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Valerie Marshall
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When thinking of an answer to this question, my mind keeps going back to the article we read on the true cost of coal. For me, reading and discussing that article was the most interesting thing I have learned all semester. Learning about the full costs of coal’s life cycle and what the actual price of coal would be if the social marginal costs of coal were included in its private marginal costs made me realize the full extent to not just how underpriced coal is, but how underpriced other pollutants would be if a life-cycle analysis was conducted on them. Learning about all of the subsidies provided to the coal industry by the state of Kentucky in particular to make the business viable helped to make me realize how inaccurate the picture is often painted by politicians when discussing renewable energy versus fossil fuels. We are so often told how it is wrong for environmentalists to want government intervention in energy subsidies to help artificially make the price of renewable energy comparable to the price of fossil fuels. These politicians fail to mention the massive subsidies being provided to the fossil fuel industry, especially coal, to keep it profitable, or all of the extra costs placed on the public from the negative effects of coal mining that are not currently realized in its price. Some politicians like to argue that the playing field is fair between renewable energy and fossil fuels, and the government should not be making it unfair by favoring renewables. But in reality the playing field has never been fair, and long been tipped towards the advantage of fossil fuel industries like coal. I also enjoyed learning in this article about the diversity in the Appalachian mountains, and how the biodiversity in its headwater streams is second in the world only to the biodiversity of the Amazon. I have spent my whole life living only a few hours away from the Appalachian mountains, and never knew I was living so close to one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. I took this class in tandem with Professor Harris’ Environmental Policy and Law class. Applying what I have learned in this class towards what I have learned in her class about how the government actually goes about regulating air pollution, has made me realize how inefficient our regulatory scheme is. I believe that this class has helped me to become a better citizen because I am now able to critically analyze our environmental policies and the economic theory (or lack thereof) behind them.
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
I thought this article was really great, and reading it definitely made me feel calmer than most other articles we read for this class. We so often hear about the many scientific disciplines interwoven in environmental science: biology, chemistry, biochemistry, geology, physics. But I had never heard of neuroscience being applied to environmental science before. I wanted to look up more articles on this topic, and found this article by Forbes articulating both the physical and mental health benefits of nature. https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2017/06/15/the-science-behind-how-nature-affects-your-health/#6f92be115aeb The article cites studies finding that people living in cities have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders compared to people in rural areas. A 2015 Stanford study found that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression, and a University of Michigan study found that time in nature increases your attention span. These findings made me realize the fully compounded affect on our health that environmental protection has. We learned earlier in the semester about the harmful health effects of air pollution and MTR. MTR would have increased negative health effects according to these studies because it damages land that could have provided outdoor recreation opportunities to nearby residents, worsening these residents’ mental health. Similarly, creating more parks around cities to plant trees in can help improve air quality in those areas, improving both respiratory and mental health. Thus, our conservation efforts have a double effect of improving both our physical and mental health. I might be remembering wrongly, but I do not remember any of the papers we read calculating the costs of climate change, coal mining, or air pollution including costs of worse mental health. If the costs of medication and therapy to address worsened states of mental health were included in the calculation of the life cycle analysis of the cost of coal, I assume these costs would increase further. Overall, the article made me realize that the difference between the PMC and SMC of pollution and reduced environmental conservation are likely a lot larger than current estimates.
Even though the Green New Deal has no specifics on what it will require, opponents are already touting that it is unrealistic and would completely ruin the economy and American way of life. After reading these pieces and our discussion in class, I wanted to further explore what other countries are doing to combat climate change and how their efforts compare to what is being proposed in the Green New Deal. This article from National Geographic had some great global comparisons for the Green New Deal that helped to put criticisms of the deal in perspective https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/02/green-new-deal-learn-international-experience/ . The first main argument against the Green New Deal (and most other plans for switching from fossil fuel to renewable energy) is that it would be too expensive. America has the greatest economy in the world, so if going carbon neutral by 2050 is too expensive and infeasible for us, no other country should be able to achieve this, right? I was surprised to learn that 54 countries so far have committed to net zero emissions (the main goal of the Green New Deal) by 2050. You could write these goals off as unrealistic pipe dreams, but 6 countries have already gotten close to or all the way to 100% renewable electricity, meaning they are well on their way to reaching their 2050 emissions goals. These countries were Albania, Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway, Paraguay, and Tajikistan. Similarly, Morocco and The Gambia have been lauded for their emissions reductions plans as being enough to keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Finding this list of countries, only two of which are Western European countries that have wealth anywhere close to the levels of the US, made me wonder how countries with such lower per capita GDPs could achieve such an expensive task of switching to renewable electricity when doing so for the US is constantly labeled as too expensive. I recognize these countries have certain geographical features that may make it easier for them to complete the switch to renewable energy, for example Norway and Costa Rica relied heavily on hydropower, which is estimated to only be able to cover about 4% of the United States’ energy needs. However, they also have far inferior economic resources to the U.S., so while the shift may be more difficult for us, we also have greater resources to achieve this shift. Germany, a country more comparable to the U.S. in its economy and reliance on coal power, has pledged to end coal use by 2038. While this goal does not seem ambitious enough to me for such a strong economy like Germany, it is more ambitious than any of the United States’ plans, and means at the bare minimum we could match Germany in this promise. Another argument against the Green New Deal is that it is impractical because it suggests shifting to renewable energy in the span of only 10 years. While this is a short period of time, France was able to shift from 10 percent low carbon energy to 65 percent low carbon energy between 1975 and 1985. France was able to do this mostly because they relied on nuclear energy, which the Green New Deal would not allow. This may mean that if the Green New Deal wants to achieve its goals in 10 years it might have to sacrifice its position on nuclear energy. On the other hand, France made this transition in the 70s, and wind and solar energy has greatly improved and become more affordable since then, so a transition to other types of renewable energy may be more feasible now than it was when France made the transition. The last aspect of the Green New Deal I want to discuss is the transition away from gasoline cars, which many see as more difficult to achieve than renewable electricity. Public transportation is less feasible as a solution in America than other parts of the world because we have less densely populated cities. This means in addition to improved urban planning, the only way America can move away from gasoline cars is with the help of electric cars. This switch however would require electric cars to become affordable to most Americans, which they are currently not, and improved infrastructure to accommodate electric cars. There is hope however for achieving this goal by looking at Norway, where over 50 percent of their cars being sold are plug-in hybrids or 100% electric. How Norway achieved this was through a combination of tax breaks and offering free parking for electric vehicles and placing large taxes on gas and diesel powered cars. These strategies could certainly be applied in America, and personally, being from the DC area, I find offering free parking a very attractive incentive. While there would certainly be challenges with implementing the Green New Deal, looking around the world shows us that it is not as unreasonable as many critics make it out to be. Considering that America currently has the greatest economy in the world, it seems like now is a better time than ever to make the transitions to renewable energy, and also have the cleanest powered economy in the world.
Toggle Commented Apr 16, 2020 on ECON 255: The Green New Deal at Jolly Green General
I found reading both of these articles really interesting and insightful. It definitely gave me hope that there could be a bipartisan carbon tax policy that would pass Congress in the not too distant future. While there was a lot to be hopeful about in reading both of these policy suggestions, I was worried by the vastly differing ideas on how much the actual tax should be. While both groups recognized around $40 as the socially efficient price of carbon, the progressive article said this would not be enough to reduce carbon emissions to reduce warming to the IPCC desired level. I was curious as to why the socially efficient price of carbon and the price that prevents warming from exceeding IPCC recommendations were so different. I also feel the progressive recommendation of $230 per ton of carbon is not politically feasible, and while a carbon tax might be passed by Congress, the final bill would end up with a tax much closer to $40. While reading the progressive article in particular, I had the question of what would happen to lower income families once they stopped receiving a carbon dividend. While initially the increased price of goods from a carbon tax would be offset for lower income families because of the carbon dividend, as the tax is raised less firms are willing to pay it and turn to renewable energy sources, which is the goal of the policy. Eventually the tax will be so high almost no firms will pay it, and there will be no dividend to return to lower income families. My concern is that while we would have successfully reduced GHG emissions, the cost of goods will not return to their original level prior to a carbon tax. Firms will now be using renewable energy sources to produce their goods, which would be less expensive than the carbon tax, but likely more expensive than the pre-tax price of goods because fossil fuel subsidies were making these goods artificially cheap. Once the carbon dividend is no longer being returned to the American people, is there a chance lower income families will struggle because they no longer have the dividend to raise their income so they can afford the higher prices of goods?
Toggle Commented Apr 13, 2020 on The Case(es) for a Carbon Tax at Jolly Green General
This article tied in our previous class discussion on environmental justice with certain communities facing increased exposure to air pollution. Cancer Alley is just one example of lower income communities of color experiencing greater exposure to air pollution, and suffering negative health effects from this. As it has come to national attention that minorities are experiencing higher death rates from Covid-19, this article helps to shed light on one of the many reasons for this. Individuals exposed to higher levels of air pollution are at an increased risk of developing complications from contracting Covid-19. Since minorities are exposed to air pollution at a higher rate, they are more susceptible to developing complications from Covid-19. When I looked up other articles relating to this topic, I found an interesting one on a slightly different but importantly related topic. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pke94n/cancer-alley-has-some-of-the-highest-coronavirus-death-rates-in-the-country . This article discussed how the negative economic impacts of Covid-19 will hit minorities the hardest. This is because they tend to work a greater proportion of hourly jobs already, have lower levels of wealth, and so are finding themselves currently struggling. The article also mentioned that according to data from the 2008 recession, minorities had a harder time recovering, which is likely to be a trend found if this economic turbulence reaches a recession as well. These economic impacts will only serve to further compound the health affects minorities face from air pollution induced respiratory diseases and Covid-19 because of cost related difficulties in receiving health care.
My biggest take away from these two readings is the role that environmental justice has to play in any international and national climate change policies. The Hamilton Project fact sheet made this clear in their graph on which areas of the world would have their GDP be the most impacted by climate change, and most of the countries that would be heavily affected were developing countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South America. Europe and the United States are projected to have climate change have a much smaller impact on their GDP, and for some European nations they would even see a positive impact to their GDP. Looking at the U.S. specifically. Another figure on the fact sheet showed how counties within the U.S. in the lower quintiles of economic vitality would be much more negatively economically impacted by climate change than countries in the upper quintiles of economic vitality. Given the reality of who will be impacted most from climate change, I think policies combating climate change need to be aware of the environmental justice concerns and create certain adaptation plans that target low income counties and countries specifically. These articles also discussed how environmental justice is extremely important to take into consideration when creating international treaties to combat climate change. The article “Can We Stop Global Warming?” focused on the necessity for global action to be taken to truly defeat climate change. Developed nations have been the larger contributors to GHG emissions for the past 150 years, but over time developing countries have been catching up to them. There is a heavy duty on developed countries to cut their GHG emissions because they can afford to do so, and throughout history have been the major contributors. Also, it is not fair to require developing countries to halt their economic growth and leave their people in poverty in order to combat climate change. However, as the article states, developed countries cutting their carbon emissions will not be enough. Developing nations have to contribute to the effort as well. Many argue the only way to be fair to developing nations though is to have wealthier countries provide them aid in this switch to renewable energy. While to many that sounds like a fair and doable idea, it will of course reach much political resistance in developed countries, especially the U.S. I think most people are aware of the importance of environmental justice in climate change policy, but actually achieving it sounds like it will be a monumental task.
The economic model that I thought of while reading this article is the costs of pollution versus abatement costs model we have frequently discussed in class. During this time of a global health pandemic in the form of a respiratory disease, I think the curve for the costs of air pollution would be shifted upward. This is because air pollution increases cases of respiratory illness, and damages people’s lungs, which would make them more susceptible to having serious health complications if they contracted coronavirus. Therefore the negative effects of air pollution are increased at this time, moving the efficient level of pollution prevention higher. Trying to look at the positive side to this decision, a lot of data has been reported showing severe decreases in levels of air pollution in China and Europe due to lockdown orders because of coronavirus. While I have not seen this data for the U.S. yet, I would think this decrease in air pollution levels would also extend to the U.S. Therefore, while easing up on enforcement of air pollution standards will increase air pollution produced, since there is a huge decrease in commercial and industrial activity, this decision may not result in a net increase in pollution, and there may still be a net decrease in air pollution levels. I would imagine that much of the industrial production currently occurring is to produce masks and ventilators for fighting coronavirus, and in an effort to produce these life saving devices as quickly as possible, I think it is fair for the U.S. not to enforce air pollution standards on these industries. The counterargument to this is that this is a time when our current air pollution standards are not stringent enough and we need to reduce air pollution levels to as low as possible, so air pollution does not exacerbate the health crisis. I also agree with many of my classmates who are worried about what will happen once the pandemic is over, and if the administration choses to continue not to enforce air pollution standards, causing a large rebound in air pollution levels. I found this article from Reuters which also discusses the EPA’s decision to relax enforcement https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-epa/trump-administration-eases-environmental-enforcement-during-outbreak-idUSKBN21D3DI . What caught my eye in this article is the reason the American Petroleum Institute cites for asking for relief from pollution enforcement. They say they are worried that the illness could reduce the number of healthy staff they have available to run operations, which would make it harder for them to comply with EPA regulations. While I do not know how true this statement is (I am sure the API has ulterior motives for asking for pollution enforcement to be relaxed), it did make me think of the many hourly workers employed by oil companies. If reducing enforcement reduces economic hardship on the oil companies, allowing them to continue to pay their hourly staff whether they are working or not, I think this decision would be worth it. I only hope that oil companies actually use their extra funds in this way.
In the paper, the Impact of Exposure to Air Pollution on Cognitive Performance, I thought the finding that men and women are affected by air pollution differently by a statistically significant factor to be very interesting. In this paper, it stated how men, especially older, less educated men, experience more negative cognitive effects from air pollution than women do. The theory behind this finding was that air pollution has a stronger effect on white matter than gray matter, and since men have a smaller amount of white matter activated during intelligence tests, their cognitive performance would be greater affected by small disturbances in this white matter that is being affected by pollution. I did some additional research on this topic of gender differences in response to air pollution, and was surprised by the number of studies conducted on this topic. One study I looked at in particular evaluated an aggregate of studies on the effects of air pollution to men and women https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831913/ . This study reported opposite findings of the study we read for class, that air pollution has stronger effects on women than men. Studies have found that air pollution better predicts death among women than men and that air pollution causes more hospitalizations for respiratory illness among women and girls than men and boys. Given that this study and the one we read for class looked at different types of health effects from air pollution (cognitive impairments versus respiratory illness), I am not suggesting that these studies are not in contradiction of each other. What I found particularly interesting about the paper on air pollution’s effects on men versus women was the reason why women and men experience different effects, because the reason both comes from sex and gender differences. Biological explanations for women’s increased adverse respiratory response to air pollution stem from their smaller airways and greater airway reactivity. These biological differences however are not the full story. Studies looking at gendered explanations for the stronger effect of air pollution on women than men include the fact that women tend to be poorer, perform more household tasks that increase their exposure to many indoor air pollutants like cleaning solvent and combustion exhaust, and differences in health-care seeking and illness management behaviors. Reading about these studies on why women have worse reactions to air pollution than men made me wonder about the study on air pollution and cognitive performance and if there are any gender differences, in addition to sex differences, causing men’s cognitive performance to be more affected by air pollution than women’s.
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
What I found most interesting about this paper, and which prior to reading this paper I had heard the least about, was the ecosystem effects of coal mining, specifically the negative impacts to biodiversity of MTR mining. Frequently, when the negative externalities of coal mining are discussed, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions like sulfur dioxide, and water contamination at a level harmful to humans are what most of the conversation consists of. I had heard of the destruction to ecosystems that results from MTR, since the practice consists of blowing up the sides of mountains, but I did not realize the full negative effects of this ecosystem damage in the Appalachian region. What surprised me most when reading this paper was to learn that globall the biodiversity in the headwater streams in the Appalaichian mountains was second only to the biodiversity in the tropics. I had always thought deer, squirrels, and maybe a lot of bird species were the most prominent animals living in the region and I had never really considered the biodiversity that could be existing in the streams. Learning from this article about the impact of the destruction and contamination of streams made me see how this impact extends far beyond contamination of drinking water sources to the elimination of many unique species that make up the rich biodiversity of the area. Given that human health concerns have not been enough to stop coal mining, I am not at all surprised that coal mining’s effects to biodiversity in the Appalachian mountains have caused little to no action on reducing the use of coal as a source of electricity. What surprised me more is that there are still negative effects to coal mining that are not being widely publicized, at least to the general population. As I read this whole paper, the underlying question that I kept asking myself was whether if everyone read this and knew the full costs of coal mining it would make any difference in people’s perception of using coal as a source of electricity. I am assuming that the average American would not know the full costs of coal and this paper would probably surprise them, but given how we continue to talk about the three I’s affecting politics, while knowledge of the full costs of coal would overcome ignorance, I am doubtful it would be enough to overcome interests and ideology.
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
I found this article very interesting and promising for the effectiveness of the conservation fee upon tourists departure from Belize in raising money to protect marine ecosystems around Belize. Reading this article made me wonder if and how we could apply these findings to other countries for protecting their ecosystems. The paper mentioned other studies conducted throughout the world, such as in Fiji, Brazil, The Philippines, and Peru, that found similar results of tourists willing to pay a fee towards ecosystem conservation for their opportunity to interact with aspects of that ecosystem, or just to know it still exists intact. It would seem to me that part of the reason the conservation fee in Belize works so well is because it is a small country where almost all tourists are visiting to interact with the natural environment of the country (whether that be by snorkeling or just laying on the beach). I would imagine that trying to structure a conservation fee like Belize’s, but for a larger country or one which has a variety of tourist attractions that don’t necessarily have to do with the flourishing ecosystems of the country, would be much more challenging. I think it would be important to conduct a study in the United States or a European country to see if people are still willing to pay a conservation fee (and how high it would be) for visiting a country where the main tourist attractions are big cities or historical/ cultural sites. Take Italy for example, many people visit the country just to visit Rome or see the Colosseum. While some tourists would also go to enjoy the beaches or the lake region, these environmental attractions may not be what the majority of tourists visit the country for; nevertheless, Italy’s ecosystems still need to be conserved and I would imagine benefit from additional funding. I think it would therefore be interesting to look at whether there is the same level of support for conservation fees for visiting a country in which a good portion of the visitors do not care about the quality of the country’s ecosystems. Of course, there are probably solutions to this, such as charging tourist fees only for visiting certain areas of the country, I just think this should be examined further because I am unsure if implementing such a policy for just a region of the country would be as easy as implementing it for the whole country.
After reading Krutilla’s piece, one particular quote from his paper really stuck out to me. This was his comment that “natural environments will represent irreplaceable assets of appreciating value with the passage of time” (8). I would think this comment of his was revolutionary then, since in the present day I think it is still a bold idea and something that is not discussed often enough. I am not an economics major, so reading this quote made me wonder how and if there is a way for economists to factor in the natural environment’s appreciating value into their formulas of cost benefit analysis. Especially from a policy standpoint I think this would be crucial to achieve. Often, what political opponents will use to block important environmental legislation or rule-making is requiring a cost benefit analysis of future regulations, and requiring the benefits exceed the costs. When it comes to nature, it is extremely hard to put a monetary value on it, and while I have never seen an official cost benefit for an environmental policy, I would imagine preserved nature is often undervalued. Given that economists tend to believe that people value present goods more than future goods, I wonder if this further increases the severity to which the environment is undervalued. Therefore, recognizing the appreciating value of nature in cost benefit analysis of regulations could be huge in passing future environmental policy, and to me this might be the most important idea to come out of Krutilla’s paper.
Like many of my classmates have noted, Coase presents numerous specific court cases that make for compelling arguments in favor of his position. I found his argument particularly interesting for the case Bryant v. Lefever, where the plaintiff complained that his neighbors' renovation to their house affected his chimney so that when he lit a fire, the smoke collected in his house rather than escaping. In this example, Coase argues that the defendant cannot completely be blamed for the entrance of smoke into the plaintiff's house because if was also the plaintiff's action of lighting the fire that brought smoke into his house. Therefore, both the plaintiff's actions and the dependent's actions are equally responsible for the collection of smoke in the house. Since both parties are at fault, any effort to remedy the problem should rely on the pricing system, not government intervention, which will affect both parties equally. It is clear form Coase's paper he believes Pigou's solution to pollution is government intervention that negatively affects the polluter to an unfair degree. While I see the point Coase is making, and it does work for his specific example, I wonder how far his argument of two parties being responsible for the nuisance would go. In many modern cases, individuals or firms are polluting in ways that cause negative health effects to millions of individuals, who could only be deemed responsible for the nuisance because they are breathing air and drinking water. In this case, would Coase still label them as partially responsible for the nuisance of pollution? Could such pollution that is having extreme negative health effects on individuals even be labelled as merely a nuisance? Coase's case involves rather minor effects of pollution on an individual's life, ignoring the fact that pollution can lead to such negative effects as infertility or cancer. I recognize that this science was likely not available at the time he wrote this paper, so maybe his position would change with our current understanding of pollution's effects. Or maybe he would argue people are consuming the goods produced by the polluter’s factory, so the individual affected by the pollution is still partly responsible because of their consumption habits.
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Jan 16, 2020