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Enviropreneur Showcase: GreenFaith

In an era of increased environmental degradation and strife, PERC Enviropreneur Institute (PEI) alum Reverend Fletcher Harper and his organization GreenFaith offer a unique look at environmental solutions and activism. Established in 1992 as a small and local organization in New Jersey, GreenFaith has grown to national proportions as an inter-faith environmental organization working with diverse religious groups to promote and mobilize environmental leadership.

Although religion and the environment may initially seem odd bedfellows, Harper is one among many* working to reclaim environmental stewardship as an integral part of the world’s religious traditions. Deep connections between religion and the environment already exist. For example, most of the world’s religions recognize the natural world as a source of revelation or site of sacred presence. Although presented in a variety of ways, human stewardship of this divine creation is part of the religious practitioner’s job description.

While hard science is needed to predict and study the physical properties and changes of the earth, anthropogenic environmental problems also require a close study of the beliefs and actions of those driving the environmental change. GreenFaith is calling on environmental leaders to not only preach good environmental standards, but to act on them. Through the GreenFaith certification program, congregations across the nation have reduced carbon emissions by 30 to 50 percent, financed solar energy programs, and decreased water consumption, to name a few.

GreenFaith has used lessons garnered from PEI to attract new congregations to their certification program by touting the benefits of financial savings. Economic incentives are therefore a major driving force in the “greening” of congregations. Harper points out that economics and religion, counter to popular belief, really are working toward the same objective: human flourishing.

“In the end, GreenFaith isn’t just about teaching people that God wants a healthy environment,” said Harper. “It’s about mobilizing the faith-based sector – one of the largest social networks in the country – to make it actually happen. PERC has helped us understand new tools and perspectives on how to achieve this goal.”

*See the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology for further reference

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Q & A with Godwin Nnanna on the Niger Delta and Pollution

Godwin Nnanna is the investigations editor for Business Day, Nigeria’s leading financial daily based in Lagos. He has been a journalist since 1997 and has won a number of international and local journalism awards for his writings. Godwin has spent the last week at PERC as a Media Fellow, exploring free market environmentalism and property rights.  His research at PERC focuses on the Niger Delta and the persistent issue of gas flares and oil pollution.

Q: What is a gas flare? How frequently do they occur?

A: Gas flaring is essentially the burning of the gas that comes with the crude oil that we make gasoline from.  It is often the cheapest and easiest thing to do to associated gas during exploration, but obviously not the best thing to do. In the oil producing region of Nigeria this is a common practice despite the fact that we have had laws against it for over three decades.   In most oil producing communities in the delta, the flare tunnels are quite ubiquitous endlessly pumping out huge toxic flames into the air.  You see them everywhere exploration activities take place, some on farmlands, others right behind the houses of the villagers.  Some are laid on the ground, others mounted like huge Olympic torches.  To think that this has been the order for over 40 years is worrisome, very worrisome indeed.

Last October, I did a story after visiting the region titled ‘Legacy of waste’ chronicling how a nation with the world’s sixth largest gas deposit continues to waste such a huge economic product because of a lack of genuine commitment on the part of the stakeholders.

Shell, the leading explorer in the region records that there are about 110 flare locations in the region.  I don’t know how true that is.  All I can say is that there are enough to make Nigeria the worst culprit among OPEC nations.

Q: What are some of the associated risks of gas flares? How much gas is lost every year?

A: They have very terrible health implications for the communities.  You see all kinds of strange ailments when you visit these places.  You observe people with all kinds of tumor, bronchitis, respiratory and eye problems.

Figures vary but estimates are that Nigeria loses between $3 to $10 billion annually to this act.  Again, I am not sure of the figures, but imagine what $5 billion could do for the economy of the Niger Delta suppose that’s the figure.  The price of gas has been on the rise and yet we continue to waste such an important energy source in a country where many people cook with firewood and where electricity is hard to come by.

Q: Gas flares were outlawed in 1979, and yet they continue to occur. Why is this?

A: Weak institutions, corruption.  We are not saying over-regulate, we are simply saying ensure that basic environmental standards are conformed with.  There are global best practices and it makes good business sense to conform to them.  I’ve been reading two books since my arrival here.  One of them is Why Nations Fail by two Cambridge professors, one from MIT and the other from Harvard.  As I read that book, I reflect on Nigeria.  The authors alluded to the fact that the key distinguisher between prosperous nations and poor ones are institutions.  Where institutions are weak, poverty is endemic.  Obviously, the argument of these professors won’t be surprising to anyone who knows the Nigerian situation.

Q: How does the Nigerian federal government control resources?

A: The revenue from oil goes to the central government from where it is shared.  The center retains a portion while the rest is shared among the 36 states that make up Nigeria.  The oil producing states get slightly more because of a derivation formula that gives them an additional 13% for the oil produced from their communities.  This has been a subject of huge debate over the years in Nigeria.  While the oil producing states want more, others states are saying “no, what you have is enough”.

Q: What are the effects of this centralized control?

A: One of the biggest injuries oil has inflicted on the Nigerian system is that it has created a large dependency culture.  Most of the states do nothing but wait for monthly allocation from Abuja. Same with the local governments.  This has crippled innovation and the results are obvious in the huge unemployment and poverty rates in these states.

Nigeria was not always this way.  In the 50s and 60s when oil wasn’t much in the scheme of things, the regions thrived on the basis of their agricultural strengths.  Each region had its comparative advantage and there was deliberate effort to build on it.  You might have heard of the Kano groundnut pyramid in the north, and the cocoa and palm oil production in western and eastern Nigeria respectively.  These regions were economically strong on the basis of what they produced.  Today, except perhaps for Lagos, I doubt if there is any state that can survive without oil money. No prosperous nation anywhere in the world that I know or have read about operates such a monolithic economy.

Q: How can these gas flares be put to better use? What will need to occur to turn this pollution into economic prosperity?

A: We must reduce the flares drastically if they cannot be entirely stopped.  I read a BBC report recently that went by the title ‘Nigerian gas profit up in smoke’.  There is a huge energy deficit in the country and it is time genuine commitments are made to solve that problem.

Power is the key to stimulating entrepreneurship.  At the moment we are a ‘generator generation’.  Every average Nigerian, as a matter of necessity, makes an investment into a generator no matter how small.  So we have the biggest market for generators.  Visit any place in Lagos and you’ll see a block of four flats with at least four generating plants.  Some households have 2 or 3. It is not so even in some smaller countries in the region.  I lived in Accra, Ghana for almost 5 years without needing to buy a generator, but in Lagos, everyone owns one.  You can achieve real economic development this way.

Nigerians are very entrepreneurial; all they yearn for is basic infrastructure.  This presents a challenge as well as a huge investment opportunity.  We’ve seen in states like Lagos, attempts to forge public-private partnerships in infrastructure development.  That needs to be expanded.  Such opening up is required in many other sectors.  One of our challenges is that we have so much government yet so much less of the basics that that institution ought to do partly because of too many leakages.

Q: What have you taken away from your time at PERC?

A: I think what strikes me about PERC is the philosophy I see at work here.  Here is a group of people who essentially see opportunities in places where many out there see huge problems.  I have been covering the environment for a while and the widely held perspective out there is that economic growth and the environment  don’t go together.  PERC thinks differently.   I had a chance to speak with Dino Falaschetti and I like his perspectives on one of his papers “Growth is Green,” which in many ways is an expansion of the concept of free market environmentalism for which PERC is known.   This is a thought pattern that isn’t common.  The other thing quite fascinating is the warmness of the people here.  It’s remarkably amazing.

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Tapping Water Markets

When the washing machine is running, the sprinklers are on, and the kids are filling the bathtub, few Americans are thinking about how much water they are consuming. Under the current subsidized system of water allocation, Americans only spend approximately $474 a year on water, a price that does not reflect its true scarcity value.

In PERC’s latest video production Director of Applied Programs Reed Watson and Research Fellow Brandon Scarborough discuss the dynamic power of water markets. In contrast to the often acrimonious allocation of water, markets rely on prices and entrepreneurial action to reflect the true  value of water. PERC scholars propose voluntary water exchange, conservation, and cooperation in lieu of water wars and bureaucratic water allocation.

Flexible price signals will thus encourage consumers to conserve water by bearing the full cost of their consumption. For example, as water becomes scarcer, the prices will go up and people will respond to those prices by conserving more water.

Watson and Scarborough’s new book, Tapping Water Markets, written with PERC Executive Director Terry Anderson, covers a wide range of topics including surface water allocation, groundwater management, environmental flows, and water quality trading. It concludes with predictions about the future of water scarcity and the ability of water markets to shape that future more positively.

Copies are available direct from the publisher and at Amazon.com.

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Solving New Zealand Biodiversity Decline, One Possum Pelt at a Time

The invasive possum, or paihamu, now occupies more than 99 percent of New Zealand. Introduced from Australia in 1837 from British immigrants hoping to kick start the fur industry, 50 to 70 million possums are now wreaking havoc on the ecology of the island nation. Without any natural predators, the possums eat 20,000 tons of vegetation nightly, destroy native forests and rare bird habitats, and keep homeowners awake at night with their endless shrieks.

Considered a “noxious pest” by the New Zealand government, NZ$70 million taxpayer dollars are spent annually in an attempt to control the possum. Most of the money is spent aerially spreading toxic poison, sodium fluoroacetate (1080), which indiscriminately kills other animals. While not only inhumane and ecologically maladroit, these efforts have had little success.

A group of trappers, manufacturers, and industry people have come together to reinvigorate the possum pelt market. Where the government has failed, the market is stepping in to solve the ecological and animal welfare issues, while returning value to New Zealanders in the form of jobs and more money in the tax coffers.

Manufactures such as Goodnature have created pragmatic solutions for exterminating the possum. Their device delivers a fatal blow to the head by a CO2 powered piston, eliminating the need for any nasty toxins.  Especially when combined with merino wool and silk, the pelts from these possums can then be used in a range of ultra-soft, lightweight garments. PERC Enviropreneur Institute Alumna Teresa Platt (’07) and her associate Chrys Hutchings have both found ways to capitalize on the possum pelt in ecologically sustainable ways, once again proving market-based solutions can work to protect the environment.

Read the full article here in the latest issue of PERC Reports.