Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hello Ethon! Moving my blogging digs to a new Rabett hole

This is just a note to my fine readers that I will be taking up new digs with Eli Rabett and John Farley at Rabett Run. They've got the science well-covered but I'll put up some uninformed commentary about that, policy, and whatever else.

I hope you all will join me there. As for this blog, I will cross-post both here and at Eli's for at least a while, but I'm turning off the ability to add comments here and really encourage people to go there, especially to read and participate in what I expect will be a vibrant comment community. Starting May 24th of this year, all posts here are crossposts of what I've got up at Rabett Run.

"Date posted", btw, may not be accurate here at BSD because the original posts are at Rabett's and I only cross post a bunch of them at a time.

I'll keep bumping this post up near the top of the blog. Thanks again for reading, and see you at Eli's!

Stigma for fossil fuel companies, the reverse for the churches that dump them

World Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists, United Church of Christ, and many smaller/regional church denominations and affiliated organizations have established climate divestment policies. Others are percolating - the Methodists are studying their investment policy, the Presbyterians are first going to try to persuade the companies to give up their core business model (good luck with that!)* and then we'll see them and others consider this issue.

People involved in climate divestment and had also been involved in South Africa divestment a generation ago say that climate divestment is moving faster. An Oxford study backs that up (p. 11).

The same study acknowledges limited direct financial impacts of divestment except for coal industry, but then focuses on the stigma issue:

As with individuals, a stigma can produce negative consequences for an organisation. For example, firms heavily criticised in the media suffer from a bad image that scares away suppliers, subcontractors, potential employees, and customers. Governments and politicians prefer to engage with ‘clean’ firms to prevent adverse spill-overs that could taint their reputation or jeopardise their re-election. Shareholders can demand changes in management or the composition of the board of directors of stigmatised companies. Stigmatised firms may be barred from competing for public tenders, acquiring licences or property rights for business expansion, or be weakened in negotiations with suppliers. Negative consequences of stigma also include cancellation of multibillion-dollar contracts or mergers/ acquisitions. Stigma attached to merely one small area of a large company may threaten sales across the board.
(p. 14, citations removed)

The stigmatization from divestment will have financial consequences. These companies will have to pay more for employees and for other businesses to work with them. Companies with a toe-hold in the fossil fuel sector will find it better for them to get out.

Most important is that stigmatized industries will find it tougher to manipulate the political sector. That's one reason why they disguise their funding, but the disguise is imperfect, and the difficulty gets worse with the stigma.

Two other points. The study acknowledges political restrictions resulting from the climate divestment effort could destroy the perceived value of reserves that end up staying in the ground. When the carbon bubble pops is hard to predict, but any downward pressure increases the possibility of it happening soon.

Second, when companies divested from South Africa they weren't required to physically blow up the businesses they left behind - they sold them. The argument that it had no financial impact was around then, but we see what happened in the end.


*I think there is a business case that fossil fuel companies should 1. stop wasting money exploring for new reserves, 2. sell the reserves they're not going to be allowed to develop before the carbon bubble bursts, 3. play out the remaining and cheapest reserves and 4. either distribute the profits and wind down their companies, or invest in another business model. Not bloody likely to happen, though.

I'm ignoring the complications of when natural gas can substitute for coal. 

Suderman meets Tojo

Japanese citizens reading their newspapers during World War II noticed that the reports of unending series of Japanese victories in the Pacific had a pattern - each time that the Japanese smashed Allied forces, it was closer to the home islands than the previous time the Allies had been smashed.

Peter Suderman's critique of Obamacare over time follows a similar eerie pattern.

After losing Saipan, Imperial Japan did start to come clean about what was happening, somewhat. We'll see when that happens with the Republican leadership.

Two by JQ

John Quiggin has two good climate-related posts out from recent days. Tobacco International discusses the recent decision in Australia to mandate plain-packaging for cigarettes, mainly featuring pictures about the health effects of smoking. Tobacco companies fought the law tooth and nail and are now doing the same in England against a proposed law. Their apologists claim the law doesn't work. John points out it's the same people who deny climate change at work, doing the same type of data torture (in this case, seizing on a too-short trend line and drawing conclusions from it).

John also takes apart the funhouse-mirror justification for being wrong on climate change by Ross Douthat, something that was much needed. Douthat says the recession somehow changed the need to respond to environmental issues that have been festering for decades and will be with us for centuries.

John:
The best way to understand Douthat’s piece is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained minimization problem The objective is to minimize the craziness he needs to embrace, subject to the constraint that he must end up in line with the denialist conspiracy theorists who dominate the base. The best approach is to combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation, with the rosiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.
I'd say that's pretty widespread among the inactivists who aren't fully embracing the lizard people conspiracy theory of climate fraud. The science is correct up to the point where it obviously mandates action, and then by a huge coincidence the "honest skeptic" suddenly decides the science got turned off somehow.

It's okay

I've finally slogged my way through last week's Supreme Court decision on EPA regulation of some sources of greenhouse gases. For those with livelier things to read, it was generally seen as an okay-to-good result for climate hawks - the EPA tried to regulate 86% of stationary sources using two legal theories under the Clean Air Act. On a 5-4 vote the Court rejected Theory Number 1 and on a 7-2 vote the Court accepted the more restrictive Theory Number 2, which still allows regulation of 83% of the sources.

Put me closer to the "okay" side of the spectrum in terms of what this hints at for future challenges to the proposed regulation that Obama announced in early June.

The big picture is that the Clean Air Act is very broad legislation from the 1970s meant to regulate air pollutants that would be specified at a later date, but it is still difficult to adapt the law to very unexpected air pollutants in the form of greenhouse gases. Past current and future litigation revolves around the extent to which the EPA can be flexible. Climate hawks mostly want flexibility.

Theory Number 1 tried to install flexibility to avoid an over-harsh result (a numerical limit that catches relatively small producers of GHGs), which the Court rejected, but it had a backup theory to use (larger producers were already regulated for their other emissions and therefore could be regulated "anyway" for GHGs). Not clear how that approach affects the June proposal, which would limit overall emissions but look "outside the fence" of emitters and allow energy efficiency and carbon markets to achieve reductions. I think the previous decision earlier this month is somewhat more indicative.

Some commenters think this decision reaffirms the 2007 Massachusetts v EPA ruling establishing EPA's ability to regulate GHGs, but I think it just treats it as the controlling law without commenting on whether it's correct. If President Cruz gets to replace Ginsburg or Breyer, then we could be in big trouble.

Some other comments:

One thing I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere is this excuse the Court majority gave for rejecting the EPA's proposal to rescue Theory 1 by someday issuing general permits that cover small emitters:

"Nor have we been given any information about the ability of other possible “streamlining” techniques alluded to by EPA—such as "general ” or “electronic” permitting—to reduce the administrability problems identified above."

I don't know if no one briefed them (they could always demand more briefing, they are the Supremes) but anyone with a passing familiarity with environmental law knows that one-size-fits-all general permits are commonly used to make permitting easier for the regulated and the regulators. This excuse doesn't work.

To read more, the first link above is for the case, read as much as you like. Or to get the essence, read these two paragraphs in the dissent as to why EPA should have prevailed:

The implicit exception I propose reads almost word for word the same as the Court’s, except that the location of the exception has shifted. To repeat, the Court reads the definition of “major emitting facility” as if it referred to “any source with the potential to emit two hundred fifty tons per year or more of any air pollutant except for those air pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, with respect to which regulation at that threshold would be impractical or absurd or would sweep in smaller sources that Congress did not mean to cover.” I would simply move the implicit exception, which I’ve italicized, so that it applies to “source” rather than “air pollutant”: “any source with the potential to emit two hundred fifty tons per year or more of any air pollutant except for those sources, such as those emitting unmanageably small amounts of greenhouse gases, with respect to which regulation at that threshold would be impractical or absurd or would sweep in smaller sources that Congress did not mean to cover.” 
From a legal, administrative, and functional perspective—that is, from a perspective that assumes that Congress was not merely trying to arrange words on paper but was seeking to achieve a real-world purpose—my way of reading the statute is the more sensible one. For one thing, my reading is consistent with the specific purpose underlying the 250 tpy threshold specified by the statute.The purpose of that number was not to prevent the regulation of dangerous air pollutants that cannot be sensibly regulated at that particular threshold, though that is the effect that the Court’s reading gives the threshold. Rather, the purpose was to limit the PSD program’s obligations to larger sources while exempting the many small sources whose emissions are low enough that imposing burdensome regulatory requirements on them would be senseless.

It's not a Godwin if you only talk Nazis

After reading some of The Nuremberg Interviews, I found this on wiki:
In 1934, Hitler named Ribbentrop Special Commissioner for Disarmament. In his early years, Hitler's goal in foreign affairs was to persuade the world that he wished to reduce military spending by making idealistic but very vague disarmament offers (in the 1930s, the term disarmament was used to describe arms-limitation agreements). At the same time, the Germans always resisted making concrete arms-limitations proposals, and they went ahead with increased military spending on grounds that other powers would not take up German arms-limitation offers. Ribbentrop was tasked with ensuring that the world remained convinced that Germany sincerely wanted an arms-limitation treaty while also ensuring that no such treaty was ever developed.
Interesting stuff.

Warmest May ever

Sayeth GISS.

In the interest of fairness, I'll be sure to post whenever we have a coldest month ever in the GISS records.

Obama's CO2 regulations can semi-automatically lower Indian and Chinese maximum emissions

One point I've been meaning to make and haven't seen mentioned is that the Chinese and especially the Indians have said their per-capita emissions won't exceed the US or the industrialized world average, respectively. If we reduce our emissions, that tightens the level that they've promised not to exceed.

I think this is worth submitting as a comment on the proposed EPA regulations. Unfortunately it's not an airtight argument because the promises aren't airtight. The Chinese commitment was by a high-level government official, not a legal pronouncement (and not entirely clear that the bar adjusts downwards as US emissions decrease). The Indian commitment was by the then-Prime Minister, again helpful but not binding. The Indian statement also included a confusing disclaimer that limiting US emissions was necessary but not something imposing requirements on India as well. I think the way to resolve the confusion is to assume it meant that the US emissions needed to drop while Indian's very low per capita emissions needed to grow, but grow only up to a certain point.

One diplomatic goal should be to make these commitments binding and to obtain them from other countries. The other point is that they're not enough - if India ever neared current industrialized world per capita emissions, that would be the real game over for the planet. We in the West have to realize we're asking far more of the developed countries than of ourselves.

In the long run, post 2050, developing world per capita emissions should actually be higher than the developed world. Best case scenario is the developed world has sharply negative emissions and developing world has modestly negative emissions. That might make up for some of the inequity in prior carbon emissions.

Iraq runs its own Pottery Barn

Not much reason for the US to jump in - we may have screwed up in the past, but as for what's going now, the Iraqis need to work it out.

The tricky issue is when "working it out" means massive slaughter of one sect by another, intentionally triggering the wanted counter-slaughter. It no longer looks like the Shiite-dominated government will fall, but if it did seem under threat, I could theoretically imagine airstrikes on troop movements that only keep ISIL out of Shiite cities (if airstrikes would work, which is doubtful). Some real changes in the government's behavior could be reason to support it, but otherwise we should stay out.

ISIL seems momentarily popular in their part of Iraq. Fine, let's see how long that lasts. I doubt they'll have ability or energy to attack foreign countries given what the civil war they're dealing with now.

While consistency might not be the most important thing in the world, I think I'm taking a consistent position on this as with saying the West shouldn't conduct airstrikes in parts of Libya that supported Gaddhafi and that we shouldn't have a troop surge in Afghanistan in the parts that rejected Karzai.

Finally, I don't think this will be seen as a political problem for Obama - the Republicans who claim otherwise will be asked if they learned anything at all from the Iraq War.

Climate divestment applies the smack-down theory of political change

The offensively-named but useful "bitch slap" theory of politics helps explain demonstrations of political strength that may make it possible to change policies. I'm going to call it the smack-down theory instead, and it applies to climate divestment.

When Stanford announced it was divesting from coal, it was saying it's unafraid of what coal businesses are going to do in response. Contrast that to how American public television tried to placate the Koch brothers and kept the critical documentary "Citizen Koch" off of PBS. An institution that divests is unlikely to give in to similar intimidation, partly because they won't be receiving donations from the polluters. What Stanford is saying is that as far as coal goes, it's willing to take that hit. To the extent other institutions do the same, they're showing that the coal lobby can be beat.

Time to do the same for the other fossil fuels.

Bleg: foreigners, especially Indians or Chinese, arguing their countries should do nothing on climate because of American emissions

Bit of an experiment. I'm interested in internal climate policy debates in other countries where someone prominent takes the same position the Republican leadership is taking today, that we should do nothing because foreign bogeyman is worse, except that the bogeyman is the US. It's Indians and Chinese that the Republicans usually identify as the bogeymen, so they'd be the ideal examples.

I know the UN forums will have plenty of examples of diplomats telling other countries that they should do more or should go first, but I'm looking for internal debates that parallel Republican arguments for inaction. I realize that Chinese debates would be hard to get, but maybe not impossible, even if it's just Chinese policy academics arguing with each other.

Desmog has an okay example of Canadian officials saying Canada should act in concert with the US and not move forward unilaterally, but the ideal example would be more angry and blame-spouting. And Chinese.

Random impressions following the Obama's move on climate

  • In addition to the 30% reduction by 2030, the rule includes interim reduction averages over the years 2020-2029, a good means of preventing a combination of delaying and then claiming compliance is impossible.
  • There's a very early deadline for this proposed rule, June 30, 2016 for states to submit their proposals. I think this will play into the legal maneuvering. States and fossil fuel corporations will not only have to sue when the rule is finalized next year, they'll have to win preliminary injunctions to stop the law. If they don't get PIs, then time is on the side of good guys - litigation can drag on as long as possible but the states will still have to reduce emissions in the interim, and after a while they will have reduced incentive to fight the regulation. (Disclaimer- my usual one, I'm not a Clean Air Act lawyer.)
  • The proposed rule includes an alternate proposal that just regulates the generating plants and doesn't rely on efficiency and renewable energy. This sounds to me like a reference to the legal question of whether the EPA can look "outside the fence" of the generating plant to achieve emission reductions. It seems like a warning, that doing it this way could be a lot more expensive but feasible. That may be a warning against the attempt we've seen repeatedly to run up the cost of regulation in order to kill it.
  • Leafing through the rule, page 57 says the air pollution benefits outweigh costs even setting aside all climate benefits. So much for the stupid arguments that skeptics have been making to date.
  • Some commenters have noted the parallel between this rule and Obamacare in terms of maximizing authority for the states. Can't find where I read it, but somebody also noted the likely parallel that some states will refuse to submit a plan to achieve the goals. So did the EPA, saying "If a state with affected EGUs does not submit a plan, or if the EPA does not approve a state’s plan, then, under CAA section 111(d)(2)(A), the EPA must establish a plan for that state." AFAICT that sentence stands alone - they may need to spell it out in a little greater detail.
  • Jamelle Bouie says that national Republicans have themselves to blame for this regulation, because they are the ones that stopped cap-and-trade or any serious possibility for a carbon tax. Cap-and-trade included provisions making a transition to a lower-carbon economy easier on the poor, but Republicans are now crying crocodile tears over that problem (while ignoring the health benefits).
  • China is now engaging in a discussion over whether to cap their emissions, planning the cap in the next five year plan and hitting it in 2030. That's not enough, but it's something and I think American action can help Chinese proponents of action.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My reaction to Gov. Tomblin on coal not quite what he would want

The governor of West Virginia:

These proposals appear to realize some of our worst fears....based on our initial review of these rules, not a single West Virginia power plant will be in compliance if the rules were in effect today despite the billions of dollars companies have already spent to modernize their facilities.

When I read that I think what the heck is the problem with West Virginia in general and its governor in particular - sounds like they need modernizing, big time.

There's also a little question of truthfulness - 4.1% of their power comes from hydro and wind, I don't think they're on the chopping block. Mainly though, what kind of planning puts 95% of your power in one heavily polluting source? Yes it's a coal state, but it's also a people state, and they're basically admitting that they're putting coal interests ahead of their own population. The natural gas economic revolution started nearly a decade ago, very close to this area, so it's their own fault they haven't diversified.

Turns out they were planning natural gas expansion anyway, so hopefully the Obama regs will be a big push forward to reduce emissions any way they can.

On June 3, pricing carbon becomes a more conservative option than a status quo

All the kids are waiting to see exactly what Obama's going to do on Monday to regulate existing power plant CO2 emissions. The hope is that it would be fairly substantial regulation, a 20% cut by 2020, possibly modeled on the Natural Resources Defense Council proposal we've discussed before. The proposal pushes states towards action, with more coal-dependent states having to do more but not having to get the same result as the less coal-dependent ones, and lots of flexibility for reaching results, including cap-and-trade.

My main point is that Monday will change the status quo. Until then we've referred to pricing carbon, either via a tax or cap-and-trade, as the conservative/free market approach to solving climate change. Next week it will also be more free-market oriented than sitting on your hands, because one of the status quo options under the new rules will be lots of economic regulation instead. The states may choose to operate cap-and-trade programs anyway, but those programs will likely only be part of the state response, just like it is here in California.

A free market conservative will be able to argue that a fairly comprehensive price on carbon that replaces regulation is more capitalist than inaction. A populist conservative could even argue that passing all of the money back to individuals shrinks government and the power of big businesses. (I don't agree with all this, btw, but it's a feasible position from that perspective.) They don't even have to believe in climate reality, this argument stands as a free-market argument on its own. The analogy would be the Paul Ryan approach to Medicare in 2012, which basically argued for converting it to Obamacare. They wanted to do it because it was more conservative than the status quo.

Whether conservatives will make the same realization this time around is another question. My guess is that some will at the state level but few will at the federal level.

I've been thinking a lot about prison reform efforts sweeping through conservative states. Back in the early 90s if you asked which was the more firmly conservative position - that climate change didn't require action or that society needed to get consistently tougher on crime - it was the latter. It may not be easy to get conservatives to move on this issue as well, but we need to try.

Other relevant point is the Chamber of Commerce's "sky is falling" economic analysis of regulation. Same thing happened several years ago when the Western States Petroleum Association produced a "sky is falling" economic analysis of California's climate legislation, AB 32.  So far, the sky's still up there and California's doing reasonably well. That one will be worth revisiting, maybe now and definitely in a few years.

CIA should hack Chinese trade secrets and post them to Wikileaks

Bay Area Local:  the good, bad, and ugly in Santa Clara County elections, and an open thread

Bay Area Local: the good, bad, and ugly in Santa Clara County elections, and an open thread

Haven't done a Bay Area Local post in a while, and thought I'd also make it an open thread for any comment.

Here in Santa Clara County elections (and San Mateo County), the good issue on the ballot is Measure AA, a bond measure funding open space protection in two counties for the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District. I know they were cheered when my water district got 74% approval to renew its property tax measure in 2012. In California you need a two-third's vote to pass these measures; here's hoping they get it.

The bad would be an incumbent in a contested judicial election. I'm a lawyer and even so I often have no clue who to vote for in these elections - and so I usually don't. In this one case though, incumbent judge Diane Ritchie has shown herself to have enough trouble in the job to be rated unqualified by the County Bar Association. I agree with the San Jose Mercury News that either challenger is better, but opinion seems to be favoring Matthew Harris.

As for the ugly, it hasn't quite happened yet in any June elections. My own election is in November. I hear rumors about what may happen but won't know until August as to whether I will definitely have a race. Will be sure to let you all know what's happening.

Again, an open thread below in case you are interested in anything beyond my neck of the woods.

Second-highest April temps ever, says GISS

Data here. Top was 2010, but that was an El Nino year, and we're not quite there yet.

The invisible modifier and another fine mess in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse

There's a philosophical significance to the recent papers suggesting WAIS collapse is now unstoppable over the course of 200-900 years. The documentary video below depicting global climate change policy management since we became aware of the issue in 1896 gives the context:


Now we've really done it. Many of the other large-scale harms caused by climate change are reversible. On a human scale, the loss of life isn't, but this type of planetary modification takes it to a different level. I've been noncommittal on whether tipping-point arguments are convincing, but if these studies are correct, then we need to acknowledge that we've tipped into a fine mess.

As Eli discusses below, Andy Revkin completely misses this and instead makes what I call the "invisible modifier" argument that when somebody says X, the invisible modifier turns it into Y. This invisible modifier could be a shield, so when I say A and you point out that A is grossly exaggerated, I say that A only refers to certain situations I hadn't actually said it was limited to. Invisible modifier to the rescue! Here, Andy uses it as a sword:
Some headlines are completely overwrought — as with this NBC offering: “West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s Collapse Triggers Sea Level Warning.” This kind of coverage could be interpreted to mean there’s an imminent crisis. It’s hard to justify that conclusion given the core findings in the studies.
Here, Andy says the invisible modifier added the words "of an Imminent Crisis" to the end of the headline. That modifier was so powerful it even covered up the article's first sentence, "Two teams of scientists say the long-feared collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun, kicking off what they say will be a centuries-long, 'unstoppable' process that could raise sea levels by as much as 15 feet."

Like the slippery slope and many other bad arguments, what makes it worse is that it is on occasion a valid argument - not everything is always stated, so there could be an unstated qualifier that could reasonably limit or unreasonably overextend an argument. Here, it's pretty clear that Revkin is wrong.

The key issue is the near-permanence and this tipping point demonstration of climate change.

Stanford University to divest from coal

Big news for the climate divestment movement:  Stanford is getting out of coal. While getting out of oil and maybe even natural gas would be good, this is a great start and will put enormous pressure on other universities. And as the article says, the action is just the start and not the end of their process for handling the issue.

Left unmentioned in the article is the tanking of coal stocks, down 70% over the last few years - why not get out of coal?

I'm sure the email I sent to the university president and my piddling status as a donor made a huge difference.

Now it's time to get some more water districts to do the same thing. I talked to one today and another yesterday, so I'm working on it....

Stanfords press release is here, and from the students who made it happen here.

You can feel the National Climate Assessment in your bones

Blog long enough and you can just repeat yourself. The Third Climate Assessment is telling us something we already know, that the climate has gone screwy and disrupted. We know that because of science, but for non-scientists they know it because they can feel it in their bones. I suppose it would be better if people relied more on statistical knowledge and less on personal experience, but that personal experience does reflect a reality of climate change over decades. I think it's that personal message that should be used.

Climate disruption is true - you know it's true, your experience tells you it's true, the experience of people who've been around for a long time in one place tell you it's true. Science then backs it up.

Peering at Supreme Court entrails

Everyone says the recent Clean Air Act victory in the Supremes was a 'rare EPA success' and an equally rare defeat to the US Chamber of Commerce. Not too surprising given that the Court hasn't had an environmentalist serving on it since William Douglas left in 1975, while big corporate lawyers abound as justices.

The full decision is here, a good and brief writeup here. Some comments I've seen suggest it bodes well for more direct regulation of greenhouse gases. My first reaction was probably not, my second reaction is more hopeful.

The decision is about coal (mostly) pollution crossing state lines. Rather than the EPA beating up private industry, it's about the federal government playing an umpire role between states. Justice Kennedy makes a big deal about the important role of the states, so here he may have seen the EPA make sure states play nice with each other. Greenhouse gas regulation won't be seen in the same terms of protecting sovereign states from impacts across their borders.

On the other hand, EPA used a fairly liberal interpretation of its ability to protect against cross-border pollution that made the rule less onerous by applying a cost-benefit analysis. Opponents tried to make the law's required application so difficult that it wouldn't even be attempted, or at least delayed for years - a trick they've tried previously on Obamacare and greenhouse gases. Being flexible in order to make the law workable is a useful precedent here.

And of course this is one more thing making it hard for dirty coal plants to keep polluting. One more step in the right direction.

News: Republican congressman accepts heliocentrism

Or something like that.

Yes, this is newsworthy for a Republican political leader.

I suppose I should just be happy and cut the snark, but we'll see if his votes accord with what he now accepts is true. He is a youngish guy, so maybe he's setting himself up for the future.

Predictions test

I'm a little delayed on this, but the Keystone decision probably won't happen until after November elections. In that case we'll see whether my prediction that it will go down, if delayed that long, gets verified. Roger Pielke Jr's prediction of approval in February 2013 just keeps getting wronger.

The best political outcome for Democrats is to never approve or disapprove the pipeline, but there's got to be a limit to delay (I think). Still, delay's a partial victory, and it's that much more time for the Canadians to come to their senses and elect a non-idiot as PM.

Not much sense in the first link to Bill McKibben being upset about the delay, unless he figures it's not really about the pipeline at all but about organizing a movement to either build on a victory or to lead the charge against a wrong decision. Hard to organize a movement over some governmental thing that just keeps being nebulous.

I still think that no matter what, this will be part of the 2016 presidential election.

Science incompetence doesn't bother me

William decided not to waste making a comment when he could write a post instead speculating on why the denialati do what they do, and I've decided to do the same.

He thinks they're incompetent at the science so they deny it fluffily and therefore never reach the subject of climate policy, which has a broad ideological range of potential solutions that might actually work.

The reason I disagree with that is that unlike William or my cobloggers Eli and John, I'm not a competent scientist and I'm okay with that. I can more-or-less understand the occasional paper I read - discussion sections aren't that hard to follow generally. I don't understand them enough to judge their accuracy or have any insights of my own, but I don't need to and neither would the denialists. An individual, cutting-edge study shouldn't matter to the non-scientist anyway - it's the consensus or lack thereof that can plug into policy analyses.

Being amazingly competent with the science is not so much of an issue - I can disagree with Ray Pierrehumbert on whether regulating methane is important, or with Hansen's ridiculous opposition to cap-and-trade. I'm not arguing with them about the science but about the best political method for solving the problem.

What's bothering the denialists is a lot of things but I think the most important is they can't admit the hippies were right and are right. They believe this all about making them feel guilty and they don't want to feel guilty so therefore this isn't happening. The economic issues making people psychologically incapable of persuasion are there for some denialists or people they know. The economic issues are also important for some factions of their tribe and that has a reinforcing effect, but I think it's ideology that drives it more. The fact that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is completely unacceptable to the conservative side of the spectrum just says a lot about the mental closure and tribal affiliation (I buy some of what Dan Kahan says, just not the whole store).

His nudges are somewhat forceful, could get worse



Like everyone else I'm trying to figure out what's going on in Putin's head. He assembles the military force to conduct an invasion of Ukraine and then sits there, giving Ukraine's sad-sack military six weeks and counting to get ready. Maybe it's the sad-sack part he's counting on, although I'd expect there's a cost to it. This recounting of untrained cannon-fodder sent to guard the border, OTOH, doesn't suggest the cost currently would be high.

My original explanation was Putin hadn't actually decided whether to invade and the buildup is there until he decides one way or another. That's a pretty stupid substitute for a plan, so I'm somewhat doubtful about it.

So a variation, maybe - he's doing a Nudge Invasion right now with an undetermined number of covert operators, to see if them plus local tough guys plus undetermined number of civilian sympathizers are enough to take over the province. Then, maybe rinse and repeat next door. The military buildup across the border serves a purpose of heartening pro-Russian supporters while intimidating the Ukrainian government from using force. The invasion forces could actually invade, or not, depending on how the situation unfolds and whether Putin ultimately decides the price is right.

I disagree with claim that this a repeat of Crimea - that was a barely-covert invasion, and although the locals were mostly supportive, their help wasn't essential. I see it somewhat similarly to our defeat of the Taliban - our military forces swung the decision but the locals did the fighting. It's unclear to me still how many Russian soldiers are operating in the province, but they can't be the majority of the occupiers.

As to what we should do, my latest is that we should be arming Ukrainian forces, covertly, and secretly let Putin know we're doing it and that they'll get more as he gets worse. We should also be flying Ukrainian troops out of the country 500 or so at a time, training them for two weeks, and rotating them back. But what do I know.

One other relevant factoid - much of the Russian military-industrial complex relies on eastern Ukraine. It's not something they can give up easily. I hope Ukraine continues to sell Russia whatever they've ordered while this all plays out.

CNBC covering the carbon bubble

For your TeeVee entertainment. Ran across this while visiting my local Charles Schwab office, two days after I was speaking at a panel sponsored by Santa Clara University students on this issue:

(If it doesn't display, click here for the 3-minute video.)




Turns out it's not the first time CNBC has covered the issue, talking previously about the risk that carbon stranded assets pose to investors.

Muddled view of Eich on ice

TPM has a nuanced-to-muddled view on Brendan Eich, the Mozilla exec promoted to CEO last year who had in 2008 contributed $1000 to the last successful anti-gay marriage initiative in California, an action that resulted in his recent resignation.

TPM somewhat reflects my own view, especially the muddled part. This blog post is unusual for me in that as I write the beginning, I'm not sure what the conclusion will be. But here goes:

  • In several generations, they'll view opposition to gay marriage similarly with opposition to interracial marriage.
  • Now is now, though, not decades in the future. Eich's viewpoint in 2008 was within the political mainstream at the time even though it's rapidly becoming less so today in Silicon Valley.
  • Abe Lincoln said something horribly racist things, particularly early in his political career, but for his time his beliefs reached the progressive end of the spectrum. 
  • You can judge people either on an absolute basis, or on a curve that's based on what was the mainstream position that the individual reacts to.
  • I think you should acknowledge the absolute position, but it asks too much of frail humanity. The curve is what counts. (A tangent:  future generations will condemn me and everyone else today who isn't a vegan, unless those generations grade on a curve.)
  • A CEO is not an owner of a company. The company profits don't go the CEO (mostly) so a boycott hits someone else.
  • Mozilla Corp is a taxable arm of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation. I'm going to ignore that and just treat it as a business.
  • I think CEOs should be less dominant in their companies and should also be able to hold mainstream views without those views being ascribed to the company.
  • People have an ethical right to boycott companies they don't like. At first glance, there's nothing wrong with dating site OkCupid's boycott of Firefox.
  • Companies have to respond to the outside world - it was right for Eich to leave for losing important customers.
  • Here's the tough one - while it's idiotic to think someone should be able to take a position without being criticized for it, I think the ethics of freedom of speech extends beyond a prohibition on government - the rest of society should also allow people to express unpopular thoughts without retaliation beyond criticism.
  • It is possible for expression of unpopular thoughts to go too far. Someone who denies the fact of the Holocaust isn't an appropriate spokesperson, for example.
  • Unpopular expression is different from unpopular action - substantially bankrolling Prop. 8 would be action. Giving $1000 isn't enough money to count as bankrolling IMHO.
  • When another person tells you that you  (or someone close to you) has no right to marry the person you love, you have the right to extreme avoidance of that person, including whatever business employs him or her.

And the outcome - the right to express/hold unpopular beliefs versus the right to avoid a business that employs someone who opposes your core dignity. A muddle. My muddled outcome is I can't condemn a homosexual person or the person's family if they had boycotted Firefox. I wouldn't otherwise try to get Eich fired.

I should distinguish Eich from Roger Pielke Jr., who should be fired from 538. RPJr is wrong in what he was hired to do, providing accurate and non-misleading analysis of climate change. Doing the opposite as he's done is a firing offense, and it's not exempted as an opinion when it's simply wrong.

Bozo the Clown could be novel, maybe

Eli's got the goods. I finally caught up on Mann's points to dismiss Steyn's counterclaims and Steyn's response - haven't read Steyn's original motion though.

Interesting that Steyn found some actual lawyers to double down on his claims rather than tell him "we'll represent you but only if you drop these stinkers." There are powerful corporate interests that don't want to be sue-able for things they say or allow others to say on their websites, so there could be corporate law firms that will represent the "can't sue us!" side.

I agree with Eli - the arguments are still stinkers. My guess is the lawyers are in it not for these claims (unless they've really fooled themselves) but for the longer game of beating Mann's suit.

On the first claim that an anti-SLAPP law provides an implied right of action, I think first that would've been discovered somewhere before, and second, the implied right, if hypothetically true, would exist for anyone who'd been SLAPPed. Sounds unlikely.

As to the second claim that a protection against government also applies to a private person using the court - yes Eli's right that this makes any lawsuit a state action.

The third claim of tortious use of litigation sounded theoretically plausible until I read it - they just made it up, because the common law theoretically allows that to happen. This goes to the question of when people laugh at you, what's the probability that you're Galileo versus the probability that you're Bozo the Clown.

How many wholesale revisions of the law did Steyn invent?

The value of this stuff lawyers made for Steyn is that it seems novel to me, and saying your claim is novel is a decent way to fight against the argument that it was frivolous and therefore subject to sanctions. OTOH, if Mann wins his anti-SLAPP motion then it doesn't matter how innovative Steyn's lawyers were.

One final note - if I were designing the law, I would of course allow a motion to dismiss ridiculous counterclaims like Steyn's counterclaims. I would not, however, allow an anti-SLAPP motion just over a counterclaim made solely against the fact of the plaintiff's original filing (I would allow it if the counterclaim dealt with something else). Having said that, if I were Mann or his lawyers, I would use that tool if it were available to me. They assert it is, and I don't know the law well enough to judge that.

A total of two decent articles on the military situation in the Ukraine

You wouldn't think it would be so hard to write something that goes beyond book reports from wikipedia on the military forces, but I haven't seen much.

One decent article from Jane's notes how the Ukrainian navy and air force lost a lot of their forces in Crimea. Farley argues that the navy probably doesn't matter so much, which sounds right. What seems more disturbing is the large percentage of the Ukrainian navy personnel that defected to the Crimean/Russian side. That may indicate that the Ukrainian military isn't willing to fight if Russia attacks eastern Ukraine, and as important may be perceived by Russia as an indication that they won't face serious military opposition.

broader Foreign Policy article discusses the (bad) shape of the Ukrainian military while not being too impressed with Russia. It concludes the window of opportunity for an invasion starts in early April (ground dry enough for off-road travel by tanks, experienced Russian military conscripts still in uniform) and ends in late May (experienced conscripts mustered out, Ukrainian elections legitimize the government).

The FP article makes sense as to what's the best window now - I still think the Russians would have thought the best window to attack was at the same time as when they went into Crimea, gaining surprise and with the Urkainian military fractured and political structure unstable. The fact that they didn't attack is therefore hopeful. OTOH, maybe they're just indecisive so far, and could change their minds.

One thing to note about the FP article is the April through May window degrades over the time period - conscripts are mustering out over time, the approach of May elections make it more obvious that Russia is trying to crush democracy, and Ukrainian military has more time to get its act together.

On what we in the West should do, Ian Brzezinski argues we should supply military aid and move up previously-scheduled joint military exercises in the Ukraine from this summer to ASAP. While sending ambiguous messages is sometimes helpful, I don't think it is in this case. If Russia invades Ukraine, we won't and shouldn't engage in direct military action to push them back - so we shouldn't have forces there in potential harm's way, not now and not this summer. OTOH, we can and should provide military assistance in case of invasion, and we can signal that to Russia now by providing military assistance now.

Cancelling summer exercises while initiating military aid should be a mixed message that isn't provocative while still confirming the cost side of the sheet as Russia considers its options.

Noted with little comment

Roger Pielke Jr::
Placing bets on the future state of the climate makes sense, but in a research mode, not just in public displays of "calling out" particular opponents....

This recent flurry of calling people out (reminds me of elementary schoolyard brawls - "I'm faster than you!" "No you're not!" "Prove it!" "Meet you after school on the playground!") no doubt has a high element of drama....

I think that while such chest thumping displays are certainly entertaining, they tell us little about the broader state of uncertainty among experts or the public....


Nate Silver:
I’m not particularly certain when pointing out the fact that it might be cool or rainy in your hometown one afternoon became subject for worthwhile blog material, but you have started to see this all the time on certain conservative blogs, probably led by the example of Matt Drudge. 
Therefore, because I’d like to see more accountability on all sides of this debate and because I’m tired of people who don’t understand statistics and because I’d like to make some money, I issue the following challenge.

You are eligible for this challenge if [limits bets to certain category of bloggers].... 
The rules of the challenge are as follows: 
1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.

2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we’ll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.

3. The challenge automatically rolls over to the next month until/unless: (i) one party informs the other by the 20th of the previous month that he would like to discontinue the challenge (that is, if you want to discontinue the challenge for September, you’d have to tell me this by August 20th), or (ii) the losing party has failed to pay the winning party in a timely fashion, in which case the challenge may be canceled at the sole discretion of the winning party.

My little comment is that at the time, I thought Nate's bet was a marginal one.

Might help more if the link supports your assertion

Back to Roger Pielke Jr., sadly. Readers of Stoat will see deep in the comments that RPJr did a follow-up to his original piece claiming a lack of a climate signal in disaster stats. Once again it wholly fails to deal with the primary issue, that estimating effect makes far more sense than trying to detect a signal in a very noisy environment. It also has a problem with being misleading:
One final note: Other readers raised questions about the role of technological change — such as evolving building practices — and its effects on disaster losses over time. This subject is well addressed in the literature, and has been deemed important in damage trends with respect to Australian cyclone damage and U.S. earthquakes, for instance, but not for floods, U.S. hurricanes or tornadoes.
He's got a link for "floods," a lengthy article that cites repeatedly to RPJr but not one that does much to support his assertion. Instead it has a significant section on how flood protection efforts over time have reduced damages (or sometimes make things worse when done wrong) and concludes:
Based on the evidence recently assessed in the SREX report (S12), one can assess at present that it is likely that there have been statistically significant increases in the number of heavy precipitation events (e.g. 95th percentile of 24-h precipitation totals of all days with precipitation) in more regions than there have been statistically significant decreases, but there are strong regional and sub-regional variations in the trends, both between and within regions. Based on cumulative evidence, there is additionally medium confidence that anthropogenic influence has contributed to the intensification of heavy precipitation at the global scale, though attribution at the regional scale is not feasible at present. Projected changes from both global and regional studies indicate that it is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation, or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls, will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe, especially in the high-latitude and tropical regions and northern mid-latitudes in winter. Heavy precipitation is projected to increase in some (but not all) regions with projected decreases of total precipitation (medium confidence).  
Despite the diagnosed extreme-precipitation-based signal, and its possible link to changes in flood patterns, no gauge-based evidence had been found for a climate-driven, globally widespread change in the magnitude/frequency of floods during the last decades.

I find it somewhat difficult to reconcile the three areas I bolded, maybe there's a mixing of estimation and detection going on. That last statement is a thin reed for RPJr though and he's directly contradicted by the parts saying flood mitigation has significant effects on outcomes. He might note that he only referred to "technology" and that building levees isn't a technological change, but that's proof then that he's throwing sand to obscure the flaws in his attempt to normalize damages over time.

A lot of work to refute just one misleading claim. Thanks a lot, Nate Silver.


UPDATE:  thought I'd check the RPJr refs for US hurricanes and tornadoes not being mitigated by changes over time, but they're paywalled. Curious that changed practices can reduce Australian tropical cyclone damages but not US hurricanes. Either the Aussies are better at this than us or somebody's wrong.

Continuous plagiarism of James Annan needed

William sez people are slamming Roger Pielke Jr. without engaging his arguments. Okay, that's pretty easy in that it's mostly the same old stuff that James Annan answered eight years ago:


This is something I've been meaning to blog about for some time. It comes up a lot in the context of the hurricane wars, over at RPJnr's blog. A recent comment of his provides a nice opening:

[Quotes RPjr lecturing on the null hypothesis tested via detection of a climate signal] 
There is, however, an entirely different but equally valid approach that could also be used from the outset, which is: what is our estimate of the magnitude of the effect? The critical distinction is that the null hypothesis has no particularly priviledged position in this approach.

This distinction between detection and estimation is related to that between a frequentist and Bayesian approach to probability....The answers that these two approaches provide may be very different in any given situation, and neither is necessarily right or wrong a priori, but it is surely self-evident that the Bayesian approach is more relevant to decision-making. If we have any reasonable expectation that certain policies would have particular bad effects, it would be ridiculous to wait until such effects could be shown to have occurred at some arbitrary level of statistical significance (that's not a point specific to climate change, of course).

....It is trivial to create situations in which a currently undetectable effect can be reasonably estimated to be large, and the converse is equally possible - an easily detectable (statistically significant) influence may be wholly irrelevant in practical terms. I suspect that this forms a large part of the difference in presentation between various parties in the hurricane debate - the evidence may not yet rule out the null hypothesis of no effect, but some people estimate that AGW is likely to have a substantial effect (even if the ill-defined error bars on their estimate do not exclude zero). In principle, exactly the same evidence could support both of these conclusions, although I don't personally know enough about hurricanes to make a definitive statement in that particular case.

It is amusing to see Roger, very much at the sharp end of policy-relevant work, promoting the scientifically "pure" but practically less useful detection/frequentist approach rather than the more appropriate estimation/Bayesian angle. It's not surprising, although perhaps a little disappointing, that the IPCC explicitly endorses that view. But by placing the null hypothesis in a priviledged position from which it can only be dislodged by a mountain of observational evidence, this approach provides a strong inbuilt bias for the status quo which cannot be justified on any rational decision-theoretic grounds.
(Emphasis added.)

IMO this needs to be repeated every time RPjr repeats the same tired argument in a new format and a new paper. Or maybe in a shortened format - "who cares about detection, it's estimation that counts." Certainly when Roger says:
When you next hear someone tell you that worthy and useful efforts to mitigate climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters, remember these numbers and instead focus on what we can control.
You know he's being disingenuous and that everything he said before that about detection is irrelevant to whether disasters are reasons to do something to control climate change.

So William says "[RPjr's work] addresses the question 'is climate change going to cause disasters so expensive that we'd be better off not changing the climate *because of that*'?" Well, it depends. In his academic work, it doesn't address that question, at all, it's about detection. When he turns to a public venue, then he uses the same stuff to make very questionable policy claims.

Two of Scott Lemieux

Scott does a great job at Lawyers Guns and Money, the best of the bunch there. Two recent examples of his work:

1. He calls for Ginsburg's and Breyer's retirements and for fixed term limits. Of course I agree, I've said the same thing, but he's still right. I don't think they're going to retire - there's something arrogant about judges, even the ones who aren't right wing wackos - but that doesn't change the fact that they should have. Scott's right that it may now be too late because the Republicans will stall reappointment until 2015, maybe until 2017, but at least I think it would give additional motivation to Democratic activists.

Fixed term limits OTOH have some cross-party appeal. If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2016 it will have a lot of appeal to Republicans.

2. Scott makes a persuasive (not conclusive) argument that Breyer and Kagan joined the ridiculous Medicaid-expansion-is-optional Obamacare ruling in 2012 not because they actually believed it to be correct but because in return for a 7-vote majority, Roberts was willing to let Medicaid survive in optional form. We won't know the real truth until after they retire (or die), but it puts a very different light on an otherwise indefensible vote by the two of them.


I don't have any deeper conclusions, just pointing out some good work.

UPDATE:  maybe topical here to mention a much-appreciated post by another LGMer, Erik Loomis, on the need to save the Keeling Curve, which leads to Think Progress.

Environmental denial in history - nope, nothing's gone wrong with passenger pigeons

Nice segment on Living on Earth on a book about the loss of passenger pigeons in eastern North America, from billions in 1860 to functionally extinct in 1900 and extinct extinct in 1914.

The denialist forefathers of our current friends were apparently out in force, some of them part of the passenger pigeon hunting industry. A few carrots:

*They said the pigeons were prolific, with multiple eggs and multiple clutches per season, when neither was true. Probably correllates to the claim that there's no reason to worry about acidification of ocean corals or polar bear habitat loss, based on their survival of past events fifty million and 300,000 years ago.

*A one-time, big flock event in 1882 showed the pigeons were fine. Nice correspondence to any time that we have a cold event.

*The birds just moved somewhere:  this is just making up stuff. See anything Tamino critiques as a correllate.

*When they were truly extinct:  a hunter calls it inexplicable. Probably similar to the mysterious coincidence we presently see as the world just happens to be warming for natural reasons in the way that climate science predicts greenhouse gases would make happen.

While evolution denial precedes this by a decade or two, it's the first environmental issue I'm aware of where denialism spewed forth. Would love to hear of earlier examples.

I didn't know the pigeons were still doing well in the 1860s, when much of their habitat destruction had already ocurred. I'm sure relatively minimal regulation could've kept this species abundant.


UPDATE:  thought I'd add two tangents. First, it's interesting to think of how things would've been different if the pigeon had been properly managed. There's good reason to think it would still be prolific. Hunting pigeons would be as common if not more common than fishing is today.

Second, passenger pigeons are mentioned as candidates for de-extinction through genetic engineering. I think that's a bad idea. The bird numbered in the billions when it had a full complement of diseases and parasites, all of which are now gone. Unless we bring those controls back, there's a serious risk from this species. Mammoths would be much easier to keep their populations in check.

It's summer time in San Francisco Bay

High of 79 today, 81 tomorrow. California's had the warmest winter in its record. As evidence of global climate change goes it's pretty weak - a tiny piece of the planet and a relatively short time period - although it still beats the "hey why's it snowing in February" argument that denialists toss out.

The main point though isn't a tedious argument about detection but whether climate change has made our historic drought worse. Warmer weather during the drought means more evaporation and transpiration, only some of which precipitates back. If Gort could be bothered to push the button and remove all excess GHGs from the atmosphere, the temps would drop slightly and we'd be slightly better off.

I've been pretty silent on our local water district and the drought lately, but we've been busy, very busy. I even had the chance to represent the district and meet Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to discuss it (and then stopped to talk with the protestors outside who hate the Bay-Delta tunnel proposal).

Our problem is that after the last big drought that ended in 1992 we've stored an additional year's worth of water outside the county in Central Valley, but we can't get it. The water's stored in south Central Valley - it flows downhill there from  the Sacramento Bay Delta. The plan never was to withdraw those specific water molecules - instead, we'd take water deliveries they'd otherwise receive from the Bay Delta, and they'd use the water we stored there instead. Now, for the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project, they're planning zero water deliveries, so we can't make this trade. The federal system operated by the Secretary of the Interior is still running somewhat, so maybe we can make it work.

Meanwhile we're calling for a 20% reduction in water use locally. That will still eat into our storage but still leave a fair amount stored in case next winter is also bad. I've been arguing that we should use this as opportunity to be in better shape for next time - massively increase conservation, recognize that lawns are like junk food (okay in small quantities only), and to tap into the massive river that is wastewater and start direct potable reuse of that water, just like they do on the Space Station. We'll see what happens!

Millennials walk the walk but don't talk the talk

(Source link)

A rather vacant Keith Kloor article concern-trolling over the imminent "extinction" of the environmental movement linked to a much better Wonkblog post. The recent 2014 Pew study showed 32% of Millennials identifying as environmentalists compared to 42% of the prior generation - equating to extinction in the mind of Kloor. The Wonkblog post also linked to a 2011 Pew study, the source for the graph above that Kloor somehow missed. The 2014 poll generally showed Millennials as less likely to accept labels for themselves like political party affiliations.

My rule for trying to clarify an argument is to consider a thought experiment where factual conditions are reversed and try to understand that situation. For a trend like whether generational replacement is endangering enviornmentalism, ask whether the reverse trend would lead to a reverse conclusion. So let's look at the graph above together with change in self identification, and posit instead that Millennials were more likely to call themselves environmentalists but less likely to support environmental policies than older generations. Is that better or worse than what's actually happening?

While fewer Milleninals identify as Democrats, they're definitely siding with more liberal policies on many issues (and on other issues, no real change, so Republicans are at best keeping pace in some areas and losing drastically in others). I think what we may be seeing is a refusal to accept the environmentalist label while accepting the viewpoint. Every year, over one percent of the voting demographic shifts from the 47% supporting renewable energy to 71% supporting renewables. I wouldn't call that bad news for environmental politics.

Where Wonkblog may be right about a real environmental problem is that adopting the environmentalist label helps lead to further involvement and leadership. There's an ironic contrast in environmentalism - non-Hispanic whites as a group aren't more pro-environment than other ethnicities. Non-whites are generally equivalent to or slightly more pro-environment than whites, excepting Hispanics who are significantly more pro-environment than whites.

Despite that demographic fact, the environmental movement is disproportionately white (and older). The other demographic groups are supporting the environmental movement when they could be leading it. Making that happen remains a challenge for environmentalists, regardless of the label people give themselves.

One other hopeful note:  accoding to the full 2014 study (p. 45), in 1999 about 39% of Gen Xers labelled themselves as environmentalists and now 42% do, so the trend is positive as people get older and more experienced.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Another sadly-unpaid endorsement: Duolingo

Here's the article that convinced me to try it after shaking off the Candy Crush demon.

I've now spent about 30 minutes a day for the past month learning languages. Okay, playing/learning languages, but it beats passively listening to Spanish radio. AFAICT you can't do the translations of actual docs on the app but have to go the website - I helped translate one document about renewable energy in Spain, but I'm way too low-level to do anything with the other languages. I just wish they'd add learning non-Indo-European languages from English.

Anyway, for some reason I've been designated brian.schm3 in case anyone else is playing.

Shameless self-promotion: on GoGreen America radio tomorrow 9 a.m. Pacific Time to talk climate divestment

Link is here to listen in live or to get the archived version.

UPDATE:  good timing with this BBC article on a discussion of the carbon bubble in the UK.

UPDATE 2:  archive link here.

My guess: Putin won't invade the rest of eastern Ukraine

My civil war predictions aren't so hot, but let's see how my war-war predictions turn out:  I think Putin means to consolidate control in Crimea and not invade the other parts of eastern Ukraine. There are good political and strategic reasons for thinking he'd go after Crimea and not the rest, but I'm basing my guess on the assumption that the smart time to invade another country is when it's unprepared. With a shaky government and unsteady military, that was last week. Now Putin's given the government time to sort out who in the military it can trust, go on alert and start calling up the reserves.

All that would have been predictable in advance to Putin's top military leaders, who would've told him then that if you're going to take east Ukraine, take east Ukraine. I've seen some speculation that he's waiting for a provocation as an excuse to go in, but that doesn't make sense to me - he wouldn't need an authentic provocation when he could just make one up. Every day that goes by makes an invasion more difficult and therefore less likely to be in the original plan.

I could be wrong of course. An invasion will defeat Ukraine's military regardless how much warning time is given, so maybe Putin doesn't care about the cost to Russia, but I'd think he would care about how triumphant-looking and problem-free it seems. A war could also happen by accident, the way people used to think that World War I started.

And then there's the claim that Putin is in an information bubble and believes at least some of his own propaganda. If that's true then it's hard to understand what world he perceives. OTOH, I don't think the actions so far make as little sense from the viewpoint of an authoritarian populist semi-dictator as westerners claim, so I'm not sure this KGB officer is that far unmoored from reality.

So that's my guess of no invasion for the rest of Ukraine, but it shows my level of confidence that I'll just check the news one last time before posting.


UPDATE:  we should also start the timer for news about significant Russian migration and settlement activity in Crimea - I give it six months. Will be interesting to see how our Likudnik congresscritters handle that one. And that btw may be the one good thing about all this for Crimean Tatars that hadn't yet moved back - they won't be stuck across a fortified border.

Indre, Chris, Steven, and Ed are acting like Keith

Delving into others' motives is tricky, especially when you're annoyed with them, but sometimes it's worth doing. For example, Keith Kloor pretty clearly is motivated to punch hippies, metaphorically. He used to do it over climate change. IRRC, he was a somewhat-late convert to mainstream climate science, and still took a lot of shots at climate activists. In the last year or two he's switched his hippie-punching mostly to GMO issues, and that's an improvement, because this time it can be occasionally accurate and it's a less important issue, anyway.

So what's up with Indre Viskontas, Chris Mooney, Steven Novella, and Ed Yong? The link between them and Kloor is glossing over the real environmental concerns about GMOs, particularly genetic contamination of wild and escaped relatives of GM plants, most recently for Indre, Chris and Steven here. They appropriately describe the lack of health impacts from GMOs but then jump to conclusions that GMOs aren't a problem.

I'm simplifying and being somewhat unfair. Ed's more of a straightforward journalist than the others, conveying news moreso than his opinion, and occasionally links to contrary views (including once to this blog). Steven acknowledges the complexity of some environmental issues (while making simplistic arguments himself regarding biodiversity impacts).

Still, the motivational link I see between all of them is a kind of progressive hipster science nerd vibe that I think wants to push away from the earlier environmental generation in some ways, the Earth Mother hippie types. They demonstrate their independent "skepticism" by showing their willingness to take potshots at something often described as a liberal myth. While it's nowhere nearly as bad as Kloor, it's still behavior that looks for a chance to take potshots at those ignorant hippies. For three of them it might also fit into a generational thing (Steven's around my age).

I assume all four of them would be unimpressed with my thoughts about their motivations, so I'd rather focus on Steven's muddying the waters in describing the naturalistic fallacy. I think it's better to think of the appeal to nature as a fallacious ethical argument, but moving from ethics to policy makes it not so innately fallacious. The big advantage that organic farming and conventional breeding techniques have is that they've been done for a long time, so we're more likely to know the consequences.

What the four of them might consider wrestling with is a non-insane application of the precautionary principle. Doing something that's a little more natural in the sense that its been done for a while is less likely to have unforeseen consequences.

The vast majority of what the four do is great, and I'm doing my usual thing of highlighting only the part I don't like, but they could all do better.

Amazonian in the Martian sense of the word

More from CourseraWeek 3:
In the ensemble average, mean annual runoff decreases in a 2°C world by around 30, 20, 40, and 20 percent in the Danube, Mississippi, Amazon, and Murray Darling river basins, respectively, while it increases by around 20 percent in both the Nile and the Ganges basins, compared to the 1961–190 baseline period. Thus, according to Fung et al. (2011), all these changes are approximately doubled in magnitude in a 4°C world.
Yikes. Now I see a reason for the lack of snark-hiding.

Thanks a lot, Khruschev

The news from Crimea is unsettling, partly because it's not entirely clear to me whether it's bad to have Crimea reattached to Russia in some form.

From a utilitarian perspective, removing the most eastern-oriented portion of Ukraine from its electoral politics would pretty much guarantee a western-oriented political outcome. My less-certain idea is that Russians living closest to the rest of Europe may have more European attitudes, so moving this population into Russia might also somewhat liberalize Russian political attitudes.

From other ethical perspectives, this area was Russian and is populated primarily by Russian speakers, and was only transferred to the Ukraine recently (1954) by a Soviet dictator for reasons that have little to do with the historical or ethical way to govern the region. There are the Crimean Tatars, but AFAICT that's a relatively small minority. I think as a general rule the majority in a region does not have the ethical right to secede their region from the country, but that rule should have exceptions.

The key downside, which may be what motivates Putin as an upside, is that having a Russian-occupied region would make it very difficult for Ukraine to join NATO. This reason partly motivated the Georgia war. Still, I don't see what's to be done about it. The history of eastern Europe in the last generation has been a tremendous victory for liberalism. Consolidating these gains is more important and valuable than restarting a cold war.

Saber-rattling with Russia might have some limited value but not a whole lot, going beyond saber-rattling is definitely a bad idea, and Russia's status as semi-democratic/semi-dictatorial is still fluid, so there are opportunities for liberalization that shouldn't be discouraged. The end game here isn't Ukraine, it's the political liberalization and stabilization of Russia, and successful democracies on its borders take us in that direction.

The game changes if Russian invades other parts of Ukraine, let alone the entire country. That's a real war with assistance needed, although it also needs a limited scope.

One other point I saw somewhere - as in other parts of Slavic Europe, the division here may be more religious than linguistic, with Ukrainian Catholics oriented to the west and Orthodox to the east.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Does acidification overcome the one PhD theory?

My pet theory is that no matter how ridiculous a concept may be, you can find at least one person with a PhD in that field who will advocate it (e.g., a microscopic number of biologists who are creationists). So where are the marine biologists who don't think ocean acidification is a significant concern?

You'll find researchers who publish an occasional piece of good news about marine life adapting to acidifying oceans, but I'd like someone to show me a marine biologist who has gone on to make the general conclusion "meh, acidification isn't something to be worried about."

Maybe I've just missed it, that marine biologist is out there and can rescue my pet theory. Or maybe they just haven't seen the value in being the next Bozo Galileo. I think the climate denialists rarely get paid for their services but this person might be one of the exceptions. The psychological reward is still more likely, some level of acceptance of their heroism.

UPDATE:  see John and John comments below for a range of opinion re whether climate denialists are "rarely" paid. I agree with John that the issue is partly definitional. Probably worth its own separate post, but I think a useful context is the anti-fluoride activists and 9-11 Truthers - there's even less money to be made in their fields, and they're still legion, even if the latter group is declining.

Interlude

Blegging re human ability to taste the change in ocean acidity

Ocean acidification  has changed pH from about 8.2 to 8.1, so far.

My question - can we taste the difference? Might be an interesting factoid that we've altered the oceans so much that we can taste the difference, so imagine the effect on creatures whose biochemistry is dependent on that system.

I can't find the answer - anyone care to enlighten me? Please comment.

Reading around about acid manipulation in wine-making suggests this level of pH change is detectable to taste, but I'm not certain, and that's also starting at a very different level of acidity.

As good as it gets: patriarchy and Mitt

Taking the sympathetic documentary Mitt at face value, it shows a patriarchal culture at its very best. The women in these men's lives are loved and respected, and their counsel taken as seriously as the men's, but they're not the deciders. I also thought it was interesting that the wives of the sons made it into the inner circle, as did some male outside staff, but no female outsiders. That's the one point I'll make that I haven't seen in other reviews. I don't know enough about Obama's campaign to know if a similar documentary would've looked different, but I hope so.

Beyond this, I'm not sure what to make of this portrait of a nice, self-aware, and unassuming man who lied and lied and lied and who, if he had been successful, would have semi-wittingly killed thousands through his actions on Obamacare and climate. It would be interesting to know more about the documentarian Whitely who filtered what we see, and why Romney's fellow Republican candidates in 2008 despised him so much.

Worth watching though!

Hypocrisy: not the worst sin, but maybe the most amusing

Rand Paul on whether Hilary Clinton should be president:
“You know what’s funny about it is I tell people – they’re like, ‘Why did you bring up the Clintons? Why did you bring up Bill being such a predator and sexual harassment and what he did with an intern in the workplace?’” Paul said. “I said, ‘Well, because they asked me the question'....One of the things we have done that is a step forward, has been over the last couple of decades is women should be protected from predatory behavior of their bosses. And that’s what Bill Clinton’s affair, whatever you want to call it with an intern was, was sexual harassment.”
also here:
He added, “It’s not Hillary’s fault, but it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton in history.”
He added with Bill and Hillary Clinton, “Sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”

And then there's Rand Paul on people judging him over his long relationship to big ol' racist aide Jack Hunter:
“Why don’t we talk about Rand Paul, I’m the one doing the interview. You can go ahead and beat up on an ex-employee of mine, but why don’t we talk about Rand Paul and what I’m trying to do to grow the party, and then we might have an intelligent discussion,” the Kentucky Republican said.
also here:
He added that it was “unfair” to suggest that he should be painted with a “broad brush” because of the actions of his former aide.

Bonus quote from Paul: "hypocrisy defeats their whole argument." I wouldn't beat yourself up like that, but I agree it doesn't make you  look good.

Obama's political key for rejecting Keystone

Thought I'd take a break from checking Rabett Run every half hour for Eli's groundbreaking post on or after February 30, and write about something else.

Obama's in a bind on Keystone, with the State Department finding that it won't have much of a climate effect because the oil would otherwise just get out by rail and get burnt anyway. Keystone proponents will say his "own experts" are saying that it passes the test Obama set for it.

If Obama wanted to kill Keystone he could consider saying that outside experts and even some government experts disagree, but I'm not sure that limits the political damage that much. We could say, so what? Absorb the political hit and save the planet, but that's not a sustainable political strategy. You save it for special occasions.

I think the best messaging Obama could use if he struck down Keystone is that whether the tar sand oil stays in the ground is a political assessment - whether the other modes for moving oil will receive political approval, whether a delay might result in changed Canadian policies just as American policies have changed, and whether the uncertainty over future oil prices is reason enough to stop the approval. Combine that with Obama's message that while we need to use fossil fuels, we should only use the cleanest fuels and there's no question that this stuff doesn't qualify, and he might have a viable political message.

UPDATE:  two additional points. You think Keystone is bad for the climate? Here's what's somewhat worse - a slightly smaller amount of tar sand oil exported by rail. Enviros are betting on a significant decrease in tar sand oil exports in the absence of the pipeline, or else things become even worse than otherwise.

The other is that this issue will still be alive, regardless, for at least part of the 2016 presidential election. If Obama approves Keystone, then resolving inevitable litigation will take at least a year or two, plenty of time for candidates to be asked to weigh in on the litigation and what to do about it. If Obama kills it, some candidates in 2015 will say it's not too late to reverse his decision. I think in reality that January 2017 may be too late, but people might not realize that during the initial part of campaign season.

Figure of the day

Regional temp and precipitation changes for two scenarios in 2100, from Week 2 of the Climate MOOC:


Being a water guy, I'm focusing on the precip. Central America is screwed. And sell any farmland you own in the eastern Mediterranean basin.

If that increased precip in the western Pacific is from storms instead of steady rain, that could be unpleasant. Something China might want to consider.

Lawyers, scientists, and Woody Allen

Not sure what our scientist readers will think of this, but I expect lawyers and scientists might get grouped together and distinguishable from the general public when thinking about the Woody Allen allegations (latest here, good summary of the evidence here).

I'd say a reasonable conclusion based on available evidence is "probably guilty". Lawyers and scientists can stop there, but I think much of the public can't, at least those who care about it. They have to think he's guilty or he's innocent - it's not acceptable to believe there's a 90% chance he's guilty, a 9% chance his daughter was manipulated into a false memory, and a 1% chance she's outright lying.

Lawyers and scientists may reach this outcome differently - lawyers think about process and advocacy more than an objective truth that's separate from process, and modern scientists think about models rather than truth - but get to the same result. At least that's my purely anecdotal sense.

One good aspect of this recent publicity is it helps rebut the concept that a legal presumption of innocence has to apply to how individuals think of these issues. A welcome further step would be dropping any presumptions and live in doubt.

Not that doubt has to be blind. There's nothing to doubt about the child-rapist Roman Polanski, and multiple independent allegations against Bill Cosby don't leave much room for doubt.