Dr. Shi Ling Hsu shares about the economic landscape of climate policy

Shi Ling Hsu

By Sara Wanous

Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an online meeting featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change, carbon fee and dividend, and the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Check out recaps of past speakers here.

Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu is a decorated yet approachable member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Advisory Board. Dr. Hsu is the Associate Dean for Environmental Programs at Florida State University College of Law and was an EPA Star Fellow (1996-98). With an academic background in electrical engineering, ecology, agricultural and resource economics, and law, he has become an expert in environmental policy. Dr. Hsu’s expertise shines through in his book, “The Case for a Carbon Tax: Getting Past our Hang-ups to Effective Climate Policy.” Because it is a comprehensive yet accessible climate policy resource, Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Executive Director, Mark Reynolds, says, “If there is only one book you’re going to read on climate policy, his book is the one I’d recommend.” Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu has shared his expertise on the intersection between economics and climate policy with us on our June 2019 national call.

The CCL approach

Beyond his academic work, Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu works to advance climate policy by lobbying alongside Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers. He is enthusiastic about working with CCL not only because of our policy goals that are based in economics and science, but because of our approach to working with congress. CCL emphasizes approaching members of congress with respect and politeness. While reflecting on his experience lobbying alongside other Citizens’ Climate Lobby members, he said, “That was just really special. I think especially these days when we feel like people are at each other’s throats if there’s disagreement, I felt like the Citizens’ Climate Lobby approach was just the best thing.” (Alternative quote: Sometimes when I think about the disagreements that I have and the obstacles we face in talking about climate change and carbon taxes, I get a little hot under the collar, so being around other Citizens’ Climate Lobby members and approaching members of congress and their staff had a tempering influence on me as well.”)

Economists support carbon pricing

Earlier this year, 45 top economists, including former White House economic advisers, former Chairs of the Federal Reserve, Nobel laureates, and both Republicans and Democrats, signed a letter stating, “A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed necessary.” This letter further recommended that the revenue from the tax be given back as a dividend to American households.

Dr. Hsu explained that economists have supported a carbon tax for some time, but have only recently agreed on what to do with the revenue. He believes that economists have landed on carbon dividends for two primary reasons: weakening arguments for popular alternatives and politics of carbon taxation. Before they supported carbon dividends, many economists liked the idea of putting carbon tax revenue toward reducing capital taxes to provide more money for investment to grow the economy. Dr. Hsu described that confidence in this strategy has weakened as “economists are starting to recognize that money in the hands of people to invest isn’t necessarily the best way to use that money, that corporations don’t necessarily use it to create jobs.” Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu also believes that economists are starting to see the politics of a carbon price. He observed the reality of the political situation is that “unless you do something to reverse the effects on the poorest people, the people hit hardest by a carbon tax with high energy prices, then that’s a political non-starter.”

Communicating the economics of climate change

The economic costs of climate change are complex and can be difficult to grasp. Economists cite abstract figures like predicted changes in GDP, and while an increase in frequency and severity of storms can be tied to climate change, specific events cannot. Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu says, “The way to talk about the economic costs of climate change is to do the yeoman’s work of focusing on the invisible things that happen.” One example he offered to bring the conversation to more visible topics is that coal fired power plants cause premature death. Focusing on the concrete and current effects that fossil fuels have on Americans can help make the economics of climate change more clear. Dr. Hsu said, “What if you could actually make that real for them? I think this is the job of thinking about economic impacts, trying to make things that seem abstract seem real.”

To hear more from Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu including some Q&A with CCL volunteers, watch the entire April meeting on YouTube or listen to the podcast.

Sara Wanous has been the Membership Coordinator at Citizens’ Climate Lobby since January 2018. She has a B.A. in Economics and B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy from Chapman University and is pursuing a masters in Climate Science and Policy at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.