Economist James Boyce on The Real News regarding two important topics:
1. Cost-benefit analysis of carbon emissions has shortcomings
2. The US should focus on the human, not monetary cost of climate change
Part 1: What is the Social Cost of Carbon Emissions?
In the face of the political gridlock impeding the U.S. government’s progress towards a smart climate policy, independent researchers and activists are continuing to make progress on outlining what such a policy might look like and how we might get there. James K. Boyce and Manuel Pastor have provided us with the latest contribution to the climate policy research effort with their recent article in Climatic Change, entitled “Clearing the air: Incorporating air quality and environmental justice into climate policy.”
On Thursday, July 18th, 2013, the City of Detroit made U.S. history with the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country to date. Approximately $18 billion in size, it dwarfed the second-largest, Jefferson County, Alabama, by a factor of four. “There is no road map for Detroit’s recovery,” declared the New York Times. Reductions in city services, cuts in benefits and pensions for public sector workers, and reduced borrowing capacity are sure to follow.
Yet this single dramatic event conceals a more complex, variegated, and hopeful reality on the ground in the Motor City. To use a well-worn metaphor, in Detroit flowers are clearly growing through the cracks in the pavement. Continue reading…
Average national income is a notoriously imperfect measure of the average person’s well-being. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – with clean-up and damage costs of $90 billion – added about $300 to the average American’s “income.” But it added nothing to our well-being. The world’s most expensive prison system, costing almost $40 billion per year, adds another $125 per person. This doesn’t make us better-off than people living in countries that don’t incarcerate one in every 100 adults.
Of course, national income includes many good things, too. Growing food and building homes add to national income. So does public spending on education and health care. Unlike oil spills and jails, these really do add to our well-being.
National Income:The Good, the Bad, and the Useless
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Last week, the Obama administration released new energy efficiency standards for microwaves, along with an update to the government’s official Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) figure. What do those two things have to do with each other? Well, the efficiency standards will help the planet by cutting the energy needs of microwaves, which will in turn save consumers money. And the new SCC numbers show just how expensive our addiction to fossil fuels has become.
The SCC is used to estimate the damages from carbon emissions (and the benefits from reducing those emissions) for the purposes of regulatory benefit-cost analyses. The central estimate for the SCC is now around $35 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution emitted today.
That’s the administration’s estimate of the damage—to human health, ecosystems, and the economy—caused by every ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The average American emits about 20 tons each year.
Three years later, it was time for a new episode. Back in 2010, Congress listened to some climate-denial rants, counted votes, and decided to do absolutely nothing about climate change; this year on Capitol Hill, the magic continues.
Also in 2010, the Obama administration released an estimate of “the social cost of carbon”` (SCC) – that is, the value of the damages done by emission of one more ton of carbon dioxide. Calculated by an anonymous task force that held no public hearings and had no office, website, or named participants, the SCC was released without fanfare as, literally, Appendix 15A to a Department of Energy regulation on energy efficiency standards for small motors.
This year, the Obama administration updated the SCC calculation. The update was done by an anonymous task force that held no public hearings, and had no office, website, or named participants. It first appeared as – yes! – Appendix 16A to a Department of Energy regulation on energy efficiency standards for microwave ovens. Continue reading…
By Gernot Wagner. Originally posted on EDF Voices.
Nudge is the best kind of book. It presents the type of head-slappingly obvious solutions to public policy problems that make you wonder why you needed a book to tell you about them in the first place. Place the veggies before the French fries in the cafeteria, and people will eat more greens. Enroll employees into retirement programs with the option of opting out rather than in and they’ll save more as a result.
Such nudges are the best kinds of policy interventions: minimum intrusion, maximum freedom of choice, maximum relative impact. But one area in which Nudge comes up short is global warming. Putting smiley faces on your electricity bill as a reward for using less electricity than your neighbor, something Power has done with utilities around the country, helps bring down electricity use by 1 to 3%. Better than zero, but not the solution by a long shot.
That solution would be making polluters pay: putting a price on carbon dioxide through a direct cap or tax on carbon pollution. Cass Sunstein, who wrote Nudge with Richard Thaler, says as much in his latest piece on the topic. He laments the fact that we don’t seem to be able to get these kinds of taxes passed, and then adds a few items to his running list of things we can do, all under the broad heading of setting “clean-energy default rules”: Change the default printer setting to “print on front and back,” and people will. Enroll people into programs where they spend extra for clean energy (with the option of opting out), and 90% will choose to stick with the clean energy.