Blogs and academic research: from Digitopoly

Josh Gans writes up how Paul Krugman is not right when he suggests that online publishing is somehow a substitute for academic journals in

Blogs and academic research: A timely story in Digitopoly:

So it took some time, and if you have read to the end of this lengthy post, even longer, but an initial blog post did lead to a deeper understanding of at least this phenomenon. What this demonstrates, however, is that blogging and the usual academic functions are not substitutes but complements.


Take a longer look at what he describes, as those of you interested in carbon offsets and trading will find it interesting.

Some new climate studies summarized by the Economist

There are two new articles on climate change in this week’s Economist online. The first, details how the arctic ice cap is melting much faster than models predicting, which should probably surprise no one–models are models after all, and we’ve seen underestimation before from this field. The summary is depressing, as the short-term mitigation is relatively easy and would also benefit human health (soot is bad for everybody). Whatevs, right? If personally don’t believe in something hard enough, it won’t happen. Reassured, now? Me neither.

The second report examines some new insights yielded from cloud chamber experiments. I don’t quite understand everything that they are doing, but the idea of small-scale experimentation is extremely cool. It’s worth watching the video attached to the story.

Some weblinks on Australia’s carbon tax move

While the US is busy dealing with its self-made debt hairpulling crisis and Carmageddon, Australia actually decided do something useful with its time: pass a carbon tax.

Now, forgive me, Australians, because even though I think of myself as an intelligent person, I can’t get myself to remember that Australia has one “i” in it. I’m an American, and so I consider myself well-educated and cosmopolitan because I a) know you exist at all and b) can find you on a map and c) know who your federal leaders are. I know the metric system too! Praise me.

Anyhoodily, here is a collection of things I’ve been reading about the carbon tax.

Jennifer Bennet in the Los Angeles Times


Peter Smith in the Financial Times


Richard Flanagan from the Gaurdian


Timothy Hurst for Reuters a pro op-ed


The Independent’s Op-Ed (con)

Montana’s climate change bill

Deb Niemeier at UC Davis writes about this piece of legislation on the table in Montana.









9 NEW SECTION. Section 1. Public policy concerning global warming.

(1) The legislature finds that

10 to ensure economic development in Montana and the appropriate management of Montana’s natural resources

11 it is necessary to adopt a public policy regarding global warming.

12 (2) The legislature finds:

13 (a) global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana;

14 (b) reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on

15 the environment; and

16 (c) global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it.

17 (3) (a) For the purposes of this section, “global warming” relates to an increase in the average

18 temperature of the earth’s surface.

19 (b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.

Seriously? You have to have legislation that protects climate change? Yeah, clearly we must protect climate change from the veritable breakneck, swirling, dizzying pace of US action on climate change. We’ve just been moving forward on that issue like a herd of comatose snails, and with that kind of rannygazoo going on, states like Montana have to stand up for their interests.

California’s Cap and Trade Round Up

Ok, I have to admit it: As the clock wound down on The Governator, I figured we were at least a year away from a cap and trade announcement in California. Kudos to Mary Nichols and the California Air Resources for proving me wrong. The program is up and running and CARB has a nice, user-friendly website to help people understand how it is going to work.

It’ll be interesting to see how the program affects fuel distributors–they aren’t up for the first round of implementation, but their compliance will be a nice reduction as they come online in the next years.

Here’s a round up from around the web:

The Wall Street Journal

The Gaurdian

The HuffPo

Davis and Kahn on the effects of used vehicle imports on emissions

Davis, Lucas and Matthew Kahn. 2010. International trade in used vehicles: The environmental consquences of NAFTA. Economic Policy. 58-82.

Davis and Kahn set up a nice little set of models to help us understand what has likely happened in the durable goods market for vehicles. In comparatively higher income countries, used durables like cars are likely to get traded out to lower income countries–here, the US and Mexico. And since older durables emit more than new cars, they find that this robust trade in used vehicles increases lifetime emissions as Mexico consumers substitute away from transit use to used car consumption and those cars stay in use longer. An excellent paper: I highly encourage you to go read (and to spring for membership in the American Economic Association: you get lots of good journals and a calendar with economist centerfolds! One of my happiest investments this year.)

A couple of weak points: they say at the beginning that they establish that trade makes emissions go up in both countries. No, they actually show that emissions go down in the US but up in Mexico, and the increases in Mexico outstrip the reductions in the US. I don’t love the way they calculate emissions: they have to make some assumptions about the distribution of vehicle miles of travel, and I suspect that it is possible, given their analysis, that trade make makes VMT go up in both countries. Moreover, they note that costs of repairs are low in Mexico, yet they really don’t calculate how repairs can significantly improve engine performance. A car isn’t as good as new, but that doesn’t mean it stays a clunker after it’s traded. This may be particularly true depending on where the used car ends up in Mexico: Mexico City has different incentives and regulations for fixing up a car than other parts of the country.

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What I learned at the UCI/UCLA/USC Research Day

It was a wonderful day of research. USC’s Jenny Schuetz presented a very well-done paper on commercial real estate; of particular interest to me are her findings about how wealthier neighborhoods chase off retail and how location markets for food stores have both push and pull factors away from low-income neighborhoods.

Richard Green presented an extremely interesting paper on whether “strategic disclosure” of school district information affected the sale prices of homes–and it seems not to.

I discussed a working paper by Marlon Boarnet, Douglas Houston, and Gavin Ferguson at UCI. They looked at the possibility for variation in the relationship between land use and mode choice at the neighborhood level. We have a lot of general information out there among those claiming to have measured how much VMT will go down vis-a-vis changing the arrangement of origins and destinations and transit supply. But, Boarnet argues, regional measures may mask what is going on from one neighborhood to another.

And they find that yes, you do get much bigger elasticities when you break the transit markets into different segments–in their case, employment accessibility segments. However–and this is a big however–they also show that the sociodemographic composition of people within high employment accessibility zones (or transit market segments) vary systematically from those who are not within those zones. That brings us back to the residential self-selection problem: people who want transit pay to live near it, and those folks are certain portion of the market. What they chose to do may not reflect what other people do when presented with transit supply.

It may be, however, that this is only true in Los Angeles, and in places where transit is more ubiquitous, we would see less sorting.

Marlon and I got into a bit a dustup (as bad as two pleasant people* can) over the relative importance of land use as a climate change strategy. I simply can’t imagine land use changing in the next five years quickly enough to make any difference to climate action. We may want to change land use for many reasons–urban life, etc–but I actually think that those who proffer Smart Growth/New Urbanism as a climate strategy are almost as irresponsible as those who still rally behind hydrogen. Yeah, they’re great strategies, but they are 30 to 50 year strategies, particularly now that the real estate market is in the toilet and infill is going to way more slowly than it has over the past 10 years. The over-emphasis on voluntary supply strategies, like land use/transit supply, has displaced discussion of nearer-term demand-dampening strategies like gas price floors that would push fleet conversion or higher CAFE standards we should have had YEARS ago.

Ultimately, Marlon and I agree that the portfolio of strategies for near-term and long-term strategies makes the most sense. Nonetheless, for somebody who appears to be an advocate for land use strategies, the paper he presented had “land use” variables that primarily reflected transit supply–not land use variables, per se.

*I had a screaming headache after fighting the crowds for Obamafest yesterday, so I wasn’t as pleasant as I normally try to be.

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The 10:10 film on carbon change and environmental violence

In the counter-productive department, 10:10 films has released a documentary short on how to save carbon emissions. Lee Ahern describes this epic fail in detail:

As most ECNers are probably aware, the entire environmental communications discipline took a body blow last week when the 10:10 organization released the flat-out bizarre web film “No Pressure.” In a series of scenes, climate-change skeptics are detonated into flying bits of flesh and geysers of blood. Including children. Unbelievable.

link: The 10:10 Fiasco-A Case Study in the Case for a New Association « Indications: Environmental Communication

Is that how these people really think? Do they really think that communicates anything other than their hubris and misanthropy?

As Ahearn says, unbelievable.

On happier topics,Indications has become one of my favorite blogs as I have been writing more about environmental communications these days.

Buying local for taste, changing your diet for impact

There is a very nice manuscript in this month’s volume of Environmental Science and Technology on the GHG emissions of different foods:

Weber, Christopher L, and H Scott Matthews. “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States.” Environmental science & technology 42, no. 10 (2008): doi:doi: 10.1021/es702969f.

They find that what you eat matters far more than where you buy from. Here’s the abstract:

Despite significant recent public concern and media attention to the environmental impacts of food, few studies in the United States have systematically compared the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food production against long-distance distribution, aka “food-miles.” We find that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household’s 8.1 t CO2e/yr footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local.” Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.

So climate researchers and your cardiologist agree: no red meat. (Does bacon count as red meat?)

Shipping food–or anything–is not a particularly polluting activity–not for individual goods anyway. It’s when we concentrate trips spatially–like the freight coming in and out of the Port of Los Angeles or for millions of trips in the LA basin, that sustain air quality problems despite the decades of improvement from engines and fuel.

But buying local still has a flavor advantage, no surprise there; globalization and localism still manage to be compatible, at least when it comes to GHG emissions.

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