Showing posts from June, 2009

Climate change deniers: betrayal or just plain wrong?

Paul Krugman's column yesterday on climate change politics was particularly pointed, even for Paul Krugman. He writes: Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice. Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause. Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the resu

Capping C02 emissions costs 18 cents per person per day

A new report by CBO says cap-and-trade will cost 18 cents per person per day. And a big hand slap for Nat Keohane (of Environmental Defense Fund) for saying the cost was just a dime a day . Yeah, I take such estimates lightly and tack on a lot of uncertainty. But CBO isn't biased. Can someone explain to me why this is controversial? Update : One big thing getting in the way of climate change legislation is deciding who gets to count all the carbon , particularly the offset part, which will be complicated. It's a conflict between two agencies that love each other dearly: USDA and EPA . Conflicts and a culture of distrust between these agencies go way back. On some level I think it's superficial stuff. Farmers don't know or like the EPA but do know and at least feel comfortable with their local FSA guys. Anyway, it's funny how agriculture always gets in the way on policy matters much bigger than itself, everything from trade agreements to climate change.

Nick Kristoff gets Michael Pollanized

I really like Nick Kristoff. He likes to dig in hard to see things from all sides. And then he takes a stand. Here I'm not so sure he dug into the other side. Growing up on a farm near Yamhill, Ore., I quickly learned to appreciate the difference between fresh, home-grown foods and the commercial versions in the supermarket. Store-bought lettuce was always lush, green and pristine, and thus vastly preferable to lettuce from my Mom’s vegetable garden (organic before we called it that). Her lettuce kept me on my toes, because a caterpillar might come crawling out of my salad. We endured endless elk and venison — my Dad is still hunting at age 90 — or ate beef from steers raised on our own pasture, but “grass-fed” had no allure for me. I longed for delicious, wholesome food that my friends in town ate. Like hot dogs. Over the years, though, I’ve become nostalgic for an occasional bug in my salad...profoundly unhealthy American diet. I’ve often criticized America’s health care s

Free trade meets organic

I'm guessing this announcement inspired mixed feelings among foodies. Economists love it, of course. AGRICULTURE DEPUTY SECRETARY MERRIGAN ANNOUNCES U.S. – CANADA AGREEMENT FOR ORGANIC TRADE EQUIVALENCE CHICAGO, June 17, 2009 -- Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced that a first-of-its-kind agreement has been reached between the United States and Canada that will expand opportunities for organic producers in both countries. The "equivalency agreement" follows a review by both nations of the other's organic certification program and a determination that products meeting the standard in the United States can be sold as organic in Canada, and vice versa. Merrigan made this announcement at the All Things Organic Trade Show and Conference in Chicago this morning. "The production of organic foods is a vibrant growth opportunity for American agriculture, and by agreeing on a common set of organic principles with Canada, we are expan

Review of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food (and the Kindle app for iphone)

Michael Pollan's latest was my first. First ebook purchase, that is. I bought it using the Kindle application on my iphone--very cool. I'm sure reading on the iphone is nowhere near as nice as reading on a genuine Kindle, but the price is better (the app is free). Reading a book on the iphone is actually a much more pleasant experience than I expected. The font size is adjustable, and though you read a lot of tiny pages, flipping them is a super simple, super fast swipe of the thumb. During the times inbetween--you know, on metro trains, airports, planes, taxicabs, sometimes even while walking--I've managed to read two books. Beside's Pollan, I also read Akerlof and Shiller's Animal Spirits on the iphone. Okay, on to Michael Pollan. There is a lot I like about this book. Far better than your average agricultural economist, and surely better than yours truly, Pollan can draw the interest of a broad audience and accurately describe some of the dizzying and

Home prices and fundamentals

We all know the housing bubble story and how so many economists, and business, finance and real estate professionals got it all wrong. While I was never in the business mortgage lending or forecasting home prices, I was one of those economists who got it all wrong. So, for the record, I like to spell out what I was thinking and why I was thinking it. I'm doing this for the following reasons: (1) to dispell the idea that all of this was or should have been totally obivous; (2) so that I might be less likely to make the same mistake; (3) because I think the dialog may now placing too much emphasis on bubbles and too little on fundamentals. I'm motivated to do this in part from having just read Akerlof and Shiller's new and excellent book "Animal Spirits." Akerlof and Shiller present a compelling case. But I don't think they fully present the most rational justification for what was causing the boom as it happened, even if animal spirits had a clear role in

Extreme heat, historical heat tolerance, and implications for climate change

Last weekend at the NBER meeting Climate Change: Past and Present , my coauthor Wolfram Schlenker presented some of our new research on the evolution of heat tolerance in corn plants. First some background: In earlier research we found that corn, soybeans, and cotton yields all have a similar characteristic relationship with temperature: yields increase with temperature up to a critical threshold and then decline sharply. The critical temperature for corn and soybeans is about 29 degrees Celsius (84 F). This one variable [degree days above 29 C] explains about 70 percent of the typical surprise in corn yields each year--about as good as the USDA's August forecast. And the relationship is negative: the more extreme heat, the lower is yield. To correctly identify this relationship we had to do careful analysis of weather data to obtain the time at each degree within each day and across days of the growing season. We also had to account for variations in temperatures between

Pindyck vs. Weitzman: How much should we spend to curb global warming?

I spent last weekend at an excellent NBER Conference, Climate Change: Past and Present. There was lots of interesting stuff I’d love to blog about, and hopefully will soon. But a highlight was a fantastic exchange between two proverbial giants on the Big Climate Change Question. I'm paraphrasing arguments from memory here, so hopefully I don't misrepresent either of these guys. And apologies in advance if this seems too technical.. Robert Pindyck went first. He presented a more-or-less standard representative agent macro model of the world economy and built in a lot of assumptions about various kinds of uncertainty surrounding the effect of warming on output. His model had welfare as a function of output and output growth as a function of temperature change. Importantly, it seems, he assumed temperature change could not affect utility in any manner other than output—a seemingly strong assumption in my book (we all study state-dependent utility, no?). He emphasized many a