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143. Why Bad Environmentalism Is Such an Easy Sell

2013-10-24 | 🔗
Being green is rarely a black-and-white issue -- but that doesn't stop marketers and politicians from pretending it is.
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I now continue. The fight learn more at three m dot com, slash covert. Please identify yourself name rank serial number, whatever version of rank answer Number you convey, I'm a laser. The Fred Melanie Glim Professor Economics, at Harvard Warehouse Direct, the town centre for state local government in the rapporteur, should for greater boss. You said few times before. The short version is the egg. Glaser is an economist at Harvard and he studies a number of interesting things, but his obsession seems to be with the city. In fact, we did another podcast with him a couple years ago called why cities rock Glaser looks at cities from a number of angles, how they deal with using booms and busts how they incubate ideas and wealth. How much cities pollute compared to suburban and rural areas.
Glaser argues that cities are in fact very green, primarily because it You live in a city. You share, so many resources with so many other people, so Ed Glaser is what you might call an urban environmentalists. It is not, as you can imagine and overcome field. So I was interested to see a new paper that Glaser row called the supply of environmentalism. What does he mean by that The conversation starts here I actually do believe that almost all environmentalists are motivated by relatively benign forces and they're trying to do good for the woman. I do not think on NET environmentalism, Isn t good for us, I believe, on net. It is theirs it, but isn't there you're just waiting for the bad, but I do said in the sales pitch in the persuasion process, inevitably decision rules get simplified. Inevitably, we move things down to sound bite, remove things down too simple impact
patients, and sometimes these just mean that we get results that are less than perfect? In some cases, we results that are completely the reverse of what we wanted. I'm happy from the w, and my see this is free economics, radio, the package that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host, Stephen governor. today we're talking with the economist at Glaser about what he calls the supply of environmentalists. What does that mean? Gleeson believes that most environmentalism is based on good intentions, but for a number of reasons
Environmental messaging can be counterproductive. Let's get specific. What's the greenest thing you can think of off the top your head, I may be walking riding a bike instead of using something with an engine me, that's a very greenish thing that comes to mind. What's the second or third, what's the night teeth, greenest thing you can think of? Maybe it's been blue yeah bamboo now here The commercial for bamboo from an australian retailer called attitude. The commercial features, a talking panda and, as the panda tells us Bamboo is preventive degrees. Bamboo is great for the earth because, once its cut down It grows back quickly, which means it's a great renewable resource. It also doesn't need,
has decided that allows us to grow and soak up nitrates from the soil, which makes for a clean and happy its greater. The bamboo has become a ubiquitous ingredient. Lately you can buy bamboo flooring for your house, bimbo dishes in cutlery, sheets and towels, made from bamboo even deodorant in toys. paper, brand name, Bum Boucher, One reason the bamboo has become so popular is that it's an easily renewable source and therefore its easy on the environment, but is it really in terms of the conversations around bamboo. What surprising is that it seems like people really fixated on that single attribute, that it grows fast and
in some ways we should know better than that? That's Catherine funnels with dovetail partners, therein, environmental think tank in Minneapolis Dovetail published a report called bamboo flooring in. our mental silver bullet or foe Savior, just because bamboo grows fast Vernal says, does not make it a miracle. Crop is all kinds of a girl fast core and grows fast, and we ve heard all of the negative impacts of some types of ethanol production. So that's what surprising is withheld sophisticated environmental conversations have become too often still we judge go back to single attributes, and we forget to look at the whole context of how things are produced. The context of bamboo production furnace says is a bit more complicated. os bamboo to be economical for an export market is going to be cultivated in intensive way, and so there generally means monoculture. It's gonna be one species in or maybe a few different species, but all bamboo inequality,
it'd area and most likely with intensive imports like fertilizers and chemicals to boost productivity. So what else do we not talk about when we talk about them? Well, most bamboo products are imported from, Asia were increased. Demand can lead to deforestation and other unsustainable practices, and just because This is made from bamboo or promoted as being from bamboo, doesn't necessarily make it so green turning all that bamboo into all those products means going through the typical manufacturing processes which involve plenty of additives and hazardous chemicals. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission find or national retailers. A million dollars for falsely marketing fabrics made from bamboo as environmentally friendly f, TC bout of cleverness had a warning for consumers. Dont get Bamboozle
This brings us back to a Blazers point. The fact is that it's easy to be bamboozled, because it feels so good to be told that the things we like to do aren't bad for the environment, for kids and grandkids. We all want clean air and leafy forests, and Christine Lakes, which means there's a lot of demand for the supply of environmentalism, not all of which, unfortunately, is, is green. As it sounds. Here's a greater again, I walk through three cases in the paper about things that have been clearly part of environmental campaigns. Add two of them. I think I was just being less than perfect recycling and hybrid cars, and one of which, I think of as being
some cases downright counterproductive, witches local opposition to new construction, particularly in greater San Francisco, org or law or greater California. Add I'd like to ask you now to just back up and give me a very brief thumbnail of each of those so talk to me about the lesson perfect outcome of recycling, for instance. So recycling. This is an old idea among Economist Darby, as the person is associated with it, the point being that if you what you care about, is the number, trees in the world. You actually want people to use more paper rather than last because in the long run, the demand for paper determines the stock of trees because fundamentally as a renewable resource and you have to plant more trees in order to get more paper. Not that isn't true if the paper is being produced from first growth. For us, if paper feels more like where fishing from a common pool that isn't true, but that's not actually how paper is produced in the? U S is actually produced in these renewable far so pushing people to recycle, more doesn't necessarily do anything good in terms
forests, and indeed, if you want more trees, use more paper now the flip side. Of that. The reason why that's a little bit too glib is that, of course, there still is potential for energy savings in recycling, Michel or other potential advantages from from recycling and anyway, I'm just talking about paper. I'm not talking about plastic any of the other things, so I wouldn't trying. say that I'm I'm trying to beat the band against against recycling, but it is clear that many of the reasons why recycling is how recycling sold, often with this, you know save a tree, dont recycled, get it you'll, get it backwards that actually it's the it's, the people are using more paper that are actually encouraging people to supply more treason similar to that the point about vegetarian the number of animals right I mean if we wanted to make sure there were no pigs on this world. We wouldn t start eating a lot of pigs. We would stop beating pigs another classic recycling argument. Is you know, that's a paper or p stick CUP, verses, ceramic mug and its held by many people that its somewhat close to ascend to use a disposable cup when
You have a ceramic when at your disposal, and yet you have to consider The energy associate with the ceramic mug now only making it and how long lessons on, but every time you wash the hot water consumers and, where that water, how that water's produced the electricity come from the detergent in the in the drainage agents when using the water with which to wash it the time involved and sullen verses, throwing away a paper cup What do you know about that beyond what I just blathers, where you stand on that fact, so, oh, I think I'm not gonna take a stand specifically on. Recycle cups was not, but I know that what as economist we would tell people is too, you know perfectly calculate deferred environment have said everything that you're doing it and make the appropriate choice. taking that into account. We also know that that's an absurd thing for people to say in part of the recycling stories that we boil things down to a sound bite. I e please recycle and, as it is,
we don't necessarily get always the perfect outcome, so it may be that most of the time using these ramming cup is actually the right thing to do, but the Shirley or cases where it's not and we don't have any ability to new acts because we're following a bright light role and we could go on and on electric hand, dryers in a bathroom versus paper, towels and probably a hundred other examples. The bottom line is I certainly don't know I'm guessing you dont know. Somebody probably knows if they take a lot of time to figure out each case. But your point is a larger one. Yes, yes, it is. It sits at the because it's works with his public market. You inevitably get towards simple bright line rules. You know, some of which can be imperfect. Coming up on for economics, radio, why electric cars might make us drive more and why new construction in San Francisco, for instance, is greener,
When you think here is probably the area in which I, both at least convinced by the pure benevolence of the persuade hers and most convinced that the effects are actually counterproductive. From an environmental point of Economics. Radio, sponsored by wonder is business movers podcast when cocoa Allah changed their recipe to what they called new Coke in nineteen. The five the backlash was swift and severe, and yet the man who drove the change Chairman Robert, always wetter, pulled new coke from the shelves. in a matter of months, wonder is business movers explores boys what is controversial decision and the public response, but the real story of new Coke is far
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to your bank account on you reschedule see all the ways Square can health at square dot com slash, go slash freak, though nonsense, from W and Y see. This is for economics, radio. Here's, your host, Stephen Governor Ed Glaser today is telling us that environmental messaging can be sub standard and yet will still consume it hungrily, because we're so eager to believe it. You want me to use bamboo a nice green, leafy grass said I could practically pull out of the ground with my bare hands instead of lumber! That comes from some big hard barkie tree. That needs a chainsaw burning gas and oil to cut down sure I use bamboo now, obviously we're all susceptible to marketing message.
But just because someone says something doesn't make it true. For example, I am a cat, I'm a cat I am a cat ring, I'm not a cat to add Glaser one of trickiest environmental messages of the moment concerns electric cars, now, one of the things it's interesting about cars, it Harkin's back to perhaps the greatest hit of environmental and energy economics, which is the Germans paradox which Stanley javelins great observation that between seventeen fifth the age of the new common engine in eighteen. Fifty steam engines in the United Kingdom had become wildly more efficient, much better moving things with smaller and smaller amounts of coal being burnt. Now you might have thought that this would create a rat reduction in the use of coal, and indeed all fears that the UK would mine.
self out would have vanished in the rise of all this energy efficient engines, but of course the opposite was happening that what those more efficient engines we're doing, what the age of Bolton in what was creating was a whole world built around the steam engine. That meant that, instead of using call. We were using more and more cold because of the behavioral response, and I think one of the reasons why Jeff is so popular because he really focuses on what economist care about most, which is the behavioral response to changes in conditions. Though just think about that the Germans paradox is closely tied. Oh, how we think about cafe. Standards for cars or other forms of energy efficiency so you're implying here. Let's say we could convert our internal combustion engine fleet right now of how many hundreds of millions of vehicles that is, with a few hybrids, an electric thrown in around the edges, to an entirely electrically tomorrow it. So we could push a magical which your warning is that, because the electric or would seem to be so environmentally friendly. It will produce an
over supply of wealth. It would benefit. People drive a whole lot more. Yes, that's that's where he doesn't even have to do with, because it seems environmentally friendly. It's because it so much cheaper. So typically, let's applied Germans to normal mile per gallon gas powered com. So, typically, what you need is for, what's called a rebound effect, which is the amount of extra miles per gallon increase for the spectral reduction in the cost of driving. What you need to have the direct effect of reducing the mileage of cars not be overwhelmed by the behavioral blow back. Is you need that elastic city to be less than one meaning that you can't have two big of a behavioral response? Typically, the estimates of this rebound effect are that it substantially less than one short run. Effects are maybe as little as a quarter larger and more effects can be a little bit more than a half studies differ, but either most. People think that, as cars have become more efficient, we have genuinely had a reduction in gas mileage. Although it is certainly true that over the past thirty years we ve take,
a lot of our more fuel efficient engines and then put them in heavier and heavier cars or cars with more more horsepower swedes have certainly undone a fair amount of it. now, it's interesting about electric cars. Is it because they use a totally different technology? They bow to reduce the cost to driving a mile and also they change the environmental footprint they reduce, both, both of which is a good thing, but they reduce the cost per mile by a lot substantially more than they reduce the environmental footprint self in I walk through some estimates, but you know eighty can be that the key per mile of driving. Something like a task lies a quarter to a fifth of the cost per my, and this is, of course, the marginal cost is not taking into account the up front caused by the car, but a quarter to a fifth of the marginal cost driving a gasket car now by comparison, the carbon emissions related to driving is much less annual reduction. It is a substantial reduction, but much less than that's it you're pushing so strongly on the cost that its easier to imagine that an all electric fleet could have a big enough rebound effect.
to offset it now, I'm not sure I believe that, but it is something actually to worry about in terms of the impact of this year. Thirty, simple in the paper has to do with development regulations. Can you talk is through that? Yes in so here is I will be the area in which I both him and least convinced by the pure benevolence of the persuaded, and most convinced that the effects are actually counterproductive from an environmental point of view. So the point is that there are certain parts of the country like San Francisco that are intrinsically incredibly green. If you just think about the climate of San Francisco, it requires very little heating in the winter and very little cooling in the summer and parts of the older is accordance. Areas are also endowed with excellent public transit and, as a result, in a building more housing. There.
It's about the green spot in the country in which you could do so now. You would think that environmentalists who are interested in minimizing America's carbon footprint would therefore be beating the band to increase the amount of production around the San Francisco Bay, because indeed it's just at production that will ensure that we live in an area that is environmentally sensitive rather than an area that is environmentally difficult. But of course the opposite is the case. For forty five years, San Francisco has been a centre for environmental activism that was focused on restricting building in greater San Francisco, and it became increasingly difficult to build in San Francisco. This Supreme Court of California also help with the friends of mammoth case, which required and environmental impact of you for any large scale. Development in California and those environmental impact of these are intrinsically flawed, because what they do is they ask about the local environmental impact of the project, but not the global environmental impact of not building the project, because every time you say no to a project in greatest San Francisco,
it means that you are saying yes to a project somewhere else right I mean the rate of house information, the. U S doesn't get to be determined in San Francisco; they just get determined without it happens there. So, if you turn off building in Berkeley, it turns on outside of Houston, turns on outside of LAS Vegas and in order to ask So, whether not this local environmentalism is good environmentalism, you have to compare the carbon emissions associated with building in Houston versus building in San Francisco, and I think what you start doing, that the opposition's of local building and in coastal California like they have it backwards, so that is fascinating and it makes sense on the other hand, we really on that kind of environmental issue. We can't professed to be that surprised. Can we because this is basic nimby ism? Isn't it? I dont want yes, course I'm an environmentalist enlist, you, my environmentalism requires me to do something right here. That affects me in a poor way. Now some people are incredibly selfless, an altruistic and em.
but probably most of us kind of constantly juggle. We want what's good for the world, but we specially want what's good for ourselves and our families, so can you really lump in? Let's say that kind of anti development fervour with the same I have brought environmental messaging. That may be more generally about generally about energy. Early about recycling or generally about you know that the advantages of one kind of energy verses- another where I think you're exactly ride in that it is precisely because it is motivated by fairly personal issues rather than a generic altruism. That is been more likely to not be to the environmental good. I think that you're right in terms of lumping together. I think all of this stuff is on a continuum, so I dont think of this has been radically different. I think of ass, my neighbours who are opposing development for allegedly environmental reasons. They would think that
We are thinking globally enacting part of exactly the same crusade as in some sense, the job of the economist is to create something of a hypocrisy tax write to say you can oppose the development budget can pretend you doing good for the environment at least is that what you're trying to do is to make your own commute a little bit easier or do not have to deal with a construction on your street corner you're not allowed to pretend that you're doing good for the world by doing it got sets a great way of putting, because I think that's a struggle that that most right minded. People haven't, let's assume from the moment that a hundred percent of us are right minded. We want what's good ourselves and our families and the ones we love and we want to play everyone else not very much. right, let let let's say that's a case, and yet I guess what I'm taking from hearing you talk. Is that, message of environmentalism is too often the bright line or the black his white, that doesn't allow for that contradiction to kind of live within us? I think that's probably right and that we
shall we be most aware of environmental messages when they are sold by people of an obvious personal interest in it? it makes sense, does not follow the money and follow the incentives like earlier when we're talking about bamboo, the Anti bamboo sentiment came from dovetail partners, which is quote putting itself a trusted source of environmental information. Now their arguments against bamboo some perfectly legitimate, but we should note that, among, tell partners? Many sponsors are the American? Would council the Forest Landowners Association, the kind of folks who might not be crazy about all that vision, bamboo being turned into floorboards and toilet paper, and if you think the incentives get
murky in marketing? Just look at how environmental ideas are handled in politics. Remember when ethanol made from corn was thought to be the next great green energy breakthrough. Ethanol turned out not b as green as promised and I'm sure you'll be shocked to know some of the politicians who subsidized it had their own incentives. Al Gore back when he was vice president, was a big supportive ethanol subsidies for corn farmers, but a few years ago, and an energy conference in Athens Gore admitted that it had been a bad people So why do you support it? One of the reasons I made that mistake he said is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I have a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa, because I was about to run for president okay. Give them into points are being honest, at least right now, if we can only get that
pander to come clean about bamboo pay, packets listeners next week on the show we revisit one of our most popular episodes. It's about the value of a college degree. Now we all know that a real college degree is expensive but faked degree it's pretty cheap and pretty easy to come by. We negotiated the place for my bachelors masters and doktor it with no work whatsoever. Wait you bought a bachelors masters and doktor all at once. Shore triple combo haven't backdated. You know with transcript. What's a college degree really worth that's next time and for economics, radio,
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-14.