It should be noted that the lead editor [John Whitehead] of this book is well-known for his folksy and self-deprecating style**. Environmental economists have spent so long being apologetic about the quality of their available data that perhaps the best defense is humor at one’s own expense. Many readers will be familiar with the Environmental Economics blog (www.env-econ.net) maintained by Tim Haab and John Whitehead. In fact, while attempting to cut-and-paste the URL, I was again distracted (and entertained) for over an hour by the latest material.
I guess that's the best we can hope for: to be a distraction top productive researchers.
*(That very few of you will be interested in).
**Does that mean I'm not folksy and self-deprecating? Or just so bad at it that I'm not well known for it?
Subject: Preference Data for Environmental Valuation
Message: Your page proofs should be with you by the end of next week. Apologies again for the delay.
Don't forget to buy your advanced copy. And if you buy a copy and show up at my office, I will sign it and write a lovely personalized message thereby increasing the value of the book by $0 (and perhaps decreasing the value on the resale market).
Five years after the need for a cleanup was recognized by the state legislature, the state Environmental Management Commission is hammering out a strategy to reduce pollutants flowing into the almost 12,500-acre reservoir from streams and rivers in Orange, Person, Granville, Wake and Durham counties that have led to rising levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake. ...
And mysterious deaths! Several residents, all with connections to Duke and NCSU, have died while swimming in Falls Lake (and drinking treated Falls Lake water). What could be behind this crime?
The push and pull between the interests of Durham and Raleigh - the two communities with possibly the most at stake - may lead to tense relations between the two cities.
Raleigh, and a large part of Wake County, needs Falls Lake for its
drinking water and will spend millions upgrading the city's water
treatment plant if pollution isn't reduced by 2016.
But Durham looks as though it will be on the hook for millions of
dollars to lower the amount of sediment-laden stormwater that rushes
off pavement in its urban core into streams, creeks and rivers that
flow into the lake. Durham doesn't get its water from Falls Lake but
from Lake Michie and the Little River Reservoir.
And it will definitely lead to some tension between Triangle-area environmental economists (those guys need some tension). Can't you see a Duke (Murray/Pattanayek) vs. NCSU (Phaneuf/Von Haefen) empirical study-type showdown? I'd go after the following actors: Gabriel Bryne to play a Murray-type character (I'm typecasting with an Irish theme), Hank Azaria for the Pattanayek-type character, Jeff Bridges for the Phaneuf-type character (because he's Oscar-hot ... and he'd shave his head like in Ironman), and, er, Will Ferrell to play the Von Haefen-type character (sorry Roger, but I gots to get my boy in the film somehow).
... To fix the
lake, Durham might have to shell out $20 million over the next decade.
City leaders say the cost could rise to as much as $1 billion overall
to upgrade a sewage plant and bring existing development into
compliance. Among other measures, that could involve encouraging more
stormwater to be filtered by the soil, which would help curb pollution
in the lake's upper reaches, where pollution is most concentrated. ...
One BILLION dollars? That represents $1 billion in potential funding for Duke medical research.
But money is also behind Raleigh's push to start cleaning up soon.
Money? And Murder. Someone definitely has to go down. Not an economist because economic life is too boring to generate a motive, but probably an evil mid-level research administrator with higher administrative ambitions.
the lake quality doesn't improve by 2016, a $115 million upgrade of
Raleigh's E.M. Johnson Water Treatment Plant, which handles all the
water for Raleigh's system, will be needed. In addition, as much as
$200 million in other improvements may be necessary.
And if Raleigh has to spend this much money on clean drinking water, all of NCSU's external funding will be crowded out. No indirect costs? That's motive.
All this story needs is a crusading heroine played by Julia Roberts:
JoAnn Burkholder, an N.C. State University aquatic ecology professor
who has been researching the Falls Lake pollution, said the unsafe
conditions on the beaches may be symptoms of the lake's illnesses.
indicates to me that something has seriously gone wrong," Burkholder
said about the beach closures at a recent forum about Falls Lake.
And, of course, we'll also need a team of heros. I suggest a Mansfield/Van Houtven-type (Sandy Bullock/Clooney or Pitt) meta-analysis that determines which empirical study is the outlier, determine if net benefits are positive and reveal the true mid-level-academic-administrator-with-higher-administrative-ambitions villain.
And I'd be the technical advisor so they'd get the economics right.
That is why economics is known as the dismal science. We strange economists are most adept at recognizing the opportunity costs of various decisions. No one else really seems to care if opportunity costs offset some, or all, of the benefits of a good idea.
Opportunity cost is a strange notion to some (especially intro micro students) ... it is the value of the next best alternative whenever a choice is made. For example, if I purchase a $1000 flat panel LCD TV, the true cost of the TV is not $1000, but what I could purchase instead (such as $500 in each kid's college education 529 plan [sorry kids]).
In the case of green energy subsidies, if you are an economist then you must at least wonder if this is the best way to spend the money. There are benefits of pushing down the costs of green energy (e.g., improved air quality), and there are opportunity costs. Ignoring the opportunity costs is likely to lead to wasteful spending. Considering the opportunity costs is likely to lead to better social decision making -- regardless of whether the benefits of the subsidies exceed the costs.
The notion of opportunity cost, its recognition and the inevitable result that not all great sounding ideas are really great ideas, is the most important thing that economists bring to many policy discussions. Pointing out the unpleasantantries of opportunity cost is one of the purposes of this blog. The dismal part of the dismal science can not be avoided.
I've seen the movie, I've watched the TV show, now I'm reading the book. Friday Night Lights, the movie, focuses on the personal stories of football players for Permian High School in Odessa, Texas in their chase of the Texas state high school championship. Friday Night Lights, the TV show, focuses on the sex lives of Dylan (Permian) High School football players, cheerleaders and coaches. Friday Night Lights, the HG Bissinger book that inspired the movie that inspired the TV show, uses Permian High School and the town's obsession with high school football as a backdrop for an economic story of boom and bust.
Take a look at the passage to the right from the book.
I wrote a review of Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded over at Climate411.org:
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, has completed his transformation from Middle East specialist to green energy expert. He wants the United States to similarly switch focus.
Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Friedman's latest book, explains how and why we must stop relying on "fuels from hell" (coal, oil, and gas) as our primary source of energy, and instead switch to "fuels from heaven" (wind, water, and solar). Without this shift, he argues, not only will we cook the planet, but wreck the economy and destroy our way of life. It is tough to quibble with Friedman's assessments.
"This blog aims to look at more of the microeconomic ideas that can be used toward environmental ends. Bringing to bear a large quantity of external sources and articles, this blog presents a clear vision of what economic environmentalism can be."
... the Environmental Economics blog ... is now the default homepage on my browser (but then again, I guess I am a wonk -- a word I learned on the E.E. blog). That is a very nice service to the profession. -- Anonymous
"... I try and read the blog everyday and have pointed it out to other faculty who have their students read it for class. It is truly one of the best things in the blogosphere." -- Anonymous