Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Monterey Bay Aquarium

I took my kids and mother to the Monterey Bay Aquarium today.

via flickr

I love the aquarium. It’s 100 miles away, but we’re family members, and generally go there every couple months. Certainly nothing else that’s 100 miles away (which would include everything from Davis to Marin) holds the same attraction, at least at this stage in the kids’ lives. For me, the place is like Disneyland, in the sense that it’s so clearly better at what it does than anyone else, and so brilliantly designed to fulfill its mission.

via flickr

The latest thing they do well is something called the “Real Cost Cafe.” It’s a diner where, with your seafood order, they give you the other things that are caught when the trawler brings up the shrimp that ends up in your scampi, or the rest of the shark that’s thrown back in the water after its fin is cut off.

via flickr

It sounds pretty macabre, and of course it makes some very serious points about the need to pay attention to economic externalities. And you’d think that it would repel children. Yet it’s now my kids’ favorite part of the aquarium. Partly it’s the novelty, but they also like finding the best thing on the menu.

via flickr

We’ve also now discovered a small beach a couple blocks away, right off Cannery Row, that the kids like to go to after the aquarium. So they’re wet when they get back to the car, but at least they’re more tired.

[To the tune of The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night,” from the album “Anthology 1 (Disc 2)”.]

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  1. The key to making civilization a sustainable phenomenon is to start taking account of economic externalities.

    This would involve charging fees to industry and agriculture in proportion to how much adverse impact they have on environmental quality and resource stocks.

    The fee proceeds could be divided among all people equally, if we recognize these resources as belonging to all people equally, as public property.

    Those fishing methods that produce more trash fish would have higher environmental impact fees because of the increased damage to the ecosystem that those methods imvolve. There would be economic incentive to adopt more environmentally friendly practices overall.

    Taking account of economic externalities could mean a sustainable civilization and an end to grinding poverty in the world.

  2. I work at the aquarium and just wanted to say thanks for the high praise. We think hard about what we’re doing, and it’s always good to hear from visitors that we’re having the kind of impact we hope for.

  3. Well, it’s clear that the exhibit designers spend a lot of time thinking about what they do, and how to do it well. And the fish are really cool.

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