by John Q on July 27, 2006

Brisbane readers of CT should already be aware of the BrisScience lecture series. The speakers so far have all been from the natural sciences, but I’m talking on Monday July 31 at the Ithaca Auditorium, City Hall, on the topic “Economics: The Hopeful Science”. The general theme is that economic progress and environmental sustainability are naturally* complements rather than substitutes.

I’m sure lots of you will want to fly in for this event, but may be concerned about the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, although Australia is not a Kyoto signatory, Australian states are getting into the carbon credit business and (for now at least) it’s surprisingly cheap to offset a long-distance flight. More details here.

*a loaded term which I’ll try to justify in the talk



Steve 07.27.06 at 7:23 am

Surprisingly cheap but interesting nonetheless. According to the website, the carbon load of one long flight (Sidney to London as the example) equals the carbon load of driving two cars for a year. It sounds as if the better tactic to environmentalism than harassing people for the cars they drive, would be harass people into not flying-give up two or three domestic (in the US) flights, and you’ve offset your entire family’s collection of SUVs.



Maynard Handley 07.27.06 at 8:00 am

More to the point, if these lectures are free, then why aren’t they being recorded and made available via streaming or (even better) podcasting?

This raises a general rant I have which is that the rest of the world is constantly whining about US cultural imperialism but does absolutely fsck-all to solve the problem. Pretty much every US university that anyone has ever heard of is now streaming and/or podcasting talks presented there, meaning that anyone in the world can learn the US point of view on things. When it comes to the rest of the world my experience has been that

* Some (but very few) Canadian Universities are doing so
* Gresham college in London is doing so (podcasts not yet working, but promised)
* UWA in Australia is doing so (but in an extremely user-hostile fashion that makes using the site such a pain that no normal human being would put up with it)
* NUS in Singapore is doing so (likewise so painful as to be useless)
* Some consortium of British universities (mainly Glasgow) likewise to painful as to be useless

and that’s pretty much it.


Steve LaBonne 07.27.06 at 8:06 am

Bris Science calls some interesting images to mind…


marcel 07.27.06 at 9:10 am

I have the same response as Steve Labonne. Is Bris Science a Jewish counterpart to Christian Science? I had always thought that a bris involved more art than science.

For those of you who don’t understand this, see

Brit milah

One of the images called to mind is an old Saturday Night Live parody of a TV commercial. The original, for the Lincoln Town Car IIRC, showed a man clad in Hasidic garb cutting a diamond while riding going for a bumpy ride. At the end of the ride, he showed the result to much oohing and aahing. The parody showed a similarly garbed man getting into the car and being handed an infant by his anxious parents. The parody ends with the baby letting out a cry, and the man saying “Poifect!”


Ken Houghton 07.27.06 at 10:17 am

economic progress and environmental sustainability are naturally* complements rather than substitutes

How would this not be true? If economics is a science, it is the science of optimal use of (definitionally scarce) resources.

Otherwise, it’s just the philosophy of why the capital class should be able to leverage their power over workers.


albert 07.27.06 at 11:45 am




Tracy W 07.27.06 at 4:25 pm

Ken – I agree. People make silly arguments about economic progress being incompatible with environmental stuff too. Economic growth is caused by improvements in knowledge. If we run out of oil, or must massively restrict economic development, we may take a massive hit to the level of economic activity, but that doesn’t mean that people will stop looking for better ways to do things.

There may be an argument that moving to environmental sustainability will cause a new political structure that stops people from being able to implement better ways of doing things. The Khmer Rogue managed to stop economic progress. But that requires another political argument as to why environmental sustainability will lead to an end to people being able to gain from their labour and I’ve not yet heard someone make a convincing argument for that.


albert 07.27.06 at 6:32 pm

How would this not be true?

Seriously, is this some ironic in-joke among economists? I’m not getting it.


Alex Gregory 07.28.06 at 4:22 am


Perhaps I have this wrong, but I think the point is that people sometimes associate economics, with, say, capitalism, and in turn they associate this with environmental destruction. But the problem is (the soundness of the previous statement aside) that economics is not the study of capitalism! It’s the study of how to distribute /all/ resources, including environmental ones. That’s why Ken (rightly, I think) points out that by definition economics must be compatible with environmental sustainability.

Perhaps someone will want to correct me on that (I’m no economist!), but that’s how I understand the matter.


Tim Worstall 07.28.06 at 5:17 am

Alex, well, distribution of scarce resources perhaps but yes.

On the carbon offsets. If it’s AU$100 for a car for a year and, let’s say that an SUV is twice the average Australian car, then Ken Livingstone trying to charge 25 pounds a day for an SUV in London in hte name of climate change: well, he’s being a bit expensive, isn’t he?


Alex Gregory 07.28.06 at 7:00 am

On carbon offsets, as far I understand matters, these schemes are viewed with some suspiscion by various groups. See for example this report by Fern.

Anyone with knowledge of the relevant area care to say whether these schemes are as effective as claimed?


albert 07.28.06 at 9:11 am

Thanks Alex. I kinda suspected as much, but it seems a bit hubristic of economists (or at least orthodox economists) to say such. Looking in from outside it appears a rather facile expression of disciplinary ideology. Ecologists, for example, would likely claim the same thing, but advocate very different actions.

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