Waylaid Dialectic

November 12, 2013

The good news from the Amazon…

Filed under: Environment — terence @ 10:04 am

It meanders and bifurcates like a grand tropical river, but this podcast talk by Professor Susanna Hecht is fascinating for one simple point: since 2000 the rate of deforestation in the Amazon (and more broadly through much of Latin America) has fallen precipitously. What had once seemed like untrammelled eco-catastrophe is now starting to look like a surprise good news story. Read the rest of this post at Devpolicy.

October 24, 2013

What to thank for civilisation…

Filed under: Environment — terence @ 11:32 am

Paul Krugman reviews William Nordhaus:

Throughout this book, Nordhaus’s tone is slightly cynical but basically calm and optimistic: this [climate change] is ultimately a problem we should be able to solve. I only wish I could share his apparent conviction that this upbeat possibility will translate into reality. Instead, I keep being haunted by a figure he presents early in the book, showing that we have been living in an age of unusual climate stability—that “the last 7,000 years have been the most stable climatic period in more than 100,000 years.” As Nordhaus notes, this era of stability coincides pretty much exactly with the rise of civilization, and that probably isn’t an accident.

May 2, 2011

You know how those environementalists want to ruin teh economy…

Filed under: Economic Development,Environment — terence @ 7:28 pm

via NBER

The Impact of Pollution on Worker Productivity
Joshua S. Graff Zivin, Matthew J. Neidell
NBER Working Paper No. 17004
Issued in April 2011
NBER Program(s): EEE HE LS PR

Environmental protection is typically cast as a tax on the labor market and the economy in general. Since a large body of evidence links pollution with poor health, and health is an important part of human capital, efforts to reduce pollution could plausibly be viewed as an investment in human capital and thus a tool for promoting economic growth. While a handful of studies have documented the impacts of pollution on labor supply, this paper is the first to rigorously assess the less visible but likely more pervasive impacts on worker productivity. In particular, we exploit a novel panel dataset of daily farm worker output as recorded under piece rate contracts merged with data on environmental conditions to relate the plausibly exogenous daily variations in ozone with worker productivity. We find robust evidence that ozone levels well below federal air quality standards have a significant impact on productivity: a 10 ppb decrease in ozone concentrations increases worker productivity by 4.2 percent.  gated

February 15, 2011

And Still More Links…

Filed under: Aid,Environment,Poverty,Random Musings — terence @ 7:45 am

The Internet? Is that thing still around?” – Homer Simpson

The links just keep piling up…

A good article on CCTs in Latin America from the NY Times (in January). It always struck me that one of the strengths Bolsa Familia and Progresa is that they evolved organically and so ended up being particularly well suited to the contexts they ran in (i.e. states that we capable enough to give out money, but not so capable that they could effectively undertake more complex social tasks without significant issues). If you’re Sweden, provide social services; if you’re Mexico give out money. Which raises an important question in a time when CCTs are flavour of the month: how well will they transfer? Particularly to places where state capacity is very very low (say Papua New Guinea). Places where the state might even struggle to give out cash reliably. And where health services and the like are often wholly absent absent, meaning that money alone won’t help in these areas. I’m not saying CCTs couldn’t work in these contexts, just that we shouldn’t assume they will.

Dani Rodrik on Globalisation at Project Syndicate.

Owen on why we should give aid. Interestingly, most politicians feel the need to justify aid in terms of enlightened self interest, but when they’re surveyed the public in most developed countries are usually happy giving aid for solely moral reasons.

Paul Krugman on affirmative action for conservatives.

And Krugman again explaining why he doesn’t think speculators are to blame for the current food price spikes (one, two). Demand, according to Krugman, is exceeding supply primarily for natural reasons.

Which is a handy segue to this great John Quiggin piece on whether the  Earth will be able to feed its people in a world where there are quite a few more of us. Short answer: yes, if we make the right choices.


January 6, 2011

End of the Golden Weather?

Filed under: Environment,Poverty — terence @ 7:47 pm

The last decade may have been the best ever for human development. But that doesn’t mean the next will inevitably be better still. There are lots of reasons why current trends may reverse (The Crazy Party winning the next election in the US, resurgent conflict, a new cold war…) but the most likely one is simply that we may well be running into the environmental constraints imposed by our planet.

In the Guardian:

Soaring prices of sugar, grain and oilseed drove world food prices to a record in December, surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in “danger territory”.

An index compiled monthly by the United Nations surpassed its previous monthly high – June 2008 – in December to reach the highest level since records began in 1990. Published by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the index tracks the prices of a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, and has risen for six consecutive months.

Over the last few decades economic development has served as a remarkable tail wind — making poverty reduction and human development that much easier. GDP growth doesn’t invariably lead to poverty reduction or improved human development outcomes but in most circumstances it certainly helps. The trouble is that as countries’ gross domestic products have been growing so have their ecological footprints. We’ve become slightly more efficient at turning resources into welfare but not so much so that we’ve managed to decouple economic development from environmental degradation.

And now, the (factory farmed, petroleum intensive) chickens may be coming home to roost.

How much of a challenge might this pose? Paul Krugman is relatively sanguine about the medium term difficulties:

So what are the implications of the recent rise in commodity prices? It is, as I said, a sign that we’re living in a finite world, one in which resource constraints are becoming increasingly binding. This won’t bring an end to economic growth, let alone a descent into Mad Max-style collapse. It will require that we gradually change the way we live, adapting our economy and our lifestyles to the reality of more expensive resources.

Perennial pessimist that I am, I’m not so sure. With appropriate legislation and and incentive generating taxation in place we could almost certainly marry rising wealth with a finite planet (at least for quite some time yet). But what are the odds we’ll actually get there? As opposed to lapsing into chaos and conflict instead? Looking at the trouble we’re having to do something relatively easy, like impose a global price on carbon, and given that global cooperation really is needed to tackle modern environmental issues, I’m not at all confident we’ll get there. Or that the worst consequences of our inaction won’t be felt by the globe’s poorest in coming years.

I may be wrong — I hope I’m wrong — but at present I find it incredibly hard to be bullish about the prospects for development in coming years…

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