The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy organized a online seminar March 10 to discuss the intersection between social justice issues and environmental policy-making in the United States as part of their public policy and institutional discrimination lecture series. Joshua Bassechesformer associate professor of public policy, spoke on the equitable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, cap-and-trade policies, and environmental justice legislation.
Stephanie Sanderdiversity, equity and inclusion officer and public policy speaker, organized the event and said the series was a way to expose UM members to a range of important policy issues about iniquity.
“This series is an opportunity for faculty, staff, and students from foreign schools to come together, outside of the classroom, to discuss important issues of American public policy.” Sanders said. It “is designed to deepen our understanding of the ways in which discrimination manifests itself within various institutions.”
Basseches opened his presentation by exploring the history of environmental justicewhich he says was born out of the climate change movement gain territory in the United States in the late 1980s. Basseches said the Sierra Club — an environmental organization founded in 1892 – continued to be disproportionately white-led into the 1980s, so issues of racial discrimination arose alongside the environmental justice movement
“The incidence of environmental hazards has disproportionately affected black and brown communities in the United States,” Basseches said.
However, the environmental movement has become more inclusive over the years. Bassheches said that today the movement is no longer predominantly white, but is more representative of those directly affected by the climate crisis. For example, he spoke of the Detroiters working for environmental justicea grassroots movement working to create clean energy jobs and raise awareness of vulnerable communities that are victims of environmental injustices.
Today, political efforts are focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to Basseches, the attempts have mostly been market based— which include taxes, fees and subsidies on polluters. Basseches specifically talked about cap and trade as a way governments can take to limit emissions by setting an upper limit, or “cap,” on the amount of greenhouse gases organizations can emit. However, organizations can buy and sell these units to each other.
“The idea that you’re driving up the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore you’re incentivizing
behaviors that move away from the consumption of greenhouse gases,” said Basseches.
However, these strategies raise issues of equity. Rackham freshman Caroline Lelang, asked if there was a way to adjust cap and trade, keeping the concept while making it fairer.
“With market-based policies, there’s a much greater risk that it will perpetuate environmental injustice,” Basseches said. “Cap and trade is difficult because it is a policy subject to vested interests.”
Proposed Basseches solar net metering as a possible alternative to cap and trade policies. Solar net metering compensates households that own solar panels by financially crediting them for the energy they add to the electrical grid. Basseches said this strategy makes homeowners both energy consumers and energy producers.
Asked about the recent rise gas prices and potential effects on fuel consumption, Basseches said the international conflict between Russia and Ukraine has highlighted the importance of energy security.
“The people most affected by high gasoline prices are the poor, because gasoline is a regressive load.” said Basseches. “Gas prices are happening in a context where energy security, with what is happening now in Russia and Ukraine, shows how important energy security is in the context of international politics. (…) Energy security is an important argument in favor of switching to renewable energies”.
Basseches reiterated the importance of fairly redistributing the costs of greener energy sources by ensuring that businesses, not consumers, feel the economic brunt of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Basseches said solutions can be found by working directly with homeowners to install panels, as well as investing in community solar panels to provide relief for those who cannot afford to have one in their homes.
Basseches ended the webinar by saying that increased student interest in environmental issues held promise for the future.
“We need people to articulate in a way that decision-makers can understand exactly what needs to happen to prevent these problems from perpetuating themselves,” Basseches said.
Daily News contributor Cecilia Duran can be reached at [email protected]