H. Scott Matthews
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Engineering and Public Policy
Green Design Institute
I'm an engineer. And an economist. And a conservationist. That means I am interested in protecting the environment, as long as the cost is not too high to society. There are a whole range of costs to consider when thinking about the environment. Costs for pollution control devices as used on cars or power plants, costs from waste disposal, and hard-to-value health costs like those associated with asthma or illness as a result of breathing in air pollution when you live near a factory. If electric power plant operators had to think about medical costs of people living near their facility, they would produce less pollution. At the same time, environmental problems tend to be much bigger than they appear at first glance. A full, system wide view of a problem is typically large. For example, when we were going to build battery-powered cars in the US, policymakers said they would be great "Zero emissions vehicles". But the big lead-acid batteries, and the electricity needed to recharge them, would in fact lead to large emissions of air pollutants. More lead in the air, in fact, than what unleaded gasoline engines would have emitted. Thinking of the bigger system in this case (to include battery recycling and electricity production) is a more appropriate model. Decisions need to be made using as many of these costs and as many of these broader system wide aspects as are relevant. In my classes I like to discuss topics like this, and also to see how our decisions change as a result of various points of focus like this.