Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Causes and Consequences of Environmentalism

When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was impressed by the fact that each of the senior faculty had a "research program". These ambitious fellows sought to answer a single question and took years crafting their papers. At the start of my career, I didn't imitate them. Instead, I engaged in some "hit and run" applied micro. I'd track down a data set, do something clever and write it up and move on. A wise move?

In recent years, I have stumbled upon two big research questions. One concerns cities and climate change and examining both mitigation and adaptation issues. Climatopolis is the big "deliverable" from this research program.

I have also been fascinated by the causes and consequences of environmentalism. On the consequences of environmentalism, here are 4 smart papers

paper #1

paper #2


paper #3

paper #4

I have circulated a paper that I hope the Journal of Urban Economics will soon accept that documents that more liberal/environmentalist cities block new housing development in California relative to the average city in the same metropolitan area (think of Berkeley versus Emeryville).

I have also done some work on the causes of environmentalism. One paper was about the "silver lining" of natural disasters: see this paper .


Recently, Matt Kotchen and I released this paper .

Environmental Concern and the Business Cycle: The Chilling Effect of Recession

This paper uses three different sources of data to investigate the association between the business cycle—measured with unemployment rates—and environmental concern. Building on recent research that finds internet search terms to be useful predictors of health epidemics and economic activity, we find that an increase in a state’s unemployment rate decreases Google searches for “global warming” and increases searches for “unemployment,” and that the effect differs according to a state’s political ideology. From national surveys, we find that an increase in a state’s unemployment rate is associated with a decrease in the probability that residents think global warming is happening and reduced support for the U.S to target policies intended to mitigate global warming. Finally, in California, we find that an increase in a county’s unemployment rate is associated with a significant decrease in county residents choosing the environment as the most important policy issue. Beyond providing the first empirical estimates of macroeconomic effects on environmental concern, we discuss the results in terms of the potential impact on environmental policy and understanding the full cost of recessions.


All sorts of people ranging from Rush Limbaugh, to the Freakonomics Blog, to Andrew Leonard are talking about it.

I don't write papers to be cute. I'm interested in cause and effect. Leading economists have argued that recessions are good for the environment because the economy slows down. Matt Kotchen and I have figured out a rigorous way to test this claim and we counter with a more nuanced claim that the median voter loses interest in environmental policy tightening during recessions. If this hypothesis stands up, then greens need booms to make progress in promoting their progressive agenda. That is interesting and we are challenging the conventional wisdom.

Why are greens green? When would Rush Limbaugh go green? If more people were green, how would each live their lives? In aggregate, would this really help to shrink our "footprint"? My research program seeks to answer these questions.

For young graduate students looking for something to work on, I encourage you to join me! You know where to find me.

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