Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Environmental degradation comes with real costs: Think-tank

with one comment

Vancouver Sun

What really annoys me about this headline is the use of that last hyphenated word “think tank”. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is not a “think-tank”. That put its on a par with such self appointed “experts” as the Fraser Institute. And the OECD is both far more objective and authoritative than them.

For a long time now, it has been apparent that what are so airily dismissed as “externalities” do have a real impact. We all pay. I can clearly remember in 1970 a senior engineer at ICI telling me “there’s no money in pollution” when it was his company that was paying my organization to take out of the river the wastes they were dumping in it. We were just concerned with keeping the navigation open, so that ICI’s products and raw materials could keep moving. No one had ever thought of fishing in the River Weaver below the ICI works in living memory.

$277 billion US in estimated total damages due to emission of air pollution in the U.S., or what the report says are “even higher” costs of air pollution in China, which it says have been estimated to be equal to 3.8 per cent of that giant economy’s annual economic output.

I assume that this is talking about the common air contaminants that have been a concern for so long. It is not clear if greenhouse gases are included in this tally or not. Certainly the price of a ton of CO2 on the open market for offset suggests that we are far from taking that problem as seriously as we should.

But it is one thing to note these costs. It is something else to get the people currently obsessed with short term financial issues to turn their attention to this issue. Becuase it is the single moost important one that faces us – all of us – us humans. The planet will still be here long after we have gone. And life will eventually return and the ecosystem will recover, once we are out of the way. Though we may not recognize it, that will not matter becuase we will be long gone. And sentient beings of some kind may even one day look at the puzzling remains in our garbage tips (that’s where most archaeology is done) and wonder what possessed us. The collapse of our civilisation will be as big a puzzle to them as the end of the Maya and the Inca to us.  And no-one will think of blaming “commonly accepted standards of accounting”.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Economics, Environment

One Response

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  1. Excellent point, Stephen. GAAP are completely flawed. You cannot externalize costs. They can only be reallocated. Someone ultimately pays. To place no value on clean air and fresh water is sheer incompetence. Any sober-mineded individual could tell you they are indispensable, yet we continue to pollute and generate huge amounts of waste without a second thought…


    November 5, 2008 at 1:29 am

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