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Project Syndicate

A recent article on Project Syndicate, entitled “The Unsustainability of Organic Farming“, by Henry I. Miller and Richard Cornett, has rightly seen quite some traffic. In that article the authors warn about the dangers of organic farming, in particularly forwarding the following points:

  1. The use of compost instead of fertilizers in organic farming may lead to groundwater contamination (via nitrates) and generates significant greenhouse gases.
  2. Organic farming has lower yield levels than conventional farming (20%-50%) and consequently may lead to higher stress on e.g. soils.
  3. And now I quote for simplicity: “Organic practices afford limited pesticide options, create difficulties in meeting peak fertilizer demand, and rule out access to genetically engineered varieties.”
  4. “Another limitation of organic production is that it works against the best approach to enhancing soil quality.”

Some quick comments are in line here I think.

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In a recent article on Project Syndicate entitled “Carbon Majors and Climate Justice“, Naderev (Yeb) Saño and Julie-Anne Richards suggest that fossil-fuel entities should be taxed, envoking the polluter pays principle. They note that

It seems only fair and reasonable, therefore, that all fossil-fuel entities, but especially the carbon majors, pay a levy on each ton of coal, barrel of oil, or cubic meter of gas they produce to a new International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which would help to fund efforts to address the worst effects of climate change. Furthermore, given that the effects of climate change today are the result of past emissions, the carbon majors should pay a historical levy, too.

According to the authors, the money raised should then be used for e.g. climate-vulnerable countries, or disaster preparation.

There are, however, four points that one may advance against this idea.

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I have a new Carte Blanche out at Project Syndicate, entitled  `The ambient Carbon Capture Imperative‘. Please do comment, give your thoughts and opinions. Obviously, I couldn’t go through all the possible methods of carbon capture, but I think the general line of thoughts given in that piece should still apply. Enjoy it!

Mr Yumkella has a nice contribution on Project Syndicate entitled “The Power of the Prize“. He writes that “for centuries, governments have used prizes to spur innovative research that yields creative solutions to pressing global challenges,” and continues to provide interesting examples. He emphasizes that prizes should be used by governments to increase R&D towards clean technology. I have a couple of thoughts on this:

It is certainly correct to emphasize that prizes have the potential to attract R&D directed towards clean technology. However, the one big problem with relying on prizes is that they provide money only ex post, if an innovation has been made and proven useful. But it is also true that R&D for clean technology often requires substantial finances up front. It is, therefore, more likely that prizes attract R&D activities on smaller problems that may be solvable without large up-front sunk costs than on bigger ones like car engine efficiency.
Also, it may be questionable inhowfar prizes really provide incentives to undertake R&D activities. It may simply be that someone wants to make a certain process more efficient or attempts to find a solution to a problem without having been initially drawn to it by the possibility of obtaining a prize. This was, for example, the case for the development of the zeer pot.
Clearly, it is unlikely that prizes harm incentives. However, one way to really increase the usefulness of prizes is to link prizes to specific research questions. Like this researchers will know what financial remuneration they may obtain in case they find a solution to that specific question.

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