Some links on climate change

William Nordhaus in The American Scholar, describing how people who have used his work to portray him as a climate change skeptic are wrong.

I think he’s a bit wrong in his argument about whether CO2 is technically a pollutant, but he’s not a lawyer (neither am I), and I think that whether CO2 makes you sick directly really doesn’t matter to the policy problems we’ve got here.

Brandon Fuller and Matt Kahn discuss the possibilities for charter cities as a means for adapting to climate change over at Vox.

Two picks on climate change from Environmental Science and Technology

Role of Motor Vehicle Lifetime Extension in Climate Change Policy
Shigemi Kagawa, Keisuke Nansai, Yasushi Kondo, Klaus Hubacek, Sangwon Suh, Jan Minx, Yuki Kudoh, Tomohiro Tasaki, Shinichiro NakamuraEnvironmental Science & Technology 2011 45 (4), 1184-1191

From the abstract:
Vehicle replacement schemes such as the “cash for clunkers” program in the U.S. and the “scrappage scheme” in the UK have featured prominently in the economic stimulation packages initiated by many governments to cope with the global economic crisis. While these schemes were designed as economic instruments to support the vehicle production industry, governments have also claimed that these programs have environmental benefits such as reducing CO2 emissions by bringing more fuel-efficient vehicles onto the roads. However, little evidence is available to support this claim as current energy and environmental accounting models are inadequate for comprehensively capturing the economic and environmental trade-offs associated with changes in product life and product use. We therefore developed a new dynamic model to quantify the carbon emissions due to changes in product life and consumer behavior related to product use. Based on a case study of Japanese vehicle use during the 1990−2000 period, we found that extending, not shortening, the lifetime of a vehicle helps to reduce life-cycle CO2 emissions throughout the supply chain. Empirical results also revealed that even if the fuel economy of less fuel-efficient ordinary passenger vehicles were improved to levels comparable with those of the best available technology, i.e. hybrid passenger cars currently being produced in Japan, total CO2 emissions would decrease by only 0.2%. On the other hand, we also find that extending the lifetime of a vehicle contributed to a moderate increase in emissions of health-relevant air pollutants (NOx, HC, and CO) during the use phase. From the results, this study concludes that the effects of global warming and air pollution can be somewhat moderated and that these problems can be addressed through specific policy instruments directed at increasing the market for hybrid cars as well as extending lifetime of automobiles, which is contrary to the current wisdom.

Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States Christopher L. Weber, H. Scott Matthews Environmental Science & Technology 2008 42 (10), 3508-351

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.

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.

SPPD’s Blanco, Heikkila, and Little on Climate Change Adaptation in Ho Chi Minh City

SPPD’s first Urban Growth Seminar of the year, “Climate Change Adaptation in Ho Chi Minh City“, will be on Tuesday, August 24 at 12:15 in RGL 101. This seminar will feature current work by three SPPD faculty members that bridges the gap between theory and practical application in the emerging field of climate change adaptation.

This summer, Professors Hilda Blanco, Eric Heikkila and Richard Little of SPPD traveled to Ho Chi Minh City on the invitation of Mayor Le Qoang Hong of Ho Chi Minh City to participate in a roundtable forum organized by the Pacific Rim Council on Urban Development. The purpose of that forum was to advise the city on adapting to flooding induced by climate change. During this seminar, the professors will describe the forum, detail a framework for assessing climate-change adaptation strategies and summarize the of specific climate change adaptation recommendations the forum participants generated for Ho Chi Minh City.

About the speakers:

Dr. Hilda Blanco is a Research Professor and Interim Director of the Center for Sustainable Cities at USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. She is also a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she served as Department Chair from 2000-2007. Professor Blanco’s work focuses on climate change, urban growth management, brownfields policy, and decision-making and planning theories. Her published works include How to Think About Social Problems: American Pragmatism and the Idea of Planning (Greenwood Press 1994), and recent articles in Progress in Planning, Journal of Emergency Management, Urban Studies, and Technology and Society. She currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Planning Education and Research and the Journal of Emergency Management. Professor Blanco holds a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

– Heikkila, E.J., with Y. Wang, “Exploring the Dual Dichotomy in Urban Geography: An Application of Fuzzy Urban Sets” Urban Geography, forthcoming.

– Heikkila, E. J., with L. Hu, “Adjusting Spatial Entropy Measures for Scale and Resolutions Effects”; Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, vol. 33 (6) 845-865; 2006.

– Heikkila, E. J., “Seoul: Regional Realities and Global Ambitions”; Joint US-Korea Academic Studies, vol. 14, Korea Economic Institute pp. 139-157; 2004.

Professor Richard G. Little is a Senior Fellow in the School of Policy Planning and Development and Director of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy at the University of Southern California. Professor. Little teaches, consults, conducts research, and develops policy studies aimed at informing the discussion of infrastructure issues critical to California and the nation. Prior to joining USC, he was Director of the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment of the National Research Council (NRC). He has conducted numerous studies dealing with life-cycle management and financing of infrastructure, project management, and hazard preparedness and mitigation and has lectured and published extensively on risk management and decision-making for critical infrastructure. He has been certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners and is Editor of the journalPublic Works Management and Policy. Professor Little was elected to the National Academy of Construction in 2008 and was recently appointed to the California Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission to assist the state in implementing public private partnerships for transportation. He holds an M.S. in Urban-Environmental Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Fire and climate change

Other than the obvious harm to human life and society, the Russian fires are clearly prompting greater interest in climate change even among the formerly disinclined (e.g., Putin).

This article in this week’s Economist does as nice a job as I have ever seen of explaining why the fires have such significance:

Both heatwaves and heavy precipitation are more common everywhere than they were 50 years ago. Reflecting the latter trend, the Indian monsoon has been seeing more of its rainfall in extreme events than it did in the past. No single one of those events can be directly attributed to climate change; nor can Russia’s heatwave. The pattern of increases, though, fits expectations—and those expectations see things getting worse.

link: Fires and floods: Part of the main | The Economist

They see things getting worse faster from here.

Marty Weitzman and Matt Kahn on the geographically pervasive risks of climate change

Via Matt Kahn’s Environmental and Urban Economics blog

Marty Weitzman is one of those people that planners simply do not seem to read, and they should, because his contributions to environmental economics are enormous. Matt Kahn linked to a recent paper from Weitzman available via NBER

From the abstract:

A critical issue in climate-change economics is the specifcation of the so-called
“damages function” and its interaction with the unknown uncertainty of catastrophic outcomes. This paper asks how much we might be misled by our economic assessment of climate change when we employ a conventional quadratic damages function and/or a thin-tailed probability distribution for extreme temperatures. The paper gives some numerical examples of the indirect value of various GHG concentration targets as insurance against catastrophic climate-change temperatures and damages. These numerical examples suggest that we might be underestimating considerably the welfare losses from uncertainty by using a quadratic damages function and/or a thin-tailed temperature distribution. In these examples, the primary reason for keeping GHG levels down is to insure against high-temperature catastrophic climate risks.

Matt Kahn, in response, discusses how the coastal reduction likely from sea change might not be unmanageable given new vertical farming technologies and urban densities:

So we need 424,000 of 52 million or .8% of the earth’s land area to be inhabitable after climate change really kicks in. As of right now, from a spatial portfolio point of view, I certainly think it is possible. If the world’s population shrinks or we reduce our caloric intake, the necessary quantity of viable land would shrink further. Implicit in my forthcoming book Climatopolis is my optimism that there will continue to be “safe” geographical places to settle and build new cities. I would like to know whether any climate change models predict that there are scenarios under which we cannot find 424,000 safe square miles of inhabitable Earth to build anew?

link: Environmental and Urban Economics

Here is a link to Dr. Kahn’s forthcoming book, which I have pre-ordered (and so should you). 🙂

Whether you can get on board with Weitzman’s argument, it’s nice to have strong technical discussion of the “fat tail” problem rather than the usual straw man arguments from people like Nassim Taleb.

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