Resources For the Future (RFF)

Resources For the Future (RFF)


* Uses “objective social science research” to “improv[e] environmental and natural resource policymaking worldwide”

Resources For the Future (RFF) is a nonprofit, “nonpartisan” organization that—at the recommendation of then-CBS president William Paley—was established in 1952 with the help of funding from the Ford Foundation. RFF conducts independent research—rooted primarily in economics and other social sciences—on environmental, energy, and natural resource-related issues. Claiming that it “neither lobbies nor takes positions on specific legislative or regulatory proposals,” the organization shares the results of its work with policymakers at all levels of government, as well as with environmental and business groups, academicians, the media, and the public at large. RFF’s major aim is to use “objective social science research” to “improv[e] environmental and natural resource policymaking worldwide.”

Most of RFF’s researchers hold doctorates in economics, but others possess advanced degrees in engineering, law, ecology, city and regional planning, American government, public policy, and management, among other disciplines. Some of their work is published in Resources, RFF’s flagship magazine, which was launched in 1959. The work of these experts is international in scope, addressing a variety of issues that affect every region of the world:

* Air Quality: Current research at RFF “assesses the costs and benefits of air quality regulations and examines the potential for innovative regulatory approaches, such as incentive-based mechanisms, to achieve reductions fairly and efficiently.” For example, Resources in 2013 published a piece suggesting that a carbon tax could “provide a potentially large new source of government revenue” and thereby “play an important role in a package of deficit-reduction measures.”[1][

](* Climate: Proceeding from the premise that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity are major contributors to potentially catastrophic global warming, much RFF research explores “options for U.S. domestic climate policy at the state and federal levels.”

* Electricity: Experts in electricity research at RFF analyze how to meet growing demand while “reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

* Forests: RFF scholars examine policies related to the role of plantation forests as a source of industrial wood; the size of the “carbon footprint” associated with biomass energy; public forest management; forest carbon offsets; deforestation and degradation; transgenic forestry; and forest monitoring.

* Land Use: RFF research focuses considerable attention on the cost and effectiveness of “green” infrastructure; the costs and benefits of recreational land use; the loss of “open space” and farmland on the “urban fringe”; and policies designed to “limit urban sprawl.” The latter of these is consistent with the tenets of “regionalism”—a strategy designed to essentially eliminate America’s suburbs as independent entities by blending them, economically and politically, into the cities they border. The overarching goal is income equalization via a massive redistribution of tax money from affluent suburbs to poorer cities. For details on this phenomenon, click here.

* Transportation: RFF strives to promote the use of public transportation as a means of reducing the congestion and pollution caused by motor vehicles in urban areas. This is an objective which RFF shares with advocates of regionalism, who favor the imposition of punitive taxes on suburbanites who choose to drive into neighboring cities rather than travel by train or a bus.

For an overview of additional areas of RFF research, click here.

In 2013, RFF’s in-house magazine, Resources, published excerpts from what it regarded as a highly important speech by Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, who stated that the effects of “environmental degradation”—ranging from “pollution in a neighborhood” to “rising sea levels swallowing a country”—are “especially a problem for the poor” because “they are less able to respond effectively.” Global warming, said Stiglitz, “has enormous distributional consequences” insofar as the pollution that allegedly causes it “originates disproportionately from advanced industrial countries”—most notably the United States—and affects most adversely “the poorest countries making the least contribution to carbon emissions.” Stiglitz detects a similar inequity occurring within the U.S. itself, where “those with fewer means pay the highest price” in terms of sustained exposure to pollutants whose negative “consequences … are life-long and reflected in lifetime earnings.” On both the national and international levels, Stiglitz and RFF view such conditions as justifications for wholesale wealth redistribution managed by government rather than by “privatization,” which too often “leads to high levels of inequality.”

As of 2010, RFF’s financial assets exceeded $32 million. Among its major funders are the AARP, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, and the United States Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Environmental Protection, and Transportation.

For additional information on RFF, click here.


[1] The same publication stated that: (a) “although modest emissions reductions can be achieved at relatively low cost, that cost rises rapidly as emissions reductions get more aggressive”; and (b) “while such rates may be justified depending on the expected damage from climate change, it is considerably easier,” from a political and public-relations standpoint, “to make the case for the relatively low carbon tax rates needed to achieve modest emissions reductions, at least at the outset.”

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