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.