17 Dec 2017

14 Dec 2017

IB-NET now has water tariffs for 200 countries!

I've been following IB-NET for several years. It's a World Bank project that collects data on water/wastewater charges (at a high cost of time and money) and they publishes that data in an easy-to-use and compare format that really helps researchers, policy people, water managers, and just normal people understand who prices are set, where they are unsustainable, and so on.

I recommend that you head over to IB-NET to check out your country -- and maybe even your city!

Here's Amsterdam (click to enlarge):

and here's Los Angeles:

Comment: It's curious that Amsterdam -- relatively speaking -- is more expensive to small users (15m3 is 41 liters/day) but cheaper for heavy users. That's probably because Amsterdam has plenty of water and a top-notch system. Are LA's prices "right"? If the water is on and safe, then yes. If there's a risk of shortage or network failure, then probably not. (Money helps, but good regulation and professional managers are what make a system work, long run.)

12 Dec 2017

We have no insurance against this risk

I wrote this post as a chapter for the forthcoming Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2
Nobody can take credit for inventing insurance. All cultures have found ways to protect individuals from the full cost of bad luck.
  • Farmers diversify their crops in type, location and timing to reduce their risks, but storage, trade and mutual assistance help unlucky farmers.
  • Communities diversity their work, assets and family relations to reduce their risks, but migration, sharing and collaboration help unlucky neighbors.
  • Investors diversity among liquid and illiquid assets with short-term or long-term maturities, but laws, family ties and social welfare protect the bankrupt.
Humans evolved these structures — and the rich social bonds and norms that hold them together — over millennia, with each post-event refinement bringing a little more stability to the system and prosperity to the group.

For most of the 200,000-year history of our species, Nature delivered accidents and harm, but those risks became predictable over time and thus amenable to insurance, hedging, and other means of investing a little in good times to avoid occasional, catastrophic losses.

Among those who study climate, "stationarity" implies that patterns vary within clear boundaries over time. For the past 5,000 years, climate has been stationary in terms of temperatures, precipitation and storms. That pattern has been disrupted by acute forces — hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — just as it has evolved under the influence of solar radiation and other geological processes, but those changes (small and local or large and slow, respectively) have not been strong enough to overwhelm our primitive insurances or prevent us from migrating out of harm's way.

Welcome to non-stationarity

Anthropogenic climate change will bring unprecedented risks that will strain and occasionally break our formal and informal coping mechanisms. In October 2017, the World Meteorological Association noted that:
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016 to the highest level in 800,000 years... The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now... The rate of increase of atmospheric CO2 over the past 70 years is nearly 100 times larger than that at the end of the last ice age. As far as direct and proxy observations can tell, such abrupt changes in the atmospheric levels of CO2 have never before been seen.
The unprecedented levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) and their unnatural accumulate rate in the atmosphere mean that our species is about to experience dramatic changes in temperatures, precipitation and storms.

As a water economist, I am well aware of climate change's impacts on the water cycle and thus on the various categories of water-related phenomena  through which climate change will arrive. Given this experience, I would order the risks in these categories, in order of highest to lowest threat to humans, as follows:
  1. Temperatures too high or too low for unprotected exposure
  2. Droughts or precipitation too long to be buffered by storage or drainage
  3. Changes or crashes in biodiversity that destroy entire food systems
  4. Wind-driven storms stronger than natural or man-made defenses
  5. Changes in sea levels and currents that alter continental ecosystems
Note that I put sea-level rise — the change most closely connected to the name of this project — as the least-threatening category of change.

There are many ways to die

Our formal and informal means of insuring ourselves against risk and disaster are going to fail many people in the decades ahead. Poor people with incompetent or corrupt governments will try to help each other, but their resources can only go so far. Rich people will be partially insulated by financial and political coping mechanisms, but additional costs will undermine markets and overwhelm bureaucracies and taxpayers. People all over the world will face the reality of uninsured losses and the uncertainty of emerging, unprecedented risks.

In 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years, Jorgen Randers (one of the original authors of The Limits to Growth) suggested that climate change would slow as humans diverted resources from consumption (and thus GHGs) to investments designed to offset climate change impacts. Although his logic is sound, I see few signs of that switch.

Bottom line: The damages from climate-change driven alterations to the water cycle will overwhelm our coping mechanisms, leading to unprecedented death, destruction and misery. It's unlikely that anyone will have the resources to help you when you need it, so now is the time to invest in securing yourself and your community against those risks.
Comments are closed here. Please comment on the original post -- especially if you find errors in fact or logic!

7 Dec 2017

Stop talking affordable water and start talking poverty

Circle of Blue published this long, aggravating article of the efforts of activists, water managers and (far too many consultants) to "find a compromise" on the price of water that will cover system costs without "burdening the poor."

Let me solve this "puzzle."

First, there's no point in making water cheap to help poor people. Cheap water will not make them rich. If you want to help poor people, then give them money.

Second, water utilities are neither charities nor social innovators. Their job is to deliver safe and adequate quantities of water at prices that cover their costs of operations, maintenance and expansion. Utilities that are underfunded (like those in India that lose money on every cubic meter delivered) cannot provide good service.* Utilities that are asked to take care of poor people (like those in England where the government is too stingy to help poor people [pdf]) lose track of their primary mission (good service) as they struggle to identify who is "poor".**

Third, any politician who claims that water needs to be cheap to help poor people is a lying, lazy incompetent. It's the politician's job to tax the rich to help the poor, but US politicians work for the rich. Sad.

Bottom line: Water utilities need money to operate and deliver safe, adequate water to customers who should pay for it. If those customers are too poor, then the government should give them money, not undermine utility finances with counterproductive "affordable water" mandates.

*FYI, I pay about €50 ($60) per month for water, sewer and water security (protecting Amsterdam, and thus my house, from flooding). I provide this figure NOT to show how it's less than my TV bill (I don't have a TV) or mobile phone bill (that's €25/month), but to show how world-class service can be quite cheap. Why is that? Dutch professionals are pro-active and their utilities compete to provide the best value for money, so they avoid many mistakes common in under-funded locations.

** According to Donoso (2017), the government of Chile pays for some share of the cost of water in poorer households, i.e.:
Affordability criteria are met by the provision of subsidies directly to the most vulnerable house- holds. Households are classified based on an annual survey (Encuesta Casen) which estimates household per capita income. In order to qualify for the subsidy, households must not have payment arrears with the service provider. The central government transfers the block subsidy to the municipalities; the latter uses this to pay a share of each of the eligible household’s water bill. The subsidy considers a payment share from 15 to 85% of the water bill, with the poorest families getting the highest share, and covers water consumption up to 15 m3. The WSS providers bill the benefiting households for the consumption cost not covered by the subsidy, but indicate the full consumption cost, and then charge the municipality for the subsidies granted. The advantage of this subsidy scheme is that it does not distort price signals.

5 Dec 2017

The unexplored costs of our online persona

Rory writes*

A few weeks ago as I attempted to access my profile on a well-known social media site I was blocked from doing so. On closer inspection it appeared that someone, somewhere had gained access to my account, changed my password, removed certain security steps I had arranged, and was only shut out after about 20 minutes of unrestricted access to my online persona. Whilst this experience may be common it prompted me to think of how I interact and use my online environment, and the effect an experience such as this has this.

Nowadays a reliance can be built around use of online accounts, through the use of email, social media and online banking. It's not difficult to see that we save a huge amount of time by being connected to the web in this way, we save money through the use of online banking, and we enrich our social lives through the use of social media (I'm aware this final point is arguable however for simplicity I'll accept its validity). However all of these savings and benefits must have a cost. In this case one of the costs is our security, by making these webs of reliance over various online accounts and personas we are able to interact with our online environment, on the other hand we can simultaneously expose ourselves to the risk of identity theft.

After an attack or theft of one's online identity, there are two ways in which one can approach interacting online, either keep using it the way they have, aware of this danger, or alter their behaviour to reduce this risk. There are obvious ways in which this can be quantified, for example the time costs of having to manage bank accounts in person in branch, or perhaps the added financial cost. Additionally there are less easily quantifiable social costs in removing oneself from a social media environment which seems to have a monopoly on arranging any social occasion. It's not for me to say which course of action is most prudent, however it is possible to see there is a relationship between an individuals' utility and their exposure to risk. Whilst I can gain much from fully using my online environment, I lose much security in this process. Alternatively I can sacrifice my time and social life in favour of peace of mind, another impossible to quantify factor.

Or is it? This factor could possibly be quantified if I ask myself; how much would I pay for a sort of insurance which assures me that my online environment will not be hijacked? Or alternatively how much would I have to be paid to put myself in this risky situation? In essence the answer to both of these questions would be more or less the same as the utility loss of altering my behaviour to not use social media, email, and online banking.

Bottom Line: There are hidden costs to interacting with our online environment, attacks on t our online identity simply make these costs obvious. We may think we pay for the ease of the online world through ads or through data-mining, but we may also pay with our security and peace of mind.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

Les Motos du Faso

Marty writes*

“Les Motos du Faso” or the motorcycles of Burkina Faso are as much of a staple as bicycles are in the Netherlands. Throughout my life I have spent many holidays in Ouagadougou and every year I go back it seems like two-wheel traffic increases exponentially. Locally, all two wheelers with engines are simply referred to as “motos” and are a way of life. I have learned that you cannot go anywhere in Ouaga without running into swarms of “motos” criss-crossing through traffic and revving their engines at every stop light. This video shows the typical intersection in Ouaga, 30 seconds into the video you see what is habitual at every traffic light in the city. This post will discuss what factors have to be taken into account when evaluating the environmental cost of the widespread use of “motos” in Ouagadougou.

According to an article published on TRT (Turkey Radio and Television) there is approximately one “moto” for every two people in the capital city, that is 760,000 “motos." When analysing the cost of widespread “moto” this number would serve as our starting point in identifying their indirect cost to the environment, and those living in it. The average distance travelled per day along with an average for CO2 emissions per kilometer would have to be calculated to figure out total CO2 emissions. However, then a cost has to be assigned to CO2 emissions. A major question arises at this point, is the cost of CO2 emissions the same everywhere or are certain areas affected more? To elaborate on this, can we calculate the cost of CO2 emissions for only Ouagadougou or would a greater area have to be involved, and if so how would this be included in a cost-benefit analysis?

Additionally there are various externalities which occur as a result of high motorcycle use. The cost of these externalities are perhaps harder to measure than the direct environmental impact of motorcycles. A main example of this is waste produced by motorcycle mechanics who are dotted on the sides of roads throughout the city. These usually resemble a small shack surrounded by a few motorcycles and one or more mechanics. As most of these garages are informal there is no legitimate waste management system, as such many of them dispose of “motor” oil on dirt roads (sometimes to combat dust), or in open sewage. A practice that potentially has serious repercussions for the groundwater supply.

Bottom Line: The widespread use of “motos” in Ouagadougou has serious environmental consequences, some of which are easily measured. However, many of externalities of their use have hidden costs nearly impossible to measure.
* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

4 Dec 2017

Will Nicaragua's intracontinental canal fight poverty?

Gabriela writes*

Nicaragua has developed and implemented pioneering strategies to fight poverty. Thanks to these strategies, the Central-American country has managed to reduce poverty from 42.5% to 29.6% in a record time of five years. Nonetheless, it’s Human Development Index (HDI) it’s lower than the average of Latin America and the Caribbean, ranking 124 out of 188 countries. This is a clear sign that the Nicaraguan government still has a lot to do to foster development in the country.

As an attempt to promote economic growth and fight against poverty, the government of Nicaragua has enacted plans to start the construction of a canal that connects the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean. The project promises, according to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, to lift around 400 thousand people out of poverty. The canal will extend 278 km across the country through the path shown in the following picture. If the canal is constructed, there are many environmental (in the broad sense of the word) issues that will appear.
Nicaragua Canal route
To begin with, one of the worst impacts comes from long-term water security. The canal will cross the Cocibolca lake, which is the biggest fresh water reserve of Central America. To make up for it, the government affirmed they will include a water project to make up for it, but it is not yet formally proposed. The construction of the canal would negatively impact more than 80,000 people who use the water and will negatively affect the ecosystem of it, too. Out of those, the main issue comes with the people that fish and use the lake as their main source of income and food. In addition to that, it will cause hydrocarbon pollution, salinity and turbidity problems in the lake. The construction of the canal would also translate into deforestation as new land must be cleared for it.

To construct the canal a wide range of forests will be cut down, out of those, the canal will cross through 8 environmentally protected areas.  This causes an increase of vulnerability to disasters such as floods and droughts. Reasons for this is that the land will be less resilient, and there will also be an increased soil erosion. Animals from the protected areas will be forced from their natural habitat to other places, which increases competition in other habitats.

With regards to the people that will be displaced from their lands, there is also an issue of reallocation. The government has not yet proposed a plan of how people are going to be compensated from their lands nor if they are going to be reallocated to other parts of the country. In general, many issues derive from internal rural to urban migration, given that the habitable space that Nicaragua has will be substantially reduced, it might become more complicated.

Bottom line: In a nutshell, Nicaragua remains one of the least developed countries in Latin America. Combined with its geographical and ecological position, marked by heavy deforestation, it remains one of the countries in the region which is most vulnerable to disasters. The construction of a canal that would affect the Nicaraguan environment especially in regard to water security, deforestation which would accentuate the magnitude of natural disasters and with the communities displaced. There is a clear need to assess the environmental costs and benefits of maintaining it and using it as a tourist haven, taking advantage of the beauty of forests and the Ometepe volcano.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

The short-run demand curve of Groningen’s gas

Tom writes*

Since its discovery in 1959, the Groningen gas field has been exhausted for approximately 80 per cent of its total supply (NOS 2017). These drillings have caused more and more earthquakes in the region, sparking intense protests by the locals, who demanded gas drillings to be downscaled severely (Dempsey and Suckale 2017). The gas has been very profitable for the Dutch government, as it has earned €290 billion over these 60 years (NOS 2017) and despite many protests in Groningen, the government has been very hesitant to downscale the gas extraction in Groningen. As what follows will suggest, the main reason for this is the monopoly of the gas produced in Groningen on the gas provision in the Netherlands and parts of Germany, France and Belgium, leading to a static demand curve for Groningen’s gas.

In the Netherlands, 7 million households are dependent on the gas produced in Groningen (Rijksoverheid 2017). On top of that, 4 million households in Germany and 2 million households in France and Belgium also rely on gas from Groningen (Bremmer 2017). The demand for this necessary good, as it provides people with one of their basic needs, is relatively inelastic, so a shift in the quantity demanded, i.e. a shift on the demand curve, is unlikely, because people simply want and need to keep their houses and water warm to a certain extent. It becomes, however, even more complex, when we consider the more technical elements of this story. The problem of the Groningen gas is that it is of special quality. Most natural gas, also gas from Russia, is ‘high calorific’, whereas the gas extracted from Groningen is ‘low calorific’, also called L-gas. As a result, most houses in the Netherlands, and also the German, French and Belgian regions depending on Groningen, are built with a system that can only handle L-gas (Bremmer 2017). This means that alternatives for natural gas from Groningen can simply not be used, since all alternative supply of natural gas is H-gas, unless this high calorific gas is transformed to L-gas by adding nitrogen to it in expensive installations (GasTerra 2015). These, however, take time to be built and, therefore, to replace the L-gas from Groningen.

A demand curve can shift due to various reasons, but none of those reasons is present here, at least not in the short term. A change in income or tastes or preferences is not going to alter the fact that people need natural gas to keep their houses warm (see earlier point). In the short term, the population size will not change significantly, as to affect the demand, and on the long term the problems described above might already have been solved. And, lastly, there are no substitute goods available in the short term, whereas currently it is not so much the issue of complementary goods, but rather of a complementary system, which is all constructed to facilitate the use of particularly natural gas from Groningen.

This does not mean, however, that inhabitants of Groningen province are protesting in vain. From this year, 2017, onwards, only gas devices that are fit for H-gas as well, (Luyendijk 2016) are allowed to be sold and installed in the Netherlands. Germany will complete its transition from L-gas to H-gas and France in 2020 and France and Belgium will have done so in 2024 (Bremmer 2017). Until then, further downscaling the gas extraction in Groningen will simply not be possible.

Bottom line: In the long term, however, reducing or even ceasing to extract from the Groningen gas field, though not profitable for the Dutch government, is absolutely possible.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

Monday funnies

Authentic LMAO

Machines are rising from funny

1 Dec 2017

Grassroot initiatives for reducing food waste

Danielle writes*

Food waste is a huge problem, according to the FAO, worldwide 1/3 of the food is wasted. In the Netherlands, the average amount of food waste per person is 135 kilo per year.  Food waste is a problem happening on different scales and involves multiple actors, as visible in this infographic:
A Dutch initiative, Instock, prevents food waste as the meals they serve in their restaurant are prepared with products that cannot be sold in the supermarket anymore but are perfectly fine for eating. Products that are ‘rescued’ by Instock are for example overstocked, mislabeled, or have aesthetic flaws. Typical rescued products are one-day old bread and vegetables with a spot on them. Instock cooperates with Albert Heijn, food of around 150 regional supermarkets and distribution centres is collected, and transported to Instock with electrical vehicles.

Connected to overstocking is the issue of the legal expiration of products with a long storage life. Products packaged in e.g. cans are legally required to have a ‘best before’ date, after which supermarkets are forbidden to sell them, even though there is no risk to food safety. Dutch government is in the progress of expanding the lists of products that are not required to have a ‘best before’ date to reduce food waste.

A big part of the food waste that Instock uses, is caused by people’s unrealistic perception of how food should look like. Although the taste is the same, vegetables and fruits that do not look ‘perfect’ are less likely to be sold. Besides Instock, there is another Dutch initiative that tries to prevent the waste of food with aesthetic flaws. Kromkommer is a social enterprise that tries to raise awareness about and reduce unnecessary food waste due to overproduction and consumer’s preferences. Kromkommer produces soups of vegetables that do not meet the aesthetic requirements, which is applicable to around 10% of the produced vegetables.

For further progress, a cultural shift in perception towards food waste and leftovers is needed. The negative attitude towards using leftovers and ‘imperfect’ food is one of the challenges that initiatives like Instock and Kromkommer face and simultaneously are changing.

Interesting to note is that Instock does not pay for the rescued food, it would otherwise have been thrown away. Besides majorly using rescued food, Instock also limits their own food waste. Their ‘leftovers’ are eaten by staff, are donated or are used to make biogas.

A fellow student critically asked whether Instock is effective. She wondered whether the supermarket might take less action to reduce food waste as the food will get a ‘good’ destination (at Instock) anyway. Therefore Albert Heijn would not be incentivised to prevent food waste. However there are financial incentives for supermarkets to prevent food waste as it results in losses for the supermarket, which is still the case when Instock rescues food as they do not pay. When I visited Instock Den Haag (on 15-11-2017), the manager told me that supermarket Albert Heijn has become more conscious of the problem of food waste thanks to Instock and is taking action to reduce their food waste.

Bottom line: Food waste is a huge problem which cannot be resolved by initiatives like Instock and Kromkommer alone. However they are raising awareness for the issue and are a step towards the needed systematic change to reduce food waste.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

Highways: asphalt or concrete?

Ronald writes*

Most highways in the Netherlands are made of asphalt. However, in the US only about 65% is made of asphalt,** while the rest is mostly concrete. Why is there such a difference in the materials used? Should there not be one clearly superior to the other?

While both materials are largely made up of aggregate (various fractions of crushed stone and sand), they are bound together differently.** In asphalt surfaces, the binding agent is bitumen, a refinement product of crude oil, while concrete is bound together by cement. These chemical differences create inherent distinctive characteristics. Asphalt, being a product of crude oil, emits various hazardous compounds to its environment during the period it is used. Some of the compounds that are of most concern are PAH’s. These compounds can be toxic for both humans and the environment, and this cost is not necessarily accredited for in the construction price. On top of this, the laying of asphalt is very energy intensive, both in pre-production as well as on-site. This brings in further environmental concerns, as especially on-site energy use usually relies heavily on fossil fuels. The pollution and CO2 emissions of burning fossil fuels are also externalities that should be accounted for.

However, the only serious alternative for highways is concrete roads. While cement is not such a contaminating substance as bitumen, is also creates a more brittle surface. For high-intensity roads, which highways usually are, large amounts of steel reinforcements are needed. The production of steel is very energy intensive, and might offset any benefits gained by using cement instead of bitumen. The combination of these two materials, concrete and steel, creates a much more durable road surface, more durable even than asphalt. This should be taken into consideration when assessing the total costs for society of using either of these materials. Reparations or early replacements will also have a cost, and an extra cost to society through the various externalities both options have. Partly due to this durability, concrete is considered to have a lower environmental cost than asphalt, while asphalt has a lower production cost. To do a proper cost-benefit analysis of both materials, environmental and social costs should be considered on top of the internalized costs over their entire normalized lifespan.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

** DZ: Sorry, but some of these links are behind a university firewall. Fucking Proquest

Friday party!

Fuck, yeah.

30 Nov 2017

Migration and water scarcity (Livestream event 6 Dec)

I'll be the moderator at this event, to be held at the Vrij Universiteit (Free University), Amsterdam

The livestream of the first hour should be interesting. The speakers will be:

Dr. Karen Meijer is a researcher at Deltares focussing on the links between Climate, Water Scarcity and Conflicts. She holds a PhD in water resources management and MSc’s in civil engineering and international public policy and public management. Her main fields of interests are global environmental governance (international climate change policies) and the multi-actor context of policy implementation. She has been involved the development of ‘STORM’: an approach to assess the added value and chances of successful implementation of water management innovations.
Karen will present a global model that aims to estimate future risk on conflict based on the prediction of extreme hydro-meteorological events.

Dr. Louise van Schaik is Head of the Clingendael International Sustainability Centre and Senior Research Fellow at Clingendael Institute. She has a Master's degree in Public Administration from Leiden University (2003) and a PhD in Political Science from the KU Leuven (2010). In her research she has extensively analysed the EU’s performance in multilateral bodies, including in the fields of climate change, health and food standards, and green growth. She has published various policy reports and academic articles and teaches professionals on EU external relations, international climate change policy and other topics within her fields of interest, such as natural resource scarcity and global public health.

Dr. Andreas Sterl is senior Scientist at the Dutch Royal Meteorological Institute in the research group on weather and climate modelling. His area of expertise is the coupling between ocean and atmosphere and oceanic processes taking place at the air-sea interface. He has also investigated the connections among the drought in Syria, the war, and climate change.

The livestream will begin at 13:00 CET


Synthetic, cultured, and in-vitro meat

Lucas writes*

Our diet means a lot to us. Nationality, family gatherings, religious holidays and many other significant dimensions of our identity are defined by food. Sadly, that nice slab of Sunday meat might be destroying the climate, as meat eating results in excessive water use, land use, energy use, and methane emissions -- even before considering animal cruelty.

Whether you find this important or not, you are certainly not paying a fair price for your meat. When you buy a piece of meat you pay a price that laughably reflects the costs that went into producing that meat. You are not compensating for the methane which is injected into our atmosphere, or the drought that may have happened due to a large farm that uses up all the water or the cruelty experienced by the animal. You are paying only a fraction of the costs, yet you obtain almost all of the benefits. This may be a pessimistic perspective on what we put on our plates, but a more optimistic option may be on the rise.

Throughout the past couple of years engineers have engaged in producing meat that does not require killing an animal. The process goes by many names: synthetic meat production, cultured meat, and in vitro meat. Put simply, they extract muscle stem cells from a live animal and then grow that cell by adding protein, eventually yielding a structure that resembles meat. The first versions were highly expensive, slow, and above all, not very tasty. However, we have seen a steep decline in the cost of production, as well as the taste and structure of the meat.

Predictions indicate that this type of meat production could drastically reduce GHG emissions, water use, and animal cruelty if it were to be widely consumed. The only issue is that this new technology is highly controversial. A lot of people take issue with the technology because it largely reflects ‘Playing God’. Further, uncertainty is high amongst governments because they are not sure if it safe or marketable. People have also been used to gaining their protein from meat and changing this behaviour might prove challenging. Thus, there are a lot of obstacles that stand between synthetic meat and the open market. Still, it seems like it is making it’s way there one test-tube sausage at a time.

Bottom line: synthetic meat is obscure, but it does promise many benefits. The literature shows that a large percentage of people are not yet willing to consume it. Yet, we can expect that the process will become faster, cheaper, and more like ‘real’ meat better with time. This will hopefully mean that people will warm up to the idea of ‘Frankenmeat’. The question thus remains whether synthetic meat will fix all the problems it promises to solve or whether there are consequences we are unaware of.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

Is there such a thing as sustainable consumption?

Alissa writes*

Technically, the word “sustainable” encompasses sustainability in three dimensions: environmental, social, and economic. In this blog post, we will focus on its environmental dimension. As such, it is offset by the word “consumption,” which suggests the depletion of resources. Marketing plays a significant factor in sustainable consumption because it is primarily used to achieve competitive advantage, and recently sustainability has been absorbed as an essential tool for the 21st century. In this light, the terms sustainable and consumption would equate 1 + (-1) = 0. Instead of enforcing sustainable consumption, perhaps it would be more straightforward to restrict consumption altogether, where we minimise the resource intensity of products and maximise function over material use.

We can limit consumption through adapting and improving emerging concepts. In contrast to neoclassical economics, evolutionary economics provides a more realistic account [pdf] of individual behaviour, social interactions, evolving preferences, and habit formation. The two underlying approaches are (1) the “habit-based” approach, emphasising that individuals follow habits and others instead of constantly optimising their choices to avoid costly information-acquiring and alternatives evaluation; (2) the “want-based” approach where individuals are subjected to the socially-constructed desires. Its utilisation can explore policies that enhance sustainable habits and revolutionise sustainable wants. An example of constructing policies under evolutionary economics can be seen in the domain of food consumption through shopping rules (where consumers why food products; how often they shop; the amount of food purchased); storage rules (how consumers store food: temperatures, types of containers); eating habits (nutritive value of meals, how often per days consumers eat plant, meat, and dairy products, tendencies to snack).

The OECD also acknowledges that policy tools should be implemented to change consumption behaviour. However, it is mostly based on information campaigns to raise environmental awareness and acceptability of policies. On this note, regardless of educational efforts, it appears that consumption remains mostly unsustainable. This can perhaps be linked to the concept of habit-based consumption in evolutionary economics above and a myriad of social speculations e.g. the attitude-behaviour gap; internal locus of control; greenwashing, etc.

Should marketing be restricted?

It has been suggested that we have to “strike a balance” between marketing and consumption: profits can still be earned while reducing the environmental impacts of consumption. Needless to say, it is an agreeable statement but perpetuates the misleading notion of growth and prosperity. In this case, it suggests that marketing should continue to boost revenues, yet if we were all to consume minimally, revenues will inevitably stagnant, and company trust will replace marketing as a driver for competitive advantage. On the more moderate side, marketing could be permitted to contribute to “reasonable consumption,” where restricting certain marketing practises, such as advertisements appealing to emotions, should be implemented by the government.

Costs & Benefits

The obvious benefits involve minimising consumption: thus minimising waste and production. This may mean a reduction in jobs within developing nations which could be costly since unemployment means a lower quality of life, and could be beneficial if it means the eradication of low quality work environments and economic slaves working in sweatshops.

Since it is quite a novel experience for humanity to handle species-threatening anthropogenic impacts on the environment, it is inevitably a trial and error and extremely conditional. This means that it will be a costly affair time-wise.

In addition consumer time and effort in having to research and evaluate best choices could create a gap in the communication between consumers and companies. This is perhaps through those who are willing to pay for third party services at their own convenience to do the research for them. Yet this will enforce behavioural change in people that is necessary to be sustainable in the future.

On the other hand, it could create an even closer dialogue between consumers and companies in contrast to the modern day marketing mantra of knowing what the consumer wants before they want it; which is basically just creating socially-constructed desires that have little to no value and exploits the nature of humans to be socially accepted.

Furthermore it could disrupt the big data industry through either restricting data collection or not being able to make use of collected data in targeting specific customers. Yet it could improve the big data industry to be even more inclusive to the needs of consumers for products with greater functionality.

Bottom line: There are a lot more costs in the short run when it comes to marketing restrictions but in the long run it could be a catalyst to behavioural change and economic reform that will benefit everyone sustainably. It is definitely not easy at all.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

29 Nov 2017

The EPA and shale fracturing in the United States

Brian writes*

In the 1970s, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and private operators experimented with the extraction of natural gas from shale in the eastern United States. Ten years later, horizontal drilling technology had advanced to the point where it was ready for commercial use. The advancement was seen as a crucial step forward for the U.S. because it allowed the country to increase its domestic production of natural gas in order to fulfil a growing demand for the resource. However, the new technology poses a greater threat to groundwater reservoirs and the earth’s crust than conventional oil extraction techniques (i.e. well with pumpjack), thus placing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a conundrum.

The fracking process begins when a well is constructed with vertical piping which is placed underground. Once the piping reaches the shale layer, the piping rotates at a 90 degree angle and continues horizontally. Then, fluid is pumped underground to fracture the rock and extract trapped natural gas. The fluid contains a complex chemical mixture [pdf] that can include naphthalene, formaldehyde, and a variety of volatile organic compounds. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation [pdf], fracking fluids amount to between 3 and 7 million gallons of water per well.

According to the EPA, “dry shale gas production in the United States has increased from 1.0 trillion cubic feet in 2006 to 4.8 trillion cubic feet, or 23 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production, in 2010. Wet shale gas reserves increased to about 60.64 trillion cubic feet by year-end 2009, and comprise about 21 percent of overall U.S. natural gas reserves.”

As the industry increases production, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plays an important role in both the political and economic discussion. The Agency’s obligation to both support natural gas, but also ensure environmental sustainability can often lead to conflicting interests. The agency states on its website that, “Natural gas plays a key role in our nation's clean energy future. The U.S. has vast reserves of natural gas that are commercially viable as a result of advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies enabling greater access to gas in shale formations.” It then qualifies the previous statement by saying,“The Agency is investing in improving our scientific understanding of hydraulic fracturing, providing regulatory clarity with respect to existing laws, and using existing authorities where appropriate to enhance health and environmental safeguards.”

There are four main negative impacts that fracking can have on the environment which include, “stress on surface water and groundwater supplies, contamination of underground sources of drinking water due to spills, negative impacts from discharging surface waters into underground injection wells, and air pollution from the release of volatile organic compounds.”

The oil and gas industries are exempt from certain clauses in critical federal environmental laws including the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. EPA policy must be reformed to ensure it accurately analyzes the benefits to fracking (i.e. increase in natural gas supply, domestic economic gains) along with the costs (i.e. environmental pollution, unsustainable practices).** A comparison to conventional oil well extraction will also be drawn upon in further analysis because it is useful to understand how the costs and benefits of fracking differ from conventional oil extraction.

Bottom line: It is critical to analyze the danger of short term solutions to long term problems. In other words, could banning fracking altogether be an effective mechanism for encouraging renewable energy investment in the United States?

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

** Note from DZ: Read this "confession" from a paid shill on how he engaged in disingenuous "dialogue" to mislead citizens about the risks from fracking. Read my 2011 op/ed in favor of regulating fracking.

Boron isn't boring: Boron utilization in Turkey

Aylin writes*

Boron (B; atomic number 5) does not exist in pure elemental form, but it can be found in borax, boric acid, kernite and many other natural compounds. Boron has many important benefits for human body such as enhancing testosterone levels, improving bone health and preventing heart failures. Also, most of the scientists argue that “Boron may have been the key to the evolution of life on Earth since the element stabilizes ribose, part of RNA, the self-assembling molecule that may have preceded DNA.” In addition to its health benefits, Amorphous Boron is also used as rocket ignitor and Boric oxide is commonly used in the manufacture of borosilicate glass (Pyrex). It makes the glass tough and heat resistant. Although most of the people may not be aware of it, we utilize boron in our everyday lives.

Turkey holds approximately a 72% share of the total boron deposits of the world at 803 million tonnes; the second boron producer is USA holding a 6% boron share of the world. Turkey is the second highest producer of boron after the USA which is surprising since the Turkey holds nearly 12 times as much boron than the USA has. This fact suggests that Turkey does not fully utilize its own boron resources. There are many theories trying to explain Turkey’s odd behavior of its boron utilization, some claim that the “western forces” are holding Turkey back in its boron production in order to prevent a possible politically strong Turkey in the future. As a Turkish girl, I was skeptical to this argument since our citizens try to blame the “western forces” to everything that is wrong with our country. So I decided to research little further to understand this phenomenon of “why Turks don’t use their own boron?”

Without any insufficient data or articles online I have come to a conclusion that, Turkey has the reserves for boron but it does not have the technology to efficiently utilize the boron that it mines. The only profit that Turkey gets from its own Boron is its exports of Boron as a raw material; when we apply a cost/profit analysis it is evident that boron as a raw material does not worth the intensive labor or technology costs for mining the boron. On the other hand, USA utilizes its own boron with high technology and manufacture the raw boron to an efficient type of spaceship fuel or utilize them waste removal facilities.

In recent years, many Western countries are working on renewable energy projects including using boron as an energy source. Boron is a both a cheap and safe energy source. It is also claimed that “If all of the world’s power was generated from boron, it would only use 10% of our current production.” The only set back about Boron energy production is that Boron is that it requires a temperature of about a billion degrees to fuse. Currently, there are many intensive research has been going on about how to reach to this degree but companies such as Goldman Sachs is investing huge amounts into this research.

As a Turkish girl, I have always heard the phrase "Boron in will save us if we manufacture it" After sufficient research it can be said that Boron, as a raw material form, will not make any economic impacts even if we mine all of the boron resources that we have. It is said that boron will be one of the most important sources of energy after we deplete all of the fossil fuels in the planet.

Bottom line: Instead of blaming other nations in its inability to utilize boron, Turkey should adapt policies on developing a Boron-focused technology and use it as its primary energy source for future.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

Links of interest

  1. How to translate the Odyssey
  2. Fight phishing scammers by forwarding their email to the re:scam bot that will waste their time
  3. In 1975 Iceland's women went on strike for equal rights. Man gave in after a day of cooking and childcare. Their first female president was elected in 1980.
  4. The customary law of vendetta in Albania and decentralized legal systems that work
  5. Quotes on the 2,500 year-old threat of youth and the wisdom of age
  6. Swedes in the Paradise Papers -- an amazing visualization
  7. State capture in South Africa: $billions of citizens' money to the Gupta family
  8. Five books on the use and value of free speech
  9. The future of autos is over, says a guy who should know
  10. The French are ahead in battling fake news (hint, they use reporters)

28 Nov 2017

The expansion of Lelystad airport

Justin writes*

The Netherlands has many traits that appeal to the rest of the world. The tourism sector has been growing at a steady rate over the past decade. With its extravagant capital, Amsterdam, it has become known for its party hub in Europe attracting people from all over the world. This alongside its other big cities like The Hague, the international city of peace and justice, and Rotterdam, known for its large port and big business, it shows that it is a country aiming for economic growth. The majority of the people traveling into the country by plane go through Schiphol Airport, which has now reached its limit for expansion (the airport had 480,000 "movements" in 2016). This has led to the Schiphol group to go to Lelystad airport to create a new international airport.

Ready for 40,000 more flights?
The plan proposed by Schiphol group shows that they want to increase the airport size from the “5,000 annual flights now to 45,000 flights in 2043”. With roughly half a million flights making their way across dutch skies per year an additional 40,000 seems like it would come at a cost as well. Schiphol group have justified the project because of its positive impact on the economy, and because it allows “Schiphol to remain a leading airport on an international level”.

It will mainly look to accommodate holiday flights making the mainport in amsterdam focus on its regional importance for business and cross continental flights. As mentioned earlier, the announcement of the expansion has not come without opposition. One of the main arguments coming from KLM, holland's largest airline, and the Chairman of the General Dutch Association of Travel Companies, is that Schiphol has plenty of space to grow and to become more efficient without moving to Lelystad. If Schiphol has room to grow internally the expansion of Lelystad airport can therefore be excessive and bring more potential costs than benefits. Many residents in neighboring provinces are worried for the air and noise pollution that will come with the extra flights. The environmental damage that the aviation sector brings with it will therefore not go unnoticed with the large amounts of “CO2 emissions and their impact on climate change.

Current air regulations also force airplanes flying into Lelystad airport to fly extremely low for much longer than avarage, meaning that the first couple of years of growth will be very unpleasant for roughly 750,000 people. Above all of this Schiphol has also been known to undermine rules concerning noise, calculating sounds coming from aircrafts instead of actually measuring them as they are almost always more loud through measuring. This representation of asymmetric information could thus refer to more problems in the coming future.

Bottom line: The expansion of Schiphol group through Lelystad airport could have negative environmental impacts that will go unaccounted for when the project takes shape. The large amounts of CO2 emissions caused by an increase in flights could be more costly than the economic profit the extra airport will bring.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

Why didn't the Deepwater Horizon spill hurt BP?

Julia writes*

The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) blow-out and subsequent oil spill by the Macondo well in 2010 released up to 838 kilotonnes (kt) of crude oil to intermediate waters of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The released crude oil caused the loss of lives of 11 rig workers besides serious detrimental impacts on the environment and its inhabitants: From toxic sludge spread across thousands of square kilometers of water and coated shorelines implicating many seabirds and other marine organisms, DWH furthermore had catastrophic effects on deep-water ecosystems in the GoM, such as coral reefs, which impacts can still be measured today.

In spite of the severity of the Deepwater Horizon incident – seen as even worse than the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill – and its disastrous ecological impacts, why did BP, the operating oil company, get away so easily in terms of reputation? Immediately after the incident happened there was great public outcry and disapproval for BP but considerably quickly afterwards, this outcry vanished so “some argue that the resulting outcry does not reflect the extent of the catastrophe” [pdf]. BP’s stock price dramatically fell just after the disaster which, apart from the loss of the 11 rig workers, (destroyed physical property and also destroyed shareholder wealth. From April 19, 2010, to June 25, 2010, BP’s share price decreased by 55%—from $59.48 a share to $27 a share. However as seen in the figure at right, BP’s stock price was already on the rise shortly after the incident, albeit never reaching the pre-DWH value. Between the period of August 2010 to August 2014, shares have averaged $44 a share with this average being 27% below the peak that shares reached just before the incident. However, for a catastrophe of this magnitude and significance for humanity’s energy future, 27% does not seem so severe.

I explore why this incident was not more of a wake-up call to the public to abandon fossil fuels, in this case oil, and to move to renewable energy sources (RES). To understand the public’s behavior, who are ultimately the consumers, we have to look at two psychological concepts: avoidance coping (AC) and decision avoidance (DA). Furthermore, we have to consider the presence of (strong) visuals for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill which is considered unique because it was “the most visual of disasters” [pdf] in that it was broadcast around the world. People care more about events if they have a visual of the extent and severity of the issue, which relates to them and forces them to pay attention. If people can see the problem, they are more likely to care and are more likely to take up action, however, coping strategies are employed to avoid consequences for oneself.

The DWH incident is a good example as it was broadcasted in the mainstream media for several weeks and, thus, was very difficult for the public to avoid. It had a very strong visual that touched the public’s feelings. Why then was there no long-lasting dramatic impact on BP’s reputation?

This question can be answered by the concepts of avoidance coping and decision avoidance. AC refers to coping strategies that are aimed at “avoiding confrontation of the stressor or reducing emotional tension associated with the stressor”. The stressor here being the realization (after the DWH disaster) that fossil fuels are dangerous and hence, it is necessary to switch to renewable energy sources (RES). The switch to RES, however, requires effort (eg: time, money) and an individual’s part might conflict with his/her “values, goals and aspirations” such as having a big car that is ultimately a gas guzzler, and consequently, DA is employed, which refers to a pattern of behavior where individuals avoid responsibility of making decisions by either delaying or choosing the ‘no action-no change’ option.

Companies’ greenwashing efforts play directly into AC and DA as they offer ‘an easy way out’ for individuals by reducing the stressor’s impact and reducing the negative emotions felt by individuals (AC has been linked to emotion-focused approaches to decision making). According to Walker and Wan (2012) greenwashing refers to “a strategy that companies adopt to engage in symbolic communications of environmental issues without substantially addressing them in actions”.

Bottom line: The DWH disaster in connection to the concepts of AC and DA explains how, after disasters, even with loss of lives and strong visuals, after a while people turn back to their status quo. The public has reacted with a loud and strong outcry when confronted with the significant visuals of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, yet most people employ AC and DA strategies to avoid the negative emotions associated with the stressor to keep the status quo of ‘no action-no change’: because life is easier without caring.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

27 Nov 2017

Controlling prostitution through legalization?

Phuong writes*

Here’s a fact: Vietnam, like other East Asian countries, does not like prostitution, which is regarded as a disgraceful, shameful occupation.

Here’s another fact: It is impossible to eradicate prostitution, and current statistics indicate that the sex industry in Vietnam is only increasing in size and types of harlotry employment.

As shall be detailed further, strengthening the police force is not an effective solution to tackle the issue, therefore, the country needs to look at more innovative, viable options. One of the options that have been suggested in prostitution studies and policies of many countries is to legalize and/or regulate the occupation. Such options have been proposed and rejected multiple times due to the government and society’s conservative nature; however, they have received media coverage and sporadic civil support [BBC Vietnam 2017]. These suggestions include the open of red light districts in the country’s economic capital Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).

HCMC has the biggest number of prostitutes in the country, with over 29,000 service locations, and 10,000-15,000 sex workers [VNExpress 2014, ILO 2002]. According to the city’s AIDS Prevention Agency, 13% of AIDs cases come from streetwalkers and 9% from prostitutes at service locations [VNExpress 2014]. 5.2% of male sex customers in HCMC are infected with AIDS, significantly higher than the infection rate of total male clients nationwide at 1.7%. In an interview conducted by the National Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, nearly 50% of sex workers are found to be victims of violence during work [Thanh Nien News 2015]. It is estimated by the ILO (2002) that around 10% of sex workers in HCMC are children under 18. The city is also the center that links transnational human trafficking lines. High number of prostitutes is also said to damage woman’s status in the society and exacerbate gender equality issue [Europe Parliament 2014]

These are the negative externalities of the prostitution industry in the city. However, criminalizing prostitution cannot eradicate the sector as demand for prostitution is highly inelastic [Levitt & Venkatesh; Edlund & Korn 2002], and since an average prostitute’s salary exceed an average person's salary (8.6 million VND and 6.03 million VND respectively), prostitutes’ supply is also tenacious and sustainable. Additionally, law enforcement and police’s control and oversight over prostitution in the city is deeply inadequate; authority only possesses 180 profiles of sex workers out of thousands [Baomoi 2017]. The existing law only prohibits the direct harlotry activity but allows for alternative service locations such as salons and spas to flourish.

In addition to the inability to obliterate prostitution of the current police force, the proposal to establish red light districts in HCMC is worth exploring because of its economic gains and potential positive social effects. In comparison to other cities that also home prostitution businesses, the average monthly salary of a HCMC prostitute is higher than that of national average (12 million VND and 8 million VND respectively). Additionally, a billion-dollar industry of professional prostitution that involves models, actresses and singers are also operating in HCMC [Baomoi 2017]. Daily income of these high-class prostitutes and pimps are $3,500 and $1,500 respectively [Baomoi 2017]. However, comparing to Hanoi, Hai Phong or Can Tho, establishing a control red light district in HCMC seems to be the most plausible, since the city has the most competent and less corrupted police workforce. HCMC inhabitants are also known for their open and Western-prone mindset, which make the cost for social objection minor once the policy is introduced.

In contrast to its apparent economic gains, the impacts of red light district on society are seemingly positive but uncertain. As experts has pointed out, legalizing prostitution does not lead to a direct reduction in HIV/AIDS patients, but a strict management over prostitutes would [MOH 2016]. Current treatment for HIV/AIDS prostitutes has been insufficient and costly, which is mostly due to the high transaction cost of gathering infected sex workers [MOH 2016]. The legalization and management of prostitution can help reducing this transaction cost. The same logics can be applied to violence against sex workers, the frequency of which can only be reduced by an effective public security force. With a better supervision, domestic sexual exploitation of forced adult and child labor can be reduced; however, strengthening supervision may lead to a rise in transnational human trafficking. An effect on gender equality is also debatable, as the red light district can invite and encourage voluntary sex workers, which would only reduce female participation in formal economic sectors and exacerbate women’s status in society.

Bottom line: Despite the controversies around the idea, legalizing prostitution seems to be a more efficient solution to control the industry than criminalizing it.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

Monday funnies

Funny, not funny?

Burning money: The US’s withdrawal from Paris

Inwook writes*

I remember my heart throbbing with anger and helplessness on 1 June 2017, the day President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. As a student pursuing a major in Earth, Energy, and Sustainability, it was a catastrophic day. Paris’s COP 21 was a historic day because it was the first time that nearly 200 countries publicly admitted that reducing carbon emissions was critical to combat climate change. Also, it was the first time that each country proposed their own realistic goals to reduce carbon emissions. I was optimistic that we might be able to prevent our planet from turning into an uncontrollable sauna until President Trump made his destructive decision.

According to President Trump, staying in the Paris Climate Agreement would cost the US many jobs and impede its economy from growing. For instance, in his speech he stated that, “compliance with the terms of the Paris accord… could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025”. His main justification was to prevent unemployment in the American society since that was one of his main campaign promises. However, there is a serious error in how President Trump presented the numbers in his speech.

President Trump completely disregarded statistics unfavorable to his stance. He cited 2.7 million job losses, without considering the innovative businesses that will generate jobs, many of which will be completely new to the world. The number of jobs in the solar and wind industry has grown by 25% and 32% respectively in 2016. In addition, while 1.1 million people are currently working in the coal industry in the US, another 800,000 people are working in green technologies (only a 300,000 presently, a gap that can easily be closed after greater investments in the green sector haul in more jobs). Moreover, the future projection of the green technology industry is far more promising than the coal industry, an industry that is increasingly unpopular and likely to plummet in the near future. So, when talking about securing employment of American people, it seems that President Trump neglected people working in green technologies or any alternative energy-related jobs.

President Trump’s claim that the Paris deal is destructive for the US’s economy is factually inaccurate. Numerous studies and reports have shown positive effects of a transition towards a low-carbon economy. According to the report published by Citibank, it is true that the initial investment cost of the transition will be more expensive than continuing as business-as-usual. However, in the long run, it will save a lot of money. For example, the difference between the damage cost incurred by an increase of 2.5°C and the business-as-usual temperature increase can be as much as $30 trillion. Transitioning towards a low-carbon economy will therefore result in a positive return on the investment. Many leading global companies are already aware of this fact. Probably that is why even fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil. has personally pleaded for President Trump to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement.

One of the many aspects of the global challenges that make me question the direction we, as a global community, are heading towards, the event of 1 June 2017 made me feel hopeless in our collective fight against climate change. Despite the clear and abundant evidence that global warming can be a limiting factor to the US’s economic growth, the Trump administration’s continuous manipulation of information, and hence, public opinion, through its narrative of carefully selected numbers is misleading. It is time to recognize the truth and act upon it urgently.

Bottom line: President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement on the notion that the agreement would harm the US’s economy. However, this blog post argues the contrary. Staying in the Paris Climate Agreement will not be a defining factor in job loss, rather, a fruitful investment (opportunity) for the US.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)

24 Nov 2017

Green is the new black: Plant-based diets

Anne writes*

With awareness of climate change and the environmental impacts of our behavior rising, documentaries such as “Cowspiracy” and “What the health?” seem to offer solutions to not one but several challenges we face. By adopting a plant-based diet, we (humanity) are supposedly able to better preserve the planet and to combat growing issues of malnutrition in the developed world. A question posing itself is whether or in how far the vision of a conversion to a diet made up solely by plant-based products is actually able to solve these problems. In this post we distinguish between a vegan lifestyle, in which no animal products are consumed, and eating vegan, in which the neglect of animal products is limited to diet. The impacts investigated here are the ones of the vegan eating.

Generally, vegan diets have shown to be more environmentally friendly than diets including animal products. Studies that compared eating patterns covering the same nutrients and caloric intakes have established this unequivocally. In doing so, categories that have been compared include water use, land use, eutrophication and others, or are more broadly comprised of the carbon, water and ecological footprints of eatable products. However, when they allow for variation in individual eating patterns, the individual water footprint of vegan food consumption comes to be close, equal to, or surpassing those of an omnivore. For one, this has been the case with individuals who were solely consuming fruit. This is due a need for a significantly higher volume and calorie intake due to high water, low protein and low fat contents of fruit. For the other, plant-based eating has increasingly big water footprints the more heavily it relies on processed meat and dairy replacements and/or high-fat plant products such as nuts. This is due to the water usage in processing foods as well as in growing and processing high-fat plant products. Hence it is easier to achieve a more environmentally friendly impact of food consumption by omitting animal products, but individuals need to account for the water consumption in cultivating some foods and high intake needs of certain forms of vegan eating.

Animal agriculture and all means of production coming with it make up 18-(51%) of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) as well as 29% of the global water footprint. Eighteen percent of total GHG emissions originate from the EU. Thus, if 10% of the inhabitants of the European Union converted to conscious plant-based eating (see image at right), global GHGs could be lowered by up to 3%. Further, the EU’s water footprint could be decreased by 3.5% if 10% of its people converted. This shows that changes in eating patterns in the developed world can have significant effects on total emissions and water consumption. Plant-based eating has also been linked to a 10%-14% decrease in mortality risk due to heightened consumption of unprocessed foods.

To conclude, plant-based eating appears to positively affect the impacts the food we consume has on our environment. However, it is important to not forget that eating vegan cannot offset all “climate sins” one can commit in the developed world: Flying frequently will still greatly enlarge one’s ecological footprint. Hence, the impression that going vegan justifies all other consumption habits is not true; adopting a plant-based lifestyle as described above is better than nothing but does not automatically warrant completely environmentally friendly living.

Bottom line: Plant-based eating can significantly change the impact food consumption has on the planet for the better. However, one needs to adhere to a balanced diet not including many processed foods in order to achieve this. Simultaneously, one must keep in mind that plant-based eating can only be the start to behaving in an environmentally friendlier manner.

* Please help my environmental economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc. (Or you can just say something nice :)