04.29.08

Santa May Need a New Home–and no it’s not the credit crunch

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Resources at 11:05 pm by justakim

…he handed out too many lumps of coal.

The Arctic is plagued with a variety of woes. Not only is it melting faster than anticipated, it just might be ice-free this summer. It shrank back drastically last year, and while there has been a promising growth in ice over the winter, it is ‘new’ ice that is less resistant to melting. Picture a thin film of ice over your drink vs. a cube in it.

It is also “wetter” than previously, with more rain and more snow. When a thick frost forms on top of the snow, reindeer and other animals accustomed to digging down are unable to break the surface.

When the ice melted back last year, it exposed the fabled North-West Passage that connected the Atlantic to the Pacific. Among other things, one of the concerns brought up by the opening of the Arctic are fisheries. As ocean temperatures rise, fish species are appearing in new places, typically moving northward. In an attempt to forestall future crashes in fish stocks, there is an attempt to establish a marine sanctuary within the exclusive economic zone around Alaska. There’s no teeth in it yet.

o/~Just one time I would take the northwest passage… o/~

04.27.08

Notes on Biodiversity

Posted in Book, Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development, Energy, Health, Pollution at 12:29 pm by justakim

There is a new book explaining how the loss of biodiversity will impact the discovery and development of new drugs. What makes this notable is that this is not just E.O. Wilson’s Discovery of Life. This book, Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity is composed not by environmentalists or entomologists, but by medical doctors at Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment.

The book demonstrates the value of biodiversity in previous discoveries, and covers several areas that show promise for new drugs, including cases where the species went extinct before the drug potential could be realized, and more cases where this may yet happen. Time to put a few frogs aside. It looks like it has a solid overview of what biodiversity is, why it matters, and what affects it. The book will be out in June.

One species that was not on the list for drug potential is the finless porpoise. While it has a pretty wide range along the coast, there is only one freshwater population that lives in the Yangtze River and two connected Poyang and Dongting Lakes. In addition to habitat degradation, a recent study finds that they are suffering from high levels of pollution.

While the focus of this study was on pollution, the situation is quite precarious. Dongting Lake relies on overflow from the Yangtze River and it swells and shrinks with the seasons. The Three Gorges Dam, which was built upstream of the lake, also has the function of flood control. Regulated flow and trapping of sediment must have drastically changed the functioning of the lake.

What makes this news so unpleasant to me is that I didn’t even know they existed. The extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin was pretty much expected when the Three Gorges Dam project began. It is probably more significant to lose a species than a population, but I was not aware there was much else of note. To lose something only as you learn it is there…

04.25.08

Money or Status

Posted in Behavior at 11:25 pm by justakim

Two recent studies look at how the brain reacts to monetay and status.

In the first, brain activity was tracked while volunteers played a game for monetary rewards and had their personalities given scores. The same portion of the brain reacted to both gains and losses of money and high and low evaluations.

This suggests that money and social standing are evaluated similarly, and can substitute for each other. However, it should be of little surprise that the same part of the brain that evaluates status also evaluates money. In the US culture in particular, status and money are very closely related. But money hasn’t been around forever… some part of the brain had to take on the task of handling it. This may explain why money equates so easily to social status; not just because we think of it in similar terms, but that the brain function that developed to measure social status took on the task of evaluating money.

The second study scanned brains while volunteers played a game for money. There was a fake ranking system and participants were told that their rank had no effect on the money reward but earning more money can raise their rank. During the game, they were told that fake contestants were doing better or worse than them. Brains apparently react very strongly to the status of other players.

So it seems like thinking that you are doing better than someone else has a stronger reaction than a monetary reward, even if it’s a complete stranger. A very cheap reward indeed.

What can economists gain from this? Perhaps a better understanding of money as possibly a subset of status, exploration of tradeoffs between monetary and social rewards, and a reminder that status and money are strongly correlated.

Environmentalists might gain new strategies from this way of thinking. They had it wrong with guilt; there may be more to Schwarzenegger’s model of making environmentalism attractive and a way to boost social status. Not only can raising one’s perceived social status be cheap for the individual, but environmental benefits from giving social rewards can be cost effective as well.

The Future of Cars

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Politics, Pollution, Resources at 9:23 pm by justakim

Ars Technica posted a nice description of the governors’ conference on climate change from last week. It is widely known that California has attempted to set its own emissions standards and has been blocked federally.

Perhaps in anticipation of the promises of all three presidential candidates, there is a new venture to bring Norwegian electric cars to California.

The joint venture’s first product will be Think City, an emission-free, 95 percent recyclable car with a maximum speed of 65 miles an hour. Plans call for a U.S. launch next year.

Lane said he expects the Think City, which will be priced under $25,000, to compete with Toyota Motor Corp’s popular Prius hybrid.

Their plan include charging stations to support the 50,000 cars they hope to be making annually.

If the US government won’t take the lead in promoting a market for cleaner cars, who will? …China?

The question of hybrids and other fuel efficient vehicles arises because the world’s automakers are gathering this week for the Beijing Auto Show, an event that is growing in clout as the world’s second largest auto market is set to be No. 1 soon.

But executives are waiting for Chinese officials to lay out a set of incentives that could jump start a product line…

Given how much we’ve used China as an excuse not to sign onto Kyoto etc, it would be terribly embarrassing if the world had to turn to China to take the lead. On the other hand, a switch to a purely electric car might not be so great an idea, for China.

Nissan Motor Co Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn told reporters the Japanese automaker is approaching the Chinese government, among the many it is in talks with, to push for a pure electric vehicle solution to battle pollution.

China depends heavily on coal to produce electricity. Emissions offset from the tailpipe will just appear elsewhere.

Hey, if the federal government doesn’t want California to dictate standards for the entire country, there might be appeal to dictating standards abroad.

Whatever it is that the government does, sensible Americans would prefer that the government do it to somebody else. This is the idea behind foreign policy.

-P.J. O’Rourke

1. Emissions by country
2. Chinese energy consumption
3. US energy

04.22.08

Food Craze

Posted in Climate Change, Economic Development, Energy at 4:50 pm by justakim

Farm aid and fair trade are what the leader of the UN Conference on Trade And Development is calling for. Local farmers have to compete with food aid as well as subsidized agricultural products from the US and Europe, leaving countries vulnerable to changes in the market with underdeveloped agriculture at home.

Panitchpakdi said speculators on commodities futures markets were worsening the problem of high food prices, and he hoped the April 20-25UNCTAD meeting in Ghana would address this.

And if that’s not sensationalist enough for you, we can call it “silent mass murder”.

Meanwhile, Bolivia’s president blames biofuels.

The US Foreign Agricultural Service advises countries against stopping exports.

“Firstly it is restricting trade and tends to make people think of hoarding. Secondly, domestic producers are sending the wrong signal –don’t produce, don’t invest in new technology, additional fertilizers or new genetics.”

What good will investing in agriculture do if you cannot compete with subsidized farming?

Case in point: USDA celebrates Earth Day by preserving farmland..

Happy Earth Day?

It seems like a great irony that places so lacking in biodiversity–places that are used for the purpose of monoculture, are being protected as if it were of environmental benefit. They could not protect the land from farming, nor could they set aside some other more environmentally valuable land to offset farming. Instead, let us go all the way to perverting environmental easements in the name of environmentalism, to create another farming subsidy.

We here in the US are affected by soaring prices, even if to a much lesser degree. Some places in the US are rationing grain.

The New York Sun reported Monday that “major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply.”


Rice is especially hard-hit, as shortages have led to dramatically increased prices. In some cases, a 25-pound bag is selling for more than $30.

Well, I hope that doesn’t last long. Our last 20lb bag of rice is probably going to last us ’til winter.

Also, as an alternative to burning food, the seeds of weeds are back.

I am probably lacking in environmental enthusiasm today. I’ll leave that to the pros.

04.21.08

.edu rents webspace…

Posted in And Now for Something Completely Different at 9:09 pm by justakim

Seriously! I don’t come up with this stuff on my own.

(You can tell I’m studying econometrics. Oh yeah.)

When your hard-earned isk depends on it

Posted in Fun and Games, Resources at 6:56 pm by justakim

But there are certainly other unlimited sources of items that can be refined, and Eve players will surely find the next best deal. They probably have already.

Response:

There is. 😛 3.66 isk/unit for civilian afterburners

Poor CCP…

Imaginary Market Bump

Posted in Fun and Games, Resources at 11:13 am by justakim

I take part in a little company on Eve Online that makes really big ships. We buy lots of materials off the market, like tritanium. Please note that I am a very casual player of Eve.

So the SO comes by.
“Oh did I tell you trit prices went up?”
“Nope”
“They took out a loophole where you could refine shuttles for trit.”
“Price ceiling?”
“Yeah. The going rate was 3.2/unit, shuttle price was 3.6, and now it’s 4.6 or so.”
“Ew. Now what?”
“The price will come down some and we have reserves to ride it out. We’ll wait a bit for the price to come down before purchasing more.”

At first it appears straightforward:

You can either mine trit, or you can buy and refine an unlimited supply of shuttles to produce trit. You remove the trick, and people will have to rely on mining. There is a temporary spike because people have to shift over to mining, and a permanent rise in prices.

But wait! The price of trit was below the price ceiling. Normally, that would mean that the price ceiling was ineffective and irrelevant, but that is not the case here.

People who buy shuttles and refine them for trit do not interact with the market. The demand observed in the market does not include the total consumption of trit, only what is mined. Buyers who don’t refine, and sellers who mine, trade at 3.2/unit. Everyone else pays 3.6/unit for convenience or whatever. When the 3.6/unit source of trit was removed, the true demand suddenly became visible, while it will take supply time to respond. Prices spiked to ~4.6, and they will eventually go down.

However, we don’t know how far down it will go. Eve’s economist did indeed note the correlation between shuttle prices and trit prices, which is probably what led them to remove the loophole, so that gives us an idea of what the actual demand is. But there are certainly other unlimited sources of items that can be refined, and Eve players will surely find the next best deal. They probably have already.

I hope this illustrates that while economics, the study of resource allocation, can be applied to games, it can be in pretty silly ways. It also shows that people understand these things intuitively. Everyone knows that if a known and exploited loophole is removed, the price will go up, until new solutions are employed, whether it is as intended, or more likely, another smart loophole. Moreover, there are probably a thousand other details peculiar to this market that I am completely ignorant of since I am not an avid player.

04.20.08

Energy at the Crossroads: Global perspectives and uncertainties by Vaclav Smil

Posted in Book, Energy, Pollution, Resources at 11:50 pm by justakim

Save yourself some pain–skip if you can.

In the first two chapters, Smil lays out a whole laundry list of details about energy, how much there is, how efficient it is, how much we use, comparisons, etc. Unfortunately, the textualized spreadsheet goes on for quite some time. It would have been a faster, more pleasant read if the words were omitted and the numbers were left behind.

In the third chapter, Smil demonstrates with a spectacular array of examples that forecasting is wrong unless it just accidentally got it right. Instead of making poor guesses at what might happen and acting on it, we should decide what will happen, and aim for it.

4 and 5 are more details about nonrenewable and renewable energies respectively. He takes the approach of considering overall potentials and constraints, which sadly is not often brought up. For instance, it’s going to take a whole LOT of land for biomass to meet current fuel demands.

Chapter 6 was almost pleasant. Energy efficiency will help us a lot, but not enough. Take care of your planet, you’re stuck with it. Invest in renewables but don’t buy into all the hype. Get real: we won’t last forever on coal.

This book has… grown on me somewhat since I started reading it. There is valuable information in this book, it’s just hard to access, and possibly not worth the trouble to find it. I am adverse to skipping anything and a slow reader, so your mileage may vary here. I have my doubts however, that anyone will read this book unless it’s necessary that they do so. That analogy about not seeing the forest for the trees does not quite fit here. Forget the trees–it’s more like a note was taken down every time two trees’ branches crossed.

I also found out that the speed limit was lowered to 55mph during the Carter administration to conserve energy… That explains a lot.

04.19.08

Old News

Posted in Energy, Politics at 7:58 am by justakim

Ever wake up in the morning with a sinking feeling as something dawns on you? As if the impact of some news a few days ago hadn’t really sunk in?

This morning, I woke up with a delayed reaction to John McCain’s gas tax cut. I merely dismissed it at the time, rather than reacting with appropriate dismay. This news is so old, I can’t find a direct article without putting effort into it.

I love the guy, but what? If gas was elastic (demand is responsive to price) and the price goes up, we’d just drive less. If gas was inelastic (demand not responsive to price) and the price goes up, we’d just complain and drive the same. Now what would the gas companies do if taxes are removed? Charge more, of course! Sometimes it is true that companies pass prices along. Only when we’re willing to suck it up.

So, McCain wants to suspend gas taxes over the summer. Not only is that an unrealistically short time frame for government action, it also doesn’t give much time to react, which means that this idea is a no-go. But the question remains: Does he think that this truly would be good for the country and thinks government should hop to it, or does he just see a harmless opportunity to express sympathy? Neither sounds good.