Sunday, September 30, 2007

More "Megafires" or "climatic tsunamis" to come?

An article that brings us two new "global warming" related word is the popularisation of the term "megafire" and the closely related "climatic tsunamis". As temperatures rise the prevalence of such events will increase.

This also allows me to post a great picture. The animal in the foreground must be Bambi.

The economic implications are clear - more fires equals higher insurance premiums, more deaths from natural events, destruction of valuable forests and crop land etc. etc.

What is interesting here is the term "misguided environmentalism". This is something that needs more careful examination. With records being beaten almost every year in the US it is clear this is a problem that will not go away any time soon.

More 'megafires' to come, say scientists

Fires of unprecedented ferocity are sweeping around the world, fuelled by global warming and misguided environmentalism.

Dubbed "megafires", they rage over thousands of miles at 1,000C and create their own weather, even triggering tornadoes. Rapidly increasing in number, they are often unquenchable by any human efforts, burning unchecked until they reach coasts or are put out by heavy rainfall.

The devastating fires that have ravaged Greece killed at least 63 people and charred 482,000 acres of land. This summer, as record heatwaves hit much of southern Europe, more than 1.9 million acres have gone up in smoke .

Matters are even worse in the United States, where 20 years ago, fires burning over 5,000 acres were relatively rare. In the past 10 years, however, there have more than 200 conflagrations 10 times the size. Last year, 9.6 million acres of the country were devastated, beating an all-time record set 2005. This is the sixth time in the past decade that a record year has immediately been surpassed in the following 12 months.

A year ago the Australian state of Victoria suffered 200 fires in a single day. There have also been megafires in France, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil.

Experts agree that they are caused partly by droughts and higher temperatures brought by global warming, but they also point to conservation practices which have discouraged controlled burning of forests and caused a huge build-up of up to 30 of 40 tons of tinder dry kindling on each acre of ground. Once lit – by lightning, arson or human error – they produce 20ft flames and generate temperatures of up to 1,200C. At this intensity they generate their own winds. One such fire caused tornados near Canberra in 2003.

Professor Stephen J Pyne, an expert at Arizona State University called the fires "climatic tsunamis", and Kevin O'Loughlin, the head of Melbourne's Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre added: "They cannot be controlled by any suppression resources that we have available anywhere in the world."


Friday, September 28, 2007

"Ethanolomics" is born

Always one to jump on a bandwagon I thought the very title of this paper meant it was worthy of a blog post.

Adding "-omics" to the end of a word is tried and tested. Freak-onomics is a prime example.

"Ethanolomics" is a bit of a mouthfull but just about qualifies.

Any previous spottings of this term welcome - where was this term first used?

Ethanolomics: The Think-About's of the Mexican Ethanol Project

Date: 2007-08
By: Ricardo Cantú


The Mexican Ethanol Project has the potential of power up rural economy, improve the environment quality, and substitute the non-renewable fossil energy resources. But the risk of not achieving these is latent: the market distorts that it could unleash can change the expected outcomes. Public policies, such as No Deforestation, Investments in Agricultural Productivity, and Ethanol Manufacture in situ, could help orientate the private incentives to increase social welfare. In a big proportion, PEMEX and the Mexican Federal Government would be directly, or indirectly, affected by the domestic ethanol production, opening a door for them to participate in it and avoid damage on their interests. But there's still a question to answer: how long it would take before these benefits could be felt?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Arctic National Park and OIL: An Economic Perspective

We have all seen pictures of cuddly polar bears getting thinner and we are used to stories of evil oil companies destroying the environment.

In this recent NBER paper a couple of economists tackle the question of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The conclusion - there is a lot of oil under all that snow and ice. The value of the oil is a lot higher than the extraction costs BUT when we take into account the environmental costs it comes out, conveniently, at break even.

There is of course the standard problems with using "willingness to pay" or "willingness to accept compensation" estimates.


"Should We Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? An Economic Perspective"
NBER Working Paper No. W13211

University of California, Santa Barbara

Affiliation Unknown

Full Text:

ABSTRACT: This paper provides model-based estimates of the value of oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The best estimate of economically recoverable oil in the federal portion of ANWR is 7.06 billion barrels of oil, a quantity roughly equal to US consumption in 2005. The oil is worth $374 billion ($2005), but would cost $123 billion to extract and bring to market. The difference, $251 billion, would generate social benefits through industry rents of $90 billion as well as state and federal tax revenues of $37 billion and $124 billion, respectively. A contribution of the paper is the decomposition of the benefits between industry rents and tax revenue for a range of price and quantity scenarios. But drilling and development in ANWR would also bring about environmental costs. These costs would consist largely of lost nonuse values for the protected status of ANWR's natural environment. Rather than estimate these costs and conduct a benefit-cost analysis, we calculate the costs that would generate a breakeven result. We find that the average breakeven willingness to accept compensation to allow drilling in ANWR ranges from $582 to $1,782 per person, with a mean estimate of $1,141.


"Extreme Weather Events, Mortality and Migration"

In my opinion there is plenty more work to be done in this area. Some interesting results are provided in this NBER paper by Deshenes and Moretti.

"Extreme Weather Events, Mortality and Migration"
NBER Working Paper No. W13227

University of California, Santa Barbara, The
College of Letters & Science, Department of


University of California, Berkeley - Department of
Economics, National Bureau of Economic Research
(NBER), Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Full Text:

ABSTRACT: We estimate the effect of extreme weather on life expectancy in the US. Using high frequency mortality data, we find that both extreme heat and extreme cold result in immediate increases in mortality. However, the increase in mortality following extreme heat appears entirely driven by temporal displacement, while the increase in mortality following extreme cold is long lasting. The aggregate effect of cold on mortality is quantitatively large. We estimate that the number of annual deaths attributable to cold temperature is 27,940 or 1.3% of total deaths in the US. This effect is even larger in low income areas. Because the U.S. population has been moving from cold Northeastern states to the warmer Southwestern states, our findings have implications for understanding the causes of long-term increases in life expectancy. We calculate that every year, 5,400 deaths are delayed by changes in exposure to cold temperature induced by mobility. These longevity gains associated with long term trends in geographical mobility account for 8%-15% of the total gains in life expectancy experienced by the US population over the past 30 years. Thus mobility is an important but previously overlooked determinant of increased longevity in the United States. We also find that the probability of moving to a state that has fewer days of extreme cold is higher for the age groups that are predicted to benefit more in terms of lower mortality compared to the age groups that are predicted to benefit less.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Transport graveyards

A fascinating series of pictures of the graveyards of planes, trains and automobiles.

This post also demonstrates the power of google earth.

Where vehicles are left to die

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Climate Change and Industrial Restructuring

I am skeptical that concerns over climate change are leading to widespread industrial restructuring but here are the results from a "investor survey". Not particularly convincin but does shed some light on the behavior of large multnationals (a topic we are interested in researching).

Climate Change Spurs Industry Restructuring - Survey [Planet Ark]

OSLO - Climate change is spurring a "worldwide economic and industrial restructuring" as more and more of the world's largest companies seek to confront global warming, an investor survey said on Monday.

Even so, some big firms were still doing far too little to identify risks and opportunities from climate change, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), representing 315 institutional investors managing US$41 trillion in assets.

A record 77 percent of the world's top 500 firms, rated by market capitalisation in the FT500, answered a request for information about their responses to global warming, up from 72 percent in 2006, it said.

"One trend above all is becoming increasingly clear: climate change and the various regulatory, policy and business responses to it are driving what amounts to a worldwide economic and industrial restructuring," a 92-page survey said.

"That restructuring has already begun to redefine the very basis of competitive advantage and financial performance for both companies and their investors," it said.

The project, in its fifth year, seeks to guide investors by getting companies to give details of their greenhouse gases and strategies for everything from energy efficiency to recycling.

"Seventy-six percent of responding companies reported implementing a greenhouse gas emissions reduction initiative", up from 48 percent in the previous FT500 survey, it said.

UN climate experts say that warming, blamed mainly on greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels, will bring more droughts, heatwaves, floods, rising seas.


In a series of examples of change, the survey said brewer Anheuser-Busch was trying to develop crops resistant to extreme weather. Oil group Total aimed to cut flaring of associated gas 50 percent by 2012 compared to 2005.

Alcoa had increased its purchase of recycled aluminum by 20 percent in 2006 while a range of carmakers was working to develop more hybrid electric-petrol vehicles.

"Investors are looking for the next big thing. If the company is part of the problem on climate change it hasn't a clear run at the markets of the 21st century," Paul Dickinson, chief exective officer of the CDP, told Reuters.

The CDP sent requests in total to 2,400 companies around the world and got 1,300 responses. In the FT500, Europe-based companies led in response rates. US-based firms lagged and none of seven Chinese companies replied.

The CDP also published a first index of firms with what it said were best carbon disclosure practices, including mining group Rio Tinto, energy firm Iberdrola, computer firm Hewlett Packard or Westpac Banking.

Still, it said too many firms failed to reply, such as Apple Computer, Bank of China, Berkshire Hathaway, Gazprom or Philips Electronics.

"We find it absolutely incomprehensible why a company will fail to respond to a legitimate request from its shareholders," said Dickinson. "Have they got something to hide? Do they think they operate in a complete vacuum?"

In a linked survey of top US companies in the SP500, response rates were 56 percent -- a majority for a first time and up from 47 percent a year earlier. The United States is outside the UN's Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions.

Lehman Brothers on the "Business of Climate Change"

Two excellent reports. PDFs for both reports can be found below.

The business of climate change.

For a summary see a recent Grist post.

Must-read climate report from Lehman Brothers


Monday, September 24, 2007

Bush makes dinner but skips the bit about the future of the planet

In a move I am sure all academics at conferences are familiar with, George Bush has announced that he will skip the UN global warming talks but still make it for dinner in the evening.

Bush to Skip U.N. Talks on Global Warming [New York Times]

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 — Dozens of world leaders are to gather at the United Nations on Monday for a full agenda of talks on how to fight global warming, and President Bush is skipping all the day’s events but the dinner.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, is hoping to jump-start negotiations on replacing the Kyoto Protocol.

His focus instead is on his own gathering of leaders in Washington later this week, a meeting with the same stated goal, a reduction in the emissions blamed for climate change, but a fundamentally different idea of how to achieve it.

Mr. Bush’s aides say that the parallel meeting does not compete against the United Nations’ process — hijacking it, as his critics charge. They say that Mr. Bush hopes to persuade the nations that produce 90 percent of the world’s emissions to come to a consensus that would allow each, including the United States, to set its own policies rather than having limits imposed by binding international treaty.

“It’s our philosophy that each nation has the sovereign capacity to decide for itself what its own portfolio of policies should be,” said James L. Connaughton, the president’s chief environmental adviser.

Mr. Bush’s approach sets the stage for a new round of diplomatic confrontation.
And it raises the prospect that he could once again put the United States in the position of objecting to any binding international agreement intended to slow or reverse the emissions linked to rising temperatures.

Whether Mr. Bush prevails remains to be seen, but the effort is the last chance in his presidency to shape the debate after years of being excoriated for keeping the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement that limits the emissions of greenhouse gases from most industrialized countries.

“The leadership role of the United States is absolutely essential,” said Timothy E. Wirth, a former senator and an environmental official in the Clinton administration, who is now president of the United Nations Foundation. “Unless the United States decides that it wants to be a major and committed leadership player in this and make very specific commitments, much of the rest of the world is effectively going to hide behind the skirts of the United States and not do anything.”


About 80 heads of state or government are expected at the meeting, and 154 leaders and officials have signed up to speak. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will represent the United States, though Mr. Bush will attend a closed-door dinner on Monday night. Michael Kozak, a National Security Council official, called the event a “working-dinner format.”

Mr. Bush’s meeting in Washington this week, to be held over two days, involves 15 countries, or major economies as the White House calls them, as well as the United Nations and the European Union. The 15 countries are the major emitters of greenhouse gases.

They include the members of the group of industrialized nations, as well as other large countries with developing economies, like Indonesia, Brazil, China and India. Developing countries did not face emissions limits under Kyoto, which was one of the major reasons the United States ultimately opposed it. China, like the United States, has also gone on record as opposing mandatory caps in the future.

Mr. Bush, long skeptical of reports of human-driven climate change, proposed for the first time this year negotiating a “long-term global goal” for cutting emissions, while persuading countries to agree to invest more in research on alternative energy sources and lower trade tariffs for products that reduce emissions. While opposing a binding cap on emissions, either domestically or globally, he has supported some mandatory measures, including increases in renewable fuels like ethanol and higher fuel-efficiency standards, efforts his administration once resisted.

Briefing reporters before the week’s meetings, senior aides emphasized that each nation should decide for itself how to reduce emissions.

“The president’s central proposition is really this: Tackling global climate change requires all major economies developed and developing to work together,” said Dan Price, a deputy national security adviser. “And it requires each to make a contribution consistent with its national circumstances.”


Mr. Bush’s aides are sensitive to the accusation that the White House has ignored climate change.

They said that the administration’s embrace of voluntary measures and some mandatory steps, like requiring renewable fuels to be mixed with gasoline, was having effects that would be lasting.

Kevin Fay, executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership, a business group that supports some actions to limit emissions, said there was cautious support for Mr. Bush’s talks, though it was tempered by the administration’s previous record.

“It will take an awful lot,” Mr. Fay said, “to overcome the skepticism that has accumulated over the last six years.”


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Global Warming in Pictures I

Nothing to do with global warming really but a good image nonetheless.

Still interesting to know how this ship actually got to be in the middle of the desert.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Map of Russia's Third Empire

This is a pure globalisation link but it provides an interesting map of the world in 2053 through the eyes of a Russian businessman.

If you live in Europe I suggest taking Russian at nightschool. I like this sort of thing although I am not sure why.

I suppose the environmental angle is the prediction that Russia will defeat the USA in a nuclear exchange. That can't be good for the flora and fauna surely.

A Map of Russia’s Third Empire (2053)

Click the link to see the map but this is what the future will be like according to Mikhail Yuryev.
It’s the year 2053, and the world looks very different from today. There are no more than 5 superstates left on the face of the planet:

• an American Federation, covering the whole of North and South America;
• an Indian Confederation, consisting of present-day India and Birma/Myanmar (Bangladesh seems to have disappeared under the sea);
• an Asian republic dominated by China, further composed of Mongolia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand;
• an Islamic Caliphate, occupying the whole of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Indonesia;
• and the Russian Empire, uniting Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, all of Europe and Greenland.
• all states except the Russian Empire own a slice of Antarctica (I suppose that in exchange, Russia rules the North Pole all by itself).

That’s the thesis of Third Empire, a recently published futuristic novel by Mikhail Yuryev. In the book, Yuryev predicts that the Russian Empire will be re-created in a few decades’ time. This ‘Third Empire’ (I presume Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union were the first and second) will obliterate the three Baltic states in 2015 and defeat the USA in the nuclear exchange that many feared for most of the second half of the twentieth century but was thought unthinkable after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thomas L. Friedman does "Global Warming" and "China"

Friedman of "flat earth" fame - in my opinion a must read book for all economists and western politicians - has weighed into the global warming debate on touches on a lot of the issues we cover here relating to developing countries attitudes to global warming etc.

This article makes some excellent points and quickly nails the main issue. On the rapid growth of cities in China and elsewhere:
I am not blaming them. It is a blessing that their people are growing out of poverty. And, after all, they’re just following the high-energy growth model pioneered by America. We’re still the world’s biggest energy hogs, but we’re now producing carbon copies in places you’ve never heard of.

It is hard to argue with anything written below. Result - we are still all doomed.

Doha and Dalian [New York Times]
In the last few weeks, I happened to visit Doha and Dalian, and I must say: I was stunned.

Before explaining why, let me acknowledge that chances are you’ve not visited Doha or Dalian recently. Indeed, it may be — I presume nothing — that you have never heard of either city. Doha is the capital of Qatar, a tiny state east of Saudi Arabia. Dalian is in northeast China and is one of China’s Silicon Valleys because of its proliferation of software parks and its dynamic, techie mayor, Xia Deren. What was stunning is that I hadn’t been to either city for more than three years, and I barely recognized either one.

In Doha, since I was last there, a skyline that looks like a mini-Manhattan has sprouted from the desert. Whatever construction cranes are not in China must be in Doha today. This once sleepy harbor now has a profile of skyscrapers, thanks to a huge injection of oil and gas revenues. Dalian, with six million people, already had a mini-Manhattan when I was last here. It seems to have grown two more since — including a gleaming new convention complex built on a man-made peninsula.

But this, alas, is not a travel column. It’s an energy column. If you want to know why I remain a climate skeptic — not a skeptic about climate change, but a skeptic that we’re going to be able to mitigate it — it’s partly because of Doha and Dalian. Can you imagine how much energy all these new skyscrapers in just two cities you’ve never heard of are going to consume and how much CO2 they are going to emit?

I am not blaming them. It is a blessing that their people are growing out of poverty. And, after all, they’re just following the high-energy growth model pioneered by America. We’re still the world’s biggest energy hogs, but we’re now producing carbon copies in places you’ve never heard of.

Yes, “Americans” are popping up all over now — people who once lived low-energy lifestyles but by dint of oil wealth or hard work are now moving into U.S.-style apartments, cars and appliances.

Our planet cannot tolerate so many “Americans,” unless we take the lead and change what it means to be an American in energy terms. Attention Kmart shoppers: the world consumed about 66.6 million barrels a day of oil in 1990. We’re now consuming 83 million barrels a day.

“Demand for oil has grown 22 percent in the U.S. since 1990. China’s oil demand has grown nearly 200 percent in this same period,” Margo Oge, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of transportation and air quality, told the Tianjin China Green Car conference that I attended. “By 2030, the global thirst for oil is forecast to increase by another 40 percent if we maintain business as usual.” Such an appetite would devour every incremental green initiative we make.

Hey, I’m really glad you switched to long-lasting compact fluorescent light bulbs in your house. But the growth in Doha and Dalian ate all your energy savings for breakfast. I’m glad you bought a hybrid car. But Doha and Dalian devoured that before noon. I am glad that the U.S. Congress is debating whether to bring U.S. auto mileage requirements up to European levels by 2020. Doha and Dalian will have those gains for lunch — maybe just the first course. I’m glad that solar and wind power are “soaring” toward 2 percent of U.S. energy generation, but Doha and Dalian will devour all those gains for dinner. I am thrilled that you are now doing the “20 green things” suggested by your favorite American magazine. Doha and Dalian will snack on them all, like popcorn before bedtime.

But, as I said, this is not just about “them.” It is still very much about us. Peter Bakker is the chief executive of TNT, the biggest express delivery company in Europe. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index 2007 just listed TNT as the No. 1 company in terms of energy and environmental practices. Mr. Bakker, whom I met in China, told me this story:

“We operate 35,000 trucks and 48 aircraft in Europe. We just bought two Boeing 747s, which, when fully operational, will do nine round trips every week between our home base in Liège [Belgium] and Shanghai. They leave Liège only partly full and every day fly back to Europe as full as you can stuff them with iPods and computers. By our calculations, just these two 747s will use as much fuel each week as our 48 other aircraft combined and emit as much CO2.”

That’s why we’re fooling ourselves. There is no green revolution, or, if there is, the counter-revolution is trumping it at every turn. Without a transformational technological breakthrough in the energy space, all of the incremental gains we’re making will be devoured by the exponential growth of all the new and old “Americans.”

Freakonomics does "global warming"

A useful article asking "experts" for their answers to the two-part question:

"What should the U.S. government be doing about global warming, and what should individuals be doing?"

What Should We Really Be Doing About Global Warming? A Freakonomics Quorum

This is what Jason Pontin, editor and publisher of the M.I.T.-owned Technology Review, had to say:

I don’t have very much to say about what individuals can do about climate change; indeed, I am skeptical that individuals can do very much by themselves.

Other contributors make some excellent points and cover the fundamental economics of climate change well. Worth a read.

Global Warming - now the "Woolly Mammouth" gets the blame

Global warming has been blamed on many things - cows get a lot of flak as well as the SUV drivers and the coal fired power stations.

Being extinct for thousands of years does not however get you off the hook.

Today we got news that mammouth dung released from the perma frost (due to global warming) is entering the feedback loop to make things even worse.
But Zimov, a scientist who for almost 30 years has studied climate change in Russia's Arctic, believes that as this organic matter [MAMMOUTH DUNG] becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even some of the most pessimistic forecasts.

This may seem a little far fetched but Zimov states that:
"The deposits of organic matter in these soils are so gigantic that they dwarf global oil reserves," Zimov said.

That is a whole lot of dung to deal with.

Mammoth dung, prehistoric goo may speed warming

DUVANNY YAR, Russia (Reuters) - Sergei Zimov bends down, picks up a handful of treacly mud and holds it up to his nose. It smells like a cow pat, but he knows better.

"It smells like mammoth dung," he says.

This is more than just another symptom of global warming.

For millennia, layers of animal waste and other organic matter left behind by the creatures that used to roam the Arctic tundra have been sealed inside the frozen permafrost. Now climate change is thawing the permafrost and lifting this prehistoric ooze from suspended animation.

But Zimov, a scientist who for almost 30 years has studied climate change in Russia's Arctic, believes that as this organic matter becomes exposed to the air it will accelerate global warming faster than even some of the most pessimistic forecasts.

"This will lead to a type of global warming which will be impossible to stop," he said.

When the organic matter left behind by mammoths and other wildlife is exposed to the air by the thawing permafrost, his theory runs, microbes that have been dormant for thousands of years spring back into action.

As a by-product they emit carbon dioxide and -- even more damaging in terms of its impact on the climate -- methane gas.

According to Zimov, the microbes are going to start emitting these gases in enormous quantities.

Here in Yakutia, a region in the north-eastern corner of Siberia, the belt of permafrost containing the mammoth-era soil covers an area roughly the size of France and Germany combined. There is even more of it elsewhere in Siberia.

"The deposits of organic matter in these soils are so gigantic that they dwarf global oil reserves," Zimov said.

U.S. government statistics show mankind emits about 7 billion tonnes of carbon a year.

"Permafrost areas hold 500 billion tonnes of carbon, which can fast turn into greenhouse gases," Zimov said.

"If you don't stop emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere ... the Kyoto Protocol (an international pact aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions) will seem like childish prattle."


It might be easy to dismiss the 52-year-old, with his beard and shock of wavy hair, as an alarmist crank. But his theory is grabbing attention in the scientific community.

"There's quite a bit of truth in it," Julian Murton, member of the International Permafrost Association, told Reuters.

"The methane and carbon dioxide levels will increase as a result of permafrost degradation."

A United Nations report in June said there was at yet no sign of widespread melting of permafrost that could stoke global warming, but noted the potential threat.

"Permafrost stores a lot of carbon, with upper permafrost layers estimated to contain more organic carbon than is currently contained in the atmosphere," the report said.

"Permafrost thawing results in the release of this carbon in the form of greenhouse gases which will have a positive feedback effect to global warming."


Zimov is chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Science's North Eastern Scientific station, three plane rides and eight times zones away from Moscow.

At Duvanny Yar on the shores of the Kolyma River, the phenomenon that Zimov describes in speeches at scientific conferences can be seen first hand.

The steep-sided river bank, until now held up by permafrost, is collapsing as the ice melts. Every few minutes, a thud can be heard as another wedge of soil and permafrost comes tumbling down, or a splash as a chunk falls into the river.

Nearby, Zimov points to an area so far unaffected by the melting -- a forest of larch trees with berries and mushrooms and covered with a soft cushion of moss and lichen.

Further down the slope though, the landscape is covered with trees toppled over as the soil disintegrates. Brooks murmur down the slope carrying melted water.

Elsewhere, places that five or 10 years ago were empty tundra are now dotted with lakes -- a result of thawing permafrost. These 'thermokarst' lakes bubble with methane, over 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The permafrost thaw affects those rare outposts where humans have settled. In Chersky, a town of 3,000 people, apartment blocks have cracks running through their walls as the earth beneath them subsides. Many have been demolished as unsafe.

So few people live in or visit this wilderness that the changing landscape on its own is unlikely to worry people on the other side of the world.

But Zimov warns that people everywhere should take notice, because within a few years, the knock-on effect of the permafrost melting in Siberia will be having a direct impact on their lives.

"Siberia's landscape is changing," he said. "But in the end local problems of the north will inevitably turn into the problems of Russia's south, the Amazon region or Holland."

Personal Carbon Trading: Impossible Dream?

Today's Guardian has a story about the first public trading demonstration in personal carbon credits - the idea that everyone is given a personal carbon allowance after which you can buy and sell credit.

The market price would of course be set by the invisible hand (supply and demand) but with an upper carbon cap. The higher the price, the more incentive there is to cut your own carbon use.

Of course in reality such a scheme is utterly doomed - a result clearly evident from the demonstration. However, it is worth reading what happened at the Manchester experiment and to see "economic experiments" like this being attempted.

Fair trade takes on a whole new meaning in Manchester [Guardian]
A progressive climate change solution, or a pain in the arse personal intrusion?

Personal carbon trading is an idea that could result in a division of opinion of fuel tax proportions, if managed poorly. It is currently still only a kernel of an idea being developed by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

Understandably, everyone has a different carbon footprint. The absence of a local train station may make you a heavy car user, for example, or you may need to visit your distant family for an important event. On the other hand, does that stag party really need to be in Tallinn?

With a personal carbon trading scheme, everyone would have a carbon allowance. If you needed more credit, you could buy more, but the application of an allowance would make people consider which high carbon behaviours they could chop. The market price would be determined by supply and demand, with the total amount of carbon capped. So the more people that buy, the higher the price and the greater the incentive to reduce.

Last night, RSA CarbonLimited was in Manchester with 60 members of the public to explore the idea of personal carbon trading in a public demonstration.

The group, drawn from people pledging through Manchester Is My Planet (Mimp) to cut their emissions by 20%, could be characterised as keen greens.

Participants registered their personal carbon emissions at and were placed in a league table. At the town hall, they received their personal carbon allowance - their carbon credits, ready for trading.

In line with existing proposals, all participants received the same carbon allowance. In an initial demonstration, Peter Fell, of Manchester City Council, chose to 'green' his lifestyle rather than buy surplus credits from Mike Reardon, of Manchester University, but the council's environmental expert, Sarah Davies, attempted to trade with Mimp's Keith Boxer. He reluctantly traded while musing about the possible future value of the credit he handed over.

The group of Mancunians then had a go themselves. Through a mixture of pledges to change their behaviour and a number of trades, they managed to simulate a 23% reduction in their average allowance.

This suggests that this community could live within a tightened carbon emissions allowance, with the trading market enabling some people to maintain a larger carbon footprint for now.

The major hiccup with the idea proved to be that the Manchester group blocked the trading market - many of them didn't want to sell, at least not to that SUV-driving bloke opposite.

Perhaps the other pilot groups will react in the same way - but in the real world, sellers wouldn't know the identity of buyers, so surely our simulated price of £100 per tonne would provide an adequate incentive.

· CarbonLimited will be coming to a city near you to further develop the idea of a personal carbon trading scheme. To get involved, visit

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How might climate change affect growth in developing countries?

The title of this post in an important one especially for the millions of people living below the poverty line that reside in a developing country.

This quote is the pertinent one:

The paper finds that although the growth literature rarely addresses climate change per se, some issues discussed in the growth literature are directly relevant for climate change analysis.

I assume they have the interesting Brock and Taylor papers in here somewhere. Something else to check.

Another good line is what they write when discussing the "gaps" in the current growth literature:

...heavy reliance of numerical models assessing climate policies on neoclassical-type growth frameworks,

This is something I tend to agree with even though there is the "better than nothing" argument to consider.

Whilst this abstract may seen rather complex and overloaded with economic jargon it is worth reading the introduction and conclusions and is not as scary as it sounds.

How might climate change affect economic growth in developing countries ? a review of the growth literature with a climate lens

Date: 2007-08-01

By: Shalizi, Zmarak
Lecocq, Franck


This paper reviews the empirical and theoretical literature on economic growth to examine how the four components of the climate change bill, namely mitigation, proactive (ex ante) adaptation, reactive (ex post) adaptation, and ultimate damages of climate change affect growth, especially in developing countries. The authors consider successively the Cass-Koopmans growth model and three major strands of the subsequent literature on growth: with multiple sectors, with rigidities, and with increasing returns. The paper finds that although the growth literature rarely addresses climate change per se, some issues discussed in the growth literature are directly relevant for climate change analysis. Notably, destruction of production factors, or decrease in factor productivity may strongly affect long-run equilibrium growth even in one-sector neoclassical growth models; climatic shocks have had large impacts on growth in developing countries because of rigidities; and the introducing increasing returns has a major impact on growth dynamics, in particular through induced technical change, poverty traps, or lock-ins. Among the most important gaps identified in the literature are lack of understanding of the channels by which shocks affect economic growth, lack of understanding of lock-ins, heavy reliance of numerical models assessing climate policies on neoclassical-type growth frameworks, and frequent use of an inappropriate " without climate change " counterfactual.

Keywords: Economic Growth,Economic Theory & Research,Climate Change,Pro-Poor Growth and Inequality,Population Policies

Novel Peace Prize: What is the link between peace and the environment?

After a few days in the less polluted city of Athens (compared to my last visit 15 years ago) it was interesting to read that there is a chance that the Nobel Peace prize worth around $1.5m could go to a climate change activist.

The question that needs to therefore be addressed is what has climate change got to do with peace?

Did Al Gore's film stop any wars, terrorism, torture or state sponsored killings? Did any two countries halt hostilities because of fears over an increase in the world's temperature? Does tree planting promote peace?

What is almost certainly true is that IF climate change continues at it's current levels future conflicts will certainly occur related to access to water resources, food shortages and the destabilising effect of climate change induced migration.

A prize for environmentally friendly economics blogs would be a welcome addition to any prize ceremony I am sure.

Nobel Peace Prize Could Go to Climate Campaigner[PlanetArk]

OSLO - The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize could go to a climate campaigner such as ex-US Vice-President Al Gore or Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, reinforcing a view that global warming is a threat to world security, experts say.

The winner of the US$1.5 million prize, perhaps the world's top accolade, will be announced in Oslo on Oct. 12 from a field of 181 candidates. The prize can be split up to three ways.

"There are reasonably good chances that the peace prize will be awarded to someone working to stop the dramatic climate problems the world is facing," said Boerge Brende, a former Norwegian environment minister.

He noted that the UN Security Council, the top forum for debating war and peace, held a first debate in April about how far climate changes such as droughts, heatwaves or rising seas will be a spur to conflicts.

"We have many good candidates for the prize and we are approaching a decision," said Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute where the five-member committee meets.

Kenya's Wangari Maathai won the 2004 peace prize for her campaign to plant 30 million trees across Africa, the first Nobel for an environmental campaigner. Lundestad declined to say whether fighting climate change could justify a peace prize.

Brende and another Norwegian parliamentarian nominated Gore for his Oscar-winning movie about climate change "An Inconvenient Truth" and Watt-Cloutier, who has highlighted the plight of indigenous cultures facing a quickening Arctic thaw.

Arctic sea ice has shrunk to record lows this year. The head of the Nobel committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, has praised Gore's movie and lives in the Norwegian Arctic city of Tromsoe.


Others suggested candidates include the UN Climate Panel and its leader, Rajendra Pachauri. The panel said this year that it was more than 90 percent likely that mankind's activities were the main cause of warming in the past 50 years.

And Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate change official, said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon could be a good candidate, or German Chancellor Angela Merkel for "her leadership role in Europe" in confronting climate change.

But there are objections to all of them.

"Since the 2004 Peace Prize was given to an environmentalist (Maathai) it may not be repeated this year," said Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Prize in 2003.

"Unfortunately there are several other issues in the world that need to be addressed," she said. Non-environmental nominees range from former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari for peace-broking work to Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Others say climate change is an overwhelming issue in 2007.

"The greatest challenge in modern history for humankind may be climate change," said Norway's Jostein Gaarder, who funds an annual US$100,000 environmental prize from sales of his 1990s best-selling philosophy guide "Sophie's World".

"It would be a very good initiative to give the Nobel Prize to a climate candidate," he said.

Among signs of growing concern, about 70 world leaders will meet on Monday at UN headquarters in New York for the largest meeting ever on climate change. President George W. Bush, often criticised even by his allies for doing too little, has invited major carbon emitters to talks in Washington on Sept. 27-28.

A prize to Gore would make him the second Democrat laureate since ex-President Jimmy Carter in 2002 -- two Democrats during Bush's presidency might be too much of a slap to Republicans.

Canada's Watt-Cloutier, meanwhile, has stepped down from a former role as head of the main Inuit group. And one member of the Nobel Committee is from Norway's populist right-wing Progress Party that is highly sceptical about Gore.

Still, the Nobel committee often seeks to link prizes to current affairs. The world's environment ministers will meet in Bali, Indonesia, from Dec. 3-14 to discuss ways to slow global warming. the Nobel Peace Prize is presented on Dec. 10.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Conservation crisis

From the inbox:

Interesting article looking at the increase in the number of "at risk" species. There are problems with such calculations given we do not know how many species we actally have on the planet.

From an economics perspective it becomes more interesting when we try to value each species. Is a whale worth more than a monkey? Why do insects fair so badly? Fish stocks are declining and people appear to care less about species that they rarely see (or are on the ugly side in the cuteness stakes).

Life on earth[Economist]
MORE species are under threat than ever before according to the World Conservation Union. Its “Red List”, published on Wednesday September 12th, gives warning that 16,306 species are under threat of extinction (of 41,415 described), nearly 200 more than in 2005. This number has risen steadily since the first report in 1996. Corals have been added to the endangered list alongside the usual apes and dolphins. There is cause for concern but biodiversity scientists are less confident accountants than the list might suggest. Nobody knows how many species occupy the planet. Most experts think 10m is roughly correct, though they have only formally noted 1.4m. The most reliable data describe creatures that humans find easy to count: colourful, land-based and big enough to hunt.

Currently in Athens at ETSG 2007. There are two Environmental Economics (trade and the environment) sessions this year. Google ETSG 2007 to see the papers and our own humble offering. Greek is not my strongest language hence hyperlinking is a little tricky.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Netherlands take the "long view"

Amusing little piece even if it is about life and death.

When we covered the Stern review in depth looking at the economics of climate change things began to get fuzzy the further into the future you took the predictions.

The Netherlands are taking no chances and when 80% of the population live below the current sea level who can blame them. However, a 200 year plan is something else.

From Peak Oil (those well known harbingers of doom).

Netherlands has 200-year global warming plan
Amsterdam - With two-thirds of the Dutch population living below sea level, the country's government sees the risk of rising seas caused by global warming as a matter of life and death. So it's taking a long term view of the problem - a two hundred-year view, to be exact.

The Cabinet announced plans on Friday for a new commission to begin preparing water defences through the year 2200.

"We want to make sure that there's still a Netherlands a century from now," Tineke Huizinga, the country's top water official, told state broadcaster NOS.

"We don't want to just let the water flow and all have to move to Germany."

The Union of Dutch Municipal Governments welcomed the news on Saturday, even though the plans will likely lead to new taxes, calling it a "necessity for the Netherlands to prepare for the consequences of possible climate change and to approach it, in the case of water, primarily from a safety standpoint."


Becker-Posner debate Chinese Pollution

It is encouraging to see that two of the heavy weights of Economics blogging have deemed it interesting enough to post on Chinese pollution levels. They touch on an issue we have been highlighting on this blog since its inception.

China is in many respects the front line issue of environmental economics in my opinion.

The Posner-Becker article covers the basic environmental economics of the topic touching on Coase and Kuznets curves. Posts on these topics can be found under the "Environmental Economics" label in the sidebar or by simply searching this blog from the search bar at the top of the blog. It is a good refresher and some excellent comments have been added.

What spurred their interest was the New York Times article we discussed below.

Growth and the Environment

In an article by E.C. Economy she really goes to town with a good 7 page article on the topic (highlights in this post).

Elizabeth C. Economy on "The great leap backward?"

Other posts from the last month alone that may be of interest include:

Environmental Cheap Talk in China

The Toothless Dragon: New Chinese Environmental Regulations

Japan blames China for increased pollution: Transboundary effects

It will not be long until my Econ211 students have to get their teeth into this stuff.

Greens and Population: How many is too many?

The environmental movement always treads very carefully around the topic of population growth and migration patterns.

An interesting article by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian discusses the green issue that dares not speak it name. This makes for a good read.

Greens need to grasp the nettle: aren't there just too many people?

It's the one issue no environmentalist organisation wants to talk about. Population. Thirty years ago, when international concern first began to mobilise about the planet's future, it was the pre-eminent question, but now you're hard put to get a straight answer. Does the UK need population management? Does the world need it?

I suspected the UK was crowded but I am not sure I buy this 2074 figure. We come down to forecasting and forecasting population growth is very difficult given the vagaries of immigration policy and other government initiatives. I would like to see the assumptions on birth/death and migration rates these figures are based on. it is ludicrous to base population figures on immigration rates in 2007 when the UK is booming and the EU has just undergone major structural reform.
But England is now the second most densely populated country in Europe, after Belgium, and at current rates of increase it could be second only to Bangladesh in the world by 2074. There are those who argue that there's no need for alarm, and that we can concentrate development in brownfield sites to accommodate all the millions of extra homes needed. But how many more people can you squeeze into cities that already seem to be choking under the weight of their population density - the buses and trains packed, the streets clogged and the parks on a Sunday afternoon teeming with people.

The concluding paragraph does however raise an important point.
There's no point giving up your meat and your car, recycling your rubbish and producing lots of children. The challenge is to have that debate while steering well clear of racism - or of the authoritarianism that lurks in the background of environmentalism.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Post docs in environmental economics

Always happy to help PhD students get placed:


A research academic, with a PhD in economics or equivalent, is sought for
2-3 years, starting early 2008, for a project on the economics of controlling greenhouse emissions, especially CO2 from fossil fuel burning, at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, Canberra. This project is part of our new Environmental Economics Research Hub. Specific research topics could include emission pricing, including avoiding carbon leakage; developing and adopting new low-emission technologies; and lowering consumer barriers to energy efficiency. An important part of the project will be consulting policymakers and communicating results to them, particularly through short courses and workshops.

Full advertisement:

Closing Date: Tuesday 2 October 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

"Carbon Offsetting": Questions and Answers

Given the popularity of "carbon offsetting" of which I remain distinctly unimpressed and unconvinced despite its prominent media standing I thought it would be useful to include here the recent Guardian Q&A article.

The article attempts to debunk some of the myths which is does to a certain extent. The questions it answers are at least the right ones. For example:

"Aren't you just in this to make a 'quick buck'?" - good question.

Climate Care answer that we should think of it as:

"'is it wrong to profit from tackling climate change?'" - a good question also.

It is not clear that the answer should be "yes".

Climate Cares defence?

"In fact, in a global capitalist economy no profit equals no action."

Not strictly true. There are many charities out there that operate on a "not for profit basis". It is good that Climate Care make all the results public so that we can see where the money is spent and how much is spent on salaries and administration (and how these figures compare with mainstream charities such as Oxfam etc.)

This article is useful and acts as a good reference post whenever I get asked tricky questions on this topic.

Warning - long post alert

Q&A: Carbon offsetting [Guardian via Climate Care]
What is 'carbon offsetting'?
Carbon offsetting is buying carbon reductions made by someone else. You measure your 'carbon footprint' - normally in tonnes of CO2 - from an activity or your whole lifestyle and buy an equivalent amount of 'carbon credits' to offset this impact.

Isn't it just an excuse to keep on polluting?
Only if you use it as an excuse. Should we scrap our recycling system in case some people use it as an excuse to keep on producing more waste than they need to?

The House of Commons recently investigated carbon offsetting and concluded that: "we found little substantial evidence to support the view that offsetting encourages ethical carelessness". The Voluntary Carbon Market (pdf), Sixth Report of Session 2006-7, House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, p.14

But it doesn't lead to any overall reduction in carbon emissions, right?
It absolutely DOES lead to an overall reduction.

This would only be true if all the carbon emissions that are being offset would have been avoided if offsetting weren't available. Firstly, hardly anyone can get their carbon footprint down to zero. Secondly, even where it is technically possible to avoid certain carbon emissions people may not be prepared to - for example the green guru Satish Kumar still flies to India to visit his family.

If you don't offset there is no way to take full responsibility for your impact on climate change - offsetting lets you deal with your unavoidable carbon emissions.

Surely I should do everything I can to reduce my carbon before I consider offsetting the rest?
No. We should do both at the same time. Offsetting isn't just an optional extra, to be added on top of the things we're doing to reduce our carbon impact. It's an essential part of fighting climate change.

Why 'essential'?
Because a credible offset will direct your money wherever in the planet it makes the biggest impact.

For example, Climate Care is helping to fund simple 'treadle' water pumps for farmers in India, to give them the freedom to irrigate their crops without relying on expensive, polluting diesel pumps. Pound for pound this project will make hundreds of times more carbon savings than many options in the UK.

As a comparison it costs an average of £12,000 for a home solar panel (2kW). This will take over 2000 years to make the same carbon savings as the treadle pump project will make in a single year with the same investment. What's more, over 300 India families will be helped off the poverty line.

George Monbiot has stated in his book Heat that we must "seek the cheapest way to cut carbon emissions, for the reason that a pound spent on an inefficient process is a pound not spent on an efficient one". If we apply this principle to the world, not just the UK, the result is carbon offsetting.

So why don't we spend all our money on carbon offsets?
Offsetting is part of changing the world system - but it is only part of what we can do. We should also reduce our own impact - making our houses energy efficient, taking holidays nearer to home, buying seasonal, locally sourced food. And we should get involved politically: tell your MP that action on climate change is a priority.

We must work to change things at home and abroad. One without the other does not make sense. Paying other countries to cut their pollution while carrying on exactly as we are is unacceptable, but so is ignoring the rest of the world and failing to support low-carbon development in countries like India.

Why describe carbon offsets as 'changing the world system'?
Because to tackle climate change we need to green the global economy.

Experts such as Nicolas Stern say this involves putting a price on carbon emissions. This price, so long as it is high enough, helps the economy to choose the low-carbon options: it makes polluters pay and rewards those making reductions.

By offsetting you are supporting a world economy that takes carbon into account.

If the 'price is high enough'. Offsets are so cheap, so surely they can't make a difference?
Carbon offsets will be cheap whilst there are still opportunities for small investments to make big carbon savings. A low price for carbon offsets shows how much carbon there is to save, and how few people are prepared to pay for it!

The more of us that offset, the faster the cheaper projects will get used up. The price will start to go up and have more of an influence on our behaviour. But even at a low price they are still helping by funding carbon reductions.

Aren't there a lot of cowboys out there selling dodgy offsets?
There are cowboys out there. But the fact that there are cowboy builders doesn't mean we should not build houses.

When buying offsets there are a few simple questions to help you decide: are they verified under a recognised standard (eg the Gold Standard; is the provider chosen by major companies that will have done their own due diligence?; is the provider transparent about how the money is spent?

So I pay my money and buy my offset. What happens then?
This depends on who you buy the offset from.

Climate Care uses a 'portfolio approach', investing the money in a range of different projects. Some are highly innovative - such as providing efficient cooking stoves for thousands of families in Africa, with robust measurements of how much pollution is being saved. Others are more 'tried and tested', such as investing in wind turbines generating green electricity. This means that we can use the funds from our customers to promote really exciting developments in low-carbon technologies.

The key thing is that the reduction you have paid for will be made, no matter how any particular project performs.

There are now internationally recognised standards for carbon offset projects. Independent experts approve the project and verify the carbon savings that it makes. The key ones that Climate Care uses are:

· United Nations CDM standard: good for larger projects
· Gold Standard for Voluntary Offsets: designed for community scale projects with strong sustainable development benefits.
· Voluntary Carbon Standard: benchmark standard for voluntary projects.

Isn't offsetting about planting trees?
Absolutely not. The most important way to invest money from offsets is in promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. These reduce the amount of fossil carbon that will be dug out of the ground - in the form of coal, oil etc - and burnt to create CO2 in the atmosphere.

The key phrase in a good quality offset project is 'market transformation' - using the money from offsets to direct the economy away from fossil fuels and towards low-carbon technology. How you do this depends on the technology being funded and the country it is in.

For example, in most countries you can produce electricity cheaper through coal-fired power stations than wind farms. By calculating and buying the carbon saved by the 'green energy' from wind turbines you can provide that essential extra source of money, on top of selling the electricity, to encourage wind turbines rather than coal power-stations to be built.

That said, a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from forest fires, land use change etc. We cannot ignore the protection and restoration of forests if we are to tackle climate change. However there is a lot of complexity around using them as offsets.

What is clearly a bad investment is offsetting through planting trees in the UK, where they are counted towards the government's own carbon reduction targets and therefore do not help achieve any new carbon reductions.

Aren't you just in this to make a 'quick buck'?
The key question is 'is it wrong to profit from tackling climate change?'

If we are happy for companies to make a profit when their products help cause climate change - home energy, petrol, flights, consumer goods - then how can we object to offset companies making a profit? If the offset is credible, leading to real emissions reductions, then why not?

In fact, in a global capitalist economy no profit equals no action. People need to make money from tackling climate change - it attracts entrepreneurs and investors to get things moving.

Given the huge amount of coverage for carbon offsetting it is important to keep it in context. The market for voluntary offsets is growing fast, but from a very small starting point. The government has valued the market at £60 million in 2006.

Parliament's environment committee stated clearly in its report on carbon offsets (pdf) that:
"If the voluntary offset market is going to fulfil its potential as part of the drive to reduce carbon emissions and raise awareness about climate change then there needs to be a considerable increase in the numbers of individuals choosing to participate" (p.50). They urged the government help and encourage more people and companies to offset.

Aside from the above point of principle, no one could describe Climate Care as 'in it for a quick buck'. Mike Mason founded the company over 10 years ago, investing his own money and working without drawing a salary. It was a long slog of 8 years before enthusiasm for tackling climate change, and consequently the sale of offsets, finally took off. Climate Care's aim is to have the biggest impact in tackling climate change globally. To do this we need to grow. But we will keep the integrity that has earned us such as strong reputation. (As part of our policy of being transparent and open we publish full annual accounts so you can see for yourself how our customers money is spent).

Offsets are a drop in the ocean then?
Climate Care has delivered over 1 million tonnes of CO2 reductions - the same as taking 300,000 cars off the road for a year. Next year we anticipate sales that will let us fund reductions equal to 1% of the UK's annual carbon footprint.

This is against a background of ten years in which UK CO2 emissions have increased by 4.6m tonnes per year.

So offsets are starting to deliver serious volumes of carbon reductions.

You are obviously in favour of offsets - you sell them. Who else is cheering them on?
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (pdf):
"we believe that the voluntary carbon offset market does have a role to play both in reducing carbon emissions and raising awareness of climate change issues to the general public."

Leading green NGOs Forum for the Future and The Climate Group:
"Drastic cuts in carbon emissions are necessary to stabilise climate change, and carbon offsetting has a vital role to play in this."

Yvo De Boer, United Nations climate chief:
"it makes sense to get the biggest bang for your bucks, to identify the most cost-effective emissions reduction options around the world …The atmosphere doesn't care where you reduce emissions as long as you reduce emissions."

Al Gore, climate campaigner:
"The debate has moved on to what kinds of carbon offsetting have credibility, and which fall into the 'snake oil' category. Those that have genuine integrity are now, actually, driving a massive cottage industry around the world, which is every day reducing CO2 emissions".

Friday, September 07, 2007

Reforestation and blood suckers? Leeches invade Japan

Whilst a little short on economics for some reason any news story that involves blood sucking beasts of one kind of another is hard to pass over.

The economic angle is that reforestation (a good thing) and rural-urban migration have environmental side affects and blood sucking leeches are one of them. Externalities are everywhere.

Leech Invasion Makes Japan Residents See Red
TOKYO - Long confined to the mountains, Japanese leeches are invading residential areas, causing swelling, itching and general discomfort with their blood-thirsty ways.

Yamabiru, or land leeches, have become a problem in 29 of Japan's 47 prefectures, according to the Institute for Environmental Culture, a private research facility in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo.

The little suckers are riding into towns and villages, hitching lifts on deer and boar whose numbers have grown due to re-forestation and dwindling rural populations.

Once there, the leeches, which measure in at about 1.5 cms before a meal, take to feasting on warm human flesh.

"Yamabiru will climb into people's socks and stay for about an hour, growing five to 10 times in size. Unlike with water leeches, people don't immediately realise they've been bitten. Only later when they see their bloodsoaked feet, do they realise what has happened," said Shigekazu Tani, the institute's director.

"The real problem is that the bleeding won't stop and the affected area swells up and really itches," he added.

The best way to deal with the tiny vampires?

"We can cut down trees and mow long grass to dissuade wild animals from coming too close, and create sunny habitats that are inhospitable to leeches. We can also spread pesticides that kill the leeches," Tani said.

"Or we can just tough it out."

WTO trade and the environment ruling: Brazil and Tyres

From the inbox:

Interesting article in Insight from the American Society of International Law.

This once again begs the question: "Are environmental regulations being used as a secondary trade barrier?"

The academic economic literature suggests that it is. The rights and wrongs of such policies need to be debated.

The ruling from the WTO has potentially important implications but it appears that environmental considerations are being given a greater weight that previously.

WTO Panel decision in Brazil – Tyres supports safeguarding environmental values
The recent decision of the World Trade Organization’s Panel in the Brazil – Tyres[1] case has the potential to become a milestone in WTO jurisprudence on trade and the environment. At issue was Brazil’s ban on imports of retreaded tyres. The European Communities (EC) challenged the ban as a violation of WTO rules, whereas Brazil defended the measure as necessary to protect health and the environment. The Panel held that, although the ban was necessary to protect health and the environment, it was applied in a WTO-inconsistent manner because Brazil failed to enforce a similar ban on used tyre imports. Thus, the Panel decision effectively directed Brazil to impose further trade restrictions so as to advance its environmental objective. Previous WTO decisions have not gone this far in safeguarding environmental values.

Brazil has indicated that it will accept the Panel’s ruling and implement the additional ban on used tyres. The European Communities, however, has decided to appeal. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether the WTO Appellate Body will uphold the Panel’s “green” decision.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

BBC see "climate change" as too hot to handle

As part of "Martin Durkin" watch we bring you news that the BBC has decided to drop plans for a one day special on global warming. They even had Ricky Gervais and Jonathan Ross lined up to present.

The reason? The BBC do not want to be seen as "soft greenies" or too far to the left of centre. This is a shame and green groups are rightly upset with this move.

The Independent newspaper (the greenest of all broadsheets) devotes the first 3 pages to this story.

Global warming: Too hot to handle for the BBC
The transformation of climate change from a scientific to a political issue became clear last night when the BBC dropped plans for a day-long TV special on global warming.

The scrapping of Planet Relief, an awareness-raising broadcast similar in concept to programmes such as the poverty-focused Comic Relief and Live8, and planned for early next year, marked a watershed moment: it showed that opining about climate change is now as significant in Britain as scientific fact.

The main criticism?
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival this month, Newsnight's editor, Peter Barron said: "It's abso- lutely not the BBC's job to save the planet." The head of television news, Peter Horrocks, wrote in the BBC News website editor's blog: "It is not the BBC's job to lead opinion or proselytise on this or any other subject."

Importantly as part of Durkin watch we have:

Lessons to be learnt from Channel 4 blunder

Which WAS a major blunder (even if it helped our visitor count no end). I have included details of another famous Channel 4 blunder for those that may have forgotten.

One of the most controversial programmes on the subject was transmitted by Channel 4 last March, and, littered with major errors and half-truths, it was one of the finest examples of how not to make a television documentary. The Great Global Warming Swindle suggested the public had been duped by scientists prepared to lie for the sake of gaining either fame or research funds and contained a string of mistakes, some of which have now been accepted by the programme's makers. The scientific accuracy of the film and how its makers treated the interviewees is also the subject of an Ofcom inquiry.

Channel 4 attempted to justify the programme's transmission on the grounds it had already given large amounts of air time to presenting the orthodox views of the scientific establishment on the issue. It was time, it said, to present the views of the heterodox community.

The argument sounded remarkably similar to the Channel 4 position in the early 1990s when it decided to transmit a series of documentaries claiming HIV was not the cause of Aids, and that the Aids epidemic in Africa was a myth put about by aid agencies in need of money.

Other posts of interest:

Martin Durkin to Climate Change Scientists: "You're a big daft c**k"

The Great Global Warming Swindle: The Fightback

The Great Global Warming Swindle

Debunking "The Great Global Warming Swindle"


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Elizabeth C. Economy on "The great leap backward?"

We have talked at length in this blog about the environmental impact of China both within China and globally and specially the impact of environmental degradation on future growth and political stability. This long post covers this ground and more.

It is interesting to quote from China Briefing who write:
As Pan Yue, the vice minister for China’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) warned in 2005 when talking about China’s booming growth, “The miracle will end soon because the environment cannot keep pace."

They go on to highlight the following article in Foreign Affairs by E. Economy. We have posted on some of her work previously. This is a long article that basically goes over ground that will be familiar to readers of this blog but this is at least a little more academic that the TIME article from last week.

This is an excellent and accessible article. The information contained within this one article could supply another 20 blog posts (and may well do so).

The Great Leap Backward?

Summary: China's environmental woes are mounting, and the country is fast becoming one of the leading polluters in the world. The situation continues to deteriorate because even when Beijing sets ambitious targets to protect the environment, local officials generally ignore them, preferring to concentrate on further advancing economic growth. Really improving the environment in China will require revolutionary bottom-up political and economic reforms.

Elizabeth C. Economy is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenges to China's Future.

There are a few choice quotes/statistics that are worth pulling out.

The coal that has powered China's economic growth, for example, is also choking its people. Coal provides about 70 percent of China's energy needs: the country consumed some 2.4 billion tons in 2006 -- more than the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.

This is a quite remarkable statistic but does show how much room there is for improvement. To think of Chinese industry becoming more efficient with a similar wage level shows that competition from China can only intensify.
Consumption in China is huge partly because it is inefficient: as one Chinese official told Der Spiegel in early 2006, "To produce goods worth $10,000 we need seven times the resources used by Japan, almost six times the resources used by the U.S. and -- a particular source of embarrassment -- almost three times the resources used by India."

So where are the limits to growth?
As much as 90 percent of China's sulfur dioxide emissions and 50 percent of its particulate emissions are the result of coal use. Particulates are responsible for respiratory problems among the population, and acid rain, which is caused by sulfur dioxide emissions, falls on one-quarter of China's territory and on one-third of its agricultural land, diminishing agricultural output and eroding buildings.

But solving one problem does not help with the thirst for transport:
Chinese developers are laying more than 52,700 miles of new highways throughout the country. Some 14,000 new cars hit China's roads each day. By 2020, China is expected to have 130 million cars

For those who do not live in China it is hard to really gauge how bad the pollution really is. Many of us have been to New York however:
Levels of airborne particulates are now six times higher in Beijing than in New York City.

What about the efficiency of agriculture? There are problems ahead.
The Gobi Desert, which now engulfs much of western and northern China, is spreading by about 1,900 square miles annually; some reports say that despite Beijing's aggressive reforestation efforts, one-quarter of the entire country is now desert. China's State Forestry Administration estimates that desertification has hurt some 400 million Chinese, turning tens of millions of them into environmental refugees, in search of new homes and jobs.

China's agricultural sector is also inefficient:
The agricultural sector lays claim to 66 percent of the water China consumes, mostly for irrigation, and manages to waste more than half of that

Water in general is a growing problem that we have previously highlighted in this blog:
Pollution is also endangering China's water supplies. China's ground water, which provides 70 percent of the country's total drinking water, is under threat from a variety of sources, such as polluted surface water, hazardous waste sites, and pesticides and fertilizers. According to one report by the government-run Xinhua News Agency, the aquifers in 90 percent of Chinese cities are polluted. More than 75 percent of the river water flowing through China's urban areas is considered unsuitable for drinking or fishing, and the Chinese government deems about 30 percent of the river water throughout the country to be unfit for use in agriculture or industry. As a result, nearly 700 million people drink water contaminated with animal and human waste.

So can the rest of the world afford to sit and watch as China destroys itself? Not with the forces of globalisation at work:
Japan and South Korea have long suffered from the acid rain produced by China's coal-fired power plants and from the eastbound dust storms that sweep across the Gobi Desert in the spring and dump toxic yellow dust on their land. Researchers in the United States are tracking dust, sulfur, soot, and trace metals as these travel across the Pacific from China. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that on some days, 25 percent of the particulates in the atmosphere in Los Angeles originated in China.

So what about international trade? China is contributing to environmental problems elsewhere by its insatiable demand for raw materials.
China is already the largest importer of illegally logged timber in the world: an estimated 50 percent of its timber imports are reportedly illegal.

This article covers it all - here is Economy on the political ramifications.
In the view of China's leaders, however, damage to the environment itself is a secondary problem. Of greater concern to them are its indirect effects: the threat it poses to the continuation of the Chinese economic miracle and to public health, social stability, and the country's international reputation. Taken together, these challenges could undermine the authority of the Communist Party.

Here are some statistics on the costs of environmental destruction:
The Chinese media frequently publish the results of studies on the impact of pollution on agriculture, industrial output, or public health: water pollution costs of $35.8 billion one year, air pollution costs of $27.5 billion another, and on and on with weather disasters ($26.5 billion), acid rain ($13.3 billion), desertification ($6 billion), or crop damage from soil pollution ($2.5 billion).

Also, with the effect of pollution on health it will be not be long before the protests become more vociferous.
Today, fully 190 million Chinese are sick from drinking contaminated water. All along China's major rivers, villages report skyrocketing rates of diarrheal diseases, cancer, tumors, leukemia, and stunted growth.

Social unrest over these issues is rising. In the spring of 2006, China's top environmental official, Zhou Shengxian, announced that there had been 51,000 pollution-related protests in 2005, which amounts to almost 1,000 protests each week.

For all the talk of direct action in the West it is apparent that the Chinese are already being forced to take action into their own hands:
After trying for two years to get redress by petitioning local, provincial, and even central government officials for spoiled crops and poisoned air, in the spring of 2005, 30,000-40,000 villagers from Zhejiang Province swarmed 13 chemical plants, broke windows and overturned buses, attacked government officials, and torched police cars.

Given these issues you would expect the Chinese environmental agency to be all hands to the pump. Not exactly. SEPA is China's premier environmental agency.
But SEPA operates with barely 300 full-time professional staff in the capital and only a few hundred employees spread throughout the country. (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a staff of almost 9,000 in Washington, D.C., alone.)

After discussing the local official corruption problem Economy concludes by saying:
China's leaders have shown themselves capable of bold reform in the past. Two and half decades ago, Deng Xiaoping and his supporters launched a set of ambitious reforms despite stiff political resistance and set the current economic miracle in motion. In order to continue on its extraordinary trajectory, China needs leaders with the vision to introduce a new set of economic and political initiatives that will transform the way the country does business. Without such measures, China will not return to global preeminence in the twenty-first century. Instead, it will suffer stagnation or regression -- and all because leaders who recognized the challenge before them were unwilling to do what was necessary to surmount it.

This excellent article should be read at length to fully appreciate the picture that I have only tried to shed a little light on in this post.


Research papers: Climate change in Africa

In recent months there has been a proliferation of papers examining the effect of climate change on the decisions of African farmers (using a unique and extensive new dataset).

Our very own David Maddison is involved in two such offerings and in the spirit of self publicity here are the abstracts:
The perception of and adaptation to climate change in Africa
Date: 2007-08-01
By: Maddison, David


The objective of this paper is to determine the ability of farmers in Africa to detect climate change, and to ascertain how they have adapted to whatever climate change they believe has occurred. The paper also asks farmers whether they perceive any barriers to adaptation and attempts to determine the characteristics of those farmers who, despite claiming to have witnessed climate change, have not yet responded to it. The study is based on a large-scale survey of agriculturalists in 11 African countries. The survey reveals that significant numbers of farmers believe that temperatures have already increased and that precipitation has declined. Those with the greatest experience of farming are more likely to notice climate change. Further, neighboring farmers tell a consistent story. There are important differences in the propensity of farmers living in different locations to adapt and there may be institutional impediments to adaptation in some countries. Although large numbers of farmers perceive no barriers to adaptation, those that do perceive them tend to cite their poverty and inability to borrow. Few if any farmers mentioned lack of appropriate seed, security of tenure, or market accessibility as problems. Those farmers who perceive climate change but fail to respond may require particular incentives or assistance to do what is ultimately in their own best interests. Although experienced farmers are more likely to perceive climate change, it is educated farmers who are more likely to respond by making at least one adaptation.

The impact of climate change on African agriculture : a ricardian approach
Date: 2007-08-01
By: Maddison, David
Manley, Marita
Kurukulasuriya, Pradeep


This paper uses the Ricardian approach to examine how farmers in 11 countries in Africa have adapted to existing climatic conditions. It then estimates the effects of predicted changes in climate while accounting for whatever farmer adaptation might occur. This study differs from earlier ones by using farmers ' own perceptions of the value of their land. Previous research, by contrast, has relied on either observed sale prices or net revenues, sometimes aggregated over geographically large tracts of terrain. The study also makes use of high resolution data describing soil quality and runoff. Furthermore, it tackles the challenges involved in modeling the effect of climate on agriculture in a study that includes countries in the northern and southern hemispheres, as well as the tropics. The study confirms that African agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Even with perfect adaptation, regional climate change by 2050 is predicted to entail production losses of 19.9 percent for Burkina Faso and 30.5 percent for Niger. By contrast, countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa are hardly affected at all, suffering productivity losses of only 1.3 percent and 3 percent, respectively. The study also confirms the importance of water supplies as measured by runoff, which, being affected by both temperature and precipitation, may itself be highly sensitive to climate change.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cheap Environmental Talk in China

Environmental round-up.

Sometimes the daily environmental news throws up some interesting juxtapositions. From today's PlanetArk.

China Vows to Clean up Toxins Amid Food Scares

with the next story being:

Chemical Leak in China Sends 158 to Hospital

with the previous story being:

Australian State Bans Toxic Chinese Toothpaste

and just to add a final "yuck factor" from yesterday:

China Says 278 Cities Have No Sewage Treatment
An estimated 5,000 "administrative towns" and 20,000 smaller, market towns also had no sewage treatment facilities and a lack of clean water was especially acute in the central province of Henan, the China Daily said.

APEC talks: Trade and the Environment

It is good to see that climate change and trade and now being considered simultaneously. In the 5 years since we started our research projects looking at the relationship between the forces of globalisation and the subsequent effect on the environment in developed and developing countries the public and political awareness of these issues has grown exponentially. See our academic website "Globalisation and the Environment".

After years of US intransigence on climate change it is quite amazing to read the first sentence of this article:

"US President George W. Bush hopes to spur momentum for a world trade pact and a global target on climate change at this week's APEC summit".

A chance of progress perhaps?

A closer reading of the article below reveals that expectations are very low and when you have China, US, Australia involved (all anti-Kyoto countries for different reasons) and Russia the odds of making any progress is limited. The fact that this meeting includes the world's 3 largest polluters does mean this meeting has the potential to get things done but also, rightly, provides the focus for climate change protesters.

I hope that the expense of the nations largest security operation and the cost of putting on this summit are worth it.

APEC Set for World Trade, Climate Change Talks[PlanetArk]
SYDNEY - US President George W. Bush hopes to spur momentum for a world trade pact and a global target on climate change at this week's APEC summit in Sydney, but host Australia has warned not to expect binding greenhouse targets.

Organisers anticipate violent demonstrations at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit, which will be attended by 21 leaders including US President George W. Bush, and are staging the nation's biggest ever security operation.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who will attend the summit, said on Monday she was hoping for a strong APEC statement in support of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks.

"The APEC ministerials and the summit are critically timed to influence that process with a strong leaders' statement, a strong ministerial statement endorsing negotiations going forward on the basis of those texts," Schwab told Reuters on Monday.

Asia-Pacific leaders will pledge to ensure that the Doha round of global trade talks "enter their final phase this year", according to a draft statement obtained by Reuters ahead of the leaders' summit beginning on Saturday.

WTO negotiations will resume in Geneva this week to discuss draft texts aimed at breaking the deadlock between developed and developing nations in global trade talks.

But talks on an APEC free trade area were not expected at the Sydney summit, said Australia's APEC ambassador David Spencer, chair of the summit's Concluding Senior Officials Meeting.

"No one thinks that this is an initiative which will be launched any time soon," Spencer told reporters. "So there's no expectation that at this meeting, for example, we will have our leaders launch off into a negotiation."

APEC's economies -- which include the United States, Japan, China and Russia -- account for nearly half of global trade and 56 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard used the Internet site You-Tube on Monday to sell the APEC summit, ahead of expected protests against global warming and the Iraq war.

"There will be some individuals who want to protest against APEC," said Howard in an address broadcast on You-Tube.

"I simply ask them to stop for a moment and consider that if they really are worried about issues such as poverty, security and climate change, then they should support APEC and not attack it," said Howard.


Howard has made climate change a major issue at APEC, but has ruled out APEC setting binding greenhouse gas reduction targets, prefering instead "aspirational targets" for each nation.

"The big thing about APEC... is that it brings together in a manageable-sized forum... the three biggest polluters in the world -- Russia, America and China," said Howard.

"I believe this year's APEC meeting can make a difference where it matters -- developing ideas and putting the region's full weight behind a truly global response," he said.

"We need to find ways to address the problem while allowing countries like China and Indonesia to continue to grow and prosper," Howard said.

Bush also wants to begin drawing China and India further into the fold of discussions on a global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

"I don't want to single out China, but China has got a major role to play," Bush said in a round-table interview with Asia-Pacific newspapers. "Any agreement without China is not going to be an effective agreement."

Green groups and Australia's Labor opposition say APEC will be a failure if it does not set greenhouse targets.

Australia and the United States are opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, arguing its binding greenhouse targets are flawed as major polluters, like India, are excluded from the protocol.


Media reports that a manual for violent protests was being circulated by protesters vindicated the major APEC security operation, said authorities.

"If there is anti-social, criminal or violent behaviour the police will move in strongly and they will make arrests," said New South Wales state deputy premier John Watkins.

Authorities have erected a 5-km (3-mile) security fence across the central business district (CBD) to isolate the leaders in the Sydney Opera House and nearby hotels. A total of 5,000 police and troops are patrolling the city centre.

The first leader to arrive in Australia is Chinese President Hu Jintao, who lands in Western Australia state on Monday where he is expected to be greeted by a Falung Gong candlelight protest against human rights abuses in China.

Bush arrives in Sydney on Tuesday night and protesters plan a rally at Sydney's Town Hall, with the major APEC protest march scheduled for Saturday, the first day of the leaders summit.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Washington, James Grubel in Canberra, Bill Tarrant in Sydney)

Additional story:

Climate change trickier than trade for APEC[The china Post]