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01/17/2022

Comments

Josh Fingerhut

I was especially drawn to Quiggin’s article. It is often the case that pessimism and an impending sense of doom are so powerful that the general public and policymakers are distracted from realistic options at their fingertips. Quiggin certainly acknowledges the large environmental issues our world faces and will face in the future. However, unlike many who stop here, Quiggin pairs this with realistic solutions to address some of the problems mentioned. Some of these solutions, such as a shift towards electric cars and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, have seen significant progress since this article was written in 2013.

Like Quiggin, I believe that one of the most pressing issues is that of international cooperation. Even with increases in the productivity in crop growth for example, many will starve without efficient distribution. While I often feel pessimistic on the issue of international cooperation, I appreciated that Quiggin pointed out that there has been effective international cooperation before during the AIDS and Malaria epidemics. In total, I think that Quiggin’s pragmatic approach is one that would be beneficial as we approach environmental issues in this class.

Max Thomas

Reading Solow’s talk on sustainability, I was left with several questions that I’m not sure he adequately considered. Firstly, the piece leaves the impression that consumption of nearly any given resource/product/input is generally inconsequential for future generations given humanity’s ability to identify substitutes. However, under a strong sustainability framework, this belief seems questionable. Strong sustainability suggests that man-made capital is incapable of substituting for many forms of environmental capital. For example, no form of man-made developments have ever, nor will ever, be able to replicate the breadth of environmental services provided by inland wetlands. Given this strong sustainability framework, present overconsumption of many resources, regardless of their utility for the current population, will adversely affect future generations.

Secondly, Solow claims that many efforts of sustainability may be futile considering our inability to determine future generations’ tastes, necessities, and/or capabilities. However, I would argue that, while we may not know everything about future needs, we can reasonably predict future generations’ needs for such resources as clean air, clean water, and nutritious foods – each of which must be considered in present consumption.

Lastly, Solow argues that sustainability poses a tradeoff between the wellbeing of future and current generations. Particularly, Solow claims that placing an impetus on future generations disadvantages today’s poor. However, I would rebut that the future is now – policies aimed to promote future sustainability support existing children. All investments take time to mature; there’s no sense in expecting differently for investments in sustainability.

William Dantini

I found that both of the articles make some large assumptions and generalizations that to some effect invalidates their points. In general, they both are talking about the logistical issues with minimizing costs by finding where the marginal damage and marginal abatement costs meet. The first article (Solow) generalizes that the idea of sustainability is unreachable because the costs would be too high. He immediately invalidates his argument first by ignoring the moral issue of sustainability. Although climate change has, is, and will have significant impacts on the lives of people, sustainability measures are not always taken for pure economic benefit. Often times there is a moral component that he completely ignores. The other problem is that he doesn't bother to create any meaningful solution for the problem he presents, which is just depressing. One point he does bring up is the time differential, which is interested. From a microeconomics perspective on the present and future value of investment, an economic argument could be made for sustainability measures by understanding the cost of wasting natural resources now rather than using them over time to create future returns on investment. He argues that investment rates would negate this idea, but anyone familiar with civilizations like the Mayans or Easter Island will know that mismanagement of resources will lead to collapse, even if the people of that society decided to use the resources now in a way similar to how "the market" works today. Ultimately I think this idea can be expanded on to create a more accurate model of the present and current value of natural resources to satisfy those who need a bit more than a moral push.
On the other hand, Quiggin only discusses a few major issues, and ultimately decides that we need to work together for the common betterment of humanity. This solution is not really attainable in our current society, so not very useful. Instead, the focus should be on solving the political and economic incentives that can create a global working environment that helps to solve these problems. Our natural resources often suffer from the Tragedy of the Commons, and only by solving that multi-step Game Theory puzzle can we create global solutions to solve these global problems. Much like the how the EU is crafted upon decades of careful alliances in favor of national interests, the same must happen for nations and businesses to solve our greatest Tragedies of the Commons, lest we all become a Greek Tragedy ourselves.

Andrew Arnold

I thought the article by Quiggin was particularly interesting because it presented feasible tangible solutions to problems that I think a lot of people think are insurmountable. Some of these solutions were rather obvious like alternative energy such as solar or electric cars. Others I had not thought of as much before. Quiggin says a line "the problem of stabilising the global climate is not ‘Can we?’ but ‘Will we?’" I think this is a really interesting especially considering the resource allocation Quiggin recommends. He talks about world hunger like the solution is obvious and simply. Maybe it is maybe it isn't, but if what he says is true about historical production growth, I don't get why we have not allocated enough food to everyone. I understand there is cost involved, but I think most would agree it is the right thing to do. So why do we not incentive it or use command and control? Again, he makes these massive problems sound so simple to solve. I think it is really interesting how Quiggin believes that we can solve these problems simply by debunking misconceptions and then taking the next logical and moral actions.

Trip Wright

Dr. Robert Solow's article was enlightening on the topic of sustainability from the perspective of an economist. When I think of sustainability, my mind jumps to compost or closed energy systems: phenomena that limit waste. However, I was surprised to read that Solow called sustainability is "vague." A concept I felt to be quite familiar with suddenly became more abstract and nuanced. I believed that sustainability required a direct transaction of equal goods (burn fossil fuels, replace fossil fuels). However, this is not ideal due to the nature of fossil fuels of natural resources. Rather, it is important to think of sustainability as fungible—we do not owe to the future any particular thing. Instead, sustainability requires us (humans) to leave "untouched"; tradeoff between what was consumed and what was invested for the future to be equal. When we decide to use up a resource that is irreplaceable, it needs to be replaced with something of equal value, but that replacement does not have to be a physical good. The substitute is an investment that adds vagueness to the term value; the substitute could be knowledge or technology. The idea of a tradeoff also established sustainability as distributional equity, meaning it requires sharing of well-being between present people and future people. I enjoyed hearing about Solow's idea of replacement and how it is tied to sustainability. The fact that our consumption of fossil fuels can be "replaced" with an investment in education creates a lot of potential power...especially in terms of poverty in the world. Yet, the United States has not been adhering to such an idea because...well...we don't have to. This idea should be a moral imperative; it holds the same weight as tackling the issue of poverty. There are a lot of ways to allow for this "substitute theory" can be implemented. The best way deals with holding firms accountable for externalities they have caused: internalizing the externalities. This is accomplished through perhaps a tax on "Big Oil" which will generate dollars to spend on communities most affected by oil rigs or coal mines; nevertheless, it is an investment, and it is sustainable. The true costs that firms have been accruing, needs to be paid.

Cal Christianson

To me, the idea that environmental justice is critical to solving the current climate crisis really resonates with me. I am currently taking an environmental humanities course where the main focus of our discussions is environmental justice. To me, the most notable point of Lake’s article was how the western world lives a lifestyle that is unsustainable. In addition, it is only the richest percentage of the western world that is contributing to this unsustainable consumption. This is also tied to race. Unfortunately, especially in America, those minorities of lesser means are bearing the brunt of climate consequences. Low income neighborhoods are much more likely to be located in industrial centers, subjugated to high levels of pollution. Outside the US, this phenomenon still holds true. Climate change has caused increased desertification throughout Africa and Asia, threatening the livelihood of people that have lived very sustainable lifestyles. As Lake points out, the people in the so-called “Global South” have undergone a large and rapid leap in technological development. While this has raised standards of living drastically, is it enough to offset the negative consequences of a climate crisis perpetuated mostly by the affluent west? I would argue no. We must look to incorporate climate friendly solutions when looking to improve lives of the world’s disadvantaged. If not, the current trends will continue to degrade innocent lives.

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