The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs opened its doors to Robinson Meyer, founding executive editor of Heatmap — a new media organization focused on the climate and energy transition.
Meyer, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and a former staff writer at The Atlantic, discussed President Joe Biden’s economic policies and how they relate to climate change.
“Something has really changed in climate politics in America,” Meyer said, addressing nearly 40 Brown community members.
Meyer noted that federal spending from the Inflation Reduction Act could total up to $60 billion on clean energy alone in the next five years. The law offers expansive tax credits for renewable energy and grants for climate mitigation, adaptation and research and development.
And in the last two years alone, $213 billion in private investment has gone to renewable energy, he added.
The most important change leading to this moment, Meyer said, occurred in the realm of ideas: “The actual governing ideology and ideas that policymakers and everyone around policymakers brings to the task of climate policymaking.”
Meyer cited a “new theory of how economics and markets and the entire productive and consumptive sector of human life should be governed” that has taken precedence in the Biden administration — one that has been shaped by the problems of climate change.
Those conversations, though, have only made it through the “normal community of politics” without much impact in the world of climate policy, he noted.
The new ideology centers around the concept of “the real economy,” he added, which recognizes that the economy is a set of “nonfungible goods and services” that demand specific financial and labor arrangements, rather than an abstract entity managed with financial tools.
Meyer also highlighted that climate change must “be dealt with at (a) systematic economic, national level.” Policies which lower the cost of clean technology and encourage widespread adoption can, in turn, accelerate technological development and uptake, he noted.
Other pieces of the new paradigm include that the United States has the right to compete in the global economy, as well as the consideration that combatting climate change also means decarbonizing as quickly as possible to avoid the possibility of the most catastrophic warming — five or six degrees celsius instead of two or three.
And because the Inflation Reduction Act lowers the cost of key tools used for decarbonization — electric vehicles and heat pumps, for instance — Meyer explained that the new paradigm also recenters personal agency in the fight against climate change.
“We actually do need to choose those substitutes,” he explained.
Ava Ward ’25, an environmental studies and economics concentrator, noted that she attended Meyer’s lecture to gain more insight into how “climate policy theory and climate economics theory hold up in real life.”
“Biden’s economic agenda is a huge game-changer for the fight against climate change,” she said.
Natalie DeVito ’26 shared similar sentiments. “I’m pretty in the dark about the intersection of environmental policy and economics, so I made sure to be here,” she explained.
“I hope the main takeaway from this event is that there is a new approach to governing the economy,” Meyer told The Herald. “I hope folks in the room take some of the ideas we talked about and use them to inform their work.”