Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Big topic. Messy topic. Political topic. Potentially ugly topic. Let's keep it objective please...

Sustainability goes beyond natural resources to include human wants and needs. That is, the notion of sustainability includes economic sustainability. People value the environment, but people also value goods and services and their standard of living. We know that imposing Pigouvian taxes (e.g. a carbon tax) or standards (e.g. mandates on allowable technology) or a combination policy (e.g. 'cap and trade') will increase firms marginal cost and increase the prices of goods and services. In other words, if you want a cleaner environment, you're going to have to pay for it. Note that "pay" here could include opportunity costs - you can have more X if you give up Y, and Y doesn't have to be dollars. I hinted at this idea in the first lecture, when I asked if you think the environment is "priceless" and then I asked what kind of car you drive (if you truly felt the environment were priceless, you wouldn't drive any car).

Joel Kotkin of Forbes has an interesting article titled "The limits of the Green Machine", where he discusses these issues and the political viability of environmentalism. His basic thesis is that pushing for too much environmental protection would be a mistake (especially during an economic downturn), because people just aren't ready or willing to give up their way of living.

Thoughts? Again, I'm not looking for normative opinion here.

How does this idea fit in with the lecture readings on common property/public goods?


Jennifer said...

The right to common property and consumption of public goods in relation to sustainability is all relative to what we value. For example, I enjoy straight lines sharp angles and the colors of weathered metal. I find pleasure visiting art museums, listening to music and watching the figure, our movements and the diversity of human presence, that urban living provides. It is easy for me to be in favor of sustainability efforts and the conservation of arable land. Urbanization and densification, build upward, go skyscrapers! Art museums, music and increased teacher salaries. Remember “Green Acres”? I just adore a penthouse view. I enjoy fresh foods and pasty. I don’t like blue #9, packaged goods, candy or preservative chemicals. I own my share of goods (what is a share) and certainly I could make more sacrifices, but I don’t mind sharing a cab or crowding an elevator. The benefits of urban living are in balance to the cost of high rent.

Is it a lack of a “readiness to change” (Kotkin)or is the cultural illness a lack of knowledge and therefore what we value is skewed.

Kotkin believes people aren’t ready or willing to give up their way of living. What extent of oil spills will persuade a shift in value? The market proves it’s when all the fish are gone. Is it time for crash position?

Economic healing based on the education of re-value. Find the optimal mix of thinking. The shift is already happening. My five year old told me, “Every day is Earth day”, and my three year is the household recycle sheriff and water tap regulator.

Ann Lee’s article, “A New Economic Ideology” connects this course in economics with what I am studying in the Watson School of Education. I have been writing about the importance of educating our children to think globally and to support the re-implementing of values and the importance of human rights. Caring, (“true expressions of the benefits of actions affecting natural resources”, Field, p.50.

What did we stop teaching in kindergarten? When did marketing shoes become more important than sharing snack? And actually, I believe a health standard in public daycare is, no sharing food.

“..start funding research in universities that support a new way of thinking about economics”,(Lee) and implement a new way of teaching.

Thomas Cruz said...

Just some random thoughts.....

“The Green Machine” article contained a key concept in the discussion of sustainability and the notion of human wants and needs and how they relate to sustainability. BALANCE!

People value the environment, but people place greater value on goods and services and their standard of living. NO BALANCE!

Sustainability is finding the balance between meeting the needs and wants of the people and guaranteeing this quality of life for future generations.

People are willing to explore and utilize natural resources without the concern for scarcity and replenishment. They are not willing to pay more for a cleaner environment and to give up Y to have more X.

Humans want instant gratification and are selfish, they want it all and they want it NOW. The idea of conservation/preservation to ensure the sustainability of others in a distant future is complex.

When considering common property and public goods we look at Hardin's approach that states that individual interest leads to ruin and Adam's who claims that individual interests leads to maximum social benefit. Finding BALANCE between individual interests and maximum social benefits is the key to efficiency – to avoiding market failure and assuring sustainability.

Joel Kotkin discusses the concept of “political viability of environmentalism” and the notion that pushing for too much environmental protection may be a mistake. He says that people just aren’t ready or willing to give up their way of living. I AGREE.

The concern for the environment is a relatively "modern" concept, and people are skeptical and still fairly ignorant. Education of the people should take into consideration the very nature of these same "people". "How do environmental concerns affect me/the individual"?

All "people" share a concern for their health and safety.

From a philosophical standpoint, people have a hard time looking into the future, visualizing the effects of their present actions on the future of our planet and of mankind. It becomes too abstract an idea. From an economic standpoint, the ability to gauge, measure and predict current and future depletion of our natural resources and negative effects to our environment also becomes questionable and sometimes not so efficient.

We know that cigarettes are a major cause of lung cancer. While regulations and taxes have been imposed, the government has taken a more "all inclusive" approach to this serious public health problem.

Warning labels of the hazardous health effects became mandatory as well as warnings concerning the tar and nicotine content on all cigarette packages. Advertising and marketing restrictions were set in place. Educational campaigns were launched especially targeting young people. The surgeon general released constant reports about the negative health effects of smoking. Doctors were instructed to warn patients of the consequences. Consequently, studies show that health and economic benefits related to smoking bans,regulations and restrictions have been realized.

People create and drive markets of goods and services. People value these goods and services and create the concept of supply and demand. People are willing to pay for goods and services. The challenge is to make them willing to pay for a cleaner and more sustainable environment.

Jacob Stanley said...

When I first read this article, I was a little confused as to what it was concerning. After a couple times through though, I realized that what the author was trying to say was that the major push to environmentalism could be harmful to society. In order to preserve common property (open acces state parks, wildlife reservations, etc.) society will have to take a hit in the way of crowding. I also seem to think that even with the majority of America's population support of environmentalism, when given the ultimatum of giving up thier mode of transportaion (say a car) in order to back up thier opinions and save the environment, their actions may conflict with thier beliefs. This can be held true for other market goods as well. In short, I believe the author is trying to say that although the push towards green seems good, sometimes it just isn't.

Alex Arnett said...

I find that many of Mr. Kotkins arguments are misleading. For one, he says that the environmental movement is undermining itself by supporting policies that run counter to the "American ideal" of suburbia. To the environmentalist, this is a rational and scientific line of thought. The global population is well over 6 billion, double what it was even in the 1960s, and is increasing at an increasing rate. Even with our current population, there is simply not enough room on the planet for everyone to enjoy their own half-acre mowed grass lawn with a swimming pool in back, and still enjoy all the ecosystem services needed to keep human life going on planet earth.

The practical scientific issue is neatly sidestepped, however. Instead, the author preys on the fears of the general public, and seeks to undermine the green movement not with a rational counterpoint but with an emotional gut-check.

He paints a picture of an evil alliance of "big" government and spooky, inscrutable academia, working together in a plot to control your lives.

In my eyes, this article has little in the way of legitimate information about the debate between environmentalists and industry. Instead the author is seizing another opportunity to spout rhetoric based on fear.