Monday, April 27, 2009

A Hypothetical?

Suppose my household economy is improved only by causing climate change – because of the economy-energy function. Suppose I am net-net worse off in the new climate even though I am richer. (E.g. $1000 p.a in 450 ppm versus $2000 in 550 ppm.) But that is not the end of the story IF I am better off @ $2000 relative to other more prevalent “stressors” in my environment (level of nutrition, health care I can afford, education I can afford etc) AND that improvement is greater than the net negative climate effect. So, for example, the probability of my offspring reaching a productive age, in my $2000 p.a. household may be improved even though it is associated with higher ppm which have adverse effect on that outcome. This hypothetical got me thinking about our failure to take differing risk-reward perspectives into account in thinking about how people stand relative to acceptable ppm CO2 levels. But is this hypothetical reflected in actuality?

Monday, April 20, 2009


In the Washington Post April 13th, Rama Lakshmi reports that “ Scientists at India's National Geophysical Research Institute released preliminary findings from ongoing government-funded research that seeks to inject carbon dioxide into the basalt rock formation called the Deccan Traps, which is about 60 million years old. S. Nirmal Charan, a senior scientist at the institute, said researchers wanted to determine whether carbon dioxide can be trapped for tens of thousands of years within the basalt. He said more simulated laboratory tests are underway, but initial results show the process to be "environmentally benign."” This is significant for a couple of reasons. The first is that the research is (so far) positive. The second is that the research is being done at all. India’s public position to date has been one of passive skepticism about carbon sequestration. “Let the Developed World prove it is safe first” has been the mantra. That is a position that carries the likelihood for long term procrastination. For even if carbon sequestration is researched outside India first, who knows if it will conform to the standard of certainty that might be set – let alone a demand for the research to then and only then be replicated “at home”. Doing it oneself has a way of changing the frame. In doing so, it allows for a debate first about what would constituent success and it allows that test to be done where it counts – locally. India has too much coal and too much need for energy to not do this research.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Congress or EPA?

The much anticipated congressional action on greenhouse gas legislation may go nowhere this year – a victim of other priorities and the allocation of political capital. At the same time EPA is moving ahead with CO2 regulations using a recent ruling that the gas could be judged harmful. There has been much commentary that this is second best but I am not so sure. Whatever the United States does now is simply an overture to the post-Kyoto international negotiations which will have to come back to the Congress for ratification. All that matters now is for the U.S. to establish its bona fides by acting unilaterally. EPA is just as good a vehicle to do that as the Congress. Maybe better. Unlike the Congress, EPA is not subject to the push and pull of regional interests that can force self-interested compromises. But more important, EPA has come to be accepted as a kind of public health agency and public health agency have a protected political status. We tend to accept the regulations they visit on us as for our own good even if they hurt in the short run. Politicians know this and understand that doing unpopular things through such agencies gives them some protection from the political wrath of their constituents.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Changing China

ChinaDialogue has just published an important article in cooperation with Rutgers CSP that deserves close reading - Hu Angang is one of ChinaŹ¼s best-known economists. He is professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University and the director of the Centre for China Study, a leading policy think-tank. Hu has worked as the chief editor for China Studies Report, a circulated reference for senior officials. I say all of this because it is not just the opinion voiced in the article that is important but who is expressing it. Here is what deserves attention: heretofore, China's climate policy has been posed in terms of increasing energy efficiency per $ of GDP. That may be a virtue but with a planned growth rate of 8% in GDP over the coming two decades, any gain in efficiency gets quickly dwarfed by the massive increase in the economy. Here Hu Angang is calling for a change to bring China into line with the rest of the major greenhouse gas emitters in framing goals in absolute terms. And while one may take issue with the figures he sets, that should not mask the significance of what he is proposing as well as the fact that it is he who is doing so.