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Econlib QuickPicks- Can Economics Help Save the Earth?


Young climate change activist Greta Thunberg has taken the world by storm this month. When Greta asserts, " are never too small to make a difference," we couldn't agree more. Of her claim, "Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money," we're less sure.

Climate and the environment have long been topics of discussion at Econlib, and those contributing to our conversations are far from agreement. There are a few things we do feel sure about, however. We feel sure that markets can play a role in conserving and caring for our environment. And we're sure that anyone offering policy prescriptions- in this or any area- ought to be thinking about unintended consequences.

We hope you find this month's collection useful for sparking conversation. We'd love to get your feedback. Stories, photos, and anecdotes are always welcome. Please share with us on social media or via

(By the way, we'd love to know what future QuickPicks topics you'd like to see. Drop us a line with your suggestions today.)

Nordhaus vs the UN on Climate Change
William Nordhaus was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics for his pioneering work on the economics of climate change... Although Nordhaus favors a carbon tax to slow climate change, his own model shows that the UN’s target would make humanity poorer than doing nothing at all about climate change. 
Podcast: The Environment and Property Rights
Terry Anderson, Distinguished Fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about free-market environmentalism, the dynamics of the Yellowstone ecosystem, and how property rights can protect natural resources.
Think Globally: Act Irrationally: Recycling
The claims for recycling rest on an assumed, if not always articulated, moral imperative rather than on trade-offs or costs. But underlying this claim, for many people at least, is some murky idea that recycling ‘uses up’ fewer resources than making things from scratch.
Tragedy of the Commons
In 1974 the general public got a graphic illustration of the “tragedy of the commons” in satellite photos of the earth. Pictures of northern Africa showed an irregular dark patch 390 square miles in area. Ground-level investigation revealed a fenced area inside of which there was plenty of grass. Outside, the ground cover had been devastated.
Recycling is appealing because it seems to offer a way to simultaneously reduce the amount of waste disposed in landfills and save natural resources... Recycling, however, may not be efficient or even environmentally helpful. What have we gotten wrong?
Podcast: The Tragedy of the Commons and Environmental Regulation
Bruce Yandle of Clemson University  looks at the tragedy of the commons and the various ways that people have avoided the overuse of resources that are held in common. Yandle talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the historical use of norms, cooperative ventures such as incorporating a river, the common law, and top-down command-and-control regulation to reduce air and water pollution.
Elephants, Lions, and Hunters? Oh, my!
This EconTalk Extra goes with an episode that asks a seemingly paradoxical question- can hunting wild animals help save them? 
Free-Market Environmentalism

FME emphasizes markets as a solution to environmental problems. Proponents argue that free markets can be more successful than government—and have been more successful historically—in solving many environmental problems. 

Drive to Work. Don't Walk
According to Richard McKenzie, walking can be 1.5 times more polluting than driving. How can this be??? 
The Costs and Benefits of Attacking Climate Change
Bjorn Lomborg, President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, talks about the costs and benefits of attacking climate change with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Lomborg argues that we should always be aware of tradeoffs and effectiveness when assessing policies to reduce global warming. He advocates for realistic solutions that consider the potential to improve human life in other ways. 
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