Category Archives: economics

How do we get our global economy off the endless “growth” express and on to a human-scale path of plenitude?

An image I found and shared on Facebook this week, featuring a quote from the Dalai Lama, seems to have hit a nerve among my circle of friends there:

I’m not surprised, given the kinds of circles I hang out in, that this thought had such resonance. Most of us concerned about what we are doing to our environment and our own wellbeing and future appreciate and find much to ponder in that observation. Of course, it is nice of the Lama to share his profound insight from on high (so to speak) in his role as spiritual leader and a monk observing the rest of humanity with his cultivated sense of detachment. Would that the rest of us could also detach ourselves from the daily grind and engage in more meaningful quests for our lives. Most of us, of course, don’t really have that luxury—or have a terrible time finding a way towards that serenity. So we pause, briefly, at this poster, and share it among our friends (stepping lightly over the irony of doing so on these hyper-social online networks which may seem the very antithesis of what the Lama is talking about), file it away for contemplation, and hope we get the chance to do something about it in some small way in our own lives. And for that, we must be grateful to the Dalai Lama, for pulling us up short in our headlong rush of a life, even if for a brief moment of contemplation.

A bigger question, though, is how do we—those uf us not able to immediately extricate ourselves from the larger economy which pushes us into the endless pursuit of ever elusive wealth—begin to challenge and change the system? The dominant economic paradigm of our time is completely wedded to this pursuit of wealth, for individuals, corporations, and entire nations chasing endless growth. Even people who talk about sustainability within this paradigm talk about “sustainable growth“, an oxymoronic concept if there ever was one, given the natural resource constraints on this only planet we inhabit. More radical environmentalists and leftists have a deeper critique (e.g., read John Bellamy Foster’s “The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth“) of the growth economy paradigm—but reading them often leads to more despair at the scale of the revolution we seemingly need to overthrow that paradigm.
The growth paradigm so dominates our entire public discourse that even moderately centre-leaning right-wing capitalists like Obama get labelled as communists who want to socialize everything! How then can we push the system onto a completely different path, one that may actually be sustainable in a truer sense of the word?
The burgeoning movement to Occupy Wall Street seems to have lit a spark across the US, creating opportunities to challenge at least parts of the capitalist finance-driven system. Breaking through the media narrative about how we must only “grow” our way out of the current economic crises, is an accomplishment worthy of note. The real challenge for this excitingly amorphous movement though is to present not only a coherent set of demands but actually offer alternative models (e.g. at for recovering the economy, alternatives which can redress the vast social inequities of the present as well as begin healing our ecosystems. We also need models that don’t call for radical / violent overthrow of the system with alternatives that are also imposed from the top-down (putting environmentalists and ecological economists in charge, for example)—but offer instead more distributed, diverse, grassroots alternatives that have a better chance of sustaining us in the long haul; models that build upon stuff many of us are already doing in our daily lives to break free of the dominant growth paradigm and take control of our lives in more meaningful ways.

One such alternative is seen in this video from the Center for a New American Dream, visualizing economist Juliet Schor’s alternative model of a Plenitude Economy:

What I particularly like about this vision is that it draws its strengths from stuff we ordinary people are already doing in the US (and elsewhere) to find our own ways out of the ravages of the collapsed economy during this current great depression. Unlike the last great depression of the 1930s in the US, this time around we don’t have the political leadership or will to create and offer solutions from above, unfortunately. That does not mean, however, that people are simply standing still in despair (although there is plenty of that to go around), waiting for handouts from the government or from charities. We are, in small ways, taking charge of some of the means of production (urban farming and homesteading being great examples) and creating/reviving alternative means of sharing what we produce, away from the globalized economic mainstream. These smaller scale actions offer a good antidote against despair at the ever increasingly gloomy global picture. This is how we can really start rebuilding our world, one garden, one rooftop, one school, one swap-meet, one community at a time, each with its own local adaptation to find its own unique solution. Who needs a world revolution from above when we can have a multitude of these smaller revolutions growing from below?

Life on this planet has always thrived on diversity and local adaptation; it is time for us environmentalists to also truly embrace that truth, and participate in these many movements within our own neighborhoods, even as we seek to change the overarching paradigm globally. As that seemingly forgotten early prophet of ecological economics, E. F. Schumacher, observed a few decades ago: Small is Beautiful, after all! It is useful to remember that.

As a friend remarked upon reading the Dalai Lama’s words: not all of us sacrifice our health in order to make money; some of us do so in pursuit of environmental and human justice, to help create a better world. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to sacrifice our health for that either: instead, let us find the time and space to sink our hands into the soil, get dirt under our fingernails as we grow our own food and create habitats for other species amid our urban sprawl; to chat with our neighbors as we exchange vegetables from each other’s yards or balcony container gardens; to rebuild the social fabric that we worry is fraying under globalization; and take that time to also breathe in the air and simply enjoy living in the present.

I’m sure the Dalai Lama would approve of that (even if we choose to talk about it online)!

“Sustainable Economic Growth” and other oxymorons

Dr. Amartya Sen was puzzled to find himself part of a debate on India’s economic growth that he didn’t remember ever joining, but I am glad it has prompted him to join in now with a sharp critique of the country’s obsession with economic growth rate as an end in itself. The Nobel Laureate economist points out that growth itself is less important than what society chooses to do with the fruits of said growth: a common sense lesson that should be blindingly obvious to anyone who professes to care about the quality of our lives, yet so often, and easily, brushed aside by those in power and the middle classes who get some share of the current growth. While chasing after China’s double-digit growth rate, Dr. Sen points out that India is actually doing worse than not just China, but also Bangladesh in many social indicators that are far more important, such as infant mortality, children’s health, life-expectancy, literacy, and women’s empowerment. Bangladesh is doing better than India in all those areas despite having only half the latter’s per-capita income! Shouldn’t India aspire to do better by all of its people before trying to race China to the top of the economic growth index? Dr. Sen’s op ed piece in the Hindu ends on this much-needed cautionary note:

The central point to seize is that while economic growth is an important boon for enhancing living conditions, its reach depends greatly on what we do with the fruits of growth. To be sure, there are large numbers of people for whom growth alone does just fine, since they are already privileged and need no social assistance. Economic growth only adds to their economic and social opportunities. Those gains are, of course, good, and there is nothing wrong in celebrating their better lives through economic growth, especially since this group of relatively privileged Indians is quite large in absolute numbers. But the exaggerated concentration on their lives, which the media tend often to display, gives an incomplete picture of what is happening to Indians in general.

And perhaps more worryingly, this group of relatively privileged and increasingly prosperous Indians can easily fall for the temptation to treat economic growth as an end in itself, for it serves directly as the means of their opulence and improving lifestyles without further social efforts. The insularity that this limited perspective generates can even take the form of ridiculing social activists — “jholawalas” is one description I have frequently heard — who keep reminding others about the predicament of the larger masses of people who make up this great country. The fact is, however, that India cannot be seen as doing splendidly if a great many Indians — sometimes most Indians — are having very little improvement in their deprived lives.

Some critics of huge social inequalities might be upset that there is something rather uncouth and crude in the self-centred lives and inward-looking temptations of the prosperous inner sanctum. My main concern, however, is that those temptations may prevent the country from doing the wonderful things it can do for Indians at large. Economic growth, properly supplemented, can be a huge contributor to making things better for people, and it is extremely important to understand the relevance and role of growth with clarity.

Much as I like this critique, there are aspects of the economic analysis that trouble me nevertheless. Enough to compel me to leave a comment below the article on the Hindu’s website. While that comment is awaiting moderation, I thought I might as well share my thoughts here – so here’s what I wrote:

A sharp, insightful, and much-needed critique of the national obsession with the economic growth rate. What we do with the fruits of the growth is indeed far more important than mere growth for its own sake. As an ecologist, however, I must express my continued puzzlement at the use of the term “sustainable economic growth” which Dr. Sen also uses several times here. Isn’t the term an oxymoron? How can one possibly “sustain” such “growth” for any significant period of time in a world of finite resources? I know from his other writings that Dr. Sen recognizes the environmental ramifications of our economic activities – so it is doubly puzzling for me to see him use this phrase. How long can the nation possibly sustain this economic growth? We are already seeing (but turning a blind eye to) an ongoing collapse of the ecological foundations upon which this current economic growth very much depends. Not only must we temper the mania for growth with questions about what we are doing with the fruits of that growth for the majority of the people in the country, we must also ask how this growth is ripping the nation’s ecological fabric apart, and what we need to do to repair this fabric, the very basis for our long-term sustainability – without perpetual growth. It is well past time we start working towards a steady-state economy (rather an an ever growing one) which may then bear truly sustainable fruit that does not come at the expense of more lives, human and non-human, which really make life worth living.

Surely Rachel Maddow can’t be making this (fossilized) shit up!

Wow! What an incredible tale this is, from tonight’s “Moment of Geopolitical Geek” segment of the Rachel Maddow show.

Its a tale that has everything: international geopolitical intrigue, fossilized bird poop, international money-laundering scams, overexploitation of natural resources, Russian mobsters, failed musical theater investment scams, international fugitives… er… asylum seekers from Australia, political corruption all the way up to the UN, the seamy underbelly of globalization, all set on a tropical Pacific island nation that went from having one of the highest per capita incomes to desperately broke within a decade!! Oh, and did I mention fossilized bird poop?!

Tell me that isn’t a tale with a little bit for everybody – even the masala grinders of Bollywood would be hard pressed to cram so many ingredients together into such a juicy package! So why isn’t this story in the movie theaters? Or on our televisions in serialized form? Is there at least a bestselling book with all the sordidly entertaining details? One hopes… but for now, we have a gem of an under-five-minute news report thanks to the brilliant Rachel Maddow, who is giving the Daily Show a run for their money, not with fake news, but real news! Remember that concept? No wonder she’s rapidly become the brightest star in TV news. So, without further ado, let me share with you: “Poop Dreams

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The PEST solution is the best solution for conserving biodiversity!

My friend the tropical rainforest ecologist and eco-restorer T R Shankar Raman of the Nature Conservation Foundation shares this wonderful news of a brand new approach to conserve biodiversity by focusing significant economic resources to incentivize nations to protect evolutionary processes! Here’s an excerpt from TRSR’s blog post on this market based initiative at eco logic, the NCF’s blog:

In what is being heralded as one of the most visionary efforts in recent times to stem the extinction crisis, a collaborative effort by ecologists and economists from India, Brazil, and the USA has developed a novel solution for biodiversity conservation. Announcing this amidst great excitement today at a packed press conference at the Carneghee Lemon Hall at Park Avenue in Washington, D. C., senior scientist of the Natural Conservation Fund, Dr Ramon Gonsalves, said, “This is the solution. With this, the great wave of extinction will soon be behind us.”

[via The PEST solution | eco logic]

You simply have to go read the rest of this! NOW!

May the rivers of India flow unhindered, each in their own course, some teeming with dolphins…

Two bits of environmental good news from India this week: (1) Earlier this week, India adopted the Gangetic River Dolphin, rare freshwater denizen of a few rivers in that region, as its National Aquatic Animal, as reported in India Today:

The Centre on Monday declared the river dolphin as the ‘national aquatic animal’ on a proposal moved by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Bihar, where the animal is known as Soòs, accounts for the largest number of Gangetic dolphins, whose number could now be only a few hundred. Besides the Ganga, the river dolphin is also found in the Brahmaputra, the Indus and their tributaries.

The smooth-skinned, grey-black dolphins come with long snouts.

“Like the tiger as national animal and the peacock as national bird, we have declared the dolphin as the national aquatic animal. It represents the health of the rivers, particularly the Ganga,” environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh said after the first meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority chaired by PM Manmohan Singh.

After the declaration, the government is expected to unveil a ‘Project Dolphin’ aimed at saving the rare freshwater species from extinction. The animal figures in Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

(2) And hot on the heels of this good news comes word that the UPA coalition currently governing the country may have decided to shelve the potentially disastrous and tremendously hubristic plan to inter-link all of the country’s major rivers into a national network, ostensibly to solve, in one fell swoop. both the chronic drought problems in the south and west, and the chronic monsoonal flooding in the north and east. The ambition was to build what would have amounted to the largest inter-river-basin water transfer project in the world! And the nationalistic BJP government which preceded the current one was really pushing hard for this boondoggle of a project as a matter of national pride, the environment (and pesky environmentalists) be damned. Fortunately, better sense seems to be prevailing in the current government, with the Union Minister for Environment & Forests, Jairam Ramesh, calling it a “human-ecological-economic disaster”! And it seems, the environmentalists had at least one powerful ally on this issue in Rahul Gandhi, who has spoken out openly against this project! As the Indian Express reports:

Less than a month after Rahul Gandhi warned against “playing with nature”, Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said the idea of interlinking India’s rivers was a “disaster”, putting a question mark on the future of the ambitious project.

“The interlinking of rivers will be a human-ecological-economic disaster. It is easy to do interlinking on paper. Interlinking of rivers has limited basin value, but largescale interlinking would be a disaster,” Ramesh said at a press briefing today.

In Chennai last month, Rahul had expressed concern over the environmental fallout of interlinking. “We should not play with nature on such a massive scale,” he was quoted as saying.

I wonder whether Ramesh and Gandhi can actually kill this boondoggle entirely – because the BJP and other allies of the project are already gearing up to push back. The key may lie in another word used by Ramesh in describing the project as a disaster – not must ecological, but economic too! That may very well be the key turning point… one hopes.

Urban forestry through the lens of “socio-ecological systems”

Contributed by Seth Reid, following a vigorous class discussion with guest presentation by Genevra Ornelas.

ResearchBlogging.orgOur March 4th class discussion revolved around urban forestry and how it pertained to an article written by John M. Anderis, Marcos A. Jannsen, and Elinor Ostrom. This article provided, “A Framework to Analyze the Robustness of Social-ecologcial Sytems from an Institutional Perspective.” The discussion was lead by a former graduate student, Genevra Ornelas, who is a certified arborist that worked with Canopy in Palo Alto and Tree Fresno. Both organizations are comprised of urban foresters who plant trees around their cities in order to enhance the social welfare of the inhabitants of their respective urban forests.

So what is a Social-ecological system (SES) and how does an urban forest fit within the system? A SES is an ecological system that is intricately linked with and affected by one or more social system (Anderis et. al 2004). Fresno’s SES is the city, its buildings and roadways, its trees and vegetation, its municipalities, and its people. All these variables interact with each other and affect Fresno’s hydrology, its temperature, its pollutants, and its infrastructure. A healthy urban forest can mitigate many of the negative effects of urbanization.

Trees improve hydrology by increasing water infiltration and reducing runoff. They reduce temperature by providing shade, decreasing albedo at the surface level, and decreasing the urban island effect. They decrease air pollution by removing particles from the air. They can even improve infrastructure by protecting asphalt, wood, and plastics from UV rays and heat damage. A tree can save the community time, money, and valuable resources in the long run.

Urban forestry organizations are the voice that advocate for trees. They are the liaison between public knowledge and institutional knowledge. Probably the most important role they have is to educate the public on the importance of trees and how trees integrate with local institutions and municipalities. An educated public can make informed decisions on where to plant trees, and which trees to plant. Organizations such as Canopy and Tree Fresno also help facilitate this by providing trees, hosting celebrations, and presenting awards to citizen tree stewards.

Simply planting trees in our cities is not the answer to all our problems. Dave Craig, an economics professor from the University of Wellington in New Zealand used to challenge our class with a quote, “To Every Complex Question, there is a simple answer, and it’s wrong.” Many trees emit volatile organic compounds, drop limbs, possess extensive canopies and root systems that can damage infrastructure. They do not respect property boundaries, and may do mischievous things like tap into a neighbor’s septic system or uproot city sidewalks. The right tree in the right place can help minimize the risks involved, but risks will still be present. Planting a tree that will bring more benefits then risks is quintessential.

A key component to urban forestry is the concept of the right tree in the right place. As we discussed in class, this is just another example of how humans assert their dominance and control nature. We control what trees grow where and genetically modify them to fit our needs. We select against smelly trees such as female ginkos, or messy trees like female Chinese pistache trees. We breed them to grow larger flowers such as saucer magnolias, or to produce no offspring like fruitless mulberries. We want the benefits of the trees, but we want to avoid many of the drawbacks that come with them. Often we prefer the living dead over “natural” trees. We want our trees to fulfill our needs, but we do not want to reciprocate. We want to control nature.

“The right tree in the right place” is a mantra that has been ingrained into my head over the last three years. In the interim between my undergraduate studies and graduate school I accepted the first job that was available; I became a utility forester with a company called ACRT Inc. My company is a PG&E contractor that is responsible for inspecting trees around the high voltage power lines. As a utility forester I am responsible for maintaining the power line right-of-way by assessing health and grow rates of trees. If a tree is in danger of encroaching upon the right-of-way and disrupting power then I list it for trim or for removal.

As a utility forester I also assume the role of liaison between PG&E, PG&E tree-trimmer, and property owner. This is challenging because all entities involved have conflicting goals. PG&E wants power reliability and fire safety, the tree trimmers want lots of units to trim, and property owners want to maintain the aesthetics of their landscape. When everyone is an agreement my job is easy, but in many cases I have to follow best management practices that leave one or more of the parties upset. Educating the public is the most effective way to accomplish these conflicting goals because most people are unaware of the laws regarding tree and power lines, and most people know very little about tree growth. Just like non-affiliated urban forestry organizations, education is the most powerful tool I have to rectify disagreements between interested parties.

PG&E is a major social component that affects the ecological system of Fresno and my company is just another urban forest organization that is a liaison between the public and a municipality. In order for Fresno to improve its urban forest and maximize the benefits it can provide to humankind, all parties need to compromise and cooperate with one another. But one question still lingers in my mind, where is the Lorax who speaks for the trees?


Anderies, J. M., Janssen, M. A., & Ostrom, E. (2004). A Framework to Analyze the Robustness of Social-ecological Systems from an Institutional Perspective Ecology and Society, 9(1): 18. [online] URL:

Ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, and how to pay for them

Brad Schleder shares this summary of class discussion of two very interesting papers that Brett Moore brought to the table.

ResearchBlogging.orgModeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales

Erik Nelson, Guillermo Mendoza, James Regetz, Stephen Polasky, Heather Tallis, D. Richard Cameron, Kai MA Chan, Gretchen C. Daily, Joshua Goldstein, Peter M. Kareiva, Eric Lonsdorf, Robin Naidoo, Taylor H. Ricketts, and M. Rebecca Shaw.

The discussion began with a brief overview of the relationship of economic and ecological models. With that in mind the class explored the first paper, which examined three future development scenarios of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The intent of the paper is to quantify the range of goods and services ecosystems generate with the goal of using this information to improve land-use and management decisions. The three models are plan trend (current policies), development plan (a loosening of current development policies), and conservation (emphasis on slow development and restoration). The modeling tool used was the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST). Being more familiar with papers that discussed their data analysis in more detail the class was unclear on how this tool worked. However, after some searching, a 49 page appendix detailing the mathematics used in the model was found, which is based on a mechanistic spatial model using ecological production functions and economic valuation methods. Models were run on water pollution, storm peak mitigation, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and commodity production value.

The conservation scenario produced the largest gains, or smallest losses, in ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation with the plan trend and development plan outperforming in regards to the aggregate market value of commodities produced on the landscape. An interesting outcome of this analysis was that there was little difference between the provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation. This was attributed to the conservative use of the model based on Oregon’s history of resource protection, social behaviors and land-ownership practices.

The class wrestled with a few methodologies of this model. First, the use of phosphorous as the sole indicator for water pollution was questioned. Second, using 24 vertebrate species as the only biodiversity measurement might not have been adequate. However, it was agreed that the attempt to quantify different types of development scenarios and the use of an economic framework to assess costs and benefits of ecological resources is a useful model for studying the dynamics of future development.

ResearchBlogging.orgPaying for environmental services from agricultural lands: an example from the northern Everglades

Patrick J. Bohlen, Sarah Lynch, Leonard Shabman, Mark Clark, Sanjay Shukla, and Hillary Swain

The second paper, in keeping with the economic theme, explores one implementation of a market-like program that would pay farmers and ranchers for producing environmental services. The government does provide programs such as subsidies for implementing best management practices, which are designed to increase provision of environmental services from agricultural lands. However, one disadvantage of these policies is the inability of determining their effectiveness. One proposed alternative is to create a market-like program that will encourage producers and sellers to develop innovative programs with environmental results that can be economically valued.

In the northern Everglades lands were drained for the development of both agriculture and human settlement. These land-use changes are having adverse effects on the Lake Okeechobe watershed. In addition to fragmenting wildlife habitat it has accelerated the rate of the flow of water and nutrients into regional bodies of water. This increase in nutrients has drastically affected water quality. These environmental problems prompted the Florida state legislature to create programs to decrease the water flow and increase water retention on public and private lands. In lieu of a large scale construction of above and below ground reservoirs the State began a pilot program, which is working with cattle ranchers in the affected watershed to provide water recharge and storage on their ranches. In addition to the government agencies, the program also involved the National Audubon Society, The World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Instead of paying for massive building projects for water storage the State would pay cattle ranchers for creating water retention areas on their properties. This project involved many agencies, much red tape and considerable negotiations from all parties. One of the most difficult parts was in determining a value for the ranchers’ environmental service. Designing this program was as much of a socioeconomic challenge as it was a technical or scientific one. The pilot program appears to be promising and there are plans to increase its size. Imperative to its continued success is the sustained involvement and good will of the parties involved.

I wondered if there was more information on other environmental services that were paid for and found several examples. On a global scale, one project investigates the potential for compensating farmers of the Peruvian Amazon to provide carbon sequestering by maintaining or increasing forest habitat on their lands. Their compensation would be obtained from carbon emitters in developed countries. In Costa Rica, private landowners are being compensated for providing water resources for their communities.

After more thought on this subject I feel that placing an economic value on the environment and the resources it provides is not only a step in the right direction, but perhaps the most effective strategy for conservation. Without placing a value on the many services that the environment provides invites the exploitation of lands for the benefit of a few and the cost to many. In essence, this is the “Tragedy of the Commons” Garrett Hardin wrote of in 1968; a parable describing the destruction of one resource shared by many, but owned by none. For example, placing a value on the hydrology of the northern Everglades takes this system out of the “commons” framework and provides incentive for its conservation for the benefit of the stakeholders affected by the harmful outcomes of individuals’ land-use decisions. This type of policy, while challenging to implement and manage, has the potential to substantially benefit both humans and the environment.


Nelson, E., Mendoza, G., Regetz, J., Polasky, S., Tallis, H., Cameron, D., Chan, K., Daily, G., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P., Lonsdorf, E., Naidoo, R., Ricketts, T., & Shaw, M. (2009). Modeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 (1), 4-11 DOI: 10.1890/080023

Bohlen, P., Lynch, S., Shabman, L., Clark, M., Shukla, S., & Swain, H. (2009). Paying for environmental services from agricultural lands: an example from the northern Everglades Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 (1), 46-55 DOI: 10.1890/080107

The comedian and the financial expert

Jon Stewart, at his best, took down yet another bastion of tele-punditry on the Daily Show last week – not just Jim Cramer, but the entire CNBC financial TV network! What does it say about our society when a comedian gets the workings of the financial markets, and tells it like it is, while a whole network of financial “experts” marches happily right off the cliff? Here’s the entire brilliant interview, in 3 parts, and its really worth watching (even for ecologists) for the insight it provides into the workings of some of the institutional pillars of the US economy. Would that the rest of the mainstream media did their job as well as this comedy show does in 22 min 4 days/week…

Must the environment always come last in a tanking economy?

That does seem to be a correlation, doesn’t it? Short-term economic concerns always trump longer-term environmental ones, especially in an economic downturn. Well, I’m not entirely convinced of this argument, although there is the oft-mentioned correlation between poverty and endangered biodiversity, especially of the third-world variety. Poor people may be forced to put survival ahead of the environment or endangered species on occasion, but they may also have a greater vested interest in taking care of their immediate environment because their lives are more vulnerable to fluctuations therein. Provided, of course, they have some degree of control over that environment, or have even a bit of “ownership” of their habitats. But this is a larger argument I don’t really want to open up right how.

Instead, let me offer some items from the recent news about how the current economic recession facing the mighty US may already have put the environmental on the back-burner; and this, ironically at the same time that this country sees a transfer of power from a president who disastrously oversaw both the economic and the environmental recession to one who wants to green the economy as a way out of both problems!

  • The NYT reports a new Pew poll which finds that environmental concerns (including global warming) have dropped precipitously on the nation’s list of priorities as the economic bad news has come in over the past year or so. And this, they say, may pose a serious problem for Obama’s green agenda. What intrigues me, however, is that early part of the graph, back in 2000, when the environment ranked higher than jobs, but still lagged considerably behind the economy! This was when the US supposedly had that multi-trillion dollar surplus following the boom of the Clinton years; and, despite the higher-than-now environmental concerns, Al Gore (Mr. Environment himself?) lost failed to cleanly win the 2000 election. Hmm?!
  • More locally, the LA Times last week ran this story about how the current budget crisis in California, brought about by our tragi-farcically ineffective legislature, has frozen a wide variety of environmental projects in the state. If you’re curious, they also provide this extraordinary list of all the suspended projects! Try scrolling all the way through the list to get a sense of the impact. And if you live in California, you may find projects you didn’t even know about in your own neighborhood!
  • An even more local environmental casualty, right here in Fresno county, is the lovely Lost Lake Park, on the chopping block along with all county public parks as the Board of Supervisors meet tomorrow to consider closing them all down, possibly for well beyond the coming year! This came courtesy of the newly active Fresno Audubon blog, which is covering the developing story and has further information on how you might get involved to try and stave off the closure. Are parks really that expensive?

And more broadly, is this what governments should be doing in a recession? One can sympathize when individuals become environmentally short-sighted if they lose their jobs or have to worry about the mortgage. But surely, the government (and surely governments overseeing economies as big as California and the US) is obligated to take a more enlightened, long-term view, no?! Is Obama really serious about investing in his “green economy” to pull the US back out of its twin recessions (economic and environmental)? A bigger question he might ask: does he even have the political capital / support to attempt it? We shall see, shan’t we?

So who didn’t see this market economy crash coming?

That would be those guys (Dems and Repubs) actually in-charge of running the US economy. You know the ones with all those economics and law degrees from prestigious universities, not to mention finely-honed political skills, and all their free-market gurus. Too bad they, presumably, didn’t have the time to read the cartoons once in a while, or they might have seen this piece of comic prescience, from exactly a decade ago:

And they say it is hard to make long-term economic forecasts! I guess some of us can see quite clearly when the bus is hurtling towards the cliff and about to run over…