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Associate Professor of Public Policy
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Aldy, Joseph. "Mobilizing Political Action on Behalf of Future Generations."
The Future of Children
26.1 (Spring 2016): 157-178.
Our failure to mobilize sufficient effort to fight climate change reflects a combination of political and economic forces, on both the national and the global level. To state the problem in its simplest terms, writes Joseph Aldy, future, unborn generations would enjoy the benefits of policies to reduce carbon emissions whereas the current generation would have to bear the costs. In particular, incumbent firms—politically influential fossil-fuel companies and fossil fuel–intensive industries, which are now reaping substantial returns from a status quo that fails to address climate change—might face significant losses from policies that discourage carbon emissions. On the other hand, insurgent firms—companies that are investing in low- and zerocarbon technologies—stand to gain. Aldy analyzes durable, successful public policies in US history whose costs and benefits accrued to different groups—the 1935 Social Security Act, the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, and the 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments. Those policies differ from climate change policy in important ways, but they nonetheless offer lessons. For example, designing climate policy to deliver broad, near-term benefits could help overcome some of the political opposition. To do so might require linking climate change with other issues, or linking various interest groups. We might also win support from incumbent firms by finding ways to compensate them for their losses under climate change policy, or use policy to help turn insurgent firms into incumbents with political influence of their own. Finally, we might account for and exploit the veto points and opportunities embedded in our existing political institutions.
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