Archives for environment



The Cost of Environmental Regulations

The environment has taken a back seat to the economy this election season. But timely new research looks at the intersection of politics, economics and the environment: the actual cost of environmental regulations.  

A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Michael Greenstone, John List, and Chad Syverson analyzes the economic cost of air-quality regulations. From the abstract:

The economic costs of environmental regulations have been widely debated since the U.S. began to restrict pollution emissions more than four decades ago. Using detailed production data from nearly 1.2 million plant observations drawn from the 1972-1993 Annual Survey of Manufactures, we estimate the effects of air quality regulations on manufacturing plants’ total factor productivity (TFP) levels. We find that among surviving polluting plants, stricter air quality regulations are associated with a roughly 2.6 percent decline in TFP. The regulations governing ozone have particularly large negative effects on productivity, though effects are also evident among particulates and sulfur dioxide emitters.

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Riding the Herd Mentality: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Riding the Herd Mentality.” The gist: How peer pressure – and good, old-fashioned shame – can push people to do the right thing.

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

Our story begins in Bogota, Colombia, where a new mayor, Antanas Mockus, used some unconventional methods to bring order to a disorderly and unsafe city. Mockus, trained as a mathematician and philosopher, had been president of Colombia’s national university but things went south when he mooned a group of dissenters. As mayor, he dressed up as a superhero and enacted all sorts of rules and programs that tried to change the way a government gets its citizens to do the right thing. Read More »



You Eat What You Are, Pt. 2: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our previous podcast, “You Eat What You Are, Pt. 1,”explored how American food got so bad, how it’s begun to get much better, and who has the answers for further improvement.

Now it’s time for “You Eat What You Are, Part 2.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

In this installment, we look at the challenge of feeding 7 billion people while protecting the environment, especially from all the pollution associated with the long-distance transportation of all that food. In that regard, it would seem that going local is a no-brainer — until you start to look at the numbers. 

We begin with David Cleveland, an environmental studies professor at U.C.-Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara County grows $1.2 billion worth of produce a year, putting it in the top 1 percent of U.S. counties. Cleveland started out simply trying to learn how much of the produce consumed locally was also produced locally:


CLEVELAND
: This is what really shocked us: we found that when you added up all these different ways in which locally grown produce got to people in Santa Barbara County, that less than five percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in Santa Barbara County were actually grown in Santa Barbara County, and the other ninety-five percent were imported.

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Is a Meat-Eating Cyclist a Contradiction?

In response to James McWilliams‘s still-reverberating post about why more environmentalists don’t promote veganism, a reader named Mary writes:

I have always wondered why environmentalists are so reluctant to promote veganism, but eager to promote alternative transportation. Many residents of the U.S. are currently locked in to their car-dependent lifestyle, with large mortgages in suburbs with no safe sidewalks or bike lanes and inefficient transit. Ditching their car is logistically much more difficult to do than buying beans instead of meat at the grocery store. Currently, the infrastructure for reducing car use is lacking in many communities, though vegan foods, like beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables, are much more easily obtained.

It’s an interesting point. A few related thoughts come to mind: Read More »



Evidence That Myopia Has a Strong Environmental Cause

Time reports on a new study on why Asians have a higher rate of nearsightedness:

It has long been thought that nearsightedness is mostly a hereditary problem, but researchers led by Ian Morgan of Australian National University say the data suggest that environment has a lot more to do with it.

Reporting in the journal Lancet, the authors note that up to 90% of young adults in major East Asian countries, including China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, are nearsighted. The overall rate of myopia in the U.K., by contrast, is about 20% to 30%.

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A Rose By Any Other Distance: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “A Rose By Any Other Distance.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

With Mother’s Day coming up, we thought it’d be interesting to look at the cut-flower industry. Americans spend about $12 billion a year on them. Mario Valle, a wholesaler at the L.A. Flower District, tells us that Mother’s Day is easily his biggest day of the year: “It’s 30 percent of my year. Everyone has a mother!” Read More »



Is Good Corporate Citizenship Also Good for the Bottom Line?

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Is Good Corporate Citizenship Also Good for the Bottom Line?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

The short answer: yes. That’s the finding of Robert G. Eccles, Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim from their recent paper “The Impact of a Corporate Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior and Performance” :

“We show that there is significant variation in future accounting and stock market performance across the two groups of firms. We track corporate performance for 18 years and find that sustainable firms outperform traditional firms in terms of both stock market and accounting performance.”

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Show and Yell: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Season 2, Episode 2

We have just released a series of five one-hour Freakonomics Radio specials to public-radio stations across the country (check here to find your local station), and now they’re hitting our podcast stream as well. If you are a dedicated podcast subscriber, then some of this material will be familiar to you. These new shows are what might best be called “mashupdates” — that is, mashups of earlier podcasts that have also been updated with new interviews, etc.

Today’s episode is called “Show and Yell” (download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below). Read More »