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Ginny Johnson
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My biggest takeaway from this class is just how prevalent and far-reaching issues of environmental injustice are. I knew about environmental justice somewhat before taking this class, but I did not have a concept of the depth and breadth of the problem. Being from West Virginia, I was familiar with mountaintop removal mining and the associated harms, but I was shocked at the extent to which even something as simple as where a turnpike toll is placed can affect a community’s physical and mental health. This is a particularly important lesson to learn as we experience the age of Coronavirus in which already vulnerable communities are made more vulnerable as air quality that has been worsened by corporations makes people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses like COVID. As for how this knowledge will make me a better citizen, if nothing else, environmental injustices are often allowed to continue because they affect disadvantaged communities and therefore do not get the publicity required to stop them. Having the knowledge that these injustices are happening and sharing that knowledge and outrage with others is the baseline for preventing them in the future. Also, I live in a state famous for environmental justice problems. If ever a politician would run on a platform of helping the environment and coal miners instead of coal companies, I would do everything in my power to get them elected.
Toggle Commented Apr 25, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
This article reminds me of an anecdote from my favorite book of all time, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer who is a Native American woman and professor of plant biology. She writes of a time when she asked an upper-level conservation biology class whether or not they thought the earth loved them back. Their studies and passions made it clear that these students were dedicating their lives to loving the earth, but the idea that the earth could love them back dumbfounded them. Not to sound like a hippy, but the earth takes such good care of us: feeding us, letting us breathe, giving us good clean water, being breathtakingly beautiful. Acknowledging that these are gifts given to us makes the job of protecting those gifts so much more important and so much easier. When you’re just on a crusade to save the earth, it’s so easy to burnout, but when you see the earth’s love for you with every summer strawberry and springtime flower, all you want to do is take care of the earth in return. I think it is incredibly cool that Nichols is starting a movement to take anecdotes about the benefits of Nature and study the actual, citable science proving that they are more than anecdotes. It is a great way to legitimize people who already know or have felt the benefits of spending time outside or forest bathing or recovering from PTSD through surfing, and an even better way to show people who might be skeptical that these benefits are real and therefore need conservation efforts so people can continue to enjoy these benefits.
I love that the Solutions Project focuses on finding the specific combination of solutions that will fit for each different country/state/city. It perfectly captures part of what John Oliver was talking about in his Green New Deal video: there is no one solution that will solve climate change, it will take a combination of solutions, each solving part of the problem, to come together to make noticeable changes. Being a West Virginian, I also really appreciated how they counted the jobs these solutions would generate. A common WV fear regarding the renewable energy revolution is that there will be a boom of temporary jobs that will go away again after a few years. We have seen this happen time and time again as coal mines open, extract all the resources they want, and close, leaving whole towns without any other employment opportunity. And as we talked about in class, no new company wants to open an office in a town with air quality made terrible by coal mining. On the Solutions Project website, however, they count only the jobs that would employ someone for forty consecutive years. For the Prospect essays, I first looked at an Op-Art about bank switching away from banks that invest in the fossil fuels industry, most notably JP Morgan Chase. It is amazing how ingrained fossil fuels are in our economy in ways many people have no idea about (and no idea they have influence over). I’m shocked at how successful activist groups have been at getting banks to actually hear their concerns and/or closing down branches of problem banks. I then read an article about how Americans have very little trust in the federal government (even before the current presidency) and how that will affect the willingness of people to support the Green New Deal. It was fascinating to read about how the public’s distaste for government has grown since Reagan was in office and how this creates a cognitive dissonance between the benefits people receive from the government and their perception of the government’s involvement. The author suggests that for the Green New Deal to work, the government must expand to include more scientists, planners, bureaucrats, etc. who are all competent and working toward the goal of solving climate change. This would require politicians and private citizens to accept that big government is not an evil entity, but a necessity to solve certain problems. I’m curious what this article would say if it were written now in the age of coronavirus, as the failings of a too-small government become more and more apparent and an organized, unified government more desirable.
I am particularly interested in the finding from the Zhang et. al. article that the negative effect of air pollution on cognitive behavior affects men more so than women. It is interesting that this gendered effect becomes more pronounced the older the subjects are, as well as that there is such a difference in the gender divide between those with primary school education or less and those with middle school or more. I’m curious how much of this gender divide is biological and how much is caused by social forces. Does the divide increase as subjects get older because they are being exposed to more air pollutants or because they were exposed to different social climates when they were young? Or some combination thereof?
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
As an environmentalist who grew up in West Virginia, I knew from the moment I was conscious of politics that coal mining was bad. I remember watching the local news the night the Upper Big Branch Mine news broke. I knew mining was bad for the environment, and I knew it was dangerous for coal miners to do their jobs. I had also, however, watched countless ads for politicians from both parties who promised to bring back coal, protect coal mines from closing, and touted clean coal as the ultimate solution to all of our problems. I figured we as a state had just decided we were prioritizing profits over people’s lives and wellbeing and the environment. When I took Intro Enviro as a freshman at W&L, I was flabbergasted to learn that coal mining is not only not helping our state’s economy, but actively destroying it. With that background of my life, I am not at all surprised by the concepts in this article. Issues surrounding coal mining are near and dear to my West Virginian heart, so I already knew about Mountaintop Removal Mining, coal-related health issues, all sorts of environmental damages, etc. What I did not know was the degree to which these elements impacted our economy. How does Kentucky get away with spending $643 million on coal at a loss of $115 million, even without including externalities? More importantly, how can we as a country afford a loss of half a trillion dollars annually to coal mining? I am confounded by our dedication to coal despite its negative environmental and social aspects, but particularly its extreme economic impacts.
Toggle Commented Mar 6, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
I found it really interesting how few tourists who responded to the survey seemed to be aware of the exit fee, especially considering 41% of them had been to Belize before. I have been to Belize three times in the last two years and had never heard of PACT before. It seems to me that if knowledge of the $3.75 fee causes people to anchor to a lower amount than they otherwise would and people, for the most part, are unaware of the current fee, that this is even more reason to raise the fee again, especially considering that since the $3.75 to $20.00 price increase, tourism has actually gone up. It makes sense that the “price elasticity of demand for high-end tourism [is] highly inelastic”. Since people are already paying hundreds of dollars for flights, hotels, and activities on the island, what’s another $10 in the scheme of things? I’m also curious about all of the previous studies outlined in Section 2.2 that discovered tourists have a higher willingness to pay for conservation than they’re currently being charged. Were these fees increased to the amounts suggested by the economists conducting these studies? If they were implemented, were they as well-received as the studies predicted they would be? I’m also curious what the ideal budget for conservation is from the perspective of the people of work in conservation in Belize. Like, in order for current MPAs to run perfectly, do they need $20 from every tourist? Or do they need $100 from every tourist? Would including knowledge of this amount in the survey affect tourists’ answers?
I was really intrigued by Krutilla’s suggestion that a major solution for land conservation should be the determining of “a minimum reserve to avoid potentially grossly adverse consequences for human welfare” (pg. 785). This idea seemed reductive to me (perhaps as a minimum is wont to do), but particularly for someone who had, earlier in this article, discussed how important serendipity is with discovering things within Nature. If serendipity, by its very nature, cannot be anticipated, then how could a minimum be established on land to be protected? Particularly a minimum that is “but a small fraction of one per cent of the total relevant area” (pg. 785)? It seems like that would exclude a massive amount of potential serendipity. I’m also interested in his suggestion that natural resources will decrease in necessity as technology advances and more substitutes are discovered. He suggests that these substitutes should come from “industrial and agriculture sectors” (pg. 784), but where do industrial and, more importantly, agricultural sectors get their inputs if not from the environment? How could it be possible to consider a resource from agriculture-- which is inherently plants or animals and, in almost all cases, requires some element of the land (i.e. soil)-- not a natural resource?
While I am not sure I completely agree with everything Coase posits in this paper, I do really like his point that comparing a laissez-faire world to an ideal world is often an irrelevant exercise in looking for an actual solution and that comparing the current state of an issue to potential solutions and their total outcomes is far more beneficial. The idea that a solution might sound good, but actually do more harm than the problem it is meant to be solving is not an intuitive thought. It reminded, though, of the reason W&L does not have a green roof on the CGL. While the building was still under renovation, there were discussions about potentially putting a green roof on the building. Green roofs have plenty of positive environmental effects: helping prevent water runoff, preventing heat island effects, regulating temperatures inside the building causing less of a need for heating/cooling measures, the potential for hyper-local food source, benefits to pollinators, aesthetic benefits, etc. After much consideration, however, it was determined that the extra weight the plants and necessary soil would add to the roof would necessitate so much additional support, and therefore more building supplies, that the green roof would actually be worse for the environment than a plain roof.
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Jan 16, 2020