Environmental discussion tackles pressing issues

By Eion ONeill
September 15, 2010

The cause of global warming is a question Dr. Eric Malm, assistant professor of business administration in Cabrini’s business department, tried to help a crowded Mansion sunroom understand during his talk hosted by Cabrini Diversity Initiatives.

Using Cabrini’s emphasis on social justice, Malm hit home by stating, “Social justice is at the center of all environmental issues. It’s impacting people today all over the world. We need to remember others.”

Students got a whirlwind tour of environmental economics that Malm made interactive and fun.

“Economics talk about environment externalities. Externalities have unforeseen or uncompensated effects on someone else,” Malm said.

To bring such a point into context, Malm gave a situation in which his cars exhaust backfires on a child with asthma. The consequence is that the child may get an asthma attack.

However, to an economist, there is a cost imposed on that child when the car backfires. Even though lives are priceless, economists still look at the financial cost.

Malm then brought up the BP oil spill and asked the question, “What costs were associated with the BP oil spill?”

The Gulf was not the only locale where the costs can be high, noting that natural gas drilling in rural areas tampers with the water supply where many residents rely on private wells for their cooking, cleaning and drinking.

Such an example was personal to sophomore mathematics major, Jessica Hubal, who in a Facebook private message stated, “I am from a rural area in which these natural gas drillings are mainly taking place. It was helpful to gain more knowledge on that area so I can better understand what is occurring in my hometown.”

“Pollution is the most common example of externality,” Malm said.

When it comes to natural resources, nobody owns them.

“Who owns the air? Right now, the United States uses a lot of fossil fuels. We rank one percent of the use of the fossil fuels and only five percent of the population,” Malm said. “We don’t like to talk about our decisions having consequences. We pollute, somebody dies, that’s a part of the story.”

Malm then concluded his speech with the thought that environmentalism today was depressing and offered some hopeful solutions for the problems our planet and our human race faces. Among the solutions, working closely with other countries to make a true impact was the biggest idea.

“We need to talk about it and do something about it,” Malm said.

As the students filed out, the charismatic business professor stacked chairs and stated how his love for environmental economics began.

“I started studying environmental economic issues 20 years ago,” Malm said, noting that he did an independent study on the subject and was greatly inspired by the books, “The Limit to Growth” by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William W. Behrens III and “The Ultimate Resource” by Julian Simon.

“I was hoping that students would think about environmentalism as a social justice issue,” Malm said after his speech.

Senior business major Shannon Mulhern said in response to the speech that she would “look into companies that benefit the environment rather than self profit.”

“I learned a little bit about global warming through an economists lens,” Mulhern said.

“If people focus on positive things they can do as an individual, and talk, we as a society can and should be doing, framing environmental issues in a social justice context is something less depressing,” Malm said.

Eion ONeill

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