Friday, September 09, 2005

Why clean air isn't free

Economist explains forest 'costs and benefits'

Kenneth Arrow of Stanford University has been heralded as one of the most prominent economic theorists of the 20th century. Among many other accomplishments, he was a 1972 Nobel Laureate in Economics. When Earth & Sky's Jorge Salazar spoke to him in December of 2004, Arrow told us some of the issues "hot on the agenda" of 21st century economists.

There's a lot of discussion. For example, one of the discussions is how, overall, do you measure the impact of the anthropogenic causes of Earth change? How do you balance the impact?

There are lots of things going on in the world. We're using up fossil fuels. We're putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. On the other hand, we are making technological progress. We're inventing methods of cleaning up things as well as methods of destroying them. These are very disparate activities, so one problem is how do you measure the balance between these activities in some overall way? How do you measure the overall impact of these things? That was the focus of our paper (Are We Consuming Too Much? Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2004).


Of course, the typical situation is using up fossil resources, for example oil and coal. Or the degradation of farmland. Those things are profitable today, but don't take the future into account. Or consider dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which for many years, didn't create any significant problems. Now the dumping, which has been going on since the 1800s, since the Industrial Revolution began, is beginning to show up.

The point being, once stuff goes in, you can't take it out. So, the result is that there is a permanent effect, and -- from the perspective of an economist -- you don't pay for it. You don't pay a tax, a price for putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is what you call a dynamic effect, an effect over time.

Or think about what they call ecosystem services. If you have a forest, not only do you have wood, but the forest also tends to control the flow of water. When you start deforesting, you start to get erosion, you start to get floods, because the forest acts like a big sponge.

These things are very indirect. You think of forests, you think of the wood. And of course there are a lot of subtle things. Of course, the forest is a habitat for many pecies, and so forth.

And those are just a few topics that are rather hot on the agenda of economists.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


…There is substance, laid out in stunning detail by Sidney Blumenthal on Salon on August 29. “In 2004,” Blumenthal wrote, “the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent.” That was one of about eight amazing pieces of information. It will be fascinating to monitor how aggressively the major media follow this story over the coming days.


The Lost City:


The Rebellion of the Talking Heads:

Thought I’d take the liberty, particularly when it has been so hard fought for and rarely exercised in everyday discourse these days, to say bluntly: I am very pissed and ashamed by this fiasco. We have become a hallow country for long enough now, sans serious thinkers and policymakers. In lieu of which we are led by unbridled fear-mongers and hawks that have lowered our collective expectations and sense of optimism, distracting us from what’s important (e.g. stemming nuclear weapons proliferation, disease prevention, addressing poverty, education, and infrastructure, to name a few).

Results altogether have been too meager yet excuses bountiful. While neocons shout of reaping the fruits of [an intended] Iraqi freedom a dozen years later (as was the intention in Vietnam or Korea, each with a different story of such intentions gone awry), it does little to ameliorate deteriorating economic and political conditions today, e.g. if the ME stabilizes a decade later but we are greatly weakened in the process and lose our relative economic thus military hegemony to the India/China/EU trifecta – then following the shadows of a former British Empire we win ourselves a hallow victory at best, especially acute now if we don’t have a leader capable of manning and fighting on these equally important fronts.

Also, I’m sick to death of the constant, circuitous PR campaigns always distracting attention away from the unwise and meaningless policies time-and-again. For example, why do we as the world’s #1 superpower tolerate a 13% poverty rate, and we publicly care more about are how people use their sex organs based on narrow interpretations of the Bible – you’d think listening to the extreme right these days that it’s as if Jesus never mentioned love thy neighbor, do considerable charitable acts to help the poor, forgiveness for none of us are without sin….

We have clearly become a country numbed by fear and swayed by meaningless sound bites coupled with senseless policies, sans fact-based deliberation or thought-out strategy – all long-standing products of this president for which no American should be satisfied.

If I hear another right-wing Republican apologist try to find excuses gleaned off a sound-bite blaring from a right-wing cable channel or radio circuit to try to explain away W’s incompetence now - and to think people use to believe that the buck stopped at the top; those were the days - or start blaming this on the “liberal media” I’d write you off a troll and fanatical ideologue who is radicalizing the country, blind to dollars & common sense, unwilling to find common ground to address the numerous very real bread-and-butter and life-or-death challenges of everyday Americans, ignorant of broken promises made by a politician who happens to be on the same team. Not to mention particularly susceptible to fear-mongering rhetoric, and too lax to thoroughly weigh the costs seeing only a lofty gold-rush vision of benefits that apparently only a war’s blood and treasure could bring along.

Or treating the environment as one big free garbage disposal - as if Mother Nature won’t foot us or our children a bill with interest, as it always does, for absorbing today’s poisons and contaminants. As Newton parlayed, every action has an equal reaction, or what goes around….

We use to expect more from a president (at least I did with Clinton and Bush I). And I expected a lot more from Republicans who have so far been sorely disappointing, not speaking up with their own voice, yet were so quick to drag Clinton to the crap-house of 2 independent counsel investigations for such (minor) perceived wrongs like Whitewater and an oral fixation that were so frivolous in retrospect. Moreover, Friends of W can be so blind, it’s almost like FOW’s are fearful of being publicly wronged, and thus like W, never-ever dare admitting when W is wrong (using a bit of W-speak so to speak), for fear of straying from the party line.

No president is infallible, much less this one. A few prominent Republicans need to get some balls and stand firm with Democrats to try to make sure this kind of crap doesn’t happen again, considering that almost 4 years after 9/11 we are still obviously and inexcusably short and inadequate to the deliberative task of planning ahead in order to save our own people when it’s needed most, never mind a terrorist attack which usually don’t come with a 5-day advance warning.

And tough talk, or holding a lot of press conferences everywhere, or coining memorable phrases like “axis of evil”, “dead-or-alive”, or ‘flip-flop’ or having a record longest vacation in presidential history just don’t cut it anymore (particularly when we’re at war with soldiers in harm’s way and need an active, vigilant leader … and one who can cut their road trips short when a Category 5 storm is bearing down on the homeland). Americans expect and deserve better, especially when innocent people die when they do not have to, if only there was more forethought and less talk.