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Allie Case
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The most important thing I learned in this class is the value in using economics to make decisions about the environment. It does sound slightly obvious that this would be important to do, but before this class I really just cared about what made the most sense from an ecosystem/biology/conservation standpoint. Because that’s what I value the most, I was oblivious at just how beneficial economics is in order to influence policy decisions. The simple example from the beginning of the semester that will stick with me the most is that 0 pollution is 1. Not attainable and 2. Not optimal because in order to reach a true level of no carbon emissions we’d have to stop breathing. Again coming from about as far away as the Williams School as possible, economics in my mind was all about making a profit. Over the semester, this class showed me ways that a tax to environmental economists is more so about changing behavior, and “raising revenue” is more so a political definition of tax. I’m really looking forward to continue reading about the future of the carbon tax, specifically. After our discussions, I really think this will be one of the few ways we can make massive changes to limit carbon emissions- as much as I wish it were true, this class has shown that individual changes to food consumption, food waste, or method of transportation just really isn’t going to be enough. It’s a true connection to the interdisciplinary thinking of W&L overall- I feel much more well rounded after this class and think it definitely changed me and the way I think about our environment for the better.
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
I thought reading Jay Inslee’s piece “How States Are Leading on Climate Action” would make for a good pairing with looking at the individual states on The Solutions Project interactive map. I liked this quote the most from Inslee’s article: “Leadership may be lacking in the U.S. federal government, but when the world thinks of the U.S. on climate action, they should think of the states.” In connection to the Green New Deal discussion from Wednesday, I do think there is a way to find the middle ground between the state and federal government combatting climate change. If individual constituents were able to focus on specific interests to their state it might gain more traction in Congress. Also, in connection to COVID, Inslee’s words about the power of states working together reminds me of how those on the coasts and the midwest are working together as to when they will reopen their economies- this makes me hopeful that we’re seeing action that goes against the federal administration. Just on Thursday Minnesota announced that it is working with six other states about when to start scaling back isolation measures. I was really surprised looking at Minnesota’s numbers for just how high the number was for wind energy versus solar energy on The Solutions Project interactive map. Even more surprising was that nearly 20% of the wind energy portfolio was from offshore wind energy. Turns out I knew very little about Minnesota’s energy production- we generate over 17% of the state’s electricity from wind power according to the DOE’s Wind Market Report and rank 7th among the states. I had a harder time finding any information about the potential for more offshore wind farming in MN- although if the idea is that it is based in lakes that would pose many environmental and recreational objections. The wind turbines currently in place are in very rural communities that are seeing the benefits- however having these turbines in bodies of water around the state may pose as a large obstacle. http://mn.gov/commerce-stat/pdfs/DOE%20Wind%20Market%20Report.pdf https://prospect.org/greennewdeal/how-states-are-leading-on-climate-action/
I think the vagueness of the Green New Deal is actually beneficial, despite a general criticism being its lack of actual, structured plans. It reminded me a lot of the UN Sustainability Goals (https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030.html). These 17 goals for 2030 are extremely lofty- for example Goal #2 is to end hunger and Goal #6 is for . Now, pessimistically after first reading this, I was critical of the UN's goals because of how unattainable most of them are in a short period of time. But much like the goals of the GND, the point is to start a conversation and put into action some kind of plan, not necessarily have everything laid out beforehand. As the Stanford experts point out, there really isn't time to do that. The vagueness of the GND also allows for flexibility and depth of what issues to tackle in order to limit carbon emissions. This should hopefully engage all of Congress to be interested in this bill- every one has to have some kind of special interest, and the multiple goals of the GND allow multiple options moving forward. I thought the most interesting question asked in the Stanford article was what the most important/benefits of the GND were...whether intentional or not all three of their answers perfectly matched up with the three persuasive techniques of ethos, pathos, and logos: pointing out how many Americans die every year (pathos), the economic benefits (logos), and the need for more government research in such an urgent matter as climate change (ethos). As for The Federalist article, something like that would usually annoy me for how ridiculous it is. But honestly after reading the Conservative Case for Carbon Taxes earlier in the week, I was reminded that articles like The Federalist don't represent the majority of conservative views- more so it's just meant to spark a reaction.
Toggle Commented Apr 15, 2020 on ECON 255: The Green New Deal at Jolly Green General
For the two cases of carbon taxes I brainstormed some differences that also highlight the main points of each article. In my opinion, one of the biggest differences between the People’s Policy Project case and the Climate Leadership Council’s case was the language used to describe economic inequality. The PPP case really highlights how higher emissions are connected to richer individuals. I found this statistic the most interesting: “…in the richest decile (the top 10%) pollutes nearly six times as much as the average person in the poorest decile (the bottom 10%)” (Fremsted & Paul, 2018). Again even though the CLC article talked about economic inequality, look at the difference in the language they use to address it: “Yet these dividends are not giveaways; they would be earned based on the good behavior of minimizing our carbon footprints”. The CLC article talks about how these taxes will benefit “the little guy” but I’m thinking they don’t necessarily mean the same impoverished communities as the PPP case. The CLC case also does not use the same time of climate models as the PPP case, most likely to appeal to those that do not believe in manmade influences- this was hinted at in their intro: “While the extent to which climate change is due to man-made causes can be questioned…” (Baker et al., 2017). What I did like that the CLC case highlights is how the carbon taxes would actually help companies and firms because it would allow for more security in future investments. Overall, I actually really enjoyed reading the more conservative case. It made me less pessimistic about the state of bipartisan climate policy- the facts and case for carbon tax seemed reasonable and sensible and like Margot writes, it really showcases that a strong environmental policy does not always have to be associated with the left/liberals. I think the biggest obstacle each case faces is how difficult changes in the transportation sector will be. An increased use in public transportation doesn’t seem as easy in the slightest- a lot of resources will have to be dedicated to make significant changes. The costs for massive infrastructure changes, people needing to live closer in the cities, and public dissent for this type of transportation limit any progress in this area so I'm curious as to what projects are in the works or how states plan to improve public transport.
Toggle Commented Apr 13, 2020 on The Case(es) for a Carbon Tax at Jolly Green General
I thought today's Zoom discussion was really thought provoking- as I had mentioned I really enjoy seeing and hearing from everyone and share our thoughts with my other class, Environmental Service Learning. One thing that I thought was interesting was our brief discussion about how we view natural disasters versus background pollution. People care more when there is a direct impact which is why the impacts of climate change are hard to make people change their behavior, as we've talked about. What I find ironic however, is that some places hit hardest by these natural disasters don't look at the link BETWEEN the background environmental conditions and these storms. Increasing temperatures especially in the ocean are creating conditions that favor more intense hurricanes, for example. There is a great paper on this and I attached the Yale review of it: https://e360.yale.edu/digest/climate-change-is-making-el-ninos-more-intense-study-finds
After reading the article about the EPA, I agree most with the points that George Thurston makes. I think the biggest danger will not be the immediate consequences of an increase in pollution, but rather what happens when we see a sudden increase in air pollution after productivity resumes at high levels with no enforcement. In a similar article published on Time this morning, it looks like the current administration is also finalizing plans to rollback the standards for fuel emissions (Knickmeyer and Krisher). Between the two articles, I found it interesting how hard it is to emphasize the long term dangers of pollution. I can at least try and see a convincing short term argument that companies are suffering by not being able to operate (however true this is or not) or that people will be able to buy cheaper cars (Knickmeyer and Krisher). I find it frustrating reading that an organization such as the EPA has become so partisan- the statements given by Susan Bodine and Corry Schiermeyer are extremely shortsighted and not at all focused on protecting the environment in the long run. Both the reasons for rollbacks on pollution enforcement and fuel emissions seem to just be the best excuses they can come up with to defend a purely political move with no scientific consideration. I liked how each article cited either former officials or those in a senior position that all contradict current opinions. Interesting how they seem to have come to the same consensus that these plans are all detrimental, contrary to what Trump would argue… Time article on full emission rollbacks: https://time.com/5812995/trump-rollback-vehicle-mileage-standards/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=editorial&utm_term=u.s._&linkId=85510856)
What I found most interesting about the articles by Zhang et al. is the that air pollution affects gender disproportionately. The idea that the negative externalities of climate change affect the population at a disproportionate rate is not something new, for example we saw it with poor communities in connection with MTR (Hendryx) as well as with low SES families being closer to harmful pollutant sites (Currie). However, I thought the data in Zhang’s research that showed the difference in cognitive decline between the genders especially within the older age range really surprising. Furthermore, if I did know there was a difference in results based o n gender, I would have hypothesized the women to have lower test results as women have a 1 in 6 chance after age 60 of developing Alzheimer’s (My Brain) and over ⅔ of the American population that has Alzheimer’s are women (My Brain). With these facts in mind, it makes it even more surprising that the cognitive decline was seen more prominently in men- something Zhang addresses in the additional appendix which I found online. Without knowing the full background/science behind it, it seems to have something to do with the differences between the amounts of gray and white matter in the brain. Math tests require more activation from the gray matter, while the reading/verbal tests require more from the white matter. So it is not about the amount of matter, rather how much is activated. During reading/verbal tests (or types of that nature), the white matter in women is activated at a rate 10 times greater than men. There is also literature to suggest air pollution reduces the amount of white matter. So, if you combine an extremely low activation rate + potential density reduction from air pollution, this could be one theory as to why older men performed significantly worse than women on the reading/verbal tests. Alzheimer's: https://mybrain.alz.org/alzheimers-facts.asp?_ga=2.214831895.1476979558.1584044525-1858145842.1584044525 Appendix: https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/suppl/2018/08/22/1809474115.DCSupplemental/pnas.1809474115.sapp.pdf
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
I appreciated the in-depth approach this article took to explore each stage of coal because it painted an even more grim picture than I imagined. Out of the four different stages, I was most surprised reading about coal processing and just how unhealthy and dangerous it is; for example Epstein writes that “of the known chemicals used and generated in processing coal, 19 are known cancer-causing agents, 24 are linked to lung and heart damage, and several remain untested as to their health effects.” The authors offer a very sobering perspective on the realities of just how terrible the living conditions are in areas close to coal mining in the Appalachia- whether by citing Hendryx’s studies or by pointing out that “heavy metal concentrations…exceeded drinking water standards in one-fourth of households”. What struck me the most about reading this article is just how many plainly stated facts demonstrate how inefficient coal is. For instance, Epstein cites how in the past 20 years there was a 56% decrease in employment due to mechanization and that “as levels of mining increase, so do poverty rates and unemployment rates…”. When presented with this type of data, it is hard to see how coal usage still has support. Especially for states like Kentucky- where not only is there no revenue generated, but there is over a $115 million net loss due to coal production! Or that the state could save $2.85 billion by removing 500,000 tons of SO2. If the costs are so high, is it because the opportunity costs of switching to a different energy source, something the authors did not look at, are that much more expensive? On that note, I am curious how this study was received by officials and coal supporters as well as just the general response by communities in areas of coal mining. I thought it was a good addition to include both low and high estimates for every cost analysis as it limits potential bias/much harder to argue against. I will say the one continual optimistic thought I had while reading this paper is knowing that their projections for coal usage have turned out to be quite far off and as of 2019, coal production and usage is way down. They projected that coal would produce 53% of U.S. power, when in reality as of 2019 the U.S. Energy Information Administration puts coal at 23.5% of electricity generation (U.S. Energy). In this paper, they also cite the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) estimates that CO2 emissions would increase around 1.8% each year by 2030. This year, the IEA reported that CO2 emissions plateaued at the 2018 levels for the first time (Nugent, 2020). References: Nugent, C. (2020, February 11). 'Grounds for Optimism.' Global CO2 Emissions Plateaued in 2019, Defying Expectations, Says Report. Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5782089/iea-emissions-energy-climate-change/ U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis. (2020, February 27). Retrieved from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
I cited this in my discussion response, but never attached the article link: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/11/151715-conservation-trophy-hunting-elephants-tusks-poaching-zimbabwe-namibia/
While reading this paper, I kept thinking about the idea of "ideal tourism", if such a term does exist. I was wondering if the higher price would naturally correct how many tourists are there vs how many should be there. Once again coming from a somewhat biased point of view, I value the ecosystem over maximizing revenue from ecotourism. But naturally, I could see the benefit in increasing the price not just to generate more money for the PACT, but also by potentially limiting the amount of tourists. It seems from the paper that the amount of tourists was not affected by the fee increase. But I'm wondering if an even higher price could be seen as a "win win" in the sense that a higher price will still produce more revenue than the $3.75 fee, but also decrease the overall amount of visitors which, in turn, would also help the reef. Is there an "optimal level" of tourism then? Basically, which would ultimately help the reef more: increasing the money going towards conservation efforts, or decreasing the amount of tourists visiting the reef? It seems like maybe a higher exit fee could achieve both things. I love how the paper cited other examples of success for conservation programs, but the countries and systems highlighted were mainly for marine ecosystems. Like Margot, I also thought about the PACT's applicability to other ecosystems, specifically for African wildlife. I think a good example of this is the conservation programs in Zimbabwe vs Namibia for the African elephant. There has been a lot of controversy around supporting trophy hunting- with money from large international hunters going to "conservation efforts". The IUCN supports this method of gaining revenue, but a place filled with corruption like Zimbabwe has seen no trickle down effect to the rural communities (Cruise, "Is Trophy Hunting"). However, if managed appropriately, like in Namibia, elephant numbers have been documented to increase (Cruise, "Is Trophy Hunting"). Since the program's foundation in 1996, over $70 million dollars has been generated for conservation efforts as well as benefits to the rural communities (Cruise, "Is Trophy Hunting"). Since the land being allowed to hunt on is protected by the conservancy, it also reduces the amount of ecological damage that may occur from farming (Cruise, "Is Trophy Hunting"). Overall, I wonder if PACT has any corruption issues? Or any corruption issues with the other marine examples cited?
I think Krutilla's article serves as one of the foundations for how to find the balance between natural science and economics in conservation. While limiting or halting production may be in the best interest/considered the "right thing to do" from a biologist's viewpoint, the loss in economic productivity would ultimately be more detrimental. Instead, Krutilla revolutionizes the idea that there is economic value to be found in preserved or untouched nature. There was an interesting article from Resources Magazine that really helped me understand why this article is so revolutionary. Because upon reading it, most of the arguments about why conservation of the natural environment is important seem almost obvious, in the sense that they are so prevalent in today's discussion of conservation. According to the article, titled "'Conservation Reconsidered' Turns 50: The Environmental Turn in Natural Resource Economics", there were two camps for Environmentalism in the 1960's. One was "conservation" which defined conservation as a good in itself, with emphasis on "wise use" of natural resources. On the other hand, there was the "preservation" camp headed by none other than John Muir. He argued for the value of nature just as it was, which sounds more like Krutilla's writings. I think the title and importance of Krutilla's work makes more sense now. In a way, his writings bridged the two camps together and showed that something as abstract as the value in untouched nature/future possibilities found in nature should fall under economists' care. In this sense, readers are "reconsidering" the "conservation" camp at this time in history. One question I had while reading this article is what Krutilla's opinions were on development for the sake of recreational ability. I couldn't tell if he though positively or negatively about it- in some instances he seems to be a strong advocate for it in order to get more support for ecosystem research and for the enjoyment of the consumer, but other times he warns of not developing with areas where the opportunity cost of destroying an area may be more than that of paying to preserve it. Here's the link to the anniversary article: https://www.resourcesmag.org/archives/conservation-reconsidered-turns-50-the-environmental-turn-in-natural-resource-economics/
Coase uses numerous case studies to make some interesting arguments about potential solutions for dealing with negative externalities. However, by the end I disagreed with a couple of his points. First, while I understand that behind any simplified model there are assumptions to be made, the lack of transaction costs he spoke of for nearly half the article is nonexistent in the real world. Even Coase calls this assumption "very unrealistic" (Coase 15). When he brings in questions of legality, you once again see the flaws in a theory that as soon as it is confronted in court cases it may not follow what economists believe should happen (Coase 15). Specifically from the paper, I wish I better understood his disagreements with Pigou's theory (section 8 of the article). Understanding his oppositions to Pigou while lead to better apprehension overall of Coase's theorem. The main thing I disagree with is that overall, his theorem seems to lack urgency. He writes, "All solutions have costs and there is no reason to suppose that government regulation is called for simply because the problem is not well handled by the market or the firm" (Coase 18). At this point, I don't think we have time to let things work themselves out. We might as well try stricter government intervention because already we've seen irreversible damages due to climate change. On a similar note, he writes "what has to be decided is whether the gain from preventing harm is greater than the loss which would be suffered elsewhere..." (Coase 27). Again, I'm not sure at this point what loss there would be that we're trying to avoid. Although yes, it would fit the model, we don't have time to wait for markets to balance out and not immediately try and lower pollution emissions. Overall, I'm extremely curious how this theorem stacks up in modern society and specifically with the current administration. Is this economic theory partisan? Coase hints at it slightly, saying "...the Government is likely to look with a benevolent eye on enterprises which it itself is promoting" (Coase 27). In general, do we see one party leaning in a particular way for government intervention in environmental resources, or does it depend specifically on the market?
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Jan 15, 2020