Blog of the Peer Advising Leadership Program, College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

November 3, 2007 9:36 PM

Divergent Paths

While I was driving, I was thinking back upon the choices I have made last semester directed the road my life has taken – academically, socially, and in personal matters. With respect to academe, the path of my research interests were decided over my first year as a junior transfer at Cal. I came to Cal to study peak oil, but I had many other interests that could be researched within the discipline of neo-classical economics at ARE (Agricultural and Resource Economics, the department of Environmental Economics and Policy undergrads). Surprisingly, I reminisced during my drive, the largest factor were the classes I decided to enroll in. As Phase II Tele-BEARS appointments are approaching near Thanksgiving, choose carefully!

Specifically, my first semester included two core classes (EEP100 – Micro Theory with Ethan Ligon, STAT20), INFO296 (A joint-seminar with the iSchool and Boalt on open source), and I was stuck deciding between either ER100 (Energy & Society with Dan Kammen) or ESPM163AC (Environmental Justice with Dara O’Rourke). I choose ER100, risk-adverse of the idea that Dan would not be teaching the course in the following year. Go figure it was Dara that decided to take leave for his InfoLab project this year.

Unbeknownst to me, Dara O’Rourke was working on the ‘Consumer Information Lab’ with students and faculty from ESPM, ERG, and the iSchool. The goal of the InfoLab is to improve the quality of information provided to consumers when they are shopping and are unaware of the social, environmental, and health impacts of the products. In my mind, if I could pick the less GHG-intensive product – I would. Rather, I may pick the one that has releases less local area pollutants, but more greenhouse gasses. This level of detail may not be pragmatic, but I see a strong disconnect between the choices we make with our wallets and their cumulative impact to the world and our human population.

Today, I’m studying energy topics and estimating the value of net metering for residential PV users for my Honors Senior Thesis. However, I’ve been very interested in how labeling affects consumption and production functions. I’m curious what methodologies of full-cost accounting are used by the InfoLab for estimating their reporting of social and environmental externalities present in consumer goods by way of a grassroots information delivery system. In choosing between ER100 and ESPM163AC, I was also implicitly choosing the path for my future research. Ex ante, this notion was entirely absent from my mind as I had planned on taking the other course a year later. I must adbit, is not entirely true, as I could still switch over if I really wanted. However, I’ve already invested a large amount of ‘academic’ capital in my current research project. Who knows, maybe I’ll analyze at consumer behavior in graduate school or in a future job 


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