Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Volokh Correction #18: The Republican War on Science

When the Volokhs move away from legal analysis and libertarian theory into straight political posts, we often get something like this post by Jonathan Adler (who's one of the better Volokhs): a mix of one part wrong, two parts grossly exaggerated, three parts biased, and one part legitimate point.

Adler is criticizing Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science. I won't critique all of Adler's post, but here are a few arguments:

One of the best examples of the politicization of science by the "left" — and one of the few that Mooney acknowledges — is the treatment of agricultural biotechnology, and the decision to subject such products to more stringent regulatory review than those developed with other methods. This policy has no scientific basis, as the National Academy of Sciences has stated many times.

Hardly a criticism of Mooney when he acknowledges the issue. It's only partly right, anyway. While the left has greatly exaggerated the public health dangers, the danger of contaminating wild relatives of cultivated crops with Frankengenes are real, as are the dangers of creating resistance to the few effective organic insecticides by artificially inserting Bt genes in agricultural plants. And before Adler completely dismisses potential health effects, he should consider the biotech industry position that because it's extensively, legally regulated, it should not be liable to common-law litigation claims in the event something "untoward" happens. If the industry was truly confident it wasn't creating a risk, it would waive that argument.

Another example would be claims by environmentalist groups that pesticide residues on foods pose a significant cancer risk, a claim which the NAS has also rejected.

Talking about alar, maybe? Adler's on shaky ground. Being vague about the subject might help escape specific criticisms, but it doesn't help persuasiveness.

A third would be seeking endangered species listings for the purpose of halting development.

What's unscientific about that? Ulterior motives might give you ground to suspect what a group says, but it doesn't make it unscientific. Pro-life people these days are all interested in the health effects of abortion - there's reason not to trust them or their own studies, but that doesn't by itself make the claim a war on science.

A fourth would be efforts to claim asthma incidence (as opposed to asthma attacks) are related to outdoor air pollution, when there is no data to support such a claim.

The massive increase in asthma, which Adler avoids mentioning outright, is a critical issue in modern public health. I think Adler's outright wrong in saying there's no data, the real issue is definitive proof. Something is going very wrong, and outdoor air pollution, especially the mostly unregulated small particle pollution, is a suspect.

A fifth would be the EPA's second-hand smoke study, which a federal court found was driven to reach a predetermined result.

If anyone cares to bet over whether second-hand smoke causes thousands of deaths annually, I'm open to it. As to whether one particular study on the issue was flawed, who cares. This was an interesting issue for Adler to light on - I've been trying to compare the state of science over global warming to other controversies, and considered second-hand smoke as a decent analogy. My amateur opinion of both fields though, is that we're even more confident about global warming than we are about second-hand smoke.

A sixth would be claims that the "precautionary principle" is a "science-based" approach to risk, when it acutally reflects a normative policy judgment about how to weigh and evaluate risks.

I don't know what he's talking about here - who couldn't figure out that the precautionary principle is a policy method for handling the risks established by science. To establish an abuse of science, Adler must demonstrate lies or deception. He hasn't. Some on the left have articulated a ridiculous version of the precautionary principle that involves proving a negative - but that's just stupid, not a deceptive abuse of science.

A seventh would be the compounded conservatisms that are embedded into many agency risk assessments, such as those conducted for the federal Superfund program.

Funny - sounds like a normative judgment about the appropriate level of risk - how's that an abuse of science?

An eighth would be molding "ecosystem management" to satisfy non-scientific normative preferences about how land should be managed.

Land management typically involves multiple goals. Adler needs to give specifics showing a widespread, leftist policy of using their land management goals in a way that abuses science.

And so on.

One of his better arguments.

In 1993, Princeton University physicist William Happer was fired from the Department of Energy because he disagreed with Vice President Al Gore's views on stratospheric ozone depletion.

Happer was a Bush I political appointee, so Clinton and Gore had every right to get rid of him. I don't recall if Mooney criticized Bush II for firing a political appointee, although maybe I missed that. Anyway, firing an idiot who denies the destruction of the ozone layer is a service to the country. Do I need to offer yet another bet over this issue too?

In 1994, President Bill Clinton rejected the finding from the Embryo Research Panel of the National Institutes of Health which declared that the intentional creation of human embryos for genetic research was ethical. Clinton simply banned any federal funding for such research.

How is a dispute over the ethical approach an abuse of science? Adler needs to get beyond whatever grievances he has and show deception.

Others include the witholding of agency analyses so as to prevent their publication at poltiically inconvenient times and the gross misrepresentation of scientific findings by agency officials in speeches and media appearances.

The first claim is standard practice, and not really a science abuse unless withholding is delayed for months instead of for the Friday media dump cycle. He doesn't substantiate the second claim.

If we are allowed to consider the plaintiffs' bar as a "left" interest — as corporate groups are considered to be on the "right" — then there are many more examples relating to all sorts of "junk science" tort claims, some of which my co-blogger David Bernstein has documented

This would be a legitimate point except that Mooney isn't attacking corporate lying but the Republican and Bush Administration's political support for their lies. Again, Adler needs to point to prominent Democrat and Clinton administration misdeeds to make his point (and before anyone talks about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and vaccines, I'd note that he isn't even an elected official).

It is certainly possible that the Bush Administration is worse than prior Democratic Administrations, but I don't think Mooney makes his case because he doesn't seriously examine the most serious charges against prior administrations, nor does he consider the broader institutional context.

Adler has not come up with any serious charges. As for institutional context, one point I might agree with is that one should consider overall funding levels as part of the determination of whether the Republicans are at war with science, so I'd disagree with Mooney's decision to exclude that issue from his consideration.

More fundamentally, it is hard to go from the avalanche of science-abusing anecdotes in Mooney's book to a definitive conclusion that the Bush Administration is far worse than previous ones. On the other hand, it's a very impressive avalanche, especially compared to what Adler has just put out. The number of Republicans who are revolted at what Bush has done to science is also indicative. Most persuasive was the one time where Bush and Clinton both took the same position at odds with the science, but Bush lied about the science while Clinton didn't.

So some legitimacy of the attacks on the left, little of which extends to the Clinton Administration, and very little in the way of substantive criticism of Mooney's book.

UPDATE: Welcome, Intersection readers, and thanks for stopping by. My main page is here, and my review of RWOS is here. And just to be a little contrary, I've got an occasionally-updated post linking to right-wing blogs when I think they've got the better argument, and one of them is an Adler post.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Stern Review and the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court opinion

I've not blogged about the Stern Review analyzing the impacts of climate change because I've not had anything intelligent to say. But I haven't let that stop me in previous situations, so here's a far-fetched analogy.

I found really interesting the number of people, especially my fellow lawyers, who were outraged by the Supreme Court decision to hand the 2000 election to Bush, but never actually read the decision. Here it is. When I read the "per curiam" decision of the five judges, I found that it really analyzed four or five separate questions that led to their ultimate conclusion. For each one of those questions, my thinking was something like "well, I disagree with that particular argument, but I can see that someone might reach that viewpoint." The problem was that every single one of those subsidiary questions had to be answered in the way the majority did for them to be able to get the conclusion they wanted - Bush as president, and no recount for Gore. That combination of always picking the subsidiary outcome in the direction they wanted it to go was what convinced me of bias.

So that leaves the Stern Review. RealClimate has a rundown of the science issues, and my superficial impression of the economic issues is similar: "he strays on the high side of various estimates and picks the high side to talk about in the summary. This high-end bias lends the Review open to charges of 'alarmism'."

I don't think this requires conscious bias, however. I'd guess that at least two of the Supreme Court conservatives (O'Connor and Kennedy) weren't consciously choosing to throw the election to their guy. And unlike the Supreme Court case, I think many of the choices Stern makes are defensible. The problem that they always seem alarmist is what's disturbing.

I think this is too much and too important for a single person and project. It really should be made a regular part of the IPCC process. And rather than giving a single outcome for things that require value judgments, like social time discounting, they could split the analysis and give alternative outcomes depending on which value judgment you choose.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why reasonable libertarianism results in more liberty than simplistic libertarianism

Yes, I am spinning it by using "reasonable" and "simplistic" terms for libertarians, something the simplistic libertarians might object to. Still, I think the terms apply well to a discussion I heard on NPR's Talk of the Nation called "The Privacy Train Has Left the Station." The radio segment features simplistic libertarian Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason Magazine. She says that because there's no reasonable expectation of privacy in public places, there's little reason to worry about the growing proliferation of cameras monitoring every person's every step, recording it forever, and being instantly available to government snoopers. Her main concern is that nobody ever tell private property owners what to do or not do with cameras.

This mirrors what a Volokh Conspiracy post called "the longstanding division between those who endorse an absolutist interpretation of libertarian principle versus those who take a maximizing approach." Mangu-Ward can't see a gray area in the loss of privacy due knowledge of one's activities becoming so much more widespread, so it's no problem. Reasonable libertarians like myself do see a problem, and while the solution is less clear, acknowledging a problem is the first step.

I'm not going to deny the advantages of cameras. I think a camera trained on a bicycle rack increases liberty by allowing people to ride bikes that don't get stolen, more than it decreases liberty by monitoring people for the brief time they're locking their bikes (I've had many bikes stolen over the years). Carefully targeted cameras might be the solution.

More broadly, I think the loss of privacy might possibly be inevitable, and it might not be all bad - maybe we'll learn to be who we are and not care who knows about it. But pretending there's no problem with this future, and therefore doing nothing to nudge the future in the right direction, is simplistic.

P.S. Some discussion of reasonable libertarianism over at Kevin Vrane's renovated digs, No Se Nada.

P.P.S. In Mangu-Ward's defense, she evolves partially beyond simplistic libertarianism in the Op-Ed she wrote on the camera issue:
The New York police recently announced plans to create "a citywide system of closed-circuit televisions" operated from a central control center, funded primarily by federal antiterrorism money.

Admittedly, this is where the surveillance nation gets dicey. Concerns about misuse of public cameras by authorities are reasonable, and violations should be punished. Several cases now wending their way through the courts are expected to set standards regarding proper uses of, and punishment for abuse of, surveillance.

She needs to keep moving in this direction.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

This anti-tree thing has gone too far

There has been a lot of discussion on blogs about the various reports saying that planting trees outside of the tropics can actually cause a problem as far as global warming is concerned. The argument is that trees have a lower albedo than farms, pastures, or soil, so planting trees could make the earth darker overall, increasing light absorption, and warming the Earth. (There has also been some claim that more trees mean more water vapor but that seems to be less of a concern.)

I think a lot of this discussion is overblown. First of all, I don't know who is talking about replacing farms and pastures with trees, except in tropical countries where there's no controversy regarding forest benefits, and it's not something that I have heard any serious discussion about. And on the question of albedo, planting trees and cities and suburban areas could actually make albedo higher instead of lower. A 7% reflectivity in urban areas is less than 9% for pine forests, and 13% for deciduous trees (the ones usually planted in cities).

So while the anti-tree thing may intrigue people because it's counterintuitive, you still have to look at the particular tree planting program to determine whether or not it is problematic. Any we should definitely plant trees in the cities.

UPDATE: Thought I'd add that the most important global warming impact of urban trees is the amenity effect - by making cities nicer places to live, people will be more willing to stay rather than commute from the suburbs.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Partially nonstupid editorial in Wall Street Journal on an environmental issue

Yeah, it surprised me too, but the Jan. 25th print version had an editorial by Bruce Berkowitz that said something reasonable about the environmental problem of space junk (no mention of the global warming connection, though). Berkowitz argues the US should involve China in an international convention to control debris. A nonwrong opinion in the Journal!

Of course, it was part of an otherwise wrong article saying China's antisatellite test was no big deal, and it incorrectly stated that China has "as much interest as the U.S. to limit debris" (as a minor player in space, most of the external costs of China's debris gets imposed on the big player, the U.S.). And, it's a guest column, not something written by the insane editors of the Journal. But still.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Well, it wasn't a Nixon-to-China moment on global warming

Here's a typical rumor that went around last fall:

September 19, 2006

Will Bush Change His Mind on Global Warming?

"President Bush is preparing an astonishing U-turn on global warming," according to The Independent. "After years of trying to sabotage agreements to tackle climate change he is drawing up plans to control emissions of carbon dioxide and rapidly boost the use of renewable energy sources."

"Administration insiders privately refer to the planned volte-face as Mr Bush's 'Nixon goes to China moment,' recalling how the former president amazed the world after years of refusing to deal with its Communist regime. Hardline global warming sceptics, however, are already publicly attacking the plans."
And here's what we got:
America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment -- and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.
Draw your own conclusion, I suppose. I think it's kind of like Iraq - too little, too late.

UPDATE: Not global warming, but too good to skip: a trip down memory lane with previous Bush State of the Union speeches.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Informed guts, Fred Hutchison, and known unknowns about climate

Over at Stoat, James Annan needles Steve Bloom for not automatically taking an alleged "informed layperson" position of guessing the most dangerous outcome is always the right one. This follows comments at Inkstain where John Fleck criticizes David Roberts for saying the layperson's informed gut feeling could be useful where the consensus position is silent.*

In the Inkstain comments, James criticizes Steve for supporting the idea that an intelligent lay person could think the high (dangerous) end is more likely:
Depends what you mean by high end versus low end, but if you assume that the presentation is intended to be an unbiased one according to the approximate consensus of a large number of experts then your “intelligent lay person” is simply claiming that these experts are all wrong, with no apparent justification for such an assertion.

If someone puts up some argument as to why the science is wrong, that’s another matter entirely. Most likely such a person would be a scientist with some demonstrated understanding of the area, although in principle anyone could do it.
James is criticizing Steve's overweighting the high end outcome against the consensus while implicitly supporting his own underweighting of the high end position.

So what am I, an allegedly intelligent layperson, supposed to think of this? My starting point is Fred Hutchison, the intellectual pioneer I once wrote about who believes he's disproven relativity, evolution, and global warming. First thing is, don't be Fred.

Second, if you're going to predict something that goes beyond the consensus, you better have darn good reasons, and here I think both James and Steve are distinguishable from Fred. James makes a scientific claim, and his referees didn't contradict him. Steve points out "known unknowns" expressed in more depth by Eli Rabett could make the high end more likely. The consensus doesn't speak about the unknowns since they're unknown, but if you don't count on luck, then it seems there's a decent chance that at least some of them will be increase the high end odds. The consensus position has also seemingly ignored James' argument. In both cases, and distinguished from Lindzen, Pielke Sr., and Fred Hutchison, these arguments seem reasonable and don't directly contradict the scientific consensus.

They do contradict each other though, and I have no basis myself to say which is right. I will argue this, though: there's nothing wrong with saying where your gut tells you the likely scientific conclusion will be, so long as you don't pretend that prediction is scientific. For example, I'm predicting that whenever the Fifth Assessment Report comes out (not the one due next month), it will say that it's more likely than not that AGW has already caused intensification of tropical storms. This goes beyond the consensus position that only discusses future warming.

Am I to be condemned for saying this? Someone can do better than condemn me for such foolishness, and bet me over it instead.

*I think Fleck overstates his criticism, btw, by implying that Roberts' position supports using your informed gut to contradict the consensus. Roberts would disagree with that, based on his full post.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What Al Gore says about his travels

William at Stoat doesn't like Al Gore's "jet-setting lifestyle," and my defense of Gore also didn't impress him. While looking for something else in the book version of An Inconvenient Truth, I found this on pages 136-139:
From Pole to Shining Pole

One can read field studies, talk to scientists, and scrutinize charts, but there's nothing like seeing things for yourself own journey toward understanding the crisis has also involved a literal journey to many hard-to-reach places where global warming is in clear evidence....I have been drawn to these excursions not only because of my hnger to learn as much as I can about the climate crisis, but also in part, I think, because they take me outdoors again and give me a chance to see many truly fascinating places...
I read that as saying he's travelled not just for the cause of fighting global warming, but acknowledges some personal reasons.
...The reasons for my two trips under the Arctic ice cap was to learn more about global warming and to convince the U.S. Navy to release top-secret data to the environmental scientists specializing in the study of global warming's effects on Arctic ice...the Navy has long used a special upward-looking radar to measure the thickness of ice above the subs as they make their long journey...It was that five-decade record of ice thickness, marked "top secret", that I was after....At first the Navy strenuously resisted...I worked with the Navy...Bruce DeMars...and President Reagan's CIA director, Bob Gates, were the ones who came up with an innovative solution...the information proved to be even more significant and alarming than the scientists had expected....

Since every journey took me back home, I have returned each time with a deeper conviction that the solution to this crisis that I have traveled so far to understand must begin here at home.
So he accomplished something with his trips, he doesn't claim to travel purely for altruistic reasons, and he says it helps renew his conviction to do something.

I expect that if Gore had never cared about warming and did the same travels just as a lark, no one would care. For all I know, maybe he could do a better job of avoiding travel, but I think the criticism is mostly misplaced.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Notes on Stephen Schneider presentation, Jan. 17th at Stanford

My random notes, no particular order. Some of what he said was more or less off the record, so I'll skip that stuff.

On Kyoto:
-The most important accomplishment of Kyoto isn't controlling emissions, it's setting up an ongoing process for countries to work together to manage climate change.
-Instead of a cap-and-trade system, he proposed at Kyoto an income tax-and-transfer system that would transfer payments to poorer people who produce fewer emissions. He said he was laughed at.

-People who would spout nonsense in large, crowded auditoriums always become reasonable in small conference rooms.
-The US used to act as a fair broker between OPEC nations and nations with exposed coastlines, but no longer.

US politics and climate change:
-Climatologists like him used to have a contentious and negative relationship with previous Republican administrations (Reagan and Bush I). With Bush II, there's no relationship at all - this administration doesn't even want to talk to climatologists.
-Pre-early 1980s, science wasn't polarized like it has been in the last two decades. It hasn't been polarized in California politics, and he's not sure why. (My comment - I can think of several reasons why California is different, at least on climate: no coal industry, little car industry, long involvement with air pollution regulation, and the collapse of the state Republican party in the mid-1990s.)
-He believes there's now a sea change in business attitudes and moderate Republican in the United States generally. He now talks to business people more than environmentalists.

Tools for reducing emissions:
-Conservation is the low-hanging fruit. California's requirement of energy standards for refrigerators, later copied by the Reagan Administration for the rest of the country, has reduced emissions more than all the installed photovoltaics in the country.
-Cautious supporter of underground carbon sequestration, never mentioned ocean sequestration.
-More cautious supporter of solar towers, which I'd never heard of (possibly referring to concepts like this).
-Skeptical of nuclear power - said that cost-effective ways to eliminate meltdowns and safely store nuclear waste are needed.
-Supports carbon offsets, especially in the form of technology transfer to industrializing countries.

Role of scientists:
-Can't answer value questions - is opening an Arctic shipping route more important than destroying Inuit/Eskimo culture? Politicians ask scientists to create cost-benefit analyses where it's not possible to do it.
-Shouldn't portray certainty where it doesn't exist - like giving a value to four decimal places when in reality they're not sure if the value is positive or negative.

His website for more info.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Neocons say Bush is hiding the actual troop-punt figure

In an interesting post at the Corner, Rich Lowry calls Bush a liar (okay, "low-ball"-er) for saying his punt of five brigades and one regiment to Iraq is only 21,000 troops. Lowry says the true figure to support that level is more like 30,000 troops (or more, he's not clear).

The apparent reason for lying is to conceal how much Bush is escalating the war. Considering that the increase is correctly being accused of being too little to have an effect, that seems a little strange. And the Bush Administration is dumb enough to short-change the number of logistical support troops.

As for Lowry's reliance on a decent military commander, the Bushies are still the bosses, and they will screw things up. And that commander who Lowry trusts says that 120,000 troops are needed in Baghdad. It's not going to work.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kleiman digs further down a hole; I blast straight through Godwin's Law

The normally-excellent Mark Kleiman wrote a not-excellent post about geoengineering to combat global warming a while back. Kleiman felt it had promise and was being ignored. RealClimate did a much better discussion about the unproven and highly speculative geoengineering field earlier, noting this "ignored" subject was in the New York Times.

Kleiman then had to dismiss an attempt to ally him to a non-existent, "centrist" position between denialists and global-warming believers. While doing so, he says "there's been roughly no money to do the studies." He needs to back up that statement with some facts, or he's just digging the hole further down. There have in fact been studies of geoengineering, and there was even an experiment with seeding the ocean with iron to study (in part) whether micro-organisms can absorb carbon dioxide efficiently. The fact that these studies are being done suggests there's some level of funding for it.

These concepts are getting a moderate level of interest and moderate level of resource commitment, and that's what they deserve at this point. Should these studies look promising, then it's time to scale up the resources.

Where I want to blast through with my Godwin's Law violation is regarding the belief in modern magic - Technology! - as the easy solution to all problems. That's what Hitler thought. From the Wikipedia article on the V-2 rocket:
Dornberger had always wanted a mobile launch platform for the missiles, but Hitler pressed for the construction of massive underground blockhouses from which to launch them. According to his plans, V-2s should have arrived from a number of factories in a continuous stream on several redundant rail lines, and launching should have been almost continual.
Despite being one of the most advanced weapons in WWII, the V-2 was militarily ineffective. Its guidance systems were too primitive to hit specific targets, and its costs were approximately equivalent to four-engined bombers, which were more accurate (though only in a relative sense— see discussion in strategic bomber), had longer ranges, carried many more warheads, and were reusable. Moreover, it diverted resources from other, more effective programmes.
The desire for magical solutions is persistent in history, but it's not particularly helpful.

P.S. One more thing - Kleiman wrote in his second post:
If you really think that the Gulf Stream might stop running ten years from now, as Gore suggests in his movie (as I understand it, such a catastrophe isn't likely, but can't be ruled out)...
From the text facing page 150 of the book version of An Inconvenient Truth:
At Woods Hole Research Center, Dr. Ruth Curry is especially concerned about the rapid melting of ice in Greenland, which is adjacent to the area in which the [thermohaline] pump operates.

Recently, she observed: "The possibility of such extreme events precludes ruling out that disruption of the North Atlantic Conveyor in the 21st century could occuras a result of greenhouse warming."
Depending on the probability level one assigns to "precluding" catastrophe, Curry might represent an outlier, but there's no hint of anything happening in ten years.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Get out of Iraq so we can fix Afghanistan, redux

The meme is catching on, now at Talking Points Memo:

For Democrats opposed to the Iraq war who still fear a backlash for not being tough enough, advocating for more resources for the wars in Afghanistan and against global terrorism has the dual benefit of showing a stiff spine and pursuing the right policy.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Notes on going to improv class for the first time

I've wanted to try out doing improv theater for over ten years, despite not being a theater person and despite not being particularly dramatic or even extroverted. I finally went over the weekend, due to the encouragement and participation by my girlfriend.

It's pretty fun, and very different from anything else I've done. For some reason I had thought I might be good at it, but there wasn't any evidence for that during the 2-hour class.

It's a little disturbing that the easiest exercise was the Status Game - you pair up with somebody, and each of you get 3 playing cards that you're not allowed to look at. You start improvising a relationship, say two people fixing a car. Each of you put a card on your forehead whose value denotes your status level, you can't see your own card but you can see the other's, and you both switch to one of your other two cards at random intervals. You then improvise your status relationship based on the other person's card and on the signals you receive from the other person about your card's status level. It was really interesting, but we humans are disturbingly good at hierarchies.

I'm glad I did the class, but I'm not sure if I'll pursue it further.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Asking the wrong question about Al Gore's lifestyle

I disagree with criticism by Stoat and many others about Gore's "jet-setting" lifestyle, consisting of his riding commercial airplanes to give presentations about global warming, and occasional travel to exotic locations to see the effects of warming.

First and less important, Gore buys offsets to balance his carbon footprint, a fact noted by Stoat's commenters. Stoat makes a legitimate point that Gore might have addressed his lifestyle in his movie, but in turn, any critique of his lifestyle should also address his attempt to fix the problem.

There are questions about the effectiveness of the offsets, but it's unlikely that they're completely useless. I expect the market for voluntary purchases of emission credits will be driven by quality, and chintzy frauds will find themselves exposed by their competitors. Early adopters speed up this process. And yes, the whole world can't buy carbon offsets. I really wish that were the problem we face right now, though - we'd be in a much better shape if it were.

But more important than offsets is the better question to ask of Gore - whether he's doing the best possible job of reducing emissions overall (another issue noted by a Stoat commenter). I suppose that instead of travelling to presentations, Gore could stay home and do them by live teleconference feeds. He'd then get less than half the people to attend, and there would be no movie that has now been seen by millions worldwide. Overall, emissions would be worse.

Travelling to the South Pole is a somewhat closer question, but it has its justifications. One of the few things I remember from reading Earth in the Balance fifteen years ago was Gore's description of flying over the Amazon treetops in a tiny plane, watching clouds develop from the moisture of the rainforest. Instead of travelling there, he could've reproduced a conversation about the rainforest that he had with some professor, but bozos like me would retain no memory of that lesson. Eyewitness testimony is much more memorable.

Of course I've got my own biases, having travelled on two volunteer vacations to Montana and Alaska related to global warming. I certainly have less justification than Gore in travelling - millions of people won't learn about melting glaciers from me. I probably could have done more about global warming from home than by adding a tiny amount of data by lugging a GPS unit around glacier edges. But I'm imperfect, not a saint, and would not have spent my two-week vacation writing letters to the editor. Given the alternative, it was pretty good. Given how Al Gore chooses to spend his time compared to the vast majority of the elite, what he does is more than pretty good.

UPDATE: Stoat's response is here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

How they'll spin the Iraq troop punt, two years from now

I forget where I read that the best term for the "surge" isn't escalation but a troop "punt" - the idea is to punt responsibility for the inevitable drawdown to the next president. The problem for Republicans is handling the moderate chance that the next president will be Republican.

So my prediction - if a Democrat wins, the failure in Iraq only became inevitable because of the new president's mistakes in not sticking it out in Iraq. If a Republican wins, then blame for failure and withdrawal in 2009 lies squarely at the feet of the responsible party - the Iraqi people, for whom the Republicans gave every possible advantage. Republicans will oppose withdrawal in 2009 done by a Democratic president, and support it if done by a Republican.

While that's the plan, it's hardly a strong political position. McCain has no choice but to follow the troop punt plan, given his pro-Iraq war position generally, and pray for a weak Democratic nominee. Senator Brownback (R-Crazy) is trying to create a little space between himself and an implosion in Iraq that could take down McCain. It'll be interesting to see the choices of the other major Republican candidates.

And meanwhile, shades of Tora Bora again as the Bush punt takes troops out of Afghanistan who would be fighting a resurgent Taliban. I'm sticking with my framing argument for Democrats and sane Republicans - the strategy should be get out of Iraq so we can go fix Afghanistan. The exact opposite of Bush's plan.

P.S. Thought I'd add this chart - first figure is Iraqi police/military fatalities, and the second is Iraqi civilian fatalities. See any sign that Iraqi security forces will move to stop sectarian violence?


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Update on betting over global warming - nothing. Don't read the rest of this post.

Nobody will bet. James Inhofe won't bet. Christopher Monckton won't bet. Tom McClintock, Lubos Motl, Glen Raphael, Onar An, Steve Hemphill, Jim Clarke, other denialist commenters at Prometheus, and others I've surely forgotten won't do honest bets that test the denialist-versus-consensus positions on global warming.

I've come up with a few more bet proposals. I'm especially proud of the offer that warming will accelerate relative to the post-1850 average, but no interest. Kind of makes you wonder.

(If you think you know someone who'll bet, please send him or her my way.)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Finally understanding why archaeologists like teeth so much

Just pointing out a cool post by Afarensis, showing and analyzing pictures of an Australopithecus skull, in comparison with modern ape skulls. The thing that clarifies to me more than anything else that Australo is not an ape, contrary to the creationists, is the teeth.

Pictures like these could be very helpful in fighting the battle against ignorance.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

All quiet on Bush's conversion to global warming

Several months ago, there was a minor buzz in the blogosphere that Bush would do something dramatic about global warming in the 2007 State of the Union speech, a "Nixon goes to China" moment. Since then, nothing. You'd think we'd hear a little more by this point.

He's got to talk about something besides Iraq and his newly-minted hatred of Congressional budget earmarks. I'd welcome something dramatic about global warming. I'd actually welcome even just an outright acknowledgment of global warming. No sign of that happening so far though.

UPDATE: The rumors resurface here. Also, I saw somewhere a single admission by Bush in 2005 that human activities affect climate, but he sure hasn't been vocal about that.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

December 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate during the last month: 3.74
(nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis)

Previous averages
November: 2.57

October: 3.52

Last year, December 2005: 2.19.

Overall daily average to date is 2.35. Total US dead as of today: 3003.

Iraqi monthly military and police fatalities: 123.

Previous military/police fatality rates
November: 123
October: 224

Last year, December 2005: 193.
Total Iraqi military dead: 5,937.

Note that I've seen media reports suggesting the Iraqi military casualty figures are signficant undercounts.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1,629

November: 1,741
October: 1,315

Last year, December 2005: 344.

To-date civilian total, begining in March 2005: 22,345. Note that the civilian numbers are far less accurate than others (most likely to be greatly underestimated, or even ridiculously underestimated), but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: Four months in a row with American casualties above average, a first in the war. As before, Iraqi military fatality rates continue to be low, more evidence that they're sitting out the civil war. Also as before, civilian casualties remain terrible.