At a recent reunion of alumni from PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute, Jeff Masten (class of 2008) took us back to our childhood memories, thinking of environmentalists as either Eeyore or Tigger. To understand his profound analogy, recall that Eeyore is one of Winnie the Pooh’s friends, a pessimistic stuffed donkey who sees a world of problems, whereas Tigger is an optimistic stuffed tiger who energetically bounds around on his tail.
Here is how Jeff explained his analogy. “For years in the nonprofit world I noticed that there were generally two choices—illuminating problems or offering opportunity for success. Clearly, there are times when one is more relevant or appropriate, but hands down, when I have the choice, I work to seek opportunities, not conquer problems.” Jeff is clearly a Tigger, not an Eeyore.
Most economists, however, fall in the Eeyore camp, seeing market failure behind every tree in Pooh’s Hundred-Acre Wood. As economist A. C. Pigou put it in 1932, individuals don’t fully account for the costs they impose on the rest of society, “owing to the technical difficulty of enforcing compensation for incidental disservices.” In today’s economic vernacular, economists call these uncompensated, incidental disservices “externalities,” and look toward political solutions to fix the problems.
Consider the seemingly endless conflict over winter management of bison when they migrate from Yellowstone National Park. Bison, whose numbers have increased dramatically in the past 15 years, leave the park’s deep snow in search of forage, but bison can carry brucellosis, a bacteria which, if transmitted to cattle, can cause them to abort their young. Needless to say, ranchers who graze livestock near the park see bison migration as a problem and want it stopped. To them the bison are an externality. On the other side of the debate are environmentalists who see cattle grazing in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as the problem and want cattle removed. Cattle impose an externality on bison. Both sides often act as Eeyores by turning to the government to resolve the conflict.
Fortunately, “Tigger environmentalism” is at work on bison migration. The National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program is “finding solutions to livestock-wildlife encounters.” It believes “a fair market approach to changing grazing patterns can turn opponents into partners and provide a win-win solution for ranchers and wildlife.” As a result, they have partnered with ranchers to retire 36 grazing allotments on federal land totaling more than 624,197 acres around Yellowstone.
PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute can take some credit for growth in “Tigger environmentalism.” The coordinator for National Wildife Federation’s grazing program is Hank Fischer, an inspiring speaker at the institute and at other PERC programs who epitomizes environmental entrepreneurship. Proving that some acorns do not fall far from the tree, Hank’s son, Andy, an alumnus of the 2009 Enviropreneur Institute, is a project manager for the Clark Fork Coalition where he “partners with water right holders and irrigation groups on projects that benefit both fish and farmers.”
Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated including the population “bomb,” pesticides, acid rain, the ozone hole, falling sperm counts, genetically engineered crops and killer bees. In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare and then quietly converged on the view that the problem was much more moderate than the extreme voices had argued.
Part of the reason that environmental problems prove to be more moderate than extreme is that Tigger environmentalists see problems as opportunities.
Jeff ended his analogy saying, “Just my two cents worth.” To the contrary, Jeff; by focusing on opportunities, you and other enviropreneurs are adding tremendously to the bottom line of our environmental balance sheet. Thank you!