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Posts Tagged ‘external costs’

The fall-out from freak floods

No-one in the UK can have failed to notice the seemingly never-ending torrent of wind and rain that has swept the country over the past couple of weeks. At the moment, there are 19 flood warnings in the UK and a further 58 areas are on flood watch, according to the Environmental Agency. Cockermouth in Cumbria has been the worse hit, with 12.4 inches of rain falling in just 24 hours, 6 bridges collapsing and over 200 people being rescued by emergency services, some having to break through their roof to get out. Thousands of people have been evacuated; PC Bill Barker lost his life trying to save others; and fears remain for a 21-year old women, who was washed away from a bridge. This has led to a safety review of all 1800 bridges in Cumbria.

Thousands of people have lost their homes and belongings and over 1000 claims to insurance companies have already been made. Flood victims are facing rapidly rising costs, as insurance premiums increase to cover the costs of flooding and this has led to these houses becoming increasingly difficult to sell. Some home-owners are even being forced to pay mandatory flood insurance. Without this in place, insurance companies are not willing to insure homeowners in some areas, or the premiums they’re charging are simply unaffordable. After all, if one household in an area hit by flooding claims for flood damage, the probability of all other houses in that area also claiming is pretty high, if not an almost certainty.

Care packages are arriving for those hit by the floods, as food is starting to run out, and estimates of the costs of flooding have already reached ‘tens of millions of pounds’. Gordon Brown has pledged £1 million to help the affected areas, but who knows where this money will come from; Barclays has also pledged help for the small businesses affected.

An independent inquiry needs to be launched into the causes of this flooding and whether better flood protection should have been in place. However, the extent of the flooding experienced is argued to only happen every 300 years, so is the cost of flood protection really worth the benefits it will bring? A number of issues have arisen from this freak weather, and some are considered in the articles below.

Residents returning to Cockermouth after flooding (including video) BBC News (23/11/09)
Insurers will be hit by £100 million flood bill City AM, Lora Coventry (23/11/09)
£100 million bill after Cumbria floods nightmare Metro, Kirststeen Patterson (23/11/09)
Floods claim in Cumbria could and Scotland could top £100 million (including video) BBC news (22/11/09)
Riverside residents, others may be forced to buy mandatory flood insurance The Times, Illinois, Steve Stout (21/11/09)
Funds for flooding victims set up BBC News (22/11/09)
Flood victims suffer as insurance costs rise Guardian, Jamie Elliott (8/11/09)
1 in 6 house insurance customers at risk of flooding UIA (20/11/09)
Papers focus on flood shortages BBC News (23/11/09)

Questions

  1. Why are insurance premiums high for flood protection and how will this affect house sales in the affected areas?
  2. Are the risks of flooding independent?
  3. Apart from those living in the areas hit by floods, who else will suffer from the flooding and how?
  4. The flooding experienced is said to be a phenomenon experienced every 300 years. Should better flood defences be put into place to stop the same thing happening in the future or should we use the necessary money elsewhere?
  5. What are the private and external costs and benefits of increased flood defences? What would a cost–benefit analysis need to establish in order for a decision to be made over whether more defences should be put in place?
  6. Millions of pounds will be needed to repair the damage caused by the flooding. Where will this money come from? Think about the opportunity cost.
  7. What do you think will be the likely impact on environmental policy and how will this affect you?
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What price health?

The US Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has recently published a 92-page on report on childhood obesity and the use of taxes on junk foods to tackle the problem. In the report, titled Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity, “a panel of experts suggested such taxes could play an important role in helping children make healthier eating choices”.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the Federal Government’s preventive health taskforce argued, amongst other things, that “junk food advertising should be phased out, the cost of cigarettes should be more than $20 a packet, and soft drinks and cask wine should be hit with higher taxes”.

So how effective are higher taxes in achieving a reduction in ill health associated with eating, drinking and smoking? If adopted, what is the socially optimum design and rates of such taxes? What other complementary policies could be adopted? The following articles consider the issues.

More support for a junk-food tax Los Angeles Times (2/9/09)
Tax junk food, drinks to fight child obesity-report Reuters (31/8/09)
Could Raising Taxes on Junk Food Curb Obesity? eMaxHealth (2/9/09)
Junk food and tobacco under fire The Age (Australia) (2/9/09)
What price health? The Australian (2/9/09)

Questions

  1. For what reasons does the free market fail to achieve an optimum level of consumption of junk foods, alcohol and cigarettes?
  2. How would you determine the socially optimum level of consumption of such products?
  3. How are the price, income and cross-price elasticities of demand, and the price elasticity of supply, relevant to assessing the effectiveness of taxes for reducing the consumption of unhealthy products?
  4. What determines the incidence of taxes on unhealthy products?
  5. What other policies would you advocate to tackle the problems associated with consuming unhealthy products? How would they affect the price elasticity of demand for such products.
  6. To what extent do the objectives of social efficiency and equity conflict when designing appropriate policies to discourage unhealthy consumption?
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20/20 climate vision?

EU leaders at a Brussels summit have agreed a plan to cut emissions. This will involve the 27 EU countries cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. The aim is also to try to raise renewable energy sources to 20% of total energy use. The package has become known as the 20/20/20 package, but scientists have already argued that these measures may not be sufficient to prevent serious climate change.

Fiddling with words as the world melts The Economist (18/12/08)
Climate deal is far too little too late Guardian (15/12/08)
EU leaders claim historic agreement on cutting pollution Guardian (13/12/08)
Climate change: EU leaders reach compromise deal on emissions Guardian (12/12/08)
World needs ‘climate revolution’ BBC News Online (11/12/08)
EU climate package explained BBC News Online (5/12/08)
EU leaders reach new climate deal BBC News Online (12/12/08)

Questions

  1. Identify two external costs that result from climate change.
  2. Using diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the impact of the EU climate change deal on the market for electricity.
  3. Discuss the extent to which the EU climate change deal will lead to an increase in the supply of renewable energy sources. How quickly are these changes in supply likely to take effect?
  4. Examine two other policies that national governments could implement to reduce carbon emissions.
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Plastic bags – an environmental basket case?

Billions of plastic bags are used and discarded each year around the world and these cause considerable environmental damage – a form of market failure. In this podcast we consider the extent of the problem and policies that countries around the world are adopting to try to minimise this market failure. Many countries, including China, have banned single-use plastic bags completely, while others, such as Ireland, have chosen to tax them to try to limit their use.

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Recycling the mountain of paper

Britain’s recycling strategy is under risk following a collapse in waste paper prices. Three quarters of UK waste paper is exported to Far Eastern buyers, but demand from this region has collapsed in recent months. The price collapse has led to a surplus of recyclable paper and some local authorities have proposed using Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites to store the waste while there is no market or use for it.

Paper price collapse blows hole in Britain’s recycling strategy Guardian (11/11/08)
Recycled waste could be stored on MoD bases Guardian (16/11/08)

Questions

  1. Define the terms (i) private cost and (ii) external cost.
  2. What are the external costs resulting from disposing of waste paper and other recyclable products in landfill sites?
  3. Using diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the changes that have taken place in the market for waste paper.
  4. Evaluate two strategies that the government could adopt to increase the price of waste paper.
  5. Discuss the likely success of a policy of storing waste on MoD sites to await an upturn in the recycling market..
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Guzzling gas just got more expensive

One of the key Budget measures was a change in the car tax regime. The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, introduced a new banded system annual vehicle excise duty (VED) based on the level of emissions of the vehicle. The cars with the lowest levels of emissions will be exempt from VED, but at the other end of the spectrum, the highest polluting vehicles will face an annual VED of around £440. However, this will be substantially higher in the year of purchase of the vehicle and this so-called ‘showroom tax’ will raise the tax level to £950 in the first year of purchase.


Gas guzzlers hit with higher taxes
Guardian (12/03/08)
New taxes on gas-guzzlers will raise an extra £1.2bn Guardian (13/03/08)
Spared at the pumps – but hit in the showroom Guardian (16/03/08)
Q&A: Showroom tax BBC News Online (12/03/08)
Gas guzzlers set to face £950 tax BBC News Online (12/03/08)

Questions
1. Explain how the highest polluting vehicles affect the socially optimal equilibrium in the market for car travel.
2. Using supply and demand diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the likely impact of the new car tax regime in 2009-10 on the equilibrium in the market for car travel. What is the significance of the concepts of price elasticity of demand and consumer surplus in your analysis?
3. Discuss the likely effectiveness of the new banded car tax regime at reducing the average level of emissions from cars. Would raising the tax on petrol and diesel be a more efficient method of achieving the same goal?
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Plastic bags – not so plastic fantastic after all?

2008 may yet come to be seen as the year that marks the death of the single-use plastic bag. Many countries around the world, including China, have banned their use and February 2008 has seen Marks and Spencer announcing a 5p charge per plastic bag in an attempt to reduce their usage. Even government departments have faced criticism over their use as promotional tools. For more details on plastic bag bans and policies relating to limiting their usage, see our 2007/8 podcast on The economics of plastic bags elsewhere on the site.

M&S hopes to cut plastic bag use with 5p levy Guardian (28/2/08)
Brown may legislate against free plastic bags Guardian (29/2/08)
Q&A: Plastic bags Guardian (28/2/08)
M&S to charge 5p for carrier bags BBC News Online (28/2/08)
Brown threatens supermarkets over plastic bag reduction Times Online (29/2/08)
Government accused over plastic bag waste Guardian (29/2/08)
Agency scraps use of plastic bags for Whitehall promotions Guardian (1/3/08)
Plastic bag bans around the world BBC News Online (28/2/08)

Videos
M&S to charge for carrier bags BBC News Online (February 2008)
M&S boss on plastic bags BBC News Online (February 2008)
M&S to start charging for plastic bags BBC News Online (February 2008)

Questions
1. What are the social costs and benefits resulting from the use of single-use plastic
bags?
2. Using diagrams as appropriate, show how the equilibrium price and quantity of plastic bags differs from the social optimum.
3. Evaluate two possible policies that the government could use to reduce the use of plastic bags.
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Reasons to see red over green energy

In the article below, Ashley Seager from the Guardian argues that the government is doing little to encourage the take-up and adoption of alternative forms of energy generation for households. Indeed he argues hat the situation has got worse and not better in recent months with changes in the system. Only 270 houses were helped with the fitting of photovoltaic systems last year. In Germany the equivalent figure was 130,000.

Reasons to see red over green energy Guardian (18/2/08)

Questions
1. Assess the external costs and external benefits resulting from installing a photovoltaic electricity generation system on a house.
2. Using diagrams as appropriate, show how the installation of photovoltaic cells on houses will alter the socially optimal market equilibrium.
3. Evaluate two policies that the government could use to encourage the more widespread adoption of alternative methods of generating power.
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Cement – the solid polluter

Cement may be quietly emerging as one of the biggest obstacles to lowering carbon emissions to reduce the extent of global warming. The cement industry rarely features in media analysis of the ‘worst polluters’, but in fact the industry is responsible, because of the high energy requirements of manufacture, for more than 5% of carbon dioxide emissions. A building boom globally has fuelled demand for the material. Concrete is the second most used product on the planet, after water, so what can be done to reduce the impact of the industry on the environment?

The unheralded polluter: cement industry comes clean on its impact Guardian (12/10/07)

Questions
1. With reference to the article, identify the main external costs resulting from the production of cement.
2. Discuss the view expressed by Dimitri Paplexopoulos, managing director of Titan Cement that “.. [c]ement is needed to satisfy basic human needs, and there is no obvious substitute, so there is a trade-off between development and sustainability“.
3. Discuss policies that governments could adopt to try to move the market for cement towards a more socially optimal level of production.
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The EU agrees a renewable energy target

March 2007 has seen a lot of activity in government circles relating to the environment and environmental legislation. The EU has agreed a renewable energy target for all members while the UK government has released its own climate change bill. The Carbon Trust has then released a one-year pilot of a carbon labelling scheme, with Walkers Crisps being the first brand to bear the carbon labels. The aim is to increase consumers’ awareness of the carbon footprint of the goods they are buying. The articles linked below look at all these issues.

EU agrees renewable energy target BBC News Online (9/3/07)
EU seeks converts to eco-stoicism BBC News Online (9/3/07)
Navarra embraces green energy BBC News Online (9/3/07)
How Europe can save the world Guardian (11/3/07)
Carbon labelling scheme launched BBC News Online (15/3/07)
Labels reveal goods’ carbon cost BBC News Online (16/3/07)
New law in the climate jungle BBC News Online (13/3/07)

Questions
1. Explain the difference between private costs and external costs. Identify five external costs that arise from the generation of electricity by conventional means.
2. Using diagrams as appropriate, show the impact on the market for energy of increased use of energy generated from renewable sources.
3. Evaluate the likely effectiveness of the carbon labelling scheme introduced by the Carbon Trust.
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