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Josh Fingerhut
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South Asia Group 1. The paper about sustainable development in Australia shed light on the fact that many sustainable practices have low uptake due to a knowledge gap that exists. There is still hesitation towards environmentally sustainable design even though having energy efficient, green buildings is the quickest and most cost effective way to reduce GHG emissions. The major argument against ESD for buildings is that it costs more to build than a conventionally designed building. The article points out that the “Initial impact on construction costs (above comparable non-Green projects) is likely to be in the order of 3 – 5% for a 5 Star solution” (6). Bond makes it clear that there is a marginal cost premium for building. However, these greener buildings would cost less in the long-run, coupled with achieving higher rents and property values (“The selling prices of green buildings…are about 16% higher than other nearby buildings that do not have these green credentials” (7). We think that this is a major part of the knowledge gap. People need to evaluate a green building project holistically, and view it as an investment for the future, as opposed to a major current cost in terms of building. We have learned in class that this tends to be an issue associated with the narrative of sustainable development. Opposers of sustainable practices, such as ESD, harp on the idea that it is “too expensive,” but, as we have learned, sustainable development is an investment that would provide enormous returns in the future, both on a private and social level, coupled with positive externalities. Clearly, as we have seen, Australia has lagged behind its targets and there is a lack of progress, some of which likely has to do with what underlies some of this paper: one of the three I’s, ignorance. We think it will be important to continue educating about energy efficiency, but also to start implementing new, clear policies to achieve targets. What do you think can be done and what are some examples of policies that could be implemented to really start seeing more movement towards energy efficiency and ESD in Australia? Are there other countries that could serve as a role model for Australia in terms of progress in achieving more sustainable buildings? 2. On page six of the Australia paper, which was written in 2010, attention is called to Australia’s “Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET)”. This target calls for 20% of Australia’s electricity generation to be fueled by renewable sources by 2020. However, as noted on Australia’s government website, coal still accounts for 75% of all electricity generation in the current day ['s%20primary%20energy%20consumption%20is,around%20(2%20per%20cent)]. What takeaways are to be made of this lack of progress on a clear and ambitious goal set by the government. 3. According to “The complexity for the resource-based cities in China on creating sustainable development”, one of the central challenges to China’s sustainable city development is the current system for creating policy, which is mostly uniform across the country. In a nation as large and diverse as China, this is problematic because even among resource-based cities, there is so much diversity in type of resources and in social attitudes. This leads to policies being implemented in cities that don’t really meet the needs of that specific city and its citizens, which slows efforts to implement more sustainable development in Chinese cities. How might Chinese officials better meet the needs of these cities without compromising the strength of the country’s sustainability initiatives? To what extent are these efforts harmed or helped by the fairly centralized system of government in China, especially compared to the generally less centralized system of government in the United States? Is one system generally more successful in achieving sustainability measures than the other? 4. In section 5.1.6, titled “Unclear Responsibility” the author addresses the hindrances to sustainable urban development created by the amount of different stakeholders invested in urban development and by the independent interests of the respective stakeholders. Chinese policy blunders have allowed certain parties to act in their own best interest at the expense of sustainable development. Private interest always seems to take the forefront to sustainable development when firms are given the opportunities to take advantage of poorly enacted environmental policy. What policy changes could the Chinese make to solidify the interests of the various stakeholders and move towards sustainable urban development in China?
Toggle Commented May 8, 2022 on Articles for Monday at Jolly Green General
These articles all shed light on an incredibly important issue. In reflecting upon these articles, I felt that there was a clear distinction between a reaction of a rational person observing these issues and what has actually been done. Any rational person would look at these polluting plants and draw the conclusion that they have serious negative health effects on the communities around them. This is similar to a point in Michael Hendryx's ted talk on mountain top removal in which he ponders why he has to convince people that "blowing up a freaking mountain top with explosives" has impacts on the health of those in surrounding communities. These impacts should be obvious. Yet, as the Vice and NYT articles called attention to, the reaction of the government has been counterintuitive to these obvious issues. Instead of tightening environmental regulations during a global pandemic in which any health impacts will be exacerbated, they loosened them. Seeing how these impacts are specifically felt by low income and minority communities, I can't help but feel that the government is still rigging our system to favor special interests over those that have been historically disenfranchised. Of course, it does not help that Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy was staunchly against Biden's proposed climate legislation. He wrote in an op-ed, "The administration’s solitary focus on lowering domestic emissions has sacrificed U.S. interests." Until these politicians seriously consider what is best for their most vulnerable constituants, many will continue to suffer.
Toggle Commented Mar 30, 2022 on Last Post for the Semester at Jolly Green General
This article answered one of the questions asked most frequently when it comes to provisions to limit emissions: what is it going to cost? After reading through the estimates provided, $138 per household in the optimistic version of Waxman-Markey, $436 in the pessimistic version of Waxman-Markey, and $235 in the cap-and-dividend policy, I was surprised that the number was so low. Now, of course this cost can be a signifigant burden for low income households, but the authors were quick to point out that the redistributive measures placed in the bills would make it such that there was no burden on these low income households. Instead, the burden would fall mostly on middle class households. The question remains: what are you willing to pay for clean air and lower emissions? Let me draw a comparison here. An Amazon Prime membership is $139, almost exactly the same household price as the optimistic scenario of Waxman-Markey. It is estimated that over 60% of households pay for an Amazon Prime membership. Surely then, middle class households should be willing to pay a similar amount for concrete action that will limit immense future costs of climate change. Free two day delivery is appealing but I think I will take the existence of our coastlines instead. After doing some aditional research into the Waxman-Markey bill, I was sad to see that, despite passing the house, it was never brought to the senate. Unfortunately, lobbying from oil and gas companies that will bear the largest costs have stopped legislation such as Waxman-Markey time and time again.
Toggle Commented Mar 23, 2022 on Paper for Thursday at Jolly Green General
All three of these papers highlight the adverse health effects of exposure to air pollution. I believe these results are significant for a few reasons. During the lecture earlier this week with Katharine Hayhoe, she emphasized that the best way to get people to care about the environment is by displaying how environmental degradation/ climate change will affect something that they care about. She also discussed how people have an easier time rationalizing dangers that are localized and not far in the future. I think that air pollution fits into this framework and can be a way to start that conversation with many people. For example, the paper written by Bernstein et al. mentions that ozone pollution is associated with an increased risk of asthma amongst children playing outside sports in California. No parent wants their child to develop asthma and this frightening fact may wake them up to the realities of pollution. Additionally, all three papers make it clear that these are effects that are being felt right now. This may be easier for people to rationalize versus something such as sea level rise in the future. Another takeaway for me is that the issue of air pollution must be examined through an environmental justice lens. Bernstein et al. suggest in their conclusion, "In choosing new residential locations, patients should give preference to sites remote from heavy automobile traffic or chemical manufacturing plants". However, those with less social mobility do not always have the luxury to move away from this pollution. Furthermore, operations that release a lot of pollutants may choose to locate in poorer neighborhoods due to cheaper real estate or exploiting the fact that disenfranchised neighborhoods may have less political capital to fight back. These same neighborhoods may also have limited access to health care needed to mitigate these effects. Therefore, air pollution is another example of an environmental impact that is felt disproportionately by those of lower socioeconomic status.
Toggle Commented Mar 16, 2022 on Papers for Thursday at Jolly Green General
I found the article "Fueling our Future" very interesting. Fueling our Future takes a look at potential energy solutions that will stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 550 PPM. What I liked about this article was that I found Schrag's approach to the issue full of sobering realism. Unlike many academic papers that will focus solely on the optimal energy outcome, Schrag grounds his approach in what he thinks is scalable and realistic. As a result, he acknowledges that the solution must be one that draws from advantages across many energy sources. What caught my attention was Schrag's suggestion that coal should be play a center role in the energy solution. This was initially surprising to me because, as the article mentions, coal is considered to be one of the most "dirty" fuel sources. However, Schrag pivots to suggest that we could outfit all coal plants with carbon storage technology. This suggestion bothered me slightly as it seemed to defy the realist approach taken throughout the entire article. Although Schrag estimates it would only cost 1% of GDP to implement this carbon storage (it was unclear if this was the cost for the US or the entire world) it seems to me that it would be hard to get the entire world on the same page to implement this plan. Now 16 years after this article was written, coal carbon capture is not universally implemented. In fact, a 2018 article in Nature written by Groesbeck and Pearce suggests that solar photovoltaic technology is now more land use efficient than coal carbon caputre. In short, I liked Schrag's outside-the-box thinking but, having the luxury of looking back on this article 16 years later, I do not think that coal should be a key piece in the world's energy puzzle.
Toggle Commented Mar 10, 2022 on Papers for Thursday at Jolly Green General
This article did a great job of detailing the health of global fisheries. Based on what we have learned so far in this class, I was unsurprised to see that the fisheries with regulations and active stock management were generally more healthy and more economically viable than unregulated fisheries. Fisheries are a natural resource with public good characteristics such as a forest and therefore, based on what we have learned thus far in class, it follows that unregulated access will often lead to unsustainable use. One part of the article that caught my attention was the author's description of "derby fishing". This phenomenon occurs when regulations create a very short fishing season or impose a general cap on the total catch. This causes fishers to go to great lengths to catch as much as they can in this limited time. I decided to do some extra research to dive deeper into the dangerous effects of "derby fishing". While the Bureau of Labor Statistics already ranks commercial fishing as the most dangerous occupation at 141 deaths per 100,000 per year, Alaskan crab fishing, a "derby fishery" referenced by the article, results in over 300 fatalities per person per year. These are often brutal deaths with over 80% caused by "drowning or hypothermia". Other dangerous effects such as severe sleep deprivation occur as a result of the constraints put in place by the regulations. The existence of derby fishing is a warning that regulations that may be effective in managing the health of natural resource stocks are not always the best option from a socioeconomic perspective. It is important to find solutions that keep the safety of both the worker and the environment in mind.
Toggle Commented Feb 10, 2022 on Paper for Thursday at Jolly Green General
I enjoyed hearing Professor Fisher talk about sustainability. Having taken her Environmental Archaeology course last Spring Term, the importance of learning from past human-environment relationships is very clear to me. Archeological findings show us examples of environmental approaches that worked and created long-term flourishing such as the approach of the Zuni. Archeological findings also show us examples of environmental approaches that caused societal collapse such as that of the Maya. My main takeaway from hearing Professor Fisher share her expertise is that there is a pattern between traditional approaches that worked and traditional approaches that didn’t work. Professor Fisher specifically noted that societies that emphasized flexibility in their agricultural systems lasted much longer than societies that doubled down on certain goods and fell into so-called “rigidity traps”. My question is: how can we take this knowledge of past successes and failures and incorporate it into our economic models? I think that we may want to use knowledge from the past as an indication that we should incentivize flexible systems both in agriculture and other areas of environmental resources such as energy. Such flexibility is likely to be less profitable in the short-term but important for the existence of society down the line. Therefore, I think this may be a good place for the government to step in.
Toggle Commented Feb 8, 2022 on Next Webinar Monday at Jolly Green General
This article was really interesting to me because it forced me to consider environmental issues outside of the lens of the United States. I was initially surprised to learn about the large impact that China has had on deforestation in the Amazon. When it comes to globalization, I feel as though people are quick to discuss the benefits such as cheaper goods, comparative advantages, and theoretical increases in prosperity. However, this article provided a concrete example of a negative of globalization, one that I had not really considered. In a global economy, countries may accept higher levels of depletion of their own natural resources as they can trade with other countries for these resources if they run out. This may explain why China has already depleted many of its resources including clear-cutting almost all of its natural forests. The global economy allows them to find a cheap substitute. This paper was published in 2012. China's population and economy has grown since then and will continue to grow. Therefore, we would expect to see them continue to contribute to deforestation in the Amazon. The Amazon provides ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration that benefit the entire world. Therefore, global organizations such as the UN and NATO may be wise to look into tariffs or other measures to prevent wide-scale deforestation
Toggle Commented Feb 3, 2022 on Reading for Thursday at Jolly Green General
I connected with much of Professor Humston's message on sustainability. Particularly, I agree with him that there are no "silver bullets" in building a more sustainable future. What is a realistic solution for one country may not be a realistic solution for another country. I can think of many examples of this. I would categorize nuclear energy as something that may work for some countries but be unfeasible for others. Nuclear energy has numerous advantages. There are no direct carbon emissions, there is no dependence on weather conditions, and one uranium pellet can produce the same amount of energy as roughly 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. However, nuclear power has massive upfront costs. Construction of a new plant may cost upwards of $4 billion and take as long as ten years. Jobs in nuclear power often require advanced degrees, shutting lower-educated workers out of newly developed jobs. So while nuclear energy may be a solution for sustainable energy in some countries, it may not be a "silver bullet", especially in developing countries. Another area in which sustainable solutions are needed is agriculture. One such proposed solution is the use of soilless systems such as hydroponics. These soilless solutions require far less land, water, and herbicides and protect yields from severe weather events. However, while this may make soilless systems an attractive solution in certain nations, there are barriers that may prevent widespread implementation in developing countries. Again, startup costs are high and require large indoor buildings to produce at scale. For certain developing nations, up to half of the labor force is involved in agriculture. It is not feasible to have all of these workers immediately change their livelihoods. Therefore, soilless agriculture may play some role in a more sustainable global agriculture system but is far from a "silver bullet" solution.
Toggle Commented Feb 1, 2022 on Sustainability Webinar at Jolly Green General
I found both of these articles interesting in the sense that they provided a means for assigning value to environmental resources, something that can be very hard to do. One thing that caught my attention was the effect of anchoring in the Belize article. The authors found that those that were informed of the previous $3.75 fee were slightly more likely to support a higher fee. However, the average Max WTP was significantly lower for those informed of the fee, measuring $20.03 as opposed to $35.19 for those not informed. Having taken behavioral economics last semester, I am well aware of the power that the heuristic of anchoring and adjustment can have on economic decision-making, but I had not thought to apply it to environmental economics as this paper did. Upon reflection, the effect of anchoring is likely felt in many areas of environmental economics. One example of this may be gas taxes. Those that live in states with a gas tax are likely quite comfortable with the idea. However, if the optimal gas tax is $.50 and they have had a $.10 gas tax for years, they may remain anchored to the previous tax and fight hard against a significant increase. People may remain anchored to all sorts of status quos when it comes to protecting the environment. For example, very few people complain about existing federally protected land. However, if the government attempted to expand national forests or national parks, many would-be hesitant to accept such a change. In short, humans are biased in that they remain anchored to past norms when assessing new changes. In the case of the environment, however, it is becoming increasingly evident that past norms are often not a good guideline for what is truly best for society. The inclusion of an observed anchoring effect in the Belize article may be a good starting point for future research looking into the effect of anchoring across the discipline of environmental economics.
Toggle Commented Jan 27, 2022 on Readings for Thursday at Jolly Green General
I was especially drawn to Quiggin’s article. It is often the case that pessimism and an impending sense of doom are so powerful that the general public and policymakers are distracted from realistic options at their fingertips. Quiggin certainly acknowledges the large environmental issues our world faces and will face in the future. However, unlike many who stop here, Quiggin pairs this with realistic solutions to address some of the problems mentioned. Some of these solutions, such as a shift towards electric cars and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, have seen significant progress since this article was written in 2013. Like Quiggin, I believe that one of the most pressing issues is that of international cooperation. Even with increases in the productivity in crop growth for example, many will starve without efficient distribution. While I often feel pessimistic on the issue of international cooperation, I appreciated that Quiggin pointed out that there has been effective international cooperation before during the AIDS and Malaria epidemics. In total, I think that Quiggin’s pragmatic approach is one that would be beneficial as we approach environmental issues in this class.
Toggle Commented Jan 20, 2022 on Readings for Thursday at Jolly Green General
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Jan 19, 2022