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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Stiglitz’

. . . and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, no less.

Commodities and basic resources (like water and good arable land) are in increasingly short supply worldwide, notes the Journal. And while we’ve managed to avoid the wholesale disasters Malthusians have regularly warned against in the two centuries since Thomas Malthus wrote, this time, say authors Justin Lahart, Patrick Barta and Andrew Batson, things could be different.

One issue, they say, is that we already appear to have pushed the earth past a tipping point on climate change. Quoting Dennis Meadows, co-author of the 1970’s classic, “The Limits to Growth,” the article suggests that “environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even ‘if you quit damaging the environment.'”

The threats we currently face may, as in the past, spur technological innovations that enable both human populations and their living standards to keep growing. But unless and until that happens, competition for scarce resources will mean that “violent conflicts could ensue,” the article notes.

It’s interesting to see carbon-tax proponent Joesph Stiglitz quoted so much in the article as an authority and to see that the Journal takes human-caused global warming as, essentially, a fact.

All in all, it’s a clear-eyed look at the global-scale economic and political challenges we face when it comes to the distribution of our most fundamental resources. Although hardly revelatory, its conclusion is still welcome:

Indeed, the true lesson of Thomas Malthus, an English economist who died in 1834, isn’t that the world is doomed, but that preservation of human life requires analysis and then tough action.

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The New York Times reports today on the extraordinary impact that charging a 33c tax on plastic bags has had in Ireland. The bags are now all but gone from the country and no-one, it seems, is complaining.

Significantly, buying a plastic bag hasn’t been made illegal in Ireland. But soon after the tax came into effect some five years ago, says the article, “carrying them became socially unacceptable.”

It’s a useful illustration of the power of state fiscal policy to encourage environmentally beneficial behavior without having to go so far as banning anything. What Ireland did is arguably preferable, for example, to San Francisco’s decision to ban plastic bags outright.

The experience also points to the potential power of taxation to change environmentally-destructive behavior on a wider scale. A popular candidate tax is a universal carbon tax, as proposed by the likes of Noble prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. As the comments in reply to Stiglitz’s Guardian article suggest, though, he’s not convinced everyone and there remain enormous barriers to getting all nations and all non-state actors on board.

The plastic bag story gains poignancy, however, when read with Dominique Browning’s affecting op ed in today’s Times about a trip to see retreating glaciers in Patagonia. Here’s how she starts the piece:

“THE most striking thing about the drive out of El Calafate on the way to the Patagonian glaciers is the trash. Sheer, flimsy, white plastic bags, tens of thousands of them, are strewn across acres of land. ”

Let’s hope at the very least that people in Ireland will soon start talking to people in Argentina . . .

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