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Lucas Roberton
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My biggest takeaway from this class is that I realized, similarly to Max, that economics isn't always just about producing the efficient output, and can actually be used to help with conservation. Before this class, I would have never considered using economics to try to value pollution, or beaches, or forests. This class has allowed me to think about how we can make better conservation decisions using economic concepts. For example, I never really had a good understanding of just how damaging our current energy use was until this class, when we spent time looking at not only the economic use of, for example coal, but also looking at the damages that it does to the people working in and around the coal industry. I also have seen how interests, ideology, and information can have such strong impacts on the decisions that are made around our environment. Going forward, I believe that I can use this to be a better citizen by first, trying to help stop the issue of misinformation when it comes to environmental economics. Simply by recommending articles that we have read to misinformed people, I think we could do a lot of good. Secondly, I can make both political and everyday decisions based off of the new information that I have received throughout this class. Whether this is looking at the environmental stances of political candidates, or choosing which companies to support based on their environmental stances, I think I can use what I have learned to better both my political and my everyday actions.
Toggle Commented Apr 21, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
I think this article hits the nail right on the head when it comes to our reactions when we hear about all of the climate problems we have. It is simply overwhelming, stressful, and just as the article said, will cause most people to just shut down when they are bombarded with facts. I looked into articles about introducing children to climate change without giving them anxiety or fear. Some common themes I found were giving them ways to relate positively to the environment (which is exactly what Nichols is getting at) and helping them think about what they can do, no matter how small. I think that this second concept is much harder to instill in adults, as we know that just recycling plastic bottles a little more than before isn't exactly going to save the environment. But I think that we overlook the value of something that we all have the right to do: vote. While voting is a small thing action wise, its impacts can be enormous. But we have yet to see sufficient action from our officials in the past, and today as well, so I fear that people may have lost faith to some extent in the power of their vote. If we can find a way to combine this idea of connecting with the environment and neuro-conservation with the fact that as a democracy we have the power to elect officials that will take action, then we could potentially see real action taken in our government, on a larger scale. Articles I read about introducing kids to climate change:
Just a few things I found interesting: First, in the Brookings article, I found it crazy that according to the projections, this year the U.S. would only be pricing about 1% of their carbon emissions. I looked into this a bit further and found a map that shows the states that are currently pricing carbon and their systems for it: My thoughts are that if a few states are able to find ways to price carbon, there is no reason the federal government can't mandate that each state use a system to price their carbon. Giving them the freedom of choice for their system of pricing carbon would most likely make them more accepting of this idea. If we were to do this, I have a feeling we would be pricing a lot more than 1% of our emissions, which would not only create an incentive to use cleaner energy, but would obviously decrease our carbon use. The other thing I found interesting from these readings is that in the Boston Review piece, I had not considered that the rising temperatures would actually be harming those who were already less well off more. The damage on the agricultural sector would be increased greatly, which would certainly hurt those who are living off of farming and aren't necessarily making great amounts of income.
I found this article to basically encompass the reaction I had when Professor Casey told us about this issue. Thinking about it from a health standpoint, considering that Covid-19 can be so damaging to a persons respiratory system, it is a bit confusing as to why we would allow for more carcinogens and damaging toxins to be released into the air as we fight a virus that has us scrambling to find respirators and masks in hospitals. However, thinking about it using the marginal abatement/ marginal damage function, I could see how a policy maker would try to justify this. Because people aren't working as much and pollution has supposedly been down, the marginal damage function would have decreased, which means that a policy maker could argue that if we loosen restrictions on air quality, it will keep us at/near the level that we were damaging air quality before. Additionally, as others have mentioned, loosening these restrictions could allow for businesses to produce more, which would stimulate the economy or at least provide jobs. It is a difficult scenario; but that said, I think that as we've tried to take so many measures to prevent more illness, we need to be more considerate of increasing other health risks and obviously try to avoid making things worse than they already are.
When reading the first paper, I came to the same conclusion as the authors did based on the data: that the social cost of air pollution is probably being underestimated based on its impacts on cognitive skills. Combining this with the fact that we are likely underestimating just how bad our air pollution makes for a rather concerning realization that we could be severely underestimating costs/ damages in multiple areas. The second paper raised concerns with me from the research perspective. In the conclusion of the paper, it says "We need to determine which chemical components are most important." However the paper also outlines how there can be many different components of particulate matter. It seems to me that these two things don't mix well, as PM having so many possible damaging components could require huge amounts of research that may go unfunded or simply ignored. In my opinion, while finding out what in PM is doing the damage is important, I would argue that we know well enough that is harmful and therefore should be more focused on eliminating it. What stuck out the most to me in the third paper was that this experiment was conducted in an area that didn't have any large point sources of air pollution, but rather was mostly subject to pollution from automobiles. Even without large point sources, there was still a significant negative impact found, which made me consider how much more having large point sources such as factories would impact respiratory health. Especially considering that large point sources are often in areas that also have traffic, I think it would be important in considering how much more damage is done by air pollution on both children and adults.
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
I found the proposal of the carbon capture and storage system interesting, because this hits on the idea of how we quantify the damages done to different environmental amenities and decide what we value more. I felt that the proposal implied that the damages to the atmosphere and CO2 emissions were much more than the damages that additional required coal to be burnt would be, which would include the damages of every aspect of coal production, from exploration to its actual burning. This was interesting to me because the article says, "Coal crushing, processing, and washing releases tons of particulate matter and chemicals on an annual basis and contaminates water, harming community public health and ecological systems" and yet this proposal would involve more of these activities. Another piece of this article that was shocking to me was the first table that showed all of the damages from different parts of the coal life cycle. The amount of different damages that come from this industry is enormous, and it makes me wonder if people were better educated on this, would the coal industry still be as big as it? I noticed my peers commenting on how ignorance would be eliminated, but interests and ideology are still hard to overcome. I agree with this, as unfortunately I see it as very unlikely that any power company or politician would be all that interested in straying from coal mining or regulating it more if it is such a large part of the economy in certain places, and such a large part of our energy supply today.
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
While reading the section that explained why the rates of tourists using the beaches was higher due to the location of the survey, I found myself wondering how the results of this survey would have differed if they had been administered in a different location. While the survey made statements that were intended to avoid a bias (the hypothetical fee statement), I wonder if there was a bias based on the fact that the majority of respondents had actually just gotten some sort of utility from the environmental resources that they were being asked to hypothetically pay more for. I think this is an interesting possibility, and it leads me to wonder how this effect could be replicated when talking about bigger topics such as climate change or carbon emissions. For example, if a person who lives in an area with very little air pollution was asked how much they would be willing to pay to have carbon emissions cut, their answer would very likely be lower than if they were asked this same question after traveling to a city with very poor air quality. Furthermore, when addressing large topics such as air quality, it makes me wonder how we could replicate the circumstances that would extract the highest willingness to pay from individuals, as obviously we don't want them to have to live under these circumstances. The trouble with this is sort of a free rider problem, as a person who isn't affected by these issues may not be bothered with them at all. These are some of the difficulties I see when thinking about how these types of surveys would work in different scenarios/ circumstances.
I found Krutilla's paper brings up the recurring theme we have seen in this class so far of the struggle of putting a value on the environment and our natural resources. Krutilla many of the possible considerations for what we would give value to, but even so, he is rather vague on how we could go about doing this. His example of how we need the environment to continue doing research and how many plants have medicinal value. However, he concludes this section by saying, "for this purpose is a matter of considerable importance." This is a rather passive statement when one realizes that he is discussing possible advances in medicine, which could lead to the conversation of the ethics of this. If, as Krutilla says, the environment has the medicinal potential, then this could lead to an improvement in quality of human life. This leads to the question of: what could be valued higher than human life? This goes to show the difficulty of putting value on the environment, although I felt that the article never direly addressed the complexities behind it. Another interesting part of this article was the learning-by-doing concept that could lead to externalities. I found this very interesting as I had not previously considered the impacts on people who may in the future want to use the natural environment for recreation and how destroying the environment now puts the cost onto the future generations from even just a recreational standpoint.
I found the case studies in the beginning of Coase's piece to be very interesting. However, one issue that has come to mind when considering the general idea of the problem of social cost is that when it comes to negotiating the costs of reducing damages, there is no way to anticipate the future value of certain goods. Because of a certain lack of flexibility when it comes to reaching legal agreements for the costs of damages, it could very easily come to a point where a good's value changes very quickly, but the damages paid to the producer are not changed. For example, assume that in Coase's example of the cattle farmer and the crop farmer, the crop farmer is receiving $3 in damages that the cattle farmer is paying in order to have the extra steer. If suddenly an invasive species comes and destroys half of the crops, this would cause a shortage of crops, making them much more valuable. Now comes the question: Should the cattle farmer have to pay double what he originally did in damages because of the change in valuation? While I understand this example is a very short term problem, it certainly would discourage joining the crop farming industry if they are not better compensated for the damages. However on the flip side, should the cattle farmer have to pay more because the crop farmer has a worse yield that year? It would seem unfair to force that cost upon him. The point that I am attempting to make with this example is that there are many factors in the problem of social cost, and there are many ways they could be approached. Now, when we look at the costs on the environment, it becomes a whole new monster. We must now consider whether production of goods are worth more than health and safety to both the environment and in many cases to human life. Again, the issue of valuation comes up. A pollution permit today may be worth 10 times its value depending on how bad air quality is at the time. I would like to hear my peers opinions on this issue in class.
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