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Chantal Iosso
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The evidence is clear, from this article and many others, that climate change will have profound effects on humans, particularly those in impoverished countries. In many places, those effects are already being felt. However, somehow, opponents of action to mitigate the impacts of climate change continue to somewhat successfully argue that the impacts are unclear. I think there is some perception in the United States that trying to reduce the impacts of climate change is valuing trees, organisms, etc. over humans, or that what we are really trying to protect are the species at risk like bees and salamanders. Thus, it’s justifiable (in their minds) to value “the market” over natural things. In fact, as this article states, mitigating climate change is really about saving ourselves. Perhaps the majority of American voters, particularly those of reasonable means that are landlocked, have little to fear in the recent future, whereas some of those species at risk and poorer, seaside people do. However, I find it difficult to believe that the possibility of mass death doesn’t elicit an emotional response, or a push for policy. Perhaps in order to get people interested in seriously considering climate protecting actions, the argument has to be framed in a more anthropocentric manner, which seems inherently problematic since it means that ecosystem value is dependent only on the importance humans give it. However, an anthropocentric view might catch a lot more attention and cause more of a push to action.
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2017 on ECON 255 for Thursday at Jolly Green General
The debate about how best to spend the revenue from carbon taxes is an interesting and divisive one; however, if the carbon tax does correctly cover the social costs involved with carbon dioxide emissions, wouldn’t putting money towards green technologies be an inefficient allocation of resources? Hypothetically, with the tax, the amount of green technology use that resulted from increased prices for non-green technologies would be the cost-efficient amount, and so subsidizing it more would be at a higher cost to society than the benefit it yields. Of course, if the carbon tax is not high enough to cover the social cost then subsidizing them would be beneficial, but in that case maybe it makes more sense to just raise the tax. I am also somewhat confused as to why some people support cap and trade over carbon taxes when they theoretically achieve the same result but carbon taxes provide higher revenue streams. I understand that the cap and trade system has been successful with sulfur dioxide emissions, but having the possibility to put a large amount of money back towards people seems both more politically feasible and more beneficial overall. However, regardless of which is preferable, the debate as to which should be implemented seems to have unnecessarily divided people with similar views on the necessity of pricing carbon emissions. Either a carbon tax or a cap and trade system would theoretically succeed at internalizing a huge social cost, and the cost of failing to implement either because of debate is that social cost (that probably becomes steeper each year). Obviously, if one is implemented and is hugely unpopular, it could cause more damage than benefit by swaying public opinion against it. But as long as public opinion stays more or less neutral, either policy would be beneficial, and so dawdling to debate the details seems problematic.
Toggle Commented Mar 22, 2017 on Econ 255 readings - update at Jolly Green General
Although it seems relatively clear from this paper that natural gas is better for the environment than coal, it seems possible that the substitution of natural gas for coal will not cause a sizeable decrease in carbon emissions if it also replaces renewable sources. Moreover, the natural gas could be sold internationally, and potentially replace renewables more than other heavy carbon emitting sources, resulting in higher carbon emissions worldwide. It would be interesting to know what percentage of coal and renewable use that natural gas could replace, in the US and abroad. What would be replaced first, without a carbon tax—renewables or coal? How big would the carbon tax have to be in order to allow renewables to continue to be competitive? Kinsey commented about the need for quicker action from the government, even if the true costs of shale gas are not yet known. However, I would ask 1) what type of government action is she referring to? I don’t believe shale gas should be subsidized, given that this paper lays out a range of negative externalities associated with it, and a carbon tax might help shale gas more than coal but still probably wouldn’t be in the natural gas industry’s best interest. 2) given a previous article that indicated that even if America was carbon neutral, the impact worldwide to carbon emissions would be marginal, maybe trying to replace coal with shale gas is small potatoes on a global scale, and renewables should be prioritized in the US and abroad so that the goal is not just slightly lowering emissions.
It was interesting to see in multiple of these articles that coal would likely replace natural gas and oil. I assume this is because natural gas and oil are more scarce and the prices of them will become much higher. However, we just read an article about how the actual cost of coal is multiple times higher than the sticker price, due to impacts on health, the environment, and the like. If these costs were indicated by the price of coal, I wonder if the replacement of coal for natural gas and oil would still occur, or if it would occur at a much later point. I also wonder if implementation of a carbon tax would stall or prevent the replacement, since coal has significantly more carbon emissions per energy produced than natural gas/oil. Is coal the only manner to meet future energy needs?
Toggle Commented Mar 7, 2017 on Econ 255 for next week at Jolly Green General
Like the previous two commenters, I wonder why coal has remained widely used. Although some downsides to coal production are not well known, the dangers to air quality and lung health of miners is very established by this point. Some arguments that I have heard about the continued use of coal are its cheapness (obviously) and the fact that people who have grown up in coal mining towns have few alternatives and don’t want to leave their current profession. However, this article seems to suggest that there are few upsides to their job. Between the health risks, the instability of the job, and the connection to poverty and depression, among other things, it doesn’t seem like a particularly desirable thing to cling tightly to. It would be interesting to hear a miner’s perspective on why they wish to remain in their current profession, even if they could be reeducated for free to work in solar energy (a program that the Obama administration offered). One possibility is that the miner’s wages were higher because of the risky nature of the job, and so the lower wages of safer jobs are not attractive. More money now might erase the concern of future health problems.
Kinsey’s comment does raise an interesting point about where the cost of visiting any natural environment, including Tobago’s reefs, falls. However, I feel that she has overstated the cost to the locals of a given tourist’s visit; these tourists are certainly paying, through airfare, lodging, food, and payments for excursions such as in the glass-bottomed boats. These payments don’t go back to reef development (and maybe some of the payment should, through park entrance fees to be put towards conservation), they go to the local businesspeople. It could also be argued that the damage that each individual tourist does to the reef is marginal; it is only in aggregate that tourism causes sizeable reef degradation, barring extreme and unusual behavior. On the other hand, it is true that the natives of the area will eventually bear the cost of a degraded reef, while the visitors can easily find substitutes elsewhere. This article doesn’t calculate the costs to visitors to visit or the cost to the reef of visitors, so it is difficult to evaluate whether what tourists pay is equivalent to damages they inflict. I found it very interesting that few people living on the island recognized the importance of an intact coral reef to their livelihood. Because of that, I think that an education program would cause a major behavior change where financially possible. Nonetheless, more people monitoring for and penalizing for destructive behavior, such as reef walking, is necessary to achieve sizeable change.
Although the results of this individual study are promising, in that they suggest that much more money could be collected from scuba divers to go towards creating a better reef system overall, it does seem daunting to try to apply these techniques on a larger scale. The cost of performing this kind of research over a large area with many variables would be enormous, and the research itself would take a long time. Also, for some areas, the same type of non-market valuations strategies would not work. For example, remote forested areas without trails or much value for recreation would have no value using this technique, although obviously forested area is valuable. Another example is wetland or mangrove forest area; obviously, they play a huge role in serving as a nursery for many species, among other things. However, they also don’t smell good, and take up valuable coast-front property. For people living near a wetland or mangrove forest, it might be appealing to get rid of the swampy, stinky area and replace it with a nice man-made beach. Property value would skyrocket, as would recreation value. Obviously, this action has an environmental cost, but it is one that is far more difficult to determine, and it is possible that, per certain unit of area of wetland, the potential benefit of its removal exceeds its protected value. Sometimes, such as with the intact reefs of Barbados, things humans value overlap with what is best for the ecosystem, but as is clear in the wetland example, this is not always the case. An anthropocentric viewpoint that this type of research automatically considers is problematic, and even if it worked for protecting all of Earth’s valuable assets, the scale and cost of research would be massive. For that reason, I don’t think information or techniques from this study could have wide reaching implications.
It is obvious that many of mankind’s problems stem from the huge population numbers. I agree with Hardin’s idea that because we live in a welfare state, breeding is unpunishable, and so many people derive a large personal benefit from procreating without bearing the full cost. However, it is extremely unpalatable to withdraw necessities from anyone, as life is considered to be sacred. Restrictions on birth rights would be similarly opposed, but as Hardin’s paper suggested, it is impossible to maximize both human well-being and human population. Because of this, we must choose between unpoliced procreation, or sufficient resources. It would seem that quality of life exceeds quantity of life, but as the controversy around the one child policy in China shows, solutions are difficult to implement. Fortunately, as countries develop, the birth rate declines, and so it is possible that humans will reach a stable population below the earth’s carrying capacity. It is also likely, as the Krutilla paper suggests, that technological advancements also allow humans to make the most of limited resources, allowing the true carrying capacity to exceed what it would have been. Nonetheless, with some resources, the problem is less their risk of running out but rather the problems that using these resources evolve. For example, the world’s supply of coal, natural gas, etc. is still large. However, using the entirety of these sources would release an unthinkable amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which brings upon many other consequences. For that reason, I find the Krutilla paper overly optimistic. Promise of future innovation is insufficient to validate a continuation of destructive practices.
Chantal Iosso is now following Caseyj
Jan 10, 2017
As these papers seem to make clear, the sentiments of economists towards environmental issues, and markets, are not what is commonly dispersed. Evidently, although economists believe in the potential of a perfect market and the “invisible hand” to reach an optimal solution, when it comes to environmental issues, a perfect system is nonexistent and thus cannot be counted upon to correct itself. What most resonated with me was the description in the Krugman article of climate regulations to be a “complete political nonstarter”, even though many groups of people and a lot of science support its necessity. I agree that part of the reason that environment-protecting laws have failed to gain ground is not because they are impossible, or not feasible, but rather because the issue has been politicized to such a great extent in the United States. In most other countries (France for example), climate change due to human activity is widely excepted, yet in the US a huge portion of people don’t believe it exists, that it is human caused, or that it is problematic. This politization of the issue has resulted in increasingly biased information. Not all this information is untrue; some of it is just incomplete. For example, as the Krugman article suggests, when climate change deniers invoke economics ideas of the invisible hand and the ability of the market to reach an efficient solution, they aren’t exactly incorrect. The truth is just more nuanced (that the invisible hand only works in a perfect system devoid of market failure). Another example would be that Ted Cruz said, in a way to disprove global warming, that over the last 17 years global temperatures have not shown a rising trend. This is true, but when an appropriate range of time is used, rather than 17 years which was hand-picked to start with one of the warmest years on record, a clear warming trend appears. Because of the politization, increased information does not equal increased consensus; rather it makes us stauncher in our predetermined beliefs.