Thursday, July 31, 2008

The market FAILS to solve climate change

This is perhaps the least surprising headline of recent months. What we have come to expect from unfettered capitalism is that scams and corruption are never far behind.

This is not to say this is the wrong approach. One could argue that the development of any market needs to go through these growing pains and whilst some criminals will make millions the ends justify the means. It all depends on the extent of the problem and the eventual gains to society and indeed the planet.

Market Remedy to Climate Change Stalls [PlanetArk]

The world's biggest source of private sector investment to fight climate change in the developing world has stalled pending complex global climate talks and uncertain demand.

The US$13 billion trade in carbon offsets has also come under withering attack over profiteering and scam projects to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon offsets allow people and businesses to pay others to cut emissions of planet-warming gases on their behalf, and is meant to cut the cost of fighting climate change.

Trade talk failure impacts climate change

A classic "globalisation and the environment" story - the failure of trade talks does show how difficult it is to get global agreement on anything even if all countires agree on something.

Developing countries are right to feel hard done by and this is likely to sap any good wil they may have had towards a climate change agreement.

This statement is telling:

"The collapse of the WTO talks is another sign of the decline of Western power," said a European Union official involved in policy planning.

Perhaps it is lucky that the climate change skeptics are so convinced none of this matters others the outlook would be rather depressing.

Trade Failure Clouds Climate Talks and Beyond [PlanetArk]

GENEVA - The collapse of world trade talks deals such a blow to international negotiations that the prospect of agreeing effective solutions to global warming or the spread of nuclear weapons seems more remote than ever.

"If we cannot even manage trade, how should we then find ourselves in a position to manage new challenges like climate change?" said European agriculture chief Mariann Fischer Boel after talks at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva fell apart on Tuesday. "It is a failure with wider consequences than we have ever seen before."

Countries aim to agree a successor by the end of next year to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, a 1997 treaty which commits developed countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions and which expires in 2012.

Like trade pacts, climate agreements have to be reached by consensus -- something that has proven impossible among the 153 WTO members.

The Geneva failure augurs badly for United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen in late 2009, and for faltering global efforts to halt nuclear proliferation, highlighted by the dispute over Iran's atomic programme, analysts said.

"It will greatly undermine trust in multilateral goodwill," said Mark Halle of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. "Nobody thinks we can get a climate deal without overcoming the deep mistrust in the developing world."

The fact that the WTO's "Doha development round", touted as a way to help poorer countries get more from world trade, foundered on a dispute between the United States and and big emerging economies has hit hopes for a post-Kyoto deal.

"It will be extremely difficult (for developing countries) to rebuild their confidence in the multilateral system about the desire of the rich to do anything," Halle said.


The rise of the big developing economies, Brazil, China and India, since the Doha round began in 2001, will also change the dynamic in climate talks, said Bruce Stokes, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"Certainly India in particular will be a key player in Copenhagen," he said.

"China's last minute objections to a Doha deal underscore their leverage, that will of course be even greater," he added.

Under Kyoto, only developed countries have greenhouse gas limits, but at Copenhagen, developing nations with the fastest growing output of carbon dioxide blamed for global warming are under pressure to brake their own emissions.

India in particular is resisting any negotiated binding curb, and its firm line in Geneva -- where a dispute with the United States on protecting its farmers felled the trade talks -- suggests it may show little flexibility on climate change.

Persuading developing countries to accept emissions curbs is seen as vital to bringing Washington, which turned its back on Kyoto under President George W. Bush, back into a rules-based global climate pact.

Coincidentally, India is one of the emerging world's nuclear powers, which built an atomic arsenal in defiance of US-led efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

For some policymakers, failure in Geneva was a symptom of a major change in the global order, which is likely to be just as evident in climate talks.

"The collapse of the WTO talks is another sign of the decline of Western power," said a European Union official involved in policy planning. "It's no longer enough for the United States and the Europeans to agree on the objective in order to achieve the desired outcome."

The reluctance of emerging countries to accept curbs on greenhouse gases is another sign of the changing world order, which the EU official put down in part to opposition to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and a perception that Washington remains bogged down and unable to prevail in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

He pointed to this month's veto by Russia and China of a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, and to persistent difficulty in persuading them to back tougher measures against Iran and Sudan, as signs of this power shift.

For the EU's trade negotiator, haggard and bitterly disappointed after nine days of ultimately fruitless talks, the failure in Geneva was a blow for those who hope the world can find consensus to solve global problems that affect everyone.

"We have missed a chance to seal the first global pact of a reshaped world order," said Peter Mandelson. "We would all have been winners from a Doha deal. Without one we all lose."

Dirty Truckers in anti-anti-pollution protest

An example of why saving the planet will always come across obstacles set by the short term losers.

Truckers Sue LA Ports Over Anti-Pollution Program [PlanetArk]

LOS ANGELES - The American Trucking Associations filed a federal lawsuit in a California court Monday morning against the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to stop plans intended to reduce diesel fuel pollution.

The Arlington, Virginia-based trade group estimates over 10,000 independent truckers will be prohibited from the Los Angeles port, which is banning independent truckers as of October 1 to tighten control over emissions.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A new view on desertification: the greening of the Sahel

Climate change and stories of droughts and the encroachment of deserts go hand in hand. One related issue that has always intrigued me is whether desertification is a one way street. Once a desert always a desert (due to the removal of top soil etc.).

This article from EarthPortal (inbox) sheds some new illuminating light on the topic that certainly informs a lunch time conversation I had recently.

Greening of the Sahel [Earth Portal]

The Sahel region in Africa, spanning the entire continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, receives, in the main, the World’s attention in cases of drought, famine or political crisis. The Sahel is a dynamic ecosystem that responds not only to climatic variability bu to human exploitation of biospheric resources. Over the long-term, changes in rainfall may have resulted in changes in land use patterns. While there has been a tendency to refer such changes as the desertification of the Sahel, results from analysis of different types of satellite- and ground-based data have not resulted in consensus on the direction of changes.

Since the early 1980s, global satellite mapping of the biosphere has generated long time-series measurements of vegetation that can be used as proxies for understating the dynamics of variability of the Sahel’s ecological system. A number of studies using these and other data have shown the close coupling among rainfall, land use and primary production in the Sahel.

Here is the traditional model (as I now understand it):

The first and the most well known mechanism was proposed in the mid 1970s by Otterman and Charney and often referred to the “Charney hypothesis”, by which albedo increases, due to overgrazing and cultivation, leads to a general cooling of the land surface and thereby reductions of evapotranspiration and of surface air convergence, leading to reductions of cloudiness and rainfall. This chain of effects was hypothesized to cause a positive feed back loop responsible for the persistent drought in the Sahel.


After several decades of declining rainfall and dwindling food production in the Sahel, reports telling a different story started to appear. Analyses made by several independent groups of temporal sequences of satellite data over two decades since early 1980s, showed a remarkable increasing trend in vegetation greenness.

The first results results appeared in 2003 and showed a strong increase in seasonal greenness that was observed over large areas of the Sahel during the period 1982-1999 (Figure 2). These results were then followed up by more recent studies where the time series have been extended to cover the period 1982-2003, verifying the previous results.

Examination of the time series of greenness principally reveals two major periods: (a) 1982-1993 marked by below average vegetation and persistence of drought with a notable large-scale drought during the 1983-1985 period; and (2) 1994-2003, marked by a trend towards “greener” conditions with region-wide above normal vegetation conditions starting in 1994. Spatial patterns enable us to conclude that there is not a single footprint of desertification, rather they indicated the variability of green vegetation biomass over the region in response to inter-annual variations in rainfall.

The conclusion - I still not clear and need to read the full article.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Laughing at Climate Change?

The Guardian online today published 19 cartoons on the subject of "climate change" from all around the world.

Whilst some might say "climate change is no laughing matter" I am tended to agree with them after looking at these 19 cartoons. Some are clearly better (cleverer) than others and the standard is impressive. A second viewing is recommended.

The judge of the competition described the entries as ""bitingly satirical, outrageously funny or exceedingly bitter, and even fatalistic".

This quote does have the effect of raising ones expectations perhaps a tad high.

Cartoonists use humour to tackle climate change [Guardian]

Link to the cartoons themselves:



Reality and the economics of climate change

Economic recessions can be considered good and bad for the environment. When people are poorer they drive less, they consume less and they attempt to be more energy efficient.

On the other hand, the last thing the newly unemployed want to hear if preaching from green groups to recycle more and care more about whales, seals or starving children in far off places especially if helping any of the above means they suffer additional hardship (however small).

Al Gore and the democrats are facing this reality.

The following quote gets to the heart of the issue:

Voters' pocketbooks are now involved, making them more skeptical about climate change -- and about the utility of any policies aimed at influencing climate change.

Democrats and Energy: Reality Bites [WSJ]

Former Vice President Al Gore recently took his climate-change show on the road for the benefit of liberal bloggers, Sunday morning TV aficionados and other innocent bystanders. This week he laid out his demand for a miraculous transformation in U.S. energy use over a mere 10 years. As for drilling for more oil? "Absurd," the Nobel Laureate scoffed. "When you're in a hole, stop digging."

The same might be said for Mr. Gore. For while his message hasn't changed, the political realities of the energy debate have. Suddenly, Mr. Gore's inconvenient speechifying only tightens the vice Democrats find themselves in over drilling.

Voters' pocketbooks are now involved, making them more skeptical about climate change -- and about the utility of any policies aimed at influencing climate change. The environmental movement is facing a critical moment. Democrats who support the greenies in their most ambitious goals, and scariest pseudo-scientific rhetoric, suddenly seem woefully out of touch with American voters.


As recently as April, the environmental agenda was a progressive's happy-clappy laundry list: A windfall profits tax, plans to sue OPEC, and even some price-gouging investigations of the oil-industrial complex. June saw Senate Democrats' embarassing failure to move a cap-and-trade bill. Now they aren't doing much besides fighting for a crackdown on oil speculators. No doubt they will claim that this week's share climbdown in oil prices is the result. But, by their nature, market speculators frequently shift their bets and estimates. That's what's happening now, as almost everybody agrees that whatever the long-term challenges, oil supply is adequate to meet demand at prices equivalent of $4 gallon for gas in the U.S.

Monday, July 21, 2008

History shows climate change = violence and conflict

Any article that includes stories of violence and conflict are of interest and when they are accompanied by a picture of Mongolian hordes ransacking then it is as good as in.

The underlying premise should come as no surprise and future wars over water are a racing certainty. The pressure is merely building at the moment.

It does not take a research paper to tell us that....

" the past, climate change has been followed by war, famine, and a decline in population."

It happened then and it will happen again - when and where is the question although you can bet it will be developing countries that will be hit first and hardest.

This quote is also strangely alluring:

"....when the Mongolians suffered a drought and they invaded China."

History Links Climate Change to Violence and Conflict [Environmental Graffiti]

Scientists in the US, UK, China and Hong Kong have released a study which shows that, in the past, climate change has been followed by war, famine, and a decline in population.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warns that humans may not be able to adapt to the ecological changes global warming might bring. Peter Brecke, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of International Affairs, said: “The warmer temperatures are probably good for a while, but beyond some level plants will be stressed. With more droughts and a rapidly growing population, it is going to get harder and harder to provide food for everyone and thus we should not be surprised to see more instances of starvation and probably more cases of hungry people clashing over scarce food and water.”

The researchers studied the time between 1400 and 1900, which is known as the “Little Ice Age”. The lowest average temperatures were recorded around 1450, 1650 and 1820. In between these periods there were minor warming trends.

University of Hong Kong geography professor David Zhang said: “When such ecological situations occur, people tend to move to another place. Such mass movement leads to war, like in the 13th century, when the Mongolians suffered a drought and they invaded China. Or the Manchurians who moved into central China in 17th century because conditions in the northeast were terrible during the cooling period.”
Zhang added: “Epidemics may not be directly linked to temperature (change), but it is a consequence of migration, which creates chances for disease to spread.”
The report follows another study released last week by conflict resolution group International Alert (IA). IA’s report identified 46 countries where climate change would result in a high risk of violent conflict. The group also named 56 countries at risk for political instability.

There have already been some climate related conflicts. Farmers in northern Ghana have been clashing with livestock herders as ecological patterns change. International Alert secretary general Dan Smith said: “I would expect to see some pretty serious conflicts that are clearly linked to climate change on the international scene by 2020.”

The most likely areas for conflict are west and central Africa, as well as India and Bangladesh. The group worries climate change could destabilize peaceful countries and reignite conflicts that have calmed recently.


Climate Change program a "swindle"

I will keep this brief given the blanket coverage. The program was a disgrace. This is only part victory. A shame.

Here are the links for the interested. The different headlines are a sad reflection on the political bias of certain newspapers.

First the BBC who are are neutral as you can get.

Climate documentary 'broke rules' [BBC]

The right wing press:

TV documentary on global warming did not mislead viewers, says Ofcom [MailonSunday]

Ofcom can't take the heat of climate debate [Daily Telegraph]

The climate change lobby tends to react like scalded cats should anyone have the temerity to question their assertion that global warming is a man-made phenomenon. So certain are they of the righteousness of their case that it has taken on the aura of a religious faith - and heresy will simply not be tolerated.

Olympic sized pollution solution underway

Beijing is now in full anti-pollution mode.

Emergency Beijing Olympic Pollution Scheme Begins [PlanetArk]

The city's chronic pollution has been one of the biggest headaches for Games organisers, who are banking on traffic restrictions and last-minute industrial cut-backs to bring blue skies and easy breathing for athletes during the Games.

Under the new rules cars are banned on alternate days depending on their licence plate number and most official cars have been impounded. Only taxis and Olympic vehicles are exempt.

The government hopes to take around 60 percent of the city's 3.3 million cars off the roads, the official Xinhua agency reported, and reduce emissions by two-thirds over the two months until the end of the Paralympic Games in mid-September.

Most building work has also halted and almost all earth and cement works have been closed, along with a string of factories -- including many in other provinces. Some are more than 100 kilometres away but still contribute to the pollution which earned the nickname "Grayjing" for the city.

Tianjin, a port city just east of Beijing and host to Olympic soccer qualifiers, has ordered 40 factories to close. Tangshan, a heavy industrial base northeast of Beijing will shut nearly 300 factories this month to improve air quality for the Games.

As you can imagine, taxi drivers are very happy.

Death of Globalisation consensus: Rodik

After my environmental related post on the death of globalisation it appears that the economist Dani Rodik is weighing in suggesting that mainstream economists everywhere have seen the light (or dark) when it comes to globalisation.

My bold.

The death of the globalization consensus [Dani Rodik blog]

There was a time when global elites could comfort themselves with the thought that opposition to the world trading regime consisted of violent anarchists, self-serving protectionists, trade unionists, and ignorant, if idealistic youth. Meanwhile, they regarded themselves as the true progressives, because they understood that safeguarding and advancing globalization was the best remedy against poverty and insecurity.

But that self-assured attitude has all but disappeared, replaced by doubts, questions, and scepticism. Gone also are the violent street protests and mass movements against globalisation. What makes news nowadays is the growing list of mainstream economists who are questioning globalisation's supposedly unmitigated virtues.

My only point, or the only one I have the will to write, is that even the most fervent globalisation supporter never considered the virtues to be "unmitigated". Far from it.

This issue however gets to the heart of the why this blog was born. Is globalisation good or bad for the environment? The jury is still out.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gloabalization Death Watch

Stories about the end of globalization are always worth reading. Grist write a useful piece. I look forward to part II.

I am afraid Grist are a little off the mark here.

Globalization death watch, Part I [Grist]

Globalization was built on cheap oil. As that era draws to a close, so will the current phase of global integration, whether Thomas Friedman, Wal-Mart, and all those involved in intercontinental trade like it or not.

The current transportation infrastructure is based on cars, trucks, airplanes, and cargo ships, which together consume about 70 percent of the gasoline used in the United States. While the greatest focus has been on cars, trucking and airline companies are facing collapse.

The International Air Transport Association just published a new report in which they call the situation of many airlines "desperate."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gore aims high (and wide)

Al Gore's wish to see the US use 100% green energy is nothing if not ambitious. Aiming for 100% is fanciful but asking to do with within 10 years shows a level of detachment from reality.

I expect he is deliberately attempting to set a high end benchmark for which to strive for and then inevitably fail. At least it might get him a few headlines today (such as this article in the FT).

He should be careful to maintain at least some sense of credibility.

Gore seeks 100% green energy [FT]

The US should aim to generate all of its electricity from zero-carbon energy sources within a decade, Al Gore, the former vice-president, urged on Thursday.

In a speech in Washington he argued that only by making such a commitment could the US solve the pressing problems of the high oil price, the export of jobs abroad and climate change.

Note that US politicians seem the need to mention the dreaded "jobs" word to get attention.

The final quote of the mandatory "critic" that all newspaper articles need to throw in for balance sums is amusing and almost certainly true - which begs the question of "WHY".

“We couldn’t come close to [his] goal of producing all our electricity from solar, wind, and geothermal energy in 10 years without coercive, even authoritarian government.”


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do tribes with no numbers need economists?

This sounds like a great tribe to join. Having no numbers must rule out a significant number of professions including economists. How you can have inflation and unemployment with no numbers.

Tribe Living without numbers [Metro]

Imagine a life without numbers. It would be tricky to know if your salary has been paid or if a shopkeeper has short-changed you.

But one tribe living in the Amazon rainforest does just fine without them.

The Piraha people have words to exp­ress quantities such as 'some' and 'more' but not individual numbers.

The 300-strong group use one term to quantify things between one and four and another for five or above, researchers found. 'It is often assumed counting is an inn­ate part of human cognition,' said Prof Edward Gibson, of US university MIT.

'This group could learn but it's not useful in their culture, so they've never picked it up.'

The research follows a similar discovery in 2004 by a team of equally intrepid linguists from Columbia University.

They believed the same tribe had words for 'one', 'two' and 'many' only and linked the skill level involved to that of infants, rodents, monkeys and birds.

As hunter-gatherers who rejected any assimilation into mainstream Brazilian culture, they appeared to have no need for a counting system.

But it was also found that they lacked another commonplace skill – drawing.

'Producing simple straight lines was accomplished only with great effort and concentration, accompanied by heavy sighs and groans,' Dr Peter Gordon told journal Science.


UK leaders to holiday in Britain

An amusing but expletive filled take on the recent news that Britain's leading politicians will be holidaying in the UK this year. You will have to click the link to read the swear words. This blog in no way condones the language used in this article.

Does this mean the green lobby is having an effect?


GORDON Brown and David Cameron both considered resigning from their posts after being forced to spend another summer holiday in Britain, it was claimed last night.

Both party leaders are understood to be furious at the prospect of two weeks in a dreary seaside hell-hole thanks to the economic slowdown and '******* environmentalists'.

Sources say the prime minister asked senior advisers where in his contract it said he had to go to Suffolk, while Mr Cameron had to be talked out of an angry rejection of his hard-won green credentials.

Mr Brown is understood to have told colleagues: "I earn 190 grand a year. I could go to that place in Mauritius where the hotel rooms are little huts perched above the water. First ****** class. But because that arsehole Darling has ***** my economy I have to go to Southwold.

"And the ******* tree huggers would do a **** if I got on a plane, despite the fact I'll be emitting 400 tonnes of carbon just keeping my seaside cottage warm in the middle of ******* JULY!"

While some political observers say two weeks on the windswept Suffolk coast fits well with the prime minister's brooding character, his friends say he's not that miserable.

Meanwhile a source close to Mr Cameron said: "Would he rather be next to a pool at a sprawling, tastefully renovated farmhouse in Gascony, where it is currently 88 degrees? Of course I ******* would.

"But because 'everyone is so poor', I - he - has to pretend to care by dragging his **** down to some rain sodden toilet in Cornwall and pretend he's enjoying the fish and chips while all the 'poor people' **** off to Majorca for a fortnight.

"And global warming's a lot of ****. I ******* hate this job."

While are are here this article on rising sea levels also has the capacity to induce a faint smile and perhaps even a chuckle.


EXPERTS have upgraded their estimates on rising sea levels, predicting they could submerge Ronnie Corbett within a decade.

ImageThe previous worst-case scenario involved sea water lapping around the chin of Taxi star Danny DeVito.

Now climate scientists are warning we face the loss of not only DeVito, but Holland, Norfolk and the golf-loving Scottish comedian and his famous chair.


"Green to Gold": Esty interviews on Colbert Rerport

Dan Esty interviewed on the Colbert Report. An interesting example of why the media is worth avoiding even if one has a book to sell.

The bigger picture is why business needs to embrace environmentally friendly practices and is something we are currently working on here at Birmingham.

Full episode

The interview is in the third section of the "full episode".

VSL central

My Environmental Economics students all study the value of a statistical life (VSL) in semester two. This comedy sketch pretty much gets to the bottom of it in 5 minutes.

As an aside I recently measured the UK VSL at close to $18 million (compares favourably with other UK studies but way ahead of the US values). Why are UK residents worth more that American citizens? Answers please.

Just why the VSL of an American citizen has fallen is an interesting question.

Many other sites have covered this so apologies to those that have already seen it (H/T: ENV-ECON]

Time also get in on the act:

An American Life Worth Less Today [TIME]

(WASHINGTON) — It's not just the American dollar that's losing value. A government agency has decided that an American life isn't worth what it used to be.

The "value of a statistical life" is $6.9 million in today's dollars, the Environmental Protection Agency reckoned in May — a drop of nearly $1 million from just five years ago.

The Associated Press discovered the change after a review of cost-benefit analyses over more than a dozen years.

Though it may seem like a harmless bureaucratic recalculation, the devaluation has real consequences.

When drawing up regulations, government agencies put a value on human life and then weigh the costs versus the lifesaving benefits of a proposed rule. The less a life is worth to the government, the less the need for a regulation, such as tighter restrictions on pollution.

Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Industry "hurt" by climate change policy

Not surprisingly, as the economic storm clouds gather over German industry, business starts squealing and lobbying.

This was inevitable and we can expect a lot more across Europe. Environmental concern is a luxury good. When the going gets tough the green begins to fade.

EU climate proposals hurt industry, says Germany [EU Observer]

The German Economy Ministry has attacked EU proposals to tackle climate change as "pointless" if other major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are not also committed to significant reductions.

If climate polluters such as China, India and the United States are not also on board, the EU's climate package would end up harming German businesses.


The heart of the EU's climate strategy - the Emissions Trading Scheme - came in for serious criticism.

The ministry statement said that a reduction by 21 percent on 2005 levels in the amount of emissions trading permits - the key mechanism within the ETS that enables emissions reductions would hurt jobs and growth in the EU's largest economy.


Loggers and Landslides: Coase in action

A neat example of how the sufferers were unable to prevent the externality. Explain why Coase failed in this case.

In the case of logging in the US the problem was known about, the consequences were predicted so why did it still happen? Logging is even regulated so why were the regulations not enforced? The market does not always work, even a regulated one.

This is a long article but worth reading.

Logging and landslides: What went wrong? [Seattle Times]

BOISTFORT VALLEY, Lewis County — When Weyerhaeuser began clear-cutting the Douglas firs on the slopes surrounding Little Mill Creek, local water officials were on edge.

Some of these lands had slid decades ago, after an earlier round of logging. They worried new slides could dump sediments into the mountain stream and overwhelm a treatment plant.

Those fears came true last December when a monster storm barreled in from the Pacific, drenching the mountains around the Chehalis River basin and touching off hundreds of landslides. Little Mill Creek, filled with mud and debris, turned dark like chocolate syrup.

More than three months passed before nearly 3,000 valley residents could drink from their taps again.

"I have never seen anything like this before, and I hope I never do again," said Fred Hamilton, who works for the Boistfort Valley Water Corp.

State forestry rules empower the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to restrict logging on unstable slopes when landslides could put public resources or public safety at risk.

But in Little Mill Creek and elsewhere in the Upper Chehalis basin, a Seattle Times investigation found that Weyerhaeuser frequently clear-cut on unstable slopes, with scant oversight from the state geologists who are supposed to help watchdog the timber industry.

The December storm triggered more than 730 landslides in the Upper Chehalis basin, according to a state aerial survey. Those slides dumped mud and debris into swollen rivers, helping fuel the floods that slammed houses, barns and farm fields downstream.

A disproportionate number of those landslides started on slopes that had been clear-cut.

The Seattle Times, using information from state aerial surveys, examined 87 of the steepest sites that had been clear-cut. Nearly half of them suffered landslides during the storm. Those sites represented less than 8 percent of the total acreage — both logged and forested — in the Upper Chehalis and its tributary drainages. But the sites produced about 30 percent — 219 — of the landslides.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pollution and China's Poisoned Generation

Scientific American has a long 7 page article on the effects of pollution on China's children. For economists this area is becoming more accessible but one can not help thinking that what Perera is doing is "proper research".

Worth reading in full to get the results and background.

Is China's Pollution Poisoning Its Children? [Scientific American]


Children, after all, are why Perera is here. She is looking for connections between air pollution and disease, especially in children who were exposed to pollutants in the womb. The director of Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health, Perera helped to pioneer the field of molecular epidemiology, which applies the tools of molecular analysis to identify genetic and environmental factors that contribute to disease. She and other molecular epidemiologists who focus on environmental links to illness increasingly do much of their work in the developing world, where pollution is so ubiquitous that its complex connections to health can be calibrated even in small study populations. But their conclusions should also apply in places such as the U.S., Europe and Japan, where environmental exposures are subtler and their effects more difficult to measure in small-scale studies.

Wherever they work, what distinguishes the approach of molecular epidemiologists is their search for biological indicators that closely correlate with toxic exposures and illness. Often these markers take the form of chemicals bound to DNA or of changes in gene structure or activity that match up with particular types of contaminants and disease. Now that DNA microarrays and other screening technologies are making it much easier to measure many of those biomarkers, routine use of such tools could, at least theoretically, save lives by identifying populations at risk from specific pollutants.

The science is still controversial, however, because relatively few candidate molecular biomarkers of susceptibility, exposure or early disease have been fully validated—that is, proved to herald future illness—and because it is very difficult to factor out confounding variables such as diet and genetic predisposition that may be at least as important as exposure to pollutants in causing various ailments. What has proved even more difficult is getting a handle on how those disparate risks may be interacting to affect health.


On the "tyranny of environmentalism"

Interesting little guardian piece on why greens are evil by Bernard O'Neil. Hopelessly over the top but useful as a benchmark.

Take this quote:

But perhaps the main way that environmentalism undermines the culture of freedom is by its ceaseless promotion of guilt

Is a little bit of guilt about polluting so bad?


And what of those individuals who say "to hell with environmentalism" and continue living the way they want to? Apparently, in the words of the Ecologist, they have a disordered "psychology"; they are victims of "self-deception and mass denial".

You know who you are .... are you self deceiving?

An interesting article and worth reading in full.

Greens are the enemies of liberty [Guardian]

Imagine a society where simply speaking out of turn or saying the "wrong thing" was openly discussed as a crime against humanity, and where sceptics or deniers of the truth were publicly labelled "criminals", hauled before the press and accused of endangering humanity with their grotesque untruths.

Imagine a society where even some liberals demanded severe restrictions on freedom of movement; where people campaigned for travelling overseas to be made prohibitively expensive in order to force people to stay at home; and where immigration was frowned upon as "toxic" and "destructive".

Imagine a society so illiberal that columnists felt no qualms about demanding government legislation to force us to change our behaviour; where the public was continually implored to feel guilty about everything from driving to shopping – and where those who refused to feel guilty were said to be suffering from a "psychological" disorder or some other species of mental illness".

Surely no one would put up with such a society? Yet today, all of the above things are happening – under what we might call the tyranny of environmentalism – and people are putting up with it.


But perhaps the main way that environmentalism undermines the culture of freedom is by its ceaseless promotion of guilt. In the environmentalist era, we are no longer really free citizens, so much as potential polluters. We are continually told – by government, by commentators, by radical activists – that everything we do, from wearing disposable nappies to using deodorant to allowing ourselves to be cremated, is harmful to our surroundings.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cow burp collector - genius

Those cunning academics are at it again this time collecting cow burps with a big red balloon strapped to the cows back.

An oddly pointless but compelling video demonstrates.

Cow burps help climate study [BBC]

Argentine scientists are studying the effects of global warming by strapping plastic tanks to the backs of cows to collect their gas.

Researchers say the slow digestive system of cows makes them a producer of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that gets far less attention than carbon dioxide as a potential cause of global warming.

The plastic tank is fitted to the cow's back and connected through a tube to the animal's stomach.


Poverty Stricken Don't 'Give a Damn' About Warming

Whilst the rich and poor countries fight over the solution to the climate change problem this article hits the nail on the head.

This has always been the elephant in the room and is why a negotiated settlement could be years away.

The source may be a right wing US pro-market think tank talking about a left wing conference but in a round-about-way they are on the right track.

The expert at the "left-wing" conference is simply stating the obvious which is what the BMI and I am subsequently doing but this point is still not being made clearly enough. The West cannot dictate terms to developing countries with massive levels of poverty. Even if these very same poor are likely to the worst hit from the effects of climate change they still want cheap electricity and as soon as possible.

H/T to Benny Peiser.

Energy Expert: Poverty Stricken Don't 'Give a Damn' About Warming [Business and Media Institute]

According to one energy security expert, unless prosperity exists people simply will not care about climate change. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said on July 11 that the poor have other priorities than global warming.

“They [poor people] could not give a damn about climate change because they want 24 hours a day light,” said Luft who cited the example of people living in slums outside Bangalore, India.

“In India alone, 600 million people are not connected even to the [power] grid,” said Luft, “When you talk to these people all you have to do is drive 10 minutes from the center of Bangalore to the slums there and ask them about climate change. And they’ll tell you: ‘We want electricity, we want it today, we want it cheap, we don’t care how you make it.’”

Luft warned people gathered for a Washington, D.C. conference hosted by the left-wing Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that the movement risks losing a huge constituency if the oil problem isn’t solved. CSPI is a pro-regulation group that often attacks businesses over food issues. The organization was putting on its fourth national Integrity in Science Conference co-sponsored by a number of liberal organizations and publications including Mother Jones, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Earthjustice and the Center for Progressive Reform.

Janet Daley continues the debate in the Daily Telegraph:

Poor people can't worry about global warming [Daily Telegraph]

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eco-Nightclub to open in London

Forget the G8 summit where the future of the planet is being thrashed out - an eco-nightclub is to open in London.

What is an eco-nightclub you may well ask? Then read on.

The fatal flaw to this plan I believe lies in the following quote from the first paragraph of the article.

where cyclists and walkers get free admission

The question is whether any self respecting hardcore hedonist clubber wants to dance the night away with other patrons wearing cycle clips and rucksacks. To raise 60% of your energy through the dancing activities of paying customers will require more than 3 men and a dog standing in a corner and shuffling the feet occasionally.

Eco Nightclub Set for Launch in British Capital [PlanetArk]

LONDON - Welcome to Surya -- self-styled "world's first ecological nightclub" where cyclists and walkers get free admission to a club with dancefloor so high-tech it generates its own electricity when people move on it.

The brainchild of 35-year-old property developer Andrew Charalambous, aka Dr. Earth, Surya has its own wind turbine and solar energy system, with the plan to donate any surplus electricity to local residents.

When clubbers need a rest from strutting their stuff on the dancefloor they can relieve themselves at the latest air flush, waterless urinals and low flush toilets as well as taking the opportunity to freshen up with the club's automatic taps.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

World Series of Poker goes green

In a post that encapsulates more than one of my interests comes news that the World Series of Poker has purchased carbon credits to offset its global warming impact. Given how many players will have flown into Vegas (an entire city sustained by air conditioning) this will have cost a pretty penny.

Hurrah's buys carbon offsets for WSOP [Gaming Industry Media]

Harrah's Entertainment, owner and operator of the World Series of Poker, has purchased carbon offsets to mitigate the global warming impact from energy use and waste at its six and a half week event at the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

The company purchased the carbon offsets through NativeEnergy, which manages a farmer-owned distributed wind program. NativeEnergy assists the building of new wind turbines on farms throughout the Midwest, thereby helping farmers to reduce their global warming impact from energy use and to reduce their long-term electricity costs while at the same time helping to stabilize the electricity grid with distributed, small scale, renewable power generation.

'Harrah's continues to look for innovative ways to conserve energy and demonstrate our commitment to environmental sustainability,' said Gary Loveman, chairman, CEO and president of Harrah's. 'Our collaboration with NativeEnergy allows us to reduce the environmental impact of the world's largest poker event.'

If anyone fancies a hand of poker search click below and you will find me playing the occasional hand of Poker of an evening. Combines statistics, game theory and psychology so a perfect (but time consuming) game for economists. Look for "netbet" on the tables. It is possible to play entirely for free and most people do.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Genuine Saving and the Voracity Effect

A little bit of environmental economics theory to start the week. Those taking my 211 course will all be aware of the Hotelling rule - this paper is a nice addition to the literature.

This is a timely extension and political economy results of this type are big business in current economics research. The results appear plausible.

Genuine Saving and the Voracity Effect [CEPR Working papers]

Many resource-rich countries have poor economic performance and suffer from negative genuine saving rates, especially if they have many rival factions and badly functioning legal systems. We attempt to shed light on these stylized facts by analyzing a power struggle about the control of natural resources where competing factions in society have a private stock of financial assets and a common stock of natural resources. We solve a dynamic common-pool problem and obtain political economy variants of the Hotelling rule for resource depletion and the Hartwick saving rule necessary to sustain constant consumption in an economy with exhaustible natural resources. The rate of increase in the price of natural resources and resource depletion are faster than demanded by the Hotelling rule. As a result, the country substitutes away from resources to capital so that it saves and invests more than a homogenous society. The power struggle boosts output. Nevertheless, fractionalization depresses aggregate consumption and social welfare and leads to negative genuine saving if properly corrected for common-pool externalities. Fractionalization induces, however, positive genuine saving as measured by the World Bank.


Rules for the Global Environment

A recent paper by Horst Siebert considers the rules by which the global environment should be managed. Useful as a refresher on the various policy initiatives out there at the moment.

Rules for the Global Environment

Date: 2008-05
By: Horst Siebert


The paper looks at the global environment as a public good and as a sink for CO2-emissions. It discusses problems to be solved in institutional arrangements to protect global environmental media and looks at criteria for allocating the costs of emission reduction and emission rights. It analyzes institutional mechanisms that stabilize CO2-agreements and reviews the Kyoto Protocol, the perspectives for its successor and EU emission trading. The paper also reviews arrangements for iodiversity and existing multilateral arrangements.

Keywords: Public good, Global warming, Emission reduction, Emission rights, Institutional Mechanisms, Kyoto Protocol, Post-Bali negotiations, EU emission trading, fauna and flora, existing multilateral arrangements

JEL: D62 F02 H41 Q20 Q54

Algae attack: "If we don't clean this up, we're done for"

A story about algae invading Beijing would usually be considered for a blog post but when the article concerned has the quote "If we don't clean this up, we're done for" at the start of the second paragraph the article becoming essential blogging. When this is coupled with the phrase "cloying stench" then I know I am onto a winner.

China are taking these games very seriously from shutting down factories ahead of the games to help with air quality to employing armies of workers to clear away the attaching Algae. It would be efficient if the cleaners were the workers from the closed factories but that would be asking a lot.

China Olympic City Battles "Invading" Algae [PlanetArk]

QINGDAO, China - In China's Olympic co-host city Qingdao, sea breezes that usually bring relief from baking summer temperatures now bring a cloying stench from a massive algae bloom that locals fear will harm the city's bucolic image during the Games.

"If we don't clean this up, we're done for," said local businessman Zhang Longfei, pointing at a blanket of green weed stretching far out to sea at Qingdao's No. 3 Bathing Beach.

"You think tourists and Games visitors want to see this?" Zhang said, taking a break after lugging a sack full of green weed onto a growing pile offshore.

More notable quotes:

Local authorities say 30,000 people and have now been drafted into the cause, and have drawn a line in the sand demanding that the algae, which invaded Qingdao in mid-June, be completely expunged from sailing competition areas by July 15.


"It's clearly related to pollution," said Yang Lingwu, who brought her family and colleagues to help clean the No. 3 beach. "There are a lot of phosphates and a lot of industry, like chemical factories, near Qingdao that discharge into the sea."

Daily challenge - try to use the word "cloying" in a conversation today (with or without stench).

For additonal reading on the Olymics and air pollutions see:

Olympians Face Circulation Woes in Beijing's Bad Air - Experts [PlanetArk]

HONG KONG - Olympic athletes exposed to Beijing's polluted air face possible blood circulation problems which could affect their performance, experts say, adding they should avoid crowded places whenever possible.



Sunday, July 06, 2008

"In the Green" fades away

We are sad to report the demise of a green blog. This article gives some idea of the effort required to run a blog when real life has a habit of intruding. PhD students often make good bloggers until the crunch times comes. PhD students believe they have all the time in the world until reality kicks in. To get a post-doc post it is research papers that matter not the amount of blog posts you have written and there is a trade off.

In the Green was a good blog and heavy on pretty pictures which looks good but is time consuming. My other observation is that these group blogs often end up with just one poster after the others fall by the wayside for various reasons (often boredom). I suspect there is a personality flaw of some sort that keeps the very few blogging in the face of other pressures. The guys at Env-Econ seem unique in managing to maintain there double act for so long and with apparently undiminished enthusiasm (for US sports, petrol or "gas" prices and caps, trades, or cap and trades). ;-)

Over at Globalisation and the Environment we always regret the closure of a blog that links to us :-) but wish them good luck on the job market and with writing up. Over to Nathan Rive.

This is the End... of sorts [In the Green]

As those of you following the blog have no doubt noticed, the regularity of the posts in the last few weeks has slowed to a snail's pace. The reason for this is that we are all getting on with our PhDs - either attempting to upgrade or writing up - and finding less time to contribute. Myself included; I have found it difficult to balance my PhD and professional work time with researching and writing blog posts.

As such, there will likely be some changes coming to the site. This may include, unfortunately, closing down the blog for good.

It has been a good 18 months or so on the blog, and I think the rest of bloggers here will agree with me that it has been a real learning experience and a great project to work on. In particular, the blog has led me to read up on issues that I wasn't aware of previously, and forced me to have opinions on things to which I previously hadn't put much thought. And for that, I'm a better researcher. Of course, I can't not mention the Great Global Warming Swindle post, which was the watershed moment for the site. It brought a lot of new (and regular) readership, and without our audience (and commenters) the blog wouldn't have lasted this long.

So what next? I will be stepping down immediately as contributor to the blog, with the aim of soon stepping down as webmaster. I have decided that I would rather make a nice clean break from the blog, rather than let my internet presence peter away into (further) obscurity. I will be trying to find someone to replace me in charge of the day-to-day running of the site. If you are a PhD or MSc student here in CEP and are interested in doing so - get in touch! If I am unable to find someone, I will be shutting down the site.

Once again, many thanks to those who contributed to, read, and commented on the blog!


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Britain's Climate Madness or something else......

I always worry when I see that dreaded phrase "outstanding economist" just before an anti-climate change essay.

Ruth Lea has been given that accolade ahead of her essay on why she believes "Britain Leads The World In Global Warming Madness" and that Britain has a "dangerously flawed energy policy".

You will not be surprised to know that Ruth would consider herself, I am sure, to the right on any regular political spectrum.

The essay is always worth reading for balance but is entirely depressing. She even quotes the famous "modest warming may be economically beneficial". For who exactly? Possibly not your average farmer in Bangladesh.

Guest Essay: Britain’s Climate Madness [Global Warming Politics]

On June 26, 2008, the Prime Minister unveiled his Government’s renewable energy strategy for building a “low carbon economy”. This will involve the building of 7,000 wind turbines (3,000 at sea, and 4,000 on land) by 2020, expand other renewable energy, such as micro-generation, tidal- and wave-power, and will require £100bn of investment from the private sector (heavily subsidised by the consumer). Nuclear power will also be encouraged. The centre piece of the strategy is the planned expansion of wind turbines, which are almost universally disliked by those who have to live near to them. But, aesthetics aside, the strategy is unworkable, expensive, and irresponsible.

This is where is gets predictably depressing. Given my recent penchant for all things apocalyptic I need to include the following paragraphs. The right wing never seem to stop. The more the economy suffers the more often we will see essays of this type. My will to refute is draining away under the barrage.

The Bill is predicated first on the assumptions that ‘global warming’ is “dangerous” and is unquestionably mainly caused by anthropogenic carbon emissions. These assumptions are, of course, inherent in the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provided the quasi-scientific background for the path-breaking Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Secondly, they rely on Lord Nicholas Stern’s report, based on the IPCC’s apocalyptic projections of a frizzling planet, exhorting us to spend now to prevent this fate, or to fry and/or drown later.(4) Woe betide any foolish soul who dares to speak out against this orthodoxy.

But the notion that there is a scientific consensus on this matter is simply not true. Many scientists, though they risk their funding and the wrath of the Royal Society, are prepared to acknowledge that the sun has an infinitely greater role to play than humankind in climate change. Moreover, climate change in the form of modest warming is likely to be, on balance, economically beneficial. And, inconveniently for the doomsayers, there has been no ‘global warming’ for a decade.


French in Green Tax Plan

It is not just Gordon Brown who likes his green taxes and using incentives to encourage road users to use less fuel intensive automobiles. The FT reports. It will be interesting to see whether the French politicians also back down in the face of weaker poll results and the powerful automobile lobby. After all, most voters drive a car.

The bottom line is that cash incentives via the tax system are pretty much the only way to change behaviour. Appealing to the better nature of individuals is doomed.

French car tax to spur green upheaval [FT]

France is to slap an annual green tax on high-emission cars, such as sports utility vehicles, and extend punitive taxes to more environmentally damaging products in an attempt to revolutionise consumer behaviour and combat climate change.

Jean-Louis Borloo, ecology minister, said on Tuesday that the government’s carrot-and-stick “bonus-malus” tax system was proving successful and would be accelerated. The aim is to cut taxes further on environmentally friendly products while raising them on the most harmful products. “This will be a revolution. We must impose a fair ecological price,” he said in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper.

From the start of the year, the government has introduced bonuses for consumers who buy environmentally friendly vehicles and turn in cars more than 15 years old. These bonuses range from €200 ($316, £158) for cars that emit 121g to 130g of carbon dioxide per kilometre to €5,000 for electric cars.

But the government also penalises those who buy heavily polluting cars, charging as much as €2,600 for the largest SUVs. The new annual tax, which the government suggests could amount to about 10 per cent of the original charge, will apply to the most heavily polluting new cars sold from the beginning of next year. The government estimates it will affect about 1 per cent of French cars.


WSJ: "Global Warming as Mass Neurosis"

There is a danger of this blog turning into a social commentary on global warming but this Wall Street journal gives us two things: (1) it gives us a US perspective, (2) it links to behavioral economics and the actions of crowds.

This article also throws in a large number of facts and figures that may fly in the face of popular conceptions. For example, that the oceans have seen a slight cooling effect.

Bring on the scientists to counter these data with pro-climate change numbers. As always, economists should endeavor to understand both sides of every argument. Interestingly the term "apocalypse" gets another outing in this article.

Global Warming as Mass Neurosis [Wall Street Journal]


But mother nature has opinions of her own. NASA now begrudgingly confirms that the hottest year on record in the continental 48 was not 1998, as previously believed, but 1934, and that six of the 10 hottest years since 1880 antedate 1954. Data from 3,000 scientific robots in the world's oceans show there has been slight cooling in the past five years, never mind that "80% to 90% of global warming involves heating up ocean waters," according to a report by NPR's Richard Harris.

The Arctic ice cap may be thinning, but the extent of Antarctic sea ice has been expanding for years. At least as of February, last winter was the Northern Hemisphere's coldest in decades. In May, German climate modelers reported in the journal Nature that global warming is due for a decade-long vacation. But be not not-afraid, added the modelers: The inexorable march to apocalypse resumes in 2020.

The author then raises the following interesting question with yet another link to a higher being. Do readers agree with the statement in bold?

If even slight global cooling remains evidence of global warming, what isn't evidence of global warming? What we have here is a nonfalsifiable hypothesis, logically indistinguishable from claims for the existence of God. This doesn't mean God doesn't exist, or that global warming isn't happening. It does mean it isn't science.

Now we get to the economics and the role of global warming as a new economic ideology to counter unbridled capitalism. The author may have a point but so might the alarmists. Where does this blog fit it? This is a great paragraph for many reasons.

The first is as a vehicle of ideological convenience. Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism. Take just about any other discredited leftist nostrum of yore – population control, higher taxes, a vast new regulatory regime, global economic redistribution, an enhanced role for the United Nations – and global warming provides a justification. One wonders what the left would make of a scientific "consensus" warning that some looming environmental crisis could only be averted if every college-educated woman bore six children: Thumbs to "patriarchal" science; curtains to the species.


The final sentence should raise a few eyebrows. Read the full article to get more of a context.

Global warming is sick-souled religion.