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Although the planned construction of solar power plants in the western portion of the country is promising, I have some serious doubts regarding how these projects would realistically produce energy on a large scale. The article alludes to high costs and regulatory issues as the two main issues surrounding solar energy, but another issue worth mentioning is the “not in my backyard problem”. Based on our class discussion about wind farms in class, it seems as though one of the biggest hurdles will be finding spaces within the US that would be ideal tracts of land for the solar power plants that do not upset local citizens. These wind farms only provide power to 200 thousand households, meaning that thousands of these plants would be needed to power a small portion of the country. The public may seem to be receptive to this project now, but we can expect fierce opposition to these plans when it comes closer to implementation. Overall, solar energy appears to be a promising albeit pricey alternative to traditional energy sources.
In this article Levitt provides an overview of the two significant threats to our oceans and their inhabitants: ocean acidification and over-fishing. Besides housing some of the most complex ecosystems on the planet, the ocean sequesters nearly one third of all human carbon emissions. As a result, the acidity of the world’s oceans have increased by nearly 30% in the last 150 years. Additionally, fishers commonly employ trawling to capture fish, an especially destructive and inefficient fishing method. Fishing practices have resulted in the deaths of nearly one million turtles and the depletion of numerous populations of fish. Before reading this article, I was only acutely aware of these issues and their magnitude. Ocean acidification seems to be just another negative effect of our carbon emission, and could likely be ameliorated with many of the methods we discussed in class to curb emissions. There seems to be even less public awareness about the dangers of over fishing, but there does seem to be evidence that this is changing. WholeFoods, the specialty food store, in conjunction with the Marine Stewardship Council has maintained its commitment to educating other grocers about the dangers of sustainability. WholeFoods was the first grocer to own its own fisheries and set sustainability contracts with fishers, and now actively spreads the message that retailers can be wildly profitable while being socially responsible. Despite these actions, there is a long road ahead in educating the public about these grave and pervasive issues.
This article suggests that the technology and resources currently exists to transition the entire state of New York to renewable sources. This ambitious plan would demand large scale production of wind turbines, offshore turbines, photovoltaic plants, rooftop solar systems, and tidal turbines. The initial capital investment required is not quantified in this article, but I can’t help to be extremely skeptical of the cost-benefit analysis performed here. They simply state that the long term benefits would be worth it, but without a stated time frame here it is difficult to determine the payback period or discount rate associated with such a project. Additionally, it may be true that society has the technology and resources exist for such an undertaking, but unless the marginal abatement costs and marginal damages are equated by this project it would be unreasonable to undertake such a project. Is it really economically efficient that New York receive all of its power from alternative energy sources or would doing this push us to an unreasonably high point on the marginal abatement cost curve? This article shows a lot of promise in the effort to wean our country off of fossil fuels, but at first glance it does not seem cost effective or politically feasible.
Despite the successes of cap and trade programs in the US and Europe, this article explains how the attitudes Conservatives in Congress have transformed from advocacy of cap and trade to severe disapproval of the program. In 1990 the permit system helped to reduce SO2 and cut acid rain by 50%, while a similar program titled the Clean Air Interstate Rule reduced SO2 by 70%. In one of the previous blog posts, we read about the success of the RGGI in the Northeast, which also was wildly successful in curbing emissions. Additionally, cap and trade has been successfully implemented in the European Union to control CO2 emissions. According to the article, Republicans have recently demonized cap and trade as “cap and tax”, complaining that the policy is unnecessarily costly and inefficient. Despite the inefficiencies associated with this type of system and the promised benefits of a CO2 tax, I believe that cap and trade remains a politically feasible system that can help curb C02 emission in the US in the short term. As previous posters have commented, the fact that this debate exists in 2013 is encouraging and signals a heightened awareness of the CO2 emissions issue. Although I still do not understand the rationale behind the dramatic change in attitude by Republicans, I believe that the cap and trade system is the most realistic short term solution to curb C02 emissions (caveat: It should likely be replaced by a carbon tax in the future ).
Toggle Commented Mar 13, 2013 on Another Political Football at Jolly Green General
As I was reading many of the previous comments, I was struck by how many people seemed to view these plant closures as benevolent acts made by utility companies when this is not entirely true. It is important to remember that these firms are still profit maximizers and will respond to changes to in the external environment/incentives/legislation in a manner that preserves their financial interests. According to a recent article by Bloomberg news, coal-fired power plants are likely to close not because of environmental concerns but instead due to higher costs associated with operating these plants. Technological advances have made natural gas and wind power more cost effective, thus prompting a shift away from coal. Additionally, most plants are built with a 30-year lifespan and many of the closings that we have seen/will experience are the result of these plants coming to the end of their useful life. More plants will be closed only if Congress enacts a tax on carbon or if natural gas prices remain low.
China is no stranger to pollution as their water supply and food sources are riddled with toxins, but of paramount concern is the deterioration of the country’s air quality. According the officials PM2.5 particles were 516 ppm, which is astounding considering that scientists consider any ppm range of 301 or above to be hazardous due to the ability to cause serious aggravation of the heart or lung. The health effects from this are most significant for elderly individuals and those with any cardiopulmonary disease; these individuals in particular face a serious risk of premature mortality. According to a recent article, Los Angeles, another city notorious for its air pollution, recorded 43 ppm of PM2.5 at its highest point. Although I was acutely aware of China’s pollution issues prior to this class, I am astounded by how severe the pollution levels really are. With the delegates of the National People’s Congress meeting this week in Beijing, one can only hope that these issues will not be overlooked.
Toggle Commented Mar 6, 2013 on Off The Charts at Jolly Green General
This article explores the environmental damage caused by the emission of black carbon, commonly referred to as atmospheric soot. Recent findings indicate that black carbon has the ability to trap a great deal of heat, the power of which is approximately twice as much as was previously estimated by officials. Black carbon has the capacity to increase global temperatures by absorbing heat from the sun, but it can also foster cloud growth that has the ability to cool the atmosphere. As a result, scientists have had difficulty determining the net effect of soot. Current estimates of the effect of soot vary wildly as the confidence interval ranges from .17 and 2.1 watts per square meter of energy. This lack of precision in measurement notwithstanding, I think that targeting reductions in black carbon is a desirable goal especially in light of its negative health effects and how quickly existing black carbon can be washed from the atmosphere. Once again, technological innovations are cited as being the key to reducing the consumption of diesel fuel and coal.
Toggle Commented Feb 11, 2013 on Worse than we thought.... at Jolly Green General
This article provides an update to the concerns of an increased carbon cap raised by a previous article by Shattuck and Sosland. Most recently the overwhelmingly successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative reset the carbon cap with a plan that aims to reduce carbon emissions by an additional 45%. I am relieved that the RGGI has pursued such an ambitious goal, especially in light of the numerous benefits mentioned in this article and the Shattuck and Sosland article. After reading the Darmstader article in class this week, I remain further convinced that technological improvements are in integral part of the solution to the world’s environmental concerns. This cap and trade system accelerates the development of clean energy technologies by providing businesses with an incentive to develop ways to operate more efficiently (avoid tax) and by directly investing in clean energy technologies. Although states have flexibility in the way that they are to spend the $617 million in revenues collected from the program, a whopping 62% has been spent directly on energy efficiency investments. The ambitious goals of the RGGI and the huge investments in energy technologies should serve as a shining example to the other 41 states. With so few downsides to the system, I am baffled as to why there are not more states hopping on the bandwagon and acting similarly.
Toggle Commented Feb 11, 2013 on Hurray for Market Forces!!!! at Jolly Green General
Although this article seems to focus on a gasoline tax as the centerpiece to generating revenue and (more importantly) reducing carbon emissions as a solution to climate change, I am impressed by the efforts already underway to reduce carbon emissions. California’s successful implementation of an excise tax is certainly a step in the right direction and would be an excellent way for struggling states and local governments to generate funds without waiting for federal legislation from Washington to be decided and passed on (also unlikely in the near future). Additionally, this article led me to explore existing command-and-control type policies that may serve as an alternative to such a tax. Most notably, I discovered that new energy-efficiency standards recently negotiated with American carmakers promises to double the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks sold to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. These standards would reduce energy use by 12 billion barrels and would cut carbon emissions from automobiles in half. Considering the American public’s hostility towards anything that resembles a tax, I think that this shows that cost effective and potent command-and-control policies do exist and can be very promising solutions to this environmental problem.
Shattuck and Sosland address the success of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is credited as the first market-based regulatory program in the US intended to reduce CO2 emissions. The marketable permit system raised $952 million, the majority of which have been reinvested in sustainable energy programs. According to the RGGI website, these sustainable energy programs have directly benefited 2.9 million households and 7,400 businesses by reducing their energy bills. Additionally, they estimate that they will save current customers $1.3 billion in lifetime energy bill savings. Most importantly, average annual emissions have been reduced by 23% in only three years. In short, the program successfully reduced emissions while being exceptionally profitable. Member states are now planning to reset the cap, making an increase in the emissions cap appear imminent. Opponents of RGGI claim that the system is no longer necessary because of the transition to natural gas in energy production, which produces less carbon emissions. So long as we are deriving power from a source that emits carbon, I see no reason why such a cap should be increased. If it’s not broke, why fix it? Such a cap, even if it is a slight financial burden to firms, ensures that emissions remain at an appropriate level. RGGI claims that it can reduce CO2 emissions by another 10% by 2018, so why stand in the way of that by increasing the cap?
Zetland elucidates a common misconception between inefficiencies created by Pigouvian taxes and fiscal taxes. He posits that inefficiencies brought about in an effort to curb an externality through a Pigouvian tax should not be considered deadweight losses. This is solely due to the fact that the inefficiency created by such a tax is coupled with an overwhelmingly favorable reduction in the amount of an externality. Based on my understanding of this article, the main issue seems to surround the semantics of the term “deadweight loss”. It seems as though environmental economists simply want to avoid using the term due to its extremely negative connotation. Despite the overall positive benefit associated with a Pigouvian tax, I find it understandable as to why students would consider this inefficiency to be a deadweight loss. A quick search on Google shows that many educators continue to term the small inefficiency generated from Pigouvian taxes as a deadweight loss. In conclusion, I believe that academia should come to a consensus and ultimately eschew the use of the term “deadweight loss” altogether when discussing Pigouvian taxes.
Toggle Commented Jan 24, 2013 on My Bad..... at Jolly Green General
Although I agree with the previous commenters’ statements that polluting countries and corporations should be held accountable for their contribution to the global climate problem, I have serious doubts as to the effectiveness of an international legal system in appropriately placing blame on any particular country or corporation. Pearce notes that to legally establish liability a claimant country would not only have to show that the pollution of an accused country contributed to climate change; instead, a claimant would have to provide a solid link between individual extreme weather events and the emissions from the accused. Since the science behind attribution appears to still be in its relative infancy, the existing legal landscape places developing countries seeking redress on an enormous uphill battle in their pursuit for compensation for losses and damages. At this point, such legal proceedings between developing nations and polluting countries would be akin to pitting David against Goliath. Polluting nations (namely the US and China) have a vast majority of resources at their disposal to fight against legal actions against them especially when compared to that at the disposal of the potential claimants, poorer developing nations. Regardless of the evidence provided against the accused parties, I fail to believe that developing countries will be met with much success by utilizing legal avenues to seek compensation in the near future.
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Jan 14, 2013