Sunday, October 30, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
While his cavalier attitude toward CO2 emissions seems misplaced, he's pointing to a lot of very real recent developments. The market is indeed moving this way, and effective planning needs to accept these realities.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
If that's the cost of maintaining and improving our infrastructure, I don't see much of an alternative: better to pay now and not when there's a bridge collapse. We used to get a good-sized chunk of money from the Federal Government, but that's drying up and we have some serious needs that even this package may not address. The "Purple Line" in the DC area is on us here in Maryland, and that looks to be a few billion dollars, which is in fact far more than this new fee would raise.
Stuff is expensive!
Of course, everything has its costs, and another one may be just becoming apparent. A virus that became common in Atlantic salmon aquaculture may have migrated to the Pacific. That would be bad.
I'm otherwise in favor of aquaculture, though: people need protein, and particularly if fish can fed on grains (see this previous post) then it could potentially be pretty important, particularly in places like southeast Asia which rely on fishing. As always, trying to recognize the costs and maximize the net benefits, and the costs just went up a bit.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Myth #1: Organic farmers don't use pesticides. Most do, in fact, use pesticides: they just are only allowed to use "natural" pesticides, which may be just as nasty.
Myth #2: Organics are healthier. Conventional crops have more nitrogen while organic crops have more phosphorus and acidity, but nutrient content is identical.
Myth #3: Organics are better for the environment. I personally never believed the health claims, but I thought the environment was where the benefits were. The author grants that using fewer synthetic pesticides is a good thing, for sure. However, she argues 1) that by blasting plants with Bt and other "organic" pesticides, organic producers are still dumping nasty stuff into the environment; 2) that ignoring GMO's means we end up using more pesticides and other resources in the long run, and 3) organics are 20% less productive, yielding less per acre than conventional crops, so buying organics means voting to dedicated more land to agriculture instead of leaving it wild.
Myth #4: It's all or none. She notes that both organic and conventional farmers have positives, and that open-minded environmentalists will work toward improving both.
For a (non-specific) response, I went over to nutritionists Marion Nestle's web page, where she has a FAQ that addresses the issue. She says only that her personal investigations conclude that the USDA Organic label is a good thing to look for. "When you choose organics, you are voting with your fork for a planet with fewer pesticides, richer soil, and cleaner water supplies—all better in the long run." I think the author of the first piece would agree for the most part, but more information is definitely useful.
Monday, October 24, 2011
- They rightly note that the market solution to pollution isn't to try to pick winners, a process that failed with Solyndra. However, the second half of that equation is that the "right" answer according to these criteria is to impose a carbon tax, since incentives matter and the goal of decreasing pollution is more important than the means we use to get there.
- The EPA is over-funded? Hm. No doubt some portions of that bureaucracy could be streamlined, but this article says that their worst work has benefit to cost ratios of 10:1. (h/t Environmental Economics) Sounds like these two commentators need to have a powwow. I'm sure both agree that in the end what matters most is growth in the economy- nothing's better for the environment than a recession. What matters second most is the private sector's implementation of better technology, and that's usually encouraged via... taxes and/ or subsidies. Could there be a theme here?
- I fully support the conservatives on the costs of water and tradable fishing shares. People should face the true costs of their actions and should benefit when they do the right thing, like cutting back on fishing.
- On air quality, this conservative site supports cap and trade. I don't know why more people don't.
Taxes, by raising prices, discourage consumption, it's true, but you know what? Consumption makes a difference for producers, too: if they aren't selling anything, profits go down. That's hitting corporations where it matters most.
***This is the first blog entry for quiz #4. You don't need it for quiz 3.***
Friday, October 21, 2011
So with all of these benefits and savings why are the majority of U.S. utility markets regulated and monopolized? There are a few potential draw backs to a competitive market. Other than certain companies losing their power of monopoly the biggest factor is the direction that the market would go. As renewable energy becomes more reliable and efficient the cost will decrease. In the meantime it is still a very expensive energy to invest in. New companies that are rising in the renewable energy field require a large input of private capital. Government subsidies help to enable and encourage these companies to continue. If these subsidies were lost or decreased the market for renewable energy would take a large hit and slow the growth of the sector significantly. If this happens many companies in a free market would still strive to provide the cheapest energy source, and that resource would not be renewable in the case of a loss of government subsidies. Without the subsidies many companies take gracious financial offers from other countries such as China to relocate in an effort to attract more clean energy. If the budget is revised or changed and there is a loss of funds for subsidies not only will the private companies have wasted significant amounts of money, management time, and focus, the market could also take a fall back into non-renewable energy.
With that in mind does the U.S. stand to benefit from a competitive utility market with the current economy, or would that drive the country further into a reliance on coal and oil, and distrust of renewable energies.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
"Two basic issues must be addressed if water quality goals are to be achieved. First, the regional nutrient budget is out of balance: more nutrients, primarily in the form of animal feed, are being brought into the watershed than can be assimilated, in the form of manure, by the crops grown. Second, not enough farmers are using the most effective—best—nutrient management practices. The persistence of these problems is not entirely due to a lack of resources. In the Bay, as elsewhere in the United States, water quality protection in agriculture has largely been pursued through voluntary strategies, supported by government financial and technical assistance. Only recently have large animal intensive enterprises been subjected to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements..."
"For a voluntary program to be efficient, it must enroll farmers who can provide abatement at least cost. Current USDA cost-share programs are not designed to do this."
The tremendous drops in solar panel prices have been a wind at the back of those who would increase solar energy's share of the energy market, but they may prove to be short-lived. If this suit goes through, prices will surely rise, helping those companies who produce solar panels in this country but hurting consumers in the short run. In the long run, prices should still drop, but not as quickly. Sorry, solar panel installers, consumers, and solar energy advocates!
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
- Higher rates of malnutrition, as agriculture struggles to cope with changing conditions
- Higher rates of disease, as new geographic areas become accessible to bacteria and viruses
- Higher likelihood of conflict, as dwindling water and other resources force people to look to new sources and/ or take from their neighbors
- Energy prices should jump, as resource scarcity and associated conflict makes things worse in places like the Middle East, where tensions are already high
- Most devastating of all, Starbucks warns that climate change is expected to threaten the earth's coffee supplies in 20-30 years time.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
I think that is unfair that some of the highest carbon emitting industries are receiving free carbon permits or being subsidized by the government. There is therefore less incentive for them to develop cleaner technologies because they are not paying the true cost of their carbon emissions. However with Australia relying so heavily on coal for power, the government has to start somewhere. I believe that they are off to a good start and because of initiatives like the Carbon Farming Initiative the government may be able to reduce the subsidies they provide to industry in the future.
I feel that this is a good way to make the airlines responsible for the emissions that they produce. However I think that a much bigger tax is going to be required before it would be advantageous for the airlines to make investments in a cleaner energy source. Such a small price increase would not deter enough people from trans-Atlantic flight for the airlines to lose enough profit and thereby force them to look into alternate forms of power. But if this system were enacted worldwide it might produce enough lost profit that the airlines would be pushed to develop a system for fueling their planes that had much less environmental impact and thus lower the external costs of operating and as a result the price of an airline ticket.
Even developers know the demand for parking is very low in garages so they choose to build the minimum number of spaces that the rules require. The Clean Air Act set a cap on the number of spots per building; too bad this doesn’t change anything since the maximum number of spots were never built. The Mayor has tried to change these mandates before but City Hall said that “people are emotional about parking," so no changes were made. There has been recent talk about reforms. One option is to allow residential garages in Manhattan to rent spaces out to the public and another option is to reduce the number of required spots in mass transit areas. Even with these changes, it is hard to compete with free street parking.
In my opinion these zoning regulations should have been changed years ago. The number of spaces required for public housing needs to be reduced, especially in transit areas. People who have a car are going to continue to drive and continue to park on the street. This may change if spaces can be rented out, but only in areas of great interest and for a low enough cost. Even so, there needs to be a drastic change to not only zoning regulations but street parking before there is any significant move towards a sustainable city.
While I agree with the EPA’s attempted effort to reduce the emission of these materials into the atmosphere, I also see the state’s argument. This is a down economy and people may not be able to afford increased energy costs. I am also not sure if this plan will create as many jobs as the EPA anticipates, however, jobs could be created in both the inspection field and new energy sources. If states find a new and improved way to produce electricity, it will have to be maintained, built and inspected as well. I believe the measures taken by the EPA are a good idea, just not at this time.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
So what's the optimal policy? It turns out that having people going slow on the rest of the road also slows down the folks in the carpool lane- you don't want to be driving 65 when someone going 20 moves into your lane to avoid a suddenly stopping vehicle. These researchers argue that more people need to be let into the carpool lane for the lane to continue to be as effective as possible. Optimization- it's what economists do!
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
In the past few weeks there have been 15 deaths (link to Google News)and 72 illnesses caused by the listeria virus that has been found in cantaloupes that are grown in the Jensen’s Farm in Colorado. The listeria virus can be spread by water or soil contamination. Animals can carry the virus unharmed with no symptoms, but when their feces are used as manure or contaminate the local groundwater it can harm the local farms’ crops. Colorado is the fifth largest producer of cantaloupe and reportedly 2010’s harvest was worth $8 million. Fortunately for the farmers at least, the outbreak has occurred at the end of their season; but it has stigmatized the “Colorado Cantaloupe.” Local farmers in Colorado are still selling some cantaloupe mostly because their local buyers know them and know what farms have the bad cantaloupe. As for the rest of Americans that love the sweet melon, well, they are less fortunate. The Jensen farm did not label their cantaloupe to separate them from the rest; instead they labeled them “Rocky Farm cantaloupe” making them even harder to distinguish the good from the bad. There is also a problem clearly identifying what states were sold tainted cantaloupe. The Jensen Farm has released a list of states that they sold directly to, but there are also distributers that have sold them to other states. Now most people will just refuse to eat them at all, fearing that they could get sick or even die.
I think that this is a huge externality of animal farming. It is a shame that we house these animals in such a way that it causes someone’s whole way of life to collapse. Plus it’s actually causing people bodily harm and killing people in some cases. Why would anyone want that to happen to them or to their family if it could be prevented. Listeria is only caused by a bacterium called monocytogene. The problem with these bacteria is that they can grow in almost any environment; but if better care was taken of these domesticated animals then no one would have had to die. I know that this is not an extremely common virus; but with the potential for them to be carriers, I would think that someone would at least try to test their livestock at some point in their life. What if the cattle that just donated manure to the Jensen’s Farm, had been sent to the butcher or if it was a sow and was milked? There could be an even bigger epidemic!
Update: USA Today describes the results of an FDA investigation into possible causes of the outbreak, which has now claimed at least 25 lives and caused at least 125 illnesses.
"The real challenge is not 'I’m too busy to cook.' In 2010 the average American, regardless of weekly earnings, watched no less than an hour and a half of television per day. The time is there." I'm not sure I buy that logic 100%: that's an average, not even a median, and no doubt some people are watching a lot while others watch very little.
"[T]here are five fast-food restaurants for every supermarket in the United States; in recent decades the adjusted for inflation price of fresh produce has increased by 40 percent while the price of soda and processed food has decreased by as much as 30 percent; and nearly inconceivable resources go into encouraging consumption in restaurants: fast-food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009. "
A long string of links starting with this article finally led me to this article on how Federal subsidies compare to what that same government recommends we eat. Pretty damning!