Results for “pollution”
168 found

Qingdao notes

There are early twentieth century German colonial buildings, some lovely water promenades, and less air pollution than in perhaps any other major Chinese city.  Here is the urban plan.  The best dishes are the clams, the snails, and the seaweed salads.  The cucumbers are an order of magnitude better than what I am used to, and the city’s status as a beer capital comes from the earlier German occupation.

qingdao

In two days of going around, I did not see a single Westerner.  It is sometimes considered China’s most livable city, here is Qingdao on Wikipedia.

Will all of economic growth be absorbed into life extension?

That is the subject of the new JPE paper by Charles I. Jones, here is the abstract:

Some technologies save lives—new vaccines, new surgical techniques, safer highways. Others threaten lives—pollution, nuclear accidents, global warming, and the rapid global transmission of disease. How is growth theory altered when technologies involve life and death instead of just higher consumption? This paper shows that taking life into account has first-order consequences. Under standard preferences, the value of life may rise faster than consumption, leading society to value safety over consumption growth. As a result, the optimal rate of consumption growth may be substantially lower than what is feasible, in some cases falling all the way to zero.

It is a well-known stylized fact that the share of health care in gdp is generally rising…

Which is better?  A society with quite patient, very long-lived individuals with a static standard of living, or a society of people who die at eighty but manage to double living standards every generation?

Which would we choose?

Addendum: Here is an earlier, “less gated” version of the paper.

Dare I suggest that eighty percent of the world is run on this basis?

Despite the cloud cast by the Volkswagen scandal, automakers are proposing that they be allowed a 70 percent increase in the nitrogen oxides their cars emit, unreleased documents show, as part of new European pollution tests.

Under the new plan, cars in Europe would for the first time be tested on the road, using portable monitoring equipment, in addition to laboratory testing.

The automakers, which include Volkswagen, General Motors, Daimler, BMW, Toyota, Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Ford and Hyundai, are essentially conceding what outside groups have said for some time — that the industry cannot meet pollution regulations when cars are taken out of testing laboratories.

Here is the Danny Hakim NYT story.

How bad a tragedy is the Volkswagen fraud?

The NYT symposium is here, including Robert Reich, Dan Ariely, and myself, among others.  Here is my piece, excerpt:

One plausible estimate suggests this additional pollution has been killing 5 to 27 Americans each year, with that number worldwide reaching up to 404 as a maximum.

To put that number in context, the World Health Organization estimates that about seven million people die each year worldwide from air pollution. Even within the United States, early deaths from air pollution have been estimated to run about 200,000 a year, in comparison to which the losses from the Volkswagen scandal are a rounding error. For the American deaths, however, the culprits are often cars, trucks and cooking and heating emissions, so there is no single, evil, easily identified wrongdoer at fault. As Pogo recognized, often the real enemy is us.

Here are alternative estimates of the death from Volkswagen, published after my piece was set to run but the comparisons do not change fundamentally.  From that same article here are two paragraphs of note:

Don Anair, deputy director of the vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the precise effect of the Volkswagen fraud would require intense and complex computation.

Still, he cautioned against taking the view that the Volkswagens have reversed the progress with pollution from automobiles. Since the standards went into effect from 2004 to 2009, he said, emissions of nitrogen oxides have been 90 percent lower. “It’s not like this is going to offset the majority of the benefits of these standards,” he said. “But there will be some impact, and we need to get a better handle on it.”

“Since the standards went into effect from 2004 to 2009, he said, emissions of nitrogen oxides have been 90 percent lower.” is a sentence which I fear will not receive much attention in the current debate.

What should we think of the Chinese cap and trade announcement?

You’ll find a list of skeptical worries here from Chris Buckley, most of them justified.  In a nutshell, if you can’t believe their gdp numbers you also can’t believe their cap and trade plan.  I am nonetheless more optimistic about this recent development.  It signals a few things:

1. The Chinese have decided to make “doing something about carbon” a potential source of soft power in the international arena.  They are giving themselves an option on this path, and in the meantime trying to minimize the reputational deficit they face from being the world’s largest source of carbon.

2. The Chinese plan to cut pollution in at least some of their major cities soon, and they want to claim credit for that action in advance.  (In fact they are surprised how rapidly some of those days of blue skies have appeared in Beijing, whether that be the added regulation or the economic slowdown.)  “Carbon emissions” and “pollution” are hardly identical, but still the government is repositioning itself rapidly on the issue of pollution more generally.  This is one welcome part of that broader shift, so don’t worry if not all the details add up.

3. The Chinese leadership expects the domestic economy to be weak for a while, so they can announce a semi-serious carbon cap and meet it, without actually giving up any economic growth.  Of course this #3 isn’t good news on the economic front, but maybe the Chinese government first does need a period of time where such a policy has zero economic cost.

The evidence from the European Union is that their cap and trade program hasn’t worked well, mostly because of time consistency problems, namely that more and more permits are issued and the cap ends up weak over time.  That same problem may or may not apply to China.  But even a strong pessimist about cap and trade can be modestly optimistic about the new Chinese announcement.

Just how guilty is Volkswagen?

I have a few points:

1. There is decent evidence that many other car companies have done something similar.  Read this too.  Besides, Volkswagen committed a related crime in 1973.  When I was a teenager (maybe still?), it was commonly known that New Jersey service stations would help your car pass the emissions test if you slipped them a small amount of money.  So we shouldn’t be shocked by the new story.  The incentive of the agencies is to get the regulations out the door and to avoid subsequent bad publicity, not to actually solve the problem.  So yes, there is a “regulation ought to be tougher” framing, but there is also a “we’ve been overestimating the benefits of regulation” framing too.  Don’t let your moral outrage, which leads you to the former lesson, distract you from absorbing some of the latter lesson too.

2. We are more outraged by deliberate attempts to break the law, compared to stochastic sloppiness leading to mistakes and accidents.  But it is far from obvious that the egregious violations should be punished more severely in a Beckerian framework.  In fact, if they are harder to pull off, compared to sheer neglect, perhaps they should be punished less severely, at least from a utilitarian point of view.  I am not saying we should discard our intuitions about relative outrage, but we ought to look at them more closely rather than just riding them to a quick conclusion.  I’ve seen it noted rather frequently that the head of the supervisory committee at Volkswagen is named Olaf Lies.

3. Don’t think this is just market failure, it springs from a rather large government subsidy program.  Clive Crook makes a good point:

Remember that “clean diesel” was a government-led initiative, brought to you courtesy of Europe’s taxpayers. And, by the way, the policy had proved a massively expensive failure on its own terms even before the VW scandal broke.

…At best, the clean-diesel strategy lowered carbon emissions much less than hoped, and at ridiculous cost; at worst, as one study concludes, the policy added to global warming.

4. One back of the envelope estimate is that the added pollution killed 5 to 23 Americans each year.  Now I don’t myself think we should always or even mostly use economic methods to value human lives.  But if you wish to play that cost-benefit game, maybe here we have $25 million to $100 million in economic value a year destroyed.  It’s not uncommon to spend $100 million marketing a bad Hollywood movie.  So in economic terms (an important caveat), this is a small event.  Most of the car pollution problem comes from older vehicles with poor maintenance, not fraud on the newer tests.  It also seems (same link) that diesel engines are 95% cleaner since the 1980s.

5. The German automobile sector exported about $225 billion in 2014.  That’s almost as big as Greek gdp.

6. Manipulated data will be one of the big, big stories of the next twenty years, or longer.

7. It is worth citing Glazer’s Law, which is designed to classify explanations for microeconomic puzzles: “It’s either taxes or fraud”

This one isn’t taxes.

Potential meteor shower markets in everything

Skywatchers hoping to see a shooting star may soon be able to order them on demand.

A group of Japanese scientists say they have a shooting-star secret formula — an undisclosed chemical mixture packed into tiny, inch-wide balls that the team hopes to eject from a satellite to create on-demand meteor showers, AFP reports.

A Japanese start-up company called ALE is partnering with researchers at multiple universities to create the artificial meteor showers, which will cost around $8,100 per meteor for buyers. The researchers said the manufactured meteors would be bright enough to be visible even in areas with light pollution, like Tokyo, assuming clear weather.

The story is here, from Sarah Lewin, and for the pointer I thank Michael Komaransky.

Why you should visit China more

I suggest two plans, each of which I have been able to implement in a partial way only:

1. Take the train around to random first, second, and third tier Chinese cities.  Many of them will have their own cuisines, or they will represent a nearby regional cuisine.  It’s like discovering the food of a new country.  Imagine if Shandong province were a separate country!  How compelled you would feel to visit it for the food, often considered China’s foundational cuisine, plus it uses the finest vinegars.  And yet, because it is part of “China” (Gavagai!), you feel you already know something about Chinese food and thus the need to sample it is not so pressing.  Redo your framing, and rush to some of the lesser visited parts of China.

By the way, you can stay in the second or third best hotel in most Chinese cities for only slightly more than $100 a night, and yet receive five star treatment and quality.

2. How many provinces does China actually have?  I don’t wish to litigate that dispute, but most of them have restaurants devoted to their regional dishes in Beijing.  These are state-owned restaurants, and most of them are excellent.  Furthermore they are scattered around town, so if you visit them all you will see many parts of Beijing.

A month in Beijing should allow you to visit them all, plus the air pollution really is better these days.

I should add that western China has by far the best raisins I have sampled in my life, most of all the big red raisins.  Until my trip to Xi’an, I had never actually tried a real raisin with the real raisin flavor.  Forget the Terra Cotta Warriors, discover what a raisin is!

Assorted links

1. One million mummies.

2. Schemes to clean up Beijing’s air.

3. National security Christmas gifts.

4. How do people encounter bourbon?

5. Krugman’s model of monetary impotence. and more here.  I say if there is no representative agent, there is a game-theoretic scramble for goods in period one, following an increase in the (purely current) money supply.  That said, you still shouldn’t expect the quantity equation to apply to the monetary base.  Scott Sumner responds here.  Empirically, the problem is to explain both Switzerland and the UK (some price inflation over five percent), not to cite one or the other.  I say that depends on what the central bank/government wants, not time consistency issues by the way.

6. Does the plasticity of human nature favor conservatism?

The Kuznets curve in India strikes back

Indian industries have often complained that convoluted environmental regulations are choking off economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Modi promised to open the floodgates, and he has been true to his word. The new government is moving with remarkable speed to clear away regulatory burdens for industry, the armed forces, mining and power projects.

More permanent changes may be coming. In a report made public last week, a high-level committee assigned to rewrite India’s environmental laws assailed the existing regulatory system, saying it has “served only the purpose of a venal administration” seeking to extract bribes.

To speed up project approvals, the committee recommended scrapping a layer of government inspections; instead, it said, India should rely on business owners to voluntarily disclose the pollution that their projects will generate and then monitor their own compliance, an approach the committee described as “the concept of utmost good faith.”

That is from Ellen Barry and Neha Thirani Bagri.  I am a fan of Michael Greenstone’s work, but I did not find this recent piece on Indian pollution sufficiently penetrating.

Assorted links

1. Driving the Haiti-D.R. border in only five days.

2. Spectator books of the year lists.  And Guardian writers pick best books of 2014.

3. Concussion lawsuits now start to hit high schools.

4. “The Hoxbys even had a decibel meter in their home to measure the racket…”  I am genuinely pleased to see leading economists active in the war against noise pollution.

5. The Birds [The Ducks], Newfoundland style.

6. And what might you find in a New Zealand shed?

Penguin

When did Korea clean up its air? (Korea fact of the day)

If you are going to ask “when will China clean up its air?”, you might wish to look at South Korea, a country with a broadly similar industrial profile, although of course Korea is much further along in terms of economic development.

As of 2002, South Korea was ranked 120th of 122 countries for air quality by the World Economic Forum.  And at that time South Korea was pretty much a fully developed nation, economically speaking that is.  South Korea was also already a democracy, and we know from Casey Mulligan (with Gil and Sala-i-Martin) that democracies tend to have cleaner air than autocracies, ceteris paribus.

Might we consider the possibility that China won’t clean up its air anytime soon?  The good news, however, is that once Korea started its environmental clean-up, improvements came pretty rapidly.  More recently, they come in at #43 on a more general index of environmental quality.

That fact is from Dong-Young Kim, The Challenges of Consensus Building in a Consolidating Democracy.

How the Chinese view their own climate agreement

Both sides put out their joint statement, the U.S. issuing it via the White House and China releasing it through the official Xinhua News Agency. But whereas one side gave it a high gloss, the other seemed to be trying to bury it under the rug. The top story on the website affiliated with the Communist Party flagship paper The People’s Daily was about Xi and Obama meeting the press  — but the article made no reference to the climate agreement. Other stories on the homepage touched on the climate statement but tended to relegate it to the latter half of the article, and omitted the American-style superlatives. The popular Beijing News, a state-run paper known for gently testing the editorial boundaries, also didn’t mention the climate deal in its Nov. 12 cover story on the APEC meeting that brought Obama to China. It focused instead on the meeting’s anti-corruption accord and progress on plans for a pan-Asian free trade zone spearheaded by China.

Here is one reason why:

Beijing is under fire domestically for its unsuccessful efforts to curb local air pollution, noting that people were furious that authorities managed to clear the air for the visiting APEC dignitaries but can’t do it on a daily basis for their own citizens. ” There may be worries that focusing on climate change rather than air pollution doesn’t meet the public’s main concerns,” Seligsohn said via email.

That is all from a good piece by Alexa Olesen at Foreign Policy.

When will China reverse its carbon emissions?

No one knows for sure, you will find a brief survey of some estimates here.  Let’s start with a few simpler points, however.

First, China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them.  This is only partially a matter of lying, in part the government literally does not have the ability to keep its word.  They have a great deal of coal capacity coming on-line and they can’t just turn that switch off.  They’re also driving more cars, too.

Second, China falsifies estimates of the current level of air pollution, so as to make it look like the problem is improving when it is not.  Worse yet, during the APEC summit the Chinese government blocked the more or less correct estimates coming from U.S. Embassy data, which are usually transmitted through an app.  A nice first step to the “deal” with the United States would have been to allow publication (through the app) of the correct numbers.  But they didn’t.  What does that say about what one might call…”the monitoring end”…of this new deal?

Third, a lot of the relevant Chinese regulatory apparatus is at the local not federal level (in fact it should be more centrally done, even if not fully federalized in every case).  There are plenty of current local laws against air pollution which are simply not enforced, often because of corruption, and often that pollution is emanating from locally well-connected, job-creating state-owned enterprises.  Often the pollution comes from one locality and victimizes another, especially in the north of the country.   Those are not good local regulatory incentives and it will take a long time to correct them.  Right now for instance Beijing imports a lot of its pollution from nearby, poorer regions which simply wish to keep churning the stuff out.  The Chinese also do not have anything close to a consistently well-staffed environmental bureaucracy.

Fourth, if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues.  For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.  (Mexico for instance has been getting that one under control for some time now.)  The Chinese people (and government) are much more worried about TPM than about carbon emissions, which is seen as something foreigners complain about.  Yet TPM is still getting worse in China, and if it is (possibly) flat-lining this year that is only because of the economic slowdown, not because of better policy.

When will China cap carbon emissions?  “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate.  Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent.  How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions?  Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

The Chinese really are making a big and genuine effort when it comes to renewables, it is just that such an effort is dwarfed by the problems mentioned above.

The media coverage I have seen of the U.S.-China emissions “deal” has not been exactly forthcoming in presenting these rather basic points.  It’s almost as if no one studies the history of air pollution anymore.

I understand why a lot of reporters want to “clutch at straws” — it’s good for both clicks and the conscience — but a dose of realism is required as well.  The announced deal is little more than a well-timed, well-orchestrated press release.

Is stopping climate change a free lunch?

We’re again seeing the return of magical thinking in the economics profession and elsewhere.  Limiting climate change is indeed worth doing, but it is not close to a free lunch.  Eduardo Porter makes the relevant point quite nicely:

“If the Chinese and the Indians found it much more economically efficient to build out solar, nuclear and wind, why are they still building all these coal plants?” asked Ted Nordhaus, chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank focused on development and the environment.

China’s CO2 emissions increased 4.2 percent last year, according to the Global Carbon Project, helping drive a global increase of 2.3 percent. China now accounts for 28 percent of the world’s total emissions, more than the United States and the European Union combined.

“I don’t think the Chinese and the Indians are stupid,” Mr. Nordhaus told me. “They are looking at their indigenous energy resources and energy demand and making fairly reasonable decisions.”

For them, combating climate change does not look at all like a free lunch.

Note that doing something about air pollution and doing something about carbon emissions are two distinct issues.  America did a great deal to clean up its air, for instance when it comes to the dangerous Total Particulate Matter, but has done much less to lower its carbon emissions.  It is no accident that the former is a national public good, the latter is mainly a global public good.  China, India, and other developing nations may well go a similar route and simply keep emitting carbon at high and perhaps even growing rates.   If you lump everything together into a general “the benefits of getting rid of air pollution,” you will be missing that nations can and probably will make targeted clean-up attempts that leave carbon emissions largely intact.

By the way, here is yesterday’s report from India:

“India’s first task is eradication of poverty,” Mr. Javadekar said, speaking in a New York hotel suite a day after a United Nations climate summit. “Twenty percent of our population doesn’t have access to electricity, and that’s our top priority. We will grow faster, and our emissions will rise.”

India is the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, behind China and the United States, and Mr. Javadekar’s comments are a first indication of the direction of the environmental policies of the new prime minister, Narendra Modi…

In coming decades, as India works to provide access to electricity to more than 300 million people, its emissions are projected to double, surpassing those of the United States and China.

If you haven’t tried crossing the street in India, you don’t know much about how hard it is to fix the problem of carbon emissions.