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Mikki Whittington
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I don't really expect this to be the most profound thing you'll read. I think that within my lifetime I have always had this perspective that if people weren't convinced to do something by morals that they would at least be convinced of it by money. I.E. if you can't convince people to care about the environment and the planet because it's pretty freaking awesome in and of itself, then you could at least convince them to care about it by explaining how they could save money by also helping to save the planet. I'm not really sure how I came to feel this way; maybe it's just because I would hope people would be rational. This course very much showed me that this perspective is not the case. That sounds kind of doom and gloom. Even though people don't always (maybe usually) act in the most economically efficient way, this course also showed me that some of the solutions to the climate emergency we are facing actually aren't all that complicated. I mean, they would obviously be complicated to implement because of the politicized world that we currently live in, but they are not all that complicated in theory. I find this to be encouraging. The other thing is that this course has convinced me (maybe rightly so or maybe wrongly so) that fiscal policy really should not be politicized. We would make a lot more headway if we could depoliticize fiscal policy and simply look at what the science tells us.
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
If companies claim that social distancing guidelines will prevent employees from being able to properly do their jobs in respect to maintaining emissions levels in compliance with the Clean Air Act's standards, then social distancing could (should?) also reduce level of production. It seems unlikely that social distancing would only affect the jobs that result in emissions reductions and more likely that social distancing should affect most, if not all, jobs within a given production plant. The end of the article does acknowledge that we are likely to see an uptick in pollution once the worst of the pandemic has passed and economic activity begins to rebound. I do see the opportunity for the EPA to change its decision before there are massive consequences for not enforcing the Clean Air Act. The illness and death that are occurring right now are horrific. This pandemic and the stay at home orders that are following provide us with an opportunity though. We have the opportunity to restart, the opportunity to change the ways we do things on so many different levels (healthcare policy, environmental policy, educational policy, and other sociopolitical infrastructures). The EPA should reverse its decision to not enforce the clean air act and should actually institute plans for lower emissions levels and stricter compliance. Some 16-20% of patients will develop severe cases and will require ICU care; these patients are more likely to have long term or permanent lung damage and are more likely to develop acute respiratory disease syndrome. Even if we return to the current (previously enforced) Clean Air Act requirements, there is going to be a much larger population with chronic respiratory diseases, increasing the national and global cost of medical care. If the EPA would choose to implement plans to reduce emissions beyond the current standard, the people most affected by coronavirus will have an easier time in the aftermath of this pandemic. We will all have an easier time in the aftermath of this pandemic. It doesn't really make sense to add one more health concern to a nation in the middle of a pandemic.
Nel 2005 discusses the effects of PM on respiratory inflammation and cardiovascular disease. The beginning of this article states that PM can come from vehicle exhaust as well as other sources and that fine particles and ultrafine particles, the arguably more dangerous ones, come primarily from combustion of fossil fuels (i.e. the transportation sector and others). I immediately jumped to the research by Janet Currie and Reed Walker (2009) regarding the effects of the adoption of the EZ Pass system on infant health. Toll booths require that automobiles decelerate to either a slow roll or to a stop. During high traffic hours, cars will idle at the toll booth. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more emissions than turning your engine off and then cutting it back on. Once cars have paid the toll, they must then accelerate back to cruising speed on the highway, again increasing the consumption of fuel and emissions. Neighborhoods in proximity to toll plazas are disproportionately affected by the increases in local pollution. In comparison, the implementation of the EZ Pass allows cars to maintain their cruising speed while still allowing the government to collect tolls. Currie and Walker (2009) find that EZ Pass reduced the incidence of premature birth and low birth rate by 6.7-9.1 percent and 8.5-11.3 percent respectively. The Institute of Medicine estimated that the cost of prematurity is $51,600 per infant. The 6.7-9.1 percent decrease in the risk of premature birth among the 29,677 infants born within 2 km of a toll plaza in the three years following the implementation of EZ Pass can be valued at approximately $9.8-$13.2 million. This further had me thinking about the effects that vehicular pollution may have on cyclists. As someone who will ride to downtown Winston-Salem from my house in the suburb, I frequently find myself behind an idling car(s). MacNaughton et al. (2014) identify the two main components of transportation-related air pollution (TRAP) to be black carbon and nitrogen dioxide. While MacNaughton et al. did not quantify levels of PM, it is likely that PM in shared traffic lanes is higher than that in separated bike paths. MacNaughton et al. (2014) found that shared traffic lanes have significantly higher levels of black carbon and nitrogen dioxide compared to bike paths that are separate from vehicle travel. Taken in conjunction with Nel (2005) and Zhang et al. (2018), this article suggests that cyclists are likely to experience adverse health effects as a result of exposure to TRAP. This provides an interesting point to consider: cyclists who utilize shared traffic lanes to commute to work are both reducing their carbon footprint and improving their health through exercise but are also subsequently exposing themselves to increased levels of air pollution and potential adverse health effects. https://www.nber.org/papers/w15413.pdf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5485901/ https://afdc.energy.gov/files/u/publication/idling_personal_vehicles.pdf
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
This article is comprehensive, a bit shocking, and enlightening. As someone who has regularly studied the environment and public health in my education I was aware of quite a few of the negative externalities associated with the extraction and use of coal, but I still found the list presented in this article (which technically isn't even completely exhausted) to be beyond what I had realized the coal industry is capable of. I was surprised to learn that Nitrogen emissions from the coal industry can become deposited within waterways to eventually cause algal blooms. I think that many people who don't consider the potential issues with the coal industry would be horrified to read through the extent of negative externalities from this paper, and yet, there still has not been a widespread mass movement to reduce and eventually end the extraction and use of coal. All of the evidence (economic, environmental, public health) points towards any other source for electricity, but we continue to pursue mountaintop removal and coal extraction. Even if we ignore any kind of moral obligation towards protecting the environment and our fellow human beings, this article and the article we read that focused on public health outcomes in MTR communities have still caused me to question why we allow politicians to make policy decisions that are so rooted in economics. I suppose the argument can be made that all decisions have roots in economics, but my point is that despite the clear cut economic evidence for reducing and eventually ending coal usage, we still rely extremely heavily on coal for our energy needs.
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
While I was reading this article, I found it interesting that the exit fee was held constant for twenty years. The number of tourists visiting Belize increased every year over this time period except from 2007-2009 (link at bottom). Considering the article and other articles have found that over half of tourists are American tourists, I would assume this two-year decline was due to the American housing market crash. Anyway, the article mentions in the introduction that the jump from $3.75 to $20 resulted in outcry from tourist industry providers, so I wonder why the Belize government did not just gradually increase the exit price over part or all of the 20 year time span. Tourism almost constantly increased, so it seems it would have been justifiable to gradually increase the exit fee, which likely would not have resulted in an outcry from the tourist industry providers. The exit fee could have been increased by less than a dollar each year over the twenty year time span or increased by $1.08 over 15 years to reach the current $20 exit fee. This would prevent tourist industry provider outcries because the providers would have seen that the number of visitors to Belize was continuing to increase (aside from 2007-2009) despite the gradual increase in exit fee. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ST.INT.ARVL?end=2017&locations=BZ&start=1995&view=chart
In reading this article, I began to think of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it is the focus of one of the environmental studies capstones this year. Currently, the Trump administration is pushing forward with plans to begin oil drilling in the ANWR which will disrupt the migration and calving of the porcupine caribou, deleteriously affecting the native Gwich’in community. This article brings the situation in the ANWR to mind becuase the article outlines how we must begin to assign relative value to the preservation of natural landscapes. Seismic testing and drilling would irreversibly alter the landscape and would significantly affect the life cycles of many of the species in the refuge. We also see, as is pointed out in the article, that there would be irreversible consequences to the welfare of the native Gwich’in community because they rely heavily on the migrating caribou as a source of food. There is clearly an option demand for the preservation of the ANWR: those who currently utilize the natural landscape have high demand for its preservation, and many of those who may never see the refuge likely value its existence. Yet despite this pristine and unique natural landscape, plans are still moving forward to destroy the space for oil acquisition. However, the value of the oil that could be acquired from this area is seemingly low, especially in comparison to both the value of the preserved refuge and the value of other potential oil drilling locations. So in my brain, I seriously wonder why it is that whether to drill in the region is even up for debate. Both economic and moral evidence has been provided for preserving this natural refuge, so why does this information not translate to our policy makers and politicians?
I wrote the above post before reading section six of this article, whoops. However, I suppose I will respond to my own comment now that I have read further. My interpretation of chapter 3 was that Coase does not believe there is ever a reason for government/legal intervention. However, in section six he clearly establishes that there are occasions where government intervention results in the most efficient outcome. Except Coase immediately follows this with saying that if the costs outweigh the benefits, nothing should be done. I feel like this perception is at the root of our environmental crisis. For too long, not enough value has been attributed to the protection of the environment and the benefits that a protected environment have on human health and well-being (at least by a large number of people/firms), yielding the excuse that the cost of switching to more environmentally friendly production methods and technologies outweighed the underrated benefits. On another note, Coase points out that legal proceedings have determined that what may constitute a nuisance in one place may not constitute a nuisance in another, and he does not attempt to refute this. An example is presented in which a fish n' chips shop is opened near wealthier homes and is considered a nuisance, but once it is moved to a poorer location it is no longer considered a nuisance. While this may prove to be the economically efficient solution it is not a morally sufficient solution. Many operations considered a nuisance have adverse health effects (location of tolls, smoke stacks, etc.). Wealthy members of society have the socioeconomic privilege of lobbying against the establishment of these nuisances in the vicinity of their neighborhoods, but the poor are not afforded this luxury. As a result, impoverished neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by nuisance operations that are considered to be "less of a nuisance" because of their location within an area of poverty.
I found it interesting to read this article in retrospect to chapter three of the textbook. Chapter three of the textbook establishes the arguments made against Coase's theory, namely that he examines two-party disagreements and fails to acknowledge transaction costs. The four legal cases presented by Coase in favor of his theory originally stuck out as falling to the arguments against this theory: all of the cases involve two parties and due to fees associated with legal proceedings have high transaction costs. Coase could present the argument that if the parties involved in each legal proceeding opted to come to an economic agreement before seeking legal mediation, then no transaction costs would have occurred, and his theory would still hold that intervention is unnecessary. However, Coase's whole argument is based around an assumption that an economic agreement will be found without legal intervention. In this sense, the presentation of court cases demonstrates that even between two-parties, much less when hundreds or thousands of parties are involved, an economic agreement cannot always be met "over coffee", and legal intervention is required. In this sense, while Coase is attempting to prove his theory, he is also providing evidence against his theory.
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Jan 16, 2020