Jul 4 2014

ENVIRONMENTAL ECONOMICS: AN INTRODUCTION by Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Probably the best environmental economics textbook

An Introduction

Environmental Economics: An Introduction, by Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field, McGraw Hill, 2012

Nearly everyone who has taken a course in environmental economics has some experience with the textbooks of Barry and Martha Field. In Environmental Economics (6th edition), they continue with their uniquely clear and logical overview of the field and its analytical tools. Light on pure math, but strong on useful description, concrete definitions and clear explanation of otherwise complex topics (such as discounting), the text is a must for any undergraduate or graduate interested in the discipline and looking for a standalone primer. Of the many environmental economics texts available, the Fields’ work stands out because they write in a style that is technically sophisticated but easy to read. This is atypical of most economics texts.

Substantial sections of the book are dedicated to reviewing key concepts in environmental economics and how they can be applied; showing how theory meets practice. These are the stronger chapters. They include overviews of cost–benefit analysis, trading of permits or “incentive-based strategies,” top-down command-and-control regulation, and so on. The weakness of the book, as with many economics texts, is that it overlooks the political dimension of environmental analysis. When they discuss cost–benefit assessment, for example, it appears as though costs and benefits occur uniformly across all members of society (when that is not the case). They do not address issues of power or access in environmental decision making, or mention environmental justice at all. They do include contemporary case studies, or “exhibits,” which showcase what happens when environmental economics is applied in the real world. Here is where some of the missing elements in their theoretical exposition appear. Some of the better exhibits touch on the “intelligible principle” of the Clean Air Act, and incentives for deterring offshore oil spills.

Given the large difference in price between old and new versions of this textbook, the cases are not sufficiently innovative or contemporary to justify the massive price increase.


Jul 4 2014

WATER – ITS CONTROL AND COMBINATION: MULTIFUNCTIONALITY AND FLOOD DEFENCE by Monica Altamirano, Rik Jonker, and Jurgen van der Heijden

Reviewed by Frans Evers, Dutch OECD National Contact Point, Netherlands

Combining land use and water management objectives is the key to sustainable development

Water – its Control and Combination: Multifunctionality and Flood Defences, by Monica Altamirano, Rik Jonker, and Jurgen van der Heijden, Osborne/Deltares, June 2013 (Google the title for free download of the recent English version)

A road on a dyke with sheep on the slope beside it. Can this age-old combination inspire the development of modern flood defenses? Think of dykes producing renewable energy, or serving as nurseries for new plantlife. A good reason to make combinations like these is their sustainability. Three Dutch experts present and analyse a collection of almost thirty examples, mostly from the Netherlands. Although meant as a factual report, this book puts forward a message deserving extra thought.

An area is set aside for water storage to prevent flooding of a nearby city. This area is also a place for nature conservation, water treatment, open city and recreation. Developing and using the same land for multiple purposes saves space, time and money. Yet, however interesting, this isn’t what makes these combination special.

Authorities are used to optimizing each function separately; for instance, creating a basin for water storage as wide and deep as possible at the lowest possible cost. Combining functions sharing can bring the cost down, but what is special is how multiple functionalities can optimize one another. Water storage helps nature, and nature helps water treatment. Such combinations enhance spatial quality, resulting in a better place for recreation. Revenues from recreation can be devoted to nature conservation.

Using one function to optimize others provides a unique economic force that has always been there, but has yet to be fully explored. The authors prove with almost thirty examples that such an approach contributes to sustainable development. This is an inspiring book for water managers who want to go beyond traditional solutions.


Jul 4 2014

EXTRACTED: HOW THE QUEST FOR MINERAL WEALTH IS PLUNDERING THE PLANET by Ugo Bardi

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma, Development Analyst and Columnist, New Delhi, India

Replacing costly minerals with cheaper ones is the key to sustainable mining

bardi-extracted-book-2014

Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet, by Ugo Bardi, Chelsea Green Publishers, 2014

The Club of Rome shot to fame with publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972. This report on the future of mankind not only triggered a hot debate, but degenerated in all-out smear campaign. By the time its critics had had their say, the public perception of the report was that it offered nothing more than a series of wrongheaded predictions made by a group of deluded scientists. So much so, subsequent reports by this global think tank have not merited much attention.

Extracted is the latest report from this elite club. Had The Limits to Growth attained popularity, the title of this report could easily have been The Limits to Extraction. Digging out the history of mining, from prehistoric times to the modern age, the report suggests that mankind has extracted most of the cheap mineral resources available while plundering of the earth’s ecosystems and displacing millions of people. Mining is one of the largest global industries, but the gradual depletion of low-cost minerals, including fossil fuels, is fast becoming a major limitation to economic growth. Since high-grade ores are extracted first, it will become much more expensive to produce mineral commodities in future. Given the growing demand for precious metals and rare earths, however, a resource war is likely to emerge among countries that hold quasi-monopolies over certain mineral deposits.

The political economy of mining makes it an important growth engine for most countries. China has 97 per cent of all active rare earths, including exclusive deposits of molybdenum. South Africa holds 82 per cent of global platinum. China leads countries like Chile, Australia and Argentina in global copper output. Tibet has become the new mining focus for China. Under a new regime, India intends to go full throttle into mineral extraction.

Extracted is written by a team of experts, headed by Italian scientist Ugo Bardi. The report says that deposits of many high-grade ores are running low: copper, zinc, nickel, gold, silver and others are expected to reach their productive peak within less than two decades. Not only will this affect our lifestyles, but it may cause agriculture production to decline as well. By the time the world wakes up to the full impact of mining (including oil and gas), the lasting impacts may be impossible to reverse.

The solution, says Bardi, is to replace costly minerals with cheaper ones; recycle as much as possible, and generate energy through renewable energy sources such as sun, wind and water. He and his colleagues believe that mining machines and drilling rigs will disappear without a corresponding decline in the demand for minerals.



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