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Three Papers in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

  • Author(s): Goodwin, Chris
  • Advisor(s): Deschenes, Olivier
  • et al.
Abstract

The first chapter concerns the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18th, 1980 which resulted in a massive and unanticipated particulate air pollution shock. I use the incidence of the ash cloud fallout across Washington as a natural experiment to estimate the effect of a particulate shock on birth outcomes and infant mortality. I find that while there is no statistical effect on infant mortality, there were statistically fewer low birth weight babies born. The measured effect indicates about 230 fewer babies were born as a result of exposure while in the womb. These results suggest that about 1 in 10 pregnancies were terminated from the 20th percentile group of the weight distribution, increasing to almost 1 in 5 in the lowest 5th percentile. The effect is found to be the strongest in the early stages of pregnancy. Using these findings I estimate that the cost of a single particulate shock of typical magnitude on a metropolitan area of median size is $3.7 million. This quasi-experimental treatment is unique since the ash particulate is bioreactively inert and uncorrelated with other pollution. It clearly identifies the pernicious nature of all particulates, not just particulate categorized by source. In addition, the discrete timing of the event identifies the most vulnerable window for suspended particulate shocks on expectant mothers.

In the second chapter, my colleague Daniel Moncayo and I investigate the informational effect that social comparisons play in household electricity use. We employ a randomized field experiment to present individuals with a social norm that encourages them to conserve electricity by comparing their consumption to that of an ``energy efficient neighbor,'' consisting of the average of the 10th percentile of participants' electricity consumption. Utilizing smart-meter data, we find households that received our informational treatment reduced their electricity consumption by an average of 7%, even though the treatment was private and there was no financial incentive to conserve. We also discover that conservation gains are largest during the peak morning and evening hours.

The third chapter examines the effect of country-level political stability and investment security on forestland use. Using cross-section data I find that these measures are associated with benign outcomes for overall rates of forest area change and roundwood production. These associations are robust when instrumented for endogeneity, and reveal stronger impacts than OLS estimates would imply. Two-stage least squares results indicate that a one standard deviation increase in political stability, as currently measured by the World Bank, increases forest area by 12% over 10 years, and increases roundwood production by a factor of 10 to 19. Targeting political stability and investment security may be one of the most effective tools in mitigating carbon emissions through forest expansion and increasing forest productivity.

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