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Amanda Wahlers
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This article was such an interesting read, but I’m genuinely upset that I did not happen across it when I was writing my ENV 110 final paper on climate change and the pros and the possibility of mitigation through a CO2 tax versus a quota system. One of the most fascinating difference to me of discussing the relative merits of the two options in an environmental studies class and then in an economics class is that they each seem to favor a different one of the strategies. In discussions in my environmental studies class, I recall that the students seemed to be overwhelmingly in favor of a quota system because their primary concern was the overall quantity of greenhouse emissions produced; the idea that a CO2 tax would leave the quantity free to fluctuate seemed like an ultimate fatal flaw. I did not have the right terminology at the time to very accurately express my own preference for a CO2 tax, but this article clearly articulated that the value of a CO2 tax relative to a quota system is its ability to impose a well-defined and standardized marginal abatement cost on every firm, leading to an efficient outcome. The section of this paper discussing fiscal cushioning was actually the part that I found most interesting because it is not an issue I’d ever heard of or considered, and yet, it seems like the leeway existing fiscal policies would give countries and municipalities to effectively differentiate their carbon tax rate would have profound power to undermine the efficiency of a CO2 tax as we’ve proposed. This seems to me like another example of economic theory being able to propose a solution to an issue and even to provide suggestions for working around significantly complex real-world problems- except that we, as the human race, collectively lack the political ability to implement it globally (or even domestically).
Toggle Commented Mar 30, 2016 on ECON 255 for next Thursday at Jolly Green General
I very much liked the focus these papers placed on solutions to the issue of climate change, but I must admit to having been skeptical of some of their proposals because of prior readings we’ve done in this class. Specifically, the full-cost accounting for coal paper detailed the reasons carbon sequestration is probably not a good solution, but that same process was very much supported by the authors of two of these readings. It’s always confusing to see experts disagree on issues because it leaves me wondering why this has occurred- is each relying on different data to support his position, is one simply more risk-averse than the other, does one feel the dangers of carbon sequestration outweigh the costs of doing nothing about climate change while the other simply believes there are more promising alternatives? I particularly appreciated the suggestion in these papers about relying on a portfolio of alternative energies to meet energy-needs while mitigating climate change because I feel like I’ve really only previously heard people focus on silver bullets- usually while lamenting that there isn’t one and so we can’t do anything.
Toggle Commented Mar 16, 2016 on ECON 255 for next Thursday at Jolly Green General
This paper was a really enlightening read for me as someone who grew up outside of Appalachia and has never really thought much about coal. Growing up, a lot of the environmental concerns I heard expressed focused on our use of oil and natural gas, and I honestly assumed that coal was no longer used as an energy source on any significant scale. When I read about W&L’s pre-orientation trip focused on the coal mining industry, I thought it probably analyzed the impact that declines in the use of coal have had on employment in the region. I now realize that the harvesting of coal may negatively impact the lives of those in the region more than a complete end to the industry would; in the context of the pre-o trip it was also fascinating to learn from this paper that MTR jobs represent less than 1% of West Virginia’s labor force. I especially liked the comprehensive table presented in this paper detailing the negative impacts in each of several categories of the process of harvesting of coal. It was surprising to me how many of the negative impacts arise from the steps prior to burning it to generate energy- although its combustion, of course, also has huge implications in the context of climate change. This was the first I have heard of proposals to capture and store carbon emissions underground and I think the paper very effectively outlines why this policy is likely to be costlier than it is worth- especially considering how it doesn’t sound like an effective long term solution at all with probable impacts on groundwater and the possibility of releasing carbon into the atmosphere anyways. The solutions suggested by the author to address the future of energy policy in the U.S. are encouraging and sound like they would greatly improve the lives of thousands in the region if they were able to surmount the obstacle of the powerful interests of the coal industry.
Toggle Commented Mar 9, 2016 on ECON 255 for Thursday at Jolly Green General
The fact that the benefits of biodiverse ecosystems are valued at 10 to 100 times the cost of maintaining them illustrates the important insights that economics has to offer into how biodiversity should be managed (with care given to its immense but non-monetized value) as well as the real-world limitations to effective management due to discrepancies between private and social costs and benefits. The Scaling Up Success section of this article made the important point that while diverse attempts at conservation and a variety of approaches have been useful for determining effective solutions, biodiversity is such a whole-ecosystem issue that conservation efforts need to capitalize on past successful strategies in ways that reflect the interconnectedness of the many factors that determine the biodiversity of an ecosystem. This parallels our class discussions about the challenges of addressing all of the contributing factors to, for example, coral reef destruction. Additionally, the mention that often what is lacking from biodiversity conservation is the institutions and governance structures to enable the conservation reminded me of a lot of the issues we’ve discussed in which developing nations have passed the legislation to address a problem, but there are no effective means of enforcement; an example of this from class is the illegal ivory trade in West African countries.
Toggle Commented Mar 2, 2016 on ECON 255 for Thursday at Jolly Green General
One topic that I found particularly interesting was the discussion of how fishery habitats are damaged as a result of certain techniques (like the use of cyanide). There seem to be a lot of damages associated with the practices that make them very wasteful and probably unsustainable in the long run and it made me wonder whether there are viable alternative techniques. I was also very intrigued by the wetlands the book mentioned at the bottom of page 531 that were created to treat sewage and support an oyster aquaculture operation- it seemed like a really neat win-win solution to a small facet of the water-quality problems discussed in the chapter. I agree with Matt that the most challenging section of these chapters was the part on bioeconomic equilibrium.
Toggle Commented Feb 10, 2016 on More Chapters from Kahn at Jolly Green General
This paper helped highlight the concept we discussed in class that a large part of the usefulness of non-market valuation is that it allows humans to gain insight into the tradeoffs they are willing to make for things that they did not previously consider the relative value of. This is important in a general sense through the power of studies on valuation to motivate policy-makers to support environmental policies that move toward recognition of the true value of currently-undervalued environmental goods. I definitely agree that one of the biggest challenges in this arena, however, is the temporal distance that often exists between immediate costs and benefits that may stretch into the distant future. As others have mentioned, studies of non-market valuation also allow governments to pinpoint which most-valued or most-valuable characteristics they should focus their conservation on- in this case, perhaps sea turtles that might create a positive feedback loop allowing ecotourism to remain a viable industry and thus a way to fund the environmental protection upon which ecotourism depends. At the same time, in ENV 110, we spent a lot of time discussing how in situations concerning the environment, it is difficult to address specific problems (such as a declining sea turtle population) in isolation; I think this is one of the most significant challenges facing economists and policy-makers: ecosystems are so complex and interdependent that while it might be suggested to try to bolster sea turtle population, this likely won’t be as simple as banning the hunting of sea turtles if at the same time, a vital component of their ecosystem is being destroyed by pollution or ocean acidification. The numerous agents who influence and are effected by the quality of the natural environment in Barbados make the issue of valuing specific facets of environmental quality extremely difficult because it is often impossible to increase the quality of certain aspects of the environment without increasing others- an attempt to increase sea turtle population to benefit ecotourism might also require policy-makers to take into consideration yet many other valuations of related environmental characteristics that sea turtles need to thrive. This study recognized this environmental interdependence in its choice experiment that compared varying overall levels of environmental conditions. All of this is not to say that I think that the non-market valuation of environmental resources/quality poses too many challenges to be useful; it is just to say that environmental attributes are not nearly so easy to isolate and calculate the value of as a house with a certain number of bedrooms and that environmental issues pose a lot of unique challenges.
Toggle Commented Feb 3, 2016 on ECON 255 for next Thursday at Jolly Green General
Like most other people, I find myself unable to resist commenting on the unapologetically bold stance taken by Hardin in "The Tragedy of the Commons". As I read the piece, I found myself focusing not on the question of “Should we limit population growth?” but “How should we limit population growth?”. Hardin says ‘hard pass’ to moral suasion, and seems as though he may be advocating for command and control regulations. In this case economic incentives (such as an increasing tax on each child that is born, for example) seem as thought they might lead to a society in which wealthier individuals could literally purchase the right to reproduce (not necessarily because they value offspring more, but simply because they have more money and can afford not to change their behavior). Offering subsidies to people who have one or zero children may be a more palatable alternative, but since the benefits from their choice to forgo having offspring would be widespread and long-term, revenues to fund such a subsidy would need to be generated through higher taxes or some other immediate means of funding (not that this is necessarily a deal-breaker, but it might pose a challenge). Still, even if society chose to institute a command and control regulation for the sake of avoiding discriminating against people on the basis of income (since a fixed subsidy would likely prove more enticing to an impoverished person than a wealthy one), what would be the costs of enforcement? Would people who break the law pay with prison time (causing the loss of a productive member of society) or with fines (affecting individuals much the same as a tax- with wealthy people willing to pay the fine and move on)? If society accepts that the government can mandate vaccinations for the sake of health in the general population then how different would it be to accept mandatory vasectomies? (This question really made me think about Hardin’s section on social arrangements that are already a part of status quo.) There would be so many challenges to the issue of limiting population growth- there would be disputes on the grounds of religious beliefs and on the grounds of personal freedoms and rights. However, Hardin argues that “the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed.” The world is in such a state that continuing as we have been may very well lead to the extinction of thousands of species, depletion of the world's natural resources, the destruction of vital ecosystems, and ultimately to catastrophic damage to the planet’s ability to support humanity at anywhere near the current population level. I love that this paper takes a step back from the messy details of “limiting population growth” and asks us to compare our thoughts on the issue to our thoughts on the most morally reprehensible acts (murder, for example) that no argument on the basis of religious beliefs or personal freedoms and rights prevents us from taking action against.
Toggle Commented Jan 21, 2016 on ECON 255 for Friday at Jolly Green General
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Jan 20, 2016