Wednesday, April 30, 2008

LEED Restaurant

Public consciousness of environmental issues seems to have increased substantially in recent years. An article from the Associated Press describes one entrepreneur in Minneapolis whose restaurant received LEED certification. Many would then ask, what does LEED stand for and how can a business receive this type of certification?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental design or LEED is related to sustainability of the environment through the way that businesses and restaurants are run. Behind this certification businesses have to change the way they might ordinarily do things. Restaurateur Kim Bartmann took steps to make her restaurant more environmentally friendly from the day they started building to they day she opened the doors for business.

It was designed and built to use about half the gas and electricity and 30 percent of the water of a typical restaurant its size. In addition, major elements of its interior were made from existing materials. Tables came from doors that were discarded from a nearby condo project, and the bar is made of Italian marble salvaged from a local hotel.

Not only did the construction of the restaurant take a sustainability approach, but the way that Bartmann continues to run the business follows the model of sustainability. Bartmann gets much of the food supplied in the restaurant from local vendors who are within a close proximity to the restaurant which seems to be a key element in sustainability. By getting the food locally and close to where it is produced, Bartmann will keep not just costs down, but also the restaurant’s impact on the environment surrounding it.

Could this type of restaurant become the new standard for growth and fro new businesses? It certainly seems possible if it can be supported by a market of eager entrepreneurs. If the bottom line is affected positively by running a business in this manner, then more people will do it.


Just Another Case Where I’m Right, and Everyone Else is Wrong

We often talk about externality abuse in the various classes Professor Eubanks teaches. But not once have I heard mention of Public Good abuse, something we perhaps need a primer on, because, in my opinion, we’ve stumbled into just such a mistake with endangered species.

In terms of externalities we attempt to frame the debate in two ways. First we provide a very explicit and very stringent definition in order to expel many things right off the bat. If it doesn’t fit the definition it can be dismissed out of hand, and a great many popular “externalities” are not non-market, unintentional interdependences that affect an unthought of third party.

Second, we’ve deemed it necessary to confine externalities to something that has recognizable and actionable physical consequences. In other words car exhaust can be an externality because it causes actual harm to those breathing it by polluting the air and damaging their lungs. By the same token attractive people display no externalities, because while it may give joy to some to see them, and disappoint others (under the logic “I’ll never be that good looking,” or what have you), there is no physical harm or benefits being bestowed. If we didn’t confine externalities in this manner, and allowed things such as feelings to play a part, we would end up handing out subsides and levying corrective taxes every which way you turned, and often times the same thing would be getting subsidized and taxed simultaneously.

Now returning to public goods, the definition requiring them to be both non-rival and non-excludible is appropriately limiting, it’s in the follow up where we’ve failed. Unlike with externalities we seem perfectly okay with undefinable values based on feelings. Endangered species are the perfect example of this. We’ve allowed them as a public good because many have expressed some sort of existence value for them. In other words, the mere knowledge that various species exist has a particular value to some people, and in some cases they’re even willing to pay in order to maintain that value. However, there’s no true market driven method to provide these species because the knowledge of their existence is both non-rival and non-excludible, inviting a free rider problem, and suggesting that, perhaps, government has a role to play. However, in making this assessment we’ve forgotten to attach our feelings filter, because that’s all this value is based on, a particular feeling that various people experience. I ask then, what if there are people experiencing exactly the opposite feeling? Is it so hard to imagine there are those with anti-existence values? I, for one, would actually be happier knowing there are no more snakes on the entire planet. And knowledge such as that is non-rival and non-excludible. Should we tax everyone to provide this “public good” and make myself and others like me happy? Of course not.

The entire idea of taxing in order to provide a public good or limit or expand an externality (depending on whether it’s positive or negative) is based on an efficiency ethic. Taxing everyone to provide endangered species fails to meet the standards of efficiency. Aside from the obvious debate between those with existence values and those with anti-existence values there are clearly those who are existence neutral. If we take from everyone to provide for the feelings of a few, we’ve caused discernible harm in order to make others better off. This is the antithesis of the entire basis for our model.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Now I'm Worried

Uh oh!! I may want to rethink this global warming thing.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New Environmentalism

In response to Michael DeAlessi's article:

"Conservation Through Private Initiative: Harnessing American Ingenuity to Preserve Our Nation's Resources"

I loved this article!

I haven't discussed it yet in my class with the knowlegable and expressive members yet, but I felt it was a perfect example of what a blog should be written on.

Growing up somewhat fearful of private ownership of things like land and open spaces, it's been a journey for me to come around to the level-headed thinking that suggests privatization may actually do MORE for the land than would the socialization of 'public lands' would.

DeAlessi wrote, “On public lands, land-use decisions inevitably wind up in the court of politics, where rhetoric and extremism trump substance and tradeoffs.”

It's like when I was a kid, when a bundle of toys were given to 'us' (my two brothers and me), we invariably fought over who got to play with what and when. When things were specifically designated to one of us (or to another), it was crystal clear amongst us who was allowed to play with what and when, and it gave us a sort of independence in determining what we'd share and with whom. As well, when we played with something that wasn't ours, we knew EXACTLY why we were in trouble or that we were doing something that could be construed as wrong.

When the 'bundles' were given to 'us,' we would feel like we had a right to whatever IT was and when someone else was using it, even though I wasn't, I'd feel like I was being wronged. The thing is, though, that all of 'us' thought the same way!

DeAlessi also writes that in “…the marketplace, where by definition voluntary trade makes everyone involved better off, politics is a zero-sum game, where gains to one group are made at the expense of another.”

What would happen regarding the toy or bundle, is that one person would try to take the toy or bundle and if he would fail, then he would go to mom and dad (government) to settle the dispute. I, being the oldest, rarely got his way because I was always out-whined.

I now see bickering over 'public resources' as whining and it bothers me to have to compete with, interact with, or even hear whining!

I also learned of the Audobon Society and how they fight so hard to preserve the oil reserves in ANWR, yet have access to reserves and DRILL on land that they (members of the group) own!

Suspect, I tell ya!

Hypocracy, I tell ya!

Of course, had there been a clear case of property rights of the toy/bundle, then the answer would be simple... "it's his, you are going to have to ask nicely to play with it, so stop crying!" Then, it would still be up to the person who owned the item.

The tragedy of the commons (Garret Hardin):
“ruin is the destination toward which all men rush.”

I may have wound up a huge whiner, had whining actually been the determining element of dispute-resolution.

Michael DeAlessi also wrote:

“Doing more with less is one of the most important aspects of conservation, and is also one of the prime directives of the profit motive.”

I believe this truly!

“No one questions the impetus for a cleaner, healthier, species-rich environment. How we get there, however, is another question.” (DeAlessi)

Perhaps the way to get there is through privatization of resources. Examples of the Alaska fisheries and Washington oysteries are certainly compelling. Not to mention, attaching a specific value to things that actually are considered harmful, such as trash/refuse, may also be a means to better conservation. DeAlessi gave the axample that in some circumstances, “pay as you throw” programs garnered as much as a 17% reduction in total waste.

Perhaps the way that doesn't lead to a better, cleaner environment is exactly what we're doing, allowing government to act as mom and day over 'bundles' of resources that we all feel like we have a right to and thus whine as a means to determine management over said resources.

It, in some wierd place in our souls, may seem like a good thing to allow public access to everything, but there comes the unavoidable question of what harm are we doing, how do we fix it, and how do we even measure the effects of harm or improvement for that matter?

“In many cases, success has been measured by permits issued or violations cited rather than by specific, targeted improvement in environmental quality.”

Sounds like my parents would have measured their successes by how many spankings or groundings they dished out, or how successful they were at specific conflict resolutions as opposed to whether or not they contributed to the world a good son... or 3 good sons, accountable for their own actions, respectful of others' property and ambitious to work for what they want.

So, my hat off to...

‘New Environmentalism’

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What Tools are in Your Water Shed?

Colorado Springs hosts quite the spectrum of potential water problems. On one hand, we can experience great droughts which in turn can result in fire hazards, expensive water access, even illness and death. If people can’t keep cool, their bodies may overheat; if they can’t fight off diseases because of dehydration, or if they don’t have access to clean water, they can take a serious toll on the community in various forms. Water shortages may even lead to economic hardships. On the other hand, because Colorado Springs is at the foot of large mountains, flooding can be just as much of an issue. Homes built on flood-planes may slide down the hill with slope movement, or even be ruined from within because of water movement. Flooding can damage roads which could cause an economic impact, as well as damage property; it may even cause reservoirs for drinking to be contaminated with waters from external sources. In this regard, the water shed is of vital importance; how it’s taken care of, how it’s cleaned, and how it’s utilized are details that must be considered, especially in places like Colorado Springs!

According to the article by the Water Environment Federation (WEF),[1] pollution is a major contributor to the expenses that arise at water treatment plants. Water that runs off of highways, and are polluting waterways, flow into the treatment centers. The expenses of treating the (polluted) water are high, which WEF says could be curbed to some manner through taking care of how the water flows into the treatment center, as opposed to simply treating the water that will flow out of the center. Their idea on protecting the watershed en masse is to delegate the responsibility of water pollution prevention to the public. Individuals are asked, in the article, to contribute.

How You Can HelpWatershed management requires everyone's cooperation. You can help by:
· Educating yourself about water resources and uses in your watershed
· Talking to your elected officials about watershed management
· Making sure your area schools are teaching about watersheds
· Ensuring that hazardous materials are not disposed or dumped on your property
· Removing or replacing any leaking underground storage tanks on your property
· Reaching out to other communities and crossing political boundaries in the interest of watershed management

All of which seem to be fairly basic recommendations to ask of people in the city. But, how will they actually succeed at making these suggestions come into action?

One way that can be successful is through government administration and enforcement of rules that would function to protect watersheds and thus decrease the expenses of water treatment, as well, make impacts on the entirety of a community, city, state, even nation! According to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[2], there are some specific areas of water treatment that are focused on, but still need improvement.

If EPA is committed to the watershed approach, it needs to make improvements in four key elements:
• Integrating watershed activities into its core water programs.
• Addressing stakeholder concerns to increase their participation.
• Refining and improving key aspects of its strategic planning process.
• Improving the watershed performance measurement system.

EPA adopted the watershed approach to help focus existing, traditional water pollution control programs in a more comprehensive manner and address emerging problems.

Similarly to the WEF, the EPA seems to be advocating watershed focused policy that would address and improve existing programs, as well, consider likely problems that may arise in the future.

Watersheds are what flow into the treatment plants that then flow through our pipes at home and give us drinking/cooking water. Watersheds are also how flooding can be destructive; depending on how water sheds over the surface of land, and how maximized the water table below the surface is, floods may have nowhere to go but into destructive lanes such as our home, or into our treated water reserves, bringing pollution with it! Even though water pollution is of great importance, which we attempt to remedy through water treatment means, how water moves is of greater importance. Water movement, if not worked with in a harmonious way, can cause landslides beneath homes, floods through industrious areas, and deterioration of architectural structures. So, water not only needs to be cleaned for our purposes of consumption, but also managed in a manner that allows us to progress as a community, city, state, nation, even as civilization. And the way to bring together the handling of water for consumption, as well, the issue of water as a force of nature, the solution lies more in understanding and working with the watershed than in trying to control it.

Unlike water conservation, which even if the use of private consumption was fully minimized, the overall impact is relatively small, individual contributions to the issue of watershed management could make for larger marginal social benefits. Contractors could design developments with watershed in mind, cities could zone according to geological and hydrological phenomena, and people on an individual level could be mindful of the waste they disperse through community-policing of such behavior. Government could offer disincentives, such as fines, to people who do harm to watersheds; as well, they could offer incentives, such as tax relief, to companies that successfully develop in accordance to watershed tendencies of a region. Individuals can simply read the two web pages and learn about ways they can positively impact the watershed in their area. The tools of government, as well as the resources for individuals can make those positive impacts.

Though flooding and droughts occur, understanding the tools we possess could lead to fewer and smaller impacts they have on us. In the tools we possess, understanding and protecting watersheds can be the key.