Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Robert Pollin's "Greening the Global Economy"

Robert Pollin is Distinguished Professor of Economics and Codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has served as a consultant on energy and the economy for a wide range of organizations and institutions, including the U.S. Department of Energy, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Industrial Development Program (UNIDO), and numerous nongovernmental organizations. He is author of Back to Full Employment and Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity.

Pollin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Greening the Global Economy, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Greening the Global Economy, I introduce the topic of “Prospects for Alternative Ownership Forms” through greatly expanding investments in clean renewable energy supplies. Clean renewables include solar, wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro power, and low-emissions bioenergy sources, such as ethanol produced with agricultural wastes. Dramatically expanding the supply of renewable energy needs to be one of the two key factors pushing down global carbon dioxide emissions (the other being dramatically raising energy efficiency standards). Dramatically pushing down carbon dioxide emissions, is, in turn, the single most important action needed to control climate change.

One major question here is whether the newly expanding clean renewable energy supplies will end up being dominated by the giant corporations that dominate today’s fossil fuel energy sector—i.e. Big Oil and the various energy companies owned by the Koch brothers. If we do continue depending on these giant corporations, and their overriding imperative of making the largest possible profits, how can we expect to take control of our energy system to the extent needed to control climate change?

In fact, as I discuss on p. 99 and beyond, large-scale investments in renewable energy will create major new opportunities for alternative ownership forms, including various combinations of smaller-scale public, private and cooperative ownership. For example, community-based wind farms have been highly successful for nearly two decades in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. A major reason for their success is that they operate with lower profit requirements than big private corporations.

Falling costs for clean renewable energy, solar in particular, is also opening major opportunities for people to install and operate their own small-scale “distributed energy” systems that rely less and less on electrical grids. In January 2015, the Financial Times reported that “across the U.S., about 45,300 businesses and 596,000 homes have solar panels.... Over the past four years, the numbers have risen threefold for businesses and fourfold for homes, as the costs of solar power have plunged.” The prospects for distributed energy are still greater in developing countries such as India, where over 40 percent of rural households do not have access to grid-based electricity.

Overall, a green energy investment program can converge powerfully with a ‘small-is-beautiful’ approach to ownership and technology development. This becomes one of the major benefits of a green energy transition that will accompany the dramatic decline in emissions.
Learn more about Greening the Global Economy at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue