Environmental Economics – It All Begins At Home

Photography by KevinZim. Countless communities who once relied on certain ecological services such as fisheries or forestries have been decimated.

Everywhere, the earth is changing. As a result, climate change, environmental degradation, and global warming appear at once to be enormously overwhelmingly, global concerns – and they are. Environmental affairs know no boundaries, no boarders, no race, no gender, no property, and no currency. At a press conference presenting the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, boldly stated that, “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

Without a doubt, big moves will be needed on national and international scales in order to prevent and adapt to global climate change. Properly formed legislation is essential, as is the strong leadership of public figures and powerful national and multi-national organizations. Jedediah Purdy, a Professor of Law at Duke University, notes that one way out of the situation is with “extraordinary politics: politics that goes beyond the usual interest-swaping and sets new commitments for the country and the world.” The other way out, which he believes more likely and yet not as productive, will be extraordinary technological developments in the areas of renewable energy and geo-engineering.

The amount of work that needs to be done in order to fully deal with anthropogenic climate change and global warming can at times feel overwhelming and impossible to accomplish.

Sally Weintrobe, a practicing psychoanalyst, in her piece entitled “The Difficult Problem of Anxiety in Thinking About Climate Change,” explains that, “we are trying, unsuccessfully, to manage contrary internal positions within our psyches…where we simultaneously feel no guilt and it is the other person/nation/corporation who is to blame and, on the other hand, where we feel monstrously guilty and to be blamed.” In this statement, Weintrobe reveals that all environmental issues are simultaneously enormous, global calamities, and very personal and sentimental individual crises.

How to tackle these huge issues? Where to begin?

What better place than in the home? Every political leader, activist, and corporation owner is a human being, whose household is impacted each day by the environment. There are many different ways in which the environment impacts people on a very personal level. Health problems may result from both indoor and outdoor air quality issues. Quality of life and individual wellbeing are often directly correlated with an individual’s relationship and connection to their environment. With all of these major issues regarding climate change to deal with, why does environmental economics matter? Shouldn’t it be the case that people try to protect and maintain the environment out of primary concern for its wellbeing, their personal happiness and satisfaction, and the health issues associated with a degrading environment?

In an ideal world, maybe money wouldn’t matter so much. But the reality is that it does. Dollars count. Showing people the correlation between a healthy environment and economic prosperity may be enough to give them the needed incentive to make tangible green changes in their lives.

In today’s society, the biggest winner’s are often seen as those with the most money and the most success. By tying this financial success to environmental sustainability and protection, the environmental movement has an opportunity to encourage positive and productive environmental stewardship, with the added incentive of economic prosperity. McKenzie Funk’s new book, “Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming,” asserts that the only individuals currently pleased with the state of the environment today are those who are profiting from it. The way to change this is to begin in the home by changing the status quo of who actually benefits from a changing climate.

Easily located on the United States Environmental Protection Agency website is a “how-to” make small changes in homes which can lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, and significant financial savings for households. These tips include purchasing ENERGY STAR appliance and equipment, sealing and insulating homes, using water efficiently, and the classic, “reduce, reuse recycle.” Changing only five lightbulbs to ENERGY STAR can save a household $70 on annual energy bills, while using about 75% less energy than standard lighting and lasting 10 to 15 times longer.

Beyond home expenses and energy costs, there is a tremendous price tag associated with an unhealthy, unproductive environment.

Without consciously realizing it, every person is profiting from a healthy environment every moment of every day. The multitude of ways in which humankind benefits from the environment are called ecosystem services. These services are separated into several categories: Provisioning services such as timber, fuel, medicines, and drinking water; Regulating services including pollination, decomposition, water purification, erosion and flood control, and carbon storage and climate regulation; Cultural services include recreation, creativity, and the important ways in which ecosystems lay a role in local, national, and global cultures. 

According to a United National Environment Program (UNEP) initiative called The Economics of Ecosystems and Diversity (TEEB), an annual investment of $45 billion to biodiversity conservation worldwide could safeguard about $5 trillion in ecosystem services – a benefit to cost ratio of 100 to 1.

What can be a better way to connect with global climate issues than to recognize these issues on small scales: in individual decisions and household actions. By engaging with the environment on a personal level, people can have a tremendous positive impact on the natural world, which will be continued for generations in every aspect of life. There are few more personal topics than the environment we live in, and the finances that allow us to live there. By focusing on the mutual interests of environmentalism and economics, each and every person can engage with their environment and help to make the world a better place.  

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