This month I am giving talks to two different groups of students, one from the University of Geneva, the other from the local primary school. They are of differing ages and so I am interested in how their responses differ. Yesterday I gave a lecture to a mix of economics and international affairs students at the university. I spoke about whether trade is good for the environment or not.
I explained that the impact of trade on environment is depends on the context and that it helps to think of three effects of trade: “scale” (i.e. more trade = more emissions, so “bad”), “technique” (i.e. liberalized trade can spread more technologies both good and bad) and “composition” (i.e. trade results in specialization that can result in more or less environmental destruction). I made the argument that it is primarily national policies not trade policies that are most effective in protecting the environment.
The questions ranged from “what can i do as an individual to stop climate change”. I said you can be aware of what causes more emissions (e.g. eating a hamburger has a higher carbon footprint than a falafel), but altruist actions alone are not enough because of the free rider problem. So use your time to lobby decision makers in different ways to introduce climate legislation and taxes. Another student spoke about her desire to start her own start up for alternatives to animal leather.
In order to see whether my talk had any influence on them, I conducted a straw pole at the beginning. Eight students said trade was bad for the environment. Noone said it was good and 7 said it was both good and bad. After my talk, three students switched from “it is bad” to saying it was “both good and bad”.
Next month I go to my kids school and do a similar talk to a group of 12 year olds. I wonder if the questions will be easier or harder to answer.