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CGI 2011 – Plenary on Climate Change (AGW)

President Clinton introduces the panelists, noting that there is a UN discussion of Libya scheduled for 10:00 a.m. and that they will have to leave quickly.  First up is Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, about whom President Clinton is enthusiastic.

Calderon is less vibrant, but presents an impressive array of detail on Mexico’s unilateral reduction in carbon usage, noting that 26% of the energy used in the country now is from renewable sources.  Part of this has been accomplished by the simple things: a concerted consumer campaign toward replacing old refrigerators and light bulbs with modern ones.

President Calderon notes that much of the problem in developing countries has originated with cutting down the extant trees.  The Cancun meetings resulted in a new international agreement.  Today, we have a new challenge: continuing the Kyoto Protocol.  “Most important agreement and most important instrument”—saying this in front of President Clinton—needs leadership and mobilization of public opinion.

President Clinton notes that the countries that have been putting major effort into climate change have outperformed the United States in jobs, growth, and reducing income inequality.

President Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, notes that “we all agree that climate change is a danger” and that “we need to work together to address the challenges.”  The people on the ground—the voters—see this as a direct matter of life and death; it is the leadership that is needed in Durban.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Norway, says that he would not have believed you if you had told him ten years ago that emissions trading in Europe would be possible. Need to have legal agreements, not just a Durban-style reiteration of Kyoto and Copenhagen. (Those of us who were talking about trading energy and weather derivatives twenty years ago probably should be less amazed at this statement than I am.)

President Clinton asks how to work toward energy use reduction in developing countries. The Prime Minister of Grenada, Tilman Thomas, addresses this, mostly by noting a “moral responsibility” to the people of his country. President Clinton notes, repeating what he said last night, that of all of the Caribbean countries, only Trinidad produces any of the carbon-based energies—all other countries have to import oil and natural gas at great cost.  If there were financing available, could expand alternative sources: solar, hydro, and sugar-ethanol, for instance.

The Prime Minister of Slovenia, Danilo Türk, notes that there is Global Governance taking place without global government. Carbon tax would be good because it makes costs predictable. “Very fundamental long-term development challenge,” need to find the “appropriate public funds for transformative technologies now,” following the German solar precedent.

(President Clinton noted that the sun shines in Germany “as much as it does in London.”  I take this to mean that it is not a bright, cheerful country.)

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina echoes the sentiment expressed by several others:  there needs to be a legal requirement. She notes that 20% of the land of her country will be eliminated as the current trend runs.  President Clinton adds The Maldives and even Afghanistan to the list of places that will have to do more and more with less and less (land and resources).

Prime Minister of Mali Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé notes that one of the biggest problems facing her country is “brain drain” to the United States and Europe.

European Commission President José Manuel D. Barroso notes that many countries have taken individual steps, but that much more is needed to reach the 2 degrees C target—currently on target for only about 60% of that.  “Transparency is key.” Have two very important alliances: science, which is on our side, and public opinion, which should be.

President Calderon has been leading in reforestation; planted about half (500MM) of the trees U.N. Secretary General requested—and collaterally made Mexico City a better place to live.  Tells a story about Tanzania, in which a village grew trees for carbon credits: and gave back more than half of that to get more people in the village a better life.  (I suspect this is an example of what David Graeber is talking about when he notes that communal obligation has always preceded—and generally superseded—economic theory.)

President Clinton also notes that the U.S. Senate is now only 50% “global warming deniers.”  He apologizes for that, but notes that it is progress from the 95-0 vote against the Kyoto Treaty.

I believe that is also the only time the phrase “global warming” was used in the entire discussion.  It was almost as if people were afraid to note that the changes are of our own doing, not just the Earth getting mad.

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Thinking about Research

Chris Blattman highlights the latest version of Janet Currie and Reed Walker’s research on a positive externality of the shift to E-Z Pass (PDF link). From the Abstract:

We find that reductions in traffic congestion generated by E-ZPass reduced the incidence of prematurity and low birth weight among mothers within 2km of a toll plaza by 6.7-9.1% and 8.5-11.3% respectively, with larger effects for African-Americans, smokers, and those very close to toll plazas. There were no immediate changes in the characteristics of mothers or in housing prices in the vicinity of toll plazas that could explain these changes, and the results are robust to many changes in specification. The results suggest that traffic congestion is a significant contributor to poor health in affected infants. Estimates of the costs of traffic congestion should account for these important health externalities.

The interesting thing is that I read this paper a while ago—earlier this year, or even late last.  Well, maybe not this version of  the paper, but an earlier version of it which also showed significant positive results.  And it gets me thinking about how we deal with research.

Because the past six months or so—since the previous version—are six months in which this information apparently didn’t get disseminated to the Chris Blattmans and Kevin Drums of this world, six months during which uninformed people have bought houses near non-EZ-Pass toll plazas, six months during which every Republican candidate for the House or Senate not named Mark Kirk has spoken as if since climate change is not real, and therefore there are no possible reasons to reduce emissions. (As an aside, that the glorious liberal days of IN-9 are when Lee Hamilton seat for as long as he wanted it is an indicator of discourse shift, as this blog’s pretense to being “left of center” makes clear.)

In a limited sense, that’s probably as it should be.  People who knew about the paper read it, sent comments to the authors, asked questions, suggested changes and the refinements.  I’m certain the current version is a better paper than the one I read, with better details.

But there is likely someone who, in the past six months, bought a house near a toll plaza that doesn’t have E-Z Pass exits, thinking she was going to raise her soon-to-be-born child in a better environment than an apartment who would have liked to have known about this study, instead of ending up with “Buyer’s Remorse” in a real—not just an economic or psychological—sense.

As long as research is delayed by details and false narratives remain information-free, markets will remain inefficient. And people will have what economists gracefully call “suboptimal outcomes.”  Such as “prematurity and low birth weight,” neither of which is a positive indicator for future success and earnings.

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