Results for “pollution”
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Europe pollution fact of the day

Europe’s air is less corrosive than it once was, and much less foul than China’s or India’s. Industrial decline and clean-air policies since the 1950s have brought levels of many pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, fine particulate matter (a dust that can irritate lungs), and nitrogen oxides down over the past few decades. Yet more than 400,000 Europeans still die prematurely each year because of air pollution, according to the European Environmental Agency. In 2010 the health-related costs were thought to be between €330 billion ($437 billion) and €940 billion, or 3%-7% of GDP.

Nine out of ten European city-dwellers are exposed to pollution in excess of guidelines produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Some of the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide are found in London; several cities in Turkey are choked with high levels of PM10 (particulate matter of at most 10-micron diameter). But some of the worst pollution is in Eastern Europe (see map). Coal-fired power stations are still common there, and some pollutants blow in from the rest of Europe. The commission is prosecuting 18 governments for infringing pollution limits.

Researchers at King’s College London have found that a child born in London in 2010 can expect to have his life cut short by nine months as a result of breathing its high levels of PM2.5—the very finest particulate matter—if pollution levels do not change.

That article excerpt is from The Economist.

Governments are more likely than businesses to break pollution regulations

I believe I linked to an earlier version of these results a while ago, but the point deserves reiteration:

For the study, Konisky and Teodoro examined records from 2000 to 2011 for power plants and hospitals regulated under the Clean Air Act and from 2010 to 2013 for water utilities regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The study included over 3,000 power plants, over 1,000 hospitals and over 4,200 water utilities — some privately owned and others owned by public agencies.

  • For power plants and hospitals, public facilities were on average 9 percent more likely to be out of compliance with Clean Air Act regulations and 20 percent more likely to have committed high-priority violations.

  • For water utilities, public facilities had on average 14 percent more Safe Drinking Water Act health violations and were 29 percent more likely to commit monitoring violations.

  • Public power plants and hospitals that violated the Clean Air Act were 1 percent less likely than private-sector violators to receive a punitive sanction and 20 percent less likely to be fined.

  • Public water utilities that violated Safe Drinking Water Act standards were 3 percent less likely than investor-owned utilities to receive formal enforcement actions.

Konisky said the findings are significant but not surprising. Government entities have higher costs of complying with regulations because they often must go through political processes to raise the money needed to improve their facilities. And they may face pushback from customers or taxpayers who object to higher rates and have the political power to block them.

Public entities also face lower costs for violating the regulations, the authors argue. There is evidence from other studies that they are able to delay or avoid paying fines when penalties are assessed. And officials with regulatory agencies may be sympathetic to violations by public entities, because they understand the difficulty of securing resources in the public sector.

The full Indiana press release is here, and for the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.

The altruistic logic of Chinese air pollution?

Kai Xue writes:

But I say in plain honesty that terrible air pollution while taken as mandarin indifference to public demands is to the contrary a manifestation of commitment to a mass middle class by the Chinese political system.

Policy deliberately trades off public health for blue collar jobs. Around Beijing are industries including steel mills and cement plants that are major polluters. About 1 in 10 tonnes of the world’s steel output is smelted in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing. With so much local heavy industry, cleaning the air would start with plant closures that cause concentrated unemployment.

Whether this bargain of clean air for economic growth is a good deal is a fair question but whether it is virtuous public policy depends on the extent decision-makers are subject to or instead insulated from the consequences of self-produced actions.

Beijing is the seat of power in a centralized state. About one third of the thousands who hold junior ministerial rank or higher and many of the very rich reside here.

Regardless of stature, for every Beijing inhabitant air pollution is the most serious public concern.

That is from an Atlantic article by James Fallows.

Tradeable Pollution Permits

The latest release of our principles of economics class covers Externalities, Costs and Profit Maximization, Competition and the Invisible Hand, and Monopoly.

I am especially fond of our video, Trading Pollution, which explains the economics of tradeable pollution permits. Tyler and I worked with the incredibly talented team at Tilapia Film for a long time on a montage involving jigsaw puzzle pieces that’s near the middle of the video. The montage is only a few seconds long but I think it’s a beautiful way of illustrating how the price system draws upon information that is dispersed across many minds. There is a lot of deep economics behind the visual metaphors.

Addendum: For those of you using our textbook, this video and others are available directly from the textbook (using QR codes) and also available with assessment in our course management system, Launchpad.

The roots of Chinese pollution

A detailed analysis of powerplants in China by MIT researchers debunks
the widespread notion that outmoded energy technology or the utter
absence of government regulation is to blame for that country’s
notorious air-pollution problems. The real issue, the study found,
involves complicated interactions between new market forces, new
commercial pressures and new types of governmental regulation…

China’s power sector has been expanding at a rate roughly equivalent to
three to four new coal-fired, 500 megawatt plants coming on line every
week…most of the new plants have been built to very high technical
standards, using some of the most modern technologies available. The
problem has to do with the way that energy infrastructure is being
operated and the types of coals being burned.

The good news is that there is a single lever — coal quality — that could have an enormous impact on Chinese pollution levels.  Here is the full story.

Why Chinese pollution is such a tough problem

Alex is back, alive and well.  But he still has a raspy voice from sucking in all that air pollution.  Here is one reason why, as explained by Brad Plumer:

China’s central government is well aware that its blackened rivers and
sunless skies are a problem, not just because they’re sparking riots
and social unrest, but because out-of-control environmental degradation
is imperiling the country’s economic growth. Lately, Beijing has issued
a slew of bold–at least on paper–environmental regulations. But the
laws are doing little good because the central government can barely
enforce them in its own provinces. This structural problem will remain
the key to China’s environmental dilemma, and, as countries attempt to
push Beijing toward a cleaner future, they’ll discover that the capital
is the least of their troubles.

The central government has passed some fairly "green" laws but often to little avail:

Beijing is aware of this local lawlessness, but has had little success
handling it. "China used to send in swat teams from the central
government," says Barbara Finamore, who directs the Natural Resources
Defense Council’s (NRDC) China program. "I’ve seen these campaigns
going on for twenty years– they’ll come in, shut down some factories,
and, when they leave, they’ll open up again."

Envy pollution

Greg Mankiw considers Brad DeLong’s view that the presence of the rich makes the poor worse off.  Jane Galt discusses Cindy Crawford.  I will add the following:

1. Often the rich make us feel we are worse off when we fill out questionnaires, but the quality of experienced life doesn’t go down much from their existence.

2. Consider food.  If I hear of other people visiting El Bulli, I might downgrade the quality of my own eating life on a survey.  But I don’t enjoy my Sichuan Chili Chicken or my Silpancho any less.

3. "…its a great testament to economic progess that, walking round the city
center these days, say, it’s very hard to differentiate the rich and the
poor in the first instance. In this sense, things have indeed become a
lot more egalitarian."  That is from one of Greg’s commentators.

4. Envy tends to be local.  Few Americans resent Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.  The real definition of a wealthy man is one who earns more than his wife’s sister’s husband.

5. Greg Mankiw suggests that perhaps we segregate the rich into places like Nantucket and Aspen, so as to minimize the envy of the poor.  That won’t get at the root of the problem, as expressed in #4. 

What we need to do is tax gatherings of extended family and other like-minded people.

Exporting Pollution?

Long before Larry Summers shocked the elite by suggesting that men and women might be different he signed on to a World Bank memo noting:

"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the
lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to it."

A number of people suggested that the US was doing just this as lower tariff barriers made it easier to export dirty manufacturing industries and import the goods.  An NBER paper, however, finds no evidence for this effect.  Quoting from the NBER Digest:

Imports overall grew by 318 percent during the period. But according to World Bank data that characterizes industries by their pollution intensity, imports of goods manufactured in highly polluting processes grew at a much slower rate. In other words, just as the U.S. manufacturing sector was growing while simultaneously shifting toward clean industries, the same thing was happening to our imports: they were rising, but the percentage of goods coming from polluting industries was going down. "The cleaner U.S. manufacturing composition is not offset by dirtier imports," the authors write. "Rather, the composition of imports has also become cleaner."

One reason pollution hasn’t been exported may be that the dirtier (older) industries have more political power and have resisted tariff reductions.  The authors find, however, that even if one eliminated all tariffs on manufactured goods pollution would still not be exported.

It’s not that this wouldn’t be a good idea, it’s just that it so happens that poor countries don’t have a comparative advantage in producing the goods that require a lot of pollution.  Of course, if we tax pollution in the United States at higher levels it will make more sense to export it – an interesting dilemma.

Indoor air pollution

Perhaps the most pressing environmental problem in the world is indoor air pollution, which kills 2.8 million people each year, just behind HIV/AIDS.  The pollution is caused by poor people cooking and heating their homes with dung and cardboard.  The solution is not environmental (to certify dung) but rather economic, helping these people build enough wealth to afford kerosene.

That is by Bjorn Lomborg, in Foreign Policy, July/August issue. 

Two caveats.  First, the best figure I can find appears to be 1.6 million lives; here is a WHO statement on the phenomenon.  Second, the people die because the smoke renders them more susceptible to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.  But their poverty makes them more susceptible for a number of reasons.  I doubt if the marginal product of the smoke can be isolated clearly; see this study.  Nonetheless this is a very very serious problem that does not receive much attention.

Sunday assorted links

1. “Our results suggest that the degree to which Twitter is political has likely been overstated in the past.

2. When do ideas get easier to find? Hard to excerpt, but important piece.

3. The economics of stadium names.

4. Pollution from car tire wear.

5. The Swedish history of not feeding other people’s children.

6. The 1993 ferry sinking off the coast of Jeremie, Haiti had a high death toll — some sources say over one thousand (does anyone know the proper final toll?).  Yet the incident doesn’t seem to have its own Wikipedia page.

7. Ann Turner Cook, original Gerber baby, dies.

Tuesday assorted links

1. New CBA for the child allowance, showing basically a 10x benefit to cost ratio.

2. New survey of the non-health effects of air pollution.

3. The importance of teaching frontier knowledge.

4. Marcus Rediker’s tips for historical writing, excellent and also of more general interest.

5. The current state of nuclear brinksmanship (NYT).

6. “Companies are marketing polygenic risk scores as part of IVF…”  And more here.

7. UCLA will pay that adjunct after all.

Thanksgiving assorted links

1. Why do frozen turkeys explode when deep fried?

2. “Former South Korean military dictator Chun Doo-hwan has died at age 90. This means all living former South Korean Presidents are currently in jail.”  Tweet link here.

3. David Wallace-Wells on the tragedy of regular ol’ air pollution.

4. The case against the Trump-Biden tariffs (NYT).

5. New dating terms.

6. Walmart “cancels” children’s toy that swears and sings in Polish about doing cocaine.

7. Georgia politician stands by giant topiary chicken that got him ousted as mayor.

8. Long list of things to be thankful for.

Yglesias on CRT

Matt Yglesias has an excellent post on schooling and politics emphasizing three points. First, there is a lot of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) nonsense which the schools are using to train teachers and administrators. Second, at the same time the school administrators/teacher’s unions are generally ignoring the very real cost to children and parents of the school closures, including the costs of a widening racial gap. Third, the schools are stigmatizing testing under the guise of promoting equity but in reality because the teacher’s unions know that when you test children you learn that not all teachers are equally capable.

[The DC Public Schools] also recommend that people read a bunch of Robin DiAngelo books and brag that “more than 2,000 DCPS staff have participated in Courageous Conversation training.” But is Courageous Conversation training a good idea? This NYT Magazine profile of the company and its founder made it sound pretty bad:

Singleton, who holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford, and who did stints in advertising and college admissions before founding what’s now known as Courageous Conversation in 1992, talks about white culture in similar ways. There is the myth of meritocracy. And valuing “written communication over other forms,” he told me, is “a hallmark of whiteness,” which leads to the denigration of Black children in school. Another “hallmark” is “scientific, linear thinking. Cause and effect.” He said, “There’s this whole group of people who are named the scientists. That’s where you get into this whole idea that if it’s not codified in scientific thought that it can’t be valid.” He spoke about how the ancient Egyptians had “ideas about how humanity works that never had that scientific-hypothesis construction” and so aren’t recognized. “This is a good way of dismissing people. And this,” he continued, shifting forward thousands of years, “is one of the challenges in the diversity-equity-inclusion space; folks keep asking for data. How do you quantify, in a way that is scientific — numbers and that kind of thing — what people feel when they’re feeling marginalized?” For Singleton, society’s primary intellectual values are bound up with this marginalization.

I don’t think Frankfurt School Marxists are going to take over society by injecting these ideas into K-12 schools or anything like that. What I so think is that time and money is being wasted on initiatives that are run by people who are somewhere between stupid and fraudulent.

And it’s important to take that seriously, not just because someone somewhere may take these goofy ideas seriously (see prior commentary about Tema Okun), but because fiscal tradeoffs are real. Dollars spent on DEI trainings that come with zero proof of efficacy are dollars that can’t be invested in things like D.C.’s successful teacher bonus pay program, updating school air conditioning, improving school lunches, reducing kids’ exposure to air pollution and lead poisoning, or any of the other various interventions that have decent evidence behind them.

Of course when I say that investing in higher quality school lunches is good for kids’ learning, what I mean is that it’s good as measured on standardized tests.

Standardized testing has become a weird discourse flashpoint, but I think everyone agrees that you can, in principle, assess someone’s competence in a given subject area with a test. And if you want to compare different people, you need to give them the same test. It’s only by making comparisons across classrooms and across time that we are able to persuasively demonstrate that particulates are bad for school performance, healthy meals are good for school performance, and air conditioning improves school performance in the summer.

All this would be uncontroversial, I think, except teachers’ unions don’t like the idea of assessing teachers based on their job performance.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to Slow Boring.

How the game of *Life* evolved

The game underwent numerous updates over the years. The early emphasis on money to determine the winner had been “indicative of what sold in that era,” George Burtch, the former vice president of marketing for Hasbro, which acquired Milton Bradley in 1984, said in a phone interview.

As times changed, so did the game, with players encountering midlife crises and being rewarded for good deeds, like recycling the trash and helping homeless people.

“Reuben was very receptive to the changes — in fact he was often the impetus for them — because he was a businessman,” Mr. Burtch said.

“He understood that the Game of Life was not just the game that he invented; it was a brand,” he added. “And for a brand to remain viable, it has to evolve. It has to reflect the market conditions of the time.”

But as Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker in 2007, the redesign teams always had a hard time addressing the fundamental criticism of the game — that the only way to reward a player for virtuous acts was with money: “Save an Endangered Species: Collect $200,000. Solution to Pollution: $250,000. Open Health-Food Chain: $100,000.”

And so the company’s 2007 overhaul, the Game of Life: Twists & Turns, was almost existential. Instead of putting players on a fixed path, it provided multiple ways to start out in life — but nowhere to finish. “This is actually the game’s selling point; it has no goal,” Ms. Lepore wrote. “Life is … aimless.”

That is from an excellent NYT obituary of Reuben Klamer, who invented the game of Life, in addition to numerous other achievements.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Mike Makowsky good career advice for those economists (and others?) coming out of non-elite schools.

2. Bryan Caplan on his home schooling experience.

3. BBC covers EV India winner and his fight against air pollution.

4. Why young Koreans are doing so well in classical music.

5. Art Blakey and Lee Morgan in concert.

6. Guardian Fall books preview.  And Vulture Fall books preview.