Jul 14 2008

The opportunity cost of pristine wilderness is…

Bush, Democrats point fingers over energy crisis – Jul. 12, 2008

…apparently just over $4.00 per gallon of gasoline; at least according to the article above:

With gasoline prices above $4 a gallon, Bush and his Republican allies think Americans are more willing to allow drilling offshore and in an Alaska wildlife refuge that environmentalists have fought successfully for decades to protect.

Nearly half the people surveyed by the Pew Research Center in late June said they now consider energy exploration and drilling more important than conservation, compared with a little over a third who felt that way only five months ago. The sharpest shift in attitude came among political liberals.

The travesty of Americans’ attitude in favor of drilling and against conservation is the shortsightedness of it. Regardless of how many millions of acres of wilderness the government opens to drilling, gas and energy prices will only continue to rise over the long-run as emerging market economies like China’s will continually drive demand for energy higher and higher as growth rates remain above 8%.

America, in the mean time, with the largest per capita levels of energy consumption in the world (and some of the lowest gas prices), turns its back on conservation just when it is needed most. The cost to the environment, society and the bounteous wildlife that inhabit the vast tracts of land and sea that Congress is considering opening to exploitation by energy companies will create a permanent scar in one of the most valuable (and simultaneously undervalued) resources, its wilderness.

As my summer vacation approaches its end and I begin to think about another year of teaching Economics in international schools, I find myself reflecting on what’s most important in the world: to me, to my home country, to my fellow Americans, to the kids I teach and the students I will teach 10, 20, 30 years from now. I spend my summers in one of the most beautiful parts of this great country, the Pacific Northwest, whereMy wife Liz, overlooking the Selkirk mountains of Northern Idaho despite over a century of logging, mining, hunting and trapping, beautiful wilderness still remains. Only 2% of America’s original forests remain standing today. Countless species of predator and prey have been wiped out. There are around 300 wolves running wild here in Idaho, and thousands of citizens here are campaigning for a hunting season that will threaten to wipe out that great species once again. Clearcuts dot the landscape, proposed mines threaten watersheds and the wild Bull trout, an endangered species in the lakes and streams of Northern Idaho. Bears are put to death when the stumble into our yards, yet we turn more and more of their habitat into housing tracts every year.

Conservation is on my mind, and the news from Washington saddens me today, as I read that Americans concern themselves less and less with what I consider this country’s greatest resource, its wilderness, when times get the slightest bit difficult economically. As I prepare for another year of teaching Economics, this year at a new school in a new country, one where conservation is of the utmost importance, I will think about ways to incorporate more of an environmental economics perspective into this blog and my own teaching. As I prepare to leave my home in the mountains of Northern Idaho once again, I will cherish what little wilderness remains in this beautiful country, and try to make as little impact as I can on an individual level towards the continued destruction and exploitation of nature that characterizes the path that Americans seem to be choosing in this time of economic hardship.


About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

One response so far

One Response to “The opportunity cost of pristine wilderness is…”

  1. Dylan K.on 16 Jul 2008 at 3:45 am

    Unfortunately, this decision by President Bush has seemed to spark other environmentalist challenging solutions to the rising gasoline prices: http://www.newsweek.com/id/146161/page/1
    Mining this oil shale in the Rockies would not just carry the 'normal environmental consequences' of opening a new mining operation, but it could also damage water supplies.

    With the energy market so vital to our struggling economy, environmentalists are walking a fine line between anti-development and conservation. Sadly, we are beginning to believe that we have no other alternatives.

    We may trade in our Hummers for a Prius or make trade-offs of other desired luxuries so that we can afford our daily commutes, but the price of gasoline will probably not decrease until it is no longer such an integral part of our daily lives. A sea of vehicles with one passenger avoiding the inconvenience of public transportation, carpooling, or biking and an ever-present attraction to life in the suburbs will keep increasing prices until the quantity demanded drops. While a greater supply of oil might help stabilize the climbing prices, it will probably not bring the desired reduction that people expect. This solution will ultimately have incredible consequences and be short-lived; we will be forced to look for another solution in the very near future.