Monday, June 29, 2009

For your edits: new wiki article, "History of climate change science"

I've put up a new article on wiki, "History of climate change science," covering the history of scientific developments from late 1700s to 1988. What I wrote is really just an abbreviated history of the science of carbon dioxide and climate science - a lot can and should be added about water vapor and other gases. Please jump in and make improvements!

I'm hopeful this article will be less contentious than other climate articles, while still making clear that climate change wasn't something invented by hippies to advance their socialist plots.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Volokh Correction #25: there already is a national energy efficiency standard

The Volokhs have been on jihad against legislation to fight the climate change they generally acknowledge to be a real problem, and I haven't been able to keep up with their nonsense. Here's one sample though: Jonathan Adler is horrified that something he claims is a national energy efficiency building code will result.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers already works to develop energy efficiency standards, and the legislation could put some incentives behind adoption of revised standards. Many local building codes already apply state and national standards.

This is a typical, delayist nothingburger of a critique.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You'd think it would be easy to find the text of the Waxman-Markey bill....

(UPDATE: so it passed 219-212, Grist calling it one more than the 218 minimum needed to pass (that doesn't sound right to me, but whatever). Regardless, I'd like the enviros who think it's too weak to support to explain how they would both strengthen it significantly and still get a majority. Next is trying to get 60 votes in the Senate. I'd be pretty amazed to see even something as strong as this version make it all the way through.)

I think there's some wrong information about the Waxman-Markey bill, like this opposition message from the Climate Crisis Coalition:

ACESA's Major Flaws:

1) Weak cap. ACESA's cap on greenhouse gas emissions represents reductions of only 1‑4% below 1990 levels by 2020, far less than climate scientists deem necessary.

2) Offsets further weaken the cap. ACESA overwhelms its own cap by allowing two billion tons of dubious "offsets" annually, with up to two‑thirds from international sources which could allow U.S. emissions to keep increasing until 2040. ACESA's offsets provisions have been further weakened by the latest compromise: transerring EPA oversight to the Department of Agriculture and excluding indirect impacts of biofuels production.

3) Fails to put a meaningful price on carbon. The weak cap combined with offsetts, would result in a price on carbon far too low to produce the changes in energy use ncessary to avert climate catastrophe. Free allowances to utilities and energy intensive industries further mute the price signal needed to shift to a low-carbon economy.

4) Trading Combined with "subprime" offsetts will lead to speculative bubbles. ACESA's trading provisions would create a volitile $2 trillion carbon market with unregulated derivatives that could crash financial markets again. Linking trading systems internationally would lead to even larger opportunities for speculation, gaming and fraud.

5) Weak Renewable Energy Standard. ACESA's Renewable Energy Standard (RES) is watered down to just 15% by 2020, barely greater than "business‑as‑usual." Furthermore, ACESA defines "renewable energy" to include dirty sources such as waste incineration.

6) Handouts for the coal and oil Industries. Through free allowances and a hidden utility tax, the coal industry would receive approximately $150 billion over the bill's lifetime for "deployment" of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology that presently doesn't exist and may never materialize. If feasible, CCS would require far more mining, transportation and burning of coal to produce electricity. ACESA would also give approximately $24 billion to oil refiners under the pretext that the world's most profitable industry needs still more financial assistance.

7) Pre‑emption of EPA Authority. ACESA would pre‑empt EPA's authority to regulate sources of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, while also overriding stronger laws at the state and regional levels. By disabling this regulatory backstop, ACESA ensures that its failure as climate policy will be catastrophic.

I commented at Island of Doubt:

#3 and #4 are contradictory - if the price is low, how can it be a $2 trillion market?

#6: "If feasible, CCS would require far more mining, transportation and burning of coal to produce electricity." What's this supposed to mean? CCS is a big question mark, but if it works it could be the sweet spot in minimally changing our economic systems while evading climate impacts.

#2 and #7: My understanding is the EPA retains control over non-farm offsets and under the bill can still impose new climate change regs over everything except coal plants. If I'm right (and I'm relying on secondary sources here) then either these guys don't know what they're talking about or are deliberately overstating their case.

The problem is finding out what the current language says. The Thomas guide has it when it came out of committee, but the latest deals aren't included. This Grist article says "The biggest flaws environmental organizations have identified in Waxman-Markey include the removal of the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act," but elsewhere I've seen the removal is only over coal plants. Actual information would be useful.

I wonder if the congress reps tomorrow will know what they're voting on. (And yes, I think they do need to pass it, even with significant holes.)

UPDATE 2: found this (and if that link stops working, this one might work):



``As of the date of the enactment of the Safe Climate Act, no greenhouse gas may be added to the list under section 108(a) on the basis of its effect on global climate change.


``Section 115 shall not apply to an air pollutant with respect to that pollutant's contribution to global warming.


``No greenhouse gas may be added to the list of hazardous air pollutants under section 112 unless such greenhouse gas meets the listing criteria of section 112(b) independent of its effects on global climate change.


``The provisions of part C of title I shall not apply to a major emitting facility that is initially permitted or modified after January 1, 2009, on the basis of its emissions of any greenhouse gas.


``Notwithstanding any provision of title III or V, no stationary source shall be required to apply for, or operate pursuant to, a permit under title V, solely because the source emits any greenhouse gases that are regulated solely because of their effect on global climate change.''."

So my Clean Air Act knowledge is rusty, but criteria pollutants have to have plans for their reductions, so that's off the table. New coal plants could be regulated (I think) but old coal plants can't.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran and American perception

I haven't had much to contribute about Iran. I hope things turn out well, while fearing it could be another Burma. A colleague of mine is Iranian-American, and she emigrated back to Iran last summer to work on environmental issues there. I get occasional emails about what's going on, and hope she's okay too.

As to the "Obama should take the side of protestors" meme from the right, I think it's a matter partly of how one thinks American involvement in Iranian politics would be perceived in Iran. If you think the Iranian public would perceive American involvement as instantly friendly and non-oppressive, then it would be foolish to not weigh in. If on the other hand you recognize our role in overthrowing an elected government, long-term support for a brutal dictator, and subsequent military support for Iran's opponent in a brutal war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, it might seem less wise to take sides. It's just a matter of which is a more accurate way to anticipate how Iranians would react to our taking sides.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Detection, Attribution and Estimation

The above is the title for an old 2006 James Annan post that I tried to find earlier, about Roger Pielke Jr.'s approach criticizing those who attempt to estimate the current level of damage from AGW. An excerpt:

A recent comment of [Pielke's] provides a nice opening:
As you well know much of science works through hypothesis - falsification. Across climate science the null hypothesis used to guide research has been that a human signal is NOT present, and research is then done to falsify this hypothesis. In some cases such research has been done allowing attribution of climate effects to an anthropogenic forcing. This null hypothesis is chosen because of Occam's razor, it is a simpler explanation for what is observed.
He is essentially posing the question as initially one of detection - can we show that the AGW has had an effect, and that the observations are not just the result of climate variability? - before moving on to attribution - how much of a change can we describe as being due to this particular cause?

There is, however, an entirely different but equally valid approach that could also be used from the outset, which is:
what is our estimate of the magnitude of the effect? The critical distinction is that the null hypothesis has no particularly priviledged position in this approach.
James goes on to point out one of the two reasons why this is a bad approach:
It is amusing to see Roger, very much at the sharp end of policy-relevant work, promoting the scientifically "pure" but practically less useful detection/frequentist approach rather than the more appropriate estimation/Bayesian angle.

The business interests who will be hurt by action to address emissions know who they are, but the people who will be hurt by inaction don't know who they are. Damage estimates will help people know they are being affected and be more likely to balance the polluters in policy development.

The other reason why estimates are valuable is for climate change litigation. If we can estimate how much damage polluters are causing, we're much closer to figuring out what they owe to society. I'm certain this is something that fossil fuel lawyers and lobbyists are thinking about, and at some point they're going to want a deal: in return for immunity from litigation, they'll give a concession on climate change legislation. The more scared they are of litigation means the bigger the concession that they'll offer.

Back to James' post - in the comments, Roger shows up to say he mostly agreed with James on policy, but was not advocating but just "noting" the IPCC approach. Fast forward to more recently:

The attribution of health impacts to greenhouse gas emissions relies on work done by the WHO. Here is how the WHO describes its own analyses:

In 2002 the WHO explained (at p. 26 in this PDF):

Climate exhibits natural variability, and its effects on health are mediated by many other determinants. There are currently insufficient high-quality, long-term data on climate-sensitive diseases to provide a direct measurement of the health impact of anthropogenic climate change, particularly in the most vulnerable populations. Quantitative modelling is therefore the only practical route for estimating the health impacts of climate change.

And by quantitative modeling, they mean a model with assumptions included for the effects of GHG-driven climate change.

Roger calls this "non-empirical" and says estimates can be altered to say anything. Only "empirical" data can be used. I assume he means a disproof of the null hypothesis, which he had said before isn't a good way to do policy. Maybe I've misunderstood....

Worth noting that this WHO stuff is the same that Stoat says is badly done. And I'll concede that taking the additional step of estimating the human impact after estimating the AGW climate damage adds more squishiness to the calculation. But Roger says it shouldn't even be attempted, a different approach from saying the attempt was flawed.

(And I'll just put in a marker that I'm not convinced that William's right about the WHO, but I'm going to have to look at that more closely to see if I have anything intelligent to say....)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The American entry into the self-mockery Olympics

The Onion provides it here with this video, Obama Drastically Scales Back Goals For America After Visiting Denny's. I'd like to see some other country top that video. We're Number One!

The unfortunate part being that self-mockery only works if it has an element of truth to it....

(I actually would be interested in similar self-mockery videos from elsewhere, could be an entertaining cultural experience.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Greens opposed to Waxman-Markey are wildly unrealistic

Grist has been full of pro and con debates from enviros about the Waxman-Markey (one of the later salvos here). Just thought I'd add that it's pretty obviously the only game in town, and if it fails, it's unrealistic to expect anything else this year. Doing something is a whole lot better than doing nothing.

The only reason I can think of for holding off is the hope that next year, EPA will have come up with CO2 regulations that scare the bad guys enough to cut a deal in return for legislation that makes EPA back off. Too many problems with this, though, mostly problems of delay - EPA may not finish new regulations for over a year, and then the litigation will start and delay things even longer. Only after they've lost all the battles with EPA will the bad guys cut a deal.

A better approach is to get the best legislation that we can pass by 60 votes, now. When EPA issues draft regulations in a year or two, the polluters can try and strike a deal, but the baseline that they will have to improve from is the halfway-okay Waxman-Markey, as opposed to the present situation of nothing.

I don't think the relatively-smaller enviro groups opposing W-M have much of a leg to stand on.

UPDATE: a recent Nature Podcast commentary (not sure if it was June 4 or June 11) had another good point - if the US walks into the Copenhagen conference after the end of the year with no climate legislation in place, we will have no response to India and China saying they shouldn't put limit on their emissions either. If I were conspiratorial I'd think the polluters were cooperating on this tactic.

UPDATE 2: According to Mother Jones, the current version of W-M strips EPA of authority to regulate coal emissions for climate reasons (apparently not other aspects of climate change though). Consider part of my argument shot down, then.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Let's try the Foxp2 gene on chimps

My usual blogging timeliness here. News broke several weeks ago that the Foxp2 gene, one that is nearly identical in all mammals except humans and is associated with language problems when it's defective, had been experimentally altered in mice to partially resemble the human gene. They found the mice vocalized differently, behaved differently, and had more developed neurons in the parts of the brain controlling fine motor activity necessary for vocalizing.

So I think it would be very interesting to see how the same change would work on chimps. Those who think that chimps are on the far side of some ethical line that separates humans from everything else shouldn't really see any problem with this idea. I would hesitate and think a long time before genetically altering chimps to make them smarter, but the main change from this gene, probably, might just make it easier for chimps to verbalize what they can already do by sign language (or maybe it would do nothing that substantial, who knows). I think that change, if it happened, would strongly affect us and how we deal with great apes if all of us could hear them talk.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Review: Hard Candy is so much better than Juno

The girl whose over-praised acting got her an Oscar nomination for Juno did a much better job in an earlier, better, and very different movie - Hard Candy. Almost every review I've read included a spoiler from the first third of the movie (even the label on the Netflix DVD had a spoiler), so I'll avoid that by just saying it follows the consequences during one afternoon when a male photographer is inappropriately flirtatious with a teenage girl. If you like movies with a lot of moral ambiguity, even some remaining at the end, this is a good one. There's one stomach-churning scene, but the violence is implied and off-screen. You also have to suspend your disbelief about aspects of the girl's character, but not as much as in Juno.

I can't say too much more without giving away spoilers, so I'll just stop by recommending it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

And, Roger's back to his old tricks

RP Jr.'s got his third post up now in his attack-dog series against attaching a number to death and destruction from climate change. I can't keep up, but here's a note or two.

Roger sez:

I focused my critique on the disaster impacts because it seems common wisdom that the attribution of malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition deaths to greenhouse gas emissions needs no further critique. I was wrong about the common wisdom.

Roger finally admits he was only talking about less than 5% of the deaths. As to his claim that he omitted critiquing the 95% of the study because he was being nice, decide for yourself if you think he's telling the truth.

Moving along:

The attribution of health impacts to greenhouse gas emissions relies on work done by the WHO. Here is how the WHO describes its own analyses:

In 2002 the WHO explained (at p. 26 in this PDF):

Climate exhibits natural variability, and its effects on health are mediated by many other determinants. There are currently insufficient high-quality, long-term data on climate-sensitive diseases to provide a direct measurement of the health impact of anthropogenic climate change, particularly in the most vulnerable populations. Quantitative modelling is therefore the only practical route for estimating the health impacts of climate change.

And by quantitative modeling, they mean a model with assumptions included for the effects of GHG-driven climate change. To be clear, these assumptions are not based on observations or measurements.

So we're back, yet again, to Roger's shibboleth, his saying you can't start with an estimate of known climate impacts and use that to attribute a percentage of deaths and economic costs. Why? He says it's hard to do it accurately, that a slight change in the assumptions will give large changes in the numbers.

What he calls nonempirical is what normal humans would call an estimate. If you can't estimate perfectly, then you try to do it conservatively, and make clear that you're being conservative.

Roger thinks that if you can't get a perfect number, then don't do it at all, and give polluters a free ride instead.

UPDATE: Roger says in his post that tweaking the assumptions could result in an analysis where climate change actually reduces deaths instead of increasing them. That sounds to me like a great way for Roger to falsify this method - show that different but equally-reasonable assumptions lead to radically different conclusions. Incidentally, that's also how the fossil fuel companies could have backed up their assertion that climate models are useless - they could build their own with defensible parameters and assumptions and get different outputs. The fact that they never did it (publicly, anyway) suggests to me that any defensible model leads to a similar conclusion.

UPDATE 2: See William's post - he thinks the study's flawed, and makes the good point that my attack on Roger's critique sounds like a defense of the study. It's not meant to be.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Dog bites man, and Roger Pielke Jr. goes about things wrong

(META-UPDATE: As I said in the update to the post following this one, go read William's critique of the GHF study. What I'm trying to do here is not to defend the study but to argue that Roger did a lousy job of critiquing it, especially in his originally critique that he sent to the NY Times.)

Unfortunately, Roger Pielke Jr. seems to be the NY Times' go-to guy to say something contrary about climate stuff (OTOH, finding anyone who's semi-consistently contrary, but non-denialist, and not as credibility-wrecked as Lomborg, has got to be tough).

Latest is reporting on a study estimating over 300,000 deaths are now caused annually climate change, where RP Jr. says categorically the report is "deeply flawed" and a "methodological embarassment". His critique in full is here, and it really comes down to claiming that past attempts to pull a climate signal out of disaster noise have failed, and that this new attempt - comparing earthquake disasters and weather disasters over the same 25 year time period to determine whether increased disaster stats are from socioeconomic growth or climate - doesn't control for confounding factors.

First and most important, he condemns the entire report while offering reasons on just one small part. Disasters account for a little over 10% of the 300k death estimate (UPDATE: I was sloppy - it's actually less than 5%, and that figure also includes droughts, another thing I don't think Roger has critiqued). Most of the non-disaster-related deaths come from environmental degradation (methodology here) of which Roger has nothing to say.

Second, we don't know if earthquake regions have experienced less growth than other areas. Maybe they've had more growth, and the report is an underestimate. All we really know - and what would have been a valid criticism - is that this method is necessarily crude and has wide error bars for disaster attribution.

Third, Roger should have welcomed the approach to begin with, because it's the only one he acknowledges as legitimate. For years he's attacked as illegitimate the analyses that take what are generally-accepted levels of current climate change and tried to estimate what level of current disaster losses can be attributed to them. It took me forever to figure out his real critique was claiming these studies were attempting to prove a climate signal in the disaster noise, which is a complete misinterpretation (James Annan figured this out too, but I can't find where he wrote about it on his blog). This new report, by contrast, tries to do what Pielke Jr. wants, and instead he's just mad.

Fourth, if he wants to stand by previous analyses, he should have tried to figure out how to improve the study by making a prediction: that narrowing the geographic focus to areas with earthquake disasters would show no difference in trends between earthquake disasters and weather disasters (or at least, decreased diffence than what the present study found). That would remove much of the socioeconomic factors that Roger thinks are the problem. It would be interesting to see the answer to this narrower focus.

UPDATE: per Eli's comment, Roger's played a role in staking "ownership" of a policy area. And I thought I remembered this earthquake thing before.