New freelance writings: climate’s costs, tech vs tourism economies, and coral farming

Here’s a few stories I’ve recently written and published in Undark magazine, Voice of San Diego, and Pomona College Magazine. Thanks as usual to my excellent editors! I’m only posting brief excerpts here, so if you’re interested, please check out the whole thing using the links below.

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The Biden administration increases the social cost of carbon

A new policy brings back an old approach to tallying the cost of carbon, but critics say it has limitations.

To turn the tide against climate change, on the day of his inauguration President Joe Biden signed an executive order instituting a raft of policy changes and initiatives. One directed his team to reassess the social cost of carbon. This seemingly obscure concept puts a number on how much damage a metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted today will do in the future, in order to show how much a given climate policy would benefit the economy in the long run. More than in previous assessments, Biden’s team explicitly called for considerations of environmental justice and intergenerational equity, referring to the perils of climate change to future generations.

On Feb. 26, the Biden administration announced an initial estimate of $51 per ton of carbon. But the cost is not a settled matter, and Biden’s advisers are still studying the latest research to make a more comprehensive update. Scientists and economists continue to debate the value of the social cost of carbon — experts have come up with a broad range of numbers, some more than $200 per ton of carbon — as well as its scope and effectiveness at shaping policy at a key climate moment. Their analysis involves making decisions about exactly which climate costs to include and whether government policies should aim to pay now or pay later on the way to the administration’s stated goal of having a carbon-neutral economy by 2050…

[Read the entire piece in Undark magazine, published on 2 March.]

Tech is rising and tourism Is tanking, but San Diego still banks on the latter

Diminished by the pandemic, the shrunken hospitality and tourism sectors impair the city’s policy agenda. San Diego’s tech sector’s growing, but the government gets little benefit from it.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a major vulnerability for the city of San Diego’s budget: It is heavily dependent on tourism.

Before the federal government bailed it out, the city was considering major cuts and facing a structural budget deficit, the new mayor said in his state of the city address. Some observers hope the lessons of the pandemic linger and force San Diego to grapple with the risks that come with tying city services to the tourism industry’s fortunes. Now, supporters of that connection who backed an effort to increase the hotel room tax are pushing the city to declare the issue resolved and proceed with expanding the Convention Center.

The only problem is that it’s not clear when or if conventions will come back at the same level…

[Read the entire story in Voice of the San Diego, published on 26 March.]

Gardener of the sea

Gator Halpern and Coral Vita are playing a major role in expanding coral farming and reef restoration efforts in the face of global warming.

For years Gator Halpern studied ecology, biology and environmental management during our era of worsening climate change. His research took him to the Andes, the Amazon and elsewhere as he witnessed deforestation, overfishing and bleaching corals. But his work wasn’t yet having quite the impact he wanted.

“I felt like I was almost helping write the obituary of the world without actually getting out there on the front lines and doing something about it,” Halpern said. His passion motivated him and his colleague, Sam Teicher, to found Coral Vita, a company dedicated to coral farming and reef restoration. After having seen firsthand the declining health of coral reefs, he decided that “working with these ecosystems that are, really, canaries in the coal mine when it comes to climate change—the first ecosystems to collapse—is a great place to try to make a difference.”

The United Nations, government agencies and nonprofit groups like the Coral Reef Alliance and the Reef Ball Foundation have been working for years to raise attention and  expand efforts to protect coral reefs. Halpern and Teicher started Coral Vita in 2015 in an attempt to act more quickly than other organizations, if possible, to secure funding, cultivate resilient corals and return them to reefs to help them recover and survive as ocean waters continue to warm and become more acidic. Halpern and his team currently work at Grand Bahama Island, just about 100 miles east of Miami, and his vision is to scale up their efforts to reefs elsewhere, too…

[Read the entire story in Pomona College Magazine, published on 23 March.]

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