Lesson In Bicycling Economics 101: Don't Forget To Include External Costs Like Pollution Exposure And Increased Mortality

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 06/27/2010 - 13:49.

I have been disturbed to live in a community where pollution is a serious health crisis, and I am surrounded by smart young people, yet nobody seems to care they are being poisoned. The worst demonstration of that is the movement to put a bicycle lane along side a major pollution and so health hazard - the I-90 freeway bridge elevated high into the polluted air of the Cuyahoga River Valley, in downtown Cleveland. Clearly, there are engineering and construction cost increases to include such a feature on a freeway bridge - costs society may afford - but what are the negative externalities associated with such a bridge feature, which would encourage individuals to exert themselves in immediate proximity - within a few feet - of a known carcinogen - vehicular emissions. This would also encourage people to spend increased time exerting themselves in an elevated point above other Cleveland pollution, like the toxins from Cleveland Thermal and Mittal, also in close proximity to the bridge. As there is proof that short term exposure to such pollution increases risk of serious short and long-term health consequences, it is certain such a bridge feature would increase healthcare costs, human suffering and mortality rates in this region, as it would harm the health and shorten the lives of those who use it. To the extent the feature encourages broad public use, the harm could be very significant - the equivalent of 100s of life-years lost, and more. What is the cost of genetic mutation among our young? External costs associated with putting a bike lane on the I-90 freeway bridge would far exceed the cost of the bridge itself.

In economics, an externality (or transaction spillover) is a cost or benefit, not transmitted through prices[1], incurred by a party who did not agree to the action causing the cost or benefit. A benefit in this case is called a positive externality or external benefit, while a cost is called a negative externality or external cost.

In these cases in a competitive market, prices do not reflect the full costs or benefits of producing or consuming a product or service, producers and consumers may either not bear all of the costs or not reap all of the benefits of the economic activity, and too much or too little of the good will be produced or consumed in terms of overall costs and benefits to society. For example, manufacturing that causes air pollution imposes costs on the whole society, while fire-proofing a home improves the fire safety of neighbors.

If there exist external costs such as pollution, the good will be overproduced by a competitive market, as the producer does not take into account the external costs when producing the good. If there are external benefits, such as in areas of education or public safety, too little of the good would be produced by private markets as producers and buyers do not take into account the external benefits to others. Here, overall cost and benefit to society is defined as the sum of the economic benefits and costs for all parties involved.[2][3]


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Not to rain on your happy parade

  Norm, but you were taking photos at Mittal on the same night, I was playing softball at Clark Fields.  I rode my bike, Norm.  We're not going to change overnight.  We have dependence on oil and steel.  You drove your car to Holmden.  The Cuyahoga River is much cleaner than it has ever been.  Does that mean we stop pushing for more stringent environment regulation?  Of course not.  You took a photo of the folks who live by Mittal.  Do they seem like weeds to you?  They're an attractive couple.  Not yuppies, either.  I saw gardens growing on those old factory streets.  We're all contaminated.  I wish it was not the case.  Where do we start making change?  I am happy when I see a street filled with bicyclists instead of cars.  Is that so wrong??

It is wrong when it is done wrong

I am happy when I see a street filled with bicyclists instead of cars.  Is that so wrong??

It is wrong when it is done wrong. An organized ride is an organized ride, with helmets, and organization - an outlaw event is an outlaw event. What was this? What lessons am I supposed to learn? What are the lessons for my kids?

All these people could make a huge difference cleaning up Mittal for real. They sure know how to get organized for their unhealthy causes. Why not organize for their good health and for the greater community?

The attorney trying to clean up Mittal for real, from Detroit, had to drop the case because area citizens would not take part in the suit.

Do the math.

The people on the hill overlooking Mittal are some of the coolest people I've met in Cleveland in a while - hence my tribute - but they, you and I know they should not be polluted and killed this way - they aren't stupid or in denial... just stuck in Cleveland.

SO who has fought to shut down coal burning furnaces in NEO lately?

Who has done harm to those who are fighting to shut down coal burning furnaces in Cleveland?

Where are our environmentalists?

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Not to Acid Rain on your happy parade

I don't go out much - I work at home in my sweltering 3rd floor office, on my laptop, with my lights off unless necessary. I don't commute - I don't waste electricity - I suffer for the environment... for the greater good.

I do drive when I see that our government is so dishonest, incompetent or both that our air pollution monitoring is not working, and the air is clearly dangerous. I drive over to Mittal to prove I am right, and the government here is fucked up - I photograph and film the pollution coming from Mittal (as an attorney advised me to do), and document the air monitoring equipment, so I have proof the air is being polluted and the equipment is at least intact - not under repair. I do this at great sacrifice, because I do intend to provide the Federal government and the world with the proof and cause they need to clean up our environment, and government, FOR REAL.

If that bruises a few nihilistic yuppie egos, tough shit.

In the mean time, you are a fool to play in Clark field, and your government leaders are fools for encouraging your to do so, or even provide the venue.

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thank you

for doing that Norm.

Unless you live in the midst of that crap, its hard to realize how awful it is.


  Well then-we're both hypocrites and elitists...I'll try to keep my failed ideals in check :)  Over and out.  Electrical storm on the way.


Norm says:

The attorney trying to clean up Mittal for real, from Detroit, had to drop the case because area citizens would not take part in the suit. (Norm, could you please post link to this case or name the attorney?)


SO who has fought to shut down coal burning furnaces in NEO lately?

Who has done harm to those who are fighting to shut down coal burning furnaces in Cleveland?

Where are our environmentalists?

I would agree Norm with everything you say above and will stand with you to criticize our local "green" community.  They are foundation whores who will do and say what ever it takes to collect a dollar. 

(BTW, I am not on the foundation dime anymore--I got out of that racket...I was though)

So, meanwhile, where am I supposed to go?  Am I supposed to be miserable and spend my life in "organized" protest?  I am a fish in a bowl.  I have to swim and run into the walls.  I have no alternative. 


I find disorganized protest works best

I find disorganized protest works best

There is certainly plenty to protest.

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momentary opportunity

Every once in a while, there is a moment when we can do something in an organized way and be effective at it.  For the next 4 months, I propose we be organized - and if we're successful, then we have to continue to be organized as long as it takes.

Being organized into submission is not what I'm talking about either.

"Ecological politics is a rejection of the economics of exploitation and cannibalization of natural resources and raw materials.  It is thus a rejection of the exploitation both of humans and nature, which is carried out both in profit-oriented economies and in 'real-existing socialist' command economies.  Humanity must come to see itself as a responsible part of nature.

For this reason, we are for an economic system oriented toward the needs of humans and of future generations, toward the preservation of nature, and toward a thrifty stewardship of natural wealth."

- from the election platform of The Greens/Alliance '90

Friends of the Crooked River

Norm, I would also agree with you that it is NOT sane to cycle along an interstate, but it makes a statement and it forces change.  Is it sane to canoe or kayak in the Cuyahoga River?  No, but because a committed group of individuals chose to do it, and canoed and kayaked the Cuyahoga River for years and years and years and years (Ed Hauser included)--we now have a cleaner Cuyahoga River.

There is a method to the crazy, unorganized madness...

My Point Exactly - Ed died of heart failure

My Point Exactly - Ed died of heart failure - "Identifiable effects on public health which may be expected from the presence of a pollutant in ambient air, e.g. Heart Attacks".

Ed didn't know enough about pollution and exposed himself to great harm all those years... and died so young.

That is not the way to save a park.

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