Friday, December 26, 2008

Connecting North American newts and Australian dolphins through mediocrity

Two interesting posts from Not Exactly Rocket Science: one on the evolutionary arms race between sometimes-poisonous newts and sometimes-immune garter snakes here on the West Coast, and another on how the recently-discovered tool use by Australian dolphins seems to be learned along matrilineal lines and also a recent invention by dolphins.

In the first post, newts in some areas of the West Coast have evolved poisonous skins as deterrent to predators like garter snakes, and snakes have evolved immunity that sometimes completely defeats the poison. Interestingly, in some places there's no poison and no immunity. One possible explanation for this is that we're at a special moment in time where the evolutionary arms race hasn't yet started in all geographic areas, but I doubt it. My speculation is that the time period the two species have coexisted is far longer than the period needed to go through the arms race (or even more likely than independent evolution, that genetic diffusion from areas further along in the arms race would spread quickly to new areas).

If we apply the Mediocrity Principle and assume we're not seeing a special moment in time for newts and snakes, then something else must explain the geographic difference. Time for more speculation!

I wonder if there's an alternative cyle: 1. newts develop toxicity. 2. snakes develop overwhelming immunity. 3. newts completely lose their now-useless toxicity. 4. snakes completely lose their now-useless immunity, and the cycle starts over.

Instead of the British Columbia newts evolving behind the rest, they may just be at a different point in the cycle.

Total guessing, but fun in a geeky way.

And then there's the second link, about dolphins who use marine sponges to protect their snouts while digging out hidden fish from the muddy sub-surface (one of the full articles is here). One in nine dolphins use sponges, although one in two dolphins use them in the deeper waters. The dolphins only appear to learn from their mothers, and males rarely stay with their mothers long enough to learn the technique. Finally, genetic analysis suggests that a recent "Sponging Eve" invented the technique and passed it on to her descendants now using it.

That only 11% of the females in the area use the technique doesn't sound all that impressive, until you consider that half use it in the deep water, that Sponging Eve was a recent ancestor, and that a lot of the male descendant dolphins are also indirect beneficiaries. Researchers observed 41 dolphins using the techniques, so Sponging Eve seems to have done pretty well.

But how does this successful technique relate to the Mediocrity Principle? Dolphins have been big-brained for millions of years longer than hominids, yet we just happen to observe the technique within a few decades of when it was first invented?

I speculated at some other science blog that the technique was only marginally useful, but this information suggests otherwise. The Mediocrity Principle isn't absolute, and sometimes weird things happen.

On the other hand, something else might keep the sponging technique from persisting over the long term. Maybe the dolphins get too good at exposing the fish, or use up too many of the sponges that are suitable tools. Instead of a steady-state equilibrium, it's more like the newts and snakes. The dolphins over-exploit their environment and either the tools or the fish disappear from accessible habitats, and then the dolphins forget the technique until it's reinvented.

It's all guessing, but it satisfies the Mediocrity Principle. Fortunately, it's also easily tested - just wait a century or so and see if the dolphins over-exploit the environment.

(And with that, I may be offline for awhile, so Happy New Year everyone.)

Wingnut award voting is ongoing at The Poor Man

Vote here for all categories, or here specifically for science nonsense. Lots of tough, tough choices, but I tended to vote for those who might actually be a little embarrassed about their misdeeds. Maybe Easterbrook will eventually come around.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who Bush pardons next month, and whether Obama can (and will) reverse the pardons

An interesting dustup from Bush's latest pardon attempts - after it was publicly revealed that one recipient's father gave almost $30,000 to the Republican party, Bush is trying to take the pardon back, and one 140-year-old case suggests he might be able to do it. If the pardon has been issued but not delivered and accepted, then it remains revocable.

I've been wondering whether Bush will try and push the envelope of the pardon power next month, issuing a blanket pardon without names attached to anyone involved in any capacity with extraordinary rendition and authorized interrogation techniques. I've thought he'd do it without naming names not just to exempt as many underlings as possible, but also in order to pardon himself and Cheney without doing so expressly. The problem comes with the old case at the link above, that "A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance, and a pardon by an outgoing President may be revoked by his successor before delivery."

I'm not sure if the concepts of delivery and acceptance still operate today, or how they worked for Carter's blanket pardon of draft evaders. To the extent they still work though and allow Bush to revoke his pardon, Obama could do the same thing.

Something Obama may have to think about.

UPDATE: See the comments, and also here for whether Bush really can revoke the pardon. I think that insofar as the legal question is open, Bush would have estoppel problems if he claimed that Obama couldn't revoke pardons that Bush himself gave but had not "delivered." I also think Obama would likely duck the issue, though.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Climate change and the snows of San Francisco Bay

I went on a run yesterday up at Castle Rock State Park, passing by my favorite waterfall/rock climbing spot. The creek surprised me by only trickling over the cliff at the same rate we'd see in late summer, despite all the stormy weather in the last week.

The potential explanation for the low flow was in patches on the forest floor around me - a lot of that precipitation came down as snow, some of it hadn't melted, and what had melted had slowly seeped into the ground instead of flashing into the streams.

A lot of non-locals don't realize the Bay Area gets snow every year (and even some local economics professors should know better). There are hundreds of thousands of acres in the Bay Area that lie above 2,000 feet in elevation, are virtually uninhabited, and get ephemeral snow for a few hours at a time each year. Tens of thousands of acres are above 3,000 feet, and snow can last for a few days at a time each winter, in addition to the ephemeral snow.

I've not seen anywhere how places like San Francisco Bay will be affected by the climate change switch from occasional snow to rare snow. I'd guess it will be a less-severe version of what will happen in the Sierras - higher winter stream flows, lower groundwater tables and lower summer flows. And while there'll be fewer hard frosts, there will also be fewer occasions where snow will protect plants from hard frosts.

And finally, fewer chances to bring some snow down to throw at your loved ones, like I did.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Marc Morano isn't even a Reliable Source on climate nonsense

William wrote recently about the wikipedia climate change edit wars that he's heavily involved with and that I occasionally wade into as well (come join the fight!).

Wikipedia uses the concept of Reliable Sources (RS) as a limit on the acceptable citation to back up any statement in an article. Even the denialists who fight on at wiki have grudgingly accepted William as a RS. This blog has occasionally been used as a RS on climate betting, although it's also been kicked out of some articles as I am clearly a lying knave.

And then there's Senator James Inhofe and his omnipresent Communications Director, Marc Morano, who constantly spew out denialist garbage. They're no RS for actual climate science, but have been used in wiki as sources on the state of the climate skeptic movement. I've even done that, but I shouldn't have.

Tim Lambert and many others have been pointing out huge problems in Morano and Inhofe's "Study" on "over 650" "scientists" who dissent over man-made warming. The issue for wikipedia isn't the obvious lies about climate science but the lies and mistakes about climate skeptics:

  • First, there aren't "over 650" individuals on the list. There are 603.
  • A number of individuals on the list aren't scientists, they're economists and engineers. One of them, Donald Boudreaux, is even quoted as saying, “I am a global-warming skeptic - not of the science of climate change (for I have no expertise to judge it), but a skeptic of combating climate change with increased government power.” This report says on its first page that is enumerating scientists disputing claims that the science is settled and there is a consensus. No, it's not.
  • A number of actual scientists on the list are misrepresented and/or have demanded to have their names removed from the list or its earlier version, but have been ignored. (See here (UPDATE: mentioned in the report but not listed among the 650 scientists), here, here, and here.)

Morano and Inhofe shouldn't be cited in wikipedia climate articles as sources about anything other than their own statements.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Planet Gore laughs at a potential extinction it doesn't understand

I slummed around at Planet Gore recently, where they've been chortling over a possible extinction of the white lemuroid possum, a variation on the lemuroid possum that some scientist think may have become extinct, and may have been killed off by global warming. Planet Gore reprints what they think are some good questions about this issue:

1. If the warmth of 2005 killed them all, how did they get through the Medieval Warm Period?

2. If warming is so devastating to them, why were they allegedly so easy to find after the warm year of 1998 but prior to 2005?

3. As a rule of thumb, if we don't see an animal after only 20+ hours of spotlighting, can we safely declare it extinct?

4. Is it a complete coincidence that this story is being released at the same time as the climate meetings in Poznan?

One suggestion I have for our denialist friends is that they actually try and answer their own questions first, before trumpeting them into the echo chamber. But let's help them out.

#1. Typical laziness in denialists thinking they know something they don't - in this case, that Australia was warm during the "Medieval Warm Period." I've redirected the link in #1 above from a denialist site in the original to wikipedia - turns out we don't know what the temperatures were like in Australia. Equally important, a millenium ago the possums didn't have to deal with habitat loss from deforestation that they face now, where they can't survive in second-growth forests. Climate change is the follow-up punch that knocks out a species reeling from habitat destruction.

#2. More generalizing - while 1998 was warm in Australia (not that the denialists bothered to even look that up), the warmth "came from significantly warmer than usual minimum temperatures," when it's maximums that kill possums. This graph shows the really bad maximums for eastern Australia have been in the last seven years, and that 1998 wasn't bad at all (and what really counts anyway is temperatures in the much smaller highland region where the animals live).

#3. Twenty-plus hours of spotlighting over three years may not be enough to declare a species extinct, as seen by the fact that the scientists didn't declare it extinct, just that they were very worried and going back for another look. Going from seeing lots to seeing none in three years would qualify for being worrisome, I'd think.

#4. I expect they call that a news hook. Is there any coincidence in that Planet Gore is seeking to shoot down the story around the same time as the Poznan conference? The only difference is between doing science on one side, and incredulous, unresearched objections on the other.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crank magnetism in action

Deltoid finds that Senator James "Won't Bet" Inhofe's list of not-650, mostly-not-scientifically-qualified climate denialists includes some evolution deniers.

A day later, RealClimate reports on a technicality involving the Antarctic ozone hole, indicating there's little likelihood that cosmic rays have anything to do with it, and cites climate denier Timothy Ball (who gave this blog its subtitle) as someone who counted on cosmic rays as somehow being crucial. Ball, of course, is one of Inhofe's 600 denialists (see page 111). I expect that besides the five evolution deniers, there'll be even more CFC-ozone deniers on Inhofe's list (Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer come to mind), united by a political desire to deny human influence even though the scientific issues of ozone loss and global warming have different mechanisms.

It's all an excellent example of crank magnetism, "cranks are magnetically attracted to other crank arguments, and in the process show how shallow their understanding of science and nature truly is."

I'm sure there's more kinds of denial in Inhofe's list on a variety of issues.

Finally, a related note - Obama has repeatedly use the word "denial" in referring to climate change, so as far as affecting political discourse is involved, someone with Obama's ear for politics thinks it's a good term.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Requiring parity for autoworkers - what about management?

Kevin Drum has a good point:

"[Republican Senator] Corker today put forward a plan that would impose far more stringent auto industry restructuring standards than the House bill. It would reduce the wages and benefits of union workers at domestic car manufacturers by requiring the total labor costs of GM and Chrysler to be 'on par' with those in non-union U.S. plants of foreign automakers such as Toyota and Honda."

OK, but I have one question: Is Corker also insisting that the total labor costs of GM's white collar management staff be on on par with those of Toyota and Honda? Just curious.

I doubt it. And token one-time $1 salaries for CEOs isn't a response.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Watts Up With That mistranslates Norwegian glacier news

Watts Up With That says:

Scandinavian nation reverses trend, mirrors results in Alaska, elsewhere. After years of decline, glaciers in Norway are again growing, reports the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE).

The link provided is to a source reporting in Norwegian only.

Fooling around with automatic translation from several websites gave me this:

Senior Engineer Hallgeir Elvehøy in the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) said that the NTB in a note to the message that brefronten (the front/terminus) in 22 of 32 surveyed glaciers in Norway have pulled back in the past year.

Hardly matches Watts saying a trend has reversed when over two-thirds are still declining. In Watts' defense, the Norwegian headline says "Glaciers growing afresh," and there's signs that the decline is slowing but that's a statement about some glaciers, not a reversed trend.

Still more foolishness in Watts' statement:

The flow rate of many glaciers has also declined. Glacier flow ultimately acts to reduce accumulation, as the ice moves to lower, warmer elevations.

Is he fooled himself or trying to fool others? He makes it sound as if glacier retreats are a good thing. A retreating glacial terminus, except in really unusual circumstances, is an excellent sign that the glacier is losing mass - it can no longer push glacial ice downhill fast enough to keep up with the melt at the lower end.

Watts also gave no evidence of glaciers growing "elsewhere" besides Alaska and Norway. There will inevitably be a few due to local conditions, but he apparently couldn't come up with more nonsense to back up his subtitle.

Denialism originally found at Tigerhawk.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guest Post: Why I Hate the Prius

(This is a guest post by Carbon Hacker, who may have some other guest posts here in the future. I'll post some thoughts later in the comments or in a separate post. -Brian)

First off, I don't really hate the Prius. I just thought it would make a better title than “I am mildly disappointed by the Prius.” Besides, I'm told it's a fine car, and most of its owners that I have spoken with are happy with it.

But really, here are a list of things, in no particular order, that “bug” me about the Prius.

  • Underserved Kudos for Toyota

Yes, the Prius comes with a lot of enviro-cred, but Toyota sells plenty of cars with low fuel economy, and they have fought increased CAFE standards as vociferously as our friends in Detroit.

  • Hacker-unfriendlinesss

Sure, all cars are close systems, not designed for tinkering, but it's too bad. The Prius could have been an interesting platform for amateur experimentation with hybrid technology. What if you put in a bigger battery? What if you changed the software that controls everything just so? Sure, some enterprising companies have done just this, but my understanding is that this voids the warranty, and in many cases means either 1) completely bypassing a lot of the Toyota control software and hardware and replacing it with something new or 2) not making any changes to the built-in controls at all, causing the car not be be able to completely take advantage enhancements like a higher capacity battery.

  • Engineering inelegance

To me, the parallel hybrid drive is an evolutionary dead end. The electric motor is a barnacle attached to a traditional ICE drive train. I'm sure Toyota had good reasons for doing it this way, but it means the car has a truly complex and funky transmission. I wonder how much energy is lost in that baby? I'm looking forward to seeing the series hybrids, where the ICE only turns a generator. Such systems may be able to avoid transmissions altogether, and have the added benefit of simplifying the design and operation of the ICE because it only needs to run at one, optimal, speed for charging the batteries.

  • Going nowhere

Another dig at Toyota, but why isn't this car getting better, faster? It's fuel economy has not changed in years (though the EPA method for measuring it has.) Clearly, the lack of serious competition in this space is having an effect. It doesn't look like Toyota has put a nickle into this car in years.

  • Conspicuous Consumption

Rather than its great gas mileage, I would argue that the defining aspect of the Prius is its peculiar shape. It is that shape, recognizable to all, that sells the car. This is not really a knock on the car, but something about human nature that never ceases to disappoint. People sometimes buy things because they make them look good. Unfortunately, if you want to reduce carbon emissions there are many, many things you can do that are going to be much more efficient than buying a Prius. But most of them don't impress the neighbors.

  • The wrong people buy it

I see it every day: people selling their 28mpg sedan to buy the 45mpg Prius. That's a nice thing, but unless you drive a lot, the CO2 impact is not that great. On 12,000 miles a year, that's an annual savings of 162 gallons of gasoline and it's associated carbon. Not bad, but if somebody could build a product that would convince a 15mpg SUV driver to buy a new SUV that got 24mpg (same ratio used above), that would save about 300 gallons. We're talking 2x as much gas savings. (And let's not even get into the energy debt of manufacturing a Prius – which is relatively high – or what happens to your old ICE after you sell it, both of which are very relevant to this conversation). There are a bunch of hybrid SUVs on the market, so it's particularly disappointing that it is the Prius that is the leading hybrid.

Taking all this into consideration, I will make a ridiculously proposal. Everyone who is considering buying a Prius should instead just keep their current car in good repair as long as possible, combine trips, carpool, and when the time comes, buy something cheap and simple. Pool your savings and donate them to a fund devoted to designing and fielding a hybrid tractor for big rigs. If you must, get a bumper sticker for your un-sexy car that says you did so.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

2008 to be the warmest La Nina-influenced year with no El Nino events?

Unless something happens in the last two months of this year, 2008 will be the warmest La Nina-influenced year discounting 1998, a year that was split between La Nina and an even stronger El Nino.

The list of El Ninos and La Ninas is here, with recent La Ninas in 2008, 2000, 1999, 1998, and 1995 (prior La Nina years weren't nearly warm enough to compete). This graphic shows how 2008 is stacking up so far, while this chart shows temperatures for 1880-2007. Eyeballing the graphic to 2000, 1999, and 1995 shows this year trending towards being warmer than the others.

Another way to consider it is to use the first link and scroll to the bottom for years that only had La Nina and no El Nino events: this year (probably), 2000, 1999, 1971, 1974, and 1975 (and a few earlier ones). This year's on track to be the warmest year in the instrumental record with La Nina and without El Nino.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Face Sky, tonight only!

Look west in the evening sky tonight just after sunset - Jupiter will be almost directly above Venus, and the crescent moon off to the left making a pretty good, sideways, Happy Face Sky. I declare this conjunction to be of enormous astrological significance.

Don't wait too long after sunset or the moon will set and you'll miss it.

Once again, I strive to bring only the highest quality, useful news here at Backseat Driving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Little Obamas

I'd meant to write about this NY Times article a while back, showing significant increases in black elected leaders who rely on white voters:

In 2007, about 30 percent of the nation’s 622 black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, up from about 16 percent in 2001, according to data collected by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington that has kept statistics on black elected officials for nearly 40 years.

In the 1980s, few black state legislators represented predominantly white districts, said David A. Bositis, the senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies who conducted the most recent study of black state legislators.

By 2001, that number stood at 92, according to Tyson King-Meadows and Thomas F. Schaller, political scientists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who analyzed statistics from the joint center and other sources. In 2007, the figure was 189, Mr. Bositis said.

All of this is a very welcome development - but why is it happening? Some possibilities:

1. White racism has decreased significantly from the 1980s and even from the 1990s so that white voters are now increasingly willing to elect black leaders.

2. White racism hasn't changed that much - some white voters have been ready to elect black leaders for ten or more years, but it takes time for black candidates to establish themselves and run for office.

3. The change isn't just in white racism but in how whites and blacks interact. White conservatives often point to the success that recent immigrants from African and the Caribbean have here as proof that white racism isn't the problem, it's African-American culture that's the problem. My guess instead is that something about the culture of how whites and blacks interact feeds into white racism, while recent African immigrants aren't part of this response. Now, maybe, the negative white-black interaction is starting to fade.

4. Some combination of the above three.

Option number 4 is the easy one, of course. Option number 2 is the most likely given the rapid rise in black leaders, and is the least good of them all in terms of positive trends, but it's still good and something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not at all Lovley

I was going to point out the climate awfulness of Erika Lovley at the Politico, but it's already been taken down at Deltoid, Climate Progress, Gristmill, and probably others.

Every criticism I've seen of her two appalling articles - one claiming there's increased scientific evidence of global cooling and another implicitly asserting without evidence that a positive correlation exists (while acknowledging it may be "coincidental") between climate change discussions and cold weather events - was justified criticism. I'll just add that there was no time pressure for either article, and so no excuse for failing to include responses to the non-science she reported as fact. Either she or her editor deserve the blame.

Joe at Climate Progress thinks she should be reassigned to another beat - she appears to be Politico's energy and environment reporter. I looked through some of her previous articles. They're not as bad, although this one making Dingell looking good on the environment is pretty ridiculous. This one comparing Obama-McCain climate plans fails to mention that Obama's willingness to auction carbon permits creates a funding source for renewables that McCain misses. Might be worth some more digging.

UPDATE: Something that would be much more lovely is petitioning the EPA to make the finding that CO2 is endangering the environment. The We Campaign has an online form you can fill and personify, if you want. I added some blather about international public opinion and environmental justice. Friday's the deadline to comment.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: Team of Rivals is good, but not well-rounded

I wish I knew of a well-rounded biography of Lincoln that gave him all the praise that Goodwin does in Team of Rivals while holding back none of the criticisms for inevitable mistakes. The author is battling people I don't care about: trolls attempting to reanimate the reputation of the slave-owning Confederacy, and idiot historians who try to carve a reputation for themselves by chiseling a piece out of Lincoln's. I'd rather see some balance to Goodwin's constant praise for Lincoln, especially in his occasionally-cynical political maneuvering that was probably necessary to get to victory.

Still, the book gives a good feel for history in the Northern states from the early 1800s to the Civil War, through the biographies of the four main rivals for the Republican nomination in 1860. Lincoln's ability to work with all his rivals in his cabinet was amazing, but has limited relevancy: Obama and Lincoln are very different, despite the gift of rhetoric and intelligence they both share.

Salmon Chase presents an interesting figure forpondering over morality. He was the only rival in Lincoln's cabinet who never came around to admiring him. Consumed with ambition, he never stopped scheming to be president and died unhappy because he missed that goal. At the same time, he was the strongest, consistent opponent of slavery and supporter of black men's rights of all the candidates, with positions far ahead of Lincoln's. His morality and ambition were in direct conflict, something he never quite worked out, and didn't seem that likeable a figure in the end.

Other points: the one interesting-to-me argument Goodwin takes up is refuting the theory that Lincoln was gay (not that there's anything wrong with that). She effectively demonstrates that men from that period were much more emotionally and asexually intimate than us folks.

The book helped me think about whether Lincoln could've saved the South from punishing Northern retribution and eventual repression of black populations. I still think he would've failed, that there was no real compromise between Northern desire for revenge and white Southern determination to oppress blacks. Still, Lincoln might have taken a bit of the edge off from either side, and that could've brought the civil rights era a generation earlier than what did occur.

Finally, I was struck by how many of these strong men had become emotional wrecks in their early lives due to the deaths of people they loved, even in a historical period when sudden death wasn't unexpected. We're a strange species to have evolved to be so dysfunctional following events that are very likely to occur. I think it shows how important relationships are to our survival that dysfunctionality is a necessary side-effect to the evoluntionary drive to create those bonds.

UPDATE: Guess I'm not done commenting - Goodwin weighs in on Lincoln's spirituality. He was clearly a deist, at least. She's convinced he didn't believe in an afterlife - I'm not sure she proved that, but maybe I'm forgetting her evidence. If she's right, you probably couldn't call him a Christian, so I guess he'd be unelectable today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bystanding on the Dingell-Waxman climate battle

We'll know when the climate activists have really arrived when they get into the fight for Congressional leadership positions, like the current Dingell-Waxman battle over who leads the Energy and Commerce Committee. Enviros don't look at that actively involved to me (from my own bystanding viewpoint), but Dingell was a climate denialist until recently, and this battle is in significant part over how much we'll push the auto industry in the right direction.

Hope it works out, but we'll find out on this week.

(No blogging for the rest of the week, probably.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reviews: Arab Labor, and the Aubrey/Maturin novels

The Arab Labor show and Aubrey/Maturin novels have nothing to do with each other, but I really enjoyed both.

Arab Labor depicts a middle-class Israeli Palestinian, neurotically trying to conform to expectations in both Jewish and Arab worlds, and generally bungling it up. This review of the show describing it as the Palestinian Seinfeld gets it right. Link TV has the first show available on the web, and I hope the rest show up on Netflix at some point so I can see them.

The Aubrey/Maturin novels formed the basis of the Master and Commander movie that came out several years ago. The series takes the Horatio Hornblower, naval historical fiction to new levels both in nautical detail and in story-telling. The nautical detail I skip, mostly, but it still adds to the authentic feeling, and the story-telling's great. Great for time-wasting.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

T.H. Huxley on the ocean acidification lawsuit

Huxley's famous comment after reading the Origins of Species: "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that."

That's my thought after reading about the Center for Biological Diversity's threatened Clean Water Act lawsuit over ocean acidification. Unfortunately, they haven't put their 60-day notice of intent to sue online, but a petition they wrote last year requesting voluntary regulation by the EPA is available. For unfathomable reasons, EPA actually created a don't-change-the-ocean's-pH standard in 1976 of .2 units, but CBD says it's past time to update the standard, especially since we've already changed acidity by .11 units and could exceed .2 units by mid-century.

I don't know this part of the Clean Water Act all that well, but it seems like a pretty good lawsuit. I think it's even better from a climate communications point of view - ocean acidification isn't hard to understand, it doesn't take much imagination to realize bad things will come of it, and glibertarian reactions like "we'll just geoengineer our way out of global warming" don't address this issue at all.

We'll see what will happen to it. The notice was filed last week and has to sit 60 days before CBD can sue. I'd kind of expect them to hold off on litigation until Obama is in office and then see what settlement is available. If nothing else, it's one more bargaining chip in favor of stronger climate legislation.

The next lawsuit down the line should probably be for human production of biologically-available nitrogen. That would be interesting to watch.

UPDATE: Lawsuit filed on May 19, 2009.

UPDATE 2: Lawsuit settled, with EPA agreeing to evaluate whether to regulate acidification. Expect future litigation by good guys if they refuse, or bad guys if they take action.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is Obama insane enough to let torture stay legal?

I find it a little hard to believe, but Andrew Sullivan reports "Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight."

Sullivan adds "It's obviously being placed by some Clinton and Bush officials angling for more continuity with Bush's torture regime."

A (still-Obama-hating FWIW) blogger at Talk Left refers to a John Brennan of Bush/Clinton CIA years as Obama's head of intelligence transition issues.

The New Yorker describes Brennan as a supporter of CIA torture techniques even despite the practical problems: "Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable."

It's all hard to believe. I'm actually hoping that the torture has even stopped with Mukasey now heading DOJ, so why Obama would want to keep the door open?

I'm seeing some blogs saying, don't criticize Obama until he's actually done something wrong, but what we're seeing is a push from the Democrats' right, and we need to push back.

Somewhat related issue on the other end of the spectrum is the rumor about appointing Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to the Environmental Protection Agency. A great environmentalist and fine lawyer, RFK Jr. has not used science appropriately in the whole mercury-vaccine issue and wouldn't be right for the job. Again we're told not to respond to rumors, but again I see a trial balloon sent up by somebody, and it's a problem.

A final footnote: I had read somewhere that RFK was representing mercury-vaccine plaintiffs, although I can't find confirmation of it. If true, it makes it very difficult for him to renounce the claims following new scientific results. I'd give a little slack to a lawyer stuck in the position of being a mouthpiece for his clients, but still....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some praise for some McCain bloggers

I was pleasantly surprised at the election-night reaction of some conservative bloggers at the group blogs Tigerhawk and The Corner. They stated that Obama was now their president too, they were genuinely happy for the tears of joy coming from the black community; and some even stated the nation should unite around the new leader and work together. Of course some right wingers were the exact opposite, but bile and anger was the reaction I had expected.

So that all is great, but it's harder to figure out how to work with well-meaning people when you have strong policy disagreements. I think the most important thing we can ask of them is not to drop their policy disagreements, but when policies get enacted that they disagree with, to do their best to keep an open mind in judging whether the policies succeed or fail. I guess we should do the same.

Some other possibilities for cooperation include emphasizing governmental transparency and anti-corruption efforts. Democrats' best and worst intentions will be split over this, while out-of-power Republicans have nothing to lose by supporting them. Earmarks aren't the most important problems in the world, but they are bad policy and recipes for corruption. Finally, sunset provisions and measurement metrics as part of new policies and legislation could be agreeable for both sides - to the Democrats who think the policies will succeed, and Republicans who think they'll fail. For example, I'd prefer stronger climate legislation that sunsets in 2020 over weaker legislation that's permanent.

Maybe there's other ways to work together, I don't know. I think the Republicans might have to lose again in 2012 and 2016, and then they might consider changing some of their views on social and environmental policies so that it becomes easier to work together.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The new Senate's effect on climate legislation

I posted last June about Lieberman-Warner's failure to reach the 60 votes it needed. (The actual vote list is here.) It received 48 yes votes, and proponents claimed six absent Senators were on their side (Obama, Clinton, McCain, Coleman, Biden, and Kennedy) so they're six votes short. How about now?

Wiki lists the Senate election results so far that we can compare the bill vote list. Allard's retired, replaced by a good enviro, Mark Udall, so that vote switches to yes. Sununu was a good vote, so his replacement's a wash. Domenici's replacement adds a yes vote. Dole was a yes vote, so another wash. Gordon Smith's loss is another wash as a yes vote. Same thing with J Warner replaced by M Warner. So total pickup, not including the still contested seats, is two votes.

In the too-close-to-call category, two incumbents (Stevens and Scumbag Chambliss) will switch to yes votes if they lose, while Coleman's a wash.

So best case from the election is four new yes votes. I speculated last June that we might only need two if we could get the four existing Dem votes against the bill (Brown, Dorgan, Johnson, and Landrieu) to switch on cloture, but we might only need two of them. If climate legislation is packaged together with some "energy independence" legislation, it might peel off an additional Republican vote or two.

So a definite maybe, at this point, and with the additional disclaimer that stronger legislation like Obama wants might drop a few votes. As for a treaty - forget getting 67 votes. A trade agreement including post-Kyoto limits is the only option.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Don't just do something - stand there!

I noticed several things when I re-read my posts after the 2004 election debacle. First, I weighed over five pounds less then, which is distressing. More relevant though is all the handwringing I and my guest-bloggers did over what we should do to bring the country back to a non-insane course. None of it really mattered - the main thing was to wait for people to realize how screwed up the conservative mission was.

The funny thing about that is the advice of waiting for the people to come around is what's going to be what conservatives will do over the next four years, and I think that's a huge mistake. I expect no change in their social issue positions or national security outlook, and at most a modest improvement for a few Republicans on climate change. The problem for them is that I think their opinions are wrong, and in the long run, no one's going to be converted to their side. Ultimately they'll realize it, and have to come up with something different.

My superficial impression is that British Conservatives have evolved quite a bit. American conservatives used to admire the Brits, so maybe, someday, they'll emulate them.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Israel to bomb Iran this week?*

*As The Daily Show once noted, insinuations made without evidence are often justified by adding a question mark, but here goes nothing.

Enough celebrating over what I anticipate the election to be, and time to get cranky. Presently, it seems unlikely that the US will try to obliterate Iran's nuclear program, although I wouldn't rule out semi-accidentally stumbling into a hot border war that spreads. Given US reluctance, what will Israel do?

If they decide to do it themselves, I think their two best time periods to do it are before Obama's inauguration, or at some point in the future when the US relinquishes control of Iraqi airspace. The safest path for Israeli bombers is over Jordan and Iraq, not Saudi Arabia. Bush would be less resistant than Obama, and Israel could present Obama with a fait accompli, so that favors an attack relatively soon.

The other possibility for Israel is to wait one or more years, when the US doesn't have legal responsibility for Iraqi airspace. It'll be many years after that time before Iraq could really do anything about the Israeli air force, so this would be the diplomatic sweet spot for attacking Israelis, assuming they're willing to wait.

It also assumes the Israelis want the diplomatic sweet spot to get America off the hook. Maybe they don't - if they attack while the US sits on its hands and refuses to shoot down Israeli warcraft (and I doubt we would), then the Arab world would blame the US for the Israeli attack, which would make Israel happy enough.

So what should Obama do? Not much he can do until he's inaugurated. If it happens before January 20, he should say "Once is enough - when I'm President, any warcraft from any nation that enters Iraqi airspace under US control will be shot down." If no attack occurs, he could still say that when he's President, eliminating the "once is enough" part.

More happily, there's this Fresh Air interview with former CIA operative Bob Baer. He knows Israeli officials who want an attack but are not getting their way. Maybe someone in Israel realizes there's still time to figure out what Iran is really doing, or even that a long-term smoldering war with Iran is even worse than Iran getting nukes.

UPDATE Jan. 10 2009: Israel wanted to attack Iran and asked for Iraq overflight rights, but was refused by Bush. Good for him.

Monday, November 03, 2008

My peon-volunteer eye view of 2004 and 2008 campaigns

In 2004 I was a higher level peon volunteer than I am this time around. I don't think commitments are supposed to proceed in that direction, but I feel this campaign has less of a need for my time, and I now have personal commitments.

In '04 I was about the third volunteer lawyer to arrive on the Kerry team in Orlando and spent my two weeks there, mostly helping organize the 130 lawyers who arrived for election day. This time I spent a weekend canvassing door-to-door out of state, did some phone calling yesterday and will probably do some more tomorrow.

One surprising thing is that my canvassing weekend three weeks ago didn't feel like it was with a more resource-rich organization than what I saw in '04. All volunteer-driven, not a lot of money being spent. On the other hand, the scale of the effort then seemed comparable to what I saw in Orlando on the weekend before the election. Maybe the vaunted Obama ground game is about spreading out the organizational effort instead of gold-plating it.

The other thing that's different is that I was aware in '04 of tensions between city-level, Florida-state level, and national-level campaigns, but I'm not hearing about that now. I'm also not as well positioned to hear it in '08, but from the outside at least, it seems like a well-oiled machine.


I just looked back at my posts for November and October 2004. I was much more personally involved and invested then. Interesting in that I like Obama somewhat better than Kerry. Here's one thing from the day after the '04 election:

So I've returned back home. I somehow weigh what I did before I left, despite an exclusive diet of junk food and Coke. I climbed at the gym tonight, and it seemed to go like it did before I left for Orlando. And we have the same president. Except that we will still have him until January 20, 2009. That seems so depressingly far off. I can't stand it, I'm not going to think about it right now.

Even nightmares come to an end.

UDATE, 11/4: Went into the Silicon Valley Obama HQ this morning to do a few more phone calls. At 7:30 a.m., the place was packed and I had to sit on chairs outside to make calls.

Probably the best thing I've done for the campaign though is this September blog post refuting a lying email that went around. My site stats showed over 200 referral links just to that post (a lot for me), and the info was hopefully used elsewhere. I'm not a blogging triumphalist normally, but that counts for something.

Biggest regret is not doing more to fight the homophobic Proposition 8 here in California. Crossing my fingers on that one.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Supporters of Palin say they're not using "rational theorizing"

Interesting comment in a post by a pro-Palin conservative:

I think Sarah Palin is indeed a Rorschach test for’s about what Conservativsm MEANS....

The core idea behind Conservatism is that most of human learning is done not by rational theorizing, but by pattern recognition....

This pattern recognition is called common sense, and over generations, it’s called traditions, conventions etc. Religion is usually a carrier meme for these evolved patterns. It’s sort of an evolutionary process, like a genetic algorithm....

Liberals, Lefties and even many Libertarians want to use only 10% of the human knowledge that’s rational.....

Conservatives are practical people who instinctively recognize the importance of evolved patterns in human learning: because our rational knowledge simply isn’t enough yet, these common sense patterns are our second best option to use. And to use these patterns effectively you don’t particularly have to be very smart i.e. very rational. You have to be _wise_ and you have to have a good character: you have to set hubris and pride aside and be able to accept traditions you don’t fully understand....

Anti-Palin Conservatives don’t understand it. They think Conservativism is about having different theories than the Left, they don’t understand that it’s that theories and rational knowledge isn’t so important.

What's especially interesting is the enthusiastic response following this idea of "going with your gut and calling it wisdom". I think the truth is a lot of what all of us consider reasoned analysis that reaches a conclusion is actually a gut response that's going through the motions, but to not even bother to fight for logic and knowledge is pretty striking.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A repost from September 4, 2007

(Original here. Reposting seemed relevant to California's election on Tuesday.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On a personal note...

I got married on Sunday. Everything seemed to go very well, and it was fantastic to see everyone.

In addition to registering for the usual selfish presents, we also registered for Kiva loans, a system that supports microfinance institutions by allowing donors to give no-interest loans to micro-entrepeneurs in developing countries. A number of people made loans, and I'll be very interested to see how it turns out.

And we registered for TerraPass for carbon offsets, something I need to do more of.

Final note: I often think the whole "personal is political" concept involves an overblown sense of self-importance, but the idea that my wife and I can participate in something so wonderful while a gay or lesbian couple cannot is simply beyond ridiculous. I know good-hearted people who disagree, and I just don't think they're reflecting on it hard enough.

And now - off travelling for a few days!

McCain record not better than "most Democrats" on climate change

This week's Economist endorsement of Obama gives undeserved credit to John McCain for "having a better record on global warming than most Democrats." I've heard that before and it's not true.

In 2003, Joe Lieberman (who despite his many flaws, remains a good environmentalist) introduced the Climate Stewardship Act, meaning he was mainly responsible for moving the bill forward. McCain was just one of 9 co-sponsors. McCain's name got on the bill because they try to have both a Democrat and a Republican name, but it was still Lieberman's bill.

The bill ultimately failed to pass the Senate on a 43-55 vote, and most Democrats voted for it.

McCain's overrated willingness to buck his party is deserved in this one, very important issue, and for that he deserves credit. That doesn't make him better than most Democrats, though. I suppose he may have put more effort than most Democrats on this bill, but that's a pretty slim reed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stupid but fair questions for Biden on socialism

A foolish journalist asked attack-dog questions of Joe Biden recently, asking whether Obama's positions were socialist and comparing them to Karl Marx. The questions were stupid because they assume some bright line exists between socialism and the redistributionist aspects of American policy that have been in place since the Great Depression. However, it's fair to take public statements and critique them. An unfair question would've been to use made-up evidence from wingnuts that Obama is a secret socialist as the basis of an accusation. It was inappropriate for the Obama campaign to cut off access to that TV station, and I wish American politicians were forced to tolerate the same level of persistent questioning that you see in Britain.

OTOH, the same newscaster only asked McCain why he was insufficiently negative about Obama, so she's a piece of work.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rauch's "perverse voting" = contrarian = stupid

My grand theory on being contrarian as a general preference is that it: a. only works reasonably well in the business field; and b. even there it only works a minority of the time. When it does work in business, though, it pays off big, addicting some people to the idea that being contrarian in general is more likely to be right than otherwise. Perfect example of this wrong approach:
The Lab's work is guided by two founding principles:
  1. Just because an idea appeals to a lot of people doesn't mean it's wrong.
  2. But that's a good working theory.
Jonathan Rauch is another example of this, saying that people who want action on climate change should support McCain, because only bipartisan legislation will stay enacted in the long run (Dems would run over minority Republicans otherwise) and because "McCain is running on carbon-emissions limits that are not much different from what Democrats want."

As to Rauch's first point on the necessity of bipartisan legislation, he provides no evidence. I can think of several counter-examples (tax cuts by Reagan and Bush, increases by Clinton) that weren't bipartisan and have been fairly stable. I can't think of dramatic (mono?)partisan legislation that was later overruled.

And on the issue of climate change, they're not the same. Obama would auction carbon permits that McCain would give away freely, and use the money to finance investments in alternative energy. McCain makes fewer promises for alternative energy, doesn't say where he'll get the money from, and his combined Iraq war support plus one-year non-military spending freeze plus tax cuts for the rich would severely limit his budget options.

I agree that McCain could convince Republicans to support climate legislation better than Obama can, but the converse possibility of Republican pressure on McCain to weaken his position is equally likely, as promised by McCain surrogates Tim Pawlenty and Steve Forbes on national television. That's a wash.

Finally, I think it's appropriate to punish the incumbent president's party for malfeasance in office when the incumbent's termed out. If McCain had run on a complete repudiation of Bush that would be one thing, but he didn't. There should be some form of accountability for the disaster that Bush has been on climate.

Being contrarian on the choice of president is like between contrarian on the reality of climate change.

UPDATE: I should add that on a one-time basis, a few scientists have done well with a single contrarian position that's ultimately proven correct, giving them enormous street cred in the science ghetto, with their paradigm shifts and all that. What I'm not aware of is non-crank scientists who consistently take contrarian positions and generally are right. Nor can I think of a single public policy based on a scientific opinion of a tiny minority that's worked out well.

UPDATE II, Feb. 2010:  Well, given the problems in getting climate legislation past, I'm less certain that I was right.  McCain has veered hard right, showing questionable political integrity, but maybe he would've been different in the imaginary world that would have elected him as president.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Local candidates for office

Some postings on local candidates for office (I did a post on propositions below). Your comment, input and links are welcome. Disclosure: I work for a tax-exempt non-profit, the below represents my opinions only.

Santa Clara County:

Richard Hobbs (Supervisor, County District 3): I know him a bit, and he's a good environmentalist.

Alex Kennett (County Open Space Authority, District 1): I know Alex well, another good environmentalist. (More disclaimers! Alex is on the board of the organization I work for.)

Mountain View:

Mike Kasperzak (City Council): I also know Mike a bit, and unlike the present City Council he's willing do something to address the ridiculous jobs-housing imbalance in the city.

Other folks to talk about? I don't see much point in addressing local candidates for state and federal office, though; they're all foregone conclusions.

UPDATE: I'm embarassed to be a lawyer and not know much about the Ritchie-Liroff contest for judge. Both candidates seem highly qualified. Liroff is ahead in endorsements, but I like Ritchie's work for the underdog a little more. A real tossup. UPDATE 2: went for the underdog, there are plenty of prosecutors-turned-judges.

UPDATE 3: Forgot to include Jerry McNerney, the Congressman who beat the evil Richard Pombo in a Republican-leaning district that includes Morgan Hill. He's now matched against a pretty-bad Republican - Grist has the info.

Bay/California Propositions: input welcome

I'll put up a separate post for local candidates, but comments are welcome, and I'm more interested in propositions that I'm unsure about:

Statewide propositions:

Prop 1A (high speed rail): I actually have some local-area environmental concerns, but despite that this seems like a good idea.

Prop 2 (farm animal treatment): easy yes.

Prop 3 (children hospital bonds): harder one. Hate the heartstring pulling, and I'd rather have the legislature determine funding, but California's moronic two-thirds vote for state budgets pushes the other direction. Leaning against. UPDATE: voted no.

Prop 4 (abortion parental notification): no.

Prop 5 (nonviolent drug offenses): leaning in favor, but there a lot of ways for voter micro-management of criminal punishment to go wrong. The countering problem is that the legislature is totally screwed up by the prison-industrial complex, and by limits imposed by California's moronic Three Strikes voter initiative. Also, many of these drugs should be legalized. UPDATE: voted yes.

Prop 6 (crime and police funding): easy no.

Prop 7 (renewable energy mandates): no, unfortunately.

Prop 8 (eliminate same-sex marriage right): easy no.

Prop 9 (victim rights changes): Easy no. I don't know why anyone thinks elected legislators have incentives to be soft on crime. They can handle this issue.

Prop 10 (alternative fuel vehicles): Leaning no, but I'm kind of following the environmental herd on this one and need to do some research. UPDATE: voted no.

Prop 11 (redistricting): yes. I think it fixed some problems that made me vote against Prop 77 in 2005, particularly by leaving Congress out of it. (Good links on Prop 77 here, btw, took me a while to find them to remember why I voted against 77.)

Prop 12 (veterans' bonds): leaning against for the same reasons as Prop 3. UPDATE: changed my mind and voted yes - these are just loan guarantees that have been done for years - if they had worked out poorly in the past there would've been evidence of that.

Local propositions in Santa Clara County:

Prop A (hospital retrofit): yes

Prop B (BART to San Jose): cons slightly outweigh the pros for me. While new money for light rail is good, it would also have the effect of redirecting money from previous propositions that would otherwise be spent more efficiently on bus lines. UPDATE: voted no.

Props C and D (VTA stuff): yes, I guess. Do we really have to vote on this?

Again, comments and links are welcome.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Note to Chicago Climate Exchange: your product quality IS a business concern

Interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal despite its overblown headline, "Pollution Credits Let Dumps Double Dip". It's about potential problems with carbon offset additionality although it fails to use the term.

The particular problem it talks about isn't all that bad - some landfills that decided some years ago to capture outgassing methane for sale are now selling carbon credits. Sounds like it fails additionality until you learn deep in the article that landfills legally required to capture methane can't get credits, leaving only smaller ones eligible. The only time they gave actual money figures was for one system that makes a 3% return on the capture system by selling methane without offset credits, and it's not even clear if that's net of ongoing maintenance costs. Three percent isn't much financial incentive, so I think in most cases the additionality criteria will be met, and the few times it's not aren't very important.

If this constituted the worst scenario for offsets, I'd lose all my caution about them.

On the other hand, there's this part of the article interviewing Richard Sandor of the Chicago Climate Exchange:

Mr. Sandor says the exchange's main goal is to help develop a commodity that has financial value under any possible future U.S. law that to regulates greenhouse-gas emissions. The debate over whether or not a polluter would have cut its greenhouse-gas emissions without the financial incentive of credit sales is "quite interesting, but that's not my business," Mr. Sandor says. "I'm running a for-profit company."

If the product doesn't provide additionality, it doesn't provide value, and I should hope they realize that.

(UPDATE: edited with better link for "additionality".)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Health of the mother and late-term abortion

McCain is taking a lot of heat from left blogs for what they call "scoffing" at health-of-the-mother exceptions to bans on late-term abortions. I think we can afford to be fair to McCain given that he's going to lose - he's talking about mental health exceptions that could be so broad as to make the exception swallow the rule.

To be fair to Obama, though, he says he opposes a broad definition of mental health, and implies that clinically-defined mental health disease should be the litmus test. For voters who think that a late-term fetus is/may be a person, I doubt this balances out well, but that's a messier issue regarding abortion.

A tangent - I wrote in February that I thought Obama would win the nomination because "people tended to like Obama more as they heard him more and got used to him as presidential material." I thought that was clear for the Democratic voters, and voter reactions to the presidential debates seem to show the same on the national election level.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alliance for Climate Protection ad censored by ABC

This has appeared in a few places (best coverage at Grist), but it's an ad criticizing fossil fuel lobbyists that ABC wouldn't run, while the network is happy to run lots of feel-good messages from those industries.

Here's the link for emailing ABC about it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Arab-Obama thing's gone farther than I expected

I'd thought Rush Limbaugh's spouting off on the "Obama's not black, he's Arab" idea was just an example of the so-called rat-effing that even the dimmest of New York Times reporters might pick up on. It seems to have spread more among the rightwingers than I'd expected, though.

I suppose it could just have accidentally resonated in minds driven by ignorance, fear, and anger. The other possibility is that it was focus-group tested, and its test result was the reason why Limbaugh gave it so much play. Always interesting to speculate about what goes on behind the scenes on the dark side.

The other interesting thing to think about is that this made-up nonsense hasn't worked now, so in four years people are going to be even less interested in lies about Obama's distant past. Republicans will be forced to deal with Obama's record instead.

A one-species ecosystem

Interesting Astrobiology Magazine article: at the deepest level beneath the earth's surface, the only living thing is a single bacteria species. What interests me is that a stable environment that's existed for millions of years hasn't created a diverse ecosystem.

I think it's likely that life is common in other solar systems (I'm less certain about other parts of our own solar system). I also think intelligent life is likely, based on the idea that as biological systems become more diverse, one of those branches of diversity that will be explored in many places would be through species becoming more intelligent.

I don't really expect intelligent life to arise anywhere like miles beneath the surface where multicellular organisms can't exist, but I had expected something like a rule that biological systems tend towards diversity, or at least a certain level of diversity. This example says the rule isn't always true.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Volokh Correction #23: RealClimate v. Volokhs on climate change - guess who wins

Zywicki at Volokhs is unimpressed with Biden's statement that climate change is "clearly" man-made when the IPCC gave it an over 90 percent chance of being true. Somehow he sees a huge gap in the two positions.

RealClimate says, "maybe he left out the kind of caveats and qualifications you'd attach to the attribution of the recent loss of (North) polar sea ice if this were an AGU talk instead of a vice-presidential debate. Overall,though, the statement gets to the heart of the matter."

Zywicki thinks Palin's confused response, what RealClimate calls a garbled attempt to reiterate her old denial of human caused warming together with McCain's position, is "nuanced." Right.

As Biden, RealClimate, and any normal human being could point out, you have to understand a problem, or know if there is a problem, before you can find a solution. Palin's position that you don't need to understand the problem makes no sense.

In other news, McCain was a lot stronger on climate change in tonight's debate than he's been in the past. Not that it matters though, since he won't be president.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Burn After Reading: we're all babies

While I don't like every movie by the Coen brothers, I am a pretty big fan, and I thought No Country was the best movie of the decade. I had to hesitate though before finally deciding to recommend Burn After Reading. See it if you liked Fargo, otherwise maybe not.

A line by George Clooney's character about being a baby is what the movie, and maybe the Coens, think about all of humanity. Their visual depiction of humanity is the expression on Brad Pitt's face when he and Clooney finally meet (watch for it though, you get to see it only briefly).

Acting was fantastic, especially Pitt, and may be another reason to see the movie. This is dark comedy with far more emphasis on dark than on comedy, though. Enjoy!

(BTW, comments are welcome as usual, but please warn if you post any spoilers.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A reluctant No to Cal. Prop. 7 and to James Hansen

(I'm throwing Hansen in there just for effect, he's one of the celebrity endorsers of Prop. 7.)

I attended a Community Media Center debate on California Proposition 7, which attempts to double the current legislative mandate to increase renewable power percentages, from a 1% increase to 2% annually. The Investor-Owned-Utilities oppose it, unsurprisingly, but so do virtually all environmental groups and renewable energy business associations. That's weird.

The No campaign says it's poorly written (every No campaign says that, but that doesn't mean it's not true). In the debate, they said that it locks in cost increases, freezes out small renewable producers, and limits financial punishment for utilities that fail to meet mandates. Afterwards, I asked the No proponent why it had been so poorly written - didn't the Yes side come talk to the environmentalists? He said they had but only in a cursory manner and weren't willing to change anything.

So this measure is some billionaire's idea. I suppose it's possible that the enviros have spent too much time working with the utilities to know when to oppose them and support a drastic change (I don't know So Cal Edison, but I do know that PG&E is about as pro-environment as you're going to find in a major corporation). All in all though, my best guess is that the groups oppose it for the reasons they say. Too bad. Maybe we can get a drastic measure that works in 2o10.

(I'll also just insert a waffle statement here, that I could be wrong and will see what else I learn about Prop 7.)

In other climate news, the US Geological Survey discusses "wetland carbon farming." Restoring farmed, former wetlands to actual wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Delta can store significant amounts of carbon while rebuilding the wetland soils. They're trying to verify that it more than makes up for methane emissions. I've read elsewhere that tidal wetlands don't have methane emissions, so we need that type of restoration even more.