Friday, August 09, 2013

Chapter Eleven: The Challenge of Reducing Global Greenhouse Gas Production

Chapter 11 focuses on the global externality of greenhouse gas production.  I start by using some World Bank WDI Data to show students some interesting facts about trends in GHG production.  It is important for curious students to learn how to use data to generate new descriptive facts.

The chapter takes a mildly interesting turn when I sketch the challenge of quantifying the "social cost of carbon".  This elusive Holy Grail remains a topic of deep interest to environmental economists who interact with Washington D.C policy makers.   As I discuss in chapter 11, I do not believe that it can be measured but I appreciate the importance of generating some number that is greater than zero.   As I argue in my Climatopolis book, the social marginal cost of releasing an extra ton of carbon declines over time as we make adaptation progress (note that I'm assuming that atmospheric CO2 parts per million is held constant here).   I recognize that over time we both have more adaptation strategies and atmospheric CO2 levels are rising.  My point refers to the counter-factual time trend in the social cost of carbon holding the second factor at a fixed value.

The chapter then takes an exciting turn when the division between Red and Blue States over trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Why don't Republicans take this serious issue more seriously?

"Could an unintended consequence of Al Gore’s relentless focus on climate change as a moral imperative be that his activism turned this issue away from being a bipartisan national security issue and transformed it into a pet liberal issue.  This might explain why many smart Republicans refuse to even engage on this idea.  Facing this reality of ongoing political partisanship, is there any hope of building a majority coalition?  Some environmentalists view a silver lining of horrible storms such as Hurricane Sandy as a means for catalyzing attention.   Here I discuss another possible way to build a low carbon coalition.  This is both a joke and a serious point!
Do U.S air travelers lose due to bad weather at their origin or destination and how many more hours they might lose in the future if current hub patterns continued and climate change led to a higher frequency of bad weather and if the weather shocks were more severe. If U.S citizens thought through the private costs of allowing climate change to take place that they might be more willing to accept some short run pain (i.e higher gas taxes and carbon taxes) to avoid such future costs.  My research question really has two pieces to it:  For different types of flights across the U.S, how much time on average will delays increase as climate shocks increase?  How much do different people suffer (i.e how much are they willing to pay to avoid a long airport delay?) when a delay takes place?"
The chapter goes on to present some data about how greenhouse gas emissions vary across the United States. Here I use recent Vulcan data from my co-authored 2013 Economic Inquiry paper.

The chapter ends with a good discussion of the microeconomic factors determining whether a nation relies on coal, natural gas or renewables as its power source and focuses on Japan's recent choice to reduce its reliance on nuclear. I do some arithmetic showing how Japan's choice will increase global greenhouse gas emissions and provide an estimate of this global externality.  

As I keep saying, for a $2 16 chapter book, I'm offering some serious consumer surplus!