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Is Russia's War the End of Climate Policy as We Know It?

Ted Nordhaus

Monday, July 4, 2022

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to Decouple. Today I'm joined by a triple returning guest, Ted Nordhaus, the founder and executive director of the breakthrough Institute. I brought that back today to discuss his most recent article in Foreign Policy titled Russia's war is the end of climate policy as we know it. Welcome back, Ted.


Ted Nordhaus  0:17  

Thanks. Thanks. Good to be back. Always happy to be on the show.


Chris Keefer  0:20  

So Ted, you've run the self introduction gauntlet on several occasions now. So why don't we just catch up a little on what's new with you, I'm excited to be coming to the breakthrough dialogues. So maybe take a moment and fill out our listenership and on on the theme and some of the guests.


Ted Nordhaus  0:35  

Yeah, absolutely. So the breakthrough dialogue is our flagship event, I think this will be maybe the 12th year, we've hosted it, we do it at a sort of resort, in the old used to be called Fort Baker, which is just at the northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, just north on the other side of the bay from San Francisco, and, you know, very fitting location for Star Trek fans, because it's where they kind of whatever they do, whatever the CGI, Starfleet headquarters, if you like, look at the kind of when they come back home, whatever is actually like, sort of superimposed on the site where we do our conference.


Chris Keefer  1:17  

There's a big overlap, I think between Ecomodernist and Star Trek fans, I think there's a Venn diagram is that these Yes,


Ted Nordhaus  1:23  

yes, there is an end, you know, there's a whole kind of riff on on sort of science fiction, kind of goes wrong and reflects this turn in the culture when you shift from Star Trek to Star Wars, you know, Star Trek as a super modernist, you know, kind of intergalactic sort of empire for kind of good and exploring the universe and, and bringing cultures together, and Star Wars just like Ewoks in the forest, fighting this sort of evil techno empire. And that's sort of when the culture sort of gets really captured by environmentalism in a particular way. But the theme of the conference this year is called progress problems. And, you know, I think a very Ecomodernist point of view, which is to sort of actually recognize and celebrate progress, while recognizing that the work is never finished, you know, solving old problems, creates new problems. And we've got a really amazing list of speakers. Ezra Klein from the New York Times, is joining us. And we're going to have a panel on sort of some ideas that he's been sort of playing around with what he calls supply side progressivism, which is sort of getting progressives back in the business of actually sort of developing technology and building stuff again. And I'm sort of going to be on a panel with David Wallace wells and a number of other folks around sort of a piece I actually wrote earlier this year on climate catastrophism. That was titled, am I a mass murderer, that sort of pushed back against some of the really sort of crazy things that at least a segment of the climate movement says about climate change? And a bunch of other really interesting, exciting sort of discussions and panels, so it should be a good event?


Chris Keefer  3:26  

All right. Yeah. I mean, I'd love to just do a whole episode exploring the Star Trek Star Wars dichotomy here. And we're actually going to be doing a show in the near future. That's more of an aesthetic show. Because I think the Ecomodernist manifesto was probably, you know, it was an aesthetic project as well. I'm just thinking about the sort of cover photo of urban density next to, you know, kind of rewilding nature. And, you know, as a movement, you know, there's a lot that goes into making it attractive, I guess, bringing people in to the flock that has to do with the aesthetic project, what it's going to look like and you know, the the mainstream environmentalist have a very nice narrative, and they have a sort of bucolic vision. And I feel like there needs to be more work to sort of flesh out this, this visions. Maybe we'll touch on that towards the end of this interview. But that's just a spoiler spoiler alert for some upcoming content, but plays very well into that Star Trek Star Wars vision perhaps as a potential starting off point. But we're gonna talk about this, this great foreign policy article again, it's called the Russia's war is the end of climate policy as we know it. I don't quote Vladimir aliens Lenin all the time. But when I do, I do choose the words rise wisely. He says there are decades where nothing happens. And there are weeks where decades happen. And it certainly feels like we're in this accelerated point in history, where there may have been some sort of stagnation over the last, you know, 1012 years, relatively easy times. Something I've been referring to as the fog of peace. Certainly when it comes to the sophistication of the climate discourse, and that all seems to be rapidly rapidly changing, I'm going to be attending cop 27. In Egypt this year, I was at COP 26. Last year, I think it's going to be a very different gathering very different context. Hopefully, the policymakers will be catching up with some of the changes we're seeing. But let's just start off, I guess, with a with a maybe imagining that I mean, how do you think discussions a cop 27 will be different this year, based upon I guess, both the energy crisis and the Russian invasion?


Ted Nordhaus  5:33  

That's a really interesting question. I mean, on one level, like cops have always been kind of pretty irrelevant to what anyone actually did in world. So in that sense, it will be consistent. You know, I think we will kind of continue to have lots of talk about, you know, what we've done for for a couple of decades now, which is sort of talk about these sort of arbitrary arbitrary sort of politically negotiated targets as if they're real things, even though they have sort of not only no kind of legally binding mechanism, but you know, really kind of whatever the world is doing or not doing about climate change, it's pretty detached from, again, what kind of get described, you know, very inaccurately, as science based targets, there's literally no real science behind these, these targets, or these thresholds, at least in relationship to what they claim to be. And at the same time, you know, I do think there will be, and you're already seeing sort of some road wreck some rhetoric in the last few months from various sort of COP oriented people acknowledging that the conversation will be different. And that, you know, there will be I think, more acknowledgement that they, you know, that sort of climate efforts sort of need to take energy security and the sort of various geopolitical contest stations around it seriously.


Chris Keefer  7:11  

Yeah, absolutely. I'm thinking about, you know, being in Egypt, we've been covering the, I guess, the emerging global food crisis. We had Saloni. SHAN recently to talk about the Sri Lankan crash, organic agriculture. Dr. And, you know, we certainly all hope that that's not going to foreshadow a world where there are limits to fertilizer production, particularly in poor countries, but I think about Egypt, you know, a country who was critically dependent on wheat imports. You know, there was there's some good analysis showing that, you know, while Ukraine did that account for 25%, of of exports, it was only 1% of total, or wheat production, and a lot of countries make their own wheat, but the Middle East and North Africa are obviously going to be hugely affected. So just being an Egypt, with the potential for who knows what, you know, food riots going on, it could make this


Ted Nordhaus  8:00  

week, which I will predict in advance, we'll all get, you know, because it's already happened will get sort of in this sort of hand wavy way attributed to climate change. Yeah. And it's like, actually, it's a war that just cut off like a huge percentage of the world's, you know, access to a huge percentage of the world's wheat production. Plus, you know, very high natural gas prices and very high fertilizer prices. Like that. Those are like the two things and they will be, they'll be kind of acknowledged, you'll go read like the New York Times story. And it will, like, acknowledge those things, but it will write it in a way where like, an average reader would think that climate change was the main event because like, there were sort of some droughts and some floods in some places.


Chris Keefer  8:54  

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think it's gonna have a very versatile feel to it. I've been to Sharm el Sheikh once. I did some medical education work in Gaza and Palestine. And we had this bizarre culture shock of being in refugee camps there and then decompressing in Sharm el Sheikh, which is a for those who don't know, it kind of a luxury resort on the Red Sea, and may have a similar field, depending on


Ted Nordhaus  9:18  

cocktail party in the world, Chris? Yeah. Which is sort of what really kind of keeps it going. More than like any actual progress on climate change.


Chris Keefer  9:29  

No, it's interesting, because, you know, I've it's been quite a journey for myself for 140 Plus episodes. And I remember talking about you as the arch pragmatist. You know, I still, I still have a lot of fire in me, and a lot of desire to see the world change quickly. But it has been interesting. I mean, just looking at the impacts on humanity, the proximate impacts of an energy crisis versus the proximate impacts of climate change. I mean, these are things that are really on the scale. And I mean, we'll see but We're I guess, in the we were prior to the Russian invasion, you know, entering into an energy crisis. And we could be seeing some some pretty nasty impacts, like you're saying, relevance and caused by the energy crisis rather than climate change at this at this near point, you know, there'll probably be an inflection point at some point in the future. So let's move on and talk. I mean, what I really liked about your article is that it provided some historical context. We're in an energy crisis right now that has reasons that are beyond just geopolitical, obviously, things were smoldering before the Russian invasion. And interestingly, I think a lot of that had to do with ESG pressures, as you were saying, you know, putting strains on the natural gas supply, etc. But, but there were some interesting analogies and the lessons that you pulled out of of the OPEC crisis, for what we're what we're heading into now. Like, in what ways, are they similar? In what ways? Are they different?


Ted Nordhaus  10:56  

Yeah, I mean, I think there's a lot of similarities between the era that we are entering, I believe, now, which I call in the article, the post post cold war era, and the Cold War era, but sort of prior to 1990 were sort of energy security concerns, you know, both in the context of sort of this massive global sort of geopolitical competition between the US and the Soviet Union. And, you know, a whole set of, you know, partially at least, proxy conflicts, you know, obviously, the sort of Middle East, you know, the oil embargoes are kind of in response to this conflict between Israel and much of the Arab world, which, you know, in a bunch of ways, not entirely, obviously, but in a bunch of ways, you know, was a sort of proxy conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. And in that context, where, you know, you actually couldn't go get your, your energy supplies from wherever you wanted, you know, and just sort of go buy them on an openly traded market, because of embargoes. And because of various other sort of, sort of geopolitical issues. There was just a really, really high premium on investing in, in energy security. And, you know, in some cases, that was, you know, developing oil and gas supplies, in other places. Ultimately, the sort of shale gas revolution, really kind of, you know, it comes to fruition after the Cold War, but all of the critical sort of technical achievements sort of happen during the Cold War era. You know, you have, you know, like France and Sweden, after the Arab oil embargo do sort of big national nuclear programs, as does Japan, you have big hydro efforts, you have the launching of this sort of initial effort to develop wind and solar technologies and electric vehicle technologies, huge efforts to improve energy efficiency. And all of these things are just sort of driven by sort of national security and energy security imperatives, that that, frankly, just sort of Trump the sort of kind of climate, you know, despite this sort of existential apocalyptic sort of existential rhetoric around climate change, that has sort of gone on for the last couple of decades. It just can't compare to the just immediate geopolitical imperatives to develop alternative energy supplies, whether they're low carbon or not, that characterize the Cold War. And so then when you now you know, like 30 years after the end of the Cold War, you go look at it. The irony is that the global energy system decarbonize us faster in the 30 years before the end of the Cold War. Then the 30 years after, when everyone was supposed to sort of hold hands and sing Kumbaya, and we're gonna have this internationally integrated effort to sort of turn all of those Cold War destructive energies towards peace and prosperity and tackling environmental challenges. So, you know, and I think we're kind of heading back into an era where, you know, we should remember that there are you know, a lot of really terrible things happening right now, the obvious thing right in front of us is just the brutality of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. But, you know, obviously, you know, percolating in the background is the risk of a real existential threat, which would be the use of nuclear weapons in an escalating conflict. You know, we have, you know, China, which is producing big share of the world's sort of solar wind batteries with sort of outright slave labor.


And, you know, in a sort of highly authoritarian context. And and I think, so those are all really kind of bad things. So there's this weird little silver lining, and we should remember that it's a zero silver lining on a really dark cloud, which is that I think that we may actually we're likely to make more progress on Decarbonization in this new geopolitical context, you know, of sort of competition and energy security imperatives. And the West, particularly needing to figure out not only what it's doing with this sort of Russian state gone rogue, but also how it's addressing this broader challenge, particularly from China to what was assumed to be the international order, which was that sort of everything was going to kind of move towards more liberal, open democratic societies. And the Chinese are quite clearly saying, not so fast. You put all those pieces together, and I think there's really strong imperatives for nuclear for, you know, actually finally, kind of fixing a bunch of the infrastructure problems that really severely limit the expansion of renewable energies. You know, a bunch of other sort of things that actually I think we'll kind of over time make the global energy system look better than it has. But again, we should not forget that climate is not the only concern in the world. And, and the current moment should remind us that it's not even necessarily the most important. There's


Chris Keefer  17:05  

a group in the EU called ri planets, which has the switch off Putin campaign. And I mean, they have a lot of solutions to try and completely eliminate Russian energy imports. And some of them are pretty, you know, textbooks such as keeping turning your thermostat down. Others sort of fit very much within an Ecomodernist frame, such as, you know, not shutting down the German nuclear fleet and helping the making some kind of investments so that the French can actually get their shit together and run their fleet properly. But another is, you know, substituting coal for gas in the context again, of just trying to disarm Putin, given that the EU is essentially subsidizing that war, and the ruble has rebounded, despite sanctions, etc.


It's an interesting, it's an interesting thesis, you know, and you've drawn some nice parallels between the OPEC crisis and the current energy and geopolitical crisis. Focusing on the west, I'm wondering, though, whether your optimism is sustained given. You mentioned, for instance, the the big nuclear build outs in France and Sweden, it seems like the West is in deep trouble in terms of being able to replicate that, you know, in France in the 70s, you are building off of, you know, a real sort of post war industrialization. This was pre neoliberal economics and sort of offshoring of a lot of particularly heavy industry, towards China and these authoritarian countries. I mean, it seems like it's a wake up call it I've heard the term friend shoring up emerging, this idea that, you know, certainly we need to have supply chains that are sort of within within the West within these these allied countries. You know, Bill McKibben has suggested it's as simple, you know, to get off and to get off of Russian energy as as just building wind turbines and solar panels and electric vehicles. But of course, those supply chains are in another authoritarian country. So what are your thoughts about the West's capacity to respond in any way similar to how it did after the OPEC crisis? Just in terms of those industrial pre prerequisites? Is it too late?


Ted Nordhaus  19:08  

You know, I don't think it's too late. I think it will take time. Yeah. You know, so, you know, I mean, the sort of first thing is do what you can to stop the bleeding. And, you know, we've seen some sort of reversals on things like nuclear closures. You know, I think there's a sort of reconsideration of where the gas is like, Russia's, I mean, Europe's not going to kind of end its dependence on gas quickly. They'll do some more heat pumps, but even that will take time and doesn't really address where a huge amount of gas is being used, which is an industrial processes. But suddenly liquefied natural gas terminals become really important things. Suddenly, sort of African gas reserves and the development of those reserves. have become sort of our back on the table in a way that you're trying to put them, take them off the table, obviously, we've seen a huge reversal in just the Biden administration's orientation towards domestic oil and gas production in the matter of just months, really weeks, if you go back to the beginning of the war, and then, um, you know, and then you kind of get sort of longer term efforts. And I think there's a lot of kind of, like theater going on right now around, you know, like Biden, invoking the defense production act for like heat pumps, and along with baby formula, which is really kind of not what it's intended to do. And, and it's all very symbolic, does it work. So I mean, it despite it's not being formed for that purpose, cannot work. I have a hard time seeing it, I mean, like, just, for instance, like they go and say they're gonna do defense production act for like, critical minerals. But they notably, don't take any action to deal with, like, any of the NEPA, the National Environmental Policy, act restrictions or anything environment, you know, like that, sort of still, like they, their environmental wing of the of the Democratic Party will go kind of nuts if they do that. So it's like defense production act for critical minerals, except that, we're not actually going to take any of the steps that would make it easier to do any of the mining or production of them. And, you know, like, they go, say, they're gonna coat coat go kind of, like, buy some solar panels. You know, they're gonna do defense production act for like, solar, but not for nuclear. So I think it's all very kind of, politically, you know, they're still actually treating this, like a political crisis, you know, sort of with a focus on like, trying to, like, not get killed in the midterms, which they're gonna get killed in the midterms. And I don't think there's actually, like, a serious come to Jesus moment, at least in the Biden administration around this. And, you know, I think the solutions, you know, maybe they're sort of some defense production act stuff, like, you know, if you really kind of want to like, like, make a difference in the sort of Ukraine situation with advanced production Act, the biggest thing we could do is use it for its intended purpose and like, start producing, like how it serves and ammunition so that the Ukraine, the Ukrainians can sort of get to some parity or close to parity with the Russians in terms of long range artillery eggs, you know, the baby formula kind of thing we could we could solve, like, almost overnight by just waving some FDA rules. But apparently, again, you know, Democrats don't do that sort of thing. So, you know, we're back to sort of symbolism, and I think they're gonna pay for it, you know, in the midterm, and after the midterm, we'll see, you know, with the likelihood that Republicans are going to be in control of, you know, I think probably both houses of Congress, you know, I think, then you get the administration sort of trying to triangulate and show that they can kind of get things done, even when they don't control Congress. And, and I think we might see some more of the kind of longer term stuff that needs to get done, including, you know, as you know, just to beat this drum. You know, I we need much more far reaching reform of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, if we're going to get any new nuclear ever actually licensed and built in the United States. And again, I think that coming into the end of this year, into next year, you know, I think we'll see that I think we're gonna see serious discussions about what to do about NEPA, and some of the other environmental restrictions that have sort of, you know, kind of are huge obstacles to any sort of energy transition, and move away from fossil fuels. So, you know, I think that's, that's where we're headed.


I don't think like this idea that sort of somehow we're going to kind of like, you know, we're going to do France in the 70s. You know, and like nationalize the power sector or something like that. Maybe that'll happen somewhere. But, you know, I just don't think, you know, certainly in the West, that that there's really any place, even the French don't seem to quite be capable of doing that. So I think it's going to look more like kind of industrial policy, tax credits and various things like that, and various sorts of public private partnerships and efforts to sort of help, whether they're sort of technically state owned, like Arriva, or they're fully private, like a bunch of the US, sort of nuclear sector is to just kind of get them up and building new plants.


Chris Keefer  24:49  

I mean, there certainly have been some developments on the on the environmental regulatory side in Europe. I'm thinking about in Germany, where they're talking at least about waiving environmental assessments are a big part of that. At that portion of permitting it believe in Germany for for wind and solar projects, you have the Biden administration, I believe waiving the tariffs on Chinese sourced solar panels. So, you know, there is some movement on that. What's your vision on on the renewable sector as well, given that we're also in this kind of inflationary crisis, commodities are going through the roof. And there seems to be reversals in terms of some of the key ingredients for for wind and solar,


Ted Nordhaus  25:32  

it's always, you know, the kind of wind and solar miracle has always been kind of a little more complicated, I think, then the Moore's law, then then the proponents have suggested, you know, where they're just like, it's just this kind of this learning curve that goes to infinity. First of all, that depends on the supply chain and the inputs in their availability. You know, secondly, some portion of that miracle over the last decade is just the fact that we outsourced it all to China, you know, like a bunch of that supply chain literally is slave labor. Not just that's not just like a synonym for cheap labor, it is literally forced labor in in concentration camps in northwestern China. And then, you know, it's powered by really dirty, cheap coal plants. So, you know, if you look at, like, the big kind of cost inputs to that supply chain, its energy and its labor, you know, it's dependent on these critical minerals, which are also, you know, kind of tied up in problematic supply chains. You know, it's heavily subsidized, not only on the demand side, but on the supply side, through Chinese industrial, sort of mercantilist policy. And, you know, you get into this new era, where, at the same time that they say they're lifting the tariffs, but they're not really lifting the tariffs, my understanding is, what they've said is that they're not going to impose new tariffs, you know, this, Uyghur, there's a new new legislation going in place that in theory, says that, you know, at least the US won't import anything that has a significant, you know, input of, of Uighur forced labor, as part of it, we'll see how that gets implemented and enforced by it's an act of Congress. And, you know, the provenance of sort of where the silicon, which is the big input to the solar panels comes from is a little bit is pretty opaque. But you know, you've kind of put all that together, and this sort of vision, that sort of solar gets cheaper, and cheaper, and cheaper and cheaper, and kinda blows everything else out of the water, you know, which was always problematic, anyway, because of the issues around value deflation. But, but that, you know, that sort of trajectory certainly looks a bit more problematic and questionable now than it did a couple of years ago. You know, will the US go and like, you know, start kind of producing silicon at scale? Or will some of our friends do that? How long does it take to get that scaled up? You know, what do we do about the critical minerals? Are we really willing to start like mining lithium in Nevada? I'm not sure that we are, you know, there's similar issues for nuclear, right, like 20% of the current US fuel cycle, nuclear enrichment, you know, kind of comes from Russia, when you get to the advanced reactors, where they're using a uranium which is slightly more enriched than what we use in conventional reactors. Basically, Russia is the only source for it right now. But you know, then you kind of go like, there's DOD has very ambitious sort of plan and budget proposal to actually kind of ensure all of those production capacities, there seems to be pretty serious conversations, bipartisan conversations in Congress to do that. So, you know, we'll see. And I think one of the things that happens in this context is that, you know, you know, certainly in the US, we kind of legislate by by emergency. And right now, there's a, you know, in the context of this current emergency, I think there's opportunities sort of to do things you know, both around nuclear and and, you know, frankly, around other supply chains, and siting and, and environmental review, that you just couldn't do during sort of normal order, which is really just basically mostly gridlock. So, you know, I think I think that's still to be written and certainly


Chris Keefer  29:56  

you're speaking to us from the glorious land of checks and balances. I think that things take a while. I mean, as you were saying, everything's gonna take time, right across the sector, all of the energy options. And that's partially as a result of policy and partially as a result of limitations on industry. It's it's been interesting sort of, also that when there's a will, there's a way, you know, it's not that the popularity of nuclear energy has somehow soared in the United Kingdom, you know, in parallel to the degree to which the government is recommitting to nuclear with a regulated asset based funding model. But more importantly, talking about building, you know, reactor every year instead of a reactor every decade. Obviously, that's going to take a decade to get moving along. But, you know, seeing some pretty pretty major policy shifts. I mean, the UK is different legislatively than the US. But is there a particular challenges in the US again, given given the checks and balances given the strength of environmental organizations? Do you see it mean, this is a this is a, I think, at least a billion dollar a year sort of, of annual revenue for the major environmental organizations, all of which have a pretty serious degree of nimbyism, even now, when it's coming to renewable projects, such as the hydro line bringing Quebec Hydro Down to New York to what was supposed to replace Indian points output it what it tell me about some of the challenges, I think, you know, that the environmental movement is going to face? You know, I think there'll be tension between legislators and the environmental movement, can they continue to wield so much power to arrest some of the necessary things that are, are going to be geopolitically necessary, not just kind of necessary from a climate perspective.


Ted Nordhaus  31:38  

I mean, you know, at least in the US context, you know, really, kinda, to varying degrees, because they have been an important part of this sort of democratic political coalition. You know, and, you know, sort of because of the sort of prominence or salience of environmental concerns among the sort of well educated college elites that really sort of run the Democratic Party. Not really the kind of grassroots rank and file Democrats where it's much lower salience. The the, you know, the environmental community has to varying degrees on various things. So had a veto, you know, particularly, you know, if you kind of want what's sort of a third rail, even more than like nuclear, it's any reform, to the National Environmental Policy Act, or the Endangered Species Act, but I kind of think that that sort of stranglehold on the sort of Democratic Party is really weakening, I think the environmental community has really lost a lot of ground, it's sort of institutional power within the environmental community, within the Democratic Party was already sort of weakening in a bunch of ways. You know, even if you looked at like, you know, one of the interesting things, if you kind of look at the whole kind of green New Deal, that, you know, it introduced that does not come out of the institutional environmental movement. I mean, it's kind of like AOC, and these kind of crazy sunrise, they're sort of these climate activists, and they're not really kind of controlled by the big green groups. And, you know, they often, as we've seen have similar kind of NIMBY, you know, when you get down to it, if it's sort of a big corporation, even if they want to kind of build solar, you know, you end up with like Sunrise, like, impose, you know, opposing solar development in some places. But, um, you know, I do think that suggests that, you know, I think a lot of progressives are sort of having second thoughts about the environmental community, you go read someone like Ezra Klein, or, or, you know, there's a whole bunch of these folks who are kind of real planet card carrying progressives who are like, we really need to kind of pretty deeply reform this stuff, it's not serving us anymore. And then you put that together with this sort of immediate crisis. And I think, and sort of a, you know, particularly potentially, with this sort of change in, in leadership, in control of, of the House and Senate, and I think suddenly, a bunch of these things that, you know, have been sort of off the table and third rails for a generation, a good part of


Chris Keefer  34:29  

you're speaking about, you know, the West's and I guess, authoritarian countries like Russia and China's relationship with the Global South, what might have been referred to as the non aligned countries or the non aligned movement in Cold War speak something a little bit about how you foresee changes in potentially how the West interacts with with those countries. You mentioned this specific example of the Trans Sahara and gas pipeline. Yeah, if you can explore that that with us a little bit.


Ted Nordhaus  34:58  

Yeah, um, you know, It's interesting, like, you know, this sort of coalition of the willing that is sort of confronting Russia, in, in Ukraine. Interesting, interestingly, includes almost no very little sort of participation from this sort of call it the global south call it sort of developing and emerging economies, which have mostly sort of stayed on the sidelines. And there's a bunch of reasons for that. You know, a lot of them are kind of quite dependent on, you know, Russian energy, often Russian arms and munitions, Russian cereal exports, and fertilizer exports. So there's sort of some some sort of economic entanglement there, that has kind of gotten in, you know, that that sort of gives a lot of sort of non aligned what what might have been called Once Upon a Time non aligned countries reasons to stay on aligned in this conflict. You know, but there's sort of, that a lot of that is also just the residue of just sort of decades of both sort of Russian and Chinese engagement with the sort of development needs and infrastructural needs of those countries in a way that increasingly, the US in the West has sort of washed their hands of. So and again, this has a lot to do with the influence and salience of sort of environment, the environmental movement in the West, but, you know, if you kind of look at Western development, finance, like we just don't really hardly fund to any hard infrastructure, energy, particularly, you know, energy a resource, sort of facing infrastructure, in development in developing countries at all anymore.


Chris Keefer  36:57  

And what's like, what's the what's the driving reason by it? Is it really climate concern? Is it stinginess, because these projects are really expensive? Is it?


Ted Nordhaus  37:04  

I mean, I think it predates climate, you know, so, you know, anytime there's sort of any, you know, extractive enterprise that, you know, there's sort of any discussion of development, finance for, you know, whether it's a, you know, a mine, or oil and gas production, or for that matter, like a big hydroelectric dam. You know, there's almost always environmental consequences of that, and you have this extraordinary, I mean, you have to understand that the global environmental movement is literally like, the wealthiest social movement in the history of the world, you know, you know, maybe the only thing that might compare to it would be like the Catholic Church in its heyday.


Chris Keefer  37:48  

And is, it just, is it just that they're so well resourced, that they're so influential? Or I mean, it because I mean, I'm,


Ted Nordhaus  37:53  

well, yeah. And so they have, essentially, kind of, you know, infiltrated, you know, the World Bank and all the other development institutions, you know, which are all funded by the West. So they have a lot of leverage in terms of, of influencing the sort of what, what the, what the Western, rich developed, countries are willing to sort of countenance in terms of World Bank and other sorts of development, finance, they, you know, have sort of basically invested for decades and sort of standing up, kind of grassroots, you know, I mean, it's kind of like one of the if you look at like, where the kind of global opposition opposition to like big hydro electric dams kind of starts and really the, sort of still kind of, in this weird way, you know, it's literally like, like Western whitewater rafting enthusiasts, I mean, that's where it you know, sort of trying to kind of stop the damming of rivers that they wanted to kind of run on their like, you know, fan on their expeditions. And then they're sort of fancy, like eco, you know, you go run the Zambezi or you're gonna go run, you know, the yellow, the Yangzi or whatever. And so, like, a huge amount of the, of the literally, you know, and they start these environmental groups to stop the dams, which is all done in this sort of name of preserving these incredible things, you know, places and they really are incredible places to be fair and and then they kind of, you know, glom on, you know, they're going to be displaced populations, and there's all sorts of local political conflicts, and there's real human rights issues and all that stuff is real. But you also have to understand that it's literally been being sort of underwritten by like, wealthy whitewater rafting enthusiasts, you know, I'm not even sure that like, kind of describing it as kind of green neocolonialism really does justice to it. In the extraordinary sort of privilege that is at the root And then what gets sort of spun up as this very egalitarian effort to protect these places for the local people and whatever, and you kind of kind of do that times a million on on mines on any kind of resource extraction. And you do that over decades. And, and basically, at this point, like, you know, the first thing that the Western development institutions start doing is, is they sort of say, well, we're going to kind of condition development finance on sort of human rights and environmental mitigations of various sorts. And then, you know, you get a few decades out, and basically like, what development finance, a lot of development finance becomes, is literally like all the strings, like, they're not even going to finance, we don't even do the dams anymore. But, you know, it's all sort of transparency and anti corruption and sort of community engagement, that, you know, and sort of all the soft infrastructure of sort of democratic, open societies without any of the hard infrastructure that actually kind of makes kind of modernity possible. And that really sort of underpins democracy, you know, has historically underpinned democratization. And that's not to say, again, I don't want to be like, don't have any concern for any of the human rights or any of the environmental impacts. But you also have to realize that like, you know, like, like the United States, we like, cleared our forests, we dammed our rivers, we, we mined the hell out of our, you know, these landscapes, you know, in service of sort of building a modern society, and some of that is going to happen, and has to happen, and, frankly, needs to happen in developing countries around the world. And, you know, the key point for this conversation is, of course, Russia and China have no, none of these peccadilloes, they're just literally, you know, the Chinese are like, you know, not only are they like, Yeah, we don't really care about the human rights, or the environmental impacts, but like, you know, we're going to kind of get you kind of, in the process of financing this stuff sort of entangled with our supply chains, with our sort of broader sort of economic sort of production and interests in ways that then like, you know, you kind of get a war in Ukraine, or God forbid, an invasion of Taiwan. And suddenly, like, we're looking around and like, who's with us in stopping this sort of authoritarian war mongering violation of, of, you know, sort of international norms, and it's like, not a whole lot of folks stepping forward.


So, so, you know, that I think is, you know, again, I, you know, I think we need to kind of, you know, have sort of, you know, this sort of friend shoring kind of type of approach, you're starting to see that some of this, like, you go look at this new Asia Pacific trade deal that the Biden administration is proposing, and it's not that just sort of get rid of all the trade barriers that, you know, was originally at the core of the thing, but it's just much more like shared industrial policy and integrating supply chains among allies that sort of want to be part of this sort of democratic, open, sort of western model for, for the foreign international order, and then you, you know, and like you go to developing countries, and, you know, there's gonna have to be some compromises, you know, modern unit sort of modernization and development has always been a messy business. And, you know, there's always winners and losers in that process, and like, you know, there's sort of basic things around sort of state formation, like kind of, you know, if you go back to the classic, like, you know, they bury in sort of state formation, it's like, you know, like one tribe or one gang, or someone needs to have like, a monopoly on violence and needs to sort of, you know, assert a particular kind of order, and then you get sort of investment in infrastructure and, you know, sort of you build a middle class and you get huge amounts of urbanization, and all of those things, ultimately, historically, have driven democratization. And, you know, a sort of the construction of a citizenry that then demands rights, that sort of elites and and political leaders need to, you know, I have strong incentives. To to respect. That's a messy business though it's not like okay, just like we will sort of stand for democracy and human rights and, and no infrastructure until, until you don't get any infrastructure funding until that happens. And that's actually not a recipe for either modernization or democratization. It's just a recipe for poverty. So, you know, I think there's sort of global sort of implications and sort of how kind of the West sort of recalibrate its engagement you know, in Africa and parts of Asia and other parts of the world and I think it's going to be another part of this story.


Chris Keefer  45:51  

So I think we're gonna have to wrap it up around there. But for people looking for the piece will will link that in the show notes for people interested in attending the dialogues virtually, will also have that linked. Yeah, I just want to thank you again for for coming on. And it's fun to highlight an article like this, and I'm sure we'll do more of this in the future.


Ted Nordhaus  46:09  

Great, great. Always, always fun to join the podcast, Chris.



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