Is Cleaner Cheaper? The Cincinnatti Blimp

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Greenpeace resorted to uplifting the imaginations of the Cincinnati City Council as it took to the air to inflate its agenda in Cincinnati recently. “Cleaner is Cheaper” trumpets the words on the blimp floating around the city.


“Externalities” is a microeconomics term that refers to costs outside of a transaction. In economic theory, a transaction itself is covered by market influences. Demand and supply will influence cost. But if part of the cost is external to the transaction, then market influences don’t apply. If manufacturer can produce a product and dump some of his manufacturing waste into the air or water without any cost, this pollution is an externality. Society pays for it in health care, life expectancy, and quality of life. Governments and taxpayers pay for cleanups but we don’t pay when purchasing goods or services from the factory, because the manufacturer never incurred any cost and did not include any for disposing of the waste.

The Blimp

The hot-air blimp is a good symbol for this campaign. It is a large object floating in the air. Externalities are huge costs that are also “floating” all around us just waiting to be noticed. Some successful businessmen build their livelihood and fortune on abuse of externalities. They seek them out like a gold mine for easy plunder. Seeming to use a minimal amount of fuel (and resulting pollution), the blimp suggests an economy that lacks externalities. (In practice, blimps get points for cheap take-offs and landings but jets are cheaper at cruising with a heavy payload due to their aerodynamic shape and relatively small frontal area.) A hot-air blimp has the advantage of being able to be brought to a site quickly and then inflated with hot air.

Cleaner is Cheaper

The words look to coal-fired power plants that are extensively used in the Midwest. Cincinnati’s existing power is produced primarily by coal power plants on either side of the city. The externalities produced by coal power plants make coal power seem artificially cheap. Clean power would include wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric, which don’t produce the same pollutants and, if you consider the externalities, are therefore cheaper. It is reported that:

Pollution from the Miami Fort and Beckjord coal plants is responsible for 200 deaths, 313 heart attacks, over 3,200 asthma attacks, and hundreds of hospital admissions and emergency room visits each year.

Not Everyone Agrees

In Sunday’s interview with Josh Tickell, Dr. Frank Alcock discussed externalities. Dr. Frank Alcock commented that the GOP uses Austrian Economics that does not recognize externalities. This is sadly rather consistent with the label that the Republicans have become the party of NO, which in turn seems a twist on Nancy Reagan’s campaign against drugs “Just say no.” We have to wonder if the present Republican strategy will work as well.

Photo via Greenpeace

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