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Category — Environmentalism

Other Arguments Against Environmental Commodification (Part IV)

“Where ecological services need to be monetized, they likely will be. Where monetization is unlikely or virtually impossible, they probably don’t need to be brought into the cost benefit calculations of decision makers in the normal course of events. And attempting to do so might be viewed with suspicion and undermine support for the very environmental benefit one is attempting to foster.”

Defining ecosystems in general or a specific ecosystem in particular is a difficult endeavor.

As daunting a task as this is, it is no less difficult to establish a sound economic baseline for the entirety of the benefits that nature provides to mankind. Where ecological services need to be monetized, they likely will be. Where monetization is unlikely or virtually impossible, they probably don’t need to be brought into the cost benefit calculations of decision makers in the normal course of events. And attempting to do so might be viewed with suspicion and undermine support for the very environmental benefit one is attempting to foster.

To complete this four-part series, I provide illustrations about why spending public resources in an attempt to commodify ecosystem services is not worthwhile. [Read more →]

July 14, 2013   No Comments

Economists vs. Ecosystem Commodification (Part III)

“Due to a lack of knowledge and/or limited possibility of commodification due the impossibility of accurate pricing and the inability to enclose the commons for some environmental goods, it is an open question as to whether it is even possible to value ecosystem services as a whole – as opposed to a select few benefits that flow from particular sets of relations within an area.”

Many economists find valuing global (and most times even local) “ecosystem services” difficult. Nonmarket pricing, indeed, is inherently impossible to solve or thus requires very questionable methodologies.

Critics of environmental commodification argue that the ongoing public funds for such efforts are neither now, nor are they likely to be in the future, justified. Alleged market failure, in other words, is swamped by other failures in the “solution.”

The Knowledge Problem

The former point is really more of a concern of mine, than for other researchers who have written on the topic. [Read more →]

July 13, 2013   1 Comment

Environmentalists Question Commodification (Part II)

“Payment schemes also risk creating perverse incentives…. If the system pays landowners to bank carbon, they may plant non-native species, or genetically ‘improved’ trees to bank carbon faster. Or they may discourage natural phenomena that happen to be good for biodiversity but bad for people, including such ecosystem disservices as fire, drought, disease, or flood.”

Just as there are supporters of this relatively new way of looking at environmental decision-making–commodification–there are also critics. I include myself among them.

Some environmentalists argue that ecosystems or their constituent parts with intrinsic value does not mean they should be priced and treated as economic goods. By stressing the market value of ecosystem services, should those values be exceedingly difficult to calculate, or come in at a lower-than-expected value, it will be easier for those pushing more intensive human intervention in the ecosystem to win the day in the policy field. Such politicization, as in other fields, will have unintended consequences.

Kent Redford and William M. Adams catalogued a host of ways that ecosystem service arguments could go wrong. As Richard Connif noted in Conservation Biology, Redford/Adams powerfully focus on price: [Read more →]

July 12, 2013   1 Comment

Pricing (Nonmarket) Ecosystem Services: The Dream (Part I)

[Editor note: Last month, a conference--"Evaluating and Trading Ecological Services: Is There a Role for Natural Capital in the Marketplace?”--was held in Houston, Texas. Local environmental activist Jim Blackburn organized the event (interviewed here). Appendix A describes the conference, and Appendix B lists the sessions.

Without a speaker challenging the premise of the conference, MasterResource asked Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis to provide this analysis, which will be forwarded to conference organizers.]

Pricing nonmarket ecosystem services may be a noble goal. But it is conceptually confused and problematic as a guide to real-world action, civic and certainly governmental.

This four-part series substantiates my concerns. After reviewing the general concept, I will examine environmentalist concerns with environmental commodification, review economist concerns with the same, and make final arguments and wrap-up.


In 2001, I defended my doctoral dissertation, Protecting Ecosystemic Goods: The Pro’s and Con’s of a Property Rights Approach. My dissertation argued that assigning property rights and allowing markets to develop around the valuation and trade of ecosystemic good (species, habitats and their interrelations) would

  1. Result in more environmental protection and promotion than most environmentalists would believe and
  2. Be superior to the protection provided by federal and state governments through laws and regulations.

Thus my contribution was well within the paradigm known today as free-market environmentalism.

At the same time as I was writing my work, environmentalists and academics from the relatively new field of environmental economics were beginning to develop (after a couple of fitful starts in earlier decades) the idea that ecosystems provide a variety of services, without which civilization and even humanity would fade from the scene.

Of course, there is no doubt this is true, but it, as stated, is not groundbreaking news or particularly helpful with regards to shaping economic or environmental policy. Recognizing this, the scholars went further, and argued that dollar values could be placed on the services nature provides and as a result wiser development decisions could be made in the future.

It is here that serious issues are raised that brings the entire effort into question. [Read more →]

July 11, 2013   3 Comments

Believe or Know? Modern Environmentalism Reconsidered (Earth Day thoughts for midcourse correction)

When E. O. Wilson said “people would rather believe than know,” he perfectly summed up the state of modern environmentalism. For the fact is that the movement has been radicalized to such an extent that its policies are now characterized by senseless agendas better described as anti-science, anti-business and even anti-human; not pro-environment. [1]

Environmentalism’s gradual shift to extremism didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen on its own; the movement was led astray by the green lobby – the conglomerate of NGOs, advocacy organizations and political groups who use environmental motives to enact legislation favorable to their own goals. Today, the green lobby is a dominant force in the political sphere, despite few voters choosing to elect ‘green’ politicians.

Much of the green lobby’s success is directly attributable to its ability to demonize and brand opponents as heretics, even if their arguments are based on verifiable evidence or if they simply want to promote intelligent discussion. Through their ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns centered on perceived environmental injustices, the green lobby uses radical, ‘sexy’ catastrophe theories to bombard us with predictions of ecological collapse.

We are warned that there is no time for debate; that radical and swift action is necessary to avoid environmental apocalypse. Throw a celebrity in the mix and you have campaign gold – how could anyone argue against environmental experts like Brian May or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall? [Read more →]

April 22, 2013   2 Comments

Anti-Energy Ideology: Where Eco-Imperialism Meets Vulture Environmentalism

Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s choice to replace Lisa Jackson at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has been chastised for having lied to Congress, in claiming that EPA did not use “dangerous manmade climate change” to justify new 54.5 mpg standards for cars and light trucks. She’s also been implicated in the agency’s practice of using fake emails to hide questionable dealings and activities.

These issues highlight attitudes toward ethics, law and public policy that prevail at EPA and too many other government agencies. However, that attention should not distract from other important matters.

Ms. McCarthy may be the worst of the new nominees. In addition to her dishonesty, she helped devise onerous mercury and soot rules that employed junk science to shutter coal-fired power plants and kill thousands of jobs – and those vehicle mileage standards, which will force people to drive less safe cars that will cause millions more serious injuries and thousands more needless deaths every year.

However, she, Ernest Moniz for Energy, and Sally Jewell for Interior are all team players for the Obama White House; they all share ideologies and agendas that bode ill for America’s and the world’s energy, economic, health and environmental future. They represent a rapidly expanding, increasingly powerful government class that is determined to control what we eat, say, do and buy.

In the environmental arena, these would-be czars and czarinas want to regulate what kinds of energy we can produce and use, cars we can drive, and jobs and living standards we can have. They are the vanguard of a dangerous alliance of eco-imperialism and vulture environmentalism. [Read more →]

March 21, 2013   1 Comment

Bill McKibben: Energy Enemy Number One

Bill McKibben, who has been called “the nation’s leading environmentalist,” is leading a movement to destroy the fossil fuel industry, which he calls “Public Enemy Number One.” This is the signature issue of his mega-popular organization 350.org under the names Do the Math and Fossil Free.”

As an energy researcher who knows the indispensability of the fossil fuel industry to my own life and billions of lives around the world, I am doing whatever I can to stop this movement.

My Debate with Bill McKibben

Earlier this month I publicly debated Bill McKibben in order to make the case that his quest “to cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of 20 over the next few decades” is pseudoscientific and suicidal.

Throughout the debate I stressed four points:

  1. For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels are the indispensable source of the abundant, affordable energy that human flourishing depends on.
  2. The proven science about climate illustrates a mere half-degree warming in the last 70 years, including virtually no warming in the last 15McKibben’s claims of catastrophe are based on the extreme speculation of climate prediction models that can’t predict the climate.
  3. The overall impact of fossil fuel use and the technologies it powers has been to make our climate dramatically safer–climate-related deaths have fallen 98% since 1920.
  4. The world desperately needs more energy–3 times as much if everyone is to get to the same level as Germany–and yet McKibben is calling for 95% of fossil fuels to be illegal.

Readers should watch the debate and draw their own conclusions, but from my vantage point the thing that struck me most about McKibben’s approach was that he was intellectually and emotionally indifferent to the fundamental importance of affordable, abundant energy. [Read more →]

November 30, 2012   14 Comments

Debate: Bill McKibben vs. Alex Epstein on Fossil Fuels

On November 5, I will be debating Bill McKibben, considered “world’s leading environmentalist” by some, on the proposition: “Fossil fuels are a risk to the planet.” I will be arguing that fossil fuels dramatically improve the planet for human beings.

This debate came about at the suggestion of MasterResource’s own Rob Bradley, who pointed me to McKibben’s article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” , which received many rave reviews and not nearly enough criticism. My Center for Industrial Progress colleague (physicist) Eric Dennis and I decided to respond to the article with a video that addresses what we think is the root of the problem–not any given fact but bad thinking methodology. The problem that makes McKibben’s piece possible is that Americans have never been taught to distinguish science from pseudoscience–how to think critically about scientific claims.

At the end of the debate, I challenged McKibben to a debate, offering him $10,000 and an audience at Duke University. To his credit, after some haggling over the topic, he accepted. It should be a great illustration of how the philosophy of environmentalism stacks up against the philosophy of industrial progress. Stay tuned for more.

July 30, 2012   14 Comments

Fighting AGW Religion in North Carolina (sea-level-rise debate gets political)

What’s been happening recently in North Carolina (NC) is a microcosm of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) story: politics versus science, ad-hominems versus journalism, evangelists versus pragmatists, etc.

The contentiousness is over one of the main AGW battlefields: sea-level rise (SLR). North Carolina happens to have a large amount of coastline and has become the U.S. epicenter for this issue.


The brief version is that this began several years ago when a state agency, the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), selected a 20± member “science panel” to do a scientific assessment of the NC SLR situation through 2100. This could have been a very useful project if there had been balance in the personnel selections, and the panel’s assessment adhered to scientific standards. Regrettably, neither happened and the project soon jumped the rails, landing in the political agenda ditch.

In their 2010 report, the panel concluded that NC should expect a 39-inch SLR by 2100. Their case was built around a 2007 paper by Stefan Rahmstorf, and was not encumbered by a single reference to a perspective different from Rahmstorf’s. Shortly after the report was released, state agencies started making the rounds of North Carolina coastal communities, putting them on notice that they would need to make BIG changes (elevating roads and bridges, re-zoning property, changing flood maps for insurance purposes, etc.).

My Involvement

As an independent scientist, I was solicited by my coastal county to provide a scientific perspective on this report. Even though I wasn’t a SLR expert, I could clearly see that this document was a classic case of Confirmation Bias, as it violated several scientific standards. But to get into the technical specifics I solicited the inputs of about 40 international SLR experts (oceanographers, etc.). [Read more →]

June 12, 2012   12 Comments

Go Industrial, Not ‘Green’ (Part II)

[Editor note: Mr. Epstein, a new Principal at MasterResource, is Founder of the Center for Industrial Progress. Part I appeared yesterday.]

But what about the “environmental impact” of industrial development? Isn’t the “green” movement providing a salutary influence us by helping us combat that problem? Again, no.

The idea of “environmental impact” is what philosopher Ayn Rand called an “intellectual package-deal.” Such a concept dishonestly packages together two very different things—the impact of development on the human environment and the impact of development on the non-human environment.

Industrial development will certainly often harm various non-human environments—but it is a godsend to the human environment. By lumping together concern with the non-human environment (e.g., displacing some caribou to get billions of barrels of the lifeblood of civilization) and the human environment (e.g., air quality), anti-industrialists are able to dupe Americans into thinking that sacrificing to caribou somehow benefits them.

Historically, industrial progress brought with it a radical improvement of the human environment. Indeed, industrial progress essentially is the improvement of the human environment. The reason we develop is to make our surroundings better so that our lives are better, cleaner, healthier safer—in the face of a natural environment that is often hostile to human life.

Contrary to “green” mythology, man’s natural environment is neither clean nor safe. In a non-industrialized, “natural” state, men face all sorts of health dangers in the air and water, from the choking smoke of an open fire made using plant matter (a cause of over a million deaths a year to this day) to the feces-infested local brook that he must share with farm animals.

Industrial development gives men the technology and tools to make their environment healthier—from sanitation systems to sturdier buildings to less onerous job conditions to comfortable furniture to having healthy, fresh food at one’s disposal year round, to the wealth and ability to preserve and travel to the most beautiful parts of nature. And so long as we embrace policies that protect property rights, including air and water rights, we protect industrial development and protect individuals from pollution.

As for the “sustainability” of industrial progress, an accusation that dates back to Marx, this fails to recognize the fact (elaborated on by Julian Simon and Ayn Rand) that man has an unlimited capacity to rearrange nature’s endless stockpile of raw materials into useful resources—which is why the more resources we use, the more resources we have. [Read more →]

September 24, 2011   12 Comments