Monday, April 30, 2007

A climate skeptic's guest post: Why David Evans bet against Brian Schmidt over global warming

(Editor's Update, April 2008: I'm intrigued to continue to see quite a few links to David's guest post, mostly from skeptics. Please note that if you personally are skeptical of human caused climate change, I'd be interested in making a similar bet with you as I did with David, and the details of the bet are here. Almost all of the prominent skeptics have refused bet offers, in strong contrast to David's willingness to put his money where his mouth is.)

(Editor's note: I invited David Evans from Science Speak to write the guest post below explaining his viewpoint and why he is betting against me over global warming. David welcomes a substantive debate in the comments. Obviously, we don't agree on all the issues, but I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone the value of civil debate with someone like David, who is genuine enough to put his money where his mouth is.)

I devoted six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian government to estimate carbon emissions from land use change and forestry (Google on "FullCAM"). When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty conclusive, but since then new evidence has weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause. I am now skeptical. As Lord Keynes famously said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

In the late 1990's the evidence suggesting that carbon emissions caused global warming was basically:

1. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Proved in a laboratory a century ago.

2. Global warming has been occurring for a century, especially since 1975, and concentrations of atmospheric carbon have been rising for a century, especially since 1975. Correlation is not causation, but in a rough sense it looked like a fit.

3. Ice core data, starting with the first cores from Vostok in 1985, allowed us to measure temperature and atmospheric carbon going back hundreds of thousands of years, through several dramatic global warming and cooling events. To the temporal resolution then available (data points were generally more than a thousand years apart), atmospheric carbon and temperature moved in lock-step: there was an extremely high correlation, they rose and fell together. Talk about a smoking gun!

4. There weren't any other credible suspects for causing global warming. So presumably it had to be carbon emissions.

This evidence was good enough: not conclusive, but why wait until we are absolutely certain when we apparently need to act now? So the idea that carbon emissions were causing global warming passed from the scientific community into the political realm, and actions started to happen. Research increased, bureaucracies were formed, international committees met, and eventually the Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 -- with the aim of curbing carbon emissions.

And the political realm in turn fed money back into the scientific community. By the late 1990's, lots of jobs depended on the idea that carbon emissions caused global warming. Many of them were bureaucratic, but there were a lot of science jobs created too. I was on that gravy train, making a high wage in a science job that would not have existed if we didn't believe carbon emissions caused global warming. And so were lots of people around me; and there were international conferences full of such people. And we had political support, the ear of government, big budgets, and we felt fairly important and useful (well, I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet!

But starting in about 2000, the last three of the four pieces of evidence outlined above fell away or reversed. Using the same point numbers as above:

2. Closer examination of the last century using better data shows that from 1940 to 1975 the earth cooled at about 0.1C/decade while atmospheric carbon increased. But any warming effect of atmospheric carbon is immediate. By 2003 or so we had discovered global dimming, which might be adequate to explain this 35-year non-correlation. But what had seemed like a good fit between recent atmospheric carbon and global warming now looks shaky, in need of the recently-discovered unquantified global dimming factor to explain 35 years of substantial cooling. I reckon the last century of correlation evidence now neither supports carbon emissions as the cause nor eliminates it. Further quantitative research on global dimming might rescue this bit of evidence, or it might weaken it further.

3. As more ice core data was collected, the temporal resolution was improved. By 2004 or so we knew from the ice core data that in the warming events of the last million years the temperature increases generally started about 800 years *before* the rises in atmospheric carbon started. Causality does not run in the direction I had assumed in 1999 -- it runs the opposite way. Presumably temperature rises cause a delayed rise in atmospheric carbon because it takes several hundred years to warm the oceans enough for the oceans to give off more of their carbon.

It is possible that rising atmospheric carbon in these past warmings then went on to cause more warming ("amplification" of the initial warming), but the ice core data does not prove that. It could just be that the temperature rose for some other reason, that this caused the oceans to raise the atmospheric carbon levels, and that the increased atmospheric carbon had an insignificant effect on the temperature.

The pre-2000 ice core data was the central evidence for believing that atmospheric carbon caused temperature increases. The new ice core data shows that past warmings were *not* initially caused by rises in atmospheric carbon, and says nothing about the strength of any amplification. This piece of evidence casts reasonable doubt that atmospheric carbon had any role in past warmings, while still allowing the possibility that it had a supporting role.

4. A credible alternative suspect now exists. Clouds both reflect incoming radiation (albedo) and prevent heat from escaping (greenhouse), but with low clouds the albedo effect is stronger than the greenhouse effect. Thus low clouds cause net cooling (high clouds are less common and do the opposite). In October 2006 a team led by Henrik Svensmark showed experimentally that cosmic rays affect cloud formation, and thus that

Stronger sun's magnetic field

=> Less cosmic rays hit Earth

=> Fewer low clouds are formed

=> Earth heats up.

And indeed, the sun's magnetic field has been stronger than usual for the last three decades. So maybe cosmic rays cause global warming. But investigation of this cause is still in its infancy, and it's far too early to judge how much of the global warming is caused by cosmic rays.

So three of the four arguments that convinced me in 1999 that carbon emissions caused global warming are now questionable.

The case for carbon emissions as the cause of global warming now just boils down to the fact that we know that it works in the laboratory, and that there is no strong evidence that global warming is definitely *not* caused by carbon emissions. Much the same can be said of cosmic rays -- we have laboratory evidence that it works, and no definitely contradictory evidence.

So why did I bet against global warming continuing at the current rate? Let's return to the interaction between science and politics.

By 2000 the political system had responded to the strong scientific case that carbon emissions caused global warming by creating thousands of bureaucratic and science jobs aimed at more research and at curbing carbon emissions. This was a good and sensible response by big government to what science was telling them.

But after 2000 the evidence for carbon emissions gradually got weaker -- better temperature data for the last century, more detailed ice core data, then laboratory evidence that cosmic rays precipitate low clouds. Future evidence might strengthen or further weaken the carbon emissions hypothesis. At what stage of the weakening should the science community alert the political system that carbon emissions might not be the main cause of global warming? None of the new evidence actually says that carbon emissions are definitely not the cause of global warming, there are lots of good science jobs potentially at stake, and if the scientific message wavers then it might be difficult to recapture the attention of the political system later on. What has happened is that most research effort since 2000 has assumed that carbon emissions were the cause, and the alternatives get much less research or political attention.

(BTW, I quit my job in carbon accounting in 2005 for personal reasons. It had nothing to do with my weakening belief that carbon emissions caused global warming. I felt that the main value of our plant models was in land management and plant simulation, and that carbon accounting was just a by-product.)

Unfortunately politics and science have become even more entangled. The science of global warming has become a partisan political issue, so positions become more entrenched. Politicians and the public prefer simple and less-nuanced messages. At the moment the political climate strongly supports carbon emissions as the cause of global warming, to the point of sometimes rubbishing or silencing critics.

The integrity of the scientific community will win out in the end, following the evidence wherever it leads. But in the meantime, the effects of the political climate is that most people are overestimating the evidence in favor of carbon emissions as the cause of global warming. Which makes it a good time to bet the other way :)

I would like to bet against carbon emissions being the main cause of the current global warming. But I can't bet on that directly, because all betting requires an unambiguous and measurable criterion. About the only related measure we can bet on is global temperature. So I accepted Brian's bets about trends in global temperatures over the next 10 to 20 years. Basically, if the current warming trend continues or accelerates then Brian will win; if the rate of warming slows then I will win. Even if carbon emissions are not the main cause of this global warming, I can still lose:

* Global warming might be due to a side-effect of industrialization other than carbon emissions. Possible causes include atmospheric reactions of industrial chemicals that hinder the rate of low cloud formation.

* Global warming might be primarily due to a non-human cause, such as something related to the sun or to underground nuclear reactions. If this cause persists over the next 20 years as it has for the last 30 years then I will lose, but if it fades in the next decade then I win.

I emphasize that we are making a bet involving odds and judgment. The evidence is not currently conclusive either for or against any particular cause of global warming. I think that it *is* possible that carbon emissions are the dominant cause of global warming, but in light of the weakening evidence I judge that probability to be about 20% rather than almost 90% as estimated by the IPCC.

I worry that politics could seriously distort the science. Suppose that carbon taxes are widely enacted, but that the rate of global warming increase starts to decline by 2015. The political system might be under pressure to repay the taxes, so it might in turn put a lot of pressure on scientists to provide justifications for the taxes. Or the political system might reject the taxes and blame science for misinforming it, which could be a terrible outcome for science because the political system is powerful and not constrained by truth.

Some people take strong rhetorical positions on global warming. But the cause of global warming is not just another political issue that is subject to endless debate and distortions. The cause of global warming is an issue that falls into the realm of science, because it is falsifiable. No amount of human posturing will affect what the cause is. The cause just physically is there, and after sufficient research and time we will know what it is. Looking back in another 40 years, we will almost certainly know the answer and Brian and I will be in agreement on the issue.

Given that betting is thus possible on this issue, it seems strange that some people who take strong positions and profit by those positions are not prepared to bet even a small amount of their own money. Betting something of one's own money adds, shall we say, credibility. And people whose own money is at stake try a little harder -- a well known advantage of private business over public. A good side effect of widespread betting would be a market in betting that would represent a community-wide best guess. Such markets exists in sports betting, and are the best predictors of game outcomes.

Let's hope for the planet's sake that I win the bets :) Meanwhile let's do more research, and take cheap measures to curb carbon emissions!

(Editor's update: a shorter url that David created for this post: David's new blog on this subject is here.)

(Editor's update #2: I'm seeing some confusion at other blogs - please note that David can still win if the temperature increases at a slow pace. The bet summary:
We have three bet periods -10, 15, and 20 years - and two bets for each period - an even-odds bet and a 2:1 bet in David's favor. The even-odds bet centers around a temperature increase rate of 0.15C/decade with a 0.02 void margin on either side (bet voids if temps increase between .13 and .17C/decade). The 2:1 bet centers on 0.1C/decade with a .01 void margin. Even-odds bets are for $1,000 each, and the 2:1 bets increase over time, with Brian betting $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000, and David betting half that. Brian's exposure is $9,000; David's is $6,000. More info here.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New global warming bet for $6-$9 thousand established; question is how much of a rise will occur over 10, 15 and 20 years

(UPDATE, JULY 2008: this post is getting a lot of hits, apparently because of an article David Evans wrote in The Australian. Tim Lambert has an effective critique of the article here. Read below for more information about the bet between myself and David.)

Two years after hopping on the climate change betting bandwagon pioneered by several other people, I've finally got my first bet, which I'd consider the third major agreed-upon bet over the issue. Before the details, I want to mention three people who were very helpful: first was James Annan, who put me in touch with my betting partner. I owe James a beer now, and dinners later when I start winning, if he ever comes to the Bay Area (see James' site for more climate betting info). Second, both James and William Connolley gave me very helpful advice on structuring the bet. I didn't always take their advice though, so if the bet's flawed, it's my fault.

Finally, my betting partner/opponent, David Evans of Science Speak, has been extremely civil and reasonable throughout this process, including long periods when I've been out of contact. At my invitation, David has written a detailed guest post about his perspective on the bet and why he's a skeptic, and I hope to get it posted after a trip I'm taking this week. My main problem with David is he's interfering with my ability to be snarky about skeptics. From here on in this blog, references to denialist, septics, etc. involve only skeptics who won't put their money where their mouths are.

So, the details:

We have three bet periods -10, 15, and 20 years - and two bets for each period - an even-odds bet and a 2:1 bet in David's favor. The even-odds bet centers around a temperature increase rate of 0.15C/decade with a 0.02 void margin on either side (bet voids if temps increase between .13 and .17C/decade). The 2:1 bet centers on 0.1C/decade with a .01 void margin. Even-odds bets are for $1,000 each, and the 2:1 bets increase over time, with me betting $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000, and David betting half that. My exposure is $9,000; his is $6,000.

That's the basic bet. We're using five-year averaged Nasa GISS data, available here. We know the roughly-first half of the five years used to figure out the 2007 average had no large volcanic eruptions to affect temps, so we agreed that if a large eruption occurs in the similar period of any of my reference years (2017, 2022, and 2027), the bets for that reference period are voided. Otherwise, no adjustment for volcanoes, El Nino, etc. We've signed an agreement that I think might be theoretically enforceable, but as a practical matter with us living in different hemispheres, that's difficult. The three periods reduce the risk to either of us, though.

So my goal was to engage in a bet where if I lost money overall, then that would suggest a real problem with the science of climate change. Certainly if I lost every single one of these bets, with temperatures consistently increasing at a rate of less than 0.09C/decade over 10, then 15, and then 20 years, that might not disprove the climate change theory but it should leave some heads scratching.

My guess is with the even-odds at 10 years, I've got a 50%-plus chance of winning, less than 30% chance of voiding, and less than 20% chance of losing. With the 2:1 bet, I've got a 5-10% chance of losing (but have double the exposure). My odds should improve a bit at 15 and 20 years as random temperature swings become less important and as climate change accelerates. So at worst, I lose one bet, win most of them, and the rest are voided. Seems pretty good.

Best case though is that I lose everything. My assessment of the state of science would be shaken some, but the chance of climate change being wrong, would be worth it.

Last thought - $9,000 is far from chump change by my standards, but I'm not tapped out yet. Bob Carter, Richard Lindzen, Bill Gray, James Inhofe, all the other prominent denialists - where are you guys? My money is yours for the taking!

UPDATE: Changed total of bet amount to correct figure (not thinking straight here).

We've got a global warming bet!

Just had to leave a little placeholder here with a giddy title, and I'll do a more substantive post later today. It's a global warming bet for a substantial sum of money for bet periods of 10, 15, and 20 years. I need to fax off the agreement, and then it's done.

More info later.

While I'm quoting Copernicus...

...something else from De Revolutionibus:

I debated with myself for a long time whether to publish the volume which I wrote to prove the earth's motion or rather to follow the example of the Pythagoreans and certain others, who used to transmit philosophy's secrets only to kinsmen and friends.... And they did so... [not] because they were in some way jealous about their teachings...on the contrary, they wanted the very beautiful thoughts attained by great men of deep devotion not to be ridiculed by those who are reluctant to exert themselves vigorously in any literary pursuit....When I weighed these considerations, the scorn which I had reason to fear on account of the novelty and unconventionality of my opinion almost induced me to abandon completely the work which I had undertaken.

But while I hesitated for a long time and even resisted, my friends drew me back....

Come back, Lancet Iraq mortality study authors!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nisbet and Copernicus' Foreword

Not sure yet what I think of the Nisbet-Mooney framing science thing (see Stoat for a pithy writeup).

I heard Nisbet asked on a public radio program how he would've advised Copernicus way back when:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: How would you have advised Copernicus to advance his highly controversial and unpopular sun-centered theory of the solar system?

MATTHEW NISBET: Well, again, you know, there are certain ideas that come about in science that clash so strongly against prevailing world views that any type of short-term communication effort is going to run up against a wall.

Actually, there was a way around the clash - in the editing process of Copernicus' original De Revolutionibus, someone else added a foreword describing the book as a mathematical exercise, and not necessarily meant to describe reality ("these hypotheses need not be true nor even probable"). Sounds like a framing attempt to me, to get an idea out to the audience without provoking a too-strong counter-reaction. Was that a good move?

Maybe this example is unfair to the N-M thesis, which could recognize "bad" frames that sacrifice too much in the way in the way of accuracy. Still....

The other problem with frames is that as their use gets more widespread, people will get better at deconstructing frames, especially the awkward and obvious frames, the ones that scientists would use. When people realize that a scientist is trying to push psychological buttons, that might not play well.

My little suggestion is to minimize the framing when talking straight science, and then pull out all the stops when talking science policy. Not sure if that idea really works though.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Courts affect public on science views more than they should, but maybe it's a good thing

Some good recent polling about American attitudes on climate change:

April 20, 2007 — After a year of increasing scientific alarms, public concern about global warming has risen dramatically. The number of Americans identifying it as the world's single biggest environmental problem is double what it was a year ago.

Climate change now places far ahead of any other environmental problem in the public's mind; 33 percent now cite it as the world's top environmental issue, a very high level of agreement on an open-ended question. That's soared from 16 percent a year ago.

The related issue of air pollution ranks a distant second, cited by 13 percent, with all other mentions in the single digits.

This ABC News/Washington Post/Stanford University poll also finds a 10-point increase in the belief that global warming is caused mostly by human activity (to 41 percent, up from 31 percent last year); and a significant decline — the first in a decade — in the belief that many scientists disagree on whether global warming is happening.

While 56 percent of Americans still think there's substantial scientific disagreement on global warming, that's down from 64 percent last year (and similar levels in the late 1990s.)

I have nothing to base this on besides my impression of public reaction, but I think the Supreme Court's ruling on the climage change case has a big role in this. I see a parallel to the Kitzmiller v. Dover case where a judge ruled against Intelligent Design being a scientific theory that can be taught in public schools. The Dover decision really seems like a gut punch to the ID movement - it's still very much around, but it took a big blow, not just in schools but in public opinion. I think the same might be true of the Supreme Court's recognition of climate change.

The twist to this is that neither the Dover judge nor the Supreme Court justices have scientific expertise. There are thousands of people who should be more persuasive to the public that the public ignores. Still, it's not completely illogical since judges are theoretically trying to be unbiased in weighing the information in front of them.

I'll chalk this up to one of the pieces of evidence that people overweigh but falls on the side of scientific accuracy (along with extreme weather events, which do have a modest connection to climate change). Given everything that disconnects the public from actual science, such as a majority still not believing that a climate change consensus exists, it's probably a good thing.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

One small way to help in the case of massacres

Somewhere I had read an idea that sounded pretty good to me in helping to handle the phenomenon of mass killers looking for glory - the media should, as a matter of self-restraint, not publish their names. This isn't a call for government censorship, and I'm sure somebody somewhere will publicize their names, but we could still deprive them of the glory they're looking for on the front pages of the major newspapers and websites, and keep their names off the television networks.

I think it might also make sense to obscure their faces in some way when photos are shown in the media, so they can't anticipate that the image will go down prominently in history, either.

I don't know if this will actually restrain a killer from going on a rampage, although who knows - if someone's balancing on the edge between checking himself into a mental hospital or going out in a blaze of glory, maybe it could sometimes be decisive. If nothing else, though, it would help media and the public focus on the names and faces of the victims in the aftermath, where the attention belongs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 has work to do on global warming bets

Supposedly, the betting site has a list of global warming wagers they're willing to make (I couldn't find them on the website, could they be removed already?).

Like Gavin Schmidt in this article, I'm not too impressed. The bets are either poorly defined or so outlandish that they don't test the difference between the consensus position and the denialists. I think it's more of a publicity stunt than a real attempt to create a betting market, which is too bad.

I don't know who would take these bets, but whoever would take them should consider the even better odds that I offer - I'll give 1:20 odds that temperatures will drop in ten years, or 2:1 odds that temperatures will rise.

And meanwhile, I may have some good news on betting soon. We'll see...

Monday, April 16, 2007

How trying to rush indictments before an election can be an obstruction of justice

At Obsidian Wings, Publius speculates that calls by Senator Domenici and Rep. Wilson trying to push an indictment to occur before the November election could violate particular sections of the obstruction of justice statute:

18 U.S.C. 1503(a) -- Obstruction of Justice

(a) Whoever corruptly... or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any ... officer in or of any court of the United States... in the discharge of his duty,... or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b)[.]

Publius appears to focus initially on the "endeavors to intimidate" section to get Domenici and Wilson, but then shifts to administration officials potentially firing attorneys to stop investigations.

I think there's another possible obstruction of justice. Domenici and Wilson might have valued a rushed indictment of Democrats prior to the November election more than they valued an actual conviction that might occur from an unrushed indictment afterwards. "Endeavoring to influence" DOJ to get a rushed and flawed indictment early on that impedes the prospect of conviction later because the indictment was brought before all the evidence could be gathered, sounds to me like obstruction of justice.

Of course the indictments weren't rushed in the end, but "endeavoring" is the basis of the crime - the attempt is enough.

In this view the key issue is the calls Domenici and Wilson made, but the eventual firing could be seen as part of the overall process to influence the system. When someone fails to obstruct justice as required, he must be fired. The firing, if intentionally connected to the failure to bring a rushed indictment, could then involve Bush Administration officials as also being part of the obstruction of justice, either directly or as accomplices after the fact.

Not my legal field, but could be interesting.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Maybe tears of laughter, this time

My normal reaction to another blogger getting recognized is tears - bitter, jealous, tears.

But I've got a slightly different response just this once for Deltoid's Pinata whacking not outsourced and how it's spread across the blogosphere, including some major bloggers. I was de-facto banned from Tim Blair's blog for repeatedly offerring to bet him and his commenters over whether global warming was real. The responses I saw there were no better than these commenters, who failed to outdebate a six-year-old.

And because Tim Blair shut down his comment thread, I suspect the commenters there are oblivious to how foolish they seem to tens of thousands of people. (UPDATE: Tim Blair says in the comments that he didn't shut down the thread - it automatically shuts down after a certain time period.)

Finally, this isn't a case of nutpicking - criticizing a blog based on a few crazy commenters. Deltoid's post was a proof about the commenters themselves, the crazy types that are fond of Tim Blair's rantings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Watching the right at Left, Right and Center

I don't listen to all that many podcasts yet, but one of my favorites so far is public radio's Left, Right and Center, where people from the three viewpoints review the week's news. Unfortunately, Tony Blankley on the right, although usually reality-based, got away uncorrected with two wrong statements in the last episodes.

On the April 6th episode, Blankley said he needed to give some "factual corrections" to Bob Scheer's defense of Nancy Pelosi for her trip to Syria. One such correction was that Bush told Pelosi not to go. The problem is that Bush didn't tell her any such thing. He knew of her plans to go and raised no objection until after she was there.

On March 30th, Blankley said Bush loyalist Monica Goodling had the right to plead the Fifth Amendment and avoid testifying because hostile questioners will deny that her truthful answers are in fact truthful, and get her prosecuted for perjury. First, Blankley ignores the fact that Congress can't prosecute anybody - a federal branch prosecutor would have to be convinced to bring an indictment. More important though, is that Blankley is almost certainly wrong about this as a reason to take the Fifth. No court has ever accepted a "perjury trap" justification for refusing to testify:

A few courts have discussed the theoretical possibility that there is some kind of "perjury trap" defense that might apply when a witness is hauled before a tribunal just to see if the witness can be tricked into comitting perjury. Courts have hinted that setting such a perjury trap might violate the Due Process clause. However, I don't think any court has ever actually found a perjury trap; courts invariably find a government interest that allows the testimony, and generally do not need to reach whether such a defense exists. See, e.g., Wheel v. Robinson, 34 F.3d 60, 67-68 (2d Cir. 1994).

The same (conservative) blogger notes later that even truthful statements related to past false testimony may not be enough to allow taking the Fifth - the test in that situation is fact-sensitive. Goodling's asserted reason is less strong, and not fact-sensitive - anyone asserting potential hostile questioning could make a similar claim or even stronger claim than her. Most hostile questioners would be actual prosecutors who, unlike Congress, can bring perjury indictments. The Fifth Amendment exception would swallow up the rule.

Too bad that Blankley wasn't challenged, but he also needs to get his facts straight. And considering that Blankley's relationship to normal right-wing radio is like Aristotle's Academy to this blog, he has to set a higher bar.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The main nuke power question solves itself under greenhouse gas regulation

The nuclear power issue simmers on, with a reasonable amount of attention to its main problem, cost. I'd like to turn around the taunt of nucleaphiliacs onto themselves - if nuclear power's so great, just what are you afraid of? Both cap-and-trade and carbon taxes will impose a cost on fossil fuel, and according to you guys, renewable energy isn't competitive. What's left then, but nuclear power naturally making its way forward.

The nuclear power cost question mostly solves itself with greenhouse gas regulation - fossil fuels will cost more and if nuclear truly is competitive, it will do well. Funny how the nuke backers are typically free-marketeers, but they want the enviros to pick and promote one particular solution.

But, there is the subsidy issue that Belle Waring raises above. The biggest current subsidy in America is the legal liability limitation under the Price-Anderson Act, contrasted to every other energy supplier's responsibility for costs incurred from accidents. Putting nuclear power on the same footing with other energy suppliers could really affect pricing.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

NY Times not doing its duty in showing Giuliani's idiocy

Catching one of Giuliani's stupidities, they let another one slide by:

[Giluiani] casually lumped Iran with Al Qaeda. “Their movement has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he said.

Mr. Giuliani was asked in an interview to clarify that, inasmuch as Iran had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Further, most of its people are Shiites, whereas Al Qaeda is an organization of Sunnis.

“They have a similar objective,” he replied, “in their anger at the modern world.”

In other words, he said, they hate America.

So do lots of other people - are they all collectively responsible for 9/11?

And what the Times let slide by is this quote, "At a house party in New Hampshire, Mr. Giuliani suggested that it was unclear which was farther along, Iran or North Korea, in the development of a nuclear weapons program."

Not everyone knows the best judgment of the US government is that Iran is a decade away from a bomb. Many people will have forgotten that North Korea has already exploded a nuclear weapon. The point is that Giuliani said something that is unquestionably idiotic, and the Times didn't call him on it, or even give a reader the chance to hear a contrary position - the truth - used to chew him out.

The headline is funny though: Giuliani Says Nation at War Requires Him.

(Via Same Facts.)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Greenhouse gas regulation is like groundwater management

Or I guess it should be the converse of groundwater management. With groundwater, you can withdraw a certain amount that corresponds to the annual influx, without lowering the water table. Or you can overdraft the groundwater by taking out more than comes in, without stressing the system too much, so long as your overdraft doesn't lower the water table below a level that interferes with your management goals. A typical goal would be to not lower the table any more than the depth of the shallowest well drawing from that table. A modern environmental goal would be to not dry up any critical springs or streams dependent on the water table.

Groundwater overdraft corresponds to the amount of anthropogenic emissions at any one time that exceeds the absorption capability of the environment. The groundwater buffer between a safe and unsafe overdraft corresponds to the increased ppm concentration of greenhouse gases that lies below a level that creates a "dangerous anthropogenic interference in climate," whatever that is.

Don't know if this is helpful for anyone else, but it helps me think about it. And we here in the American West have a history of bad groundwater management regimes, so I think I see some parallels.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Eight years late, but better than nothing

Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist will let most ex-felons finally regain the right to vote. This addresses discrimination against African-American men, who disproportionately constituted the ex-felon population. Had this happened prior to 2000, Gore would've received far more votes, and the tens of thousands of legal African-American voters disenfranchised by the state because their names were similar to ex-felons also would have voted primarily for Gore. We'd have a different world.

On the one hand, all Crist has done is partially redress a racist, human-rights deprivation. On the other hand, this will benefit the opposing party primarily, and he probably could've gotten away with doing much less. Credit where it's more or less due. Even Jeb Bush, who seems more reasonable than his troglodyte brother, is outranked.

(via Froomkin.)

Also worth noting - Crist appears to take global warming seriously.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Last comments on the Mass v. EPA case

*Dumbest anti-environment post, by Chris Horner at Planet Gore: "atmospheric concentrations go way, way up, and way, way down, naturally, such that it is a truism that Man cannot reverse or control, but only contribute at the margins to, concentrations." He's gone beyond climate denialism to CO2 denialism, and he claims to have filed briefs on the case. With opponents like this, we're all set.

*Smartest anti-environmental poster: Jonathan Adler. He's been on a tear with multiple posts since the decision came out. Although he's on the wrong side with the wrong conclusions, his facts are right, as is much of his analysis and all of his admissions against the interests of his side.

*In the December 2 hearing, we had this exchange:
JUSTICE STEVENS: I find it interesting that the scientists whose worked on that report said there were a good many omissions that would have indicated that there wasn't nearly the uncertainty that the agency described.
MR. GARRE: Your Honor, if you are referring to the amicus brief, Your Honor, there are -- assuming there are amicus briefs on the other side. The Ballunas amicus brief -- I think it is fair for the Court to look at, to look at the document that the agency had before it. That -- that document produced by the National Research -- Research Council, that's the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences. And it's one of the gold standards of research.
JUSTICE STEVENS: But in their selective quotations, they left out parts that indicated there was far less uncertainty than the agency purported to find.
Seems like the brief by the scientists made a difference, looking at the final opinion written by Stevens. Roger Pielke Jr., by contrast, wrote last fall: "I do think it is a bit disingenuous of a few of the scientists who have publicly stated that they are focused not on advocacy but correcting the scientific record. Lets be clear, taking sides and participating in a court case is not about science; it is about politics."

*I agree with the consensus that the EPA will be virtually forced to issue regulations by this decision. I disagree with comments that it won't happen during the current administration - I think it could if the Bushies decide they really want it to happen during their term, for better or for worse.

*I think the Bush Administration has some political room now to walk away from their "no regulation" position, but the questions remains whether they'll walk away, get dragged away, or just decide to stall it out for the next president.

*Worst case but plausibly-legal scenario is the EPA issues regulatory caps that function in name only, say a cap set at 50% greater than 2009 vehicular emissions. They could argue this stops backsliding from exceeding a certain level, while leaving the president sufficient room to negotiate a better deal with foreign countries. Not sure how courts would react to the inevitable challenges.

*Issuing Clean Air Act waivers for the California vehicle emissions law (and other states) could happen soon. I don't know enough about this field to make a judgment as to how ironclad the enviro legal arguments are, but this could turn out to be the most important effect of the decision.

*Interesting new blog, Warming Law: "The Warming Law blog is a place for people who write about, think about, or wonder about how the third branch of government, the judiciary, is addressing one of the most urgent environmental issues of our time." I'll add it to my blogroll.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

March 2007 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate during the last month: 2.65 (nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis)

Previous averages
February 2007: 3.0
January 2007: 2.77

Last year, March 2006: 1.06.

Overall daily average to date is 2.38. Total US dead as of today: 3257.

Iraqi monthly military and police fatalities: 215.

Previous military/police fatality rates
February 2007: 150
January 2007: 91

Last year, March 2006: 191.
Total Iraqi military dead: 6395.

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

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1674

February 2007: 1381
January 2007: 1,711

Last year, March 2006: 901.

To-date civilian total, begining in March 2005: 27,086. Note that the civilian numbers are far less accurate than others (most likely to be greatly underestimated, or even ridiculously underestimated), but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: Now seven months in a row with American casualties above average, no prior bad stretch lasted longer than three months. The overall average rate continues to move up, from a low of 2.9 deaths daily.

Iraqi military fatality rates may be creeping up, but we need another month or two to establish a trend. As before, civilian casualties remain terrible. The rate seems to hover around a level that is nearly twice as bad as a year ago. Neither we nor the Iraqis realized how good we had it back in 2005.

UPDATE: It's worth mentioning that these stats give no indication that the troop escalation in Iraq has accomplished anything. Two months is a little early to draw a conclusion, but there's nothing encouraging so far in the data.

UPDATE 2: Maybe not the best post for a comedy link, but still: Bush Refuses To Set Timetable For Withdrawal Of Head From White House Banister

Monday, April 02, 2007

Some interesting excerpts from the Supreme Court global warming opinion

Massachusetts v. EPA:

(Majority opinion)

Notwithstanding the seriouscharacter of that jurisdictional argument and the absence of any conflicting decisions construing §202(a)(1), theunusual importance of the underlying issue [climate change] persuaded us to grant the writ.
In essence, EPA concluded that climate changewas so important that unless Congress spoke with exacting specificity, it could not have meant the agency toaddress it.
The agency began by recognizing that the concentration of greenhouse gases has dramaticallyincreased as a result of human activities, and acknowledgedthe attendant increase in global surface air temperatures. Id., at 52930. EPA nevertheless gave controlling importance to the NRC Report’s statement that a causal linkbetween the two “‘cannot be unequivocally established.’”

The agency furthermore characterized any EPA regulation of motor-vehicle emissions as a “piecemeal approach” toclimate change, id., at 52931, and stated that such regulation would conflict with the President’s “comprehensive approach” to the problem, id., at 52932. That approach involves additional support for technological innovation, the creation of nonregulatory programs to encourage voluntaryprivate-sector reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and further research on climate change—not actual regulation. Id., at 52932–52933. According to EPA, unilateral EPA regulation of motor-vehicle greenhouse gas emissions might also hamper the President’s ability to persuade key developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Id., at 52931.
[The lower court concluded that] it was reasonable for EPA to base its decision on scientific uncertainty as well as on other factors, including the concern that unilateral regulation of U. S. motor-vehicle emissions could weaken efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from other countries.
In Judge Tatel’s view,the “‘substantial probability,’” id., at 66, that projected rises in sea level would lead to serious loss of coastal property was a “far cry” from the kind of generalized harm insufficient to ground Article III jurisdiction. Id., at 65. He found that petitioners’ affidavits more than adequately supported the conclusion that EPA’s failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions contributed to the sea level changesthat threatened Massachusetts’ coastal property. Ibid. As to redressability, he observed that one of petitioners’ experts, a former EPA climatologist, stated that “‘[a]chievable reductions in emissions of CO2 and other [greenhouse gases] from U. S. motor vehicles would . . . delay and moderate many of the adverse impacts of global warming.’”
EPA maintains that because greenhouse gas emissions inflict widespread harm, the doctrine of standing presentsan insuperable jurisdictional obstacle. We do not agree.At bottom, “the gist of the question of standing” is whetherpetitioners have “such a personal stake in the outcome ofthe controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination.”
We stress here, as did Judge Tatelbelow, the special position and interest of Massachusetts.It is of considerable relevance that the party seeking review here is a sovereign State and not, as it was in Lujan, a private individual.
The harms associated with climate change are seriousand well recognized. Indeed, the NRC Report itself—which EPA regards as an “objective and independentassessment of the relevant science,” 68 Fed. Reg. 52930—identifies a number of environmental changes that havealready inflicted significant harms, including “the globalretreat of mountain glaciers, reduction in snow-coverextent, the earlier spring melting of rivers and lakes, [and]the accelerated rate of rise of sea levels during the 20th century relative to the past few thousand years . . . .” NRC Report 16.
Petitioners allege that this only hints at the environmental damage yet to come. According to the climate scientist Michael MacCracken, “qualified scientific expertsinvolved in climate change research” have reached a“strong consensus” that global warming threatens (among other things) a precipitate rise in sea levels by the end of the century, MacCracken Decl. ¶15, Stdg. App. 207, “severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems,” id., ¶5(d), at 209, a “significant reduction in water storage inwinter snowpack in mountainous regions with direct andimportant economic consequences,” ibid., and an increase in the spread of disease, id., ¶28, at 218–219. He also observes that rising ocean temperatures may contribute to the ferocity of hurricanes. Id., ¶¶23–25, at 216–217.18
EPA does not dispute the existence of a causal connection between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
EPA overstates its case. Its argument rests on the erroneous assumption that a small incremental step, because it is incremental, can never be attacked in a federal judicial forum. Yet accepting that premise woulddoom most challenges to regulatory action. Agencies, like legislatures, do not generally resolve massive problems inone fell regulatory swoop.
While it may be true that regulating motor-vehicle emissions will not by itself reverse global warming, it by nomeans follows that we lack jurisdiction to decide whetherEPA has a duty to take steps to slow or reduce it.
We moreover attach considerable significance to EPA’s“agree[ment] with the President that ‘we must address the issue of global climate change,’” ... and to EPA’s ardent support for various voluntary emission-reduction programs, 68 Fed. Reg. 52932. As Judge Tatel observed in dissent below, “EPA would presumably not bother with such efforts if itthought emissions reductions would have no discernable impact on future global warming.”
unlike EPA, we have no difficulty reconciling Congress’ various efforts to promote interagency collaboration and research to better understand climate change28 with the agency’s pre-existing mandate to regulate “any air pollutant” that may endanger the public welfare.
The alternative basis for EPA’s decision—that even if it does have statutory authority to regulate greenhousegases, it would be unwise to do so at this time—rests on reasoning divorced from the statutory text....that judgment must relate to whether an air pollutant“cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution which mayreasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,”....Under the clear terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA can avoid taking further action only if itdetermines that greenhouse gases do not contribute toclimate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretionto determine whether they do.
while the President hasbroad authority in foreign affairs, that authority does not extend to the refusal to execute domestic laws.
Nor can EPA avoid its statutory obligation by noting theuncertainty surrounding various features of climate changeand concluding that it would therefore be better not toregulate at this time. See 68 Fed. Reg. 52930–52931. If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment as to whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, EPA must say so.

(Roberts dissent)

Global warming may be a “crisis,” even “the most pressing environmental problem of our time.” Pet. for Cert. 26, 22. Indeed, it may ultimately affect nearly everyone on the planet in some potentially adverse way, and it may bethat governments have done too little to address it.
I would reject these challenges as nonjusticiable. Such a conclusion involves no judgment on whether global warming exists, what causes it, or the extent of the problem.
The very concept of global warming seems inconsistent with this particularization requirement. Global warmingis a phenomenon “harmful to humanity at large,”
In light of the bit-part domestic new motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions have played in whatpetitioners describe as a 150-year global phenomenon, and the myriad additional factors bearing on petitioners’ alleged injury—the loss of Massachusetts coastal land—theconnection is far too speculative to establish causation.

Scalia's dissent said nothing interesting.

Supreme Court rules against Bush Admin on global warming

The opinion is here. That the petitioners have standing to challenge the refusal to regulate gases is very important - ruling otherwise would have shut the courts to a wide variety of currently-allowed challenges. The other key statement is here:

4. EPA’s alternative basis for its decision—that even if it has statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gases, it would be unwise to do so at this time—rests on reasoning divorced from the statutory text.
Under the Act’s clear terms, EPA can avoid promulgating regulations only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climatechange or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why itcannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do. It has refused to do so, offering instead a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, including the existence of voluntary Executive Branch programs providing a response to global warming and impairment of the President’s ability to negotiate with developing nations to reduce emissions. These policy judgments have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change and do not amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form ascientific judgment. Nor can EPA avoid its statutory obligation bynoting the uncertainty surrounding various features of climate change and concluding that it would therefore be better not to regulate at this time. If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment, it must say so.

EPA now has to follow the Clean Air Act process to determine whether is should regulate greenhouse gases, something it didn't do.

Reading the syllabus (the first 6 pages) is useful for someone who doesn't plan to read the whole thing. I'll probably have more comments later.