05.29.08

Unintended Consequences 2: Creative thinking

Posted in Climate Change, Politics at 7:35 am by justakim

As the EU combats climate change, Eastern European countries want previous economic setbacks to count.

The EU plans on cutting emissions by 1/5 of 1990 levels by 2020. Targets were distributed to each country based on their 2005 emissions.

Seven of the Eastern European countries want their economic downturn in the 1990’s to count as ‘reductions’ in emissions. They want what they did not emit in the past to count towards their goal.

“By 2005 a significant part of the 20 percent target — namely 7.9 percent — has already been realized,” said a proposal drafted by Hungary ahead of next week’s meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg.

“In the opinion of Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia these early reduction efforts should be duly recognized and rewarded in the effort sharing and/or ETS proposal,” added the proposal, obtained by Reuters.

Being rewarded for having had economic trouble? Wow. As a friend noted, maybe we can still get something out of the Great Depression.

05.28.08

Tangled Bank

Posted in And Now for Something Completely Different at 11:58 am by justakim

Looks like I got linked in an Ars Nobelintent’s collection of blogs. Have a look at the variety of blogs out there.

For those new visitors, please consider taking a few minutes to take my survey on time valuation.

Now, is it worth the trouble of pointing out the typo in Ecocene…

05.25.08

Local Amenities

Posted in Conservation, Economic Development at 3:38 pm by justakim

In Regional Economic Development I was told that some areas have an advantage over others because of the local amenities. There are some places that are just never going to have the draw of others. Who doesn’t like a view of the ocean? Who doesn’t appreciate trees? A temperate climate. Sunshine.

But I don’t buy this. I don’t believe that some places are completely out of luck. Plenty of people–plenty of growing cities!–are located in places I wouldn’t dream of living. Not everyone has the same priority order of amenities that I do. Certainly, too many people like what I like (Mediterranean climate with ocean, mountain, and desert within an hour), but not everyone.

And there are plenty of places in the US where no one lives, which could appeal to me, except for the fact that no one else lives there. There are parts of Wyoming and Montana where I bet you could own your own mesa. I could live with that, if there happened to be a big city nearby. When I crossed the country, I saw many empty places that I’d love to explore, had I the resources nearby to make it worth living there, not the other way around.

Think of all the desert cities in Arizona and New Mexico. The sun is a draw, and only so if there’s air conditioning, but does every resident look out upon the deserts and see a harsh and uninviting place, or do they perhaps see something to be proud of, or to admire? Surely, there are few places in the lower 48 that are less welcoming to human life.

Appeal changes. Amenities can be enhanced or destroyed. LA might have nice weather, but I don’t imagine many people considered it a beautiful place to live in the beginning. Did you think the San Francisco Peninsula had trees? Some places develop from historical accident, from the needs of transportation or technology, but the nature outdoors does not seem to me such a limiting factor.

Still, I understand that people are willing to pay more for certain natural amenities than others. I live in a beautiful place. And all those amenities are fully enhanced, supported, and advertised. I am paying for the view, the forests, and the trails. The farms, the local markets, the nearness of the sea, and all that the city provides. I intend to get more than my money’s worth.

In the past, I have not utilized the local amenities. I used to live with Mt. Rainier in my backyard. I would observe it. I would admire it. I would occasionally visit and I would never stay. It was distant, aloof, indifferent.

I flew past it on my way home one day, and wrote this:

Mountain King

arising from mysteries, robed in fog
an island of certainty in a sea of clouds
commanding the landscape like no other
the mountain king presides over his dominion
while change lurks beneath the foamy surface
the high kingdom of snow and cloud remains serene

The thought of hiking up to a glacier, sleeping on it, and climbing to the top never appealed to me.

And then I moved, and then there was another mountain in my backyard.

At first I thought Mt. Hood was nice, but it was just another mountain. Anything that required equipment was scenery and not something to stand on. Every so often, we’d go up to Timberline Lodge, sip a drink, and observe the peak from a comfortable distance. On one of our first trips, there was a search and rescue going on, in a window of clear weather. I watched the clouds rolling in. It was like a shroud of death.

People die up there. There’s a whole Wikipedia page devoted to Mt. Hood accidents.

About 10,000 climbers attempt Mount Hood every year, the mountain claiming one to three lives annually.

And yet, as time went on, the mountain beckoned. There was something so enticing about it, luminous and pristine on every clear day. “You’ll take the challenge.” it said. “Yes, people die on my slopes… that’s not going to stop you.”

Next year, I’m taking classes and I’m going with a group. All the resources are there to make it possible. The summit will be mine.

There are few creatures more ill-suited to climbing than I, but I won’t ignore an opportunity so tidiliy laid out before me.

05.24.08

Unintended Consequences

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Energy, Pollution at 2:27 am by justakim

Trees

I was browsing one of those various stories about an organization buying some patch of forest for carbon sequestration purposes. It occurred to me that this was a very strange thought.

Start off with a straight market in emissions, a textbook example. In the market, each company has a different cost for reducing their pollution. The ones that have a harder time reducing pollution will pay the ones better suited to it, to pollute less in their stead. Pollution is decreased efficiently where those most able, do so. Total pollution goes down. Cool.

Why stop with companies? There are other places that can emit or remove your pollutant. Some energy sources are cleaner than others; buying from the cleaner sources should count for something. Why not trees? How does this work? You assume that the trees will remove pollutants. You assume that whoever owns the trees is going to cut them down anyway. Pay the tree owners to leave the trees up so they can continue to remove the pollutant.

It sounds great! Offsetting pollution and protecting trees at the same time. But something about this extension seems flimsy. Instead of reducing pollution among firms that are polluting, this would instead pay to make another place keep doing what it was doing naturally. So, the firms keep polluting and the trees keep breathing, they are just theoretically not going to get cut down or burned. This doesn’t strike me as a very effective strategy to reduce emissions.

What’s to stop someone from taking a step further. Surely some trees are better at carbon sequestration than others. Why not cut down one forest of less ‘efficient’ trees, and replant them with a nicely ordered tree farm that has more efficient trees? Trees that can be harvested. Perhaps one day the tree farms will be replaced with algae vats.

The entire line of thinking, of finding the cheapest cost ways to alter the projected path of carbon emissions seems misleading and ineffective, providing excuses not to reduce pollution and crowding out pollution reduction technology.

Cars

The result of unintended consequences (or ulterior motives) can be seen in the car market. Here’s a story where the Postal Service buys new alternative fuel vehicles.

The U.S. Postal Service purchased more than 30,000 ethanol-capable trucks and minivans from 1999 to 2005, making it the biggest American buyer of alternative-fuel vehicles. Gasoline consumption jumped by more than 1.5 million gallons as a result.

They replaced their Jeeps with Ford Explorers and found it hard to find the alternate fuel. Since the Explorer-based cars are less fuel efficient, consumption went up and efficiency went down. Brilliant.

A limited number of stations selling ethanol and the scarcity of vehicles burning it diminish the fuel’s appeal, according to a June 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress. Three of the 26 ethanol- capable vehicles offered in 2007 were compact or mid-size cars, and the rest were large autos, pickups, SUVs or vans.

Fish

On an odder note, it seems that cleaning up pollution can sometimes have a negative impact on a species. The murk of pollution protected the stickleback from predation. An aggressive cleanup campaign in the 1960’s transformed Lake Washington from an open sewer into a clear lake.

But the lake’s recovery put at least one species in a pickle: the three-spine stickleback.

The small fish, formerly hidden in the murky depths, found itself swimming in plain view of predators like cutthroat trout.

Researchers now think the threat of predators spurred the fish into rapid evolution toward an older version of itself, evolutionarily speaking.

In the absence of pollution, the fish was suddenly made visible to its predators. The less protected were snapped up, and the ratio of fish with armor increased.

Interestingly, there are other clear lakes where the stickleback are not heavily armored, suggesting that something different is happening here. My thinking is this: In the presence of pollution, the fish favored other traits. With the sudden removal of pollution, there was no slow return to normal. All the fish who were caught unprepared were eaten and the ones with armor survived. It may not have been the best advantage, but it worked in a pinch.

Whatever the reason for the difference, it is interesting to see such an unusual and rapid effect due to cleanup. Things aren’t going to be quite like they used to be.

05.16.08

Sensitivity or Lack Thereof

Posted in Climate Change, Economic Development, Energy at 9:43 am by justakim

China quake may cut carbon offset supply

I did a double-take when I read that title. It seemed a little insensitive given the 40,000 still missing. That seems a little more important than the lost revenue from carbon offsets and the rise in offset prices for everyone else.

Here’s Marketplace on the attempt to shore up 400 damaged dams.

On a brighter note, this chart in the Economist piqued my interest. US private giving is off the chart. To put that into context, I browsed the source, the Index of Global Philanthropy. Total per capita giving is among the highest following Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. However, total giving is huge; $129.8 billion with the UK following at $20.7 billion while Norway’s at $3.7. We have a lot of money, and we give a lot of it. Good deal.

I also noticed that private overseas giving is closely related to the US business cycle.

Speaking of giving, thanks for taking my survey. I’m still taking responses.

FinAid bunny

05.12.08

What About Gas?

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Politics, Resources at 11:08 am by justakim

“You’re an economist. What about the gas price?”

There’s two reasons I don’t talk much about the gas prices. One, every economist out there is talking about it, and some like env-econ do a fine job of covering every ounce of it. The other reason is that I don’t think just making it cheaper is the answer, which is something many people don’t want to hear. This does not mean I don’t sympathize with people who are adversely impacted recently, but that I think we made less-than-optimal decisions and now we’re paying for it.

Inspired by a conversation last week, here’s my bit on gas prices:

Me: Even now, our gas prices are so darn cheap relatively speaking.
Cohort 1: Cheap? Compared to what?
Me: Compared to Europe, for a start.
Cohort 2: Actually, I just saw a report recently about how we’re 100+ expensive…

Don’t believe us? here are the numbers in question. We’re around 108. European countries have high prices because of high taxes that are used to develop other transportation infrastructure, like mass transit. 18 cents doesn’t compare to a couple bucks. If the price goes up by a dollar here, that’s a significant increase while in Europe, it’s a smaller percentage. Price shocks are bad. It is harder to adjust to a sudden and possibly temporary price change than to shift production and consumption to a predictable future. If you’d known in advance that prices would suddenly go up, you would have planned for it. If you’d known all your life that gas is expensive, you would have made life choices accordingly. Your city might not look the same.

I know that there are people who don’t want anything to do with those ‘socialist’ European countries, but one might consider that our price is much closer to Russia’s.

When I was twelve, I laid out the itinerary for the family vacation. I took out some maps. I hit as many national parks as I could within our two week time frame. I was very proud of myself. I find the summer vacation as important as anyone. But I don’t think the American way of life requires that we remain vulnerable to the whims of a volatile, cartel-operated market. That just doesn’t seem American to me.

05.11.08

Stimulus Package

Posted in Cat, Politics at 8:11 pm by justakim

First, I’d like to introduce our line of economic experts.

Micro, Macro, Metrics
You already met StatsFish

MacroCat has this to share:
Stimulus package: I ate it

My adviser doesn’t like lolcats. He must be a dog person.

We did actually spend it this weekend on:

* track mounted lights over futon–works great with the projector overhead
*replacement hiking shoes: today’s event convinced me of the need
* various odds and ends at REI (SO CROWDED)
* possibly membership in the local mountaineering club; if anyone knows if Lassen counts as a glaciated peak, lemme know 😉

I’m a terrible hiker. I need more beer.

05.09.08

Survey Incentive

Posted in And Now for Something Completely Different, Cat, Fun and Games at 2:06 pm by justakim

I thought I’d offer some entertainment in exchange for your precious few minutes. I’m sure some of these are familiar to most of you.

Taylor Mali on what teachers make

standupeconomist

George Carlin on saving the planet

Fun with graphs and venn diagrams

Powerpoint presentations

I also made some lolcats.
fishay

specificashun

And a taco for Ars. Economies of scale, y’know.
tacos

Please Take My Research Survey

Posted in Admin, Behavior at 2:04 pm by justakim

I am a graduate student conducting a survey for a research project. The questions in this survey will be used to explore how people evaluate events happening now differently than events happening in the future. This research will help policy analysts make better choices about environmental policy options. If you are at least 18 years old and interested in participating, click on the link below. The survey should take about 10 minutes.

The survey is located here

Lakes

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development, Health, Pollution at 9:15 am by justakim

There have been a slew of stories lately related to different bodies of water.

For instance, there is a report on the rapid warming of Lake Baikal, the largest lake in the world. There have been changes to the plankton communities and it is causing concern for all the other, particularly endemic, life in the lake. This includes the Baikal seal.

There are also concerns about the impacts of a soda plant planned in Tanzania. Despite its move to 22 miles away from Lake Natron, there are still worries that the facility will impact the population of lesser flamingo. 3/4 of them migrate here to breed.

In Canada, hundreds of ducks died by settling into a wastewater pond of an oil sands plant. Apparently, the ‘sound cannon’ which is supposed to scare off birds by simulating gunshots was not put into place. I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of these devices.

On Sunday, another oil sands developer, ConocoPhillips, said its workers noticed a growing number of waterfowl on a settling pond at its Surmont project, south of Syncrude, last week.

After trying unsuccessfully to scare them away with air horns, two were captured and taken to a veterinarian in Fort McMurray, Alberta, for examination.

Sinking deeper into the gutter, traces of drugs can be found in sewage water, giving a surprising amount of detail on drug use.

The Milanese are partial to a line or two of cocaine. The same goes for many drug users in London, although they dabble in heroin more than their Italian counterparts. Both cities like ecstasy at the weekends and cannabis pretty much every day. Welcome to the results from a new branch of public health: sewage epidemiology.

But wait! It gets better. All sorts of chemicals can be found in our water systems.

Think Zoloft and other mood-enhancers. Anti-depressants are some of the compounds found in treated wastewater. Scientists have also discovered trace amounts of everything from Ibuprofen to antibiotics. Dana Kolpin, of the U.S. Geological Survey, says the government is just beginning to study the effects of this drug cocktail on marine life, and we don’t know a lot yet, but the risks of not finding out are huge.

As of February, Teleosis has collected 700 lb of pharmaceuticals in 6 months…. And what is the pharmaceutical response to that?

According to the Marketplace interview:

“We think that’s a solution that’s actually looking for a problem.”

Marjorie Powell represents the industry’s main lobbying group. Powell says one, pill-flushing is a minor contributor to pharmaceuticals in the waterways. Two, she argues, consumers can safely dispose of unused drugs by throwing them in the garbage in tightly sealed containers.

“Therefore, we think that focusing on creating a take-back program is establishing an enormous level of effort for very little return.”

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