Monday, February 18, 2013

Obama immigration plan is too tough and too lenient

This has a climate hook, by the way.

Obama's plan, summarized here, takes 13 years to give citizenship to people who have been here just short of forever.  It also legalizes and puts on the same track the people who arrive the day before the proposal would be introduced as legislation.  These are two different sets of people both as far as our ethical obligations and our self-interest are concerned.

The starting point should recognize three categories, and then argue who fits in those categories:

1. Immigrants who have been here a very long time - these people are Americans, basically, and have about as much right and reason to be citizens as the rest of us.  Once we've figured out that they qualify in this category, the wait time should be short to make them citizens.

What constitutes a "very long time" is a devilish detail that could get much debate, but that debate doesn't remove the fact that the category is legitimate.  The law by necessity draws a bright line somewhere in a gray area.  That's just life.

2. People who arrived recently - these are different people.  They aren't Americans, they are prospective immigrants who happen to be here already.  They aren't integrated into society and they haven't given significant investments of their lives into building the country.  The key here is that we owe them no more than we owe other prospective immigrants, so it's up to us to decide whether it's in our interest to give them a different status than other prospective immigrants who haven't come here illegally.

3. People in transition to becoming immigrants - just because you have to establish bright lines in gray zones doesn't mean you have to deny the existence of a gray zone.  So here they are, people who haven't just arrived but also haven't been here for so long that the only ethical and reasonable thing to do is to fast-track them to citizenship.  Some immediate legalization plus lengthy path to citizenship seems appropriate.  Obama's one-size-fits all approach is probably best just for this group.

The climate angle is this aspect (from the link above):  "The White House draft wouldn’t just affect undocumented immigrants currently in America. Spouses and children of newly legalized prospective immigrants could also apply for an LPI visa themselves from overseas if they pass a background check and pay the proper fees."

If you add triple the number of immigrants from the current 11 million, that extra 33 million people will mean a 5 to 7 percent increase our national greenhouse gas emissions.  Global GHG emissions aren't affected in exactly the same way, but it will increase as these people move from lower-carbon footprints to our own.  Even if the effect is reduced by having a total cap on emissions, the cap itself will be determined in part by how easy it is to live within the cap, and increasing the population by 5 percent will make it that much harder.  I don't think LPI visa holders or green card holders should have the right to bring in new immigrants - they should complete the citizenship process first.

Two other points - first, Obama's 13 year proposal is a classic worse-than-unethical-because-it's-a-blunder.  The significant majority of these people are going to be Democratic voters.  You don't make them wait forever to vote, and you don't start off with 13 years as your opening bid and then negotiate something worse than that with the Republicans.

Second, I think the issue underscores the need for future international greenhouse gas regulation to recognize and reward countries for accepting immigrants.  While Europe and Japan have admittedly done a far better job than the US on climate over the last 25 years, it would be an interesting exercise to estimate what their emissions would have been if they had accepted the same level of immigration.  Still far less than the US per person, but maybe not quite as stellar.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Contest for Planetary Solutions

Sustainable Silicon Valley has a contest for Solutions for Planetary Sustainability.  Yours truly has taken the subjects of two Rabbet Run posts (on greening the local and national Chambers of Commerce, and using electric vehicle battery power to supplement diesel generator power in blackouts) and made them into contest entries here and here.  Over 200 other solutions are also on tap.

Per modern convention, anyone who wants can register for free and then vote on solutions and give comments.  A critical soul has even tried to inspire better efforts by giving almost everyone zero out of five stars.  Feel free to support any entry you like, but the opportunity to vote ends on Friday.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A request to readers - give us your Rubio climate rebuttals

I'd like to try a little experiment here - a little over a week ago, Marco Rubio graced the Internet with his nontheories regarding climate change.  I thought about doing a line-by-line rebuttal and then decided you all might be able to do a much better job than me.

So below I'm putting Rubio's claims down, one at a time for your rebuttals and prebuttals.  As a way of responding to the finding that repeating falsehoods reinforces them, even if corrections are added, the way I want to do this is precede each claim with the truth, then give the claim, and then follow up with more truth.

Just leave your rebuttals and links below in the comments - and please say which claim(s) you're responding to. As they develop, I'll add the best.  What's really needed is a special wiki devoted to refuting his nonsense, but in its absence I'll be the referee (Eli too if he wants), adding the best refutations and links.  I'll look for the most concise, most readily-understood refutations with the most-generally-accepted link sources.  No more than two or maybe three before and after each claim - if a refutation gets bumped, it'll be included as additional sources in footnotes.

Let's see if this works.  To the Rubio quotes!

Claim 1.  Relevant truth:
Claim 1.  Ignorance from Rubio:  "Anything we would do on [climate change] would have a real impact on the economy but probably if it's only us doing it a very negligible impact on the environment."
Claim 1.  More truth:

Claim 2.  Relevant truth:
Claim 2.  Ignorance from Rubio:  "Ultimately if you look at the developing countries which are not developing countries any more, China, India, and others, they're now the largest polluters in the world by far."
Claim 2.  More truth:

Claim 3.  Relevant truth:
Claim 3.  Ignorance from Rubio:  "....On the other hand if we unilaterally impose these sorts of things on our economy it would have a devastating impact on economics depending on which measure it is we're talking about."
Claim 3.  More truth:

Claim 4.  Relevant truth:
Claim 4.  Ignorance from Rubio:  "I think that's what more than anything else is standing in the way of doing anything on this, there has to be a cost-benefit analysis to every one of these principles that people are pushing on and the benefit I think is difficult to justify when you realize it's only us doing it, nobody else is doing this."
Claim 4.  More truth:

Claim 5.  Relevant truth:
Claim 5.  Ignorance from Rubio:  (Responding to the question whether he sees global warming as a threat to Florida)"....The fundamental question is whether man-made activity is what's contributing the most to it.  I understand there's significant scientific consensus on that issue.  But I've actually seen reasonable debate on the principle."
Claim 5.  More truth:

Claim 6.  Relevant truth:  "Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions."  International Energy Agency 2011 (via ThinkProgress)
Claim 6.  Ignorance from Rubio:  "But beyond that the secondary question is is there anything government can do about that that will actually make a difference.... When you look at the cost benefit analyses being proposed, if you did all these things they're talking about, what impact would it really have on these changes that we're outlining?  On the other hand I can tell you the impact that it would have on certain industries and on our economy, and that's where it falls apart."
Claim 6.  More truth:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Maybe Reid screwed the pooch on climate legislation in 2017, too

Talking Points Memo refers, on Reid's barely-anything changes to the Senate filibuster and how nothing is now happening on Obama's appointments.  To be fair, some of the problem is self-inflicted by Obama putting the task of nominating candidates to all positions somewhere below watching ESPN and filling out his college basketball tournament predictions.

The climate legislation hook is that 60 vote filibuster blockage to pass climate reform in the Senate.  Nothing is going to pass soon anyway, but we do have a shot in 2017.  Chances of success depend in part on how much the filibuster can still trip it up.  Even the strongest filibuster "reform" that was presented this year was weak tea.  I figured we have four years of trying something, finding it's not enough, and then trying something stronger.  By starting us out with barely-anything, we will end up fewer steps down the road to quasi-democratic procedures when climate legislation has a chance.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

California dreaming of offsets

I attended a fascinating-to-me workshop* about California using international offsets in the form of reducing deforestation and degradation (REDD) in Acre Brazil and Chiapas Mexico.  The webinar's online, watch me babble a question if you want in the morning session tying their work to our water district's 2020 climate neutrality goal (third video down, at the 02:40:15 time).

The short version is that a relatively tiny fraction of California's effort to get to 1990 emission levels by 2020 would come through international forestry offsets, but even that tiny amount could be a billion dollars of financing, much larger than anything done to date and a potential kickstart to efforts in those two provinces and elsewhere.  This is truly new - the European cap-and-trade doesn't do it.

The meeting was of a group that provides technical recommendations to California and the other provinces/states, so whether they'll be followed is unclear, but they cautioned about giving offsets for actions that increase carbon storage on degraded and cleared land, because that might create incentives to log the land so it can be "restored".

Much or most of the discussion focused on measurement as a key to ensuring the offsets are real additions to what would have happened anyway.  The scientists are very confident that they can measure forest carbon storage accurately and not too expensively via satellite and airborne lidar.  The tricky part though is measuring what would've happened in the absence of offsets.

Passing over the possibility of time machines travelling to alternative universes without offsets for comparison purposes, they instead proposed reference levels of forest losses based on previous ten-year historical averages, projected into the future with some modifications and safeguards (slightly reduced levels available as offsets, further declining over time).  Reductions of emissions in subsequent years compared to reference levels, after adjustments, are the available offsets.  I'm a little unclear on the timing, but I think the Californians buy the offsets first in anticipation that they'll work, then the REDD program does its stuff and is verified.  I do know that if the buyer is liable if the offsets don't work and has to find carbon savings elsewhere in that case.

The beauty of this is that functions on the provincial level, so it's widescale (less leakage) and tracks provincial results instead of trying to measure every little project and assign carbon savings accordingly.  The controversy (or one of the controversies) is that the offset payments go to provincial governments, so how that money could reach the rural communities is an issue.  Safeguards for that will be discussed at a later meeting, and they have the concept of "nesting" project level credits into the provincial system.

A lot is riding on this, both in terms of global carbon emissions and our global ecology.  There's some danger of course, but also some tremendous opportunity.

*Fascinating enough that I may be interested in this area as a career field, so maybe I might have some bias.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Obama picks up the "it's not a coincidence" theme

From the Union's State:
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.
I continue to think the fact that science has a story that provides closure, while science denial relies on "it's all just coincidences, one after another!", is a key advantage in pulling the fence-sitters to our side, and one we need to push a lot harder.  The most scientifically-convincing evidence is about the non-coincidence between warmth and greenhouse gases, but the public can think about the climate weirding throughout the world as additional non-coincidences.

Something else that's more of a tea-reading exercise - here's more of his speech a few paragraphs later:
Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.
Sadly, I think I agree with Eli that Keystone pipeline to take out oil sands will get built, despite my hopes last year (maybe John Kerry demanded freedom on this issue, but I doubt it).  There is another hand though - I'll bet the administration, if it okays the pipeline, will balance its destructive action with something that helps humanity.  They'll marry the two issues just like Obama did in his speech, although they might not frame them the same way as I do.

UPDATE -  the substance of Senator Rubio's response to Obama on climate:
When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.
Truth hurts sometimes.  More on Rubio soon.

UPDATE 2:  Just listened to David Sirota, who independently made the same prediction that Obama will balance Keystone approval with climate action.