The opening ceremony for Climate Week NYC had plenty of star power on hand including former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, World Bank President Jim Kim, US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, Sir Richard Branson, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Ikea Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard.
Aside from a seeming abundance of British accents, one recurring theme I noticed was that of true costing. Though my adjacent seat mate thought this observation could be chalked up to my economics background, I noted that the importance of correcting free market inaccuracies – via inclusion of environmental and social costs as well as through elimination of fossil fuel subsidies – was a prevalent one. It was emphasized by, among other speakers, Todd Stern, investor turned environmentalist Tom Steyer (recently profiled in The New Yorker) and former Republican US Representative Bob Inglis.
Both true costing (the internalizing of external costs, in economics jargon) and the elimination of fossil fuel tax incentives (a.k.a. perverse subsidies) are an uphill battle in the US political environment, given the influence of industry money. This is in spite of the further rationale put forth by another speaker, retired Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, that it is also in the interest of US national security. Climate change is a threat to national security, he said, and “it’s bad military strategy to ignore battlefield risk.”
The awareness of and push for adjusting these errors in the free market in order to enlist its power has been brewing for a while. But as Blair remarked about the environmental movement in general, “its direction is clear, it's speed I'm worried about.”