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 :)

Will carbon capture and storage work?

Neomi writes*

With an ever-increasing demand for energy combined with a pressing need to lower greenhouse emissions, governments, companies, and scientists have been investing a lot of time and research into methods which could provide a clean and secure energy supply for the future. During the beginning of the 21st century, researchers from MIT first coined the term carbon sequestration and storage. From there on, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies caught the eye of many governments and institutions, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Basically, CCS is a process that seeks to ‘vacuum’ the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels or large industrial plants to store it over a long period of time. As a concept, CCS is brilliant, it implies that we could virtually move on to an emission-less future. Sadly, in reality, there are many caveats with this technology. Some examples of these are the long-term effects of geological storage, or the large-scale change in industrial infrastructure needed. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the main and most straight-forward issue of CCS: the large amounts of energy needed to extract, transport and store the CO2.

Although at this moment the costs of CCS are still relatively high, many predictions based on CCS assume that cost of production and deployment will be significantly lowered by Economies of Scale. According to the IPCC (pdf), due to how energy intensive CCS is, electricity prices are expected to rise “$0.01–0.05 per kilowatt hour” once CCS is a readily available technology. As figure 1 conveys, the demand for electricity in today’s markets is highly inelastic, which can be explained by the heavy reliance of societies functioning on energy. Said inelasticity of the demand makes the changes in quantity demanded not as responsive to price changes, meaning that an increase in price (shown by the shift of the supply curve upwards) will have a proportionally smaller decrease in quantity demanded. This difference is indicated by the green and purple boxes.

Figure 1: (Oversimplified) supply and demand for electricity with CCS

Economically, the costs of CCS seem to be easily identifiable, but a question still remains unanswered: is it actually worth it? In order to answer this question, we must familiarize ourselves with a concept known as the social cost of carbon (SCC). The Environmental Protection Agency defines SCC as a “measure, in dollars, of the long-term damage done by a ton of carbon dioxide." Currently, we are approaching a $42 cost per tonne of carbon emitted. If we compare this number to how much it costs to sequester one tonne of carbon, which is estimated at about $130, capturing 1 tonne of CO2 is almost 3 times more expensive than the damage caused by one tonne of carbon. According to these numbers, sequestering one tonne of carbon is much more expensive than just paying for the damage that the same tonne would cause. Figures like these are what deter many potential users from implementing this technology. The elevated cost of the CCS procedure is one of the main reasons why many people are skeptical about its mitigation potential.

Bottom-line: The real question here is: for how much longer will our environment be able to afford 1 tonne of carbon being emitted into our atmosphere? I doubt that paying $42 per tonne emitted will mitigate the actual effects of that CO2 in the environment. An ideal scenario would be supplying electricity through energy production methods that do not emit carbon at all. Sadly, most of the non-conventional renewable energy sources employed today cannot meet the real-time demands of the grid due to their heavy reliance on climate and weather, which are highly fluctuating factors. Until the intermittency issues of clean renewables are solved, CCS might be the only way of meeting the high energy demands in a relatively ‘green’ fashion.

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

Friday party!

Very cool!

23 Nov 2017

Save Net Neutrality

I sent this email:
From: David Zetland
Subject: Thank you, Jessica and Mignon, for supporting net neutrality... I can't say the same to your colleagues...
Date: November 23, 2017 at 2:03:13 PM GMT+1
To: Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov, Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov
Cc: Brendan.Carr@fcc.gov, Mike.O'Rielly@fcc.gov, Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov

I’m an economist and US citizen horrified to see the FCC even considering an end to net neutrality, as that would widen inequality, worsen disinformation and increase abuse of market power in the media and telecommunications.

It’s absolutely appalling that the US Government would endorse a policy that’s anti-consumer, anti-citizen and anti-American.

I certainly hope that the regulators on the right side of this issue are rewarded and those on the wrong side punished for failing to carry out their duties in the public interest.
If you want to take action, then feel free to use those email addresses or sign petitions at the White House (as if The Donald reads!), the Battle for the Net, or Save the Internet.

Flying: a very guilty pleasure

Isa writes:*

One of the most polluting things an individual can do is flying, something which has - just like almost any other human activity – exponentially increased since the 1960s with 9 percent annual growth. The average Dutch person flies 4200 kilometres a year, equal to a round-trip Schiphol-Porto, earning a fifth place in our list of most greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting activities. The impact of flying increases proportionally with the amount of passenger-kilometres, e.g. a round-trip to Bali puts flying on the first place in our list of GHG emitting activities .

One of the major factors of the rather extreme exponential increase in passenger aviation is, of course, economic growth. Yet, the demand of flying has grown disproportionally compared to our welfare. This can be explained by the continuously decreasing price of flying, government subsidies, non-existent taxes on kerosene - in contrast to any other fuel - and non-internalized negative external costs such as climate change and air pollution. Additional factors are social changes, such as the equation of more frequent and distant travelling with living ‘the good life’.

Even though the aviation industry keeps on innovating, especially in terms of energy efficiency, this will not be sufficient to compensate for the environmental damage, even though this is what most projections rely on (see figure at right). Substituting kerosene for biofuel (pdf), for example, will require a major proportion of the world’s harvesting grounds, which would lead to conflicts with food production. Other technologies such as hydrogen are also still far out of sight. Instead of hoping for new or radical technologies to reduce emissions, which might not even be economically possible, we should consider ways of reducing demand.

We could try to convince everyone that an old-school, cycling holiday to Limburg would be the way to go; or that inter-railing your way through Europe is really awesome, even though quite time-consuming; or that holidays to exotic far-away places are over-rated. Studies have shown that it is rather difficult, and as economics like to say, ‘inefficient’, to try to change people’s behaviour solely through communication campaigns. Underlying this is the complex and institutionalized nature of behaviour, which results in inherent resistance to change.

Seemingly, the fairest and most efficient method to change behaviour while simultaneously compensating for environmental degradation would be enacting the polluter pays principle, which implies getting rid of aviation subsidies and internalizing social costs. By using the pricing mechanism, the demand for flying would go down, while the destructive competitiveness between aviation companies would possibly obstruct prices going further down. The people that would still fly under this new price would (unintentionally) offset their environmental impact, whereas others would be obstructed from flying.

Two potential problems are the possible increase in car travelling when the price of train tickets remain relatively high, and the need for international agreements on the price of flying. Recently, the president of the European Rail Infra Managers declared that they are committed to invest more in improving the efficiency and connectivity of European train travelling, to compete with other ways of travelling, simultaneously calling for the European Union to create a level playing field. Since 2012, commercial aviation has been included under the EU emissions trading (system for flights within te European Economic Area, which requires aviation companies to monitor and offset a part of their emissions. From 2021 onwards, a similar scheme will be implemented on a global level, but only for increased emissions compared to the 2020 level. Even though these are steps in the right direction, commercial aviation is still projected to grow strongly, thus creating a gap (see figure at left). Besides, the current cap and trade system gives 80% of the allowances away for free, with a cap of only 5% below the average annual level of emissions in the years 2004-2006

Bottom line: efforts are being made on a European and international scale to cap commercial aviation emissions, but these are quite minimal and do not resolve the projected gap between emissions and targets. As biofuels can conflict with food production, and as other technologies are not developed yet, we should look at ways of decreasing demand. This could start at eliminating government subsidies and tax exemptions on aviation, lowering the demand of flying while simultaneously offsetting emissions.

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

A tale of two brothers: China and Taiwan

Danny writes*

Ever since 1927, Chinese people have been divided by political ideals, which resulted in two political parties: the KMT (Nationalist) and the CPC (Communist). Their disagreement broke into civil war after World War II. Although both sides suffered great losses, the KMT eventually lost to the CPC, which gained support from poor peasants promised their own land. The KMT fled to Taiwan and set up Republic of China while mainland China, to this day, remains known as the People’s Republic of China.

Many daily aspects of life in China have changed. Under Mao’s regime, China diverged from Taiwan as the campaign of “Destroying the Old Fours” (old thinking, old culture, old convention, and old habits) led to the destruction of Chinese heritage, art, and literature. One of the biggest cultural changes was the introduction of Simplified Chinese in 1956.

While other Chinese-speaking regions such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau still utilize the old Traditional Chinese, in whole, minimum changes were made when it comes to Simplified Chinese. One of the “Old Fours” includes old culture; of which when it comes to Chinese characters, every block of letter has a story or a physical origin. Mao’s idea of destroying the Old Four in this case meant to destroy the Chinese origin of the Chinese characters.

Letters were merged with one another, trimmed off to make it easier to write, simplified from complicated words, or even removed and reinvented in a clean slate. Of the 8,000 common used Chinese characters, 2,200, or 30% of the total, were simplified (pdf) during Mao’s regime.

Take “love” (愛) for example. Love is usually from the heart, hence the Heart letter (心) is also embedded in Love. The simplified version (爱) lacks love, and to other Chinese people outside of China, it’s funny to see how Mainland Chinese people could love without love. Another letter is the verb “to lead” (導). The letter is composed of ethics (道) and inch (寸), meaning to follow a system with principles. The simplified version (导) only contains the original “inch” part. It’s interesting to see what happened to the morals required in leading in mainland China.

Compared to the 1.4 billion populations in Mainland China, the total population of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other Chinese-speaking countries is less than half of that, but for them, they continue to use Traditional Chinese. To those people, the act of using Traditional Chinese could be seen as a silent protest against the idea of communism and the cruelty they had imposed onto their people during the 50s and 60s. Instead of being the creator of Simplified Chinese, the Communist party in China is seen as the destroyer of Traditional Chinese. Within all the conflict, especially between Taiwan and China however, there is always this “what if” in economist’s head: what if there wasn’t this separation between Simplified and Traditional, or the whole Chinese culture was never separated due to political ideas?

Nowadays, Taiwan depends heavily on China when it comes to manufacturing. More than $10 billion has been invested into China from Taiwan, and around 2 million of Taiwanese entrepreneur or business owners are now permanently living in China, employing millions of Chinese workers. With heavy dependence on China when it comes to export and tourism, there are talks throughout history to either smooth out the status quo politically and economically but with no clear outcome. Political speaking, the KMT and CPC are still at war, and a truce or peace agreement has yet to be made. There are transaction costs not only when it comes to import and export, but also the cost of creating facilities and institutions to create another “inter-China” passport for travel.

Of course to most non-Chinese speakers’ eyes, Chinese is just Chinese. China came to an economic renaissance in the 1980s, and ever since remain a dominant power politically and also economically. To outsiders, you see the growth of Chinese products: from labels from inferior goods slowly to even the most flagship products such as Apple iPhones. However as people of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, they still see Simplified Chinese as the “inferior” when it comes to quality or lack of culture. I have known Taiwanese friends that refuse to buy Chinese products in Simplified Chinese, in fear of food safety or just simply because it’s “from China”.

It is evidential that there are opportunity costs by the segregation of a language so close but yet so far. To switch from one Chinese to another would not be easy. $565 billion is spent on education in China yearly, and compared to $22 million budget in Taiwan (pdf), it is fairly clear who would be the one to move if unification was ever o the table; however, the digits on the accountant’s book could not even quantify the backlash and resistance that could happen due to the switch. Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese are brothers, but brothers with different ideologies. They share the same blood, the same culture, but it was politics and ultimately the language that separated the two brothers apart.

Bottom Line: While only seemingly difference in the ways of writing words, the separation of China and Taiwan, or Simplified and Traditional Chinese is deeply rooted in its cultural, political, and economic difference, resulting in transaction costs related to commerce, tourism, and political tension between the two countries.

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


John Oliver nails it (except maybe the bird):

Bottom Line: End the subsidies!

22 Nov 2017

The winners and losers of skyrocketing rent

Geerte writes*

Two months ago, citizens of the Amsterdam Kinker-neighborhood called for a protest against the enormous gentrification within their area: ‘bring musical instruments like whistles and honks, so we can make as much noise as those tourists always do.’’ Upon hearing such stories, Kay Hymowitz’ claim that ‘“gentrification” has become an increasingly dirty word' is not very surprising. Hasn’t the on-going growth of coffee bean stores and cocktail bars taken over neighborhoods like the Kinkerbuurt, transforming them from a working-class neighborhood into an overpriced hipster paradise?

Yes. However, like most urban processes the story of gentrification is not merely one-sided. It is a sign of economic growth, with several positive impacts on the urban environment. Citizens of newly improved neighborhoods tend to be economically better off than before gentrification, ‘live with less violence, and have better educational options for their children.’ Logically, these impacts benefit some, and leave others behind. As a result, gentrification is also severely impacting Amsterdam’s demographic environment, with many families finding themselves unable to afford the ever-rising rent. A recent research shows that of the families in Amsterdam who welcomed their first child in 2012, 40% had left the city by 2017.

Following these developments, Hymowitz presents her main argument: at least ‘gentrification has winners and losers. Urban decline makes losers out of everyone.’ Yet this statement seems a bit too easy. Naturally, if gentrification versus urban decline really is a binary choice, no one will try to make a strong case for the second option. But there is a lot of middle ground to be discovered. Thankfully, the world has provided the Amsterdam government and its citizens with several examples of protests, policies, or patron saints to slow down gentrification.

New York, US: Citizen Protests

Referring to New York’s government as ‘engines of gentrification,’ the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) organised a march in September this year, targeting ‘gentrification, racism, and police violence.’ Many people attended, yet both participants and bystanders wondered whether a protest was the most effective way to fight for their cause. For as a 23 year old man observed: ‘money talks, they can protest all they want.’‘‘

Berlin, Germany: Policy Protection

Another way of slowing down gentrification is an implementation of certain government policies. The Berlin government has designed ‘mileuschutz laws,’ that should prevent landlords from imposing ‘expensive renovations that would effectively price out the current tenants.’ Over 30 areas in Berlin are now protected by the mileuschutz law, but it didn’t take landlords long to find a way to creep through its judicial holes. In response, Ms. Werner, a tenant association member, ups the stakes: ‘we think the transition from rental to condos should be forbidden totally.”’

Mexico City, Mexico: Patron Saint

As New York and Berlin show, the anti-gentrification movement is in desperate need of stronger material. Hence, In Mexico City, in an area ‘bounded by muffler shops on one end and a craft beer garden/gourmet food court on the other’ stands a small altar. Inside resides Santa Mari La Juaricua, a ‘patron saint of resisting gentrification.’ Created by artists Sandra Valenzuela and Jorge Baca, Santa Mari La Juaricua has her own prayer:

‘Blessed mother, saint, and daughter
Save me from eviction, from rising rents and property tax
Save me from greedy landlords and corrupt developers
Save me from gentrification’

No one can be sure of the exact effects of Santa Mari La Juaricua’s prayer on gentrification, but several people strongly believe in her powers: ‘some even swear that the saint has performed miracles.’

Which anti-gentrification attempt would fit the Kinkerbuurt best? It's up to you, Amsterdam.

Bottom line: Kay Hymowitz argues that, unlike its alternative of urban decline, gentrification at least produces losers and winners. It often positively impacts many aspects of the urban environment (education options, safety, economic vitality), yet simultaneously leaves many citizens behind. In New York, Berlin, and Mexico City, people are trying to limit its speed in several ways. Perhaps they can inspire Amsterdam’s frustrated citizens.

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

Sand is India’s new gold

Elliot writes*

Whereas the early pioneers of the world set out to find gold, one of the commodities of today is easier to find and in a certain sense in higher demand: sand. So, shortcut to getting rich? Forget about gold, dig up sand! Wait... actually, please don’t! First you are unlikely to find sand that satisfies demand standards, but more importantly, the price at which you might sell it for is very unlikely to cover the full cost of sand mining. Take India for example, where demand for sand is so high it is being mined at all costs.

With India’s growing population and increasing urbanization there is more need for housing, asphalt, and any other construction which requires cement. The main ingredient? You guessed it: sand. As a result, demand for sand has skyrocketed, and in an industry where it is estimated 2.2 billion tonnes of sand is needed annually, there is still excess demand which lures profit-seekers into the sand mining process. India, which is planning on building the equivalent construction of a new Chicago every year, is iconic for digging up sand. Since normal (legal) sources are not plentiful enough to face the domestic demand, local entrepreneurs have taken it on themselves to meet this demand. It is estimated that around 32% of demand is met by illegal procurement.

This however poses a real environmental threat. Sand is a common pool resource, i.e. locals cannot exclude people from mining sand, and it is depleteable, which means that new sand mines are being forged left and right, after old ones are depleted and left amidst environmental ruins. Wait, I know what you are thinking: Excludable? What about property rights? Well unfortunately property rights do not mean much to the sand mafia that see no problem dredging rivers, beaches, and even privately-owned land if they know there is good sand to be found there.

It should come to no surprise that illegal sand mining (not just in India) comes at tremendous costs. Its direct consequence is that is results in the natural degradation of farmland, risk of salinizing otherwise fresh water, and of course the disappearance of beaches. Moreover, the removal of sand results in damage to existing infrastructure, which for instance resulted in a bridge closing down in Mumbai district just a few days ago.

From a socio-economic perspective, the intrusion of property rights goes hand in hand with violence. The sand mafia has been reported committing numerous murders; and are known not to be shy intimidation and corruption practices. Moreover, the loss of income suffered by this land intrusion and the blatant disregard for law are likely not the mafia’s concern. The profits for sand far outweigh their moral obligation to the perseverance to nature and community.

Currently the Indian government is trying their best to restrict illegal sand mining by improving monitoring abilities (using GPS for instance to track down illegal sand mines), and by increasing penalties for these felonies by confiscating their trucks if criminals are caught. Whether these will be effective however is still to be determined. Corruption is a big issue on local scales however, which the sand mafia is more than happy to take full advantage of.

Sand mining remains a difficult topic nonetheless. It is extremely difficult to regulate, and moreover it begs the question of ethical consideration. Illegal sand miners know they are breaking the law, but can one really blame them if they are struck by this opportunity to earn som hard needed money, even if that means breaking the law?

Bottom line: In a growing world, the demand for sand for construction (and other uses) is sharply increasing which has resulted in illegal sand mining. In India, the problem is so severe that sand mafia’s have started to organize this crime. Being profit motivated and operating in a black market they have full disregard for the environmental degradation and intrusion of property rights in mining sand.

* 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 (2 of 2)

  1. Floods due to rain, sea-level rise or land subsidence risk contaminating drinking water
  2. A fraud assessment for a dodgy Canadian crypto-miner. Caveat Emptor!
  3. Sustainable water services in Congo (photo at right) and some insight from Maranie.
  4. Mr Money Mustache explains why America's health care system is broken
  5. A gay teacher is fired: "My commitment had never been to my job, it had always been to the students"
  6. Automation is taking blue collar (and white collar!) jobs NOW
  7. Voices on addiction from Davis, CA (where I got my PhD)
  8. James C. Scott has a new book on "paleo politics"
  9. "This community-run business creates a sustainable stream of food, water, and health"
  10. Dutch towns are experimenting with growing marijuana (the current "tolerance" does not mean growing is legal, unlike the case in US states that have legalized recreational sales).
H/T to MS

21 Nov 2017

Here come the student posts!

I try to get students to write blog posts on their topics and interests when I teach, as that practice helps them "think out loud" and exposes them to the critique and praise of perfect strangers.

Over the next 2 weeks, I will be uploading a number of their blog posts. Please read, learn, comment and participate in their investigations of various dimensions of "the environment" that affects what we do, gives us much for nothing, and continues to challenge those who want to manage it (and enjoy it) sustainably.

Links of interest (1 of 2)

  1. Inside the real circular economy of returned merchandise
  2. Turkey's current Sultan is taking on the mantle of one of the last Ottoman sultans
  3. "We are the products not only of biological evolution but also of cultural evolution"
  4. Inside Scott Pruitt's dysfunctional EPA (=staff advice ignored by political hacks)
  5. Facebook wants your nude photos "to protect you from revenge porn" (#notheonion)
  6. More thoughts on how "the system" perpetuates male sexual abuse of women at work
  7. The Third Industrial Revolution (digital) is happening, but perhaps not fast enough to save us from negative environmental feedback loops (e.g., climate change)
  8. Test nitrates in the water with your smart phone for $0.50
  9. Buy Dutch water technology!
  10. $450 million: "The price needed to be that high, just for them to notice the money"
H/T to RM

20 Nov 2017

Monday funnies

Idiocracy was satire in 2006, but can we be sure it's not an accurate prediction of the future now?

H/T to DG

17 Nov 2017

Friday party!

I'm not sure if this is real but I am sure that some guys are dumb enough to do it.

16 Nov 2017

Success for the NorWeST stream temperature project

I got this message in an email from Dan Isaak, and I'm posting it here as a great example of cooperation over water data (and thus management):

Hi Everyone,

Just writing to thank the hundreds of professionals from more than 100 natural resource agencies in the western U.S. that contributed their river and stream temperature datasets collected over the last 20 years to help us constitute the NorWeST database. The paper describing outcomes from the 6 years of work it took to accomplish that task was just published in Water Resources Research and is available at the NorWeST project website, along with the temperature data from ~23,000 stream sites and high-resolution summer temperature scenarios that were interpolated among those sites. When the project began in 2011, the goal was simple—get everyone’s data organized and accessible in a comprehensive database to facilitate data sharing & recycling, decrease redundancy of monitoring efforts, stimulate collaboration among agencies, and enable new research on thermal ecology and stream temperature dynamics that would facilitate better conservation and management. That goal & the associated benefits seem to have been achieved as evidenced by the grass-roots user-community that has grown around NorWeST and the large amount of traffic through the website, which receives ~12,000 annual visits and services the downloads of hundreds of digital data products each year.

We’d be remiss not to also thank the grant funding agencies that made NorWeST possible. First and foremost are the Great Northern LCC and North Pacific LCC that started our small snowball rolling in the northwest before it gathered steam & grew organically thereafter to encompass the remainder of the western U.S. with additional funding from NFWF, California FPF, USFWS, NASA, TU, and EPA. Organizing thousands of data records would have been impossible without the consistent geospatial framework provided by the National Hydrography Dataset, so our thanks too to the joint EPA-USGS NHD development team led by Al Rea & Tommy DeWald.

A few fun facts about the stream thermalscape associated with the 2,500,000 km2 western U.S. There are 1,600,000 km of channels draining the area as represented by NHD bluelines, of which approximately 343,000 km are perennial rivers and streams. The average August temperature during the period of 1993–2011 in those perennial streams was 14.2°C (SD = 4.0°C) but with climate change related air temperature increases and summer flow decreases, streams have been warming at the rate of 0.17°C/decade since the mid 1970s and are now ~0.7°C warmer than they were. To facilitate conservation planning efforts as that warming trend continues for the foreseeable future, 36 scenarios representing historical and possible future stream climates at 1-km resolution are available as ArcGIS shapefiles at the NorWeST website. Additional scenarios are under development by our group and others to represent different seasonal periods, which is a straightforward task now that a robust database and statistical codesets have been developed.

The NorWeST notion was ultimately inspired by the community of aquatic professionals across the western U.S. that cares intensely about streams, rivers, and the cool critters they harbor. We hope our partnership with that community inspires similar efforts elsewhere to develop comprehensive databases, efficient monitoring networks, & models that yield ever-improving information for decision makers this century.

Best regards, The NorWeST Team (D. Isaak, S. Wenger, E. Peterson, J. Ver Hoef, D. Nagel, C. Luce, S. Hostetler, J. Dunham, B. Roper, S. Wollrab, G. Chandler, S. Parkes, D. Horan)

p.s. We’ll be replicating this crowd-sourced, open-access database business again soon for aquatic biodiversity in the western U.S. with eDNA datasets collected by many agencies. More on that this winter when the NFWF funded Aquatic eDNAtlas website & dataportal are launched (preliminary details here)