Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blogging opportunity #1

As we approach the end of the term, among other things I'm considering how everyone is grasping the big picture. You, of course, are considering your grades (among other things).

What follows is the first of a few open questions that will allow us both an opportunity to address these concerns. Mutually beneficial trade via a compatible set of incentives if you will...

Speaking of which, question #1:

Under what circumstances are the individual considerations of self-interest and the resulting social outcomes compatible with true environmental sustainability?

Feel free to provide real, hypothetical or historic examples or a general description.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Slow water currents and renewable energy

A new way to harness the power of moving water comes from something we've known about for hundreds of years: Vortex Induced Vibrations (VIVs).

Read about the new technology at ENN

First observed by Leonardo DaVinci, these vibrations result from spinning water flows forming and breaking up ("shedding") on the downstream side of a rounded ("bluff") mass that sits passively in a current of moving water.

A vortex is a spinning flow of liquid or air. We all see vortices (vortexes? vorteci?) each day as the water in the commode spins away. Other examples include tornados, hurricanes and black holes in space. A wind vortex creates the drag that moves sailboats. Anyone who has seen eddies (little cyclones of spinning water) form around rocks in a river or stream knows about this phenomenon, and has observed that water in the eddy spins on itself faster than the current is moving.

Scientists at the University of Michigan observed the way fish swim through the vortex created by the fish swimming in front of them (similar to drafting or slipstreaming in car or bicycle racing), and have figured out how to harness the power of slowly moving water by mimicking that process. Fish aren't the only animals to do this. We see geese and other birds flying in a "V" formation for the same reason. Lift force from the vortex created by the leader bird helps the trailing birds move along using less energy.

The U Michigan folks found that by placing a passive rounded cylinder in the water such that two vortices are created (above and below the cylinder), slowly moving water creates vortices that cause the cylinder to move like a piston. Presto! A renewable power source.

The thing that comes to mind for me is seeing a crab trap buoy move back-and-forth in a quickly moving tide, just like a piston. Why didn't anyone think of this before?

Friday, November 21, 2008

NOAA and NSF to study ocean acidification

This is a relatively new issue associated with fossil fuel consumption that some of you may not be aware of: ocean acidification.

Basically, anthropogenic release of CO2 is absorbed by the world's oceans. This eventually lowers the pH of ocean waters with potentially disastrous consequences for species that must form and maintain calcium carbonate skeletons or shells. Corals, shell fish, sea urchins and star fish will not grow as fast or survive as long.

Read about it:

Science Daily


A lot of info here from NOAA and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

Note the connection with sonar and marine mammals and the impact on algea and some types of plankton. This could get really ugly really fast.

NOAA and the National Science Foundation are looking for answers:

"The first comprehensive national study of how carbon dioxide emissions absorbed into
the oceans may be altering fisheries, marine mammals, coral reefs, and other natural
resources has been commissioned by NOAA and the National Science Foundation".

NOAA press release here (pdf file)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rain forest bonds

This could be an interesting addition to carbon trading.

So, I buy a bond that promises a certain rate of return in 15 years. The proceeds from the sale of the bond are used to finance rain forest conservation efforts. The rain forest conservation is used as a means of earning carbon credits which are sold on the open market for a profit. The profit is used to pay me back in 15 years. Cool.

Anyone see any problems?

More on trees and carbon

Here's an article from the Vancouver Sun.

I was particularly taken by this quote:

"The initial thing that came out of this is that it's finally recognized that greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation is larger than emissions from vehicles, aircraft, ships and trains combined..."

And here is an article from ENN on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) credits.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Old, wet trees as carbon sinks

Since we're studying forestry econ at the moment, and have just recently studied tradable permit systems, here is an interesting article on the carbon storage capacity of riparian forests.

Scientists from the University of Missouri have found that submerged trees store carbon for thousands of years, while dead and decaying trees only store carbon for around 20 years before releasing it back into the atmosphere.

Read through to the bottom to see the connection to emissions trading markets.

Whales & sonar: public good vs. public good

I think we can consider this an example of implicit valuation of natural resources.

On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the use of sonar in Navy training exercises off the coast of California. Here are some links to the story:
Los Angeles Times
and some background information by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This is a case of two public goods: national defense and marine species, with the former being a pure public good and the latter a common property resource. By ruling in favor of allowing sonar for training purposes, the Court has essentially said that the potential to save human lives is more important than the potential to save marine mammals.

This is implicitly placing a value on marine mammals, no?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Al Gore's OpEd in the NY Times

Here is a link to a recent op-ed by Al Gore that appeared in the New York Times titled "The Climate for Change" ,where he covers global warming, energy and the economy.

Notice his dismissal of "clean coal" as imaginary and his 5-part plan for American energy, which includes "putting a price on carbon". While he doesn't explicitly state it here, this means a carbon tax. Gore has been pushing for a carbon tax for a while.

Individual quota proposal for Gulf of Mexico Grouper and Tilefish

Summary Information About the Potential IFQ Program


Note the range of issues that have to be settled before the program can begin.

The current management of Gulf commercial grouper and tilefish fisheries is based on a traditional command and control approach. This management approach has resulted in overcapitalization of the commercial grouper and tilefish fisheries which has caused increased derby fishing conditions and in some years has led to closures of these fisheries prior to the end of the fishing year. The purpose of implementing an IFQ program for the commercial grouper and tilefish fisheries is to rationalize effort and reduce overcapacity in the fleet. Actions in Amendment 29 include: Initial eligibility for participation in the IFQ program, initial apportionment of IFQ shares, IFQ share categories, multi-use allocation and trip allowances, transfer eligibility requirements, IFQ share ownership caps, IFQ allocation ownership caps, a procedure to accommodate adjustments to the commercial quota, establishment and structure of an appeals process, a ``use it or lose it'' policy for IFQ shares, a cost recovery plan, and approval of landing sites. The Council has selected its preferred alternatives for each of these actions through the normal Council process. If the referendum is approved, the Council, if it so decides, may continue with the submission of Amendment 29 to the Secretary for review and possible approval and implementation. More information on Amendment 29, including Frequently Asked Questions about the proposed IFQ program, may be found on NMFS' Southeast Regional Office's website at

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ocean Economics !

Wow, this site is really cool:

The site contains the largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources and now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States.

Obama on energy and the environment

Here are the details (pdf files) of President-elect Obama's plans for energy and the environment.

There is considerable overlap between the plans, but both are well worth the read.

Lots of standards and lots of incentives throughout.

Notice, for example, the cap-and-trade push (with all credits sold at auction) in the environment plan and increasing CAFE stadards for automobiles in both plans.

Can we do all of this?

We'll all be closely watching this of course over the next few years. One thing of particular interest to economists is the cap-and-trade (tradable permits) vs. carbon tax (Pigou) debate. Each has pros and cons.

Here's more reading on cap-and-trade vs. carbon taxes:


Greg Mankiw

Environmental Defense Fund

The Carbon Tax Center

Common Tragedies response to the CBO

Monday, November 3, 2008

Last minute policy changes by the Bush administration

Bush rushes environmental policy changes ... and none of them favor the environment.

Presidential candidates on energy

Here is a quick synopsis of the two candidates energy positions:

Environmental News Network article


p.s. My wife and I waited in line for 4 hours to vote on Saturday.