SAU Buzz

Visiting Scholar Discusses the Economic Impact of Environmental Revolution

by Kaylee Golden
Posted on Feb 19, 2018

The environment has been a major topic of conversation for decades now. Its importance politically is becoming more and more obvious with the changes in office and the platforms that candidates run on. However, something that many don’t consider are the economic impacts of environmental changes. On Feb. 6, Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Jeffrey Ball addressed a crowd in the Galvin auditorium about exactly that subject.

Ball, an award winning writer for publications such as The Atlantic, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal, has been covering the environment for nearly 15 years. He has traveled to places like Mexico, Germany and Saudi Arabia to cover the environment and changes in environmental technology and strategy.

Ball reasons that the history of renewable energy has gone through three stages: “the age of necessity,” “the age of subsidy” and “the age of competitiveness.”

The “age of necessity” was when renewable energy was first engineered and technology was created. It was very expensive and the only time that people used this method was when there was no other alternative.

The “age of subsidy” began in Europe during the 1990’s. During this time, countries such as Germany and Denmark paid citizens to install and use renewable energy sources on their land. In addition, the people were guaranteed that their extra energy would be bought and used by the government. This increased the willingness of individuals to use renewable energy, but it is an easier policy to enact when the country in question is small geographically and in population.

The “age of competitiveness” is the age that we are currently living, according to Ball. Recently, Ball spoke with the CEO of Shell- one of the biggest oil companies in the world. The CEO of Shell told Ball that his company was beginning to research and move toward the renewable energy sector. This shift by an oil giant like Shell struck Ball as a sign that times are changing and a revolution is coming in the energy sector. However, Ball was quick to point out that these shifts are not for the good of the world, but for the good for the companies that are in the oil or nonrenewable energy sector.

“[The CEO of Shell] isn’t going into solars because he wants to save the glaciers, but because he wants to save his company,” Ball said.

Those countries that are taking big steps to change their environmental impact to more green initiatives are primarily driven by necessity or health-related reasoning. Denmark does it for necessity, Germany does it to lessen the amount of nuclear waste produced and China does it to improve the air quality and health of its citizens. Ball says that the United States need a “push” to start using greener initiatives, but right now there isn’t really a reason to do so.

“I don’t think we feel a crisis in the United States- our skies are pretty clean, we are swimming in domestic supplies of oil and gas,” Ball said. “If you want a big renewable energy revolution in the United States, you want it for green reasons, not for our survival.”

Ball sees steps toward renewable energy as a positive sign of change in the world, but the reasoning behind those changes are not necessarily great. Oil companies expanding into the renewable sector isn’t because they want to save the world, but because they want to make more money and keep their primary source of money- oil- afloat. Ball emphasizes that for green to become a main reason for the use of renewable energy in the United States, there needs to be economic pulls that encourage the nation to do so.

“We are not being pushed in this country on much of anything when it comes it energy,” Ball said. “And what that means is that if we want renewable energy to become what it is possible to be, then the world has to work to make renewable energy cheaper—they need to make it more of a pull.”