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The biggest takeaway I got from this semester was two-fold. Firstly, I realized how complex each of the issues we have talked about are, and how in reality we are only touching the surface. We are in an age where political discourse is hard to have and even disheartening in my experience because everyone is so obsessed with having the “correct” stance on issues. And then this human desire to be right is amplified by the polarizing nature of America’s politics and media. My second takeaway is that, even though these issues are so complex and hard to pin down, there are so many good people dedicating so much time and energy to these complex issues. I saw this from my peers in class as well as authors and researchers we read. To read research from people who have spent so much time on a given topic (ex. Mountaintop removal in Appalachia) and see how much depth it has is shocking. You would think that this person who has spent a large portion of their life on the issue would have “an answer”, but in reality they only have more questions. It’s inspiring that people are able to admit that maybe we don’t have an answer, because it seems that that is a rare quality in our culture. Too often people who have spent minimal thought or energy on an issue like climate change actually believe they know the answer because news outlets make everything look so clear-cut. And then these people are outspoken and clash with people on the other end of the spectrum. But this class has made me look at the news as if there is truth is everything, but you can always dive deeper. Professor Casey, you are a great example of this. You have spent more time and energy on learning about climate issues than probably anyone I’ve ever met. Yet in every conversation we had you found a way to make us realize that any solution is going to lead to more problems, and that there isn’t a perfect solution. I think the world would be a better place if people looked at complex issues as complex instead of trying to find the “right” stance. This class has changed the way I will look at politics and news, and has showed me that all of these issues are infinitely complex. With that said, it’s inspiring to hear and read people who are willing to admit there is no perfect answer yet spend their lives trying to help create a better answer.
Toggle Commented Apr 21, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
I found The Solutions Project to be very impressive with the work it does to support and accelerate the clean energy movement. Equally as important, I found the website to be incredibly well laid out and informative. It is aesthetically pleasing, smooth, and organized in a very effective way. I like that the first sub header on the main page is The Solutions Project vision. This is a very important way to introduce people to the project because without knowing the organizations goals off the bat, the other information on the page isn't as easily understood in context. The Solutions Project direct approach to accelerating the clean energy movement is providing grants to companies that fit its definition of "good". So its really important that The Solutions Project and those who interact with it have well defined goals of what types of companies deserve grants. One part of The Solutions Project's website that I found informative both for learning about the organizations values as well as the big picture of the clean energy movement was The Solutions Project's analysis of the clean energy narrative. This analysis really shows the problems that The Solutions Project sees with the current media narratives, which are largely focused around how certain groups of people are omitted from the narrative. The article I chose to read was "How Do We Pay for a Zero-Emissions Economy". I really liked the tone of the article because I found it to be largely positive and solution focused. "Purely in terms of the financing issues involved, it is an entirely reasonable and not especially difficult proposition to build a zero-emissions U.S. economy by 2050." The article argues that a zero-emissions economy will require an increase in energy efficiency coupled with an increase in clean energy supply. It focuses specifically on how public spending and private spending will both be required, and the public spending is very related to ideas we've discussed in class. The article does not at all argue that this zero-emission economy is just going to happen via the invisible hand. Instead its going to require subsidies and guaranteed loans for investors who wish to invest in renewables. Though guaranteed loans naturally pose a level of risk, the article argues that the positives from renewable investment trends will outweigh the costs. "This clean-energy investment project will pay for itself in full over time because it will deliver lower energy costs for all U.S. energy consumers." The quote from the article is very important. For me, this makes me think about how the large scale and the small scale behave very similar. For example, if I owned a house and wished to convert to completely to self owned solar energy, it would cost capital to buy the technology and have it set up. If I stayed with paying my city for energy, I wouldn't have to pay these capital expenditures. However, I would have to pay monthly payments, and at some point these payments will cost more than if I had invested in 100% solar. However, a big issue for most people is cash flow. This is the same for companies. They know that in the long run it would be cost effective to own all of their energy, but cash flow is important and they have to make decisions about where to spend the limited cash they have at a given point of time. Public subsidies and other incentives could help with this issue and push companies who are on the ledge into renewable energy.
The Green New Deal is clearly very positive, progressive, and important. I think John Oliver discussion of it was very accessible and his humor and satire were perfect for driving certain points home. One point that John touched on that is very important was that the discussions around the Green New Deal are so far from its actual purpose and goals. The fact that right-leaning media outlets have actually tried to turn discussion of the Green New Deal into a discussion about cows farting and airplane travel is down right evil. Yes these are legitimate sources of greenhouse emissions. But these talking points are being used maliciously in order to delegitimize proponents of the deal. The Green New Deal is a bill that sets aggressive targets that, if reached, would absolutely improve and slow climate change. The Green New Deal is also too often written off because "it's not realistic". But that is completely not true. What people who call it unrealistic actually mean is that they don't think its considered important enough to justify changing how everything is done. We have the technology to harness renewable energy and put use it, so we obviously COULD be 100% renewable in the United States. It would obviously cost a lot of time and labor, and in turn money. But saying we are not capable of it is ignorant. I thought the Stanford article raised a lot of good points on the problems with the Green New Deal. It's important to point out that these are not problems with the bill itself, but more problems that are there because of the country's current political and social climate. I thought and interesting point made was that coupling climate change and poverty in the GND actually hurt its chances. As we've discussed in our class, the GND is right to couple these things because poor ares have to deal with the negative externalities at a disproportionate rate. But its honestly sad that as a 21 year old I have to read an article from Stanford that says coupling climate change and poverty hurt the bills chances because social change is such a polarizing topic. I really hope there aren't actually people out there who think "I want cleaner energy as less emissions but not if it means social change!" I'm sure there are though....
Toggle Commented Apr 14, 2020 on ECON 255: The Green New Deal at Jolly Green General
Just finished Bill Bryson's book "A Walk in The Woods", which was a very entertaining read. Something I found very interesting and relevant was his discussion of the American Chestnut Tree. Apparently 1 in every 4 trees in the Appalachian Woods used to be an American Chestnut. Then about 100 years ago a fungal disease introduced from trade with Asia resulted in 3-4 billion of the iconic American Chestnut trees being killed in a very short amount of time, and it is now a critically endangered species. Just thought this was very relevant and is a reminder of how fragile and unprepared ecosystems can be for rapid human advances.
These papers were very disturbing, but not necessarily surprising. The "Air Pollution-Related Illness" paper reminded me of the full cost cycle of coal paper that we read last week in the sense that it seems very obvious from a logical standpoint. In the last paper, it seems so obvious that using explosives to blow the tops off mountains creates negative externalities for the environment. In the same way, it seems obvious that breathing in PM from combustion has negative affects on human health. No person in their right mind would want to spend any amount of time breathing in exhaust from a car, because even in the absence of statistical evidence any reasonable person realizes that it can't be good for their health. So in the case of urban areas, its obvious that the air quality is going to be far worse than in an area without cars. I was in Boston a couple weeks ago, and just walking on the streets it's so obvious that I would rather breath in the air in Lexington than in Boston. Even without understanding how exactly the PM interacts with my lungs and body. With that said, I was once again very impressed that the paper was able to turn my "hunch" into clear evidence by using data, biology, and chemistry. Though this paper was a little over my head at points, the thoroughness cannot be denied. The paper on cognitive performance on the other hand is something I had not thought about, but absolutely makes sense. Once again the use of data and statistics was absolutely crucial and impressive. I'm moving to Boston in August for at least a couple of years and honestly these papers worry me. Even when I was in Boston a couple weeks ago it really hit me that I am going to be sacrificing my health in some form in order to enjoy a modern urban lifestyle. Personally, this is a tradeoff I am more than willing to accept, but it is also something that I will be very aware of every day as I walk to work. My cost benefit analysis of the decision is that the benefits of living in such a unique marvel of humanity is worth the negative health risks. However, its worrisome that the health risks are not all understood and therefore the cost to my health is likely higher than I am accounting for.
Toggle Commented Mar 13, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
Wow, this paper was extremely impressive and eye opening for me in a number of ways. I really enjoyed the approach this paper took at quantifying the costs of coal. Right off the bat, the statistic that in 2005 coal produced 51% of electricity but 81% of emissions wash shocking. But this figure became even more disgusting when I saw that this didn't include emissions related to mining, MTR, and transportation of coal! This was a common theme as I read this paper; I would be shocked/ impressed by how many externalities the paper was able to quantify, but then quantifying these externalities would just make me aware of how many other externalities had to be ignored because of the difficulty of measuring/ quantifying them. This semester we have learned about so many non market values that weren't even discussed in this paper because of how hard they are to quantify. This doesn't decrease the importance of values like existence value. My favorite aspect of this paper of how it got down to the knitty-gritty, and put all of the discussions we've had in class to practice. It was perfect to read in context of our class because we discuss non market value/externalities and theories on how we possibly could quantify them, but our class is not focussed on the detail intensive practice of quantifying these negative externalities. However, it was helpful to once again see it in practice, and to read about the scientific and creative processes the authors used to quantify something such as increased risks of lung-cancer in the environments. The paper also really gave me an appreciation for data, and how essential it is to quantify the externalities we discuss in class. Overall I really enjoyed this paper because it exemplifies the way of thinking that you have helped me cultivate this semester, and how creativity and analysis have to be used in conjunction to value stuff that most people would just write off as impossible. One thing towards the end of the paper that shocked me was the statement that retrofitting old plants is the largest source of CO2 in the United States. On top of this, the paper admits it does not include opportunity costs from not constructing solar and wind infrastructure. I don't know exactly how to say it, but my last two sentences go hand in hand and compound the negatives of coal. I sent this paper to my father. He is admittedly naive on the subject and therefore does not have a strong opinion, but I feel he generally over-values "job creation" when it comes to climate issues. I am interested to hear his thoughts.
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
I found this paper extremely interesting but more importantly very accessible. Our class discussions and content thus far absolutely improved my take-aways from this paper, but this paper could easily be read by someone with little to no background or knowledge in the area and still be understood thoroughly. Specifically, I really thought the first 2 pages or so did a great job of contextualizing the issue and the goals of the research. The extreme economic positives from the marine biodiversity was very well written, which framed the question very well of "but how valuable is it actually?" I also found the paper to be very thorough in its logic. Something I was thinking early on in the read was the fact that individuals will undoubtedly answer differently as a result of who is interviewing them. I was going to write about this possible shortcoming in my blog, but instead the paper address this and coins the term "social desirability bias". Definitely an interesting concept because it clearly does exist, but I would imagine it is near impossible to measure. This is just one example. From beginning to end, the use of intentional langue really ensures that the reader can understand the limitations of expanding this knowledge to a larger population. Something I found interesting was the idea of anchoring, and how people's willingness to pay decreased when they knew that the current fee was $3.75. I'd assume some of this anchoring bias is based of consumers believing that this current fee was intentionally and scientifically chosen, as the average person may not understand the difficulty of valuing non-market resources. Finally, I liked the not that the paper ended on. I found it optimistic and liked that the paper had specific ideas of how to move forward, not just with research but also with allocation of funds.
These first couple of classes and this reading have very much made me think about the interactions of businesses in ways that I have never thought of. I found Coase's argument to be very very clear and effective as a result of the structure. Coming from an accounting background, this idea of the "guilty" party paying the other party the amount of the damages caused is interesting, especially when it comes to it becoming part of the company operating success. For example, the idea of a business losing money at its core, but being profitable as a result payments from the guilty party. I found Coase's criticism of using taxes to reduce social costs to be very compelling and logical. While a tax can obviously be an effective way to try to limit a company acting in a harmful manor (relative to another business), in reality it is not a cost free approach. This tax may sway the company away from acting destructive, however this money that is being taxed does not directly go to the party that is being negatively effective. This makes it a very difficult approach if the goal is to find a cost free solution. Tax being used in this way is purely concerned with limiting something that is seen as "bad", but it doesn't take into account the overall social perspective.
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Jan 16, 2020