Sunday, March 30, 2014

California agriculture's number 1 problem

I thought the drought would be tops, but in this article farmers are saying that the lack of workers is the real problem. While I absolutely support immigration reform and a path to citizenship for people who have been more or less enslaved by these farmers for decades, what really appalls me is the attitude of these farmers. They say that they don't have enough workers, and what that means is that they aren't willing to pay a wage high enough that it's worth it for anyone to come out and do the brutal work in terrible conditions that is offered. The article says that they lose $1.4 billion to a lack of labor. My solution? If these jobs paid $50,000 or $60,000 with benefits you'd have plenty of workers. Would the farmers then lose part, or maybe even most, of that $1.4 billion to the workers? Absolutely, but if they even got 1% of it wouldn't they be better off?

The worst part is that when you visit these communities, there is such clear racism and contempt for the immigrant workers. They complain about how the workers live in poor conditions and cost taxpayers money when they come into emergency rooms needing treatment. I have no idea how they can not see that this problem is entirely one of their own creation, but apparently they don't.

End tirade! Have a nice day. :P

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Water prices

A key assumption for economics is that people make decisions "on the margin"- how much more it will cost or benefit someone to produce, sell, or consume one more item. A friend of mine came out with an article in probably the top journal in all of Economics looking at how that's not true in the context of water. (Article is posted under Reading on the course Blackboard website.) For something like this where prices change depending on how much we buy (i.e. when there's a bulk discount, or a fee for overuse) then it's harder to predict how people will respond to a change in prices. First of all, an interesting result, and secondly, I'm so excited for my friend to get into this top journal!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dead Zones in Lake Erie

***First article on Reading Quiz II.***

     Lake Erie is facing an increase in the spread of algae, which is a serious threat. The algal blooms consume the oxygen, created dead zones, which threaten the organisms in the lake. Some of these blooms are so toxic that they have killed dogs and sickened swimmers. In 2011, heavy rains resulted in algal blooms that were three times bigger than any previous one.
The main cause of the increased algae in the lake is phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus enters the lake through runoff from phosphorus-based fertilizers. The main contributor to the runoff is farms and lawns.
A United States-Canadian agency was called to implement limits on the use of fertilizer around Lake Erie, in order to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution. The International Joint Commission proposed a ban on most sales of phosphorus-based lawn fertilizers in Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It also urged Michigan and Ohio to invoke the Clean Water Act to limit phosphorus from farmland instead of just from factories. The commission’s report stated that the targets previously set by the United States and Canada to reduce Lake Erie’s phosphorus load by 2018 was too low. Overall, the commission’s report urges both legal and voluntary programs to reach large reactions by 2022.
      The algal blooms are also a threat to local economies. According to Captain Rick Unger, who operates a charter boat on Lake Erie, “It’s a threat to every business in northern Ohio.” Local markets, especially the fishing market are greatly affected by this. In Ohio alone, fishing is a $1.2 billion industry that could be hit hard by the decease in fish due to the increase in dead zones.
I agree with the commission that setting legal limits or bans on phosphorus-based fertilizers is a good idea. Setting a limit to the amount of fertilizer that can be used on farms that are near the lake could have a significant impact. The government can also heavily tax phosphorus-based fertilizers from the use on lawns, limiting the amount used and forcing people to buy other more eco-friendly fertilizers. I also think amending the Clean Water Act to include farms could lower their pollution output as a whole, as well as phosphorus pollution. I believe legislation needs to be put in place along with taxes in order to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution within the near future, hopefully by 2022, as the commission proposed.
--Chris Caspar

US exporting gas?

      Last Wednesday a bill was introduced that would allow the US to export natural gas to the Ukraine, in hopes that it would lessen the hold Russia has over the country. Russia is the number one exporter of natural gas, but with the use of fracking technology the United States has become the number one producer of natural gas. About 80% of gas exports from Russia pass through the Ukraine. The country could freeze without its oil, so with more control of Gazprom (the Russian gas company) comes more control of the Ukraine. Currently, natural gas export points are still under construction in the United States and wouldn’t be useful until at least 2015.
     Carlos Pascual is a former American ambassador to Ukraine, who leads the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources. He has claimed that serious efforts have already been made to lessen Putin’s hold on the Ukraine. His team worked to help European countries lessen their dependence on Russian natural gas by finding reserves in Africa. They also helped countries build up a storage of natural gas in Europe, as well as exploring Poland and the Ukraine for gas reserves. Pascual claimed that the US sending gas to the Ukraine “sends a clear signal that the global gas market is changing, that there is the prospect of much greater supply coming from other parts of the world."
     Without the technology at the moment to send natural gas overseas, I believe more work should be done to lessen Ukrainian dependence on Russian gas through other means. More research into European gas reserves and possibly putting more funding into renewable energy resources could lessen the Russian hold. Chevron and Shell have already been licensed to explore for gas in the Ukraine. Since the process of approving natural gas exports is going so slowly, this might have a more immediate effect. Gas exportation may be a good long term goal, but for now the Ukraine should focus more on domestic and renewable energy sources.
--Bonnie Griesemer

***This is the last post for which you are responsible on the first blog quiz.***

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chemical Externalities

Jane Wolfson sent me this article on some of the external damages caused by chemicals. A quote: "Economist Elise Gould has calculated that ...for the population that was six years old or younger in 2006, lead exposure will result in a total income loss of between $165 and $233 billion. The combined current levels of pesticides, mercury, and lead cause IQ losses amounting to around $120 billion annually—or about three percent of the annual budget of the U.S. government."


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Now taking a shot at Keystone XL: Businessweek!?!

The estimates of tens of thousands of jobs always seemed to me to be odd, but is it really down to less than 4000 for construction and 50 permanent jobs after that? Wow. And fracking (of oil, not natural gas) has moved the US up in the oil production standings, though I doubt we're going to be self-sufficient any time soon. Finally, this article says that the impact will be equal to that of 46 new coal plants! Ouch. If all that's true, maybe it really is a bad idea.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Illegal Logging Practices in Mozambique

Nearly half of the land in Mozambique is forest and state owned. Of that land, 67% is used for production. Even though there has been a certain amount of land put aside for industry, the forests have been declining at an average rate of .5% annually. Due to this, the country’s primary forests no longer remain. There has been much concern over the legality of logging. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has published a report that, “…assesses timber production, consumption, and exports, finding that nearly two-thirds of logging is currently illegal.” It is also noted that, “harvesting is exceeding sustainable levels, threatening the long-term viability of the industry and putting local livelihoods at risk." Over 250 million dollars of illegal timber is cut each year and it is taking money away from the country. The money that could be gained would go directly towards law enforcement and better management.
I feel that Mozambique needs to stop these illegal logging practices as soon as possible. Since the Minister of Agriculture, Jose Pacheco, is one of the best candidates for the presidential election, his election will cause more problems. He has been identified as having connections to timber smugglers and with his power, worsen the industry and allow the illegal practices to continue. There already is weak governance and corruption that will only get worse if he gets elected. I agree with the push for “…a moratorium on new logging licenses; greater transparency from the government on forestry information; and the establishment of an independent forestry watchdog.” The forests are declining at a fast rate and they aren’t being replenished at the same speed. Eventually, if there are no restrictions, the country will face many more problems.
--Kristen Forti

Friday, March 7, 2014

No Smoking in Parks

   I'm sure everyone has seen someone smoking a cigarette in front of a building, outdoor event or even a public park, then flick it carelessly on the ground when finished.  This action, may it be a unconscious force of habit or just a blatant disregard for the environment, has cost cities across the United States millions of dollars each year. You may be thinking millions of dollars to pick up cigarette butts, how is that money accounted for? A portion of that money pays for the time spent by the people who have to pick-up the butts like employees of parks, restaurants, local governments and volunteers. In addition to the astounding economic costs, there are environmental costs like the harm to wildlife. Cigarette butts contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, that has been found in the intestinal tracts of fish, birds and other marine organisms (Davis).  A possible solution to this cigarette litter problem would be the banning of smoking in public areas.     Several Maryland counties have already banned smoking in front of government buildings, work places and restaurants.  Recently a bill has been introduced before the Maryland General Assembly that would ban smoking on county park land.  According to Delegate Benjamin F. Kramer of  Montgomery one of the reasons why the assembly should approve this bill, is that it would “ reduce litter and help reduce environmental damage tobacco trash can cause...”  I agree with the ban on smoking in park lands because  it would decrease the amount of litter and the amount of butts consumed by marine life.  It may seem as though  this ban is violating smokers rights; if they would have been considerate of the environment initially, a bill would not have been necessary.
--Jillen Vest

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

EPA sets cleaner fuel & car standards

   Arguably the most common item that is owned by the masses is a car or some sort of vehicle.  And the one thing that all of these vehicles have in common is that they run on fuel.  Last Monday the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency released a new set of protocols that the car manufacturers must follow to lessen the amount of pollution that is put into the air as a result of the usage of the fuels.  The pollution caused by the usage of cars causes as many as 610 deaths a year.  These new standards that were unveiled state that “The final standards are expected to provide up to 13 dollars in health benefits for every dollar spent to meet the standards."  This is not to say that these new standards are free for the general public.  The article estimates that by 2025 the average increase in costs for the cars to meet the standards will be $72 per vehicle. 
    Undoubtedly this is a positive thing for the population and it is very difficult to see anything negative about it. Yes,  it will end up costing us more in the short run but as shown by the numbers above the long run benefits almost dwarf the costs.  Aside from the cost the only other negative in my opinion is the government oversight into private consumption. While yes this is ultimately a good choice I just think that it most of the time it is better for the population to get to that conclusion by themselves.
--Doug Burroughs

Arctic Discrepancies

   The Arctic has become an item of increasing interest for economic potential and environmental concerns. Melting of the icecaps is exposing portions of the Arctic that were previously inaccessible. This article explains that the potential for economic gain has been creating political tension among the countries that border the Arctic region, who are rushing to claim territory in the region. Russia is expanding their military presence throughout their Arctic territories. The retreating caps also are creating new shipping routes that would shorten transport time to major cities. Key exploratory drilling projects have been delayed due to failure to fully assess potential impacts and also to lack of funding. Specifically, Shell Oil Company has been consistently unsuccessful in their exploratory missions. According to this article there have been discrepancies in the legitimacy of Shells leases, failures when testing attempts at clean ups, and the DOI ruling on the environmental impact that drilling may have.
   I could laugh at the irony of drilling in the Arctic for fossil fuels that have degraded the ice caps to being with. At the moment I do not think drilling in the Arctic is cost effective for companies and there is too much negative feedback from the public for exploratory projects to proceed. However, if there are technological advances that can withstand the extreme climate and reduce probability of spills, then I think the projects will be more likely to advance. Although Russia has the most experience and capability to explore the Arctic, natural gas makes up most of the resources in their continental shelf. Russia’s increasing presence is probably due to international trade and intent to protect their assets.
--Kelly Nellenbach