Friday, June 11, 2010

Energy, politics and the costs and benefits of extraction

Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect has an interesting piece on energy and the surrounding issues. The notion that our attention to environmental matters tends to be short-lived is one that we've seen quite a bit lately.

As the economic downturn really started hitting home, concern for the environment waned. The BP spill has brought environmental concerns to the forefront again, but as some of you commented in response to my last post, we don't expect people to change their behavior (at least not for very long) unless the issue hits them in the wallet.

This is one of the main ideas I want you to leave this class with: notions of ethics, morals and environmental stewardship are real motivators to engage in conservation, but when push comes to shove, people make decisions based on their own costs and benefits. In the context of the environment, the costs and benefits that individuals act on are different than those that affect us as a society. And there's big rub. If we want what's "best" for society, we have to develop policy tools that push individual costs and benefits toward those of society at large. This is not news. But as Yglesias points out, people tend to balk at the very solutions that we know will work, because implementing proper market signals for energy will raise resource prices. Again, people seem to want a solution, but they don't seem to want to pay for it.

Yglesias also points to the idea that our concern for nationalism might not be as fickle as our concern for the environment. But he questions the underlying net gains of "energy independence", because home-grown energy means that the external effects occur in our front yard.



Jennifer said...

Ethics, morals and environmental stewardship are motivators for conversation and conversation is fueled by thoughts which create our reality. The only way society will demonstrate willingness to pay (vote for change in policy) is if we change our thinking and what we value.

"The place of origin is completely irrelevant."

Aren't we passed the point of who's yard it's in, who's coastline or which ocean?

Wanda Lewis said...

I agree with Jennifer's comments. The only real way that we are going to do anything to change how we treat the environment is to change our values. Until then, people are always going to do what is best for them, when it comes down to it.

Chris Smith said...

I agree that people want to have a solution and dont want to pay for it. We want the most for the least and that is human nature. However, if we keep this up we will eventually run out of things to be selfish about because there wont be any resources left! I think that this is going to have to be one of those things that the government steps in on and places laws to help us help ourselves.

Joel Garner said...

As a nation i believe we are just going to have to pay for this disaster together and just suck it up because it is what's best for our world as a whole. People that have nothing to do with this disaster will feel they shouldn't have to pay but maybe they should look in their DRIVEWAYS because they are part of the problem because they need this resource. We all do and will for a long time to come. Sometimes bad things happen but i still see people traveling everywhere and planes full of passengers burning up the same oil that BP has given them for years. I'm not going to stop pumping and i don't think anyone else is so we must fix this problem as a nation.

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