Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Get Smart: Environmental Policy Selection

Policy selection in regards to environmental issues is a complex, multi-faceted process which requires an interdisciplinary approach that mirrors the issue itself. Environmental problems often manifest themselves across social, economic, and political boundaries and the criteria selection must reflect this in order to truly begin to solve an issue. The major categories of selection criteria widely reflect the costs and burden, environmental goals reached, and the social and scientific change generated by said policy. While these criteria are contained in one of Kingdon’s streams, the process itself is a microcosm of the trident metaphor of his streams of selection. 

In today’s policy arena, the discussion of an environmental issue begins and ends with the bottom line. Efficiency, especially in regards to costs and benefits, is a major criterion for policy selection because polluters want to create a good or service in a profitable manner and policymakers do not want regulatory agencies to hamstring the economy to the point of angering their voting constituency. The Kaldor-Hicks criterion states a policy is effective if the benefits of a policy outweigh the costs. The benefit-cost analysis (BCA) is a tool grown out of the Kaldor-Hicks criterion that is used to measure how effective a policy is. An ideal policy would maximize benefits to society and polluters while minimizing costs. Often this requires an approach that combines command and control and market-based instruments. Command and control instruments seek to directly regulate a source of emissions either by the use of technology or product bans. Market-based instruments use an economic approach to incentivize pollution abatement. When implemented correctly, the distributional equity of a BCA creates a system that allows polluters to profit, reduced emissions, and less strain on regulatory agencies because of universal compliance. 

When considering environmental policy, the most successful policies are those that protect human health and the environment. In fact, some argue this should be the only measure of a successful policy. It is this argument between environmental results and distributional equity that drives a majority of the candor in the discussion of policy selection. The criterion emphasizing environmental protection use strict command and control instruments to tightly regulate polluters and prevent pollution. This selection criterion puts a major strain on industry to stay in compliance and regulatory agencies to police polluters. For this reason, environmental protection is not used as a pure selection criterion but can be very effective when used in concert with BCA to regulate highly polluted areas. Environmental protection advocates also promote the idea of environmental justice as part of this criterion as it should ideally take into account the true social impact of a policy decision and not a socioeconomic impact as highlighted by a BCA. 

In the end, an environmental policy should generate a palpable change in those who create, implement, enforce, and evaluate that decision. Thus this factor of change is used as a selection criterion in the policy selection process. Change is the hardest of the major criterion to quantify, simply because the effects of a decision can never be predicted at the beginning of the process. Ideally, a policy will generate new, innovative ways to abate pollution while maintaining profitability and be easy to duplicate and spread throughout an industry.  The true measure of change as a criterion is not in immediate returns but in how an industry responds to a policy decision and how attuned it is to making changes and continuing to innovate, even if it of their own volition. 

Efficiency is a key criterion in policy formulation because it touches all criteria needed in order to create an effective policy. In a regulatory climate mired in bureaucracy, an efficient policy decision appeals to those who want an economically feasible policy, one which maximizes benefits over costs, and produces a wave of innovation amongst polluters. An efficient policy is also a politically feasible policy. While no policy is perfect outside of a vacuum, an efficient policy has the best chance of succeeding the tests of a real world, real market situation. 

Policy is perfect in a vacuum. When applied in a simulator, any given decision can look like the right one. Unfortunately, a perfect problem does not exist. As this is such, a perfect policy will never exist. This is why economically effective criteria should be considered more heavily in the formulation of a policy. Market inefficiencies drive the need to weigh benefits and costs. By targeting these inefficiencies with tools like the BCA, policymakers have a better real world understanding of how a policy will affect those impacted. Selection criterion should be used on a sliding scale: every problem faced is different and each decision will be made separately of each other. For example, one problem may lean heavily toward environmental justice related issues while another deals with strict command and control instruments. However, in a market-based economy the policies made must be created with a heavy emphasis on the social and economic benefits and costs associated with each decision. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Love Letters: Baton Rouge

Dear Baton Rouge,

I didn't expect to stay long.

Four years was it for me in the beginning. I'd bide my time, get a degree, and go back to the city that really needed me: New Orleans. She was the one still reeling from Katrina. She was the one who harbored the ones I loved. She was the only place I had ever known and the only place I ever thought I'd need. Ninety miles away was too far at first, but somehow it became not far away enough.

Somewhere along this crazy, silly, wonderful ride of the last eight years I fell in love with you. First in a begrudging sort of way, but then wholly. Your families invited me into their homes. You gave me a place I could blossom spiritually. You made me face my fears and failures and somehow pulled me up from the bootstraps when I thought I was done. You took a young man from New Orleans, turned him into an adult, then back into a kid again. I have a life here now. A niche I carved. The first, fledgling marks I've left on this world by myself. And it's because of you. All because of you.

The metrics will say you're not the ideal place to live. There's too much traffic, politics, and infighting to build something here. But that's the beauty of Home. The crystalline paragon we share in our minds is singularly different to each one of us, the feelings and thoughts and emotions that define "Home" are literally one in a billion. And in you I've found a Home, reinforced by every hour of every day I give to the city. A literal labor of love, imprinted upon my heart for a lifetime and forever more.

Someday I'll go. And it'll hurt. After all it's hard to look true love in the eye and leave. But dreams are dreams no matter how bad they make your heart bleed, and I've got to chase them. You should know that about me by now. But every flash of purple and gold, every hymn sang to the heavens, even every maddening traffic jam will bring me back, if only for a second. I'll be there wishing, waiting for an operator to put me on the line. To Baton Rouge. Sweet Baton Rouge. My Baton Rouge.



Monday, March 24, 2014

The Men That Don't Fit In

If they just went straight they might go far
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

- "The Men Who Don't Fit In" by Robert Service 

After the Seattle Seahawks routed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Pete Carroll was asked about his expectations for the next season. With the celebration still swirling around him, he gave an answer that was dissected across sports radio the next day, mostly in not-so-favorable terms, 
“The first meeting that we’ll have will be tomorrow. That starts tomorrow. Our guys would be surprised if we didn’t. We really have an eye on what’s coming, and that we don’t dwell on what just happened. We’ll take this in stride, and we’ll have a big celebration on Wednesday in town and enjoy the heck out of it. Everybody will enjoy the heck out of it. We won’t miss the fun part of it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t set our sights on how this is going to go...We’ll be battling and competing...We’ll get going (with the) next challenge."
The critics were outraged. Coach Carroll was taking the Super Bowl in stride? What "next challenge" is there? The crowing achievement of his career...and he's going back to work tomorrow!?

The truth is, nobody prepares you for the after. For so long, high performance individuals and teams focus on a singular goal: perfection in their craft. You try so hard to accomplish it and once you have it, it feels like you have nothing. There's a phantom itch left by the late night meetings, practice sessions, dress rehearsals, and camaraderie built up over weeks, months, or even years of preparation. The next morning you wake up with the Lombardi Trophy and the realization the thing you really craved was the feeling of "family" you had grown to know and love, and in the coming days that would be spread across a city or even across the country, never to have that moment again.

It's a stark realization I'm coming to grips with after three wonderful productions of "Fiddler On The Roof." A Super Bowl victory it is not, but the time I spent in rehearsal and waiting backstage for the roar of the audience is just as memorable to me. I forged relationships, had lots of fun, and saw the best actors and actresses our church and city had to offer turn in as dominant a performance as the Legion of Boom. And today, the day after, I woke up with that familiar feeling rising up inside of me. I gravitated to that interview by Coach Carroll as a sign of what to do next. His guiding principle of "Always Compete" has served me well and it was a joy to watch something you've applied in your life succeed on such a big stage like the Super Bowl. As I read the interview again, I smiled and it clicked.

As kids, we always look for the next thing to climb. Whatever is bigger or higher or stronger, we resolve out of will, pride, or pure childish naivete to conquer. The fascination with climbing has taken us to the moon and back as humans; and it should have dawned on me earlier: it's about the climb. The goal is a waypoint, the relationships and rehearsals an anchor. What Fiddler has prepared me to do is launch myself into the next challenge and even further out of my comfort zone, knowing I have the love and support of a congregation behind me, confidence in myself inside of me, and a Life WithOut Limits in front of me. The memories I made will be just that, but everything else should not be discarded. They are the tools I'll have to use to get back to that feeling, this time with another team. The Seahawks will return next year and many things will be different. But at the heart of the team concept set forth by Coach Carroll will be the same goal: perfection at your craft. And just like my beloved cast of Fiddler, the players and coaches will approach their lives knowing what it is like to be at the top, but realizing what's truly important in the journey.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans. When that's where you left your heart. The moonlight on the bayou a creole tune that fills the air. I dream about magnolias in bloom and I'm wishin' I was there." - Louis Armstrong

There hasn't always been a party on Bourbon and I am anathema to the single-mindedness of the rest of the country about New Orleans because of Bourbon, but in a city that celebrates survival in everything we do there has to be a street to do that on. I could do very much without the neon, however. The scenes you see on national TV around this time of year only tell a fraction of our story. New Orleans is the most unique of American cities: a celebration of culture rooted in a three-hundred year old mistake. We survive, we persist, and we party. Yet only the last third of that Trinity survives past state lines. You couldn't make a gumbo with only onions...

I write this at the end of another Mardi Gras season, perhaps pensive as I tend to be going into the Lenten season or just sad that the party's over. For the first time in years, I managed to make it to the French Quarter more than once as friends and family were in town. As we walked across Canal and back into history (architecturally, anyway) I caught myself skimming my hand across three hundred-year old walls as I'm prone to do. Mardi Gras is not the season for a historically-minded thinker as myself to be in the Quarter, I've come to find out. As my hand grazed alongside the walls of Arnaud's, I noticed a very pretty girl hurling chunks of blueberry-colored vomit onto those same walls. In an instant my wanderlust for historicity on Bourbon was replaced with a deep desire for hand soap. Bad call on my part. 

It's true I'm a stalwart for an old line of thinking: a line of thinking that preaches preservation, beignets, and the history behind them. Call me out on it if you want. In a city sculpted so precariously on marsh in between two water bodies, new is not a reminder of pain for many. It's a celebration of promise. For me it's the opposite. Every move off of the high ground is a risk. An adage in New Orleans should be "the further you move away from the cemeteries, the closer you are destined to be in them." Modern engineering has made us confident in our designs and dangerously at odds with Mother Nature yet sometimes she just laughs and floods the city anyway. The blame is placed, the city is rebuilt, and the celebration of new continues. In a city where survival is counterintuitive to the universe, celebration is the only force powerful enough to keep us rooted in tradition. 

I deeply appreciate those who come to New Orleans to celebrate with us. The revival of our city since Katrina has been in major part because of tourism. We love to make you feel at home. Hell, we hope you do make it your home someday. The only thing I hope you seek out when you visit are the first and second parts of my Trinity: survival and persistence. It's true we have problems. New Orleans is sinking, the murder rate is astronomical, and the Saints have to pay Jimmy Graham. When you're here we love to gloss over these things and take you out for po-boys and jazz brunch and walk it off with a lap at Audubon Park. It's the way we have come to extenuate our existence in America's most brilliant mistake. But don't think for a second we don't want to solve these problems that plague us. In these celebrations big and small we find the strength and courage to face whatever is thrown at us. Mardi Gras reinforces the feeling that we are special in this world and from there we resolve to never see the city like the world did in 2005. A Super Bowl championship throws the city into a frenzy and we realize nowhere else has such a special bond to a representation of their city like New Orleans does with their Saints.

As Lent begins, so does the time for America's most Catholic of cities to pause and reflect. For a couple of days the celebration ends and we wait. For someone who believes that new is a reminder of pain when framed in the history of New Orleans, you may think I take these days in stride. But I, like the rest of the city, realize the innate need of promise. After forty-six days a Savior will rise and JazzFest will be right around the corner. The celebration will begin anew, just in time for hurricane season. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Boy In Khaki, A Girl In Lace

Paris bustled around Sophie at Gare du Nord. The war had ended and the train station had become the busiest point in the city with supplies and refugees being sent far across France and into Europe. Yet the petite brunette stood on the platform transfixed as the wind whipped the reality of a postwar Paris beside her. Her captivating emerald eyes and silent, knowing smile hinted at sadness as she watched the man of her dreams board the last train to Caen. She couldn't bear to watch him go, knowing he had saved her life and promised her a future beyond mortar shells and occupation. But, as she repeated sullenly to herself, orders were orders. Patrick was going back to the United States, to his old, familiar life in Carolina. He mentioned more than once about bringing her home to that exotic state, but orders were orders she groaned again in dismay.

She would never get over him. Never get over their candlelit dinner on the famed parquet floors of the Louvre he had arranged by bribing another serviceman to let them in at midnight. Never get over jumping into the Seine from the Pont de l'Archevêché bridge and sealing their love with a padlock from a motor pool inscribed with their names. Never get over watching the Eiffel Tower lit up for the first time since the war ended as fireworks exploded around them and Patrick stealing his first kiss moments later. Every moment since that fateful day they had met in Montmarte had been magical and she wanted it all back so badly. But at that moment, the boards in Gare du Nord flipped. She stared at the board until the last line near Caen read Départs. Sophie turned to the exit as the train began to leave, tears staining her white linen dress, Patrick's favorite. Their goodbye had been curt, a single kiss and a lifetime of questions left to be unanswered. 

Sophie wandered the streets of Paris aimlessly for hours after that. She had long resisted the advances of her suitors, choosing to fall in love with Paris. She was angry at her native city for not protecting her. She was angry she let an American into her heart knowing it wouldn't last. But most of all, Sophie felt a deep betrayal of herself. Every place in Paris, every cafe, every street corner, every arrondissement, was sacred to her. It had been like this since her childhood, an orphan adopted by Paris to be loved and cherished unconditionally. But now every secret pocket of Paris she knew was tinged with sadness. She had bared her heart to Patrick, and her heart was unequivocally parisienne. As she round the corner near Notre Dame to the Pont de l'Archevêché she stopped to look at their lock. She didn't need this city anymore. She needed Patrick. Overcome by a fit of sadness, she wished she could jump into the Seine and never come back up. 

She found herself in the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was here Patrick had brought her into the Luxembourg Palace and they had run through the corridors like children, darting in and out of rooms and startling many high-ranking Allied commanders who used the Palace as an office. He brought her to the balcony of the library and wrapped his arms around her waist as the beauty of Paris was spread among them amidst a smoky sunset. Patrick told Sophie he would be happy for the rest of his life if he was to gaze at this sunset every day with her in his arms. Another broken promise, another tear, thought Sophie. 

But at that moment a door to the Palace creaked open and all the lights went dark. Except for one: the library balcony. An aide hurried out of the door and ushered Sophie into the dark palace. Candles lit up the corridors as she walked up the stairs and faced the enormous doors to the library. A single white shiny ribbon tied the doors together and the aide requested Sophie pull the ribbon apart. As she did, the doors slid open to reveal two people on the balcony: a priest from her childhood orphanage and Patrick, resplendent in dress whites. She rushed over to Patrick and embraced him in a tearful, joyous hug. As she turned around she could see the highest ranking military officers in Europe loudly applauding the couple, many holding back tears of their own. Patrick then knelt down on one knee and pulled out a diamond ring. Before he could say a word she knelt down and offered her own, 

"Patrice, you promised me Paris. Paris is no longer what I desire. I desire to be with you. Forever."

The couple kissed still on their knees and it took the priest several minutes to calm the effervescent pair down before beginning their wedding ceremony. At the moment the ring was to be presented, a four star general approached the couple and presented Sophie with an emerald tiara, one of the French royal jewels hidden safely after the occupation of Paris by the Nazis. "Princesse Sophie," the priest playfully recanted, echoing a tease from her childhood when she believed herself royalty. As the priest finished the wedding blessing, he invited the newlywed couple onto the balcony for their first kiss. Patrick brought himself nose to nose with his new bride and whispered a lovestruck sentence to a giggling Sophie as her City of Lights gleamed around them. She wrapped his arms around her neck and kissed him with the love of an orphan behind her, love of a city in front of her, and love of a millennia ahead of her.