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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

John Whitehead's Excellent Academic Adventures

John Whitehead continues his series describing his adventures at academic conferences. I think he has more fun at these conferences than I do. Sort of:

I'm in NOLA, by John Whitehead: I'm in New Orleans, LA for the CNREP 2007 -- Second National Forum on Socioeconomic Research in Coastal Systems. If you check out the agenda you'll notice that I'm scheduled to present something within the next hour or so. I hope. Presently I'm curled in a fetal ball at the Royal Sonesta Hotel suffering from a bout of anxiety. I'm not good enough, no one likes me, etc.

On the brighter side, I've been scouring Bourbon Street for the sort of place that attendees of the Southern Economic Association conference in November 2007 should not frequent. I'll provide a detailed list later this week. In the meantime, here is the short list: 1. Bourbon Street.

As part of the scouring, I had a dinner meeting with Craig Landry, co-author of the #2 downloaded paper in MRE last year, Paul Hindsley and Paul Bin. While we discussed current projects that we are working on, our thoroughly developed presentations for the conference and traded notes about places to avoid on Bourbon Street, he made it clear that it was a gross oversight to not mention the name of the co-author of the #2 downloaded paper in MRE last year in my post on the Environmental Economics blog. I hope this post undoes some of the damage done yesterday.

John is referring to this post, "I'm #8." Let's move on to his presentation. First, upon awakening the morning of his presentation, John learns about monopoly power:

The demand for water on Bourbon St., by John Whitehead: As everyone knows, I'm in NOLA this week, staying at The Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street.

The hotel provides liters of Evian Natural Spring Water in each hotel room for $6/liter. When I soberly arrived I thought this a ridiculous price. Odd that my demand changed after a night prowling Bourbon St. Upon awakening this morning I demanded the entire liter and just as advertised, "detox with evian," I felt much better and quite able to suffer through my 20 minute presentation (the audience suffered even more!).

I'm working on my list of places to avoid as a public service for 2007 SEA and 2008 ASSA attendees. Number one of my list of places to avoid is Johnny White's on Bourbon Street. It is a simple bar that doesn't smell bad, it has no room for a bad cover bands (and the associated bad dancing), everyone is fully clothed and they sell Abita beer at reasonable prices. Avoid this place!

And his arrival at the conference room is also a learning experience:

Things not to do at a conference, by John Whitehead:

  1. When you enter the room where you will give your talk and there are two other speakers and a few members of the audience, don't announce that your talk is going to be the best one.
  2. When the moderator arrives, introduces himself to all the speakers and tells them they have 20-25 minutes, don't announce that you're going to need more time than that to cover your topic.
  3. When you are listening to the lunchtime speaker in a side room with an obstructed view, upon completion of the talk, don't lean over to the person sitting next to you who couldn't see and say "That was so weird, I've never seen a lunchtime speaker give his talk with his shirt off before."

I tried some of these things and not everyone thinks they are as funny as I do.

And later, he shares some of his wisdom as he participates on an expert panel:

I'm an expert panelist, by John Whitehead: I participated on a socioeconomic panel today at CNREP 2007:

Planning for Restoration and Sustainability - V

This session will be the culmination of a five-track series at CNREP 2007 that will focus on the current status and challenges of integrating the social sciences into coastal restoration and protection programs. This session will feature a panel discussion of the socioeconomic implications of coastal restoration at the ecosystem scale in Louisiana, with particular emphasis on the State Master Plan of the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, the Coastal Impact Assistance Program Draft Plan, and the integration of these efforts with ongoing restoration programs...

Here are the questions that we were asked to address and my answers:

1)  How do we define and quantify community/cultural sustainability?

Hmmm. The overriding issue of the conference is wetlands restoration. My experience with wetlands valuation is that those closest to wetlands have never gotten over the name change from "swamps" to "wetlands." Hence, those stakeholders in the local communities don't value these things. Wetland values accrue mostly to non-locals. The definition of community must be extended to include all those that value wetlands for whatever reason.

2)  How can we quantify the effects of restoration and protection activities on communities, e.g. fisheries effects as opposed to effects on coastal habitats or habitat suitability ?

No one on the panel dared venture into specifics without the promise of a consulting fee.

3)  How can these methods be applied rapidly to support planning activities, and built upon for final decisions on project design?

"These methods"? See question #5. My answer after a bit on #5: benefit transfer. I boasted that I could rank a large number of wetlands restoration projects in under a minute.

4 ) Social sciences are currently under-represented in our discussions of advancing "science and technology".  (a) What critical advancements in analytical tools and methodologies are needed to support program implementation?  (b) Are there any analytical innovations that can be made quickly (6-12 months) to support program prioritization and sequencing?

(a) we all agreed: nothing new is needed to enable social scientists to provide information that would help make these decisions. I wish I used this quote:

Without determination and a strong will, nothing can be achieved. Determination is one of the secrets of success. Those who work hard are crowned with success, others are like cats that wish to eat fish but dare not wet their feet.

(b) Benefit transfer

5 ) Integration of these two major water resources programs requires carefully balancing multiple, often competing, objectives.  (a) What methods are most promising for integrating public and stakeholder values directly into Louisiana's restoration and protection decision making processes?  (b) From what was presented in the talks and your experience, what is good about public and stakeholder interaction in coastal Louisiana and what could use improvement?

(a) Benefit cost analysis ... with benefits measured based on economic theory. In other words, benefits are equal to the net willingness and ability to pay and can be measured with property value studies, recreation studies, stated preference studies. I couldn't resist a cheap shot at ecological economists who develop environmental values ignoring substitutes and budget constraints ... all the while saying that efficiency analysis is one part of the decision making information.

Which all leads me to a softening of my position on ecological economic valuations. These things seem to get in right at least ordinally. That is, we ought to be able to rank the value of diverse natural environments and resources using these methods. Sometimes, the public gets things wrong due to imperfect information, etc. For example, a pretty wetland might provide fewer wetland functions than an ugly wetland but a stated preference survey might put the pretty wetland at the top of the list.

Ecologists who do valuation are able to get the ecology right so I'm adding them to my list of puzzle pieces. But please don't (a) compare these values to costs in a benefit cost analysis or (b) compare these values to world GDP or the NJ construction industry to attempt to show how important the environment is. This comparisons don't have much meaning.

(b) Shirley and Dave lamented the lack of social scientists drafted to help make policy decisions -- too many economists are in the room (the rest of the panel are economists). I agreed, stating the env-econ familiar theme that economists are good at efficiency analyses and shouldn't be troubled to worry about equity and/or distributional impacts (although we can do economic impact studies just fine). Bring in the anthropologists and sociologists, etc to identify when policies that move society toward greater economic efficiency generate gross inequities and we can try to avoid those policies.

Dang, I wish I had actually said all that.

    Posted by on Tuesday, May 22, 2007 at 04:00 PM in Economics, Environment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (2)


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