Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gaddafi out by the end of next week

(UPDATE: guess I'm back to my pre-2008 predictive ability. I still think Gaddafi's toast, though.)

We'll see if this prediction is as bad as my political predictions usually are, although I've improved a bit in recent years. My prediction is based on Gaddafi's attempt to retake eastern Libya with military force, an attempt that's apparently failed. If the opposition could stand up to him miltarily with one week of organizing, then they're only going to get stronger.

I don't know what the long term holds for Libya - the strong tribal structure seems worrying for national unity. I was very mistaken in the case of Iraq to think in early 2003 that chaos would be preferable to the rule of an incompetent tyrant. I won't assume chaos is preferable in Libya either, but I'm hoping the wave of people power in the Arab world might also lead to a different result.

One other note: conservative blowhards condemn Obama for not taking stronger action in Libya, while failing to notice that hundreds of Americans and other foreigners were still in Tripoli. Now that they're gone, Obama is taking stronger action. Adults are moving things forward.

UPDATE: See here for the American version of why it's important to remove the bad guys from power - that clears the way to punish them for their crimes. We didn't do that with the financial leaders of Wall Street, and now they're getting away.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Offsets and cap-and-trade: coming soon to the Clean Water Act

I'm attending a water law conference in San Diego this week. Today's presentation included a discussion of attempts to limit pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The presenter said that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is likely to be set at certain maximum levels pretty soon, and following that, anyone who wants to do something that adds pollutants will have to find offsetting reductions. He speculated that a cap-and-trade market might even emerge.

I think this is still more evidence that there's nothing innately wrong with offsets and trades in greenhouse gases, and that the only real question is whether the programs are done well or done poorly.

One other piece of info that was climate related: another presenter discussed cost-benefit analyses in federal environmental regulations. I asked whether international effects were considered. He said not as a usual matter, but climate change is forcing them to think about it. They now give two different prices for the cost effect of increased greenhouse gases: one price is if they assume the US is all that counts, and another if they assume that we live on planet Earth. We'll see which one ultimately wins out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Climate betting update for 2010

I had my annual friendly email exchange with betting partner/opponent, David Evans, several weeks back. Our bet:
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.
We use the NASA GISS dataset, and the baseline is the five-year average for 2007 (.55C above the long-term average), compared to five year averages of each of the three bet periods. Years 2010 through 2014 won't "count" in the sense of not being measured in the five year averages, but they will give a sense of who's winning.

So who's winning? Interestingly, David and I both focused on the news that was bad for our own side. In 2010, the global average temp was a record .63C above the long-term, an increase of .08C in just three years from 2007's multi-year average, and a pace that far exceeds what I need to win all of the bets. That's the perspective David took.

By contrast, I compared five-year averages: we're now able to calculate the five-year average centered on 2008, and it's only .01C above 2007's multi-year average. The reason for the small change is that the only difference between the averages is that 2007's average included the record year 2005, while 2008's average dropped the record year 2005 and replaced it with the record year 2010. At a .01C annual increase rate, I will lose half of my bets and void the other half.

Looking forward to this time next year, our perspectives might shift again, assuming 2011 plays out as another warm year but La Nina-cooled from 2010. The five year average for 2009 will eliminate 2006, which was only typical and cooler than 2005, and replace it with 2011. Any 2011 temperature above .58C should put me in good shape for the five-year average, even if it's not as blistering as 2010. So we'll see.

Meanwhile, James Annan continues his too-easy path to climate betting riches with Russian skeptics. I've been meaning to reach his betting opponents to see if they agree that their goose is cooked, and if not, whether they'd like to double down.

UPDATE: The skewed prediction-market bet that exaggerated the short-term warming anticipated by the IPCC turned out to be insufficiently skewed, and the "Al Gore side" won the bet. The website promoting the bet on behalf of denialist Scott Armstrong has been mysteriously silent about this development, talking only about a longer, proposed bet that's still artificially skewed by lying about the predicted short-term warming. And just in case that bet disappears down the memory hole, here's how describes it:

“Now, assume that Armstrong and Gore made a gentleman‟s bet (no money) and that the ten years of the bet started on January 1, 2008. Armstrong‟s forecast was that there would be no change in global mean temperature over the next ten years. Gore did not specify a method or a forecast. Nor did searches of his book or the Internet reveal any quantitative forecasts or any methodology that he relied on. He did, however, imply that the global mean temperature would increase at a rapid rate – presumably at least as great as the IPCC‟s 1992 projection of 0.03°C-per-year (NOTE: untrue statement, no short term IPCC prediction was made in 1992, and later reviews made lower decadal predictions - ed). Thus, the IPCC‟s 1992 projection is used as Gore‟s forecast.”
Finally, the small bet I've got with Joe Romm on whether 90% of Arctic sea ice will disappear by 2020 (with me taking the cold side) chugs along. Joe does have a chart here showing that recent decline rates, projected linearly, would have him winning. I'm not so sure, although I'm also less sure of my side than I was when I took the bet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

All according their plan that we've ignored

I got tired last year of enviros saying that EPA regulation of climate change was unlikely to be overruled by Congressional legislation. People thought that amending the Clean Air Act to stop action on climate change would be defeated by a Senate filibuster and a presidential veto. I said it would be attempted through budget resolutions and budget reconciliation bills. So now the Republicans have passed budget legislation in the House that will cut "EPA funds for curbing greenhouse gas emissions". They're also trying to defund the IPCC, a wrinkle I hadn't thought of, and generally trying to destroy the environment.

So fighting on the budget is what we should have been focused on all along. It's obvious that this Republican wish list isn't going to get through the Senate and past the president, but that's also not the end of the story. I wrote in my link above from last November:

Complicating this is the Republican threat to de-fund health care reform. I could easily seeing the Republican controlled House passing a budget that both de-funds health care and prohibits spending money to enforce the Clean Air Act. They will then attempt horse-trading, and I fear the concession that they'll ask for.
And yes, the Republican House did de-fund health care in the continuing resolution from this last week. We'll see who blinks on a potential shutdown versus a compromise and what gets sacrificed in a compromise.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Modding what Gavin Schmidt said about the science-policy interface, slightly (UPDATED)

Eli's post refers to the non-scientific controversies over climate change. Gavin Schmidt (no relation) doesn't want to participate in a "science" discussion with denialists that ignores the politics that the denialists are using. Gavin says:

The fundamental conflict is of what (if anything) we should do about greenhouse gas emissions (and other assorted pollutants), not what the weather was like 1000 years ago. Your proposed restriction against policy discussion removes the whole point. None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions. No ‘conflict resolution’ is possible between the science community who are focussed on increasing understanding, and people who are picking through the scientific evidence for cherries they can pick to support a pre-defined policy position.

I agree with all of that except the bolded section. Leaving the denialists behind us, there are important real-world scientific disagreements with policy implications. For example, in my position at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, we build flood control projects and levees that are supposed to last for 50 years, built to contain San Francisco Bay and many low elevation, potentially-flooding creeks. The height of what I'd guess to be over 100 miles of rebuilt levees should be designed to be sufficient to compensate for sea level rise for the next 50 years. It would sure help if we knew what that rise would be under realistic emission scenarios, and might even save us money by not having to overbuild. With budget cuts, we're also thinking of postponing these rebuilds - we need to know how long we can postpone. Getting the science nailed down on this is important.

Getting regional and smaller levels of climate change predictions would also help on policy. That's not exactly a scientific disagreement - the science is barely touching on this level yet - but it's a crucial component for planning water supply and flood control. It's not enough to know that there will be less water when we need it, more water when we want it to not flood, and more water demand created by a warmer climate. We need quantitative predictions where the science will ultimately help us a lot in determining policy, so the sooner we can get those scientific results, the better.

UPDATE: to rephrase a little, the denialist perception of a conflict in the science over whether sea levels are rising is not a real conflict in the scientific community, and I agree with Gavin there. The conflict over how much sea levels will rise in 50 years is a truly open question, and one with immediate policy ramifications.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Weird realist morality on the Egyptian revolution

I should probably get back to climate blogging at some point, but just to finish up thinking about all the good news from Egypt:

1. Key turning point no one seems to be talking about:
....unable to break the protesters’ discipline or determination, the Mubarak forces resorted to guns, shooting 45 and killing 2, according to witnesses and doctors interviewed early that morning. The soldiers — perhaps following orders to prevent excessive bloodshed, perhaps acting on their own — finally intervened. They fired their machine guns into the ground and into the air, several witnesses said, scattering the Mubarak forces and leaving the protesters in unmolested control of the square, and by extension, the streets.
Mubarak's thugs were giving the demonstrators a hard time even without using guns. Say whatever you want about people power, but it's not going to work in the short term when only the bad guys have guns. The military intervention was crucial.

2. Whether Obama did a good job or bad job depends on whether you grade on a curve or as an absolute measure of what's right. See the article linked above for where the pressure was coming from - compared to most of his top advisors, the Israeli and Arab leaders, and some European leaders, Obama leaned in the correct direction. OTOH, it's not hard to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys here, despite the blindness of a number of American conservatives. Decide for yourself how you grade, I guess. I usually lean toward the curve, with the understanding that that diminishes my estimate of the person. Anyway, interesting assessment of Obama here in Foreign Policy.

3. I find the strange morality of the foreign policy realists to be truly weird. They seem to think we're morally obligated to back evil dictators because that's what we've been doing all along. I sillyly thought that the point of realism is to chuck morality, that of course you throw someone under the bus when they no longer serve, and that the First Rule of Realist Club is you always back the winning horse.

Israeli leaders have their own version of this - they seem to think that moralistic analysis requires foreign support of the Israeli state, the "shining light" of democracy in the Middle East, but also that morality must be chucked out the window when one consider the realist analysis of pro-democracy revolution in Egypt and its possible effect on Israeli security. I'm not buying this yoga position, and I don't think that either a realist analysis or a moralist analysis gives the US much reason to support Israel's occupation of West Bank and Gaza.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

USA (heart) Tahrir

About twice a decade, I actually get off my duff, pick up a sign, and exercise my right to peacefully assemble for redress of grievances. It seems to take young people dying in foreign countries, but in the case of Burma last time and Egypt now, I finally made a tiny effort and joined the demonstration in San Francisco last Saturday. People loved the sign, btw, and a dozen strangers took photographs of my wife and myself holding it. Maybe it will help in some little way to make up for the fact that the US government hasn't exactly come out swinging to demand Mubarak get the heck out.

My Egyptian neighbor pointed out that only if Mubarak is out of power can they have a chance of following Tunisia's example and dissolve the corrupt ruling party and chase down the billions of stolen funds. This transition period we're working on will instead give the bad guys lots of time to hide their money and make sure it benefits the economies of Switzerland and the Cayman Islands instead of Egypt.

Let's just hope it works out.

(And an interesting factoid: Egypt has had the most news coverage of any international news story since tracking began four years ago, and the fourth highest of any news story at all in that period. Maybe people are paying attention. While the role of Twitter and Facebook may be overplayed within Egypt, the new social media might be helping with international attention.)

UPDATE: and following the good news today (Feb 11), the Swiss have frozen Mubarak's assets. My neighbor was right.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Conservative incoherence on Egypt

I don't have anything innovative to say about Egypt, except wishing Obama would push a little harder. I've found the conservative incoherence about Egypt pretty interesting though - the movement can't make up its mind. They would call it vigorous debate, I suppose, but since no one denies the possibility for an anti-American future polity, what it really comes down to is whether that possibility outweighs a present and possible future democracy. I don't consider that a particularly hard one to call. Some conservatives, even particularly unimpressive ones, agree with me, but others are letting their nationalistic and anti-Islamic bias triumph over everything else.

One thing the US can do is get ahead of the curve for other Arab countries. Things in Jordan and Yemen are heating up, so maybe some external influence on those governments could have a modest impact.

UPDATE: I don't know enough about international human rights violations to decide if this legal argument works, but if the US and Europe made the argument ASAP that thugs attacking demonstrators will be subject to arrest worldwide, that might have a slight deterrent effect.