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Charles Busch
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This article brings to light many of the current and future anthropogenic threats to ocean ecosystems. Not only are many species being over-harvested at an unsustainable rate, but we are destroying their habitats which will affect their future reproduction prospects. In class, we looked at the parabolic reproduction curves of ocean species. It follows from the model that as we over-harvest fish and other ocean creatures, we reduce their populations which can be seen as a backwards movement along the curve. However, to the extent that we impair ocean ecosystems, we are actually probably further reducing ocean species' reproductive capacity by shifting the curve down. Examples in the article such as ocean acidification, coral reef destruction, water pollution, and "trawling" are both reducing populations in the short term, and inhibiting the ability of ocean species to reproduce in the future. In particular, I was taken aback at the huge increase in the acidity of oceans due to CO2 being dissolved into the water. When I think about greenhouse gases,I typically think about air pollution, global temperature increases, etc. but I do not think about our oceans absorbing these gases on a massive scale. Clearly, this is just another reason to reduce CO2 emissions in order to preserve our ocean ecosystems for future generations.
The article addresses the issue of weaning New York (the third most populous state in the U.S.) off of fossil fuels by replacing them with clean energy sources. It is encouraging to hear that we already have the technology necessary to produce enough energy with renewable sources to eliminate the use of fossil fuels on a large scale. However, we are obviously a long way off from actually implementing these changes. Just as we have discussed before, the process of discounting future costs back to present value makes externalities associated with climate change seem less significant. By the same discounting process, future benefits associated with installing new renewable energy infrastructure in order to replace fossil fuel sources also seem smaller. Considering the massive amounts of capital expenditure that would be required to build wind turbines, PV plants, etc. I think that this movement from fossil fuels to renewable sources will unfortunately not happen on a massive scale for a while. It seems as though a lot of people are turned off by the longer time horizons of seeing their investments pay off, although the social benefits from switching to renewable sources would be immediate. This is a good example of a market failure in which MSB > MPB, so in the absence of intervention a socially optimal amount of renewable energy sources may not be produced.
The article discusses the irony in the fact that conservatives almost universally oppose their own cap-and-trade creation. This immense irony extends even further--now it seems as though it will be more difficult to pass the most efficient way to correct emissions externalities than more costly methods. The implementation of the US S02 cap-and-trade system has lead to similar policies abroad, including the EU Emissions Trading System. Recently, China has begun to entertain the possibility of a cap and trade system. Professor Casey mentioned the depressing reality that we were probably closer to addressing climate change in 2003 than we are in 2013. This reality underscores one of the main impediments to confronting global climate change in a comprehensive and efficient manner: political willpower. George HW Bush's proposal for a S02 tradable permits systmen passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives with over 85% and 90% Republican and Democrat votes, respectively. Perhaps the first step to confronting climate change as a country is to change the partisan mindset in Washington, which is plaguing our country's progress in many other ways as well.
Toggle Commented Mar 11, 2013 on Another Political Football at Jolly Green General
For many people, it is probably difficult to see the negative externalities of emissions manifest themselves in their every day lives. Certainly, climate change will become more of an issue as time goes on (especially if it is not confronted now). However, this example of "beyond index" air pollution in Beijing is an explicit instance of how the emissions that we are pumping into the air are already reaching a critical level. If these levels of pollution are sustained in China, they will undoubtedly contribute to global climate change on a large scale, which will have quantifiable economic impacts. As other people have mentioned, the Chinese government could also have to deal with the incidence of respiratory illnesses in its population of citizens who are exposed to increasingly severe levels of air pollution. I recently read an article in The Economist regarding the levels of soot in the air in Beijing. The article suggests that curbing the emissions of black carbon (soot)alone could save 2.4 million lives per year. Moreover, due to the short amount of time that black carbon stays in the atmosphere, it is easier to confront black carbon levels than CO2 levels. I think that aggressively trying to limit soot emissions could be an effective short term way to improve air quality in places like Beijing.
Toggle Commented Mar 4, 2013 on Off The Charts at Jolly Green General
The Northeast states involved in RGGI are dispelling critics who believe that tying emissions reduction to economic growth is not feasible. According to data gathered since its beginning, states participating in RGGI have not only reduced emissions by over 20% on average, but they have also experienced economic growth simultaneously. This is certainly encouraging, but the future investment opportunities created by the RGGI may be even more promising. Enough states have joined RGGI so that there is now a contiguous region in the Northeast that is committed to the cap and trade system, which should attract businesses that are looking to take advantage of an environment which encourages emissions reduction. One possible drawback of gas tax, cap and trade, etc. programs designed to reduce emissions that we have discussed in class is the potential electricity rate hike that they could cause. However, this article suggests that retail electricity rates have hardly risen at all. Moreover, RGGI has given rebates to low income families to help offset any potential increases in electricity costs as a result of the cap and trade system. Already RGGI has made significant strides in its efforts to implement emissions reductions on a state and regional level. Its past and continued success should be an example for other states which are considering ways to curb carbon emissions, and I would not be surprised if more states followed in the footsteps of RGGI in the near future.
Toggle Commented Feb 12, 2013 on Hurray for Market Forces!!!! at Jolly Green General
To echo prior responses, the U.S. needs to develop a comprehensive policy to deal with carbon emissions in order to catch up with the rest of the developed world. As Brett pointed out, 80% of carbon emissions come from the energy industry and major business sector. A tax on these industries will serve to internalize some of the adverse effects of emissions. Tax revenue could be put toward developing cleaner energy alternatives, or toward natural disaster relief. Even though a tax could possibly result in some loss of welfare, the tax would encourage firms to reduce emissions. If a welfare loss were to occur in industries that are most responsible for emitting pollution, there could be offsetting welfare gains in other industries. If the U.S. continues to be a laggard with respect to its efforts to curb carbon emissions, it will further set us behind the rest of the world, and we will find ourselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Rather than simply emulating the clean energy initiatives of other countries, we should try to be leaders which the rest of the world will want to follow. Through effective policy, tackling the issue of climate change in an economically efficient manner could set the U.S. aside from other countries. Hurricane Sandy is a sad reminder of the potentially devastating impacts of global climate change.
Pearce asserts that most countries are more or less on the same page in that they are conscious of the adverse impacts of global climate change. He goes on to suggest that it is only a matter of time before they will legally bridge the gap between culpability and liability. Now that countries acknowledge global climate change as a threat, Pearce suggests that "loss and damages" will start to be tied directly to polluting countries, which will have to compensate nations which have been negatively affected by climate change. However, he notes the difficulty of directly tying pollution back to specific countries or private entities. Other students note that the same developing nations which might be subjected to losses and damages are themselves polluters, and often times have lower pollution standards than more developed countries which emit more carbon. Right now it is nearly impossible to attribute adverse affects of global climate change to any one specific country, and it may take a long time to develop technology that can trace damages back to their origins. I think that more effort should be dedicated toward mitigation of the problem itself, as litigation is tangential and does little to address the growing issue of climate change.
In the article "The Market and Mother Nature", Friedman makes an interesting connection between climate change and the fiscal cliff. He references Obama's science adviser, who likens our current predicament to "driving toward a cliff in a fog." Friedman goes on to suggest that we can at least partially address both of these issues by implementing a carbon tax. While he claims that this could cut the 10 year budget deficit in half, there remain a lot of question marks around a potential carbon tax. I agree with previous posts that consider the adverse effects of a carbon tax. An increase in gas prices and other every day living expenses could be hard on middle and low class Americans that have already been squeezed by the tough economy. Proponents of a carbon tax should make sure to ease the burden on low income earners by proposing reimbursements. Moreover, a carbon tax could further hamper our slow recovery, as industry could migrate to other countries without carbon taxes and send jobs overseas. Certainly we must start somewhere in order to address issues of climate change and deficit reduction; however, measures to help alleviate these problems should be carefully conceived as to not damage a fragile economy.
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Jan 14, 2013