Monday, November 30, 2009

On the Origin of Mass Extinctions: Darwin’s Nontrivial Error

This is certainly one of the best abstracts I have read for many a month. I even had to read it twice (which certainly helped).

This particular quote still has been scatching my head a little. I think the only solution is to read the paper.

This problem has led social and evolutionary theorists alike to mistakenly favour earth-based inputs over cosmic inputs, to over-emphasize biological evolution, and to under-emphasize stellar evolution.

On the Origin of Mass Extinctions: Darwin’s Nontrivial Error.

Funk, Matt (2009)


Darwin's "Origin" launched evolution into theoretical orbit and it continues to influence its course. This magnum opus detailed a tenable solution to the most fundamental problem of human existence, and although this Promethean vision contains sundry trivial flaws, there is, however, one nontrivial error which misguides several crucial developments – not only in the evolving structure of evolutionary theory, but across the entire spectrum of science, including politico-economics. This problem has led social and evolutionary theorists alike to mistakenly favour earth-based inputs over cosmic inputs, to over-emphasize biological evolution, and to under-emphasize stellar evolution. These methodological and logical errors have, in turn, emphasized the significance of the individual “struggle against competitors” over the cooperative “struggle against inclement environments”, and thus, as a result, fashionable theories relating to Global Warming, The Problem of Sustainable Economic Development, and The Tragedy of the Commons have been erected on a false foundations – and, moreover, point toward inherently unstable solutions. And to these salient points, in light of the theory presented here, we discover that the effective coordination of global threat mitigation efforts requires unprecedented levels of international politico-economic cooperation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Mother Nature doesn't do Bailouts"

Thomas Friedman is good. His book "flat earth" is a really excellent read.

This column gets to the point. Never a truer word....

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.

Here is the article in full.

The Inflection Is Near? [NY Times]

Sometimes the satirical newspaper The Onion is so right on, I can’t resist quoting from it. Consider this faux article from June 2005 about America’s addiction to Chinese exports:

FENGHUA, China — Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of [garbage] Americans will buy. Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these.’ ... One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless [garbage]? I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate ...’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

Over a billion people today suffer from water scarcity; deforestation in the tropics destroys an area the size of Greece every year — more than 25 million acres; more than half of the world’s fisheries are over-fished or fished at their limit.

“Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption.”

“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

Gilding says he’s actually an optimist. So am I. People are already using this economic slowdown to retool and reorient economies. Germany, Britain, China and the U.S. have all used stimulus bills to make huge new investments in clean power. South Korea’s new national paradigm for development is called: “Low carbon, green growth.” Who knew? People are realizing we need more than incremental changes — and we’re seeing the first stirrings of growth in smarter, more efficient, more responsible ways.

In the meantime, says Gilding, take notes: “When we look back, 2008 will be a momentous year in human history. Our children and grandchildren will ask us, ‘What was it like? What were you doing when it started to fall apart? What did you think? What did you do?’ Often in the middle of something momentous, we can’t see its significance. But for me there is no doubt: 2008 will be the marker — the year when ‘The Great Disruption’ began.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

America, China and the inevitable failure of Copenhagen - the Economist talks

The Economist covers the inevitable failure of Copenhagen in a well written article. One could also be believe that the US government is deliberately placing articles to lower expectations.

The cartoon on page 10 of the economist represents my view perfectly.

Let's agree to agree [Economist]

EXPECTATIONS for the Copenhagen climate conference, to be held next month in the Danish capital, rise and fall. On November 15th, as Barack Obama toured Asia, he and the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, agreed that no agreement on a new treaty would be reached at the conference. Instead, they said that the best that can now be expected is a “political” deal out of the Copenhagen meeting, which begins on December 7th.

The negotiations leading up to Copenhagen have been something of a fiasco. But this is not, as some would have it, wholly the fault of balky American senators who have refused to pass a cap-and-trade bill fast enough. It is true that a lot of the blame does indeed belong on Capitol Hill; the Senate has taken its time mulling over its version of a climate-change bill, not helped by the protracted debate over health care. John Kerry, one of the Senate’s cap-and-trade champions, now says only that he hopes the bill will make it to the floor in the spring.

But this is far from the only reason that a full, binding deal at Copenhagen had to be scratched. Each round of successive negotiations leading up to the conference lengthened, rather than shortened, the list of matters up for debate. The negotiating text is a snarl of bracketed material that the parties cannot agree on. There is now no hope of getting legally binding targets for emissions-reductions—a “son of Kyoto” treaty that would extend plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions when the targets laid out in the Kyoto protocol end in 2012.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Climate change academic emails leaked online

Nothing is safe online. Whilst the story that hundreds of emails have been stolen and put online via a Russian mirror is no surprise it is a shock that there are academic emails from a UK University - in this case East Anglia.

Whilst not likely to represent proof of a wide scale conspiracy I am sure there are some worried academics out there. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I might be interesting to read these emails in full.

The Telegraph also pick up on this story HERE with a typically "sceptical" take on the theft.

Climate sceptics claim leaked emails are evidence of collusion among scientists [Guardian]

Hundreds of private emails and documents allegedly exchanged between some of the world's leading climate scientists during the past 13 years have been stolen by hackers and leaked online, it emerged today.

The computer files were apparently accessed earlier this week from servers at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, a world-renowned centre focused on the study of natural and anthropogenic climate change.

Climate change sceptics who have studied the emails allege they provide "smoking gun" evidence that some of the climatologists colluded in manipulating data to support the widely held view that climate change is real, and is being largely caused by the actions of mankind.

The veracity of the emails has not been confirmed and the scientists involved have declined to comment on the story, which broke on a blog called The Air Vent.

The files, which in total amount to 160MbB of data, were first uploaded on to a Russian server, before being widely mirrored across the internet. The emails were accompanied by the anonymous statement: "We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it."

A spokesperson for the University of East Anglia said: "We are aware that information from a server used for research information in one area of the university has been made available on public websites. Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm that all this material is genuine. This information has been obtained and published without our permission and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation. We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and have involved the police in this inquiry."

In one email, dated November 1999, one scientist wrote: "I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

This sentence, in particular, has been leapt upon by sceptics as evidence of manipulating data, but the credibility of the email has not been verified. The scientists who allegedly sent it declined to comment on the email.

"It does look incriminating on the surface, but there are lots of single sentences that taken out of context can appear incriminating," said Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. "You can't tell what they are talking about. Scientists say 'trick' not just to mean deception. They mean it as a clever way of doing something - a short cut can be a trick."

In another alleged email, one of the scientists apparently refers to the death of a prominent climate change sceptic by saying "in an odd way this is cheering news".

Ward said that if the emails are correct, they "might highlight behaviour that those individuals might not like to have made public." But he added, "Let's separate out [the climate scientists] reacting badly to the personal attacks [from sceptics] to the idea that their work has been carried out in an inappropriate way."

The revelations did not alter the huge body of evidence from a variety of scientific fields that supports the conclusion that modern climate change is caused largely by human activity, Ward said. The emails refer largely to work on so-called paleoclimate data - reconstructing past climate scenarios using data such as ice cores and tree rings. "Climate change is based on several lines of evidence, not just paleoclimate data," he said. "At the heart of this is basic physics."

Ward pointed out that the individuals named in the alleged emails had numerous publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. "It would be very surprising if after all this time, suddenly they were found out doing something as wrong as that."

Professor Michael Mann, director of Pennsylvania State University's Earth System Science Centre and a regular contributor to the popular climate science blog Real Climate, features in many of the email exchanges. He said: "I'm not going to comment on the content of illegally obtained emails. However, I will say this: both their theft and, I believe, any reproduction of the emails that were obtained on public websites, etc, constitutes serious criminal activity. I'm hoping the perpetrators and their facilitators will be tracked down and prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows."

When the Guardian asked Prof Phil Jones at UEA, who features in the correspondence, to verify whether the emails were genuine, he refused to comment.

The alleged emails illustrate the persistent pressure some climatologists have been under from sceptics in recent years. There have been repeated calls, including Freedom of Information requests, for the Climate Research Unit to make public a confidential dataset of land and sea temperature recordings that is "value added" by the unit before being used by the Met Office. The emails show the frustration some climatologists have had at having to operate under such intense, often politically motivated, scrutiny.

Prof Bob Watson, the chief scientific advisor at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said, "Evidence for climate change is irrefutable. The world's leading scientists overwhelmingly agree what we're experiencing is not down to natural variation."

"With this overwhelming scientific body of evidence failing to take action to tackle climate change would be the wrong thing to do – the impacts here in Britain and across the world will worsen and the economic consequences will be catastrophic."

A spokesman for Greenpeace said: "If you looked through any organisation's emails from the last 10 years you'd find something that would raise a few eyebrows. Contrary to what the sceptics claim, the Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, Nasa and the world's leading atmospheric scientists are not the agents of a clandestine global movement against the truth. This stuff might drive some web traffic, but so does David Icke."


Can Global De-Carbonization Inhibit Developing Country Industrialization?

This is the question raised in a recent World Bank Working paper. The answer has to be "yes" without reading the paper. The question is the magnitude.

The numbers from the abstract to not strike me as too far off for China and India. You can bet that the Chinese and Indian government's have already worked this out - this is exactly why Copenhagen is doomed to fail

Can Global De-Carbonization Inhibit Developing Country Industrialization?

Aaditya Mattoo
World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)
Arvind Subramanian
International Monetary Fund (IMF); Center for Global Development
Dominique Van der Mensbrugghe
World Bank
Jianwu He
affiliation not provided to SSRN

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5121

Most economic analyses of climate change have focused on the aggregate impact on countries of mitigation actions. The authors depart first in disaggregating the impact by sector, focusing particularly on manufacturing output and exports because of the potential growth consequences. Second, they decompose the impact of an agreement on emissions reductions into three components: the change in the price of carbon due to each country’s emission cuts per se; the further change in this price due to emissions tradability; and the changes due to any international transfers (private and public). Manufacturing output and exports in low carbon intensity countries such as Brazil are not adversely affected. In contrast, in high carbon intensity countries, such as China and India, even a modest agreement depresses manufacturing output by 6-7 percent and manufacturing exports by 9-11 percent. The increase in the carbon price induced by emissions tradability hurts manufacturing output most while the Dutch disease effects of transfers hurt exports most. If the growth costs of these structural changes are judged to be substantial, the current policy consensus, which favors emissions tradability (on efficiency grounds) supplemented with financial transfers (on equity grounds), needs re-consideration.

Keywords: Climate Change Mitigation and Green House Gases, Climate Change Economics, Environment and Energy Efficiency, Energy and Environment, Carbon Policy and Trading


"Peak Globalisation" and Peak Oil

A new paper by Fred Curtis in Ecological Economics introduces us to the term "Peak Globalisation". Always one who enjoys a new movement peak globalisation is right up my street.

I am not sure I believe this story but I expect I will need to read the paper to form a complete view. "Peak globalisation" could be a long way off especially is "peak oil" is a myth.

Peak globalization: Climate change, oil depletion and global trade

Department of Economics, Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940, United States


The global trade in goods depends upon reliable, inexpensive transportation of freight along complex and long-distance supply chains. Global warming and peak oil undermine globalization by their effects on both transportation costs and the reliable movement of freight. Countering the current geographic pattern of comparative advantage with higher transportation costs, climate change and peak oil will thus result in peak globalization, after which the volume of exports will decline as measured by ton-miles of freight. Policies designed to mitigate climate change and peak oil are very unlikely to change this result due to their late implementation, contradictory effects and insufficient magnitude. The implication is that supply chains will become shorter for most products and that production of goods will be located closer to where they are consumed.

Keywords: Climate change; Peak oil; Globalization; International trade; Supply chains


Friday, November 20, 2009

Rap on the knuckles for Copenhagen

From the inbox:

To demonstrate that "Globalisation and the Environment" is "down with the kids" here is a rap about climate change and Copenhagen.

It is vaguely amusing actually and certainly worth 5 minutes of ones short life.


Glaciers on the top of the world - hopes melting away

From the inbox:

A bit about the project:
“On Thinner Ice”: A new photography project provides undeniable proof of melting glaciers on the roof of the world.

Global warming is melting 18,000 Himalayan glaciers, the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar ice sheets. If the present rate of melting continues, many of these glaciers will be gone by the middle of this century, disrupting the perennial water supply to hundreds of millions of people. Explore this growing collection of glacier images from the “roof of the world”, made possible by mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, Founder and Project Leader of Glacier Research Imaging Project (GRIP).


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peak Oil - lights out even sooner than expected?

Peak Oil is a subject that is always fun to read about. Personally I am sceptical and have a belief that countries in the middle east are deliberately UNDERestimating the level of reserves to keep the price high.

Now the Guardian reports that reserves may actually be lower that we think the news of which could trigger further increases in price (and mass panic and collapsing stock markets).

Believe nothing.

Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower [Guardian]

The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.

The allegations raise serious questions about the accuracy of the organisation's latest World Energy Outlook on oil demand and supply to be published tomorrow – which is used by the British and many other governments to help guide their wider energy and climate change policies.

In particular they question the prediction in the last World Economic Outlook, believed to be repeated again this year, that oil production can be raised from its current level of 83m barrels a day to 105m barrels. External critics have frequently argued that this cannot be substantiated by firm evidence and say the world has already passed its peak in oil production.

Now the "peak oil" theory is gaining support at the heart of the global energy establishment. "The IEA in 2005 was predicting oil supplies could rise as high as 120m barrels a day by 2030 although it was forced to reduce this gradually to 116m and then 105m last year," said the IEA source, who was unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals inside the industry. "The 120m figure always was nonsense but even today's number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this.

"Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources," he added.

A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was "imperative not to anger the Americans" but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad," he added.

The IEA acknowledges the importance of its own figures, boasting on its website: "The IEA governments and industry from all across the globe have come to rely on the World Energy Outlook to provide a consistent basis on which they can formulate policies and design business plans."


Matt Simmons, a respected oil industry expert, has long questioned the decline rates and oil statistics provided by Saudi Arabia on its own fields. He has raised questions about whether peak oil is much closer than many have accepted.

A report by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) last month said worldwide production of conventionally extracted oil could "peak" and go into terminal decline before 2020 – but that the government was not facing up to the risk. Steve Sorrell, chief author of the report, said forecasts suggesting oil production will not peak before 2030 were "at best optimistic and at worst implausible".

But as far back as 2004 there have been people making similar warnings. Colin Campbell, a former executive with Total of France told a conference: "If the real [oil reserve] figures were to come out there would be panic on the stock markets … in the end that would suit no one."


Object graveyards - in pictures

Always a believer that a picture is worth a thousand words some of these "piles of rubbish" pictures show clearly tell us something about capitalism and society.

Exactly what is tells us is something to think about - answers welcome.

Object Graveyards: The Afterlife of Everyday Things [Webecoist]

The world is rife with ‘stuff’, and the simple fact is we’re producing new homes, vehicles, gadgets, gizmos and other designs faster than we can get rid of the old ones. Tires, airplanes, bicycles and cell phones don’t just magically disappear once they outlive their usefulness. Sometimes they’re gathered together and turn into recycled urban trash art, photographed as trash or stripped down and recycled, and sometimes they’re just left to sit and rot for decades on end. Much like abandoned buildings and cities, these places can haunt the collective memory. Here’s a look at the afterlife of everyday objects, piled into staggering mounds that resemble nothing more than cemeteries for stuff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Climate Volatility and Poverty

Climate change is not always about absolute increases in temperature.

An important element is the volatility in climate. This can do more damage that a simple increase. It is good to see this issue being addressed in a recent World Bank working paper looking at Tanzania.

My instinct is to believe the results of this paper.

Climate Volatility and Poverty Vulnerability in Tanzania

Syud Amer Ahmed
Noah S. Diffenbaugh
Stanford University
Thomas W. Hertel
Purdue University - Center for Global Trade Analysis
David B. Lobell
University of California - Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Navin Ramankutty
McGill University
Ana R. Rios
Pedram Rowhani
McGill University

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5117


Climate models generally indicate that climate volatility may rise in the future, severely affecting agricultural productivity through greater frequency of yield-diminishing climate extremes, such as droughts. For Tanzania, where agricultural production is sensitive to climate, changes in climate volatility could have significant implications for poverty. This study assesses the vulnerability of Tanzania's population to poverty to changes in climate variability between the late 20th century and early this century. Future climatescenarios with the largest increases in climate volatility are projected to make Tanzanians increasingly vulnerable to poverty through its impacts on the production of staple grains, with as many as 90,000 additional people, representing 0.26 percent of the population, entering poverty in the median case. Extreme poverty-increasing outcomes are also found to be greater in the future under certain climate scenarios. In the 20th century, the greatest predicted increase in poverty was equal to 880,000 people, while in the 21st century, the highest possible poverty increase was equal to 1.17 million people (approximately 3.4 percent of the population). The results suggest that the potential impacts of changes in climate volatility and climate extremes can be significant for poverty in Sub-Saharan African countries like Tanzania.

Keywords: Rural Poverty Reduction, Climate Change Mitigation and Green House Gases, Science of Climate Change, Regional Economic Development, Climate Change Economics


Monday, November 16, 2009

Chinese Pollution in picutres

Must view pictures.

Warning - these are not for the faint hearted.

Amazing Pictures, Pollution in China [China Hush]


No deal in Denmark

Followers of this blog will have known I have long predicted no deal in Copenhagen. This was hardly a left field prediction - it was simply never going to happen.

The gulf between developed and developing countries is simply too large and Obama already has enough on his plate. Even Obama running out of time was inevitable many months ago - so many wasted column inches.

A pointless few days is ahead of us.

Copenhagen climate talks: No deal, we're out of time, Obama warns [Guardian]

Obama acknowledged today that time had run out to secure a legally binding climate deal at the Copenhagen summit in December and threw his support behind plans to delay a formal pact until next year at the earliest.

During a hastily convened meeting in Singapore, the US president supported a Danish plan to salvage something from next month's meeting by aiming to make it a first-stage series of commitments rather than an all-encompassing protocol.

Postponing many contentious decisions on emissions targets, financing and technology transfer until the second-stage, leaders will instead try to reach a political agreement in Copenhagen that sends a strong message of intent.


How fast is "pollution" moving East?

Nicole Andréa Mathys and Jean-Marie Grether have a series of interesting papers using concepts from physics to look at the "centre" of different variables.

CO2 is the new target and not surprisingly the trend is a dramatic shift east.

Some great pictures and interesting reading. This is a good use of innovative techniques and google maps.

What is of primary interest is that CO2 emissions are moving eastwards MORE quickly than production volumes. The implications are potentially serious. For 10 points explain why these trends differ.

How fast is the World's Center of CO2 Emissions Moving Eastwards?

Nicole Andréa Mathys, University of Neuchâtel and Swiss Federal Office of Energy
Grether Jean-Marie


Borrowing from physics the concept of center of mass and applying it to the distribution of CO2 anthropogenic sources provided by the EDGAR data base, we can draw on the Earth’s surface the trajectory of the world’s pollution center of gravity over the 1970-2005 period. It is strongly heading to the East, and more so than GDP, which suggests that Asian production is getting more CO2 intensive than Western production.

Suggested Citation

Nicole Andréa Mathys and Grether Jean-Marie. 2009. "How fast is the World's Center of CO2 Emissions Moving Eastwards?" The Selected Works of Nicole Andréa Mathys
Available at:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The future of economics research?

An interesting (yet strangely depressing) prediction of the future of economics research from Marginal Revolution I am sure there is a silver lining somewhere but I can't quite pin it down yet.

Matthew Kahn does a good follow up HERE.

Two factors shaping the economics profession today [Marginal Revolution]

I see two significant long-term trends, both of which are probably unstoppable:

1. In percentage terms, fewer and fewer economists are Americans by birth and upbringing. Non-Americans are less likely to be fully fluent in English, which encourages mathematics. Non-Americans also tend to be less market-oriented in their thought. In any case they are less likely to stand along traditional U.S. ideological fault lines or even share ideological fault lines with each other.

2. Empirical work has a shorter half-life than does theory, at least on average. Yet most people today, including at top schools, do empirical work. There will be fewer giants and more middling-size figures of temporary import. If you tenure a top empirical economist, what does your department look like when he or she is 60? What percentage of these people are skilled enough, or care enough, to continue reinventing themselves? Maybe some top departments won't look so top in twenty years' time.

I believe also that the higher relative status of empirical work favors the status of women in the economics profession.

Field experiments have a longer half-life than regressions, precisely because they are so costly to redo.

The conclusion - I am going to move into Economic History.


Can 144 environmental economists be wrong?

The Institute for Policy Integrity recently released results on their survey of economists on climate change. I was invited on the back on a 2005 JEEM article I think.

I originally wrote a long post explaining why I would not participate because of what I perceived to be a set of fundamentally flawed questions. I removed this post at the request of the survey designers so as not to bias the results (if by some small chance any of the other invitees read this blog - a long shot).

The env-econ boys cover the story HERE. They are rightly skeptical without going into detail ;-)

Surprisingly they don't take the opportunity to bask in the glory of a citation in the report itself. Surely they read it right? Here it is. I think I actually did this one.

Second, some short, informal polls have been conducted, typically via
the internet. For example, John Whitehead and Tim Habb have hosted opinion polls on their Environmental Economics weblog. In a survey conducted June‐July 2009, Whitehead and Habb asked whether respondents would prefer a carbon tax or a cap‐and‐trade method (of 203 results, 55% preferred a tax, and 35% preferred capand‐trade). Their survey was e‐mailed out to 1,133 economists, and was also posted online (respondents were asked to identify themselves as economists).

Economists & Climate Change [PDF]

The report also includes a number of the points I raised:

Nevertheless, several respondents expressed concerns about the survey. The first concern was that the questions were too focused on the United States. As one economist who refused to participate put it, “you are not picking up the bigger picture” of the impacts of climate change on other economies. Several respondents argued that the questions were too simple to accurately capture the complexity of climate change or that specific questions could not be answered. When asked about the social cost of carbon, one respondent replied: “No one knows, including me.” These responses reflect the great deal of uncertainty regarding some of the issues considered in this survey. There was also concern that the wording of our questions was too conservative and would lead us to the false conclusion— based purely on “the way the questions are written”—that “economists say climate change is not a problem.” While we appreciate and acknowledge such concerns, we believe the results of our survey are valid and useful.

The bottom line is that I just don't believe the results - the huge variance in some of the results is evidence enough. However, the report makes for some interesting reading.

I could pick apart each question but will leave it to the reader to do so.


The Place of Nature in Economic Development

Another large paper to read. This article is overdue and is a must read (if I ever get time).

Here are the conclusions. I tend to agree with much of what is written here.

The Place of Nature in Economic Development [PDF]

In this paper I have reviewed what seems to me to be the most salient issues in ecological economics when the subject is applied to the field of economic development. My aim here has not been to be scholastic but to examine the lives of the world's poor so as to unearth the role of natural capital there. I will have succeeded if the account here of the processes that characterise human-nature interactions reads differently from the accounts in recent surveys of both
development economics and environmental and resource economics.

I began with the micro-foundations of rural institutions in poor regions and offered a picture of rural poverty in terms of household access to the local natural-resource base. The findings documented bring to date those I reported in Dasgupta (1993). This article is a natural extension of the earlier work and has advanced very much the same viewpoint as that did about the processes that shape world poverty.

The concept of sustainable development was explored in a macroeconomic setting and an empirical study was conducted on the character of economic development in the world's poorest regions in the last quarter of the previous century. Natural capital was for the most part seen as "private" goods, in the sense of not being jointly consumable. In the final section there was a discussion of global climate as a "public" good.

What can we conclude from our analysis? It seems to me the following should be noted:

(1) The socio-ecological processes that shape extreme poverty in the world's poor regions run at different speeds and operate at different spatial scales. Disasters occur frequently in the poor world, but unlike famines, civil wars, and hurricanes, their occurrence is localised and confined to small groups. That is why it is easy to overlook them.

(2) The externalities that the use of ecological capital gives rise to are not confined to market failure, they are expressions of institutional failure in its widest sense: failure at the international level, the level of the state, of communities, of households. The locus of failure depends, among other things, on the ecological capital in question. The cause of eutrophication of a village pond in
West Bengal is very different from the cause of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

(3) We should be circumspect about market-friendly solutions to environmental problems. Externality markets are inevitably thin, meaning that without a sympathetic involvement of the state, the elite would be expected to enjoy the spoils from ecological services.

(4) The protection and promotion of ecological capital is encouraged in systems where payment is made to owners for the ecological services provided by their capital assets. Whether payment for ecosystem services should be made by the beneficiaries or the state depends on the context.

(5) The persistence of rural poverty is tied both to the fragile state of the local natural-resource base and the rate of population growth. But the causality isn't unidirectional. Each variable would be endogenous in any model that speaks to human-nature interchanges.

(6) Both economic theory and empirical studies have shown that devolution of management powers over the local natural-resource base is, generally speaking, good for the environment and good for poverty alleviation. But as elsewhere in economics, mixed systems work best. Textbook states would ensure that the local elite don't take a disproportionate amount from the commons. Where the state is weak or corrupt, NGOs can play a major role in keeping the state at bay and the elite from enjoying the bulk of the services from nature.

(7) As a macroeconomic statistics of social well-being, GDP per capita is singularly bad. So is the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). Among other shortcomings, GDP per head and HDI ignore depreciation of capital. The deficiency can be alarming in the world we live in (Table 1).

(8) The statistic that moves in unison with social well-being (by the latter we mean an aggregate of the well-beings of the present and all future generations) is a comprehensive measure of wealth, which is the social worth of an economy's entire stock of capital assets, including not only reproducible capital, human capital, and knowledge and institutions, but also natural capital.

(9) Comprehensive wealth (or wealth for short) can be used both for evaluation exercises and for assessing whether development has been (or is forecast to be) sustainable.

(10) Although there are still only a few rigorous studies in social cost-benefit analysis of environmental projects, the message we should take away from them is that projects that protect and promote natural capital can be socially very profitable.

(11) The relative appeal of alternative policies toward mitigating or adapting to climate change is sensitive to the choice of social discount rates. As we still have little intuitive understanding of parameters reflecting ethical values, evaluation exercises should contain sensitivity analysis.

(12) Statistics (albeit very crude) suggest that in the final quarter of the twentieth century South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa experienced a decline in wealth per head, even though South Asia enjoyed positive growth in GDP per head and improvements in HDI, while sub-Saharan Africa enjoyed an improvement in HDI but experienced a small decline in GDP per head. The data suggest that China in contrast followed a path of sustainable development. It bears emphasis though that the empirical exercise involving Table 1 is so crude and incomplete that the Chinese
data misrepresent the situation there. Despite the caveats, the moral is that the macroeconomic history of nations looks very different when nature is included as a capital asset in economic activity.

(13) The problem of climate change as faced by poor countries can only be addressed at the collective level of nations. But case studies suggest that so far the environmental problems the rural poor face have been caused by institutional failure at the national and community levels. The composition of commodity demands from rich countries can certainly veer poor countries toward unsustainable resource use. But poor countries usually have choices. Moreover, there is enough inefficiency in poor countries to enable governments there to identify policies that both protect
and promote natural capital and alleviate poverty. The idea that the poor world can enjoy sustainable development only when there are significant improvement in the international economic architecture is belied by evidence on village life in poor countries.

The overarching moral that emerges from the studies I have presented here may appear banal, but is salutary:
Development policies that ignore our reliance on ecological capital are seriously harmful - they don't pass the mildest test for equity among contemporaries, nor among people separated by time and uncertain contingencies.

Tibetan Plateau hopes are melting away

After a recent trip to China and crossing some very large rivers on route it is hard to imagine the potential problems that melting glaciers are storing up.

The Tibetan Plateau problems include flooding,water shortages and desertification. More economics research is needed in this area.

This post from the imaginatively named "Self Destructive B******s" is a good place to start along with the wiki link.

This article is one reason why it is countries such as China that will be hardest hit from the effects of climate change so do not underestimate China's will to get this signed.

The Tibetan Plateau [Self Destructive B******s]

The Tibetan Plateau is a large elevated plateau in Asia, most of which is located in China. It has an average elevation of 4.5 kilometres and has a total area of 2.5 million square kilometres (four times the size of Texas), giving rise to the nickname "The roof of the world". It is the third largest frozen store of freshwater in the world, and is the source for 10 major rivers in Asia. Almost half (47 percent) of the world's population depends on rivers that originate here. Unfortunately, according to a 2007 IPCC report, the ice in these glaciers is melting faster than anywhere else in the world.

Here is the China relevant wording:

China has the world's largest population, with roughly 1.3 billion people, and has often had difficulty trying to feed its people. Over a quarter of China's land is desert, and the country is suffering from increasing desertification. Currently, about 2500 square kilometres are being converted to desert every year, and the rate has been rapidly increasing over the past decades. This has also led to an increase in dust storms, which prevent travel by blocking roads and railways, and cause significant casualties. Around 50 years ago, these occurred only every eight years or so, but now happen annually.

In addition to desertification, which obviously limits where crops can be grown, many existing rivers in China have become unusable because of pollution, and other rivers have begun to run dry. China has a great need for freshwater, and these problems, along with a growing population, are just making this need more acute. In order to meet their demand, China has been building dams and redirecting water from the Tibetan Plateau, and has plans to increase this activity.

Clearly it is too late to stop the melting - how to manage the fallout is what needs to be worked on.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Climate Change Negotiations Summer School

Apologies for the lack of posts - I have been at the heart of the globalisation and environment debate spending over a week in 3 of China's largest cities - Beijing, Tianjin and Wuhan.

The sheer scale of these cities is something to behold.

I could not blog however as this blog is still "blocked". Internet censorship is a shame.

For PhD students working on climate change economics or political economy dimensions of climate change the FEEM summer school is one not to miss.

There are some excellent speakers covering many different aspects of the academic debate.

EAERE-FEEM-VIU European Summer School in Resource and Environmental Economics
Climate Change Negotiations

Venice, July 4th - 10th, 2010

Deadline for applications: February 1st, 2010

The European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE), the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM) and the Venice International University (VIU) are pleased to announce their annual European Summer School in Resource and Environmental Economics for postgraduate students.
The 2010 Summer School will take place from the 4th to the 10th of July, at the VIU campus on the Island of San Servolo, in Venice, located just in front of St. Mark’s Square. The theme of this Summer School is Climate Change Negotiations.

Pollution does not respect political boundaries. Classic examples of transboundary pollution include acid deposition, climate change, pollution of the North Sea or the Black Sea, and damage to the stratospheric ozone layer. Transboundary pollution can have regional effects on local ecosystems (e.g., acid deposition in a particular country) or worldwide impacts on global public goods (e.g., biodiversity loss due to climate change). Countries should work together to address these pollution problems – the responsibility for reducing the risks to local or global goods should be shared among the nations that benefit from the reduction. While countries do have a common interest to protect themselves, they may or may not be individually interested in abating pollution voluntarily at a socially optimal level. A country may thus free ride off the abatement efforts of other nations, because no one country can be prevented from enjoying the benefits of pollution risk reduction, regardless of whether or not it contributed to the abatement effort.
The purpose of the Summer School is to investigate some of the key issues emerging from the economic analysis of transboundary pollution, global public good problems, and environmental conflict. The focus will be on climate change as an important example of a worldwide environmental problem requiring global solutions.
The School will be divided in two parts. The first part will be devoted to the theoretical models on international environmental agreements based on game theory. The review of the basic models will be extended to include dynamic models and the analysis of uncertainty on the scope of cooperation. The second part will focus on some of the climate-economy integrated assessment models elaborated to evaluate the effects of different climate policies.


Santiago Rubio, University of Valencia, Spain – School Coordinator
Dynamic models of international environmental agreements: a differential game approach.

Scott Barrett, Columbia University, USA.
Climate treaties.

Carlo Carraro, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, Italy Climate policy after 2012. Timing, technology, expectations and coalitions.

Rob Dellink, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Drivers of stability of climate coalitions: simulations with the STACO model

Michael Finus, University of Exeter Business School, UK
Coalition formation under uncertainty and risk: the success of international environmental agreements

Andreas Lange, University of Maryland, USA
Equity preferences and the formation of coalitions to provide public goods - experimental evidence from the lab.


The Summer School is targeted to postgraduate students. Admission is conditional on the presentation by each student of his/her doctoral work; therefore PhD students who want to apply normally need to be advanced in their PhD to have produced at least one substantive chapter, but not to have completely finished their thesis.
Application is restricted to 2010 EAERE members, both European and non European citizens. Given the highly interactive activities planned at the Summer School, the number of participants is limited to 20.
There is no participation fee. All applicants can apply for a scholarship.
For further information on application and funding please access the Summer School Website at or contact the Summer School Secretariat.

Summer School Secretariat
Ms. Maria Pivotti
Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei