A new NBER working paper (abstract; PDF) by Tom Chang, Joshua Graff Zivin, Tal Gross, and Matthew Neidell looks at how outdoor air pollution affects the productivity of indoor workers. They studied the effect of PM2.5, “a harmful pollutant that easily penetrates indoor settings,” on employees at a pear-packing factory in California, and the potential cost savings of eliminating such pollution:
We find that an increase in PM2.5 outdoors leads to a statistically and economically significant decrease in packing speeds inside the factory, with effects arising at levels well below current air quality standards. In contrast, we find little effect of PM2.5 on hours worked or the decision to work, and little effect of pollutants that do not travel indoors, such as ozone. This effect of outdoor pollution on the productivity of indoor workers suggests a thus far overlooked consequence of pollution. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that nationwide reductions in PM2.5 from 1999 to 2008 generated $19.5 billion in labor cost savings, which is roughly one-third of the total welfare benefits associated with this change.
“It is conventional wisdom that it is possible to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, improve health outcomes, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the rural areas of developing countries through the adoption of improved cooking stoves,” write Rema Hanna, Esther Duflo, and Michael Greenstone in their new working paper “Up in Smoke: The Influence of Household Behavior on the Long-Run Impact of Improved Cooking Stoves” (abstract; Washington Post coverage).
But, as the scholars discovered, what seems like an obvious technology fix doesn’t always work. Because, remember, human behavior can be a lot harder to change than we think.
Or, put another way: bummer. Read More »
A new study claims that traffic pollution “is more than twice as deadly as traffic accidents.” Scientists Steve Yim and Steven Barrett “estimate that combustion exhausts across the U.K. cause nearly 5,000 premature deaths each year,” writes Roland Pease. “The pair also estimate that exhaust gases from aeroplanes cause a further 2,000 deaths annually.” The study also points out that pollution travels:
Of the 19,000 annual U.K. deaths estimated, 7,000 are due to pollutants blown in from the continent. In London, European pollutants add 960 deaths each year to the 2,200 caused by U.K. combustion fumes.
But the international trade in deaths goes both ways. More than 3,000 European deaths can be attributed to U.K. emissions the authors say.
Yim and Barrett estimate that premature deaths are costing the U.K. billions of dollars a year, and suggest reducing black carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions and investing in public transportation.
(HT: Naked Capitalism)
Our latest Freakonomics podcast, “Misadventures in Baby-Making,” includes a discussion of how sex-selective abortion has led to 160 million missing females in Asia. Closer to home, however, researchers Nicholas J. Sanders and Charles F. Stoecker are focusing on a different problem: missing baby boys. In an effort to evaluate the effects of environmental policy on fetal health outcomes, the authors examine the “gender ratio of live births.” Read More »
A new working paper from a quartet of economists proposes a new method of estimating how we value the “non-marketed amenities” of neighborhood choices such as avoiding pollution and living among people of our own race. The old static method, they say, underestimates our willingness to pay to avoid air pollution and crime, but overstates how much we value living near neighbors of our own race. Here’s the abstract: Read More »
Two Hong Kong architects believe that as we pollute the air, our skyscrapers can help clean up the mess. Frederick Givens and Benny Chow’s “Indigo Tower” features a “nano-coating of titanium dioxide,” designed to neutralize pollution when it hits the building. Read More »
Edward Glaeser (over at the Economix blog) and I are doing a few posts on the high-speed rail (HSR) component of the economic stimulus package (find the first post here). HSR promises to reduce carbon emissions, but so does the other hot transportation policy at the moment, Cash for Clunkers (CFC). Under CFC the federal government is providing rebates to consumers who trade in their vehicles for new ones that get better gas mileage. Which program is the more effective way to cool down the ice caps while heating up the economy? Read More »
Americans responded to the economic crisis and rising oil prices in 2008 by driving less and purchasing fuel-efficient cars. Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle have looked at the effect of these trends on carbon dioxide emissions between October 2007 and April 2009. Read More »