Energy policy expert to discuss politics of carbon pricing in upcoming Ostrom lecture

The recent release of a climate change report from the United Nations and the Green New Deal stimulus program has intensified recent discussion around renewable energy policy in the United States.

Carbon pricing -- charging for carbon emissions to encourage polluters to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas they emit -- has long been held by economists as the best policy option for managing the threat of climate change. But is a federal carbon pricing policy politically feasible in the United States?

Barry Rabe, the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy and director of the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at University of Michigan, will discuss this question and more in the 2019 Ostrom Lecture on Environmental Policy.

His talk, "The Politics of Carbon Pricing," will examine political challenges for carbon pricing across each stage of the policy life cycle and discuss key design elements of more successful and durable renewable energy policies. The lecture will take place from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, in the University Club at the Indiana Memorial Union. It is open to the public and will be broadcast live on Zoom.

Rabe's research and latest book, "Can We Price Carbon?" examines climate and energy policy, and he co-chaired the Assumable Waters Committee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2015 to 2017. He said one reason carbon pricing is politically challenging is because it asks people to make immediate sacrifices for future benefits.

"Climate change is a wicked problem, because people see direct results when their utility bill or gas prices go up, but may not see positive outcomes immediately," he said. "These policies are really difficult for all democratic systems of government -- not just America."

Climate change is a wicked problem, because people see direct results when their utility bill or gas prices go up, but may not see positive outcomes immediately.

Barry Rabe

But Rabe will also discuss politically successful carbon policies, like a carbon tax enacted by a conservative administration in the Canadian province of British Columbia that has received widespread public support and reduced carbon emissions with no adverse effects on the economy.

Regardless of the political approach, Rabe said, policymakers around the world are arriving at this conversation a few decades too late. As pressure is put on legislators to accelerate actions to mitigate climate change, Rabe said it's important for academics, students and the public to discuss what approaches are most practical.

"Is carbon pricing politically possible in the United States? Yes, because several states are already doing it," Rabe said. "Will a national carbon pricing policy be put in place in the next five to 10 years? I don't know."

In addition to delivering the Ostrom Lecture on Environmental Policy, Rabe will be guest lecturing in classrooms and meeting with IU faculty and students.

The Ostrom Lecture on Environmental Policy is given annually in the spring semester by a distinguished scholar-in-residence. This lecture is a component of the Program on Natural Resource Governance, which was created in 2016 to develop a network of scholars to examine the institutions that govern natural resources.