Friday, August 27, 2010

Climate regulation is all about next year's budget

With climate legislation shot this year and having no chance for the next two years when the Republicans pick up votes in the Senate, the only game in town on the national level is EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act.

The advantage that climate realists have over climate nihilists is that all we need to do is defense, and stop Republicans from passing legislation that amends the Clean Air Act. People look at the summer's 53-47 defeat of Sen. Murkowski's attempt to do just that as good news, saying Republicans need a majority in the House, 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and possibly override a presidential veto by two-thirds vote in both houses.

I don't think defense is that easy. Republicans will focus on the budget process and attempt to amend the budget so that the EPA can spend no money to enforce or promulgate regulations related to climate change. As a budget item, it's not subject to a filibuster (UPDATE: should've said, as a budget reconciliation item, it wouldn't be subject to a filibuster, but that only makes it a slightly harder hurdle to overcome). Right now, the attempt would likely fail in the Senate by a 53-47 vote against, but if the Republicans pick up four or more Senate votes as predicted, then they've got the votes.

The Senate might then be in a game of chicken with the House, or maybe not if the House also switches enough votes to the Dark Side on climate budgeting. Obama could theoretically veto a budget with this provision, but in an election year budget with money for seniors and soldiers, that'll be hard to do. I could see an unfortunate compromise as a result.

Conclusion #1: we're in a hard battle yet.

Conclusion #2: this might have something to do with Obama's disappointing opposition to climate change lawsuits. He's saying that they should be dismissed, as long as regulations are in place and enforced. Having a stick of lawsuits waiting in the wings if the Republican zero out the budget might reduce some enthusiasm for that budgetary trick.

Anyway, the budget is what we have to watch.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cordoba House and learning from the Hamas-Likud symbiosis

The radical extremists among Israelis and Palestinians have an unstated symbiotic relationship - each extremist side advocates committing outrages upon the other side but has to contend with more moderate elements who oppose them. Each time the extremists on one side commit an outrage against the other side, the moderates on the victim side get weaker. The extremists on the victim side are now more free to commit an outrage in return, and the cycle worsens. It doesn't have to be a deliberate or conscious collusion by the two extremist sides, and they don't have to be morally equivalent to each other. It's still a symbiosis.

I think that's partially what's going on with the Cordoba House controversy. Islamophobes in America don't even want to acknowledge the existence of Islamic moderates like the ones running the Cordoba project, so they lump all forms of Islam together. And to the extent Islamophobes succeed in killing or tarnishing the project, they succeed in harming moderate Islam. That's just great for extremists in Islam, or even unreformed and undemocratic elements of Islam, and their behavior will then just reinforce the power of Islamophobes.

What to do about this symbiosis is less clear, except that the cycle can work in reverse, of increasing moderation. I think the Cordoba House will be built and will help increase the influence of moderate Islamic leaders at the detriment of Islamic extremists and American Islamophobes.

I've also thought the Cordoba House could highlight the Muslim victims and heroes of 911, something that could help blunt the claim that the project is somehow an affront to the memory of 911.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Give Michael Tobis his Jim Hansen moment

Michael argues that the Russian warming is virtually inexplicable without anthropogenic climate change (and follows it up in his blog). If he's correct, then this would be the first severe weather event that we could specifically say was made worse by climate change, as opposed to just saying that the dice had been loaded by climate change.

His argument's getting some attention, but not what it deserves. Hansen had his 1988 moment in front of Congress saying that global warming had already arrived, and Michael should have the same chance to say the same thing about tying specific weather events to climate change.

Of course there's the tiny issue of whether Michael's correct, something I can't really judge. The same question was in place when Hansen testified to Congress, though. Just because it's not yet known as a certainty isn't justification for downplaying it - let's get the word out, with uncertainties expressed.

It should also be noted that specific physical events (not just statistical changes) that we can tie to climate change right now also include sea level rise and ocean acidification, but they're quite as dramatic as Russia on fire.

UPDATE: Michael Tobis backs off slightly, and finds Pat Michaels making his first worthwhile contribution to science in years. While the Russian heating may still be unprecedented, the case for being it nearly impossible without climate change is less strong now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hoisted from the comments: it's the dog that doesn't bark that tells the story

Jeff S. says:

Your last point [failure of skeptics to create an alternative to hockey stick analysis is significant -ed.] is similar to another point you made on this blog that I don't think gets made often enough, or really, ever. If it is possible to construct a plausible, defensible climate model wherein a doubling of atmospheric CO2 leads to minimal warming, it is reasonable to expect that the allied forces of the fossil fuel industry (the largest industry in the world) and the skeptic community could have produced one by now. As Sherlock Holmes might have it, it's the dog that doesn't bark that tells the story.
(Links added by me.)

Of course I like the comment since it goes along with my view, but I wish I thought of the Sherlock Holmes piece.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Goodbye Neil

Hard to see, but the tiny white cloud above the cliff face is the ashes of my friend and climbing partner Neil Kelly, scattering to the winds and rock of the Sierras.