UNC professor provides environmental perspective to economic research
Professor Andrew Yates holds a unique position at UNC as a joint appointee of both the economics department and the Curriculum in the Environment and Ecology.
Patrick Conway, the chairperson of the economics department, said Yates is invaluable to the department.
“He is our sole environmental economist and so his perspective on economic activity is crucial for both our students and his fellow faculty members to understand what the implications are of economic policy,” Conway said.
One major topic Yates studies is the environmental effects of electric cars, because the electricity for the cars must be generated first. He said the environmental benefits of electric cars vary by region.
“In California, the electricity grid is pretty clean, all right, so electric cars generate an environmental benefit,” Yates said. “But in places like the upper midwest — so North Dakota, South Dakota — the electric cars generate a negative environmental benefit; they’re actually worse for the environment.”
Another impact of electric cars is the exportation of pollution, Yates said.
“So you might think it’s a great idea to have electric cars driving around Atlanta because that takes the pollution out of the Atlanta area, but then those power plants might be in North Carolina, that could make the air in North Carolina worse,” Yates said. “And overall, that could make society worse off.”
A main area Yates studies is the carbon emission market in the European Union, which is different because the marketplace was set up so each member country decided how many permits to put into the marketplace.
“That’s been in place for almost 10 years now, and one thing we looked at there was a situation in which, the way they set it up, the individual member states decided how many permits to put into the marketplace,” Yates said.
Junior Bradford Weir said he has taken two classes taught by Yates and said Yates has been one of his favorite professors at UNC.
“He shares with us his research in class — he doesn’t just, like, make us read his studies and then that’s that — he’ll walk us through it because it’s pretty complicated stuff, and he makes it pretty engaging,” Weir said.
Yates said environmental economics is important because it provides a framework for evaluating the trade-offs of reducing carbon pollution.
“I mean sometimes people hold that the goal should be zero,” Yates said. “An economist would say, well, you want to look at what we call the costs and the benefits, or the marginal cost.”