented organizations. Pretty much anybody who's interested in the economic evidence around producing greenhouse gas emissions could be an audience for my work.
Jason Jacobs: And now you talk on podcasts as well.
Adele Morris: Yeah, yeah. Hey, I'm broadening my horizons. Thanks, Jason.
Jason Jacobs: The very first, right?
Adele Morris: Yeah. Well, I was on the Brookings podcast.
Jason Jacobs: Oh, got it. First non-Brookings-
Adele Morris: Yeah. But this is my first celebrity podcast.
Jason Jacobs: We'll still count it. We'll still count it as number one. It was the first non-employer related. We'll take it.
Adele Morris: All right. Do you want to hear about why we're talking about carbon pricing all the time? I feel like people says, "Yeah, economists yammer on about carbon pricing all the time." But why is that? And so I would just say there's this enormous consensus within the scientific community about the profound risk associated with disrupting the climate. Likewise, in the economics profession there's a profound consensus that one of the key policies to address those emissions is to put a price on carbon and other greenhouse gasses. And the reason we talk about that so much is because, just to explain for people who don't think about carbon pricing every day, let's just take fossil fuels for starters, because that's, kind of, the big dog of what we talk about when we mean carbon pricing.
Adele Morris: Different forms of energy have different amounts of carbon that are going to be emitted when those fuels are combusted or used. For example, coal has about twice as much carbon in it per unit of energy that you can get out of it, as natural gas. If all you did is convert a power plant that burns coal with a power plant that burns natural gas, with the same level of efficiency of turning those units of energy into kilowatt hours, if that's all you did, you'd have the amount of CO2 that you emit, per kilowatt hour that you generate. When we talk about pricing carbon, what we're trying to do is change the relative prices of different sources of energy on the basis of how polluting they are to the climate.
Jason Jacobs: Is pricing carbon a synonym with pricing the externality? Is that the same thing?
Adele Morris: Yeah, so basically the idea of the externality is that when I go to put gasoline in my car, the price I pay includes, you know, all the costs of producing and refining and transporting and marketing that gasoline, but the price doesn't include the damage to the environment that occurs when I combust the gas in my car. The idea of pricing the external cost, is to take those damages to the environment, human health, and the environment, and add those in to the price of the gasoline. Now, different fuels have different amounts of carbon in them, so when you price that external cost, you're changing now, which energy sources are cheaper than the other ones.
Adele Morris: Renewables don't emit CO2, they're not going to be impacted by a price on carbon. Coals going to be very impacted. Natural gas will be somewhere in between. People say, "Oh carbon prices, you're just trying to raise the price of energy." Not at all. We're not pricing energy. We're pricing the pollution that comes from different energy sources by the amount that they produce. Then what that means is, just take the coal and natural gas example, if you put a price on carbon, add that to the price of coal, you're immediately going to change how much different power plants run. It's called dispatch.
Adele Morris: When the coal-fire power plant bids in to the grid, now they're going to have to charge more because they've got this tax burden associated with using the coal. That changes how economic operating those coal plants is going to be. Those will be operated less, so immediately you reduce emissions because you use different power plants more or less intensely. Then, what it also does is mean that okay, well we need a new power plant of some kind. What kind of fuel is it going to use? Is it going to be a solar plant or a natural gas plant or what? The economics of that carbon price will change what kind of new power plant's going to be the most profitable, or most efficient, economically.
Adele Morris: You not only change what people do right away, you change their decisions going forward, and in terms of deploying new capital, building new industrial facilities. And you also add new profit to all innovation that you've been talking about in your podcast. It's one thing to say, "Oh, we need to develop new technologies that are lower carbon." Well, how about doing that by harnessing the profit motive. Now you have private capital markets that can move into the lower carbon technology knowing that they've got a market for their good, because now they're going to be more competitive than they otherwise would be, because their fossil competition is now hindered by that additional tax on their costs structure.
Jason Jacobs: The biggest objections to pricing carbons, what are they and why do people feel as they do?
Adele Morris: Well, I guess it comes in different flavors. One objection to a carbon price just comes from people thinking climate is not a problem, we don't need to do anything, so it's not just an objection to carbon price, it's object to any kind of policy to raise [inaudible 00:24:00].
Jason Jacobs: And is that people who legitimately believe that, or are protecting their investment interests in their existing businesses?
Adele Morris: I think it's hard to tell the difference, and you'd have to ask them really what motivates them. The other objections have to do with some of the potential outcomes. For example, I mentioned the trade issue. I think that there are ways to address concerns about trade distortions, and I could talk more about that. Another is a concern, if you put a price on carbon, and carbon-intensive goods and services become expensive to households, what is the impact on the households. And in particular, what about lower-income households? And we have really good ways to recycle revenue from a carbon fee or tax back to households in a way that protects the lowest income households.
Jason Jacobs: And that would be called a revenue neutral policy.
Adele Morris: Well, revenue neutrality would mean that you're recycling all of the revenue, but you don't need to recycle all of the revenue to hold the lowest income houses harmless, because they actually don't consume that much. The share of the carbon tax burden that would fall to them is pretty small. You can hold them harmless on average and then use the rest of the revenue... You could do something pro-growth with it. You could invest in infrastructure if you think that's the most productive thing to do. You could reduce the federal deficit. We're looking at unsustainable levels of debt to GDP, maybe that's a concern, you could do that.
Adele Morris: You can use the revenue to invest in costal resiliency, and the concerns that climatic damages are going to harm people and there are ways to sort of prepare for those impacts. There are a lot of things that you could do with the revenue, and I think one of the things that we could do in the economics community is just kind of lay out those options and say, okay, this is probably more pro-growth than this option. This option is probably better for targeting money to the lowest income households, for example.
Jason Jacobs: So there's one objection that I didn't hear, that I've heard a number of times in my travels, and that's that look, if we could get one that would be great, but it's just not politically palatable, it's never going to happen in this country.
Adele Morris: Obviously because I'm spending my career working on this, I don't agree with that. I actually have some hope. I mean, I'm not delusional about the current political challenges, but I also think that look, what's the alternative? Don't just compare a carbon price to no policy. Are we going to really leave climate change totally unaddressed? I don't think that's feasible either. And then if you compare carbon pricing to some of the other measures that have been under consideration, maybe it's regulation under the clean air act. Well, we're already seeing the flaws of that approach, because it's so subjects to the priorities of the current president. You're going to end up with a seesaw of regulatory effort depending on who's in the White House. That's not way to stear the economy over the long run to de-carbonization.
Adele Morris: You're going to have to have new legislation. Really, a carbon tax is probably the least popular idea, except for all the others, once you really look at them carefully.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, and I feel like that gets lost too often in the discussions is that the status quo is the most harmful option of any.
Adele Morris: Yeah, and I really believe this issue is not going to go away. This is very serious. And so, once you've sort of gotten over the hump, they say we really need to do something, and you're in the world of figuring out what that something is, then I think my profession has provided an extraordinary set of tools and approaches that could be incredibly effective and economically responsible. That's the dialogue we really should be having, and that's what I'm preparing the substance for.
Jason Jacobs: I think the one other one that I've heard that we haven't talked about yet, is more from the innovation side where they say, "We don't want to rely on a carbon price needing to get done, we want our innovation, our fuel source, whatever, to be able to compete and stand on its own two feet."
Adele Morris: Listen, if you can come up with low-cost, low-carbon technologies that are cheaper than burning dirt, which is basically what we do with coal, more power to you. I mean, that is a pretty tough hurdle to cross. How about just being cheaper than coal, properly-priced, with the environmental damages in that price. That is an easier hurdle to accomplish. And so I'm pretty convinced that innovation is great. It's essential. We have to have new technologies. But if you're not going to steer capital markets with the profit motive to make those lower carbon technologies, you've got at least one hand tied behind your back.
Adele Morris: People are putting capital at risk. How about just lowering the risk by making it more profitable to do low carbon than high carbon? And remember, innovation doesn't just always get biased towards greener things. One thing we saw with the fracking revolution that's brought up US oil production and brought down US oil prices is people innovate on the fossil front too. And so, unless you have a policy that favors low-carbon innovation over high-carbon innovation, you're not really setting the right crucible in which the technologies we need are going to get forged.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I've definitely heard that where people say, "We wouldn't be anywhere near on the Paris targets that we are if we didn't trip over natural gas, and natural gas is so much cheaper and hooray, but the next thing we trip over might be twice as bad for the environment."
Adele Morris: We just don't know, and my hat is off for all the people that you talk to in the innovation space, and the VC people, but I'm skeptical that the scope and scale of technology we're going to need can overcome those hurdles without any policy support. If you're a company, and you're thinking about adopting a technology, if it's more expensive, and there's no story you can tell your shareholders about why that technology is valuable enough to warrant the extra expense, it's just not going to penetrate, whereas if we have the economic conditions, that maybe that's a little bit more expensive, but that's before you price the carbon.
Adele Morris: And now that technology becomes the winning approach because its fossil high-carbon alternatives, the market forces discourage those. It just seems weird to me that people can be so focused on the market without talking about prices.
Jason Jacobs: If people are hearing this, and they're saying, "Yeah what Adele is saying makes so much sense, so how do we make a price on carbon happen because it should," what are the one or two or three things that could happen, just in general, not necessarily that you or I could do, but just that need to happen that would put us in the best position to get a carbon tax over the line in this country?
Adele Morris: I can tell you some of the forces I'm observing. One is really real grass roots support for carbon pricing in particular. I mean I think it's great-
Jason Jacobs: Grassroots, like on the political front or-
Adele Morris: No I mean like people-
Jason Jacobs: Consumers.
Adele Morris: Consumers. Citizen activists. I guess here's what I'm saying is, there might be a climate march that goes through the streets of New York City and people say, "Oh climate action now." Okay, great, but when you're specific, and you say, "We need a price on carbon, we need it now," and you're talking to your members of congress, you're talking to your governor, you're talking to your state representatives, I think that specificity is critical. It's not just climate action generally, it's just we need certain policies, and a price on carbon is probably at the top of the list.
Adele Morris: I'll give you an example, so the Citizen's Climate Lobby was just in DC having its national convention this week, and they deployed, I don't know, well over 1000 people going around to their members of congress offices, talking to representatives, talking to staff, saying, "We need a price on carbon." And they have their particular proposal. Full disclosure, I'm on their advisory committee, and I helped them with the economics of their proposals. People all over the United States, all over the world, who are part of this citizen's organization to promote non-partisan or bipartisan prices on carbon. And they've been, I think, very effective and we've seen legislation, bipartisan legislation, implementing some of their suggestions, so that's pretty cool.
Adele Morris: And I would say even people in states where republicans control the legislature or the congressional delegation, talk to your members of congress as well, because I believe that climatic damages are going to happen everywhere, and we're seeing it, whether it's floods in the Midwest, or fires in the mountain states. Republican states are not going to get a pass on climate damages. I think it's going to behoove republicans as well as democrats to get into the policy conversation, and the sooner the better.
Jason Jacobs: It sounds like if there's one thing that will move the needle more than anything else, it is pushing on your legislatures to bring about change?
Adele Morris: Yeah. Vote. Vote. Vote. And talk to people. Talk to editors of your local paper. Write letters. Educate people. Educate yourself, just like you're doing Jason. The more you know, the more persuasive you're going to be. And so really developing a sense of what you think government aught to do, and calling for that is really ultimately, you know, how democracy works. I also think, if you're involved in a company, see what your cooperate position is on climate policy, and see if you can move your management in a direction that favors policy.
Jason Jacobs: The Amazon example recently, I think is fascinating. That's something I'm watching very closely with the 76000 people that have mobilized to put pressure on leadership to step up.
Adele Morris: Yeah, so there's kind of two different dimensions, there's your company's own emissions, and getting your company sensitized to your own greenhouse gas footprint, but there's also, we're sitting here in DC, a very important role companies play in influencing congress. And I think it's really important that we have our cooperate stakeholders in that conversation because they are influential with members of congress. I think there's a variety of ways to participate in democracy, and I think your listeners are probably getting a good feel for that range in your podcasts.
Jason Jacobs: And I'm just curious, I mean I've heard frequently that there's no silver bullets, and it's a bunch of little onesie, twosie base hits by the dozens or hundreds or thousands, that then add up to making changes, and there's no moonshot that's going to come in and save the day. I'm just curious, as you think about this carbon tax, I mean, is it the moonshot that's going to carry the day more than everything else added up, or are there other things that... How much of the way will this get us there, and what else will be similarly impactful, if anything?
Adele Morris: Setting the right economic conditions to steer our whole economy. I mean there's a million decisions made every day of what a company is going to invest in, what its next industrial facility is going to look like, et cetera. Those millions of decisions are impossible for the government to go in specifically and try to figure out. We're not a planned economy. If you're going to have a capitalist system, have the system set up to induce the right decisions by the environment. Pricing carbon is one policy, but it influences innumerable parts of what happens in everyday lives, and in everyday decisions by companies on what they do.
Adele Morris: Now, I don't think carbon pricing is the only policy we need. I think we're going to need policies to adapt to climate disruptions and sea-level rise, and that kind of stuff. We're going to need policies for research and development. There's a clear role for government in supporting basic research, because that's something that private companies are going to under-provide, and there're probably other polices. I think views might differ exactly, okay, well what should our fuel economy standard be if we have a carbon tax. I think, let's get it going, I mean the sooner we can get a price on carbon, the more we can avoid these damages, and the more we can start leveraging our policy diplomatically.The US has got a terrible standing right now in the global effort, and we really need to rehabilitate-
Jason Jacobs: I don't know, I can't imagine why that is.
Adele Morris: We need to rehabilitate our image and restore our leadership role, and I really think having a clear, predictable price on carbon, that every country knows what that mean will enable us to leverage our position into greater action by other countries as well.
Jason Jacobs: One other topic I wanted to touch is just, on one of my prior episodes we brought on 30-year climate economist, and one of the things that we were talking about was that in his view the Green New Deal was actually quite harmful to the climate movement in that by lumping in the jobs and social goods and things like that into the discussion, it was too much and distracting and would be de-focusing in terms of our ability to just solve the carbon problem, which is hard enough. I'm curious as a fellow economist how you think about that and whether you agree with his position or take a different view.
Adele Morris: Well the way I look at the green new deal is as a vision statement, and the way I understand the folks that are focused on this is to say look, we have a variety of problems. We have an environmental problem, we have a social justice problem, an income inequality problem, we have underemployment, we have all these issues and what we need is a restructuring of the social contract that also takes into an account the climate emergency. That's the way I hear them talking about it, what's not in there is exactly what policy they're going to propose to reduce emissions. They haven't really, at least to my knowledge, offered up, what I would call a policy as opposed to an objective.
Adele Morris: And so I'm not going to opine on vision statements. What I do is analyze policies, so when we get to the point where they're offering up specific policy ideas that are amenable to an assessment of the trade offs and the benefits and the costs and all that stuff, then I'll probably engage more on the substance of the policy.
Jason Jacobs: So your answer is too early to tell, because I look and polices and because no policies have been proposed, I can't assess.
Adele Morris: Well, I just think I'm not the right person to say, "Okay, well how does this move the political conversation?"
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, because his point was more... It was less policy focused actually. It was by giving it a name, it gives it a target.
Adele Morris: Yeah. So I guess I'm a professional economist, I'm going an amateur political analyst [crosstalk 00:39:27].
Jason Jacobs: I'm amateur at all of them, but opining louder than anyone else.
Adele Morris: I would say reasonable people can differ about, well maybe this very ambitious Green New Deal vision provides space for the center-right to offer something, kind of, that's narrower, and in their view more pragmatic, you know, so I don't know.
Jason Jacobs: Moving the Overton window, right?
Adele Morris: Yeah, I don't know. We'll see. I think a lot of these things, when people say, "Oh, that's not feasible," well you don't know what's feasible until after it happens, so let's just do something, and then we'll know that it would have been feasible.
Jason Jacobs: I feel like that should be the climate movement's rallying cry. Do something. Last question. I've been asking this of every guest, if you had 100 billion dollars, and you could allocate it towards anything to move the needle the most on this de-carbonization problem, where would you put it and how would you allocate it?
Adele Morris: I don't think the answer's going to be in spending. I think the answer's going to be in policy, so only to the extent that spending on appropriate engagement with policy makers makes sense is to build up their willingness to engage on climate. Yeah, like we're not going to subsidize our way out of this problem. We need real thoughtful legislation. What I would say, is those people in your world, Jason, that are managing gigantic financial portfolios and that kind of thing, large banks and investor groups and so on, I do not see them in DC engaging on promoting carbon pricing. I see a lot of other cooperate America here in town, engaging very productively on pricing carbon.
Jason Jacobs: You know what's funny is that someone pointed out to me the other day, they're like, "Yeah, like the big funds and things like that," if it's an issue that they don't want to deal with, they're like, "Yeah, it's out of my lane," but if it's like a tax loophole for their carried interest or things like that, it's like, oh, they're living in DC.
Adele Morris: Well they're engaging in their role as shareholders, so you'll see these financial institutions going to shareholder meetings, and calling on companies to disclose against an ambitious climate policy future. How's that going to affect your profits going forward if we have an ambitious climate regime. But they don't come to DC and ask for that same climate regime. I want to see, if you're going to start pressuring companies to anticipate climate policy, then you aught to be engaged in the Washington conversation, furthering solid, economically sensible climate policy.
Adele Morris: I don't see them here, so I can't take their climate commitment seriously until they're engaged in policy. And I would say that actually, for most people, you want to save the world, you got to get our government in gear.
Jason Jacobs: If I, or any of the listeners hear this, and they're like, "Man, I learned so much about carbon pricing, but that just wets my whistle, I want to dig in and learn so much more," I guess, what should they read, what organizations should they look at, what people should they listen to talks of, what resources would you point them to?
Adele Morris: A shameless plug as a researcher, come to my website at brookings.edu. You know, you can see the wide variety of the research I do, and a lot of it is quite reader-friendly. I just put out paper summarizing the policy implications in that big modeling study I was telling you about. And read a good-quality newspaper regularly. Like the posts in the New York Times often have really good articles about climate science and climate policy. I would say, well obviously I have a book out called Implementing a US Carbon Tax.
Jason Jacobs: I didn't know that.
Adele Morris: Yeah. Yeah. It was a few years old, but I co-edited this with Ian Perry and Rob Williams, and each chapter kind of looks into the different design challenges of a carbon tax. And look for your local organizations, and people who are, like I said, people who are engaged in this issue, and they provide guidance to their members as well.
Jason Jacobs: Well this is amazing, and I have to say, it's such a pleasant surprise because, when I came in, I mean I think of economists as such structured thinkers, and we got 10 minutes into our first coffee meeting, and we just got out the microphones and started recording, that's amazing.
Adele Morris: Well, I'm glad you think so, it's been fun Jason.
Jason Jacobs: Anything else I didn't ask, or any parting message you'd like to share with listeners?
Adele Morris: Well, I would just say for people who are very skeptical about congress' ability to act, and to undertake bipartisan legislation and do something sensible, retain hope, because the alternative is unthinkable. We have to do something. Let's give congress a chance, and let's encourage them. For example, on the 20th, I'm going to hold and event and my guests are going to be Senator Chris Coons, a democrat from Delaware, and Congressman Francis Rooney, a republican from Florida, and they're both going to be talking about their carbon pricing legislation, and we're going to be looking for common ground.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah you sent me that event, I'm bummed, I'm going to be in San Francisco that week, but I would have loved to come.
Adele Morris: It's going to be live-cast, so you can watch it online if you're around.
Jason Jacobs: Amazing. Well Amen to that, what a great note to end on, and Adele Morris, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Adele Morris: Oh, it's been my pleasure Jason. Thank you.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note, that is dot C-O, not dot com. Someday, we'll get the dot com, but right now, dot C-O. You can also find me on twitter at @jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode, or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend, or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.