What is the Price of a Human?
Currently I’m reading The Sustainable Economy: The Hidden Costs of Climate Change and the Path to a Prosperous Future by Robert S. Devine. What follows is a small synopsis of the book – augmented with my usual photo-essay approach.
Quiet street in Silverton, Colorado – bruce witzel photo
With a focus on climate change, journalist and author Robert S. Devine reveals the fundamental flaws in the economy that enable environmental degradation. The Sustainable Economy is a book about economics, but it skips the equations and eases through the jargon, opting instead for compelling stories and surprising humor. Readers will encounter high-tech narwhals, struggling coal workers, orbiting giant mirrors, the kids who are suing the U.S. government over climate policy, and vanishing Alaskan towns.
The Sustainable Economy looks at many of the most pressing climate issues, such as melting ice caps and farm-killing droughts, but by viewing them through the revealing lens of economics, the book delivers a fresh perspective. Devine shows how the basic mechanisms of supply and demand fail when it comes to global warming and the environment. Fortunately, he also lays out a path to an improved economy that can boost our well-being while also fostering a healthy environment. Most importantly, The Sustainable Economy shows how we can overcome the political and personal obstacles blocking progress toward a sustainable, just, and prosperous economy.
Yerba Buena Public Park, San Francisco – bruce witzel photo
Autumn Wedding in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – bruce witzel photo
Here is what Devine says:
Incomplete communication misleads us consumers into buying products laden with hidden costs. Countless goods and services bear the stains of harms such as pollution, habitat destruction, floods, child labor, extinctions and disease. When we fill up at the gas station the price we are charged doesn’t tell us that our purchase increases the odds that a wildfire will burn down our community. Making such partially informed choices is like buying a house having seen only the kitchen.
Another characteristic of the market that leads to failure is its inability to provide incentives for businesses to produce or protect public goods, such as fire departments or city parks. Most important, the market doesn’t generate the public goods sometimes known as “ecosystem services”, such as nutrient cycling, soil formation, oxygen creation and a livable climate. Many of these essential services operate in the background; like plumbing and wiring, they go unnoticed and unappreciated unless they fail…
Wendell Berry and friends – photographer unknown
Bend, Oregon-– Francis Guenette photo
Girl in Mexico City, 1991 – bruce witzel photo
And here is an excerpt from where I just stopped reading and now currently have bookmarked:
Among the multitude of studies exploring the inequities associated with climate change is the UN’s World Economic and Social Survey 2016: Climate Change Resilience: An Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities. “Sadly, the people at greater risk from climate hazards are the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized who, in many cases, have been excluded from socioeconomic progress,” writes then United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in the report. “We have no time to waste – and a great deal to gain – when it comes to addressing the socioeconomic inequalities that deepen poverty and leave people behind.” The study estimates that over the last twenty years low-income countries have suffered a 5 percent drop in GDP due to climate-related disasters, while wealthy nations have not been smacked as hard. . .
For years experts have been wrestling with whether and how to incorporate wealth disparities into climate economics and the social cost of carbon, though not always with equity as the goal. One early attempt showed how not to do it. As part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Second Assessment Report, produced in 1996, the working group on the economic and social dimension of climate change tackled the always delicate task of putting a price tag on a human life. Despite dissent from some members, the group assigned different values to different lives depending on such factors as the average income of a person from a particular nation. Writing about the group’s approach in their book, Priceless, economist Frank Ackerman and Georgetown University law professor Lisa Heinzerling report, “A careful reading of the fine print revealed that they were valuing lives in rich countries at $1,500,000, in middle-income countries at $300,000, and in the lowest-income countries at $100,000.”
Understandably, this raised the hackles of many people, particularly residents of the $100,000 countries. They let it be known that they did not think that the life of, say, an Indian or a Nigerian was worth only one-fifteenth as much as the life of an American or a Saudi Arabian, The controversy dealt the IPPS Second Assessment a painful blow. When the Third Assessment came out five years later , it suggested a single value for everyone.
The Sustainable Economy: The Hidden Costs of Climate Change and the Path to a Prosperous Future
by Robert S. Devine (2020) pages 177-178
A woman in Mexico City, 1991 – bruce witzel photo
My granddaughter Emma, held by her father Matthew at our piano in 2009 – bruce witzel photo
Peace and regards,