It's perhaps a sign of some sort that someone you'd more readily associate with the sort of journalism that usually only sees the light of day in Foreign Affairs or at best The Harvard Business Review is a blogger. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Ivory Tower. Several months ago the noted environmental reporter for The New Yorker, Elizabeth Colbert, interviewed Stavins and her report, online, generated a huge amount of comments, and some of it was "downright hostile. I was talking to Sacha Talcott, head of communications for the Kennedy School of Government's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard), and told her I was fascinated with the process, expressing frustration with being taken out of context. She suggested I should have a blog (like Kennedy fellow Jeff Frankel, the trade economist) which they would set up (on Wordpress)."
Originally Stavins intended to review all comments, and to choose only those comments that he had time to respond to. But once, when a reader posted a comment that would require too lengthy a response (Stavins does have a "day job," after all), the reader sent an email to Stavins asking "why didn't you respond?" When Stavins wrote back that it would take too long to respond, he got a bit of sage social media advice: "Rather than delete , what you ought to do is to accept them all (comments), and leave it up to others (to respond)," "After that , I stopped my practice but now selectively respond. The only things I delete are the ones that are really rude or flakey."
Whom does he consider his audience? Fellow academics, or his students, or...? "My original intention was to reach out to people who care about the environment but are not economists... it turns out that some of the comments are from other economists ... other 'greens'," but interestingly enough he does not mention his blog in class. But his impact has been considerable, especially among those who are charged with climate policy development and implementation. He recently learned that a senior advisor in the White House referred to his recent post about Waxman-Markey ("The Wonderful Politics of Cap-and-Trade") in a meeting. And does the controversy raging on his blog, TheEnergyCollective and other sites bother him?
"I direct a program with 25 professors who are doing research and teaching about environmental economics, so I don't see the controversy.... I don't think of environmental economics as controversial anymore than a good Catholic thinks there is controversy about Catholicism."