Something's outside

Kevin Lewis

October 31, 2018

Diverse segments of the US public underestimate the environmental concerns of minority and low-income Americans
Adam Pearson et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


In a nationally representative survey experiment, diverse segments of the US public underestimated the environmental concerns of nonwhite and low-income Americans and misperceived them as lower than those of white and more affluent Americans. Moreover, both whites and nonwhites and higher- and lower-income respondents associated the term “environmentalist” with whites and the well-educated, suggesting that shared cultural stereotypes may drive these misperceptions. This environmental belief paradox — a tendency to misperceive groups that are among the most environmentally concerned and most vulnerable to a wide range of environmental impacts as least concerned about the environment — was largely invariant across demographic groups and also extended to the specific issue of climate change. Suggesting these beliefs are malleable, exposure to images of a racially diverse (vs. nondiverse) environmental organization in an embedded randomized experiment reduced the perceived gap between whites’ and nonwhites’ environmental concerns and strengthened associations between nonwhites and the category “environmentalists” among minority respondents. These findings suggest that stereotypes about others’ environmental attitudes may pose a barrier to broadening public engagement with environmental initiatives, particularly among populations most vulnerable to negative environmental impacts.

Pollution, Infectious Disease, and Mortality: Evidence from the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic
Karen Clay, Joshua Lewis & Edson Severnini
Journal of Economic History, forthcoming


The 1918 Influenza Pandemic killed millions worldwide and hundreds of thousands in the United States. This article studies the impact of air pollution on pandemic mortality. The analysis combines a panel dataset on infant and all-age mortality with a novel measure of air pollution based on the burning of coal in a large sample of U.S. cities. We estimate that air pollution contributed significantly to pandemic mortality. Cities that used more coal experienced tens of thousands of excess deaths in 1918 relative to cities that used less coal with similar pre-pandemic socioeconomic conditions and baseline health. Factors related to poverty, public health, and the timing of onset also affected pandemic mortality. The findings support recent medical evidence on the link between air pollution and influenza infection, and suggest that poor air quality was an important cause of mortality during the pandemic.

Prenatal exposure to air pollution and intergenerational economic mobility: Evidence from U.S. county birth cohorts
Rourke O'Brien et al.
Social Science & Medicine, November 2018, Pages 92-96


New estimates reveal intergenerational economic mobility varies substantially across U.S. counties. The potential role of local environmental health exposures in structuring mobility outcomes has been thus far unexamined, despite mounting evidence that early life exposure to environmental pollutants has lasting impacts for individual human capital development and labor market performance. This study aims to fill this gap by estimating the impact of exposure to air pollution in the birth year on the average intergenerational mobility outcomes of children from low-income families as measured in adulthood. We do so by linking measures of intergenerational economic mobility for U.S. county-cohorts born between 1980 and 1986 to the county average concentration of total suspended particulates (TSP) in the birth year. We then estimate multivariate linear regression models that adjust for birth-cohort fixed effects, county-fixed effects and time-varying county-level covariates to address potential confounding. We find higher levels of TSP in birth year is associated with less upward economic mobility for children from low-income families: a one standard deviation increase in TSP levels is associated with a 0.14 point reduction in average income percentile ranking as measured in adulthood. Notably, we find no association for children from high income families. Our findings indicate early life exposure to air pollution may reduce the prospects children from low-income families will achieve upward economic mobility and suggest variation in environmental quality may help explain observed variation in mobility outcomes.

The critical role of second-order normative beliefs in predicting energy conservation
Jon Jachimowicz et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming


Sustaining large-scale public goods requires individuals to make environmentally friendly decisions today to benefit future generations. Recent research suggests that second-order normative beliefs are more powerful predictors of behaviour than first-order personal beliefs. We explored the role that second-order normative beliefs — the belief that community members think that saving energy helps the environment — play in curbing energy use. We first analysed a data set of 211 independent, randomized controlled trials conducted in 27 US states by Opower, a company that uses comparative information about energy consumption to reduce household energy usage (pooled N = 16,198,595). Building off the finding that the energy savings varied between 0.81% and 2.55% across states, we matched this energy use data with a survey that we conducted of over 2,000 individuals in those same states on their first-order personal and second-order normative beliefs. We found that second-order normative beliefs predicted energy savings but first-order personal beliefs did not. A subsequent pre-registered experiment provides causal evidence for the role of second-order normative beliefs in predicting energy conservation above first-order personal beliefs. Our results suggest that second-order normative beliefs play a critical role in promoting energy conservation and have important implications for policymakers concerned with curbing the detrimental consequences of climate change.

Racial disparities in pollution exposure and employment at US industrial facilities
Michael Ash & James Boyce
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 October 2018, Pages 10636-10641


Proximity to industrial facilities can have positive employment effects as well as negative pollution exposure impacts on surrounding communities. Although racial disparities in exposure to industrial air pollution in the United States are well documented, there has been little empirical investigation of whether these disparities are mirrored by employment benefits. We use facility-level data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEO-1 database to assess the extent to which the racial and ethnic distribution of industrial employment corresponds to the distribution of exposure to air toxics emitted by the same facilities. The share of pollution risk accruing to minority groups generally exceeds their share of employment and exceeds their share of higher paying jobs by a wide margin. We find no evidence that facilities that create higher pollution risk for surrounding communities provide more jobs in aggregate.

When Should Drivers Be Encouraged to Carpool in HOV Lanes?
Jonathan Hughes & Daniel Kaffine
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming


Policies to encourage carpooling in high‐occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes have been adopted in the United States to lower congestion and reduce air pollution. We analytically model highway congestion and other vehicle‐related externalities. Encouraging carpooling decreases total costs when congestion relief in mainline lanes outweighs increased HOV lane congestion. Importantly, entry of new drivers via induced demand can negate the benefits of increased carpooling. Using 10 years of traffic data from Los Angeles we estimate time and route‐specific marginal external costs. Because costs vary substantially across routes, hours, and days, current policies to promote carpooling will often increase social costs.

More than $1 billion needed annually to secure Africa’s protected areas with lions
Peter Lindsey et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Protected areas (PAs) play an important role in conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services, yet their effectiveness is undermined by funding shortfalls. Using lions (Panthera leo) as a proxy for PA health, we assessed available funding relative to budget requirements for PAs in Africa’s savannahs. We compiled a dataset of 2015 funding for 282 state-owned PAs with lions. We applied three methods to estimate the minimum funding required for effective conservation of lions, and calculated deficits. We estimated minimum required funding as $978/km2 per year based on the cost of effectively managing lions in nine reserves by the African Parks Network; $1,271/km2 based on modeled costs of managing lions at ≥50% carrying capacity across diverse conditions in 115 PAs; and $2,030/km2 based on Packer et al.’s [Packer et al. (2013) Ecol Lett 16:635–641] cost of managing lions in 22 unfenced PAs. PAs with lions require a total of $1.2 to $2.4 billion annually, or ∼$1,000 to 2,000/km2, yet received only $381 million annually, or a median of $200/km2. Ninety-six percent of range countries had funding deficits in at least one PA, with 88 to 94% of PAs with lions funded insufficiently. In funding-deficit PAs, available funding satisfied just 10 to 20% of PA requirements on average, and deficits total $0.9 to $2.1 billion. African governments and the international community need to increase the funding available for management by three to six times if PAs are to effectively conserve lions and other species and provide vital ecological and economic benefits to neighboring communities.

Private provision of public goods by environmental groups
Laura Grant & Christian Langpap
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Many environmental nonprofit groups are assumed to provide public goods. While an extensive literature examines why donors join and give to nonprofits, none directly tests whether donations actually provide public goods. We seek such a test by using a common form of environmental organization: watershed groups. We find their increased presence resulted in lower dissolved oxygen deficiency and higher proportions of swimmable and fishable water bodies. Increased donations to and expenditures by the groups also improved water quality. Thus, private groups likely played a role in mitigating environmental problems. Overall, our results indicate private provision of a public good by nonprofit organizations.

Health Impacts of Invasive Species Through an Altered Natural Environment: Assessing Air Pollution Sinks as a Causal Pathway
Benjamin Jones & Shana McDermott
Environmental and Resource Economics, September 2018, Pages 23–43


Invasive alien species impact environmental quality by disrupting biodiversity, vegetation cover, and displacing native flora and fauna. This can affect human health outcomes. For example, the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) has led to the destruction of millions of ash trees, one of the most common tree species in the US. Since trees are an important source of air pollution sinks, EAB-caused ash dieback may affect human health through changes in air quality. The quasi-random nature of EAB detections and consequent changes in various air pollution levels allow us to analyze differences in mortality rates for individuals living in counties where the beetle has been found relative to individuals in contemporaneously beetle-free counties. Results suggest that EAB are associated with lagged increases in pollutant concentrations ranging from 9.2 to 46.2%. A 2SLS fixed effects model indicates that EAB-induced air pollution is associated with increases in rates of cardiovascular mortality of 6.2/year–32.6/year per 100,000 people and increases in respiratory mortality of 1.9/year–3.9/year per 100,000. Impacts are greatest for children and young adults. At its peak impact, EAB-induced air pollution resulted in $4.8–$21.6 billion in annual mortality costs over 2002–2014 in the 24 US states in the study area. This study has important abatement policy implications.

Asynchronous lightning and Santa Ana winds highlight human role in southern California fire regimes
Jacob Bendix & Justin Hartnett
Environmental Research Letters, July 2018


Southern California's most extreme fire weather is caused by offshore Santa Ana winds, which commonly occur later in the year than the lightning which provides natural ignition. Examination of the specific dates of both lightning and Santa Ana winds over 25 years shows that Santa Ana winds are very rare during or even within ten days of lightning strikes. The median lag between the two phenomena is 52 days, and on those occasions when lightning does occur shortly before Santa Ana winds, the actual density of strikes is very low. The rarity of lightning as ignition for Santa Ana-driven fires suggests that the current fire regime dominated by such fires is largely a product of the abundance of human-caused ignition.

The Effect of the Oil and Gas Boom on Schooling Decisions in the U.S.
Na Zuo, Jack Schieffer & Steven Buck
Resource and Energy Economics, forthcoming


The development of cost-effective technologies, along with high crude oil and natural gas prices, accelerated shale oil and gas extraction in the United States in the early 2000s. We explore the schooling response to this boom, taking advantage of timing and spatial variation in well-drilling activities. We show that intensive drilling activities decreased grade 11 and 12 enrollment over the 14-year study period — 41,760 fewer students enrolled per year across the 15 states considered in this analysis (95% C.I.: 12,685 to 71,567). We investigate heterogeneous effects and show that the effect was larger in states with a younger compulsory schooling age (16 years of age instead of 17 or 18), in states with a lower effective tax rate on oil and gas production, and in non-metro counties with traditional mining or persistent poverty.

Mercury Pollution, Information, and Property Values
Chuan Tang, Martin Heintzelman & Thomas Holsen
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, forthcoming


In the State of New York, atmospheric deposition of mercury ranks among the 10 most prevalent causes of adverse impacts on water quality. This paper examines the impacts of mercury pollution by exploring the relationship between property values and fish consumption advisory (FCA) designation on New York lakes. We find that New York State property values within one mile of an FCA-designated lake decrease by 6 to 7 percent on average. This negative impact decreases as the distance between properties and lakes increases. Regressions using samples derived with Mahalanobis metric matching find an even larger FCA effect, ranging from 7 to 10 percent. Our results can serve as a partial indication of the benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which includes the first mercury emission standard in the United States.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.