Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Someone explains in a mainstream newspaper that the compensation under the Australian government's proposed ETS/CPRS is highly distorting. Actually, now that the Liberals aren't going to vote for an ETS in any form why not start over and compensate simply by reducing corporation and personal income taxes across the board (which is the most efficient approach)? I guess that goes against the bureaucratic instincts of this government and they do seem to cave to lobbyists even when they don't need the Liberal votes...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Nice Antidote to All the China Bashing

Copenhagen is a bit like the blind men and the elephant. Everyone sees something different. Bernarditas de Castro Muller (on the left in the photo) writing in the Guardian blames the West and the US in particular. I blame the US too. Though of course it is the Bush administration and the Republicans in the US Congress that are more to blame than the Obama administration. I see that China and the rest of the developing world are resisting taking on any legally binding commitments until the West starts taking its responsibilities seriously. That doesn't mean that the Chinese government doesn't care about climate change. It's taking considerable action domestically.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

News Media as a Channel of Environmental Information Disclosure: Evidence from an EGARCH Approach

I am a coauthor of a new working paper that uses an event study methodology to look at the impact of bad environmental news on the stock returns of U.S. listed firms. The lead author, Ran Zhang, is one of my former students at RPI. The paper is based on a chapter of her dissertation. My role in the paper was suggesting the original topic to Ran, providing feedback at various stages, and doing a lot of work on writing and editing this version.

A stock market event study tests whether stock returns are greater than would normally be expected in the period following a particular event in this case the release of bad environmental news. The topic itself isn't novel but our study adds the following value:

1. We use a larger sample than previous reliable studies of this issue. Large samples help us get more accurate estimates of effects. Filbeck and Gorman use a larger sample, but they do not seem to have cleaned up the data to remove "confounding events". When other important events happen in the same time window as the environmental news event we are interested in, we can't tell using daily data whether any change in stock prices is due to our event of interest or the confounding event. The confounding events swamp the signal with noise. Filbeck and Gorman only found a significant impact on stock prices from news of environmental awards. This doesn't mean that other news has no effect on stock prices. Simply that they couldn't isolate that effect.

2. As well as using traditional ordinary least squares estimation of the model we use an E-GARCH approach that can deal with the tendency of extreme returns in the stock market to cluster. Contrary to previous research we find that the results are robust to using either OLS or E-GARCH.

3. We measure the size of effects for different types of news and in different industrial sectors. Accidents and complaints are associated with 2.0% estimated mean reductions in stock market value, whereas lawsuits are associated with 1.5% reductions and court rulings and fines with 0.8% reductions. Transportation equipment and petroleum refining firms experience mean reductions in value of near 2.0%, versus 1.6% in chemicals firms, 0.8% in electric, gas, and sanitary services firms, and 0.7% in other firms. The mean effect across all industries and news types was 1.3%.


G. Filbeck and R. F. Gorman, The stock-price reaction to environmentally-related company news, Journal of Business and Public Affairs 29 (2004) 25-31.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuvalu is Rather New

Link to an article on the evolution of Pacific atolls. While I realised that these islands in their present form only developed after the end of the last Ice Age, I didn't realize that the stable islets on atolls have only been habitable for a thousand or so years due to a fall in sea level of about 2 metres.

Alley's AGU Lecture

Excellent lecture from the recent AGU meeting on the geology of climate change.

Climate Proposals Scoreboard Website

The Climate Interactive website translates climate policy proposals into expected climate outcomes. The video above provides some general introduction.

They also compute emissions trajectories based on proposals. The resulting warming, is warming by 2100 rather than equilibrium warming. I'm guessing that the mean climate sensitivity they are using is 3C for doubling CO2. This chart shows that all the potential proposals result in emissions in 2050 being roughly the same as today.

There is also a nice summary table of all current proposals and lots more.


Paul Krugman agrees with me that the US Senate is "dysfunctional". One reason that the Australian parliament is relatively effective is that there are strict limits on how long each member can speak. Therefore, filibusters are almost impossible.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is One State, One Vote the Problem?

In my opinion (subject to being changed by evidence and argument), the two main obstacles to a more meaningful outcome at COP15 were the intransigence of the US Senate and the gridlock in the UN structure in Copenhagen. In the end, the final accord was not put to a vote of the plenary but simply "noted". The objections of many of the small countries to being dictated to by the large countries who came up with the accord is understandable, but they'd also blocked convergence of the process until the last minute accord was written up. As I've already opined, there may have been a willingness for more consensus at Copenhagen if the US had offered some real cuts in emissions from the 1990 baseline. Maybe even 25% from 2005 would have helped?

Some commentators are saying that this shows that the UN is not a useful forum to have discussions on emissions reductions and I agree. The large numbers/transaction costs problem is all too evident.

The UN and the US Senate have something in common: Both are based on one vote per country or state.* Is it democratic that California (population 36 million) and North Dakota (pop 500k) have the same number of votes in the US Senate? Is it democratic that China (pop 1.3 billion) and Tuvalu (pop 12k) have the same number of votes in the UN?

It's neither democratic nor efficient.

The idea of the US Senate was to put a check on the "tyranny of the majority". But does it have too much power? The UN also has a two tier structure with the Security Council being a little closer to population representation. But the Security Council has no role in climate negotiations.

Here in Australia, the Senate is also a problem. It often gives exceptional power to a one person party like Fielding. An actual or effectively (like the UK) unicameral parliament is not neccessarily ideal either... The UNFCCC though is the worst case scenario of just an upper house (and where every member has a veto vote!).

* There are two US senators per state but only one third of the senate is up for election every two years and so on a party basis it might as well be one delegate per state. Yes, senators don't really vote on party lines but I doubt that the two senators for a state, assuming that they are from the same party often vote differently to each other. 9 out of 50 states actually have a split delegation at the moment (though one of those is Vermont which means left-wing and more left-wing :))).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Should You Submit Papers to Open Access Journals?

Here is an article on how to choose a journal to submit to in the field of paleontology (yes, recently I like to read blogs about dinosaur and other vertebrate paleontology). I disagree with quite a few of the points in the article. In particular, the blogger favors open access journals but then admits that anyone can pretty much get a copy of an article in the form of a pdf if they want one whether it is published by a commercial publisher or not. Whether we really need traditional journals or even journals at all is also a good question, but let's focus on open-access journals here.

Many scientists argue that there is no reason to give money to commercial publishers like Elsevier when academics can nowadays organize many of their functions on their own (using institutional resources) - though someone has to pay the editor/managing editor if a serious refereeing process is going to be carried out. But assuming that this is a worthy goal, in many disciplines such as economics there are very few serious open access journals as yet and these aren't catalogued by Thompson/ISI/WoK and don't have much of a track record.

I think it is still important to publish in journals that are indexed by Thompson/ISI/WoK and I disagree on ignoring impact factors. There are now 5 year impact factors available from them and from eigenfactor.org. These turn out to be pretty correlated with the 2 year ones even in a slow discipline like economics. Given this it makes most sense to go ahead and publish with Elsevier as every research library in the developed world is going to subscribe to them if not to anything else (it’s hard to get published in the top not-for-profit journals in econ. as they have rejection rates like Nature and Science – and take much longer to turn around manuscripts).

What we do have in economics is a very strong system of working paper series (catalogued by RePEc and SSRN) which has total free access but is not refereed. But my journal articles definitely get more citations than my working papers do (which in turn do better than my book chapters). Journals in econ don’t care that the paper is already online as a working paper. Neither do any of the natural science ones I’ve dealt with.

It is true that university libraries are much less useful than they used to be for people who are not members of the institution. Members of the public used to be able to walk in and take a copy of a journal off the shelf and read it. Now you usually need passwords to access the computers in the library. So open-access journals can play a role in providing access to those who aren't members of institutions. But as I've said, in economics many or most papers are available online as working papers anyway and if not, you can usually get a copy of a paper by e-mailing the author.*

This is a public good problem. Supporting open-access journals might be good for the dissemination of science but currently individual academics will lose from publishing papers in them. And the public benefit is probably lower in economics than some other disciplines.

* This is usually my last resort (or second last to actually paying a publisher for an article). First is to check my library, followed by Google Scholar, followed by interlibrary loan, followed by asking someone close at another institution if they have it there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I don't have much to say about the Copenhagen conference at this point. Seems silly to try to analyse it from this distance. It looks to me like anything can happen at this point. What's puzzling me mostly is what the hell have the negotiators been doing for the last 2 years since Bali? They should have been more agreed on the basic framework for this meeting before getting there than it looks like they were. My guess is that there may have been more willingness for cooperation before developing countries saw how small the US's offer was. As I blogged earlier, in terms of carbon intensity the US offer is the same as China's. In terms of a cut in emissions relative to a baseline I've heard it only amounts to 3% (Based on CDIAC's numbers it looks like 0% to me). But at Kyoto the US offered to cut emissions by 5% by 2010 relative to 1990 (though they never ratified the treaty). So the US is offering much less now than they did in 1997!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Paul Samuelson

The big news today in economics is the death of Paul Samuelson. I don't have much to add to what is being said except that I am one of those first introduced to the topic via his textbook. We used it as the English textbook in the "Introductory Economics" course I took in my first year at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1985-6. There was also a very terse textbook in Hebrew titled "Mavo Lekalkalah" (Introduction to Economics) produced by the student union based on past lectures. After all my moves, I no longer have Samuelson's Economics. I really have very few books compared to most academics.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus: Gerrit van Honthorst, 1590-1656

David Brooks write a short summary of the Hannukah story in the New York Times. Mostly he just recounts stuff that is in the books of Maccabees I and II (which are not part of the canonical Hebrew Bible but they were included as part of the first Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint). This stuff is partly historically true but written from the point of view of the victors and the accounts clash a bit. Brooks puts spin on various aspects of the story but I'm not sure what Brooks' point really is. It really doesn't seem very controversial to me. What is interesting are the comments on his article and that Facebook users were banned from linking to the article due to some users complaining of "abusive content". Many of the commenters say that they had no idea that this was the story of Hannukah. Some of those commenters are not Jewish but many seem to be Jewish. At the other extreme are those who say he hasn't taken historical scholarship on the story into enough account. And then there are others who say he spoiled the holiday for them, for example:

New York
December 11th, 2009
11:31 am
What an inappropriate article-- which quotes history while fully distorting the facts-- and attempts to take the joy out of a beautiful holiday with a tradition of hope and renewal. In spite of your "faux" intellectualism, this will be a beautiful night of family gatherings, of embracing our friends, our children and grandchildren while focusing on the tender feelings of love life can bring. "

Many religious people base what they believe on what scriptures and religious scholarship actually say. But many people hold very strong beliefs about stuff they just invented themselves. From a secular viewpoint both may be equally unsubstantiated beliefs. But at least the first group think that they have some evidence to base their opinion on. And in contemporary science and policy debates many people hold very strong beliefs based on stuff they just made up themselves without any evidence to support it. It's strange how humans have a capacity for doing this.

Copenhagen Circus?

Paul Frijter's take on the climate negotiations and my comment on his post:

"Your blogpost shows why the new approach of the Australian Liberal Party won’t work. Taking some actions like increasing energy efficiency initiatives or renewable energy targets likely will only slow the growth of emissions in the face of the kind of things you list in the article. So we do need to save ourselves from our desires by imposing carbon restrictions and pricing (preferably via either an ETS or a carbon tax rather than administratively fixed quotas). Will the world’s governments eventually agree to a serious move of this sort. I think that eventually they will though more serious damage from climate change might be neccessary before they really get a move on. My best guess is that global carbon emissions in 2050 will be the same as today. This is backed up a small and unscientific poll I ran on my blog. In other words, emissions will grow slower than under business as usual but not slow enough to stabilize the climate. All the serious economic analysis of the costs of acting on climate change show that the costs are not that high – i.e. GDP would be 4-5% lower in 2050 than otherwise. Yet the public, business, and governments don’t seem to believe the economic analysis. It’s hard to believe that they think that that cost is too high."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two Paper Submissions this Week

We submitted two papers this week - more details when the working paper versions are up on the web. One is a resubmission (to a different journal) of my paper on between estimates of the EKC. The other is a new paper coauthored with a former student at Rensselaer, Ran Zhang, and Ken Simons an Assistant Prof. at RPI. It's a paper about corporate social responsibility based on a chapter from her dissertation. I got her going on the topic and did quite a bit of feedback, editing, and adding references etc. to this version.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Peer Review, Berlin, 1945

The latest in the Downfall video clip meme:

Like many commenters on YouTube write the captions really capture the feelings many of us have (at least now and then) when getting back peer reviews of our papers.

Copenhagen Prediction Market

CEEM at UNSW has set up a prediction market for the outcomes of COP15. It looks pretty complicated - i.e. you'd need to know a lot of details or read up on them on the site to know even what many of these markets mean. And the prizes are in the form of carbon offsets. Will be interesting to see how well it works. The current most probable outcome for the the developed nations target is a reduction of less than 10%. I guess that could mean "no agreement". So why not have a zero % contract? $10-14 billion of funding for developing countries is also a most probable outcome. Looking at the different graphs - this doesn't look like an efficient market. The only trading contract for the EU-27 target is the 30-40% one...

EERH Working Paper Statistics for November 2009

The rate of abstract views and downloads for the EERH Working Papers on RePEc seems to be settling down this month. We got 180 paper downloads and 507 abstract views. The most popular paper this month in terms of downloads was the paper by Peter Wood and Frank Jotzo: "Price Floors for Emissions Trading". A paper by Evers et al.: "Economics of Ethanol Production – a brief introduction" got the most abstract views. The series ranked 559th for downloads and 739th for abstract views out of about 2700 working paper series on RePEc that includes many old and established working paper series. Ranked by downloads per item we came in 74th globally and 117th when ranked by abstract views per item.

One Reason I Don't Belong to a Union

It's one thing to be forced to pay taxes to a government that does things you disagree with, but why pay fees to a union who waste some of them on political campaigns that you disagree with and are irrelevant to their members' direct interests? Of course, there are other reasons too... BTW I once did join a union as it was the best route to health insurance in the country I then lived in and I voted for the Labor party at the last Federal election in Australia so I can be pragmatic :)

By contrast with the situation in Australia where it seems that only the one union is allowed to negotiate pay and conditions, in my previous position in the U.S. we were told by the provost ("chief academic officer") of our university that it was illegal for faculty members to even ask other faculty members whether they wanted to join a union as we were deemed in law to be "management" rather than "workers". I found this very strange.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spash Scandal One Month On

As you may have heard, Clive Spash resigned from CSIRO and is moving back to Europe, apparently to Norway (I'm not surprised really about this)... I haven't spoken with him since the Darwin meeting. In the meantime, the issue has been debated in the Australian Senate and CSIRO have been trying to clarify their policy (see below). Dr Clark's position looks reasonable. I guess the problem is how the word "advocate" is interpreted. I would have assumed that saying "ETS's are crap" based on supporting arguments like Spash did is not advocacy. Saying "Labor's policy is trash, I prefer the Liberal Party's approach" would be advocacy. But that is not how CSIRO treated his work. What do you think?

From: Clark, Megan (OCE, Campbell)
To: CSIRO - All Staff
Subject: CSIRO Public Comment on Policy

Dear Colleagues

Over the last few months I have shared with you the importance of communicating the results of our research. Over the last few weeks there has been debate in the Parliament, and in the media on CSIRO’s ability to comment publicly on government and/or opposition policies.

As discussed in my last email to you, as a publically funded research agency the principles of our Charter are clear. CSIRO staff are actively encouraged to debate publicly the latest science and its implications and to analyse policy options, however we do not advocate for or against specific government or opposition policies.

I stand by the Charter. It protects the independence of our science and comment. It also protects each of us from being exploited in the political process. It allows us to provide frank and fearless scientific input to policy development.

However our independence and scientific integrity in the eyes of the Australian people are diminished if we publicly support or criticise government or opposition policies. We are trusted by the Australian community because of our record of scientific excellence. They know we have good internal approval and review processes in place for all of our publications.

I, my Executive Team colleagues and the Board value our scientific independence and will always defend your right to speak publicly in a manner consistent with the Charter.

Today’s policy makers need our high quality independent science and related advice on the complex challenges they face. Climate change and its impacts, water scarcity, biodiversity decline, Australia’s growing urbanised population and food security are just some of the national and global issues they grapple with on a daily basis.

In any given week CSIRO scientists have a wide range of interactions with government, industry and the wider community. In the climate change space for example over the last two years we have published numerous papers and reports on the ETS and carbon trading issues, as well as extensive work in complex policy areas such as water. In addition, in March we conducted a briefing on the latest science of climate change for members of Parliament. We also made over 40 submissions and appearances before Parliamentary Committees looking at the issue of climate change since 2008. We need to continue to be a strong voice in these critical issues.

As science is now predicting how our actions today will affect us in 50-100 years from now, there is an even greater responsibility for science’s contribution to society to be substantive and supported by rigorous scientific method and robust analysis.

I encourage each of you to continue to communicate the results of your work consistent with our Charter.



Dr Megan Clark
Chief Executive, CSIRO

CSIRO Corporate Centre, Limestone Avenue
Campbell, ACT 2612 (all correspondence);

Mayfair House, 351 Royal Parade
Parkville, VIC 3052

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

China Can't Win

People like this see China's announced carbon intensity target as "unambitious" because the business as usual scenarios from the IEA and US EIA already incorporate all of China's ambitious energy intensity and renewable energy goals. I wouldn't call those scenarios "BAU". Yes, China's carbon intensity target is probably mostly confirming their existing greenhouse policy. But why should China have to bring new measures to the table now when the US and Australia haven't even managed yet to legislate anything serious on greenhouse policy? Should we start calling the US's 17% and Australia's 25% emission reduction proposals BAU?