Tag Archives: Climate change

Will Going Vegan Save the World? Maybe not

A study done by Helmi Risku-Norja and Sirpa Kurppa of MTT Agrifood Research Finland found that if everyone switched to being vegan , only eating fruits and vegetables, then the reduction of greenhouse gases would only be 7%.   So assuming this is true, anyone who is purely vegan for environmental reasons may be making a mistake.  More so is that in a game of dominant strategy, if you wanted to maximize your benefit of saving the planet vs. eating meat, you would need everyone to switch to vegan in order to get the small benefit.   But you can’t rely on everyone to do that.  Since meat is so tasty, the benefit of eating meat certainly outweighs the decision to go vegan.  Unless of course you went vegan for other reasons, such as health (arguable) or ethics.

Of course this game assumes the conclusions are true.  I am of course skeptical of this study, and since I can’t read it, I really can’t say for sure.  But, the article helps illustrate their point: (emphasis mine)

The team explains that for current average food consumption, in Finland, emissions from soil represent 62% of the total emissions. Greenhouses gases released by cows and sheep account for 24%, and energy consumption and fertiliser manufacture about 8% each. The greenhouse emissions performance for extensive organic production is poor, they explain, despite this approach to farming being considered the “green” option, the lower efficiency requires the cultivation of greater areas of soil, which counteracts many of the benefits.

That’s an interesting argument. Non-organic farming does produce more yield per acre. However, here is my issue. 1. This is in Finland, drastically different than elsewhere, especially the United States. I can speculate on their food consumption habits being less turf and more surf. 2. What “greenhouse gases” were they measuring? What raised my eyebrow was that meat emissions were only 24% and the article only listed cows and sheep. Isn’t methane worse? Is methane generated from the extra amount of land needed for organic farming? Either the Finnish (is that right?) don’t eat enough cows and sheep compared to the United States, or I have underestimated the amount of greenhouse gases created from an acreage of farmland. Statistics are not easily available to compare, making these conclusions immediately suspect.

HT: Free Market Mojo

Indecision on climate bill dampening economic recovery?

So says Obama. From Real Time Economics:

Senior Obama administration officials say the nation’s economic recovery could stall if Congress doesn’t pass a climate bill this year.

The officials warn that investors are so uncertain about the future cost of emitting greenhouse gases that they are sitting on capital rather than pouring it into “clean” technology, new power plants or energy-intensive manufacturing.

The administration has for months been moving away from advocating climate legislation primarily as an environmental issue and toward a jobs-creation argument. But the comments are a marked shift to a stronger rhetoric: fears of prolonging the recession. The White House says spurring “clean,” or low-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy, can help lay the foundation for the 21st-century U.S. economy.

“Right now there’s a lot of money on the sidelines,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Capital on hold means investments not being made, investments not being made means jobs not being created,” he said at an Export-Import Bank conference last week.

Companies that could capitalize on a carbon-constrained economy, such as General Electric Co., Alstom SA, Areva, Babcock & Wilcox, a unit of McDermott International, Siemens AG, Chesapeake Energy Corp. and First Solar Inc., say policy clarity will focus investment. So do emitting businesses that will need to adapt, such as American Electric Power Co. and BP PLC.

Ambiguity, however, breeds risk, which begets financiers’ reluctance.

It is an interesting argument. Financial decisions makers will always delay their decisions until some certainty can be had.  But, I don’t think indecision is hampering recovery. I think it is only limiting the potential for growth in clean energy. Nothing should change the outlook for conventional energy because climate change legislation’s aim is to not reduce the amount of conventional energy but reduce carbon. Financial decision makers regarding conventional energy should be much savvier when facing this uncertainty because the room for change is available post investment.  Unless congress is going to enact climate legislation that will completely cripple the conventional energy industry, (it won’t) carbon will be priced should be priced where alternative energy will become competitive.  There is no metric for pricing carbon at it’s value. (Pigovian tax)  Politics determines it.  Cap and trade is the best mechanism for private investment to determine the actual cost of carbon.

What the issue here is, investors wishing to take advantage of more growth in clean energy are waiting on congress to make clean energy more competitive.  So, while indecision is not hampering recovery, it certainly is hampering growth.  And given this comment:

“People need to realize this is a global market for our capital,” GE’s Walsh said. “Our money is going to go where we see long-term certainty … and if Europe has a better framework, that’s where our money’s going to go,” he said.

I would have to say that a climate bill is not an issue of environmentalism anymore. Its about helping new industries compete with a global mindset that may have more forward thinking politicians than America does. So maybe I should retract my comment: Indecision with climate change legislation isn’t hampering our recovery; its hampering our competitiveness with the rest of the world in clean energy.

Put climate change where your mouth is

Via MR, a really good NYT article written by John Tierny with a proposal that will put climate change skeptics and proponents beliefs to the test: tie the amount of carbon taxed/capped to the rise in temperature on earth.  Why is this great? If skeptics are right, we don’t pay anything.  If global warming proponents are right, we will have the safe guards installed to make sure that when temperatures do rise, we are able to internalize the actual cost of carbon, thereby limiting the amount we emit into the future.

Of course there will be needed discussion on just how the temperature should be measured, but the idea is foolproof nonetheless: the only judge of how much damage we are really doing to our earth will be from the earth itself.  No arguing over fudged forecasts or ulterior motives, this plan would take all of the political risk out of future changes to the climate and create a more forward looking plan; a plan that everyone will now have a stake in, including private investors – if they want to make sure that they hedge against higher costs in the future.

The problem with politics now would be how to implement it. Cap and trade or carbon tax?  The article suggests:

[…] it would be even better, Dr. McKitrick says, to use the temperature readings as the basis for a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade system. Like many economists and environmentalists, he argues that the carbon tax would be more effective at reducing emissions because it is simpler, more transparent, easier to enforce and less vulnerable to accounting tricks and political favoritism.

It is certainly true that a carbon tax would make things easier, but does it provide the efficiency that cap and trade would provide? One of the benefits of cap and trade is to allocate carbon credits to those who need to pollute the most, providing incentive for others to focus on creating more efficient and cleaner ways of lessening their carbon footprint. Just because a carbon tax may be easier, it still doesn’t yield the benefit of the gains from trade that could happen if carbon is able to be capped. In this case, only true polluters would bear the brunt of the costs, which could in turn, offset end costs to consumers. (Which is the driving point for cap and trade)

Understanding Climategate

I wanted to know what the deal was with this and whether there was any real steam to the issue.  The most criticized line “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline” may leave some to believe that that the data was fudged.   The issue of the debate has to do with using historical temperature data constructed from tree rings and then matching them with actual temperature data measured recently, which in turn show contradicting trends. To elaborate, from The Island of Doubt:

… a graph that shows how temperatures inferred from tree-ring records since about 1850 (the “proxies”) are a pretty good match for actual temperature records derived from thermometers right up until the 1980s. After that, the tree-ring data begin to show lower temperatures than were actually recorded.

Just why tree rings no longer provide useful proxy data for temperatures is not known. There are several theories, many of which suggest that climate change itself is the problem. Trees no longer grow as they once did before the climate started changing so rapidly. But the point is, there is no question that tree-ring growth rates of the past — before we had thermometers — can serve as useful proxies for historical temperature data. They are much less useful now, but that doesn’t matter so much because we have actual temperature records. All of this was sorted out back in 1998. It’s not new, nor even particularly interesting, to anyone familiar with the science.

Realclimate.org comments that this issue was already dealt with in climate circles and proves how the emails were taken out of context.

Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

Cynicism in scientific debate, especially as heated as climate change, is always warranted, but such unethical means of obtaining information to try and carryout well-placed press before important political undertakings is not an effective way to prove one’s point. All of which prove how much this really is just bunk.

A better way to tackle climate change?

The Netherlands has proposed to tackle climate change a different way:

The Dutch government said Friday it wants to introduce a “green” road tax by the kilometre from 2012 aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent and halving congestion.”Each vehicle will be equipped with a GPS device that tracks how many kilometres are driven and when and where. This data will be then be sent to a collection agency that will send out the bill,” the transport ministry said in a statement.

Ownership and sales taxes, about a quarter of the cost of a new car, will be scrapped and replaced by the “price per kilometre” system aimed at cutting the Netherlands’ carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent.

Traffic jams will be halved and it helps the environment,” the ministry said.

So, what if the U.S. was to try and use this as  a way to combat climate change? Well in U.S. dollars it will be a proposed cost of around 7 cents per mile.  We drive about 12.5k miles per year so that would yield a total cost of $875 annually per person.  With about 275 million motor vehicles on the road, that would yield an average of $240 billion dollars a year!  That would have a sizable impact on reducing the deficit.  If this were implemented it would have a significant impact on reducing traffic congestion and it would internalize the externality of carbon dioxide, helping to pay back for environmental damage.

Besides the political implications, (regressive taxation, blah blah) the U.S. is a much bigger country than the Netherlands and our vehicle mileage is drastically larger because we have more ground to cover.  Although technically feasible, the huge cost of implementation by putting GPS units in every car even if we exempt trucks, motorcycles and classics may be worth mentioning.   Though $875 dollars a year isn’t that bad, especially if sales taxes on cars were cut, I don’t think Americans particularly like the idea of having to pay more for their driving.  They probably won’t like the idea of big brother tracking how much you drive either.

It would make sense to just tax oil, but American’s won’t have that, especially when already faced with high gasoline prices.  But wouldn’t Americans prefer this than the high energy costs transferred from cap n trade?  I mean, the majority of carbon dioxide comes from our use of oil in transportation, although I am not sure it would be as effective as cutting carbon dioxide as cap and trade would.  And so this makes me wonder, which would be more politically effective, this or cap and trade?

HT: Mankiw

Enviromental Indicators

Chartporn has a beautiful chart displaying several environmental indicators with color coded trends.  To summarize, we have become more energy efficient, taken advantage of renewable energy, less consumption of CFCs, more forest cover, more access to freshwater and sanitation, and better governance.  However, we are still failing our climate, have less biodiversity, continue to consume more HCFCs and Methyl Bromide, harvest more of our forests and devastate the earth’s oceanic health.  It still is a long road ahead.

The SuperFreakonomics Debacle: An Overview

This has turned into quite the explosive debate.  Since I havn’t read the chapter yet, and refuse to –considering Brad Delong has posted it here — until it comes out, I figure I might as well try and aggregate every angle of the battle here since I really enjoyed the first book and am now…a bit worried about the new one.

First, the criticism that started it all, Joseph Romm’s venom originally on climateprogress.org.  I read his first post on the gristmill.org, following others including David Roberts and  Melanie Fitzpatrick.  Romm has followed up on climate progress in five parts, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 as well as a debunking Levitt’s and Dubner’s damage control.

Second, the blogosphere is all over this with heavy weights like Brad Delong and Paul Krugman.  Mark Thoma effectively highlights most of the conversation, but if you want the whole story…Krugman tries to get on the bandwagon but instead just leaves it at a “what it all means” post.  Brad Delong pulls out all the stops to the point of self proclaiming that his brain matter now encompasses his entire room.  Considering that he has so many posts to follow, I am going to just link them as a story: The beginning,  then solar panels, on Ezra Klein destroying the credibility of the whole book, correspondence, the freaks freak out, 6 questions for the freaks, HT to Krugman, some Global Warming data, (part of the debate? might as well) the defenders, do over?, William Connolley, one more, and the last, no wait…this is the last.

Speaking of the defenders…we have Tim Harford, Bryan Caplan, Robert Waldmann and Joshua Gans.  Some neutral players include Tim Haab and Tyler CowenBrad Johnson on Caldiera.  Even the stand-up economist.

And since I am out of breath…Left as an exercise has everybody else, including non-economists and climatologists on the Freakonomics Fail.

Will give my input once I read the book.

That is all.

UPDATE: Free Exchange has a great post too on how this may damage Levitt’s reputation, who in my mind, is going to be the worst one off from this…

UPDATE (10/20): Nathan Myhrvold defends against Romm’s accusations of black solar panels on Freakonomics. (here)  The book was just released.

UPDATE (10/21): This is the best compilation of all sides against the issue. (here)

Side note: My previous, naive post was deleted. I don’t want to take sides just yet until I read it…and that will be the whole book so it will take some time…