Kostadis Papaioannou, Ewout Frankema, 15 June 2017

Tropical Asia has historically hosted larger and denser agricultural civilisations than tropical Africa. Using colonial-era rainfall and population data, this column explores the role of climatological conditions in the development of dense rural populations in the two regions. Rainfall shocks were both more frequent and severe in Africa than in Asia, lending support to the argument that ecological barriers to agricultural intensification were more challenging in tropical Africa than elsewhere.

Amyra Asamoah, Emine Hanedar, Baoping Shang, 12 June 2017

Despite a growing consensus in favour of reform of costly and environmentally damaging energy price subsidies, many countries remain resistant. This column takes stock of recent developments using an updated energy price database. Environmental concerns seem to be playing a larger role in driving reform, but most reforming countries are found to have been facing large fiscal imbalances. These countries may need additional, deeper measures for the reforms to last.

Hiroyasu Inoue, Yasuyuki Todo, 25 April 2017

Natural disasters have enormous economic consequences, with the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake providing a particularly stark recent example. This column uses supply chain data for more than one million Japanese firms to explore how negative shocks from natural disasters propagate through firm networks. Shocks are found to propagate very quickly, due in large part to certain ‘hub’ firms that have a high number of supply chain partners. Production substitution is the key to slowing the propagation.

Timothy Hatton, 03 April 2017

There is growing concern about the long-term health effects of atmospheric pollution. Conditions were much worse a century ago in Western countries, when coal-fired industrialisation reached its zenith, than they are now in countries where pollution presents the greatest challenges today. This column highlights the effect of polluted air on adult heights using a sample of British army soldiers in WWI. Pollution accounts for a difference of almost an inch between the average adult heights in least and most polluted localities.

Tim Besley, Avinash Dixit, 31 March 2017

Many scientists agree that the probability of a rare environmental disaster increases as the stock of greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. This column asks how much consumption current generations should be willing to sacrifice to reduce the risk of such a future catastrophe. If there were a way of immediately eliminating the risk of all future catastrophes, society should be willing to sacrifice 16% of its consumption in perpetuity to achieve this. A sacrifice of 5.8% of annual consumption could bring about a 30% reduction in emissions, in line with the reductions contemplated in agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol.

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