Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category
The main factor that will determine the economic wellbeing of our children and grandchildren will be the strength of the economy that we pass down to them. This will depend, in turn, on the quality of the capital and infrastructure we pass onto them, along with the level of education we give them, the state of technical knowledge we achieve and the state of the natural environment.
If we cut the deficit by making spending cuts that affect our progress in these areas, we will be making our children worse-off, not better-off. Of course, leaving their parents unemployed for long periods of time will not improve our children’s wellbeing either.
If the deficit has little to with the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren, global warming has everything to do with it. We run the risk of handing them a planet without many of the fascinating features that we had the opportunity to enjoy (for example, coral reefs that are dying, plant and animal species that are becoming extinct, landscapes that are being transformed). Far more seriously, we face the likelihood of handing them a planet in which hundreds of millions of people risk death by starvation due to drought in central Africa, or through flooding in Bangladesh and other densely populated low-lying areas in Asia, as a result of human caused global warming.
Merry Christmas — here are five climate change themed Christmas cartoons.
It’s the time of year when most bloggers compile a list of the top stories of the year in their beat. Rather than come up with my own list, which would likely be similar to many of the others, here are some of the best lists others have created in recent days.
Climate Progress: Top 10 Clean Energy Stories of 2011 (with Charts)
Harvard Business Review: Top 10 Green Business Stories of 2011
The Hill: Top 10 Energy Stories of 2011
On Earth Magazine: The Best Environmental Journalism of 2011
Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Top Environmental Stories of 2011
Mongabay: Top 10 Environmental Stories 2011
Outside Magazine: Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2011
Oregon Public Broadcasting: The Top Environmental Stories of 2011
In an Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore lamented the fact that American media outlets give more column space to skeptical views than the scientific debate warrants. He cites a 2004 study entitled “Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the US Prestige Press” (PDF). The study, which was published in the journal Global Environmental Change by researchers from UC Santa Cruz and American University, found that more than half of the mainstream press accounts of climate change between 1988 and 2002 gave equal coverage to skeptical views held by a slim minority of scientists.
In a new study (abstract here, PDF), published last week by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ), researchers compared media coverage of climate change in six countries — the UK, the US, China, Brazil, India and France — to see how often climate change skepticism is covered favorably in each:
A team of researchers led by RISJ’s James Painter examined more than 3,000 articles from two different newspaper titles in each country during two separate periods. In each country (apart from China), the newspapers were selected to represent divergent political viewpoints. The periods studied were February to April 2007 and mid-November 2009 to mid-February 2010 (a period that included the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen and ‘Climategate’).
I bet you can guess which countries’ mainstream news outlets gave the most favorable coverage to climate change deniers. The study found that “newspapers in the UK and the US have given far more column space to the voices of climate sceptics than the press in Brazil, France, India and China.” In fact, “more than 80 per cent of the times that sceptical voices were included, they were in pieces in the UK and US press.”
James Painter, one of the researchers who conducted the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism study, speculates on the cause:
There are politicians in the UK and the US who espouse some variation of climate scepticism. Both countries also have organisations for ‘climate change sceptics’ that provide a sceptical voice for the media, particularly in those media outlets that are more receptive to this message. This is why we see more sceptical coverage in the Anglo-Saxon countries than we do in the other countries in the study where one or more of those factors appear to be absent.
So how does this play out in the realm of public opinion? A 2010 World Bank poll (large PDF) of public attitudes on climate change in sixteen countries provides some clue. The poll didn’t measure public opinion in China or the United Kingdom, but for the four countries examined in the RISJ study (the US, Brazil, France and India), the findings match up as you might predict. When asked whether addressing climate change should be given a high priority, Americans are less likely to agree (page 10). And when asked when climate change will harm people substantially, Americans are less likely to say it will do so now or soon (page 10).
These studies, along with considerable anecdotal evidence, indicate two things: 1) The mainstream American press reports on the issue of climate change inaccurately, in a way that provides false balance, and 2) Americans are less likely than residents of many other countries to understand climate change.
What isn’t clear is whether the chicken or the egg came first. That is, are Americans less likely to understand climate change because the mainstream press reports on the issue inaccurately, or does the mainstream press report on climate change inaccurately because Americans are less likely to understand climate change?
Unfortunately, both factors are probably at play in a self-reinforcing cycle.
When Ralph Nader signed my copy of Unsafe at Any Speed, he inscribed it “For lives saved!” The book explained the dangers of automobiles and the industry’s resistance to addressing them. As Nader points out, seat belts, airbags and other safety improvements made to automobiles have saved thousands upon thousands of lives.
And so has the Clean Air Act.
In a post cleverly entitled How Many Baby Boys Did the Clean Air Act Save?, the editors at the Freakonomics blog looked at a new study that explores the effects of environmental policy on fetal health outcomes.
From the study’s abstract:
We present the gender ratio of live births as an under-exploited metric of fetal health and apply it to examine the effects of air quality on fetal health. Males are more vulnerable to side effects of maternal stress in utero, and thus are more likely to suffer fetal death due to pollution exposure. We demonstrate this metric in the context of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 (CAAA) which provide a source of exogenous variation in county-level ambient total suspended particulate matter (TSPs).
And from the study’s conclusion:
We find a statistically and economically significant association between ambient TSP levels and the fraction of live births that are male: a one unit increase in annual ambient TSP levels is associated with approximately a 0.088 percentage point change in the probability of a live birth being male, and a standard deviation increase in the annual average TSPs (approximately 35 micrograms per cubic meter) is associated with a 3.1 percentage point change. These effects are larger when considering particularly vulnerable subgroups, such as less educated mothers, single mothers, and black children.
We convert this gender ratio change into a potential measure of fetal deaths prevented by the TSP reductions caused by the CAAA. We discuss a number of possible metrics, and estimate a range of 21,000 to 134,000 avoided fetal deaths, or 2 to 13 percent of the birth population in those counties.