Coase Colored Glasses

Friday, April 29, 2005

Beating the Prisoner's Dilemma

Here's an older article telling how a new system beat the old champions in an ongoing Prisoner's Dilemma scenario. Tit for Tat is no longer the reigning strategy champion.

The trick is to have your opening moves signal to your opponent. If they are from your "team", one becomes the "master" and takes the winning strategy, and the other becomes a "slave" and adopts a strategy that will give the "master" the biggest payoff. Basic sacrificial tactics. Apparently Southampton took the top three positions in this competition, along with most of the bottom ones. Not sure how it would do in any other circumstances, though.

Hybrid Fun

A technology that I am really interested in is hybrid cars and trucks. I keep waiting for a good hybrid Chevy half ton to come out. According to this article, they are getting closer, but I'm not entirely conviced of the technonlogy that they're putting out.

My point is, I guess, I'm pretty excited about the potential for better gas mileage and less pollution. The only question is whether the decreased money spent on gas will equal an increase in driving.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Weapons of mass destruction

I recently read an article by John Hougton, a climatologist, wherein he compares global warming to a weapon of mass destruction. His claims are that the warming is causing the more and more freakish weather patterns. I'l be honest, I don't know much about the issue, nor have i formed an opinion either way.

The issue that I have isn't the idea that global warming is occuring, but what can realistically be done about it. As much as we like to thinkwe do, the united states does not run the world, and we can't force other countries to adhere to global environmental policy.

If anybody has a viable solution, please post and let me know.

Fifteen bears

I was reading an article on how Montana just rejected a proposal to build a mine below the cabinet mountains. They so because they were worried about how it might affect the local Grizzly population. All 15 of them. Now, from the picture, I gather that its a beautiful place that people ought to fight to protect, but to sacrifice industry based on the argument that we need to protect 15 bears is ridiculous.

Envirosense

As I was working on a project for another class I came across the envirosense website. This is a site dedicated to "commen sense solutions to environmental problems". There are levels for Federal, state and local, or international government. Looking around I found the envirnomental accounting/banking section. There are several links to other pages and articles about this topic. There is a similar page on energy efficiency. Many of these links are related to the EPA because the envirosense website is part of the EPA's website.

Through this site I found the EPA innovations strategy. This speaks about the EPA recognizing the need "for a broader set of tools than we have relied upon in the past to address increasingly complex problems." If there are increasingly complex problems, and we know there are everytime new technology and new ideas comes out, there must be new solutions. As we have talked about in the past I think about all the ways that could be found to help prevent some of these new problems if the EPA's regulations allowed for more creativity. For more creativity there is often a need for incentives to be creative. The EPA says "Compliance Incentives are a set of policies and programs that eliminate, reduce or waive penalties..."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Workers make Big Mistake

Two weeks ago Salt Lake County workers made a serious mistake, and it was caught on camera. You can find the story here.
While cleaning out debris from catch drain basins, the two workers decided that instead of disposing the waste into the proper place, they would drive to the nearest drain and dump it. The problem was that this drain emptied right into a nearby river. To make things worse, one of the residents from the local area recorded the acts on camera. The public works director stated that the debris was mostly just "muddy water"; which I'm sure is an attempt to diffuse the situation.
However, he claimed the the County will set the example, and pay the 1000 dollar fine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Subsidies

I was reading about subsidies and the affects the have on the world around us here. It seems if our government keeps subsidiesing america we will lose many trading partners.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild

I know that we as humans are invading on the natural habitat of certain wildlife species, but if something doesnt happen we are slowely killing off the wildlife near us. Take Banff Canada for example, people there drive down the road not thinking about what they are doing and are slowely killing of the natural species there in the park. This is the same in the city of Banff. The elk there are venturing further and further in to the city. Last year some gentlemen was taking a picture of this so called tame elk, what an idiot. When the elk statrted to charge him and made a shishkabob with him and the elks horn. The park had to kill this elk so he wouldnt do anything like that again. This is a perfect example of people venturing onto a willifes territory. We are visitors there, they are not visitors on our property.

Green Grazing

While job searching, I ran across this article about the Aridland Grazing Network, published on the Nature Conservancy's website. I think its great to see that TNC has widened its view of grazing to include... well... grazing.

For so many years TNC avoided collaboration on grazing and went straight for permit buy-outs on public lands, and a rewards system for not grazing on privately owned lands. The Aridland Grazing Network is just that; a network. TNC hosts workshops in which interested parties can meet and input their ideas.

I think its great to see that the agency has began to work with ranchers on finding better ways to graze. After all, a ecologically productive area does not necessarily have to be economically unproductive.

Utah's DWR

Just this past Monday, April 25th, Jim Karpowitz was named the new director of Utah's division of wildlife resources. According to this article, Karpowitz is going to be facing some serious challenges in his first year as director. Due to recent changes in retirement benefits, at least 8 of the top fisheries biologists will retire by the end of the year. With over 150 years of fisheries experience between them, Karpowitz will be forced to recruit biologists that have little or no experience. Before Karpowitz was named director in DWR, he was mainly involved in Big-Game management. I wonder what effects the loss of experienced biologists will have on the way that fisheries are managed in Utah. I know that Utah doesn't even compare to say Idaho or Montana when it comes to fisheries, and things probably won't get better with such drastic changes in the DWR.
Karpowitz acknowledged that young anglers and hunters, from which the DWR receives revenue, are beginning to lose interest in Utah's outdoors, which could create problems in the future if their interest is not regained.

Conservation Banking

Conservation banks are permanently protected privately or publicly owned lands that are managed for endangered, threatened, and other at-risk species. A conservation bank is like a biological bank account. Instead of money, the bank owner has habitat or species credits to sell. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approves habitat or species credits based on the natural resource values on the bank lands. In exchange for permanently protecting the bank lands and managing them for listed and other at-risk species, conservation bank owners may sell credits to developers or others who need to compensate for the environmental impacts of their projects.
I wonder if the same people that thought up pollution emissions trading were in on this idea. Is it just me, or does it seem a little wrong to pay someone else for habitat that you intend to destroy. Looky here for more details on the FWS program.

changes to recreation for municiple water use

Chatfield Reservoir is a lake in Colorado built to control flooding from the South Platte River and Plum Creek. Chatfield is also one of the largest recreational waters in the Denver Metro area. It is located south of Denver and may soon serve as a storage reservior for some of the surrounding cities (suburbs of Denver) such as Castle Rock, Parker, Highlands Ranch, Brighton, and others. The problem becomes what will happen to the recreation on the lake. The Rocky Mountain News reports that if the proposed changes are approved, $100 million plus will be needed because, "The change in use would raise Chatfield's shoreline as much as 12 feet, forcing relocation of the swim beach, marina, several boat ramps and some picnic areas. " The change would require less room saved for flood waters and more room used to store municiple and agriculture water.

The Chatfiled dam was built in 1967 and became a recreational area in 1974 and a park in 1976. Since then there are things for everyone to do: hiking, camping, boating, fishing, etc., there is even a model-airplane field and hot air baloons, all just south of the Denver metro area.

Erosion control

Is it better to control erosion with netting or other synthetic products or natural plant material. More than that, is erosion always a bad thing?

Most people think of erosion and they think of it as a bad thing. In many cases it can mean losing precious farm land, making the land less productive and yes, that erosion can be bad. However, without erosion southern Utah/northern Arizona would have nothing. The Grand Canyon and Arches National Park are examples of natural erosion that causes natural beauty that people are willing to pay for, and each state uses those areas to bring in tourism.

When erosion happens on farmland however, problems begin to happen. The top soil is the most fertile and productive part of a soil profile. So how should erosion be slowed. Notice I said slowed, not prevented. Soil erosion is not something that can be completely prevented, unless there is nothing but concrete over ever inch of the earths' surface. I know we don't want that.

Different landscapes require different erosion control depending on soil texture, soil structure, slope, plants, etc. For example, Erosion control Journal has an article on shoreline erosion. Shoreline erosion is a natural thing. Its how beaches are created and moved along a coast. With human interference, problems can arise. This article specifically deals with coastal erosion but shoreline erosion is happening right here in Cache Valley. Cutler reservoir loses 61 tons of soil into the lake every year. Dr. Bob Newhall with the USU extension is currently working on a project to help control soil erosion on the coast of Cutler Reservoir.

Erosion is a big issue, big enough to have its own journals, websites, books, and whatnot. So keep your eyes out for erosion, just watch out that you don't get soil in your eyes.

Trumping Incentives

Ive been thinking about incentives, about how to predict them etc. And i have been able to come up with three things that can trump, change, make people ignore incentives that were create. The three i have come up with are religion, jeleousy, and revenge.
Jeleousy and revenge are ususally irrational emotions that cause irrational (not always but most of the time). These can never be eradicated, and are hard to adjust for on every occassion, because they are irrational, these emotions crerate their own negative incentive.
Religion or religion hierarchy's to be more precise creates incentives. Take this link, now there isnt anything controversial or earthshattering, but it just illustrates that mandates by those higher up in the organization can change or influence the incentives of those that follow.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Get out the tin-foil hats

Sony has a patent on a method for beaming sensory stimuli directly into the brain. I'm not sure how they got the patent; there have been no tests to date, it's just a theory for which they claimed the rights.

Patent law is a unique thing; you can patent anything from untested mind control techniques to combovers.

Tradeoffs

A good friend of mine sent me a link to this page. When we talk about the exorbitant cost of protecting the environment and governments responsibility to fund it; its interesting to see what other obligations they face...

Educating Educators

The Union of Concerned Scientists has posted here the curriculum that they would like to see taught in public schools. The classroom kits contain "ideas for student-led education and action campaigns." I remember the pleas by impassioned public school teachers trying to get us to conserve. I remember even more vividly the day my little brother came home from school with an assignment to do a research paper on grizzly bears. When I told him that they weren't 'almost extinct' he broke into tears explaining what his teacher had told him: people had almost destroyed the entire noble species.

Why all the alarm when environmental quality is substantially better than it was 30 years ago? (see this link) Maybe public support for rational environmental policy is only a dream until we can educate our educators...

Predators, are they important?

I saw a preview for an episode that PBS was going to be putting on in the next few days. The show was about the importance of the predator in nature. It will be talking about what effects predators have on ecosystems and what happens when there is a lack of predators. The predators mentioned range from sharks and how they effect ocean life to wolves in Yellowstone and what effects they have. Since the show has not been on yet I am not sure about everything it will talk about but I did look it up on the PBS website and you can go here to find a lot of good information. The program schedule said that the episode will be on KUED Channel-7 Wednesday April 27th at 8:00p.m. I would encourage you to watch, I also recommend the show on any other day.

If there's any doubt about whether incentives matter...

The CEO of Opera Software promised that if one million copies of Opera 8 were downloaded within four days, he'd swim from Oslo, Norway to the U.S. One million, fifty thousands downloads later, he started on his journey.

I want to thank each and every one of the one million plus people who have downloaded Opera 8 over the last days. I am proud to say that this is the most successful browser launch in the ten-year history of Opera. I have received numerous requests over the weekend on whether or not I am going to swim to the USA should we reach one million downloads. Although I blatantly admit that my promise was based more on joy and enthusiasm than my swimming abilities and physical health, I will do my very best to keep it.


Read more about the Opera software company's 1 Million Download Challenge at their home page.

Emissions Reduction -- Pigouvian Approach

After reading all the posts on alternative/renewable energy and the goal to reduce auto emissions, it struck me that the subsidies have been highly ineffective. Only Pigou has provided a solution to high emissions - a gasoline tax. This link gives a table of European gas prices (pushed artificially high by heavy taxation). Gas in the Netherland costs 1.31 Euros per liter - that makes $6.79 a gallon for unleaded using today's exchange rate. No wonder Europeans drive environmentally friendly cars like this.

I guess the question is: are we willing to reduce emissions at the cost of $6.79 a gallon? Because by the time the subsidies work, it will probably cost more than that.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

bye bye bycatch

While studying fisheries, we learned about the problem of bycatch and the wastfulness of it. I just found an article announcing the winners of a contest sponsored by the WWF to design fishing gear that reduces bycatch.

The grand prize winner's modification is meant to eliminate the accidental catching of more than 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherback turtles that are caught each year by long-line fishing crews. It's really simple: put weights on the main line to sink the hooks lower than 325 ft. Turtles typically dive no deeper than 300 ft. As an added bonus, the target species like tuna are usually found lower than 325'. It's such an obvious solution!

Another winning entry is a combination of glowing ropes and stiffer nets to help protect whales, dolphins and porpoises. Their design would help these marine mammals detect and avoid gill nets. More than 300,000 of these mammals are killed each year.

From the article: The National Fisheries Institute, a U.S. association that represents fishing fleets, fishing processors and restaurants, worked with the WWF on the Smart Gear Competition.

"We certainly support this research," said Stacey Felzenberg, manager of communications and coalitions for NFI.

"It saves the sea animals not meant to be caught, it reduces wasted fish, and time. It is in our economic interest to reduce bycatch as well," she said. She said an important aspect of the competition was that the winning entries had to be reasonable in cost.

Just another example of human ingenuity solving a problem in an economic way.

boosting acerage

I was looking at changing water flows of a river or stream illegelay and found this guy who did just that.
A farmer has pleaded not guilty to charges he rerouted parts of the Wind River to add 300 acres to his property.
How can a farmer use as much water as he was doing, or where was it going. Now the river is scared for life it is no longer in the natural stream bed. This can be dissasterous for people down the drainage.

The rising of Lake Powell

It has been a good 7-9 years since the state of Utah has seen this much snow and water. Lake Powell is projected to rise 45 ft from now until july that doesnt include al of the storms that we recieve during the rainy season here in the state. I have seen the lake rise and then I have seen it fall it is like a big roller coaster. Now We get to seeit rise again. The only problem with the rising of the lake again is that demand for the water down the drainage is going to go up while the demand up the drainage will go down, who will win.
In a tug-of-war for water, the upper basin states want the total release lowered, while the lower basin states want it to remain at 8.23 million acre-feet, despite the fact that the lower states had an exceptionally wet winter and received more than 2 million acre-feet of additional water. A decision on the release figure is expected later this month.
Also if the Sierra Club has thier way they will run more tests on the pumps of the lak just to drop the level more that it already is.
I agree with most of what the Sierra Cub does but what they are trying to do with Lake Powell is obsurd. I agree that the lak was amistake in the first place but it is here now and it would do more damage to drain it that it would to keep it here.

Heavy subsidies from taxpayers

Public land livestock grazing is simply a huge waste of money. Last year, the Forest Service and BLM lost twice as much money on grazing programs as they spent to restore endangered species habitat. In one year, they spend over $100 million on managing livestock grazing and receive only $15 million in fees from ranchers. To put this into perspective, it costs a rancher $1.35 per cow/calf pair per month (a sheep pair is only 27 cents). That means it costs more to feed your hamster than it does to feed a 1000 lb. cow!! Compare that with the private land market value of a cow/calf pair at $11.10 and the disparity is obvious. In addition, half the $1.35 fee is given back to ranchers in the form of “range betterment funds” to pay for fences, water tanks and equipment

People out pacing water

In the park City Snyderville basin area the growth is phenomenal. Most people are building 2-4 million dollar houses. You know that if people are buying houses like that they are not going to care about how much water they use, because they will have the money to pay for it. In 2001 the demand for water was 9,800 acre feet per year. The supply was able to keep up with that amount. by 2030 demand will be 19,900 acre feet and the supply will be 12,800 acre feet. By 2050 demand will be 27,200 acre feet and supply will be 13,900 acre feet. This area of the state of Utah is out pacing its water supply and soon there is not going to be enough to support the area. The people in the basin need to start conserving the water they have right now or else there is not going to be any.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A Case for Government Regulation?

Here is an op-ed from the NYT about invasive species. Invasive species are species that are transported out of their original habitat into new areas where they have subsequent harmful effects. Many of these species are carried in the ballast water of ships from all over the world. If you don’t have a subscription to NYT online (it is free) here is the article:

When Nature Assaults Itself
By ALAN BURDICK

LATE one afternoon not long ago, I stood on the bridge of an Alaska-bound oil tanker, trying to divine our ecological future from the encircling horizon: a gray band of haze separating an overcast sky from the slate-gray sea.
One key element of this future lay not in the surrounding sea and sky but several decks below my feet: the countless plants and animals - from single-celled diatoms and dinoflagellates to microscopic, shrimplike copepods, larval mollusks and crustaceans - thriving in the million-odd gallons of ballast water the ship had taken on in San Francisco Bay and would eventually deposit north of the 48th parallel, in Valdez. In recent years marine biologists have documented that an astonishing range of living organisms is inadvertently carried in ballast water to ports around the world, threatening our economies and our health and diminishing the biological diversity of Earth as a whole.
Far from the minds of the founders of Earth Day 35 years ago, invasive species are a new kind of threat, wrought by nature against nature itself - albeit with an assist from humankind. The hazards of pollution and habitat destruction are comparatively easy to grasp. Invasive species impose a different variety of environmental changes - often subtle and slow to manifest, hard to forecast and challenging to combat.
At any given moment some 35,000 ships large and small are at sea, bearing our wants and needs - petroleum, corn feed, wood chips, automobiles - from one port to another. Ballast water is essential to that motion. Taken on to aid stability and propulsion, ballast water does for the modern cargo ship what sandbags do for a hot-air balloon. Unfortunately, it can also carry comb jellies from the East Coast to the Black Sea, Japanese sea stars to Australia, and voracious green crabs from Europe to San Francisco Bay.
Many, perhaps most, of the organisms do not survive their odysseys. But with so much ballast water in motion around the world, many organisms inevitably do. And even one can inflict profound changes on its new habitat. The Eurasian zebra mussel reached Lake St. Clair via ballast water in the 1980's; it now lives throughout the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and in more than 350 lakes and ponds. No larger than a pistachio, it thrives in such dense profusion that it has sunk navigational buoys. It crowds out native species and hogs the nutrients that other organisms require.
Our current environmental legislation is poorly equipped to cope with this kind of invasion. Laws like the Endangered Species Act are intended to protect specific, known organisms from specific, known threats. Ecological invasion does not submit to such clarity. One can identify which species, like the zebra mussel, have already proved troublesome. But as great a risk comes from the yet unidentified invaders - the zebra mussels of tomorrow. Scientists cannot accurately predict which organism will invade where, nor which native organisms will be most affected when the unknown threat arrives. The only certainty is that, inevitably, something - many somethings - will invade, by which point the moment for interception will have passed.
Congress is finally grappling with this new ecological reality. Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2005, which would authorize money for research, the control and monitoring of existing and new threats, and the improved regulation of the biologically rich ballast water that arrives with international ships. Notably, it would require all ships to report their ballast operations and would offer ship owners incentives to test new ballast-treatment technologies. The bill is a worthy effort to update the National Invasive Species Act of 1996, which expired in 2002. Critics may carp about the cost - $836 million over several years - but that is a small fraction of the cost that the zebra mussel already exacts.
In the end, alien species are a reflection of us; they are the respiring extensions of our own ambitions on Earth. Where we go, they follow. But it needn't be that way. As biological entities, invasions may be natural, but that doesn't mean they're welcome.
Alan Burdick, an editor at Discover, is the author of the forthcoming "Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion."


Is the federal government the best person for the job on this one? Is there any way the free market could internalize this externality? I don’t know if there is b/c of global nature of the problem. The fact that these species are so widespread around the globe the transaction costs would be astronomical. Perhaps this is a good case for government intervention. What do you think?

Moose & Indians

I found another article by Dr. Charles Kay about aboriginal overkill. This article is about moose. Since 1900 the moose populations in Western North America have rapidly increased. Dr. Kay hypothesizes that a primary reason for this change is the fact that Native Americans were not conservative in their hunting of these large animals and killed too many keeping populations low. Now without aboriginal hunting the moose have repopulated.

Celebrate Earth Day by A New Kind of Environmentalism

There is and earth day article that I came across that urges many of the things that we’ve spoken about in class. It’s a call for a new kind of environmentalism. It trashes on command-and-control type regulation, encourages incentive, making polluters liable for damage they cause, avoiding government subsidies, and better defining property rights.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Great Land Giveaway

As I left class this morning I passed the TSC patio were there was a big banner for protecting Utah wildlife along with this website www.suwa.org. I found an interesting article about RS 2477 stating:

"the right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted."

A heated issue arises from this as to what is considered a highway. Is a highway tire tracks in the sand, old dry river beds, or even four wheeler trails? The concern that SUWA states is that roads are going to cross some areas that need to be preserved without any environemental studies.

Personally, I believe that there is a balance between the groups. There can still be progress and a preservation of the environment. What is your take?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

STUDY GROUP

To all who are interested in my attendance at a study group:

The first study group seemed to work well, and so I am more than willing to help again. I need to know a time and place in the coming week as my schedule will be getting tighter. Individuals interested in forming a group should begin to post their availability as comments to this blog. I am available in the afternoons and evenings of next Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

Rail Transit Problems

Here is a post by Randy O’Toole at commonsblog.org from back in July of last year that reminded me, when I found it, of the class discussion on urban sprawl and more highways vs. mass transit. I thought this post quite interesting because of the examples Mr. O’Toole points to. He basically shows some examples of how certain cities addition of more rails has turned to more congestion in one case, more accidents in another, less actual users than projected in another, and even introduced a money scandal in yet another. The last particular case was in San Jose, CA and even the Sierra Club apposed the finishing of a new San Francisco BART line to San Jose.

Iceland's Hydrogen Commitment

There was a very cool piece on Hydrogen as a fuel source that I heard on KUSU FM Wednesday. It’s called “The Hydrogen Horizon: Part I” by Cynthia Graber and I’ve included some paraphrased excerpts from it below. It’s an interesting listen if you want to go to the site and download the MP3:

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Iceland President Grimsson. And his country has pledged to wean itself off imported oil and switch to hydrogen fuel to run its cars, trucks, buses and vast fishing fleet. It’s an ambitious undertaking that could save Iceland millions of dollars a year and cut its greenhouse gas emissions nearly two-thirds. President Grimsson is proud of Iceland becoming the testing ground, a kind of laboratory for the hydrogen future.

At the world’s only hydrogen filling station open to the public in Iceland there’s a large electrolyzer to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, a compressor, and a row of bright blue storage tanks. It runs entirely off clean, renewable energy. And it’s self-serve.

Right now there are no hydrogen cars made anyone in Iceland; just three city buses. It’s the first stage of a five-stage operation. First, trial buses then, trial cars. The plan is to eventually replace all gasoline and diesel vehicles with hydrogen models. However, Even the optimists here say it will take about fifty years to implement, in part because of the looming problem of how to store sufficient amounts of hydrogen to refuel hundreds of cars on a daily basis.

Another huge problem is cost. The vehicles are four times more expensive than the normal vehicle. The filling station is much more expensive than a normal gasoline station. And the fuel is much more expensive than diesel fuel today.

Environmentalism in our daily lives

Throughout our everyday lives we see, think, read, and live environmentalism in some way, shape, or form. Whether it be to walk instead of drive, recycle the paper we use, etc. the term environmentalism covers it all. So what is true environmentalism? Some say it is a way of life or the beliefs of certain groups. Kevin L. Clauson wrote an article about his ideas of environmentalism. Though I don't neccessarily agree with everything he's written here it gave me some things to think about.

The article starts out talking about the "hype" of environmentalism in our culture today. This is interesting but if you follow the article there is a section on environmental policy that really caught my attention. Mr. Clauson believes that the "environmentalists" have intervened in public policy and created a large amount of environmental legislation in the last 50 years. He goes on to state, "These bureaucracies not only make law in the guise of implementing Congressional policy, but also combine legislative, executive, and judicial functions in an unelected, insulated institution." If this is true than everyone who has had any part in creating these legislations is an environmentalist, and an 'evil' law making person. Aside from this anyone who agrees with any part of any environmental legislation is an "evil destroyers of the environment." My thought are that though policies and regulations aren't perfect, show me a system that is.

Civil Suit Over Bad Water Turned Movie

Last month I rented a DVD from Hastings to watch with my wife that evening to relax a little from the stresses of juggling life. I was a complete idiot though, like I often am in a video store, when all I wanted to do was relax, I wasted inordinate amounts of time in the store just wandering for something to watch. It was not relaxing. It was one of those deals that I’d committed so much time to finding a movie that I was not about to leave empty handed even though all I really wanted to do was just leave.

Well, I finally got to the point that I was going to grab whatever and get out of there. At that moment I spotted a DVD cover with John Travolta on it and it said it was based on a true story so I picked up the movie out of desperation and took it home to watch. The movie I got was “A Civil Action” and it was actually pretty good for a desperation shot. (Usually picking a movie that way is disastrous for me).

Anyhow it was pretty interesting. And I thought it related to this class. I’ve also found a website that talks about the case that the movie was based on. The movie revolves around a town, Woburn, MA, that has an unusually high rate of childhood leukemia amounts its citizens. It turns out that their water wells were contaminated because of a couple companies. The civil case didn’t accomplish much but it was then turned over to the EPA who considers it to be one of its success stories. I just thought it was interesting.

Rachel Carson, Meet Adam Smith

The following is from the Economist:

Rescuing environmentalism

Apr 21st 2005
From The Economist print edition


Market forces could prove the environment's best friend—if only greens could learn to love them

“THE environmental movement's foundational concepts, its method for framing legislative proposals, and its very institutions are outmoded. Today environmentalism is just another special interest.” Those damning words come not from any industry lobby or right-wing think-tank. They are drawn from “The Death of Environmentalism”, an influential essay published recently by two greens with impeccable credentials. They claim that environmental groups are politically adrift and dreadfully out of touch.

They are right. In America, greens have suffered a string of defeats on high-profile issues. They are losing the battle to prevent oil drilling in Alaska's wild lands, and have failed to spark the public's imagination over global warming. Even the stridently ungreen George Bush has failed to galvanise the environmental movement. The solution, argue many elders of the sect, is to step back from day-to-day politics and policies and “energise” ordinary punters with talk of global-warming calamities and a radical “vision of the future commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis”.

Europe's green groups, while politically stronger, are also starting to lose their way intellectually. Consider, for example, their invocation of the woolly “precautionary principle” to demonise any complex technology (next-generation nuclear plants, say, or genetically modified crops) that they do not like the look of. A more sensible green analysis of nuclear power would weigh its (very high) economic costs and (fairly low) safety risks against the important benefit of generating electricity with no greenhouse-gas emissions.



Small victories and bigger defeats

The coming into force of the UN's Kyoto protocol on climate change might seem a victory for Europe's greens, but it actually masks a larger failure. The most promising aspect of the treaty—its innovative use of market-based instruments such as carbon-emissions trading—was resisted tooth and nail by Europe's greens. With courageous exceptions, American green groups also remain deeply suspicious of market forces.

If environmental groups continue to reject pragmatic solutions and instead drift toward Utopian (or dystopian) visions of the future, they will lose the battle of ideas. And that would be a pity, for the world would benefit from having a thoughtful green movement. It would also be ironic, because far-reaching advances are already under way in the management of the world's natural resources—changes that add up to a different kind of green revolution. This could yet save the greens (as well as doing the planet a world of good).

“Mandate, regulate, litigate.” That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world's top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday's failed hopes, today's heavy costs and tomorrow's demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches. One example lies in the assignment of property rights over “commons”, such as fisheries, that are abused because they belong at once to everyone and no one. Where tradable fishing quotas have been issued, the result has been a drop in over-fishing. Emissions trading is also taking off. America led the way with its sulphur-dioxide trading scheme, and today the EU is pioneering carbon-dioxide trading with the (albeit still controversial) goal of slowing down climate change.

These, however, are obvious targets. What is really intriguing are efforts to value previously ignored “ecological services”, both basic ones such as water filtration and flood prevention, and luxuries such as preserving wildlife. At the same time, advances in environmental science are making those valuation studies more accurate. Market mechanisms can then be employed to achieve these goals at the lowest cost. Today, countries from Panama to Papua New Guinea are investigating ways to price nature in this way (see article).



Rachel Carson meets Adam Smith

If this new green revolution is to succeed, however, three things must happen. The most important is that prices must be set correctly. The best way to do this is through liquid markets, as in the case of emissions trading. Here, politics merely sets the goal. How that goal is achieved is up to the traders.

A proper price, however, requires proper information. So the second goal must be to provide it. The tendency to regard the environment as a “free good” must be tempered with an understanding of what it does for humanity and how. Thanks to the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the World Bank's annual “Little Green Data Book” (released this week), that is happening. More work is needed, but thanks to technologies such as satellite observation, computing and the internet, green accounting is getting cheaper and easier.

Which leads naturally to the third goal, the embrace of cost-benefit analysis. At this, greens roll their eyes, complaining that it reduces nature to dollars and cents. In one sense, they are right. Some things in nature are irreplaceable—literally priceless. Even so, it is essential to consider trade-offs when analysing almost all green problems. The marginal cost of removing the last 5% of a given pollutant is often far higher than removing the first 5% or even 50%: for public policy to ignore such facts would be inexcusable.

If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.

Whether the big environmental groups join or not, the next green revolution is already under way. Rachel Carson, the crusading journalist who inspired greens in the 1950s and 60s, is joining hands with Adam Smith, the hero of free-marketeers. The world may yet leapfrog from the dark ages of clumsy, costly, command-and-control regulations to an enlightened age of informed, innovative, incentive-based greenery.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

empty oceans, empty nets

The other night I was watching a program on PBS, it was very interesting because it was talking about fisheries which is what our last two classes were about. Here is the website. On the program it talked about how much damage trolling and long lining caused in the oceans. It also showed how many fish are caught that are just not wanted so they just end up throwing them overboard dead. While I was watching I thought to myself 'there has got to be some use for the fish caught that they toss overboard'. I can't think of what they could be used for but I can imagine we could do something with them. The program was very informitive, it had people from both sides of the spectrum, fishermen and advocates to save the oceans creatures. I know that the fishermen have to fish and fish a lot to make money to support their families but at the same time some of them in my opinion do not have much common sense. If you fish till the oceans are empty them your nets will soon be empty and thus you will have no income. One lady thats husband was a fisherman said that there were plenty of swordfish in the ocean to catch as many as you wanted, she said that her husband would catch 100 lb swordfish and that is a big fish, she said. A retired fisherman that used to fish for swordfish said that when they went out they did not need to go out very far and the swordfish they caught weighed 200 to 300 lbs. Now lets think, is there a problem here? I could see that there definately was a problem and we need to fix it soon with the help of the fishmen and the advocates. Check out the website, it also has other interesting stuff.

Free Market Enviromentalism

I know we have discussed the issue of wolves already, but I found an interesting article by Terry Anderson about solutions to the potential wolf problems that may arise in the near future in Utah.

Anderson gives an example of the Nothern Rockies wolves. Ranchers there have actually promoted wolves populating the area because they have been exposed to certain incentives from the Defenders of Wildlife. This group pays ranchers $5,000 dollars to allow wolves to naturally regenerate in the areas. There was also another fund created to reward private landowners for giving wolves a home. This experimented has allowed for a positive existance between wolves and ranchers, and not just relied on increased governmental regulation through the passage of Wildlife Acts.

It makes sense that by turning the incentives around, many of the Endangered Species/Wildlife Habitat problems could be successfully managed. Maybe a market approach such as this could be used in the future for a Wolf-management system in Utah.

Strip Mining in Latin America..Friend or Foe?

Sometimes I find that my own personal feelings and thoughts conflict. For example I believe that third world countries progress faster if they have “our junk”. With increased industrialization they are better able to expand into other areas and slowly bring themselves out of poverty. However, I also believe that America can be too forceful. The disrespect it shows to other countries feelings and perspectives is appalling. For example, I found an article discussing the surge in gold prices, and the eagerness of American industry to locate in Latin America and begin strip mining. Many of the indigenous people are vehemently opposed to this action and yet they are ignored because the government is afraid of the lawsuit. If people want mining to expand that is fine, if they don’t leave them alone. I am sure a lot of individuals will disagree. I suppose they feel progress needs to be achieved at all costs. However, in this search for progress we can still be considerate. Markets aren’t necessarily shrewd. They have rules and consequences but respect can still exist.

Strip mining is highly effective and relatively cheap, it is also ugly and very costly to the environment. Peter Kolesar, professor of geology at Utah State University, says there are two typical types of mining, open pit or strip mining and underground mining. Open pit mining is the worst form of mining.

"The company strips off all the overlying soil and searches for material. It is very efficient and highly inexpensive," said Kolesar. For the most part companies are required to restore the area as it once was. Unfortunately this is a very expensive process and most mining companies end up declaring bankruptcy rather than participate in land reclamation. Not to mention, third world countries don’t really receive the same treatment.

The Silver Butte Mine is an example of problems that occur with open pit mining. Acid mine drainage flows out of this mine in Riddle, Ore. The acidic water is toxic to aquatic life and dangerous to human health. Cleanup has presented a problem and the government is still looking for ways to create a healthy environmental solution.

Like the Silver Butte Mine, the Berkley Pitt in Butte, Mont., also filled with water. Although this water is also not safe for human or wildlife consumption, it is better managed. The EPA and other organizations have monitored the water levels carefully to ensure the least amount of environmental impact possible.

These two similar situations led to two different outcomes. The complexity of these issues makes generalizations very difficult to discern. However, here is my question. What is fair to expect from mining industries in other countries? Who enforces the environmental clean up? And should we expect companies to pick up after themselves?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Lack of Property Rights Suppresses Africa's Greatness

Right now I am reading Capitalism & Freedom by Milton Friedman and just the other day I came across a statement in a chapter about monetary policy in it he said something to the effect that we need rules not authorities to govern. Although Friedman was talking about monetary policy I think it has relevance in our class. I like to think of property rights as the “rules” favored by Friedman and government/bureaucratic officials as authorities. Under a property rights scheme individuals are able to exercise those rights which they own and seek objectives which are beneficial to them monetarily or non-monetarily. Complementary, under a property rights system other individuals are aware of your rights and that an intrusion on your rights will result in some form of punishment.

However, under an authoritarian system there are no individual property rights. This is the case in many Sub-Saharan African countries. In a Cato Policy Brief, Moeletsi Mbeki reviews the current plight in these countries and lays the blame at the feet of the political elites. In most of these countries the political authorities dictate the allocation of agricultural goods and use this allocation by government as a chance to gain wealth via taxation and other means. Under a system of no property rights the citizens have no incentive to increase crop yields or other beneficial measures. In Ethiopia “land is owned by the state… farmers are loath to invest in improving productivity when they have no title to the land they till. Nor can they use land as collateral to raise credit. And they are taxed so heavily that they rarely have any surplus cash to invest.” Under this authoritarian system individuals are stuck in poverty b/c they have no property rights.

After all we have read and heard this year in class I don’t see how any one could refute the overwhelming benefits of property rights. With property rights as a foundation, society can solve economic and environmental issues b/c transaction will assure that individuals and society as a whole benefit. How anyone can justify a central planner or authority as the means for allocating scarce resources is beyond me. This Sunday there was nothing on TV and I stumbled upon an interview with Thomas Sowell on CSPAN. In the interview Sowell refers to the fact that under the USSR the government had to determine 24 MILLION different prices for its products! Under a property rights regime the market determines prices, how could any group of individuals determine so many prices. A market will determine these prices and will do so indefinitely and will thus allocate those goods to their most highly valued places. I think Friedman got it right when he said that we need rules instead of authorities, especially when it comes to allocation.

The Current Energy Bill is Filthy as a Pig

Oil prices have spurred a lot of posts on the blog lately and have also created a sense of urgency in the Congress to get in Energy Bill thru. A point of contention within the bill is the ethanol mandate. Ethanol provides a perfect case study in “pork-barrel politics” for students of government. Ethanol is by most accounts an inefficient fuel additive yet it has been given favorable tax treatment and other benefits since its subsidization in the late 1970’s. An ethanol mandate does surely benefit the Midwestern corn farms, but the other side of the coin is that gasoline becomes more expensive for all of us. Such an impact is exactly what we do not need right now. The current energy bill will most likely have little if any effect on the current prices of oil and soon the price will stabilize, however, by continuing to support the ethanol mandate Congress will in effect do the same thing that high gas prices do to the consumer... take money out of their pocket.

rising oil prices and public transportation

I found an interesting article at ksl.com about the rising oil prices and the effect it is having on business and the economy. What I found interesting was the effect it had on UTA. UTA says that for every 1 cent increase, it costs them 50,000 dollars a day and 2.7 million yearly, for only one cent. With the recent hike in prices (almost 50 cents, and still rising), that number is in the hundred million per year. I know earlier in the semester, we talked about public transportation, and the costs verse benefits. Especially with the increasing costs, it just doesn't seem like public transportation is cost effective and the price certainly isn't worth the benefit. I also found it interesting that a spokes person for the UTA said that the Buses that they currently use are only getting 4.5 miles per gallon, but that they are searching for ways to make the vehicles more fuel efficient. This may be true, but I am willing to bet that as a bureaucratic agency, they are investing more money lobbying for a bigger budget, than on fuel efficiency.

Environmental Reconstruction

During war, a country's infrastructure is often damaged. I find this site that explains some of the things that we are doing to repair and in some cases re-do some water and waste water systems in Iraq. Basically there are engineers in different parts of the country trying to repair damage to existing systems and install larger water and waste water systems to be more environmentally friendly and to help them have a better quality of life. It's great to know that we aren't just making other people be like us in every way, but they are improving on ideas that the Iraqis already have. I would hope that more things like that could and would happen in the world.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Science figures out that incentives matter

Remember my post on red ink? It turns out that some people are taking the time to figure out if all of these self-esteem boosts do any good.

Scientific American has the Story:

At the outset, we had every reason to hope that boosting self-esteem would be a potent tool for helping students. Logic suggests that having a good dollop of self-esteem would enhance striving and persistence in school, while making a student less likely to succumb to paralyzing feelings of incompetence or self-doubt. Early work showed positive correlations between self-esteem and academic performance, lending credence to this notion. Modern efforts have, however, cast doubt on the idea that higher self-esteem actually induces students to do better.


Here's my personal favorite:
Some findings even suggest that artificially boosting self-esteem may lower subsequent academic performance.

Even if raising self-esteem does not foster academic progress, might it serve some purpose later, say, on the job? Apparently not. Studies of possible links between workers' self-regard and job performance echo what has been found with schoolwork: the simple search for correlations yields some suggestive results, but these do not show whether a good self-image leads to occupational success, or vice versa. In any case, the link is not particularly strong.


It seems to me that if everybody gets equal praise, regardless of performance, they lose incentive to perform well. A students see that their barely passing classmates get the same benefits at less cost (cost being equivalent to study and homework time), and they realize that they're the suckers. It's a tradeoff that condemns achievement and celebrates mediocrity, and society as a whole will pay the price.

Economics ?

Maybe I could get some help with this article. I am afraid I don’t understand the reasoning behind the actions presented. It was stated that changes are going to be made to our economic system through a new policy. The "borders" of market trade will be opened to other countries products. This really does seem to present a bad situation for farmers and others here. It seems hard enough as it is for farmers to make a decent living as it is, and now there is going to be the added problem of foreign markets. It seems to be one of the common facts that almost everything (speaking of the common things) that is produced here can be produced in other places for cheaper due to employee wages. Then of course as was pointed out in this article, it appears as if the hardest hit will be by many more people through their wages. It was an interesting phenomena that productions have grown, but the wages of those behind that production has not. What was pointed out in the article was that wages will get even harder to uphold due to foreign production. I don’t understand why the government would place so many people in this kind of situation when they know what will happen. It is just that they are trying to encourage growth?
"In sum, the economic arguments for CAFTA just don't hold water. No wonder its proponents rely on slogans, repetition and millions of dollars of lobbying money to make their case."

Disapearing Ranchers

We have discussed various aspects of grazing, mostly involved with the use of the land and a little on the effects of the cattle. However, there are other sides of the issue. It is common knowledge that there are concerns about traditions and ways of life being lost, usually centered around cultures, but there are also traditions being lost from areas that cenered around that one thing. In Montana that way of life consisted greatly of ranches. Due to various reasons that way of life is slowly dissapearing. There are now fewer and fewer individual ranches, the rest of the land is getting turned into "absentee land owner" retreats. I am sure that some of those lands are still being run as ranches, but rather than the family based traditions, I could see how easily it would turn into a kind of movie set vacation area. There are always people who try to do their best to keep together and hold the traditions, is it enough or even needed though? I just wonder what is going to happen later, what kind of world are we building through our actions and the things that we allow to happen? Right now the ranchers are responding to the pressures and imputs they have. For many their response has been to do something different, for others it has been a restiring of traditional means to try to hold things together, such as the neighborhood branding example.
The next question that occurs to me is, is it right that people are allowed to buy up what ever they want to have a vacation home? I know that we can't and shouldn't stop free trade, but what does it do to the areas where it happens. Sun Valley ID has become sort of the place where you would expect to see the "rich and famous" people. It has obviously done wonders for the economy there due to tourism, but is it really desirable. I know that the impression that I have always had is of an area that is stuffy and stiff, one that I personally don't even like to drive through. That kind of thing does not have the same kind of appeal as neighbors getting together to work hard to protect their way of life. I have no idea what kind of political etc. implications this has or even if it is something that should even have been raised, but here it is.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Essay Contest

I'm sure everyone is really busy with school, but there is a an essay contest that you might be interested in. The general topic is free-market environmentalism and the contest is sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. Check out this URL if you are interested:

http://www.abetterearth.org/subcategory.php/303.html

The specific essay questions are right up the alley of this course. I'm not sure what Randy has everyone doing for a final (whether it's in class, or a research paper) but this shouldn't be too big of a stretch if you're intersted.

Best Wishes

Follow-up on McDonalds

I decided to find out what McDonalds has to say about their destroying of the rainforest. There official policy as stated on their website reads:
  • McDonald’s is committed to establishing and enforcing responsible environmental practices for all aspects of our business. As part of this charter, it is McDonald’s policy to use only locally produced and processed beef in every country where we have restaurants. In areas where domestic beef is not available in sufficient quantities to meet our needs, does not meet our quality standards, or is not competitive with world prices, McDonald’s imports beef from approved suppliers in other countries. In all cases, however, McDonald’s does not, has not and will not permit destruction of tropical rain forests for our beef supply. We do not, have not and will not purchase beef from rain forest or recently deforested rain forest land. Any McDonald’s supplier that is found to deviate from this policy—or that cannot prove compliance with it—will be immediately discontinued. Issued: 1989Updated: 2003

This is an interesting statement and a little amibiguos. As I have reviewed various testimonies given in the court trial it 1997 it appears that their purchasing of beef from deforested land may have stopped about 1988. However this doesn't cover the above statement that says that McDonalds has not purchased beef from rain forest lands or deforested lands.

McDonalds destroyer of the rainforest?

Recently, I stumbled across a website that is very anti-McDonalds. It refers to a court case in the UK where two people sued McDonalds.
The verdict was devastating for McDonald's. The judge ruled that they 'exploit children' with their advertising, produce 'misleading' advertising, are 'culpably responsible' for cruelty to animals, are 'antipathetic' to unionisation and pay their workers low wages. The people who brought forward the suit where unable to prove all the points and so the Judge ruled that they HAD libelled McDonald's and should pay 60,000 pounds damages.
In this case several scientists testified that McDonalds supported destroying parts of the rainforest to make room for cattle ranching and therefore cheaper meat.
All of the incentives are there for McDonalds to continue these practices. How do you stop the company that is a global power and able to pay the price to get cheaper prices?

Utah's Transportation

I came across a very interesting article about the transportation habits of people here in Utah. You can find the article here. Basically the information comes from a survey done in 4 regions of the state. Basically it shows why we have such a major air pollution problem. Over 95% of us drive cars, yet only 25% accompany that driving with any type of walking (like to school, work, shop, not to get excersize.) And most people feel that the right type of emphasis is being taken in UDOT. Obviously Air Pollution will always be a problem until at least a majority recognize it as such.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

"Orson, go get a jar of daylight from the 72-hour kit"

CNN on Daylight Saving Time:

Lawmakers crafting energy legislation approved an amendment Wednesday to extend daylight-saving time by two months, having it start on the first Sunday in March and end on the last Sunday in November.

"Extending daylight-saving time makes sense, especially with skyrocketing energy costs," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, who along with Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, co-sponsored the measure.

"The more daylight we have, the less electricity we use," said Markey, who cited Transportation Department estimates that showed the two-month extension would save the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil a day.


Hmmm, "The more daylight we have..."? Where did the extra daylight come from? We all know that nothing is really "saved" during Daylight Saving Time.

I found this through Sam's Archive, which said:

So they want to extend Daylight Saving Time for two months to save energy. Discussion about this seems to boil down to three major points.

1. Daylight Saving is a stupid idea, which causes huge amounts of hassle for many people twice a year, and doesn't actually save any energy as such.
2. Scrapping - or extending - DST would be unimaginably difficult given the amount of electronic hardware that would need to be modified.
3. Extending DST would supposedly save America 10,000 barrels of oil a day, or 0.05% of the TWENTY MILLION barrels America currently uses.

Seriously, guys. You want to save energy? Here's a hint: PUT AWAY THE CAR KEYS.

~2005|04|08 3:51am


All this talk of Daylight Saving Time led me to a google search to find out more. A couple of major sites on the extremes of the argument are Web Exhibits, which has nothing but praise for DST, and End Daylight Saving Time, which advocates abolishing it entirely.

So I'll throw out a question for everyone: How much difference does it make in your life, both positive and negative, to switch to and from Daylight Saving Time? For example, during the five days immediately following a change, the rate of car wrecks during the morning or evening increases dramatically.

Wal-Mart has done it again.

Not only does Wal-Mart appease my hunger by supplying me with my crucial supply of cheap cold cereal and toast (a college kid necessity), it has now entered the realm of appeasing my environmental aesthetic needs. Wal-Mart has currently pledged over $35 million to create wildlife habitats. The corporation was approached by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a non profit organization, and immediately hopped on the boat. The Corporation pledged to buy an acre of land for every acre they purchased to build their establishments. Not to shabby. However the Sierra Club is still skeptical of this generosity.
Wal-Mart previously paid $3.1 millions in fines for excessive run off and have contributed to urban sprawl, as such, many are questioning if Wal-Mart is doing this to help the environment or rather its image. Well, of course they are doing it to improve their corporate image, what company wouldn’t. Corporations are still self interested and improving their image is a main goal, so why not promote a healthy environment in the process.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation says that the first projects they will tackle will be the

“* Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana: Buying privately owned land to expand the refuges by 40 percent to 6,098 acres.
* Sherfield Cave/Buffalo National River in Arkansas: Adding 1,226 acres of bat habitat.
*North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona: Buying two private ranches with 1,259 acres.
*Squaw Creek in Oregon: Buying a conservation easement on a private ranch to protect 1,120 acres along a tributary of the Deschutes River to aid salmon and steelhead fish populations.
*Downeast Lakes region of Maine: Protecting 312,000 acres around Washington County, including 54 lakes and 1,500 miles of river and stream shoreline.”

And even if you hate Wal-Mart, like most of us do, by stepping in and supplying grants and help to organizations, we begin to tread into an area that allows for more privatization and a better way to a market approach environment. Less red-tape equals more efficient solutions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Are there incentives for government work?

Finding a job has always been a concern for almost everyone. This article discusses a few of the concerns from the employer. The government is usually the first employer that Natural Resources majors think about just because they are the most visible. The article discussed how the government is going to have a problem with a large percentage of their workforce retiring in a short amount of time. It also discussed the kind of things that the government will expect of its employees in the future.
I had a lot of questions going through my mind from this. The first is what kind of incentives is the government offering potential workers? As we have discussed in class often it is not the scientists making the decisions, but the politicians. Why would you want to have a job where you were required to create reports and recommendations to which no attention was paid?
The article gave a list of employment statistics and I wondered how much of that is indicative of the social climate of the world today. I believe that it is much more likely for someone to change jobs today than it was years ago, sort of like the fact that someone will change their major at least once before graduation. Of course then these statistics were compared to the private sector which told a different story. This seemed to ask the question again about the advisability of gaining a government job. There will be more stringent requirements in the future and more demands for excellence and experience. It is also very possible, possibly probable, that government jobs will also be lower paid due to budget cuts and allocation. So is it just harder to get a government job than one in the private sector, or is it just not worth it to even try? What sort of future is offered?

Do our cannons shoot that far?

Japan currently harvests about 440 minke whales (which are not on an endangered list) each year from the Antarctic Ocean for what they claim is scientific research. Of course, the whale meat, a delicacy in Japan, is then sold commercially.

Now they want to nearly double the catch, plus add humpback and fin whales. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986, but the next year, Japan started a "scientific research program" to monitor cetacean stocks and habitats. It's not too hard to see they've simply figured out a way to circumvent the rules. Apparently, the IWC doesn't have much power, because Japan announced it would continue it's "research" past the original goal of March 2005.

New Zealand and Australia are ticked off, because they have a large whale-watching industry ($273 mil in Australia), and are generally anti-whaling. Also, some environmentalists don't think any whales should be killed, as they are an intelligent form of wildlife that shouldn't be harvested for human consumption. I agree. The Japanese can eat tofu.

New 'Post and Comment' Tally

Hello all:

I have an updated tally of blog posts and comments as of 3/31/05. If anyone cares to know their individual stats as we have recorded them, please e-mail me at jamesnicholastaylor@gmail.com. It may be a good idea to keep your own record of posts and comments just in case of a discrepancy. I am more than willing to double check if such a situation arises.

Furthermore, you may be interested to know that I did not count new comments on posts that were written on 2/18/05 or prior.

If you have any questions, or would like some extra help, feel free to stop by my office in Old Main 341. If I'm not there, give me a call at (435) 232-1071 or send an e-mail.

Best wishes,

-jnt

Wolves on campus

I never thought that I would have the opportunity to pet and be face to face with two live Wolves. Last night I was given the chance to learn about wolves and their re-introduction to places like Idaho, Montana, and here in Utah. The group is called MISSION: WOLF, it is a remote refuge in Silver Cliff, Colorado. The group travels around and educates people on how wolves live, eat, and interact with each other and humans. The traveling program reaches 50,000 people annually from coast to coast. Here is their website. The refuge currently has 41 grey wolves and wolf-dog crosses. This was an amazing once in a life time opportunity and I am glad I had it. You can visit and/or Intern and Volunteer at the refuge, I think they said that they have a two week or two month intern/volunteer program. This sounds like a group that is actually getting something done and not just another animal rights group that just talks about what to do and does not really do anything.

Mission Wolf

I attended the Mission Wolf seminar that was held on Tuesday, and it was quite enjoyable, check out their website here. There was one very odd thing that they said, "Local Ranchers donate their dead livestock to the mission, and almost always deliver the corpse themselves, often driving 50-100 miles to do this."
Why would ranchers in any way support any type of wolf rehab? Well from what I can find is that disposing of these carcasses is hard. Either let them decay and attract predators or jump through hoops to find a proper place. So this becomes an economic solution, it cheaper to drive 50 miles and drop it off for wolves than pay for disposal or the possibility of increasing predators around you cattle. Here's a little bit of info I found (pages 5-8).

Monday, April 11, 2005

Fish Killers

As we talked about today in class and found out that the dams on the Colubia and Snake rivers are a major salmon killer in the west. They said that there are only 3 dams in the whole drainage that even provide the oportunity for salmon to get past them. The fish ladders are a major stress on these fish as it is. Those that do make it past the laders and spawn successfuly, have most of the offspring killed as they try to make thier way from dam to dam back to the ocean. So I ask is this a good thing for the fishery? I would say no. out of 4 dams on the river only 4.13% produce hydro power, none of the dams provide flood control. Most of the water goes toward irrigation. Thier are alot better ways to coserve in irigation.

Are Federal Regulations only for the Public?

We have discussed the way that governmental agencies are run and how at times they make the laws for others and disregard them for themselves. However, they have finally done something that they cannot back out of and create new rules for themselves. Federal agencies have been disregarding the ESA. This article discusses the great effects on the Potomac River system. The Endangered Species Act is a very controversial piece of legislature, and through it many strong opinions have been raised. The ESA was created to help protect species from extinction. I know that most government agencies are trying to create the best situations and help people, however, when stories like this come up I have to wonder if anyone really cares about anything but their own goals and images.

Mammoth of a headache

Check this out. While this brings up several ethical and scientific issues, should there be a policy that runs this or should it be left private. If they actually pull it off, is it something that should be feared? The economics possibilites of having mammoths would be tramendous, and in a true free market nothing would hinder it. Now it may be just a joke in the end, but you never know, There is obviously an incentive to make this creature (people pay hundreds of thousands to hunt regular animals), imagine how much theyll pay to hunt a mammoth. Now i gurantee if this was planned in the US, the government would regulate it. With these new types of ideas that can have an impact on the enviroment to what extent should the government be involved and what aspect should they take, ethical, scientific or ecnomical; all would have varying results.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

ESA meets urban growth

The ESA has dealt for a long time with the relationships between human actions and other species. According to a USGS site, most of the listings have not involved “major, growing metropolitan area(s).” However, that time has now occurred. The salmon listing now greatly affects that large metropolitan area. This meeting ground is focused on water supply. The fish need water for their habitat and live cycles, and humans need water for various purposes. It was pointed out that the ESA deals with variations and conflicts between economics and natural resources. Since we are the way we are, thinking specifically about commons areas, this problem focuses greatly on the economic side of issues. There will probably always be problems created between people, the solution is just to work to overcome and compromise.
One excellent thing about this article was that critical issues for salmon were identified. With that list, people are given concrete concerns to focus on and to try and fix. With direct listings and explanations it becomes possible for many to begin to recognize and understand the connectiveness of natural systems. One very interesting fact that was pointed out was also the fact that more pesticides are added to the system from urban runoff than from agriculture. This definitely raises the issue of who needs to change and shows needed future work.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Unclear Virtual Property Rights have Fatal Consequences

In Shanghai, an Online gamer was killed for selling another player's virtual "dragon sabre" for real money.

The China Daily newspaper reported that a Shanghai court was told Qiu Chengwei, 41, stabbed competitor Zhu Caoyuan repeatedly in the chest after he was told Zhu had sold his dragon sabre, used in the popular online game Legend of Mir 3.


This is a case where unclear property rights led to a fatal consequence. The article discusses the issue, saying:

More and more online gamers are seeking justice through the courts over stolen weapons and credits.

"The armour and swords in games should be deemed as private property as players have to spend money and time for them," said Wang Zongyu, an associate law professor at Beijing's Renmin University of China.

But other experts are calling for caution.

"The assets of one player could mean nothing to others as they are by nature just data created by game providers," an unnamed lawyer for a Shanghai-based Internet game company said.


The data created by game providers has high demand, because so little of a product is supplied. If everyone could have a "dragon sabre," it wouldn't have sold for 7200 Yuan. You could say that the providers created the demand by creating a supply that was small in the first place.

This whole problem is hardly new, of course; if fact, free trade leading to death has been going on for thousands of years.

The FDA Strikes Back!

They’ve done it; I knew they would just because how could they let it go after the report about COX2 Inhibitors said they were safe when the FDA did not. Here. Oh and the others that aren’t removed are getting warning labels, that shall smite them. The company said that the FDA does not look at Risk/Benefit, and you know they are absolutely right. I ask them about cigarettes, their risk/benefit, on that same logic tobacco should be banned. Why did they FDA come back to this when they said the COX2 were, ok? I decided to look at one of the skin diseases mentioned Erythmea Multiform, take a look here. The cause of this disease remains unknown, but may be caused by severe allergic reaction and possible virus. Wait a second allergy, if this allergy was so predominate why didn’t it make the report the first time around they attempted to ban it? Well if people are allergic to it than they should ban peanuts too. The FDA was embarrassed by the COX2 they had to let back in (although I can’t find a link atm) I remember the head of FDA saying that day they cancelled the ban "I still believe this drug is a danger." The FDA has proven that it doesn’t matter if drug is overall good, it matters that the FDA has power over it, and nothing shall smite them like this did.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

more felony polluters

The Dude's post about felony prosecution for polluting got me interested in finding out if there are more. I found this one, about a farmer deliberately routing manure runoff and waste from a milk room. They're serious about it- his sentence is 2 1/2 years.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Evergreen company, a Taiwan container shipping company, who for more than 3 years, failed to process their oily wastewater from their engine operations. Instead, they dumped it into the oceans. Now they've pled guilty to 24 felony counts and 1 misdemeanor, and they're paying a total of $25 mil. Ten million of it will be used for 'environmental community service projects'. I wonder what that means. I've learned enough in this class to be highly skeptical of such euhphemisms.

Demand for red is down, supply of purple is up

According to this CNN Story, when teachers use red ink to grade papers, it is "too stressful" for parents of students at Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Connecticutt, so they're prohibiting the use of red ink by teachers. At the same time, pen manufacturers are increasing production on purple pens because of growing demand among teachers.

Maybe the parents should realize that any criticism of their "perfect" children would be "too stressful." From a teacher in Maryland:
"I don't think changing to purple or green will make a huge difference if the teaching doesn't go along with it," Jones said. "If you're just looking at avoiding the color red, the students might not be as frightened, but they won't be better writers."

Sea Water Air Conditioning

For isolated locations such as Hawaii coal and oil are extremely expensive ways to maintian their energy industry. So what is the solution? Subsitutes of course. Hawaii has begun to use cold sea water to meet the islands' year round air conditioning needs. Says Reb Bellinger of the Makai Ocean Engineering Inc., "The offshore cold water is certainly the largest source of alternate energy available to the state of Hawaii. And you're not going to run out of it." The story can be found here at cnn.com.
Cold ocean water is pumped from in from offshore where the water is deep and cool to an oceanside plant and the cool ocean water is used to cool down fresh water which then cools down the interior of buildings. The process is similar to conventional air conditioning. Local buildings cold save up to 75% on their energy bills using the new system.
One concern is the ecological effects of returning the sea water back to the ocean. Deep sea water is rich in nutrients and could harm the water if emptied into shallow waters where there is abundant sunlight. It would be same as putting too much fertilizer on your lawn. So that is a problem that needs to be worked out. But I think it's a cool idea that will save Hawaiians money and make them less dependent on fossill fuels which are hard to get in their isolated location.
Here is a site on how the system works.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Wolves again

I was looking at wolf information on the internet and I came across this map of wolf packs in Yellowstone. I think it is interesting to note that quite a few wolf packs live outside the borders of the park. The site also discusses the monitoring and control used by the government to ensure that wolves are not killing off livestock. However, after listening to Kay speak, I am not sure if I trust any data put out by the government. In Yellowstone’s official site it states that over 137 wolves were killed in the early 1900’s and by 1970 no wolves had been spotted, and this helps justify wolves needing to be reintroduced back into their native lands.
This site is very interesting and gives information on the soft release techniques Kay discussed in class.And even if reintroducing wolves was a bad thing, hey at least they are killing the elk. Maybe the aspens and willows will start to grow again.

Nothing Clear about Clear Skies

I was looking on the web today and found a variety of articles on Bush's Clean Skies Initiative. At first it seems that the plan really isn't so great, (read this article which says that it actually relaxes standards) but others like David Whitman say that it isn't true. So who are we to believe. I decided to look up the clean air act. Basically right now there is no ceiling on pollutants, the amount you can pollute is based on a mean baseline for past years and you are allowed to go over that amount a certain percentange. The Clean Skies Initiative allows for a cap and trade market system which I feel would help keep levels lower. Instead of mandating technology as we have in the past, this allows us to be creative. Although the cap may be higher, I think that overall pollution will be effected for the positive by this initiative.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Felony prosecutions...

To my surprise the government has finally persecuted a company for environmental infractions. The Mcwane pipe manufacturing facility has been ordered to pay $4.5 million and been charged with 2 felony count. Was this just a case of dumb business men, or is the EPA really trying to crackdown on offenders? Here's the juicy details of the issue “This is the first federal criminal prosecution of its kind,” said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA’s acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Tyler knowingly failed to secure required air permits when it undertook construction, and it attempted to conceal its actions. That type of conduct will not be tolerated.”“This prosecution and resulting agreement send a strong message to those in industry of their responsibility to uphold the laws that protect the public health and environment of their community,” Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division Thomas L. Sansonetti said. “If they seek to cover up operations at their facilities to try to avoid the cost of the technology required by law to protect the environment, they will be held responsible to the fullest extent possible.”“The U.S. Attorney's Office aggressively enforces environmental laws in East Texas,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Orwig. “Corporate polluters should beware when it comes to the environment, taking shortcuts is a bad, long-term decision. We will continue to investigate and prosecute anyone who violates the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act.”

The offenders are one of the biggest companies and their industry, but charges have only come to one of their facilities. I do think this will serve as a deterrent, but it could probably be more effective if the penalties were greater. That way it would make a much bigger splash and really ruffle some more feathers.

Will New "Green" Buildings Make A Difference?

A bill in Washington state that would require higher environmental standards of all new public buildings recently passed in the state legislature and is awaiting the signature of Governor Christine Gregoire. See the story here. The buildings would be required to be more energy efficient, and conserve more water. Would the benefits of such legislation out weigh the costs though? There is a division over that issue even though the bill has passed. The oppostion argues that there is not a compelling public interest for the bill and that it's just another misallocation of tax payer money. The proponents argue though with backing from the Green Builidng Council in Washington D.C. that such "green" buildings actually enhance worker performance and in the case of public schools produce higher test scores than other "non-green" schools. I haven't been able to find any real hard data on the subject but I think it's interesting.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Should Utah Start Planning for Wolves?

I came across this article on nationalgeographic.com written by Robert Schmidt of Logan written on the inevitiblity of wolves in Utah. He talks about how with wolves in most of the surrounding states wolves will soon be here regardless of those opposed of the idea. "The potential path of gray or Mexican wolves into the state lies south, west or north: south along the Bear River or through the High Uintas, west into the Book Cliffs, or north into the Grand Canyon eco- region." The author suggests that anti-wolf ranchers and others prepare for not if it happens but when it happens. "The release of gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 proved biologically viable, and those populations are exceeding established recovery goals, bringing these wolves closer to Utah." I tend to think that Mr. Schmidt is right on. With wolves pretty much surrounding the state only a high intensive and costly fight is going to keep them out. Even then with the thriving populations the efforts would likely be in vain.

If the environment fails, the economy fails

There was an NPR story this morning about the rapid erosion of Louisina's coastline. According to the story (which was not yet linked on their site), every 10 months, an area equal to the size of Manhatten disappears. The concern started in the 60's, but has largely been ignored to this point (those doomsday predictions must not have been too convincing). Well, today, the situation is dire, and finally gaining a bit of attention, though not much funding ($1.15 bil).

From the subcommittee hearing last July (Milling's testimony) "Louisiana’s 400 mile coastline is the largest expanse of coastal wetlands in America comprising 30% of the nation’s coastal marsh. It was created over thousands of years from accumulations of sediment, nutrients and fresh water derived from flooding of the Mississippi River. This extraordinary ecosystem, the seventh largest deltaic system on earth, has provided a natural buffer against tropical storms and hurricanes. It is considered the richest and most productive estuary in the United States. As a result of levees built along the banks of the Mississippi River, the massive sedimentary load, which historically created and nourished the delta, is being channeled into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico." More than 20 square miles a year is lost.

Its not just the loss of wildlife habitat, migrating-bird stopping-ground, etc. , it's the economic structure of the whole country. Lets start small: 40% of the US fish & shellfish harvest is in Louisiana. Tourism is HUGE in New Orleans. The ports of South Louisiana handle approximately 14% of all U.S. oil imports and 57% of all grain exports. The list goes on.

This NPR story (2002) explains the biggest impact to the rest of the US: 1000's of offshore drilling rigs are in the Gulf of Mexico. That oil, plus some oil from middle east, comes through ports set off the coast of Louisiana, where it is piped underground and distributed throughout the US. Because of the erosion, 20,000 miles of pipeline are in jepoardy. The title of this post paraphrases a quote from Milling, the "unlikely activist" in the story.

The problem is not only economic, but one of human life. Millings also says: "for approximately every 2.7 miles of loss of marsh or swamp, there is a corresponding increase of one foot of storm surge." Basically, without the buffer provided by the wetlands, storms and hurricanes will hit the coast with more force. A single well-aimed hurricane this upcoming season could potentially wipe it all out.

It suprises me that until this morning, I had now idea how bad the situation is. How many other dire situations are unknown to the public, and ignored by our administration? How can $207 billion be justified in Iraq, when our own country is coming apart at the seams?

Friday, April 01, 2005

It's the end of the world as we know it

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek commented on an article from the Guardian:

· Deforestation and other changes could increase the risks of malaria and cholera, and open the way for new and so far unknown disease to emerge.


That is not science. That's scare-mongering. Or wild-guessing. Or something else. But it's not science. Is that from the journalist or the report? Alas, it's more or less from the report. Here's how the press release words it:

The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. In all the four plausible futures explored by the scientists, they project progress in eliminating hunger, but at far slower rates than needed to halve number of people suffering from hunger by 2015. Experts warn that changes in ecosystems such as deforestation influence the abundance of human pathogens such as malaria and cholera, as well as the risk of emergence of new diseases. Malaria, for example, accounts for 11 percent of the disease burden in Africa and had it been eliminated 35 years ago, the continent’s gross domestic product would have increased by $100 billion.


When you read the actual press release rather than the news story, you realize that we've left the realm of science and are somewhere else.
[...]
Water could be a problem down the road. It's a problem now around the world due to poorly run thugocracies around the world, but that's not what the report is referring to. The world's fisheries are probably mismanaged. But where's the evidence that we're standing on the edge of a precipice? There isn't any.

I plan to sleep well tonight, though I am worried about the state of science.


Have we politicized environmental research to the point where political decisions decide the results of scientific study, instead of the other way around?

How to make a difference in the world

In our recent class discussions, we’ve said several times that some desirable policy changes will "never happen," but we haven't gone into much detail about why this is true. Looking through some old class notes, I found references to the work of political scientist David Easton and his theory of Systems Analysis to explain how policy changes come into being. Here's the Reader's Digest condensed version:

You start with an input, a problem that needs to be solved. It becomes an input into the political decision-making "system" that determines policy (Easton describes it as a "tightly sealed political black box"). The political actors and institutions (ie politicians and the rules) decide whether to allow the inputs into the system or exclude them, sort of like a filter. The system works at it and determines what action to take based on a few key questions, including (but not always limited to):
(1) Is the solution legal?
(2) Does the solution have a chance of solving the problem?
(3) Is it politically acceptable?

Once the system has worked through all of these issues, the proposed solution becomes a policy, an output, and then the impacts of that policy are discovered. If it works, great; if not, it becomes another input.


I don't entirely agree with Easton's analysis, since legislators seem to focus more on the political aspect of decision-making than solving the problem or (sometimes) the legality of their action. Still, it's a useful way to summarize political decision-making. If something isn't politically acceptable to most of the decision-makers, it isn't going to happen.

Forgive me for taking 250 words to explain what is probably obvious to many of you. But since this helped me when I first learned it, I thought I'd share it with the class.