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Timely, depressingly prescient quote from recent history.

February 22, 2011

From the annals of Environmental Resource Economics – more specifically, their February 2009 special issue on climate economics:

The momentum behind cap-and-trade has been building for a long time of course, but recent developments in the United States, Australia and beyond have cemented its rise. And given the current economic crisis, it is now very difficult to imagine political success for any price instrument that does not create rents for firms.4

4 Although this situation may reverse when the downturn bottoms out and concerns shift to repairing public budgets.

By S. Dietz and D.J. Maddison, “New Frontiers in the Economics of Climate Change.” Ah, the vivid political imaginations of economists! Yesterday, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said there would not be a binding climate deal at this year’s summit in Durban, South Africa.

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The economics of meat.

February 18, 2011

Via Slate’s twitter account, I came across Tyler Cowen’s post about the economics of meat, quoting from Simon Fairlie’s book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance. Granted, I haven’t read the book [yet], but the quote here seems problematic:

People need their pound of grain a day, but they don’t need much more, and they won’t buy any more unless they have sufficient wealth to invest the grain in animals, either to produce higher value food, or else to keep it “on the hoof” for a rainy day (or a drought).

I’ll have to read the book to see if Fairlie addresses this argument, but my initial reaction as a non-economist is: what is the distinction between meat/livestock as storage of surplus grain vs. alcohol/other preserved forms of grain? I imagine there’s a nutritional argument to be made, but it’s not evident from the quote given. In any case, I think it is not that controversial to argue that there are significant social costs/benefits to be considered in the production/consumption of alcohol.

CR amendments breakdowns.

February 16, 2011

Lucky for all of us, other folks on the Internet have done the hard work of sifting through the Republican amendments to the continuing resolution and picking out all the ones that are worst for our environment and society in general. Center for American Progress have a nice chart on all climate, environment and energy-related amendments, Earthjustice has a good list, and  John Walke at NRDC goes a bit more in depth on amendments related to the Clean Air Act. Indeed, probably the most alarming aspects of the CR are how they practically repeal the Clean Air Act. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) is even calling it the Dirty Air Act.

Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize-winning scientist Steve Chu provided his opinion on the legislation today:

The CR that the house has been discussing would have adverse impacts on the [Energy] department, significant adverse impacts.

As for the public, they are overwhelmingly in support of increased regulation of CO2. So what’s motivating the Republicans’ unpopular attack on the Clean Air Act? I guess it’s just some weird, principled perverse ideology that defies reason.

The CR is bad for the Earth.

February 16, 2011

I meant to write more about the Republicans’ CR yesterday but got distracted. Of course, it’s no surprise that there’s more for environmentalists to worry about in the CR than just the gutting of the D.C. area transit system.

The base bill that was introduced last week, H.R. 1, is generally terrible on the climate change/clean energy front, as summed up in the New York Times:

Republicans take aim at some of their favorite targets in the measure, reducing financing to the Environmental Protection Agency by $3 billion — an almost 30 percent cut from current levels. The measure would also block the agency from implementing new emissions regulations, and it would cut more than $100 million in spending on climate change programs.

Section 1746 is the key provision that would prohibit the EPA from regulating GHGs under the Clean Air Act, effectively repudiating the Supreme Court’s holding in Massachusetts v. EPA.

The Hill has an Obama Administration-released backgrounder with more climate change (and Clean Water Act) lowlights from the CR, which include blocking implementation of Energy STAR and the Renewable Fuels Program.

In addition, yesterday, the Republicans flocked to offer up a mess of crazy amendments to make the CR even crazier. The E&E headline characterized it as “House GOP exults in cutting, anti-regulatory spree” (sub. req’d). In particular, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas has apparently offered an amendment to permanently block EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs (apparently not yet online).

(However, I am delighted to note that Rep. Fortenberry of Nebraska has offered an amendment, number 483, prohibiting the use of funds in any “sterilization campaigns.” I know what you all are thinking – how does this resolve with Rep. Burton’s amendment, number 485, regarding the BLM’s wild horses and burros program? Don’t worry: Rep. Burton would permit funding of “fertility control” on feral equids. Until they go online on Thomas, you can read some of yesterday’s amendments in the Congressional Record [PDF].)

Of course, it’s important to keep the CR in all its awfulness in perspective. The worst it can do is mess up the way the federal government spends money over the next seven months. And anyways, it won’t get signed into law: the Senate is unlikely to pass it as is, and Obama has vowed to veto the CR in its current form. Here is how the veto threat is worded, in the official OMB statement [PDF]:

If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the President will veto the bill.

It remains to be seen whether the EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs counts as one of the Administration’s “critical priorities.” I would certainly argue, and I think it is the Obama Administration’s view, that the climate change-related energy innovation provisions the GOP wants to kill constitute drivers of long-term economic growth that are, you know, necessary for WTF.

So what is the relevance of the CR if it’s not going to become law? Well, it demonstrates what the Republicans stand for politically – and it’s not good for the environment.

Gutting the Metro.

February 15, 2011

It blows my mind how anyone can think that it is good policy to cut $80 million in funding to the District of Columbia, and completely cease funding the WMATA through the end of the fiscal year. And yet, that is what the Republicans propose to do in their continuing resolution to fund the federal government for the next seven months.

Return of the streetcars.

February 14, 2011

NPR’s Weekend Edition did a nice piece the other day on the return of streetcars to American cities. They highlighted a company called Oregon Iron Works, which is making all-American-made streetcars for cities around the country. The piece also features one of my favorite Congresscritters, Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), at D.C.’s own H Street Northeast/Atlas District, which is currently undergoing some much-anticipated streetcar infrastructure installation.

Brian Taylor of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies, the expert called on at the end of the piece to provide some criticism, points out that streetcars are, of course, not a magic bullet, and can’t be counted on to solve all transportation-related problems in all cases, especially when it comes to funding trade-offs with regard to other, existing transportation projects like buses and roads. In another fantastic public radio piece, Transportation Nation‘s Back of the Bus provides some real-life examples of that tension, and how it plays out in terms of environmental justice.

Af/deforestation by nation.

February 12, 2011

On a less wordy note, The Economist‘s chart of the day yesterday illustrated some interesting trends in forest cover over the last decade:

These statistics are drawn fro the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s recent State of the World’s Forests report. I don’t know much about international forestry, so I found it interesting that Russia and Canada have net zero change in forest cover, while Norway and Sweden are adding forest area. Having previously heard of China’s efforts at afforestation (especially to combat erosion), I was not surprised to see that China and India have been adding forest area. In terms of afforestation, of course, what’s key is not merely increasing forest area, but smart, sustainable forestry as opposed to monocultural tree plantations – which some of these forests undoubtedly are. China’s “Great Green Wall”, for example, has been criticized as masking China’s decline in forest quality and growing consumption of forest products.

The other thing to keep in mind when thinking about afforestation/deforestation is to think about the myriad of ways in which forests are undervalued: forests are not only important carbon sinks, but they’re also sources of livelihood for indigenous peoples, and protect biodiversity as well as water and air quality. You can learn a bit more on that note from the IUCN, who recently presented their report on the “True Economic Value of Forests” at the UN Forum on Forests.