Rich countries pollute less partly because people in richer countries consume a less pollution-intensive bundle of goods. This column investigates whether this results from consumer preferences or economy-wide changes. Within a country, the environmental Engel curve is concave – meaning that richer households, while polluting more, consume a less pollution-intensive bundle. Over time, this accounts for half of the decrease in rich household pollution, with the remainder being due to price changes and environmental regulations.
Arik Levinson, James O'Brien, Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Laura Grigolon, Mathias Reynaert, Frank Verboven, Saturday, January 10, 2015
Using a rich dataset for the European car markets, this column shows that consumers moderately undervalue future fuel costs. This investment inefficiency is too small to justify upfront car taxes to promote fuel efficient cars. A car tax results in a more fuel efficient vehicle fleet than a fuel tax, but fails to induce high-mileage consumers to substitute to more fuel efficient cars. Once we take this targeting effect into account, fuel taxes turn out to be more effective.
Victor Lavy, Avraham Ebenstein, Sefi Roth, Thursday, November 20, 2014
Admission to higher education often depends on the results of high-stakes tests, but assessing the consequences of having a ‘bad day’ on such tests is challenging. This column provides evidence from a dataset on Israeli high-school students. Random variations in pollution have measurable effects on exam performance, and these in turn have significant effects on students’ future educational and labour-market outcomes. The authors argue that placing too much weight on high-stakes exams may not be consistent with meritocratic principles.
Arik Levinson, Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Pollution emitted by manufacturers has been falling in Europe and the US. A concern with this clean-up is that developed countries have been offshoring the production of pollution-intensive parts and products. This column presents evidence refuting this concern. Using a new approach, the author calculates that almost all of the clean-up in US manufacturing can be explained by technological changes.
Radek Stefanski, Friday, May 30, 2014
No comprehensive database of directly measured fossil-fuel subsidies exists at the international or the sub-national level, yet subsidies may be crucial drivers of global carbon emissions. This column describes a novel method for inferring carbon subsidies by examining country-specific patterns in carbon emission-to-output ratios, known as emission intensities. Calculations for 170 nations from 1980-2010 reveal that fossil-fuel price distortions are enormous, increasing, and often hidden. These subsidies contributed importantly to increasing emissions and lower growth.
Richard S J Tol, Friday, April 25, 2014
The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report estimates lower costs of climate change and higher costs of abatement than the Stern Review. However, current UN negotiations focus on stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at even lower levels than recommended by Stern. This column argues that, given realistic estimates of the rate at which people discount the future, the UN’s target is probably too stringent. Moreover, since real-world climate policy is far from the ideal of a uniform carbon price, the costs of emission reduction are likely to be much higher than the IPCC’s estimates.
Lucija Muehlenbachs, Beia Spiller, Christopher Timmins, Sunday, February 9, 2014
Compared to coal and oil, shale gas offers the prospect of greater energy independence and lower emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. However, fracking is controversial due to the local externalities it creates – particularly because of the potential for groundwater contamination. This column presents evidence on the size of these externalities from a recent study of house prices. The effect attributable to groundwater contamination risk varies from 10% to 22% of the value of the house, depending on its distance from the shale gas well.
Jeffrey Frankel, Thursday, February 27, 2014
Market-based mechanisms such as cap-and-trade can tackle externality problems more efficiently than command-and-control regulations. However, politicians in the US and Europe have retreated from cap-and-trade in recent years. This column draws a parallel between Republicans’ abandonment of market-based environmental regulation and their recent disavowal of mandatory health insurance. The author argues that in practice, the alternative to market-based regulation is not an absence of regulation, but rather the return of inefficient mandates and subsidies.
Rafael Lalive, Simon Luechinger, Armin Schmutzler, Friday, March 15, 2013
Against a backdrop of road accidents, pollution and congestion, many governments subsidise railways with the aim of reducing such externalities. But do improvements in public transport work? This column argues that recent empirical evidence confirms our expectations and, moreover, that public-transport improvements offer good value for money.
Rafael Lalive, Simon Luechinger, Armin Schmutzler, Sunday, February 10, 2013
Many governments subsidise regional rail service as an alternative to road traffic. This paper assesses whether increases in service frequency reduce road traffic externalities.
Lucija Muehlenbachs, Beia Spiller, Christopher Timmins, Saturday, September 29, 2012
Natural gas is seen as an attractive source of energy – it is cleaner than coal and often more reliable. But there are potential risks from the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process. This column shows how shale gas extraction could reduce property prices, and argues that policymakers need to bear this in mind when thinking about the costs and benefits.
Jean-Marie Grether, Nicole A. Mathys, Jaime de Melo, Thursday, December 23, 2010
Environmentalists have long feared that globalisation will harm the environment by allowing heavily polluting industries to migrate to countries with lax environmental standards. This column presents new evidence from several industries across many countries for all the major pollutants. It suggests that lax policy has only had a small effect on the pollution content of trade.
Matthew E. Kahn, Siqi Zheng, Tuesday, April 14, 2009
What should China do about its noted pollution problems? This column shows that Chinese cities with less air pollution have higher home prices, suggesting that “green amenities” enter housing prices. Moreover, this marginal valuation of clean air is rising over time. China’s major cities may be becoming cleaner as their inhabitants demand improved environmental conditions.
Judith M. Dean , Mary E. Lovely, Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Chinese trade and pollution have exploded over the last decade. But new evidence shows that trade isn’t to blame for the pollution. In fact, Chinese imports and exports are becoming cleaner over time.
Arik Levinson, Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Since the 1970s, US manufacturing output has risen by 70% but air pollution has fallen by 58%. Was this due to improved abatement technology or shifting dirty production abroad?