Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I think that it's time to revive my blog from the dead for my own sanity's sake.  I don't intend to make this blog personal, but my academic interests and my non-Internet life had a brief marriage today.  Of course, it had to involve environmental economics.  Thanks to Mathew Kahn, a UCLA Economics professor for the lectur.

Basically, the premise of most climate change economics is that we need a mechanism to reduce emissions to a sustainable level that will minimize the effects of global warming.  However, there is a lack of worldwide initiative for such a problem.  Emissions are ever-increasing with a growing population and the rise of China, India, and other developing nations.  Although it is still extremely important to limit the damage of climate change, we must adapt to the consequences.

Kahn's lecture focused on how humans can adapt to climate change.  Most of his proposed solutions come from a capitalist free market.  This doesn't necessarily mean unregulated pollution and a complete ignorance of environmental issues.  I think that there are takeaways that liberals should come to terms with.  For one, we cannot continue to have such low water and electricity rates in a world of ever-scarce resources.  Allowing water rates to increase from their outrageously low prices of less than 1 cent per gallon would go a long way towards encouraging conservation.  The government also needs to stop subsidizing growth in vulnerable areas, like New Orleans (a whole post could be dedicated to this issue).  Instead, it should allow insurance rates to go up and property prices to go down in disaster-prone regions.  This will encourage migration to safer, better quality cities.  An especially interesting concept was the idea of charter cities.  Basically, these would be brand-new cities built on empty space.  All of these are important methods of limiting the potentially devastating consequences of global warming.

In the end, the prospect of humanity depends on whether or not we are willing to adapt.  Kahn used the Rome heat wave as an example.  Thousands of people died from the Moscow heat wave in 2010.  If Kahn is right, then humanity will adapt and be better prepared for the next one.  He put it another way: if humans are 100% Homer Simpson, then we're screwed; if there is a little Spock in humanity, then we can deal with it.  Hopefully there are enough smart people who care and can work to keep civilization thriving throughout what will certainly be a more tumultuous climate.

The lecture slides for the presentation are available here