Monday, September 30, 2013

Ecuador destroying rainforest for oil drilling

Ecuador is the home of Yasuni National Park, which is one of the most bio diverse places on the earth. This rainforest has a large population of birds, primates, reptiles, amphibians, and this rainforest has more tree and insect species in 3 acres then Canada and the US combined. Also there are two different groups of people who use the land to survive. But under all of the wildlife is 850 million barrels of crude oil. This is one of the largest untouched oil deposits we still have but unfortunately it’s below a rainforest that doesn’t make Ecuador any profits. Ecuador said they wouldn’t drill for oil if countries would donate $3.6 billion dollars in compensation so they could pay off debts and keep the rainforest so that we can limit climate change. But there weren’t enough donations and now Ecuador is about to release 400 million tons of carbon dioxide along with all of the environmental damage that will occur in the 1% of the park that has all of the crude oil.

I personally do not agree with what Ecuador is doing with this whole situation because they are destroying one of the very few rainforest we have left. When they dig for oil they are hurting the environment by releasing carbon dioxide into the environment and killing the trees that help keep the air clean. They are destroying animals habitat and as a result most animals there will end up dead and completely destroying land that people depend on to survive. We need to save all the natural beauty we still have left in this world and I don’t think they should drill.
--Matt Schissler

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hawaiian Molasses Spill

     On Monday September 9, 2013, Matson Navigation Company was responsible for 1,400 tons, or 233,000 gallons, of molasses spilling into Honolulu Harbor. The results have been devastating for wildlife that calls the waters their home. Hawaii’s Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo states that the “high concentration of molasses is making it difficult for [the fish] to breathe.” The Environmental Health Division’s deputy director, Gary Gill, tells a reporter that the spill has led to “the worst environmental damage to sea life that I have come across.” A diver was sent into the depths of the harbor to survey the damage, and his findings were bleak. He states, “It was shocking because the entire bottom is covered with dead fish… Every single thing is dead. We're talking in the hundreds, thousands. I didn't see one single living thing underwater." The Department of Health’s News Release informs citizens that the molasses is not a direct threat to the public, but since there are numerous dead fish in the waters, there could be “an increase in predator species such as sharks, barracuda, and eels.” Furthermore, “the nutrient-rich liquid could also cause unusual growth in marine algae, stimulate an increase in harmful bacteria, and trigger other environmental impacts.” Approximately 2,000 dead fish have been collected already, but many more are expected in the coming weeks. The plan of action is to let nature run its course, and allow the water to dissipate the molasses. Tests are being run on the collected fish and collected water samples to allow for an estimation of the “duration and severity of the contamination.”
     Although Hawaiian tourism officials “do not foresee any immediate impact on our visitor industry,” I disagree. Tourism is Hawaii’s main source of income, and a trip there is in no way cheap. Many potential vacationers may want to postpone trips they would have otherwise taken due to the molasses-infested waters. If there were any possibility that I could not swim in the waters after I spent thousands of dollars for a vacation, I would certainly want to wait. The spill occurred a few miles west of the popular tourist area, Waikiki beach, and could eventually impact those with this destination in mind for their vacation. In addition to the tourist industry, the fish industry will definitely suffer. In terms of tourism, many vacationers charter fishing boats while visiting and no fish means no fishing. Fish broker John Hernandez believes the waters will take years to restore. Hawaii’s fishing industry is inelastic because those involved are completely dependent upon it for income. When a waterman already has the necessary equipment, including a license, boat, fish-finding technology, excreta, it is not a simple feat for him or her to change professions and become an accountant, for example. While it may be feasible for them to change from harvesting one type of marine life to another, the molasses spill has eliminated that as an option as it has impacted all forms of life.
--Lauren Wells

Energy and the Environment in China

     The Chinese government realized that air pollution is a very big issue in many Chinese cities. The government needs to something to drop air pollution. For example, the limiting on burning coal and high-polluting car will improve Chinese cities’ air, as described here: “The concentration of fine particulate matter in Beijing reached 40 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.” It is truth issue in Chinese environment.
There is no denying that the Chinese economy always keeps increasing GDP by at least 7% each year, and the Chinese government also wants to keep doing that. The issue is what the Chinese government can do in the future if they just reduce use of coal in industry. I think that the Chinese should develop other energy sources such as: solar energy, wind energy, and water energy. These energy sources will decrease the air pollution in many Chinese cities. In addition, we also can plant trees and limit industrial emissions to the air.
     Another article points out that the Chinese government has a new plan to improve air pollution. They want to use green energy instead of coal energy. Although this is good news for Chinese environment, some people think that it will be hard to implement in the future. Because coal is the most widely used energy source in China, it is difficult to just give up using coal energy. Coal energy is the most important energy in many economically developed areas.
    So what can the Chinese people do when coal is still the most important energy in China? How can they protect their air? People like to choose cars as transportation tool in daily life. To make things better, people can choose the public transportation such as subway and bus. That is a great way to improve Chinese air pollution.

--Wei Lai

Water Countdown

An article from Forbes magazine outlines the importance of water especially water quality. Water is important to humans and living things, as well as the world economy.  The challenge to businesses is to think about the long term water-related risk at while they face immediate cost issues. Businesses such as Pepsi, Coca Cola, and Nestle, just to name a few, are drawing water faster and we are running out of fresh water. They face revocation of operating licenses, rising water cost, and closures due to strong water regulations. However, many companies have produced water footprints in order to reduce water usage and there are has been incentives to encourage sustainability.  On the other hand, Kevin Watkins and Anders Berntel authors of “A global problem: How to avoid war over water” see water scarcity as a violence between states as a growing issue that would lead the world into an era of “hydrological warfare” where rivers, lakes and aquifers would became national security assets to be fought over and guarded by armed forces. 

Water is scarce and we are running short. We might not realize it because we think it is infinitely available but the truth is, the world is running out of fresh water. There are several ways the world can move forward and face these issues now rather biting their fingers when we are left with nothing but one aquifer to provide water to the world population.  I support the idea that the government should improve sustainability by improving the efficiency of water use and encourage conservation via pricing and more efficient technologies in agriculture and industry thereby, reducing water scarcity.

--Galen Enow

Monday, September 23, 2013

Energy efficiency: what you don't know can hurt all of us

Interesting paper by another person from my home department: she notes that renters probably aren't even aware of investments made by landlords in energy efficiency, so landlords have no incentive to make their properties more efficient. She notes that people don't even notice the type of fuel they're going to be using while renters, which makes a cost difference, and argues that if people don't even notice that, they certainly won't be willing to pay much for other amenities that have a smaller impact on their bottom lines. Makes sense to me!

GMOs: ambiguous environmentally

A new paper out by some folks in my old department looking at how GMO crops affect the environment in Brazil. Two types of GMO's are examined: those that have insect resistance built in and those that have herbicide resistance built in. The former ends up helping the environment while the latter doesn't. Perhaps unsurprising, but cool since it's based on both a model and some empirical data.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cost of green energy

Great piece in the NYT on how expensive power is turning out to be in Germany. After Fukushima, they decided to denuclearize their energy sector, and established high feed-in tariffs and other economic supports for renewables. Turns out, that raises power bills quite a lot. Take a look.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


I got in a very public fight on Facebook last year with my sister. She thinks that GMOs should be labeled, and I think that's not a good idea.

Her ideas make a lot of sense on their face. Shouldn't customers know what's in their food? Let people make their own decisions about what they want to consume! I understand that position, and it's very appealing. It's when you dig deeper that the need for these regulations starts to seem less clear.

Labeling something "Product may contain genetically modified ingredients" is more or less fear-mongering. We don't label packages with everything in there: "Product produced using dihydrogen monoxide" or "Ultraviolet rays of stellar origin used to propagate this product." Labels by themselves are an implied warning: they make people wary, which in this case is unjustified.

In fact, some GMOs are good for the environment: if fields are made more productive or pest-resistant, they reduce the incentive for agriculture to expand into wild areas. (Other GMOs, such as glyphosate-resistant crops, basically encourage farmers to use lots of herbicides.)

Second, labeling is expensive. If every ingredient has to be carefully tracked, that takes work, and work costs money. These labels are sure to raise the price of food.

There is a longer discussion here, including points in favor of and against labeling GMOs. It's more complicated than it sounds! Take a look.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cellulosic ethanol

Nice article that's not too long by the NRDC on cellulosic ethanol. Class- please read this one for sure! The NRDC obviously has a point of view, but this seems mostly pretty factual. See what you think.

Ethanol, basically gasoline from plants, is a nice idea: if we can grow as much as we use, then it's carbon neutral and won't contribute to climate change. Unfortunately, so far, the only means for doing so that's been close to workable has involved using corn or sugar cane: crops that are otherwise consumed by people as food. If the same material fuels cars and people, that means demand for that product goes up. If supply is the same, that means the quantity demanded rises, and so do prices. No one wants to see higher food prices caused by the need for fuels, so people have long sought to develop technologies to convert other plants to ethanol. The technologies have been known for awhile, but they haven't been cost effective. Now, thanks to government incentives and creative engineers, there's hope. Read the article for the exciting conclusion!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

NY Times editorials

Couple of cool editorials this week, both with a little bit of a "don't worry be happy" theme. The first one, by the co-director of the energy program at the National Resources Defense Council, is about how much better the US is doing as far as energy efficiency. That's a very good thing: the less energy it takes to move our cars, keep factories moving, to wash our clothes or whatever is good for the environment as well as being good for each of our bottom line.

The second one is a bit more philosophical. It's by a UMBC geography professor, and the point is that we don't need to worry too much about natural resource constraints. The argument is that people who worry about the earth not being able to provide a sufficient carrying capacity are focused in the wrong place: humans have been overcoming natural constraints for a long time, and we can expect to keep on doing so. We will talk about this issue more later in the class, and it has more merit than most ecologists want to admit. Just as the previous writer noted, we are resourceful (yuk yuk) and often find ways to do more with less. At the same time, we also often find ways to make do with less, and I think that's a good thing too, especially for those like most of us in the class, who are so blessed as to have abundant access to the things they need.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Coal under fire

According to a Wall Street Journal article posted under "Readings" on our Blackboard site, the EPA is poised to release new guidelines for coal plants that are stricter than ever: so strict, in fact, that they basically ban the construction of new coal plants. This is part of the President's strategy to slow climate change: coal plants emit a lot of carbon dioxide, which is a main contributor.

Naturally, this makes some people unhappy. "The administration discounts and does not appreciate the value of coal and how it can serve the country. You're impairing the backbone of the power grid," said Hal Quinn, chief executive of the National Mining Association, an industry trade group.... Utilities and manufacturers also worry the rules could lead to an electricity supply crunch or rising prices for consumers.

Although it's a step against this dirty, climate-changing power source, it's not an instant fix, and it may even backfire. Assuming energy demand is unchanged, this will create additional pressure to expand the use of natural gas. That's probably a good thing, but considerable ambiguity remains as to the net effect of fracking on the atmosphere. Recent studies have found that the process releases methane, a gas that does much more damage to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The issue is how much is being released: hopefully new capture technologies will limit the methane emitted, keeping natural gas cleaner than coal.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Demand for air quality

This one caught my eye because it's exactly what we talked about in class: the demand for air quality. These two well-known economists investigate the effects of a program that regulated nitrous oxides to see how that affected people's spending on asthma medications. When the program started, people needed less medication, so that gives us at least one idea about how much it was worth to people to see the air quality improve. Clever!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Climate change- how much damage?

A couple of shots were fired over the past few weeks in the ongoing battle over how bad climate change can be expected to be. A nice little summary of recent perspectives is in the WSJ, where the focus is on the Obama administration's decision to price a little more damage into cost estimates. While some criticize the decision, the article points to other similar price estimates used by different firms.

A more academic study coming out of my grad school has just been posted as well. New professor Solomon Hsiang has come up with a bunch of studies on the topic: one, published in Science magazine, argues that increased variation in rainfall leads to social violence. Another, not yet published, contends that economic and human costs could be ten times higher than previous estimates. Yet another, posted on the Readings link of the course Blackboard page, links increases in the number of hurricanes to an additional $10 trillion in damage. Ouch!

Bottom line: it's real, and it's potential extremely expensive. Shouldn't we do what we can now? I have to think it's cheaper to take action now than to face a $10 trillion bill later....

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Car market

Strangely, demand for cars is high even though the economy is weak. Predictions for the future of the car market (at least in this article) focus more on driverless cars and less on alternative fuels.

The Passing of a Great Economist

Ronald Coase, Nobel Prizewinner and creator of the "Coase Theorem," has just passed away. He made a great contribution to Resource Economics (among other fields) and we will be talking about him later in the class.

The Nuclear Option

When I was in grad school, I was a teaching assistant to a class on environmental economics, and one of the students I remember best was Rachel. She wasn't the best student academically, but she really stood out because she's really warm and outgoing, while most of her classmates are a little more introverted. After graduating, she worked for several years at Greenstart, which supports entrepreneurs who have created new companies and are trying to make them self-sustaining. Recently she has moved on to be a part of a different environmental startup, sure to be the first of many. She is a technical whiz with a heart for the environment, and I was a little surprised to see her write this: "climate change is our humanity's biggest threat. our #1 priority must be switching to 100% carbon-emission free energy as fast as possible. modern nuclear burns through 99% of fuel, leaving only a tiny amount of nuclear waste that lasts only decades, not millennia. the reactors shut down automatically during any disturbance and don't need to be cooled. we have the technology today to avert the worst of climate change, but a vocal minority opposes the best solution because they cling to old mythologies. we need to overcome our energy fears of nuclear and embrace a real post-carbon future." Wow. Good points, but coming from a person I wouldn't have expected to see advocating nuclear.

Of course, the case against can be seen in this piece on Japan's efforts to cleanup from their 2011 disaster, detailed in today's NYT. Not sure whether the goods of nuclear energy outweigh the bads, but the article makes me think that at the very least Japan could be handling the cleanup better, tackling the problem head-on instead of balancing it with so many other issues. Hope they can contain the waste sometime soon!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A twofer

Two cool things in one article in today's NYT: first, an article about a creative college student who came up with an idea that is proving successful, and second, the idea that's proving successful: crowd funding for solar projects.

Too many students think that ideas will come at a certain point in their careers. For better or for worse, you never know when they'll come, and when they come you should be ready! It's new ideas that change the world (when coupled with the power to put them together, to build them into reality) and you guys are as creative now (if not more so) than you will be later, so don't wait.

The particular organization described sounds cool as well: the problem with solar energy is that it has high start-up costs, so a marketplace in which people can contribute to getting projects off the ground is an important contribution. Investors get 4-6% return and builders get the chance to set up the solar projects they want, while being enabled to pay things back later when the project is doing its thing. Win-win.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Climate Change: Agricultural Effects

I know that the very word "agriculture" puts all too many of you to sleep, so how about putting it this way: climate change means that you're going to be paying more for your food? Hardly new information, but a little update on BBC News about how pests like the Colorado potato beetle are moving into new ground every year, munching a little bit more of the world's crops. When they munch, what curve does that shift? What does that mean for the equilibrium price and quantity? What does that mean to people around the world, like you and me or like a subsistence farmer in a poor country? Things to think about....

Welcome to class and a little seafood

Sorry this welcome is late to y'all: I should've posted last week, but I had a grant proposal due and things got frantic.

Here's some new research: these researchers tried to identify the importance of pollution events on people's willingness to pay for seafood. Unsurprisingly, people want to consume less seafood after than before, but I wonder how long these effects will last. Do you still think about Deepwater Horizon and check to see whether the crabs you bought came fro the Gulf? I doubt it. Still, an example of moving demand curves....