McCormack Speaks

October 21, 2020
by jackli001
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From COVID Economy to Clean Energy Economy

By David W. Cash, Dean, McCormack Graduate School

While the House, Senate and White House are at the brink of a recovery deal, the economic impacts of COVID-19 become even more stark. The pandemic and its most recent spikes have wiped out jobs and shuttered businesses, with the already disadvantaged bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Out of this devastation, it will be a big win if Congress and the White House can eventually take significant steps toward protecting those families and businesses on the edge of economic collapse.

But we also have the opportunity not just for a win, but for a win-win. If future stimulus packages in the US strategically transform a foundation of our way of life – our energy system – to seize multiple benefits, in addition to rebuilding the economy, we will be judged in the future as having generated opportunity from crisis. As a recent report in Science outlines, this idea could be effective globally and cost a fraction of what COVID response spending is likely to be: “We show that low-carbon investments to put the world on an ambitious track toward net zero carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century are dwarfed by currently announced COVID-19 stimulus funds.” [1]

So as the debate drags on, we face a crucial crossroads.

One possible path would direct federal funding towards recreating our previously unsustainable dependence on fossil fuels and its devastating impact on health, geopolitical stability, and the climate.

Alternatively, we can choose a path where investments support jobs that will transform our energy system and make it cheaper, more reliable, more home-grown, more just, cleaner, and more sustainable for future generations. The US would reestablish leadership in the global clean energy marketplace, provide jobs across rural, suburban and urban communities, and begin to redress the disproportionate environmental impacts that marginal communities have endured.

What might this path look like? These guideposts could help.

Massive renewable energy deployment: The 2009 stimulus investments launched a renewable revolution where solar and wind became cheaper than natural gas in some places. And of course, once built, the fuel for solar and wind is free and clean. The right market signals like long-term production and investment tax credits can provide incentives to solidify renewable technologies.

Energy storage commercialization: Since the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, storage – advanced batteries – will be necessary to provide full-time power. On the cusp of affordable commercial-scale and residential-scale storage technologies, large federal investment could push technologies into the marketplace.

Energy efficiency everywhere: Energy efficiency is still the cheapest “source” of energy. Some states have unleashed efficiency, but federal dollars could triple state utility investments in energy efficiency. And since the return on investment is so good, this could more than quadruple ratepayers’ savings on energy bills.

Infrastructure investments: Study after study show that our electric grid needs major upgrades, especially when we add offshore wind, electric vehicles and storage. Strategic and significant investments now will make our economy ready for the smart clean energy future.

Job growth: Stimulus dollars must target sectors poised to grow and train workers. The clean energy sector has demonstrated success in this regard over the last 15 years. And many of these jobs stay here, like energy auditors (can’t outsource), solar panel installers (can’t outsource), wind turbine maintenance workers (can’t outsource), and energy efficiency retrofitters (can’t outsource).

Transportation Transformation: Other countries are racing to capture the global electric vehicle (EV) market. Unfortunately, we are ceding that market to China, Germany and India. And public transit systems in the US are in disrepair and underfunded. Stimulus funds for the manufacture and sale of EVs, and for public transit to become world-class, will reap big benefits in reducing congestion, generating manufacturing jobs, creating cleaner air, and providing consumers with vehicles that are cheaper to run and maintain.

Research and Development (R&D): Deep investments in energy R&D in public research labs, the private sector, and universities have always reaped big economic benefits. These would help develop the technologies of the future now and add to job growth.

More Equal Energy: All of the above investments must target low-income communities and communities of color which have not always benefited from clean energy economic growth. Now is the time to assure energy equity.

The right path is clear. The window of opportunity is limited. The consequences of the alternatives are dire. The next stimulus bill should provide a win-win and help solidify our travel to the clean energy future.

David W. Cash is the Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and a former Commissioner in the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts.


[1] Marina Andrijevic and Schleussner, C-F., Gidden, M.J., McCollum, D.L., and Rogelj, J. (2020) COVID-19 recovery funds dwarf clean energy investment needs. Science October 16: pp. 298-300.

January 31, 2020
by jackli001
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National Academy of Social Insurance Recognizes McCormack School Professor’s Innovative Proposal

By McCormack Graduate School

Photo of Christian Weller, Professor, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Social Security is a bedrock benefit in the United States, but are there opportunities to innovate to better serve older Americans?

Christian Weller, PhD, a McCormack Graduate School Professor in the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, is researching solutions to support older unemployed workers who frequently face age discrimination or severe health issues – but who don’t yet qualify for full Social Security benefits.

“The current system is particularly pernicious for [these workers],” said Dr Weller. “This is because the United States’ disability insurance system is the strictest in the world and often excludes workers who, in reality, cannot reasonably work longer.”

In December, Dr. Weller was awarded and recognized by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), in collaboration with AARP, for his proposal: “A New Bridge Benefit under Social Security,” co-authored with Rebecca Vallas, a disability policy expert at the Center for American Progress, and Stephanie Lessing, a doctoral student in the McCormack Graduate School’s Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs.

“We are proposing to add a new benefit to Social Security, one that would be higher than early retirement benefits but below full retirement benefits,” said Dr. Weller. “It will build a bridge into full retirement for workers who need to leave the labor force early.”

To pay for this new benefit, the team of experts calls for an end to the current system of tax deductions and exclusions for retirement savings. Dr. Weller says, “The federal government should use that money to create progressive universal savings credits and transfer some of that money to Social Security to pay for the benefit.”

The team believes older adults will achieve three major benefits should the proposal be enacted:

  • Gaining financial security – The chance of ending up in poverty due to no fault of their own would be sharply reduced for older workers who can no longer work.
  • Reducing hardships – Cut the likelihood that people will experience material struggles such as an inability to pay their rent.
  • Promote passive saving – Lower-income workers would get more help saving for retirement from the tax code than is currently the case.

The proposal was one in a package of four policy ideas that, together, begin to address problems associated with retirement insecurity. The four winning proposals, each of which was awarded $20,000, were selected through a process of blind reviews by a panel of judges, with the complementary nature of the proposals a key consideration.

The recognition reflects Professor Weller and his co-authors’ expertise in tax policy as well as the McCormack School’s focus on effective government social equity at the local and global levels. Dr. Weller continues to apply his extensive research on retirement income, wealth inequality and economic policy through the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs’ academic programs.

“Older workers still face a lot of labor market discrimination,” said Dr. Weller. “They often have no other choice than to accept permanently reduced early retirement benefits. In the past five years, the labor market has improved for older workers. The time to prepare for an increase in older worker’s economic vulnerability is now.”

January 27, 2020
by jackli001
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PhD Student Allyson Bachta Represents McCormack School at MLK Memorial Breakfast 2020, Shares Her Experience

By Allyson Bachta, PhD Student in Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance

Photo of Allyson Bachta, CRHSGG PhD StudentPhoto of MGS Community at 50th Year MLK Memorial Breakfast

This January 20th, politicians, religious leaders and the Greater Boston community, came together at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to honor MLK at the longest running celebration of its kind in the country. The theme for this year’s 50th anniversary event was “The Struggle Continues: Moving Forward Together.” In a passionate speech made by U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, we were reminded that the Civil Rights Movement is not over!

Representative Pressley’s remarks brought me back to Spring Break 2019, when I traveled South to trace the journey of Martin Luther King Jr. from Boston University PhD student to one of the most well recognized and respected freedom fighters of all time. Carrying copies of “Stride Toward Freedom”[1] and “A Call to Conscience,”[2] I visited historical sites and read summaries of events in situ from his perspective. Arriving on the steps of his parsonage in Montgomery, Alabama, I was chosen by the tour guide to unlock the front door of the home that he shared with Coretta Scott King and his children during the time that he was pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. This was the same community where he was “spontaneously” and unanimously nominated to lead and organize the year-long bus boycott associated with the arrest of Rosa Parks. Legend has it that this was a pre-planned nomination made by a community elder that occurred after he arrived late to a meeting from running copies on the mimeograph (Never miss a staff meeting, am I right?). Essentially, this small decision changed the course of history as we know it.

To get to the door, I had to step around the paver memorializing the spot where a bomb was left on January 30, 1956 in order to claim the set of keys dangling from the tour guide’s hands. I was overwhelmed and awed at being allowed to touch and open the same door that MLK and his family walked through every single day. Those that know me well would not be surprised to learn that just like every other door lock that I have ever encountered, I wasn’t able to open it on the first try. After some help entering the home, we walked past a reproduction of Coretta’s piano, through the dining room with its large pocket doors, past the long table where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed, into the library his church built for him so that he could spend more time with his family while finishing his dissertation, and into the kitchen, where red silk flowers Coretta received from Martin a month before his assassination were centered on their original Formica kitchen table.

It was at this same table where I was seated that King himself sat to “think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward”[3] one night after receiving yet another phone call at home threatening his life. At this same table where I sat, perhaps in the very seat that I occupied, he prayed: “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”[4] While surrounded by these touchstones of the Civil Rights movement, in my inclination to respectfully canonize its participants, at times I have easily lost focus on the fact that they were ordinary people who did extraordinary things, in the face of real fear. But, Martin Luther King Jr was not fearless, or tireless, or without human fault.

Within our own backyard we have the opportunity to remember not only the collaboration between Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King as married partners who met while attending Boston area colleges, but of the urgent need for policy change in addressing the existence and perpetuation of systemic racism and poverty. While these issues were at the very heart of the Civil Rights Movement, more than fifty years later, systemic poverty is still reinforced and perpetuated by inappropriate and ineffective policies and the wealth gap continues to grow across the country.

In that moment of kitchen table prayer, Martin tells of becoming overwhelmed with peace and hearing an inner voice that told him to “Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth…”[5] So, I ask you: where and how will you stand up for righteousness and truth? What steps can you take within your studies, research, teaching, and leadership to continue the work that MLK began as a student in the Boston area? How will you push through the fear and exhaustion that comes with the effort of making systemic change? What will you say that needs saying to stop people from “being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression?”[6] Just like my trouble with doors locks, we will most definitely not be successful on the first try and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help from others when we meet resistance.

“I want to say that in all of our actions, we must stick together. Unity is the great need of the hour, and if we are united, we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. And don’t let anybody frighten you. We are not afraid of what we are doing, because we are doing it within the law. There is never a time in our American democracy that we must ever think we are wrong when we protest…” – Martin Luther King Jr

“Joy is a necessary act of resistance.” – Representative Ayanna Pressley


Allyson Bachta is a current Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance student. She has earned an M.S. in Global and International Education from Drexel University, an M.Ed in Science Curriculum and Instruction and a B.S. in Exercise Physiology, both from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Her research interests include:

Peace education initiatives in conflict/post-conflict societies
Truth and reconciliation commissions
Community dialogue for collective action and restorative justice
Non-violent social movements
Intercultural communication


References

[1] King, Martin Luther. Stride Toward Freedom. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2010.

[2] Carson, Clayborne, and Kris Shepard, eds. A Call to Conscience. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2001.

[3] King, Stride Toward Freedom, 125.

[4] Ibid, 125.

[5] Carson, Clayborne. “The Violence of Desperate Men.” In The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr, 63–82. New York City, NY: Warner Books, 1998, 77.

[6] King, Martin Luther. “First MIA Mass Meeting.” First MIA Mass Meeting. December 5, 1955.

December 18, 2019
by jackli001
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Climate for Cooperation

By James Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security & Research Associate, Center for Governance and Sustainability

Photo of Jack Whitacre

While news reports dramatize US-China relations as prickly at best, an unsung story of cooperation moves steadily forward. Science is helping to build bridges while diplomacy struggles.

Indeed, climate change, with its disdain for national boundaries, will often require international responses, and may therefore be a key driver of global collaboration, led by scientists.

One example: GOA-ON (Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network) — a global effort to measure the increasing acid content of the ocean includes a large number of organizations – governmental and NGOs worldwide, with the U.S. and China taking leading roles. U.S. organizations include Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Carnegie Institution for Science, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The state Oceanic Administration of China is also involved, as are Tianjin University and the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute.

As news outlets give the impression that trade negotiations between the U.S. and China are perpetually on the brink either of success or collapse, scientists from both countries – and many others — are working together steadily to measure acidification in a variety of marine environments, and limit its potentially disastrous effects on organisms small and large.

The focus of my own research is on wetlands, including coasts, which also often require collaborative approaches. Strategies for bringing this about were explored earlier this year at a workshop organized by McCormack Graduate School, Tufts, B.U. and MIT. The workshop looked in part at science diplomacy and the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. Dean David Cash and Associate Professor Maria Ivanova were among the lead presenters.

GOA-ON, the collaborative looking at ocean acidification, is a perfect case study of mostly non-governmental actors – namely scientific actors — setting and shaping research agendas, standards, and international cooperation through novel partnerships and communities of practice. Such efforts are on the rise, and that is good news.

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