Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The "Bhudda Mushroom"

I apologise for this post but some paper titles prove irrestible to me. As someone who spends hours on each paper title this appeals to me on many levels although I am not sure why.

The paper is also interesting from an environmental economics perspective.

The Buddha mushroom: Conservation behavior and the development of institutions in Bhutanstar

Jeremy S. Brooks

a Graduate Group in Ecology, University of California at Davis, Davis CA 95616, United States

Abstract

Common pool resource management institutions can be an effective means by which communities can regulate resource use. While we are gaining a greater understanding of the characteristics that are associated with successful institutions, we know less about why and how such institutions emerge and what role individual behaviors play in this process. The bottom-up emergence of institutions may depend on the patterns of heterogeneity in the cooperative behaviors of individual resource users. Likewise, the emerging institutions serve to constrain subsequent resource collection behaviors and alter those patterns. Because institutions both emerge from, and alter, the behaviors of individual resource users, it is useful to view the relationship between the two levels from a coevolutionary perspective. Here, I focus on the motivations for the adoption of conservation behavior and discuss how these behaviors can impact emerging institutions. This study is based on the harvest of a newly utilized, commercially valuable mushroom in two communities (geogs) in Bhutan. I examined which collectors exhibited each of two cooperative conservation behaviors, willingness to reduce one's harvest and punishment of non-compliant harvesting techniques and determined the traits associated with these behaviors. Using logistic regression I found that predictors from each of four domains, namely, economic factors, attitudes/values, knowledge/perceptions of resource scarcity, and social capital, are important for fostering conservation behavior. Other regarding values, high and low levels of wealth, perceptions of resource scarcity, and education are positively associated with a willingness to reduce ones harvest. Selfish values, high and low levels of wealth, and low levels of trust are associated with punishment. Changes in these individual characteristics may affect the frequency of cooperative acts and subsequently influence the success of the emerging institutions. As such, identifying the traits associated with the behaviors exhibited by individuals is an important step in understanding the dynamics of institutional evolution. Because this study captures perceptions and behaviors in the early stages of the harvest it can be used as the baseline for a longitudinal study exploring the coevolutionary dynamics between individual level behaviors and community level resource management institutions.

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Economists, time to team up with the ecologists!

Note the exclamation mark at the end of this new "lead" commentary from Ecological Economics. I suspect that Hilde Karine has a point but most economists still shy away from the word "interdisciplinary" as it tends to be associated with "low quality" (rightly or wrongly).

I am entering the new brave world of interdisciplinary research. Career suicide or stroke of genius? I will keep you updated.

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Economists, time to team up with the ecologists!

Hilde Karine

Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Box 5003, 1432 ├ůs, Norway

Abstract

Bioeconomic modeling is an increasingly relevant meeting arena for economists and ecologists. A majority of the growing literature, however, is written by economists alone and not with ecologists in true interdisciplinary teamwork. Physical distance between research institutions is no longer a reasonable justification, and I argue that, in practice, neither do the more fundamental philosophical oppositions present any real hindrance to teamwork. I summarize these oppositions in order of increasing magnitude as: 1) the axiom, held by many ecologists, of ‘irreducible complexity of ecosystem functioning’, which is avoided simply because the ecological ‘whole’ (as opposed to its ‘parts’) is not an element of most realistic modeling scenarios; 2) the axiom, also held by many ecologists, of ‘the precautionary principle’, which mainly surfaces at the applied end of natural resource management, and thereby should not prevent economists and ecologists from jointly building the models necessary for the final decision making; and 3) the economists' axiom of ‘the tradability principle’, which is harder to overcome as it demands value-based practical compromises from both parties. Even this may be solved, however, provided the economists accept non-marketable components in the model (e.g. by using restriction terms based on ecology), and the ecologists accept a final model output measured in terms of monetary value. The easiest candidates for interdisciplinary teamwork in bioeconomics are therefore researchers who acknowledge ethical relativism. As bioeconomics presently functions mainly as an arena for economists, I say the responsibility for initiating interdisciplinary teamwork rests most heavily on their shoulders.

Keywords: Ecological economics; Intrinsic; Nature; Management; Philosophy; Wildlife

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Himalayan glaciers thrown into the climate chance melting pot

Are the Himalayan glaciers melting or not and even if they are how quickly are they likely to disappear?

The IPCC is getting some heat from the British right wing press.

It looks bad though. Surely the IPCC would not be so naive?

World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown [Times]

A WARNING that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it.

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC's 2007 report.

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.


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However, glaciologists find such figures inherently ludicrous, pointing out that most Himalayan glaciers are hundreds of feet thick and could not melt fast enough to vanish by 2035 unless there was a huge global temperature rise. The maximum rate of decline in thickness seen in glaciers at the moment is 2-3 feet a year and most are far lower.


Professor Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, said: "Even a small glacier such as the Dokriani glacier is up to 120 metres [394ft] thick. A big one would be several hundred metres thick and tens of kilometres long. The average is 300 metres thick so to melt one even at 5 metres a year would take 60 years. That is a lot faster than anything we are seeing now so the idea of losing it all by 2035 is unrealistically high.”


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Thursday, January 14, 2010

New year "global warming" cheer

Even by economists standards this 1 minute video is on the bleak side. Think failure at Copenhagen when watching. Imagine the politicians sitting around arguing for the interests of their own country to the detriment of the planet. Good luck.



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The Story of Stuff

This is a simple but effective. Takes the material balance model and adds extra greenness - some interesting points raised.

Good for all school children and some academics.



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Monday, January 11, 2010

China achieved Copenhagen targets

Following on from the "China is evil" and sabbotaged Copenhangen:

Did China kill hope and the planet at Copenhagen?[China Economics Blog]

Copenhagen was never going to up with a decent environmental agreement. The result is better than nothing but only just. Are China really the bad guys in all this?

The left leaning Guardian puts the boot in. It is a surprise that they think it is a surprise that China would act in this way.

China are flexing their muscles and toughing it out - they can afford to do so without voters and upcoming elections. China's stance has internal and external logic. China will cut emissions and they will probably do a lot better then the West at hitting them but will do so on their own terms.

At least the Guardian accepts Copenhagen was a disaster. It always was. If you read previous posts on this blog such a disaster was inevitable. Can I provide a solution? No.


not surprisingly comes news that China are pretty happy with the result from Copenhagen.

China Says Achieved Goal In Copenhagen Climate Deal [PlanetArk]

BEIJING - Chinese negotiators achieved their goal at Copenhagen climate talks in ensuring financial aid for developing nations was not linked to external reviews of China's environmental plans, its top climate envoy said on Saturday.

Britain, Sweden and other countries have accused China of obstructing the climate summit, which ended last month with a non-binding accord that set a target of limiting global warming to a maximum 2 degrees Celsius but was scant on details.

China would never accept outside checks of its plans to slow greenhouse gas emissions and could only make a promise of "increasing transparency," Xie Zhenhua, deputy head of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, said at a forum.

Developed nations' promise of $100 billion in financial aid by 2020 to help poorer countries adapt to climate change offered a good stepping stone for negotiations, he said.

"Next time, we can talk about when will they pay the money and how much each country will pay," he said.

Xie also said that China was well on track to meeting its goal of cutting energy intensity -- or the amount of energy consumed to produce each dollar of national income -- by 20 percent over the five years through 2010.

It had already made a 16 percent cut as of the end of last year, he said.

"As long as we continue to make efforts, we are likely to achieve the targeted 20 percent cut this year," he said.

Xie added that China was drafting tough guidelines for reducing the carbon intensity of its growth in its next five-year plan for economic development, which will cover the 2011-2015 period.

China has pledged to cut the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each unit of economic growth by 40-45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels.


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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Climate change hits poor countries more than rich

The chaps over at EnvEcon have covered this AEA press release and has been covered in the Wall Street Journal.

The question raised is whether climate change discriminates against the poor? Now if I was to ask my class of undergraduates to vote I would hope that the vast majority would say yes. Of course the poor will be hardest hit. I was frankly be astonished if the results found anything else.

What did the authors expect to find? This is the dilemma that China and India face as I have blogged about many times. It is the poor countries that need a deal at Copenhagen but they are not, at this time, prepared to sacrifice growth for the environment. Down the line the cost-benefit analysis will be reversed and only then will be make significant progress.

Apart from this obvious point I remain unconvinced by the analysis in this paper although the approach is interesting.

Climate Change May Increase Income Inequality [WSJ]

It’s still hard to say whether a warming climate will hurt the world’s economy. But if history is any guide, it’s likely to increase the gap between rich and poor.

In a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, Ben Olken of MIT and Ben Jones of Northwestern University make an important discovery: In poor countries, a temperature increase of only one degree Celsius reduces annual export growth by as much as 5.7 percentage points. The decline occurs in a wide variety of products, ranging from footwear to firearms. In rich countries, by contrast, Messrs. Olken and Jones find no effect.

That’s troubling, given the fact that scientists expect the global climate to warm by two to five degrees Celsius over the next 90 years. “To the extent that the historical impact is a reasonable predictor of the future impact, we should be particularly concerned about the effect of warming on poor countries,” says Mr. Olken.

The new results support previous research done by Messrs. Olken and Jones together with Melissa Dell of MIT. That research found that in poor countries, a one-degree-Celsius temperature rise was associated with a drop in annual economic growth of one to two percentage points. Again, they found no effect in rich countries.

Why poor countries? Mr. Olken says it’s hard to know. One possibility is that poor countries are more vulnerable because they’re more dependent on agriculture, though the export data suggest that’s not the whole story. Another is that poorer countries have less access to air conditioning. Finding an explanation is “an important area for further research,” says Mr. Olken.


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Debunking

The Daily Kos recently did a debunking piece. Some good links included.

Climate Change Reality: Debunking Deniers' Drivel [Daily Kos]

Ideologically shaped skeptics on climate change – the deniers – have a goal: Avoiding regulation of the fossil fuel industry by attacking global warming as a myth based on lies that climate science is invalid. The liars' misinformation campaign to decrease public support for climate change legislation and a treaty has been successful. During the past 18 months alone, deniers have sufficiently confused the public resulting in decreased support for the belief in global warming, as shown by two recent polls in October and November.

We need to nix now what deniers hope will be a downward trend ...with a few facts that debunk their dribble.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

"Glocalization"

For some strange reason I like to document new "econspeak" words and this is a modern classic (of course it is probably not new to those better read).

Luckily the source of this website explains its derivation (just in case you haven't worked it out yet).

IMO this small example explains the difference between academics in Economics departments and those in Business Schools.

Reverse Innovation: Made in China - For China [China Observer]

“Glocalization” vs. “Reverse Innovation”

Glocalization is a combination of “globalization” and “localization” and is the traditional approach adopted by multinationals. Initially for US companies “going global” meant developing products in the US and localizing them for European and Japanese markets where local consumers have similar purchasing power. Govindarajan argues that the consumer markets of emerging economies like China and India are fundamentally different from those of developed countries. He questions “How can you take a product that was originally designed for a US consumer with a median income of $50,000 and profitably adapt it for a middle-class consumer in China whose earnings are significantly less?”

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How bad would a Nuclear War be for the climate?

I like these verging on pointless questions. But hold on, what about a small regional war involving just one or two nukes (and millions of dead obviously). The answer is CO2 emissions equivalent to the UK's annual output of 690m tonnes. Is that a lot or a little relative to your expectations before reading that number?

The Guardian investigates and does the usual hack job on an academic paper by Mark Jobobson at Stanford - not an economist note. How did I miss the gem of an article?

The final paragraph is spot on though - you need an economist to do a proper job on this topic. If 17m are killed this obviously has serious economic implications that need to be taken into account.

The carbon footprint of nuclear war [Guardian]

Just when you might have thought it was ethically sound to unleash a nuclear attack on a nearby city, along comes a pesky scientist and points out that atomic warfare is bad for the climate. According to a new paper in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, even a very limited nuclear exchange, using just a thousandth of the weaponry of a full-scale nuclear war, would cause up to 690m tonnes of CO2 to enter the atmosphere – more than UK's annual total.

The upside (kind of) is that the conflict would also generate as much as 313m tonnes of soot. This would stop a great deal of sunlight reaching the earth, creating a significant regional cooling effect in the short and medium terms – just like when a major volcano erupts. Ultimately, though, the CO2 would win out and crank up global temperatures an extra few notches.

The paper's author, Mark Z Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, calculated the emissions of such a conflict by totting up the burn rate and carbon content of the fabric of our cities. "Materials have the following carbon contents: plastics, 38–92%; tyres and other rubbers, 59–91%; synthetic fibres, 63–86%; woody biomass, 41–45%; charcoal, 71%; asphalt, 80%; steel, 0.05–2%. We approximate roughly the carbon content of all combustible material in a city as 40–60%."

But why would a Stanford engineer bother calculating such a thing? Given that the nuclear exchange would also kill up to 17 million people, who's going to be thinking about the impact on global warming?

The purpose of the paper is to compare the total human and environmental costs of a wide range of different power sources, from solar and wind to nuclear and biofuels. One of the side-effects of nuclear power, the report argues, is an increased risk of nuclear war: "Because the production of nuclear weapons material is occurring only in countries that have developed civilian nuclear energy programs, the risk of a limited nuclear exchange between countries or the detonation of a nuclear device by terrorists has increased due to the dissemination of nuclear energy facilities worldwide."

"As such," Jacobson continues, "it is a valid exercise to estimate the potential number of immediate deaths and carbon emissions due to the burning of buildings and infrastructure associated with the proliferation of nuclear energy facilities and the resulting proliferation of nuclear weapons … Although concern at the time of an explosion will be the deaths and not carbon emissions, policy makers today must weigh all the potential future risks of mortality and carbon emissions when comparing energy sources."

I'm not a huge fan of nuclear energy, and I agree that a large roll-out of atomic power must on some level increase the likelihood of nuclear terrorism or war. However, it does strike me as faintly absurd to try and quantify this risk – particularly the way Jacobson does it. Here's how he crunches the numbers:

"If one nuclear exchange as described above occurs over the next 30 years, the net carbon emissions due to nuclear weapons proliferation caused by the expansion of nuclear energy worldwide would be 1.1–4.1g CO2 per kWh, where the energy generation assumed is the annual 2005 generation for nuclear power multiplied by the number of year being considered."

In other words, if nuclear power leads one exchange of fifty 15 kilotonne nuclear devices over 30 years, then that equates to 4.1 grams of extra CO2 for each kilowatt of nuclear energy produced. Why, you might ask, has Jacobson chosen one exchange, 50 nuclear war heads and 30 years? Good question. Those figures, as far as I can tell, are entirely arbitrary, and as such I'm rather surprised that the Royal Society for Chemistry are prepared to publish them in their journal.

Putting those doubts to one side for a moment, it's interesting to note that nuclear looks very bad in the report even if you ignore the warfare component of the carbon footprint. Far more serious (by a factor of 15 to 25) is nuclear's opportunity cost: the emissions savings lost during the decades of planning and building of each nuclear station. Once again, however, there's no explanation about how these figures are calculated, so it's hard to know whether they're valid.

Either way, nuclear doesn't come out as badly as first- or second-generation biofuels. These, the author remarks, are "ranked lowest overall and with respect to climate, air pollution, land use, wildlife damage, and chemical waste," and may actually "worsen climate and air pollution" relative to fossil fuels. Carbon capture and storage also gets a thumbs down. By contrast, wind, solar and marine energy score well on the wide-ranging criteria, which include carbon emissions, land demands and even thermal pollution.

As the first study to compare energy sources in so many different ways, the report is both interesting and welcome. Unfortunately, it's unlikely to make much of an impact – not just because there's no mention of the economics of each energy source, but because the half-baked quantification of nuclear war's climate impact makes the whole study seem somewhat unconvincing.


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