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The Scarlet & Black

Talking about trashing the professor: Submissions from Resource and Environmental Economics

My Environmental Economics professor requires that we submit an editorial for publication. I thought I’d write mine on why he is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. This seems fair because the guy is trying to ruin my life. It’s like this. I am a firm believer in the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) and a dedicated member of Free the Planet, where we put out recycling bins, make notebooks out of used materials and encourage people to use less paper. Knowing this, Professor Montgomery seems to take a perverse satisfaction in messing with my head, making me crazy. Here is the type of crap he tries to sell me: recycling is BAD.

Professor Montgomery’s argument, based primarily on “Myths of Recycling” by economist Daniel K. Benjamin, gives three main reasons why recycling is at best wasteful and at worst harmful. First, recycling is a waste of tax dollars since the programs generally lose money. Second, conserving resources through recycling is unnecessary—falling prices, he says, shows that resources are getting less (not more) scarce. Finally, he says that putting trash in modern landfills neither hurts the environment, nor takes up space.

This is why he’s wrong.

Yes, recycling programs lose money, but so do most government programs like public schools, police protection and the military. Does NASA make money? Would the professor advocate getting rid of all these programs? Many government services have value that cannot be measured monetarily. Besides, the government gives hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to mining companies and oil producers that extract virgin resources. Is money spent on recycling more wasteful than that? Furthermore, the recycling industry creates a vast number of jobs and provides a valuable service to consumers: people want to recycle. Recycling makes people feel better and promotes responsible living.

As for conserving resources, it’s true that prices have been falling because technological advances have bailed us out. But can this go on forever? Only the shortsighted (cough, cough, Professor M.) would make this argument. It is as E.O. Wilson said, “the anti-environmentalist is mistaken [in] believing that humanity’s superior intelligence exempts it from ecological limits.” We can’t always count on the techno-fix. Markets have a long history of undervaluing our resources.

Finally, modern landfills are getting safer, but this does not make them entirely safe. Not all of them will be built and managed with the same level of dedication. There are numerous episodes of landfill leaks contaminating our aquifers and streams. In addition to this, landfills generate hazardous chemicals that are known to cause explosions both on and off site. According to the EPA, landfills are one of the top contributors of emission of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

So there, Professor!

To those taking Montgomery’s class—if ever he tries to sell you that crap, I propose my own three R’s, reject, refute, recommit (to recycling).

(p.s. Thank you for helping me edit this essay, Professor.)

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