Monday, April 30, 2007

Hydrogen Cars: Progress since the Hindenburg Blimp Disaster

Cars now run on many different fuel sources ranging from gas to french fry cooking oil. In the Flinstones, Fred and Barney simply used their feet to power their cars. Those were the days. Here the New York Times provides us with an engineering lesson.
This article would be stronger if this reporter had dug up some cost data on what has been the fixed cost of the research and development required to build these "proto-type" vehicles and what would be the marginal cost of mass producing them? Is there likely to be sharp learning by doing effects if these vehicles were mass produced? Or put differently, are large government subsidies needed to encourage capitalists to develop these products?

April 29, 2007
Hydrogen's Second Coming
On the Road, Hope for a Zero-Pollution Car


WHEN the largest aircraft ever built — the pride of Nazi Germany — crashed in flames at the United States Navy’s airship base here, it took 36 lives and smeared the reputation of hydrogen for decades.

In less than a minute, the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 turned hydrogen, which provided the zeppelin’s lift, into a pariah. But 70 years later, a growing number of advocates are promoting hydrogen as a panacea, a promising alternative to petroleum. In the last decade, every large carmaker has jumped on the hydrogen express.

In dozens of laboratories and research centers, scientists and engineers are busy searching for ways to reduce the cost and improve the practicality of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Development has progressed to the point that some of these prototype vehicles are in daily service, commuting around Detroit, delivering packages in Washington, serving urban bus routes.

To look in on the development progress of hydrogen vehicles, The New York Times invited 10 companies actively promoting hydrogen for personal transportation to bring their vehicles to the Naval Air Engineering Station here. With pressure mounting to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, the anniversary of a pivotal event 70 years ago seemed an appropriate time to look for a clearer understanding of what cars may be like in 30 years.

Some carmakers deemed the disaster site an awkward location for this gathering; others were sympathetic but unable to field a vehicle because experimental mules have testing and appearance schedules busier than those of presidential hopefuls. The three hydrogen-powered vehicles that did arrive here (all by trailer, because refueling was not available for the long trips from their bases) were not the latest models from the auto show circuit, but hard-working development vehicles with thousands of testing miles on their odometers.

Weather was also a factor. The day of the gathering was fraught by a severe northeaster. Six inches of rain was followed by flooded roads and snow, as the winds blew and angry skies frowned. But the show went on, thanks in part to the hosts at the base and the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society.

The Hindenburg anniversary is not the only reason hydrogen is in the news. Four years ago, in his State of the Union address, President Bush announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen initiative to foster clean air and lessen dependence on imported oil. The Department of Energy has conducted marriages of sorts, joining automakers with energy companies — General Motors and Shell; Ford and DaimlerChrysler with BP — to encourage research and set standards for refueling hardware.

As hydrogen gains favor, hydrocarbons seem to be taking over the role of villain. Peak oil theorists, especially Matthew Simmons, chairman of the Simmons & Company investment bank and the author of “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy” contend that increased demand will outpace the ability to increase production. And the Supreme Court’s April 2 ruling that the E.P.A. has authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, as it does tailpipe emissions, was a powerful vote against fossil fuels.

So the three hydrogen-fueled vehicles that gathered at the Hindenburg crash site are harbingers of the future, proof that all of hydrogen’s potential in transportation did not go up in flames 70 years ago.

The spot where the Hindenburg met its end is now a historic landmark. A heavy yellow anchor chain surrounds a concrete pad replicating the size, shape, and final resting place of the Hindenburg’s control car. Rick Zitarosa, historian of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, said the Navy intended to preserve the site in its current form.

The vehicles here, and three other experimental cars driven elsewhere, cover a broad spectrum of hydrogen possibilities. Here are highlights:

FORD E-450 SHUTTLE Ford regards hydrogen-fueled internal-combustion engines as “a bridge to fuel cells, the powertrain of the future.” Teamed with BP, Ford built a fleet of 30 E-450 shuttle buses.

“We believe this is an affordable and sensible way to transition from today’s fossil fuels to a hydrogen-based economy,” John Lapetz Jr., the Ford program manager, said. Ford Motor also has several active fuel-cell vehicle projects.

Ford’s E-450 shuttle is a familiar sight around airport parking lots and hotels. In the conversion to hydrogen, some of the passenger area was walled off to house six pressure tanks wrapped in carbon fiber, each rated for storage at 5,000 pounds per square inch.

Mr. Lapetz characterized the modifications necessary to tailor Ford’s Triton V-10 to run on hydrogen as “fairly minor.” A supercharger was added to feed additional air.

It goes without saying that this vehicle drives like a bus. The husky V-10 provides ample urge to get the rig rolling briskly. The supercharger sounds like a distant police siren. Mr. Lapetz said that Ford had experimented with other engines and that hydrogen could replace gasoline and diesel fuel in many of them.

GENERAL MOTORS HYDROGEN3 G.M.’s first fuel-cell vehicles were shown to the public four decades ago. The 1966 Electrovan weighed 7,100 pounds and required 30 seconds to accelerate to 60 m.p.h. G.M.’s fuel-cell research intensified a decade ago. About three dozen fuel-cell vehicles and concept cars have been designed, built and tested by G.M., representing an investment of more than $1 billion, the company says.

Based on an Opel Zafira, the HydroGen3 is a third-generation design. (A Chevrolet Volt with G.M.’s fifth-generation fuel-cell was unveiled this month at the Shanghai Motor Show.) A fleet of 28 wagons was built, with hydrogen stored in either gaseous or liquid form.

HydroGen3 is a world traveler, demonstrating the hydrogen future in Washington, delivering packages in Tokyo and accumulating mileage in Europe for three years.

Since this is an experimental mule, little effort has been directed at quieting the clicks, hums, drones and growls of gases being pumped and chemically converted into electrical energy. Under acceleration, the HydroGen3 sounds like an angry golf cart. With only 100 horsepower on tap, it requires more than 15 seconds to reach 60 m.p.h. according to Matt Atwell and Joe Gerschutz, G.M. engineers along for the Lakehurst ride.

TOYOTA PRIUS The stock-appearing (well, except for the exterior lettering) Prius that visited Lakehurst was configured to run on hydrogen by ECD Ovonics. The 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine was fitted with a turbocharger and intercooler and produces roughly the same power and torque as a gasoline-hybrid version; all of the Prius’s hybrid features were intact.

What is unusual about this car is how the hydrogen is stored. ECD Ovonics, the company that invented nickel-metal-hydride batteries, focused its expertise on carrying hydrogen in solid form in tanks filled with powdered metal. Two tanks fitted under the Prius’s floor are filled with hydrogen by connecting a 1,500 p.s.i. hose to a standard fitting. The tank capacity is 7.9 pounds, enough for nearly 200 miles.

Robert C. Stempel, the former G.M. chairman who now heads ECD Ovonics, points out that refueling at this storage system’s lower hydrogen pressure is much less expensive than the 5,000 or 10,000 p.s.i. necessary with compressed-gas storage. The system is heavy, though — 550-pounds.

Except for a few turbo whistles and whirs, the car sounds and performs exactly the same as a standard Toyota Prius. Tests showed reductions in all tailpipe emissions except oxides of nitrogen.

In addition to the vehicles brought to the base, here are three other hydrogen vehicles I have driven: BMW HYDROGEN 7 BMW, which has been studying the use of hydrogen in piston engines for 25 years, is building a fleet of 100 demonstration vehicles on a regular assembly line.

The Hydrogen 7 combines BMW’s flagship sedan, a modified 6-liter V-12 and a superinsulated storage tank to provide dual-fuel mobility. The liquid hydrogen offers a 125-mile driving range; when that is consumed, a button on the steering wheel switches the engine over to run on gasoline for 310 more miles from the standard 19.6-gallon gas tank. The engine is tuned to deliver nearly the same power on either fuel.

The detuned engine and 500 pounds added to carry hydrogen safely impair performance slightly, but the Hydrogen 7’s 143-m.p.h. top speed and 400-mile range easily surpass existing fuel-cell vehicles. While running on hydrogen, the only traces of carbon compounds in the exhaust come from engine oil consumed during combustion.

While driving a Hydrogen 7, I listened intently for changes in engine operation when the fuel supply was switched. In the hydrogen mode, there is a sharper and more metallic noise during acceleration, but most drivers would never notice that subtle difference. The beauty of the Hydrogen 7 is that it exploits hydrogen’s benefits without making existing powertrains obsolete.

MERCEDES-BENZ F-CELL Since it began hydrogen experiments in 1994, DaimlerChrysler has invested more than $1 billion and built more than 100 fuel-cell vehicles. A fleet of 30 buses has been carrying passengers daily in 10 European cities. Sixty Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedans converted from gasoline powertrains to a more futuristic F-Cell configuration have logged 2 million miles. DaimlerChrysler and Ford have made large investments in Ballard Power Systems, a leading fuel-cell developer.

In the tall four-seat A-class, passengers sit above the drivetrain, tucked beneath the floor. This arrangement is also a handy way to package the bulky storage tanks and electronics necessary to for the fuel cell.

The 20-second start-up ritual is accompanied by a chorus of clicks, whirs and buzzes. Steering, shifter, accelerator and brake controls are identical to the A-Class; an electronic display on the center console tracks electricity flow.

Even though it rides tall, the F-Cell corners securely thanks to a low center of gravity. With only 87 horsepower to move 3,380 pounds, acceleration is sluggish. According to the factory, the run to 60 m.p.h. takes 15 seconds and a governor limits top speed to 87 m.p.h. Michelin radial tires inflated to 38 p.s.i. delivered a rocky ride over the poorly maintained roads I drove.

HONDA FCX Those fearful that a hydrogen future bodes ill for style and elegance need only examine the FCX, a sleek and sexy way to ride into the future.

Honda has cleverly engineered the FCX to pack all its hardware under a low roof while leaving ample legroom for four passengers and a decent amount of trunk space. A 127-horsepower A.C. electric motor is fed by a fuel cell twice the size of a home computer that produces 100 kilowatts of power.

Driving the FCX demonstrated impressive performance: acceleration from zero to 60 m.p.h. takes less than 10 seconds and top speed is more than 90 m.p.h. There was none of the gear whine, relay clicks, motor hum and pump moaning present in other fuel-cell prototypes. There is minimal mechanical noise, just a soft growl that intensifies when you depress the accelerator (and a power gauge in the dash glows brighter).

Next year, Honda will begin building the FCX in small numbers for demonstration fleets.

Green Cities: The 500 Word Editorial

My friends at Harvard are always kind enough to forward me copies of their forthcoming editorials. These young men publish their work in a variety of "real" newspapers and thus do not need to blog. I am not so fortunate. I was told that I could sell more copies of my Green Cities book if I wrote a "powerful" editorial. I am not a powerful man. I am humble man. Here is my unpublished editorial on Green Cities.

Green Cities

In the 19th century New York City was not a “green city”. Dead horses littered the streets of New York City, and thousands of tenement-dwellers were exposed to stinking water, smoky skies, and ear-shattering din (Melosi 1982, 2001). In 1900, the average urbanite in the United States had a life expectancy ten years lower than the average rural resident (Haines 2001). During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the skies above such major cities as Chicago and Pittsburgh were dark with smoke from steel smelters, heavy industrial plants, and coal burning. Similar quality of life challenges were observed around the world. Frederick Engels bemoaned the density and the squalor in Britain’s manufacturing cities such as Manchester in the mid-19th century.
Over time, many major cities in the developed world have experienced sharp improvements in quality of life. By 1940, the urban mortality premium had vanished (Haines 2001). In Los Angeles, there has been a dramatic reduction in local ambient air pollution. The number of days per year exceeding the federal one-hour ozone standard declined by an even larger amount—from about 150 days per year at the worst locations during the early 1980s, down to 20 to 30 days per year today.
Air pollution, water pollution and noise pollution have sharply fallen in many major U.S cities. While there are several causes of this progress, ranging from effective regulation to industrial transition from manufacturing to services to technological advance, the net result of this trend is that past “production cities” are transforming themselves into “consumer cities” where people want to live and play (Glaeser, Kolko and Saiz 2001). Urban greenness enhances such experiences and makes such cities even more desirable.
Many of us have an intuitive sense of what sets a green city, such as Portland, Oregon, apart from brown urban centers, like Mexico City. Green cities have clean air and water and pleasant streets and parks. Green cities are resilient in the face of natural disasters, and the risk of major infectious disease outbreaks in such cities is low. Green cities also encourage green behavior, such as the use of public transit, and their ecological impact is relatively small.
Green cities are not merely aesthetically pleasing. They are a key engine of economic growth in the modern skills economy. Living and working close to the Pacific Ocean does not cause one to be smarter and more productive. Instead, such green amenities select and attract the skilled. Where the skilled cluster, innovations and cross-industry synergies take place with the net result being robust economic growth (Jacobs 1969). The modern economic growth literature emphasizes that human capital is the key determinant of growth (Glaeser et. al 1995).
There is no “free lunch” however. A city that pursues “greenness” as an economic development strategy will experience gentrification. One consequence of this trend will be rising home prices. This will squeeze out poorer renters, new immigrants, and even the middle class as they search for homes. Such households will face the choice of living further from the city center or migrating to a cheaper city.
In 2007, is Los Angeles a “Green City”? Optimists would point to the high day-to-day quality of life in our city and the sharp progress in urban smog achieved over the last 30 years. Pessimists would counter that the region’s greenhouse gas production has increased as Los Angeles County’s population grew by 29 percent between 1980 and 2000 and total automobile mileage grew by 70 percent. As an economist, I would say that Los Angeles could be an even “greener” city if it could incentivize polluters to mitigate their production of greenhouse gases. The rise in fuel efficient vehicles (the Toyota Prius) and LEED certified buildings suggest that free market capitalism can help to reduce the threat of climate change without sacrificing our material standard of living.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

NIMBYism Electric Power Plants and power lines near Los Angeles

People want electricity but don't want to live near power plants or power lines. Maybe the guys at google will figure out how to email you power? Until they do, we will still face the issue of what technologies we use to make power and how we deliver this power to urbanites.

The most interesting part of this article below is Henry Waxman's quote. I can't really follow what he is saying. Is he saying that if households have access to the conventional power grid that they are less likely to demand power from renewables? Is he trying to promote the use of power from renewable energy by cutting off all other options?

U.S. seeks more sway in power line routes
By Marc Lifsher and Janet Wilson, Times Staff Writers
April 27, 2007

L.A Times

Federal energy regulators Thursday singled out most of Southern California as an area in need of more high-voltage power lines and set in motion a process to make it happen — even if state officials balk.

Critics warned that the move could potentially gut local and state authorities' control of the siting of the transmission lines, among the most controversial issues that state and local agencies address.

The action, authorized under a law signed by President Bush in 2005, puts power-short regions of the country "on a path to modernize our constrained and congested electric power infrastructure," Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said in a statement.

Bodman designated two areas for attention — one in the Southwest and one in the mid-Atlantic region of the country. The draft designation of land in the Southwest that could be part of a potential transmission corridor covers seven counties in Southern California, three counties in Arizona and one in Nevada.

Under the Energy Department proposal, federal energy regulatory commissioners would have the right to overrule state and local regulators if the latter refuse to issue permits for transmission corridors on designated private lands, an Energy Department spokeswoman said.

But U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) said he was worried that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 could "trample" on states' traditional authority to approve the siting of power lines after consulting with local governments and citizens.

"This proposal isn't about preventing blackouts. It is about giving energy companies the upper hand in their interactions with state and local governments," Waxman said. "Moreover, it could undermine progressive energy policies that many of these states have adopted."

The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, greeted the federal transmission announcement cautiously.

"The governor's office is reviewing the findings and will be working with the appropriate state agencies as the process moves forward," said Bill Maile, a Schwarzenegger spokesman.

People living in rural desert communities have been alarmed by the locations of several corridors being planned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and other utilities serving fast-growing Southern California cities.

This month, a coalition of conservation groups blasted Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and DWP officials for proposing the so-called Green Path corridor.

In that plan, steel pylons and high-voltage transmission lines would be constructed in private wildlife preserves. Residents of Pioneertown, a hamlet in San Bernardino County used as a set for western movies and television shows, are particularly alarmed. LADWP has said it will try to "tweak" the route but will probably not be able to avoid all private lands.

According to the Energy Department, commissioners at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would not have the power to issue permits for transmission corridors in national or state parks, forests or other public lands. Those decisions would be left to other federal agencies, a spokeswoman said.

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Turning Waste into a Productive Input in Vermont

Here is a nice case study in the New York Times telling the story of how one maple syrup "farmer" converted his production process such that his energy source is now french fry grease. This isn't a complete "free market environmentalism" tale because he did get a grant from the government to make the transition from fossil fuels to his new low greenhouse gas (but smelly) fuel. Still, this case study is suggestive concerning the possibility of accelerating efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through the diffusion of "green ideas". This guy is a "guinea pig" --- will his neighbors learn from his experiment and adopt his ways?

April 28, 2007
The Energy Challenge
It’s Maple Syrup Time, So Why the Whiff of French Fries?

WESTMINSTER, Vt. — Ah, early spring in Vermont. As temperatures warmed and the maples yielded up their annual crop of syrup, the hills and forests of the state were dotted with the familiar sights, sounds and smells of sugaring time.

But here at Sidelands Sugarbush in southeastern Vermont, the sweet aroma of maple syrup was mixed with a very different smell: the pungent odor of hot, used restaurant grease.

“Smell that?” asked Dan Crocker, owner of Sidelands, as he fired up his evaporator for a night of boiling on a recent April evening. “There’s that French fry smell.”

To do his bit to stave off global warming, Mr. Crocker this year converted his sugar house from regular fuel oil to used vegetable oil. Such oil, sometimes pumped into the tanks of environmentally friendly “grease cars,” can also be used as an alternative to heating oil. While a dwindling number of small, traditional sugar makers still boil their sap over wood fires, the majority burn heating oil, a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming.

Derived from living plants rather than fossil fuels, used vegetable oil adds little or no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Mr. Crocker buys his from a company that collects it as a waste product from restaurants, then filters and processes out the dirt and impurities. By converting from traditional oil, Mr. Crocker is taking a stand for the environment.

As an industry, Vermont’s maple sugaring is highly vulnerable to climate change. Last year, of the 1.45 million gallons produced in the United States, nearly a third came from Vermont.

The entire year’s harvest of sap is gathered during a short season, which generally begins in March and ends by early April. The sap flows only during this brief window, when the temperatures rise above freezing during the day but plunge back below freezing at night.

That short season of daily freeze-thaw cycles is getting shorter.

“Right now, the season is starting about a week earlier throughout New England than it did 40 years ago,” said Timothy Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont, who has been warning of the challenge posed by global warming for a while now. “And it’s ending about 10 days earlier than it did. Over 40 years, we’ve lost a net of three days of the season.”

Three days may not sound like much. But because the season lasts only about a month, it represents about a 10 percent reduction in the crop.

Some long-range projections are even more dire, threatening not only the shortening of the maple season, but also the disappearance of most maples from this region.

“We’ve projected a very large loss of sugar maples across New England” by 2100, said Steven McNulty, co-chairman of the Forest Service’s Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center. “Presumably these forests will move up into Canada, farther northward.”

Canada already dominates the international maple syrup market, producing more than seven million gallons a year. If Dr. McNulty’s projections prove accurate, within 100 years Canada will have a virtual monopoly on the maple sugar industry.

For Mr. Crocker, all this makes the stakes of climate change very high.

“I’m a hypocrite if I’m going to help global warming,” Mr. Crocker said. “Everyone says the first thing to go will be the southern Vermont maples.”

Converting from regular oil to used vegetable oil, known as U.V.O., was not an easy process. Like many sugar houses, Mr. Crocker’s is unheated, and vegetable oil congeals at low temperatures, making it too thick to flow through the burner’s pipes.

Vehicles that run on U.V.O. solve this problem by heating the oil. To convert his sugar house, Mr. Crocker installed an electric heater to warm the oil on its way to the burners. He still keeps a regular oil tank as a backup. He frequently starts the burner on regular oil, which ignites more easily, then switches to the grease after a few seconds of burning.

It was expensive, and as the first sugar maker to try it, Mr. Crocker was uncertain if it would even work. He got help in the form of an $8,900 government grant from the Agriculture Department’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

He learned of the grant only a few days before a deadline and stayed up all night filling out the grant application. To a sugar maker, though, all-nighters are just part of the job. At the height of the season, when the sap is flowing fast and the evaporators are running well past dark, Mr. Crocker averages about four hours of sleep a night.

For Mr. Crocker, saving the environment was not the only motivation. In this business of uncertain yields and razor-thin profit margins, the survivors keep their costs low. The vegetable oil is about a dollar a gallon less expensive than regular heating oil, though it may not remain so cheap if demand increases substantially.

“When I converted to vegetable oil, it was a business decision,” Mr. Crocker said.

Sugar making is a highly energy-intensive operation. It takes Mr. Crocker about seven-tenths of a gallon of oil to produce each gallon of syrup. His yearly crop averages 5,500 gallons, making Sidelands the largest maple syrup producer in southern Vermont. His fuel saving should average nearly $4,000, not an inconsiderable sum for a business with a total annual revenue of about $140,000.

While vegetable oil is his latest cost-saving measure, Mr. Crocker has built his business on efficiencies. His 300-acre farm includes six experimental stations, where he tries out new equipment and techniques to shave pennies off the process or squeeze a few more gallons out of the season.

He was among the first in the region to use reverse osmosis, a process that partially concentrates the sap before boiling it, greatly reducing the amount of fuel burned. He uses a vacuum system that sucks air from the plastic tubes carrying the sap from the trees to the sugar house. He is experimenting with a two-part spout that is part plastic and part stainless steel that retards the growth of bacteria.

This year, by combining the stainless steel spouts and the right level of vacuum suction, he coaxed sap from his trees in January, more than a full month ahead of the start of the season for most producers.

Although there is no such thing as a typical season in the sugaring business, 2007 has been genuinely freakish, shattering all the expected patterns. The sap started running late but then seemed never to stop. When many thought the season was over, and some hapless sugar makers had already pulled out their taps, an April cold snap started the sap flowing again.

In northernmost Vermont, extreme cold froze the sap up again. Generally, the lightest syrup, the Grade A Fancy, is produced early in the season, and the darker, less-expensive grades come toward the end. This year, many producers started out producing medium, and then had a burst of Grade A Fancy at the end.

“This year, on April 14th I was making fancy,” Mr. Crocker said. “Tell me something isn’t wrong.”

But the weird weather actually led, at least for Sidelands, to one of the longest and most productive seasons on record. Mr. Crocker’s total crop, produced through April 20, was 6,100 gallons, just 120 gallons below his best year ever.

“You hear the yield is low,” Mr. Crocker said. “I’ve turned it into a good year with technological innovation.”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Candid Camera? Shame and Ostracism and Drunk Golfers

Golfers gone wild. Let's see if this lady becomes rich selling her videos! As information technology declines in price, more citizens will be able to collect evidence such as these video tapes. Will this help to reduce crime as the police will have the evidence to win a conviction? Anticipating this outcome, potential criminals don't commit the crime?

It seems like these guys in this case really needed to go.

April 27, 2007
Mom Teed Off by Urinating Drunk Golfers

Filed at 12:00 a.m. ET

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) -- A mother teed off by drunken golfers urinating near her house by the 18th hole resorted to videotaping the men after no action was taken on her complaints. Video of some men relieving themselves behind trees at the city-owned course was played on local and national television news.

''Many times I would say, 'You're on camera,' and they'd keep right on going. They'd yell and scream obscenities at me,'' Delisa Schubert said.

Schubert, her husband and daughters ages 11 and 15 live next to the Tennessee Centennial Golf Course in Oak Ridge, 20 miles west of Knoxville. She said they family moved there so the girls could improve their golf game.

Schubert has reported the problem to police, city officials, the local district attorney and the golf course manager. They suggested she record the offenders, and in a year she says she has captured more than 40 golfers in the act.

Signs banning public urination are posted on the golf course, and the city is talking to the course operator about the issue, said Josh Collins, director of the city's recreation and parks department. There are restrooms nearby at the 16th hole and the clubhouse.

Schubert says the underlying problem is too much beer and no restraint.

''When you have no inhibition, you're just going to go anywhere,'' she said.

''On the face of this, it's funny. But when you think about it, it's extremely dangerous. They're going to get in their car and drive off drunk.''

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why all the heightened interest in global warming? Salient Events and Bayes Rule or Social Interactions

What is your theory for why more folks are talking about climate change as a "real"
issue than in the recent past? Is Al Gore a causal homogenous treatement effect? Or was this winter too warm relative to the recent past and this has convinced you that "things have changed"? Or, are your friends talking about it and you want to fit in with the gang? Or, have more people woken up and decided to be "good people" rather than "selfish" people and now think through the social consequences of their actions?

I'm not sure what is the right model of human behavior here but I do think that
social interactions have played a role here. I'm not even sure we know the true facts here concerning what % of the population is genuinely concerned about climate change AND willing to vote with their pocket book and in the political process to do something about it. The article below presents some public opinion polls and some nice quotes. But, is this "cheap talk"? We need some market data for people to reveal their willingness to pay to mitigate greenhouse gas production!

This Earth Day, a focus on Earth's warming
Public awareness about climate change is growing; 83 percent of Americans now call it a 'serious' problem.
By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Page 1 of 3

Ashland, Ore - For years, Earth Day celebrants have hugged trees, dressed up as their favorite endangered species, and extolled the virtues of compost and organic gardening.

This year, April 22, the annual day to tout personal and community greenness, has a new emphasis for many people: global warming and its predicted effects on Mother Earth.

Around the country and around the world, a batch of recent opinion surveys show swelling public interest in and concern about climate change.

There is "a significant shift in public attitudes toward the environment and global warming [with] fully 83 percent of Americans now saying global warming is a 'serious' problem, up from 70 percent in 2004," reports the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

"The last six months have been the most rapid period of change in public awareness and attitudes on climate change that I've ever seen," says William Moomaw, a Tufts University climate expert and coauthor of the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-sponsored group of scientists.

Demand for climate-change briefings he's delivered for the past five years have jumped in the past year, says Dr. Moomaw. Audiences who were once polite are now actively engaged.

Now, after talks he regularly finds himself surrounded by mobs of questioners eager to learn more.

One of those who has questions about climate change and its possible impact on local weather patterns is Suzy Carpenter, a fourth-generation Arizonan who lives in Mesa. She's noticed a change in what she calls the summer monsoon season there.

"When I was little it would pour buckets every single night, and it was that way through the summers until I was probably in my mid-20s," says Ms. Carpenter, speaking of the 1970s. "Now it's cycled down to where we get three or four storms per summer, and we're always short on rainfall now."

Why all the heightened interest in global warming?

Glaeser on Housing Supply Limits and Regional Growth Trends

Earth Day is here. Where would a green "benevolent" planner seeking to enhance environmental sustainability place 300 million Americans? All in St. Louis? All in Santa Monica? Ed Glaeser is trying to start a policy discussion on the larger consequences of differential housing supply regulation. He partitions areas into those that are "pro-growth" and those that are "slow growth". People have to live somewhere and the "slow growth" states' policy choices have implications for the spatial distribution of home prices and home construction.

Read on!

Boston Globe
A climate for growth
By Edward L. Glaeser | April 23, 2007

IN SOME places, April is a delightful month where cherry blossoms bloom in the warmth of spring. But not in Boston. As we watch northeasters chill marathon runners, global warming starts looking less like the environmental crisis that it is and more like a good regional development strategy.

This winter that would not end seems to explain the new Census figures, released on April 5, that show that Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix were America's four fastest growing metropolitan areas. Each added more than 750,000 people between 2000 and 2006, while snowy Boston added a mere 63,000. Our 1.4 percent growth rate was slower than 277 other metropolitan areas.

Los Angeles became a great city because of its weather. Its great industries, such as movies and aerospace, were led by early migrants, like D.W. Griffith and Donald Douglas, who moved there because they liked its Mediterranean climate.

But while it might seem that people just find warmth irresistible, the growth of the Sun Belt today has much less to do with climate than with housing permits.

The growth of the Sun Belt today is no longer led by the temperate areas on the California coast. Since the 1970s, growth has been increasingly centered in the cities of Texas and the Southwestern desert -- areas that are far less pleasant than California. This switch came about as coastal Californians became more and more hostile to new development.

Environmental groups shut down construction near the San Francisco Bay. The California Supreme Court switched its allegiance from local political leaders to preservationists in rulings that required environmental impact reviews for vast numbers of new building projects. As it got harder to build, developers moved to places like Houston and Las Vegas, which are distinguished more by pro-growth politics than delightful weather.

How do I know that rapid growth in Houston and Dallas reflects a ready housing supply rather than demand for warmth? The most basic principles of economics tell us that if growth is driven by demand, for warmth or anything else, then we should expect to see high prices. If growth is driven by supply, then we should expect to see low prices. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median sales price for a home was $150,000 in Houston, $170,000 in Atlanta and $400,000 in Boston. If Americans were flocking to Houston because of its great climate then it would not be so cheap. Houston's climate is not great, and neither is the climate in Atlanta, Dallas, or even Phoenix. Their relatively low prices, especially relative to coastal California, reflect their terrible summers.

In the 1990s, urban growth was more strongly correlated with hot, unpleasant Julys than with warm, appealing Januarys. People are not moving to the really nice areas in the South and West, which have restricted construction and become unaffordable, but to much less pleasant places, some of which aren't even warm. Boise, Idaho, and Provo, Utah, are two of the nation's fastest-growing areas, and their winters are comparable to our own.

What does this mean for Massachusetts? First, weather isn't destiny. The fault for our underperformance lies not with the sun but with ourselves. Massachusetts has high income levels and housing prices, which means that there is plenty of demand to live in the Bay State. To grow, we just need to allow more supply.

Second, the growing Sun Belt reminds us that Boston is doing a bad job relative to Texas and Nevada at making life affordable for middle-income people. We Bostonians pride ourselves on our social responsibility, but the cost of living is 50 percent higher in Boston than in Houston. Until we produce more housing, Greater Boston will be a region that takes better care of its rich than its poor.

Third, the growth of the Sun Belt reminds us that local environmentalism is often bad environmentalism. By protecting areas close to San Francisco, Californians made their own region greener, but they just pushed development into the desert. When we push development to low density areas --where there are fewer people to object -- we ensure more driving and energy use.

I don't want Boston to look like Las Vegas, but I do believe this region should grow. More people should live in Boston, instead of those Sun Belt cities that have neither high incomes nor pleasant climates. That can only happen if we permit more housing.

Edward L. Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard, is director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. He is a guest columnist

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Cage Match Between Sheryl Crow and Karl Rove over Climate Change Policy

All Sheryl Crow wanted to do was have some fun --- do you feel pity for Karl Rove? This recounting of their "Lincoln-Douglas" debate is fun reading. If this version is correct, then I think that Ms. Crow won this round. Especially with Earth Day so close, one would think that a shrewd political analyst such as Dr. Rove would have the good sense to pretend that he cares about these issues.

I'm almost impressed with his bad boy front.

This wife of Larry David's appears to believe that she is a causal agent. I rarely
meet such confident people who believe they can change someone's opinion on an issue
through a 5 minute talk. She must be quite a convincing person. I figure that she
lives somewhere in West Los Angeles. Maybe she would like to speak to my UCLA
environmental economics students on a tuesday/thurs from 9am to 10:15am in Public Policy room #2238? My students are a tough/smart bunch and I'd like to see her impact on their thinking. I promise that they would be nicer than Karl Rove.

April 23, 2007
Bush Aide’s Celebrity Meeting Becomes a Global Warming Run-In

WASHINGTON, April 22 — Put celebrity environmental activists in a room with top Bush administration officials and a meeting of the minds could result. At least that is a theoretical possibility.

The more likely outcome is that an argument will break out, as it did at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday night between Karl Rove, the president’s deputy chief of staff, and the singer Sheryl Crow and Laurie David, a major Democratic donor and a producer of the global warming documentary featuring Al Gore, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Ms. Crow and Ms. David, who have been visiting campuses in an event billed as the Stop Global Warming College Tour, approached Mr. Rove to urge him to take “a fresh look” at global warming, they explained later.

Recriminations between the celebrities and the White House carried over into Sunday, with Ms. Crow and Ms. David calling Mr. Rove “a spoiled child throwing a tantrum” and the White House criticizing their “Hollywood histrionics.”

“I honestly thought that I was going to change his mind, like, right there and then,” Ms. David said Sunday, The Associated Press reported.

Ms. Crow was at the dinner as a guest of Bloomberg News. Ms. David and her husband, Larry David, a creator of “Seinfeld,” were guests of CNN. Mr. Rove was a guest of The New York Times.

The one thing all three parties agree on is that the conversation quickly became heated.

As Ms. Crow and Ms. David described it on the Huffington Post Web site on Sunday, when Mr. Rove turned toward his table, Ms. Crow touched his arm and “Karl swung around and spat, ‘Don’t touch me.’ ”

Both sides agreed that Ms. Crow told him, “You can’t speak to us like that, you work for us,” to which Mr. Rove responded, “I don’t work for you, I work for the American people.” Ms. Crow and Ms. David wrote that Ms. Crow shot back, “We are the American people.”

In their joint Internet posting, Ms. Crow and Ms. David described Mr. Rove as responding with “anger flaring,” and as having “exploded with even more venom” as their argument continued.

“She came over to insult me,” Mr. Rove said when asked about the encounter on Saturday night, “and she succeeded.”

Mr. Rove did not respond to a request for comment on the women’s written description of the argument on Sunday.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman said, “We have respect for the opinions and passion that many people have for climate change.” But, Mr. Fratto said, “I wish the same respect was afforded to the president.”

He accused Ms. Crow and Ms. David of ignoring the administration’s environmental initiatives, like the president’s push for the development of alternative fuels, and for “going after officials with misinformed assertions at a social dinner.”

“It would be better,” Mr. Fratto said, “to set aside Hollywood histrionics and try to help with the problem instead of this baseless, and tasteless, finger pointing.”

Friday, April 20, 2007

Light Rail Transit Success in Utah?

This article offers a case study of "new urbanists" benefiting from access to a
new rail transit line that allows them to ditch the auto lifestyle. How many people are interested in such a lifestyle? How costly per rider is this new transit option? How is this new rail line being financed? Is the Federal Government paying 80% of the costs?

A key issue here is where does the train go? Boston's Red Line goes through Harvard Square, MIT and on to downtown Boston. These are places that people want to go. Is the same thing true for the Salt Lake City train? When employment and consumer amenities are sprawled there is no central "gravitational force" attracting people and in such a sprawled setting, the car offers much more flexibility to get to multiple possible destinations.

New York Times
April 22, 2007
National Perspectives
Rail Line Drives Utah Development


TWO years ago, this Salt Lake City suburb began collaborating with a local developer to turn industrial land into a neighborhood of town homes, condominiums and offices. Now the project, known as Birkhill at Fireclay, is finally being built.

The 30-acre $140 million development by Hamlet Homes, one of this region’s largest builders, will have 420 units of housing and 200,000 square feet of retail and office space. Groundbreaking is set to begin in about a month. The idea is to give homeowners easier access to their jobs or to stores.

Murray City and Hamlet Homes are taking advantage of growing buyer interest in living and working near the regional TRAX light rail system, which has operated in the Salt Lake Valley since 1999. The Murray North station, one of three TRAX stops in Murray City — population 50,000 — serves as the centerpiece of Birkhill at Fireclay.

“People can go where they want and won’t have to get in a car,” said Keith Snarr, the director of Murray City’s economic development office, who helped negotiate the agreement with Hamlet Homes. “It may not be the lifestyle for everybody, but there are a lot of people around here now that understand what it means to be urban and find this attractive.”

Salt Lake City and its closest suburbs built the $520 million, 19-mile, 23-station TRAX system, which carries more than 55,000 riders a day, well ahead of ridership projections. Voters have also repeatedly passed sales tax increases, including one approved last November, to spend $2.5 billion more in the next decade to complete 26 additional miles of light rail, 88 miles of heavy commuter rail line and nearly 40 extra station stops. The only American metropolitan area that is building more regional rapid transit capacity is Denver, which is constructing a 151-mile system.

Birkhill at Fireclay is the first development in a 97-acre transit-oriented district Murray City has established around the Murray North station. And it is one of a growing number of transit-oriented developments in the Wasatch Front, an urban area with a population of more than two million that is looking for new ways to get around — less by car, and especially by rail. A host of other American metropolitan regions, among them Minneapolis, Denver, Dallas, Sacramento, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle and Portland, Ore., have invested billions of dollars over the last decade to pursue the same idea.

Mr. Snarr says he is convinced that the confluence of fast-rising energy and land costs, static incomes and the region’s swift population growth are producing the market conditions for a successful new neighborhood on land along Fireclay Avenue that has served as his city’s industrial backyard.

The existing 23 rail stations and the roughly 40 more stops on the way offer developers dozens of opportunities to design and build transit-focused home and business districts at the center of the Salt Lake Valley’s towns and cities.

“The basic reason that transit-oriented development is working in Utah and other places is largely demographic,” said Gloria Ohland, vice president for communications at Reconnecting America, a national transit research group based in Oakland, Calif. “American households are older, smaller and more diverse,” she said. “Singles are 41 percent of the population. People who are single and couples that have no children — those are the people who gravitate to cities.”

Even with a new tide of people heading their way, transit-focused builders say there are plenty of impediments. Assembling parcels large enough to be attractive requires considerable work in city and town centers. It took Hamlet Homes more than two years to amass the 30 acres for Birkhill at Fireclay.

And in most communities, including Murray City, the zoning regulations that directed homes and businesses to be spread far apart have to be rewritten. Murray City passed a transit development ordinance in 2005 that allows narrower streets, encourages trees and pocket parks, and is designed to produce a new district that is not too densely built up, but also won’t look or feel anything like a typical single-use suburban subdivision.

Michael Brodsky, the chairman of Hamlet Homes, which he founded in 1995, said the difficulties involved in developing around the Salt Lake region’s transit stops are compensated for by the market response. Along with Birkhill at Fireclay, the company is constructing two more housing and business developments near the TRAX stations immediately north and south of the Murray North stop.

The first is Inverness Square, a $24 million, 120-unit project half a mile from the 53rd South TRAX station. The development, started in 2005, is nearly completed, and the two- and three-bedroom town houses, with prices starting around $170,000, are sold out, Mr. Brodsky said.

Last October, the company began developing Waverly Station, on 10 acres alongside the Meadowbrook TRAX station. The $42 million project includes 47 condos, 131 town homes and 14,000 square feet of retail and office space. Hamlet just completed the first phase — 41 two- and three-bedroom town homes of 1,500 to 1,900 square feet. All have been sold, Mr. Brodsky said, for $215,000 to $255,000.

“The fact that we are building close to the light rail station is an important amenity,” he said. “It is part of the package that also includes a combination of affordability and accessibility to a more urban setting.”

Mary Ann Downs, 22, an interior designer, moved into her $193,000 three-bedroom home at Waverly Station in February. Ms. Downs is happy to be near the TRAX system — she plans to use it this spring when the light rail connects to the new commuter line — and she also likes her neighbors.

One of them is David Bailey, 28, who works for a jewelry dealer. He bought a two-bedroom home for $205,000. He said access to the TRAX line, which he rides to basketball and football games downtown, played a part in his decision to buy. “I really feel as gas prices go up, homes near public transportation will increase in value,” he said.

North of Salt Lake City, CenterCal Properties just closed on a $2.13 million purchase of 70 acres near the new commuter rail station in Farmington, a bedroom community of 14,000 residents 13 miles north of Salt Lake City and one of nine stops on a 44-mile, $611 million line to Pleasant View that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2008.

CenterCal, based in Portland, Ore., earned a national reputation in transit-oriented design with its Gresham Station, a 130-acre, $400 million, mixed-use district that it began in 1999 along the MAX light rail line east of Portland.

Fred Bruning, the company’s president, said CenterCal planned to bring the same principles of compact, transit-focused design to its new project, called Station Park, which will be just across the Farmington rail station’s parking lot. It will consist of 700,000 square feet of retailing, 300,000 square feet of office space and 250 residential units in rental apartments and town homes.

A rendering of Station Park on the company’s Web site ( shows a district designed with three-story buildings, with shops on the ground floor and offices and homes on the floors above, surrounding a large public square with a fountain, broad sidewalks and a garden. The project’s design is a mix of European urbanism and outdoor suburban lifestyle malls.

“Compared to what is already there in Farmington, this is a lot of density,” Mr. Bruning said. “You have to take it in steps and develop density as the market becomes available. We design our projects in such a way that density can increase over time. If it’s designed well, it has a shelf life for decades.”

The design is intended to mimic urban spaces in which buildings change uses — open spaces can be filled, or buildings can become open space.

Mr. Snarr, Murray City’s development director, has similar plans for the Birkhill at Fireclay, which is priced comparably with the Waverly Station development, and for other projects he is recruiting for the city’s transit-oriented district. “People want to live in a place that’s a little more cosmopolitan,” he said. “They gain a lot. They save money on gas and housing costs. They reduce their stress because they don’t have to drive as much. And they get a chance to know their neighbors. It adds up for me.”

The Political Economy of "Greening" New York City Over the Next 30 Years

Mike Bloomberg is an unusual Republican. Most politicians do not have such a long run perspective. Perhaps he owns enough real estate in New York City that as a residual claimant he has the right incentives to enact policies that improve New York City's quality of life and this is capitalized into today's real estate prices?

I have always thought that city mayors should be paid with urban land (analogous to corporate "stock options") to encourage them to internalize the long run health of their city. Bloomberg already owns the land!

It will be interesting to see whether the "anti-green" interest groups can come up with any more powerful arguments than to say "no new taxes".

Here is the New York Times today;

April 20, 2007
Bloomberg to Unveil Long-Term Vision for City

With New York’s population expected to grow by one million in two decades, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will call on Sunday for a raft of ambitious and sometimes contentious proposals that are intended to ease traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, build housing, improve mass transit and develop abandoned industrial land.

The speech, which mayoral aides have described as the centerpiece of his final 32 months in office, will outline his vision for the city over the next quarter century, setting priorities for refurbishing the city’s aging bridges, water mains, transit system, power plants and building codes. And in the talk on Sunday — Earth Day — the mayor will propose doing so in a way that reduces the strain on natural resources like water, clean air and land.

Toward that end, Mr. Bloomberg is expected to advocate more than 100 proposals, including charging drivers to enter the busiest sections of Manhattan, and using zoning and tax incentives to encourage the construction of 250,000 homes.

He also is expected to call for offering rebates and other enticements to make new and existing buildings more energy-efficient, and to ask for the creation of a public authority that would supplant the power that state government holds over many city operations, people briefed on the speech said.

He is also expected to propose spending $400 million to clean up polluted sites for new construction, to support the construction of another rail tunnel under the Hudson River to Midtown at a cost of $7.5 billion, and to create new zoning and tax breaks to increase the supply of housing in the hope of making the overall market more affordable.

No one has ever accused the Bloomberg administration of not thinking big; trying to win approval to build one of the world’s most expensive football stadiums on the West Side of Manhattan was just one example. But getting big results has often proved elusive. And there is little doubt that much of the mayor’s package of proposals will face stiff opposition from local politicians as well as from the state legislators who will decide whether to approve many aspects of it.

Policy experts said the mayor’s agenda, known as PlaNYC, is perhaps his most far-reaching and its fate could determine whether his administration will be remembered as truly transformative.

“This is their best opportunity to stamp this city with the administration’s imprint for decades to come,” said David S. Birdsell, dean of the Baruch School of Public Affairs. The plan was developed by a team of experts working under Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding.

Administration officials have worked hard to keep the plan under wraps and have declined to comment on any of its details, cautioning that they are not final. But a picture has emerged from interviews with several government officials, business leaders and advocates who have been briefed on it, none of whom would allow their names to be used because Bloomberg officials had sworn them to secrecy.

One of the most significant proposals calls for creating an authority that would raise money and identify strategic infrastructure investments. The city currently has little say over the agencies, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Empire State Development Corporation or the State Department of Transportation, that control large-scale projects.

The new authority would be composed of city and state appointees, giving the city greater control, although the governor would have some veto authority.

What will almost certainly be the most contentious idea, however, involves charging drivers to enter the busiest sections of Manhattan. The proposal being formulated calls for money raised from congestion pricing, which could reach hundreds of millions of dollars a year, to go into a fund for large-scale transportation investments. Those would include projects for the boroughs outside Manhattan, where drivers would be most affected by new fees that could reach $8, minus a credit for any tolls already in effect.

The scope of Mr. Bloomberg’s plan is fraught with economic and political obstacles that may make the Earth Day address more the beginning of a long and complex negotiation than an immediate spur to action.

Opposition has already formed to congestion pricing, which Mr. Bloomberg himself has resisted in recent years. Walter McCaffrey, a lobbyist representing Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free, which is made up of garage owners, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and some labor and neighborhood advocates, says the city should look at other methods of dealing with congestion before resorting to such a “draconian” method.

“This is another tax for New York City folks,” Mr. McCaffrey said. “If you’re riding in a limo you can afford it. But this city is also made up of working-class people who would be hurt by it.”

The package of proposals is sure to cost tens of billions of dollars and require state legislation and the cooperation from the very people and institutions that may be threatened by the changes: the City Council, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the governor and the State Legislature. The notion of even proposing a plan for congestion pricing, for instance, is so politically toxic that some Bloomberg officials refer to it as “the program that shall not be named” for fear that the mayor himself will in the end decide to withdraw support for the idea.

City officials seem mindful that their failure to win allies among legislators and civic groups helped in 2005 to scuttle plans to build a football stadium for the Jets on the West Side. That defeat in turn ended the city’s Olympic bid, which had brought with it a grand development agenda for the city, some of which then lost momentum.

This time, back with an agenda that in some ways resembles the Olympic plan in a green dress, officials are trying a different approach, working to engage the public and build good will for their ideas. Officials created an advisory council that included environmentalists, business groups, labor leaders and planning advocates like the Regional Plan Association; many of them opposed the stadium, but now say they are happy with the way the new package of proposals has developed.

Over the past three months, officials from the city’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability have played host to meetings with environmentalists, energy and planning experts, scientists, academics, business leaders and ordinary citizens to solicit ideas. They created a Web site that got more than 50,000 hits and resulted in 3,000 ideas, including proposals to add more incentives for so-called green roofs and to ban cars in Manhattan.

Aware of how high-stakes and controversial some of the proposals are, the administration has urged the Partnership for New York City, a business group that has pushed for a congestion pricing plan, and others to raise money for an ad campaign, which they are planning to start the day after Mr. Bloomberg’s speech.

“We’ve been summoned to be at City Hall at 10:30 Monday to say nice things about this whole effort,” said one real estate industry executive who is supportive of the mayor’s initiative.

Bloomberg officials have also been networking behind the scenes, beginning to share the plan with government officials and legislators over the last several days.

In some ways, the political moment is ripe for many of the proposals, as the leaders of the city, New York State and New Jersey — Mr. Bloomberg, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Gov. Jon S. Corzine (now recovering from a near-fatal traffic accident) — are all wealthy, strong-willed men who are not so beholden to the traditional political apparatus.

But as Mr. Bloomberg is only too well aware from the clock on his office wall that counts down the remaining time in his term, he has only 986 days left to pursue his policy ambitions.

As Mr. Bloomberg put it in a speech on the subject in December, he began feeling that urgency as he saw the scale of the city’s needs.

“Unless we considered the full range of challenges to our city’s physical environment, the progress we’d worked so long and so hard for might be at risk,” he said. “And it became clear that to secure a stronger, cleaner, and healthier city for our children and grandchildren, we had to start acting now.”

William Neuman contributed reporting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is Ethanol a "Green" Fuel?

Perhaps professors are useful people. Mark Jacobson at Stanford appears to be
working on an interesting issue with public policy consequences. I haven't read
his real research paper (the link is at the bottom of this blog entry) but I plan
to. It will interest me to see how he handles the issue of heterogeneity. He seems
to be arguing that ethanol use will change the spatial distribution of air pollution-
so there are issues of general equilibrium responses to this new shock.

Study: Ethanol may cause more smog, deaths

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science WriterWed Apr 18, 7:12 AM ET

Switching from gasoline to ethanol — touted as a green alternative at the pump — may create dirtier air, causing slightly more smog-related deaths, a new study says.

Nearly 200 more people would die yearly from respiratory problems if all vehicles in the United States ran on a mostly ethanol fuel blend by 2020, the research concludes. Of course, the study author acknowledges that such a quick and monumental shift to plant-based fuels is next to impossible.

Each year, about 4,700 people, according to the study's author, die from respiratory problems from ozone, the unseen component of smog along with small particles. Ethanol would raise ozone levels, particularly in certain regions of the country, including the Northeast and Los Angeles.

"It's not green in terms of air pollution," said study author Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor. "If you want to use ethanol, fine, but don't do it based on health grounds. It's no better than gasoline, apparently slightly worse."

His study, based on a computer model, is published in Wednesday's online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology and adds to the messy debate over ethanol.

Farmers, politicians, industry leaders and environmentalists have clashed over just how much ethanol can be produced, how much land it would take to grow the crops to make it, and how much it would cost. They also disagree on the benefits of ethanol in cutting back fuel consumption and in fighting pollution, especially global warming gases.

In January, President Bush announced a push to reduce gas consumption by 20 percent over 10 years by substituting alternative fuels, mainly ethanol. Scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that could mean about a 1 percent increase in smog.

Jacobson's study troubles some environmentalists, even those who work with him. Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that ethanol, which cuts one of the key ingredients of smog and produces fewer greenhouse gases, is an important part of reducing all kinds of air pollution.

Jacobson's conclusion "is a provocative concept that is not workable," said Hwang, an engineer who used to work for California's state pollution control agency. "There's nothing in here that means we should throw away ethanol."

And Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, the largest Washington ethanol lobby group, said other research and real-life data show "ethanol is a greener fuel than gasoline."

But Jacobson found that depends on where you live, with ethanol worsening the ozone problem in most urban areas.

Based on computer models of pollution and air flow, Jacobson predicted that the increase in ozone — and diseases it causes — would be worst in areas where smog is already a serious problem: Los Angeles and the Northeast.

Most of those projected 200 deaths would be in Los Angeles, he says, and the only place where ozone would fall is the Southeast because of the unique blend of chemicals in the air and the heavy vegetation.

The science behind why ethanol might increase smog is complicated, but according to Jacobson, part of the explanation is that ethanol produces more hydrocarbons than gasoline. And ozone is the product of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide cooking in the sun.

Also, the ethanol produces longer-lasting chemicals that eventually turn into hydrocarbons that can travel farther. "You are really spreading out pollution over a larger area," he said.

And finally, while ethanol produces less nitrogen oxide, that can actually be a negative in some very smoggy places. When an area like Los Angeles reaches a certain high level of nitrogen oxide, that excess chemical begins eating up spare ozone, Jacobson said.

Hwang agreed that that is a "well-known effect."

While praising Jacobson as one of the top atmospheric chemists in the nation, Hwang said he had problems with some of Jacobson's assumptions, such as an entire switch to ethanol by 2020. Also, he said that the ozone difference that Jacobson finds is so small that it may be in the margin of error of calculations.

Jacobson is also ignoring that ethanol — especially the kind made from cellulose, like switchgrass — reduces greenhouse gases, which cause global warming. And global warming will increase smog and smog-related deaths, an international scientific panel just found this month, Hwang said.


On the Net:

Jacobson's study:

Renewable Fuels Association:

Monday, April 16, 2007

Replication in Economics

It is Hammer's time. Here is part of the intro from Dan Hamermesh's new paper titled "Replication in Economics"

1. Introduction—What Is Replication?

Economists treat replication the way teenagers treat chastity—as an ideal to be professed but not to be practiced. Why is this? How much replication is done by economic researchers? What are the incentives/disincentives to engage in replication exercises? These are positive questions. Does our current treatment of replication lead to credible knowledge about human behaviour? Does it do so in a manner that is socially optimal? These are normative questions.
Even before these questions can be answered, we need to clarify what we mean by replication in the context of economic research. One dictionary defines replicate as “duplicate, repeat, as in a statistical experiment;” another defines it as “to make or do something again in exactly the same way.”1 This clarity exists only at the level of dictionaries. Indeed, in a recent lawsuit involving economists the definition of replication constituted one of the two central issues, with the judge granting the defendant summary judgment by accepting the dictionary definition.2 Here I will refer to the dictionary definition as pure replication.
In economists’ common parlance the idea of replication clearly goes beyond this. A useful taxonomy was provided by the psychologist John Hunter (2001), who described statistical replication—different sample, but the identical model and underlying population. Statistical replication is only marginally relevant for us: I cannot imagine, for example, anyone taking a different sample from a major data set to examine the same model that has already been studied using those data. Presumably the original author used the entire data set, subject to excluding cases because of item non-response or disqualifying characteristics. One could, however, repeat the same lab experiment on a different set of undergraduate subjects, and that is the closest we can approach statistical replication. Scientific replication—different sample, different population and perhaps similar, but not identical model—appears much more suited in type to our methods of research and, indeed comprises most of what economists view as replication.
In economic research examining the same question and model using the underlying original data set amounts to pure replication (and in one of the controversies discussed below."

While I can't find a link on the Berkeley Econ webpage, I had always thought that the right way to create incentives here is "shame and ostracism". David Card has run a seminar at Berkeley where students attempt to replicate famous papers in economics. If Harvard or MIT started a similar course, so one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast --- this would provide the right incentives for empirical scholars to be on the "tip toes" and double check that their work is right and kosher before rushing it out for publication.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Power of Green?

Tom Friedman fumbled the ball in his long piece today in the NYT Magazine (see More Green leadership by U.S leaders would be welcome but he is not clear about the causality of how such a policy shift would have large effects on our international relations.

"Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century. A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism.

How do our kids compete in a flatter world? How do they thrive in a warmer world? How do they survive in a more dangerous world? Those are, in a nutshell, the big questions facing America at the dawn of the 21st century. But these problems are so large in scale that they can only be effectively addressed by an America with 50 green states — not an America divided between red and blue states.

Because a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward. That’s why I say: We don’t just need the first black president. We need the first green president. We don’t just need the first woman president. We need the first environmental president. We don’t just need a president who has been toughened by years as a prisoner of war but a president who is tough enough to level with the American people about the profound economic, geopolitical and climate threats posed by our addiction to oil — and to offer a real plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels."

I agree with him that the President could do much more to design incentives
to increase energy efficiency to help mitigate greenhouse gas production.

I wonder how many new jobs would be created if a President made "green" the focus of
his/her administration?

I wonder what would happen to other possible priorities such as the war on chronic disease and the war on terror if a President focused solely on being green?

I wonder if government can "pick winners"? A more decentralized approach would
enact carbon taxes and then allow the free market to choose the direction that diffusion and adoption of new products takes

Friedman usually works on international affairs but recently he has taken up environmental issues. I'd like to ask him the following; "if the u.S went green and relied less on gasoline and produced fewer greenhouse gases how would this affect our foreign policy credibility? Would natiaons be nicer to Israel? Would Europe be happier to work with us? How much happier to work with us? Or would they pick new issues to fight with us over?

Friedman seems to have convinced himself that he has found a "magic bullet". Are there any costs of adopting his dream?

Tomorrow will be an eventful day for my family. We have made a decision about where we want to work from now on. It was a difficult decision but we won't regret our choice.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Green Tradeoffs: Importing "Renewable Power" Through Valuable Natural Capital Hotbeds

In the Cape Cod area in the Northeast, Ted Kennedy managed to come out against wind power turbines in his backyard. This green technology would be an eyesore. Now the same issue is taking place on the west coast. As this article below highlights, the Mayor of Los Angeles has sought to provide electric power to Los Angeles residents by purchasing green power from other areas. The problem is in "shipping" the electricity to the final consumers; the power lines and other infrastructure will run through wilderness areas in national forests and this will affect creatures and their day to day lifestyle. Thus, this is an interesting article about green tradeoffs in the presence of scarcity.

Both the cape code wind turbines case and this case highlight the same issue, some projects offer environmental benefits and environmental costs! Ideally, economists would have generated some credible valuation estimates to inform whether the benefits exceed the costs. Unfortunately, we haven't delivered such estimates yet. But, give us time!,1,7223182.story?track=rss

California 'Green' project makes critics see red
The DWP's proposed energy corridor, to bring nonpolluting power to L.A., would traverse a national forest and wildlife preserves.
By Janet Wilson
Times Staff Writer

April 9, 2007

Highlighting the environmental pitfalls of harnessing "green" energy, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's push to import nonpolluting power to Los Angeles could require building power lines and transmission towers through a national forest, two desert wildlife preserves and a rustic hamlet used in countless westerns.

According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the 85-mile-long "Green Path" energy corridor designed to bring solar, geothermal and nuclear power from southeastern California and Arizona would slice across the Big Morongo Wildlife Preserve north of Palm Springs, Pioneertown near Yucca Valley, Pipes Canyon Wilderness Preserve and a corner of the San Bernardino National Forest before crossing over the Cajon Pass and connecting with existing power lines in Hesperia.

More than a dozen preservation and community groups have condemned the mayor and DWP for a plan that they say would destroy priceless vistas, natural areas and wildlife corridors.

"Not only is such energy consumption not 'green,' it is unacceptable under any name…. The ends cannot justify the means," Justin Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a letter to Villaraigosa last week.

City officials are up against tough new state laws and self-imposed deadlines to replace highly polluting coal-fired power with renewable energy produced by geothermal, wind and solar generators in the Imperial Valley, the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County and elsewhere.

Villaraigosa did not return calls for comment. DWP commission President David Nahai insisted that no final decisions on a route had been made.

"This project is very much environmentally at its beginning stages," Nahai said.

The anger over the proposed route underscores challenges nationwide over how to ship wind, sun and steam power from remote rural reaches to booming urban centers.

"People do not like the way power lines look," said George Douglas, spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.

He said vast amounts of renewable resources exist across the country. Enough wind turbines could be built in North Dakota to power Chicago. One hundred square miles of desert solar panels in California, Nevada or New Mexico could power most of the United States.

But, Douglas said, "the chances it's going to happen are zero, because nobody's going to build the transmission lines. They're great big things that cost a lot of money, and people don't like them. They are unsightly — there's no two ways about it — and when you build them, they definitely disturb the land."

In Los Angeles, Villaraigosa said last year that he wanted to make the sprawling metropolis "the greenest city and cleanest city in America" and was pushing aggressively for 20% of the city's power to be renewable by 2010. Officials also chose not to renew a contract with a Utah coal plant that provides more than 40% of the city's power. That pact will expire in 2023.

The proposed Green Path is a key piece of the mayor's strategy. High-voltage lines in the transmission corridor would ship 800 megawatts of geothermal and solar power from near the Salton Sea and 400 megawatts of nuclear power from Arizona — enough to meet 10% of the city's current energy needs.

DWP officials said they decided on a "preferred alternative" in December after studying possible routes for more than a year. They said the route they chose would be the least intrusive to existing homes, tribal lands, national parks and wilderness areas.

Environmentalists scoffed at that claim. "We were just shocked," preservationist David Myers said of his reaction after looking at a map of the route.

Myers is head of The Wildlands Conservancy, a nonprofit group that has spent $50 million assembling private wildlife corridors and preserves close to Joshua Tree National Park, the San Bernardino National Forest and elsewhere, including Pipes Canyon.

Myers accused city officials of secretly planning the route, saying that conservationists learned about it two weeks ago from a staff member of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Nahai said there was no attempt at secrecy but acknowledged that Myers had a point. "I think we need to do a better job of outreach and a better job of communication," he said. "This is a new, environmentally committed administration. What we're trying to do is to diversify away from filthy coal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and do it in a way that is environmentally protective."

The DWP staff members said that there would be extensive public hearings before a final decision was made, and that they might "tweak" the map to try to move it away from the Pipes Canyon preserve, Pioneertown and the surrounding Sawtooth Mountains, which provided the backdrop for "The Cisco Kid" and many other western television shows and movies.

But Nahai added that no matter what route was chosen, there would be some environmental damage caused by the project. He said the priority was obtaining clean, renewable energy on a citywide basis to reduce greenhouse gases and other air pollution, as well as meeting power needs.

"Failure is not an option," he said. "What I can commit is that the department will do its utmost to minimize adverse environmental effects."


The Fiscal Strain Imposed by Suburban "Smart Growth"

This is a funny case study of the cost of success. If I'm reading this article correctly, Washington Township has designed a relatively high density new community. This has attracted a large number of families WITH children and in aggregate these wonderful kids have congested the local schools requiring more schools to be built and public expenditures have soared to provide basic services for these kids. The article also hints that the dense communities have created congested roads.

A congested suburb is sort of a funny idea.

This article could have done a better job discussing the quality of the local public schools in this town. Based on test scores are they scoring higher than neighboring communities? Is there concern that the quality of these schools will decline with further growth?

The article does raise one interesting issue. Smart Growth = more people per acre. More people per acre (i.e density) offers social benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas production due to travel. If these "Smart Growth" people are offering social benefits to the rest of New Jersey and the rest of the U.S, should the "sprawled" majority provide some tax subsidies to these noble people who are providing public goods (less greenhouse gas production) for free?

The tricky thing would be to determine what is the "optimal" density bonus to pay such communities. A benevolent planner would want to price disciminate and only offer such a bonus to communities just at the margin who are roughly indifferent between zoning for sprawl (i.e 2 houses per acre) versus smart growth (10 homes per acre). You wouldn't want to offer this subsidy to committed environmentalists who would live a green life even without an incentive. The incentive wouldn't alter their behavior. It would just be a transfer.

April 9, 2007
In Success of ‘Smart Growth,’ New Jersey Town Feels Strain

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. — The neighborhoods here seem plucked from an urban planner’s catalog: trimmed lawns, picket fences and freshly minted homes. Shopping is an easy stroll away on the wide sidewalks. A greenbelt wraps the town like a bow.

But there is growing frustration with the very thing that attracted thousands of families here in the first place: a high-density “smart-growth” development in the middle of town.

That project, the 400-acre Washington Town Center — designed according to state planning goals as a remedy to suburban sprawl — has become a victim of its own success, town officials and residents said. So many families have flocked to Washington Township, eight miles east of Trenton in Mercer County, in the nine years since construction began that the schools are overflowing, property taxes are skyrocketing and the main streets are clogged.

Overwhelmed, town officials have turned trailers into classrooms, eliminated a separate fire district to save $900,000 and lent their construction manager to Asbury Park for a $150,000 fee. Last month, they sued the state Department of Education for money they claim was unfairly cut off when Washington Township was deemed too wealthy to receive what is known as “core curriculum aid,” about $2 million a year.

“Washington Township did everything right for smart growth, but families want to live there so bad, their numbers have gone through the roof,” said George Hawkins, executive director of New Jersey Future, a nonprofit group that supports smart growth. “We’re going to undercut ourselves if we make it more expensive for people to do the right thing.”

Now Mayor David Fried is considering a drastic remedy: using eminent domain to seize undeveloped tracts and prevent developers from building hundreds of more homes, lest more young families move in.

“The last thing you want to do is turn kids into liabilities,” Mr. Fried said. “But we were slated for another 500 homes, and if we did that, it would be catastrophic because I can’t even handle the kids we have already.”

Turning away children is about the last thing anyone expected when the smart-growth concept was conceived as a family-friendly village center where homes, shopping, schools and businesses are all within walking distance. Like Celebration, Fla., and other planned communities, Washington Town Center, which covers 3 percent of Washington Township’s land, deliberately echoes early-20th-century towns.

New Jersey, like other densely populated states, has tried to encourage smart-growth policies, offering to expedite permits and other state agency requirements. Although the movement has helped New Jersey preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands, shoreline and forest, the state has had a harder time getting towns to create neighborhoods with four or five homes per acre instead of the one or two homes found in most suburbs.

Town officials fear that the extra residents will increase congestion. Developers, citing consumer demand, also say they prefer to build bigger, more expensive homes. Washington Township was the first municipality in New Jersey to build a town center from the ground up, using a planning grant of about $40,000 from the state’s Office of Smart Growth.

Defying skeptics, Washington Town Center was an immediate hit when it opened at the beginning of the decade, not just with young families, but also with empty-nesters and older residents seeking a cohesive community outside of the cities.

“Here I was a city girl, and the idea of living in the cows was making me crazy,” said Joanne Lasky, who moved with her husband to Town Center from Manhattan in 2003. “It felt like a good marriage between the city and the suburbs.”

Ms. Lasky said she also was drawn by the relatively low taxes, reasonably priced homes and easy access to New York, Trenton and Philadelphia.

To accommodate the flood of new families, Washington Township built a high school and expanded two of its three other schools, which attracted yet more families. Enrollment in Washington Township Public Schools is expected to hit 2,717 students this year, up from 1,175 students in 1998.

Property values and incomes also went up. (The current median income, $41,341, up from $30,808 in 1998, puts Washington Township in the top quarter of the state’s municipalities.) Those increases led the state to rule that Washington Township was no longer eligible for $2.2 million in annual aid used for teacher salaries and other basic school functions — money the town is suing the state to recoup.

The lost state aid might have become an afterthought if the township had been able to collect anticipated taxes from commercial property next to Town Center. Route 33, now a major thoroughfare, was supposed to be transformed into an old-fashioned commercial center, with slower traffic and parking and shops lining both sides of the street.

But the state Department of Transportation, which had initially supported the township’s plan for a bypass to detour cars heading to the New Jersey Turnpike, refused to finance the project after deciding that it would create congestion.

These days, a bank and a boutique are the only stores open on the north side of Route 33, facing a liquor store and a string of boarded-up homes and restaurants. Town officials are talking to developers about paying the $7 million needed to build the bypass.

Without the expected commercial taxes, residential property taxes in Washington Township rose 84 percent between 1998 and 2004, the latest year for which statewide figures are available.

In 2004, the average tax bill here was $6,852, more than $1,300 above the state average. In 1998, when Town Center construction began, the average was $50 below the state average.

Last year, Washington Township’s tax rate was $4.78 per $100 of assessed value, up from $2.57 per $100 of assessed value in 1998. Town officials said they plan another 7 percent increase in the tax rate this year.

The growing tax bills have led many retirees and residents without children to move out, officials said.

“Fewer and fewer buyers now are people without children,” said the town administrator, Mary Caffrey, adding that 23 percent of the original Town Center homebuyers did not have school-age children. “The people who are coming in now are, by and large, with kids. Several of the original owners have left.”

Still, towns like Alpine, Glen Ridge and Montclair have higher tax rates than Washington Township, according to New Jersey Future. In Mercer County, five towns have higher average tax bills. The tax burden relative to average incomes is also far higher in poorer places like Elizabeth and East Orange.

But taxes in Washington Township rose faster between 1998 and 2004 than in all but 13 towns in New Jersey. In Mercer County, no town experienced a steeper increase in that period.

Some Washington Township residents, as well as town officials, have started to blame smart growth for the municipal problems. While the majority of the 13,000 residents live outside Town Center, nearly all of the 2,500 who have arrived since 2000 live there.

“We’re constantly hitting a brick wall because the average resident doesn’t really get the benefits of a pedestrian-friendly concept,” said Jodi Stephens, who has lived in Washington Township for more than 20 years and is a plaintiff in the school-aid lawsuit. “I’m having to play referee.”

Mayor Fried, meanwhile, has begun soliciting bids to appraise the town’s undeveloped parcels that are zoned for 500 new homes, the first step in a potential eminent domain seizure. Last month, one of the three developers who own the land, Sam Marrazzo, headed off a showdown by agreeing to build 30,000 square feet of office space on his property instead of 36 apartments.

Mr. Fried said the town was embarking on what he acknowledged was a desperate step because the Office of Smart Growth had been unable to help Washington Township win support for its plans from the Department of Transportation and other agencies.

“We’ve won just about every award out there for smart growth, but we’re getting no help from the state,” Mr. Fried said.

Asked about the situation in Washington Township, Eileen Swan, executive director of the Office of Smart Growth, would say only that her office had “been willing to assist any municipalities to comply with smart-growth policies.” She added that her office now brings together state agencies and townships at the beginning of smart-growth planning, but that the process did not exist when Washington Township started work on its Town Center.

Ocean Township, a community of 7,500 centered on Waretown in Ocean County, expects to become one of the first three municipalities in the state to take advantage of Ms. Swan’s smart-growth process. Ocean Township has created a plan that would redirect traffic off Route 9. The state will help with grants and technical assistance and will coordinate meetings with agencies.

Ocean Township already has shrunk its planned 500-acre town center, to be built on swaths of pinelands, to 225 acres of stores, a municipal complex, a school and affordable housing connected by bike and pedestrian paths and served by a local bus line. More than 1,000 acres would be preserved as open space.

“Every state department had a say in what we’re doing, from education to transportation to agriculture, and because we’ve done it that way, now the Township of Ocean is first in line for any technical or financial assistance,” said Mayor Daniel M. Van Pelt.

As for Washington Township’s struggle, Mr. Hawkins of New Jersey Future suggested that Massachusetts’ experience might provide a solution. Towns there can receive up to $600,000 for zoning of high-density growth plans and $3,000 for each new home built under such plans. The state will also cover educational costs that towns incur as a result of their smart-growth policies.

Connecticut’s legislature is considering a bill to establish a similar system.

Tina Kelley contributed reporting.

Urban Poverty and Crime: Contrasting Boston and Mumbai, India

The Harvard Crimson is a better newspaper than the New York Times. At least, I learn more from the Crimson. This young editorialist might want to convert his murder count data into murder rates (dividing by 3 million in the case of Boston) and this might reduce his concern about the "outburst" of boston crime and allow him to get some sleep. Still, I salute his attempt to use two data points to test a theory that John Lott wouldn't like.

A Tale of Two Cities
Why the slums of Mumbai are safer than the streets of Boston

Published On 4/9/2007 1:17:56 AM


A recent spate of violent crime has Beantown’s denizens on edge. Since ringing in the new year, 16 murders have been committed in Boston—six more than had been committed by this time last year. Young people with promising futures are having their lives snuffed out mercilessly by bullets discharged from anonymous assassins’ handguns. The oldest victim thus far: a 27 year-old male.

Until recently, I had scoffed at these murder figures and presumed the danger in Boston to be grotesquely overblown—a fictionalized byproduct of the mass media’s relentless drive to bolster ratings through breaking news. How can Puritan Boston possibly be dangerous if its only notoriously disreputable district, the combat zone, no longer even exists?

But then I visited Mumbai, India over Spring Break, and my previously myopic opinion on this issue evolved dramatically. The number of recent murders in the hub is unconscionable, and a drastic new approach must be taken to thwart future killings.

With over 18 million inhabitants, Mumbai has a population density four times that of New York City, and fully half of these inhabitants are homeless. Millions live in fetid, decaying slum metropolises without running water or electricity. Only rudimentary cinderblock and aluminum sheet dwellings protect these impoverished masses from monsoon rainfalls and a sweltering sun.

Words alone cannot possibly convey the degree to which experiencing such squalid slums assaults the senses. In fact, the first thing one notices is the vile smell; An unholy concoction of industrial pollution and human excrement languishing in the sun yields a nauseating odor.

It is also worth mentioning their frenzied, lawless nature. Packed into narrow dirt allies, people hawk food products while others manically bustle about, crates held upon their heads. Others lie on the roads, attempting to sleep amidst the chaos. Walking along these roads results in sensory overload as you are jostled to and fro, being incessantly badgered for rupees. Yet nowhere can be found a uniformed official attempting to maintain any semblance of order.

Compared to the ghastly living conditions of so many Mumbaikers, the housing projects in Mattapan are akin to mini-Taj Mahal’s. Hyperbole perhaps, but the point I am trying to make is that it would be reasonable to anticipate that Mumbai’s murder rate would far exceed Boston’s.

Mumbai’s mixture of extreme poverty and a lack of law enforcement should dictate this. Yet as of March 31, only 133 murders had been registered in all of Mumbai since New Years. This means that there has been one murder for roughly every 136,000 people this year, whereas Boston has had 16 murders in a city of under 600,000–roughly one murder for every 37,000 people. As hard as it is believe, you are over 3.5 times more likely to be murdered in the streets of Boston than in the slums of Mumbai. Just how is this possible?

It is as simple as a difference in attitudes towards guns. As in Western European countries, gun laws in the Indian state of Maharashta where Mumbai is located are quite strict. While it is technically possible to obtain a gun license, few are granted. Even Bollywood stars have been denied firearm licenses for protection in the past. As a result, guns in Mumbai have a negative stigma attached to them, not social cachet.

By contrast, American culture loves its guns. Guns are glorified not only in rap videos, but also by politicians pandering to their gun-obsessed electoral bases. In the last week alone, our former Governor W. Mitt Romney has been doing rhetorical somersaults, attempting to prove that his self-professed ardor for hunting is not a campaign hoax.

I’m no sociologist, but considering that the shootings in Boston have taken place in some of the city’s least affluent areas, there appears a direct correlation between poverty and violence here. The most destitute young Bostonians turn to guns and gangs out of desperation. Yet India’s impoverished seem far less likely to view these as viable options. Massachusetts may have some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States, but they are still more lax than those in Maharashta, and little is done to negate the pro-gun ethos of Boston’s youth.

Measures being taken to curb the violence by politicians today—from increasing the Boston police force by 60 troopers to allowing the red-bereted neighborhood watch group the Guardian Angels to return to Boston—are short term fixes at best. They do nothing to alter a cultural predisposition towards violent gun culture. Once the funding for increased trooper numbers dries up and the Guardian Angels skip town, the murder rate will again spike.

To effectively combat this violence in Boston over the long term, Massachusetts’ politicians should actively promote a culture of non-violence: Gun control laws as strict as those in Europe and Mumbai should be drafted—our “right to bear arms” should no longer extend to include the right to brandish lethal handguns. Politicians of all stripes, not only limousine liberals, must also publicly denounce guns, the National Rifle Association be damned. Finally, a comprehensive program denouncing violence and promoting pacifism should be implemented in Boston’s primary schools. After all, everyone can learn a thing or two from Mohandas Gandhi.

Stephen C. Bartenstein ’08 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.