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Economics student puts principles to work

Economics student puts principles to work Michael OHara, a doctoral student in economics, climbs mountains, runs trail mara-thons and once earned a masters degree in Irish studies.

Last summer, he climbed Mount Rainier as part of a fundraiser for Save Our Wild Salmon.

The organization works to restore Pacific Northwest wild salmon and the communities that depend on them, in part by advocating for the removal of four dams on the lower Snake River that inhibit these fish from returning to the region.

OHara, like all the participants, was required to raise $2,000 for the climb. That work began in the spring, with help from his dissertation chair, Neha Khanna, an associate professor in economics and environmental studies.

She said it was exciting to see a student put his principles to work in the world at large.

“Most of us sit at our desks,” Khanna said. “Were armchair economists.”

OHara, a 36-year-old Vestal native, has been climbing for about 10 years, and has reached the summit of several 14,000-foot mountains. But this climb presented some unusual challenges. Rainier is glacial, for one thing, and he was in a group that included people with little or no experience. For some of them, making it to the base camp at 10,000 feet was a challenge.

“I trained a lot here for the endurance part,” he said. “But you cant train for the altitude.”

The group woke at midnight for the climb, then waited until 2 a.m. for some harsh winds to die down. OHaras group made it to a crater about 400 feet short of the true summit, held back by those winds.

The climbers celebrated afterward with a barbecue, where many people ate wild salmon. OHara said that pragmatic view separates this group from other, more extreme, environ-mentalists.

“All were trying to say is: This is a valuable resource we should be saving,” he said.

OHara, who considers himself an environ-mental economist, is teaching Economics of Growth and Sustainability this semester. He summed up his philosophy of eco-nomics this way: “If it improves our welfare as a society to preserve a resource, then we should do it.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08