Archive for the ‘Environmental Issues’ Category

Economics of Climate Change: A Problem from Hell

February 13, 2015

The economics demigod Martin Weitzman recently published a review of William Nordhaus’ The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, where he provides the following characterization of the climate change economics problem:

The economics of climate change is a problem from hell. Trying to do a benefit-cost analysis […] of climate change policies bends and stretches the capability of our standard economist’s toolkit up to, and perhaps beyond, the breaking point. First and foremost, disconcertingly large uncertainties are everywhere, including the most challenging kinds of deep structural uncertainties. The climate change problem unfolds over centuries and millennia, a long intergenerational human time frame that most people are entirely unaccustomed to thinking about. With such long time frames, discounting becomes ultra-decisive for [benefit-cost analysis], and there is much debate and confusion about which long-run discount rate should be chosen. Irreversibilities abound, including the very long residence lifetime of atmospheric CO2. To add to the challenge, costs of new carbon-free technologies are uncertain. More importantly, for global mean temperature changes much above about 2 [degrees] C, estimating damages is mostly educated guesswork with a distressingly wide error cone. The evaluation and aggregation of such damages add yet another significant layer of uncertainty; we are even unsure even about what form the “damages function” should take. Climate change due to high [greenhouse gas] levels involves nonnegligible tail risks of low-probability catastrophic outcomes, ranging from “known unknown” tipping points to the “unknown unknowns” of black-swan bad-feedback events that we cannot even imagine today.

Striking. The review was published in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.

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An Inquiry Into The Human Prospect by Robert L. Heilbroner

June 1, 2013

The Giannini Library at UC Berkeley discarded a pile of books, and I picked up Heilbroner’s An Inquiry Into The Human Prospect. The book is old (1974; books discarded from libraries usually are), and much of the discussion feels dated. Other parts are still relevant. But, let me take it from the top.

AnInquiryIntoTheHumanProspectOn the first page, Heilbroner asks Is there hope for man? Heilbroner then lists three large problems which together makes his question pertinent: population growth, the spread of nuclear weapons, and environmental problems (including resource depletion, pollution, and climate change). All three problems are to different degrees still relevant today. Both population growth and environmental problems still pose threats on global scales. They are also, I think, largely viewed as connected. We still worry about nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, but the Armageddon-like prospect of nuclear war is not upon us like it must have been during the cold war.

Heilbroner is a careful writer, and before he plunges into his analysis, he discusses its validity:

The problem caused by the intrusion of subjective values into its inquiries has always troubled social science, which has struggled, without too much success, to attain the presumed “value free” objectivity of the natural sciences. Alas, this ambition fails into account that the position of the social science investigator differs sharply from that of the observer of the natural world. The latter may stage his reputation as he regards the stars through his telescope or the cells through his microscope, but he is not himself morally embedded in the field he scrutinizes. By contrast, the social investigator is inextricably bound up with the objects of his scrutiny, as a member of a group, a class, a society, a nation, bringing him with feelings of animus or defensiveness to the phenomena he observes. In a word, his position in society-not only his material position but his moral position-is implicated in and often jeopardized by the act of investigation, and it is not surprising, therefore, that we find behind the great bulk of social science arguments that serve to justify the existential position of the social scientist [pp. 22-23*].

Heilbroner moves on to point out that while the moral position of the analyst (himself) has potential implications for his analysis, the moral position of the reader has implications for how to comprehend the analysis. In the end, Heilbroner finds that his conclusions about the human prospect do not accord with his own preferences and interests.

Parts of the book is not as relevant today as it was when it was written. For example, a lengthy discussion of whether a socialist or capitalist society is better able to take on the challenges Heilbroner has identified is today only of academic interest. That the discussion builds upon the work of Freud and his followers makes it arcane in my eyes, but I am relatively short-sighted. An interesting remark, though, on the necessity of regarding the political aspect:

We live in an age in which the very capacity for socio-economic analysis marks us off from the past. We read with amusement or shock the historical prognoses of the classical historians or political philosophers, into which socio-economic dynamics do not enter at all ( for the very good reason that the relevant social systems had not yet evolved) and in which, instead, we find purely political predictions , usually of dynastic rise and fall, and so forth. But however more “scientific” our socio-economic method may seem by comparison, its omission of a political dimension is nonetheless crippling, even fatal, for a comprehension of the human prospect [p. 100].

In the following discussion, Heilbroner asserts that the nation-state must be ‘considered as the embodiment of purely political, as well as socio-economic, behavioral forces’ (p. 112). I am not sure I fully understand Heilbroner here, but his assertion made me think about all the different historical configurations of the map of Europe. Does his assertion have implications for observed political behavior when political borders change? Would it be possible to empirically test his assertion in some sense?

The problem of time discounting is much debated in the current climate change debate. Heilbroner puts it clear:

[The] devaluation of the future is generally considered to be an entirely rational response to the uncertainties of life. But if we apply this same calculus of “reason” to the human prospect, we face the horrendous possibility that humanity may react to the approach of environmental danger by indulging in a vast fling while it is still possible-a fling entirely justified by the estimation of present enjoyments over future ones. On what private, “rational” considerations, after all, should we make sacrifices now to ease the lot of generations whom we will never live to see [pp. 114 – 115]?

Heilbroner finds it difficult to believe the ‘contemporary industrial man’ is willing to make the necessary sacrifices (p. 115). While I have not discussed all parts of the analysis, much of it is as I said not so relevant today as it undoubtedly was in 1974, it is nonetheless clear that Heilbroner finds little support for a positive view on the future:

[W]ith the full spectacle of the human prospect before us, the spirit quails and the will falters. We find ourselves pressed to the very limit of our personal capacities, not alone in summoning up the courage to look squarely at the dimensions of the impending predicament, but in finding words that can offer some plausible relief in a situation so bleak [p. 136].

In fact, the only consolation Heilbroner can offer, is that the idea of Atlas, the Greek god which figures on the cover of the book and who bears ‘with endless perseverance the weight of the heavens in his hands’, springs from elements within us (pp. 143 – 144).

*Page numbers refer to the 1974 edition (paperback).

Climate Wizard: Data & Projections

May 25, 2013

Everyone with a remote interest in the climate problem would take an interest in Climate Wizard, an online source for climate data and projections. In particular, it can be a valuable tool for researchers. The wizard has both temperature and precipitation data and projections under different emission scenarios. Annual averages, season averages or monthly averages are all there. Further, the wizard provides projections from different climate models, model averages, or model projections ranked from lowest to highest. The wizard produces maps, but values can also be downloaded, it seems. Data and projections are well documented. Behind the Climate Wizard are The Nature Conservancy, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern Mississippi.

The figure below shows the average projected change in annual temperature by the late century in a low emission scenario for the Scandinavian peninsula. Around 2 degrees. Further investigation shows that the most change is expected in the fall.

ClimateWizard

Hat-tip: G-Feed

Current Problems with Global Sustainability: Talks by Paul Ehrlich and Clive Hamilton

May 11, 2013

EhrlichSeminarPoster

Tonight, I attended talks by Paul Ehrlich and Clive Hamilton here in Berkeley. Ehrlich is perhaps best known for his Population Bomb which was published as far back as 1968. Clive Hamilton is an Australian professor and author of several books related to climate change and sustainability. It was an odd event where everyone seemed to agree with everyone that climate change is happening, that it will change the world as we know it, and that profound changes to political, economic, and social systems are required to do anything about it. It was also both enlightening and interesting, even encouraging. Although both Ehrlich and Hamilton drew stark pictures of the current situation, the future of the planet and us on it, it made me feel both wanting and obligated to try and do something about it.

Hamilton spoke first and spent most of his time talking about the new, geological time period we have entered. The period where human’s impact disturbs the entire earth system. While scientists still haven’t fully agreed upon all the details, there seems to be little doubt the earth has moved into a new phase. The next ice age (which was coming up in about 50 000 years) is cancelled, the long period of stable temperatures will be end, but we do not know exactly what we are in for. At least we have been vigorous in the current spell of stability, for example developing agriculture. (‘We’ is of course a stretch here; someone is better. The undue usage of ‘we’ in the sense of humanity was touched upon in the ensuing debate, as was also a key element of the climate problem; it’s intergenerational dimension.)

Ehrlich seemed to just talk from the top of his head. I presume he has addressed hundreds of audiences on the same and related topics throughout the years, because he never seemed to loose track or run out of words (which I do on a regular basis). He talked about a range of problems, from how the yield gap most likely will be closed (the yield gap is the difference in agricultural yields from the mid-Western prairie and from the Amazon; according to Ehrlich, the gap will not be closed by Amazonian yields getting up to speed, but by mid-Western yields collapsing), the dependence of agriculture upon fossil fuel, biodiversity loss (in particular the loss of pollinators); I am sure he touched upon population, but also a range of other issues.

The debate after the talks were at least as interesting as the talks themselves. A particularly interesting remark from Ehrlich was upon social science. Social science is extremely important, more important than the sciences. The problem is there is no social science. It is a mess, with no direction, no common language, and most topics of investigation are wholly unimportant. He claimed to have read an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (‘the top journal in economics’), which concluded that in the last 30-40 years, economists has not really figured out anything. Economists study the economics of college football! This critique is of course somewhat unfair, but I see Ehrlich’s point. Economists and other social scientists should get their act together and start thinking about what matters most (survival of the species humans, which did not seem to require specification at this point). The debate flourished. The worry about the aging population was more or less made fun of (‘it is an obvious fact of demographics and arithmetic’), the Vatican was scorned for their view on women and family planning, and the entire event concluded on the note that the climate problem is not one of information or knowledge (we know what is happening and why) or technology (we have the necessary technologies to deal with the problem), but one of political and social action. It was a memorable night.

Ehrlich had a couple of other great comments which comes to mind: We should abolish the current university systems (‘dissolve the departments!’); the university system was dreamed up by Aristotle over 2500 years ago, and cemented by the Royal Academy 250 years ago; time calls for something different. (What we need instead, Ehrlich forgot to mention.) And we should get the money out of American politics. Hamilton, on his part, said carbon sequestration had cost us ten years in battling climate change, that geoengineering will likely cost us ten more, and that consumption is more important than population growth in the sense that more rich people is a much bigger problem in terms of climate change than more poor people. (That last thing became a bit convoluted, I must admit, but it is in a ballpark.)

US Atlantic Cod Fisheries Collapse

February 12, 2013

Over on the REConHub, I link to a New York Times story on the US Atlantic cod fisheries. I contrast the story to the situation on the other side of the Atlantic, where the Barents Sea cod is at historic high levels.

An aspect of the NYT-story I did not mention earlier is how large a say the fishermen seem to have in the management council decision, and the amount of tensions in the council meeting.

“Right now what we’ve got is a plan that guarantees the fishermen’s extinction and does nothing to ameliorate it,” David Goethel, a New Hampshire-based fisherman and biologist, said as he cast his vote against the plan.

There seems to be large differences between the US and Europe in how fishermen participate in the management process. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about it.

NYTimesCodSticker

Kahneman on the Precautionary Principle

January 10, 2013

In Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, there is an interesting discussion of how moral intuitions behind the precautionary principle conflicts with efficient risk management:

The intense aversion to trading increased risk for some other advantage plays out on a grand scale in the laws and regulations governing risk. This trend is especially strong in Europe, where the precautionary principle, which prohibits any action that might cause harm, is a widely accepted doctrine. In the regulatory context, the precautionary principle imposes the entire burden of proving safety on anyone who undertakes actions that might harm people or the environment. Multiple international bodies have specified that the absence of scientific evidence of potential damage is not sufficient justification for taking risks. As the jurist Cass Sunstein points out, the precautionary principle is costly, and when interpreted strictly it can be paralyzing. He mentions an impressive list of innovations that would not have passed the test, including “airplanes, air conditioning, antibiotics, automobiles, chlorine, the measles vaccine, open-heart surgery, radio, refrigeration, smallpox vaccine, and X-rays.” The strong version of the precautionary principle is obviously untenable. But enchanced loss aversion is embedded in a strong and widely shared moral intuition; it originates in System 1 [the thinking fast system]. The dilemma between intensely loss-averse moral attitudes and efficient risk management does not have a simple and compelling solution[p. 351, italics in original].

I suspect similar morals lie behind the US Endangered Species Act, which actually prohibits any kind of risk management; any specie should be conserved at any cost. One of my favorite economists, Jason Shogren, have written extensively on the problematic aspects of the Endangered Species Act. In one of his memorable passages, he writes:

Essentially, the approach of the Act that prohibits any activity that harms a listed [endangered] species puts a very large or infinite value on avoiding extinction. This view places endangered species beyond the reach of economic tradeoffs, and the economist is relegated to helping find the least cost solution to achieve a biological-based standard [Brown and Shogren 1998, Economics of the Endangered Species Act, The Journal of Economics Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 3-20, p. 10].

But Will the Planet Notice? by Gernot Wagner

November 13, 2012

I am among the semi-irregular contributers to the REConHub; a new blog from the Norwegian School of Economics. I recently posted a review of the book ‘But Will the Planet Notice?’ by Gernot Wagner. Here goes:

But Will the Planet Notice? is a book about climate change and economic tools and mechanisms designed to help. But Wagner ranges far and wide, discussing issues like deforestation, DDT and heavy metals pollution, overfishing, endangered species, the collapse of the Easter Island civilization, and geoengineering. In the process, he reviews work by people like Martin Weitzman, Robert Stavins, Elinor Ostrom (as one would expect, I might add), and a long list of other prominent people. Most of the issues relate to the commons problem, a well-known problem in economics: If property-rights to a resource like a fish stock or clean air are un- or ill-defined, there is usually a commons problem. Overexploitation of the resource is the typical result. On the contrary, when property-rights are in place, resource-users will have to compensate the holder of the property-right for their usage, and (economic) overexploitation will probably not happen. The climate problem is a classic commons problem, as atmospheric property-rights does not exist.

In the eyes of (the economist) Wagner, economists are at the center of the climate change problem:

Scientists can tell us how bad it will get. Activists can make us pay attention to the ensuing instabilities and make politicians take note. When the task comes to formulating policy, only economists can help guide us out of this morass and save the planet (p. 11, first edition).

Let me add that the subtitle of Wagner’s book is How Smart Economics Can Save The World. Save the world, no less. Now, the short answer to insufficient property rights is to establish sufficient property rights. If one is interested in the long answer, it quickly becomes complicated. Coase taught us that it matters who owns property rights and how they are traded. Wagner does not get into this, or the other ideas and concepts he touches upon, to any serious degree. I think it is unfortunate. A deeper and more detailed discussion, with fewer detours to discuss related issues, would be more interesting and valuable. Wagner’s idea of a solution to the climate problem is to cap carbon dioxide emissions and make the emissions rights tradable. Exactly how and why this would work, is not left much space.

An important message for Wagner, one which even inspired the title of his book, is that small, individual, and uncoordinated adjustments to deal with the climate problem will not help. In order to drive the message home, he uses a very odd, rhetorical trick: He gives the planet, the physical planet, and other parts of the physical world, an opinion, and asks: Will the planet notice our individual adjustments? Does the atmosphere care? (It does not, according to Wagner. If anyone used me as a sewage, one of Wagner’s metaphors for how the atmosphere gets treated, I would certainly care for even the smallest adjustment.) While the personification of things environment might be a great idea (how would I know?), I have my doubts. I find it annoying. Nevertheless, despite the lack of impact , we should still make small (or large), voluntary adjustments to reduce our personal carbon footprint, Wagner says. It is the moral thing to do.

There’s simply no way to go about tackling this problem other than taking seriously the incentives all of us face. Getting several billion of us to behave differently-to behave morally-means guiding market forces in the right direction, making it in our interest to do the right thing. It’s the only way to make the planet notice (p. 216).

Here, Wagner passes upon the opportunity to discuss the ethics of climate change, which I think would have been interesting. (Not even a reference-laden footnote, if I remember correctly.) I am not so sure the casual reader or layperson would feel compelled to make voluntary lifestyle adjustments just because he ought to, when it has no impact, the atmosphere does not care, and no weight is put on why he still should.

Wagner got his economics training from great places, and is well-read. It shines through. He cites most of the canoncial resource and environmental economics literature, but also a lot of stuff I was unaware of, stuff I probably should know already. (Note to self: Read up.) He also refers to much interesting main stream writings. Unfortunately, Wagner does not provide a list of references. I find it odd, as the type of book usually provides a reference list. Keeping track and finding back to the references of interest require more effort than what it would otherwise.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend Wagner’s book. (And I apologize; I always think reviews should be written by someone enthusiastic about the work. It makes for more interesting reviews.) He brings little, if anything, new to the climate change discussion. While the book could have been a must-have for students and even some professionals, the missing reference list makes it not so. The weird personification of the planet, the atmosphere, and other physical, dead, unconscious things downgrades the book further on my part.

Carbon Footprints

February 4, 2011

Hat-tip: Env-Econ, Treehugger

Bizarro: Environmental tragedy

December 14, 2010

Don’t have much time for blogging these days, but I always have some time for comics!

Behavioral Economics and the Environment

September 15, 2010

Gardner Brown and Daniel A. Hagen guestedited a recent special issue of Environmental & Resource Economics (Vol. 46, No. 2), and suprisingly wrote the first article themselves. They begin like this:

Many economists have embraced a paradigm characterized by perfect information, rational expectations and an otherwise benign environment in which perfect competition reigns, with very minor asides for imperfect competition. Rumblings of opposition have been growing louder. Nobel prizes are being awarded to scholars who have taken us out of this historic straight jacket. Lo and behold there can be asymmetric information, increasing returns to scale, cooperative behavior and agents who consistently fail to optimize.
Behavioral economics is another theme gathering strength, and it may be particularly germane to environmental and resource economics. Consumer theory, measurement of benefits, intergenerational discounting, mechanism design, and the role of fairness are all subjects of importance for environmental and resource economics and they are all areas in which behavioral economicsmay provide important insights.

The Turbulent Side of Biodiversity

September 5, 2010

It’s been a while since I visited the Freakonomics blog. A while back, however, I started reading last year’s Superfreakonomics, and paid the blog a visit. My attention was attracted to a post on biodiversity, perhaps since I’ve lately taken an interest in the economics of biodiversity. The post is written by James McWilliams and asks:

[…] But it’s worth asking: what are we really talking about when we talk about biodiversity? On the surface, the word signifies the entirety of biological life. […] But not unlike the terms “environmentalism” and “sustainability,” biodiversity has a turbulent side, one with hidden implications that complicate its value as a precise gauge for land conservation.

Entirety of biological life? Hm, not sure if I agree.

The heroic efforts of ecologists notwithstanding—biodiversity remains an impossible concept to quantify in absolute terms. […] But critical questions remain: Is this erosion anything new in absolute terms? Is the decline in diversity that we’ve diligently documented and rightfully scorned reflective of genetic erosion as a whole? From the perspective of global biodiversity, does [for example] a salamander really matter?

A wise man once pointed out to me that much of human development and economic growth has relied on replacing ecosystems with monocultures (think clearing a forest to sow grains); a development impossible without loss of biodiverstiy. Notwithstanding:

One school of ecological thought rests on the premise that “biodiversity often peaks” in ecosystems that have been moderately disturbed by human development.

A final concern:

A final concern deals with the fact that, as we expand the built environment, some species will suffer the consequences while others will thrive, or at least suffer less. All of which raises a thorny philosophical question: who are we to decide which species deserve to flourish or suffer more than other species? Given that any sort of development, however aggressive, has the potential to influence an innumerable range of species in innumerable ways, we’re stuck with the task of somehow assigning comparative worth to plants and animals that have far outdated our own existence on the planet […]

Preserving and fostering biodiversity is a profoundly important environmental challenge, one that will only intensify throughout the century. But because the concept is so difficult to pin down and quantify, preserving it may require doing so through less expansive standards. More general, and policy-applicable, standards such as density of production, extent of open space, public health concerns, and the integration of built and natural environment might serve environmental concerns more efficiently than a concept that, theoretically speaking, has as much sympathy for a landfill as it does a rain forest.

A Question of Balance by William Nordhaus

August 24, 2010

Before I went into summer mode, I finished William Nordhaus’s book A Question of Balance (read short excerpt). The book’s subtitle is Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies. The book is somewhere inbetween a popular account of the economics of climate change and a technical report on Nordhaus’s (and his team of research assistants’s, one might add) analysis of different approaches to mitigate global warming. A lot of details are saved for the actual technical reports available online. (Note: Details have been updated since the book was published [2008]). Nordhaus still goes through and explains the main equations of the famous DICE model (Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy), such that most economists could use his online computer code to verify results and further play around with the model.

Before the technicalities, however, Nordhaus provides a ‘Summary for the Concerned Citizen’ (slightly pompous guy, this Nordhaus). The chapter gives a fair overview of the current concerns over global warming and how economists view and deal with them. I find it interesting how Nordhaus, who has already made sure readers are ‘concerned,’ tries to establish the DICE model as trustworthy:

The DICE model is like an iceberg. The visible part contains a small number of mathematical equations that represent the laws of output, emissions, climate change, and economic impacts. Yet beneath the surface, so to speak, these equations rest upon hundreds of studies of the individual components made by specialists in the natural and social sciences [pp. 7-8].

Among the important results Nordhaus reports to the Concerned is the policy ramp, where relatively small policy adjustments are made in the early period while rather heavy adjustments are necessary later. The delay of action limits the costliness of the policy plan. It’s effect is also limited, as calculated damages sums to $17 trillion globally. The results are of course highly uncertain, and although Nordhaus returns to the uncertainty issue several times, I still think he underplays the uncertainty in his results.

Nordhaus is clear on what he thinks about subsidies. He also instructs the Concerned on how to think about climate change policies:

To a first approximation, raising the price of carbon is a necessary and sufficient step for tackling global warming. The rest is at best rhetoric and may actually be harmful in inducing economic inefficiencies [p. 22].

Nordhaus closes his address to the Concerned with a clear message:

Global warming is a serious problem that will not solve itself. Countries should take cooperative steps to slow global warming. There is no case for delay [p. 28].

Again, the summary for the Concerned give the interested a fair idea of economists approach to climate change and their results, and while the rest of the book is rather dry (ideal for falling asleep), economists dabbling in related fields should at least be familiar with the summary.

Now, the remainder of the book is more like a light-version technical report on Nordhaus’s economic analysis of climate change. While the research is well carried out and well documented (one might question the approach to the uncertainty analysis [eh, don’t ask]), I am now reminded of Weitzman’s presentation at WCERE 2010. (“This paper asks how much we might be misled by our economic assessment of climate change when we employ a conventional quadratic damages function and/or a thin-tailed probability distribution for extreme temperatures.”) Weitzman concluded that what’s necessary is not research on the median scenario (like IPCC and Nordhaus), but rather research on fat tail distributions and catastrophic events. Weitzman argued forcefully for his conclusions and it is hard not to agree, horseshit or not.

Nordhaus carries out comparisons with well-known alternatives to climate change policies. The most prominent one, presented in the Stern Review, is found to induce ‘major inefficiencies’ (p. 76). Later in the book, a whole chapter is devoted to discussing the Stern Review approach.

A Question of Balance is a rather dry read. Perhaps expectedly, and somewhat ironic, one of the more interesting passages is found in footnote 1 to chapter VII and deals with interpretation of uncertainty (p. 215). Notwithstanding, it is clear that William Nordhaus is a major voice in the current debate over global warming mitigation. One of his main messages, and one I agree with, is his preferred choice of instrument: an internationally harmonized price on carbon. Whether the numbers he come up with are relevant remains to be seen, but they are at least scary. Really scary.

Related post:

William Nordhaus on Subsidies

June 3, 2010

From Nordhaus’s A Question of Balance (pp. 21-22):

Because of the political unpopularity of taxes it is tempting to use subsidies for “clean” or “green” technologies as a substitute for raising the price of carbon emissions. This is an economic and environmental snare to be avoided. The fundamental problem is that there are too many clean activities to subsidize. Virtually everything from market bicycles to nonmarket walking has a low carbon intensity relative to driving. There are simply insufficient resources to subsidize all activities that are low emitters. Even if the resources were available, the calculation of an appropriate subsidy for a particular activity would be a horrendously complicated task. An additional problem is that the existence of subsidies encourages a pell-mell [?] race for benefits an environmental form of rent-seeking activity. Ethanol subsidies in the United States, which are rapidly turning into an economic nightmare by diverting precious agricultural resources to the inefficient production of energy, are a case study in the folly of subsidies. To some extent, subsidies are simply the attempt of those who have the responsibility to clean up their activites by reducing emissions to place the fiscal burden elsewhere. Finally, subsidies have the public-finance problem of requiring revenues, which would involve raising the inefficiency of the tax system.

If someday…

May 4, 2010

I’m not sure exactly why, but I’m reading The Limits to Growth by Meadows et al. (1972). The book created debate at the time, and is still a sort of reference for arguments against infinite growth if I got it rigth. Anyway, on p. 86 (paperback, 1st printing), I read the following paragraph:

If man’s energy needs are someday supplied by nuclear power instead of fossil fuels, [the] increase in atmospheric CO_2 will eventually cease, one hopes before it has had any measureable ecological or climatological effect.

That was 1972. Innocent days.

The 11th Occasional Workshop on Environmental and Resource Economics

October 11, 2009

As said, this weekend I attended the 11th Occasional Workshop on Environmental and Resource Economics in Santa Barbara. The format of this meeting is pretty crazy. Each presenter gets 10 minutes to explain their idea, and each discussant gets 5 minutes to disucss two (!) papers. The weird thing is that it works remarkedly well. Since the meeting attracts many of the top guys in the field, the whole thing is like a blitz-show outlining the research frontier of environmental and resource economics.

Unfortunately, I was unable to give a presentation myself. I’m kind of glad to. Imagine presenting an idea you’ve worked on for months, sometimes years, and which takes you 20 pages plus to write down, in 10 minutes! I’d be in big trouble.

It was a really nice meeting. I met a lot of people working on the type of problems I’m interested in. I was also able to introduce myself to some the senior people in the field, which supposedly is a good thing for my future self. More importantly, perhaps, I got a few new ideas I’d like to look into as soon as I can get my disertation off my table. That, however, will still take some time.