Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Allocate emissions to those who emit them (except electricity)

I got sidetracked as I often do, reading the Climate Progress thread that Eli referenced, into looking at a discussion about whether GHG emissions embodied in the production of imported products should go into the sinner's file of the importing nation.

The question is a truly exciting one of cost accounting.  In theory it doesn't really matter who you allocate the carbon cost to, as long as you allocate it to someone, you don't double count or undercount, and you keep the method consistent.  That's Coase Theorem for you - whoever's responsible for fixing the problem will be forced to put up the money to fix it.  So maybe you could choose to say the nation where the end user is gets the full freight.

Except it has some problems, especially when it concerns trade between sovereign nations.  For one thing, definition of end product could be hard.  A factory built to manufacture widgets for export - is the factory an end product or added to the emission of widgets?  An American reads a newspaper and then tosses it into a bin, where it gets shipped off to China for recycling.  Who's responsible for which or all emissions? It's easier to avoid these games and just count emissions where they become airborne.  More importantly, it could be a lot harder to track emissions in someone else's country and use legal force to ensure that country undertakes the conservation techniques/renewable energy/carbon sequestration that you're paying them to do.

The exporting country is getting paid for the product they export - if they internalize the externalized carbon cost of production that's an appropriate charge to bear.  Most countries prefer to be exporters rather than importers, so let the exporters pay for their pollution costs.

None of this denies the reality that China's emissions are (partly) why developed countries aren't even worse.  And Americans should fight coal exports to China just because it's a really bad idea, not because of carbon accounting.

UPDATE:  I forgot to add why electricity is different - it's such a close connection between buyer and seller that I think it's fair and practicable to allocate emissions to the buyer as much as the seller, and give the buyer incentive to buy from somewhere else.  Electricity doesn't have to be an exception, but it could be an exception.

Also see comments below, they're good.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A day late for Memorial Day

Remembering the sacrifices of those who served will hopefully make us less likely to rush into unnecessary wars.

Another way to share the sacrifice is to spread the risk around.  I'm somewhat sympathetic to calls for a renewed draft as a way to make sure every class and social group is represented, but the military doesn't need that many people.  Below I'm copying a 2007 post from my old blog, on how in the absence of prior national service - either military or volunteer work - virtually anyone of any working age could be subject to a lottery for draft military service.  I'm not expecting it to happen, but it would be a fairer way to go about things, and likely have more peaceful results.

Making mandatory national service a choice

My idea for national service is to give young people a choice:

Alternative #1. Before they turn 25, begin serving for a shorter period of time than Alternative 2 would require. I don't know how long; it would depend on the need and could be somewhere between 12 to 24 months.


Alternative #2. Do no mandatory service before 25, but if the national need arises at any age before their retirement, based on a proclaimed national emergency like Bush's War on Terror, those who did not serve earlier and are chosen by lottery will be required to serve twice as long a time period as Alternative 1. Almost no one who failed to serve earlier would be exempt from the lottery.

That's the basic idea, although improvements are possible - you can adjust the incentives so that right number of people sign up for military versus nonmilitary national service, or sign up right away versus taking a chance on the lottery. I recognize that you probably can't make a worthwhile modern soldier out of someone for a useful period out of a total period of 12 months, but special support roles that require less training could be developed.

The key issue is that almost no one who skips the initial service gets out of the lottery. No, a sedentary 55 year-old won't be fighting door to door under this system, but he could very well help with paperwork in Baghdad or Kabul and take his chances along with everyone else. And no exemptions at all based on the person being more valuable doing whatever she happens to be doing currently when her number's called. This is a new social compact we're talking about, and economic efficiency arguments get trumped.

The economic efficiency of not fighting Bush's Iraq War, or ending it much sooner than will otherwise happen, is pretty obvious and a likely benefit if the general and older population had a much closer connection to people being sent involuntarily to Iraq.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

FEV2Gen to support V2G

To translate, corporate Fleet Electric Vehicles could add power To backup Generators and push Vehicle-To-Grid technologies along.

V2G involves drawing power from electric vehicle batteries to supplement the power grid, instead of connecting the EVs to the grid solely for the purpose of charging up the EV to drive around (great info at University of Delaware).  This could have a lot of economic value by timing when you charge and release power from the batteries, and go a long way to support renewable power by providing power storage.  A related idea would take old EV batteries when they're no longer reliable enough for vehicles, but still have significant storage capacity, and using them as power backup.

For decades, people in developing countries have used regular car batteries for power supply.  In recent years, hobbyists have modified hybrid cars to power homes, and EV carmakers are finally starting to make that option available to individual buyers.  V2G experiments are happening, but we've got miles to go.

The water district that I help direct is considering spending $700,000 to $1 million to buy/upgrade two generators (100kw and 650kw) for our buildings.  We have to have power 24/7, especially when the Big One hits or if a major storm takes out power at the same time that it causes a flood.  We have a significant vehicle fleet of our own, and 700 employees who mostly drive to work.

If much of our vehicle fleet were to be converted to EV and networked to add to the power we'd receive from our generators, then we could either use less-powerful generators or extend the time that we can operate without system power.  As an additional step, we would also have a financial incentive to work out deals with our employees, providing them with financial incentives if the EVs they drive to work could be used to supplement generator power while they're there.

This is a miniature version of the V2G solution for broader society, operating in a situation where having the power would be extremely important and otherwise hard to obtain.  Other government agencies could be in a similar situation - they own a substantial vehicle fleet and need generator power.  Other places like hospitals may not have much of a fleet but would have employees there 24/7.  I think using your own fleet may be simpler at first, but working with employees is the next logical step.

Another advantage this system might have would be for transitory blackouts.  Backup generators are inefficient and polluting, while most blackouts are short.  Maybe we could have enough EVs attached so that for an initial period of 30 minutes or so, they provide all the backup power, and only if the power is still off does the generator kick in to stop battery depletion from happening too fast.  With luck, the generators would never be used at all except for testing and maintenance, something that California's air quality regulators might appreciate.

Having these systems might be good practice for and help acceptance of larger scale V2G, as well as being an additional incentive to just get more EVs on the market.

Just an idea at this point though....

Monday, May 14, 2012

Latest update on our friends at Heartland

Guardian has a brief rundown.  I misunderstood previously what I think was John Mashey's point in the comments a while back, about the importance of a coal association showing up to support Heartland financially.  I thought that wasn't very surprising, but it seems that HI had been trying to maintain a facade of independence from that economic interest.  Not anymore, and maybe not even enough time to funnel the dollars through a masking fund.

Also interesting that Heritage Foundation, a right wing "think tank" hack job, would pitch in financial support for HI as a potential competitor.  Maybe the competition isn't all that fierce, or that Heritage prefers someone who's even more ridiculous than they are to provide a contrast.

Guardian also says HI lost board members, but no name.  Inquiring minds want to know.  UPDATE: ask and ye shall receive.

UPDATE 2:  As to Heritage being so generous, maybe they're not the ones making the call on that decision.  Page 93 of Crescendo to ClimateGate Cacophony shows lots of overlapping denialist donors.  Perhaps the donors decided the funding allocations were off due to a series of unfortunate events and prodded Heritage along.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

California climate offsets and additionality

I spent two days last week at the Association of California Water Agencies' spring conference.  What is that?  Yes, I am an exciting person always seeking thrills and experiences.  Why do you ask?

The conference had an interesting-to-me panel on the financial aspects of California's cap-and-trade auctions.  Entities subject to the cap are allowed to get up to 8% of their carbon allowances through offsets.  The 8% max isn't for total allowances, it's for each emitter - one rich emitter can't satisfy all the obligation through offsets.

All offsets have to be certified through the California Climate Action Reserve - you have to do more than just say "I paid JimBob to add solar panels to his roof, so I'm done now."  The Reserve's protocols then has to be accepted by the California Air Resources Board, and only a few have so made it so far. The key idea is that offsets are going to be like wetland mitigation banks - people will be financing new actions that reduce emissions, certify them, and then sell the allowances that result from the decreased emissions.  This could assist in establishing a distance between buyer and sellers of offsets.

Additionality has some interesting twists - to the Reserve, satisfying additionality must go beyond legal requirements, must be initated in a timely manner (no backdating old projects to claim they deserve credit as offsets) and must exceed standard business practices.  Last one's the trickiest, of course.

I did a write-up for my water district about the conference:
 3.    AB32 and tidal wetland restoration
One panel focused on cap-and-trade.  Afterwards I talked to panelist Joel Levin of the California Climate Action Reserve, a state-created nonprofit that certifies third party carbon offsets that can be sold to entities that have to comply with greenhouse gas reductions.  I asked him if they have done any work with tidal wetland restoration as a carbon offset.  He said they had and believe the technique could be used as a carbon offset and therefore a financial benefit to those who are certified as creating the offset.  However, they presently do not have an accurate estimate of how much carbon is sequestered in order to certify an offset.  It is an ongoing area of scientific analysis. 
 There are two other barriers to Water District benefits from tidal wetland restoration as a carbon offset.  First, we don’t own the baylands that are being restored – the federal government does.  However, we are helping restore them, so we might be able to reach an agreement to share in any offsets created.  Second, the Reserve does not now accept offsets created on federal land, but it is working on eliminating that restriction. 
We have some big plans to do tidal wetland restoration of 16,000 acres in South San Francisco Bay.  This has potentially huge carbon offsets that could help tremendously with financing this project.  My understanding is that tidal wetlands have as much or more carbon sequestration benefit as freshwater wetlands, with none of the counterbalancing methane emissions.

OTOH, selling offsets eliminates the carbon benefit from restoration, at least to the extent you sell offsets.  Still there are countless other benefits from getting back wetlands, including other climate benefits.  Tidally-influenced areas can catch sediment that otherwise sweeps out to sea, making it at least somewhat more likely that the marsh areas can keep pace with sea level rise.

I'll just add a tangent from the memo about another topic that might interest people, putting solar panels on canals and reservoirs:
 1.    Solar power on canals and reservoirs
I talked to two solar power exhibitors, SunPower and SolarCity.  I asked both of them if anyone had used canals or reservoirs as areas to place solar panels.  Both brought up the potential advantage of reducing evaporation and the “free” space you wouldn’t have to rent or buy.  Both also mentioned an experiment by a winery that set up panels over a small reservoir/pond using a series of pontoons.  Neither company was the contractor in that case and the experiment has not been repeated.  They believe maintenance would be expensive.  SolarCity said something like it has been discussed for the State Water Project. 
 I mentioned to both of them that there might be advantages in many districts in reducing algae growth in reservoirs, and that our District in particular might benefit from reduced mercury methylation.  They hadn’t considered those potential benefits.  I told them this was just speculation on my part, and both said that if the District is interested, they’d be happy to talk to us.  My impression is that both thought this would be difficult. 
Not impossible, but not easy.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dems reforming filibusters, Repubs abandoning no new tax pledges

Two undercovered items:

1.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has finally backed the reformers in his own party calling on limitations of the filibuster.  Critically, he agrees that the change in Senate rules at the beginning of the legislative session, per the US Constitution, are not themselves subject to a filibuster.  So this can only happen starting next year.

Reid finally got fed up with the Rs.  I sure wish this happened in 2009, then we could've had cap-and-trade in place for two years by now, as well as other critical legislation.  The problem with our democracy is that it's not a democracy.  California is a perfect example of that, with two-third's vote needed to raise taxes.

I'm guessing the Rs will say very little about this for now.  If they stay as the minority party in 2013, they'll fight "Democrat tyranny", but if they win control of the Senate, they'll adopt the cause themselves and say the Dems have no right to complain.

The constitutional option has been threatened in the past to get compromises, so that may be how it plays out next year.

2.  Matt Yglesias scores with the realization that Congressional Republican attempts to reduce deficit and increase military spending via reduced child tax credit puts tax-cutting promises in a new light:
It's interesting that the child tax credit is considered fair game in this context. Instead of a "no tax hikes" pledge it now seems to be "no tax hikes except on low-income working parents."
More info here on the cuts, although not a whole lot more.  I'd be interested in some details.

I'd describe what happened a little differently from Matt.  The Grover Norquist Americans for Tax Reform Pledge the Rs signed is pretty clear:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
(Emphasis added.)  What the Rs did is to violate and abandon the pledge.  Time to acknowledge who's doing some class warfare.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Galileo or Bozo, a binary choice

More from LATimes on Heartland's disarray.

John should use his blogauthor key, but this was too good to leave in the comments:

John said... 
As recently as the fall of 2009, the Heartland Institute's website featured a banner that flashed portraits of famous thinkers, including: 
Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
John Locke
James Madison
Thomas Paine
Joseph L. Bast 
Dear bunnies, which of these names doesn't belong in a list of famous thinkers? 
Sometime in fall 2009, Heartland removed Bast as a famous thinker. Joseph L. Bast founded the Heartland Institute, with the help of Big Tobacco money. Bast's most noteworthy publication is Please Don't Poop In My Salad, which is a collection of essays about freedom. Needless to say, one of the most precious freedoms (according to Bast) is the freedom to smoke, at a low tax rate per pack.
Source: The Inquisition of Climate Science, James Lawrence Powell (Columbia University Press, 2011).

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Chance for Anthony Watts to show his worth

Anthony Watts now has two separate posts ringing with condemnation of Think Progress for a post last year that noted the terrorist Anders Breivik had accused climate science of actually being an eco-Marxist plot (that post disappeared temporarily but now it's back).

Watts to his credit condemned Heartland's revealing billboard campaign but AFAIK has stopped there.  I've already shown that HI has done this before, equating Al Gore with Ted Kaczysnki.  When I found that Heartland post, I also found another that I haven't written about until now:
Environmental Extremist Gunman Attacks Discovery Channel Headquarters 
James M. Taylor, J.D. – James M. Taylor – September 1, 2010 
An environmental extremist gunman has entered the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., and has taken a number of people hostage, according to Montgomery County Police. Police are trying to negotiate with the gunman, who may have armed himself with a bomb. Roughly 1,900 employees work at the building, which broadcasts a number of science-related programs. 
 The gunman has issued a manifesto and a list of demands, much of which reads like an environmental activist wish list....Much like the media largely ignored the environmental extremism that motivated the Unabomber, the mainstream media currently is largely ignoring the Discovery Channel gunman’s environmental motivation.
And another, also by James Taylor, J.D.:
Environmental extremist took an ugly turn Aug. 1 when activist James Lee, armed with two guns and several bombs stormed the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., took employees hostage, and attempted to force the Discovery Channel to air environmental propaganda on global warming and other issues. The assault ended in the late afternoon when police shot and killed Lee as it appeared he was preparing to detonate a bomb and kill some or all of the hostages.... 
Gore Movie as ‘Awakening’
Lee was first arrested for engaging in disruptive environmental protesting outside Discovery Channel headquarters in 2008. At the time, he explained he had had an environmental “awakening” after seeing Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth.
In An Inconvenient Truth, Gore bemoans the fact that peaceful, democratic means have not motivated people to enact his desired global warming restrictions. “I used to believe in democracy,” Gore says near the end of the film. 
History of Violent Rhetoric 
In 2006, Grist magazine staff writer David Roberts wrote, "When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards—some sort of climate Nuremberg.” The penalty imposed in Nuremberg for war crimes was death.... 
In 2008 NASA global warming activist James Hansen said CEOs of fossil energy companies “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature." The penalty for high crimes against humanity is death....
According to Anthony Watts, noting these parallels is evil when Think Progress does it.  I've previously shown one other blog post where Heartland is substantially worse.  By Watts standard, that post and these two new ones also deserve condemnation.

For my part, I did not bring up these two posts when I found the first one equating Gore and Kaczynski.  I think the second of these posts is particularly stupid and inaccurate, but remember it's from James Taylor, and it's unsurprising that he doesn't understand the range of penalties available at Nuremberg and the International Criminal Court.  Still, I think these don't equate environmentalism as a whole with violent nutcases.  I don't see them as strong arguments, nor do I see the Breivik argument as that strong, but they're not innately wrong.

Watts disagrees with me on Breivik.  Presumably then he disagrees with Heartland on all three of the blog posts in addition to the billboards, and I hope he says so.

UPDATE Eli:  Anthony is going after Nick Stokes.  More hockey stick jumping.

Monday, May 07, 2012

UAH satellite temps being corrected by others. Knock me over with a feather

Here it is:
One popular climate record that shows a slower atmospheric warming trend than other studies contains a data calibration problem, and when the problem is corrected the results fall in line with other records and climate models, according to a new University of Washington study. 
The finding is important because it helps confirm that models that simulate global warming agree with observations, said Stephen Po-Chedley, a UW graduate student in atmospheric sciences who wrote the paper with Qiang Fu, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences. They identified a problem with the satellite temperature record put together by the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Researchers there were the first to release such a record, in 1989, and it has often been cited by climate change skeptics to cast doubt on models that show the impact of greenhouse gases on global warming.... 
"There's been a debate for many, many years about the different results but we didn't know which had a problem," Fu said. "This discovery reduces uncertainty, which is very important." 
When they applied their correction to the Alabama-Huntsville climate record for a UW-derived tropospheric temperature measurement, it effectively eliminated differences with the other studies.... 
Once Po-Chedley and Fu apply the correction, the Alabama-Huntsville record shows 0.21 F warming per decade in the tropics since 1979, instead of its previous finding of 0.13 F warming. Surface measurements show the temperature of Earth in the tropics has increased by about 0.21 F per decade..... 
Usual cautions apply - maybe this correction will turn out to be incorrect.  If not, this will be the second time the UAH series will turn out to have a mistake that bias it to underestimate warming.

Probably just a coincidence.

UPDATE:  post title revised per comments.

UPDATE 2:  per John Mashey, more than twice. See p.100, and especially see "Corrections made" table in showing there are 4 ups and 3 downs, not counting the latest up. Ups tend to be bigger than downs.

UPDATE 3:  thinking maybe I'm a bit too snarky here.  When's the last time I created a satellite temperature series?  Anyway, yet another case of observations falling in line with standard theory.

UPDATE: Eli:  Strictly speaking this paper is about the TMT product, the mid-trop, not the TLT, the lower trop, however since both use the same satellite, and TLT is a mix of detectors using some majic software that Roy and John have not shared, if the Fu fits, Roy can wear it.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Onward to apartheid in Greater Israel

The surprise agreement bringing Israel's leading opposition party into the governing coalition will have uncertain impacts.  Andrew Sullivan has the rundown - I tend to think it makes a disastrous attack on Iran somewhat less likely.

I'm less optimistic about the effect on apartheid in Greater Israel, where there's some bad news:
  • American Congressman Joe Walsh supports soft ethnic cleansing in the West Bank, with annexation, second-class citizenship for Palestinians and incentives to leave the country for Jordan.
That second proposal is only somewhat different from the present situation, where there's a longstanding, tacit agreement that a ruling majority will not rely on Arab parties to survive no confidence votes.  (Sorry I can't find a link referencing this, please leave one if you've got one in the comments.)

To The Point discusses Israel's decision to exclude visiting foreigners whose political viewpoints it dislikes (the US has also done this in the past, but I don't know of it happening recently for people not supporting violence).  The show discusses more extensively Peter Beinart's book, which seems to make a lot of sense about how Israel is betraying the democratic dream and what American Jews should do about it.

While I think partial democracies can last for a long time, they're not stable at a fixed level of partial democracy but instead change over time.  While it usually changes towards improvement, that's not always the case.  The pre-Civil War American South became more oppressive in some ways in the 1800s, criminalizing attempts to discuss abolition in the press.  Israel can become more democratic in some ways (gay rights) at the same time that it may double down on oppressing West Bank Arabs.  An oppressive policy creates its own tension - do you ease off on the policy, or double down to reinforce it?  We're seeing that in play in Israel.

And despite that fact, the room for political discussion on this is still wider in Israel than in the US.  A major Israeli politician can accurately call the situation apartheid, while a retired American president gets pilloried for doing the same. Whether either country will do anything to fix the problem is much less clear.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Stolen thought of the day, plus riffs

Stolen thought:  if fracking is such a boon to the economy by cratering the cost of power, why can't we use a fraction of that economic benefit to sequester the resulting carbon?

Riff 1:  yeah! You tell 'em!

Riff 2:  preventing methane leaks in production and transmission might be just as important as sequestering.

Riff 3:  many people view sequestering carbon from coal to be economically achievable, maybe adding 20-40% to the price.  Let's generously assume the cost figure is true.  If it was economically achievable with coal, then that should indicate even more that it's economically achievable with natural gas because of the lower baseline.

Riff 4:  when coal was the cheapest baseline power then the argument that sequestration for coal was economically viable had the strongest claim.  Now that natural gas is cheaper it actually gets harder to argue for coal carbon sequestration.  Still justified, but harder.  Requiring gas to sequester just like coal could attract support from coal interests.

Riff 5:  maybe offsets in lieu of sequestration could be done.  Carefully.

(Update:  edited a stupid typo in first sentence, from "can" to "can't".)

Friday, May 04, 2012

Billboards are just repeats of garbage on Heartland's website

They've done this before:

July 2006 column by Heartland President and CEO Joseph Bast:
The Inconvenient Truth About Al Gore 
....I have difficulty taking Gore seriously on environmental issues ever since it was reported that Ted Kaczynski, the murderous “Unabomber,” kept a heavily marked-up copy of Gore’s book, Earth in the Balance, in his tar-paper shack and liberally borrowed from it when writing his anti-humanity treatise. There’s even a Web site ( that offers a quiz to see if you can tell Gore’s words from Kaczynski’s. I bet you can’t.

Was that a cheap shot? Maybe....

The Unabomber also was absolutely sincere in his belief that technological progress was an evil that had to be stopped, with violence if necessary. Fortunately, Kaczynski didn’t have access to the incredible powers of the Presidency of the United States. Unfortunately, Al Gore still aspires to that post.

I'm glad people are taking it seriously, but don't expect it not to happen again so long as this organization is given the time of day.  There's a lot at stake, so this repetition of history goes beyond a farce.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Time to set up the American Business Chamber

JBowers makes a good catch in a prior comment thread.  From one chamber to another:

Climate change dispute erupts with Aspen telling U.S. Chamber of Commerce to take a hike 
Aspen's chamber of commerce isn't the first to sever ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over political differences. The chamber in Homer, Alaska, made national headlines when it canceled its membership last year....  
At a retreat on Tuesday, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association's board voted 11 to 1 to withdraw its membership from the national organization. Tension between Aspen's chamber and the national one existed for years. The 680-member local chamber penned a letter to the national group in 2010 delineating its differences. But this year — which saw the driest winter in Aspen since the 1976-1977 season — politics are in overdrive thanks to the coming November general election. Several weeks ago, Aspen's chamber began feeling pressure from Schendler and his Aspen Skiing Co. bosses, the mayor, a pair of county commissioners and residents who had had enough of the local chamber's affiliation with the right-wing U.S. Chamber and its obstruction of solutions to climate change. .... 
The local chamber's recap continued: “Aspen’s economy is inextricably tied to the future of the global climate and all area entities have deeply embraced the idea of reducing our carbon footprint. With our resignation from the U.S. Chamber, the ACRA shows its solidarity with this position.” 

Two small cities are more than enough to christen this a trend sweeping the entire country.  Okay, maybe it's just a good sign, but I'll take it.  There are plenty of other small liberal resort towns and ski towns.  As the article notes, there are also a number of large businesses that have had enough of the US Chamber and its decision to favor conservative-leaning businesses over moderate and progressive businesses.

I think our local Silicon Valley chambers, and other places with strong green energy business interests, should be following the same steps to support their local business interest, along with the national and human interest.  I've gone back and forth in the past over whether businesses should fight to change the US Chamber from the inside or the outside, but I think the outside is looking more like the best alternative.

There already exists a Green Chamber of Commerce, pushing for business-friendly environmental solutions.  I think that's a great idea, but in addition to that maybe we need an umbrella American Business Chamber to be the Gandalf to the US Chamber's Saruman - to be what the US Chamber should have been.  The Green Chamber, local Chambers, and individual businesses rejecting Saruman could join a politically neutral, national level American Business Chamber rather than one that's decided to be a tool and player on one side of the political spectrum.  They should get back to ABC.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Keith Kloor highlights his own strawman; can't see it

I haven't decided yet what I think of Keith Kloor - maybe one of those people who resists acknowledging where reality is headed, but occasionally nods his head in its direction.  His latest stuff isn't very good though, with a Discover article labeling environmentalists as anti-technology and anti-city, while contrasting them with a few "green modernist" exceptions.

The anti-city claim is just vastly outdated and requires no further discussion.  Anti-technology is a little more interesting.  Kloor later clarified what he meant:
Environmentalism is anti-technology. By this I mean anti-nuclear power and anti-genetically engineered crops.
He says this in the context of explaining that he was being attacked as creating strawman arguments and responds with the above statement, and later adds, "Where’s the strawman here?" How about right where you highlighted it in those two sentences. His statement is not a strawman if you think that nuclear power and GMOs roughly encompass the majority of all human technologies. Actually, even that's not totally correct. By Kloor's reckoning, you can't, like me, be even mildly skeptical of nuclear power, or note that not all opposition to GMOs is unscientific, without being anti-technology. I do think some environmental opposition to nukes and GMOs is overblown, but that doesn't make them anti-technology.

This "above the fray" type of journalism gets old, and the strawmen are rickety.

One last note: writing this involves figuring out who I'm writing for, and the thought crossed my mind that Kloor might read it. I considered trying to persuade him rather than criticize him, and ended up with a mushy compromise style that doesn't try and cajole him but certainly pulls a few punches back. Oh well.

UPDATE:  Tim Burden has more, and there's a good discussion thread at Stoat.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Buying and closing coal mines to benefit climate

Interesting idea (paper here, summary article here) that some fossil fuels have sufficiently low profit margin that buying the mineral rights to them might be the cheapest way to keep them from being burnt.  For example, tar sands take a lot of energy to get out of the ground, reducing profit margins.  This might become even more important in the future if we start pricing carbon, making the value of the resource less while increasing the cost of getting the resource out (if we fully taxed carbon this wouldn't be necessary, so I guess our grandchildren can skip this step).  The author points out that it's not very different from the REDD process for rewarding countries that refrain from destroying tropical forests.  Saving forests does have huge ancillary benefits, but I suppose the same is true from reducing ancillary pollutants from fossil fuels.

This sounds like another version of an offset to me, which doesn't automatically make it bad in my opinion.  It does create the same issue though of making sure you achieve real savings, instead of throwing money at mineral rights for an economically-worthless coal seam that never would've been mined.

I think I like the above part of the analysis better than the major component, arguing that reducing fossil fuel demand through demand reductions just makes fuels cheaper to buy in countries that aren't serious about climate change.  I think this has some validity, but that long term energy plans, like Mexico's recent climate laws, involve fuzzier politics of where people think the world is headed.  Decarbonizing the developed world will put real incentives to do the same in the developing world, as will carbon tariffs.