Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Few things are as simple as they seem.

It's hard to be a well-informed voter and citizen. You have to read, and you have to read a lot. You cannot read only one source and you cannot limit your reading to sources that agree with what you think you know. Read both sides. Read like crazy.

The US Clean Power Plan is a great example of why its hard to be informed.

Will it create jobs and decrease energy prices or will it destroy jobs and create higher energy prices?

Here is an academic article on the topic that suggests positive net benefits (really large positive net benefits), despite harm to employment and industries in some locations.

A larger topic here is the impact of environmental regulations on economic growth.  One side of the political spectrum will routinely claim that regulations designed to protect the environment will inhibit economic growth.  But there is mounting evidence that environmental regulations can promote economic growth through improved health and productivity.  Another topic is the impact of economic growth on the environment. One side of the political spectrum often argues for slower economic growth to benefit the environment. But, there are a lot of reasons and evidence supporting the idea  that economic growth can lead to substantial environmental improvements

It's enough to make your head explode. But the truth is that these topics are messy! What to do?

When faced with controversial topics I tend to rely on academic research published in reputable peer-reviewed journals.  I read a lot of newspapers and online popular press material, but when push comes to shove, I want to see the data, the science and the analysis. When these topics come up in social settings, a common response of mine is "I really don't know enough about that topic to have an opinion".  And that's OK, because controversial topics are controversial for a reason. Most actions will have both costs and benefits and unintended consequences. Things are rarely as simple as they initially seem.  

8 comments:

Patricia Pierce said...

Of course different media outlets will tell you opposing views based on what they support. In my opinion, switching to clean energy would only transfer the jobs to a different industry, not destroy the number of jobs available. If the workers can be flexible and evolve as the energy sector evolves then they will remain employed just in a different clean energy industry.

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

Yes indeed, Patricia. The most likely result is a transfer of employment from "dirty" energy industries to "clean" energy industries. If net gains to health and productivity can be captured, that capital can be used to offset the costs of transition for displaced workers.

Dennis Mburu said...

Regardless of what has been said out there, advocating for economic growth has greatly improved the environmental quality in most places in my opinion in that as human beings, we don't limit our natural resources as a constraint to economic developments but instead we use it step by step using all the available technology to get more out of it which in turn creates pollution and productivity at the same time. This means more jobs on both sides of the spectrum, more developments and most importantly more income to stimulate the economy. In general, people care more about their living standards and if certain actions need to take place so that living standards can be improved, like in this case improving the environment, then the first preference would be to have a clean environment that involves recycling, for example.

Evan Schillmoller said...

It seems that opposing views regarding enviornmental procedure are generally a short-term vs. long-term result argument. One side sees what will happen immediately and clings to that idea, and the other looks down the road and clings to that. I don't really understand the point of constantly pushing something off because of the negative short term effects it may have, though. You have to consider that yes, some people's jobs may be at risk, but these things are inevitable in some situations. Will the restriction of CO2 emissions on power plants cause immediate effects on the people employed there? Absolutely, however, it can't be avoided, and something has to be done either today or tomorrow, so why not just get it over with? I would much rather suffer now so that I could relax later, but like most things it's just a matter of personal preference.

Austin McGrayne said...

I found the idea of "economic growth leading to substantial environmental improvements" very interesting. I've always heard that environmental regulations don't loose jobs, that they just put the jobs somewhere else; in a "cleaner" setting. And on the contrary I've always heard that economic growth only hurts the environment.
Whenever I've been faced with the later I always think about India's and China's current situation, how they are developing very quickly and along with their development are rash environmental problems. But then there is always a backlash on the U.S. saying we were just the same way; that we poisoned the environment for a long time before (through more and more R & D) we developed more efficient and cleaner technologies.
This can be represented by the Environmental Kuznet Curve. I'd never heard of this idea before reading "Will economic growth improve environmental quality?" And it's funny because I've definitely thought about such idea in my head before "well yes India and China are poisoning the environment now, but they need time, because just like the U.S. they're externalities will be bad at first, but eventually they will figure out more efficient technologies as to develop more cleanly" but I've never really known how something like that would be explained. The Environmental Kuznet Curve is a great way of explaining that clean energy takes time.
However that does not mean economic development can run rampant, society still needs to find the balance of economic development and environmental protection; its a constant balancing act.

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

Good job finding the EKC idea! This is an interesting and controversial topic. Is the EKC real? Maybe in some countries for some types of pollutants.

The original Kuznets curve has to do with changes in inequality as a nation experiences economic growth. At first, inequality gets worse. Eventually after a country reaches a certain point of economic growth, inequality gets better.

For those that want to read more about Kuznets Curves (including Environmental Kuznets curves):

http://economics.about.com/cs/economicsglossary/g/kuznets_curve.htm

http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/14337/environment/environmental-kuznets-curve/

http://www.macalester.edu/~wests/econ231/yandleetal.pdf

Hannah Imhoff said...

I can see why the EKC topic could be considered interesting and controversial considering Kuznets himself emphasized that the fragility of his data. After reading more into it, I can see why other economists didn't like it and found it to be an inaccurate representation, which I can understand considering Kuznets used middle income countries in Latin America to display his curvature idea.

Apparently the curve can also be applied to environmental studies. In the articles I read it says that on an environmental point of view the curve is "a hypothesized relationship between environmental quality and economic development: various indicators of environmental degradation tend to get worse as modern economic growth occurs until average income reaches a certain point over the course of development". An example of an environmental problem that may be follow a Kuznats curve is deforestation.

After gathering all of this research and evidence, I think that the curve, regardless of it's many critics, can be essential in environmental economic studies.

Marc Monace said...

I think both sides of the story usually make valid points, but omit the total picture. I rather sacrifice some jobs and oreserve the health of the public and the planet.