Cost Benefit Analysis and the Environment


One of the most interesting topics right now is how to allocate risks and costs with respect to environmental problems like climate change.    I’m having an email discussion with my good pal John and thought I’d bring some of that online for others to comment:

RE:  Cost Benefit Analysis and Environment:

John’s:  It is very easy to distort their definitions towards a point of view rather than towards something necessarily valid.  Not that cost/benefit is never useful.  It is very useful when the costs and benefits are relatively simple to define.  Unfortunately costs from environmental degradation and benefits from efforts to change behavior are very difficult to delineate.  In the end through the early environmental movement persistence and intelligent thinking about clean water and air prevailed over those who used cost/benefit analysis.

Joe:  Very good points except I’m not at all convinced about your last sentence.   I used to agree with that but (without enough research) I’d say we needed cost benefits and failed to do them, leading to massive spending or bans on things that had little impact on the overall quality or simply shifted industrial damages to poor countries.   I’ve lost a LOT of respect for mainstream US environmentalism because I think it is not a global perspective and it’s mostly emotional rather than analytical, leading to bizarre policy and spending recommendations that don’t line up with long term planning and well being. Kyoto – now partially discredited even in environmental camps as an ineffective and bad approach – is an excellent example of how emotion drives policy.

Although there is enough right wing froth to confuse the analysis, another example of emotion trumping reason seems to be the Silent Spring / DDT ban which as far as I can tell will eventually be seen as one of the greatest and catastrophic (in terms of lives lost) errors of environmental thinking – though it would be very hard to model/evaluate the damages to ecosystem if we’d kept spraying.  Still, the facts suggest we had a moral imperative to keep using DDT which would have saved *tens of millions* who have since died from Malaria.   If those had been US kids there is NO WAY the ban would have stuck.
The same imperative – I would argue – that should focus us on malaria and malnutrition while we should largely ignore climate change.
You are certainly right about Lomborg being a lightning rod for controversy, but I’d encourage you to look at his TED talk or other writings.   I’d suggest he’s a very clear thinker, pilloried unfairly by the vested interests of an increasingly entrenched climate and environmental bureacracy.    It’s not logical to think that the public sector is above all economic and political influences while the private sector is a prisoner to them.  Both are compromised, which is why the clearest voices come from people like Lomborg who have no dog in the fight other than “optimizing human experience”.   We can disagree about how to optimize things, but I want to hear more from people who have no stake in how we allocate resources.   That leaves out industry scientists …. and NASA as well, leaving us with thin pickings.    Still, I’d argue strongly – very strongly – that the best policy recommendations are coming from the economists who are looking at both costs and benefits.

Comments very welcome!

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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17 Responses to Cost Benefit Analysis and the Environment

  1. glenn says:

    Ideology trumps all now…the environmental benefits are only a nice to have – ALL is driven by the core goals of the radical and political movement behind it.

    It’s roots are more in population control than anything else. It is clear if you just take the time to read their positions (the key players) and look at history. DDT is a perfect example – Rachel Carson is a godlike figure in the environmental movement – she should be viewed as a mass murderer!

    We should have pushed a strong nuclear power program decades ago – think we be a lot better today both economically and environmentally.

    However we are currently living in a perpetual opposite day where everything seems upside down or backwards but the pendulum is going to swing back hard and unfortunately it is probably going to back too far the other way.

    Science has all but died, totally hijacked by political extremists and bound forever by the greed of grant money and payouts.

    As far as right wing froth goes…there wouldn’t be any if CO2mmunists hadn’t hijacked the left. Everyone wants to blame the “right wing” – talking points!!! The problem is the dishonest agenda from the left.

    If there really were transparency, honest and open debate, ALL the facts on the table, NO FINANCIAL GAIN involved we wouldn’t need any of this turbulence created from either side and we might actually solve the real problems facing us.

    Africa is a travesty for all eternity…just shameful what has happened there and you can tie the environmental extremists right to it – it is almost as if some of these whackos really believe population control is the answer and somehow a person in Africa is any less important than someone in DC.

  2. horatiox says:

    “”I’ve lost a LOT of respect for mainstream US environmentalism because I think it is not a global perspective and it’s mostly emotional rather than analytical, leading to bizarre policy and spending recommendations that don’t line up with long term planning and well being. Kyoto – now partially discredited even in environmental camps as an ineffective and bad approach – is an excellent example of how emotion drives policy.”””

    I agree with this assessment: many so-called environmentalists do tend to rely on emotion rather than facts, as do many phony, shall we say “frat-boy liberals” . Yet I think the Foxnews types (including Mr Glennster) tend to use that as a tactic against any and all concerned with environmental issues, as with the recent email issue. It was an issue, but not in itself a refutation.

    Being skeptical about some claims of the Gore/IPCC camp in regards to AGW does not mean, for instance, one should thereby approve of petroleum or coal corporations, or ignore some signs of global warming (polar ice cap melting as higher rates, etc), or say drought. The Waxman-Hartley bill has problems, but the bill does address the excesses of the oil and coal industry (and that’s one reason the GOP politicians don’t care for it, given that they generally follow orders from oil and coal, and automotive executives–then so do many Demos).

    • glenn says:

      I think all lobbying connected with any financial gain should be outlawed. It is corruption. We have totally screwed ourselves over with our pathetic interests in oil, etc. Nuclear was the answer and we blew it.

      The problem with Gore, etc. they are as much about creating a global political organization to control every aspect of your life as they are about doing anything for the environment. The overhead associated with these ego-psychotics is just way too high!

      The major problem or disconnect with these solutions…who do you think is best to actually get the job done? It cracks me up that so many people have actually fallen for the “tax them” that will get them to stop attitude – what a folly – talk about setting yourself up to be totally screwed!

      The CO2mmunists believe it is them and why?…because they will personally and financially benefit from it and they will be able to pay off their cronies – welcome to Crony Capitalism – or the way China and Russia does stuff – Communism 2.0 – it is an upgrade not worth getting because you pay for it for the rest of your life…

      or is the UN the right place to get this done? The UN should be completely disbanded – they are a criminal enterprise rising to the level of the Catholic Church with their continued cover-ups of their crimes and pillaging of money from hardworking people around the world.

      or…do you create a job positive environment for business to take up the challenge, innovate and deliver in a free market with the government doing what it is supposed to do…keep us safe militarily and provide a solid national infrastructure to get the job done.

      I don’t know anyone that isn’t for a great environment, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to be a good steward for our planet – it’s our house, let’s keep it clean.

      But to think that anyone actually believes the government or the UN would do a good job at this – especially something that is so important – given their decades or centuries of abysmal performance, if you think they are the answer then you must either ignore the facts or are suffering from a severe case of scarecrow syndrome.

      Just look at the last 12 months, Carte Blanche, open checkbook, they had the plan, they had the answer they were going to solve ALL OF OUR PROBLEMS…two words…

      EPIC FAIL

      And that is exactly what will happen to our environment if we turn it over to these arseclowns!

      Government isn’t the solution they are in fact a major part of the problem.

      • JoeDuck says:

        Glenn the challenge for you is to realize the extent to which the problems you identify on the left also infect the right wing thinking that was especially prevalent a few years ago. When you sincerely rail against the ignorant rants of Limbaugh or Palin or Tom Delay I’ll pay a lot more attention, but it seems you reserve all your sharp criticism for the “other side”…

    • JoeDuck says:

      Being skeptical about some claims of the Gore/IPCC camp in regards to AGW does not mean, for instance, one should thereby approve of petroleum or coal corporations, or ignore some signs of global warming (polar ice cap melting as higher rates, etc), or say drought.

      Yes, a good point and agree with this totally. We are programmed (I think evolutionarily) to think tribally and it’s hard to extract ourselves from that and proceed with just the facts. So hard that almost all the dialog now – even in the science community – tends to swirl around agendas rather than around the data.

  3. glenn says:

    Joe I don’t listen to Limbaugh, Palin or Delay…so I really can’t comment. The run-of-the-mill GOP is just as bad as the run-of-the-mill DEM. That is the problem.

    The only reason I like Palin at all is clearly she is a HUGE threat to the liberal left – so that in itself is reason to give a second look 🙂

    Please remember that I am one that has always castigated both sides equally – however the DEM’s are in charge and have been since 2006 and they deserve the brunt of the criticism just like the GOP did when they had control from 2000 until 2006 and TOTALLY SCREWED THE POOCH! I was after them just as hard and was quite happy when the DEM kicked their arses. But look where we are…

    You can’t possibly be happy with Obama, Pelosi, Reid, etc…this is a disaster of EPIC proportions and we don’t even know the real depth of the problems – this current admin keeps adjusting how they are reporting the numbers, tweaking to continue to “hide the decline” with anything negative. Did you see the latest twist on counting stimulus jobs?

    We are a center-right country and that is where we need to govern…not on either extreme and what so many people failed to realize that voting for Obama was a vote for an extreme-left country – you were warned but you didn’t pay heed and now must pay. Voting in now officially a WMD.

  4. horatiox says:

    “”””Solomon et al. begin their article stating “Over the past century, global average surface temperatures have warmed by about 0.75°C. Much of the warming occurred in the last half century, over which the average decadal rate of change was about 0.13°C, largely due to anthropogenic increases in well-mixed greenhouse gases. However, the trend in global surface temperatures has been nearly flat since the late 1990s despite continuing increases in the forcing due to the sum of the well-mixed greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, halocarbons, and N2O), raising questions regarding the understanding of forced climate change, its drivers, the parameters that define natural internal variability, and how fully these terms are represented in climate models.””””

    http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2010/02/01/what%e2%80%99s-happened-to-global-warming/

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