Adaptation of Thai Rice Farmers to Global Warming

A 2009 study of the effects of global warming on Thai rice farmers, finds that most such farmers have been able to fully adapt to milder changes, and to allay the worst effects of extreme changes. The researchers note that for milder changes, the farmers may even benefit from the increased rainfall that often accompanies such changes. The researchers also note that the adaptation would have been greater if they had been able to take account of the full range of adaptations the farmers could make:

(p. 210) Our results illustrate the complexity of climate change effects on rice yields at both the aggregate and individual levels, the scope of farmers’ ability to counter climate change, and thus the importance of accurate modeling of farmers’ decisions. Overall, farmers are unable to neutralize the adverse effects of the more extreme climate change. However, they are able to cope with milder climate change and even benefit slightly from small increases in rainfall. While most farmers manage to adjust to milder climate change, poor farmers are less able to do so.

It should be noted that in our analysis we consider only farmers’ adjustment through input decision rules. We do not model or incorporate possible changes in timing of input usage, nor broader adjustments such as changes in the type of crop grown or migration. As a result, our findings may overstate both yield changes and implied welfare effects of climate change.

Source:
Felkner, John, Kamilya Tazhibayeva, and Robert Townsend. “Impact of Climate Change on Rice Production in Thailand.” American Economic Review 99, no. 2 (May 2009): 205-10.

Entrepreneur Sees What Others Do Not See

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Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse in Disneyland. Source of photo: http://app2.sellersourcebook.com/users/101907/ebay_125.jpg

One of the characteristics of innovative entrepreneurs is that they have the vision to see possibilities that others do not see, and the perseverance to turn the vision into reality.
When I saw the mug pictured above, I bought one. It shows a frumpy middle-aged Walt Disney in an empty black and white Disneyland looking down at a smiling full-color Mickey Mouse.
By chance, this summer, we were present at the birthday of Disneyland. We attended the brief celebration on Main Street. I found myself getting choked up when they played a recording of Walt Disney at the park dedication, saying that Disneyland was intended to be the happiest place on earth.

Feds Ignore Birds Killed by Windmills

(p. A19) On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.

ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.
Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.
A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birds–nearly all protected by the migratory bird act–are being whacked every year at Altamont.
Altamont’s turbines, located about 30 miles east of Oakland, Calif., kill more than 100 times as many birds as Exxon’s tanks, and they do so every year. But the Altamont Pass wind farm does not face the same threat of prosecution, even though the bird kills at Altamont have been repeatedly documented by biologists since the mid-1990s.
. . .

This is a double standard that more people–and not just bird lovers–should be paying attention to. In protecting America’s wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by “green” energy.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT BRYCE. “Windmills Are Killing Our Birds; One standard for oil companies, another for green energy sources.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 8, 2009): A19.
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated September 7th.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Jane Jacobs “Rightly Condemned the ­Arrogance and Elitism of Urban Planners”

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Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(A15) In her day, she was a tenacious activist and an ­opponent of powerful interests, courting disfavor in high places. But today everyone loves Jane ­Jacobs, and understandably so. The author of the now-classic “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961) is widely regarded as a common-sense visionary who ­reminded people about what makes ­cities livable.

According to Anthony Flint, the author of ­”Wrestling With Moses,” Jacobs’s most important ­contribution was the idea that “cities and city ­neighborhoods had an ­organic structure of their own that couldn’t be ­produced at the drafting table.” Mr. Flint, a former journalist who now works at the ­Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, clearly counts himself as a ­Jacobs fan. His book is a lively and informative ­valentine to her, aimed at showing us especially how she “took on New York’s master builder and ­transformed the American city.”
The villain of the story is Robert Moses, the ­”master builder” who for four decades–from the 1930s into the 1960s–led several well-funded, quasi-governmental agencies and radically transformed the landscape of New York, ­building roads, bridges, tunnels, parks, ­playgrounds, beaches and ­public housing. Though he never held elective ­office, he was ­powerful indeed, establishing a ­formidable base in the city and state bureaucracies. He might have fallen into obscurity after his death if it were not for Robert Caro, who immortalized ­Moses in “The Power ­Broker” (1974), a massive ­biography that portrays Moses as a despot whose creations helped to destroy the city.
. . .
One roots for Jacobs every step of the way, not least because she rightly condemned the ­arrogance and elitism of urban planners. And Moses was, in fact, a bully who had acquired too much power and disregarded the concerns of local residents. Slum clearance too often targeted functioning working-class neighborhoods, and urban renewal went far beyond what its utopian aims could possibly deliver.

For the full review, see:
VINCENT J. CANNATO. “Not Here, She Said; How Jane Jacobs fought the ‘power broker’ to save the Village–and a city.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 29, 2009): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The source of the book being reviewed, is:
Flint, Anthony. Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2009.

Increase Health Insurance Competition by Ending Cross-State Ban

(p. A13) How do we get to a competitive market? The tax deduction for employer-provided group insurance, which has nearly destroyed the individual insurance market, is a central culprit. If we don’t have the will to remove it, the deduction could be structured to enhance competition and the right to future insurance. We could restrict the tax deduction to individual, portable, long-term insurance and to the high-deductible plans that people choose with their own money.

More importantly, health care and insurance are overly protected and regulated businesses. We need to allow the same innovation, entry, and competition that has slashed costs elsewhere in our economy. For example, we need to remove regulations such as the ban on cross-state insurance. Think about it. What else aren’t we allowed to purchase in another state?

For the full commentary, see:
JOHN H. COCHRANE . “What to Do About Pre-existing Conditions; Most Americans worry about health coverage if they lose their job and get sick. There is a market solution.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., AUGUST 14, 2009): A13.

Creator of Cap-and-Trade Now Says Plan is Ineffective and Inflexible

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“When he was a graduate student in the 1960s working to reduce pollutants, Thomas Crocker devised a cap-and-trade system similar to one being considered in Congress.” Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) In the 1960s, a University of Wisconsin graduate student named Thomas Crocker came up with a novel solution for environmental problems: cap emissions of pollutants and then let firms trade permits that allow them to pollute within those limits.

Now legislation using cap-and-trade to limit greenhouse gases is working its way through Congress and could become the law of the land. But Mr. Crocker and other pioneers of the concept are doubtful about its chances of success. They aren’t abandoning efforts to curb emissions. But they are tiptoeing away from an idea they devised decades ago, doubting it can work on the grand scale now envisioned.
“I’m skeptical that cap-and-trade is the most effective way to go about regulating carbon,” says Mr. Crocker, 73 years old, a retired economist in Centennial, Wyo. He says he prefers an outright tax on emissions because it would be easier to enforce and provide needed flexibility to deal with the problem.
. . .
Mr. Crocker sees two modern-day problems in using a cap-and-trade system to address the global greenhouse-gas issue. The first is that carbon emissions are a global problem with myriad sources. Cap-and-trade, he says, is better suited for discrete, local pollution problems. “It is not clear to me how you would enforce a permit system internationally,” he says. “There are no institutions right now that have that power.”
Europe has embraced cap-and-trade rules. Emissions initially rose there because industries were given more permits than they needed, and regulators have since tightened the caps. Meanwhile China, India and other developing markets are reluctant to go along, fearing limits would curb their growth. If they don’t participate, there is little assurance that global carbon emissions will slow much even if the U.S. goes forward with its own plan. And even if everyone signs up, Mr. Crocker says, it isn’t clear the limits will be properly enforced across nations and industries.
The other problem, Mr. Crocker says, is that quantifying the economic damage of climate change — from floods to failing crops — is fraught with uncertainty. One estimate puts it at anywhere between 5% and 20% of global gross domestic product. Without knowing how costly climate change is, nobody knows how tight a grip to put on emissions.
In this case, he says Washington needs to come up with an approach that will be flexible and easy to adjust over a long stretch of time as more becomes known about damages from greenhouse-gas emissions. Mr. Crocker says cap-and-trade is better suited for problems where the damages are clear — like acid rain in the 1990s — and a hard limit is needed quickly.
“Once a cap is in place,” he warns, “it is very difficult to adjust.” For example, buyers of emissions permits would see their value reduced if the government decided in the future to loosen the caps.

For the full story, see:
JON HILSENRATH. “Cap-and-Trade’s Unlikely Critics: Its Creators; Economists Behind Original Concept Question the System’s Large-Scale Usefulness, and Recommend Emissions Taxes Instead.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., AUGUST 13, 2009): A7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Noble Savages Were Not So Noble

(p. A20) The idea that primitive hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with the landscape has long been challenged by researchers, who say Stone Age humans in fact wiped out many animal species in places as varied as the mountains of New Zealand and the plains of North America. Now scientists are proposing a new arena of ancient depredation: the coast.

In an article in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Oregon cite evidence of sometimes serious damage by early inhabitants along the coasts of the Aleutian Islands, New England, the Gulf of Mexico, South Africa and California’s Channel Islands, where the researchers do fieldwork.
“Human influence is pretty pervasive,” one of the authors, Torben C. Rick of the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, said in an interview. “Hunter-gatherers with fairly simple technology were actively degrading some marine ecosystems” tens of thousands of years ago.

For the full story, see:

CORNELIA DEAN. “Ancient Man Hurt Coasts, Paper Says.” The New York Times (Fri., August 21, 2009): A20.