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Noah Gallagher
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Over the course of the semester, it's been clear to me how much we already know and how little we are doing about it, despite having the solutions within arm's reach. We know, without a doubt, that our environment is actively being damaged. It's also become clear to me how mitigation costs are far less expensive than fighting a larger conflict - a lesson that failed to be clear at the beginning of this pandemic and one that we desperately need to learn to counter the effects of climate change. I also greatly appreciate the economic analysis and cost-mitigation graphing that we did in this course. Oftentimes in politics, the debate is cast as one of the environment versus the economy. By reframing this discussion, I'm confident that we can find environmentally friendly ways to boost the economy, and find economically sound ways to ensure that corporations incorporate the true cost of their production into their business models. The question of what we can do to beat the climate crisis is one that we will have to address during our lifetimes, and unfortunately we're starting with a political system that is deeply divided and flawed. It's not an easy challenge. We'll need to overcome all three I's. I tend to be a pessimist (the past few years of politics have been bleak enough to make me quite jaded), but I believe that we can rise to the occasion. We have to. We can't afford not to.
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
This article does a fantastic job explaining the reasons why scientific argument is stronger when it is paired with emotional imagery, and why optimistic viewpoints and images can encourage conservation. Just like the photo of bleeding whales that Professor Casey showed us a few months ago, seeing the damages up close can shock us, and seeing the wonder up close can awe us into changing our behaviors. Being back in Colorado, particularly during these strange times, I am greatly appreciative of the easy access to nature. We'll need to apply these same strategies - both emotional imagery and sound data - to our discussion of climate change. Pairing imagery with, for example, the study about children's lung diseases near coal mines could help to convey the terrible reality of these health impacts. Planet Earth does it best - I would encourage you all to use some of this time to watch soothing nature scenes narrated by David Attenborough. The producers of this documentary series have certainly figured out how to use emotion to get people to care about nature that they otherwise might have ignored. Photos of Western Colorado:
I read Mara Printiss's "The Technical Path to Zero Carbon", which was a lot more optimistic than I had expected it to be. The premise is that we have come a long way in our green technologies and have become substantially more efficient. Enough so that we are well on the path to zero carbon - at least from a technical perspective, less so from a socio-economic perspective. There are some technical hurdles to be made, such as improving or replacing lithium-ion batteries that appear essential to the zero carbon goal. One interesting thing that I keep seeing are companies that promise to become net-zero by 2040 or 2050. Shell is the most recent example that I can think of. They're promising carbon capture, but there appears to be criticism (from Greenpeace in the article) that they are not committing to reduce their use of fossil fuels, only committing to offset them. I also find it hard to imagine that a 2050 timeframe is soon enough to make a substantial difference.
It's been interesting to see the Green New Deal become solely a conversation about climate change - because there's certainly a lot more wrapped into the resolution. Broad social and labor goals are also in the resolution, yet have been completely forgotten in conversations about the deal. It's not a surprise to me that there was going to be opposition to it, particularly from the fossil fuel industry. This is also of a good example of how political systems can take bits of writing and speech out of context and to the extreme. The fact that Senator McConnell introduced the senate resolution is evidence that he was planning on killing it, quickly. It quickly gained bad press until it was too toxic for Democrats to discuss, despite it not saying what many people were told it did (no, there's not a cow and airplane ban written into it). Every Democrat voted "present", letting it die without a vote in its favor. However, it was never a binding bill, just a list of goals, so while the resolution may have failed, the ideas are still out there, and continue to be discussed. Ultimately, I'm convinced that the Republican party will admit that climate change is human caused and a real problem, but this may take a decade - a decade that we truly need to stem this crisis. Mitigation will be far easier than reversing damages done, and will also cost less in the long run.
Toggle Commented Apr 15, 2020 on ECON 255: The Green New Deal at Jolly Green General
Frankly, it's a difficult balance maintaining freedoms and also solving problems collectively. While it's very easy to do one without the other (ex: China, welding the doors of its citizens shut), we're better off in a society that can do both. That's a tough balance, particularly in a nation with a divided government (in both federalist and partisan ways). Unfortunately, we were far too slow to react to this, and missed the window of opportunity to maximize both - an opportunity that South Korea and several other nations took. Regaining our freedoms without endangering our citizens is an incredibly difficult task that will take time - perhaps more than we are willing or able to give. I worry that our impatience and desire to return to a state of normalcy will ultimately increase the scale of the problem. We've also been deeply troubled by the rise of science-denialism and the rejection of our mutual responsibilities towards one another. Through much of this year, I heard from people that the virus was no worse than the flu, and that it would be seasonal. One only needed to listen to the epidemiologists to know that this was substantially worse than a bad flu season. I heard from a number of people that they were willing to continue their day to day activities because they were young and the virus would be unlikely to kill them - often with no regard for the dangers that they would place their families in. Of course, Washington and Lee students were better about this than most (I generally think that we are more collectively responsible). As time went on, we've gotten better about this. I have to think that this is, to some extent, people accepting the scientific consensus of the dangers of the virus. This is a clear cut case where the damages are immediate and directly linked, even to the untrained eye. Of course, we face the same problems with climate change, and if people wait until the dangers impact them personally, then it could be far too late.
A few years ago, an article like this would have surprised me. At first glance, it doesn't appear to make any sense. Why would we want to reduce air quality standards at a time when we need clean air the most - to save lives during a pandemic. All indicators have shown that this coronavirus is more dangerous to those with weaker lungs, older people, smokers, etc. It's not unreasonable to assume that people living with dirtier air would be more at risk (as shown with SARS, an earlier coronavirus). No model can provide us with an answer (the model that we have available to us would show that the marginal damage function would become more damaging, providing us with greater incentive to pay the abatement costs and reduce the damages - instead, we're seeing the opposite). But looking at this as a snapshot in time won't produce a reasonable answer as to why this is occurring. It makes much more sense if considered as a part of the goals of the Trump administration's EPA. The overarching aim is a reduction in the agency's power and a decrease in regulation. This is fundamentally in opposition to what the agency was designed for and what I believe the agency is supposed to stand for. On a related note, if you're bored and looking for something to read, comb through Scott Pruitt's (EPA Administrator from 2017-18) wikipedia page - particularly the section on controversies and the one below it on the management of the agency.
This is becoming a moment sentiment, but I was genuinely surprised by the amount of damage caused by this pollution. I had expected there to be lung damage caused by the particles, but I did not expect the damage to people's cognitive functions. That's one of the more disturbing things that I had heard - and a terrible negative externality that gets passed along to people in developing nations. I've also been surprised to read more about the ozone hole, and how it is not completely filled. At least in past courses and throughout my education, it's been treated as an issue of the past, not as one that it headed in the right direction. That said, the ozone hole was the smallest on record this past year, which is one good piece of news. Along the lines of air pollution, I was trying to figure out which form of transportation polluted the most per person, expecting it to be air travel, and I came across a bunch of information about the amount of pollution that cruise ships generate - apparently they generate a ton of soot and other small particles that end up in people's lungs.
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
While I wasn't surprised to hear about the many negative externalities that occur throughout the life cycle of a piece of coal, the article does an incredible job of compiling and explaining the damages in detail. The magnitude of the damages is genuinely terrifying, particularly when mountaintop removal is involved. On of the things that I had expected from the article was the damages to miner health. Miners, both in underground mines and mountaintop removal sites face the dangers of these jobs on a daily basis. Miners know this, at least to some extent, and the danger to their lives tends to be factored into their wages. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to replace the jobs that are generated (at least temporarily) from these mining operations. There are not a lot of other jobs that pay a similar wage and hire from the same regions. This is common in Western Colorado and especially in Wyoming, where people will move for jobs in the industry. Overcoming this will be exceptionally difficult politically. Outside of the harms to miners from longwall/MTR coal mining, the harms to the general public and the environment are astounding. Half of a trillion dollars worth of externalities is an outrageous sum for the public to be absorbing. This article was published in 2011, and since then the coal industry has been in decline throughout the United States. The percent of mines closing has been higher than the percent reduction of production, but both are trending downwards and have been for the past decade. I would be interested in seeing an updated version of this article, showing the current impacts on the US population. Finally, I enjoyed the discussion of "peak coal", particularly because I have heard the 200-year statistic on several occasions. It makes sense to look at this through an economic lens, rather than a simple look at the available supply - mining operations are not going to find profit in mining every existing piece of coal. A more realistic supply/demand model would tell us that coal is far less viable 20-30 years down the road, which the article does a good job explaining. Closing coal mine stats: Coal mine locations:
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
I was really interested in this article, especially as a nice addition to our conversation on Wednesday. It makes sense to me that people who can afford to pay to fly themselves and their families to a foreign beach would be able and willing to pay a few extra bucks for conservation. Another thing to consider is whether or not tourists will even know there is a fee to use the beach. In many occasions, I would imagine that they would not until they arrived to the beach. At that point, they've traveled across the world and would likely be willing to pay a higher fee, even if it seems unfair (perhaps this is due, in part, to the sunk cost fallacy, but it nonetheless contributes to an individuals willingness to pay). I do wonder if raising fees like this pushes out locals from utilizing local resources. I think of this in terms of the Colorado National Monument, roughly five minutes from my house. Over the past few years, they've been experementing with raising the entry fees a few bucks. While this might not be known to an out-of-town tourist, this adds up and makes a difference to the frequent user. Comparably, I would wonder if the increase from $3.75 to $20 would prevent the citizens of Belize from being able to use their own public goods.
Kurtilla's argument strikes at an important conflict: "If the use which promises the highest net value is incompatible with preserving the environment in it's natural state, does it necessarily follow that the market will allocate resources efficiently?" How do we determine the impact private industry or development on our public lands? This is an especially difficult question in my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado, which is within minutes of public land (over seventy percent of the county belongs either to the US Forest Service or the BLM, which just moved its headquarters to my town). The use of this land is always difficult to decide: should it belong to our national monuments and parts, to bikers and other tourist-attracting activities, or should it go to private real estate and oil/gas development? These are not easy questions to weigh, as the short term benefits often come into conflict with the long term benefits of preservation. Kurtilla certainly does well in articulating that the value of these lands will only appreciate with time: it's a limited good that has no clear alternative, while there are other ways to generate energy and tourism. Nonetheless, this must be considered against the jobs and standard of living that could be created. Another predictable debate that arises with national parks and monuments is how to reduce the capacity to a maintainable amount. The number of people traveling west to visit has drastically risen, and the current capacity of the parks needs to have a cap, assuming we are seeking to keep the parks in pristine condition. The current system is a system of small fees (10-15 bucks to enter) and "free days". This allows all people to come on some days, and uses the remainder to pay to maintain the parks. Does this make it more difficult for these parks to be truly "public"? Yes, to some extent, but it also preserves the long term viability of the land.
I would absolutely love to learn more about how the courts decide who is liable for a negative externality in a case, like the doctor and the confectioner, where multiple parties may be responsible for the conflict. I think that we often see these sorts of conflict in real estate and other industries where an incoming party disturbs a previously existing party. (A skyscraper with a view may sue when another blocks their view, etc.) Pricing systems to resolve these disputes may be possible, but they get more complicated as you include a myriad of culpable and impacted parties. For instance, my high school was located not far from several large feed lots, mostly chickens. On days when then wind blew the wrong way, the area smelled terrible. This was certainly a negative externality, but it would have been incredibly difficult to calculate how many people were impacted by it. It also would have been incredibly difficult to calculate who was culpable for the negative externality: which farmer's lot was the smell coming from? Nobody ever knew. These difficulties, among others, highlight some of the flaws in a solution such as Coase's. Without knowing the full impact of an externality, it's difficult to price it in, and would be even more difficult to negotiate a compromise or settle on a fair price. I'm also concerned that a sort of "figure it out on your own" standard would often result in the larger, more powerful party winning, because their price is bound to be higher than the price of the smaller party. An oil company would likely need more money to move their operation than a rancher. In cases such as these, there could be a significant benefit to government involvement.
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Jan 16, 2020