The carbon economy amplifies racial, social and economic inequities, creating a system that is fundamentally incompatible with a stable future

 ‘If we fail to act now, the present moment may merely be a preview of what is to come.’ Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP

Jeffrey SachsJoseph StiglitzMariana Mazzucato, Clair Brown, Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Robert ReichGabriel Zucman and others

Aug 4, 2020

Published in the Guardian

From deep-rooted racism to the Covid-19 pandemic, from extreme inequality to ecological collapse, our world is facing dire and deeply interconnected emergencies. But as much as the present moment painfully underscores the weaknesses of our economic system, it also gives us the rare opportunity to reimagine it. As we seek to rebuild our world, we can and must end the carbon economy.

Even as climate breakdown looms around the corner, the pressure to return to the old carbon-based economy is real – and all the more dangerous, given the fundamental instability of an economy rooted in injustice. Sources of large-scale human suffering, such as crop failures, water shortages, rising tides, wildfires, severe weather, forced migration and pandemics, go hand-in-hand with a warming world. For example, exposure to airborne pollution heightens the risk of complications from diseases like Covid-19, and deforestation and rising temperatures make the emergence of future infectious diseases more likely. When these consequences manifest, it is no accident that they are disproportionately felt by communities of color, low-income communities, the most vulnerable nations and peoples, and other historically marginalized groups.

It is Black people in America, for instance, who bear some of the highest rates of exposure to polluted air. The carbon economy amplifies and begets racial, social and economic inequities, creating a system that is fundamentally incompatible with a stable future. If we fail to act now, the present moment may merely be a preview of what is to come, as we are forced into ever-more-painful situations and tradeoffs. It is naive, moreover, to imagine that we can simply nudge the fossil fuel industry – an industry that has lied about climate change for decades, actively opposed serious climate solutions and continues to plan for a fossil fuel-dependent future – into good behavior.

This moment creates an opportunity to bring about a better future for ourselves and our children

Instead, we should recognize that the present moment creates an opportunity to bring about a better future for ourselves and our children. By taking on the carbon economy, we can begin charting a pathway towards economic recovery while building a fairer, more sustainable world in the process.

Governments must actively phase out the fossil fuel industry. Bailouts and subsidies to big oil, gas and coal companies only further delay the essential energy transition, distorting markets while locking us into a future we cannot afford. Instead, a coordinated phaseout of exploration for and extraction of carbon resources allows governments to redeploy funds towards green technology, infrastructure, social programs and good jobs, spurring an economic transition that benefits people and the planet.Advertisement

Institutions of financial power must end their fossil fuel investments and funding. When our largest banks, most influential investors and most prestigious universities place bets on the success of the fossil fuel industry, they provide it with the economic and social capital necessary to maintain the dangerous status quo. Instead, these institutions should divest from fossil fuel companies and end financing of their continued operations while reinvesting those resources in a just and stable future.

People must build political power to advocate for a fairer economic system. If we attempt an economic rebuilding whose guiding principle is a return to “business as usual” we will simply substitute one crisis for another. Instead, we must recognize that when crises strike, the disaster amplifies along society’s fault lines, and that when we don’t prepare for disasters, the costs of inaction fall most heavily on the most vulnerable. A green recovery can and must uplift those who need it most, at home and around the world, creating a more resilient and regenerative society in the process.

By achieving a large-scale economic transformation that dismantles the carbon economy and brings about a greener world, we have an opportunity to begin the process of economic recovery while working to undo the injustices at the heart of our modern system. As the undersigned experts in economics, we call on our policymakers to recognize the role that meaningful climate action has to play in rebuilding our world – to recognize that a healthy economy and society require a healthy planet.

  • This letter has been signed by more than 100 economists.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Columbia University

Gabriel Zucman, University of California, Berkeley

Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley

Dani Rodrik, Harvard University

Mariana Mazzucato, UCL

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Columbia University

Darrick Hamilton, The Ohio State University

Gernot Wagner, New York University

Erik Brynjolfsson, Stanford University

Emmanuel Saez, University of California, Berkeley

Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Ann Pettifor, Policy Research in Macroeconomics

Michael Ash, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, John Jay College – CUNY

Douglas Almond, Columbia University

Stephen A. Marglin, Harvard University

Clair Brown, University of California, Berkeley

Juliet Schor, Boston College

Jonathan Isham, Middlebury College

José-Antonio Espín-Sánchez, Yale University

Thomas Herndon, Loyola Marymount University

Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Georgetown University

Elliott Sclar, Columbia University

Monique Morrissey, Economic Policy Institute

Arthur MacEwan, University of Massachusetts Boston

Henry M. Levin, Columbia University

David Barkin, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana

Chris Tilly, University of California, Los Angeles

Deepankar Basu, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Thomas Michl, Colgate University

Nancy Folbre, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Herbert Gintis, Santa Fe Institute

Hans Despain, Nichols College

Peter H. Bent, Trinity College

Gautam Sethi, Bard College

Jeffrey Shrader, Columbia University

Margaret C. Levenstein, University of Michigan

Steven Hail, University of Adelaide

Raj Patel, The University of Texas at Austin

Steve Keen, UCL

Hendrik Van den Berg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Massachusetts Amherst

John Miller, Wheaton College

Amanda Novello, The Century Foundation

Mar Reguant, Northwestern University

Imraan Valodia, Wits University

Mary A. Taft, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Fabrizio Zilibotti, Yale University

Gerald Epstein, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Pavlina R. Tcherneva, Bard College and Levy Economics Institute

Stephanie Kelton, Stony Brook University

Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute

Brad DeLong, University of California, Berkeley

Kathy Zilch, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sunanda Sen, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Richard D. Wolff, The New School

Tim Jackson, University of Surrey

Gregor Semieniuk, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jason Hickel, Goldsmiths, University of London

Fadhel Kaboub, Denison University and Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity

Anders Fremstad, Colorado State University

L. Randall Wray, Bard College and Levy Economics Institute

Nina Eichacker, University of Rhode Island

Larry Allen, Lamar University

Elissa Braunstein, Colorado State University

Bogdan Prokopovych, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ramaa Vasudevan, Colorado State University

Mark Paul, New College of Florida

Yeva Nersisyan, Franklin and Marshall College

Michael Carlos Best, Columbia University

Erik K. Olsen, University of Missouri Kansas City

Kimberly Oremus, University of Delaware

Tracy Mott, University of Denver

Eban Goodstein, Bard College

Eileen Appelbaum, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Mark Campanale, Carbon Tracker Initiative

Carol E. Heim, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Timothy Koechlin, Vassar College

William Mitchell, University of Newcastle

Akhil Rao, Middlebury College

Andrew Fieldhouse, Middlebury College

Peter Hans Matthews, Middlebury College

Richard Parker, Harvard University

Shouvik Chakraborty, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jay Hamilton, John Jay College – CUNY

Gerald Friedman, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Matthew Johnson, Duke University

Kate Raworth, Oxford University

Markus Wissen, Berlin School of Economics and Law

William Lazonick, The Academic-Industry Research Network

Bryan Snyder, Bentley University

Tilman Altenburg, German Development Institute

Yavuz Yaşar, University of Denver

Sarah Jacobson, Williams College

Mary C. King, Portland State University

Lawrence P. King, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Rob Larson, Tacoma Community College

Mark Witte, Northwestern University

Wendy Carlin, UCL

Geoff Schneider, Bucknell University

Thomas Masterson, Levy Economics Institute

Julia Cagé, Sciences Po Paris

Jacqueline Klopp, Columbia University

Howard Botwinick, SUNY Cortland

Stephen O’Connell, Swarthmore College

J. W. Mason, John Jay College – CUNY

Randy Albelda, University of Massachusetts Boston

Michael Reich, University of California, Berkeley

John Womack, Harvard University

Ben Zipperer, Economic Policy Institute

Benjamin Wilson, SUNY Cortland

Justin A. Elardo, Portland Community College

Joan Hoffman, John Jay College – CUNY

Jack Willis, Columbia University

Robert A. Nakosteen, University of Massachusetts Amherst

José Blanco, Universidad Autónoma de México