Determining pollution problems and costs in the United States (or any country) may appear relatively simple. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. In reality, there is generally a lack of accurate and comprehensive information on the condition of the environment in industrialized countries (and even more so in developing countries). In general, a lack of sufficient understanding by scientists of environmental phenomena and the elements in which to measure them still does not allow a comprehensive definition and evaluation of critical data. For example, it is easy to estimate the cost to fishers who have a reduced catch based on industrial pollution in the waters. But there are other, less straightforward costs to be considered, such as the loss of recreational opportunities on those waters and the loss of consumers in the consumption of those fish. In addition, it is difficult to know whether all the pollution came from industry, or whether other sources such as agricultural
runoff were just as guilty. On the positive side, sufficient data are available that can be used to evaluate the major sources of pollution.
One way to measure pollution is to place a price on it. Under such a system, anyone could emit pollution as long as one paid a set price for it. In this way, an approximate marginal social cost of pollution is established and decisions can be made based on that knowledge. Pricing pollution can simplify the process of dealing with pollution, and in the long run, provide a comprehensive and efficient way of handing the problem.
Any effort to restore and maintain the integrity of the environment imposes a burden on society with respect to additional costs. The magnitude and complexity of those costs are of great importance. To understand these costs and the benefits that a better environment can provide to society, economists study and analyze pollution through the methods of environmental economics. By doing this, society, in general, is forced to question the relationship between the institutions of society and the environment. In no certain terms is that relationship an easy one to study; it also makes a final determination of short-term—and even more difficult—long-term solutions hard to ascertain.
How can society best establish a high quality of life? The answer might be to enjoy pure mountain streams, breathe in clean air, and hike in pristine forests; the answer, however, might also be to enjoy good food and drink, comfortable housing, and convenient transportation systems. Environmental economics helps to determine the combination that individuals or groups believe is most desirable. see also Cost-benefit Analysis; Energy Efficiency; Enforcement; Ethics; Lifestyle; NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement); Poverty; WAste, International Trade in. Bibliography
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Gilpin, Alan. (2000). Environmental Economics: A Critical Overview. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
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Global Network of Environmental Economists Web site. Available from http:// www.feem.it/gnee.
William Arthur Atkins
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