Sunday, April 02, 2017

While Trump promotes coal, other countries are turning to cheap solar power | The Washington Post


David in Cal said...

Solar power is better than coal in many ways. But, coal is better than nothing. A few years ago I visited a family and a school in Zimbabwe. The poverty was extreme. Coal-based electric power would be a godsend for these people.

David Appell said...

"Coal is better than nothing."

Did anyone claim this?

Though actually, that's what these economists found, for the modern US: Generating electrical power with coal and oil creates more damage than value-added, according to a 2011 study that included noted Yale economist William Nordhaus:

"Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy," Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus, American Economic Review, 101(5): 1649–75 (2011).

Summarizing that paper's findings: for every $1 in value that comes from coal-generated electricity, it creates $2.20 in damages.

Total damages: $70 billion per year (in 2012 dollars).

Petroleum-generated electricity is even worse: $5.13 in damages for $1 in value.

David Appell said...

David: I'm curious to know what you think of this Muller+ study.

David in Cal said...

I haven't read the study. The conclusion may be valid in some long-term sense, but it seems to defy common sense. The study seems to imply that the US should be poorer than Zimbabwe, because of all the coal and oil we burn. But, obviously that's not the case.

Layzej said...

That doesn't follow. The US should be poorer for burning coal than if they had not. This says nothing relative to Zimbabwe.

David in Cal said...

I take your point, Layzej. Burning oil or coal causes harm that is a multiple of the good they do. Most of our economy derives directly or indirectly from burning oil and coal. If we stopped burning oil and coal, I imagine our economy would grind to a near halt. So, that study might seem to imply that we should have negative wealth because of all the oil and coal we've burned. But, I think they may have too low an estimate of the value from burning coal and oil.

The paper is at I just skimmed a little of it. It seems to focus mostly on the cost of pollution. I suspect that the value added calculation might be the one I'd question. They calculate "VA of an industry is the market value of output minus the market value of inputs, not including the factors of production—labor, land, and capital." But, is this right? This definition seems to provide a very low estimate of the value of coal and oil. Without oil and coal, most of our economy would grind to a halt. Most of us would starve to death, if we didn't freeze to death first. I suspect that their calculation of Value Added may not reflect just how crucial oil and coal are to our economy.


Layzej said...

Yeah. I don't know. One thing to consider is that the costs of climate change are distributed. USA would reap the benefits of burning coal while Zimbabwe would pay some portion of the cost.

David in Cal said...

Good point, Layzej. And, that's one reason why the Kyoto and Paris agreements failed. Another is the fact that the benefit of cutting CO2 emissions is years in the future. How does a politician sell a scheme that reduces the nation's wealth right now, but will not produe any measurable benefit to that nation? And, that negligible benefit won't even happen for many years.

To be clear, I'm not saying countries shouldn't sacrifice to reduce their CO2 emissions. I'm saying that they're unlikely to do so.

Layzej said...

Change is coming. Those at the vanguard now will win the future. China may eat our lunch: "So what is China doing? Its new five-year plan is a rush to electric cars, batteries, nuclear, wind, solar and energy efficiency — and a cap-and-trade system for carbon. Trump’s plan? More coal and oil. Hello? How can America be great if we don’t dominate the next great global industry — clean power?" -