Executive Director of Earth Economics David Batker Sends a Trip Report from Bhutan

29 03 2011

Earth Economics’ Executive Director Dave Batker is currently in Bhutan with Portland State’s Sustainable Solutions’, Robert Costanza and Ida Kubiszewski.  Together they are presenting ecological economics workshops for Bhutanese government officials.  Dave skyped this morning: “Bhutan is totally incredible. We are working on the beginnings of a 5 year effort together on natural capital that will totally change economic analysis. All government officials are totally supportive, it is really an astounding place. They have already gone ecological economics and perhaps better with the happiness measure. They had no TV here until 1999, and I’ve never seen any group of government officials so grounded in their culture and nation, some take 3 day hikes just to get to the most rural villages, talk with people and see what the government can do to help them. They are absolutely bent on showing a completely new example of development that respects nature and is really people centered. …This has been one of the best trips I’ve ever done.”

Trongsa Dzong, Bhutan

Tourism in Mexico

27 02 2011

Maya Kocian writes

While this post was intended to highlight the hydrological ecosystem services in a watershed in Veracruz, Mexico I can’t help but bring up another type of ecosystem service, one that falls under the cultural category: tourism. Jen Harrison-Cox and I went to Xalapa, Mexico to participate in a workshop for ARIES (ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services), which maps ecosystem services.

People travel to beautiful places for vacation, and engage in activities such as recreational fishing, scuba diving, bird watching, hiking and more. Such activities all require healthy ecosystem and there is no doubt that attractive landscape, clean water, and healthy fish and wildlife populations provide a necessary underpinning to the tourism sector of the economy.

When Jen and I went to Teotihuacán (pyramids near Mexico City) for a little sight seeing, it struck us how few tourists there were. The two pictures below are of the Pyramid of the Sun. My father took the first picture in 2002 and the second one is the one I took two weeks ago. What’s missing from my picture? People.

“Almost free” said one vender at the site, trying to sell me jewelry and replicas of Olmec masks. Unfortunately, this was a phrase heard throughout the site by venders trying to make ends meet.

The cause of the decline in tourism in Mexico is three fold. First there was the swine flu, then the recession and now, the drug war between cartels and the government.

In an article in The Economist stated “jobs in tourism have been put at risk by a surge in drug-related violence in the state of Michoacán, which caused the number of visitors to fall by almost half this winter.”

It’s frustrating that a small group of drug cartels can affect the whole nation. Regardless of the drug-related violence, the sight from the Pyramid of the Sun is still peaceful. The steps built by the Aztecs to the summit (roughly 300, I counted) are waiting for you modern travelers.

Environment & Sustainability Series: Re-Imagining the GDP

10 11 2010

It was the Great Depression that gave rise to the measurement of “GDP,” and led, many think, to smarter policy choices. To navigate beyond today’s Great Recession, do we need a revised GDP that more broadly defines well-being, and considers the environment, our health, our education, and our civic engagement? Should we rethink what’s assigned economic value (e.g., cleaning up an oil spill, running prisons) and what isn’t (e.g. leaving an ecosystem intact, having leisure time)? What would it take to get a new metric enacted? Is it even possible, given today’s anxious and polarized politics? And, in practice, what difference would a new metric make — and for whom?

Please join the Executive Director of Earth Economics, David Batker, Martin Collier (Executive Director of Glaser Progress Foundation) and John de Graaf (Executive Director of Take Back your Time and renowned film director) for a new look at what we measure in society and how it affects our everyday decisions.

We hope to see you there!

Event Details:

Friday, November 19, 2010.
Town Hall (downstairs) | 1119 8th Avenue, Seattle
Registration:  11:30 a.m. | Luncheon & Program: 12:15 – 1:30 p.m.

Click here for more details.

It’s cheaper to send a prisoner to Harvard than to jail!

8 08 2010

We touched on this issue briefly in our film, “What’s the Economy for, Anyway?” (see Act Six on the issue of security) The truth of the matter is that we (in the United States) simply have too many people in jail, 2.3 million to be exact and it cost money (your money) to keep them in jail. There is no doubt that we need prisons to keep murderers and robbers at bay but what about the non-violent offenses? Does throwing people into prison really lower crime rates? Short answer is, no. Here are the numbers:

-New York’s violent crime went down by 40% while it cut its incarceration rate by 15% between 1997 and 2007.

-The U.S. lock people up seven times the European rate.

-More than half of the 2.3 million people in prison are non-violent offenders.

The magazine “The Economist” featured a great article on the issue.

Valuing the Puget Sound Basin

23 07 2010

If the Puget Sound Basin were for sale its value would be between $305 billion to $2.6 trillion. We just released the second ecosystem services study for the region with new and improved figures. In the past, we never really needed to value our natural assets because they were abundant. Now, in the 21st century, we live in a world where our natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce. We run the risk of losing our natural resources if we don’t value them. It is Earth Economics’ mission to share with the public, businesses and policy makers the importance in investing in natural capital. Many people choose to stay and live in the Pacific Northwest because of the tremendous beauty that surrounds the area. According to the “Misery Index”, (yes, that’s the name of the index), Seattle has the least ‘miserable’ economy in the nation. Even though the index is only based on unemployment and inflation rates, I immediately thought of the five capitals that are required to secure economic progress and a high quality of life.

1) Built Capital: productive infrastructure of technologies, machines, tools and transport that humans design, build and use for productive purposes.

2) Human Capital: knowledge acquired through education, interpersonal skills.

3) Social Capital: inventory of organizations, institutions, laws, informal social networks and relationships of trust that make up or provide for the productive organization of the economy.

4) Financial Capital:  a subset of social capital. Currency, retirement funds, stocks, bonds and banks all rely on this social trust.

5) Natural Capital: earth’s stock of organic and inorganic materials and energies, both renewable and nonrenewable, as well as the planetary inventory of living biological systems (ecosystems).

Our report, “Valuing the Puget Sound Basin: Revealing our Best Investments“, focuses on natural capital.  Natural systems provide a whole basket of ecosystem services such as flood protection, pollination, drinking water and climate stability. We’ve identified 23 ecosystem services but could only value 14 either because of lack of data and/or simply because no methodology exists to value certain environmental benefits.  The ecosystem services of the Puget Sound Basin we could value came out to be between $9.7 billion and $83 billion every year.

Earth Economics in national and international press!

11 06 2010

As promised in the last post, our report “Gaining Ground – Wetlands, Hurricanes, and the Economy: The Value of Restoring the Mississippi River Delta” has been released in the press.

The response has been astounding, bringing perhaps the most excitement to our little office in at least two years.  First we had an exclusive release in the Washington Post yesterday morning (June 10th).  The report was announced at the State of the Coast conference in Baton Rouge, and from there it has exploded.

Here are just a few articles and interviews:
Washington Post
Los Angeles Times
KING 5 TV interview and article
ABC Australia radio interview
CBS MarketWatch

The Hill (a Congressional newspaper), the Times-Picayune, the Seattle NPR station, a writer for Discovery magazine, and more outlets have requested interviews.  We could hardly be more excited!

Read more information on our report on our main website.
Read the report itself: “Gaining Ground – Wetlands, Hurricanes, and the Economy: The Value of Restoring the Mississippi River Delta

Gaining Ground report cover

What you can do about the oil disaster

3 06 2010

If you’re like us, you have been horrified.  You may have awoken each day shocked and eventually numbed to discover that this geyser, this veritable volcano, this massive expulsion is still happening.  You may have awoken hoping it has just been a long, bad dream.  You were dismayed when the slick began to encroach on the wetlands and hit the Gulf stream.

Most of all, you have wondered “What in the world can I do?”  This disaster seems such an enormously destructive blow to ecosystems, refugia, fisheries, communities, economies, etc. that many of us feel overwhelmed and hopeless, not to mention speechless.

We will soon be releasing a report on the value of the ecosystem services in the Louisiana wetlands.  With this, we hope to secure a transition to sound and sustainable investments and development.  This disaster is taking an enormous toll on communities, livelihoods, and the environment.  However, as is pointed out in our film “What’s the Economy for, Anyway?,” the Exxon-Valdez spill “added more to the GDP than if the oil had made it safely to the refinery.”  It’s high time for economic measures that account for the benefit of healthy habitat, not just the value of the money spent to clean it up.

We’re hoping to offer something of value here.  There is indeed a range of actions you can take, depending on your current capacity.

Many organizations are accepting volunteers.  The really dirty work often requires training, but people are also needed to prepare and serve food to other volunteers and to man phone lines.  Here are a few links:
Deepwater Horizon Response–includes Gulf state-specific links and numbers.
The Audubon Society is matching people to organizations according to abilities and preferences.
LA Gulf Response
Save Our Seabirds, Inc is asking for volunteers to staff their facility in Sarasota, which has a critical shortage due to main staff being pulled away to the oil spill.

Even shorelines which have not yet been impacted by oil can use help.  From the Mobile Baykeeper website:  “The less garbage and debris on shorelines the easier they are to clean up. We know the weather is not going to be friendly, but if you can get to your favorite shoreline today or tomorrow you can help speed up the clean up process.  DO NOT remove any live plants. Simply remove any garbage, large shells, drift wood, etc. Debris should be removed to the extent that wave and tides can reach.”

If you lack the ability to get to the Gulf region, you can still make a difference for your local habitat–and no difference is too small.  Look into your local environmental groups to see if there is a regularly scheduled cleanup.  If not, do it on your own.  You’ll be surprised at the reactions.

Many organizations are also taking in-kind donations.  Towels, buckets, batteries, etc.–even hair clippings and nylons are being sent to aid in cleanup and day-to-day function.  Your donations may go either to this spill response or in preparation for future spills (god forbid) or other rescue work.

Hold BP accountable.  Many organizations are circulating petitions for a number of measures to this end: removing the liability cap on oil companies, preventing a bailout that would fall–again–on the shoulders of taxpayers, and of course, boycotting BP.  However, this last action point may hurt the low-income gas station attendants more than BP itself.

You can contact government officials to demand exploration and development of sustainable energy alternatives.
Tell President Obama
Tell Congress.

Tell your state politicians.  From gather.com: “If you live in Alaska (that’s the Arctic oil drilling mentioned above), DelawareMarylandVirginiaNorth CarolinaSouth CarolinaGeorgia or Florida, where Obama has proposed opening new offshore oil exploration (map), you can also write to your governor and state legislators expressing concerns.  Texas,Louisiana and Alabama have pre-existing offshore oil areas.”
Tell your communities: write a letter to the editor.  Host a community meeting or event.

Channel those feelings of outrage and helplessness into something positive.  Claim your voice.  Even if the difference you make seems minuscule, it is still making a difference.


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