Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Is Doing Environmental Economics Especially Depressing?

Is Doing Environmental Economics Especially Depressing?

We have now learned that on Aug. 27 last week Matin Weitzman hanged himself, leaving a note citing his failure to share in last year’s Nobel Prize as well as his apparently declining mental acuity.  That prize he did not share included William Nordhaus as a recipient for his work on climate economics issues, a topic that Weitzman also worked on, arguably more deeply and originally than did Nordhaus.

Last April Alan Krueger also committed suicide, although we have to this day not learned either how it was done or if he left any notes or if somehow it is otherwise known why he did it, with the only hint of any trouble being that he suddenly stopped tweeting in January, which he had previously done daily.  He is better known for his work on minimum wages with David Card and worked on many topics.  But among his topics was also environmental economics, with he and Gene Grossman publishing an influential paper on the Environmental Kuznets Curve in 1994, although it is nnot fully known that it was actually discovered by Thomas Selden and Song Daqing from looking at data on SO2 emissions by country.  So he was also involved in environmental economics.

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A note on Arctic sea ice

Figure 1

Via mashable:

Alaska’s exceptional summer continues.

The most rapidly changing state in the U.S. has no sea ice within some 150 miles of its shores, according to high-resolution sea ice analysis from the National Weather Service. The big picture is clear: After an Arctic summer with well above-average temperatureswarmer seas, and a historic July heat wave, sea ice has vanished in Alaskan waters.

“Alaska waters are ice free,” said Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

“This is definitely an extreme year — even by more recent standards in a changed Arctic,” noted Walt Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

In the continually warming Arctic, sea ice has completely melted around the Alaskan coast before, notably during 2017’s melt season, but never this early. “It’s cleared earlier than it has in any other year,” said Thoman. (Sea ice starts regrowing again in the fall, when temperatures drop.)

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The Hurricane/Picture of Dorian Gray: A Perfect Moral Storm in Three Texts

The Hurricane/Picture of Dorian Gray: A Perfect Moral Storm in Three Texts

Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital:

The temporal aspect is particularly striking,’ writes philosopher Stephen Gardiner, who has done perhaps more than anyone to foreground it, in A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change: it catches us in a bind. Given that global warming is ‘seriously backloaded’ (every moment experiencing a higher temperature posted from the past) and ‘substantially deferred’ (the cumulative effects of current emissions arriving in the future), a warped ethical structure arises. The person who harms others by burning fossil fuels cannot even potentially encounter his victims, because they do not yet exist. Living in the here and now, he reaps all the benefits from the combustion but few of the injuries, which will be suffered by people who are not around and cannot voice their opposition. Each generation, reasons Gardiner, thus faces a perverse incentive to ‘pass the buck’ to the next, which also profits from its own fossil fuel combustion while dodging the pain from it, and so on, in a vicious cycle of infliction of harm.

James P. Kossin, “A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed”:

As the Earth’s atmosphere warms, the atmospheric circulation changes. These changes vary by region and time of year, but there is evidence that anthropogenic warming causes a general weakening of summertime tropical circulation.

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Goats and Dogs, Eco-Fascism and Liberal Taboos

When remembered at all, Edward Abbey is mostly thought of as an environmentalist and anarchist but there is no gainsaying the racism and xenophobia on display in his 1983 essay, “Immigration and Liberal Taboos.” The opinion piece was originally solicited by the New York Times, which ultimately declined to publish it — or to pay him the customary kill fee. It was subsequently rejected by Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Mother Jones and Playboy before finally being published in the Phoenix New Times as “The Closing Door Policy.”

Various white nationalist blogs applaud what they view as Abbey’s foresightedness and forthrightness regarding immigration, presumably oblivious to how those views relate to his ideas about wealth inequality, industrial development and authoritarianism. Conversely, Abbey fans on the left who seek to insulate his nature writing from the taint of his anti-immigrant bigotry ignore the way in which, as Michael Potts put it, “a xenophobic and racist image of the immigrant as pollution… map[s] cultural and ethnic prejudices on to an idealised landscape.” (Dumping Grounds: Donald Trump, Edward Abbey and the Immigrant as Pollution) Abbey’s admirers on both the right and the left thus resort either to blinkers or lame apologetic to redeem him for their political preferences.

My interpretation is that Abbey was a curmudgeon and contrarian whose intended target was liberal hypocrisy. Immigrants were merely “collateral damage” of his colorful diatribes. In the pursuit of being provocative, though, he revealed more than he bargained for about his prejudices. It is precisely this flawed complexity, though, that makes Abbey’s writing a kind of Rosetta Stone for deciphering the dire social hieroglyphics of our time. Presumably, Abbey did not think of himself as racist. He was indignant when accused of racism. But the institutions of the society he grew up in transmit racism in their DNA.

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Climate Equity: What Is It?

Climate Equity: What Is It?

While action against climate change languishes, the rhetoric keeps getting more intense.  For several years now it hasn’t been enough to demand climate policy; we need climate justice.  We will not only eliminate fossil fuels in a decade or three, we will solve the problems of poverty and discrimination, and all in a single political package.  It sounds good, but what does it mean?

You might look for an answer in new legislation introduced by AOC and Kamala Harris, the Climate Equity Act.  As reported yesterday, it establishes a federal Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability, whose job would be to evaluate all proposed regulations according to their impact on low income communities.  No doubt this would bring more attention to issues at the intersection of green politics and social justice, which is all to the good, but creating new layers of oversight still doesn’t answer the question, what is climate justice?

Is justice about taking care of, say, the bottom 20% of the income distribution?  The bottom half?  Some other number?  And what counts as an impact?

The first thing to notice is that, by limiting matters of justice to low income communities, the bill reinforces a politics that divides the world into the socially excluded, the poorest and most vulnerable, on the one hand and everyone else on the other.  The majority of voters are effectively enlisted as allies of those at the bottom.  This is the consequence of drawing the line where they do.  A very different politics was proposed by Occupy, placing 99% of us in one camp and the top 1% in the other.

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Pledging Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030 or 2050: Does it Matter?

Pledging Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030 or 2050: Does it Matter?

We now have two responses to the climate emergency battling it out among House Democrats, the “aggressive” 2030 target for net zero emissions folded into the Green New Deal and a more “moderate” 2050 target for the same, just announced by a group of mainstream legislators.  How significant is this difference?  Does where you stand on climate policy depend on whether your policy has a 2030 or 2050 checkpoint?

I say no.  Neither target has any more than symbolic value, and what the government does or doesn’t do to prevent a klimapocalypse (can we use this interlingual word?) won’t depend on which one gets chosen.

Endpoint targets have no constraining power at all.  A 2030 target won’t be met or unmet until 2030, and by then it will be too late.  Same, and worse, for a 2050 target.  Moreover, the whole target idea is based on a misconception of how carbon emissions work.  The CO2 we pump into the atmosphere will remain for several human generations; it accumulates, and the sum of the carbon we emit this year plus next plus the one after and so on is what will determine how much climate change we and our descendants will have to endure.  (The relationship between our emissions and the earth system’s response is complex and may embody tipping points due to feedback effects.)  Every additional ton of carbon counts the same, whether it occurs today or just before some arbitrary target date.

What we need instead is a carbon budget, an announced total quantity of emissions we intend to hold ourselves to, starting right now and continuing through the end of the century.  That way, whether we’re living up to our pledge or scrapping it is put to us each year based on how quickly we’re using up our quota.  It sets the meter running now.

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Climate Chaos?

Dan here.  You will be reading more of him soon…David Zetland has contributed here on water issues via Aguanomics. He now publishes his blog The one-handed economist.  He is a native Californian who moved to Amsterdam several years ago. David is an assistant professor of political economy at Leiden University College, a liberal arts school located in The Hague. He teaches courses in social and business entrepreneurship, cooperation in the commons, and environmental, growth and development economics.

Here is a more informal piece on his newsletter:

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Climate change economics

Via Evonomics, Steve Keen critiques Norhaus’s model for predicting economic damage per degree of average temperature rise….nerdy, and includes graphs and math, but worth a look.

By Steve Keen

This piece is part of a series from Steve Keen, Climate Change and the Nobel Prize in Economics: The Age of Rebellion. In the previous post, Keen noted the contrast between the urgency that Extinction Rebellion sees about limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, and Nordhaus’s conclusion that the gap between the benefits of mitigating global warming and the costs is maximized at a 4 degree increase in global temperature. In this post, he delves into DICE itself.

DICE stands for “Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy”. It’s the mathematical model from which Nordhaus derives the results noted in the previous figures.

DICE is based on the Neoclassical long term growth model devised by the mathematical prodigy Frank Ramsey in 1928 {Ramsey, 1928 #5029}. This is the same foundation as the mainstream RBC (“Real Business Cycle”) and DSGE (“Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium”) macroeconomic models that completely failed to anticipate the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

Nordhaus’s Damage Function is the first substantive graphic in the DICE manual, and one look at it (see Figure 8) should give anyone—even Climate Change Deniers (CCDs)—cause for concern. Even if Anthropogenic Global Warming were a myth, even if the temperature rise was being caused by the Sun, would it really be true that a 5 degree increase in the average temperature of the globe would only reduce global GDP by 5 percent?

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Covering the Sahara Desert with Solar Panels to Fight Climate Disaster?

Juan Cole at Informed Comment has a post up by Will de Freitas Should we cover the Sahara Desert with Solar Panels to Fight Climate Disaster?

A map of North Africa is shown, with a surprisingly small box somewhere in Libya or Algeria shaded in. An area of the Sahara this size, the caption will say, could power the entire world through solar energy.

Over the years various different schemes have been proposed for making this idea a reality. Though a company called Desertec caused a splash with some bold ideas a decade ago, it collapsed in 2014 and none of the other proposals to export serious amounts of electricity from the Sahara to Europe and beyond are anywhere close to being realized.

An engineer at Nottingham Trent University has researched various options for Saharan solar, Amin Al-Habaibeh and discusses the sheer size of the Sahara desert and amount of sunshine it receives:

– It’s larger than Brazil, and slightly smaller than the US.

– If every ray of sunshine hitting s the Sahara was converted into energy, the desert would produce enough electricity over any given period to power Europe 7,000 times over.

So even a small chunk of the desert could indeed power much of the world, in theory. But how would this be achieved?

According to Amin Al-Habaibeh, there are two main technologies which can be applied to this project and each has their pros and cons:

– Concentrated solar power using lenses or mirrors to focus the sun’s energy in one spot, which becomes incredibly hot. This heat then generates electricity through a steam turbine.

– A tower in the middle of the mirror or lens is the “receiver” which then feeds heat to a generator.

– Some systems store the heat in the form of molten salt. This means they can release energy overnight, when the sun isn’t shining, providing a 24 hour per day supply of electricity.

– Concentrated solar power is very efficient in hot, dry environments, but the steam generators use large amounts of water.

– There are also the regular photovoltaic solar panels which are much more flexible and easier to set up, but less efficient in the very hottest weather.

Amin Al-Habaibeh: “Just a small portion of the Sahara could produce as much energy as the entire continent of Africa does at present. As solar technology improves, things will only get cheaper and more efficient. The Sahara may be inhospitable for most plants and animals, but it could bring sustainable energy to life across North Africa – and beyond.”

The issue may be in how to transmit the energy to other areas? Is it still transmission via immense cables?

The longer we delay, wait, deny, and ignore the issues we produced for climate; the more drastic the action to be taken. There is more to the discussion on producing power from the sun in the desert and worth exploring. In Juan Cole’s post: Should we cover the Sahara Desert with Solar Panels to Fight Climate Disaster? there are other sites identified in which to do similar installations.

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