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Repeated Experimentation to Learn About a Flow-Pollutant Threshold

Listed author(s):
  • Rolf Groeneveld

    ()

  • Michael Springborn
  • Christopher Costello

We examine in discrete time the management of a flow pollutant that causes damage when it crosses a fixed but unknown threshold. The manager sequentially chooses a pollution level that allows learning about the threshold, thereby improving future decisions. If crossed, damage can be reversed at some cost. We analyze the conditions under which experimentation is optimal, and explore how experimentation depends on restoration costs, information about the threshold, and the discount rate. Our results suggest that the level of experimentation, defined as the difference between the optimal activity with and without learning, is non-monotonic in costs and decreasing in the discount rate. We identify two stopping boundaries for the experiment, depending on cost levels compared to the lower bound of the threshold’s interval. We show that when costs are high the stopping boundary under an infinite number of decisions is the same as when there are only two decision moments. A computational extension to more than two decisions suggests that an optimal sequence of experiments can cross the same threshold several times before experimentation ceases. These results shed light on a large class of environmental decision problems that has not been examined in the literature. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10640-013-9713-4
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Article provided by Springer & European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists in its journal Environmental and Resource Economics.

Volume (Year): 58 (2014)
Issue (Month): 4 (August)
Pages: 627-647

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Handle: RePEc:kap:enreec:v:58:y:2014:i:4:p:627-647
DOI: 10.1007/s10640-013-9713-4
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  1. Naevdal, Eric & Oppenheimer, Michael, 2007. "The economics of the thermohaline circulation--A problem with multiple thresholds of unknown locations," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 262-283, November.
  2. Kolstad, Charles D., 1996. "Learning and Stock Effects in Environmental Regulation: The Case of Greenhouse Gas Emissions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 1-18, July.
  3. Polasky, Stephen & de Zeeuw, Aart & Wagener, Florian, 2011. "Optimal management with potential regime shifts," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 229-240, September.
  4. Derek Lemoine & Christian Traeger, 2014. "Watch Your Step: Optimal Policy in a Tipping Climate," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 137-166, February.
  5. Leizarowitz, Arie & Tsur, Yacov, 2012. "Renewable resource management with stochastic recharge and environmental threats," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 736-753.
  6. Hoel, Michael & Karp, Larry, 2002. "Taxes versus quotas for a stock pollutant," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(4), pages 367-384, November.
  7. Costello, Christopher & Karp, Larry, 2004. "Dynamic taxes and quotas with learning," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 28(8), pages 1661-1680, June.
  8. Craig A. Bond & John B. Loomis, 2009. "Using Numerical Dynamic Programming to Compare Passive and Active Learning in the Adaptive Management of Nutrients in Shallow Lakes," Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie, Canadian Agricultural Economics Society/Societe canadienne d'agroeconomie, vol. 57(4), pages 555-573, December.
  9. Brozovic, Nicholas & Schlenker, Wolfram, 2011. "Optimal management of an ecosystem with an unknown threshold," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(4), pages 627-640, February.
  10. Keller, Klaus & Bolker, Benjamin M. & Bradford, D.F.David F., 2004. "Uncertain climate thresholds and optimal economic growth," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 723-741, July.
  11. Clarke, Harry R. & Reed, William J., 1994. "Consumption/pollution tradeoffs in an environment vulnerable to pollution-related catastrophic collapse," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 18(5), pages 991-1010, September.
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