Friday, July 31, 2009

Watts Up with abusing DMCA takedown actions

Deltoid reports that Anthony Watts from a climate denialist site has filed a copyright claim against a Youtube video that critiques his work (more info and the video is at DeSmog). Watts incorrectly claimed that "Google agreed that complaint was valid and removed the video." Google removes Youtube videos automatically when these claims are made.

Watts also launched a very long attack on the video and peripherally mentions his justification for the takedown notice by saying it used "photographs and graphics from my published book “Is The U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable?”. He provides no details.

The book cover is shown in the video, which is indisputable fair use and exempt from copyright claims. Just because a photograph appears in Watts' book doesn't mean he owns the copyright, which likely belongs to the photographer. If the source is the US government then there's no copyright claim as the US government generally asserts no copyright to its content. And regardless, use of a small amount of information from Watts' book for purposes of critiquing it is fair use.

Watts has no justification for his attack, as may be seen from the fact that he hasn't attempted to take down the reposted Youtube video by DeSmog.

One additional wrinkle: the video author, Peter Sinclair, could post a "Counter Notification" to Youtube saying he violated no copyright. If Watts fails to sue Sinclair within 10 business days, then the video can go back up. Seeing as DeSmog has reposted it though as a separate video, I expect the whole thing will fizzle out with a fair amount of egg on Watts' face.

UPDATE: More data: for whatever reason I'm comparing Watts' book (in pdf form that he links to) to the video. In addition to the book cover, there's a pic of Watts that's from the book. There are some screen shots of website, but that's both fair use and not Watts' claim. There are two graph at 2:35 shown for seven seconds from the book used to describe the book (repeated once later in the video for a few seconds); and a two second screenshot of a half-page at 4:37. That's all I could find. What a crock.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gates-gate: my two bits

On the whole Henry Louis Gates getting arrested thing:

1. The problem with life experiences is you can't run a control portion of the experiment. I remember getting hassled by a cop once as a young man, for getting too close to a film crew near the Lincoln Memorial. I pointed out a group of three white people who were even closer, and the officer told me to worry about myself instead. Had I been black, I might have thought it was racism, but instead it was just a stupid cop on a power trip. Of course if I had been black, maybe he would've arrested me instead of just throwing his weight around.

2. While Gates has an obligation as a prominent authority figure to keep his cool, the person who was the professional in that situation was the policeman. All the officer had to do was to walk away from the house of the grumpy old man who was yelling at him, but instead the cop went on a power trip. Sounds stupid to me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Does the David Victor study condemn most offsets?

Something weird is going on: all over the climate blogs you can read claims that Stanford's David Victor (sometimes together with Michael Wara) has estimated somewhere from one third, one-half, to two-thirds of all carbon offsets under the Kyoto CDM fail "additionality" and do not cause true additional emission reductions. For example, here:

Program Director David Victor said the upcoming study will question the effectiveness of using offsets as a substitute for a safety valve approach to limit the cost of carbon credits. In addition, Victor said it will show that "between a third and two thirds" of emission offsets under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) -- set up under the Kyoto treaty to encourage emissions reductions in developing nations -- do not represent actual emission cuts. Victor is developing the analysis with Stanford University's Michael Wara.

Okay - where's the study? Victor and Wara produced this paper a month after the press release above, but I don't see where the third to two-thirds ineffectiveness is in it. Am I missing something, or is this part of the over-blown anti-offset issue?

Anyway, I'll be off soon for a week or so. Have fun, everyone.

UPDATE: Worth noting that even the Wara-Victor study, while very anti-offset, supports the creation of a Climate Fund to reduce emissions in developing countries, and "Perhaps, with time and attention to creating the necessary monitoring system, the Fund could even yield compliance credits for its donors that would be fungible with allowances in cap-and-trade systems." (Page 21.) Sounds like offsets to me.

UPDATE 2: John Mashey points out in the comments that the one-third to two-third quote might refer to offsets for HFC-23, which originally accounted for over two-thirds of offsets and dropped to about one third in 2008. Victor and Wara say payment so exceeded the cost that it created perverse incentive to create and capture HFC-23. I think John's probably right about where this comes from, but I don't think it's a defensible quote based on the paper. All they do is speculate that useless HFC-23 was created and then captured without ever proving that a significant percentage of HFC-23 was useless, let alone all of it was useless. They even admit on the same page (p. 11) that developing countries did vent HFC-23 prior to the CDM, so the capture would satisfy additionality as to those emissions.

A good test of this argument would be whether total HFC-23 production increased after the CDM mechanism was established. Absent a substantial increase, I don't think the quote's justified. My guess, FWIW, is the quote was in an earlier draft but that the authors decided late in the game that they couldn't justify it and then pulled it out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Idea of the month: cell-phone delayed response for drivers

My idea is that cell phones should allow drivers to hit a button that would put an automatic one- or two-second delay in transmissions to and from the the speaker, like what used to be the case for international phone calls.

As long as people will use phones while driving, even hands-free versions can be very distracting. A two-second delay slows down the pace of the conversation, allowing the driver to increase the amount of attention paid to the road. It also provides a subtle hint to the person at the other end of the line that the driver needs to concentrate on the road, so the other person can also slow down the conversation, or even offer to call back later.

I read somewhere that children in a car are just as distracting as cell phones, but adults aren't - the implication was that adults understand when to allow a driver to concentrate on driving. Maybe this idea would also help.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The baseball stats wizard jumps into climate betting

Nate Silver of baseball and political statistics fame has a climate bet of sorts up. Sick of denialists who point to occasional cold weather in their hometown as a reason that warming isn't happening, Nate offers the following:

1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.
2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we'll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.
3. The challenge automatically rolls over to the next month until/unless: (i) one party informs the other by the 20th of the previous month that he would like to discontinue the challenge (that is, if you want to discontinue the challenge for September, you'd have to tell me this by August 20th), or (ii) the losing party has failed to pay the winning party in a timely fashion, in which case the challenge may be canceled at the sole discretion of the winning party.

The two questions I have for climate bets I consider are 1. will winning the bet provide substantial evidence in support of the winner's position and against the loser's position; and 2. is my side likely to win. I'd say Nate's offer fails the first test and probably passes the second. Weather in any one location over a short period of several months tells you almost nothing about whether global climate change is real.

As to winning, Nate is betting current temps against historical average, and because the US has warmed from climate change, odds should be slightly in his favor. On the other hand, his potential betting opponents can look up long-term forecasts for their region. While not highly accurate, I'd guess a place with a forecasted cold autumn could go below average. But Nate's the stats wizard, not me, so I guess he thinks the odds are low, or he has already checked long-term forecasts for the entire US and thinks he's safe, especially since he's closing the bet period in two days.

All in all, an okay method he's using to shut down some stupidity, but not a bet I'd do myself.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The link between Sin City, Tropic Thunder, and Pineapple Express movies

All of them featured a lead actor in physical combat with a much smaller opponent. Does three make a trend? Anyway, I like the idea that the hero of the story isn't such a triumphant fighter that he always goes up against the odds.

Another welcome development I think I've noticed is more movies without a gratuitous sex scene. If it's an integral part of the movie, fine, but otherwise I'm glad the studios are dropping it.

All three movies were pretty good, by the way.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

India commits to binding emission limits; no one cares; everyone still demand Indian emission limits

Via Eli, I learn that sometime before eight months ago, India unilaterally committed to greenhouse gas emission limits:

Even though there is no legal obligation on India in this respect, the Prime Minister of India made a commitment that India's per capita emissions will at no time exceed the average of the per capita emissions of developed, industrialized countries. We have thus accepted a limit on our emissions and at the same time provided an incentive to our partners in developed countries to be more ambitious. The more significant their reductions of emissions, the lower the limit we would need to accept for our own.

Two points: 1. India has committed to do more to limit emissions than the developed world, especially more than the US, because for the foreseeable future the US will have worse per-capita emissions than the average industrialized country. 2. Because India isn't responsible for the legacy emissions that have increased CO2 levels 30% so far, it is taking on more than its fair share by making this commitment.

Why this isn't better known is beyond me. Maybe if it got worked into Copenhagen agreements then it would help reduce attention to the denialists.

Two other items worth attention: first, an interview with a carbon capture and sequestration expert. I hadn't realized China was paying so much attention to CCS. That's a hopeful sign, if it actually works in the end. I still think that CCS could be the sweet spot in climate solutions by being the least painful way to limit emissions, and by combined with biofuel power, a way to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels. If it works.

Finally, 14 Things I Love and 6 I Hate About Waxman Markey is an excellent piece that's being cited a lot. I disagree with the rabid offset hatred, but more about that in some other post.

UPDATE: The Indian commitment dates to June 2008 from their National Action Plan on Climate Change.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Looking in the mirror, seeing some hypocrisy....

I've noticed a change in some of my attitudes to federal politics as the Democrats take charge and the Republicans fester in minority status. Clearest example is in presidential appointments - my current attitude is the president should be allowed to appoint any reasonably competent person he wants on his team, and let subsequent elections decide whether the president was right. That wasn't my attitude though when Alberto Gonzalez was up for the Department of Justice.

So, what to do. In retrospect, Gonzalez doesn't satisfy the reasonably competent test, but we didn't quite know that back then (or I didn't, anyway), so I can't wiggle my way out with that excuse. I think I'm right now and was wrong back then. Let's hope I can keep my principles when a Republican finally becomes President, hopefully not sooner than 12-16 years from now.

Judicial appointments are another matter - they're for life and they're not part of any president's team, so Congress should carefully vet them. I don't see any way to eliminate the politicization of the judiciary though. Obama has tried to reduce politicization and introduced an element of chance by not expressly asking Sotomayor her opinion on abortion laws, although he can make a fairly decent guess. But on judicial appointments I'm happy to see politics carried out, in part because there's no real alternative.

Filibusters are the other potential hypocrisy for me, where I'm now happy to see the Democrats threaten ways to get around the 60 vote requirement. In my defense, Republicans have nearly doubled the number of filibusters and used loopholes themselves when they were in charge. Maybe I'm not completely guilty here (but probably not entirely innocent of my own accusation).

(Edited for clarity.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mixed-bag NY Times article on whales

Very long NY Times Magazine article on whales being sociable with humans, mostly our local gray whales in their non-local nursery lagoons in Baja Mexico. One important piece of information I got out of it was that whales escaping from sonar and other underwater explosions show evidence of the bends because of their rapid ascent to avoid the sounds. While my view, that highly intelligent animals should be treated as if they have rights, is a minority position, there's a strong societal consensus that we shouldn't cause unnecessary pain to animals. The bends can be extremely painful in humans; we don't have any reason to assume it's better for whales.

Another interesting piece of information was the implication that only some gray whales, the "Friendlies", were sociable in the Baja lagoons while the rest kept their distance. Understanding which ones interact and which don't could go a ways towards explaining their behavior. Finally, the article pointed out that the whales weren't getting food from people, so it's not the usual reward system involved that tames wild animals. It's fascinating behavior.

Unfortunately though, the rest was quasi-New Age speculation that kept a veneer of scientific respectability by being posed as questions rather than stated as assertions. One example was when the author asked the main scientist being interviewed whether the whales' sociability showed "forgiveness" for past violence directed at gray whales (only token numbers have been hunted in the last 60 years). The scientific response should have been "your guess is as good as mine," but instead she says:

“Those are the kinds of things that for the longest time a scientist wouldn’t dare consider,” she said. “But thank goodness we’ve gone through a kind of cognitive revolution when it comes to studying the intelligence and emotion of other species. In fact, I’d say now that it is my obligation as a scientist not to discount that possibility. We do have compelling evidence of the experience of grief in cetaceans; and of joy, anger, frustration and distress and self-awareness and tool use; and of protecting not just their young but also their companions from humans and other predators. So these are reasons why something like forgiveness is a possibility.

Oh well. And this'll attract attention to the Baja lagoons, where I was hoping (selflishly) to visit sometime soon. Oh well. Maybe we can sort out the New Agey stuff and still be concerned with protecting whales and interacting with them.

UPDATE: Fresh Air interviews the article author and the main scientist, unfortunately not providing much useful information. They did add that only a small number of boats/captains are allowed to approach whales, which would reduce the riskiness of the whales' behavior.

Since not much science is being provided, I'll try a bit of speculation instead: polar bears are sometimes known to play with dogs instead of killing, avoiding, or ignoring them. My understanding is that these are seal-eating bears stuck on shore until winter ice lets them get out to sea, and they go a long time without eating. With no responsibility to feed themselves, they revert to immature play behavior, with dogs as playmates substituting for the bears' mothers and siblings.

The parallel to the whales is that the mother grays don't feed in the nursery lagoon. Other than feeding the calves, they have nothing to do but engage in play, and the humans are interesting creatures to play with.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reasons to adopt climate-obstructing blogs

I regularly monitor and leave comments on one conservative blog, Tigerhawk, that periodically posts "information" suggesting climate change isn't a problem. The main blogger there says he's not a denialist, but he reposts claims from WattsUpWithThat and other nonsense sites that support the denialist position. I can't keep up with WattsUp but this gives me a chance to respond to claims that are sufficiently appealing to those types of folks that they're spreading around the blogosphere.

Anyway, I think it's a good idea to adopt blogs like TH. Dedicated denialist blogs like WattsUp are useless - no factual knowledge will influence them, but blogs like TH that only occasionally attack climate actions are more likely to change their focus away from climate when they see their sources get refuted. It might help that in TH's case, the main blogger is actually respectful of critical commenters, so maybe it would be hard to find similar conservative blogs. But it might be worth checking out.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Focusing on super-polluters sounds fine to me

Andy Revkin points to a proposed climate solution in PNAS focusing on reducing carbon from high-emitters regardless of where they live. From the PNAS article (includes Robert Socolow as an author):

We present a framework for allocating a global carbon reduction
target among nations, in which the concept of ‘‘common but
differentiated responsibilities’’ refers to the emissions of individuals
instead of nations.... We then propose a simple rule to derive a universal cap on global
individual emissions and find corresponding limits on national
aggregate emissions from this cap....For example, reducing
projected global emissions in 2030 by 13 GtCO2 would
require the engagement of 1.13 billion high emitters, roughly
equally distributed in 4 regions: the U.S., the OECD minus the U.S.,
China, and the non-OECD minus China. We also modify our methodology
to place a floor on emissions of the world’s lowest CO2
emitters and demonstrate that climate mitigation and alleviation
of extreme poverty are largely decoupled.
National responsibilities are derived by summing the excess emissions of all ‘‘high emitter’’
individuals in a country—‘‘high emitters’’ are those whose
emissions exceed a universal individual emission cap. The
scheme does not specify how any nation meets its responsibilities.

Maybe I'm missing something, but this sounds like another way to describe a per-capita emission allocation - not that it's a bad thing, I think per-capita is the only fair way to go. The advantage might be in the marketing - focusing on super-polluters tends to disarm the status quo defenders.

In some ways this approach would discriminate against developed nations that have controlled their population growth and will continue to accept immigrants from other nations. On the other hand, legacy emissions from the last 150 years aren't addressed, so it might even out.

The authors note a trade issue: "By imputing national emissions to individuals, we neglect embedded carbon in exports and imports, a component that is relevant for countries with
large shares of trade in their economy.... a complete scheme suitable for use in negotiations would need to take them into account." I think that's one reason why the tariff component in the Waxman-Markey legislation is a good idea (along with the importance of using international agreements that aren't treaties to move forward on climate).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Prediction for 2010: Obama will use Don't Ask Don't Tell in the campaign

My prediction is that Obama will finally move on Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2010 as an election-year issue, both to energize gay-rights supporters and to paint conservative opponents as placing their prejudices ahead of national security.

And no, just because I'm usually wrong in my political predictions doesn't mean I'm always wrong in what I predict.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Rafsanjani chooses wrong side - bad news for Iran

There were two opportunities for a good outcome in the short term for Iran: that security forces would split or side with protesters, forcing a compromise or overthrow of the regime; or that former president Rafsanjani, a political opponent of Ahmadinejad and Khamanei, would use his chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts to remove Khamenei and compromise with protesters.

The security forces never split, and Juan Cole reports the bad news that's been ignored elsewhere:

Rafsanjani has clearly decided to defer to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on
handling the outcome of the elections, and has come out as critical of the crowd
politics and occasional turbulence they produced. As a multi-billionaire and man
of the establishment, he may well have been frightened that the massive street
rallies for Mousavi a week ago signalled a danger to the status quo, which he is
attempting to preserve.

Rafsanjani doesn't want the increased repression of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, nor potential revolution. Looks like he's chosen sides.

Sadly, change in Iran will likely have to take some time now. Troublemakers in Iran will have the upper hand for a while, and so will potential troublemakers in Israel who want to start a military conflict.