Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Oil Prices

The axes tell you that this giant jump isn't that giant, but still....

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Uber is great!

A great observation this morning by Benjamin Golub:

Regularly, I'm stunned by how much social surplus Uber created by inventing its basic platform. One of the most striking things for my immigrant family about the US in the 90s was how, even in the inner suburbs, having no car really limited how much of a person you could be.So if you were e.g. a young adult of modest means or a woman in a bad marriage, lacking control of a car crippled and constrained you. Cabs existed but were basically out of the question given how bad and expensive they were outside approximately three cities. Those use cases for vulnerable populations are crowd-pleasers. But in zillions of other cases, more mundane convenience makes a day much better; now add that up across hundreds of millions of people. One reason among many that people mock the company is that it bleeds money. But at an Econ 101 level all that means is that they're (for now) keeping very little of the enormous value they created. Other companies followed, but pioneering the platform and getting it to work in real life was... a big deal. So this is just an ill-advisedly earnest appreciation of the beauty of economic growth—new new ways of mutually beneficial exchange. We have justified concerns about lacking good (or sometimes even decent) urban planning and public transit. And justified criticisms of asshat CEOs and whatever else. But it's easy to forget how big of a difference it made for folks to have better choices, given our actual world.

To paraphrase, the company isn't making money right now, but that just means that it's a large consumer benefit: basically the company is subsidizing riders, and that's good for consumers! There are secondary issues such as traffic that are important, so getting the taxes right is important (and that will make it harder for Uber to get into the black) but this is a good reminder of the importance of straight up consumer benefits!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Air Pollution getting worse and worse

The hit jobs keep coming: first air pollution is associated with eye problems, such as macular degeneration. Then air pollution is linked to infant mortality. Next, in more polluted counties in the US, there are more neurological disorders, and that ends up in bipolar and depressive disorders. Finally "ambient air pollution has a substantial impact on hospital admissions."

The evidence is accumulating that the toll of air pollution is much higher than previously imagined. If only international institutions- wait, heck, even if the US- was interested in fighting pollution....

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Agriculture Today

Just a few quick ones on Agriculture today:

1) The Atlantic has a heartbreaking story on how black farmers have been non-quite-systematically deprived over their land over the years, thanks largely to white interests that used government policy to further their own agenda at the expense of African American farmers.

2) Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, in addition to dismantling a highly respected research office, has gone on the record laughing at farmers as he blows off their concerns in the face of Trump's trade war.

3) Fun piece on an idea for a meat tax (maybe not such a bad idea given that more than 1/3 of Americans eat fast food every day). A great way to fight climate change is to eat less meat.

4) (moved up here) a quick Twitter thread on Farming Today by the amazing Dr. Sarah Taber

Changing College for the Better

At Goldsmiths, University of London, they are making some really impressive changes.
-Beef will not be for sale on campus
-divesting from fossil fuels (by Dec)
-phasing out single-use plastics
-switching to a renewable energy provider
-ending chemical use in gardening
-rewilding unused land
-mandatory first-year modules on climate and ecology
-...and going carbon neutral by 2025

This is based on a couple of tweets by Jason Hickel.

I'm impressed! While I'm guessing that there isn't a lot of land in London to re-wild, these are all great steps. Perhaps Towson might consider something?

Friday, August 9, 2019

Supply Curves

Just yesterday I posted about the new report by the IPCC on diets and climate change. Remember? Nature says "Eat Less Meat." The Guardian says, "We can't keep eating as we are." That article contends that eating a kilogram (about 2.2 lbs) of beef is associated with as much carbon emissions as driving a new car for a year or for one passenger to have a round trip from London to New York. (Wow. I'm not sure about that, but that's what it says!)

Another part of the costs is the place where the goods are produced and how much it costs to get them to the market. For example, do you think it costs more or less to buy an egg in say Sub-Saharan Africa than it does in the US? If you guessed that the price of eggs is about 7 times more expensive in SSA than in North America, you guessed right!

Virtually all foods are much more expensive there. The only one that's even close is sugary snacks- not exactly the best news for the world's diet. So, the upshot: "most nutritious foods are expensive in lower-income countries....[and]  the relative cheapness of unhealthy calories is an important explanation of the obesity epidemic in higher-income countries" (Headey & Alderman 2019, linked above). Although we have made huge strides over the years in production technology, not much of that has translated to the poor.

Another example is fruits and vegetables. In order to eat healthy, we all need them, but right now most people literally cannot get enough access to be healthy.

Imagine putting climate change on top of all of these problems. Wow. I'm pretty sure it won't work to the advantage of the poor....

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Buy better meat but less of it

“Cheap meat isn’t a win. I want people to spend the same amount on meat as they do now, and buy better meat, but less of it." This quote from a vegetarian-turned-butcher seems right on to me: the problem isn't meat itself, it's the industrial production of beef in particular. This dovetails perfectly with an article in today's Wall Street Journal on climate change. As we've talked about on this blog before, a big part of the solution to climate change involves changing what we eat and how it's produced. According to the WSJ article, about 1/3 of the earth's usable land is dedicated to pastures. "The resources used to produce a serving of beef release four times the greenhouse gases as a calorie-equivalent amount of pork, and five times as much as an equivalent amount of poultry."

Put differently, “Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change,” she said.

AND FINALLY! Today was the first day that the Impossible Whopper was available from Burger King, so I marched right down (after Googling where the nearest Burger King was!) and had one. Well, I can report that it has nice fresh lettuce and onions. As to the burger, the best I can say for it is that it wasn't memorable. The onion rings were ok, though they would have been better if they were still warm when they arrived at my table. I have to say that while as a somewhat careful consumer I am happy to see these burgers out there, but I am not too optimistic about these meat substitutes. I hope that they work out, but the Whopper is more expensive and no more tasty, so I would be surprised if they catch on. Update: apparently they are gathering much more interest than I hoped, with food service providers Aramark and Sodexho signing up. Well, go fake meat!