Speaking of the Environment

by Bill Chameides | October 1st, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 1 comment

Some tidbits about climate-change politics and a surprising even shocking relationship between deaths and economic growth.

A One-Two Punch on Climate Policy

In a long-awaited offensive the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in the Senate launched a well-choreographed one-two punch on climate change. From the administration’s side, Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced a plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and industrial facilities. The rule would require new construction or renovation of plants emitting more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide (or its equivalent) to show that they are using the “best available control technology” to limit those emissions.

The 25,000-tons rule has raised some eyebrows in the environmental community. EPA is promulgating the rule under the authority given to it by the Clean Air Act (CAA), as confirmed by the Supreme Court’s April 2007 Massachusetts vs. EPA decision. However, the CAA requires EPA to control pollution sources of 250 tons.

In the Senate, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced a comprehensive cap-and-trade type bill to rein in domestic emissions of greenhouse gases. In tomorrow’s post we will provide a quick overview of how the proposed Senate bill compares with the Waxman-Markey bill already passed in the House.

Despite this news, environmentalists are far from breaking out the champagne (sustainably produced of course). The EPA rule will probably face years of litigation from both sides of the debate. And, passage in the Senate is by no means assured — as our Fence-sitters series made clear, reaching the 60-vote threshold will be a tough slog.

A Third Punch to the One-Two?

Check out today’s headlines. President Obama is headed to Copenhagen! Copenhagen, where the global community will soon meet to take a stab at a new international climate agreement. Is he setting the stage for the December climate change talks? Is he headed there to announce a new U.S. position on such an agreement, all timed to overlap with the EPA and Senate developments?

Not exactly. He is headed to meet an international group. But it’s not the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); it’s the International Olympics Committee. And the subject is not greenhouse gases or carbon trading; it’s Chicago’s bid to host the Olympics in 2016. But maybe there is a climate connection; maybe the Chicago bid promises to be the most innovative green Olympics ever. You know those athletes expend a lot of energy; if you could capture all that energy and turn it into electricity…

Chamber of Some Commerce

Yesterday, Nike became the latest corporation to distance itself from the Chamber of Commerce because of the business group’s stance on climate change and efforts to block climate legislation. Last month, first California’s Pacific Gas and Electric, then New Mexico’s PNM Resources and most recently Chicago’s Exelon quit the chamber entirely. Nike didn’t go quite as far: it resigned from the chamber board but will remain a member. In a similar move just weeks before, Duke Energy and Alstrom ditched the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

So what is the bottom line? Is climate legislation going to be bad for the economy, as the Chamber of Commerce holds? Do companies like Nike and DuPont (which has saved more than $4 billion in energy effectiveness since 1990, according to its former CEO Chad Holliday) not understand how to run a business? Or can curbing greenhouse gas emissions be good for the economy in the long run, and the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t understand economics? Or maybe there are some special interests that are influencing the debate? Hmm…

Death and the Economy

As an addendum to our recent post on the GDP, here is an interesting finding. Jose A. Tapia Granados and Ana V. Diez Roux of the University of Michigan report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that life expectancy and mortality in the United States varies with economic growth in exactly the opposite way one would expect. The authors report that:

“For most age groups, mortality tended to peak during years of strong economic expansion (such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936–1937). In contrast, the recessions of 1921, 1930–1933, and 1938 coincided with declines in mortality and gains in life expectancy. … The evolution of population health during the years 1920–1940 confirms the counterintuitive hypothesis that … population health tends to evolve better during recessions than in expansions.”

If that Granados and Roux finding isn’t strange enough, the National Transportation Safety Board reported this week that motor vehicle deaths in the United States in 2008 dropped by almost 10 percent as compared to 2007. Was the drop a result of Americans driving less? After all, there was the precipitous rise in gasoline prices in the early part of 2008 and the economic meltdown in the second half. Nope. The number of deaths per vehicle miles traveled decreased by 7 percent, suggesting, in the words of the New York Times, that “driving got safer over all.”

So what should we conclude from all this? If mortality rates go down when the economy does the same, do we do we really want to return to the good old days of rapid economic growth? Maybe those ”good old days” weren’t so good and maybe we should start singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” meaning right here, right now.

In any event, a happy and a healthy and y’all drive safely.

filed under: business, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, economy, faculty, policy, politics
and: , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

All comments are moderated and limited to 275 words. Your e-mail address is never displayed. Read our Comment Guidelines for more details.

  1. Marcus
    Oct 5, 2009

    Isn’t it possible that the 7% decrease in deaths per VMT is also a result of Americans driving less? Eg, as VMT decreases, you expect a direct proportional drop in deaths, but perhaps a secondary effect due to decreased congestion – though one could argue that decreased congestion would lead to increased speeds and more deaths, so maybe that relationship isn’t so clear. Another possible explanation is that the decrease in VMT disproportionately hits the large, gas-hog SUVs, which, as I understand it, also contribute disproportionately to road-deaths. (partly because they kill more things they run into, partly because of roll-over, and partly because of increased aggressive driving by SUV owners)

©2015 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff