What Would You Pay For a Dolphin?

Is converting the environment into dollars and cents an insult to science? We’re tackling the big stuff this week with environmental economist Abbie Rogers. She stopped by to chat about being the translator between scientists and government and what that means for conservation.

You can find Abbie on Twitter abbierogers84 and her research groups SAgE_UWA and AREatUWA.
Plus there’s more info about environmental economics at UWA here and over here.

Particle Podcast is about science and the people who just love it. It’s produced and presented by Rose Kerr (@rosie.zkerr). Particle is powered by Scitech, and you can tell us what you would pay for a dolphin @ParticleWA on Twitter and Instagram.

Our podcasts are recorded at RAWR Chai.

Our podcasts are recorded at RAWR Chai.


What Would You Pay For a Dolphin?

  • Host: Rose Kerr
  • Guest: Abbie Rogers

**Cue music (intro theme)

Rose Kerr: Particle would like to acknowledge and pay respects to the traditional owners of this land record on, the Wadjuk people. We also acknowledge the role of Aboriginal people as the first scientists in Australia.

Welcome to the Particle Podcast where we talk about science and the people who just love it. I’m your host, Rose Kerr, and this season, we’re talking all things environmental. Today, I’m joined by Abbie Rogers, environmental economists who translate science into money. She stopped by to help explain just how much people are willing to pay to conserve the environment.

Welcome to the podcast, Abbie.

Abbie Rogers: Thank you.

Rose Kerr: What do you actually do?

Abbie Rogers: Right, so I’m an environmental economist, which is probably a job title that most people don’t stumble across in their lifetime. So what that really means, I guess, is about how we capture the environment, whether that be impacts or ways that we can manage and protect the environment, within our economy. So particularly in developed nations, Western democracies, and so on, organizations, private sector and public government organizations, have always really focused on the financial bottom line. It’s not that they don’t care about other things. It’s just, it’s really hard to ignore those dollar signs. And the problem when it comes to managing the environment is that most things to do with the environment are not within a marketplace, we don’t buy and sell a koala, in the same way that we buy food, clothes or a car. So we need to be a little bit more creative about the ways we integrate those environmental values into our decision making.

Rose Kerr: Like you said, that’s quite a, kind of a bit of a niche. How did you end up in that role?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, well, that’s an interesting question. To be honest, I just fell into it. So back when I was studying my undergraduate degree, which was actually a Bachelor of Science in natural resource management, and that was at UWA, within that sort of first year, we started to take some economic courses. And what I really started to understand there is that, you know, I’ve always been quite passionate about the environment and want to find the ways that we can best manage it and protect our wildlife, and so on. But recognizing that, you know, people like to do things, consume things, and we have growing populations, so we’re going to have increasing needs, we need to grow food somewhere, we need to build houses somewhere, all of those sorts of issues, that we need to find the ways to balance that. And economics is a really useful way to integrate all sorts of information together and manage that information. And to be able to prioritize the way that we use our natural resources, basically,

Rose Kerr: Going from studying science and then doing some economics in there. What’s that like? Is it, does it feel like you’re switching the side of your brain? Or is it quite similar in some ways?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, quite similar, really. So economics is known as what we call a social science rather than the other more traditional forms of science, like biophysical sciences, ecology, and engineering, and all of those sorts of things. But it’s actually – and it’s a social science, because it’s about the study of people and their behavior. But it’s actually very quantitative, so, mathematical and so on, statistical. So in that sense, it’s not that different to a lot of the statistics that you would use in scientific based approaches anyway. So we we tend to work quite well with scientists. And we do that a lot.

Rose Kerr: What happened when you finish your undergrad?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, so this is where I really fell into the job that I’ve got now. Within our degrees that we used to do at UWA, you had an honors year, and that was built into the degree. And so that was my first sort of invitation into research and I completed a research project. And I really enjoyed that. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the end of that year. But my supervisor at the time encouraged me to apply for a PhD in environmental economics. I was also applying for jobs as well. I got offered a job and got a scholarship to do the PhD and decided that I would just stick around at uni for a bit longer and do the PhD. And I didn’t come from an academic background. So I was the first person in my family to actually go to university and get a degree. So I had no idea really, what doing a PhD meant, what sort of a job I would get out of it. But I was enjoying myself, so I just kept going with it. And yeah, that was how I ended up where I am. I started working in this field of environmental economics, and then just kept working in it.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, and then ended up going back into the university.

Abbie Rogers: Yes, so technically, I never left. I started working there when I was still finishing my PhD and and then ended up with a postdoctoral position and have just, you know, worked really hard to keep bringing funding in and keep projects going.

Rose Kerr: With environmental economics. Why was it created? Is it quite a new concept? Or has it been around forever?

Abbie Rogers: Ah, well, I mean, forever in the sense that I suppose economics has been around for a long time.

Rose Kerr: Yeah.

Abbie Rogers: I think it probably started to take hold, you know, in around the 1950s, when we started to have a stronger focus in the economics discipline on what we call public goods, which are things like clean air, for example. So public goods are things that people can use for free and more than one person can use them. So they’re what we call non rival and non excludable. So I’m breathing in the air in this room, and you are too, and I can’t prevent you from doing that.

Rose Kerr: Luckily!

Abbie Rogers: That sort of started to gain a bit of momentum then, and certainly in the last few decades, grappling with issues like climate change, and those sorts of you know, big grand challenges that the world faces, environmental economics has become increasingly important.

Rose Kerr: How do you figure out the cost of something like climate change?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah sure.

Rose Kerr: Huge!

Abbie Rogers: Climate change as a big scale issue is really hard to figure out what the total cost of that would be. But in terms of breaking down, you know, particular issues or understanding particular impacts, we have a range of different methods in economics, called non market valuation, which is where we, we look at these things that we don’t buy and sell, but we ask people questions and try to understand, what would you be willing to pay, for example, to protect a bit of native vegetation that’s important habitat for some wildlife or something like that. And we can ask people, we can construct these hypothetical scenarios, and ask them what they’d be willing to pay to do that. That then puts that, you know, non financial value into what we call willingness to pay or a dollar, a monetized metric.

Rose Kerr: Popping into your ears for a second, “willingness to pay” isn’t just a tool from environmental economics, it’s actually a tool used in economics in general. Generally, it’s used to see how much a consumer would be willing to pay for a product. So this has been adapted to work in environmental economics.

Abbie Rogers: Once we’ve got everything in a consistent metric, we know how much people are willing to pay in dollars to protect that koala. We also know how much people will be willing to pay for a house that was built on developing that land, we can start to compare, you know, is that land more valuable to protect and conserve? Or is it more valuable to develop for some other purpose?

Rose Kerr: That’s fascinating. So do you present that kind of information to local government?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, yep. So we we work with anyone you can imagine, really. So we work across private sector, industry and all all three tiers of governments.

Rose Kerr: When do you think was the moment of inspiration that you thought, “Yes, this is what I want to pursue”?

Abbie Rogers: Oh, not sure there was a moment.

Rose Kerr: Yeah,

Abbie Rogers: Relating it like, back to the part where I sort of just fell into this. It wasn’t just a tweak. But I think it, you know, the field just really appeals to my sort of rational side and very practical side. So as I mentioned, I’m, I’m really quite passionate about the environment. But I recognize that we’ve only got so much money that we can spend on protecting the environment. And we’ve also got other really important things, we need to look after people’s health and, and other sort of public issues as well. So at some point, you’ve got to admit that you can’t just go and do everything to fix the environment, because we just don’t have the resources for it, and so you know, how do you then break that down and decide out of the limited financial resources we’ve got, you know, where do we best invest those to generate, you know, the best environmental outcomes?

Rose Kerr: Yeah. And when you refer to those kind of, that, the money that we do have, is that, so like money that the government has or us as individuals?

Abbie Rogers: Yes. So typically, when we’re talking about environmental management it’s often the government and that money comes from, you know, tax revenue, and things like that. But increasingly, we’re seeing sort of private sector businesses getting involved in this sort of thing. So some of them do simply care about their environmental outcomes. Others obviously make the connection between what they’re doing to the environment, and how people perceive their actions in the environment, which is what we call social licence to operate. And so obviously, from that perspective, you know, we see the resource sector giants and things like that, obviously, trying quite hard to make sure that they offset their environment impacts and those sorts of things. And so increasingly, we do see those private sector companies investing money in environmental projects as well.

Rose Kerr: That just is really filling in a gap in some things I was wondering about, so thank you for that. When you’re looking at, say, a landscape or maybe a species I’m not sure exactly how it works. How do you pick what it’s worth? Like what’s, what’s the actual process?

Abbie Rogers: Right. So this comes to that non market valuation approach, it depends on what the thing is that we’re trying to value. So, for example, if it’s a particular place that people like to go and visit, we can look at, you know, whether they’d be willing to pay an entry fee or something like that to actually enter. So yeah, National Parks now, we charge a lot of fees for entry into those and that sort of thing in it, that helps us to benchmark what the value is for that particular site. A lot of the time, though, we’re dealing with, you know, threatened species, for example. And it might not be that somebody actually wants to go and cuddle a koala, but they still care about koalas, they don’t want to see them, you know, becoming extinct, as we see more catastrophic fire events and those sorts of things. And so they still value that, the existence of that species. So in that case, we use these survey based approaches where we basically set out as realistically as possible, some of the impacts that things like koalas might be facing some of the the policy or management levers that we might be able to pull in order to try and protect those species. And then ask people, you know, what would you be willing to pay to actually achieve this particular outcome? And so it’s very hypothetical. But we try to ground that in as much reality as we can to get the most truthful responses out of people. And from sort of asking those sorts of questions across really big groups of people across Perth, or across WA or across the country, we can work out what a population is willing to pay to protect something.

Rose Kerr: Is it – I mean, you might not have the answer to this – but are you usually like, Oh, that’s quite a lot of money, or people aren’t, people are pretty stingy, they don’t really want to spend anything?

Abbie Rogers: No, so I’m glad you asked that, because one of the things that we often come up against, so that people, particularly sort of your environmental NGOs, or other sort of, you know, very pro environmental, people can be a little bit apprehensive about using economic frameworks, because they’re worried about converting everything into dollars and thinking, you know, well, I know how important this particular animal is to, you know, the functioning of an ecosystem, but the rest of the community doesn’t. So why would they value it and that, you know, we don’t want to use economics, because it’ll it was ignore it, and it’s not going to be protected if we do that. What we tend to see when we do these surveys are that the general community are actually pretty smart and clued on. And although they might use different words to describe ecosystem function, and those sorts of things, they get it, they understand the importance and interconnectedness of everything, and they do want to protect it. And so we tend to see quite large values come out of these things, and certainly large enough to compete with, you know, the value of some major development or something like that. So I think that, really, we need to sort of flip our thinking and try out some of these frameworks a bit more often. Because a lot of the time they’ll probably come out in favor of protecting the environment.

Rose Kerr: Would you say that’s a bit of a misconception of the industry is that people are maybe a bit like, oh they only care about the money, it’s not actually about conservation.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah. And I think that that’s, well, it’s a misconception, I guess, of non economists, I guess that economics is very focused on financial value. And mainstream economics does mostly deal with markets. But environmental economics in particular deals mostly with that non market space and economic frameworks are fully equipped to embed those things together. And, you know, as I mentioned, in, in these developed societies, where your decision makers are all looking at that financial bottom line, they do consider environmental information as well. But it’s very hard to trade that off against the dollars,

Rose Kerr: Yes.

Abbie Rogers: If they’re put forward in a different metric, or a different way. So being able to consolidate everything in, in the one metric, you know, money speaks to people, if we can convert the value of those environmental things to a monetary value, it makes it a lot easier to trade off, whether we should be doing some sort of project or policy to protect the environment, or whether we should be you know, maybe in this case, allowing a development to go ahead.

Rose Kerr: You’re almost like the interpreter between

Abbie Rogers: Yeah,

Rose Kerr: the conservation and what it means in terms of money

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, that’s right. And it’s not to say that you don’t still need sensible, just, people making the ultimate decision. But economics is basically a what we call a decision support tool. It’s a it’s a way of integrating information and understanding it to help guide the decision process.

Rose Kerr: How do you find that kind of communication with stakeholders?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, it um, I mean, I guess that what we tend to say is that usually when we go and talk to someone and explain how these approaches work, that it’s it’s all quite okay. And they understand that. I think that some of those broader… well, there are concerns about the broader misconceptions and understanding of economics and what that means. And I think a lot of the time, for example, government might be a bit worried about, you know, if they rely on some of these approaches, how do they then communicate that to the community in terms of the information they’ve used in their decision processes. So it’s not so much that the people within the decision making process themselves are worried about the approaches, they, you know, we’re able to explain it to them, and they’re quite comfortable with it, it’s more that next step of if they then have to re explain it to someone else, without us standing there next to them to help in that process. Do they feel confident enough to do that? And I think that’s, that’s just an area that we’re still working on.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Do you ever have to kind of help and explain?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, yeah, we do. Certainly, you know, a part of our job is to carry on, you know, we’ll do a project, work out what the value of something is, maybe integrate that into what we call a benefit cost analysis, where you weigh up all the benefits and costs of a particular decision or a set of options, you know, make some recommendations about which ones are worthwhile doing. But then there’s often a process – that’s the end of the project, but often, four months afterwards, you’re still engaging with, you know, that government stakeholder or that industry stakeholder, just about how they use that information, whether they interpret it the right way, and those sorts of things.

Rose Kerr: So there’s lots of different ways that people engage in activism and try to, you know, conserve ecosystems. Do you think, compared to say, protests or individual change? Or just, I guess, ad hoc conservation? Do you think this is the most effective way?

Abbie Rogers: Well, I mean, I think that they’ve probably all got a role to play. Obviously, some of those, you know, advocacy, protest type roles, they really do get people to stand up and pay attention. But at the same time, they can be quite, I guess, perplexing, they might put other people offside because of the inconvenience around those activities. I think that, you know, economic frameworks are good in terms of being, I guess, a really transparent way of interpreting information. Assumptions are always made in any type of scientific modeling, you have to make assumptions. So it’s never giving you complete certainty about an outcome. But you set out those assumptions, it’s very transparent, you understand what information is in there, what information is not in there. And what that means. And I think that the other benefit of it is that it tends to be, as long as the approaches are sort of implemented correctly, it’s representative. So it moves away from that advocacy, kind of, I guess, you know, opinionated voice, which is important, but might represent a minority of the community. What you try to capture in these economic frameworks are representative preferences of the community. So that you actually understand, you know, what does the whole purse think about doing this this type of project or whatever it might be, and that’s a really important piece of information for decision making. You still then need to think about equity implications. So it may be that, you know, some particular project benefits people overall, but there might be a minority group, for example, who’s who’s disadvantaged by that particular policy or program. And so that still might not be ideal. But through these processes, you can at least identify who those groups of people are. Yeah. And then, you know, take that information on board as well.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, it sounds like a really like, good tool to kind of change it from apples and oranges to being all on the same playing field.

Abbie Rogers: All apples! That’s exactly what it tries to do is put everything into the apple basket. And it tries to do it in a very objective way. So we try to remove some of that subjectivity out of some of the processes or the processes that might be used to inform decision making.

Rose Kerr: Thinking about climate change. In particular, I’m assuming the cost of climate change is expected to be very high. Is that true?

Abbie Rogers: Yes.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, good.

Abbie Rogers: Absolutely. And it’s quite interesting. My, my colleague and co director of our research center at UWA David Pannell has just written a paper with another professor over in Canada, looking at the I guess, the relationship between sort of what’s happened in environmental policy and what’s happened with COVID-19. And so it’s quite an interesting comparison in that, you think about the way that globally, most nations, there are some big ones that maybe are an exception, but most developed nations have responded quite swiftly and with quite extreme policy measures to try and protect people, lives and the economy, from the impacts of COVID-19. And you know, that’s warranted and justified. But then you see environmental challenges like climate change, where there’s been so much inaction and government leaders are just reluctant to take a big step and, and take some big policy initiative on that. Whereas when you think about it, the longer term potential impacts on lives lost from natural disasters as a result of climate change on the economy through loss of productivity, you know, it’s probably going to dwarf COVID, you know, by a longshot. I guess that the issue is it’s over a longer time horizon. And it’s not, you know, I guess it’s harder to associate it directly with those lives lost. But it’s an interesting comparison.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Because it does have that similar level of, it needs that high level organization and decision making to happen.

Abbie Rogers: Absolutely, yeah. But I mean, on costs of climate change, just as an example, one of the areas that I’ve been working in is around coastal hazards, and so, you know, the erosion, sea level rise, those sorts of impacts that are associated with climate change. And, you know, there’s been work done purely on looking at the cost of, you know, damage to infrastructure that we expect will happen between now and 2100. And, you know, it’s hundreds of billions of dollars, so… And that’s in Australia. And that’s just built infrastructure that’s not taking stock of those non market impacts that that we would expect to be extreme as well. So yeah, significant.

Rose Kerr: Do you think that individuals should be concerned about that cost? Because, and maybe you can clarify this? I’ve heard about how some insurance companies are struggling to or choosing not to, maybe I’m not sure, cover certain natural disasters, that will happen because of climate change. So the individuals need to be worried about that cost falling on them?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, absolutely. One way or another, it will impact individuals, and their hip pocket, because whether it’s through insurance, or simply the fact that you know, the more storms we have, the more bushfires we have, the more drought we have, it affects all of our produce. So the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables, of all of your your crops that go into producing bread and other things, it’s all going to get more and more expensive, unless we start to do something about it. And obviously, that becomes a two fold problem in that you need to mitigate and try to sort of reduce the climate impacts. But then also adaptation. So we know that whatever we do now, we’ve sort of overstepped demand, and we’re still going to have to deal with this. So what what are the solutions in this changing world?

Rose Kerr: If we do the right things in the long run, say as of tomorrow, we start doing have better policies for climate change in order to reduce some of the impacts. Will as a society we have- is it more expensive? Would we expect to be paying lots of money? Or overall, would we end up saving money?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, well, I guess that that’s, you know, a question that you can’t answer until you look at what are the solutions that you’re planning to try and implement? Yeah, but certainly, there are some you know, and we’re trying to come up with some new solutions in this space, and be quite creative with this concept of what we call circular economies, which is where we become less wasteful in what we’re doing. So we try and, you know, generate one resource out of some activity, but then from the byproducts of that, use that to generate something else. So there’s a whole lot of different novel ideas out there. And one of the things that we were talking about a lot is in the space of habitat restoration or enhancement, particularly in the marine and coastal environment. So if you, you know, we’ve we’ve got a lot of degradation of our marine habitats around Australia’s coastline, and they’re in a pretty poor state. And climate change is making that worse. We also know that a lot of those habitats as they die things like seagrass emit carbon back into the atmosphere, so we really want to look after them and keep them in the ground in the seabed. And so there’s a lot of research from the science angle about how we can go about restoring these habitats and do that well. And then we need to think about, well, what are the benefits of this? What can we actually do to promote investment in those activities. And if we start to think about these from a very sort of holistic systems based perspective, they actually in some cases can be, we think, profitable. So if we’re putting back, say, a shellfish reef or something like that, it has the ability to obviously improve the environmental habitat of the area, which is great for the natural ecosystems in that area. But also, you might be able to have some aquaculture projects associated with that you can, you know, farm shellfish on it, you might provide more habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries in the area. You might also be able to what we call sequester carbon, and nutrients. So obviously, with shellfish, they’re filter feeders and they they strip out your nitrogen and other things that come running off from the land, the agricultural products that are produced and things like that. So all of those things together actually become really useful. Now, if we can set up markets to buy and sell those, you know, the nutrient, what we call offests, or the carbon offsets so that other private sector industries who are producing carbon can invest in-

Rose Kerr: Yeah okay!

Abbie Rogers: -producing these habitats to help offset their impact. And then we end up with a situation, it might be very expensive to put that shellfish reef back in, if you just look at it from one perspective, like its environmental benefit, but if you look at it from the potential fisheries benefit, the aquaculture potential, the offset potential, you know, maybe you get some recreational dive site out of it, all of a sudden, you’ve got something that actually spins off quite a lot of different benefits. And and might actually be worthwhile doing, it might actually turn a profit rather than just be a costly exercise.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, I guess that shows how you have to have kind of an understanding of both the long and the short term effects.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, that’s right. And certainly in the economic frameworks, it’s something that we do take into account. So obviously, the value of having money to spend and do something with now is worth more than, you know, having to sit and keep that money and not be able to spend it for another 20 years or something like that. And, you know, that’s reflected by interest rates at the bank as an example. And so when we’re doing these sorts of evaluations of different environmental programs, we do acknowledge that, often we’re investing a lot of money upfront, and we’re not going to get the benefit of that maybe for another 10 or 20 years down the track. So we do take that into consideration. And it really comes down to just using those frameworks to, you know, look at a whole range of different options, which ones are going to give us benefits sooner, which ones are going to give us the maximum benefit? How much of all those things cost?

Rose Kerr: We’re gonna jump across to some of our questions from the rest of the Particle team. If anyone’s listened to past episodes of the podcast, I’ve always struggled with finding a name for this. We finally have a name: questionable questions, because sometimes they are genuinely questionable. So setting that tone perfectly is the first question. What has a higher cost, a cyclone? Or volcano?

Abbie Rogers: Oh? Oh. Yeah, I don’t know because I haven’t estimated that. But I’m going to guess probably cyclones, just because they’re more frequent and they tend to come across more heavily populated areas. Where you’ve got people, you tend to have more costs, but that that’s a guess.

Rose Kerr: That’s a good guess that’s a very good guess. Why does it sometimes feel like rich people with a lot of wealth, aren’t particularly concerned about some of these effects of climate change, like rising sea levels?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, well, I think that comes down to probably accountability, and the lack thereof. Yeah, there’s, you know, we need to use… this is where governments are really important. You know, some people argue for free markets. But the whole point of having environmental economics as a discipline is to recognise that a lot of environmental issues have what we call externalities, they sit outside the marketplace. And often, the people who cause the impact are not the people who pay for the impacts, or, you know, vice versa, the people have to pay to try and fix something might not be the beneficiaries of that. And that becomes an issue. And that’s where governments are really critical, because they have the regulation that they can put in place to manage those things. And that, you know, that really relates back to that point that we need to see stronger policy initiatives to actually deal with that. And they might be things that take place in a market like carbon pricing, which would cause some of those big rich global companies to actually fork out a bit more to cover the cost of their externalities.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Abbie Rogers: And plastic pollution is another good example of where we could do that.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Do you think both plastic and carbon could really use some kind of cost on it?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, yeah. And so there are some really big thinkers like the Minderoo Foundation, who are actually looking at those exact types of ideas around, you know, how can we get plastic producers to pay a little bit more for the cost of new plastic production. And if we start to increase the cost of new plastic production, that means that comparatively, we actually have recyclable technologies for all types of plastic, but some of them are so expensive, and it, and it’s expensive to collect and recycle the actual product itself. But if we start to make the production of new plastics more expensive, it makes some of those recycling technologies look more attractive. And so eventually, you can even that out. That’s, that’s the idea.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. And it kind of takes some of that responsibility off the consumer and puts it back on the person that’s made it.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, that’s right. And, you know, no doubt those companies are going to filter those things down the line. But if you take a company like Coca Cola, that’s going to mean, you know, maybe a couple of cents for a bottle of coke that you buy for the individual, but helps to cover the cost of what would be quite a significant cost to them as a levy on plastic production.

Rose Kerr: That’s fascinating. I hadn’t thought about a plastic, plastic kind of cost or tax before. What would you say in maybe, in WA or Australia? Or if you have an example for that is the most valuable kind of landscape?

Abbie Rogers: Oh, wow. I mean, that’s a tough one. And I think that comes down to the individual and their preferences. You know, personally, I love the coasts. So you know, it’s the beach for me.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, I definitely agree. And finally, we often ask people, would you rather work with animals or people? But for you, we have a different one, which is, would you rather work with scientists or economists?

Abbie Rogers: Ah, well, I mean, to be honest, I spend most of – I was gonna say definitely animals. I can answer that, I can answer both.

Rose Kerr: We’ll take that as a third answer.

Abbie Rogers: No, but we spend a lot of time working with scientists, particularly in our center, we’re very applied and try to work across disciplines if you like. So yeah, I really enjoy that, you know, my background was originally science. And yeah, I like the idea of being able to translate or understand how the Economic Research works with the scientific research and what that means, at the end of the day, in terms of impact on the environment.

Rose Kerr: Do you think some scientists, do they have any kind of apprehension to making that conversion? Are they ever like, no, this is my science just for the science.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, we we tend to see kind of, I guess, two camps of thought in, in the scientific discipline, and particularly in ecology. And I would say, probably the majority, at least, you know, I might be a bit biased, it might just be the ones that I work with, have this perspective, and maybe I’m missing the other ones. But we tend to see that most of them are actually quite keen on this idea of being able to evaluate environmental impacts in monetary terms, because they understand that without that bit of information, a lot of environmental impacts and missed from decision making where they’re talked about, but they’re not really thought about when when you know, key decision makers have to make an ultimate decision about what they’re going to do. So I think for the most part, they see the logic in that. There are some who really believe in this concept of intrinsic value, which is the value of a plant existing for its own existence, it’s not the value that we place on the plant existing,

Rose Kerr: Yeah ok

Abbie Rogers: cause that we can capture in economics, it’s purely the value of the plant its own value for its own existence.

Rose Kerr: Yes

Abbie Rogers: And that’s not something we can capture in an economic framework.

Rose Kerr: No

Abbie Rogers: Um, and that’s a, I mean, that’s just a really interesting philosophical debate. If… If people weren’t here, would it matter if the plant existed?

Rose Kerr: And we’re always putting a certain level of human understanding on top of that as well Yeah.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah. So, So that’s, uh, that’s, uh, I guess people who really believe in that concept of intrinsic value really struggle with the concept of environmental economics.

Rose Kerr: Because they’re kind of the opposite.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, I mean, economics is, you know, it’s a human based perspective.

Rose Kerr: What are some of the skills that you think you need to be good at your job?

Abbie Rogers: Well, I think that, particularly in our field, and in a very applied part of our field, I’m really glad that my background was in science originally, because, you know, it enables me to bring that perspective and understanding to the process. You know, I think having a very practical approach to what we do, again, because we’re very applied – this is, this is quite specific to, I guess, our center, I mean, in research, generally, it’s okay to be a bit blue sky and think about some really creative, crazy ideas. But our particular center works very much in an applied space and wanting to have an impact in decision making. So having a very practical mindset is important. You know, sometimes you have to make trade offs between how accurate information might be versus how accessible that information might be. For example, there’s no point putting something that’s, you know, ridiculously complex on the table in front of someone in government or a private sector organization who really just wants to get out the key points of, should I do this? Or shouldn’t I do this? And what does that mean in terms of impact, or whatever it is? So I think, yeah, having that scientific background, as well as the the economic understanding has been really helpful. And having that practical elements, that practical mindset,

Rose Kerr: We’ve talked a lot about economics. For me that always in my head involved a lot of maths, how good at maths do you actually have to be?

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, you need to know how to do some maths to be an economist, um, as I said, it’s a very quantitative discipline. It’s all about statistics and numbers. So yeah, you need to at least not mind doing some maths. And have some good understanding of it. And we do get this question a lot. As I mentioned, coming up through a science degree, and I wasn’t trained originally, as an economist, that was okay, because we did a lot of statistics in that science degree. So it’s really about having that statistical capability. And then once you’ve got that you can sort of, you know, start to relate that to economic theory.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. The base understanding first. On the flip side, what is an unexpected skill that you’ve picked up?

Abbie Rogers: Balancing things. So I, you know, I guess this is something that you probably don’t really know until you embark on an academic career exactly what that involves. You know, I’ve taken rec leave three times this year, I failed miserably at the first two, for example, I worked right through them. And then on the third attempt, I went down to Pemberton and Yallingup and stayed in places where I’m really poor wifi connection so, so I can actually be on holiday. Yeah. So that was really nice. So yeah, I think you develop a bit of a multitasking skill set, which I probably didn’t realize I was I was going to develop.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. And maybe that’s another skill you probably do need. Yeah.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like multitasking. Yeah.

Rose Kerr: And to finish up, I would love to know what your favorite fun facts you’ve ever learnt, in your area of expertise is.

Abbie Rogers: Fun facts. Um, well, I mean, I dunno. And I tend to work in a space that’s actually quite concerning in terms of, you know, dealing with environmental impacts.

Rose Kerr: Yeah that’s fair.

Abbie Rogers: Um, but I think maybe a fun fact, is actually something that I just experienced right at the beginning of my career, and it relates back to one of your questions about sort of how big are people’s willingness to pay for protecting the environment and things like that, and the concerns that some people might have that, you know, maybe we shouldn’t use economic frameworks, because we might not quite accurately represent the value people have for these things. In my honors year, I did a research project where we looked at the value of seascapes in Jurien Bay. And, obviously, being an honours project, you know, probably wasn’t quite best practice methodology. But we constructed this really hypothetical scenario, which was that we were going to put a wind farm in the sand dunes or out in the ocean, and that people could opt to pay some sort of amount of money to move that inland so that it didn’t disrupt their beautiful ocean view. And, you know, so that that all went fine. But sitting in the pub afterwards, talking to some of the locals, they actually believed the hypothetical scenario a bit too well, and they actually thought that the government was going to come in and construct these wind turbines. And that was definitely happening.

Rose Kerr: Oh no!

Abbie Rogers: And, you know, I think that they they got a little bit, you know, of a stronger view about that the more pints of beer that they had, so I couldn’t convince them otherwise. And so I think sometimes the concern that people have for I guess the hypothetical nature of some of these surveys is maybe a bit overstated, because I found it hard to convince them it was hypothetical

Rose Kerr: Even though you came up with it.

Abbie Rogers: Yeah. It was entirely hypothetical.

Rose Kerr: Wow. That’s fantastic. That’s a great story. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. That was fascinating.

Abbie Rogers: No worries! Thank you.

**Cue music (outro theme)

Rose Kerr: Thank you for listening to the Particle Podcast. You can find more of our content on all of the socials as well as at Particle is powered by Scitech and everything we make is made in the wonderful science hub that is Western Australia, on Whadjuk country.

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Rose Kerr
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