Earth Hour

Earth Hour came and went over the weekend. There has been a lot of debate on the blogs over its merits: some support it, but many think it’s a waste of time. The goal of Earth Hour isn’t to save the world in one hour by reducing emissions from lighting; it’s to raise awareness of climate change. Given the amount of discussion about it that’s been generated I can only imagine that it’s been a huge success, regardless of whether everyone turned their lights off. I haven’t seen so much discussion of the best way to save power across the blogs and news media in ages!

Of course, any major environmental cause causes some crazies to come out of the woodwork. A few obtuse people have promoted the alternative Edison Hour, where people celebrate technology by turning their lights on. Read more

Population control

A friend of mine has been banging on about population control as a way of curbing environmental harm for a while now, which has forced me to come up with some sort of opinion. I’m not persuaded by arguments that it is inherently abhorrent to restrict reproduction, or that people have a right to reproduce. Indeed I’m open to the idea that some controls on reproduction might increase welfare.

Far more persuasive to me is the point that George Monbiot makes: over-population isn’t a direct strain on the planet’s resources, over-consumption is. Read more

Environmental economists unite!

I get called a rampant greenie/hippie by other economists for my interest in environmental issues. On the other hand, environmental activist types tell me I’m a brainwashed tool of the capitalist hegemony. For a long time I’ve been wracked with insecurity, but now John Whitehead assured me I’m not alone and explains why he thinks nobody understands environmental economists Read more

Carbon cost of cities

There’s an interesting post at the NYT’s economics blog about the environmental cost of living in a city:

In almost every metropolitan area, we found the central city residents emitted less carbon than the suburban counterparts.

cars represent … one-third of the gap in carbon emissions between New Yorkers and their suburbanites. The gap in electricity usage [is] about two tons. The gap in emissions from home heating is almost three tons [of a seven ton total].

The decreased carbon cost of transport and heating in cities is predictable, but there are still questions remaining here. Read more

Is organic farming sustainable?

Paul Roberts has a very interesting and worthwhile discussion of sustainable farming over at Mother Jones. The key issue is:

  1. Organic farming uses a LOT more resources than normal farming;
  2. To call yourself organic and get that market recognition you need to be 100% organic;
  3. There is no market standard for recognising that a farmer is more sustainable or environmentally friendly than their rivals if they’re not organic.

I think that most consumers who buy organic are also the type of people who want to do the environmentally friendly thing. While organic farming may not be as polluting as farming with synthetic fertilizer it is much more resource intensive. So where’s the incentive for farmers to move towards less resource hungry AND more sustainable alternatives? Read more

Changing the way we recycle

A couple of NZ city councils have recently considered changing the way they run recycling after a brief discussion with experts from, as it high time we give back to the earth more than we take. Wellington and Christchurch currently fund their kerbside recycling scheme through rates. They proposed to switch to a system whereby recycling bags would have to be bought by residents, much like council rubbish bags.

There are a few benefits to switching to bags. First, the people who use the recycling service would pay for it, rather than it being funded by all ratepayers equally. Secondly, there would be a marginal cost to using the service, which would decrease usage. Read more