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Nikki Doherty
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The most important/interesting thing that I have learned this semester is that conversations, debates, and articles surrounding climate change are full of paradoxes. For instance, the elimination of pollution’s negative externalities seems so costly yet in reality, the costs wane in the sight of the social costs of pollution. Additionally, conversations surrounding climate change make improvements seem so far off and drastic (i.e. through feasibility or uprooting current lifestyles) although the more-efficient technologies already exist and even minor transitions show positive impacts. Last is the paradox of burdens—low-income groups and countries who least contribute to pollution are the populations who bear its biggest costs. In turn, the environment becomes another mechanism through which we disadvantage vulnerable subsets of the world’s population. I believe that these “paradoxes” are a result of the 3 i’s: ignorance, interests, and ideology. If we do not change our cultural attitudes away from polarization and individualism, it is going to be so much more difficult to turn our actions around and rekindle our relationship with the environment. To be a better citizen, I will be mindful of when I am ignorant (i.e. when I have more to learn), I will be cognizant of my interests (i.e. my inherent individual biases), and I will challenge ideology (i.e. suggest that we think beyond molds). I challenged myself to take this class and learn a lot about a subject I knew little about. I chose to overcome my personal ignorance regarding environmental issues, and this class has empowered me to continue to do so.
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
Connecting with nature definitely has positive benefits, large enough to outweigh feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry. During this period of “social distancing” and lockdowns, we have less time outdoors (due to cancelled sports practices or even no walks outside to different academic buildings). I have undoubtedly felt this change mentally. Every small thing that happens these days seems especially overwhelming, and I find myself unsure of how to deal with it or move forward. Recently, I have been taking extra time to get outside, along the Chessie, around Woods Creek, even just in my neighborhood, and engage in mindful meditation. This has made a great difference. I feel my brain decompressing when I let myself go in nature. I feel the weights of everyday stresses finding places to escape to. Current research points that I am not alone in this. Frances Kuo has found that trees are associated with improvements in nearby residents mental health. Green spaces, and nature more generally, are connected to individual’s well-being. Kuo theorizes that green spaces affect the brain like mediation does. Green spaces spur “gentle engagement” that actually allow muscles to decompress and relax. Additionally, Kuo finds that residents who live in proximity to green spaces have less ADHD symptoms and more sensations of calmness. Green spaces also seem to be associated with decreased crime in neighborhoods. Her work is based in Chicago neighborhoods. Similarly, Thompson et al. (2012) suggests that green spaces are linked with lower levels of stress, as measured by salivary cortisol patterns. Interestingly, they suggest that this association is strongest among “deprived populations.” I take these two pieces of literature to be inspiring. Even small pieces of nature, such as trees, change the brain. One does not need to go to the Grand Canyon or into the Pacific Ocean to feel nature’s effects. The idea that nature calms is likely not a new one, however, today, when everyone is searching for “ways to reduce stress” and “tips to connect the mind and body,” offers a chance to capitalize of nature’s power… and instill a need for conservation. It is clear that nature is purest form of recovery! Information about Frances Kuo’s work can be found here: Thompson et al (2012):
The research done by the Solutions Project is so important, and I am impressed by their strong commitment to both climate change technology and the people who climate change effects most. As simple as it may be, I was first drawn the page’s main quote: “A world powered by the wind, water, and sun is not only possible – it’s already happening.” Although this seems obvious to us, many others may not be aware or might not truly believe we have the potential to make the transitions. This is the message we need to keep sending out. I believe that a lot of people might think that things like the Great New Deal will lead to extreme changes in our lifestyle because they do not realize that changes are possible without an overhaul or without loss. Looking at their interactive map regarding the shift was particularly interesting. It is so beneficial that they can project the number of jobs that this change can create, in a given city. The micro-level data makes the possibility feel so much more real. Further, the health cost savings provides a lot of context for what the benefit of the transition would be. For Boston, where I am from, the transition would pay for itself in as little as 3.9 years from air pollution and climate cost savings alone. Considering that figure along with the jobs created and other economic related benefits is encouraging. On an individual level, we can save $6,485 in energy, health, and climate costs per person. I am interested in how this figure was calculated, as I believe it could be even higher. How can you put a price on detrimental health consequences, pollution related illnesses certainly cost more than just treatment? Moreover, how can you put a price on the prevalence rainfall or natural disasters at an individual level? Some insight into what was used in these calculations would be interesting. Lastly, it is interesting how these figures change with geography. For example, individuals in Greensburg are projected to save more than double per person than individuals in Boston (in terms of energy, health, and climate costs). It would be interesting to compile these cost savings per person figures by city and compare with average city wealth (or other city characteristics). I chose to read “Healing Waters” by Judith Schwartz. The essay begins with a discussion of toxic, or tainted water and the health consequences it has for the community who drinks it. I have heard of the water crisis in Flint, but was surprised that similar stories exist in Vermont, New York, and New Jersey. She then moves to natural disasters related to waters, and the emergencies that are clearly a product of climate change. Moreover, spills, run-off, and overdevelopment are more directly man-caused water-related crises. She uses these similar stories to demonstrate that we are directly depleting and distorting the resource we arguably need the most. Water is the basis of our own health (needed for hydration), the basis of our food supply, and the basis of our ecosystem. She describes the Great New Deal as the way to heal and renew our current “broken relationship” with water. I enjoyed the intimate approach she took in telling this story, creating responsiveness. Putting human feelings and needs into conversations about climate change is impactful. We began our semester learning about “existence value” that places have, for example the Grand Canyon… but this essay motivates so much more than “existence value.” It creates both a “need value” and "inherent value" that seem almost spiritual. We are connected and dependent on water, and we are mistreating and devaluing it. I was surprised to read that a river in New Zealand and in India legitimately have personhood rights, and the people of Toledo are the legal guardians of the lake. Clearly, people are beginning to see water as something we must protect and give back to, which is encouraging. Once changing our current relationship with water to one that recognizes its rights and its “personhood,” then we can start to become “allies” with it as she suggests. This is a really interesting perspective. I have never studied “natural hydrological cooling processes” but it seems like a great way to use current climate changes to our advantage, even to reverse climate change’s consequences like heating. Here is a discussion from a group of farmers in Australia that gives a breakdown about it and how it might reverse climate change: Complex, but valuable.
The Green New Deal certainly has stigma around it; the contention that surrounds the deal seems more talked about than the details of the GND itself! As Oliver’s segment suggests, we must stop promoting “stereotypes” surrounding the GND and start having more intellectual (economic and scientific) conversations about it and about climate change. Oliver suggests that we are killing bills based on stereotypes and stigmas rather than what is contained in the bill. We make surface-level opinions without digging through the bill or the science. The goal is net-zero emissions. It is not stringent requirements that will “gut” America. When reading it, I was surprised that the GND is as non-binding as it is… especially, because media and daily conversations suggest it to be extremely limiting (i.e. Not the hamburgers!). I do see how this lack of detail might be criticized, however, I think that it should be viewed as flexibility which seems necessary given current contention. I think that Benson is absolutely correct when suggesting that we should reach out to other countries to share and gain knowledge about best practices (Stanford piece). Best practices to me, includes decarbonisation strategies like he suggests, but also collaboration in research as this is a global crisis. How can we get to net-zero emissions? Most importantly, it includes cultural practices to garner public buy-in. How can we get the public to demand net-zero emissions? How do we get people to change their lifestyles? Also in the Stanford piece, Jackson’s point begets an interesting question—are we setting expectations and pressures too high for the Green New Deal to change our current nation’s poverty (Stanford)? Although I can imagine push back from including this, I do believe we have a duty to prioritize poorer people since they bear the largest burden of climate change. If this policy is aimed at minimizing the consequences of climate change, we cannot turn on backs on the people it hurts most. We can change the rhetoric to be more “bipartisan” by promoting the jobs and disposable income the GND can and will create.
Toggle Commented Apr 15, 2020 on ECON 255: The Green New Deal at Jolly Green General
This article again stresses why moral suasion is likely ineffective on its own. I have noticed a main obstacle to social distancing is that others think that not everybody is doing it… so in turn, ask themselves “why should I do it?” It is like people think they are being cheated, having to remain inside as other people continue their daily lives. If others are going to take advantage of the system, they are not going to be the ones taken advantage of. Pair this observation with a growing/encouraged distrust of media and a lack of cohesion among state responses, and no one knows what to believe or what is right. I think that the information presented in the article suggests that stricter and more concrete consequences are needed to change individual level behavior in this country—both in regards to the current crisis and to climate change. As Hardin argued and we have often discussed in class, we need something that is mutually agreed upon. I am not surprised that believing in climate change is the biggest predictor of social distancing behavior. These people are probably more willing to give up some individual short-term pleasures for the future welfare of the environment and future generations. Others are more likely to free ride on each other and free ride on the future (a take-away I remember from Solow, earlier in the semester). Like Steven mentions, this is clearly a divide between people willing to take in account the social cost and those who only consider private costs. When we ask the question “Who is not listening?”, one thing we must consider is who has the “privilege” to social distance. Many people don’t have means to purchase things like hand sanitizer or even water to wash their hands. Staying at home might also not be affordable to all; maybe some need to keep working, or searching for jobs to afford the bare necessities. We cannot glaze over these circumstances... and talk about these people as if they are “choosing” not to social distance. The article does nod to this, but I think that it is often understated in daily conversations and worth highlighting. It is interesting that counties with more cases exhibit lower levels of social distancing, relative to places with a lower number of cases but that have experienced a death. Places with increased numbers of cases might have higher vulnerability (more likely to contract the virus, because they cannot protect themselves or stay indoors) like discussed above. Or, it may have a higher density of people so more moving around. I wonder what is driving this.
When studying a conversation of carbon tax, the three I’s we often discussed in class quickly come to mind: Interests, Ignorance, and Ideology. In the carbon tax discussions, ideology is particularly problematic. “Its Ideology, Stupid” (UPenn) includes interesting graphics demonstrating the importance of ideology. Figure 3 shows the vote share of carbon taxes in 2016 and 2018 and a function of democratic presidential votes in the state of Washington. Ideology best accounts for this voting pattern. A continuous trend shows Washington’s most “liberal” deciles with the greatest share of “yes” votes for the carbon tax; it shows its most “conservative” deciles with the lowest share of “yes” votes for the carbon tax. Interestingly, the trend is nearly identical between both 2016 and 2018 carbon tax votes. To me, this shows that changes in the policy do little to overcome ideology and worldview... ideology is sticky over time. The first article stresses the importance of ideology, and how it has been an impediment to moving forward with climate change related policy. It also brings hope. Importantly, it emphasizes that wherever you stand on the issue of climate science, that something must be done, and something in line with conservative thinking can be done. Maybe both sides are in, or at least can be support of the carbon tax (while still aligning with their party’s ideals). How we frame things like policy, impacts the likelihood that they will gain favor. For example, if we can highlight certain benefits of a policy to certain groups, and other benefits to other groups, fitting them to their respective worldviews, we can get a lot further in open discourse. It is interesting to frame the carbon tax as a way to oppositely decrease government involvement. For instance, this piece argues that the carbon tax will phase out the EPA’s regulatory powers. Further, framing the tax as a benefit, not burden to the majority of Americans, especially to the working-class is important. Letting the public be aware, that they will gain disposable income is key to garnering this support. Putting the conservative case directly into conversation with the progressive case is interesting. The article discussing the progressive case brings vulnerability to the forefront. Helping the future, means the future of all people not just certain groups. The article is careful to discuss the potential consequences a carbon tax might have on the lives of the poor. Although the cost in dollars might be higher for high income individuals, the real burden will be for lower income individuals as they will lose a much greater percent of their income to the tax. To curb this, the article proposes that carbon revenues be distributed to individuals lower in the income distribution. Like the first, this articles framing of a very similar carbon tax and dividend is fit to the worldview of progressives. Caratittini et al (2018) determine public opposition to be one of the largest obstacles to carbon taxes. They seek to study the barriers of public support and the main concerns they find are as follows: (1) The cost to the individual is seen to be very high (2) The taxes will disproportionately hurt lower income households (3) The tax may lead to unemployment and a worsened national economy (4) The tax is not going to effectively discourage high-carbon behavior (5) Governments are just using this for more revenue They take their learnings of these barriers and apply them to their final step in analysis—creating suggestions of carbon tax designs that are more likely to garner public support (ie trial periods, tax escalators, lump-sum transfers etc). If we want to pass a carbon tax, we need to take similar steps—evaluate what is stopping people from voting yes, and craft policies that overcome these barriers. After reading the conservative and progressive case for carbon tax/ dividend, the top five concerns of the public (Caratittini et al 2018) seem like they can be eased through a greater understanding of what the policy will entail… and a better framing of policy’s benefits and consequences in language that fits their worldviews, or in this case their concerns. Clashing ideologies make bipartisan support tricky, but common ground between climate policy can be elevated in conversations. Compromise will always need to be had, but maybe crafted language can help to reach this. References UPenn Caratittini et al (2018)
Toggle Commented Apr 13, 2020 on The Case(es) for a Carbon Tax at Jolly Green General
Similar to my last blog post, the main point sticks— poorer communities do not have anyone to protect them. This is evident in the EPA’s suspension but also in the existence of “Cancer Valley.” Before this article, I had not heard of “Cancer Valley” and it is extremely alarming that we have allowed the air in these areas to become so toxic without offering compensation, like aid to the communities living there. We need to give more options for affordable housing that does not have an overwhelming concentration of industrial plants. This becomes increasingly important if we want to mitigate health disparities. It is both upsetting and unsettling, but not surprising that 70% of Covid-19-related deaths in Louisiana are African Americans. Poorer and minority communities continue to have disproportionately worse health outcomes than “better off” groups, with higher rates of chronic disease and premature death. It is up to the government to give these vulnerable groups heightened care, because we have historically placed them in these compromised positions, and continue to do so. Right now, maybe this means we allocate more test kits to vulnerable populations, or we ensure more hospital beds for certain demographics. But, I think something is in order. I have done a bit of research on the take-up of health care, and other public resources. Vulnerable populations are often the least likely to use public resources offered to them. We need to ask why, and act upon it. We have a responsibility to provide increased services but this comes with a responsibility and need to empower vulnerable groups to seek, use, and demand such resources. Using something like the Covid-19 vulnerability map mentioned in this article, I wonder if we could eventually use this crisis as an instrument for air pollution. It might allow us to analyze the true impacts of pollution (and how its effects might be greater for poor communities than wealthier communities) in a unique way. Firstly, the virus is correlated with air pollution because of the health consequences of air pollution (asthma, COPD, heart disease, hypertension, etc.). Second, the virus did not systematically infect areas with higher air population. That is, the virus spread throughout communities sort of randomly. The reason we see areas with higher air pollution lighting up more in terms of death rates, is because their health is compromised by environmental factors (especially if we can control for things like income and race). Regardless of the method chosen, we need to build out our data on Covid-19 and directly put it in conversation with air pollution data. To do this effectively, we need to have all localities reporting Covid-19 infections and deaths by race, by income, by citizenship (immigrant vs. natives), etc.
A theme that has stuck out to me throughout this semester is that of vulnerability. This is highlighted by the “Struggling US counties will be hit hardest by climate change” and “Globally, low-income countries will lose larger shares of their economic output” sections from the Ten Facts about the Economics of Climate Change. Communities ranking lowly in terms of labor markets and income are most likely to face the largest damages from climate change. In fact, countries ranking in the bottom quintile of economic vitality, experience damages costing almost 6 percent of their county GDP more than the GDP of countries ranking in the top quintile of economic vitality. Given that they are likely already lower in GDP, this is increasingly concerning. Low quintile countries have diminished voice and resources to combat the changes occurring, and they are less likely to have people looking out for them. Moreover, the people in these areas are likely low income and unable to migrate to areas with lesser damages. Thus, minorities and indigenous communities bear a greater burden of climate change relative to other social groups. This differential is increasingly problematic as these populations already lag in health outcomes. On a global scale, inequity also exists. Countries that contribute very little to climate change (low per capita emissions) suffer higher climate damages per capita relative to high contributors. Moreover, the bottom third of countries regarding income make up almost all the countries racing an increase in mortality rates (from climate change). This may lead more developed countries to fail to take into account the entire social cost, because they are not the ones being hit the hardest. They remain individualistic in the sense that, because they aren’t see big damages on their own populations, they aren’t acting on the problem. The “endogeneity of growth” is an interesting concept from the Boston Review article that makes a ton of sense. If developing countries face the most damages and destruction from climate change, their economic growth is going to be most stunted. Destruction will destabilize their industries, their way of living, their capital, their resources, etc. If this happens, developing countries will then even less resources that they began with to mitigate climate change. They become hit doubly hard and are struggling to stabilize and shift technology away from carbon usage. If we want to hold these countries accountable for climate change, then we should offer them increased aid. An article I read uses the term “climate refugees” to refer to the groups hit doubly hard by economic/social marginalization and the consequences of climate change (Global Citizen). The article sites Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico’s poorest communities. While wealthier groups had opportunities to leave or rebuild, poorer groups waited years for assistance from an underfunded relief effort. They suggest that this is not a unique incident, but a trend that will become increasingly common—natural disasters leading to deepening inequality. Additionally, the Global Citizen article estimates that by 2030 100 million people living in developing countries will be pressed into poverty as a result of climate change. As displacement continues happening because of environmental changes, more and more people will seek refuge in different areas and countries. Considering the current hostility many countries have in conversations regarding refugees, The Global Citizen deems displacement even more problematic. By not changing our behaviors, we are continuously stacking the odds against our most vulnerable populations. Links Referenced:
The technologies in these articles are inspiring because they prove (1) we have the brain power and resources to make this shift and (2) people are finally really seeing and buying into the need for it. This reminds me of an earlier article this term that discussed how efficient technologies, even zero-emission technologies, are out there, but it is up to us to actually start using them as substitutes in order to reduce our emissions. Importantly, the electric aviation article mentions the propensity that consumers will be attracted to electric aircraft. This concern can be applied to all newer efficient technologies. We need to shift cultural attitudes and conversations from “this is the way things work” to “this is how things also work, and in fact work better.” If we can convince the greater society that electric technologies offer equal if not greater capabilities, safety, and durability, than current energies then we can spur substitution at higher rates. In the next few years, companies are going to releasing a lot more of this technology (just as Envoy’s electric outboards), so we need to start training ourselves to be open to substitution now. I recently read an article about all the startups that were created in the last recession. Hopefully, this time spent reflecting on the world, will get more potential startups aimed at “decarbonisation” inspired.
Toggle Commented Apr 2, 2020 on ECON 255: Good News at Jolly Green General
Given the information regarding who is most vulnerable to the virus, namely, that individuals with comprised respiratory issues are at greater risk of death from the virus, this article is very alarming. I can imagine that some in support of the EPA’s move may argue that air pollution’s effects on respiratory health primarily come to fruition in the long term. Research proves, however, that this may not the case. A study on females from Wuhan and Zhuhai, China found that outdoor air pollution is associated with short-term adverse effects on lung function (Zhou et al 2016). Specifically, they use forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) as measures of lung function. A later study, also in China, uses time-series analysis to find that increases in air pollutants, SO2, NO2, and PM10, are associated with increases in respiratory disease mortality (Zhu et al 2018). This study took place from 2009 to 2015, which is a much longer time period than we can expect from corona virus; however, the fact is that air pollution can severely impact the lungs quicker than we might believe. I believe a quote from Gina McCarthy, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a very strong one, but it does open some eyes up to the EPA’s response: “an open license to pollute… this brazen directive is nothing short of an abject abdication of the EPA mission to protect our well being” (Times). What is further alarming, is that there is no end date on the EPA’s suspension of penalty. I say this because once virus cases begin declining, companies will still be hurting financially and recovering from things like layoffs. If so, they are likely to lobby for continuing no penalties, or reduced penalties for noncompliance because compliance may strain their budgets. The article claims that social distancing prevents compliance with air pollution rules. However, if we take as given that increased air pollution may make the virus worse for a lot of people, might we be able deem these workers as essential and provide aid to firms performing compliance duties? Looking at the situation in the lens of an economic model, it becomes even more unreasonable. Let’s view the resulting air pollution as a negative externality. The inappropriate government intervention (no enforcement of penalties) causes over-efficient emission by decreasing the cost of pollution. The company’s increasing pollution is failing to take into account the full social cost of their pollution, which is now even higher than in the past (because of the danger of pollution making people that much more vulnerable to the virus). We could use an optimal externality model (with social costs as a function of abatement costs and damages) to determine what a better response from the EPA and firms might be. Given the virus’ threat to those with respiratory illness, I think that the MDF curve should shift upwards. I believe that the MAC should likely remain the same as before the virus (if the EPA didn’t lower the MAC as they do with their current policy). This situation would mean that the optimal level of emissions should be less emissions than before the virus. However, if we agree with firms that the MAC has increased and shifted outward (due to social distancing workers), I believe that MDF should shift upwards by much more. As a result, this would still make optimal emissions either equal to before the virus, or still less than before the virus. As most the US economy and industry sits still, we have an opportunity to change the way we are doing things. We could be taking this time to learn how to implement new, more efficient technologies once we get back up and running. We could be using this time to derive any glimpses of potential benefits from the virus- like lower pollution rates- and ask ourselves how can we ensure that these benefits continue to be realized post crisis. Referenced articles: Zhu et al 2016 Zhu et al 2018 Times
The three articles today were extremely interesting, but mostly concerning. Moreover, reading the papers as a collective offered valuable insight into how wide-reaching the consequences of pollution are to all members of our society. For instance, Zhang (2018) paper discusses the negative health consequences of pollution particularly for older populations (pollution negatively impacts cognitive ability more in older birth cohorts), while Jalaludin (2000) paper discusses the negative health consequences of pollution on much younger populations (pollution negatively impacts lung function of children). The broad age spectrum impacted should wake up policy makers, especially knowing that the health of our most vulnerable ages (oldest and youngest) are at heightened risk. Additionally, the readings bring to light that health consequences differ for different subsets of the population. The paper focusing on China illuminated the additional vulnerability that populations of developing countries may face. I spent last spring term in Nepal and was shocked by the stark visibility of air pollution. The temples around the city are covered in dust kicked up from all the dirt roads and infrastructure projects. Some days you would be able to clearly see the mountain on the other side of the valley, yet others you could not be convinced that the mountain existed there at all. Each day conversations with locals would be about the “smog” levels hiding the mountain views. But, the conversations were never about the “smog” leading to decreased lung functioning, heart disease, or cancers. Spending four weeks is a short amount of time; however, it is concerning that amid our studying of economics and our interactions with locals, air pollution did not explicitly come up. This gap leads me to wonder about who is informed about the negative health consequences of pollution, and leads me to believe that uneducated populations are likely in the dark. Saud and Paudel (2018) state that the threat of pollution on health has not reached the common public level in Nepal and thus people are not taking protective measures necessary. As visitors, we consistently wore masks to protect from kicked up dust but we rarely saw natives doing so. It is important to note that most daily life in Nepal takes place on the dusty streets, as grocery shop owners sit on their side walks and others routinely gather on roadsides for hangouts. As with other developing countries, Nepal has been pushing big development projects to spur economic growth. Katmandu, where a large amount of the air pollution is, is one of the fastest growing cities in South Asia and is experiencing increasing urbanization. The leading causes of particulate matter are the prevalence of motorcycles, especially in Katmandu, and brick kilns—building materials which inputs include powder coal. According to the Nepal Health Research Council, in Nepal, more than one in ten Nepalese suffer from a chronic lung problem such as bronchitis. Such issues are linked to the worsening air pollution in the country. At some points, Nepal has been labelled to have the worst air pollution in the world. The WHO attributes 10,000 deaths annually in Nepal to air pollution, establishing its role as a silent killer. Saud and Paudel (2018) estimate that by 2030, 24,000 premature deaths in Nepal will be due to air pollution. Looking at individuals most directly exposed to air pollution, Saud and Paudel (2018) establish that the pulmonary functions of traffic police working in Katmandu has significantly worsened. Thus, all other Katmandu residents who frequently sit on streets are at similar risk. The increased migration to Katmandu, reminds me of Wednesday’s reading in which the author suggested that with continued development, people are living in places that are most vulnerable to climate change (and in this case, pollution). All of this is to say that I am constantly surprised by how much we are underestimating the costs of pollution and failing to spread awareness and protection to the population groups most vulnerable. Age, gender, past health histories, location, and (in earlier readings) race, all matter and cause the detrimental effects of pollution to vary. This heterogeneity increases the complexity of offering an exact figure of the cost of pollution and leads me to believe that it should not be an exact figure. Just as other papers have recognized, I believe a range of costs is probably most appropriate. Links: Saud and Paudel Reference to WHO and Nepal Health Research Council
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
It is troublesome that the externalities related to coal conservatively cost around $345.3 billion, even without including all theoretical and probable costs (omitting environmental, community, mental health, economic, and other impacts that do not have a method of quantification). Though the paper suggests that coal mining impacts mental health, it does not dive deeper into specifics. The potential for coal mining to impact mental health is interesting to me, especially as mining-dependent economies tend to be in disadvantaged areas at which intersection mental illness may be increasingly problematic or severe. An article by Hendryx (2010) finds that members of coal-mining counties self-report significantly less healthy days for both physical and mental health than members of non-coal-mining counties. Within coal-mining communities, this may be induced by stress of hearing explosives. Other research has found that air pollutants themselves, induce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain (Ali 2019). Ultimately, this inflammation can lead to depression (Ali 2019). A study in Cincinnati has linked child emergency psychiatry visits with exposure to fine particulate matter (Brokamp 2019). Psychiatry visits included anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicides, and schizophrenia. The authors’ analysis focused on short-term PM2.5 exposures, only three days before the emergency visits. Importantly, they find that the associations between exposure to particulate and emergency psychiatry visits is stronger among children living in high deprivation areas compared to those in low deprivation areas (Brokamp 2019). A 2019 paper offers a potential monetary quantification of mining’s impact on mental illness (Ali 2019). In China, a 1 standard deviation increase in particulate matter over an average PM2.5 concentration increases the chance of having a mental illness by 6.67% (Ali 2019). The authors offer that this translates to an annual medical expense of $22.9 billion (2019 USD $$) (Ali 2019). I believe this would be around $19.3 billion (2008 US $$) (the units used in Epstein 2011 paper). This is a slightly larger magnitude to what the authors project for a high bound estimate cost of excess cardiovascular disease from mercury emissions. Thus, the potential cost of mental illness may be impactful to the magnitude of coal mining externalities. Along a similar thread, mining communities (again, typically in disadvantaged areas) may be under a false assumption that mining is their only labor opportunity. The jobs that mining provides has been one of the Trump administration’s arguments for keeping the coal industry growing. As Hendryx pointed out in his interview however, coal mining such as MTR actually drives away labor opportunities by relying on decreasing laborers but also by adding residential risks (and making the area unattractive to big employers). The Epstein paper further warns that mining areas deter migration. Additionally, the paper suggests that the number of jobs within mining are decreasing as the number of coal mining employees decreases by 56%. Moreover, the authors also point out that poverty rates increase as mining levels increase... hence, mining employment may be offering a false picture of affluence to locals. The above insights suggest that the social costs of coal mining are most likely higher than $345.3 billion, especially because coal mining is typically based in low SES areas. This is shocking considering how comprehensive the paper already is. Links: Hendryx 2010 Brokamp 2019 Ali 2019
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
It would be interesting to see if the average valuation of marine resources (or the maximum WTP) in Belize increased across the period of survey from 2012 to 2013 to 2014. If we maintain that as resources get scarcer, we attribute more value to them and are increasingly willing to pay more for them, then we should expect to see this trend in the stated maximums. If we do see the expected trend, should increases in tourist fees occur regularly over certain durations of time until we reach an optimal level of conservation? Might policy stipulate for a steadily increasing fee as WTP increases? If we do not see the expected trend, should we be skeptical of our valuation techniques or Belize’s tourist public awareness efforts? Regarding public awareness, we should also consider the findings that those who are first-time visitors to Belize are less likely to pay fees than those who have visited before. Under the assumption that if they visited Belize more than once they likely have more knowledge about the local ecosystem, these empirics suggest that information about Belize’s marine resources is part of the function determining one’s WTP for PACT. Findings also report that those who have knowledge about marine protected areas had a higher WTP. To stimulate and increase WTP among tourists, and increase funds for PACT, tourist centers like airports should spread information about the need for conservation. Information is clearly a big component of the WTP equation when considering tourist’s awareness of fees before the survey. As the study finds, those who knew there was a lower fee, were willing to pay less (maybe due to anchoring bias) while those that were not reminded of the current fee value were willing to pay more. I wonder the extent to which visitors of Belize were aware of the exit fees before visiting the country. How big of a role do the fees play in their decision to travel there? If fees are considered, is it the existence of the fee or the actual price value of the fee that is the deterrent? This question could potentially be explored in future contingent valuation surveys by reminding survey respondents that an existing fee already exists, but not providing the prior fee price value. If fees increase over time perhaps we can we employ a travel cost approach to future gauge the direct use value of the marine ecosystem. Survey techniques such as contingent valuation bring my mind back to a lot of biases (and wording we must be careful of to avoid) that I studied in past psychology and marketing classes. As the surveys were implemented during visitors time in Belize, I wonder how the US price relative to the prices they were acclimated to in Belize effected their reported accepted fee and perception of alternative choices (in other words, how does the Belize currency stack up against the US priced survey options). One thing I wish the article discussed was the answers reported to “why” the individual would be unwilling to pay an increased fee. I am also interested in how the inclusion of this question calling for self-reflection may have influenced respondents to change their original selection of no to say yes. Overall, because high-end tourism is inelastic and a majority are willing to pay more, I think that we should implement fees in more ecological tourist destinations over time. If we lose some visitors, higher magnitudes of fees (such as the $20 in Belize) are likely still able to provide equal to more benefit than visitors lost.
When we recognize the intrinsic value of nature, what the trade-off between production and preservation is becomes a more difficult question. Economists rarely values things simply for their existence. Instead, economists focus on production. I think that Krutilla tries to reframe valuing nature for its existence—by suggesting that its mere existence can be viewed as a form of production—to appeal to those who hold to this more traditional economic thought. Krutilla proves that the existence of something like the Grand Canyon or the wilderness produces necessities for scientific research, produces utility for those who enjoy recreation, and produces amenities for future generations. Right now, intertemporal choice and utilization—making decisions about how much of a resource to use in a given time period because these decisions affect the resources that will later be available to us—dominates conversations about natural resources. Krutilla says that this is the wrong approach; rather than rationing our resources, we should be substituting to technological advances. Later, he effectively proves that resource use is the place where substitution should occur, especially because the natural environment is not able to be effectively substituted with advancements in technologies. It is interesting to attempt to place myself in 1967, the time of this piece. I wonder what the common person valued a natural environment at. To a certain extent, by placing myself back and forth in time (in the context of 1967 and the present), I am more convinced of Krutilla’s argument because the perceived value has of preservations has increased over the time period to the present day: the natural environment has shown appreciating value. Thinking about the conversations I have heard regarding climate change and the environment, I believe that behavior motivated by the desire to leave an estate for future generations is very strong. I often hear people say “I want my kids to be able to do this one day” or “I want my grandkids to be able to see things like this.” Krutilla seems to have predicted this. I think that a lack of information and experience with environmental recreation areas may cause an underestimate of the value of conservation. The value that an individual places on a preservation area or outside recreational space is dependent upon their prior experiences with the area or similar areas. They need to know about its existence, and further need to have skills in how to enjoy it. Because not all individuals have the privilege, means, or information to partake in recreational activity, the value given to the space is lower than it could be. By making knowledge and activities more accessible to the all members of the public, we may be able to increase the value of the existence of preservations. I think our government misses the mark in being “the trustees for unborn generations” and is often too concerned with preserving existing pleasures for their current citizens. Those working in government are averse to taking away current freedoms or limiting currently available resources because they fear upsetting the majority. Just as Hardin argued in “The Tragedy of the Commons,” it is important for us to realize that recognizing the need to cut back on freedoms or resources available to us now, will allow for greater freedoms later. One thing that I was left unclear about is his focus on preserving the greatest biological diversity possible. If we are relying on a market of option to preserve parts of nature, how can we insure diversity if people do not value all landscapes equally? How can we monitor the distribution?
Coase seems to urge us to redefine and re-visualize “factors of production” to be rights, more than just inputs that firms use (Coase 44). By doing so, he repositions Pigou’s view that the harmer should be at fault for damages to his reciprocal view of issue at hand: A’s action harms B, but if we restrict this A’s action, B’s action harms A. I believe this repositioning adds credibility to his argument that the market can reach efficient allocation regardless of each party is liable for creating the harm. It also adds credibility to his claim that bargaining will be pursued until an efficient and optimal allocation is reached. In the lens of environmental issues however, I am less convinced of the above. It is hard to imagine how the environment might be able to prevent the damage afflicted to it (ex. a doctor may be able to move to another room, but a fish cannot move to an unpolluted stream). Further, property rights become more difficult to see and claim for things like natural resources, leading me to question how optimal allocation achieved via bargaining. Coase oversimplifies situations with social costs as all his examples suffer from similar unrealistic assumptions. For instance, in each case presented, each party has sufficient information on who the other is—they know exactly who to hold accountable and how to do so. His arguments are contingent on the “individual hardships” that are voiced and acted upon (Coase 9); however, what happens if a negative externality effects the masses or a part of the ecosystem? Who defends the rights of these bodies? The issue in both instances of shortcomings (regarding the application of Coase to environmental issues) may be considered agency. At what point is another party able to be an agent for the environment, and who should this be? Moreover, Coase relies on a world without transaction costs. Coase does recognize that a world with zero transaction costs is unlikely and when transaction costs are in fact particularly high, government intervention may be warranted. Government intervention may be costlier than “the more serious harm” (if we take serious to mean a cost-benefit analysis like Coase does) (Coase 2). If we take serious to mean moral seriousness, then government intervention in situations of negative externalities like pollution may more likely be the best solution to social welfare.
Nikki Doherty is now following The Typepad Team
Jan 15, 2020