In the RFF Supporter Spotlight, our partners and colleagues share their insights about climate, energy, and environmental issues and how they’ve made a difference by working with Resources for the Future—all in their own words.
Resources magazine recently spoke with Dallas Burtraw, the Darius Gaskins Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future (RFF) and a longtime RFF donor. Burtraw also regularly serves as a government advisor, including as a member of California’s Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee and previously on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis. Below are excerpts from the conversation, which touched on the importance of global climate coordination, speaking the language of policymakers, the value of flexible funds for researchers, and more.
Resources magazine: What got you interested in environmental policymaking?
Dallas Burtraw: My first experience with environmental policymaking was as an undergraduate, when I became involved in a campaign to stop the construction of a coal-fired power plant in California’s Central Valley. Opposition to the plant extended widely, from liberal students to conservative members of California’s agricultural industry. I was interested to see that sort of bipartisan, broad social engagement around an issue, which is the kind of thing that RFF does in terms of bringing good thinking to policymaking.
You’ve worked closely with policymakers while at RFF. How would you describe the role that RFF plays in helping leaders solve the climate crisis?
First and most importantly, RFF is a source of reliable information. I think that reputation is hard earned and very solid. Second, RFF researchers commit to learning how to communicate ideas. RFF researchers distinguish themselves from many academics in that ability to speak in a vocabulary that makes sense to policymakers. In my own work, I’ve always tried to have empathy for the challenging situations that policymakers are in and anticipate their needs.
What excites you about the work you do at RFF and the work you make possible with your financial support?
I view the climate policy challenge as the biggest coordination problem in human history. Jurisdictions all over the globe need to align their efforts and develop trust in each other; no single jurisdiction can solve the climate crisis by itself. The question is, How can you maintain a coalition while having some jurisdictions that, for political or other reasons, may race ahead with more ambitious climate policies? RFF works to find ways to maintain coalitions when the members display different levels of ambition. I think that’s fascinating.
This issue of Resources explores a variety of issues related to environmental justice. Why do you think RFF should be involved in helping to achieve environmental justice?
I view environmental justice as a subset of a larger set of questions around economic and social justice. RFF research can inform environmental policymaking in terms of distributional impacts, recognizing that, in environmental policymaking, we’ll have winners and losers. When studying economics in graduate school, one learns that the most important thing is the benefits being greater than the costs. In practice, though, two policies may have good outcomes in terms of overall benefits and costs, but they might have very different distributional effects—in other words, we’ll see variation in how different stakeholders are affected. RFF is finding ways to frame policy options that reflect both the overall cost-benefit outcomes and the distributional outcomes, so that our research can be more relevant on a broad social basis. Equally important, RFF has made a major investment in learning about how to engage, up front, those who are affected by decisions in the analysis.
In addition to serving as a research leader and mentor at RFF, you’re also a financial supporter. Why do you donate to RFF?
Because RFF has supported me so strongly over the years. I don’t just mean by giving me a job; I mean that RFF provides a platform upon which to do really meaningful research. The thing that differentiates RFF is its ability to support researchers with flexible funds. That’s so important to RFF’s mission, because it gives researchers a chance to take risks. It’s with that flexible funding that RFF researchers can get out in front of issues, ask questions, and then bring that information into the policy context. I think doing that throughout its whole history has made RFF such an important organization. That’s why I support RFF.
Four Ways You Can Support RFF
- Give on our website: Visit www.rff.org/donate to make a one-time donation with your credit card, or to set up a monthly recurring donation.
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- Give through a will, trust, or gift plan: Include RFF in your estate plans to provide meaningful, long-lasting support.