Ev­ery­one wants to be an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist th­ese days—and that’s a good thing


When en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism be­comes the main­stream

Plant-based or grass-fed? So­lar or coal? Re­cy­clables or zero-waste? Os­lob or Don­sol?

If you in­stinc­tively chose a side to any of th­ese pairs, con­grat­u­la­tions. You are, to some ex­tent, an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. Let that sink in as we frame en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism into a few eco­nomic con­cepts.

The eco­nomics of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism

Econ­o­mists are trained to process en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism as al­ter­na­tives to end­less al­ter­na­tives. By trans­lat­ing the ben­e­fits and costs of cer­tain ac­tions — e.g. re­cy­clables vs. zero-waste—into money terms, we are able to com­pare them ob­jec­tively in a ben­e­fit-cost anal­y­sis. This method has guided pol­icy-mak­ers for years in choos­ing the best course of ac­tion: cost-ef­fi­ciency.

From this, I’ve learned that go­ing zero-waste is cur­rently eco­nom­i­cally in­ef­fi­cient. There is al­ways go­ing to be an amount of waste pro­duced for the ac­tiv­i­ties we do to func­tion as a so­ci­ety. It is too costly to ban, for ex­am­ple, car­bon emis­sions overnight; no one would be able to go to work or eat rice the next day if that were to be pushed. The con­cept of an “op­ti­mal level of pol­lu­tion” sounds like an evil cap­i­tal­ist plan to jus­tify pol­lu­tion, but based on sound mi­croe­co­nomic the­ory, it’s al­most con­ven­tional knowl­edge since the ’70s. Be­sides, we mustn’t un­der­es­ti­mate the earth’s abil­ity to han­dle a lit­tle bit of pol­lu­tion.

More im­por­tantly for econ­o­mists, the point of pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment is for peo­ple in the long run. A healthy en­vi­ron­ment is a pre­req­ui­site for healthy hu­man lives. Bal­isacan, et al. in their book Sus­tain­able Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment re­turns to this key con­cept in sev­eral themes.

That said, we re­ally have ev­ery in­cen­tive to be en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and that’s fan­tas­tic. I al­ways tell my friends, “It’s the best kind of fad,” be­cause it re­ally is. En­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems ex­clude no one. It af­fects ev­ery gen­der, age, job, eth­nic­ity, and, in ex­treme cases, ev­ery so­cial class. I’d like to think that this is­sue could fi­nally be the one thing that brings us all to­gether, in spite of our dif­fer­ing choices in al­ter­na­tives.

Lo­cal op­tions for healthy oceans

If you aren’t on the en­vi­ron­men­tal band­wagon yet and don’t know where to start, you’re in luck. There are so many en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paigns to choose from nowa­days. Here are just two pairs of al­ter­na­tives that ad­dress two Philip­pine marine is­sues.

Septem­ber is In­ter­na­tional Coastal Clean Up (ICC) Month, when peo­ple from all over the world pick up trash along their lo­cal coasts. More than tar­get­ing the prob­lem of solid waste (mis)man­age­ment, the main break­through of this ini­tia­tive is the sim­plic­ity of re­mind­ing peo­ple that the ocean still ex­ists. It’s a great way to demon­strate that our ac­tions on land

af­fect the sea. In the Philip­pines, we have our own ef­forts; in fact, you can join one in Manila Bay this Sept. 16. How­ever, keep in mind that a more longterm al­ter­na­tive is if the trash is dis­posed prop­erly. I think the ICC is sim­ply the best first step to that last­ing so­lu­tion.

A sec­ond pair of al­ter­na­tives tack­les the daunt­ing mul­ti­di­men­sional prob­lem of cli­mate change. This is the sec­ond year in a row that Philip­pine corals have been turn­ing white from global warm­ing and dy­ing en masse. It is a phe­nom­e­non called “co­ral bleach­ing.” Very lit­tle is known of the im­pacts it could have on the ocean, but sci­en­tists say we could lose most of our corals by 2050. So a lo­cal ini­tia­tive called the Philip­pine Co­ral Bleach­ing Watch asks the gen­eral pub­lic to help mon­i­tor the coun­try’s corals. By sub­mit­ting un­der­wa­ter pho­tos, sci­en­tists and gov­ern­ments can iden­tify crit­i­cal ar­eas to fo­cus ef­forts on. The long-term al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tion is re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions. But while that is still out of any sin­gle coun­try’s hands, watch­ing our corals closely and help­ing them re­cover is the next best thing we can do.

Now, do a quick ben­e­fit-cost anal­y­sis among th­ese pairs. Which of th­ese al­ter­na­tives speaks to you? Re­call that for all of them, the goal is healthy hu­man life through a healthy sea. The fish that one bil­lion peo­ple de­pend on for food are the same fish that can die from in­gest­ing plas­tic, the same fish that will lose their homes from co­ral bleach­ing. So it’s not a mul­ti­ple choice ques­tion re­ally; the an­swer is all of the above. Choos­ing one or the other leads us to the same end.

Now imag­ine if we can get all hands on deck, ev­ery kind of per­son work­ing on each level of al­ter­na­tives, ev­ery­one watch­ing out for each other. I can only hope that this fad even­tu­ally leads us to that end. Wouldn’t that be the day?

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