In this episode, host Kristin Hayes talks with Michael Toman, the lead economist on climate change for the World Bank’s Development Research Group. A former senior fellow at RFF who worked closely with former RFF Vice President for Research Molly Macauley to study the economics of outer space, Toman explores opportunities to create markets and generate economic incentives beyond Earth. At a time when private companies like SpaceX send people to the International Space Station, Toman discusses the policy implications of increased private sector involvement in space exploration and the continued role of the government in helping to ensure that space travel is safe.
Listen to the Podcast
- Opening up space to the private sector: “Do we always have to have NASA write the contract and the specifications for the rocket, bid it out to a large aerospace contractor, get it built, then put the experiments on it? … What we were learning, even in the ’80s and well into the ’90s, as well, is: the answer's no. Building a rocket, launching it, and recovering what you want to have come back down is something that companies were doing anyway under a contract with NASA, and it's perfectly reasonable that space launch services could be provided by entities that weren't affiliated with or under contract with NASA.” (10:01)
- Government can work alongside private space companies to reduce risk: In any [regulatory] system the United States has … you could count on certain basic things being there. There would be a national security piece to make sure that you knew what was being launched, and it was being tracked, and the Defense Department could know what was unfriendly. You would have basic safety things. Nobody wants [a ship] to blow up on the pad and nobody wants it to sort of land in the middle of Manhattan … The ways that people met those standards might become more flexible.” (24:45)
- Space junk presents new environmental hazards: “[Space junk] is, in some ways, a lot like air pollution. You've got a number of different sources, you've got a lot of it up there. It's not like you can just tell Mr. Brown or Mrs. Black, “Get your junk out of there,” because it's all just floating around. [But] unlike air pollution, which comes in microscopic particles, these are big hunks of metal and plastic and in some cases, even spent nuclear engines. So, the question is: How do you [prevent] this?” (27:56)
Top of the Stack
- "Racism and Injustice: A Letter from RFF President Richard G. Newell" from RFF
- "In Loving Memory of Molly K. Macauley" from Resources magazine
The Full Transcript
Kristin Hayes: Welcome to Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from Resources for the Future. I'm your host, Kristin Hayes.
My guest this week is Mike Toman, lead economist and manager of the Sustainability and Infrastructure team in the Development Research Group at the World Bank. Mike worked at RFF for many years, during which he collaborated with former RFF vice president Molly Macauley in her pioneering efforts to develop the economics of outer space as a topic for research and policy analysis. And I'm very pleased to be talking with Mike today about the commercialization and privatization of space, both in light of the recent successful SpaceX launch to the International Space Station, and given that today, the day that we're recording, June 10th, would have been Molly's 63rd birthday. So, we're using this particular podcast as both a reflection on some timely news and as an opportunity to highlight the research issues that were always closest to Molly's heart. Please stay with us.
Mike, thanks so much for joining us on Resources Radio. It's really nice to have you here.
Michael Toman: Thank you.
Kristin Hayes: So, while we're focusing today's conversation on space economics, which is a wonderful topic, I know that that actually doesn't comprise most of your current research portfolio. So, can we start with just a more general introduction about you and your research background?
Michael Toman: Sure. Thanks again Kristin for the chance to join you. I joined RFF in the early 1980s and spent more than 20 years there, and since that time, I've continued to knock around in the research world. That whole time I've worked on energy and environment and sustainable development, and for the last 12 years at the World Bank, I've been looking at those issues specifically through the lens of developing countries and how those topics tie in with poverty alleviation. So, I've been pretty much an RFF-er in my DNA my whole life.
Kristin Hayes: Well, it's great to talk to you in this particular context. I know I'm asking you to sort of hearken back in time to pieces that you worked on with Molly, and I'll call that one in particular. So, you and Molly wrote a letter to Science in 1986 on the economics of the US Space Program, which was quite forward-looking, I have to say. So, how did the issue of the economics of space first come on your radar? And I feel like I need to make a note here, that I make a lot of puns on these podcasts, some better than others, but I feel like there are going to be some awesome space puns to be made in this episode, so please bear with me. But anyway, how did space economics come on your radar?
Michael Toman: We'll just rocket ahead no matter how the puns go.
Kristin Hayes: Thanks, Mike. That was great.
Michael Toman: Okay. Molly joined RFF in 1983, and I was part of the group that helped recruit her. And I'm mentioning that here in answer to your question because Molly actually came to RFF with a fully formed idea of how to think about economics in the context of space, be it the US Space Program or a range of other topics. Her PhD dissertation was actually on looking at the orbit around the earth where a satellite stays in the same relative position the whole time—it's called the geosynchronous orbit—and it's where all the big communication satellites used to park in order to send telephone signals and faxes way back then and other things across long distances. It's how MCI and other companies basically came in and broke up the Bell Telephone monopoly. She had all this stuff already figured out to a considerable extent when she came to RFF.
And the thing that drew her to RFF was that this orbit is basically a natural resource. That was the first really big insight into how this fits together with what had been the mainstream of RFF work on forests, and water resources, and energy, which had been one of my topics. The fact that there is something there that has value—location is everything, as they say in real estate—and where you could park your satellite really mattered in terms of the value you could get from having it up there.
Now, this was a time in the space program when things were really beginning to take off in terms of satellites orbiting for a variety of purposes. Obviously, there were military ones, but there were also satellites using what were then very pioneering technologies for remote sensing of the earth, and then there were all these communication satellites. All of this was being done like it was the Apollo moonshot still with a big infrastructure coming from NASA, contractors, big companies that built rockets and built spacecraft, and all of this was basically being done as if it was the early ’60s, everything kind of soup to nuts in a big NASA program.
Well, Molly's insight, which I was glad to jump in and help her push forward, was first, that these things like orbits and space, room that is within the Space Station for experiments, all these things were valuable and scarce, which is exactly what we talk about with natural resources. And the next insight then was, well, it doesn't automatically follow that the government should be producing these things or even necessarily always even regulating them. So, we should start thinking about how the pieces could fit together that wouldn't involve one large vertically integrated monopoly from planning missions, to building spacecraft, to launching all being done under a government agency and being done under a Cold War mentality. But rather, how do we open this up? And really starting from then was when I would date the interest that Molly and I had in advancing this idea that this is something we need to think about the same way we think about a lot of other resource related topics. It's not just some very arcane thing in the world of science and technology.
Kristin Hayes: Very interesting. Well, and in that answer, you noted a number of ways in which there are similarities between what I would call the classic natural resource economics way of thinking and how you would translate that to a space context, but it seems natural to me that there would be some unique characteristics about space as sort of a research and economic venture that would make it interesting for economists to think about as well. So, how does it actually differ from the way that you would think about another sort of common resource issue?
Michael Toman: Great question. So, here's an analogy. If fish aren't really being very easily caught in location A, you can move your fishing trawler over to location B and you can probably catch a bit better fish there, or maybe it's a different species, but there's a lot of flexibility in that situation. The thing that's really unique about space resources—or maybe I should say space locations, because these are really about locations—are that they are something for which there's no realistic substitute. The geosynchronous orbit is what it is, there's only one of them, and the only thing you can do to try to put more stuff in there is figure out how to pack the satellites more closely together.
Now, more recently, people have started to work on using little satellites that fly around like gnats instead of just one big one in the geosynchronous orbit. But for a long time, that was the only game in town. It's as if you could only catch the fish in that one place, which meant if you used up all the fish, then you were done with fish. If you used up the geosynchronous orbit, you were done. So, the uniqueness of it was one thing, and even more important for uniqueness is that space gives you something that you can't really have on earth, and that's weightlessness.
So, all of the science that went into the International Space Station, experiments that went on the space shuttle before the station went up, and everything that's been going on since, even in small satellites that get launched, they're taking advantage of this unique characteristic that you are out of the Earth's atmosphere, you're in an environment therefore that is directly exposed to everything that is in deeper space, whether it's radiation or heat, and you're in a situation of weightlessness. And so the opportunity to take science out in those areas is absolutely unique, and as we've seen from everything that's happened, it's a very special thing. But it also means because there's only so much you can do, you can't just decide you're going to build a space station that's four times bigger than what you've got because that isn't how it works out in space. You really have to think hard about how to allocate the resources that you've got, and that's what brings the economics part back in.
Kristin Hayes: And maybe just to ground the conversation around sort of the use of space as a resource just a bit more, what can you tell us about the mix of public and private interests in space exploration, either historically, you mentioned that really, for most of the history of the program, it was quite a vertically integrated system, but it does, of course, seem like that's changing a bit, and I think most of our listeners have probably read or heard about the SpaceX launch. So, what is your sense of the mix of public and private interests in space exploration?
Michael Toman: The things that we started talking about in the 1980s and which really did hit, I think, the final pinnacle with the SpaceX launch, these are things that basically involve deconstructing space exploration or space science into its constituent parts and figuring out who's really going to be the best at doing something. Do we always have to have NASA write the contract and the specifications for the rocket, bid it out to a large aerospace contractor, get it built, then put the experiments on it? Or even as we saw with SpaceX, the people launch it and retrieve? And what we were learning, even in the ’80s and well into the ’90s as well is the answer is no. Building a rocket, launching it, and recovering what you want to have come back down is something that companies were doing anyway under a contract with NASA, and it's perfectly reasonable that space launch services could be provided by entities that weren't affiliated with or under contract with NASA, but they were doing it for other purposes.
So, you started to get this family of very scrappy entrepreneurial ventures in the ’90s that were mainly related, at that time, to satellite launches where no, we're not going to send it up as part of a NASA science experiment, or we're not going to beg, borrow, and steal a rocket launch to put up a communication satellite. We'll go to a company that builds rockets and we'll get them to launch it for us. Or if I'm the company that built the satellite, I'll go talk directly to one of the rocket manufacturers and I'll get another company, like these scrappy ones from the ’90s, to organize it all for me. So, a lot of the actual moving part of people and experiments, goods, doesn't require being a centralized, monopolized government function. You want to have certain basic parameters in there for security, and that's what was done, because nobody wants to lose a multimillion dollar satellite because you've been sloppy, and then we saw, in the ’90s, that we could do that, and it was just fine. And with the SpaceX launch, we crossed the final step.
There was always this thought: are we willing to trust a non-NASA entity to build and launch when we're going to have human beings on board? And that was the big breakthrough with SpaceX. We now see that when there's a mission, when there are standards of safety that have to be met, we don't have to have NASA do this. We do not have to have a government entity be the one that's in charge of the safety of astronauts. We can do that in other ways. NASA, of course, was still very involved in SpaceX because it was their launch facilities, it was their telemetry, all that, but we can now see that that last step in the transport part, the moving of things and people, that actually also can be outsourced to a private company.
The other side of this then is where you get more into the necessity of having a large government role, but even then, you can talk about a public-private partnership and not everything done by government. And that's the Space Station. It's hugely expensive, and very multinational—always has been, always will be—and it's the kind of thing where it would be really hard to imagine any company on the face of the earth, even with the deepest of deep pockets, being willing to put that much money out to build something of that nature when the demand for space on it, for room, was so unknown.
I go out as a venture capitalist and I build this thing, it's half a trillion dollars, and I'm going to try to recoup that by renting shelf space there for biology experiments or something. Well, that's a big, big ask. And so what we've seen with the station is that because it is more like a public good, something that you really look to government to provide because private sector can't, for various reasons, do a good job of it, it's very natural that the government would be involved in doing that.
Now, Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. Who knows? We may see privately financed space stations at some point in the future, but what we've seen with the current station, to me, it made a lot of sense that it would be a large governmental and also multinational effort. But even then, the question is: what are you going to do with the space on it? What are you going to do with that shelf space?
So, one of the things that Molly and I talked about at some length and even wrote a couple of papers about was you've got room in the space shuttle, back then, or you've got room in the Space Station now for experiments. How do you decide which experiments to send up and how long they should be able to work, and then what do you do after that? Well, one of the things that we've done with radio frequencies, since forever, is we have auctions for those. People bid for room in the radio frequency to operate cell phones, or emergency warning systems, or television, or anything like that. And so we advocated, for a long time, that it was sensible to think about having, at least partly, the sort of market-like mechanisms to allocate this space. Let people who think they've got something really valuable bid to have the space.
Now, part of the problem there is that some of this is very basic science and we really can't do a good job of just having one entrepreneurial company supply basic science any more than we can have one company supply a space station. But certainly, for commercial uses of real estate in space, like inside a space shuttle, or on the station, or on a moon base, if we have that in some years, commercial uses of space could definitely be allocated in exactly this way. If you think yours is worth more than that company's over there, bid more for it, just like we try to ration access on congested highways with tolling lanes. And of course, people get upset about that too, because nobody likes to pay $40 to go to work, but you can't have it all different ways. If you just have a randomized kind of first come first serve, you may be using the space in a very, very inefficient way.
Kristin Hayes: I think that's a really helpful example of where markets or economic incentives have already played a really useful role in the economics of space. Are there other examples that you might point to where markets have already been flourishing in the context of space exploration or other areas that you see as prime candidates for future growth?
Michael Toman: Well, I've mentioned already the launch part, the transportation part, that has become a vibrant market. You can go out and talk to any number of companies that will organize your launch, build your satellite for you, put up the rocket, and so on. I think at this stage, given the way that space as a resource exists, primarily, the interest at this stage would be using that unique real estate, where you've got outside the atmosphere weightlessness, and even in the station, weightlessness and no atmosphere outside. These are the things that I think we're still coming to grips with what we're going to do with all the things that we can do with biology, material science, what have you.
So, I think the big question now is: how far could we get in trying to rationalize through economic incentives a way of getting the use of the real estate for commercial purposes to be allocated in the most efficient, and therefore the most beneficial, way? Later on, when people are routinely taking space tourism flights, that market will already exist, because again, it's just moving people. If I want to go sooner, I'll pay 200 million rather than 50 million and I'll go in front of you. But I think the tricky part is this real estate part because we're not going to have 10 space stations anytime soon. It's just not possible. We're not going to be able to just have that become a market with competition. We're going to have to use these alternative strategies, and that's going to require, not only national policy, but international policy coordination. It wouldn't make any sense for the United States to be auctioning off space on shelves for experiments in the Space Station if none of its other partners up there were doing it.
Kristin Hayes: Yeah. And I do want to get to that governance question in just a second because I think that's a really, really interesting one when it comes to space in particular. But I guess I just wanted to ask one more thing ... You've mentioned the International Space Station as something that it's unlikely that even a very deep pocketed company wouldn't try to recreate. What about the launch facilities themselves? Is that something that will probably stay nationalized? Are those of a particular scope or is there something unique about those that means they'll stay within the government structure, or can you see someone building another Cape Canaveral?
Michael Toman: I'm not actually sure about that, Kristin, but I don't see any barriers that can't be overcome. I think that's pure economics. As long as the launch facilities are there, as long as they're being maintained and paid for—with taxpayer money, by the way—through the NASA budget to keep those facilities up and running, because NASA continues to want to have those things available. And as long as they're willing to also make it available, probably the economics favor either doing it there. The shuttle also used to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, there's launch facilities there. There's Wallops Island out on the Virginia Eastern shore. There's several places already, but these are all government facilities. Should the government decide that it wants to get out of the launch business entirely, somebody would figure out how to be able to privately finance and construct an alternative pad and the rest of it.
But I think right now there's no real reason to do that, partly because we're essentially subsidizing all those private sector launches by having the infrastructure, the launch facility itself, paid for by government. That could be another area where you could start talking about market forces, but it would be down the road apiece once we've decided that we're not going to just keep paying for Pad 39 because that's where Apollo launched from. If the government wanted to say, "Okay, we'll launch, but you have to start covering the costs of keeping the infrastructure up and running," that would change things, and maybe at that point, people would go out and start building different kinds of launch facilities.
You'd still have to coordinate, though, with NASA and with the Defense Department, because any time you're having a rocket go up from the earth and go up into space, these folks are going to kind of need to know about it. So, you're never going to be able to step entirely away from an interface with government. You certainly don't want your friendly little communication satellite launch to be seen as a Russian nuclear tip missile, so we're always going to have the government in there somewhere.
Kristin Hayes: Right, right. That makes perfect sense to me, even in terms of public and private investment in airports, but I'm still really glad that there's an agency, the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], that's looking across that whole range of flights and providing that general oversight. So, it makes sense to me that, of course, we wouldn't want no governance of the system. In many ways, it seems like it's a limitless vacuum out there, but the truth is there are limited pieces of that that are actually useful to humans for the purposes for which we generally use them. And so there needs to be a lot of international coordination, I would guess, around the use of this common resource.
So, who is actually involved in setting sort of space policy right now, and for this kind of shared resource, how do you think about governance mechanisms as an economist?
Michael Toman: Well, right now on the Space Station, you have this very top-down coordination among the principal actors that were involved in building it, and using it, and staffing it. So, you have the big actors who basically are dividing up the time slots and the real estate slots—kind of like a timeshare system for a vacation—and they've got a certain amount that they're allocating through some sort of handshake agreement that I'm sure works very well because it's been going on for a long time. The US would come to that episodic review of the mission and would be thinking about, well, what we'd like to do is this, that, and the other, and some of it might be private sector-driven, some of them might be a fifth grade science experiment, and other things as well.
So, at this stage, the international part of the Space Station continues to be international, and it's essentially being worked out by a lot of scientists, engineers, and ultimately, the political leaderships of the various countries involved, and probably that's not going to change anytime soon.
It would be interesting if the major partners in the Space Station decided, "Oh, we're going to put 20 percent of the time-real estate available for uses by anybody all over the world for experiments, but you have to pay to get it." And then you could have that auction that I mentioned. That could emerge, but I suspect we're still a little ways off before we get that far out into a more decentralized incentive-based kind of approach there.
Now, in terms of the regulation of space activities within the United States, NASA, usually, or NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] if it's satellites—there are different entities that have different pieces of this—and the Defense Department, for sure, in terms of national security, public safety, you're not allowed to drop the first stage of a rocket in large city, et cetera. So, all of these things are written in regulations in very large books that are basically setting up performance standards. Your rockets have to have certain characteristics. Your escape plan has to have certain characteristics. And the issue of how well those regulations work is something that's never really been evaluated, and it would probably be really hard, in fact, to evaluate it.
I think in any system the United States had, even one that got much more decentralized, you could count on certain basic things being there. There would be a national security piece to make sure that you knew what was being launched and it was being tracked, and the Defense Department could know what was that and what was unfriendly. You would have basic safety things. Nobody wants it to blow up on the pad and nobody wants it to sort of land in the middle of Manhattan. So, those things would be there. The ways that people met those standards might become more flexible. Just like in the 1990s, people started building different kinds of rockets to see what would be the right balance of thrust, which would determine how big a satellite you could launch, the time of burn, the cost of the different stages, and the design of the rocket became something that people could compete over, but it always had to make sure that it could go up without causing a huge disruption or a big safety risk. So, there'll always be these kind of central government element with that.
And the last, I think to mention, because people often forget it, is that the part of space that is concerned with international telecommunications also has an international body that regulates it that is actually housed in Geneva. And this is the body that says, "Okay, you can't park your satellites too close together. And if you're going to be using this particular frequency for cellular phones, you have to make sure you're not causing too much interference." They're the ones that try to push interoperability so that we might someday have one system of cell phones, not several in the world. And that's a regulatory function that would exist even if we weren't using satellite-based telecommunications. But since we are, it also becomes an important piece of the puzzle. It's what keeps the geosynchronous orbit from getting too junked up.
Kristin Hayes: Right, right. So, we've been talking about the geosynchronous orbit and the growing number of satellites that are up in that orbit. And if I'm not mistaken, and please feel free to correct my memory on this one, but I do believe that one of the other issues that Molly looked at at certain points in her career was actually about space debris. And in many ways there are parallels here too between a common resource and the pollution that can often go unaccounted for, in a certain sense, in that common resource, or unpriced, maybe I should say. And so I guess my question to you is: do we need to start thinking now about preserving the environmental health of outer space the way that we would think about that for the atmosphere that we live in and other natural resources that are available to many?
Michael Toman: Absolutely. I mean, that's definitely what Molly was thinking about in those last parts of her work agenda before her highly untimely death a few years ago. She was worried about space junk and she took several swipes at that in terms of ways to try to manage it. It is, in some ways, a lot like air pollution. You've got a number of different sources, you've got a lot of it up there. It's not like you can just tell Mr. Brown or Mrs. Black, "Get your junk out of there," because it's all just floating around. Unlike air pollution, which comes in microscopic particles, these are big hunks of metal, and plastic and whatever else, and in some cases, even spent nuclear engines. So, the question is: how do you do this?
Well, one thing you can do is just keep hardening up your vehicles with thicker skins and the like, so that even if you start having stuff ping off you, it won't do that much damage. And what they were discovering is, with the last launches in the shuttle, that was getting more complicated because there was enough junk up there that you could get a bit of a ding in the skin, which can be really bad, just from random little pieces of stuff. What draws attention, I think, is the idea that a piece of junk is going to fall out of the sky, and we know that there have been big deals about that. “Was this Russian satellite going to fall on Australia or something?” a few years ago. That's important, but it's a small slice of the story because what makes space economics more complicated when you think about just being able to go into orbit and do something, whether it's geosynchronous or not geosynchronous, is if you've got to be dodging a bunch of junk, that makes the cost of your launch higher, the risk of failure higher, and the return on your investment lower.
Now, I don't think we yet really have a grasp on that. If you took another area that was very much represented in Molly's research over the years—recycling—you could try to develop some notion, as SpaceX now does with its first launch stage, that when you put something up, there's some sort of standard of care. That you put it up, you're going to also figure out how to get it out of there. Now, the problem with that is it's going to make things a lot more expensive, I think, but it would be a way of preventing the congestion up there to just become totally unmanageable. And at some point, I suspect, just working on this problem by better navigating and hardening the skin, you're going to run out of ability for that to happen. These things do eventually fall into the atmosphere and burn up, but I don't think they fall in all that fast.
So, you could say that if you put up a satellite and you know you're going to use it for six years, you have to add a little something on so that at the end, you can turn on this little thruster one more time and you can push the satellite out of orbit so it burns up in the atmosphere. These wouldn't be really, really difficult things to do. The bigger problem, like with legacy pollution, like polluted underground water, is the legacy. With all this stuff floating around that doesn't necessarily drop out of space as quickly as you'd like to kind of clear up the vista, are we going to send up big spacecraft to try to collect this stuff?
Kristin Hayes: Sure. Are we going to have a super fun cleanup for space? It does seem quite unlikely, but yeah.
Michael Toman: Exactly. That's still probably more of a movie script than it is a reality thing, but it is the case that we're going to have to start building some kind of environmental responsibility into the way we use space. Because like on earth, when you're allowed to have adverse effects on other people and not pay for them, it creates bad incentives for the right use of the resource.
Kristin Hayes: Right. Right. Very interesting. Well, before we close with our regular feature, I do have one other question for you.
Michael Toman: Okay, great.
Kristin Hayes: A spontaneous question, which is, let's say money were no object. I'm going to take the economics of space exploration out of the question for just a second. But Mike, would you go into space? How do you feel about flying on up there yourself?
Michael Toman: In a heartbeat.
Kristin Hayes: Okay. Fantastic.
Michael Toman: In a heartbeat.
Kristin Hayes: Good to know.
Michael Toman: Molly and I both dreamed, at times, of being able to go up someday. There's a very famous picture that nobody can even find anymore, thank God, of a early Christmas party back in the 1980s where she had dressed up like an astronaut for the Christmas party. And no, it would be a joy for me to go. I would love it.
Kristin Hayes: Great. Well, maybe we can find some mechanism by which you can get paid to go retrieve space junk and that will take you free into the atmosphere.
Michael Toman: I suspect that at my age, the only part of me that might go up into space would be my ashes, but that's a less exciting topic.
Kristin Hayes: I have to say, I think that might actually be a wonderful resting place in many ways. Part of the universe, so yeah, I'm not surprised.
Michael Toman: I've heard it talked about. Space-based funerals, you just can get yourself set up there.
Kristin Hayes: There you go. Another great market opportunity just waiting to happen.
Michael Toman: That's it.
Kristin Hayes: Yeah. Okay. Well, Mike, this has been really interesting. I really appreciate your taking the time.
So, I will close our podcast with our regular feature, Top of the Stack, and ask you to recommend some good contents, a book, an article, a podcast, anything you'd like really to our listeners. And so Mike, what's on the top of your stack?
Michael Toman: Well, this is on the top of my stack, though, my stack is more, in this case, virtual than real, and it may sound like a cliché. But I think the only way I can really answer that sincerely is to refer to what we've been going through recently in our lives as Americans. I hope everybody goes on Google, puts in Black Lives Matter, and finds resources that are out there. There's not just screeds and diatribes. Many good books have been written about how people of different races can learn from each other and can find better ways to interact, how we deal with systemic racism. I thought that Richard Newell's statement about this from RFF was fantastic, and I'd just encourage everybody, but especially people that look like me as a Caucasian, it's time to read and do some homework and get smart on this topic. I think that's more important now than just about anything else that I could suggest for reading.
Kristin Hayes: Thank you. Thanks for bringing this into the broader context in which we all live, and I really appreciate that. I guess maybe I wanted to offer you sort of an extra top of the stack too as well. And we are recording this, as mentioned at the beginning, on what would have been Molly's birthday. And so I guess I just wanted to say, it's nice to have an opportunity, to be honest, to talk a little bit about Molly's work and about Molly's life and the contribution she made. So, maybe if there's anything else that you wanted to share with our listeners just about your relationship with Molly, I'd welcome that as well.
Michael Toman: Thank you. Thank you. I'd love to say a short word about that. From the standpoint of the top of the stack, I think one thing that would be very useful is if people are interested in either the economic lens through which you can think about outer space or some other really interesting and important topics in environmental economics like recycling and land use. One could do worse than to use Google Scholar to pull up some of Molly's great publications back from the ’80s right up through the end of her life, and just selectively read the things that she was thinking about and writing about. She was a fantastic writer as well as a really good economist. And I think folks that take the time to do that will be glad they did. There's some great literature there to read.
As far as the rest of it goes, June 10th is never a super happy day for me. Molly was like my sister, and we bonded very deeply when I was involved in hiring her in 1983, and we stayed very close personally as well as professionally, throughout the remainder of her time on the earth. And I just miss her terribly. And I'm glad I had the chance to share time with her that I did because it was infinitely enriching for me.
Kristin Hayes: Yeah. Well, and I have to say, I know we all have different visions about what happens after we leave the earth, but if there is anyone in this world who I hope is among the stars, it really is Molly.
Michael Toman: I would love to see somebody name a comet after her someday. Comet Macauley.
Kristin Hayes: There we go.
Michael Toman: I would be just dancing out of my skin. I'd be so happy.
Kristin Hayes: Yeah. Well, Mike, thank you again. It's been a pleasure and yeah, hopefully talk to you again soon.
Michael Toman: Okay. It'll be a great pleasure for me. Wonderful conversation. Thanks very much.
Kristin Hayes: Thanks.
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Resources Radio is a podcast from Resources for the Future. RFF is an independent nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Our mission is to improve environmental energy and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. Learn more about us at rff.org. The views expressed on this podcast are solely those of the participants. They do not necessarily represent the views of Resources for the Future, which does not take institutional positions on public policies.
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Lead Economist on Climate Change in the Development Research Group at the World Bank
Senior Director for Research and Policy Engagement