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Dr. Milton Russell: Environmental Decisions for Now Through the Distant Future
published date:2013-07-11

Topic:  Environmental Decisions for Now Through the Distant Future
Speaker:  Dr. Milton Russell
Location:  Room 301, Old Geology 301
Time:  2010-04-19 13:00:00 to 14:30:00 pm
Introduction of Speaker:  

Dr. Milton Russell is a Senior Fellow of ISSE, a Professor Emeritus in the Economics Department at the University of Tennessee, and a former Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Russell has specialized in environmental policy since 1983, but prior to that his research and work focused on energy policy. He served (1974-1976) as the Senior Staff Economist for energy on the President's Council of Economic Advisers. He has been especially active in China where, in 1983, he was a member of the USEPA delegation that negotiated the China-US protocol on environmental management. Since 1987, Russell has traveled, lectured and consulted extensively in cooperation with the National Environmental Protection Agency and other ministries, and with international organizations, and foundations working in China. Among other activities, Russell is a former member of the US Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board, was a co-author of the first National Research Council report on limiting Global Climate Change, chaired the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program, and chaired and participated in numerous National Research Council reports. ISSE, where he now is a Senior Fellow, is the U.S. home of the China-US Joint Research Center for Ecosystem and Environmental Change, sponsored primarily in the U.S. by the National Science Foundation.

About the lecture:  

Social decisions on environmental and energy issues such as global climate change, preservation of valued natural systems and biological diversity, disposition of nuclear waste, and cleaner and more healthful water, air and food for today’s population have consequences that are and will be felt both now and in the future. A critical and divisive issue for decision-makers is how to balance the needs and desires of the present generation with the potential needs and desires from those who come after. Use of a  Social Discount Rate (SDR) is the preferred method by most economists, and seems to be a default option that guides social decisions; it reflects common experience and almost-universal personal behavior. Yet, use of this approach can be highly controversial and divisive in environmental and energy policy decisions, among others. This presentation seeks to clarify some issues, and proposes modifications of approach and rationale that depend on viewing “the future” not as continuous but as a series of fuzzy stages, that inserts “”selfish altruism” as an additional motivation for forward-looking decisions, and by broadening the application of the concept to include degrees of “kinship space” as well as of time. The presentation is non-technical and exploratory, and reactions will be welcome.