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Fighting Climate Change and Improving the Economy
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Ended Apr 22, 2014
I'm an environmental economist volunteering on a study that will help the Republic of Vietnam fight climate change AND improve the health and welfare of its people. I've got my time covered, but I'm seeking help to cover my flight and lodging for the ... More ...
I'm an environmental economist volunteering on a study that will help the Republic of Vietnam fight climate change AND improve the health and welfare of its people. I've got my time covered, but I'm seeking help to cover my flight and lodging for the necessary time I'll spend working directly with the rest of the project team Ha Noi.

Here's the full scoop.

Thanks to my employer's (The Wilderness Society, a US-based ENGO) excellent sabbatical program, I am taking some time this summer to volunteer with the Vietnamese Ministry of the Environment, specifically its Institute of Science for Environmental Management. The project is to estimate the economic value of all of the good things that come along for the ride when one reduces greenhouse gas emissions. We are focusing on the wastewater and solid waste sectors, so these "co-benefits" include reduced disease (water treatment both decreases methane emissions and exposure of people to pathogens), lower fuel costs (switching from oil or diesel to captured methane), and lower costs for agricultural fertilizer.

Vietnam is a fast-growing country with a population of 90 million (about on third that of the U.S.) living in an area a bit bigger than New Mexico. According to the UN, it is also one of the countries most affected by climate change, particularly sea level rise. Vietnam’s own per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are lower than in the U.S., but Vietnam’s rapidly growing and developing economy means that emissions will increase. Tackling GHG emissions earlier in the development process is wise because it means Vietnam will have more chances to develop sustainably, to strike a better balance between growth and environmental conservation, and to avoid even more difficult and expensive mitigation measures later on. (The country is already moving rapidly to protect and restore forests as part of its climate change mitigation strategy (the REDD program).)

So on the one hand, climate change mitigation is very important, in and of itself, for Vietnam (as it is for the rest of us). The trouble is that prices GHG emission reduction credits are at rock bottom, and that makes it hard to justify investments in GHG reduction – the return on investment will simply be too low if the only returns are from the sale of emission reduction credits.

Fortunately, there is at least in theory, the proverbial “other hand:” the very same investments will also produce streams of benefits in the form of lower operating costs for several industries who can use the energy or by-products of methane capture technologies, higher productivity and lower health care costs for rural and municipal water system users, higher returns to investments in recreation and tourism development (to which cleaner air, water and land is a boon), and improved environmental quality that supports, directly or indirectly, industries ranging from fisheries and agriculture to professional services.

What’s most important is that the human impact behind all those đồng (dollars-and-cents) is greater health and happiness for millions of people.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited to have a chance to bring my skills and expertise (in the field of environmental economics) to a project of such importance. At a practical level, my engagement is mainly from my home office in Charlottesville, Virginia tracking down value estimates that can translate to the conditions and outcomes in Vietnam, and spending a good bit of time on Skype with my new colleagues 11 time zones away. For 12 days in August however, I will be on site in Ha Noi, integrating my work with that of the Institute's own researchers. After that, I’ll be helping to prepare the final report due in October and hoping that our results provide the information the Ministry needs to say “yes” to further climate change mitigation and environmental improvements for the people of Vietnam.

As I said at the top, The Wilderness Society’s sabbatical program makes my volunteering a lot easier, since I get to draw down a pile of unused sick leave and vacation to cover my time. But getting to Vietnam is pretty expensive, and all of my travel, lodging, etc. is out of my own pocket. That’s where you all come in. I’d love to have your help defraying those costs, and I’ve set as my goal just the $2,350 for my flight and lodging cost.

Your partnership with me in this project will be greatly appreciated and be felt, literally, on the other side of the globe.

Thank you,
Spencer Phillips, Ph.D.

P.S. I really wanted to call this “Người cần kiệm không biên giởi (Economist Without Borders)” but it turns out there’s already a group of econ students in Denmark with that name – more power to them. Also, I think the Vietnamese could translate back to English as something like “The frugal one needs no fence” which actually would make for a good proverb, but it isn’t exactly what I had in mind.
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