Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pollution's toll on our waterways

While it's no news to Marylanders, for whom the state of the Chesapeake can be a bit of an obsession, more and more parts of the country are starting to wake up to the damages of agricultural runoff. This article focuses on algae, which makes it seem like a simple problem of too much slime, but the consequences are severe. More dramatic is the term "dead zones," a direct result of algae sucking the dissolved oxygen out of water and creating an area in which aquatic life cannot persist. Almost as bad are the problems created when algae blocking out the sunlight prevents subaquatic vegetation from getting the resource they need to thrive. With no SAV, an important ecosystem is gone, leaving crabs and juvenile fish no place to hide.

If you aren't aware of the damage that fertilizer can do, please take a quick look!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Responding to climate change in the best way possible

Economists are interested in finding the optimal solution: how to maximize social welfare.

In the case of climate change, what that boils down to is limiting activities that wastefully emit carbon. If burning coal will save someone's life, I'm for burning coal, even if it leads to worsened climate change. And to be honest if burning coal will help build a car that will save me a lot of time, I'm probably for that too.

One way to get to that optimal point is to put a price on carbon emissions: a price that would then be included in life-saving treatments or the price of that time-saving vehicle. So how do we find the right price? If we set it right we will block the "wasteful" uses, but allow the important uses. See Prof. Max Auffhammer's short video for more on prices and on the social price of carbon. Hint: what's the answer to life, the universe, and everything?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fruit, pesticides, and fertility

Study out yesterday showing that pesticides on fruits are linked to decreased fertility in women. While I'm guessing that the risks don't outweigh the benefits of eating fruit in general, people hoping to become pregnant may want to be careful... of yet one more thing.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Air Pollution Externalities

All of London is suffering from low air quality. The damage to children is particularly acute. Yes, the problem is hard to solve because both the cause and the damage are diffuse, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't act!

***Update: I was going to make this a separate post, but it's too similar to this one! 1 in 6 deaths in 2015 is linked to pollution, and most of them to air pollution. That's crazy! That's three times more than AIDS, TB, and malaria combined.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tolls and traffic

Nice example of the impacts of tolls in British Columbia, where the removal of a toll increased traffic by 24%. The elasticity homework problems almost write themselves!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Land conservation

A land conservation game? It must show the tradeoffs between limiting development and preserving land? Hopefully I'll remember to try to get it before I teach Resources again!

Monday, August 21, 2017

GMOs, farming, and suicide

Activist Vandana Shiva, a Ph.D. with a strong voice that has risen to the defense of India and Indian farmers in particular for decades, has long blamed GMOs for increases in farmer suicides. For example, on her page she writes, "300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, trapped in vicious cycles of debt and crop failures, 84% of these suicides are attributed directly to Monsanto’s Bt cotton."

While GMOs have problems, mostly associated with the extent to which they support modern industrial monocropping-based agriculture, this doesn't seem to be a fair criticism. Keith Kloor takes the position down quite thoroughly here, starting from the numbers themselves and looking into their basis. Another study, recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health (and summarized here, since the original paper is behind a pay wall) finds no evidence to support the claim.

Farmers around the world can be at higher risk for suicide, in part because of "the nature of their work, which can be isolating, financially precarious, and physically demanding." The world needs farmers! Perhaps the key is to provide more support for their mental health rather than attacking some of the technologies they use.