Warning, blatant self-and-John-promotion ahead.
So I was reading this CNN story this morning about the recent increase in bottlenose dolphin deaths on the east coast.
The carcasses of dozens of the marine mammals, seven times more than normal, have been washing up on beaches this summer, and scientists are struggling for answers to the die-off.
In Virginia alone, at least 164 dead dolphins have been found this year, said Joan M. Barns, public relations manager for the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach. Almost half of those, 78, have washed ashore in August, she said.
As of Tuesday, federal authorities say, they have recorded 228 dolphin deaths this year from New York to Virginia. In all of 2012, 111 deaths were recorded.
'Why,' you ask, 'would I bother reading about dolphins?' Well, I'm glad you asked. First, dolphins are cute. And B), I seem to have spent a significant portion of my adult life studying ways to use economics to inform decision makers on environmental and natural resource disasters. So, upon reading of an anomolous (that's odd) increase in dolphin deaths, I naturally wonder, what are the costs of dolphin deaths, and what are the benefits of preventing dolphin deaths?
So how do I find teh value of a dolphin. Naturally I turn to the only reliable source for finding such information...Google. So I Googled 'value of a dolhin.' No, reallym, that's what I Googled. because my typing skills suck. Fortunately, Google planned for my sucky typing skills and gave me results for 'value of a dolphin.'*
The first entry that came up was this Guardian story from 2012 asking, fortuitously, 'how much is a dolphin worth?' Using my amazing powers of recognition, I recognized the potential usefulness of the story and read:
At its most basic, the process now consuming teams of BP and government scientists and lawyers revolves around this: How much is a dolphin worth, and how exactly did it die?
"It is extraordinarily difficult to monetise environmental harm. What dollar value do we place on a destroyed marsh or the loss of a spawning ground? What is the price associated with killing birds and marine mammals? Even if we were capable of meaningfully establishing a price for ecological harm, there is so much that we do not know about the harm to the Gulf of Mexico – and will not know for years – that it may never be possible to come up with an accurate natural resource damage assessment," said David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former head of the justice department's environmental crimes section.
Warning: Snark ahead. Well, gee, if only the lawyers could figure out a way to value environmental harm? Or a way to place a dollar value on dead birds or marine mammals. Maybe, just maybe, a bunch of people should get together and think about how lessons learned from how people place values on things like blenders and hamburgers can be translated into ways to place values on things like oil spills, or fish kills, or fish species, or natural hazard mitigation. And, maybe, with some pie-in-the-sky thinking, these new methods for valuing the impossible might develop to the point where someone could write a book explaining the methods with an obtuse title like "Valuing Environmental and Natural Resources."
Maybe. Oh, Maybe. Someday. One can hope.
*Have I ever mentioned that I am convinced that Google is the greatest invention ever?