2017 Climate Forum
Kathryn Ireland, Andrew Hansen, Robert Keane, Kristin Legg, & Rob Gump - Putting Climate Change on the Map: Developing Specific, Spatial Management Strategies for Whitebark Pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Questions that we were unable to get to during the Forum:
1. How do you educate public that economic decision need to include ethics and public good, as well as ROI (profit)?
I’m going to address this as an economist. An ethicist or philosopher would give a different answer, I am sure. Public action to slow climate change would have positive and negative consequences. Allowing climate change to proceed would also have positive and negative consequences. And in both cases, the positive consequences and the negative consequences fall on different groups of people. When considering an action that has positive and negative consequences that are unevenly distributed, most economists argue that the consequences can be evaluated according to two different yardsticks: 1) does the action increase net well-being (i.e. are the total benefits greater than the total costs), and 2) is the distribution of benefits and costs across the population “fair”? Economists have a lot to say about how to evaluate the first question, but much less to say about how to evaluate the second question. Consequently, most economists tend to leave the second question up to political processes to resolve. If we observe that the distribution of impacts is unfair, then political decision making bodies can rectify those inequities. And if we all agree that an outcome is unfair, then it is the political processes that allow that outcome to continue that are to blame, not the economics. This is a bit of a dodge, I will admit. Still, economists do have a lot to say about who will benefit and who will be harmed by any particular action, so that collective decision processes can see clearly the distribution of consequences.
2. Where do losses of wealth come from with climate change?
We need to consider two kinds of wealth. The first is the more obvious – money in the bank. Examples are easy to point to. Where increased drought stress reduces agricultural productivity, the wealth generated by farmland will decrease. Where higher temperatures change recreation and tourism patterns, outfitters, hotels, etc. can see a loss of wealth. Where increased extreme weather and sea-level rise damage property, wealth is lost. Where increased wildfires destroy stands of timber, the value of that timber is lost. The other kind of wealth is more difficult to measure. It is the well-being of individuals and families. Where individuals have poorer health because of higher ground-level ozone concentrations in the cities in summer, their well-being has decreased. When anglers cannot fish due to high water temperatures, their well-being has decreased. When visitors to Glacier national park do not get to see glaciers, their well-being has decreased. When children cannot play outside because of smoke from wildfires, their well-being has decreased. These are also forms of wealth, though they do not have easily-measured dollar values.