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Natalie Burden
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The most important thing I’ve learned from this course is that if policies were based purely on science and economics, policies would have been put in place by now to transition to a zero-emissions world, at least for the U.S. Unfortunately, it truly does come back to the three I’s: Interest, Ignorance, and Ideology. Many of the people in charge of making the calls for whether or not we implement a carbon tax or other strategies for reversing or reducing the impacts of climate change are not educated on the science of climate change. In many cases they have a vested interest in keeping the fossil fuel industry and other polluting industries alive. The science and economics behind the Green New Deal create a very compelling argument for such a transition. From the Stanford University assessment of the Green New Deal ( a transition to 100% clean energy would “eliminate 62,000 air pollution deaths per year in the U.S, saving taxpayers $600 billion a year. Climate costs savings to the world due to reducing U.S. emissions would be $3.3 trillion a year. These savings would continue for 100 years. The transition would create 2 million net jobs over those lost in the U.S.” The lack of action in response to findings like these solidifies the reality that the concern for such a change is not over a scientific or economic weakness––just social and political opposition. So yes, the economics are important and the science is important and we can use them to back any argument in favor of reducing climate change. However, the science and economics seem to give such clear direction for what needs to happen, that the only explanation for why they have yet to incite widespread action is because of the politics of it. In order to make the major changes in our infrastructure that are necessary to limit climate change, the most important thing we can do is change the minds of the people who disagree and get in the way. That means we need to focus on the answers to their biggest questions: (1) How much will it cost upfront? and (2) Where will the money come from? I can’t answer these questions well myself yet, but there are some potential sources that seem quite obvious. We’ve discussed in class that $70 billion per year goes to the US Navy to protect / escort oil tankers around the world. There’s also a $50 billion budget devoted to nuclear weapons development. I can think of many more effective uses of that money. More contested sources include carbon pricing and ending subsidies for fossil fuels. We have also seen the Fed spend trillions of dollars to bail out banks during the financial crisis. Maybe if the government can see climate change as a crisis as severe as the financial crisis if not moreso, they will do what they need to do to solve it. So again, it comes back to interests and ideology. Knowing this, I will try to understand the bases of these interests and ideologies and hopefully change people’s minds along the way. And when it eventually comes to government intervention, I will be a proponent for mutually agreed upon mutual coercion.
Toggle Commented Apr 22, 2020 on ECON 255 Final Exam at Jolly Green General
Fraker’s article on Nichols’ “neuroconservation” ideas brought up a lot of different roles that neurology could play in environmental issues. It suggested the value of nature for psychological and mental health reasons; it also touched on how the brain responds to different calls to action on environmental issues. Fraker didn’t go into much detail on either of these topics, and when I was trying to find an article that did, I came across the following article. This post discusses a similar idea of how the brain responds to stress as opposed to compassion around environmental issues, but in the context of marketing. The author discusses how “neuromarketing” techniques could be used to encourage consumers to buy into conservation-related activities or products despite higher financial cost. He raised the question of how it could be used and whether it even should be used. In the context of marketing, it seems like it could be somewhat exploitative, and dangerous if used for bad reasons. Still, it made me think about politicians, and whether certain methods could be effective for encouraging politicians to choose the moral high road over their fossil fuel campaign donors. These articles/posts were both written in 2013, and not much discussion has resulted since then. However, it might be worth trying something different and trying to stir up more compassion and empowerment than stress on the political front. When called to action, it seems as though conservative politicians either deny the importance of the environmental issue at hand or accuse the people fighting for the environment cause of using “scare tactics.” That seems like the definition of fight or flight. So, maybe we should be looking into neurology to guide our methods of calling politicians to take action on environmental issues.
I think one of the most important questions to be able to answer when having a discussion about the transition to zero-emissions is how to pay for the upfront costs. Politics aside, most reasonable people could be able to see that a transition to zero-emissions would pay for itself quickly, but what many people have more trouble with is the question of where we should get the money from. I read the following paper by Robert Pollin (2019) on the variety of sources for this funding that seem perfectly reasonable to me. I think some sources of funding are much more obvious than we realize. For example, $50 billion goes toward the nuclear weapons development budget every year. Pollin proposed a 50% cut in that budget because nuclear weapons would destroy life on earth if put to use, and because nuclear weapons are hopefully never used anyway, why spend so much money on their development in the first place? That would mean $25 billion each year going toward saving the world instead of destroying it. He also suggested Federal Reserve Green Bond funding, where governments could issue long-term zero-interest-rate Green Bonds, purchased by they Fed. Pollin had proposed $50 billion-worth of these, but I think they could afford to do more. As the Fed demonstrated both during the 2008 financial crisis and more recently during this pandemic, there is much more money at our government’s disposal to pay for upfront costs. Pollin mentioned a 2017 study that estimated that “within the first few years following the onset of the [2008] crisis, the government committed approximately $12.2 trillion to stop the crash of the financial system, stabilize the economy, and try to spur economic growth.” To put that into perspective, Pollin’s estimate of the cost of the transition to zero-emissions was $18 trillion over the course of 30 years (not much more money, and over a much longer time period). The government will probably be paying even more over the next few months/years in the Covid-19 recovery. What this tells us is that we don’t need to look that hard to find the money to pay for a zero-emissions transition. What we do need is for the government to view climate change as as much of a crisis as the 2008 financial crisis or the Covid-19 crisis we’re facing now, because when faced with situations like those, the government does what’s necessary to pay for the recovery.
It was crazy to read through the Green New Deal and see how vague it was––intentionally––in describing the problems that needed fixing, and following that reading with the Federalist article. The Federalist article and a number of news sources like those shown in the John Oliver show made such extreme exaggerations of what the Green New Deal was targeting. By twisting the words of the Green New Deal, these sources made the goals sound completely unrealistic and ridiculous and severely belittled the GDN. It’s so frustrating to see how political polarization has made parties so quick to belittle and destroy the goals of the other party without considering the problems that are being addressed. I found an article from the Pew Research Center that summarizes succinctly how Democrats and Republicans view climate change. Charts 3, 4, and 5 show how divided the parties are on the topic of climate change. Chart 5 suggests that a person’s political party has more impact than their level of understanding about science on their climate change views: It’s bad enough that the issue of climate change has become so contested by politics despite a pretty universal agreement within the scientific community. It really doesn’t help to have right-leaning news sources twisting the message of the GDN and other climate initiatives so blatantly and using scare tactics like those in the Federalist article such as government agents coming to take out your water heater. This increases and prolongs the polarization through generations. Although members of the same generations might have more similar opinions on issues such as climate change (see Chart 4), polarization through the media will make it harder for Republicans and Democrats to agree on national and global issues, and will therefore make it more difficult to put initiatives into action on either side.
Toggle Commented Apr 14, 2020 on ECON 255: The Green New Deal at Jolly Green General
My sister is taking a course on Environmental Economics at Colgate this semester so we’ve been having a lot of overlapping discussions. She and I were talking about how much worse air pollution has made the Coronavirus crisis for certain people, and she said how happy she was to have spent her past four years in college in the middle of nowhere upstate NY, far from severe air pollution. She has asthma and a bad history of pneumonia, making her at high risk for Covid-19. It also reminded me of the privilege we have to live in an area that without major air pollution problems –– if we lived in cancer alley or a similarly susceptible region, we would be at much higher risk not only to Covid-19 but to a number of other health problems. My sister especially could be in a far worse state of health if we hadn’t grown up where we did and gone to school where we did.
The article that was assigned to us listed some seriously frightening things that could possibly arise out of the relaxation of environmental pollution standards. This article focused more on the irresponsibility of it, as increased pollution will increase the likelihood that someone whose lungs are already compromised will be at greater risk of serious illness and death from the coronavirus, and while it may be easing some stress on the businesses, it is worsening the coronavirus crisis, which is the reason businesses are in such a terrible place right now. Another article I found was a little more eye opening to the possibility that the relaxation of pollution standards could lead not only to accidental increases in pollution but more cavalier and almost intentional increases in pollution: The EPA relaxed its standards urging businesses to comply to them when reasonably practical. However, I haven’t found any information on whether the standards have changed to specified eased levels, which makes me wonder whether there are any standards left at all. With the lines so blurred and companies so desperate to stay afloat during right now, companies will do anything to cut costs, even it means allowing higher levels of carcinogens into the air, or directing high amounts of toxins directly into waterways that will likely cause longer term issues. This increased pollution is especially bad because it’s dirtier pollution than what it normally is and could do a lot more damage in a much shorter time as a result.
Reading “The impact of exposure to air pollution on cognitive performance” paper, it struck me about the health care and caregiving costs from dementia. A couple years ago my cousins-once-removed were dealing with both their mother and father suffering from dementia of some form. Meanwhile, they were both also raising young kids. It was a massive economic burden for them as they were paying for medical aid and spending much of their time looking after their parents. It was both interesting and frustrating to think about whether exposure to air pollution could have exacerbated their deterioration in their old age. Both from an emotional and economic standpoint, the thought that air pollution exposure could have caused or worsened the situation is infuriating. Aside from dementia, the cognitive damages that air pollution evidently causes impedes education and decision-making abilities, another issue that has economic implications: as people age, they will be less likely to make good decisions in their jobs. As my job search has been getting into full swing, I have been realizing how much I rely on my cognitive abilities, and if they were diminished by something out of my control (which they probably will be because I can’t escape air pollution), I would be furious.
Toggle Commented Mar 13, 2020 on 3 short papers for Friday at Jolly Green General
The research in “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal” (Epstein et al. 2011) discusses a lot of the valuations for the external costs of coal use. These price estimates reminded me of a group project we conducted in Professor Greer’s Global Climate Change course. We were tasked with finding the most effective and realistic way to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases on the climate. Each group chose a different method to research. Some options included artificial trees that captured CO2 from the atmosphere, painting cities and streets and roofs white to increase albedo, and injecting some chemical into the atmosphere that brightened clouds to increase albedo. Some of these were problematic because they did nothing to reduce the amount of emissions in the atmosphere and instead merely mitigated a fraction of the effects. Others, such as the artificial trees, would surely be effective if there was unlimited money and places to “plant” the artificial trees, but a big part of the project was to estimate the costs of research and implementation for each of the methods. So, although the artificial trees were among the highest potential effectiveness, they were also among the most expensive. Still, it is unlikely that the price of implementing a method like artificial trees is greater than the excessive social costs of CO2 emissions. Thinking about it like this reminds me of an earlier discussion we’ve had, about how willingness to pay is less than willingness to accept the costs of something. Based on the costs of coal, as Epstein et al. calculated, it seems to be a similar situation, with people willing to accept the costs of coal rather than paying to limit the social costs of coal, however the method.
Toggle Commented Mar 6, 2020 on Discussion Paper for Friday at Jolly Green General
In her paper “Pollution and Infant Health,” Currie’s discussion of Health at Birth and Environmental Justice resonated with me more than other sections because of the discussions I have been having in my Spanish course this term on migration topics, in which much of our focus has been on child migrants. One of the recurring themes in books, poems, and documentaries that we have read and watched has been migrants’ interactions with pollution, whether that exposure happens in the native country––where a child has grown up in very close proximity to the factory where his or her parents work––or during the journey to the North––during which a child travels on the tops of freight trains hundreds of miles, and has extremely limited access to clean food and clean water, exposing himself or herself to pollution via contaminated water and freight train exhaust. Although child migrants’ journeys probably do not last long enough to have lasting impacts on their health, if they have grown up near pollution sites, they probably have been significantly harmed by pollution. It is especially alarming to read this paper studying low levels of pollution after reading poems about growing up exposed to high levels of pollution (specifically “La memoria de la tierra sagrada” by Liliana Ancalao, for reference), playing underneath metal bridges, by little rivers of water, oil, and petroleum. The data in Currie’s paper that correlated both lower education and minority mothers with greater effects from pollution in their infants in a number of different contexts made me think about the relationship between mothers’ education levels and the effects of pollution on infants’ health within Mexico, or some other Central or Latin American country. Based on what I’ve learned in the Spanish course, low economic mobility in many of these countries (reinforced by the inaffordability of keeping a child in school for many years) could be a major factor in reducing mothers’ mobility to move away from sources of pollution if those pollution sources are also a source of employment. So, going back to Liliana Ancalao’s poem, she was likely highly exposed to pollution that damaged her health as a child, the extent of which was likely exacerbated by her parents’ immobility and potential lack of education about health effects from pollution.
This paper did a great job of noting the various characteristics that could have influenced a respondent’s willingness to pay for protection of Belize’s marine environmental resources. What stood out most in my mind as I read was that those who visited the Mayan ruins, although not marine-related, were willing to pay significantly more than others. People who visit the ruins are likely more appreciative of cultural and historical goods and experiences. Like environmental resources, cultural and historical goods do not necessarily have a precise value but many people would agree that these types of goods, like the Mayan ruins, have a right to exist. Thinking about it in this way, it is not surprising that people who visited the Mayan ruins regard both history and the environment with more respect than others and would therefore be more willing to pay for marine conservation. I often find myself disappointed by the fact that with so many environmental problems, there are solutions that should so clearly be implemented but rarely are because not enough people care about it, or people prioritize other things over the environment. However, this seems like one case in which caring goes a long way and has potential to make a significant difference. There was controversy over raising the tourism fee before enacting it due to the fears that it would reduce tourism. However, after the fee was raised, tourism increased. It is not specifically stated in the paper whether the hike in tourism resulted directly from the increase in the fee, but it suggests that caring about a cause, such as marine resource protection, in fact drives people to accept a higher charge knowing that it supports a good cause and travel more to a place that they know is actively trying to protect its environment.
One of the arguments that caught my attention in Krutilla’s 1967 essay was the discussion of demand for outdoor recreation. It was interesting to think about how introducing people to activities such as hiking and canoeing that require and build an appreciation for natural resources could, in an idealized world (or in 1967 when the world was not so dominated by technology as to the degree that it is today), be a method for creating an environmentally conservative sentiment in future generations. This would increase the demand for nature conservancy. This caught my attention because I do believe that this method has merit to an extent, but it was also defeating to think about the other side; if exposure to outdoor activities increases the demand for the conservation of natural phenomena, then, by the same argument, increased exposure of the public to activities that deplete natural resources (which has undoubtedly occurred since 1967) makes it increasingly less likely for the public to give up such activities. If I understand correctly, Krutilla argued that because supply of natural amenities is essentially fixed, as they become scarcer over time, their marginal value will increase. If he means to say that people will, on their own accord, start to value natural amenities over manufactured amenities, then I’d say we are either (1) not doing anything about it or (2) have not reached the level of scarcity at which that shift occurs. If we have not yet reached the point that humans value natural amenities over manufactured ones, then I think we will only reach that point after much of the damage and depletion is irreversible or unfixable –– a point that is supposedly not too far in the future, as we discussed in Professor Greer’s Global Climate Change class. So, although Krutilla’s argument of increasing demand for natural resources through outdoor activities is reasonable to a degree (and may have worked better if it had been put into effect better earlier on), it does not involve explicit intervention, which at this point is necessary.
I had expected more direct environmentally-focused discussion, but I realized further into the reading that the lack thereof was very understandable. Many of the damages associated with environmental economics occur on such a large scale that it would make it hard for readers to grasp the nuances of the problem. It was a good decision by Coase to start by explaining smaller-scale problems of externalities such as shade from new buildings over hotel pools. From that point, it was much easier to understand the problems that arise in attempting to fix the externality problem (transaction costs, regulation, enforcement, etc.). Describing these troubles on an individual- or firm-level made it very clear to me that addressing larger-scale environmental problems such as widespread pollution and the effects of greenhouse gases would be impossible to fix if they were left to individuals and firms that would each have to deal with their own transaction costs. Hence, the government, given its authoritative power, should intervene to dictate the use of factors of production, and in doing so, help individuals and firms avoid the costs from trying to fix the same problem on their own. Obviously, it is much easier said than done, as it is also very costly for the government to fix major environmental problems, and because many problems are not necessarily designated as problems, as Coase discusses in the section on the law of nuisance. My main takeaway was that in order to fix the major global-scale environmental problems, the authority of the government is necessary.
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Jan 16, 2020