Posts tagged with: environment

It is a commonplace in discussions of environmental economics to consider so-called “negative externalities,” a technical term for the bad or damaging consequences of an activity that affects those outside the realm of economic decision-making.

For instance, I can make the choice to plant a tree in my yard on my own (presuming there are no regulatory hurdles to jump). A negative externality for my neighbor might be that my tree dumps a lot of leaves into his or her yard and they need to be cleaned up. Typically this level of external consequence is not given a concrete cost…we simply rake up whatever leaves happen to land in our yard, whether they are from trees we do or do not own (I got to thinking about this lately because I had to rake up a bunch of leaves this weekend. Thankfully I caught a relatively warm day after the rain had mostly dried up and the snow had not yet fallen). But if a branch or limb falls from my tree onto my neighbor’s property and causes damage, there may be a level of liability there that would allow for some sort of claim for economic compensation.

It is also a common part of this discussion for environmental economists to observe that we almost never place any concrete costs on positive externalities. I have no ability to charge my neighbor for the pleasure he or she receives from looking at my beautiful tree. I might be able to restrict this positive externality by building a fence and obstructing the view of my tree, but the beauty of the tree is a natural benefit that cannot be commodified in any usual sense.

Oftentimes these two observations, regarding the costs associated with negative externalities and the inability to commodify many positive externalities, are made with a somewhat grudging attitude. After all, thinks the economist, it seems unfair that a person be liable only for the bad things that happen because of their economic decisions but don’t stand to benefit because of the good things that happen. So from the economist’s perspective, there’s a bit of inconsistency there.

Common sense intuition runs the other way, however. We ought to pay for the harm that our actions cause, but it’s also appropriate that I can’t charge my neighbor for all the good my actions may do for him or her. In brief here’s a theological reason why the typical view is correct and is right to dominate both people’s thinking on these topics in general as well as the shape of public policy: Good is more fundamental and basic than evil.

This is a view typically associated with Augustine of Hippo, and in summary it simply means that evil is a departure from the good. The world order as created was “good,” for God made it and declared it such. Thus, the good of positive externalities is in some sense more basic than the evil of negative externalities. The harm caused by negative externalties is an evil resulting from the fact that things in a fallen world are simply not the way they are supposed to be.

Our conception that positive externalities are more basic than negative harms is an indirect witness to the priority of the good creation over the corruption of sin and evil. We can abuse the blessings of God’s goodness when we take these gifts for granted, too. But our sense that some norm of justice has been violated when there are negative externalities (and that the gracious order of natural blessings is more basic) is a moral intuition that the world was created good and in some radical way has departed from that original state.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There’s a lingering issue that continues to bother me about the so-called “global warming” Supreme Court case from 2007, Massachusetts v. EPA (05-1120), and that is a nagging concern about federalism and environmental standards.

As it stands currently, individual states are often prevented from enacting tougher legislation or regulation regarding some forms of pollution than the federal EPA standards. In order for a state EPA to partner with the federal EPA, be “authorized,” and thus receive funds, “a state must have enforcement programs and statutes that are essentially as stringent as the federal programs.”

One basic argument that the court found cogent in the Mass. v. EPA case was that individual states were prevented from creating standards that were more stringent regarding CO2 emissions than the EPA, and that since the EPA had not enacted any serious level of restriction, the states were unable to protect their environment.

This bothers me in part because one of my basic political impulses is a federalist one, an emphasis on the rights and sovereignty of individual states. The relationship between the federal and state environmental agencies seems to me to be fundamentally tyrannical, in that it overrides the ability of states to regulate themselves on these matters.

If you coopt the sovereignty of someone and then let your responsibilities lapse, then you have committed a pretty serious injustice. In 2007, the state of California sued to get the EPA to allow it to enact cleaner air standards, a right supposedly granted under the Clean Air Act. The EPA needed to agree to the tougher standards by granting a waiver, which it declined to do.

So there’s that political concern. But there’s also an economic concern, and this cuts both ways. Most often the federal government invokes the commerce clause to argue that it is within its rights and responsibilities to promote economic trade and stability by enacting nationwide standards. But in the case of environmental standards, that economic argument might not always be salient.

In a recent New York Times column, Tom Friedman calls for “a national renewable energy standard that would require every utility in the country to produce 20 percent of its power from clean, non-CO2-emitting, energy sources — wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, biomass — by 2025.” Friedman repeats the typical argument justifying national standards: “About half the states already have these in place, but they are all different. It would create a huge domestic pull for renewable energy if we had a uniform national mandate.”

John Whitehead, blogging at Environmental Economics, gives expression to the basic economic and political concern I had about the Massachusetts v. EPA decision as well as proposals for national mandates on environmental standards:

Most every environmental economics textbooks explain why uniform national standards are inefficient. Since benefits and costs are regionally different, it makes sense to adopt non-uniform standards — if standard adopting is a must.

Why not give federalism free reign on environmental issues, let states compete against each other, and see how things play out? If California wants to experiment with enacting tougher restrictions while attempting to remain economically competitive, why not see if the state is able to pull it off?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, October 1, 2008

To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the New International Version (NIV), “the best-selling translation with more than 300 million copies in print,” Grand Rapids-based publisher Zondervan is launching a nationwide RV tour, “Bible Across America.”

The RV will be making stops at various locations across the nation and encouraging people to contribute a verse to a hand-written Bible. New Zondervan CEO Moe Girkins started the tour off yesterday by inscribing Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (The Grand Rapids Press recently published an in-depth profile of Girkins.)


The tour is scheduled to wrap up in San Diego, CA in February at the 2009 National Pastor’s Convention. The tour will cover over 15,000 miles, 90 cities in 44 states. 31,173 Americans will handwrite the entire NIV Bible.

In other Bible news, Zondervan’s parent company, HarperCollins, will soon be releasing The Green Bible in the NRSV translation. As Time magazine reports, The Green Bible is intended to be “a Scripture for the Prius age that calls attention to more than 1,000 verses related to nature by printing them in a pleasant shade of forest green, much as red-letter editions of the Bible encrimson the words of Jesus.”

Perhaps we can look forward to the formation of a new group of “Green Letter Christians,” much like we currently have the “Red Letter Christians.” There’s likely to be a lot of cross-over between the two groups, though, so maybe having two groups would just be redundant. When you mix red and green you get brown…so an even better idea might be to create a group called the “Brown Letter Christians.”

The Business and Media Institute highlights House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question about why conservatives and advocates for the free market degrade San Francisco as a city out of step with mainstream America. Pelosi believes it’s all about economics, and she points to the fact that government regulation and government programs in San Francisco are the model for America, and advocates for free markets are afraid of other citizens recognizing that. Pelosi says:

In San Francisco, every child has health care until 25 years old. In San Francisco, we don’t have a minimum wage, we have a living wage. In San Francisco, the environment is not an issue for us, it is a value. It is an ethic – it is protecting God’s creation. And so the exploiters of nature, of workers and the rest – like to use other aspects of our lives, which we take great pride in.

Pelosi goes on to note that conservatives try to use social and traditional values as a wedge issue to stop the spread of San Francisco’s economic values across America. She seems to be expressing the view that San Francisco is the new “city upon a hill.”

But are loss of economic freedoms and increased regulations in San Francisco a beneficial economic policy for all of America’s businesses and citizens? San Francisco’s mayor has also gone after bottled water. What about the city’s recent treatment of the U.S. Marines? Thomas Sowell does a good job explaining the reason for amazingly high housing prices in San Francisco because of increased government environmental regulations.

San Francisco is a beautiful city with many great citizens, but their economic policies are certainly not a shining example for all of America to follow. The Speaker’s comments however are a reminder of the need for free market advocates to do a better job in articulating the moral value and benefits behind their own ideas. If the arguments against San Francisco are led by people who may primarily be interested in social issues, there is merit of course, but the argument against exporting San Francisco values are incomplete.

The second week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour is in the books. The second leg of the journey took the bikers from Kennewick to Boise, a total distance of 321 miles.

There’s a basic theme in the daily prayers from the “Shifting Gears” devotional. There is a fundamentally environmental focus, and by that I mean not just the natural environment, but the economic, political, and social environment of the areas through which the bikers progress.

For instance, the day 1 prayer (from week 1), notes the “controversial residential and building projects” that are faced by the community of Sultan “as its economic foundation erodes and the suburbs spread into the countryside.” On day 8 we are reminded to “thank God our provider today for the ability to produce and distribute food within a local setting.” On day 10, on the stretch between La Grande and Baker City, we are informed that “in areas like this, water runoff is a serious problem.”

One basic point this underscores is that effective compassion has to be fundamentally local, in the sense that it is intimately familiar with the local contexts of the problems that need to be faced. So far the devotional has maintained a somewhat neutral attitude about the various environmental problems, which is important because it is all too easy and simple to preemptively come in from the outside and tell communities what the solutions to their problems are.

One way to help communities around the world where we don’t have local knowledge is to partner with local groups who do have that expertise. Affiliation is the first principle of effective compassion, and we ought to ask of a program, “Does it work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?”

The second week of the bike tour took the participants through the state of Oregon. To find groups that are focused on making compassion effective in these areas, see the Samaritan Guide’s listings for Oregon, including Salem’s “Mentoring Women in Prison and Released” program of Freedom in the Son, Inc., rated “excellent” in the 2004 Samaritan Guide.

Cleaner skies explain surprise rate of warming

Research: Wind power pricier, emits more CO2 than thought.

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Tuesday, March 4, 2008

OSD’s Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China has some illuminating – and somewhat staggering – insight on the current state of affairs with respect to China’s environment and how it influences their national strategic policies. It’s a fascinating look at how the emerging communist nation is dealing with the realities of becoming a global superpower. (more…)

Presidential front-runners and Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are lacking environmental leadership by failing to pay for offsets to cover their campaign carbon emissions. An article in the Washington Times titled, Green Crusades Lot of Talk, by Stephen Dinan, notes John McCain and Barack Obama aren’t leading by example. “Though both campaigns say they practice energy conservation, Mr. Obama offsets only some of his airplane flight emissions, while Mr. McCain doesn’t cover even that,” says Dinan.

It looks as if carbon offsets for the campaigns are more of a public relations ploy, rather than a serious commitment to running green campaigns. In his article Dinan declares:

Even some campaigns that started with the best of intentions fell short in execution, stopping payments when their cash flow tightened.

John Edwards, one of the earliest candidates to commit to offsets, paid $21,997 last year to Native Energy, a Vermont-based company, according to Federal Election Commission reports. His most recent payment was made July 11, six months before his campaign ended.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, another candidate who made an offsets pledge, recorded his last payment to Carbon Fund in September, more than two months before he dropped out of the race.

“I’m sure that a number of the candidates saw offsets as a good way to show leadership by example, but when confronted with the cold reality of a cash crunch, offsets are one of the first things to go,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

He said offsets are probably well-intentioned, but are not an overall solution to climate change nor the best way to gauge a campaign’s commitment to addressing global warming.

According to Dinan, Senator Hillary Clinton spent $20,327 last year alone in carbon credits, making payments to Native Energy. Also, read the article to hear the explanations from the McCain and Obama campaigns.

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Wednesday, January 2, 2008

What a perfectly optimistic way to begin the new year, via Hampton Univeristy Professor Cuker in Dailypress.com:

Jesus shared the earth with no more than 400 million other souls, Thomas Jefferson with about 1 billion contemporaries, and at projected population growth rates, our children will live with 9 billion others by mid-century. Such rapid population growth can not go on endlessly. Humans, like all other species, can only populate up to the carrying capacity of the environment. Carrying capacity is set by availability of resources (food, water, places to live) and sometimes by the build-up of toxic metabolic wastes. However, as populations approach their carrying capacity, growth often slows as a consequence of increased mortality and lower birth rates due to disease, competition and malnutrition. And for humans we can add the scourge of wars fought for controlling limited resources.

Our children will live in a much better world if human population growth is checked by the rational decision to reduce family size, rather than by famine, epidemics and war. [snip]

When contemplating ways to reduce your carbon footprint, be sure to include contraception on the list along with fluorescent light bulbs and a hybrid car.

Support candidates for public office who embrace family planning and the environment. Regulate the number of your own children. To leave a better world for those you create, vote wisely, conserve and love thoughtfully.

Lots of interesting comments below the article. My two cents:

$0.01 = Those advocating population control are never the first to volunteer to leave the planet.

$0.01 = Since 2004, US per-capita growth is neutral (2.0 kids). All our growth, as in much of the industrialized world, is by immigration. US population is a small fraction of world population growth.

Oh, and "Love thoughtfully" in the same commentary as a plea for population control? That’s just fascinating. At least he admits there was a Jesus.

[Don's other habitat is evangelicalecologist.com]