Opportunity and Cost – and Opportunity Cost

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I once knew a man who never asked his children a straight question such as "Would you like an apple?"  He'd always say something like: "Would you like an apple or an orange?"  That is, he'd always make it clear that there were choices to be made, and that choosing one thing usually means not having the other.  He did this because he knew that daily life was all about making such choices, and thought his children ought to start early.  That is, he wanted the notion of opportunity cost to be something they understood.  He was, of course, an economist by trade.  My (non-economist) mother had a refinement on this process, but that's quite another story.

Steve Gough's new book has an informative passage on opportunity cost on pages 50/51 which deals with Scotland's incommensurate policies on [the value of] wind energy and wilderness.  His take on opportunity cost is that:

"the true cost of anything is the best alternative that could have been obtained instead."

See also this from the library of economics.

Here's the quote:

"... WWF Scotland is a strident supporter of the development of wind power. ...  However, others with an interest in environmental matters take a different view.  The Mountaineering Council of Scotland opposes wind farms on the grounds that they despoil wild land.  The interests of each organization form part of the opportunity cost of the policies promoted ... by the other, and these are in turn informed by value judgements in a climate of  uncertainty.

This is a sound basis for ESD2, and so it's unsurprising that Steve goes on to ask: "What should children learn?  Who should decide?"  His own response is this:

"What we can say is that they should not learn simply that renewable energy is good, unspoilt wild land is good too and they should expect always to have both.  They need to be equipped to choose where such choices are unavoidable. and to understand the consequences of choice."

Just so.  Such a pity, then, that current policy in England eschews such an informed approach.  Senior DfE representatives wrote this recently:

"Schools may incorporate sustainable development in their teaching within the broad framework of the citizenship curriculum.  Additionally, the new programmes of study for geography and science cover this issue from key stage 3 and focus on the key concepts in science and geography, rather than political, economic or social debates on this topic.  In order for children to develop a firm understanding of climate change, it is essential that it is taught as a carefully sequenced progression, starting with the fundamental concepts and relevant background knowledge which underpin this topic."

Only someone who's refused to think about the significance of any of this could write such tosh.  It would make me wish for change at the next election, if I thought things would get any better.  Hard Times, indeed.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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  • I am trying (and failing) to imagine what is meant by a "carefully sequenced progression" of knowledge and how that might be meaningful in disordered non linear climatic change? A test about how to take carbon readings perhaps...?! ...and no politics? Nope none at all, because I assume it would be terrible if students imagined democratic pathways forward, or questioned power..gosh then they might actually discover ways to effect real change and that would be really undesirable!..sigh. Thanks Bill!