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Christopher Watt

Wow… we covered a lot. However, I think that one of my biggest take-aways from the course is recognizing that economics is so much a study of human behavior. I reflect back on our discussions on moral suasion and the three I’s, which I have found myself discussing with my brother and others over the last few days in light of COVID-19—how people are failing to follow social distancing, and other societally beneficial actions (or inactions), making decisions based on their own preferences and private costs and benefits, rather than considering why they are asked to shelter in place and not gather in large groups due to the negative externalities of those behaviors. Interests and ideology seem to be shaping decision making during this time by individuals, governors (yes, governor Kemp of my home state of Georgia) and entire communities who are seeking to ignore the harms of COVID-19 on society as a whole, again considering primarily only their private costs and benefits in determining their responses to the situation.
From climate change to public health crises, ignorance, interests, and ideology place harms on society—harms that could and should be addressed and overcome. I’ve been thinking about my own cases of ignorance, and how my personal interests and ideologies could shape my actions in ways that are detrimental to others and the environment. Because my personal choices may and do implicate the wellbeing of others, I think these three I’s are something that need to be reflected on constantly as primary shapers of how I go about my daily life. I just hope mine are positive rather than negative… I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for and recognized a greater need for the government to intervene in environmental issues because of this. Having grown up in a rural South Georgia community—an area with some of the last remaining old growth, long leaf pines—I have seen individual actors consciously make efforts to conserve environmental resources for their values to the livelihoods of people in my community, their use-values, and the intrinsic value many believe they have. Yet, I realize more and more how much our world ecosystem is vulnerable to the diverse preferences of individuals across the globe. Indeed, we do need the government to act—to step in for the rights and wellbeing of individuals whose voices are not heard in discussions on the environment and to ensure that the social wellbeing of all rather than the private benefit of a few are met. We have a long way to go, but as we are daily encouraged by Professor Casey’s quotations of Jacobson’s tweets, I have hope that we will figure out how to address ignorance, interests, and ideologies that are detrimental to environmental and social wellbeing. We have to have hope.

Natalie Burden

The most important thing I’ve learned from this course is that if policies were based purely on science and economics, policies would have been put in place by now to transition to a zero-emissions world, at least for the U.S. Unfortunately, it truly does come back to the three I’s: Interest, Ignorance, and Ideology. Many of the people in charge of making the calls for whether or not we implement a carbon tax or other strategies for reversing or reducing the impacts of climate change are not educated on the science of climate change. In many cases they have a vested interest in keeping the fossil fuel industry and other polluting industries alive. The science and economics behind the Green New Deal create a very compelling argument for such a transition. From the Stanford University assessment of the Green New Deal (https://news.stanford.edu/2019/03/28/strengths-weaknesses-green-new-deal/): a transition to 100% clean energy would “eliminate 62,000 air pollution deaths per year in the U.S, saving taxpayers $600 billion a year. Climate costs savings to the world due to reducing U.S. emissions would be $3.3 trillion a year. These savings would continue for 100 years. The transition would create 2 million net jobs over those lost in the U.S.” The lack of action in response to findings like these solidifies the reality that the concern for such a change is not over a scientific or economic weakness––just social and political opposition.

So yes, the economics are important and the science is important and we can use them to back any argument in favor of reducing climate change. However, the science and economics seem to give such clear direction for what needs to happen, that the only explanation for why they have yet to incite widespread action is because of the politics of it. In order to make the major changes in our infrastructure that are necessary to limit climate change, the most important thing we can do is change the minds of the people who disagree and get in the way. That means we need to focus on the answers to their biggest questions: (1) How much will it cost upfront? and (2) Where will the money come from? I can’t answer these questions well myself yet, but there are some potential sources that seem quite obvious. We’ve discussed in class that $70 billion per year goes to the US Navy to protect / escort oil tankers around the world. There’s also a $50 billion budget devoted to nuclear weapons development. I can think of many more effective uses of that money. More contested sources include carbon pricing and ending subsidies for fossil fuels. We have also seen the Fed spend trillions of dollars to bail out banks during the financial crisis. Maybe if the government can see climate change as a crisis as severe as the financial crisis if not moreso, they will do what they need to do to solve it. So again, it comes back to interests and ideology. Knowing this, I will try to understand the bases of these interests and ideologies and hopefully change people’s minds along the way. And when it eventually comes to government intervention, I will be a proponent for mutually agreed upon mutual coercion.

Mikki Whittington

I don't really expect this to be the most profound thing you'll read. I think that within my lifetime I have always had this perspective that if people weren't convinced to do something by morals that they would at least be convinced of it by money. I.E. if you can't convince people to care about the environment and the planet because it's pretty freaking awesome in and of itself, then you could at least convince them to care about it by explaining how they could save money by also helping to save the planet. I'm not really sure how I came to feel this way; maybe it's just because I would hope people would be rational. This course very much showed me that this perspective is not the case. That sounds kind of doom and gloom. Even though people don't always (maybe usually) act in the most economically efficient way, this course also showed me that some of the solutions to the climate emergency we are facing actually aren't all that complicated. I mean, they would obviously be complicated to implement because of the politicized world that we currently live in, but they are not all that complicated in theory. I find this to be encouraging. The other thing is that this course has convinced me (maybe rightly so or maybe wrongly so) that fiscal policy really should not be politicized. We would make a lot more headway if we could depoliticize fiscal policy and simply look at what the science tells us.

Dani Murray

Happy Earth Day! Throughout this semester, my initial beliefs on the environmental economics were challenged. I never truly realized how much economic theory and political agenda effected the environment/natural resources. I have two main takeaways from this class. My first take away is that the environment is valued different by each individual. It is no surprise that some people care more about the environment than others. But I had no idea that some people blatantly disregard all scientific evidence that proves how fragile our environment truly is. We cannot wait for things to get worse. We must step up and take action to stop humans/corporations from damaging Earth's natural resources. We can achieve a better understanding of how people value the environment/natural resources by asking individuals how much they would spend to enjoy/use that item. For example, "how much would you spend to have clean air to breathe?" and "how much would you spend to save the Grand Canyon?" Although this are not perfect ways to measure value of the environment, it is a good place to start. My second take away is it never stop questioning and reading. As we get older, we begin to realize how little we actually know about the world. It is important to continue expanding our knowledge and asking the difficult questions. We are the responsible for making sure the information we are taking in comes from a creditable source and has significant evidence to back up its claims. It is okay to ask questions that challenge our traditional ways of thinking because it forces us to think outside the box. This class has challenged my traditional ways of thinking about the environment and in result has helped me grow as a citizen of the world. I will miss our class discussion, but look forward to the next time when we can all be together again.

Bridget Bartley

This class has provided the evidence for me to form my own true political opinions. The greatest lesson I learned throughout this course is that of questioning whether efficiency is enough. With the presentation of this one question, I have been able to think back to many courses I have taken and many class discussions I have been a part of and ask it. It has tied together my academic career and it is a lesson I will take with me into this coming spring term, my final year as an undergraduate student, and whatever else lies ahead for me. In fact, I am hoping that this question will carry me to pursue a job I feel excitement in and to work justly and passionately. For having taught me this lesson, thank you, Professor Casey. And thank you to everyone on the discussions and everyone in section 2 for giving me insightful points to think about. This course was incredible, and I cannot wait to share what I have learned with those who are willing to listen.

Jack Citrin

In order to be a good citizen, I believe that it is important to be knowledgable about the future. This class has taught me that one of the most pressing issues that we face right now is global climate change and that now is the time to take action. The most surprising thing about this global issue is the abundance of evidence that scientists have provided and the lack of willingness to enforce any policies to prevent such disasters. Climate change has become a political debate instead of a concrete fact. Furthermore, this class taught me that the steps we can take will not only lead to a healthier, cleaner environmental but also be economically beneficial. As technology rapidly develops, I think we will see a drastic switch to cleaner forms of energy and I am hopeful for the future.

Giddings Harrison

I have learned an incredible amount during this class. As an economics major and art history minor, I had not been exposed to environmental studies before this class. While I was a little outside of my comfort zone in this class, it also felt approachable as we used the economic framework that I already knew to discuss the environment. As an economics major, I have come to understand that efficiency is key. Whether in Game Theory or Macroeconomics, I learned that economists love efficiency. However, when it comes to the environmental economics, it seems that all we find is inefficiency. I ultimately left most classes frustrated by how inefficient environmental policy is. The question I continue to ask myself is: how is it 2020 and we are still using fossil fuels? Not only does it damage the environment, but it damages our health and makes our economy largely attached to the price of oil. Consider just two days ago when oil prices hit below $0 a barrel. While the U.S. has aimed to provide stable and low oil prices for Americans since the 70's, the coronavirus's effect on the oil market demonstrates that our economy is not immune to negative oil shocks. Throughout the class, I have really enjoyed thinking through how best to shift our economy to being less dependent on fossil fuels--to try to find a way to disentangle economic growth and fossil fuel consumption/production. The Solutions Project was fascinating to me as it provided a concrete pathway for our economy to become carbon-neutral. I think this project was by far my favorite part of the class as it gave me answers to the many questions I asked myself throughout the course. Ultimately, my next question is how do you convince people on both sides of the aisle that this is the best solution is in their best interest. While we have brought up many ideas on how to advocate for the environment, I still find it personally difficult to convince those in my family who disagree with me that we must make this switch. I have realized that it is of the utmost importance that we find a way to work with those who disagree with us to find a solution.

KT Hensler

This semester I learned how to be optimistic about the state of the world in regard to climate change. The feasibility to improve many problems in our country and others with all of the economic and policy tools we have discussed helped me to become more positive. Coming into this class, I will admit, I had a pretty negative outlook on the future of our planet. I still don’t trust our current leadership in politics will be the one to make the positive change through the economic tools we learned about, but that is not a permanent factor. It is a bad time in the climate change crisis to have such leadership, however, I have faith our country will learn from its mistakes and realize how dire the need is for sustainable and renewable practices. The potential for technological changes and advances towards a sustainable future had always seemed to be a dream from what I learned. Now it appears to be more plausible than I had ever known. I honestly did not have anywhere near the faith I have in the human race before taking this class. I am grateful for what I learned and what this class taught me, and I will take it with me going forward in life… evolve into an advocate for climate change optimism.

Ashley M Johnston

This semester was very formative for my own personal beliefs and behavior. Learning about the negative externalities of climate change and the costs of not internalizing the costs of our behavior has allowed me to have conversations with my family, and open their eyes to the need for action on the environmental front. The variety of approaches that we learned about helped me communicate to them in an effective and convincing way, and show how this affects everyone. Because of the large impact, there is an ethical dynamic that we much work into our economic models to promote flourishing. Another book that I read, called Braiding Sweetgrass where the author says that “all flourishing is mutual, ” and I think that this class has pointed to that as well. Additionally, this course has opened my eyes to the importance of educated other about these issues. Because of this education through this class has led to several of my own behavior to change, and I think that education is the stimulus to behavior change that we believe in. This has challenged me to look inward, and I think educating others can prompt them to do the same.

Allie Case

The most important thing I learned in this class is the value in using economics to make decisions about the environment. It does sound slightly obvious that this would be important to do, but before this class I really just cared about what made the most sense from an ecosystem/biology/conservation standpoint. Because that’s what I value the most, I was oblivious at just how beneficial economics is in order to influence policy decisions. The simple example from the beginning of the semester that will stick with me the most is that 0 pollution is 1. Not attainable and 2. Not optimal because in order to reach a true level of no carbon emissions we’d have to stop breathing. Again coming from about as far away as the Williams School as possible, economics in my mind was all about making a profit. Over the semester, this class showed me ways that a tax to environmental economists is more so about changing behavior, and “raising revenue” is more so a political definition of tax. I’m really looking forward to continue reading about the future of the carbon tax, specifically. After our discussions, I really think this will be one of the few ways we can make massive changes to limit carbon emissions- as much as I wish it were true, this class has shown that individual changes to food consumption, food waste, or method of transportation just really isn’t going to be enough. It’s a true connection to the interdisciplinary thinking of W&L overall- I feel much more well rounded after this class and think it definitely changed me and the way I think about our environment for the better.

Ginny Johnson

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.

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