Saturday, September 26, 2015

A hard look at universal child (and/or parent) care

What we're learning from Quebec is that just as some early education programs can improve on non-cognitive skills, others can do the opposite.

As my children aged my interest in the politics of childcare waned, but there's a couple of terrific articles out due to a U.S. study focused on Quebec's experience with cheap universal child care.
With Canada in the midst of an election campaign which interventionist Ontario Premier Wynne has pushed into, I'll note issues in Iglesias' column are also relevant to universal all-day kindergarten in Ontario.

Quebec gave all parents cheap day care — and their kids were worse off as a result, Matthew Iglesias, VOX:
Programs for young children — whether you call them day care or preschool or even third grade — serve two purposes. On the one hand, they are educational settings that are supposed to help foster the kids' long-term development. On the other hand, they are safe places where parents can put their children so they can go do other things during the day — things like work for a living. In an ideal world, of course, they do both. The best preschool programs have been shown to have significant lifelong benefits for their students, and they're doubtless a huge help to parents too. But a sobering new analysis by Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber (yes, that Jonathan Gruber), and Kevin Milligan of Quebec's effort to expand access to child care on the cheap is a painful reminder that the two issues can come apart. 
Image from VOX article
The program was designed to increase mothers' labor force participation rate, and it worked. Lots of people used the system, lots of moms went to work, incomes and GDP rose, and the program was quite affordable to the taxpayer. Kids' test scores stayed flat.
But contrasting trends in Quebec kids with kids from other Canadian provinces, the authors find "a significant worsening in self-reported health and in life satisfaction among teens" who grew up exposed to the program* along with a "sharp and contemporaneous increase in criminal behavior among the cohorts exposed to the Quebec program, relative to their peers in other provinces."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

VW's NOx-toberfest/Schadenfraud

I first posted on VW, on my tumblr blog, as soon as I'd read a report - and added to that post a couple of times. Eventually my interest became in how it came to be such a large company figured that programming to a test while allowing actual emissions far higher than advertised was a thing that could be done.

Climate Politics and the Volkswagen Scandal
"...clean diesel" was a government-led initiative, brought to you courtesy of Europe's taxpayers. And, by the way, the policy had proved a massively expensive failure on its own terms even before the VW scandal broke.
It's this scandal that teaches the most important lessons. Beginning in the mid-1990s, mindful of their commitments to cut carbon emissions, Europe's governments embarked on a prolonged drive to convert their car fleets from gasoline to diesel. With generous use of tax preferences, they succeeded.
... the switch to diesel probably didn't cut greenhouse gases. Making diesel cheaper by taxing it at a preferential rate encouraged people to drive more. And emissions of GHGs higher up the fuel-supply chain are worse for diesel than for gasoline. (Increasing demand for diesel drew in more supplies from Russia; producing and moving those supplies caused more emissions.) Treating diesel to lower its sulfur content adds yet another carbon penalty.
At best, the clean-diesel strategy lowered carbon emissions much less than hoped, and at ridiculous cost; at worst, as one study concludes, the policy added to global warming.
image from Seeking Alpha
So VW may have been used to operating with the tacit acknowledgment the game was to pretend to lower emissions.

We've known for years European, and particularly German, air quality wasn't improving - certainly not to the extent nuclear Ontario and it's gasoline propelled cars has experienced: Luftmess: checking up on air and carbon pollution
The section below is primarily from my Tumblr post.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk

"We’re bad at balancing risks, we humans..."
George Johnson's most recent Raw Data column will be cheered by nuclear power advocates long exasperated by the widespread fear mongering about the health impacts of radiation.
Relatedly, there's sure to be some gnashing of teeth at a "data" column daring to use the "hormesis" term.

When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk:
This spring, four years after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, a small group of scientists met in Tokyo to evaluate the deadly aftermath. 
image from NY Times article
No one has been killed or sickened by the radiation — a point confirmed last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even among Fukushima workers, the number of additional cancer cases in coming yearsis expected to be so low as to be undetectable, a blip impossible to discern against the statistical background noise. 
But about 1,600 people died from the stress of the evacuation — one that some scientists believe was not justified by the relatively moderate radiation levels at the Japanese nuclear plant.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Quebec Hydro another Pilgrim's problem

A headline caught my attention, and upon investigation, it led exactly where I expected it would - to incumbent power producers protecting their turf.

Canadian hydropower could boost wholesale power costs in New England: study
Wholesale power costs in New England would rise an estimated $777 million/year if the region's electric customers are forced to subsidize the cost of building new transmission lines to import up to 2,400 MW of hydroelectric power from Canada, the New England Power Generators Association said Wednesday.
The study also estimated that the delivered cost of Canadian hydropower would likely be about $97/MWh, or $42/MWh above the average wholesale power price in New England over the past three years. Based on a conservative cost analysis, it said, the likely price of the hydropower contracts would lead to "$777 million in above-market costs that Massachusetts consumers would be paying every year. Such ... exorbitant cost does not appear to be justified, even with the other policy considerations weighed."
If the price is $97/MWh on a market averaging $42, it would be because the power was being imported at higher value period. The question is the extent to which the expense of transmission would improve market efficiency. Because Quebec hydro is the only dispatchable renewable energy source potentially available to New England, that's likely a yes if carbon emissions are considered.