GMOs in Happyville

In a paper published in 1992, Paul R. Portney told a nice story about a fictitious town called Happyville. In that story, the director of a local environmental protection authority faces an uneasy task: he has to make a decision about whether to treat water to remove a natural contaminant Happyville’s residents believe to cause cancer. However, according to experts, it is highly unlikely that the contaminant has any adverse health effects–which the residents refuse to accept. Water treatment imposes costs. Eventually, it is the science-denying residents who would pay them. But the director knows that this would be irrational. What should he do, then? Refuse following the irrationality of the public? Or accept people’s will despite knowing that they are effectively harming themselves? There is no simple answer to that. And, obviously, Portney’s story is not just a nice gedankenexperiment, as it has, e.g., obvious relevance for policies related to genetically engineered food crops. Continue reading


Want to Save the World? Start in China

Within a few days, Yale e360 published two extremely interesting analyses of China’s recent environmental and social problems: China’s Great Dam Boom by Charlton Lewis and China at Crossroads by Ed Grumbine. Both fascinating in their own right, these articles show that if you want to save the world from a looming environmental catastrophe, you have to start in China. Continue reading

The Yasuní-ITT Failure

The Yasuní-ITT Initative was a project I have felt deeply connected with. I wrote my quite successful master’s thesis about this Ecuadorian rainforest. I still find the underlying idea of integrating environmental protection, (implicit) biodiversity valuation, development aid and support of indigenous poples great. Alas, the international community wasn’t convinced, obviously. Ecuador’s unique biodiversity hotspot and home to still uncontacted indigenous tribes has lost another battle against disinterest, parochialism, the economic crises of the present and short-sightedness on the side of developed-world decision makers (particularly the German minister for development cooperation, Dirk Niebel). Continue reading

Lessons from Doha

Last week, the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar went to an end. Similar to most of the COPs held since 1994, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, it was not successful – unless you count as success the fact that it did not end in disaster. As a Polish commentator put it, the COP18 saved the international community’s honour, but it did not save the climate. Continue reading

It’s deliberative democracy, stupid!

There is a common foundation of most, maybe even all problems I deal with in this blog. The foundation is a somewhat metaphysical one and regards the ethical categories “right” and “wrong”. Indeed, what we do about climate change, whether we engage in genetic engineering, whether and how we should achieve sustainability – all these questions boil down to “What is right?” and the way this basic question can and should be answered. Continue reading

Yasuní – A Model for the Future?

How much is a pristine ecosystem worth to us? And a stable climate? These are questions that are very controversial among many environmentalists, as I recently discussed. However, economic valuation of Nature and its “services” is not just a theoretical possibility, it is a fact. A particularly interesting example of an (implicit) valuation of an ecosystem is the Ecuadorian Yasuní-ITT Initiative. Continue reading

Rio+20 Sum-Up

The much awaited (though recently rather with a lot of pessimism) Rio+20 “Earth Summit” came to an end. Instead of commenting myself on all the things which went wrong (and the few that weren’t as bad), I would like to provide links to commentaries made before, during and after the Summit that give a fair account of what happened and how to interpret the failures of the international community to commit to saving our planet. Also, they provide an outlook on what developments we may expect in the near future.

Elinor Ostrom Green from the Grassroots

Sunita Narain Beyond Rio+20

Jagdish Bhagwati Rio’s Unsustainable Nonsense

Kristen Sheeran From Top-Down to Bottom-Up: New Directions for Climate at Rio+20

George Monbiot Rio+20 draft text is 283 paragraphes of fluff

From now on, you can use “Rio+20” as a synonym for “failure”.