Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Outsourcing pollution to China

Not sure how I missed this Wallstreet Journal article that indirectly examines the pollution haven hypothesis. The issues covered in this article are those I have written about a number of times in my academic papers.

My view is that the buyer must take some responsibility for China's pollution especially when these are often Western companies and therefore western shareholders that benefit.

This is an important point and links trade to pollution.

Why China Could Blame Its CO2 on West [Wallstreet Journal]

"As China's emissions rise, everyone is pointing the finger of blame at China," says Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation, a think tank and environmental-advocacy organization based in London. "The real responsibility for rising emissions should lie with the final consumers in Europe, North America and the rest of the world."

The argument appeals to leaders in China, which by some tallies has already passed the U.S. as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Earlier this year, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang reminded reporters from the Western media that "a lot of the things you wear, you use, you eat are produced in China." On the one hand, Western companies are manufacturing more in China, but "on the other hand, you criticize China on the emission-reduction issue," he added. Roughly 23% of China's emissions come from the production of goods that are shipped elsewhere, according to a recent report by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Britain.

Some economists dismiss the argument and note that China happily benefits from the arrangement. "China loves being an exporter, so it's ironic they would blame the U.S. for their exports," says Robert Stavins, a professor of business and government at Harvard University. "It's called having your cake and eating it too."

At this point, the blame-the-buyer approach is more a negotiating tactic than a serious proposal for redrafting the global-emissions map. But as new studies and reams of data become available tallying embedded emissions, the research could influence the debate over what kind of emissions cuts various nations should be called on to make.


As international trade has boomed over the past decade, the U.S. has begun importing dramatically more carbon-intensive products from its trading partners, according to the researchers. The study found that so-called embedded emissions in U.S. imports roughly doubled from 1997 to 2004. In 2004, the U.S. imported as much as 1.8 billion tons of CO2 embedded in products, the equivalent of 30% of the nation's carbon output that year. Many of those goods are coming from China.

U.S. officials concede that dirty industries shift around the world to the place of least resistance in response to environmental policy. That is one reason why developed nations like the U.S. and Australia have refused to participate in a climate deal that doesn't include developing nations like China and India.

They argue that forcing developed nations to agree to cuts, when developing nations aren't subject to similar limits, could make their industries less competitive. They say this could undermine any treaty by driving dirty manufacturing overseas to less-regulated areas.

H/T: In the Green

Pollution in the former USSR in pictures

Good series of pictures by Gerd Ludwig looking at the problem of pollution in the former USSR.

There are some remarkable photographs. A couple will stick in your mind for some time after I am sure.

This is the preamble:


In their ruthless drive to exploit their nation, Soviet leaders gave little thought to the health of their people or the lands that they ruled. No country is free from the scourge of pollution, but the Soviet example is one of horrifying extremes, one that stems from decades of neglect and the abuse of a vast and once beautiful land.

From Vilnius to Vladivostok, a beleaguered environment bears witness to a legacy of irresponsibility: the rivers of the former U.S.S.R. are open sewers of human and chemical waste; the Aral sea is drying up; in many Soviet c cities the air is so polluted that it puts millions at risk of respiratory diseases. Tons of nuclear waste is spread out all over the country and toxic chemicals have poisoned the soil.

Images of the bald children of Chernobyl and the limbless children
of Moscow disclose a deeply disturbing truth: birth defects and infant mortality — not just in the vicinity of a major atomic catastrophe, but even in the ailing empire's once proud capital — strike the peoples of this land at twice the rate found in the industrial nations of the West.

In pursuit of documenting this universe of pollution that comprises one-sixth of the world’s landmass, I spent 5 months on assignments for National Geographic Magazine. The result is an impressive, yet often appalling set of photographs that can serve as a lesson to us all.

"Agflation" and the rice trade

Good little educational piece from Reuters on food price inflation with emphasis on global rice production.

Rice risks becoming a luxury in the face of soaring prices - threatening pinched budgets in the West but starvation in developing countries.

Riots have flared like a trail of gunpowder through West Africa as some of the world's poorest people struggle to cope with soaring inflation that's seen the prices of basic foods more than double in a year. The U.S. benchmark rice price -- at the Chicago Board of Trade -- has risen to over $24 per 100 pounds of rough rice, while the world benchmark for Thai rice has surged to more than a $1,000 per tonne of milled rice.

For other graphics see:

Agflation The real costs of rising food prices [Reuters]

Farmers can't keep up with rising demand. The world is in a food crisis that's already boiled over in some places. Track the impact with the stories and map below.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Job losses and the environment

This topic is usually considered in the context of "environmental regulations causing Job losses" for competitive reasons.

A new study from the Solar Energy Industries Association provides a unique twist on the usual analysis. This time they are effectively saying that a lack of regulations (or a relaxation of regulations) will lead to job losses.

This article raises a number of interesting questions. First, are green jobs really "quality jobs"? If there were no regulations would a number of jobs not have been lost in the first place?

Clearly the "SEIA" have a strong interest in arriving at these results.

New Study: Delay in Extending Renewable Energy Incentives Risks Loss of Over 116,000 American Jobs [SEIA]

A new economic study by Navigant Consulting finds that over 116,000 U.S. jobs and nearly $19 billion in U.S. investment could be lost in just one year if renewable energy tax credits are not renewed by Congress, according to preliminary results released today by the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The study finds that over 76,000 jobs are put at risk in the wind industry, and approximately 40,000 jobs in the solar industry. The states that could lose the most jobs include: Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and California. The lion's share of these states would lose more than 1,000 jobs.

"This study confirms the huge economic stimulative impact of extending the tax credits for renewable energy," commented Gregory Wetstone, Senior Director for Public and Government Affairs of the American Wind Energy Association. "At risk are many thousands of construction jobs, operations and maintenance jobs, and a major shot in the arm for the ailing U.S. manufacturing sector. Shuttered facilities that once provided steel, railcars, trucks, submarines, and household appliances are now being converted to manufacture renewable energy components. Today, however, investors are holding back because of Congress' delay in extending renewable energy tax credits, undermining one of the brightest and fasting growing areas of the American economy."

"Solar energy is an economic engine that creates high-quality jobs and attracts commercial investment," said Rhone Resch, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "If the investment tax credit is not renewed in early 2008, it will disrupt this high-growth sector, impact tens of thousands of U.S. jobs, and undermine advances in clean energy production."

The Navigant study is released just as the U.S. Department of Labor reports an economy-wide job loss for the first time since 2003. Some 17,000 pink slips were issued in January, with construction and factory workers especially hard hit, according to DOL.

The strong growth in the renewable energy industries combated some of this loss by creating thousands of jobs, particularly where they are needed most, in construction and manufacturing: in 2007 alone, wind turbine installations employed approximately 8,000 people in construction, and at least 14 new manufacturing facilities have been opened or announced across the nation to make wind turbines and wind turbine components.

H/T: Treehugger

The rise and rise of the "Vegansexuals"

Your intrepid blog reporter has managed to unearth another unmissable blog topic. I will attempt (and fail) to steer clear of the more obvious gags......

One simple solution to the global warming problem would be for the world to adopt an exclusively meat free diet. This is somewhat unlikely. The first sign of economic development (think China and India) and meat consumption rockets.

Vegans are taking the meat free idea to new heights (or lengths). I like and support this movement for some reason.

These three quotes summarise the issue perfectly:

"I would not want to be intimate with someone whose body is literally made up from the bodies of others who have died for their sustenance. Non-vegetarian bodies smell different to me - they are, after all, sustained through carcasses - the murdered flesh of others."

"When you are vegan or vegetarian, you are very aware that when people eat a meaty diet, they are kind of a graveyard for animals," she said.

"He also offered another reason for preferring vegans: "They definitely taste a lot better."

There is clearly scope for a research paper on this topic....

Let us read more:

Vegans left feeling hungry . . . for love [The New Zealand Herald]

"A recent survey found vegans prefer partners who steer clear of meat or any animal products, vastly cutting the number of potential dates.

A University of Canterbury "Cruelty-Free Consumption in New Zealand" survey labelled people who choose not to be sexually intimate with non-vegans as "vegansexuals".

One vegansexual in the survey said: "I would not want to be intimate with someone whose body is literally made up from the bodies of others who have died for their sustenance. Non-vegetarian bodies smell different to me - they are, after all, sustained through carcasses - the murdered flesh of others."

The Northern Advocate scoured Northland for vegans and found a Kaitaia woman who was indeed struggling to find love.

"Apart from veganism I do have very high standards, but being a vegan has a lot to do with why I'm single," she said.

The divorced woman said she was being pursued by a meat-eating admirer but wasn't keen - especially as he once threatened to eat her pet pig.

"I know it's quite rare for vegans to date meat-eaters because being a vegan is about having a strong set of principles. I personally wouldn't want to get physical or make love with someone that had hurt or had a part in hurting an animal," she said.

"I cannot bear the thought of pain being inflicted on animals that have emotions."


"When choosing a partner you tend to choose someone with the same set of values as you and being a vegan is a clear life choice. If you're a committed vegan it would be pretty hard to feel comfortable and adapt to living with a meat-eater," he said.

But Edward van Son, who lives at a vegan retreat in Victoria Valley, south of Kaitaia, said he had never had trouble finding love. Mr van Son said the girls who moved in his social circles tended not to be the types who ate only burgers.

"I find people who are into health, are creative and artistic, usually take an interest in healthy eating."

"He also offered another reason for preferring vegans: "They definitely taste a lot better."

Friday, April 25, 2008

FT magazine does the "environment"

From the inbox:

The FT weekend magazine (which I do usually read) is now concentrating on "issues people care about". They begin with the environment.

What I will guarantee is that the magazine will still be packed with adverts for massive engined gas guzzling cars and other offers to tempt conspicuous consumption (at a high price for the environment).

The topics are of interest and I like the way that the PR team have pitched it:

"Societies without sophisticated packaging lose half their food before it reaches consumers. In the UK, waste in our supply chains is about 3 per cent. In India, it is more than 50 per cent."
As part of an extended feature on plastic, Sam Knight examines the environmental concerns of plastic packaging - analysing its benefits and drawbacks and uncovers some surprising truths about this staple that is so often tarred with a social stigma.

As part of this focus, Nikki Tait chronicles the highs and lows of giving up plastic for Lent - from embarrassing supermarket encounters to trying to buy and eat lunch in London and Brussels - "I didn't notice that the helpful cashier was starting to pile my groceries into a plastic shopping bag. "Non, non," I screeched. A jar of honey rolled the length of the shop. The queue of shoppers watched it in resentful silence."

"In the past, if you cut down 1,00 hectares of forest the government gave you another 1,000. We weren't seen as invaders. We were colonisers. Now I'm looked on as a devastator."
The magazine also follows deforestation in the Amazon basin. Focusing on the initiatives of Texan ranger, John Carter, the feature examines his radical idea that market forces could solve the problem they were helping to create.

It will be interesting to see how Carter thinks market forces can solve the problem of deforestation. I bet the answer involved him making greater profits at the expense of Brazil's vast army of poor peasants who are finding the cost of food increasingly prohibitive.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

VIDEO: "Smog" in Beijing

Excellent new video from the Guardian. Sex sells cars (as always) even though it takes hours to get drive anywhere in Beijing. China is the fastest growing car market and the world's second largest.

Smog in Beijing [Guardian]


Food price "massacre" of the poor

Any story with "massacre" in the headline is worth blogging about in my opinion.

Hugo Chavez is also a man worth reading about. He is seen as a hero and anti-hero probably in equal measure.

With food prices soaring and the on going financial and sub-prime crisis it would be easy to argue that capitalism is the cause of the misery for millions. The bailing out of the UK banks by the UK taxpayer is a disgrace. Whilst the government had little option and is in effect making the most of a bad situation it leaves a bad taste in the mouth to know that the "big swinging ****s" in the city are being bailed out for their excessive macho risk taking.

Food Prices ‘Massacre’ Of World's Poor - Chavez [PlanetArk]

Soaring food prices are a "massacre" of the world's poor and are creating a global nutritional crisis, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday, calling it a sign that capitalism is in decline.

His comments came only hours after the United Nations' World Food Program called more expensive food a "silent tsunami" that threatens to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger.

"It is a true massacre what is happening in the world," Chavez said in a televised speech, citing UN statistics about deaths caused by hunger and malnourishment.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Globalisation and the Environment gets a "meaty" endorsement from the Times Online

To celebrate "Earth day" I got the train to work and the Times Online published a list of 10 eco blogs.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to be able to announce that "Globalisation and the Environment" made the cut. I wondered why traffic had gone up all of a sudden. To be called a "meaty" blog is high praise indeed.

10 eco blogs for Earth Day [Times Online]

The big picture:

Ecology and Policy - British Ecological Society's science policy team's blog. Will keep you up-to-date with what's new in eco policies.

Globalisation and the Environment - meaty debate on enviro news stories.

Climate Progress - Former energy advisor to the Clinton administration Joseph Romm's blog; tool up on insider eco knowledge

Fine company indeed.


Can we feed the world?

Given the rapidly rising food prices and food riots breaking out across the globe this is an increasingly important question. I tend to agree with Paul Krugman on this one. In this quote he is talking about oil and commodity prices in general.

Running Out of Planet to Exploit [New York Time]

The first is that it’s mainly speculation — that investors, looking for high returns at a time of low interest rates, have piled into commodity futures, driving up prices. On this view, someday soon the bubble will burst and high resource prices will go the way of Pets.com.

The second view is that soaring resource prices do, in fact, have a basis in fundamentals — especially rapidly growing demand from newly meat-eating, car-driving Chinese — but that given time we’ll drill more wells, plant more acres, and increased supply will push prices right back down again.

The third view is that the era of cheap resources is over for good — that we’re running out of oil, running out of land to expand food production and generally running out of planet to exploit.

Krugman is somewhere between 2 and 3. I am probably nearer 2 with a little bit of 1 and 3 thrown in.

The Telegraph examine the issue of food prices in a 3 page article.

Food shortages: how will we feed the world? [Telegraph]

A global food shortage threatens the lives of millions. Charles Clover reports on the possible solutions to the crisis

The era of cheap food is over. In Britain, a standard white loaf costs more than £1, grocery bills are driving up inflation and land prices are going through the roof. But steep rises in the price of staples such as wheat and rice are having an even bigger impact on poor countries.


The World Bank now believes that some 33 countries are in danger of being destabilised by food price inflation, while Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, said that higher food prices risked wiping out progress towards reducing poverty and could harm global growth and security.

Why has this happened so quickly? Can science and technology get us out of the hole we appear to be in.



Bob Watson, the chief scientist at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, puts the rise in the price of commodity crops such as wheat down to a number of factors: higher demand for grain to feed livestock in China, where increasing affluence means more people want to eat meat; drought in Australia for three years, meaning it has had to import wheat; market jitters brought on by the sight of several countries stopping exporting grain; speculators seeing a chance to make money; and, of course, the sudden extra demand for food crops such as maize for use in biofuels, in both Europe and the United States.

As a supporter of 2 and someone who has seen the vast waste attached to the EU agricultural subsidies there is no doubt that Europe can increase supply on a vast scale. Huge areas of set aside can be utilised. The only problem is the time lag. The increased profits from rising prices will soon bring in additional producers.

Meanwhile the riots will continue and lives will be lost. A simple case of market failure hitting the headlines.

As for the oil price - that is another long story.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Biofuel confusion: "Shockingly misinformed"

The publication today of two articles underlines the confusion surrounding biofuels and food prices.

In the first article biofuels get the blame for food shortages. Also, the use of "sweet" water also makes biofuels less palatable.

In the second article the chairman of GM dismiss the biofuel - food prices link.

Biofuels Won't Solve World Energy Problem - Shell [PlanetArk]

ROME - Biofuels will not solve the world's energy problem, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell said on Sunday, amid growing criticism of their environmental and social benefits.

The remarks follow protests in Brazil and Europe against fuels derived from food crops. Food shortages and rising costs have set off rioting and protests in countries including Haiti, Cameroon, Niger and Indonesia.

"The essential point of biofuels is over time they will play a role," Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, told reporters on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum.

"But there are high expectations what role they will play in the short term."


But concern over meeting the biofuels targets has fuelled fears that sky-high food prices may rise even further if fertile arable land in Europe is turned over to growing "energy crops".

First-generation biofuels usually come from food crops such as wheat, maize, sugar or vegetable oils. They need energy-intensive inputs like fertiliser, which make it harder to cut emissions contributing to climate change.

Second-generation biofuels would use non-food products such as straw and waste lumber. So far, their production has been mostly experimental.

"Biofuels are all about how you develop them without unintended consequences. It is not only the competition with food, it is also the competition for sweet water in the world," Shell's Van der Veer said.

He GM chairman Rick Wagoner has other ideas.

GM chief hits at UN data on biofuel [FT]

Rick Wagoner, General Motors’ chairman and chief executive, has dismissed United Nations research that links biofuel production to rising food prices as “shockingly misinformed”.

The blunt assessment by the head of the world’s largest car company reinvigorates intense debate about ostensible social costs and environmental benefits of biofuels, a burgeoning industry some analysts say crowds out food production.


“If you look at what’s causing higher [bio]fuel prices, the cost of corn is a very small part of that,” Mr Wagoner said at a trade show in China.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has linked biofuels production – alongside factors such as crop failures and the falling dollar – to the spike in world food prices. The agency has ordered research on the subject in advance of a summit on world food security intended to take place in Rome from June 3-5.

But Mr Wagoner said: “Oil prices are a far bigger driver of higher food prices than ethanol.”

There is plenty of scope for economists to get in on the act to work out once and for all what the exact relationships are.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Time on the "War on Global Warming"

Interesting article. The opening paragraph sets up the debate nicely - you can guess what comes next.

How to Win the War on Global Warming [Time]

Americans don't like to lose wars—which makes sense, since we have so little practice with it. Of course, a lot depends on how you define just what a war is. There are shooting wars—the kind that test our mettle and our patriotism and our resourcefulness and our courage—and those are the kind at which we excel. But other struggles test those qualities too. What else was the Great Depression or the space race or the construction of the railroads or the eradication of polio but a massive, often frightening challenge that we decided as a culture we ought to rise up and face? If we indulge in a bit of chest-thumping and flag-waving when the job is done, well, we earned it.


The U.S. produces nearly a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases each year and has stubbornly made it clear that it doesn't intend to do a whole lot about it. Although 174 nations ratified the admittedly flawed Kyoto accords to reduce carbon levels, the U.S. walked away from them. While even developing China has boosted its mileage standards to 35�m.p.g., the U.S. remains the land of the Hummer.

"Cap-and-trade" is clearly the centre piece of the current US proposal:

The most important part of a blueprint to contain climate change is to put a charge on carbon emissions. As long as the sky is free, renewable energy will never beat fossil fuels. But put a price on carbon, and suddenly the alternatives look a lot better. The most feasible way to do this is through a cap-and-trade system that sets ceilings for carbon output and lets companies that come in under the limit sell credits to those that don't, allowing them to keep polluting—a little. The effect is that overall carbon levels fall, and there is even money to be made by being greener than the next guy. That drives investment and research dollars into renewable energy and efficiency. "Cap and trade changes everything," says Krupp.

So what is the problem? That of course is the lobbying power of manufacturing. Despite evidence that environmental regulations have had little impact on jobs (including a paper of mine) it is no surprise to read:

The principal rap against cap-and-trade proposals is that they would be a drag on the economy. A new study by the National Association of Manufacturers, an industry trade group, estimates that Lieberman-Warner would cost the U.S. up to 4million jobs by 2030 while eroding gdp by up to $669 billion per year. "The environmental community would have you believe that you can make these changes and not only will there not be negative consequences, there'll be positive consequences," says Republican Representative Joe Barton, ranking minority member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

4 million jobs is a large absolute number however small relative to total US employment. However, linking to a Porter type argument we get:

Nationwide, the American Solar Energy Society estimates, there are already 8.5million jobs in the clean-tech sector, which it projects could grow to 40million by 2030 with the right policies.

More than offsetting any loss and what drives some of the academic US studies in the economics literature.

The article concludes:

If we took all the steps outlined here—a national cap-and-trade system with teeth, coupled with tougher energy-efficiency mandates and significant new public and private investment in green technologies—where would that get us? We'd be a little poorer—a sustained battle against climate change will hit our wallets hard, absorbing perhaps 2% to 3% of gdp a year for some time, according to energy expert Henry Lee at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, though unchecked warming could end global prosperity. But think of it as an investment: that money, if matched by action internationally, can reduce emissions radically over the next half-century, contain warming and lead us to a postcarbon world.

Ultimately, global warming is not a battle that will be fought fiscal year by fiscal year; it's a fight that will occupy us for generations. Our policies have to operate on the same time frame, even if our politics run on election cycles. We've learned from think tanks and war colleges that the outcome of any crisis is usually determined by one dominant global player that has the innovators who can churn out the technology, the financiers who can back it and the diplomatic clout to pull the rest of the planet along. That player, of course, exists, and it is, of course, us. The U.S. has enjoyed an awfully good run since the middle of the 20th century, a sudden ascendancy that no nation before or since has matched. We could give it up in the early years of the 21st, or we could recognize—as we have before—when a leader is needed and step into that breach ourselves. Going green: What could be redder, whiter and bluer than that?

Overall, this is a well written and balanced piece that covers all the main issues facing the war on global warming from a US (and ultimately world) perspective.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Self Interested Economists and the Birmingham Experiment

I read a post on International Political Economy Zone by my Birmingham colleague Emmanuel in the Politics department with amusement.

The post begins with Becker and then puts up the famous figure showing that trained economists are by far the highest percentage (twice as likely as any other discipline) that give NOTHING to charity - not a sausage.

Emmanual then uses an odd little example using Birmingham students to come to a similar conclusion. This made me laugh but I shall of course investigate further.

I bring this up for a natural experiment has just been conducted on the topic here at the University of Birmingham. Recently, the British Higher Education Academy (HEA) solicited survey responses from postgraduate research students about the quality of their postgraduate learning experiences. I filled out the form sometime ago as I will soon be eligible to become a member of the HEA and thought nothing more about it until I received another e-mail message about the survey. Apparently, the University was rather unhappy with the response rates from the survey and asked the various departments to improve the tally. (Only 15.9% of all postgraduate research students at Birmingham replied.)

As with the Frank et al. (1993) study, the results are instructive as they demonstrate the same phenomenon of homo economicus at play. Here is a brief rundown of the response rates from some of the departments along with some speculative commentary about why the response rates were such. You can view the entire file as well:

European Research Institute: 13/49 or 26.5% - Europeans are still quite civic-minded.
Electrical Engineering: 28/114 or 24.6% - I haven't the slightest clue what to say about this.
Chemical Engineering: 31/140 or 22.1% - Ditto.
Political Science: 11/66 or 18.0% - We lament declining voter turnout, but we're pretty apathetic ourselves.
Sociology: 4/42 or 9.5% - This survey is a bourgeois plot to further undermine our well-being.
Business School: 8/88 or 9.1% - How the !%^& will filling this survey help us earn money?
American and Canadian Studies: 1/39 or 2.6% - Studying American behaviour requires displaying similar kinds of apathy.
Theology and Religion: 3/287 or 3.0% - Earthly nonsense isn't to be bothered with.

...and dead last is [drum roll, please]...
Economics: 0/62 or 0.00% - There's nothing in it for me, bub.

The fact that not a SINGLE economics postgrad out of 62 bothered to fill the form in is rather sad. However, Emmanual would do well to check a couple of things:

1. Did our students actually get the original email? It may have required a member of staff to forward it which could be where the problem lies. How was the request passed to the students and if it did not come through the department why not?

2. Of the 62 students the nationality breakdown is probably fairly different from that of other departments. Should this matter?

3. Perhaps our 62 students are working too hard and are too ambitious to have the time to fill in forms.

4. The learning experience for our psotgrads might be so good that they simply have nothing negative to say about quality.

However, having said that, the result still does not surprise me.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stern: I UNDERESTIMATED global warming threat in Stern Review

In an interview with Sir Nicolas Stern the author of the self named "Stern Review" published 18 months ago, Stern admits that he underestimated the threat from global warming.

Stern uses the interview to argue that his original report figures were correct and that those academics who said his figures were grossly exaggerated were wrong.

He is now impressively pessimistic. A trait all economists should sympathise with.

INTERVIEW - Climate Expert Stern Says Underestimated Problem [PlanetArk]

LONDON - Climate change expert Nicholas Stern says he under-estimated the threat from global warming in a major report 18 months ago when he compared the economic risk to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Latest climate science showed global emissions of planet-heating gases were rising faster and upsetting the climate more than previously thought, Stern said in a Reuters interview on Wednesday.

For example, evidence was growing that the planet's oceans -- an important "sink" -- were increasingly saturated and couldn't absorb as much as previously of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), he said.

"Emissions are growing much faster than we'd thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we'd thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster," he told Reuters at a conference in London.

Stern said that increasing commitments from some countries such as the European Union to curb greenhouse gases now needed to be translated into action. Policymakers, businesses and environmental pressure groups frequently cite the Stern Review as a blueprint for urgent climate action.

The report predicted that, on current treds, average global temperatures will rise by 2-3 degrees centigrade in the next 50 years or so and could reduce global consumption per head by up to 20 percent, with the poorest nations feeling the most pain.

Some academics said he had over-played the costs of potential future damage from global warming at up to twenty times the cost of fighting the problem now, such as by replacing fossil fuels with more costly renewable power.

Stern said on Wednesday that increasing evidence of the threat from climate change had vindicated his report, published in October 2006.

"People who said I was scaremongering were profoundly wrong," he told the climate change conference organised by industry information provider IHS.

Stern then has a dig at the IPCC criticising them for failing to take account of the ocean absorption issue. Given Stern was talking in the US and effectively saying that the US needed to cut emissions by 90% his strategy to make things look as bleak as possible is clearly the only politically sensible and media friendly stance to take.



Its latest report in 2007 had not taken detailed account of some dangerous threats, including the falling ability of the world's oceans to absorb CO2, because scientists had to be cautious and that evidence was just emerging, the former World Bank chief economist added.

"The IPCC has done a tremendous job but things are moving on," he told Reuters.

"The IPCC's (cautious) approach to this is entirely understandable and sensible, but if you're looking ahead and asking about the risk then you do have to go beyond."

Stern said that to minimise the risks of dangerous climate change global greenhouse gas emissions should halve by mid-century. He said the United States should cut its emissions by up to 90 percent by then.

He was speaking before a senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said US President George W Bush planned on Wednesday to call for a halting of growth in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

This link below covers the "ocean absorption story:

Oceans Absorbing Less CO2 May Have 1,500 Year Impact [PlanetArk]

VIENNA - Global oceans are soaking up less carbon dioxide, a development that could speed up the greenhouse effect and have an impact for the next 1,500 years, scientists said on Wednesday.

Research from a five-year project funded by the European Union showed the North Atlantic, which along with the Antarctic is of the world's two vital ocean carbon sinks, is absorbing only half the amount of CO2 that it did in the mid-1990s.



Pollution and the bees flower sniffing problem

Another externality from air pollution that I had previously not considered. ABCnew no less report on this story that has bees everywhere up in arms.

We have covered the demise of bees before - each scientist comes up with some vaguely plausible answer that hits the news with a splash before the next "solution" comes along.

Flowers Are Losing Their Smell [ABCnews]

Air pollution is killing the smell of flowers, possibly eliminating the "scent trail" that helps guide those terribly important pollinators, like bees, to the plants that depend upon them for survival, scientists believe.


While it is still too soon to determine the full impact of air pollution on the symbiotic relationship between insects and the flowers they pollinate, researchers at the University of Virginia are confident they have shown that pollutants are killing the scent trail, and that could turn out to be extremely significant.

Before the industrial revolution, the trail extended at least half a mile from the flower, but today at that distance "it's almost completely destroyed," said Quinn McFrederick, a doctoral candidate in biology at the university and lead author of a study that in the current issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment.

At least a little economics speak sneaks into the article towards the end of this 3 page piece.

"In Britain, pollinator species that were relatively rare in the past have tended to become rarer still, while the commoner species have become even more plentiful," Stuart Roberts of the University of Reading said at the time. "Even in insects, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

Does this statement hold up in court? Has GDP per capita converged or diverged over time and across all countries?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tragedy of the Intergalatic Commons: "In Space no one can hear you scream"

Excellent series of pictures of space junk. A clear tragedy of the commons example.

H/T: 26Econ

For a full set of great pictures see the ESA-ESOC website.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lungless Frog

I have no idea why I am posting on this but there is something about the phrase "lungless frog" that I cannot resist either as a title for a blog post or merely just to type it out once or twice.

The fact that they might be endangered as a result of mining (caused by pressures from globalisation) give me an "in" if required.

Lungless Frog Discovered In Borneo [PlanetArk]

A rare and primitive frog living in a remote Borneo stream has no lungs and apparently absorbs oxygen through its skin, researchers reported on Wednesday.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Mexico annexes a large part of the US

An interesting "globalisation" story showing a map of the US after Mexico annexes a large chunk of the west coast of America. This picture is all the more interesting as I am a long standing consumer of the product.

The naughty Swedes have got themselves into trouble on this one.

H/T: Strange Maps

The history:

Large swathes of the western US used to be part of Mexico. In 1836, American settlers proclaimed the independence of Texas, formally a Mexican territory. The US annexation of Texas in 1845 prompted the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), after which Mexico was forced to cede 525,000 square miles of territory (42% of its pre-war territory, 12% of the US’s current territory).

Mexico didn’t have much choice: a US army occupied Mexico City, and the alternative was total annexation. The Mexican Cession consisted of the territories of Alta California and Nueva Mexico, out of which were eventually formed the US states of California, Nevada and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

In this ‘absolut’ version of the world, the US and Mexico are about the same size. As gratifying as it might be for Mexicans to see the loss of Texas and the Mexican Cession be reversed, this map managed to offend so many Americans that it prompted Absolut Vodka to release a statement

Clearly, this advert is an example of both geographical differentiation but also the power of the global media to ensure things do not remain local for long.


Nuclear war would cause a hole in the Ozone layer

Some news stories make you wonder whether fears about climate change and pollution have got a little out of control.

Today's "odd" story talks about the worry that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan as well as killing millions would result in a larger hole in the Ozone.

Am I the only one thinking that this would be the least of our worries...

India-Pakistan Nuclear War Would Cause Ozone Hole [PlanetArk]

WASHINGTON - Nuclear war between India and Pakistan would cause more than slaughter and destruction -- it would knock a big hole in the ozone layer, affecting crops, animals and people worldwide, US researchers said on Monday.


So lets ignore the death and destruction for a while and get back to the hole. So please tell us WHY would a nuclear war lead to ozone depletion.

Fires from burning cities would send 5 million metric tonnes of soot or more into the lowest part of Earth's atmosphere known as the troposphere, and heat from the sun would carry these blackened particles into the stratosphere, the team at the University of Colorado reported.

So this new academic study concludes that nuclear war is bad for the environment. Not such a surprising result you may think but...

"The big surprise is that this study demonstrates that a small-scale, regional nuclear conflict is capable of triggering ozone losses even larger than losses that were predicted following a full-scale nuclear war," Toon said in a statement.

So although we might have guessed the effect of nuclear war would be negative we now know that even a small nuclear war could be very bad.

The policy implications? Those pesky Iranians and north Koreans had better watch out.


Monday, April 07, 2008

World Bank "Hijack"

More World Bank bashing.

The World Bank should hire some more environmental economists or at least do a call for academic research in this area ;-)

World Bank Accused Of Climate Change "Hijack" [Planet Ark]

BANGKOK - Developing countries and environmental groups accused the World Bank on Friday of trying to seize control of the billions of dollars of aid that will be used to tackle climate change in the next four decades.

"The World Bank's foray into climate change has gone down like a lead balloon," Friends of the Earth campaigner Tom Picken said at the end of a major climate change conference in the Thai capital.

"Many countries and civil society have expressed outrage at the World Bank's attempted hijacking of real efforts to fund climate change efforts," he said.

Before they agree to any sort of restrictions on emissions of the greenhouse gases fuelling global warming, poor countries want firm commitments of billions of dollars in aid from their rich counterparts.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Environment UK e-magazine

From the inbox:

A quick plug for "Environment UK" online magazine. Although it comes across a little like a trade rag (which it must be) the latest issue is worth reading for the "online reading" effect alone and some articles are of interest. Plenty of "energy saving" stuff.

There is nothing like seeing pages turn before your very eyes at the click of a mouse even if the type is so small as to be almost unreadable. Zooming in though allows the print to appear fuzzy but then to become clear before your very eyes. Good stuff and paper saving to boot.

Editors with big beards are also essential for any environmental magazine so again top marks to Environment UK.

Environment UK Magazine


Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Onion Helps China Celebrate

The Onion does Chinese air pollution. Depressingly funny.

China Celebrates Its Status As World's Number One Air Polluter

H/T: China Economics Blog and Asiabizblog


Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change

It will come of no surprise to readers of this blog that some of the first to suffer at the hands of climate change will be the so-called "indigenous peoples".

What is interesting about this article is that it is "our" solutions to climate change that are causing additional problems.

Externalities are everywhere.

Is this linked to lack of lobbying power or merely geography?

Climate Solutions Often Harm Indigenous Peoples - UN [PlanetArk]

OSLO - Large-scale solutions to help slow global warming often threaten the very indigenous peoples who are among those hardest hit by a changing climate, the UN University said on Wednesday.

Biofuel plantations, construction of hydropower dams and measures to protect forests, where trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas as they grow, can create conflicts with the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

"Biofuel production, renewable energy expansion (and) other mitigation measures (are) uprooting indigenous peoples in many regions," the UN University said in a statement on a report released at a conference in Darwin, Australia.


It said the world's estimated 370 million indigenous peoples, from the Arctic to South Pacific islands, were already exposed on the front line of climate change to more frequent floods, droughts, desertification, disease and rising seas.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Flights and actors: another environmental farce

Hot on the heels of the Biofuels scam that we covered HERE comes a scam of similar farce and hypocrisy value.

This time an airline flying from Norwich to Dublin has been hiring actors to fly so that the airline can claim a passenger based bonus from Norwich airport.

So now we have an airline PAYING people to fly to Ireland and then back again on the next flight. Meanwhile the airport is paying large bonuses to airlines to fly as many people as possible. Both parties need their heads knocking together.

Another classic case of the market riding rough shod over the environment. The two scams outlined in the last 2 posts give capitalism a bad name.

Airline hiring actors for flights faces fine [Independent]

An Exeter-based airline which advertised for actors to fly backwards and forwards between Norwich and Dublin to boost passenger numbers may be penalised, airport bosses have warned.

Flybe hit on the idea when faced with losing £280,000 because it had not met a passenger target imposed by Norwich International Airport as part of a commercial deal.

But Norwich airport bosses said they may not pay the rebate even if Flybe met the target because of the airline's tactics.


But one woman boarding a Flybe plane at Norwich she was a "model" and had been paid to fly to Dublin and back.

"I am with a modelling agency. They called me over the weekend offering me a job, so I took it," said Suzanne Moore, 28.

"We have got to get off the plane and then come straight back here."

The Independent editorial discusses further:

Terence Blacker: A stunt that exposes the truth about corporate greed

How is this for an image which perfectly captures the greed, hypocrisy and downright silliness of the age through which we are living? A planeload of passengers flies from Norwich to Dublin. When it arrives, the travellers wait at the airport for half an hour and then re-board the plane to fly straight back. They are, in fact, not tourists or business people but actors, whose golden dream of appearing in The Bill has brought them to Norfolk's leading (only) international airport where they will earn £82 as part of a fairly obvious scam.

More importantly, Blacker goes on to attack, correctly, the corporates that are attaching themselves to "green issues".

So conglomerates, and their cynical advertisers, present themselves as fiscal friends of the Earth in marketing campaigns so shamelessly fraudulent that the Advertising Standards Authority has recently been obliged to call an industry summit to remind companies and marketers of their responsibilities. No matter how shamelessly profit-led a company may be, its image is likely to be enhanced by pictures of polar bears, kiddies and wind turbines. A blizzard of reassuring pseudo-science is deployed to promote everything from oil companies to supermarkets and 4x4s.

It works, of course. Goldman Sachs has reported that companies that can present themselves as ethical and green reap the benefits in their profit-margins. Developers whose grandiose plans for new towns were rejected in the past have re-packaged their proposals as eco-towns with instant success.

The message behind the grand marketing plans which so usefully conflate green and greed is aimed at us, the consumers. The Government can put out concerned public service announcements about recycling while cheerfully encouraging the expansion of airports. Industry promotes the acquisition of new products rather than repairing the old, causing a mountain of computers, mobiles, TVs and kitchen gadgets to be dumped every day.

In my part of the country, there is now only one tyre company, a small family firm, which bothers to mend punctures rather than automatically selling new tyres. Its owner would be appalled to be described as an environmentalist but, without showing off about it, he is being more ecologically responsible in his work than many of the large companies whose green credentials are often as fake as some of Flybe's passengers to Dublin.


Biofuels scam: the "splash and dash" loophole

The phrase "splash and dash" loophole is enough to perk the interest of this blogger.

The phrase relates to an ongoing "biofuels" scam that "that exploits US agricultural subsidies and undermines the fight against global warming."

So who is exploiting who? The Guardian investigates. A quick read should anger as it soon becomes clear that the "scam" makes a mockery of a scheme intended to help the fight against climate change, not make it worse, by increasing shipping fuel use considerably.

Demands for crackdown on biofuels scam [Guardian]

Up to 10% of biofuel exports from the US to Europe are believed to be part of the rogue scheme reaping big profits for agricultural trading firms.

The "splash and dash" scam involves shipping biodiesel from Europe to the US where a dash of fuel is added, allowing traders to claim 11p a litre of US subsidy for the entire cargo. It is then shipped back and sold below domestic prices, undercutting Europe's biofuel industry.

The trade is not illegal, but flouts the spirit of producing green fuel by transporting it needlessly across the Atlantic at a time when campaigners are voicing concern about emissions from global shipping.

The producers' body, the European Biodiesel Board, has uncovered the trade as part of its investigation into why British, German and Spanish producers are in financial trouble at a time when biodiesel prices remain high. The board will call for retaliatory action against the US over subsidies for its leading biofuel.