Day: December 10, 2013

Environmental Justice Gets a Makeover: How the field of Ecological Economics has changed the way we think about EJ

[This is a post from Ronesha Strozier, a MS student in the Environmental and Energy Policy program here at Tech. This was an assignment for our Ecological Economics course.]

Environmental justice seems like it would be an important part of any hot, environmentally related, conversation; but for some reason over the years it has disappeared from the rhetoric. When I joined the Environmental & Energy Policy program at Michigan Tech I was flabbergasted when I didn’t hear these words thrown around more often, but I had been deceived; it was there all along.

My grandmother always used to tell me that there is nothing new under the sun and she is right. Ideas are always being recycled and mixed together to make what we call new ideas and this same theory can be applied to the field of environmental justice.  So I finally figured out why no one was using the term; it was because the name changed. Due to globalization and time, environmental justice has now become just distribution.

Just distribution is one of the three main goals of a new field of economics called ecological economics. Environmental justice tends to focus on the more social, political, and legal aspects of a particular problem primarily within the United States. Just distribution takes the whole argument a step further by incorporating our now globalized world. It focuses on providing the same resources to every citizen in the world and has added ideas from ecology and economics to help create better solutions for today’s problems.

Once I knew the new name of environmental justice I breathed a nice long relaxing sigh; I knew that I no longer had to worry if my fellow colleagues cared about environmental justice, because they did. My colleagues care so much that they have allowed the terminology to evolve into something that will help them better solve the problem.

Since the name changed I wanted to see if there were any other changes to the field. I searched and found some differences within the terminology.  “Just distribution” seems to be primarily used by academics, but “environmental justice” has successfully made it past the walls of academia and is widely used by the public.  Environmental justice representatives are talking about the same things that academics are talking about. For example, Dr.  Jalonne L. White-Newsome discusses climate change in a post on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Blog. In the post the author strongly pushes for the President to include issues related to environmental justice in the President’s Climate Action Plan. White-Newsome issues a call to action to make the importance of climate justice a reality in the American political system.

Although environmental justice is changing I don’t think that it is a bad thing, it’s just different. The field is changing to meet the needs of our current society and that is what all environmentalists want. We want change.


Solar Photovoltaic Tariff Wars

[This is a post from Edward Louie, a MS student in the Environmental and Energy Policy program here at Tech. This was an assignment for our Ecological Economics course.]

Tariffs are normally imposed to protect and support domestic manufacturing, in particular emerging industries, by disincentivizing the purchase of imported equivalent products. The higher market price encourages greater supply of the domestic product. Neoclassical economists tend to view tariffs as regulations that distort the free market.  They argue that tariffs help domestic producers and the government via increased revenue and taxes at the expense of consumers, and they artificially shield an industry from competition, delaying collapse, but also slowing the innovation needed to be competitive. Tariffs only make sense if the financial gain by the government and increase in domestic demand outweighs the efficiency loss from reduced overall demand due to higher prices.

Throughout the 1990s and into the mid-2000s the cost of solar panels has decreased at a snail’s pace remaining at 3 to 4 dollars a watt that is until 2008 when Chinese manufacturers began mass producing solar panels with low cost labor on an economy of scale. Since 2008, the price of solar panels has plummeted breaking the one dollar per watt barrier in 2011. Beginning in 2012, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed a 31 percent tariff on solar panels imported from China. The tariff was imposed when several manufacturers of solar panels in the U.S. (including SolarWorld and six others) complained to the Department of Commerce that Chinese factories are subsidizing manufacturing costs in order to flood the market and kill off competition with below-market price panels. These complaints came after several solar manufacturers in the United States and Germany filed for bankruptcy, while the market share of Chinese panels rose to nearly two thirds. However, more than 700 other firms, organized under the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, opposed the tariff. The opponents, which include manufacturers, installers and others involved in the solar industry, argue that the tariff will make solar energy less affordable. In 2013 the tariff wars continued with China imposing a 6.5% tariff on U.S. solar polysilicon suppliers. American companies defended their low prices, attributing them to inexpensive hydroelectric power. The European Union also imposed a tariff on Chinese solar panels and Chinese glass used to make solar panels.

Tariffs on solar panels will likely backfire and actually hurt the U.S. solar industry because 52% of U.S. solar jobs are in installation, another 18% in sales and distribution, and more in polysilicon manufacturing (the raw material of solar panels) (Lubin, 2012). In the midst of these tariffs, the average installed price of solar panels in the U.S. has continued to fall. However, it would be a large step backwards if this trend were to fall victim to escalating trade wars. Only time will tell if these tariffs have a positive or negative effect on the U.S. solar industry. With the U.S. solar industry continuing to grow, it may be difficult to identify out the percentage of additional growth or decline that could have been realized had these measures not been implemented. In today’s highly globalized world, it is often difficult to know for certain which economic policy tool to use and its effects and unintended effects.


Inside Job – Where are they now?

[This is a post from Brent Burns, a PhD student in the Environmental and Energy Policy program here at Tech. This was an assignment for our Ecological Economics course.]

After seeing Inside Job, a documentary detailing the global financial crisis of 2008 through research and extensive interviews with financiers, politicians, journalists, and academics, I was curious to see how the accused perpetrators (banks, economist, etc.) are doing today as we approach 2014, so I did a Google search on “2008 financial meltdown where are they now” and found some good, yet concerning, updates.

In September of 2013, Allison Fitzgerald from The Center for Public Integrity published Ex-Wall Street chieftains living large in post-meltdown world, detailing the current luxurious lifestyles of five of the worst Wall Street offenders partially responsible for the 2008 meltdown.  The article discusses leaders from Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Merrill Lynch, describing how each of the leaders made off with hundreds of millions of dollars, as the majority of the nation’s middle class lost their life savings and homes.

Brayden Goyette, from ProPublica, wrote another good article in October 2011, Cheat Sheet: What’s Happened to the Big Players in the Financial Crisis, describing some of the political and government figures involved in the crisis.  For example, Larry Summers went on to serve as Treasury Secretary and was almost nominated to serve as head the Federal Reserve for President Obama.  The Guardian’s Rupert Neate provides one of the best summaries with his August 2012, Financial crisis: 25 people at the heart of the meltdown – where are they now?. This article reviews the bankers, politicians, and others involved in the crisis and their current lifestyle (as of 2012).  Judging by the S&P 500 index (a leading indicator of investment returns) for the companies headed by the individuals referenced in the article, the year 2012 was a good one: the index has increased 27.42%.  However, the gains experienced by these companies has not translated into good times for all. To illustrate, Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot’s 2011 article, It’s the Inequality, Stupid graphically displays the inequality growth in the United States over the past 30 years.  The recent stock market gains have only increased the gap and rewarded those who helped cause the 2008 crisis.

After reviewing what has happened to those responsible for the financial collapse of 2008 and how they were financially rewarded for their poor (and some would argue, criminal) performance, the prospects of a sustainable economy are very dismal.  There has not been any deterrent to the behavior which led to the 2008 meltdown.  Without any criminal prosecution, it’s only a matter of time before the next financial crisis happens.  In January 2011, Glenn Greenwald from the Guardian wrote The Real Story of How ‘Untouchable’ Wall Street Execs Avoided Prosecution. In summary, the Department of Justice and the Obama administration never even tried to prosecute, which is a failure of justice.  Right now, banking and political leaders are leveraging new loop holes to maximize the profits of few at the expense of the many, without fear of any personal consequences.


Sustainability discourse in Islam

[This is a post from S.M. Mizanur Rahman, a PhD student in the Environmental and Energy Policy program here at Tech. This was an assignment for our Ecological Economics course.]

Scientific study encourages us to rationally approach the universe and establish the relationship of humans with nature in a positivist way. Theological trends however approach the entire relationship based on metaphysical or transcendental forces that control the whole universe. Although there is a sea of difference among approaches to science and theology, successful works that explain the influence of religion on human beings with a sound scientific approach are not rare.  For instance, Max Weber through his pioneering work ‘Protestant Work Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism’ described how the motivation of Biblical text encourages and influences people’s morality in the work place and results in material success in the west.

Like Christianity, Islam has also rich Koranic text that establishes the ecocentric approach that puts human beings at the center of nature as khalifah (steward), yet ties  them to work along with the system of nature as amanah (protector). In the words of Allah, animals and birds are included in the same community of human beings, Ummah;(6:38).Therefore, when using the natural world, the Koran warns human beings of extravaganza  by stating “eat and drink [freely], but do not waste: verily, He does not love the wasteful!(7:31)”.

The second most important source of Islamic ethics is the sayings of the prophet.

The prophet predicts the dire consequences (hell) of a Muslim woman who had put her cat locked in the house until death and a prostitute (who is usually denigrated in Islam) woman is predicted to go in the paradise as she quenched  a dog’s thirst (Gar, 2002; Volume 3, Book 40, Number 553). Regarding tree plantation, the prophet said that if someone is holding a plant before the last moment of his death, his duty is to finish planting it before he dies.  Regarding just distribution, the prophet states that Allah (God) will not talk to one of three kinds of people who will withhold extra water that hinders natural  growth of grass along the banks of  a downstream water body.  grass in the downstream (Volume 3, Book 40, Number 543). One of his companions was doing ablution (washing hands, face and feet before praying, which is an obligation) within a full stream of water. The prophet asked him to reduce the flow of water and told him that you will be held accountable for what you spend beyond that what you need, even in the occasion of worship.

The environmental dimensions of Islam have implications in the Muslim world, related to encouraging behavior of the people that would promote conservation, preservation, and protection of nature and discourage consumption and exploitation of nature.

Thus, Islam has orchestrated a sound ecological management system that is based on the transcendental values in the contemporary discourse of environmentalism. As some experts point out, the lack of contemporary environmentalism may have a pure secular origin (Qadir, 1992). When promoting a healthy ecosystem, an all encompassing framework is needed that is based on sound scientific reasoning and also on transcendental values.

References:

  1. Smith, Gar. 2002. “Islam and the Environment.” Earth Island Journal, Summer, 26. http://search.proquest.com/docview/213828849?accountid=28041.
  2. Baker, Iljas. 2003. “Book Review: The Environmental Dimensions of Islam.” The Environmentalist. 23 (1): 97-98. http://search.proquest.com/docview/221762473?accountid=28041.
  3. Quadir, T., (2013),Traditional Islamic Environmentalism: The Vision of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Press of America, ISBN-13: 978-0761861430