Monday, March 31, 2008

Is it necessary to change?

It is amazing that such small things can make such a large impact on the environment around us. In an article featured on, entitled Catch Large Fish, Encourage Small Fry, Randolph E. Schmid presents one such instance where little actions can be far reaching. Who knew that by encouraging fisherman to keep the larger fish they might be unnecessarily altering the variance of fish? By keeping the larger fish, fishermen are depleting the supply of stronger and somewhat more aggressive varieties of fish. This topic easily lends itself to the discussion of sustainability.

By taking the stronger fish we might be encouraging the growth in the population of fish that are not as strong and less likely to survive in larger numbers. Although it is fairly likely that each new generation of fish will have its stronger varieties, it is exceedingly less likely if the strong fish are always caught first. Schmid describes the circumstance as this:

“Biro and his colleague, John R. Post, stocked two lakes in western Canada with different types of rainbow trout- one type was known to be aggressive in seeking food and to grow rapidly, while the other grew more slowly and tended to take fewer risks in foraging. They set gillnets in the ponds over five day, moving them each day, and caught 50 percent of the stocked fast growing fish but just 30 percent of the more cautious ones.”

Although to many this does not seem like a big deal, but the fish that are more aggressive are the ones that will thrive and survive, whereas the fish that are not as strong will tend to show a less rapid rate of population growth. Even though it is a small matter it could have a somewhat large impact if the issue of sustainability is not taken into account. One might however ask, if this is such a big deal then why have we been taught to fish in this way for centuries, and never seen a significant impact? Is it really necessary to alter our behavior now?

An Hour in the Dark for Quiet Reflection, And Thousands in the Light for Actual Thought

Walking into work on Saturday I was confronted with several posters for something called “Earth Hour,” an event promoted by the World Wildlife Fund. For those not in the know, “Earth Hour” was supposed to be a worldwide occasion for everyone to show their solidarity in support of the environment, and to raise awareness in others, by shutting off the lights from 8 to 9 pm. The posters claimed that it would not only be private individuals participating, but many businesses, and yes, even government organizations.

Now there’s a couple, more obvious, problems with this. First off any government entity claiming to fall in line with this proposal is mostly blowing smoke, because the 29th fell on a Saturday and most government buildings are closed over the weekend, and even more are done for the day by eight. The library I work at, for example, had posters all over the place for this thing, as I mentioned earlier, but closed at six. It’s a fairly easy commitment to shut off the lights when they would be out anyway.

But more importantly, as we’ve discussed in class many times, the issue of climate change boils down to a theory of over consumption causing future harm. In regards to that, I’m not sure how one hour without lights, once a year, helps. At best it would qualify as a blip on the radar. Especially since nowhere were you advised to cease using other power consuming devices. Indeed a flashlight seemed almost mandatory because participants were encouraged to use the time while the bulbs weren’t burning hot to replace them with “energy efficient fluorescent bulbs,” a task I’d find impossible in the darkness that pervades my domicile at 8, unless I had the aide of some kind of artificial light.

So while the claim was that this event would show everyone a way they could help if united together, at best it qualified as a stunt. And a poor one at that, because the only way “Earth Hour“ could conceivably make an impact is if it came round more then once a year, but several times a day.

Donald Boudreaux may well have had the best comment on the event stating, “Persuading people across the globe to turn off lights for one hour supplies the perfect symbol for modern environmentalism: a collective effort to return humankind to the dark ages.”

For years the acronym WWF, previously a wrestling brand, was associated with style over substance and presenting a completely fake product. It seems now that the World Wildlife Fund has inherited the title they can’t help but carry on the tradition and participate in a bit of chicanery themselves.

-Jaeson Madison

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What is the difference between ecological economics and environmental economics?

I thought I understood the differences to mean that one group branched off from the other group, but according to Wikipedia, that doesn’t necessarily hold true. Granted, what is Wikipedia and how relevant is it as a source? But I wanted to gain some perspective of what ‘other’ people thought of environmental economics. By ‘other’ people, I mean folks who may have a normative base of sustainability, or who aren’t economically inclined but want to somehow understand how economics and the environment interrelate.

"Environmental Economics" should not be confused with "Ecological Economics." The two fields are related, but are in some ways very different. Most environmental economists have been trained as economists. They apply the tools of economics to address environmental problems, many of which are related to so-called market failures--circumstances wherein the "invisible hand" of economics is unreliable. Most ecological economists have been trained as ecologists, but have expanded the scope of their work to consider the impacts of humans and their economic activity on ecological systems and services, and vice-versa. This field takes as its premise that economics is a strict subfield of ecology. Ecological economics is sometimes described as taking a more pluralistic approach to environmental problems and focuses more explicitly on long-term environmental sustainability and issues of scale.

Though I normally read Wikipedia with a skeptical eye, I think that their definition helps me to understand the differences between the two approaches of understanding the environment and economics. Perhaps they are bordering one another, separated by a line that splits the two vantage points.

One side would behave as if people are of little importance, and that the environment takes a superior position of priority. Such terms as “intergenerational justice” may be their grounds for moving towards compromise with the side that they deem evil for exhausting natural resources for the selfish intents of human-kind. They might also consider economists to be negligent to the concept of sustainability. Of course, a less radical understanding of this dynamic would be to incorporate an understanding of economics into the study of environmentalism; thus ecological economics.

The other side might move towards common ground by taking a stance of liberty and claiming that it is up to the dynamics of families to teach people about the importance of environmental accountability. They might also argue that if there was private ownership of land, then there might be more incentive to value the land and thus take care of it and the natural resources it provides. In fact, if a business were to own the land and want to make money off of it, it would be in the interest of the company to replenish the resources so as to continue operating in business!

Because economics as well as the environment are dynamic, there are no real ways to accurately evaluate things such as “environmental foot-prints.” Arguably, both approaches will have to deal with situations where inefficient usage of the land, including wastefulness, will occur.
The true purpose behind the importance of understanding the relationship between the two approaches comes down to policy. One side would want to come up with the ‘best’ policy pertaining to environmental issues. The other side would want to prevent government from having too much power and policy over individuals when it comes to environmental usage and availability. Because one side, those who want policy to determine how both economics and the environment are dealt with, has a current relevance, the nature of the debate comes down to why things aren’t working better. The side that advocates individual preferences has an answer, but it is considered theoretical because our government, our system, is currently operating in such a way that is contrary to individual preferences; it is a governmental-control system that attempts to take into consideration things such as the environment and economics, but does little to actually allow markets and dynamics to simply emerge.

Now, I think I have a pretty good idea of the differences of ideologies at work, will there be a viable solution to the way economics and the environment interrelates? Perhaps if we rely on government to come up with a solution, we’ll sacrifice individual liberty. And, perhaps if we leave it up to individuals, we’ll all consume ourselves to death. Perhaps there is a middle ground right on the line that separates environmental economics and ecological economics that will yield the solution.