Professors Urge Action on Climate Change

Although issues such as the economy and health care overshadowed climate change in this year’s presidential candidates in this year’s presidential election, affiliates at the Harvard Kennedy School said that President Obama can no longer ignore the environment in light of Hurricane Sandy.

“I think the question of ‘act or not act’ is not the right question—I think the question is in what ways are we going to act,” said Matthew Bunn, associate professor of public policy at HKS.

While addressing climate change will require more than one single solution, Bunn outlined President Obama’s potential next steps.

“I think you’ll see a fair amount of attention on preparedness, because, fundamentally, what we need to do is ‘avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable,’ as the title of one report a couple of years ago put it,” he said.

“And it’s clear that some climate change is now unavoidable and we need to be better prepared for the increased extreme weather events.”

For voters and politicians alike, however, investments to stabilize the nation’s economy have traditionally taken precedence over efforts to explore greener energy resources. But energy policy and economic concerns do not have to be “mutually exclusive,” said Kathleen M. Araújo, HKS Energy Policy Fellow.

She added that improving energy efficiency and rethinking the country’s infrastructure would actually create jobs.

And Araújo agreed that looking ahead, Obama has multiple options to capitalize on these opportunities.

“In terms of policy that’s going to need to be dealt with, I would say our grid modernization is going to have to happen—irrespective of what energy is being used,” she said.

Bunn said that although a big carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system to motivate responsible energy usage are the most economically efficient options for addressing climate change, the public is currently unlikely to support these strategies.

But he added that other viable alternatives must be considered, such as clamping down on coal companies, which are the main source of dangerous pollutants in the air.

In addition, implementing better efficiency standards in buildings would not only save the government money but also benefit efforts to combat climate change.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Nov. 9

An earlier version of this article inaccurately reported a quotation from Harvard Kennedy School Energy Policy Fellow Kathleen M. Araújo. She referred to “grid modernization,” not “group modernization,” when discussing necessary changes to U.S. energy policy.

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