Twice a month, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Keep reading, and send us your feedback.
Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
Can the United States be “energy independent”—and is that even the right question to be asking?
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, gasoline prices have fluctuated significantly in the United States and around the world. While Russia is not a major supplier of energy to the United States, other countries that previously relied more heavily on Russia have since begun a boycott. Last week, President Joe Biden implemented a ban on imports of Russian natural gas, oil, and coal—adding to a growing list of US sanctions on Russia—and tapped strategic federal oil reserves in coordination with international partners. These recent measures reflect an intent to demonstrate energy independence and a desire by the Biden administration and other governments to cushion their constituents from the price impacts of global conflicts. A recent blog post by RFF Fellow Daniel Raimi addresses the feasibility of energy independence in light of the recent volatility of gas prices in the United States. “The high prices that consumers are facing around the world demonstrate just how dependent the United States is—along with every other nation—on decisions made in Moscow, Riyadh, Beijing, and elsewhere,” Raimi says.
With space debris a growing international concern for spacecraft and astronauts, who is responsible for managing it?
Earlier this month, a large piece of space junk collided with the dark side of the moon. The projectile is thought to be a rocket booster from a spacecraft launched by China in 2014. This collision is the first unintentional impact of human-made space debris with the moon and speaks to the larger issue of space debris generally. Various government agencies and private companies are tasked with tracking the more than 27,000 pieces of debris in low Earth orbit. The latest issue of Resources magazine reaches into the archive to revisit scholarship at Resources for the Future (RFF) that anticipated, by many years, this growing problem of space debris. Originally published in 1993, an article by Molly Macauley describes the threat of space debris to future generations and the possibility of creating a sustainable space environment that incentivizes the reduction of space debris. “Individual governments or companies are likely to ignore socially borne costs,” Macaulay says. “If these costs are larger than privately borne costs, it may be desirable for governments, industry consortia, or other centralized entities to regulate debris generation.”
How much do politics on Earth influence what happens in outer space?
Last month, the director of the Russian space agency insinuated on Twitter that US sanctions could compromise cooperation and safety on the International Space Station. The International Space Station uses Russian propulsion systems to maintain its altitude in orbit around Earth. Despite the threats and uncertainty, NASA and the Russian space agency have continued to work together, in line with nearly five decades of international cooperation. On a recent Resources Radio podcast episode, Erik Nordman, a professor at Grand Valley State University, discusses his new book about Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom and her research legacy, which touches on the famous “tragedy of the commons.” Nordman highlights that outer space can be thought of as a modern “common” and a globally shared resource. “[Outer space] is a good example of this collaborative approach. In the old days, it was just the United States and the Soviet Union and then, later, China,” says Nordman. “But now, that’s been democratized and also privatized. So, you have government actors, you have private-sector actors, you have nonprofit NGOs that are involved. That really shows how the whole range of civil society institutions can be engaged to manage a resource.”
On Tuesday, March 22, RFF will host an event exploring recent Supreme Court cases that have significant bearing on the future of US climate policy and environmental regulation. RFF Board of Directors Chair Susan Tierney will moderate a conversation with legal experts Jonathan Wiener, an RFF university fellow and professor at the Duke University School of Law, and Lisa Heinzerling, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. RSVP here.
Join RFF and the Urban Institute on Thursday, March 24, for an event about screening and mapping tools that help identify which populations and communities are most affected by pollution, and the strengths and weaknesses of alternative approaches. RFF Senior Fellow Margaret Walls and Anne Junod of the Urban Institute will moderate a discussion with several participants: Ana Baptista of The New School, Paul Mohai of the University of Michigan, and Sacoby Wilson of the University of Maryland. RSVP here.
On March 30 and 31, RFF will conduct a virtual two-day workshop on the extent to which expected benefits have been realized, and at what cost, for established environmental regulations. This exploration of retrospective analysis will focus primarily on Clean Air Act rules. Three sessions will examine rules that affect major industrial sectors, including refiners, electric utilities, and cars and trucks. The final session will provide a broad overview of how retrospective analysis may fit into the regulatory process. RSVP here.
A new journal article from RFF University Fellow Joseph E. Aldy, RFF Senior Fellows Maureen Cropper and Richard Morgenstern, RFF Visiting Fellow Arthur Fraas, and coauthor Maximilian Auffhammer analyzes federal air quality regulations to assess how the Clean Air Act has contributed to immense improvements in air quality. A summary of the research was published as a recent Resources article from a magazine issue that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act amendments in 1970.
In an event hosted by RFF last week, several experts reviewed the trends and trajectories in carbon pricing around the world in 2022, with Director of RFF’s Carbon Pricing Initiative Marc Hafstead moderating the event. As Pam Kiely of Environmental Defense Fund put it: “While we know that federal investments can really make a powerful down payment on deploying the technologies we need to combat climate change … Congress does remain a bit far from passing comprehensive climate policy.” A full recording is available now.
A recent op-ed, coauthored by RFF Visiting Fellow Arthur Fraas, considers a ruling from a federal district court in Louisiana last month that blocked the US Environmental Protection Agency from using an interim estimate for the social cost of carbon (SCC). (The Louisiana district court decision, itself, was overturned just this week by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.) “Reporting both the global SCC and the domestic SCC may reduce disruptive whipsawing of carbon emissions control programs as a result of uncertainty between whether the global or domestic SCC is more appropriate,” the authors say.
In a new Resources Radio podcast episode, Nadia Gkritza from Purdue University discusses a magnetized concrete technology that charges electric vehicles as they drive over roads built with the special concrete. Gkritza describes the related collaborative project and what the technology could mean for electric vehicle prices, batteries, and charging infrastructure in the United States.
A Story with Eight Legs That’s Been All over the Web
The latest invasive species that seems to be gaining traction in the southeastern United States: Joro spiders. The palm-sized arachnids that are native to Japan do not harm humans, and they do not seem to have a negative effect on the ecosystem at this point. Their presumed success in North America may derive from their ability to tolerate slightly colder temperatures than related spider species. They disperse widely due to a method called “ballooning,” and people can spread them even farther. They’re suspected to have arrived in North America as stowaways in shipping containers.
“The introduction and spread of the Joro spider resembles that of many non-native species. It can spread both on its own and by catching a ride with people,” says RFF Senior Fellow Rebecca Epanchin-Niell. “Some of our research has focused on designing efficient protocols for inspecting imports to reduce the likelihood of invasive species being unintentionally introduced with trade, since many non-native species cause substantial economic or ecological harm in their new homes.”
“Researchers tracked the Joro spider’s spread using data from a nature app called iNaturalist, which combines location technology, citizen science, and user experience design. The app is an innovation with promise for the early detection of non-native species and monitoring their distributions,” says RFF Senior Research Associate Alexandra Thompson. “Now that the Joro species is established in the United States,” continues Epanchin-Niell, “citizen science—in the form of iNaturalist reporting—has been helpful in mapping its spread, providing another example of how citizen science data can help detect and manage invasive species.”
This figure from the Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in February, shows various projections for global temperature rise (a) alongside the risk levels for various negative impacts, given the range of possible temperature increases (b). This latest report highlights “the interdependence of climate, ecosystems and biodiversity, and human societies.”