Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More on the "Leave No Child Inside Legal Defense Fund" concept

(Idea first discussed here and here). Here are the two quotes from the updated version of Last Child in the Woods, from a discussion of legal reform to reduce liability concerns that keep kids away from nature:

While we wait for legal reform, environmental attorney Brian Schmidt has an idea that just might help....To liberate natural play, he suggests creation of what he calls a "Leave No Child Inside Legal Defense Fund," a foundation that would pay the legal costs of select institutions and individuals who encourage children to go outdoors but are then hit with frivolous lawsuits. Volunteer lawyers for the Defense Fund would focus on the most frivolous, high-profile claims, or those claims that would establish the worst precedents. He suspects that the outdoor industries would be interested in funding such an organization. 'Obviously, regardless of how successful this idea could become, it will never cover all the costs of defending against frivolous lawsuits,' he adds. 'Still it could help, and just the fact that a defendant knew it was possible to recover costs might make the defendant less likely to settle.' It would also send a public message that natural play is still valued.
(page 243)

Also in the chapter "100 Actions We Can Take":

67. ....Create a Leave No Child Inside legal defense fund that would, using pro bono attorneys, help families and organizations fight egregious lawsuits that restrict children's play in nature and bring media attention to the issues.
(page 377)

To reinforce something I wrote earlier, I think it would be simplest for the legal fund to simply review completed legal cases where defendants didn't cave in, select the best ones, and reimburse all or part of their legal costs. This would be relatively easy for pro-bono attorneys to handle. More complicated would be actually doing the litigation, as only a few attorneys or law firms have the resources to devote sufficient pro-bono time to run the suit. Maybe this would be possible at some point, though.

Another issue would be what types of defendants should be eligible. While one might argue against making wealthy liability insurance companies eligible for the rewards, I think we should reward them too for doing the right thing, and they likely represent the biggest number of cases. My suggestion would be to have the funds directed at three target groups in decreasing priority: nonprofits that get kids outside, for-profit businesses that do the same, and last the liability insurers that defend either of the first two groups.

My other suggestion is that insurers only get compensated if they attest that they won't raise insurance rates against the insuree that was hit with the frivolous suit.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cap and dividend sounds fine to me

Info here (via Grist). As the website says:

Cap and dividend is a simple, market-based way to reduce CO2 emissions without reducing household income. It caps fossil fuel supplies, makes polluters pay, and returns the revenue to everyone equally.

It is modeled after the Alaska Permanent Fund, which pays equal dividends from the proceeds of state oil leases.

They would cap carbon emissions, auction off carbon permits and redistribute the auction money to citizens. Cap and trade will make carbon intensive products and services more expensive, but the dividend means that low-carbon users would come out ahead.

Having lived in Alaska myself, I can attest to the Permanent Fund's political popularity. No politician can touch it, and giving the money back to the citizens would more than address the denialists and their newfound concern for a consumption tax that affects the poor more than the rich. I think the left can be as simplistic as the right when it comes to consumption taxes - there are ways to keep them from being regressive.

The one problem with this idea is that if you don't use the auction proceeds to help control future emissions, which is what Obama wants to do with funding renewable energy research, then you have to set stricter standards to make up for the lost investment. But if it makes the whole thing more politically palatable, that's fine with me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Volokh non-correction on the Texas polygamy mess

Not only am I agreeing with the Volokhs, I'm agreeing with David Bernstein of all people there: there's something very screwed up about how Texas is physically seizing and temporarily shipping to foster care all the hundreds of non-infant children from the polygamist compound, with no individualized determination of risk to each child before seizing the child.

The rule of law exists for a reason.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Well I'll be .... Bill Gray says he wants to bet

I received a very polite email today from Bill Gray, saying he just learned of my bet "offer" (actually it's his offer that I accepted, but close enough) and is interested in making the bet, for charity. He's traveling but will get back to me with potential terms before mid-May.

I'm kind of surprised, but assuming he offers reasonable terms, then a climate crisis charity is going to have a decent chunk of money coming their way. And as for Dr. Gray, betting is a helpful way to distinguish skeptics from the sleaziest denialists, so good for him (assuming the bet happens).

I think that some denialists seized on my bet with David Evans as if it were some kind of victory that a skeptic was actually willing to put his money where his mouth was. I hope we can avoid a similar problem here by challenging other denialists to make this same bet. For folks on our side, betting against the position that temperatures would actually fall should be pretty attractive to people who support the mainstream consensus.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Backseat Driving idea makes it into print

This is pretty cool - two years ago, Richard Louv wrote the book, The Last Child in the Woods, about how children are increasingly denied unstructured access to nature. Last year, I wrote a post about how the fears of frivolous lawsuits that restrict children's access could be reduced through a "Leave No Child Inside Legal Defense Fund," something that pays the legal defense costs of institutions and individuals who brought children outdoors and then were hit with frivolous lawsuits.

Richard Louv has contacted me about the idea, and now it's in the second edition of his book, right on page 243 (appropriately credited). Still not a reality, but it's one step closer to being something real.

Best part of it was what I originally wrote, "I'll just toss this idea out into the Googleable universe" to see if anything happens, and it did.

So I'll just toss the idea out into the Googleable universe that I should be paid millions to blog my random thoughts here....

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Maybe not perjury, but a beautiful tool for our case

I think I'd disagree somewhat with Tamino as to whether the graph above showing a non-correlation between CO2 and temperature over the last ten years constitutes perjury. He's right that it's misleading in the broader sense that it conceals the long-term correlation between CO2 and temperature in Tamino's graph below:

I doubt it's misleading enough to be perjury, but I'd welcome any idiot opponent who actually used it in a climate change case. I'd rather win the case than convict the opposing side's expert for perjury, and you could use the first graph to support the truth.

You're allowed to treat the opposing side's witnesses as adversarial and ask them leading questions with yes-or-no answers. Before I ever showed the second graph, I'd ask these questions:

Well, you clearly consider this a powerful piece of evidence, right? (Yes)

The lack of correlation means to you that CO2 increases didn't change temperature, right? (Yes)

[Several more questions re-enforcing the importance of the noncorrelation]

Now, there is the 2000-2002 series in your graph which does appear to show a correlation between CO2 and temperature, but I assume that's unimportant because the longer, ten-year period doesn't show a correlation, yes? (Yes)

So despite this short-term difference from your conclusion, you are certain it's appropriate to draw your conclusion from the long-term implications of your time series, right? (Yes)

I want to make sure though - you're not biasing your answers but simply giving the objective conclusion that results from the data, right? (Yes)

And had the data shown a tight match between CO2 and temperature, your conclusion that you would be telling us about this data would be different from what you've told us today, right? [Here the witness might argue that correlation doesn't prove causation - refuse to let the witness talk about that, just about whether the conclusion of a non-correlation would've changed.]

So we've established the non-correlation over the longer 10-year term of the data is important, and a correlation would've opened us to a different possibility. Now say the next 10 years continues to show no correlation - doesn't that strengthen your conclusion? (Yes)

And no correlation for the next 100 years, even more so? (Yes)

And a few short stretches during that century with a correlation doesn't matter given the long-term proof, yes? (Yes)

And then, you thank the witness, and when allowed, introduce the second graph above from 1850-present showing the long-term correlation (don't let the witness discuss it, though, it's yours to talk about).

All this is a long-winded way of saying that if the other side uses a piece-of-garbage data to support their opinion, we can use the importance they attach to it by saying whoever has the best data on this issue wins, and then show our hand.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hello world, I may have missed your email

I just found out today that the previously-reliable Yahoo email spam filter has gone crazy and snagged lots of emails it should've let through. It even filtered out an email I sent from myself to myself.

If you're like me and hadn't bothered to check the spam folder before, now is the time to start. Hopefully it'll get sensible again before too long - this virtually eliminates the value of a spam filter.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Virtually all of McCain's "gas tax holiday" savings would go to refinery owners

I'm outsourcing this post to Dean Baker. Summary: refineries are the choke point in gasoline production, so they can easily raise prices if the gas tax is lifted. No one else will get the benefit.

UPDATE: I think this is a corollary of a discussion at Gristmill a while back, to the effect that a modest tax on oil imports wouldn't really raise prices and reduce consumption but rather would claw back some profits from overseas producers. In that case, the environmental value isn't so much in the existence of the tax but in what could be done with it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I accept Bill Gray's climate bet offer - will he seal the deal?

Bill Gray went a step beyond his usual denialist statements last month at the Heartland Institute "conference" on climate change:

“We should begin to see cooling coming on,” Gray said. “I’m willing to make a big financial bet on it. In 10 years, I expect the globe to be somewhat cooler than it is now, because this ocean effect will dominate over the human-induced CO2 effect and I believe the solar effect and the land-use effect. I think this is likely bigger.”

(audio clip at the link above.)

In late 2005, Gray had refused to bet me among other people, so this was an interesting development. (Also interesting that in 2005, Gray was saying cooling would happen between 2010 in 2013, and now he moves the goalposts further down the field.)

I decided to make it more interesting, and placed the following ad last Friday on page 6 of The Collegian, the student newspaper at Colorado State University where Gray is apparently still active:

An Open Letter to Dr. Bill Gray,
Professor Emeritus, Colorado State University

Dear Dr. Bill Gray:

You deny that Earth will continue warming. Two years ago, you told me that you weren’t interested in betting over whether you’re right. Now you’ve said

“We should begin to see cooling coming on……. I’m willing to make a big financial bet on it. In 10 years, I expect the globe to be somewhat cooler than it is now .

That’s wonderful – Dr. Gray, I gladly accept your offer to bet over global warming.

I suggest we each donate $5,000 to the Longbets.org charity to bet over whether temperatures will rise or fall in ten years. When the time’s up, Longbets will give all of our money to the winner’s designated charity, even if neither of us is around to see who’s won.

You could designate our $10,000 plus interest to go to CSU. If I win, our combined money will go to an appropriate “climate crisis” charity.

I will contact you within the next two weeks to finalize our agreement, and you can also reach me at : schmidtb98@yahoo.com, or http://www.backseatdriving.blogspot.com.

When so many climate skeptics have refused to bet over their beliefs (among them James Inhofe, Marc Morano, Bob Carter, Tim Ball, Chris Monckton, and the list goes on), it’s refreshing that you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is.

Thank you again for making this offer.

Brian Schmidt
Unfortunately, The Collegian doesn't put the print ads on its website, but anyone who can get the paper copy will find the ad on page 6 from April 11, 2008 (or I can email whoever wants the pdf of that page of the paper).

So we'll see if Gray is really willing to make his "large financial bet," and I'll certainly consider different ways to bet if that interests him.

Betting, by the way, is my response to the great "should we respond to denialists or ignore them" debate. The most strongly consensus-contradicting denialist claim becomes all the more reason the denialist should take my money away from me. The fact that all the loudest denialists aren't interested in doing so is an effective tool to contradict them (I hope).

Placing this print ad also has one other potential benefit - denialist editors on wikipedia are censoring biographical articles about Gray and others that mention their refusal to bet, because the documentation of the bets are on blogs, which Wikipedia frowns on. This stuff is now in print, both against Gray and the whole string of others that I mentioned. Maybe it'll finally get reported in wiki.

(Hat tip to Winnebago for letting me know about Gray's offer.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The post-campaign John Edwards: not so great

I don't think my former candidate John Edwards has done very well politically since he's dropped out. I'll bet he's kicking himself for quitting before Super Tuesday. He likely quit to avoid getting drubbed and to hold on to a lot of money given to him that would otherwise be spent in the runup to Super Tuesday, but even a bad showing then could have netted him 50 delegates and significant bargaining power.

As for the whole thing about Obama blowing a potential endorsement from Edwards - I'd score that a minus for Obama and a plus for Hillary on the personal diplomacy front, but also as a minus for Edwards. He should have enough direct knowledge of both candidates to know which one is better, regardless of how well they suck up to him in a personal interview. And it's ridiculous to think that Obama is supposed to privately retract his public assertion that his own health care plan is universal.

Still, Edwards did a good job in moving the Democratic campaign in the right direction. I'm curious what he'll do next. I think he's basically had his shot at the presidency unless and until he gets some new governmental experience.

UPDATE: And while I'm handing out discredits to Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Chris Dodd gets one for his terrible "mortgage relief" bill. As Daniel Gross points out, the majority of the money goes to tax breaks for homebuilding speculators who counted on an unending bubble. The $7,000 tax credit for foreclosure purchasers is almost as bad in my opinion as a foreclosure accelerant. The mortgage holders are even less likely to work deals with current homeowners when they know that people buying foreclosures have an extra $7,000 to work with. Some of those buyers might even be speculators, completing the cycle of stupidity.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tort liability of climate polluters for climate-related monitoring and preventive costs

Last year I did a series of posts on whether climate polluters could be found legally liable for damage to hurricane victims (here's the last post with the summary of the others). Basically I thought that it would be hard to show liability with the current understanding of the science that limits our ability to tie climate change to particular harm, even for class action suits for a large class of victims.

A conversation I had recently helped me rethink one aspect of this, though. To some (controversial) extent, legal liability for medical monitoring is part of current tort law in the United States. An example: a company negligently exposes a community to low levels of a carcinogen. While the court may not conclude that any community member will necessarily incur cancer as a result, the community members could recover the costs of increased medical monitoring they will need to try and detect cancers as early as possible.

The same reasoning should apply to climate change, and it avoids much of the problem of tying pollution to a particular injury. If an inland community now has to monitor hurricanes because the increased intensity and sea level rise means they crossed the threshold from not-too-vulnerable, and become vulnerable-enough-to-be-worried, the US legal system might assign the liability to the people that caused it.

Prevention of damages could also be an assigned cost. If sea level rise means your property is now in a 100-year flood plain and you need insurance, that could also be a recoverable cost. Tracing causation for this should be particularly easy.

One interesting aspect of this is how it fits into the current adaptation-versus-mitigation debate. While I tend to strongly favor a mix that emphasizes mitigation, the legal approach I've described would fund adaptation.

The crucial thing to me though is the one thing I've missed in spotty following of this debate: who do the adaptationists think should pay for the costs? Here, making the polluters pay for the costs of adaptation through tort liability will by itself help promote mitigation, making fossil fuels more expensive in relation to non-polluting alternatives. That's all the better, so long as no one gets confused into thinking this even approaches a substitute for a regulatory solution. It's only a single tool in the toolkit.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The banality of legal academic evils

I'm reading a fair amount of chatter in the legal blogosphere over John Yoo's recently-released legal memo from March 14, 2002 that started the government's infatuation with torture. This post suggests he didn't have the authority to issue the memo that was accepted as the final word over military interrogations. Elsewhere I've read that Yoo issued the memo the day after his supervisor, Jay Bybee (no angel either), had left office. Now people are debating whether Yoo should be removed from his office as a tenured law professor at UC Berkeley.

To be fair I haven't read his memo, but I've read about it. What it reminds me of is my one time where I felt my legal work was entering some sticky ethical ground on a very much smaller scale - a client involved in a larger matter wanted to know if it had the legal authority to do something I considered unethical. The way I handled it was to exhaustively research and document all the ways things could go badly for my client if they took that approach. The law wouldn't allow me to say "no you can't," but there was room in the law to make the approach look unattractive.

Yoo seems to have taken the opposite approach. He wanted to see how far he could push it in terms of what colorable arguments could justify the worst possible torture. A "colorable" argument in legal terms means anything short of frivolous - an argument that is almost but not 100% certainly wrong is "colorable". Then he uses whatever possible tricks to "publish" his view within the government. It's all an academic exercise, I suppose. Maybe that would make him a good teacher in some people's minds, but this is no thought experiment, and he doesn't deserve to be rewarded.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Light blogging this week - climate betting next week?

I'm travelling and won't be blogging until sometime next week. I may have a development on the climate betting front by then, and will be sure to post when that happens.

Meanwhile, I recommend taking a look at James' post on the Intrade prediction market for a near-record temperature in 2008. From James' analysis, it sounds like the 20% odds are high. I think it would be interesting though to calculate the odds if temperature changes were random instead of forced, and that would indicate something about this market's belief in global warming.

Also on betting, I agree with William that a climate change bet where all the money goes to the same charity no matter who wins isn't much of a bet. However, a bet where the money goes to different charities depending on who wins is a different matter, especially if the charities work to cross purposes, like a climate-crisis charity versus a right-wing denialist think tank.

UPDATE: fixed the mistake in the post title - I knew what I meant to say!