Friday, May 28, 2010

Opportunity Cost and environmental ethics

© 2010 Joshua Stark

To be honest with you, the reason I bring up a lot of economics on this blog is because economics is the study of scarcity and our solutions to scarcity, which also happens to be a really big question in environmental ethics, only with (sometimes fake) numbers and an overly-(pseudo)scientific approach.  Here, then, is another economics concept that applies to environmental ethics:  Opportunity cost.
Strangely for economics, the term "opportunity cost" is actually very descriptive of the idea.  Opportunity cost is simply everything else you could have done when you chose to do something.  For example, if you spent $5 on lunch, you could have saved that $5 one more day, you could have bought a toy, etc.  The cost to you is every other choice you could have made with that five bucks.

Yes, it is depressing.  But, it can be really helpful in honestly looking at what you have and how you should use it - basically, your opportunities, and what they cost you.  If you get too bummed-out, just take a moment and think about opportunity benefit - what you get from your decisions.

Now, let's use opportunity cost in an example brought up by Prof. Ray Hilborn of Washington University.  The good professor contends that if we were to replace the protein we get from fishing by instead farming on land, we'd have to use additional land about 22 times the size of our current rainforests.  Dr. Hilborn then compares land-based agriculture's to fishing's impacts on biodiversity, and claims that fishing has shown to have reduced biodiversity about 30%, whereas land-based farming, in his opinion, results in a 100% decrease in biodiversity.

Dr. Hilborn is a well-known (to fisheries nerds), typically pro-commercial fishing scientist, and so his description needs to be taken in that context, but the general concepts are valid, and bear some thought.  What are the true opportunity costs to switching from fishing to on-land agriculture?

I find Dr. Hilborn's biodiversity comment a tad oversimplistic on both ends: directly decreasing biodiversity from fishing will have many impacts on food webs; and farming practices exist that provide better biodiversity impacts than his claim.  But, these questions do offer some real meat for future research as well as future decision-making by agencies and individuals regarding food choices, and these decisions will be based on the opportunity costs to the values we hold for our wild places, our oceans and lands, and ourselves.

So, that five bucks you were going to spend on a burger today... where will it go?  What else could you have done with it?

"These are America's Wetlands"

Please take a minute and watch this short clip of Louisiana Rep. Melancon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Climate bills...

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Well, Grist has a good break-down of the bills (and Pres. proposal) for carbon capping.

Just remember, the purpose of this is to cut carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Update:  I'm reading through some summaries, and I'm happy to report that there is a rebate in the Lieberman-Kerry proposal, although I'm sad to report that some of it is in the form of energy bill credits.  That is stupid and sick, because it will incentivize people to use more energy in-house, while benefiting large companies.

Also, the proposed use for the remaining revenues (deficit reduction) doesn't take into account mitigating impacts on climate change.  That's too bad, because we need serious watershed and habitat protections and resiliency - they impact human lives, and they are valuable in and of themselves, yet they don't get a check cut to them.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

At least they are where they belong

© 2010 Joshua Stark

The Contra Costa Times reports on former Bush Administration officials, at least one of whom with a spotty public service record, have gone to work for Westlands.

Here's the important quotation:

"MacDonald resigned in April 2007, a month after the first of the investigations found numerous questionable actions, including leaking an email to the California Farm Bureau that it used in its unsuccessful lawsuit to remove Delta smelt from the endangered species list.

A follow-up story by the Contra Costa Times showed MacDonald also participated in an unprecedented decision to remove Sacramento splittail from the list of endangered species even though that decision directly affected her property near Dixon."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Vileness from the Right and Left over the oil spill

© 2010 Joshua Stark

I won't belabor this point, because the spill is getting enough coverage from folks who can write far better than I.  However, I do want to help provide a context, and do what I can to keep this from becoming merely a political football.
In that vein, then, I provide the following:  First, there is no socialist/communist conspiracy to create an oil catastrophe in order to end petroleum as we know it, or to try to usher in a socialist regime.  All socialist regimes have loved oil, from the good ol' USSR, to today's Venezuela.  Second, this disaster has not created any kind of political "opportunity".

What happened in the Gulf of Mexico, and continues to happen, is quite simply a horrible, horrible catastrophe.  Eleven souls were lost on that platform, and the ensuing damage will destroy countless human lives and livelihoods, untold numbers of sea life and habitats, and will change the way we know the region.  We will lose billions of dollars and work-hours, just to get as close to square one as we can.

Yes, we can learn from this horrible event.  Yes, we can and should use this experience to grow as people.  But, to use this catastrophe to fan the flames of dissent among us, or to claim that it has created a political opportunity, shows a callous disregard for human and wild life, and, dare I say it, is anti-environmental.

In particular, I am upset at the editors of Grist magazine for letting this piece, titled, "Wake up, Obama. The Gulf Spill is Our Big Chance" not only get published, but get such a title.  Environmentalists used to be known as being in favor of living things.  The realpolitik expressed in this title and the piece, itself, however, continues to destroy the general public's perception of our community.

The Gulf Spill offers no "chance", no opportunity.  It is a sad disaster that we may learn from, yes, but so long as "environmentalists" claim some political gain from disasters, especially in light of the deaths of workers, our community will relegate itself to the fringes of society and politics.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Beware Brits bearing business contracts

© 2010 Joshua Stark

A quick note for folks on the Southern coast. has a story about British Petroleum (BP) hiding a waiver to sue to fishermen who may be impacted by the oil spill and who signed up to deploy boom to help corral the spill.  Basically, if offers $5k for the job (I believe), but buried in its fine print was an agreement to waive suing BP over damages in the future.

I'm no lawyer, but I'd recommend nobody sign that thing.