Results for “climate change”
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That was then, this is now, climate change edition the median voter theorem remains underrated

“Higher gasoline costs, if left unchecked, risk harming the ongoing global recovery. The price of crude oil has been higher than it was at the end of 2019, before the onset of the pandemic. While Opec+ recently agreed to production increases, these increases will not fully offset previous production cuts that Opec+ imposed during the pandemic until well into 2022. At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough. President Biden has made clear that he wants Americans to have access to affordable and reliable energy, including at the pump. Although we are not a party to Opec, the United States will always speak to international partners regarding issues of significance that affect our national economic and security affairs, in public and private.”

That is, um…not from the Trump administration, rather…

Pigou Club getting smaller!

Further estimates on the cost of climate change and global warming

Sea level rise will cause spatial shifts in economic activity over the next 200 years. Using a spatially disaggregated, dynamic model of the world economy, this paper estimates the consequences of probabilistic projections of local sea level changes. Under an intermediate scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, permanent flooding is projected to reduce global real GDP by 0.19 percent in present value terms. By the year 2200, a projected 1.46 percent of the population will be displaced. Losses in coastal localities are much larger. When ignoring the dynamic response of investment and migration, the loss in real GDP in 2200 increases from 0.11 percent to 4.5 percent.

That newly published paper is from Klaus Desmet, Robert E. Kopp, Scott A. Kulp, Dávid Krisztián Nagy, Michael Oppenheimer, Esteban Rossi-Hansberg and Benjamin H. Strauss in American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics.  Am I wrong to feel a little…underwhelmed by those estimates?  Here is an earlier recent paper on other cost estimates.

Pollution, Climate Change and India’s Choice Between Policy and Pretense

Image result for pollution indiaDean Spears, one of the authors of Where India Goes has a new book on air pollution in India, Air. When I reviewed Where India Goes in 2017 I said it was the best social science book I had read in years. Spears is able to accurately explain academic work–much of it his own and with co-authors–in accessible language and to combine that with on-the-ground reporting to produce a book that is both informative and full of human interest. He brings the same skills to Air.

As Spears shows, pollution is killing Indians, especially babies, and those it doesn’t kill it harms as seen in statistics on stunting and respiratory disease. Spears isn’t naive, however, he knows that manufacturing is also bringing tremendous benefits. The issue, however, is that a lot of pollution in India comes from relatively low value activities like burning crops. Moreover, solar power in India is cost competitive with coal today, even before taking into account health benefits. Thus, the harms of pollution are tragic because they are unnecessary.

If the costs of pollution exceed the benefits why isn’t something being done? One of the things I like about Air is that it is clear that pollution in India is both a market failure and a government failure. The government has been slow to respond to pollution because much of the public remains unaware of pollution’s true cost and much of the true cost is born by children and future people who have no vote. In the meantime, the government enhances rational ignorance by refusing to fund even the most basic equipment to measure where and when pollution ebbs and flows. Instead the government engages in virtue-politics by banning plastic bags and creating odd-even restrictions on driving in Delhi. These activities are pointless, even counter-productive, but they are well publicized and the appearance of doing something matters more than reality.

Here’s one brilliant bit:

Just next to the Raebareli coal plant is a solar power plant. The solar plant is, in principle, capable of generating 10 MW. That capacity is 1 per cent of the 1000 MW capacity of the immediately neighbouring coal plant (which had another few hundred megawatts under construction when I talked with Gaurav).

I visited the solar plant on Independence Day. The ground around the solar panels was flooded with August rain. A shoe destroying walk through the mud and water brought me to the control room in a small building. There, a cheerful young engineer from Bengaluru watched a bank of computer screens. A TV monitor reviewed a list of fifteen highlights of the Prime Minister’s holiday speech that morning. The control room was set up in a museum-like display. The apparent goal was to impress visitors with modern renewable energy and with colourful displays of General Electric–branded software. The young engineer was excited to show me the screens. He clearly wanted the message to be good.

It was not good. That cloudy day, most of the dots were red, not green. The screens reported that the solar plant was generating 60 kW. The engineer assured me that one day it had gotten up to 7500 kW. A megawatt is 1000 kilowatts. So, at 0.06 MW, the solar plant was producing less than 1 per cent of the 10 MW that the signboard at the entrance promised, which would have been 1 per cent of the coal plant.

It is not surprising that a solar plant does not generate much electricity if it is built beneath the smoke of a coal plant with 100 times the capacity. Ordinarily, one places solar plants in the path of direct sunlight. This one was placed in the path of visitors.

Addendum: Case in point. India today bans e-cigarettes because of health risks!

Career advice in climate change

From a loyal MR reader:

Advice question for you and MR readers, riffing on one of your Conversations themes, if you would indulge me.

What advice would you give to someone wishing to build a career in climate change mitigation as a non-scientist? 

Two advice scenarios: 1) the person is 16; 2) the person is mid-career. Assume no constraints with respect to skill development or self-directed study. That is, what should these people teach themselves? To whom should they reach out to for mentorship?

Your suggestions?

Should climate change limit the number of kids you have?

No, or so says I in my latest Bloomberg column., here is the closing bit:

Let’s not give up by ceasing to have children.

Finally, leave aside the implausibility of these arguments and consider their assumptions. What you’ll find is zero-sum thinking, negative value judgments about large families, and an attempt to use guilt and shame to steer social and environmental policy. I suspect that is why these arguments are finding some traction, not because they are the result of any careful cost-benefit calculations.

So if you are both worried about climate change and considering starting a family, I say: Put aside the unhelpful mess of emotions some participants in this debate are trying to stir up. Instead, focus on how your decision might boost future innovation. As a bonus, you might find that one of the better approaches to climate change is actually pretty fun.

Super simple arguments, with credit to Paul Romer and Alex T. and Bryan and Ross Douthat as well.

Lint Barrage on climate change and capital taxation

I show that decentralizing the optimal allocation requires not only high carbon prices but also fundamental changes to tax policy: If the government discounts the future less than households, implementing the optimal allocation requires an effective capital income subsidy (a negative intertemporal wedge), and, in a setting with distortionary taxation, an effective labor-consumption tax wedge that is decreasing over time. Second, if the government cannot subsidize capital income, the constrained-optimal carbon tax may be up to 50% below the present value of marginal damages (the social cost of carbon) due to the general equilibrium effects of climate policy on household savings. Third, given the choice to optimize either carbon, capital, or labor income taxes, the socially discounting planner’s welfare ranking is ambiguous over a standard range of parameters. Overall, in general equilibrium, a policy-maker’s choice to adopt differential social discounting may thus overturn conventional recommendations for both environmental and fiscal policy.

That is from her discount rate paper.  The broader lesson here is that all your intuitions about climate change, discount rates, and taxes might not hang together.  Do not follow mood affiliation, rather think the issues through carefully.

For the pointer I thank the excellent KL.  Here are other papers by Lint Barrage.

Buy (or Rent) Coal! The Coasean Climate Change Policy

Since climate change and what to do about it are in the news it’s time to re-up an underrated idea, buy coal! Carbon taxes increase the price of carbon and induce economic and technological substitution towards lower-carbon sources of fuel in the countries that adopt them. As carbon-tax countries reduce fuel use, however, non carbon-tax countries see the price of their fuel decline. Thus, unless all countries join the tax-coalition, there is leakage. Supply-side policies are an alternative to demand supply policies. The United States, for example, could buy out and close coal mines, including giving the workers substantial retirement/reallocation bonuses, thus reducing the world supply of coal which is still the largest source of C02 emissions.

You can get rich by hitting an oil gusher, but coal is relatively expensive to mine and to transport. Thus, it’s relatively cheap to buy out coal mines because you aren’t buying the coal, you’re buying the right to leave the coal in the ground. Cutting the supply of coal raises its price which will increase the quantity supplied in other countries. Thus, there is the potential for supply leakage as well as demand leakage. It’s probably easier to use more coal when the price of coal falls (electricity, for example, can be generated in a variety of ways) than it is to mine more coal when the price rises. In other words, the elasticity of the demand for coal is greater than the elasticity of supply so supply leakage is probably less than demand leakage. Furthermore, supply leakage can be handled by buying out supply in the non-coalition countries. As Noah Smith pointed out with the graph at right (data) US CO2 emissions are actually falling while the rest of the world keeps rising (as they catch up in per-capita terms) so addressing the CO2 emissions problem requires bringing countries like China and India on board.

Coal use in China is very high and increasing. India has been canceling coal plants as solar becomes cheaper but coal is still by far the largest source of power in India. Thus, there is plenty of opportunity to buy out, high-cost coal mines in China and India.

It might seem odd to buy Chinese and Indian coal mines but we buy Chinese and Indian labor, why not a coal mine? Moreover, it’s important to understand that the policy is to buy only up to the point that it benefits both parties. Buying coal isn’t foreign aid, it’s a pollution reduction plan just like a carbon tax or R&D investment and because we can buy barely-profitable coal mines and avoid the problem of leakage this is a low-cost method to reduce CO2 emissions.

Collier and Venables worry that foreign voters won’t like foreign investors buying up coal mines, although foreign investment is hardly uncommon and foreigners do protect rainforests by buying the right to cut them down. In any case, Collier and Venables suggest a cap-extract and trade program. Under cap-extract there is a cap on global extractions of carbon (not use) but rights to extract can be traded. Since it’s more valuable to extract say oil than coal what this would mean is that payments would flow from mostly developed countries to developing countries which makes it clear that we are all in the boat together.

Even without a cap-extract and trade program, however, there are other factors that make buying coal attractive to people in selling countries, namely coal is killing them even putting aside the dangers of climate change.

NYTimes: Burning coal has the worst health impact of any source of air pollution in China and caused 366,000 premature deaths in 2013, Chinese and American researchers said on Thursday.

Coal is responsible for about 40 percent of the deadly fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5 in China’s atmosphere, according to a study the researchers released in Beijing.

India’s air quality is even worse than China’s and is responsible for some 1.2 million early deaths annually. A 25% cut in pollution in India could increase life-expectancy by 1.3 years and in some highly polluted cities such as Delhi by 2.8 years. Not all pollution comes from coal but a substantial amount does.

Buyers might worry that a foreign government will take their money and later renege on the deal. There are lots of ways to deal with this problem–turn the coal fields into a national park, for example, or develop them for housing. But let’s turn a problem into a solution. Instead of buying coal, we could rent it. In other words, buy the right to delay mining the coal for say 10 years. Given the rate of improvement in solar, many coal plants will be uneconomic in 10 years and given the rate of improvement in living standards and the consequent increased demand for clean air, many coal plants in India and China could well be unpolitical in 10 years. Thus, it is true that some solutions are naturally in the offing, but for exactly this reason some coal plants are going to be working extra hours in the next decade to squeeze out what profit they can while they still can. We can avoid this last push of CO2 into the atmosphere by buying up the right to extract and holding it for a decade.

A program to leave coal in the ground could easily pay for itself in lives saved and climate stabilized.

The wisdom of Ramez Naam, on climate change

From his tweetstorm here are a few bits:

Our biggest climate problems – the sectors that are both large and that lack obvious solutions, are: a) Agriculture and land use changes (AFOLU in the graphic) and b) Manufacturing / Industry. Together, these are 45% of global emissions. And solutions are scarce. 11/

I’m not saying that clean electricity or transport are solved. They’re not. But in electricity, we have solar, wind, batteries growing & getting cheaper & on path for 70-80% decarbonization *at least*. Same with electric cars and trucks. We have momentum in those sectors. 12/

We do NOT have momentum in reducing carbon emissions of agriculture or manufacturing. In agriculture, livestock methane emissions + deforestation to graze livestock are biggest problems. And meat consumption is doubling in next 40 yrs. This should scare you more than coal. 13/

In industry, despite progress in recycling steel, *primary* steel production is still incredibly carbon intensive. As is cement. As is much of manufacturing. We haven’t reached the “solar cheaper than coal” or “EVs cheaper than gasoline” tipping points there. We need to. 14/

If the US is serious about climate policy, it ought to focus on these two sectors – agriculture and industry – that are soon to be the two largest emissions sources, and lack solutions. We should press to invent solutions, drive them down in price, and spread them globally. 16/

Do read the whole thing.

Robert Pindyck on climate change models

Pindyck, from MIT, is a leading expert in this area, here is part of his summary conclusion:

It would certainly be nice if the problems with IAMs [integrated assessment models] simply boiled down to an imprecise knowledge of certain parameters, because then uncertainty could be handled by assigning probability distributions to those parameters and then running Monte Carlo simulations. Unfortunately, not only do we not know the correct probability distributions that should be applied to these parameters, we don’t even know the correct equations to which those parameters apply. Thus the best one can do at this point is to conduct a simple sensitivity analysis on key parameters, which would be more informative and transparent than a Monte Carlo simulation using ad hoc probability distributions. This does not mean that IAMs are of no use. As I discussed earlier, IAMs can be valuable as analytical and pedagogical devices to help us better understand climate dynamics and climate–economy interactions, as well as some of the uncertainties involved. But it is crucial that we are clear and up-front about the limitations of these models so that they are not misused or oversold to policymakers. Likewise, the limitations of IAMs do not imply that we have to throw up our hands and give up entirely on estimating the SCC [social costs of carbon] and analyzing climate change policy more generally.

The entire essay is of interest, via Matt Kahn.

Climate change may be more expensive than we think

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the closing bit:

I am struck by the costs of climate change suggested in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, hardly a source of denialism. Its cost estimate — “1 to 5% of GDP for 4°C of warming” — is relatively reassuring. After all, global GDP is right now growing at more than 4 percent a year. If climate change cost “only” 4 percent of GDP on a one-time basis, then the world economy could make up those costs with less than a year’s worth of economic growth. In essence, the world economy would arrive at a given level of wealth about a year later than otherwise would have been the case. That sounds expensive but not tragic.

Unfortunately, that is not the right way to conceptualize the problem. Think of the 4 percent hit to GDP, if indeed that is the right number, as a highly unevenly distributed opening shot. That’s round one, and from that point on we are going to react with our human foibles and emotions, and with our

highly imperfect and sometimes corrupt political institutions. (Libertarians, who are typically most skeptical of political solutions, should be the most worried.)

Considering how the Syrian crisis has fragmented the EU as well as internal German politics, is it so crazy to think that climate change might erode international cooperation all the more? The true potential costs of climate change are just beginning to come into view.

What is the relevant uncertainty for climate change policy?

A number of people have climbed onto Twitter and outlined (correctly) how increased uncertainty about the impact of climate change increases the value of doing something about it.  There is downside risk, and of course we wish to buy insurance against that in the form of a more active climate change policy.  Still, that is not looking deeply enough.  I see some of the relevant uncertainties as embodied in the following scenario, which is more about policy means than climate change science:

Following a Trump debacle, finally the Democrats win all branches of government and pass a climate change bill.  There is a carbon tax, and further anti-coal measures, but it isn’t enough to shift energy regimes in a transformational sense (besides, truly transformational technologies require luck and “the right time” far more than price incentives).  Instead the United States becomes more like Western Europe, with higher levels of conservation but no ground-breaking new energy source.  Solar goes up by ten percentage points, and wind by two or three, given NIMBY opposition.  Fracking becomes more efficient yet, which nudges fossil fuels back a bit onto center stage.  Nuclear is closed down altogether, and hydroelectric also goes in reverse or stagnates.  China is as China does, and they slowly move away from their installed coal base, in the meantime taking steps to control their particulate matter but not so much their carbon, copying America in this regard.  India starts a shift from coal to natural gas but still has rising carbon emissions.  Africa and Vietnam exceed growth expectations, with a lot of solar power to be sure, but not enough to counteract their growing industrialization.  The carbon tax causes a mild recession in America, and environmentalism becomes less popular.  The global boost in temperature continues, unchecked.  The people who die each year from regular air pollution — six to seven million at last count — diminish in number with economic growth, but we react largely with indifference to that problem, because it doesn’t fit into domestic political struggles very neatly.

Now, to me something like that is the single most likely scenario, albeit with a lot of uncertainty.  I am still happy to try remedial policy measures, and to try them now, if only out of non-complacency or perhaps just desperation.  But come on, let’s be honest.  If all you are doing is trying to combat uncertainty about the science, you are unwilling to look the actual problem square in the eye, just like the climate deniers, the very people you so much decry.

Trump’s executive order on climate change

One of the best things about Cass Sunstein as a writer is that his goal is to inform us.  Here is his opening bit:

Contrary to numerous reports, President Donald Trump’s executive order on climate change does not come even close to eliminating President Barack Obama’s legacy with respect to greenhouse-gas reductions. Most of that legacy, involving dramatic emissions cuts in the transportation sector and from household appliances, remains intact.

Nonetheless, the order is massively important and, in some respects, reckless. In addition to mandating reassessment of the Clean Power Plan, which regulates coal companies, Trump jettisoned, all at once, the Obama administration’s “social cost of carbon,” which has been the linchpin of national climate policy since 2009. But he did not say what the Trump administration will replace it with. On that count, he punted — which is not the worst thing, and which leaves some crucial decisions open for his staff.

Here is the full column, and it has much more of interest.  I feel bad about running such “remedial material” on MR, but overall I see reporting on Trump as continuing at very low standards, even in some otherwise very good outlets.

How Berkshire Hathaway thinks about climate change

From their new report (pdf, pp.25-26):

…insurance policies are customarily written for one year and repriced annually to reflect changing exposures. Increased possibilities of loss translate promptly into increased premiums.

Up to now, climate change has not produced more frequent nor more costly hurricanes nor other weather-related events covered by insurance. As a consequence, U.S. super-cat rates have fallen steadily in recent years, which is why we have backed away from that business. If super-cats become costlier and more frequent, the likely – though far from certain – effect on Berkshire’s insurance business would be to make it larger and more profitable.

As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.

The pointer is from Joseph Weisenthal.