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Morgan Trimas
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The first aspect of this reading that stood out to me was the authors’ use and, definition of, cost-effectiveness. It seems that merely using the costs associated with loss of market efficiency is a step backwards from the progress that needs to be made to include negative externalities associated with environmental and human damages in the policy-making equation. In order to best address the issues we face, we must include all the social and private costs in our valuation of market failures and strategies for mitigation/adaptation to these problems. One effective way to do this would be a carbon/pollution tax. However, I agree with my peers who have stated that we should attempt to move away from the names “taxes and penalties” in order to gain public support and confidence. Though the benefits of a tax could be explained over and over to policy makers and the public, the fact holds that any politician nowadays who argues for anything but decreased taxes is unlikely to be elected. Therefore, this important strategy may indeed need to be masked by some sort of pseudonym. As with the paper on sustainability wedges that we read, I think an important takeaway from this piece is that certain policies may work better or worse for certain times, geographies, and incomes. It is important to remember that there will unlikely be a “one size fits all” policy solution to our climate problems, but options such as economic tax incentives are viable and hold great promise for addressing our issues. However, it does seem that a carbon tax is the most promising global policy initiative, while a cap-and-trade system may be effective domestically. This also demonstrates the importance of global cooperation and discipline.
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2016 on ECON 255 for next Thursday at Jolly Green General
Though the “Fueling our Future” piece is now 10 years old, I do think it makes a good case. Something missing from many of the articles I’ve read for this class and others seems to be what Graham Allison quotes in this paper-that we need to focus our attention less on finding one fix-all alternative to fossil fuels and instead draw on every alternative resource to fix our problems of climate change. I think it is very interesting that the attention-grabbing fact in climate change is sea level rise. I believe this catches attention mostly because it is something that affects individual families and their homes on a daily basis, such as in Southern Miami right now, and it is a tangible issue. However, issues like biodiversity loss and depleting ecosystem services are issues not directly seen by each individual, but more indirectly affect “others” and society as a whole. I think there are policy issues that could potentially deal with the scares of terrorism surrounding nuclear energy, though I fully understand the worries are real and well-founded. I think it is more important to address the issues surrounding the waste and plants themselves before scaling, but I think nuclear energy still needs to be addressed as a piece of the alternative energy puzzle. The idea of carbon sequestration is a novel one, and sounds great in theory, but I wonder if the ocean sequestration Schrag proposes is a tested, proven hypothesis, or if it merely speculation at this point. Still, I think the most important message from this paper is the importance of acting quickly and keeping in mind all the measures necessary to reduce our emissions, while preventing any further inertia of this issue.
Toggle Commented Mar 16, 2016 on ECON 255 for next Thursday at Jolly Green General
The first striking comment from this article is how much coal we use compared to how completely inefficient and harmful it is to the environment and us. To me, it seems tragic and disappointing that we have turned to coal use on such a wide scale even after these discoveries and are not avidly and desperately seeking alternative energy sources on a large scale. However, I think this idea of life cycle analysis is a critical one in formulating policy and is a step in the right direction to make these large scale changes. Before entering this class, I admittedly did not think much to the importance of valuing environmental costs in monetary terms, as I did not see how something so large as loss of life or loss of an entire ecosystem could be quantified. However, after reading this piece and several others from this class, I now appreciate more the immense work done to quantify these costs/externalities. Even if they are not an absolute and definitive estimate, they certainly can be used to require shareholders to partake in some of the costs of environmental damages, and I think the inclusion of low, best, and high estimates can help quantify this uncertainty. I do wish the article had gone into further detail as to how they derived their best estimates, as they were not necessarily averages of the low and high estimates and their derivations were a little hard to follow. I find one of the most disheartening objectives with coal to be mountaintop removal, as it completely obliterates entire forest ecosystems that will never be the same again (at least in any foreseeable future), it disrupts civilians living in the valleys below, and it causes severe amounts of water pollution. It is obvious after this reading that there are huge amounts of health concerns associated with coal use, and I wonder if this was publicized on a large scale if we would see a massive push towards alternatives, as people’s health is a major issue of protest and concern when forming policy, as demonstrated by the recent concerns over Flint, Michigan. Another interesting point made is that levels of mining and poverty/unemployment are indirectly related, and I wonder what the reasoning for that is and how that can factor into the overall coal cost evaluation. A common theme throughout this paper seems to be a highlight on the discrepancies between varying agencies, such as the disagreements over “safe” levels of PM2.5- I wonder what kinds of biases are present in these studies that would cause such discrepancies in data analysis and gathering. Finally, the estimated number of the externalities related to coal was astonishing. If firms were required to internalize those externalities (which I am assuming were calculated based on a per year scenario for the US only), I doubt we would see nearly as much coal production, especially in cases such as the state of Kentucky, where coal mining already causes the state a loss of $115 million. I also think the estimate would be much higher if some of the limitations/exclusions were included.
Toggle Commented Mar 10, 2016 on ECON 255 for Thursday at Jolly Green General
One of the first thoughts I had after reading this paper was that there was so much information and topics put into just a few pages that it was slightly overwhelming. However, I thought it was very interesting that even with an extreme increase in conservation membership, we still just do not have it quite right, because biodiversity is rapidly decreasing. This is in part due to an ever-increasing human population on earth. Something that was discussed in my Intro to Environmental class last semester was that even though we designate areas as set aside for conservation, nature does not necessarily oblige with these set areas. Rather, the impacts we make in our "human realm" can drastically impact the happenings of those wilderness areas. Another impacting aspect of this paper was Table 1. It states that many of our issues with biodiversity loss stem from a lack of tier 2-enabling via institutions and social views. I think the first target should be changing social views through education, because, in theory, once citizens are passionate about something, the necessary governance follows. I think it is also very important, as the paper addressed, to put the negative externalities associated with biodiversity loss on the taxpayers by putting it in the public sector. This will make economic incentives for protecting biodiversity and our important ecosystem services. Finally, I found it very effective that the paper offered practical and necessary solutions to our problems of biodiversity, instead of only addressing the issues.
Toggle Commented Mar 2, 2016 on ECON 255 for Thursday at Jolly Green General
Link to article:
Toggle Commented Feb 10, 2016 on More Chapters from Kahn at Jolly Green General
Interestingly, one of the articles discussed in my biology class was on the topic of fishery collapse (link attached below). It numerically modeled an example of how to balance the optimal harvest yield with an ecologically sustainable catch. Specifically, it found that we should harvest at a level of no more than 3/4 the carrying capacity, K, and modeled the population as a parabolic figure. I think the discussion of how to maximize yield and determine an optimal harvest is important, but should also be considered in the context of long-term sustainability, ecosystem services, and ecologic maximization (many of the graphs in the text left out the portion on ecosystem services). This will ultimately prevent a "tragedy of the commons" type occurrence, support the integrity of the fish species, and maintain a stable local economy.
Toggle Commented Feb 10, 2016 on More Chapters from Kahn at Jolly Green General
One of the things I have struggled with since taking Environmental classes has been non-market valuation, its purpose, and the feasibility of its implementation. Namely, how something with priceless inherent value in my mind can be put into monetary terms, and why we would even need to do that. However, this paper and our class discussion today helped to shed some light on my questions. Putting a value, even if it’s a rough estimate, on a non-market good, such as the sea turtles and an aesthetically pleasant diving experience, can level the playing field, to an extent, when making economic decisions. This is because the environmental issues can then be factored into the equation and be considered in the same unit as market goods. By putting a price on environmental goods and services, both used and unused, people can better understand and appreciate them, and that can influence policy-making decisions. By surveying the divers, it was determined that certain factors, such as more fish species and sea turtles, would enhance their experience. However, one question I have was would the divers still come back to Barbados if there were price increases relative to their declared willingness to pay, given that they are presumably other alternatives, such as other Caribbean islands? With this in mind, it would be an interesting pact to see all the Caribbean islands make an agreement to implement environmentally friendly changes, to prevent this situation and reduce losses to tourism. Another question I had pertains to the end of the paper on page 34, which states the sea turtles’ “role in mediating sponge-coral interactions have also been recognized but are not yet valued, although their worth is likely to magnify with increasing numbers of animals”. Something I have heard and presumed to be true is that things that are unique and rare attain more value than those that are common. This is not to say that I would not love to see an increase in the sea turtle populations, but more to point out that an increase in populations might not have the same effect on their value as the paper describes. However, I thought it was very interesting how these kinds of studies can use economics to promote conservation and protect environmental welfare, and I would be encouraged to see these kinds of findings being discussed when making policy decisions.
Toggle Commented Feb 3, 2016 on ECON 255 for next Thursday at Jolly Green General
The "Tragedy of the Commons" is something I have read a few times for various classes and it always strikes me as to how something written in the 1960s can still be so commonly referred to today. As a few of my classmates have pointed out above, some of Hardin's ideas are out of date. He seems to be wary of the idea of coming close to the carrying capacity of the earth and even supports pursuing laws for 'birth caps', so to speak. However, as evidenced by the ever-growing population, we have not yet reached our carrying capacity. In my opinion, it is much more valuable and important to pursue environmental sustainabilility, because would it not be better to have a larger, environmentally conscious generation than a smaller one that promotes environmental degradation? Hardin also promotes the idea of laws governing every action associated with a moral decision and he quotes John Adams-that we must have a "government of laws and not men". However, I believe a more proper answer would be to take a nuanced position regarding all environmental issues, both of public and private land. Besides, are all laws not written by man himself? While many of Hardin's claims may be bold and stir unrest, I think part of his point was to write a piece that would cause pause and concern. As members of this planet, we need to understand that eventually our resources will run out, our standard of living will be decreased, and the gap between the poor and the wealthy will continue to dramatically increase unless we begin to conserve and use our resources sustainably. Hardin argues that we need to abandon our preconceived notions of freedom and understand that in order to be truly free and avoid the tragedy of the commons, we need to accept mutual coercion-abandoning the commons for environmetally minded decisions.
Toggle Commented Jan 22, 2016 on ECON 255 for Friday at Jolly Green General
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Jan 21, 2016