Friday, December 29, 2006

"Global Warming" South-Park Style

It is the holidays after all.

Both of these made my laugh (a lot).

I can only post one to view here - the other is actually even funnier but given the academic nature of this blog Matt and David would tell me off. The last 3 seconds is the best bit.

This is the other link.

Any other lecturers will appreciate this one.


New Years Eve Party Post: The Sustainable Nightclub

New Years Eve is nearly upon us. Many will use up a lot of energy in a multitude of different ways - now we have a way of channeling some of the spent energy through the invention of the "sustainable nightclub". Admittedly, people over 30 or economists (or indeed those who are unfortunate enough to be both) are not the best qualified to comment, but I suspect this is indeed the future of nightclubs as we know it.

My new years eve question is which musical genre would optimise energy production subject to the constraint of maximising participation?

My vote is for Punk which traditionally involves the individual doing the pogo (the repeated jumping and down in a dense crowd) although I suspect this musical choice may not maximise the number of participants.

*see below for the amusing Wiki definition. It's all coming back to me now ;-)

The pogo is a dance where the dancers jump up and down, while remaining in the same location; the dance takes its name from its resemblance to the use of a pogo stick, especially in a common version of the dance, where an individual keeps their torso stiff, their arms rigid, and their legs close together. Although just as often, pogo dancers will flail their arms around wildly while thrashing their bodies about.

While similar to the religious dances of the Pentecostal faith and various African tribes, pogo dancing is perhaps most associated with punk rock, as both performers and audience members at punk rock performances often pogo; a pogo mob is a group of pogo dancers at a punk concert (see also punk dance).

China's Olympian effort for clean air

It appears that the athletes at the 2008 Olympic games may be able to compete without masks after all.

I wonder what the cost-benefit analysis works out at? Stopping industrial production across a large swathe of industry will not be cheap - and for what? So TV cameras are able to see across the stadium and participants and spectators can breath easy? That said, the cost of the negative PR of allowing the current status quo would arguably be priceless (poor economic terminology of course).

Environment-unfriendly enterprises to be suspended
Environment-unfriendly enterprises in Beijing, Shanxi, Tianjin, Hebei and Inner Mongolia in Northeast China will be suspended around the 2008 Games to ensure blue skies for the Olympics, the Legal Evening News reported Tuesday.

The decision was made at a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday of a special working group composed of representatives of the five cites and provinces. The group's mission is to guarantee fine air quality during the 2008 Games.

The measures fall into three stages: pre-Games, mid- Games and around the Games. During the first stage, which lasts until June 30, 2008, the group will stake out key areas and pollution-causing sources that need to be controlled within Beijing and across the city-boundaries.

Pei Chenghu, deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau listed some fuel saving measures at the meeting, including limiting the city's coal consumption to within 25 million tons during the pre-Games stage, carrying out the Grade IV State Standard for motor vehicle emissions, phasing out three million petrol-guzzling cars before 2008 and moving environment-friendly enterprises and updating old production techniques and equipment.

Tianjin and Hebei will strengthen rectification on tank trucks, storage tanks of pollution-causing industries like metallurgy and petrifaction and Inner Mongolia and Shanxi will focus on vitriol lixiviate and dust removal works in power stations and other polluting industries.

During the around-the-Games stage which runs from July 17 to September 20, 2008, the Capital Iron and Steel Company, known as Shougang, will suspend its steel-related production and construction sites within the Sixth Ring Road and in Shunyi. And Changping District will also be closed to ensure better air for the Games.

Chinese data and pollution control: what to believe

We are currently working on a couple of papers employing Chinese pollution data and have been puzzled by some of our results and those of other studies (that I cannot recall offhand) that show that, generally speaking, pollution intensities for a number of pollutants appear to be falling.

Given the enormous "scale effect" for China we were somewhat sceptical of these previous studies.

Today's article from Planetark may shed some light on the matter. As always, empirical researchers are beholden to their data and this article illuminates (if indeed any additional illumination was required) that the quality of Chinese data must be considered to be on the poor side and any results derived from such data should be considered with these data issues in mind.

I suspect the following article, whilst depressing, was all too predictable.

China Says Some Officials Fake Pollution Reports

BEIJING - Some local governments in China fake pollution reports and release false statistics, state media on Thursday cited an official with the country's environment watchdog as saying.

China has promised to wage war on land, air and water pollution, the result of years of breakneck economic growth and lax enforcement of rules in the rush to get rich.
Growing public unhappiness with pollution, especially in the vast countryside, and the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games have also pushed Beijing to take the subject more seriously.

"The figures on pollution control reported by local governments dropped remarkably this year, while the real environmental situation continues to deteriorate," Xinhua news agency cited an unnamed environment official as saying.

"The inaccurate figures were caused by insufficient supervision of the local governments and possible fabrication," said the official, who works for the State Environmental Protection Administration.

According to figures reported by 26 regional governments, the goal set by Beijing of cutting main pollutants by 2 percent should have been hit, the official said.

But the level of sulphur dioxide, one of the country's main pollutants that often chokes big cities like Beijing, actually rose by 2 percent this year, according to the watchdog.

"The administration will send working groups to the provinces to check the local environmental statistics," Xinhua added.

Polar bears and climate change

The US government made a rare acknowledgment of the existence of climate change yesterday when it called for greater protection for polar bears. The proposal was to classify polar bears as officially 'endangered', thereby limiting any actions by the US which would harm polar bears or their habitat.

The US proposal came as a result of concerns that the Arctic ice cap is shrinking due to global warming. As US Interior Minister Dirk Kempthorne pointed out;

Polar bears are one of nature's ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world's harshest environments. But we are concerned the polar bear's habitat may literally be melting.

But they still won't agree to CO2 emissions reductions...

Should non-use values be reduced on appeal?

The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 was notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was the largest oil spill in North American history and one of the largest in the world. But secondly, in the litigation that followed, it was decided that non-use values, determined by contingent valuation, could form part of the damages which Exxon would have to pay.

This was a landmark legal ruling. Exxon was not only responsible for lost income to those who fish these waters but would also have to pay the costs of those who felt they have suffered as a result of the environmental damage even though they don't actually use the 'assets' that have been damaged. A Blue Ribbon panel of economists deemed the contingent valuation method reliable enough, if performed in a certain manner, to be used as a means of determining non-use (also known as passive use) values in a court of law. Exxon was subsequently told to pay $5 billion in damages.

However, some years later this sum of $5 billion was reduced to $4.5 billion on appeal. Just before Christmas the sum was slashed yet further to £2.5 billion, again on appeal. The reason for doing this is unclear and appears to largely due to the original damage sum being 'too punitive'. But where does this leave the original contingent valuation study? If these estimated non-use values were 'incorrect' shouldn't somebody have to point out the manner in which they were incorrect? If the results of a contingent valuation study can be arbitrarily slashed on appeal it makes something of a mockery of the painstaking detail and analysis which goes into such a study. Why bother with such an analysis? Why not simply pluck a figure out of the air which seems punitively 'about right'?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tragedy of the (not so) Common Goat

Getting back to the economics, the fate of the Cashmere jumper provides an excellent case study of the old "Tragedy of the Commons" theory. Check your stockings for Cashmere this Christmas and remember the costs ;-)

Thanks to Treehugger for the hat tip

Cashmere: Sustainable Fiber or Environmental Disaster?

The Good News first
In theory, cashmere is the TreeHugger's ideal natural fiber. Knit or woven, it produces long-lasting garments. Quality cashmere will not pill and will keep its form for years, even generations, getting softer the more it is used. Knit garments can be hand-washed, no dry-cleaning impacts. The goats which are the source of cashmere fiber may be sheared or combed, but research suggests that combing results in better yield and less "loss" due to goats injuring each other as they huddle for warmth in the last blustery spring days. Goats which are properly kept and combed should not tweak the conscience of all but the most extreme animal protectionist (who will suggest a petroleum-based alternative for equal warmth and breathability, which has its own drawbacks). And now cashmere is so cheap, everyone can benefit from this fiber that is 8 times warmer than wool, stores without wrinkles and modulates its insulating capacity based on humidity (so you are never too warm but always warm enough). Is there a catch?

Now the Bad News (without which no economist would be happy):
Indeed, there is a catch. Cashmere is a textbook study in the Tragedy of the Commons*, which describes the inevitable outcome of a capitalistic market economy where the resource costs are not fully calculated in the production costs. This is the case in China today, where desertification and increasingly severe dust storms arise from the overpopulation of goats, eating the grasslands bare and piercing the protective topsoils with their hooves. Goats consume over 10% of their body weight daily in roughage, eating to very close to the roots and stripping bark from seedlings, preventing the regrowth of trees. When hungry, goats will eat the fur of their neighbors, down to the skin, as pictured above. (Photo: enviroactivist)

An excellent article in the Chicago Tribune documents cashmere's true cost. Millions of goats are farmed on land suitable for only a fraction of the population. The farmers are only beginning to glimpse the reality that their cash boom-crop is so unsustainable that the balance is tipping in front of their very eyes.

The enviroactivist link is worth reading for some excellent "on the ground reporting" from China and some good accompanying photographs.

Tragedy of the Commons 1968 paper from the aptly named "" here. A Christmas classic.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Seasonal Cheer: Some Environmental Economics Quotes

Top tip for Earth warriors and/or economists: attempt to subvert Christmas by sneaking environmental economics quotes inside the traditional Christmas cracker.

Whilst not guaranteed to to have your granny spitting her teeth out into the soup with laughter you might inspire your 6 year old niece to take up the cause, ditch the turkey for the nut roast, and study environmental economics. Granted, this appears to be a long shot.

Thus, in the spirit of the season of good cheer, here are some quotes chosen by this dismal environmental economist.

Instructions: print off this post, cut into strips and surreptitiously attach quote to the inside of the cracker so it falls out into the Cranberry sauce.

Talking of Christmas dinner this leads me seamlessly into quote number 1:

"Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites". ~William Ruckelshaus, Business Week, 18 June 1990.

For non-smokers replace cigarettes with "pint of milk."

"Your grandchildren will likely find it incredible - or even sinful - that you burned up a gallon of gasoline to fetch a pack of cigarettes!" ~Dr. Paul MacCready, Jr.

"We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap." ~Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

A bit of intergenerational analysis:
"We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." ~Native American Proverb

"The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun." ~Ralph Nader, quoted in Linda Botts, ed., Loose Talk, 1980

"Economic advance is not the same thing as human progress." ~John Clapham, A Concise Economic History of Britain, 1957

Two for Matt Kahn's blog "Environmental and Urban Economics", one with a Christmas theme.
"Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them." ~Bill Vaughn

"Will urban sprawl spread so far that most people lose all touch with nature? Will the day come when the only bird a typical American child ever sees is a canary in a pet shop window? When the only wild animal he knows is a rat - glimpsed on a night drive through some city slum? When the only tree he touches is the cleverly fabricated plastic evergreen that shades his gifts on Christmas morning?" ~Frank N. Ikard, North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, Houston, March 1968

A good globalisation quote:
"God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the west... keeping the world in chains. If [our nation] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts." ~Mahatma Gandhi

"Malthus has been buried many times, and Malthusian scarcity with him. But as Garrett Hardin remarked, anyone who has to be reburied so often cannot be entirely dead." ~Herman E. Daly, Steady-State Economics, 1977

These long dead English Kings were way ahead of their time:
One of the first laws against air pollution came in 1300 when King Edward I decreed the death penalty for burning of coal. At least one execution for that offense is recorded. But economics triumphed over health considerations, and air pollution became an appalling problem in England. ~Glenn T. Seaborg, Atomic Energy Commission chairman, speech, Argonne National Laboratory, 1969

The finale includes "laissez-faire" for my soon to be Econ101 students.
With laissez-faire and price atomic,
Ecology's Uneconomic,
But with another kind of logic
Economy's Unecologic.
~Kenneth E. Boulding, in Frank F. Darling and John P. Milton, eds., Future Environments of North America, 1966

It is interesting to note that many of these quotes are decades old. I wonder if this time, with the Al Gore circus in full flow, whether anything will change.

Thanks to ""

US Policy and the Environment: "Liars and Charlatans"

An excellent post from Mark Thoma at Economist's View called "A Gathering of Liars and Charlatans" from the 17th Decemeber.

After linking to another good but rather depressing article, "On a swift boat to a warmer world" by Daniel Schrag (Professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment), Thoma goes on to talk about the continued concerted effort in the US to discredit the science behind climate change.
The assault on the science underlying global warming is ongoing. For example, this is from Friday's American Spectator:

The Gore Who Stole Christmas, by Rob Bradley, American Spectator: The good news -- and a reason for holiday cheer -- is that the science behind rapid, disruptive global warming scenarios is murky at best. Though the debate is highly politicized and emotionally charged, good science is beginning to drive out bad. ... A sampling of recent issues of Science ... shows that peer-reviewed studies dispute virtually all the tenets behind climate alarmism. ...

Exaggerated forecasts of disrupted ocean circulation, rapid sea-level rise, and more intense hurricanes make for splashy headlines, but sober science suggests that these scares du jour may go the way of yesterday's alarms over global cooling, the population bomb, and mineral-resource exhaustion.

Nonetheless, one part of these scare stories is genuinely frightening: the heavy-handed government intervention that advocates always look to as the source of salvation. Yesterday's foes of the free market were socialists, communists, and Keynesians. Today's are greens who want government engineering to "stabilize" the climate and ensure "sustainability."

Yes, Keynesians are those awful people who brought us things like Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, and macroeconomic stabilization policy. And all those government regulations about polluting the air and rivers those commies put into place are such an inconvenience for business. It was so much better when they didn't have to care.

I am not anti-market. When there is market failure and markets are broken, they need to be fixed. I want markets to work efficiently and that requires some mechanism to force economic agents to internalize the costs they impose on the environment.

People who deny this basic point, or refuse to acknowledge the science that would justify such actions, should not promote themselves as advocates for well-functioning, efficient markets.

This quote is worth writing out again - astonishing really. If more writers of such material were to take some graduate neoclasical environmental economics courses we might even make a little progress. As the first article shows, a lot of the sceptics (or even skeptics) are still from industry sponsored think-tanks. This remains a worrying trend. "Something is rotton in the state of America."
Yesterday's foes of the free market were socialists, communists, and Keynesians. Today's are greens who want government engineering to "stabilize" the climate and ensure "sustainability."

A quote to finish with:

"It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment."
— Ansel Adams

I will also throw in a quote from Paul Samuelson as a pre-christmas bonus.

"Every good cause is worth some inefficiency."
— Paul Samuelson, economist

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Work less and save the environment

Some empirical economics has me scratching my head.

After skimming this paper this is one of those times.

Whilst there is a large literature on working hours and the contrast between old Europe and the US, I have never before seen working hours related to energy use.

These is one table of regression results and some interesting descriptives but otherwise I am still head scratching.

Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment? A Comparison of U.S. and European Energy Consumption by David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot

This is footnote 4.

The adoption by the EU-15 of a U.S.-style work and consumption pattern would increase total EU and U.S. energy consumption by 7 to 16 percent; and a switch by the United States to European work and consumption patterns would lower total EU and U.S. energy consumption by 8 to 14 percent. Thus, there is a difference of 15 to 30 percent in energy consumption between the two scenarios. Applying these estimates to the entire world, including developing countries, leads to a difference of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius in global climate change.

Of course it all hinges on whether working requires more energy than not working which in turn depends on what one does with ones leisure time. As in all economics papers there are some heroic assumptions but an interesting lighthearted read nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"China's Embrace of Globalization": review article

This recent NBER working paper provides a good source of trends, referenes and data sources for anyone doing empirical FDI/international trade research on China.

As the authors correctly point out, many more international trade economists are doing work on China including myself. I currently have 2 Chinese PhD students looking at trade, FDI and the environment.

This paper provides excellent background research of the policy issues even if the tables and graphs are rather basic using widely published data.

To get access to the fulltext may require permissions. If you are a student or academic your University should have these so try using a University library computer.

"China's Embrace of Globalization" NBER Working Paper No. W12373

Columbia University - Columbia Business School,
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Institute for International Economics

Full Text:

ABSTRACT: As China has become an increasingly important part of the global trading system over the past two decades, interest in the country and its international economic policies has increased among international economists who are not China specialists.

This paper represents an attempt to provide the international economics community with a succinct summary of the major steps in the evolution of Chinese policy toward international trade and foreign direct investment and their consequences since the late 1970s. In doing so, we draw upon and update a number of more comprehensive book-length treatments of the subject. It is our hope that this paper will prove to be a useful resource for the growing numbers of international economists who are exploring China-related issues, either in the classroom or in their own research.

Internet data for empirical work on Sustainable Development

This recent paper provides an excellent source of information for applied environmental economists looking for data at the international and European level.

This post will also help me remember where to look next time I have a student coming to ask for data.

The international datasets covered include:


The abstract is included below:

"Sustainable Development Data Availability on the Internet"
FEEM Working Paper No. 125.06

Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM)

Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM)

Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM)

Full Text:

ABSTRACT: Defining what Sustainability and Sustainable Development mean is a critical task, as they are global objectives, which cover different aspects of life often difficult to quantify and describe. Talking about sustainable development means dealing with the development and implementation of SD strategies at international as well as at local level. With this regard, SD information plays a key role in monitoring SD performances at different administration levels. The aim of this paper is to give an overview of sustainable data availability on the internet at international, European, national and regional level. The paper is novel in the fact that the attention of the whole analysis focused on internet, considered as the principal mean for accessing data. In fact, the web has become through the years a fundamental tool for exchanging information amongst people, organisations, institutes, governments, thanks to its easy accessibility for a wide knowledge exchange. Sustainable development data collected at different administrative levels are classified and processed according to different methods and procedures; they are gathered at different scales, in different periods and they have a different frequency of updating. Data accuracy and meta-information on available data considerably vary, too. Few organisations at the international and at the European level such as, for example, World Bank, United Nations, OECD, FAO, Eurostat, EEA committed themselves to process information belonging to different sources aiming at standardising and producing comparable data sets for several nations and regions. Following the above considerations, various international, European and national organisations' databases were investigated in order to check the availability of data at different administrative levels, mostly focusing on those sectors considered as pillars for the definition and monitoring of the implementation of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy, as pointed out in the Communication of the EC SEC(2005) 161 final.

Although this is a long paper it provides some useful information.

Maddison on Stern: A critical review

As a SCOOP for this blog I would just like to highlight again the review article written by our very own David Maddison (see 2 posts ago).

This article is over 5000 words long and provides a fairly comprehensive analysis of the fundamental weaknesses of the Stern Report.

What is incredible is the lack of input from well respected UK environmental economists in the writing of this report. It is clear from reading David's piece of work that the Stern report contains certain crucial errors many of which would not been made if the report had at the very least have been peer reviewed by academic economists who are experts in this field.

Some of the issues have been highlighted by other writers (and are referenced in this article).

Areas covered in this piece of work are as follows:

1. Introduction

2. Stern's recommendations and conventional policy prescriptions compared

3. The benefits of preventing climate change

4. The cost of abating carbon emissions

5. The optimal control of climate change

6. Discounting

7. Conclusion

Here is the conclusion. At the risk of disappointing climate change sceptics, the issue is not that climate change does not matter but how the process of reporting to the government was undertaken.
There is much in the Stern report with which one can wholeheartedly agree. Climate change is a problem. Climate policy can be informed by cost benefit analysis. The treatment of uncertainty is of paramount importance and economic instruments have a role to play in cutting carbon emissions. Permitting tropical deforestation is madness.

Some of the background material commissioned by Stern is top quality. But the review also contains errors, questionable judgement and inconsistencies. Stern moreover misses the opportunity to say some things which needed to be said. There is often insufficient information to discover what Stern and his team have done and how they arrive at key results. It would currently be impossible for another researcher to replicate Stern's findings for lack of information. Some of the evidence upon which the review is based is dated whilst more recent evidence has been overlooked. The Stern review should have been subject to far more extensive peer review prior to its release, particularly in the light of its political impact.

Because of the shortcomings highlighted here and elsewhere it is unclear whether the Stern report provides an economic rationale for the measures it commends.

Please click here to get access to the full [PDF] of the review article.

Further Comments on the Stern Review

Tickled Pink: Australian Wool Boycott and Celebs at is again

Celebrity based calls to action on green and animal welfare issues are becoming an increasingly popular method of garnering public support for a cause.

In recent months we have seen a concerted effort from New Zealand and Australia to prove that, for example, imports of lamb from these countries to the UK is actually less energy intensive than domestically produced lamb even after taking into account the energy used to transport the meat such huge distances due to their energy efficient production methods.

However, this new front appears to be based on questions about how these low production costs are driven? Is it purely economies of scale or are other costs being cut and ethical boundaries crossed? The homogeneity of wool products and often unclear labelling means it is not that clear how discerning wool buyers will know the original source of the wool that was used in the production of their newly purchased tank-top.

However, as other such boycotts have proved, these protests can have a significant short term effect on profits and a long term effect on reputation and should not be ignored. It will be interesting to see how the Australian Wool industry defends itself.

The celebrity launching the Australian wool boycott is none other than Pink.

The YouTube video provided at the weblink below is of the traditionally throat-slittingly shocking type but is worth watching. For this reason I have not provided a direct link.

Pink Launches Global Boycott of Australian Wool

The video is at the bottom of the article.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Further Comments on the Stern Review

David Maddison has now finished writing his commentary on the Stern Review. Many of his observations echo earlier remarks made by Richard Tol, William Nordhaus and Partha Dasgupta. You can download his comments by visiting his personal webpage.

Here is an excerpt from his paper:
There is much in the Stern report with which one can wholeheartedly agree. Climate change is a problem. Climate policy can be informed by cost benefit analysis. The treatment of uncertainty is of paramount importance and economic instruments have a role to play in cutting carbon emissions. Permitting tropical deforestation is madness. But the review also contains errors, questionable judgement and inconsistencies. Stern moreover misses the opportunity to say some things which needed to be said. There is often insufficient information to discover what Stern and his team have done and how they arrive at key results. It would currently be impossible for another researcher to replicate Stern’s findings for sheer lack of information. Some of the evidence upon which the review is based is dated whilst more recent evidence has been overlooked. The Stern review should have been subject to far more extensive peer review prior to its release, particularly in the light of its political impact.

"The market forces of globalization are invading the Amazon"

With an opening line like that who needs a title.

Linked to the previous post we can see that the relentless forces of globalisation continue.

This article in the National Geographic makes interesting reading.

The is also related to work by British Nobel Prize winner Clive Granger on [PDF]Dynamics of Deforestation and Growth in the Brazilian Amazon. He also presented this work at the recent World Congress in Kyoto.

There are also numerous books on this subject coming out including:

The Last of the Amazon

Brazil's dilemma: Allow widespread—and profitable—destruction of the rain forest to continue, or intensify conservation efforts.

The market forces of globalization are invading the Amazon, hastening the demise of the forest and thwarting its most committed stewards. In the past three decades, hundreds of people have died in land wars; countless others endure fear and uncertainty, their lives threatened by those who profit from the theft of timber and land. In this Wild West frontier of guns, chain saws, and bulldozers, government agents are often corrupt and ineffective—or ill-equipped and outmatched. Now, industrial-scale soybean producers are joining loggers and cattle ranchers in the land grab, speeding up destruction and further fragmenting the great Brazilian wilderness.

During the past 40 years, close to 20 percent of the Amazon rain forest has been cut down—more than in all the previous 450 years since European colonization began. The percentage could well be far higher; the figure fails to account for selective logging, which causes significant damage but is less easily observable than clear-cuts. Scientists fear that an additional 20 percent of the trees will be lost over the next two decades. If that happens, the forest's ecology will begin to unravel. Intact, the Amazon produces half its own rainfall through the moisture it releases into the atmosphere. Eliminate enough of that rain through clearing, and the remaining trees dry out and die. When desiccation is worsened by global warming, severe droughts raise the specter of wildfires that could ravage the forest. Such a drought afflicted the Amazon in 2005, reducing river levels as much as 40 feet (12 meters) and stranding hundreds of communities. Meanwhile, because trees are being wantonly burned to create open land in the frontier states of Pará, Mato Grosso, Acre, and Rondônia, Brazil has become one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The danger signs are undeniable.

All of it starts with a road. Except for a handful of federal and state highways—including the east-west Trans-Amazon Highway and the controversial BR-163, the "soy highway," which splits the heart of the Amazon along 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) from southern Mato Grosso north to Santarém in Pará—nearly every road in the Amazon is unauthorized. There are more than 105,000 miles (170,000 kilometers) of these roads, most made illegally by loggers to reach mahogany and other hardwoods for the lucrative export market.

In Brazil, the events set in motion by logging are almost always more destructive than the logging itself. Once the trees are extracted and the loggers have moved on, the roads serve as conduits for an explosive mix of squatters, speculators, ranchers, farmers, and, invariably, hired gunmen. The land sharks follow the roads deep into previously impenetrable forest, then destroy tracts to make it look as if they own them. Land thievery is committed through corruption, strong-arm tactics, and fraudulent titles and is so widespread that Brazilians have a name for it: grilagem, from the Portuguese word grilo, or cricket. Grileiros, the practitioners, have been known to age phony land titles in a drawer full of hungry crickets. When Brazil's agrarian reform agency, Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária, reviewed Amazonian land ownership records over the past three years, it voided more than 62,000 claims that appeared to be fraudulent.

Hat-tip to Living-in-a-toxic-world.

Carbon Offsetting and reforestation: location, location, location

The idea that one can offset ones carbon use by planting a tree appeals to everyone.

However, as always, things are not so simple.

A recent BBC article also covered by Treehugger reveals that only trees planted in the tropics will make a difference.

We now have a "globalisation" issue where the West may need to pay those in the tropics to plant trees for our ultimate benefit. This adds considerable complexity to the simple idea that planting trees can be used to offset carbon.

Care needed with carbon offsets

Planting forests to combat global warming may be a waste of time, especially if those trees are at high latitudes, new research suggests.

Scientists say the benefits that come from trees reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide can be outweighed by their capacity to trap heat near the ground.

Computer modelling indicates that trees only really work to cool the planet if they are planted in the tropics.

The research has been discussed at an American Geophysical Union meeting.

"What we have found is in the so-called mid-latitude region where the United States is located and majority of European countries are located, the climate benefits of planting will be nearly zero," said ecologist Govindasamy Bala of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"[In] the seasonally snow-covered regions [at even higher latitudes], planting new trees could be actually counter-productive," he told BBC News.

Growing issue

Dr Bala and colleague Ken Caldeira, from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, used a computer model to determine the impact which forests in different parts of the planet would have on temperature.

Their analysis indicates that three key factors are involved:

forests can cool the planet by absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide during photosynthesis they can also cool the planet by evaporating water to the atmosphere and increasing cloudiness; a deck of white clouds reflects incoming solar radiation straight back out into space trees can also have a warming effect because they are dark and absorb a lot of sunlight, holding heat near ground level "Our study shows that tropical forests are very beneficial to the climate because they take up carbon and increase cloudiness, which in turn helps cool the planet," explained Dr Bala.

The further you move from the equator, though, these gains are eroded; and the team's modelling predicts that planting more trees in mid- and high-latitude locations could lead to a net warming of a few degrees by the year 2100.

"The darkening of the surface by new forest canopies in the high-latitude boreal regions allows absorption of more sunlight that helps to warm the surface," Dr Bala said.

"In fact, planting more trees in high latitudes could be counterproductive from a climate perspective."

The study finds little or no climate benefit when trees are planted in temperate regions.

The scientists warn that many schemes designed to offset emissions of carbon by planting trees may not be appropriate.

"When you plant trees to slow down global warming, you have to be careful where you do it. I think our study shows clearly the climate benefits are maximised if you plant them in the tropics," Dr Bala told BBC News.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stern review computer game: Clarkson gets it

Hitting Jeremy Clarkson and David Bellamy over the head with the Stern Report has never been so much fun - be sure not to hit David Attenborough though.

The economics content of this game is, I am afraid, minimal although it will test your knowledge of climate change skeptics and advocates. First person to name all celebs included in the game wins nothing except the glory.

Hat-tip to Gristmill.

Global Warming Facts and Figures

A post for the record and to refer back to although there are not many facts and some of them aren't really facts at all.

Key Facts About Global Warming

This year is set to be the sixth warmest since records began in the 1850s, with 10 of the warmest years in the past 12, according to a British report on Thursday.

The report by the British Meteorological Office and the University of East Anglia linked a gradual rise in temperatures in recent years to greenhouse gases from human activities.
Following are some key facts about global warming:

- "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities," the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report in 2001.

- Concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, largely from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and vehicles, have risen by more a third since before the Industrial Revolution.

- Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, rose to 379 parts per million (ppm) in 2006 from 280 ppm for the period 1000-1750, the World Meteorological Organization said.

- Temperatures rose by about 0.6 Celsius (1.1 Fahrenheit) during the 20th century and may rise by a further 1.4-5.8 Celsius from 1990 to 2100, a rate of warming without precedent in at least 10,000 years, the IPCC said.

- Rising temperatures are likely to cause more floods, erosion, desertification, heatwaves and drive many species to extinction. Benefits in some regions may include longer growing seasons. Sea levels are likely to rise by 9-88 centimetres (3.5-34.7 inches) from 1990 to 2100, swamping coasts.

- A minority of scientists say the IPCC grossly underestimates the role of natural variations in the climate.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"India, Development and the Environment": same old problem

Below is the classic "globalisation and the environment" story that encapsulates some of the issues that will keep politicans in drawn out meetings for many years to come.

This same story is repeated across the world as the forces of globalisation continue to mold and shape the industrial landscape.

This article makes clear the impasse that is being reached between developing and developed countries. It should also be clear that as long as the US continues with its current environmental policies and intransigence regarding Kyoto and other multinational environmental agreements, that developing nations are not being set a good example.

In my opinion the title of this article is rather provocative and unhelpful and does not appear to accurately represent the Indian position - perhaps it just makes a good headline.

India Says Its Carbon Emissions Not Harming World

NEW DELHI -- India, considered to be one of the world's top polluters, said on Thursday that it was not doing any harm to the world's atmosphere despite increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Is this really what they said?
Experts say unchecked greenhouse gas emissions could see global temperatures rise by 2-3 degrees Celsius in the next 50 years and could result in devastating climate change.

Standard statistics trotted out.
While India is not required under the Kyoto Protocol to cut emission levels at this stage, experts say its emissions are rising due to its rapid economic development and could become a significant contributor to global warming.

Who are the so-called experts and what is the definition of "significant"? Clearly, any rapidly developing and industrialising country will be using increased levels of energy. Whilst, by definition it "could" become a significant contributer the question is whether it is now. Does "significant" in this context refer to a "relative" or "absolute" concept?
But the country's environment minister told parliament India's emissions were insignificant compared to those of richer nations which should take the lead in curbing greenhouse gases.

"India is very little in terms of emissions and we are not the biggest polluters when compared to the developed nations," said Environment Minister A. Raja.

"We are not doing any harm to the entire world. We are, in spite of the developmental activities taking place in this country, very categorical that our emissions are below three percent which is within limits," he said, referring to India's percentage contribution to total global emissions.

Again, we need to define what we mean by significant. So India's total emissions are below 3%. India has been growing dramatically in recent years yet remains a relatively low emitter per head. See below.
According to a World Bank survey in May, carbon emissions from two of the world's fastest growing economies, China and India, rose steeply over the past decade.

India increased carbon dioxide emissions by 33 percent between 1992 and 2002, said the bank's "Little Green Data Book," a survey of mankind's global environmental impact.

New Delhi says it must use more energy to lift its population from poverty and that its per-capita emissions are a fraction of those in rich states which have burnt fossil fuels unhindered since the Industrial Revolution.

This is a valid point - who are we to impose restrictions on a country's right to alleviate the poverty of its citizens not to mention the fact that India's growth in partly on the back of following western policy persciptions by way of liberalising their economy and indeed, embracing "globalisation". Moreover, such growth will result in an increased demand for Western products and create a new, potentially large, market for our products - exactly what we wanted to happen to boost our own domestic economies.

According to figures from the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, the top five sources of greenhouse gases were the United States, China, Russia, India and Japan.

The United States' per-capita greenhouse emissions were 24 tonnes based on 2004 data. China was 4 tonnes and India 2 tonnes based on 2000 data, the secretariat said.

India's annual emissions were growing about 2-3 percent, said Srinivas.

So of course, India should do what it can but these per capita figures do need to be considered when deciding where the pain of increased abatement costs must fall.
The Indian subcontinent is expected to be one of the most seriously affected regions in the world by global warming, which will mean more frequent and more severe natural disasters such as floods and droughts, more disease and poor crop yields.

Officials say India is taking steps to use energy more efficiently and is curbing the use of pollutants which harm the atmosphere, but it needs more financial resources and the transfer of new technologies to achieve this.

This may partially explain why solutions to global warming will be difficult to find and links back to the post about "Kooky English blogs" that argues, badly, that global warming might not be so bad for the US as it will warm up a few states. India meanwhile will feel the brunt of it.

This is why globalisation and environmental issues will continue to be important and hence worthy of illumination in this blog.

Coase in action: Checkerboards and Coase by Randall Akee

Given our study of Coase in Econ211 this paper appears to provide an interesting empirical example of how the elimation of transaction costs can lead to an efficient outcome and how governments can act as the "nudger" in the right direction.

"Checkerboards and Coase: Transactions Costs and Efficiency in
Land Markets"
IZA Discussion Paper No. 2438

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Full Text:

ABSTRACT: The Coase theorem emphasizes the role transactions
costs play in efficient market outcomes. We document inefficient
outcomes, in the presence of a transactions cost, in southern
California land markets and the corresponding transition to
efficient outcomes after the transactions cost is eliminated. In
the late 1800s, Palm Springs, CA was evenly divided, in a
checkerboard fashion, and property rights assigned in alternating
blocks to the Agua Caliente tribe and a non-Indian landowner by
the US Federal government. Sales and leasing restrictions on the
Agua Caliente land created a large transactions cost to
development on those lands; consequently, we observe very little
housing investment. Non-Indian lands provide a benchmark for
efficient outcomes for the Agua Caliente lands. Once the
transactions cost for Agua Caliente lands was removed, there is a
convergence between American Indian-owned and non Indian-owned
lands in both the number of homes constructed and the value of
those homes.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Carbon in your stocking

Oxford based EBICo Ltd is a gas supplier with a difference. Visitors to its website can choose to send an unusual Xmas gift to their loved ones. For a payment of little over £5 you can purchase for your husband or wife the rights to a tonne of carbon. This tonne of carbon is retired from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and a certificate of ownership despatched to your loved one.

Thank you to Colin for drawing this to my attention.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Climate Change in Africa: Shrinking lakes and the role of dams

More on the localised effects of dams. This article also tells the story of how the lives of millions may be affected if climate change predictions are correct. This post provides us with some clues as to how the fragile economies in Africa are likely to come under ever increasing pressures in the next 20 years or so.

Vast African Lake Levels Dropping Fast
At 27,000 square miles, the size of Ireland, Victoria is the greatest of Africa's Great Lakes _ the biggest freshwater body after Lake Superior. And it has dropped fast, at least six feet in the past three years, and by as much as a half-inch a day this year before November rains stabilized things.

The outflow through two hydroelectric dams at Jinja is part of the problem _ a tiny part, says the Uganda government, or half the problem, say environmentalists. But much of what is happening to Victoria and other lakes across the heart of Africa is attributable to years of drought and rising temperatures, conditions that starve the lakes of inflowing water and evaporate more of the water they have.

An extreme example lies 1,500 miles northwest of here, deeper in the drought zone, where Lake Chad, once the world's sixth-largest, has shrunk to 2 percent of its 1960s size. And the African map abounds with other, less startling examples, from Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, getting half the inflow it once did, to the great Lake Tanganyika south of here, whose level dropped over five feet in five years.

"All these lakes are extremely sensitive to climate change," the U.N. Environment Program warned in a global water assessment two years ago.

A further dramatic drop in Victoria's water levels might even turn off this spigot for the Nile, a lifeline for more than 100 million Egyptians, Sudanese and others.

Now that is an externality - the use of dams for electricity in Uganda and Tanzania being resposible for the livilhoods of millions many miles away.

Lake Chad's near-disappearance, for example, stems in part from overuse of its source waters for irrigation. Deforestation around Lake Victoria, shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, makes the area a less efficient rain "catchment" for the lake, and overfishing and pollution are damaging its $400-million-a-year fishing industry. Kenya's Rift Valley lakes, some just a few feet deep, have always fluctuated in size, even drying up with drought.

But African leaders say things are different this time, because long-term climate change may eclipse other factors.

"These cycles, when they've happened, they haven't happened under the circumstances pertaining now _ the global warming, overpopulation, degradation," said Maria Mutagamba, Uganda's water and environment minister.

Now for the economic impact of Dams and how countries have become reliant on hydo-electric as a means of power.
For 30 million people living in its basin, Lake Victoria is a vital source _ of livelihoods and food, of water, of transportation, of electric power.

Almost 200 miles across the lake from here, Tanzanian authorities have reduced water supplies to the city of Mwanza because an intake pipe was left high and dry. The same is happening in Uganda, where German engineer Erhard Schulte is pushing work crews to finish refitting Entebbe's city water plant, extending its intake pipe 1,000 feet farther out into the lake.

"The old Britisher who designed the original plant never expected the lake would drop this way," Schulte told a visitor.

Perhaps the worst impact is on power supplies. Tanzanian factories have shut down because the rivers powering hydroelectric dams, and replenishing Lake Victoria, are running dry. Kampala, a city of more than 1 million, has endured hours-long blackouts daily.

Uganda's two big hydro dams, side by side on the Victoria Nile, the lake's only outlet, are victims and _ some say _ prime suspects in the crisis.

In 2003, facing growing Ugandan demand for electricity, the Nalubaale and Kiira dams produced a peak 265 megawatts of power. In the process, their operators began overshooting long-standing formulas regulating flow of water out of the lake, an independent hydrologist later concluded.

That outside study, cited by environmentalists, contends 55 percent of the lake-level drop since 2003 is traceable to excessive outflow. But the dams' private operators and Ugandan officials strongly dispute that.

Paul Mubiru, Ugandan energy commissioner, says the dams have had a "negligible" impact on Lake Victoria, and points to Lake Tanganyika's similar fall in levels _ with no dams involved.

Earlier this year, the operators announced they were reducing the dam outflows, "but our observations show that even with the reduced outflow, the water loss is still on the increase," Mutagamba, the water minister, told the AP.

Falling lake levels, meantime, mean lower "head" pressure at the dams. Their output has dropped to 120 megawatts, pushing Uganda deeper into economic crisis.

The economic feedback mechanisms of climate change are complex but the result may be more economic and political conflict than are currently expected.

Nuclear war and climate change

Concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, a team of US scientists has modelled the impact of a nuclear war involving the exchange of 100 Hiroshima sized bombs. Their modelling suggests that a war of this nature would result in nearly 100 million deaths. But they also model the resultant impact on climate.

The team assumed an engagement between two emerging countries in the subtropics, and that the attacks with 15-kiloton devices were focused on large metropolitan centres.

The explosions would ignite huge firestorms, fuelled by all the wood, plastics and petroleum products commonly found in such locations.

These would send thick black smoke into the upper troposphere, where heating by the Sun would drive the particles even higher into the stratosphere.

The new simulations, run on a Nasa supercomputer, show that for five million tonnes of black smoke sent skyward, the result would be a global cooling of 1.25C, as the material spread out and blocked light from reaching the ground.

Some regions would probably go back to cold conditions not experienced since medieval times and a climate phase sometimes referred to as the "Little Ice Age" when Europe in particular was hit by very harsh winters

Faced with the possible annihilation of 100 million people, the prospect of harsh winters is the least of my worries.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Peak Oil and a "doomster" lesson for environmentalists

I have been meaning to post on Peak Oil for a while given its link with the Natural Resource Economics part of my Environmental Economics course.

Personally I enjoy reading this stuff and I have to admit to being a part-time "doomster". I suspect economists, as self proclaimed "dismal scientists", are natural sooth-sayers of doom and destruction.

However, a recent article in Grist called poetically, "We're Doomed" meant addressing the relationship between so-called doomsters and the human condition. The article comments on an oil related post by Toby Hemenway at Energy Bulletin. Both articles are recommended reading.

The best websites to catch up on the latest "We are all doomed" peak oil stories and the associated scary and doom laden figures and diagrams are as follows. I have included by-lines when available.

The Oil Drum
"Discussions about energy and our future".

Peak Oil
"a community peak oil portal"
"Deal With Reality or Reality Will Deal With You"
"I apologise that the information is disturbing. But comfort yourself that you gain big advantages by learning about it early, and being able to prepare to live more simply on much less energy."
"In short, the transition to declining energy availability signals a transition in civilization as we know it."

Back to the Grist article John McGrath writes:
I honestly don't understand the enduring popularity of apocalypse porn. I don't believe there's any empirical evidence for the catastrophist interpretation of our various crises, as much as I am 100% convinced of the danger they represent. Crucially, you can't prove the certainty of any future, dark or light.

This paragraph is a comment on the energy bulletin article. This is a great piece of writing. Here are a few highlights:
Peak Oil writings are sprinkled with predictions that billions will die, civil order will collapse, and even that civilization will end. Scientists, too, aren't immune. During geologist Ken Deffeyee's Peak Oil presentations, he displays the words "war," "famine," "pestilence," and "death", the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The Right, the saying goes, has the Left Behind books, and the Left has Peak Oil. Both predict that the end is near.

After I published an article suggesting that Peak Oil may lead "merely" to widespread unemployment and hardship rather than collapse [Apocalypse, not, April 2006], hundreds wrote to tell me I was a naive optimist and a cornucopian. A significant part of the Peak Oil community holds the rock-solid sentiment that the only future is one of chaos. While the end of the oil era possesses "death and taxes" certitude, plausible post-peak scenarios span a wide scope. So why is the most touted one the most extreme? Predictions of any stripe, a review will quickly show, are almost always wrong. The future rarely goes in the direction we expect. The certainty of coming doom held by so many made me wonder why we are drawn to societal collapse and our own extinction.

The article goes on to examine the history of apocalyptic thinking:
The archetypal apocalypse story in the West is, of course, that of Jesus of Nazareth. Both his life's story and his messianic prophecies of Judgment Day reflect oppression, death, and transformation, following the common arc of the apocalypse myth. This trajectory is echoed in the Peak Oil projection of increasing global despoliation and chaos, collapse, and the belief that "after Peak Oil, everything will change." But this myth has also emerged hundreds of other times in our history. Jesus would have remained one of thousands of minor apocalyptic prophets, all predicting a similar end, if not for the brilliant public relations of Saul of Tarsus and other early Christians. And one of their tactics was to piggy-back onto already existing apocalypse stories.

Apocalypse myths predate Jesus by centuries. Ancient Greece, Persia, and Egypt are their primary birthplaces for the West. In Greek mythology, Zeus destroyed the world several times via flood, fire, and war. In one typical example, Zeus, seeing that humanity had become corrupt, ended the world by flood, sparing only two people to found a new race. And there it is: the basic pattern of apocalypse that's been followed ever since. Humanity becomes wicked and is destroyed except for an elect, who go on to birth a new world.

And in most cases, the subsequent destruction of the wicked was to be followed by floods, storms, and plagues that would decimate mankind, reminiscent of claims that global warming and ecosystem collapse will come on the heels of Peak Oil, as if one calamity isnÂ’t enough.

The doomer Peak Oil scenario also replicates the final phase of the apocalypse story: that of rebirth after the collapse. Richard Heinberg, in a speech to the E. F. Schumacher society, said that after the peak, we will return to a more agrarian way of life, when "we actually regain much of what we have lost." He and others envision a future with far fewer people, many of them living rurally and raising most of their own food using permaculture and bio-intensive gardening. Some argue that post-peak, only those with primitive skills such as tanning and flint-knapping will survive. Suburban drones will die. So after the collapse, we follow the myth's final trajectory into the survival of an elect, and a rebirth in the Garden and simpler times.

Again, my point here is not that Peak Oil doomerism is wrong. The apocalypts may, for the first time in thousands of predictions, be right. We face enormous crises and we have the tools to end civilization. But remember, as you feel yourself drawn to the apocalyptic story, that it is the natural place to go in uncertain and dangerous times. We are culturally programmed to do it. Whether we are describing first-century Christians who were threatened with death for their beliefs, 14th-century weavers whose jobs were being automated and outsourced out of existence, or oil addicts about to tumble down Hubbert's Curve, people who take the apocalyptic view often have good reason to believe they are in mortal danger. The source of the threat varies - an angry god, a brutal empire, a class struggle, or resource depletion - but the response has remained the same over the millennia. The path to "end of the world" thinking is well trod, most heavily so in times of oppression, uncertainty, and corruption. But perhaps some of us can recognize how familiar is this dark road, resist the natural urge to repeat the story once more, and remember that there are many routes into the future other than the one toward the lowest common denominator.

The Apocalypse, not article has a lot more economics and less doom and is another good read.

It is all about supply and demand really. So relax, economics will save us.

Love Global Warming, Hate "Kooky English blogs"

The latest gem from CEI has landed talking about the need to consider the good things that global warming may bring to the cold US states.

My favourite or should that be favorite quote is:
At the risk of further ridicule in kooky blogs in England, where global warming alarmism is now a religion, that sounds pretty good to me. Fewer people will die from the cold.

I wonder if we qualify as a "kooky" blog? Even if we do not I suspect the risk of ridicule is very real.

Love Global Warming
At the risk of committing heresy, I'd like to suggest that the debate about climate change include, for once, a fair assessment of the benefits alongside the declamations of harm.

For example, cold winter storms kill a lot of people. More people die from blizzards and cold spells than from heat waves. Increased death rates usually persist for weeks after the unusually cold temperatures have passed, which suggests that the cold is killing people who would otherwise live into another season at least. Mortality rates during heat waves are just the reverse. The increase ends and often the rate drops below normal as soon as temperatures cool, which suggests that the higher temperatures are killing people who are likely to die soon anyway. It is true that mortality rates from both cold and hot weather have been declining in rich countries for a long time. That's because wealthier societies can adapt and protect themselves better from temperature extremes. But it also appears that deaths from hot weather have been declining more rapidly than those from cold.

So modest climatic improvement would be to have fewer and less severe big winter storms. Amazingly, that's exactly what we should get if global warming theory turns out to be true. The models say that much of the warming will occur in the upper latitudes and in the winter. At the risk of further ridicule in kooky blogs in England, where global warming alarmism is now a religion, that sounds pretty good to me. Fewer people will die from the cold.

This non-linear cold death, hot death stuff requires a little more research.

You have to love the conclusion of this piece of work though - so all is not rosy in the good news garden that is "global warming".
This promising scenario of milder winters in northern regions, which would become reality in the unlikely event that global warming turns out to be as considerable as predicted, comes with a catch, however. Air-conditioning is now considered a necessity, not only in Houston and Washington, D.C., but even in some northern climes where no matter how hot it gets during the day, it still cools down at night. Air-conditioning takes a lot of energy. But to stop global warming, we're supposed to use much less energy. Given our obvious preference for living in warmer climates as long as we have air-conditioning, I doubt that we're going to go on the energy diet that the global warming doomsters urge us to undertake.

I intend to post on the issue of "global warming doomsters" soon, not least because it is a great phrase.

Environmental Quote of the Day

After randomly coming across the Grinning Planet website I think Sunday is a good day for a couple of quotes that caught my eye.

"The superior man seeks what is right; the inferior one, what is profitable."

"The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard."
Gaylord Nelson former governor of Wisconsin, co-founder of Earth Day

"We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?"
Lee Iacocca, CEO/Chairman, Chrysler Corporation, 1979-1992

"There's so much pollution in the air now that if it weren't for our lungs there'd be no place to put it all."
Robert Orben

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mermaid's tears: Another case of global pollution

Here's one I haven't heard of before. Mermaid's tears. Apparently this term is used to describe the tiny pieces of plastic which litter our oceans. Often this plastic comes from industry, domestic use or shipping but usually ends up in tiny fragments, often the size of fish eggs but sometimes smaller than a grain of sand. These so-called mermaid's tears have been found throughout the world's oceans and the evidence suggests they're on the increase.

So what harm do they cause? Well, many plastics do not biodegrade and so can last for centuries in the world's oceans. They can then leach chemicals which are consumed by marine creatures. It's already been discovered the many species unknowingly consume these tiny pieces of plastic and there's a strong suspicion that they will be passed on throughout the food chain. Research is continuing into the impact such chemicals may have on marine life.

The Branson Interview: Born again Green

Following up on a couple of previous posts on this blog concerned with the UK's most famous entrepreneur and all round crusader for ... well, kind of everything, we now report on his latest interview with Amanda Griscom Little.

Strike It Richard

A fine read indeed but like David Roberts of Gristmill I feel I must share the following paragraph with the readers of this blog. David says "This passage from Amanda's interview with Richard Branson really resonates with me".

I would have to agree wholeheartedly.

Have you become a born-again environmentalist? If so, how has your climate activism changed your own personal lifestyle?

Well, I think I've always been an environmentalist. I've been fortunate enough to have an island in the Caribbean; when I was 26 years old, I managed to buy it for $100,000. It's a beautiful little jewel. And so every day that I live there or I'm on holiday there, looking out, it's just something that's perfect. It connects me to the awe and beauty of the natural world, and reminds me that we must be a generation devoted to preserving this beauty, not destroying it.

How do I sign up?

Economics of dams in Brazil

For reasons that would take too long to explain, I have been reading a great deal about Dams recently and their implications for growth and the environment. The economic arguments for and against and fairly standard - there are winners downstream and some upstream but also plenty of losers. The losers, theoretically could be compensated by the winners, but as we know, this is a rare occurrence. Moreover, how does one value the loss of ones home, village and livelihood.

Try picking the winners and losers from this lot.

Many of the economic arguments are contained within the following article. I pull out just a few of the main points.

Amazon Dam Project Draws Heated Opposition in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Rubber tappers, fishermen and Indians in western Brazil have joined environmental groups in battling a planned US$9 billion hydroelectric project that will flood one of the Amazon's main tributaries.


At hearings near Porto Velho, capital of the remote western Brazilian state of Rondonia, the government said the project would help avert a possible energy shortage, bolster the sluggish economy and allow barges to carry soybeans, timber and minerals on the 4,200 kilometer (2,800 miles) river network.

But environmental activists warned the dams would flood vast areas, including parts of Bolivia and Peru; spread malaria and other water-borne diseases; and destroy migrating fish, bird and animal wildlife and swathes of rainforest.

Officials in nearby Bolivia have grown concerned, demanding full details and vowing to seek compensation for any flood damage. Satisfying their concerns could take months.


"This project will redeem the region from backwardness," said Aldo Rebelo, a leading congressional ally of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who is seeking reelection as president of the lower chamber.

Rebelo told a seminar in Brasilia last month that rich foreign countries, which had already destroyed their own forests, were using environmental protection as a weapon to slow agricultural expansion in countries like Brazil.

He said opposition from foreign-financed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made it hard for Brazil to carry out infrastructure projects.


The Ibama spokeswoman said people at public hearings asked about compensation for thousands forced to relocate by the dam project, and how authorities would handle the influx of outsiders seeking work while providing jobs for locals.

Other concerns included how the project would affect fishing, health and sanitation.


He said the project's backers estimated Brazil could raise soybean output by 25 million tonnes a year, or nearly 50 per cent, by farming the Amazon and the surrounding savanna.

But Switkes warned that the Madeira is one of the world's muddiest rivers, carrying four times as much mud as the Mississippi. He said a build-up of sediment could clog the hydroelectric turbines, causing the Jirau dam to overflow and flood part of Bolivia.


National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA) scientist Bruce Forsberg estimated that the flooded area could be double the initially envisaged 530 square kilometers and stretch across the border into Bolivia.

Smeraldi said the government was like an ostrich, burying its head in the sand and refusing to consider the full economic, social and legal implications for a huge area including northeast Bolivia, eastern Peru, western Mato Grosso and southern Amazonas.

Uncertainty about the project could discourage private investors the government is counting on for financing and management expertise.

Nobel Prize for Climate Change: All hot air

This blog notes the suggestion from Boerge Brende that there should be a new Nobel Prize for the environment.
Boerge Brende, Norway's minister of the environment in 2001-2004 and now a Conservative member of parliament, said an environment prize could be set up as an award in memory of Alfred Nobel, like the economics prize.

We, of course, support this motion. Along with the Nobel Prize for Economics this would then give the writers of this blog two Nobel Prizes to aim for instead of just the one :-)

Geir Lundestad, head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said: "This question has already been discussed in the Nobel Foundation and the clear decision has been that no new Nobel prizes are to be created."

More equations and less tree planting it is then.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Environmental Protesters Killed

All of those who consider themselves to be "environmental activists" should read this post and contemplate what it really means to protest.

This article paints a rather bleak picture I am afraid.

China Secretly Executes Man after Protest - Lawyer

BEIJING - A court in southwestern China has secretly executed a man who took part in an environmental protest which turned into a riot, a lawyer and a family member said on Wednesday.

Three others were jailed, one of them for life, they said.

The four had been among thousands of people who took to the streets in Sichuan province in 2004 in anger over a hydropower project that would flood 100,000 people out of their homes.

Chen Tao, who was accused of "deliberately killing" a riot policeman during the protest, was executed, Cai Dengming, whose son was Chen's co-defendant, told Reuters.

Two other protesters were sentenced to 12 and 15 years in jail, the lawyer said, citing the verdict.

The Sichuan People's High Court was not immediately available for comment.

China is grappling with an acknowledged rise in social unrest, sparked by anger at a growing rich-poor divide, official corruption, pollution and land grabs without proper compensation in the countryside.

The country in 2004 had 74,000 "mass incidents" -- protests and riots in Communist jargon -- compared with 58,000 in 2003, Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang said last year.

In one of the most serious incidents in recent years, police and troops fired on protesters in Dongzhou in southern Guangdong province in a violent standoff over construction of a coal-fired power station. The government says three people died...

This brings us back to the issue that for all Gordon Brown's good intentions the UK, acting unilaterally, can only do so much. In relation to the Carbon emissions from the US and China (including future projections) any efforts here are a mere drop in the increasingly acidic ocean.

The FT yesterday did a full page on this issue. See Lose-lose: the penalties of acting alone stall collective effort on climate change
A popular radio comedy series in 1940s Britain featured a sketch in which two excessively polite gentlemen would find themselves unable to pass through a doorway, paralysed by their own good manners. "After you, Claude," one would say. "No, after you, Cecil," came the reply. It could go on for quite a long time.

That is exactly what negotiating international action on climate change feels like, according to David Miliband, the UK's environment minister. "It's an 'After you, Claude' situation," he says of the discussions on the international Kyoto protocol. No country wants to be first in taking action to cut their greenhouse emissions for fear that other governments will fail to follow. So they find ways to stall, while their greenhouse gas output climbs steadily skywards.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dutch cap on emissions?

A group of Dutch school children bet their Government's Environment Ministry that they could reduce their carbon emissions by more than the Ministry could over a four week period. The children won €2,000 after reducing their emissions at school and at home by a whopping 33 percent compared to the Ministry's still very creditable 20 percent. Had they lost they would have had to carry the Environment minister round the Hague in a rickshaw.

Well done kids - now keep it up through the winter.

The full story can be read by clicking here.

Shades of Bjorn Lomborg?

For those who have not yet seen it Roger Pielke Jr. has criticised the Stern report's treatment of extreme weather events. Basically Pielke accuses the Stern team of "cherry picking" certain phrases from published reports giving a misleading sense of their contents. Here's what he had to say:

The Stern Report has this passage on p. 131:

The costs of extreme weather events are already high and rising, with annual losses of around $60 billion since the 1990s (0.2% of World GDP), and record costs of $200 billion in 2005 (more than 0.5% of World GDP). New analysis based on insurance industry data has shown that weather-related catastrophe losses have increased by 2% each year since the 1970s over and above changes in wealth, inflation and population growth/movement. If this trend continued or intensified with rising global temperatures, losses from extreme weather could reach 0.5 - 1% of world GDP by the middle of the century. If temperatures continued to rise over the second half of the century, costs could reach several percent of GDP each year, particularly because the damages increase disproportionately at higher temperatures.

The source is a paper prepared by Robert Muir-Wood and colleagues as input to our workshop last May on disasters and climate change. Muir-Wood et al. do report the 2% trend since 1970. What Stern Report does not say is that Muir-Wood et al. find no trend 1950-2005 and Muir-Wood et al. acknowledge that their work shows a very strong influence of 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons in the United States. Muir-Wood et al. are therefore very cautious and responsible about their analysis. Presumably this is one reason why at the workshop Robert Muir-Wood signed on to our consensus statements, which said the following:

Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions . . . In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

The Stern Report’s selective fishing out of a convenient statement from one of the background papers prepared for our workshop is a classic example of cherry picking a result from a diversity of perspectives, rather than focusing on the consensus of the entire spectrum of experts that participated in our meeting. The Stern Report even cherry picks from within the Muir-Wood et al. paper.

Why does this matter? The Stern Report uses the cherry-picked information as the basis for one of its important conclusions about the projected costs of climate change(on p. 138),

The costs of climate change for developed countries could reach several percent of GDP as higher temperatures lead to a sharp increase in extreme weather events and large-scale changes.

To support its argument the Stern Report further relies on a significantly flawed report from the Association of British Insurers, which we critiqued here. Its presentation of the future costs of disasters and climate change is highly selective to put it mildly.

I haven’t yet read the whole Stern report, but if its treatment of disaster costs and climate change – an area where I do have some expertise – is indicative of its broader analysis, then Richard Tol’s comment in the open thread would appear to be on target.

You can read follow up comments by clicking here.

China: official sanctuaries for polluting enterprises?

In a short piece on ENN the following tantalising paragraph was included beside this picture.

Smoke Spews out of Chimneys at a Cement Plant in China

Smoke spews out of chimneys at a cement plant in Wuhu, east China's Anhui province December 1, 2006.

Industrial parks in parts of China have become official sanctuaries for polluting enterprises to dodge inspections by the environmental protection authorities, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Surely this deserves more attention. "Offical sancturies for polluting enterprises"?

This casts a whole new light on the idea of within country pollution havens. Would firms move into these areas JUST to avoid regulation? Would the Chinese government really sanction such a move or is this statement "corruption" related.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lighten the load before flying and help save the planet

Guess how much fuel it costs to have an in-flight toilet trip?

Sadly, I did try to read this article and merely pass on to the next one without comment but found compelled to bring this news to as wide an audience as possible.

Check this post from Treehugger (and the link to the original People's Daily post).

Go Before You Go?

We know that flying is quite a dirty business, but what about doing your own business at 30,000 feet? China Southern airline recently raised the question when it gently requested that passengers use the restroom prior to boarding, as Xinhua news agency reported last week.
Before some of you get your panties all in a twist over the thought of avoiding the airplane lavatory, listen to Captain Liu Zhiyuan: "The energy used in one flush is enough for an economical car to run at least 10 kilometers." The motivation behind the airline's restroom request is economic--not unlike the airline industry everywhere else, China's airlines flushed 3 billion yuan away in the first half of the year due to rising fuel costs. But the environmental cost of mile-high poop is also more than just a drop in the toilet. Consider that a transatlantic flight for a family of four already creates more CO2 than that family would generate at home in an entire year, and that burning airplane fuel has a global warming effect 2.7 times your typical ground-based release of CO2. While the vacuum toilets used on airplanes are already pretty water-efficient, based on China Southern's figures (1 liter of fuel/flush) and the altitude effect, the CO2 released by these toilets per flush is about 14.27 pounds. We knew in-flight bathrooms were kinda dirty, but not this dirty.

Thus, spending a penny before boarding could save pounds (14.27 of them). There must be a more amusing title that those provided. Suggestions welcome.

"Environmental Colonialism": The China Blame Game

Thanks to China Law Blog "China Law Blog focuses on business law in China" for highlighting this post in the Washington Post.

This Washington Post article is quite remarkable for its ability to highlight so many issues of central interest to this blog.

China's Foreign Business Blame Game

The Washington Post today (in its Sunday edition) ran an article, written by Elizabeth Economy, on how and why China is blaming foreign companies for China's own pollution problems. Entitled, "Blame Game China Needs to Stop," the article discusses how China is seeking to diffuse international criticism of its environmental record by "launching a political campaign that lays much of the blame for the country's mounting environmental problems squarely on the shoulders of foreigners."

The Washington Post article is an interesting one - the meat of it is posted below.
China has already embarked on a very different strategy to manage its environmental reputation: launching a political campaign that lays much of the blame for the country's mounting environmental problems squarely on the shoulders of foreigners and, in particular, multinational companies.

While still in its initial stages, the campaign has gained steam over the past month. Senior Chinese officials, the media and even some environmental activists have charged multinational firms and other countries with exporting pollution, lowering their environmental manufacturing standards and willfully ignoring China's environmental regulations. Faced with growing international and popular discontent over the country's environmental crisis, China's leaders are tapping into anti-foreign and nationalist sentiments to deflect attention from their own failures.

In late October a top environmental official, Pan Yue, accused the developed countries of "environmental colonialism": of transferring resource-intensive, polluting industries to China and bearing as little environmental responsibility as possible. At the same time, a leading member of China's National People's Congress claimed that foreign companies were not only exporting their waste but also underpaying Chinese workers. When a Chinese nongovernmental organization released a list of 2,700 companies cited for violations of China's water regulations in late October, the ensuing media frenzy focused exclusively on the 33 multinationals, including 3M, Panasonic, PepsiCo and DuPont, and ignored the more than 2,600 Chinese companies similarly cited. Not surprisingly, Chinese bloggers have taken up the call, discussing the "eco-colonialist" policies of multinationals and calling for "eco-compensation." Even environmental activists who have worked closely with multinationals have accused these corporations of not practicing what they preach.

This paragraph is quite astonishing really - I would like to see the China Daily article that alludes to these injuries and deaths.
Perhaps nothing is more troubling to China's leaders, however, than the environment's contribution to domestic social unrest. In May, China Daily reported that there were 50,000 environmental protests in China in 2005. Some of these demonstrations engaged upward of 30,000 people and resulted in serious injuries and even deaths. In such a climate, scapegoating foreigners can be an attractive policy option.

The conclusion of the Washington Post's article is below.
The environment has been one of the most fruitful areas of cooperation between China and the rest of the world for almost two decades. Billions of dollars in environmental assistance have flowed to China from foreign governments and international organizations. In most cases, multinational firms have been at the forefront of raising China's environmental standards, transferring best practices and cutting-edge technologies, and supporting a range of broader environmental initiatives. China should not risk all this -- and its own environmental future -- for the short-term and largely illusory benefits of playing an environmental blame game.

The sentiment expressed above is, in essense, the driving force behind a series of academic papers that we currently writing. The question we are addressing is whether "environmental spillovers" exist. This work builds on the FDI spillover literature (of which there is a vast number of papers). Eskeland and Harrison (JDE) "Moving to Greener Pastures? Multinationals and the Pollution-haven Hypothesis" is one of the first papers to investigate this issue. This post provides excellent motivation for continued study in this area. Our initial results suggest that there are environmental spillovers and that MNE's are generally cleaner than domestic firms and that firms "within" the MNE's supply chain may also improve their environmental management systems. Whether MNE's are good or bad for the environment relates to the standard "Scale", "Composition" and "Technique" effects that are the foundation of Pollution Haven and Kuznets Curve studies.

If anyone is aware of a firm level data set that is available for China (that includes an energy use variable or such like) we would be grateful for any information. We have so far been able to find any such data (that is publically available). The data certainly exists in some form but getting it appears to be a whole lot harder.

Aside: can Elizabeth Economy be her real name? I wonder how many Economys there are in the US?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rainforest saved, but who pays?

Some good news for a change. It has been announced that a large area of Brazilian rainforest is to be protected from commercial logging and agricultural use.

The protected area is vast, and connects rainforest in neighbouring Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana thereby reducing the fragmentation problem associated with deforestation (i.e. that remaining forest cover is broken into small pockets and hence cannot sustain many larger animal species). The map on the left shows the area to be protected.

However, it would seem that this is a largely selfless act by the Brazilian government who will disproprortionately suffer the financial burden of protecting this land. The benefits of protecting rainforest often fall to those in countries other than Brazil - we all enjoy the ecological and climatic benefits associated with rainforest protection and many people in developed countries (in particular) hold existence values for tropical rainforest. These people will therefore reap the benefits of this decision. However, the costs of this decision fall squarely on the Brazilian government and its people. These costs include the opportunity cost of agricultural and timber revenues which could have been earned but will presumably also include a certain degree of protection costs associated with monitoring and enforcing these protected zones.

It would be nice if mechanisms existed whereby countries that benefit from environmental decisions could in some way compensate the countries that make these decisions. Carbon credits would be an obvious place to start and broadly fall within the Kyoto Protocol. Countries with emissions commitments (the developed world) could pay countries such as Brazil to keep their trees. The resulting emissions reduction could then contribute towards the developed country's emissions commitments. As long as these 'sequestration' costs are lower than the cost of abating carbon in the developed country (and the evidence suggests that they are) then everyone's a winner. So why doesn't this happen?

"China environmental crisis" continued /...

Two more articles outlining some of the difficulties that China will face in the near future as a result of its unrestained economic growth.

China Pollution Crisis Undermining Growth - Official
HONG KONG - China faces an environmental crisis that threatens to wipe out much of the gains of three decades of economic growth, one of China's most outspoken environment officials said in comments published on Saturday.

"China is dangerously near a crisis. The country's enormous environmental debt will have to be paid one way or another," Pan Yue, deputy head of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, said in a letter to the South China Morning Post.

Realistic estimates put environmental damage at 8 to 13 percent of China's national income each year, meaning the cost of pollution off-set almost all of China's economic gains since the late 1970s, he said.

The costs of pollution are being borne by ordinary Chinese.

"Scarcely anyone bothers to consider the environmental costs to -- or rights of -- the country's poor and powerless," Pan said.

A quarter of the population drink substandard water, a third of urbanites breathe badly polluted air and China has a major water pollution incident every two days on average, he added.

The other article today concerns "The Chinese Water Crisis".

Groundwater Polluted in 9 out of 10 Chinese Cities
BEIJING - Underground water reserves in around 9 out of every 10 Chinese cities are polluted or over-exploited, and could take hundreds of years to recover, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

In costal areas overuse of reservoirs is allowing saline seawater to seep into and contaminate freshwater, while underground pressure changes caused by depleted reserves are also causing massive subsidence nationwide.

China has limited water resources, less than one third of the global per capita average and falling. Groundwater is crucial because it provides up to 70 percent of drinking water.

"Groundwater is now contaminated in about 90 percent of the nation's cities," Xinhua quoted Zhang Lijun, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration saying.

But because some groundwater aquifers are up to 20,000 years old -- and many around the capital Beijing hold water from 1,000 years ago -- China cannot afford to put off pollution control.

"If polluted, surface waters can soon clean itself," Xinhua quoted water expert Ma Jun saying. "But groundwater needs an unimaginable length of time to become clean. Prevention is all we can do."