Saturday, February 10, 2018

Cheaper food to help the poor? Think again

One of the few places where the Cato Institute and I agree! Cheaper food creates problems with obesity. Cheaper fuel exacerbates problems with pollution. Some of great paragraphs from the Economist:

Whereas greener countries slap hefty taxes on petrol and diesel, Egypt does the opposite. Motorists pay only 59% of what it costs to fill their cars. Since driving is cheap, more people do it, aggravating congestion and making urban air eye-wateringly foul. The World Bank estimates that traffic jams in Cairo alone cost Egypt 3.6% of GDP. Egyptian cities are the fifth dirtiest in the world, says the World Health Organisation. And since the truly poor cannot afford cars, most petrol subsidies are captured by the better-off. The top 20% of urbanites receive eight times as much as the bottom fifth.

Similarly, bread subsidies are a waste of dough. Egyptians buy up to five loaves a day for a tenth of their cost. The state also subsidises sugar, cooking oil and other calorific staples. This is one reason why Egypt has one of the world’s highest rates of adult obesity. And despite the introduction of smart cards to limit how much subsidised food an individual can take, the subsidies are often stolen.

[I]if all food and energy subsidies were stopped and half of the savings used to pay for cash transfers to the poorest 60% of households, each of those households would receive $622 a year, more than doubling incomes for the bottom 25%.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Eat Mor Chikn

I never would have guessed that I'd be quoting Chick-Fil-A- I've never been there and most likely never will go- but their ads kind of sum up some recent research. Popular wisdom had long held that fish are the most efficient type of animal to raise. For one thing, unlike large animals such as cows and pigs, fish don't have a lot of bones: a larger share of their body mass is muscle, so a larger share of food you give a fish to make it grow turns into meat. However, this paper argues that chicken is more efficient than shrimp or fish aquaculture at turning feed into meat. One reason is that the stuff we give fish has to already be more nutritious: cattle turn grass, for example, into meat, and grass doesn't have a lot of protein in it. On the other hand basically what we feed fish and shrimp is other fish. That makes the whole process less efficient.

Note that no one is measuring any of the externalities of the production process or anything else so this is far from a final word, but it's definitely an important contribution. Feeding fish to fish never seemed like a good idea, but now there's evidence backing it up!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Junk food

Moving from direct environmental issues to the one-step-removed topic of food, I'm fascinated by this article on junk food from Vox. Did you know that 75% of adolescents in the US get more than half of their calories from junk food?! Even though that taxing something bad like junk food seems like a good idea, David Just, who graduated from the same program I did, and Marc Bellemare, a co-author of Towson's Seth Gitter, have some interesting thoughts on problems with the junk food tax. They point to the political problems associated with getting a tax passed and the American addiction to convenience as obstacles. Also, our current food system would need to do better at producing more, cheaper food that isn't as bad for you.

Lots of complicated factors!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dorchester County: Rising Chesapeake Tides

Gorgeous short 15 minute movie that also packs a wallop of a message. Times are really changing for the eastern shore: if we don't act, tens of billions of dollars of real estate will be under water this century. Take a look at the beautiful photography they use to tell the story....

Friday, January 19, 2018

Quiz time!

How much do you know about how land is used worldwide?

Put numbers in each of the following boxes. The total should add up to 100%.

Cropland:   %
Livestock, including pastures plus land used to grow feed crops:  %
Forests:  %
Shrub land (small woody vegetation):  %
Barren land (deserts):  %
Glaciers:   %
Freshwater:  %
Built area (cities):  %

Answers here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

No cars for you

The good news in American car manufacturing is that many manufacturers are jumping into the electric sector. Unfortunately, there's bad news too: they're basically abandoning the car sector for the SUV market. For a long time the latter have been more profitable, and with low gas prices likely to stick around for awhile, consumer trends are likely to stay with the more bulky vehicles. Sure, Honda and Toyota will continue to crank out their crowd-pleasing Accords and Camrys, but US producers seem likely to back out of the market soon.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cape town: the city without water

Capetown, South Africa averages about 31 inches of rainfall per year, not that far from Baltimore's 42 inches per year, but a severe drought and recent city expansion is bringing a real crisis to the fore. The city is literally about to run out of water: their supply is currently set to expire on April 22nd. How will they respond? Well, by raising the price of water. Since charging people for an essential good can be seen as evil, the price will be paid in time: people will have to go stand in line with buckets or whatever to get their daily ration of water.

Fortunately it's not that bad yet, but this is looking like another low year for rainfall on the US West Coast as well. Many places are at very low percentiles for the amount of water that has fallen so far this "Water year" (October-September), including central California where percentiles are in the single digits. As I recall, last year wasn't bad, bringing to end a 5 year drought, but one good year doesn't solve every problem....

1/24 UPDATE: more information from Nature. The day they run out of water- Day Zero- has moved closer, to April 12th. Impacts range from a devastating loss of agriculture to an inability to host tourists to an inability to do medical studies because the staff needed to do the work will be forced to spend hours in line waiting to get their daily ration of water. As one scientist quoted in the article says, "This is very, very serious."