Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Climate, krill, iron,and the Southern Ocean

Half a year of humanity's fossil carbon release might be bound in an iron-nourished Southern Ocean each year, but what would the climate effect be?

Humanity causes 36.7 gigatons of carbon release into air each year, from land use, cement-making and fossil fuel burning. But if future krill trawlers went to sea, not empty, but full of iron, half that carbon could be fixed by sealife in the Southern Ocean, where the krill are caught per year. But what would happen to the carbon thus caught? Would it fall to the bottom? Would it anaerobically become methane, or induce nitrous oxide release, both worsening the climate crisis, or would it remain in sediments, halfway solving our greenhouse gas problems?

I understand China hopes to increase it's annual Antarctic krill catch 7-fold, to 2 million tons wet weight[8]. This krill catch would, at 28 micrograms iron per gram of krill dry weight[3], and at 20%dry weight:wet weight[5] contain 11.2 tons of iron.

The projected Chinese krill catch, ten-fold existing catches, would be from wild standing stock of ~0.5 billion tons[2], which might contain 2,800 tons Fe[3,4]. Since 1/4 of the krill's range's Fe[1] is in the krill, there could be a total krill range iron content of 11,200 tons. So taking 11.2 tons/year from this would reduce total Fe in range by ~0.1%.

Let's say those trawlers carried 2 million tons of ferrous sulfate heptahydrate from China's iron works to the Southern Ocean's' krill pastures in otherwise empty holds, and spread it evenly as they caught their krill each year. This would contain, at an Fe:S:O4:H14:O7 ratio of 56:32:64:14:112, about 1/5th Fe, or 0.4 million tons Fe.

With krill containing 1gram Fe for every 355 grams P and at Redfield's ratio of 106C:16N:1P , every ton of Fe ending up in krill would temporarily bind 1 x 355 x 106 = approximately 37,630 tons of carbon. So (37,630 x 0.4 million tons x 1/4 of the range's iron being in krill [1], the year's iron supplied by the fleet could fix ~3.8 billion tons of atmospheric carbon temporarily, in living krill, with an additional 11.3 billion tons of carbon in phytoplankton or dissolved. Summed up, 15 gigatons of carbon per year might be fixed, which is about half the fossil fuel carbon emitted per year.

But would all that iron be taken up by Southern Ocean sealife? The Southern Ocean is 20.3 million square kilometers[6], about 4% of Earth's total surface area of 510 millionsq. km. This ocean's productivity is iron limited; It is a part of the 
1/5th of the world's oceanic area limited by iron. Experimental addition of iron
to the Southern Ocean resulted in vastly increased photosynthesis[7]. I'm still 
pursuing the effects on sealife.

But if half the carbon temporarily fixed became methane and a fifth of that returned as methane to the atmosphere, with 72 times the warming potential effect of CO2 over two decades (1/2  x 1/5 x 72 =7.2), the carbon as methane would increase heat trapped by about seven times. We need to know the fate of that carbon.

1    NicoiS 2010 'Southern Ocean fertilization by...'
3    LocarninaSJP 1995 'Trace element concentrations in Antarctic Krill, Euphausia superba'
     Locarnina reports Fe content of 28 micrograms/gram fresh weight, and 9.94 milligrams P per gram, for an P:Fe ration of 355P:1Fe.
4    Partly derived from an estimate within JenningsS, KaiserH, ReynoldsJD; _Marine Fisheries Biology_, John Wiley & Sons 2009 :34 "..if krill wet weight is 10% carbon(Morrill et al 1988, Ikeda & Kirkwood 1989)..."
5   Approximate average from Table 1, RaymontJEG 1971 'The biochemical composition of Euphausia superba'
6    06/30/15
7    BarberRT 'SOFeX: Southern Ocean Iron Experiments. An Overview of the Biological Responses.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dear Bill Gates: On high taxes not stopping high growth.

The "highest economic growth decade was the 1960s. Income tax rates were 90 percent."  
Bill Gates on Sunday, May 17th, 2015 in an interview on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS"

In sum: While true, there's no longer any room on earth for such growth, if the growth is real. If it's not real growth, then it's just inflation, which won't help. We need to separate economic health from economic growth. Growth promises equality, but never delivers. We need to enforce fair markets and anti-trust law to head toward equality.
Could you expand on your point a little? I admittedly know little about the subject, and this seems like an interesting point.
On this, I'm echoing Dr. Herman Daly, ex-World Bank economist and co-author of the textbook Ecological Economics. His Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE)'s website is a good place to start on this:, as are the writings of Hazel Henderson, and John Michael Greer.
Seven plus billion of us live now on our planet, depending on it for our food and more (fiber, ores, etc.) With so many of us, our dependence is degrading our earth's ability to provide 'tomorrow' what it yielded 'yesterday'. For example abusive ag.'s soil erosion degrades future crop yields. We're running out of resources, including room to pollute, while we're increasing in number of willing workers.
Those before us, in a world empty of workers but full of resources, figured ways to eliminate labor using resources and technology. Yet in today's world, full of workers but emptying of resources, we still idolize LABOR efficiency, when what suits our present circumstances is RESOURCE efficiency.
Economists among us idolize economic growth as politically-acceptable panecea for inequality. There's growth in population and per capita income growth, but there's nowhere to put any of this growth on our earth. We can't fit infinite growth on our finite earth, even per person growth in income, because if the income growth is real, it means more resources extracted and used.
Meanwhile, the effort to increase equality has been thought of as a way for the rich to acceed to the demands of poor, so it is thus a 'reason' for growth. Yet, equality has been progressively receding away over our horizon even as we clamor, through growth, toward that horizon.
So since growth doesn't fit earth today, and won't deliver equality, how do we cope with that and Piketty's insight that capital returns exceed growth rates throughout history? How do we deal with the frightening cries about poverty that stress us all? Measures of well-being in societies with great inequality are on average worse than more equal societies, according to the thoroughly researched Wilkerson and Picketts' The Spirit Level: Why greater equality makes societies stronger. Further, how do we make opportunity fairly available to each child, as demands the meritocracy that we aspire to be, and philosophically lean on as rationale?
We should, at least, drop suicidal oil exploration subsidies, for example. We should, at least, face ourselves 'at the pump' with the true pollution costs of the gasoline energy we use to eliminate labor.
We should, at least, charge 'at the pump' for the inevitable degradation of the now polluted commons we all suffer in, rich and poor alike, when we as spenders chose to eliminate labor with use of resources that pollute when used. Also, we should at least recognize that the value of market share, as distinct from pure 'economies of scale', is monopolist's money, unfairly gotten. We should, at least, extend legal protection, conveyed now in the form of ‘common carrier’ law, to small and minority retail consumers, to the wholesale markets as well, as in Maryland’s law that small hospitals can’t be paid less for the same procedure than larger hospitals are otherwise able to negotiate, with market share’s clout, when dealing with health insurance companies.
Here in Boston, this should take the wind out of the hospital ‘consolidation’ drive. It should also, in opposing fashion, squeeze the breeze on health insurance conglomeration as well. It should take the profit out of market domination by large market share buyers of small market share sellers, for example, as well as by large market share sellers squeezing small market share buyers.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

A False Dilemma: Economic Efficiency vs. Equality

"Equality and efficiency are often thought to be in a zero-sum relationship: the more we have of one, the less we have of the other (18). Many policy issues therefore take the form of debating what is the best 'mix' of equality and efficiency, or how much of what we currently have in one dimension we should give up in order to obtain more in the other dimension. Tax and welfare policy are two areas where the belief in a trade-off is strongest. Since there are good reasons to think the relationship between equality and efficiency is not zero-sum, it is worth summarizing the 'logic' of the trade-off view.There are three 'reasons' why efficiency and equality are thought to be in a trade-off. The first and foremost is the motivation argument. It holds that equality eliminates the differential rewards necessary to motivate people to be productive. Any move toward equalization of incomes - such as through welfare grants, progressive taxation, or restructuring of wages - 'will' reduce individual effort, personal savings and eventually, the level of productive investment a society can generate. The motivation argument goes back at least as far as Reverend Malthus's eighteenth-century treatise on poverty, in which he postulated that the stimulus of providing for oneself and bettering one's condition in life is necessary to 'overcome the natural indolence of mankind' . Thus, greater equality through income redistribution to the poor would necessarily lead to less work and lower production.(19)
The second 'reason' for the trade-off is that to maintain equality, government must continually interfere with individual choices about how to use resources, and in doing so, it curbs useful experimentation and productive innovation. One element of this innovation argument is that the more we have a policy of equality, the larger the government bureauocracy has to be. and the larger the bureaucracy, the more inflexible it is likely to be. In large organizations, innovators tend to be suppressed (20).

The third 'reason' is the waste argument. To maintain equality 'requires' a large administrative machinery that uses up resources but is not itself productive. The admnistrative machinery of equality - tax bureaus, welfare agencies, labor departments and the judicial apparatus for resolving conflicts generated by these entities - represent an 'actual' loss of valued resources. The labor, buildings, computer and paper thus used could go to producing other things. Arther Okun dramatized this argument with his metaphor of a leaky bucket: any redistributive policy is like carrying money from rich to poor in a leaky bucket. The policy question for Okun is how much waste one will tolerate before deciding it is not worth engaging in transfer at all.
The motivation argument is familiar from the great debate about equity. If you do not accept need as the primary motivator, if you believe people work also for the inherent satisfaction of the sense of belonging, then you will probably not be terribly convinced by the argument here. But the most important critique of of the motivation theory comes from another corner. Even if people are motivated by need and by the desire to increase differences of status and wealth between themselves and others, such enormous differences as we currently have are not necessary to sustain motivation. We could move in the direction of more equality without sacrificing efficiency. ... Some redistribution ... obviously does not halt experimentation and innovation. If it did, tax and welfare systems would have long ago killed the American economy, not to mention the West European and Japanese economies. Of course, we can always wonder what marvelous innovations might have happened had the last tax dollar not been extracted, but then, we can also wonder what marvelous innovation might have happened had the next tax dollar gone to finance education or basic research.
Neither is it clear that administrative machinery is wasteful. In the first place, to call something 'administrative' rather than 'productive' is to win the argument by sheer rhetoric. But more importantly, administrative machinery employs people, integrates them in a social group, and gives them dignity, if it accomplishes nothing else. In a society that stakes personal worth on paid employment but cannot provide employment for everyone, that is no small contribution. And finally, the administrative machinery necessary for equity is arguably no less productive, no less useful to soceity than some of the innovations spawned by the pursuit of profit – hula hoops and pet rocks, fruit loops and fruity pebbles, gold fingernails and green hair. Hula hoops may indeed contribute to both individual and social welfare, if only because they, too, provide jobs, but one would be hard put to say that they contribute more than a government agency.
The mos telling evidence against an immutable equality/efficiency trade-off comes from cross-national studies. Japan has very high taxes on capital, steeply progressive taxes on personal income, fairly high inheritance taxes and very low taxes on consumption(such as sales taxes). Yet it has one of the highest rates of personal savings in the world, is a leader in technological innovation, and leads the industrial countries in productivity growth. West Germany has high corporate taxes, a generous pension system, a comprehensive universal health insurance system, and a far more equal distribution of income than does the United States.
As Robert Kuttner has shown, there are many different ways of reconciling equality with economic performance. There are many ways a society can go about providing economic security, collecting taxes, maintaining full employment, stimulating investment, promoting economic development and distributing income. These are political choices. Where Labor is well-organized and shares significant political power, where in other words there is someone to “articulate the self-interest of the nonrich” economic policies tend to reconcile equality with efficiency. The idea that the two are incompatible is a politically useful myth for the rich and powerful(22).

_Policy Paradox and Political Reason_ , Deborah Stone, Harper-Collins 1988.

[In Sum: ‘Economic Equality or Efficiency' is a false dilemma, often justified in three ways:
1) Needed to 'overcome the natural indolence of mankind'(Malthus) False
2) ‘Needs intrusive gov’t., which stifles innovation.’ False
3)  ‘Needs big gov’t., which is wasteful’ False]

18: The idea of a trade-off between these two policy goals was popularized by Arthur Okun's Godkin Lectures, published under the title _Equality and Efficiency: the Big Tradeoff_ (Wash. D.C.: Brookings Inst. 1975)

19  T. R. Malthus, _An Essay on the Principle of Population_, Anthony Flew, Ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970 :245

20  This is one of Okun's arguements, and it seems to be the one that most convinces him of a zero-sum relationship. See Okun op. cit. (note 18):56-60

21 Lester Thurow, _The Zero-Sum Society_(NY, Basic Books, 1980):201-202

22 Robert Kuttner, _The Economic Illusion: False Choices between Prosperty and Justice_ (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984):267