Pearl River Much of the point that Bob Keefe makes about climate is embedded right in his word coinage: climatenomics. The heart of his argument is that economics is now about climate and that the efforts to deal with climate change will increasingly be driven by economics. Putting a finer point on climatenomics, Keefe believes business will help lead the fight for progressive climate change, rather than dragging it down, which is what most of us fear.
I learned all of this talking to Keefe on Wade’s World recently and reading his new book, Climatenomics: Washington, Wall Street and the Economic Battle to Save Our Planet. Keefe comes to his convictions after the last decade running E2, which stands for Environmental Entrepreneurs, a coalition of over 10,000 business people. Keefe is based in San Diego, but E2 is also an operating unit of the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) one of the DC-based pillars of the institutional environmental movement.
It was a tough time to talk to Keefe. He had argued in the book that government was a central partner of business and popular efforts to deal with climate issues, saying the “Biden administration’s climate and clean energy agenda is a three-pronged effort that includes regulation, legislation, and procurement.” He had devoted much of a chapter to Biden’s Build Back Better bill and its climate components including infrastructure investment in energy transition from coal to cleaner fuels, incentives towards developing electric vehicles and charging stations, and much more. He made the obvious argument that this kind of government investment in modernization had been part of American history in developing railroads, highways, and air travel, so this was a natural next evolution in adapting to current needs and issues. Unfortunately, we were talking right after West Virginia’s Senator Manchin had reversed course and informed the Senate Majority Leader Schumer that he would not vote for the bill with these components, striking a death blow to the climate planks in the bill, even as President Biden was moving to recast the bill as a health care measure. Our conversation was also in the wake of the Supreme Court’s attempt to gut the EPA’s ability to force down coal emissions.
Nonetheless, Keefe believes that in the business community the cows are already out of the barn, and most of them believe that change is inevitable. Add to that recognition the fact that alternative fuels are not only cleaner, but cheaper, and he sees a stampede coming. Even as he mourned the Manchin retreat, he touted the huge role that Biden has played in procurement with the military, post office, and other agencies moving to electric vehicles that is driving the market in the automobile industry. Other initiatives with government properties and with governmental employees are also going to lead the way in legitimizing more movement by businesses.
We have to hope Keefe is right, but even if he is gilding the lily, having fewer and fewer businesses not standing in the way of reforming our climate crisis is a contribution to the fight, whether they are in front of the march, in the middle, or taking up the rear.