Monday, December 29, 2008

good news from oregon

gov. kulongoski proposes replacing the gas tax with a VMT fee.
[link thanks to drudge, who undoubtedly posted it because of his fears that the satellite data could somehow be used by the state government for illicit purposes.]
[woo, another one: san francisco jumping on the bandwagon with a similar, but different, proposal to charge a congestion fee for entering parts of the city, similar to london and singapore.]

funny quote from the nytimes piece:
“The devil is in the details,” said a spokesman, Nathan Ballard. While Mr. Newsom supports congestion management, Mr. Ballard said, “Given the challenging economic times, we would hate to impose too heavy a burden on commuters.”
i'm pretty sure that it doesn't follow that in an economic recession, charging people for the true costs of their travel would be a "too heavy" burden. wouldn't building up public systems of transportation be ideal during periods where gasoline prices are low? (lower gas prices mean that drivers do _not_ pay the full costs of travel, and are likely to overconsume as a result...relative to the "optimal" balance between supply and demand that would result from properly pricing travel).

the question is: when is it a bad idea to make people pay full costs? it seems like, at root, the wider financial crisis is related to failing to account for true costs (in this case, the costs of risk). i'd like to see or do a study on this...additionally, the obvious (to me at least) benefits associated with pricing far, far outweigh any burdens imposed on commuters. health benefits from exercise (and, probably vastly reduced stress, judging by how san francisco drivers act behind the wheel), occasional face-to-face interactions with people on *gasp* trains and *gasp* buses and maybe at an intersection! (scary stuff, i know.) over the long term, maybe a change in urban forms to accommodate more pedestrians, transit users, and cyclists. air quality benefits, climate change benefits, fewer deaths...what's holding us back?

Americans have “a very parochial mindset” about driving, said Mr. McGoldrick, whose wife is English.

“It’s hard for people to envision anything else,” he continued, “because this is such a car culture.”

ah. THIS IS WHAT POLICY IS FOR. presumably policy-makers at the level of society understand external costs better than individual decision makers. legislate it and forget it. the benefits over time will far outweigh the costs.

some issues re: VMT fee.
you change the incentive from the amount of fuel you consume to the amount of distance that you drive. on its face this seems like a poor decision since you no longer incentive fuel economy, but this could be tackled with increasing the CAFE standards (also, the price of gasoline already incentivizes its efficient use).

a per-mile charge (or VMT fee) tells people that they'll derive a direct financial benefit for every mile of travel they forgo or for which they use an alternative mode.
this puts the right kind of behavior on the table at every decision to travel. once people pay large lump sums (on insurance) they'll tend to want to "get their money's worth". in this sense the best policy would be to shift all the costs of driving to a per-mile basis. why leave insurance as a lump, and charge a fee for everything else? align *all* of the incentives, oregon, and you'll have a first-best policy. until then, this is a step in the right direction.

Friday, December 19, 2008

word cloud resulting from my thesis. aside from some weirdness (it doesn't recognize words which should go together "San Diego" or "et al.") it's actually pretty rad.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

with thesis out of the way (update to possibly follow, although my topic was not that satisfying to me and i'd be happy not to revisit it for sometime, if only to avoid the pain that comes with seeing a previously unseen error. such revisting might be necessary, however, sooner than later as there is interest from some quarters in turning one part into a submissible manuscript), i can turn to some leisure reading for approximately 17 minutes, before the next thing comes down.

i've still been thinking a lot about foster wallace's death. the rolling stone piece by david lipsky is first rate, and really just goes to show you how fucked up antidepressants can be, but also really speaks to the ways in which wallace was a classic white male author (substances, women, drink), which is somewhat heartening.

in any case, i'm hoping to tackle infinite jest at some point (v. soon) although i would like to get away from reading white dudes for a while (i picked up an octavia butler novel at the library, also, to facilitate this). i got a wallace secondary source that seems to be pretty legit, and which source i'm hoping willl help me to get further through IJ than i did last time (~175 pages). i'm buoyed by a friend recently completing it. which means that it is possible.

i'm gearing up by reading some of the things i already know. but i came across one essay in a supposedly fun thing i'll never do again about this tennis player named joyce. it's helping me think about (as opposed to just enjoying the prose, which is what i usually do) why i like wallace's writing. one thing is clearly his ability to take in a situation and know that situation and then help you to know it as well. this is the great thing about his nonfiction--there's almost no barrier between what's happening, and you since DFW (seemingly) lets you in on everything that he's thinking about and that composes his experience. obviously something must be filtered for the printed page, but it seems like not much is. he's far and away my favorite nonfiction author, but the fiction...maybe the problem is that the fiction leaves reality behind, so whatever is going on in wallace's mind is just too advanced for me. when he's stuck in the real world he has to meet me on my level, necessarily. with fiction there are no such constraints.

plus this guy really fucking loves tennis. and i really couldn't care less about tennis. but i want to read anything that he's written about it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

fine malt thesis

my biggest fear right has nothing to do with not finishing the thesis. it's about setting the margins somehow incorrectly and grad studies making me wait another quarter to get my degree.

a handy option in word is the ability to set a gutter in addition to a normal margin. i'm not exactly sure in what way it's different from a normal margin, but i've added two one hundredths of an inch to the left gutter and it seems much better. for some reason what word showed as a 1.5 inch left margin on the screen was in fact not 1.5 inches wide by my ruler, once printed.

this isn't turning into a word 2007 tips blog. although, there should be one. i have big plans for scholarly work post-thesis involving science studies, engineering, and travel demand modeling. excited? i thought so.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

word 2007 tip

when you have a large table (or anything else) that you need to print in landscape, but you want to keep the page numbers vertical, you won't find any help on the internet.

the only way to do it is to insert a text box in the footer (after unlinking everything, of course), then insert a page number at that position. PRESTO.

don't forget to remove the outline from the textbox.

MS thesis due in seven days.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

dfw: in memoriam

i was saddened today to learn about the apparent suicide of david foster wallace. death has not yet been something that i've had to deal with in any serious way, so the recent double-blow of extremely smart people whom i respect (alex farrell, preeminent energy researcher, passed away in mid-april), both by suicide, is quite shocking.

i was only turned on to dfw's writing a couple of years ago, but i immediately ripped through all of his nonfiction. when approaching his fiction, up until this point, i've stumbled. infinite jest was put back on the shelf after a measly hundred-or-so pages. it may be time to pick it back up.

cheers, to david foster wallace.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


a recent back and forth in science is worthy of note. liu and diamond published a policy forum back in january on china's environmental conditions attempting to answer the question about how to fundamentally alter the system such that environmental quality is improved.

they propose the consolidation of china's disparate environmental agencies, and the establishment of a new, higher level, agency. this agency would presumably coordinate high efficiency/low pollution measures--green gdp, among others. other "fundamental changes" include things like "changes in attitudes towards the environment." okay buddy. if only.

the fundamental problem with these types of institutional/attitudinal reform arguments is that they don't question consumption or development--a point raised in a letter by ellis, in response to liu and diamond. he notes, correctly, that the same criteria guide the governments of china and the US (namely economic performance) and that the only reason the US seems green is because much of its impacts have been exported to other places and are not accounted for when the US does its environmental accounting. he concludes that a good policy would involve the internalization of costs, regardless of geographic location.

this all seems very good. unfortunately, liu and diamond had to respond in a typical scientific (pompous) manner with a letter of their own. in it, they don't refute any of ellis's points but simply highlight the fact that chinese administrators seemed to take note and completed some institutional reform as a result. far from reedeeming themselves, their response indicates to me that they're still stuck in a techno-optimistic framework where governments can policy themselves out of environmental degradation without addressing root causes. and i thought jared diamond was cool.

Monday, August 4, 2008

good ole' richard branson

from drudge report: branson's bogus eco-drive.

while drudge undoubtedly posted this as yet another illustration of green hypocrisy (see past culprits al gore and live earth). the next jump he'll want you to make is that climate change is bogus or that nothing should be done to stop it because all of these eco-crusaders are burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow.

i agree with part of this argument although i'd make a distinction between folks like branson and those like gore. i'd call the hypocrisy exhibited by a richard branson, greenwashing. he's taking a stance on climate change in general, then assuming all of his ventures (virgin galactic? ZOMG WTF) take on a green shade. flying jets on 20% biofuel, empty, is not going to solve the climate crisis.

al gore, on the other hand, is actually engaged in activism on a day-to-day basis. flying around is something he needs to do to get this message out. even the more hardcore peakists (heinberg, kunstler, etc.) all have raised issues with continuing to use commercial flights. quoth heinberg:
I fly to educate both general audiences and policy makers about fossil fuel depletion; in fact, I’m writing this article aboard a plane en route from Boston to San Francisco. I wince at my carbon footprint, but console myself with the hope that my message helps thousands of others to change their consumption patterns. This inner conflict is about to be resolved: the decline of affordable air travel is forcing me to rethink my work. I’m already starting to do much more by video teleconference, much less by jet.
so there you have it, to educate folks, right now, we need to travel. as the availability of cheap fuel declines, we will simply fly less. i think (hope) that al gore understands this. branson on the other hand, is an idiot, but drudge takes it one step too far.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

western climate initiative

a lot of the talk at yesterday's EJAC meeting was regarding the western climate initiative (WCI). committee members expressed concern at being left out of the process--apparently july 29 was the last stakeholder meeting to discuss the policy. it was met with protests. the protesters concerns are not new, and all concern cap and trade. (i'm just going to take from the signonsandiego article. group is in bold, concern follows.)
  1. environmental leaders: undermine california's efforts by allowing purchases of allowances/credits elsewhere, thus deferring a low-carbon transition at home.
  2. labor officials: would encourage industry to leave california in favor of areas with fewer rules.
  3. several critics: said the system would be open to manipulation and gaming.
the response: "Leaders of the Western Climate Initiative said they will take yesterday's comments into consideration as they craft a final plan for release in September."

hm. so, california comes out with this great plan, lots of (sort of) accountability. EJ provisions, public health provisions. a truly major environmental public works project. but now they latch on to the WCI and suddenly it becomes another nafta superhighway. what the hell is going on? shouldn't these protests and the EJAC meeting be cluing in the WCI leaders that they need more transparency, not less? if they stopped acting like corporate pigs, they could realize that a properly designed cap and trade system could address all concerns. but instead they're shrouding themselves in secrecy. i suggest to the WCI stakeholders that this is not a winning strategy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

liveblogging the EJAC meeting

so, let's see how this goes...check out the meeting agenda/details/stream at the following locations:

(all times in CDT)

12h14: still no activity on the stream...guess they're running late.

12h22: explicit targeting of blackberrys for a turn off! sick.

12h27: kevin kennedy and edie chang from CARB presenting.

12h42: CARB - VMT reductions necessary to meet 2050 goal. interesting.

12h54: $2b in public health benefits, $30 savings/month in transport costs. okay.

13h11: here we go. some conflict is evident between the EJAC and their feelings about the WCI. i think they feel marginalized in the process. (i can't mention names since they're not showing them...i think the woman speaking is named james.)

13h15: argh. confusing. notes to self: WCI stakeholder meeting was yesterday apparently the last one was yesterday. EJAC has no position yet on WCI. some NOx ruling at the federal (?) level is peripherally related?

big issue: EJ protections not on the radar elsewhere, only in CA. this seems to be the biggest deal. EJAC co-chair: "we will whine bitch, moan, complain, and sue you if necessary."

concerned about EJ committees/first nations internationally. concerned about CDM and human rights violations. lots of problems with the international markets. this is really good stuff.
the EPA dude (matt?) is getting completely dominated by the co-chair.

13h23: traditional EJ rejections to CnT. although he's right that everything should be on the table for AB32 implementation, but that they're jumping the gun on the WCI etc.

13h27: claim that acid rain lessons do not apply or that the acid rain program was somehow not a successful. don't agree.

13h28: WCI concerns being aired. no public process, planning happening on a regional level, not local. no public process in other states. only being attended by elected officials with no feedback. draft scoping plan (DSP) is too vague. "what does this mean to us?"

13h32: more EJ concerns: too many transactions happening. WCI again - no participation. response from matt: claiming that public participation has to happen because it's mandated by AB32, but i don't think he knows what he just promised (monitored transactions).

13h34: matt just keeps hitting back on AB32 and its provisions. seems like a cop out. although jose's comment wasn't very coherent. i'm getting the feeling that the EJAC has really internalized the declaration against carbon trading.

13h40: from the chair: more declaration stuff, more issues about the transactions occurring in the marketplace. you CANNOT monitor each transaction, it would also have to happen under a tax or regulation. very much an international focus with the EJAC. concerns about prosecuting abroad.

13h41: luke, assn of irritated citizens. encorcement, enforcability. "weaseling out" of ag enforcement mechanisms...? redoing SIPs around ag enforcement. (this is more than one sentence.)

13h42: martha, not a good track record of enforcement. (seems like monitoring as well.) how to deal with monitoring. goldstein replies that the regulatory processes will get into the minutiae of enforcement, etc.

13h49: chair, ARB at the place where a trading program is happening. not the place where EJAC and communities are. trading program cannot work to serve the interests of the communities she represents. she thinks that nothing can be done with a trading program to make it work/be good. it's amazing that the two chairs are women and one is a woman of color. i wish i could say more on that.

13h52: amy kyle, ucb public health. research on cumulative impacts and policy approaches. suggestions on how to think about policy mandates DSP. dealing with climate change not just a pollution issue. fine. but the answer is not necessarily new technology. (fine, it's more important than control, since you can't control GHGs like pollution). how about thinking about consumption as opposed to a technological panacea? i disagree that CnT for acid rain is fundamentally different than for carbon.

14h01: benefit leakage has not been analyzed. positive aspects of climate change policy could be shared. and...the sound cut out.

14h10: sound back. that was very frustrating. comments and q's for dr. kyle.

14h12: interesting that most of the other academic-types that had previously commented on the process/plans have been engineers/economists. interesting that we've got a public health professional talking to the EJAC.

request from luke for concrete recommendations to the board...and sound cut out again.

14h17: hm. sound cutting out could possibly have been my fault...back now.

14h18: i gather that dr. kyle's talk included the notion of including other metrics alongside GHG emissions. this was kind of talked about in kaswan's article as well. i think it's a good idea.

14h21: concern that public health has not been focused on to the same extent as econ impacts or emissions reductions. i would argue that this is not the mandate of AB32. public comment period now beginning for folks in the audience.

14h22: alternate for small business for california on the ETAC, talking about providing some incentives for energy efficiency. wants to use energy efficiency for offsets. it's really hard to measure gains from energy efficiency, though. see alan meier.

14h28: peggy hock, united solar. haha, she's definitely hawking her company's project. CSI program provides a base? we're looking for cuts below? i have no idea what's going on. i think she's addressing the wrong committee. distributed generation, the voluntary market is not covered? most people are not looking at AB32? we all want to include renewables? but if you look at how it's being implemented, the entire voluntary market is being left out? include distributed generation in the cap and trade market. she totally wasn't listening to the earlier part of the conversation? this is kind of hilarious.

sitting at the electricity cafe. all want to lower our bill. all utilities, dairies, car manufacturers, lots of people ordering way too much stuff. a bunch of people just ate salad. the bill was lowered. everyone pays the same. first sellers only have to turn in their receipts. this really has nothing to do with EJ. okay, i think what she's saying is that industry is not going to get credit for installing PV or wind, only what's going to come out of the smokestack.

jane is responding well. DG, renewables important. getting the folks at the table.

14h38: jean costa sierra club...oh god. problem with "granting pollution rights." ok, ok, she's legit. two pubs: carbon trading - a critical conversation on climate change, privitization, and power), sweden, 2006..lohmann et al. (apparently available free online!) stop using fossil fuels, stop using the atmosphere as a sink. global forest coalition, global justice ecology project "true cost of agro fuels" full costs.

14h45: tom bonn, offroad vehicle sierra club. no more free pass for offroad vehicles. i'm not sure how this is relevant either. are these folks not aware that they're adressing the EJ committee? srsly.

14h50: lunch.

15h29: meeting should be starting back up pretty soon, but i just had a thought. i got the feeling that the EJAC wants to have concrete recommendations to give to CARB. why don't they try to look at giving recommendations for the cap and trade programming instead of stonewalling it? absolutely all of the EJ objections can be dealt with with proper design. we then have appropriate penalties in place and let the market work. fortunately i have a piece that outlines just what they should recommend...

15h53: comments on specific reduction measures.

15h57: (ah, CARB guy was james goldstein), luke volunteers to do some analysis on methane lagoons in the SJV.

16h03: sound down again, sigh. re-entered with some discussion on reusing manure from the dairies as fertilizer.

16h15: questions on energy efficiency, energy in general, CCS. nothing too crazy.

16h20: LCFS time. tom (?), build 30-60 corn ethanol plants in CA. this dude is really upset. and now the video is choppy. (SIGH!!) okay, way anti-corn ethanol opinion. "state alternative fuels plan", not sure what this is. these are all plans. LCFS is a regulation. no one thought CE was a panacea at the time. delucchi (was on the team that) wrote the LCFS and i'm sure he noted all of the uncertainties.

16h24: kevin from CARB: trading and regs not incompatible. good point.

16h25: question from chair on "flexibility" is it equal to trading? confusion on how to allocate reductions to certain measures. for transport they applied pavely, then took 10 percent more to get the LCFS reduction. clarification on the flexibility inherent in the LCFS, letting all refiners trade to get the 10 percent. trading between LCFS and CnT undefined.

16h29: interesting reaction by the chair to the response. something about the regs being too complex...interesting point, "why not just make gas $4.50/gal?" why not $9/gal? she says, "did i mention i'm in favor of a carbon fee?"

16h31: comments from jose and the EHC guy about increasing use of electricity having to come from renewables (and the SOUND IS OUT AGAIN!!!! these last few times have definitely not been my fault.)

16h34: discussion on the diesel risk reduction plan. no idea how this came to be discussed. (sigh, again.)

16h37: goods movement. tom, waste should be considered also as a goods movement commodity. (sludge moving to kern county, manure to kern county, hazardous ash to kern county, municipal solid waste to avenol (?) ) . okay. let's reduce consumption as opposed to "treating at the source." (i'm a broken record.)

16h40: more skepticism about using forests as sinks. this is good. can't regulate acts of god! true. apparently CARB is hoping to do some rigorous monitoring to meet the 5 MT of forest sequestration they've got in 2020. reaction from the committee is that you can't predict these weird things that'll happen. (freezes, lightning strikes, etc.) also people live in the forests and we can't kick them out to maintain them.

16h48: refineries. phil, exclude all refineries from trading and offset purchases, regulate technology at the same facilities. ah, include reduced demand for refinery product. apparently this isn't in the appendices (they must assume constant or growing demand for refined product). jessie wants to include fuel storage tank facilities for VOC regulation. eliminate flared emissions. drilling proposals now on the map for wilmington, 1000 new wells in LA county. all of the abandoned or orphaned oil wells have not been accounted for in the scoping plan.

16h56: land use, local gov't actions, and regional targets. 8 new etoh plants in the SJV. land use cuts both ways. leo (EHC), wants all cities and localities to set their own targets based on what they have rather than waiting for them to come forward. require targets and work with them to set them. a brand new high-density development on a greenfield is not smart growth. right on, leo. involve ports. especially the UPSD, for example.

17h10: leo- energy is a land use issue. i'm not sure exactly what he means. (CARB has assured me that the meeting will be available on their archive at a future date...might have to review.) biggest idea is that without regional/city targets, we won't make the statewide cap.

17h13: water. ag is strikingly absent from the water discussion. not enough to push efforts forward. concern about dam construction, EJAC wants to make sure it's not on the table.

17h17: wondering about 10^6 solar roofs, and high speed rail. where did the numbers come from (2, 1, respectively). much less than the 5 MT expected from forests. could be double counting gains from the roofs if they're in the RPS also.

17h22: a level of squishiness with all the measures. some seem to be uncertain at best, others already happening. sustainable forests, pavley. interesting to note that the DSP has one number that will be the reductions (no error bar). proposal for backup reductions. LCFS fails, forests fail, chair is concerned that then more stuff will go into the trading part. (this wouldn't be a problem, and in fact would be a good back up plan). i don't think it would be necessary to have a complete suite back up measures ... CARB says they'll hit harder on other measures, and keep their ear to the ground on new approaches. a contingency plan sounds like a good idea, though. just start retiring some coal fired power plants or something...

17h29: kevin says that there's some discussion about setting the cap much lower as a contingency. he says rightly that CnT provides the contingency if it's properly designed.

17h31: CnT.

"Everyone knows that we are anti-cap and trade."

chair wants recommendations on how to formulate suggestions on the DSP.

what if the CnT doesn't work is the question...what if another approach doesn't work??? what if nothing works? geez. the EJAC is being kind of condescending wrt CnT. mention of the easter bunny was not that cool.

"strong and well-evidenced body of knowledge that says this trading will not work." what body of evidence is this? everything can be done without CnT...that's not true. this is completely absurd. CnT has not been documented to not work, around the globe. ugh. she wants to segregate CnT in the plan. i think this is already done? right, and this is what kevin is saying.

it just occurred to me that it's unfortunate that the EJAC is super biased on this issue and not approaching the discussion in good faith. there is no simple solution that will cost 1.5 times more than CnT.

what the chair is saying now is reasonable. namely that there should be a stronger emphasis on scenario analysis. kevin is saying that this is what's going to be in the "Economic supplement." but probably that document will probably have the conclusion written first.

co-chair arguing for carbon fee, saying that it gives certainty. i mean, it provides certainty wrt the price of carbon, but not wrt reductions.

interesting that no one is talking about a carbon tax, but a carbon "fee."

17h55: okay, i'm losing concentration. apparently the webcast is going down in 5 minutes but the meeting will continue. i suppose if there's one thing i'm surprised at is the skepticism of the EJAC towards carbon trading. it is economically equivalent to a tax, but you don't have to say "tax." this is its virtue. surely they understand this? they didn't get back to the public health kind of stuff. i'll be following this closely...

18h00: hm, okay, one thing they're now discussing is some kind of over allocation initially, i'm not exactly sure what this is about. woo, apparently people already on the webcast can stay!

18h03: andrea cook, some kind of sustainable energy center. question to jane about getting good offsets. how to do it? many of the members do not support voluntary offsets at all. lesson is that offsets are really sketchy. agree.

18h08: cynthia babbage, lots of stuff about her community impacts. she's really upset with the entire notion of trading, there wasn't much sense there.

18h14: lisa ojos. question about taking out refineries because we don't want to take a chance. california has a unique opportunity to lead in terms of all their great regs, not just CnT. good one kevin, citing the global momentum towards CnT, citing California's effort as trying to get the state's take on CnT taking all of the EJAC concerns into account. What does an EJ-friendly CnT look like, in other words. rather than picking another policy instrument.

does CA support an 80/20 regs/CnT split for the other WCI partners? kevin says the other states may not have the same policy infrastructure.

jane asks about the uncertainty at the federal level relating to CnT, cites mitch mcconnell (senator from kentucky?) saying we'll never have a CnT program.

18h32: it's over?

i think the most important thing i learned is that the declaration does reflect the majority (entire) view of the EJAC. they appear to be completely unwilling to work with CARB on any aspect of CnT. i'm not sure how this is going to play out in the end (a lawsuit if CnT proceeds?). i've said it before, and i've said it again. detaching from helping to design the mundane details of the CnT represents a grievous error on the part of the EJ folks. the disdain they seemed to hold for CARB was also surprisingly (maybe it wasn't towards CARB only). i feel like CARB is on their side in terms of wanting to get firm reductions and wanting to protect public health, and they've done this in the past through firm regs. shouldn't the EJ folks be giving them the benefit of the doubt? they've been one of the few agencies consistently on their side...

Friday, June 27, 2008

AB32 draft scoping plan

yesterday, the california air resources board (CARB) released the draft scoping plan detailing their plan to achieve the goal of 1990 emissions by 2020 (a 30 percent reduction from business as usual). the sort of bottom line: "...estimates [from economic models] indicated that the overall savings from improved efficiency and developing alternatives to petroleum will on the whole outweigh the costs. This balance is largely driven by current high energy costs and the degree to which measures increase energy efficiency throughout the economy and move California toward alternatives to fossil fuels" (p. 52).

if you recall, the governor also stated that we should achieve an 80 percent reduction from 2050 business as usual, but this was clearly not the focus of the present plan--either because of the obvious difficulty of achieving that target in the face of population pressures. they mention it only a couple times, once explicitly mentioning that trees are the way to go: "Forests are unique in that planting trees today will maximize their sequestration capacity in 20 to 50 years. As a result, near-term investments in activities such as planting trees will help us reach our 2020 target, but will play a greater role in reaching our 2050 goals" (p. 27). another choice 2050 reference is to improving urban forms (p. 33).

we knew that CARB would probably recommend a cap and trade system. we knew they'd also blend in regulations, since that's obviously their specialty. we got both of these things. regs come in the form of an increasing commitment to energy efficiency, an expansion of the renewables portfolio standard (to 33 percent), the implementation the various transport measures (pavley, LCFS). the cap and trade should be linkable with the western climate initiative. this is sensible, although it's unclear whether there are future plans to join the EU or other schemes. their accounting of GHGs for 2020 is pretty stylized. observe their table 4 which shows the envisioned sectoral responsibilities for reductions. (note to CARB: keep your sector names constant. cf. table 4 and figure 2.)

so transport is responsible for a huge chunk of the reductions. (that means i'm employable.) that's a straight up 30 percent reduction envisioned from that sector. exactly proportional to the total reduction required. a similar proportion is envisioned in electricity while commercial and residential and industry require comparably fewer reductions. however, if cheap reductions are available in those sectors, we'll get at them with a cap and trade scheme.

here's where things get a little funny. that 30 percent transport reduction is substantial. how do they hope to achieve it? they're coming almost entirely from the low carbon fuel standard and pavley (increasing fuel economy). (i should also note here that i'm a little suspicious of their 2020 projections in general--it's possible that they've severely underestimated. details of their modeling are to be released in an appendix to the draft plan at some future date. using EMFAC, transport emissions grow ~120 percent times over the period 1990-2020, whereas here it only shows a growth of 26 percent. smoke and mirrors?)

i suppose that as long as the cap is set properly (although, the transportation weirdness indicates that their overall projection might be completely off) we don't have much to worry about. but they should be more upfront then about what they think their regs are capable of.

additionally bizarre is a complete absence of measures which seek to change behavior. the implicit assumption is that technological change (the largest portion of which--pavley--actually lowers the per-mile cost of driving) will meet transport's share of reductions. then contrast it with language included in the plan:

"Beyond including vehicle efficiency improvements and lowering vehicle miles traveled, the State is reducing the carbon intensity of motor fuels consumed in California" (emphasis added, p. 25). woah, woah, woah. nowhere else in the report do they mention lowering VMT except briefly when then talk about fee-based reductions where they specifically mention congestion pricing, per-mile insurance premiums. they estimate reductions from these, but do not talk about them on the same level as the tech measures and do not include them in their accounting. this could be do to different schools of thought at CARB. it might also be that their 2020 transport estimate is deflated and they realize that much more than pavley/LCFS will be needed to mitigate to the extent required.

it's also a indicative of a larger philosophical problem. nowhere do they mention the idea that climate change is fundamentally a problem of consumption. this is exemplified in the following quotation: "Buildings are the second largest contributor to California’s greenhouse gas emissions" (p.22). or, our inhabitation of buildings leads to their weighing in as the second largest contributor. our heating and cooling of buildings, to be correct. these building emissions don't come from nowhere!

then when they do address behavior, its only in terms of tech. choices: "The same dynamic of changing individual behavior will drive California’s pioneering effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As more people choose to drive low greenhouse gas emitting vehicles, the auto manufacturers will respond with more models and more intensive research. Regulations requiring auto manufacturers to provide these cars will complement the market demand" (p. 65). ok, so we want to reduce VMT, but our individual behavior change is limited to picking a new car?

other confusions they'll need to elaborate on:
  1. using fees as well as cap and trade (p. 41). i'm pretty sure this makes no sense at all, and maybe they're talking about using fees instead of cap and trade. if that's the case, they should clarify. any fee-based reductions could come instead from lowering the cap, which acts as a de facto fee.
  2. "Allowing offset projects from outside California to count for compliance under AB 32 could reduce the amount of reductions occurring within the state, and which would reduce the local economic, environmental and public health co-benefits from GHG emission reduction" (p. 44). right, but so does including california in a WCI cap and trade such that california's cap would only determine the initial allocation and not the actual amount of reductions achieved in the state. why apply this logic here and not there?
on the EJ side, apart from mentioning that the EJAC's input will be taken to heart in coming up with the final plan on a number of issues (e.g. LCFS), they mention the possible use of revenue to achieve AB32's EJ goals (p. 46). CARB is seeking comments on how the revenues should be used. additionally, NOx, VOC, and PM emissions should decrease statewide, contributing to improved public health. a number of other sort of public health and co-benefits questions are raised, but they only state that analyses are ongoing.

i'm not convinced that just because CARB's numbers add up that they are an accurate reflection of reality. to me the draft plan opens up a lot more questions than it answers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

EJAC conference call

So, I just listened in on the EJAC conference call. It wasn't too noteworthy, but I did take some notes and thought that I'd send them on to you to sort of solidify my thoughts. I should also note that they were going to produce a summary of the call and I imagine that'll be available sometime soon.

The purpose of the call was to discuss the public health implications of AB32. I got the sense that the folks on the call thought that the scoping plan was not going to adequately address the issue of public health. Here's where my skeptical radar kind of turned on--the default assumption should be that the public health implications of AB32 are going to be marginal, but there were a couple people on the call that seemed to have no clear idea about the ways in which the health impacts of climate change might be different from the health impacts of air pollution. One for example started going off about asthma risk, presumably under the assumption that there was some link…

I think one thing that might be going on is that the EJ community feels that they've been thrown a bone--namely the language used in AB32 to prevent disproportionate impacts and the hype and funding associated with implementing the bill--and they don't want to squander the opportunity to address the issues that they've been working on for decades in some cases. For example, one thing that was addressed was disparities in access to public health facilities (clinics, testing, etc.). I have no doubt that EJ communities do have lower access to these resources, but I have no idea what this has to do with climate change legislation, or how CARB can possibly work to address this.

This became the final of three questions/general comments they wanted to pose to CARB. The first two were reasonable:

  1. Policy tools and policy scenarios (scoping plan will apparently include five scenarios: fully regulatory, fully fee-based, three trading). Which is/are best from a public health standpoint? Choose it/them or at least make sure the worst is not chosen.
  2. Cumulative impacts. Recognizing that there are existing health issues in many areas, when you lay the preferred policy tools/scenarios on top of them, does the decision change?
  3. Ensure that avoided health costs are valued and ensure that existing gaps in public health infrastructure are addressed.
As you can see, the third is a little vague. This was admitted on the call. As I said, I don't see how AB32 is the appropriate tool with which to address the third. At any rate, this was the meat of the conversation. A final point was to set up an additional committee--public health oversight committee or something similar--to ensure that these issues are addressed in the scoping plan. They envisioned a two-tiered scheme where the first would include a couple EJAC members, someone from CalEPA and CARB combined with a second tied composed of public health professionals that would actually carry out analysis in support of the first tier's goals (or something).

Doesn't seem like a bad idea in principle, but I think (and you do as well?) that the interesting EJ concerns should be economics-related and not public health related when it comes to climate change. I'd guess that an "economic health" committee would be far more valuable in this context.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

o canada

today, stephane dion (canadian leader of the official opposition) unveiled plans for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. i shit you not--it's here--go look!

the great thing is not just that it's an obviously sensible policy (that energy policy wonks have known about for decades and decades, but we won't worry about that now), not that the liberals actually have a chance to implement it. no, neither of those things. the best part is that the comments on the cbc news site are overwhelmingly positive. people understand that the tax would reward those who innovate in terms of energy efficiency and conservation. it's so much easier to understand than a cap and trade system. i _love_ that canadians can propose this but that any mention of tax in the US throws everyone into a shit-fit.

ah, a great day to be canadian. this may actually convince me to vote liberal (i usually go NDP) in the next general.

[edit: so, it seems that the highest rated comments are positive, but there are still a ton of haperite cranks that are up in arms over the plan. still, given recent experiences with carbon taxation in quebec and bc, this would appear to be a positive development. i think the concept of a revenue-neutral shift should be elucidated more clearly.]

Saturday, June 7, 2008

just one more from mike davis

i can't resist:

The city is our ark in which we might survive the environmental turmoil of the next century. Genuinely urban cities are the most environmentally efficient form of existing with nature that we possess because they can substitute public luxury for private or household consumption. They can square the circle between environmental sustainability and a decent standard of living. I mean, however big your library is or vast your swimming pool, it'll never be the same as the New York Public Library or a great public pool. No mansion, no San Simeon, will ever be the equivalent of Central Park or Broadway.

i suppose the difference is that you have to share the public pool and the library. the extent to which individuals are willing to turn more towards shared spaces and amenities will largely dictate how the circle is squared.

los angeles/new blog

wowow. i was just pointed to bldg blog (h/t: jason). seems like there’s a lot of great writing about los angeles, and even a mike davis interview. stoked!

davis is right on about pretty much everything. redefining the issue of overpopulation as one of consumption:

If you look at a city like Los Angeles, and its extreme dependence on regional infrastructure, the question of whether certain cities become monstrously over-sized has less to do with the number of people living there, than with how they consume, whether they reuse and recycle resources, whether they share public space. So I wouldn’t say that a city like Khartoum is an impossible city; that has much more to do with the nature of private consumption.
and then:

People talk about environmental footprints, but the environmental footprints of different groups who make up a population tend to differ dramatically. In California, for instance, within the right-wing of the Sierra Club, and amongst anti-immigrant groups, there’s this belief that a huge tide of immigration from Mexico is destroying the environment, and that all these immigrants are actually responsible for the congestion and the pollution – but that's absurd. Nobody has a smaller environmental footprint, or tends to use public space more intensely, than Latin American immigrants. The real problem is white guys in golf carts out on the hundred and ten golf courses in the Coachella Valley. In other words, one retired white guy my age may be using up a resource base ten, twenty, thirty times the size of a young chicana trying to raise her family in a small apartment in the city.
i'm reminded of an anti-immigrant professor at sdsu who apparently takes his classes down to the canyons in san diego where migrant workers live to show them the "environmental degradation" they cause. which exhibits, as davis points out, a profound ignorance of where "environmental" impacts actually originate.

this all ties back to jenny price's piece thirteen ways of seeing nature in LA that discusses how cities like boulder, co are able to exist (propped up by material flows from industrial areas like los angeles). these writers are truly great for trying to actually get to the root causes of modern problems.

Monday, May 19, 2008


i'm reading through ehrlich and ehrlich 's 2004 gem, one with nineveh, right now. i'm familiar with a lot of the things that they've covered before (in general laying out the extent of the problems associated with the growth [population and consumption] of the human enterprise). one new idea i just picked up though is that of the changing household dynamics—namely, smaller people per household combined with larger households (at least in the US). this leads to less large things—think white goods, stoves, fridges, washing machines—being shared and in the end more sprawl.

i think it would be interesting to investigate the extent to which the ideas of freedom and self-sufficiency combined with a skepticism of non-traditional relationship types and living situations combine to increase per capita use of ecosystem services. doubly interesting would be looking into how the media perpetuates the negative stereotypes of group living situations.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

global energy futures

vaclav smil at the university of manitoba is pretty much awesome when it comes to straight-talking about energy futures. he wrote in to nature this week and had this to say after bashing the IPCC scenarios:

"…the rise of atmospheric CO2 above 450 parts per million can be prevented only by an unprecedented (in both severity and duration) depression of the global economy, or by voluntarily adopted and strictly observed limits on absolute energy use. The first is highly probable; the second would be a sapient action, but apparently not for this species."

his latter point is well taken, but given the recent experience in juneau, and other experiences in brazil, it seems to be the case that we can vastly ramp down consumption if required. whether this can be sustained for long periods of time is, perhaps, another story.

brave new world

the tide is turning.

Monday, May 5, 2008

environmental justice and climate policy

subtitle: digging into more specific concerns.

i'm going to look at a few specific documents in this post. one is "recommendations for designing a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system for california" authored by the market advisory committee (MAC) and presented to the california air resources board (i'll call it the MAC report). it's somewhat important to note that the MAC wasn't created specifically by AB32, but came afterwards as a result of a schwarzenegger executive order. this reflects the kind of schizophrenia going on at the state level—carb historically does command and control regulations, but now they've been saddled with implementing AB32 where market measures are the favored policy instrument. this confusion comes through in the recent talks that i've seen by carb members/employees. at any rate, the cover of the MAC report shows a pre-teen girl on a (presumably) california beach looking out into the ocean. the implication is obviously that if we don't do something, these beaches will be gone, and oh here's this thing called cap-and-trade. we love it.

in general i think that cap-and-trade is a good policy instrument. i also think that there are genuine concerns. i'm specifically going to address those concerns related to environmental justice (EJ) and issues that are tangential to it. i'm not going to offer too much more in the way of commentary here—it'll mostly be summary, to help with a short piece i'm writing on these issues.

in reading and writing, i want to try to address some of the following questions/concerns and/or elaborate on comments (in no particular order):

  1. it may not make sense to oppose carbon trading on traditional EJ grounds. global justice (global north/south) concerns appear to be the more appropriate frame through which to address disproportionate impacts vis-à-vis climate change.
  2. it is not clear if carbon trading causes hotspots or if it simply doesn't mitigate them.
  3. offsets can be a problem, but citing obviously flawed policies (rule 1610) to discredit a carbon cap-and-trade scheme makes no sense. We should evaluate the carbon proposals based on their own merits and through comparisons with similar programs (EU-ETS, acid rain, lead phaseout, RECLAIM). Through these comparisons, we can achieve arrive at a better understanding of the policy and its limitations. This will increase the likelihood of success.
  4. appeals to the morality/ethics of trading in general are bizarre, and should be backed up with some kind of appropriate grounding (philosophical?) if they're wanted to be taken seriously. I don't believe we can have these debates without implicating our own consumerism (which i'm fine with, it just seems that no one has done that up to now). case in point: language such as, "since pollution trading enables polluters to avoid emission reductions, or even increase emissions, at one location by purchasing credits earned elsewhere" portrays climate change "pollution"
  5. greenhouse gases (GHGs) are not pollution in the traditional sense (no, i do not agree with wingnuts who do not want to regulate carbon dioxide because it's "in the air we breathe") and referring to them as such generates serious issues with respect to dissonant mental models (someone is going to take issue with me using these terms in this manner).
  6. we should, to the extent possible, disseminate information that does not perpetuate this confusion. this would foster improved understanding of these issues among as many people as possible (more specifically, those people that can stop watching loops of rev. wright for five seconds, that is).
  7. number six would be assisted by discontinuing the practice of jumbling all market mechanisms together, and confusing emissions trading, cap-and-trade, cap-and-auction, offsets, etc.
  8. i think that one issue that has not been covered in-depth, but that probably deserves more treatment is that cap-and-trade is an idea that has emerged from existing power structures and is unlikely to subvert them. therefore, to the extent that climate change represents an opportunity to reorganize our lives around a more "sustainable" ideal, cap-and-trade is unlikely to bring that about.

the MAC dedicates several pages to the consideration of EJ concerns, but i feel it doesn't do so in a comprehensive manner. it seems to me that they do not fully understand the gravity of the movement, nor do they understand that environmental justice concerns cannot be allayed by simply stating their concerns and then stating why they're not actually concerns. this is exemplified in an op-ed piece by the chair of the MAC, larry goulder which, using very dismissive language, itemizes EJ concerns and then squashes them. i do not think that these are the reasons that california EJ groups should toss away their opposition to cap-and-trade. but i do think that such reasons exist. i won't go into them here to prevent sooping.

in my brief review of the literature related to climate change/emissions trading/environmental justice, one document is cited over and over and appears to be very important in this area. it's called "pollution trading and environmental injustice: los angeles' failed experiment in air quality policy" by drury, belliveau, kuhn, and bansal. it appeared in the duke environmental law & policy forum in 1999. all of the authors are or were on staff with communities for a better environment, which google tells me is a "california based environmental health and justice organization which promotes clean air and water and advocates for toxic free communities." the paper is good at identifying problems with two programs: rule 1610, and RECLAIM. unfortunately, the conclusions that it draws do not follow. pointing out legitimate issues with the policies does not condemn all policies of that type to a similar fate. this is always an issue. always, always. some taxes are regressive, does that mean all taxes are bad? ethanol subsidies are probably very very bad for lots of reasons. does that mean all subsidies are bad? can you write a paper about why ethanol subsidies are bad and then say that "therefore, all subsidies are bad." no. of course not. similarly, this paper should not be able to conclude that emissions trading is always bad and that it always leads to environmental justice concerns. one curious aspect that that, after three sections of bashing trading, the fourth suggests design recommendations. these are good recommendations: don't trade toxics, don't trade across pollutants, don't over-allocate, among others. so why the conclusion? i don't know. further, other groups have picked up on this paper and used it to condemn carbon trading, which really sidesteps a lot of the issues associated with trading criteria pollution. it seems to me that both sides (pro- and anti-trading) aren't communicating very well on these issues. the anti-trading papers cite examples of trading gone bad, while the pro-trading papers cite two examples where it worked (acid rain, lead phaseout) without acknowledging that there are sometimes problems. getting these two sides to enter into a genuine, EJ-style dialogue about these issues would be great. but unfortunately that doesn't appear to currently be possible.

a more even-handed approach to domestic climate policy in general is espoused by alice kaswan, a law professor at the university of san francisco. she recently published an article in the environmental law reporter, news & analysis entitled "environmental justice and domestic climate change policy." she acknowledges the subtle, but extremely important, distinctions that i've mentioned in this post. it is a substantial piece of writing, comprising five sections, of which the first three are the most relevant to the present discussion. the opening quotation she uses is exceptional, and comes from dan skopec, apparently an undersecretary at CalEPA. he says that we shouldn't use the umbrella of climate change to advance other policy agendas, but that mitigation, and only mitigation should be our primary concern. kaswan rightly reaches the opposite conclusion, noting that the fundamental changes required when dealing with climate change prohibit us from designing policy in a vacuum, but bringing a multiplicity of factors under consideration to ensure that the outcome is just.

concerns 3, 5, 6, and 7 above all relate, in one way or another, to problems associated with jumbling issues together. right off the bat, kaswan makes it clear that the focus of her article is greenhouse gas cap and trade policies. not offsets, not some generic "trading." no. cap and trade. greenhouse gases. amazing. when bringing up issues important to the EJ community, she is careful to disambiguate, clearly identifying which aspects of a particular issue does or does not apply to a GHG cap and trade scheme. as i sit down to write, i realize that i'm very into this article (and it will therefore comprise the focus of this post) which could lead to effusive, but vapid, praise for nearly all of the things she says. i'll try not to let this happen.

the version of the article that i'm looking at comes from the social science research network and is dated january, not the actual publication which is itself only freshly off the press and which the university of my state does not seem to subscribe to. this leads to an interesting omission, namely that the california EJ community's declaration is not mentioned whereas the previously released domestic stance is. the latter is much more open about a cap and trade scheme than the former, so it's likely that in its final form, kaswan's article incorporated some of those concerns. specifically, she holds up california as a model for other states to follow ("at least on paper") when attempting to incorporate EJ into climate policy. their rejection of california's approach would possibly trigger a re-think of that position.

the manner in which the concept of a cap and trade program is explained occurs alongside the identification of the relevant "design principles." this means that these are elements of the policy that are not set in stone, but those which may change depending upon policy preferences. these include: allocation, sectoral/geographic/temporal scope, and offsets. to this i would add "cap stringency" as a separate issue. these all have EJ implications although the arguments for/against allocation options seem to stray most often into the moral/ethical realm (creating "rights" to pollute, from an "ethical wrong" … often without a discussion of individual consumption).

the main benefit we've got in terms of EJ is the ability to demand greater emissions reductions than would be required under a command and control by virtue of the reduced compliance costs. to the extent that traditional EJ communities are at an increased risk of climate change impacts, the more stringent reductions possible under cap and trade directly benefit them in the form of a reduced requirement for long-term adaptation. the setting of the cap to avoid these risks is one of the design principles. if left to their own devices, business will lobby to have the cap set as high as possible. this is not only an issue for the EJ community, but anyone else who is concerned with the actual level of emissions reductions achieved. this includes the group known only as "Environmentalists"—you know, those folks that hate litter, love priuses, install solar panels on their garages, go hiking in the summer. i think this group exists mainly so that the press can cite them: "Some environmentalists noted that the law gives that authority to the Air Resources Board." as if "environmentalists" were the only ones capable of nothing this. presumably they are interested in reducing GHGs as well (but not necessarily reducing their GHGs…a topic for another post). this is the beauty of cap and trade. since we know more about the level of GHGs that are bad (bad means that a given atmospheric concentration leads to a relatively known amount of sea level rise, polar ice melt, or another generic climate change impact) we can set a cap to achieve that level or lower. this is not possible under other mitigation strategies (a tax for example) since emissions are allowed to grow under a tax provided the extra cost is paid. emissions of GHGs would drop under a tax, but given the unknowns in the equations (namely, elasticities for every product/service whose price would change under a tax) the actual level could not be legislated in advance.

there do exist conflicts between the goals of environmental justice (distributive equity and community participation) and markets (distribution neutral, community participation is not possible after the policy is designed). however, it appears that GHGs (particularly carbon dioxide) are uniquely poised to take advantage of the benefits, while sidestepping many of the problems associated with market-based environmental regulations. kaswan goes into great detail about what she considers the most prominent EJ issue with respect to cap and trade, namely that of co-pollutants, or those hazardous, local air pollutants that are emitted along with CO2. if more heavily (co-)polluting facilities are located in environmental justice communities, and if they have higher costs of mitigation, it's more likely that they'll purchase credits than reduce emissions. however, this does not mean that emissions of co-pollutants will increase because of cap and trade. of course, the hazardous pollution is already controlled by air quality legislation. this legislation typically only says what control technology (governing pollution intensity rather than absolute quantity). this set up allows pollution to increase depending on output, until a certain level is met, which would trigger a review. the conclusion is that a GHG cap and trade system would not help to mitigate hot spot risks, since facilities could purchase credits and then increase production. this is not a problem that directly stems from cap and trade. further, even though we want to try to maximize co-benefits (as stated in AB32) we do not need to try to maximize ALL co-benefits. some may not make sense to address with cap and trade. (a problem here is that AB32 itself includes language that refers to co-pollutants and trying to maximize simultaneous ambient air quality benefits and air toxics reductions. had i been involved in the legislation, i probably would have advised against this.) maybe a sensible policy approach is to change the NSR rules to trigger a review if pollution increases at all, as opposed to just in response to a major facility change. if this is the best argument for the hot spot risk, i think it can safely be dismissed. this has not prevented the EJ community from continuing to grasp this (irrelevant) issue. kaswan notes this, "[t]he risk…exists with or without a carbon trading system." issues of fuel or facility shifting can also be explained away with existing legislation. inter-pollutant trading is also a bad idea, to the extent that it contributes to increased concentrations of toxics, e.g.

finally, the issue of the distribution of the benefits are raised alongside participation. the idea in the first case is that if benefits (mostly co-pollutant reductions alongside GHG reductions) are expected to flow from cap and trade, they should be distributed equally. participation is raised in this case to question the participation in the trades themselves. the efficiency of a market, as previously mentioned, conflicts with traditional EJ goals in this case. however, if we rethink for a minute what participation could mean in this case (most importantly, participation in the rules and design of a trading scheme) then we realize that AB32 affords a unique opportunity for EJ groups to engage which they have seemingly squandered. i suggest that this is not wise. participation in the design is the critical idea in cap and trade, NOT in scrutinizing each individual trade. further, to the extent that we auction emissions allowances, the actual volume of trading is reduced. since this is the preferred long-term strategy, we need not worry about this issue too much. kaswan notes that "pre-empting or short-circuiting california's environmental justice goals would … cut short california's chance to act as a 'laboratory of invention' for the nation." i obviously agree, but it seems that what has happened is that the EJ community has short-circuited itself, which is something that probably no one expected.

the prescriptions given by the author to deal with EJ concerns specifically are good. i want to address two: restricting the geographic scope in advance, and revenue recycling to reduce co-pollutant burdens in low-income communities of color. the first recommendation would look at the existing distribution of pollution in disadvantaged areas. policy-makers could the place restrictions on trades that could occur to those area. in theory, this could occur without vastly increasing transactions costs, especially if done in a straightforward manner and if the conditions were known in advance. using auction revenues to finance any kind of low-income community improvements is also a no-brainer that could be easily implemented.

the considerations already discussed deal primarily with the environmental implications of capping and trading GHGs. issues specific to economic justice also arise: any kind of energy price increases are regressive and land use changes could lead to gentrification or pricing low-income individuals out of the neighborhoods which they currently occupy. on the plus side, kaswan mentions the possibility of new, green collar jobs, and again lower societal costs, and the possibility for using auction revenues. another idea relates to a domestic CDM, which has been discussed elsewhere by burkett. this no doubt requires further study, but on its face appears to be plausible and desirable.

in closing, the author notes that the climate challenge presents an opportunity to transform from a previous era of injustice to one of safety and equity. i think this is felt in a lot of climate activist and even academic circles: that climate change presents an opportunity to fundamentally alter our way of life in a manner that is far more equitable and sustainable than it has been in the past. in light of this it is an error for the CalEJ community to leave the table. further: given the potential benefits to historical EJ communities flowing from the implementation of a cap and trade scheme, the california EJ community's opposition to the policy instrument is unfounded.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

market-based environmental legislation and environmental justice

i think that the push for more flexible, market-based environmental legislation should not proceed unchecked. i do not think that the only alternative to market measures is command and control. this dichotomy has been kicking around for some time, leading to the impression that there is a constant tension between those who are unbridled free marketeers and staunch government intervention advocates. how ridiculous. vilifying markets is completely nonsensical, we know that they are good for some things, less good for others, and irrelevant to still others. if designed properly, they can work well. this is the issue—implementation. i do not believe that we should simply commoditize everything and let markets sort it out. as currently designed, many markets do not work (see: food crisis, climate change). others are starting to work, but it takes time to get the correct set up (see: EU-ETS). the problem is if industry gets a free pass as a result of market measures and somehow can avoid compliance. i believe that if programs are thoughtfully designed, then the problems disappear.

this is not a widely held opinion in the environmental justice (EJ) community—a community that i identify with and am trying to inform through some of my own analysis. they have recently wholesale rejected emissions trading of any kind to assist with the implementation of AB32 in california. in so doing, they have effectively left the table from the national level negotiations as well (not that they were well-represented there either, but a success for EJ in california would have likely translated into progress for federal legislation). near as i can tell, the issues presented by the EJ community against trading for climate change mitigation stem from the experiences with emissions trading schemes designed to mitigate criteria pollutants. of course, with these pollutants, localized impacts can occur when flexibility is afforded to business and they choose to not reduce emissions in one location or even to ramp up emissions since they can purchase extra credits. however, applying this type of frame to climate change issues is not necessarily warranted. as many know and understand, carbon dioxide is a global pollutant—it has no localized effects. co-pollutants are generated where carbon dioxide is emitted, but i have yet to see a rigorous analysis of whether there are genuine issues related to hotspot formation under a carbon emissions trading scheme. everything i've looked at surrounding AB32 applies thinking gleaned from the RECLAIM program directly to carbon trading. the EJ community shouldn't simply go in for this. if they oppose carbon trading with improper analysis they lose their seat at the negotiating table. flat out opposition of trading is not tenable. it must be backed up with analysis that is appropriate to the system under study.

Friday, April 25, 2008

new ideas

Transportation planning decisions have consequences that extend beyond the money spent or infrastructure built. There are multiple scales at which these consequences are experienced: individual, neighborhood, city, country, world. Impacts at each scale, of course, differ. The individual level refers to a low-income commuter who can’t afford a home in the city in which he works and so must commute a longer distance than he would rather. He is affected by rising gasoline prices disproportionately relative to a wealthier citizen. The neighborhood suffers health impacts from poor land use decisions that mix residential, commercial, industrial, and military uses in close proximity. The air pollution (and thus cancer, asthma, heart disease) burden which they experience as a result is disproportionate relative to those who mix only more desirable land uses (e.g., residential/commercial, residential/commercial/non-industrial employment). Conversely, suburban development spares neighborhood residents the health impacts of air pollution but trades it for the perils of a sedentary lifestyle where walking is that mode which is used only between parking and destination. Cities are shaped by their transportation systems whether dominated by freeways or transit (examples of the latter are quite rare, but an oft-cited example is Curitiba, Brazil). The country ingests its average transportation system and excretes ads for sport utility vehicles, and intertwines visions of The American Dream with same. These visions in turn drive xenophobia, fear of the other, and the need for ever larger vehicles. The global impacts are both identifiable and immediate—poor countries rushing to buy vehicles, oil and gasoline price increases—and vague and temporally distant—global climate change.

Question: what is the role of local planning in this process? how does a reconceptualization of local planning towards communicative rationality help us on these other scales? can studies of neighborhood- and city-scale planning events help us understand larger phenomena of global change?

Further Questions: what methods are useful for addressing this type of problem? what information do we need from stakeholders-on-the-ground to carry out annalysis? which/what analysis(ses) are useful in a broad sense?

the philosophy of transport modeling (draft)

a new paper by timms from the most recent issue of transportation caught my eye and is the subject of this post. entitled "transport models, philosophy and language" the author attempts to ask a fundamental question about transportation modeling in general: "is it reasonable to expect any transport model to produce accurate results over a medium/long term time horizon, even if the effects of inaccurate exogenous inputs are 'screened out'?" wow. a serious question to ask. to answer it, timms turns to the philosophy of science for direction.

i was going to comment on the fact that accuracy is not the most important quality of a transport model. what we want is for it to be useful for us and our planning purposes. with respect to climate change, we want a travel demand model that can approximate traveler responses to policies aimed at climate change mitigation. timms headed me off during his discussion of the positivist influence on transport modeling (i.e. that we should let the data speak for itself—this seems to me to be a very econometrics (as opposed to economics) way of thinking): "…pure positivism was in fact widely abandoned in the 1970s,to be replaced by … pragmatic positivism..." just how does he define pragmatic positivism? "pragmatic positivism downplays…the importance of model accuracy … emphasising (sic) more a loosely conceived idea of model usefulness." hm. sounds like i'm influenced by the literature. i guess that's not the worst, and it's very nice to have the author investigating the assumptions of our modeling methods. however, we then learn that this approach is not really practical for long-term modeling, since the real-world data which can be used to calibrate and validate model results is displaced in time vis-à-vis model use (i.e. decisions are being made today based on a model that predicts travel in 2030--by the time 2030 rolls around, it's too late for us to do anything about today's decision).

the nugget is that we should begin to think about models in terms of how they're actually used which is as linguistic tools in a communicative planning process. this just means that models should give us insights into system operation and help us communicate those insights to stakeholders.

the main problem i had with the paper was that its conclusion that "…there is a need for a widescale (paradigmatic) change in the field of transport modeling, in terms of both its underlying philosophy and practice." while i agree with this statement, it was simply not supported by the type of analysis provided. additionally, the notion that "[s]uch changes…would be greatly aided if transport modelers were to become more aware of formal philosophical concepts and arguments, in particular from Continental philosophy, and were to incorporate the insights from such philosophy in their writing about models," is hilarious. i'd be the first to encourage more teaching of philosophy to undergraduate engineering students, the future transportation modelers. but, srsly? there would be an uproar. expecting current practitioners to pick up habermas is also not bloody likely. so i felt there was also a disconnect between what was realistically possible in terms of baby steps and what the author had suggested. i am not discouraging this type of inquiry. frankly, i think it's excellent scholarship and i'm really pleased that transportation chose to publish it. it's precisely the type of multidisciplinary work i'd like to pursue.

Monday, April 14, 2008

majora carter TED talk

as the title indicates, this is a link to a talk by majora carter at TED in 2005. i thought it was pretty great, the part where she started to lose me a little was while she was discussing her desire for a triple bottom line decision making, embracing her inner capitalist, etc. this is a constant issue with me--acknowledging the importance of capital while wanting to subvert that importance. what are the incremental policies we can implement in transportation and environmental justice to facilitate the endpoint we envision? short term policies undoubtedly need to focus on financial gain, but in the long term we have to face some costs as we transition away from fossil fuels, to more local scale production.

Friday, April 4, 2008

feminist economics

my interest in economics has been relatively constant over the last several years. i finally had the opportunity to take an upper division econometrics course, and now that i'm more familiar with those methods i'm feeling more confident that there's really something there. this hasn't convinced me to get an economics degree (i think the discipline is still too narrow in its expectations and its educational focus is lacking), but to better understand the literature and approaches on my own time. also, my current dissertation idea will almost certainly include some choice modeling, with theory firmly grounded in econometrics.

ecological economics in particular has been an approach that i favored. it rejects several of the assumptions embedded within neoclassical economics and replaces them with ones more grounded in reality. for example, for an ecological economist, the economy is not an endless, closed cycle of production, consumption, and waste. instead, it's a system which receives inputs from the biosphere in the form of low entropy energy and deposits wastes back into the biosphere in a higher entropy form. the discipline's most recent monthly journal included an article on the application of feminist economics to the problem of the determination of an appropriate discount rate for climate policy analysis.

the paper was highly critical of the mainstream economic view that a high discount rate was most appropriate and indeed "True." feminist economists are critical of what they view as androcentric biases within economics, and the author, julie nelson, identified the use of a high rate as one manifestation of this bias. a typical defense of the high discount rate would associate this thruthiness with objectivity. however, nelson and her colleagues argue that the presence of assumptions which are not subjected to rigorous debate from other areas of thought (feminism in this case, which would argue for a much lower discount rate) in fact undermines objectivity in economic inquiry.

there's an interesting parallel with climate policy (and many other things in general) and that is the appropriateness of opening up established consensuses to debate. at a basic level, climate deniers claim that the (now) mainstream view of climate science is weakened since, as my gmail advertising bar routinely tells me "gore won't debate!" i think though, that debate is not always a good thing, especially when climate science has entrenched, well-developed methods that appear to work and have generated broad based based support within the scientific community. the assumptions upon which climate models are based are routinely debated and altered. presenting multiple results with different underlying assumptions is also becoming more common, this is known as scenario analysis.

indeed, these features make climate science more objective than economics. will economics begin to open itself up to other vantage points that bring with them differing assumptions? or will economists continue to ignore individuals who write from outside of traditional economics departments?

i'm going to be reading through beyond economic man edited by ferber and nelson to try to build some bridges between my analytical vantage point to feminist economics and then to mainstream economics. specifically: what new methods can i employ in my analysis that will help me to question entrenched economic truths? how can i adapt existing methods to incorporate feminist insights? i'll be posting my thoughts on some of the individual chapters here as i go.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

mental models

i'm excited to look at this book. i just finished writing a book review on a volume that looks at how to communicate climate change effectively to (what boils down to) a lay audience with the specific goal of engendering support for mitigation policies. i argued that it was useful for a transportation and planning audience that usually gets (understandably) frustrated when their policies don't find traction. a key lesson is that individuals carry around mental models, groups of understandings that they use when living a life in the world. but they're not necessarily necessary for them to function. one example is a mental model of home thermostats. people need this to interact with their thermostat on a day-to-day basis. their mental model (either the valve or feedback, in this case) informs their understanding, and although one is technically incorrect, at the end of the day, they're warm.

in the case of the climate, we've got a bigger problem. people hold mental models about the climate system that are incorrect, and this can affect their support for climate policy. if my mental model says that (and this is common) the ozone hole is responsible for climate change (it's related, but only marginally), then my solution for climate change is to buy roll-on deodorant as opposed to an aerosol spray. a higher gas tax, a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, etc., all policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through pricing will not find a warm reception.

now, i'm not suggesting that everyone needs to understand the ins and outs of climate science in order to support policy. but they must not hold mental models that are grossly incorrect or misleading. it is not possible to simply swap mental models one for one. so one solution is to direct communication at groups with similar beliefs and values--groups who likely hold similar mental models. you can't simply barrage them with information, either. mental models are tenacious, and when faced with conflicting views the existing ones are made stronger. one option is to present long, sustained information (over periods of decades). this has sort of worked for anti-smoking ads and literature. we can't afford something similar with the climate.

one approach that seems promising is the match the messenger to the target population. if they are someone that the audience respects and can relate to, they'll be more willing to internalize the knowledge. that knowledge should be simple, too, and possibly tied to short term cost savings (if gas prices continue to increase, the lifetime costs of hybrid electric vehicles will be less than conventional internal combustion ones), better insulation, better windows (maybe) can save a ton on heating costs. these measures have short paybacks.

while in the long term society will have to incur costs, in terms of foregone consumption, short term cost savings are fine to get people on board and to begin helping their mental models evolve. (thicker walls means less heat can go through them. the heat comes from natural gas which, when burned, releases gases that act as a heat-trapping blanket in the atmosphere.) simple analogies to complex systems can work wonders.

back to the book mentioned at the top of the post. it got me thinking about the difficulties of being an interdisciplinary researcher. i often feel as though i'm jack of all trades but master of none. i hope this is due mostly to my relative academic youth, and that it will improve with time and hard work. i feel as though i shouldn't read that book because it's not directly related to any of my current projects, but that its knowledge is essential for me to progress. i'll continue to work through these issues as i progress, no doubt.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

good day for transport economists

london to hit car drivers with $50-a-day fee

at first glance, this seems great. but is it the best (or even a reasonable) policy to enact to cut greenhouse gas emissions?

[more to come]

Monday, February 11, 2008

jack of all trades...

so i'm trying to figure out how to bring together the many disparate areas i've been working on. how to get them to really cohere into a (quick) thesis, so i can decide whether to stay on for a phd or to go elsewhere. all else equal, (including some very real personal considerations) the real cons are establishing myself in a new school and a new place while the pros would include attending a school with better name recognition. when i arrived at my current location, i passed over one such school, and haven't really felt bad about it. i generally feel good where i am, but in about 50 percent of my classes i get the impression that the professor really doesn't give a shit. this makes it hard to put forth a strong effort, and tends to bring me down in other areas of life. i need constant positive feedback.

i've been working on time management, i think somewhat successfully. my hPDA has fallen by the wayside, though. i think this is because i really have about three solid projects that i'm working on which take up all of my time. day-to-day i just shuffle my time between them. i have one weekly meeting with an advisor, so that's easy enough to program in repeat on google calendar.

apologies: this is only marginally academic, and not really a polemic.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

party on

a couple weeks ago, the chairperson of the california air resources board (carb), mary nichols, gave a talk here on campus. for those that are not familiar, carb is the highest air quality regulatory agency in california. they set regulations and policies to achieve emissions standards set by the legislature.

the implementation of the global warming solutions act of 2006 (also known by its legislative code AB32) has also fallen on their shoulders. the emissions target is set at 1990 levels by 2020 (approximately a 25 percent reduction from business as usual), and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. this is a substantial reduction. mary threw out some numbers. my recollections are in the ballpark, but i'm thankfully now familiar with the orders of magnitude so they won't be that far off.

current california per capita greenhouse gas equivalent emissions:
13 tons/year

current usa per capita greenhouse gas equivalent emissions:
23 tons/year

2050 goal, california per capita greenhouse gas equivalent emissions:
1.5 tons/year

ok, that's an order of magnitude of reductions that are required to meet the california target. i'm not sure if mary's numbers included expected population growth in california (they likely did, california is expected to grow substantially over the coming decades--to ignore population growth would be an egregious error.) ignoring the fact that these targets are political (as opposed to scientific) in nature, can we expect technology to get us there in 42 years?

this is a reasonable question that reasonable people should be asking. the carb chair did not ask it. i must say that i was impressed since she at least gave the impression that technology could only take us so far. this is in stark contrast to her boss, who seems to think that as long as all of our vehicles are running on distilled plant matter that we've somehow solved the problem.

who is doing the analysis on this stuff? pacala and socolow, in a well-cited science article claim that the technology we've got now can be deployed sufficiently to "solve the climate problem for the next 50 years." the absolute best part is that we can do it without changing any of our behaviors--renewable energy, nuclear fission, carbon capture and sequestration, and new vehicle technologies can combine and grow in effectiveness to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level. ok, ok, fine, let's see it done. let's do more rigorous analyses and get the policies put into place.

that said, i'm fundamentally biased against tech fixes. i think (and this is supported by evidence, see vanderburg's outstanding work) that technology which sets out to solve problems often creates more in its wake. these may not be explicit. our current primary transportation mode, for example, destroys urban forms, kills many tens of thousands of people per year directly (and possibly hundreds of thousands indirectly), contributes to climate change, regional air quality concerns, etc. had we considered these unintended effects when initially supporting the automobile, the primary modes we use today might have looked different. as would our cities, families, personal relationships, etc. the bottom line is that technology doesn't usually work the way we think it's going to.

i view climate change mitigation as an avenue for possibly addressing things that i view as fundamentally flawed within society. this includes, for example, our primary transportation mode, and all of its externalities. the mitigation of climate change through behavior change and by extension a large social change, i believe, presents some of the most positive prospects for the human race. the admission of this fact possibly makes me unfit to work on climate change mitigation policy. nevertheless, that's where i devote a lot of my time.

tying this back to the beginning of the post...i think that mary nichols needs to come clean, to outline exactly what we can do with technology, and exactly what we can't. we need to start envisioning alternative futures, envisioning the types of behavior changes that we will need to enact if we want to achieve the 1.5 tons/year that we're aiming for. the other option of course, is business as usual, in which case we should just party on. after all, the most severe impacts from climate change probably won't be felt in my lifetime, on.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

climate change language

it seems that the terms 'climate' and 'weather' in the popular lexicon are alternately synonymous or non-synonymous in an incorrect way, according to survey-based research completed by ann bostrom at georgia tech.

what are the implications for the phrases that we use to discuss the increase in the mean temperature of the surface of the earth?

weather happens in a place, at a particular time and refers to the meteorological conditions of temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, wind speed, and clarity.

climate refers to long-term trends in the patters of weather in a particular place. it may be measured in terms of absolute extremes, means, and frequencies in the previously mentioned weather properties.

if this difference is not understood, it becomes possible for the phrase "climate change" to indicate changes in day-to-day weather patterns. "sure, the climate is changing all the time: there are four seasons, aren't there? what's the problem?"

"global warming" is not much better. with this choice, a very cold winter day becomes evidence against a veritable consensus of scientific certainty on the issue. it's why stories like this get attention, and why this dumbass can wake up and think that he’s a genius because he knows that it’s all a vast, left-wing conspiracy. it’s because this term does not capture the gamut of possible changes to the climate that can result from an increase in average mean temperature (if the term is understood properly). "sea-level rise, coral bleaching, species extinction? just because of a temperature change? can't we grow more food?" people are not good at thinking about non-linearity, nor are they good at thinking about temporally- or spatially-separated causation.

then we want to propose solutions..."you want me to drive less? LOL"

i've recently been using the first term exclusively because of its inclusivity, but the issue of weather has thrown me for a loop. there’s also the issue of some enviros claiming that “climate change” has been usurped by big business and that we should continue using “global warming.” but then we arrive back at some of the previous issues.

it seems that neither of the titles is very good? cold winter days are seen as anti-evidence, while summer heat waves and hurricanes are evidence but for the wrong reasons.

is a new term needed? what is it? maybe if we were able to access some of the pre-existing mental models using innovative communication strategies, by communicating scientific results more effectively by making them more relevant to the daily lives of individuals, by lowering barriers to action and motivating that action. by making people care! how do we do that?


the author says:

fuck this

the author says:

making a blog

the author says:

old man. says:


old man. says:

im digging it...

old man. says:

ill frequent it...and make comments on my realm of knowledge

the author says:


the author says:

i'll try to post from what i'm working on...but bring in other insights

old man. says:

pure science?

old man. says:

im not sure what that is... whats wrong with polemics?

old man. says:

i guess polemics are speculative

old man. says:


the author says:

pure science, just like, experiments

the author says:

musing on science for the sake of science

the author says:

when i think polemics, i think, firery

the author says:

highly critical

the author says:


old man. says:

yes same here

old man. says:

but what is wrong with that?

the author says:

it's just hardly ever done in academics!

old man. says:

i guess so...

the author says:


the author says:

you're totally deflating me

the author says:

i'm thinkinng about it as anti-science, but also informed by science

the author says:

like, if we take (climate) science to it's logical conclusion, we have to be polemical

the author says:

we need to be critical of pretty much everything going on

the author says:

and bring that into our academic work

the author says:

it can't just float around on top of everything else

old man. says:

no prof just sent me an email...telling me what i needed for a deadline...where upon they decide whether they will let you finish or not...and im shitting myself cuz im not close to any of the requirements

the author says:

oh shit

the author says:

OK, git 'er done

the author says:

i'm posting this conversation on the blog

old man. says:

but no i just gotta forget about it...we can have this discussion

the author says:


old man. says:

so you're saying that polemical works are normally disregarded?

the author says:

not necessarily

the author says:

just that they're rare

the author says:

most people that operate within science don't try to connect it to anything in their lives

the author says:

i mean, it's hard, in a lot of disciplines, but that's a problem with Science in general

the author says:

within my discipline(s) i _can_ connect it, and if i do, i see the need to be iconoclastic, everywhere

the author says:

with respect to growth, consumption, capitalism, politics

the author says:


the author says:

and the fact is that not a lot of people (although some, for sure) are getting into it enough, connecting the things that they're doing with what's actually happening

the author says:

taking it to its logical endpoint, and writing things that are highly critical and questioning

the author says:

so i just realized that this morning

the author says:

when looking at this other blog

the author says:

and how immersed in science it was

old man. says:

and how it sorta misses on other points -- and has no connection with other aspects of society?

the author says:


the author says:

but ostensibly some of the smartest people in the world are working on sciencey things

the author says:

and wouldn't it be great if we could get them thinking about these issues?

the author says:

or things that could actually improve lives.

old man. says:

well i think there are multiple think tanks which contain a large cross-section of different disciplines -- but ya... i think you're right in academia it is rare

the author says:

i don't think there's anything wrong with monodisciplinary pursuits

the author says:

except when they're totally for their own sake

old man. says:

well ya... so how do you plan on approaching the next step in your blog?

old man. says:

will you be raising certain issues to be discussed?

the author says:

i think that i'll try to discuss specific things that i'm working on

the author says:

and how they relate to the other issues that i'd like to discuss

the author says:

but sure, raising specific issues for discussion unrelated to my work

the author says:

but related to Science or Academics would also work

the author says:

i think i should start out trying to post like twice a week

the author says:

and go from there

the author says:

that's a good amount of writing

old man. says:

ya ya for sure...

old man. says:

i mean do all arguments have to be well formulated?

the author says:

no , of course not

the author says:

but everything should be iconoclastic in some way

the author says:

questioning, incisive

old man. says:

oh ok...iconoclasm as a concept

old man. says:

im thinking about a different iconoclasm

the author says:

how do you understand it?

old man. says: i understood occured within fine art where medieval art communicated bliblical stories and ideas with symbols (objects) within the scenery

old man. says:

then the iconoclast ruptured the meaning from object...

old man. says:

so its basically the same thing

the author says:


the author says:

i understand it as basically tearing down icons

old man. says:

ya but i thought u were refering to particular icons of science...which...i dont know of

the author says:

where 'icons' are pervasive cultural mental models

the author says:

about markets, eating, science, consumption, etc

the author says:


the author says:


the author says:


old man. says:

dude im totally down with that

the author says:


old man. says:

against method... totally pwns

old man. says:

you should read it

the author says:

yeah, i had it signed out last year

the author says:

but never did

the author says:

i will make another effort this quarter

old man. says:

i love it...i dont understand the sciencey stuff...but that arguments humilitating logic with...logic is awesome. and gives a lot of fragility to deduction and science ingeneral