A Legend on the Move


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In the Grossman Lecture in April he said, “Having established the potential cost-effectiveness of emissions trading and the large potential savings that were at stake, we thought we had built a better mousetrap. And conventional wisdom says if you make a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.

“So we opened the door and we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. No one, it seemed, had the slightest interest in our better mousetrap.”

But by the mid 1970s, government agencies didn’t know where else to turn to achieve limits on pollutants established in the Clean Air Act. “They found themselves painted into a corner.” Tietenberg said later. “Then somebody basically said, ‘Hey, there’s this tradable permits stuff.’”

Tietenberg lists arenas where tradable permits have applications: pollution, fish stocks, water, “lots of other ways.” But people rarely beat a path to the tradable permits door because it was a good idea, he said. Rather, permits are more often invoked as a last resort.

At Colby Tietenberg’s legendary status is just part of his legacy. He was a charter member of the Environmental Advisory Group, formed in 2000 to advise the president and the College on environmental stewardship. He called the EAG a very effective collaboration among faculty, administrators, and students.

He praised that Colby doesn’t say, “‘If it costs us anything we’re not going to do it,’” and he pointed to green electricity as an example. Using electricity only from renewable sources (PDF) “does cost us more, there’s no question, but at the same time it sets, or at least it did set, Colby apart. We were one of the first in the state to buy green electricity, and it’s my understanding is that it was Colby’s willingness to go this route that actually got green electricity to the state.”

He led students in an emissions inventory. “We were one of the early adopters. ... We understood what was going on with our emissions and how we were impacting those emissions,” he said.

He will continue to maintain an extensive Web site that may be the definitive bibliography on emissions trading and another impressive site offering scores of examples of sustainable development initiatives. With emissions trading now a hot field, the bibliography is a popular resource for people entering the field, he said.

Despite his international status, Tietenberg’s farewell this spring remained true to form. He deflected praise, shared credit, turned the spotlight on others.
He praised student initiatives, from all fair-trade coffee on campus to students serving as sustainability coordinators in area towns.

And when he addressed the faculty-trustee dinner in May, he talked little about himself, instead saluting trustees, overseers, faculty colleagues, administrative staff, colleagues on the EAG, his family, and especially students. “Because we on the faculty have the distinct privilege of working closely with these very talented men and women during a very formative period in their lives, I firmly believe that teaching is the world’s finest profession,” he said.

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