Tag Archives: economics

The EPA is screwing up the discussion on global warming

The EPA is reporting the wrong information on global warming and I want them to get it right. The information they publish becomes the gold standard and is reported in the media, covered on TV, and published all across the web. It reaches the eyes and ears of a majority of Americans, and so why are they screwing it up?

The first problem is in using economic terms over plain language. The average person has a hard time understanding the meaning of ‘by economic sector’ or ‘end user emissions’. And nowhere in their mission statement does it say they should be communicating like college professors:

The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

Neither does it say they should communicate clearly, but that’s covered in the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

Another problem they face is choosing what data to report. Again, they seem to be focusing on macroeconomic data sets instead of what will help the average person. Here is the data set spread out across 20 pages on the EPA website and reported many thousand times over in the press:

 

Emissions by Economic Sector

  • Electricity generation – 34%
  • Transportation – 27%
  • Industry – 21%
  • Agriculture – 7%
  • Commercial & Residential – 11%

 

Very helpful for the big picture and if you’re writing policy, but worthy of ignoring by the common person. What are they supposed to do about electricity, buy a wind turbine? For transportation, go out and buy a new car? What does industry even mean?

For those steeped in the economics of global warming this makes total sense. Our energy is slowly moving towards renewables, cars are becoming electric, homes and business can similarly electrify, and that would make 61-90% of our emissions from electricity. Yes, it is vital we pick up renewables.

But that stymies any discussion about what individuals can do. Here is another data set left to gather dust, buried 200 pages deep in the EPA’s most important report:

 

Emissions by End User

  • Manufacturing – 30%
  • Homes – 18%
  • Business – 17%
  • Personal Cars – 17%
  • Farming – 8%
  • Freight Trucks – 6%
  • Airplanes – 2%

 

End user is an economic term for you bought it you own it. Meaning the person who drives the car is responsible for the emissions, not General Motors. From this perspective the story changes entirely. Transportation moves down into a tie for third most important. The three ahead of it – manufacturing, homes, business – all represent places where the average person has a significant impact.

Individuals could buy less or switch to recycled products, in simple ways, like buying recycled toilet paper. At home they could lower the thermostat or send less to the landfill. At work they could accept normal temperatures for the A/C and support any green company policies.

It is strange that this data, which places the responsibility on individuals and can easily encourage a change in behavior, is buried in favor of the economic report. It would seem like the EPA is purposely avoiding the issue of responsibility, or letting the economists control the marketing. Either way it’s unacceptable and screwing up the discussion on global warming.

Come on EPA get your head in the game!

 

 

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Nate Silver predicts our next President – by keeping a running forecast

If you haven’t heard of Nate Silver then you are in for a ride. Nate is very, very famous in two distinct areas, baseball and politics, for his ability to predict things.

For baseball he developed, PECOTA, a system for predicting future performance of baseball players, and sold it to Baseball Prospectus in 2003.

From there he moved into politics and went on a run, correctly predicting the winner in 49 out of 50 states for the 2008 presidential election, and all 35 of the Senate races.

That made him some enemies, specifically all those existing pollsters who were proved wrong time and time again.

They still don’t like him, but he is the reigning king of political predictions and now a blogger for the New York Times. Where he maintains a running forecast for the 2012 presidential election.

This screenshot shows the forecasted winner in November:

 

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Why do people make choices against their best interests

“Freakonomics” was the book that made the public believe the dismal science has something interesting to say about how people act in the real world. But “Nudge” was the one that got policy wonks excited. The book, first published in 2008, is about the potential for behavioural economics to improve the effectiveness of government.

Behavioural economists have found that all sorts of psychological or neurological biases cause people to make choices that seem contrary to their best interests. The idea of nudging is based on research that shows it is possible to steer people towards better decisions…

Very interesting, especially with the results of these trials:

In one trial, a letter sent to non-payers of vehicle taxes was changed to use plainer English, along the line of “pay your tax or lose your car”. In some cases the letter was further personalised by including a photo of the car in question. The rewritten letter alone doubled the number of people paying the tax; the rewrite with the photo tripled it.

A study into the teaching of technical drawing in French schools found that if the subject was called “geometry” boys did better, but if it was called “drawing” girls did equally well or better.

Research into why people did not take up financial incentives to reduce energy consumption by insulating their homes found one possibility was the hassle of clearing out the attic. A nudge was designed whereby insulation firms would offer to clear the loft, dispose of unwanted items and return the rest after insulating it. This example of what behavioural economists call “goal substitution”—replacing lower energy use with cleaning out the attic—led to a threefold increase in take-up of an insulation grant.

In one trial, green arrows pointing to stairs were put next to railway-station escalators, in the hope of encouraging people to take the healthier option. This had almost no effect. The other experiment had a series of green footprints leading to rubbish bins. These signs reduced littering by 46% during a controlled experiment in which wrapped sweets were handed out.

via Free Exchange, The Economist

 

Maybe they can stop using the term “taxes” and call it “paying for the military so we don’t get bombed.”

 

Check out the book – Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, happiness

What’s a major worth?

Despite PayPal co-founder, Facebook funder, and venture capitalist Peter Thiel telling us we’re in an education bubble, a recent study and report by Georgetown University may suggest otherwise, with the bubble existing for only certain majors.

The Center on Education and the Workforce What’s It Worth report analyzes 171 majors in 15 categories. It tracks earnings by majors and provides key break-outs on questions of race and gender.

One key finding shows a 50% median salary difference for those obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree (Engineering, Computer Science, etc) versus a Bachelor of Arts degree (Humanities, Fine Arts, Psychology), with the former providing the highest median earnings.

The top 3 majors with the highest median earnings are: Petroleum Engineer ($120,000), Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences ($105,000); Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000). Lowest median salary majors include:  Counseling/Psychology ($29,000); Early Childhood Education ($36,000); Human Services and Community Organizations ($38,000); Social Work ($39,000).

Select findings can be found at: http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/whatsitworth-select.pdf

 

What's a major worth?

Despite PayPal co-founder, Facebook funder, and venture capitalist Peter Thiel telling us we’re in an education bubble, a recent study and report by Georgetown University may suggest otherwise, with the bubble existing for only certain majors.

The Center on Education and the Workforce What’s It Worth report analyzes 171 majors in 15 categories. It tracks earnings by majors and provides key break-outs on questions of race and gender.

One key finding shows a 50% median salary difference for those obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree (Engineering, Computer Science, etc) versus a Bachelor of Arts degree (Humanities, Fine Arts, Psychology), with the former providing the highest median earnings.

The top 3 majors with the highest median earnings are: Petroleum Engineer ($120,000), Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences ($105,000); Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000). Lowest median salary majors include:  Counseling/Psychology ($29,000); Early Childhood Education ($36,000); Human Services and Community Organizations ($38,000); Social Work ($39,000).

Select findings can be found at: http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/whatsitworth-select.pdf