Monthly Archives: December 2005

It is not easy to be green…

Today’s Guardian publishes an article on carbon offsetting by tree planting. To the environmentally aware consumer, who is considering buying a carbon offset to neutralise her carbon emissions, James Randerson, science correspondent gives the following advice: “When donating to a company offering carbon offset projects check the cash is actually needed to get the project off the ground · Check the project has the support of local people · Ensure it represents a cost effective way of reducing carbon – has a responsible company or not-for-profit organisation audited the project?” : It is not easy to be green!

Introduction to behavioral economics

The students interested in a good introduction to behavioral economics can have a look at Camerer, C. and Loewenstein, G. (2004) Behavioral Economics: Past, Present, Future. In C. Camerer, G. Loewenstein and M. Rabin (eds.) Advances in Behavioral Economics. New York and Princeton: Russell Sage Foundation Press and Princeton University Press

Does Happiness Lead to Success? On (the economics of) happiness

Are people happy because they are successful or are they successful because they are happy? Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King and Ed Diener in an article in the November Issue of the Psychological Bulletin suggest that both are likely to be true. In the article abstracts it reads: “Numerous studies show that happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health…The happiness-success link exists not only because success makes people happy, but also because positive affect engenders success… happiness is associated with and precedes numerous successful outcomes, as well as behaviors paralleling success. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that positive affect–the hallmark of well-being–may be the cause of many of the desirable characteristics, resources, and successes correlated with happiness. “ . The article can be downloaded together with other very interesting papers by Sonja Lybomirsky from here .
See an article in today’s Guardian about the paper by Lyubomirsky et al.

References

‘The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?’ Lyubomirsky’ Sonja; King, Laura; Diener, Ed; Psychological Bulletin, Vol 131(6), Nov 2005. pp. 803-855.

Biodiversity loss and restoration: European Union launches internet consultation

From the EU press release Reference: IP/05/1569 of 12/12/2005

The European Commission today launched an 8-week long Internet consultation on the measures which the European Union could adopt to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010 and restore biodiversity in the longer-term…
The results of the Commission’s consultation will be taken into account in finalising a Communication designed to address the commitments made by the EU Heads of State and Government to halt the loss of biodiversity in the EU and to significantly reduce the rate of loss worldwide by 2010.

The general public and experts are invited to give their views on EU biodiversity policy by filling out the questionnaire at the following address:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/consultations_en.htm

Expanding forest in temperate areas bad for climate change mitigation?

From the Guardian

Johannes Feddema of the University of Kansas and six colleagues from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research report in Science journal that they looked at changes in land use – the growth of cities, clearing of forests for agriculture, and draining of marshes – and their impact on climate change in the next 100 years. They confirmed something environmentalists have predicted for decades – the destruction of the Amazon forest would make the local climate 2C (4F) warmer because trees soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and burning them releases it. But then the scientists looked at temperate zones and found the opposite.

Simulations predicted the conversion of north American and European forests and grassland to agriculture would cool the region and counteract the effects of global warming by 25%-50%. This is because ripening corn and other staples would reflect more sunlight back into space, and release more moisture into the air, while dark forests would absorb sunlight and send thermometers soaring. Ken Caldeira and a Carnegie Institution team backed the finding in Geophysical Research Letters. “We were hoping to find that growing forests in the US would help slow global warming. But if we are not careful, growing forests could make global warming even worse.

Is organic food environmentally friendlier?

In a new Swedish study published in Ambio on organic farming, Andresson et al (2005) report that “we found that organic farming and organic products were not in general superior to conventional products and practices with respect to environmental impact and product quality.”

Later in the paper the result is qualified as follows:

The question is, does organic farming lead to sustainable agricultural production? This was studied in several research projects within the Food 21 program. A general answer is maybe in terms of some aspects, but not in others. Although the organic concept for animal production is less related to a systematic health and welfare approach, it seems to be more in agreement with long-term sustainability (36) than that of crop production. A high risk for N leaching related to the use of organic manures (37) and insufficient compensation for some essential nutrients (19) are two of the main obstacles to achieving sustainability in organic crop production systems. On the other hand, pesticides are not used and can therefore not pollute natural waters in such systems.

Product quality was compared for conventional and organically produced milk, pig meat, and bread. The general picture was that no significant differences were found with respect to most parameters analyzed (22, 23, 24, 38). For parameters with detectable tendencies for more favorable levels of a specific substance, sometimes in conventional products and in other cases in organically produced products, the differences were always found to be so small that any animal or human health effects are unlikely.

In an earlier Finnish study Maatalouden tuotantotavat ja ympäristö (2000) by Juha Grönroos and Pasi Voutilainen, a similar result was found with respect to rye bread. When the environmental impacts were calculated per unit produced rather than per hectare farmed, the most environmentally friendly mode of production of rye bread was not organic farming but conventional farming. On the other hand, organic milk production had a lower environmental impact than conventional milk production. (for more background information on this study from here )

These results suggest that organic food is not always environmentally friendlier nor healthier than conventionally produced food.
How then should we interpret the choices of consumers who do not purchase organic food? Given the above results, it may be problematic to say that they fail to express “pro-environmental behavior” if they favor conventional over organic food. This assumption is however done in many survey-type studies of pro-environmental behavior.

As far as food is concerned, a better indicator of consumers’ pro-environmental behavior would be his/her level of meat consumption.
In ‘Anderssons et al (2005) words

Animal production in Sweden today is, to a large extent, based on feed concentrates from tropical countries. However, this production is very much associated with severe land degradation, and the transport of these products to Sweden represents a considerable part of the environmental impact caused by the animal production (40).

It may also be concluded that a balanced diet with less meat would feed more people and decrease environmental problems like the greenhouse effect and eutrophication of waters due to nitrogen and phosphorus losses. It would also reduce the energy consumption per unit of protein in food produced and improve human health.

References

Andersson, R. , Algers B., Bergström, L., Lundström, K., Nybrant, T., & Sjödèn, P-O (2005) Food 21: A Research Program Looking for Measures and Tools to Increase Food Chain Sustainability, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment: Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 275–282.

Grönroos, J. & Seppälä, J. (2000) SY431 Maatalouden tuotantotavat ja ympäristö, Suomen ympäristö 431, luonto ja luonnonvarat, 244 s.
URN:ISBN:9521107715. Julkaisu on saatavissa vain painetussa muodossa (In Finnish)