Saturday, December 08, 2012

The long tail of climate change mitigation

Our Water District recently reviewed a draft energy audit on controlling our energy use.  The Board Chair and I had a lot of questions and comments on how we will relate the energy audit to our new goal of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2020.  Some of my general comments are below:

(Nov. 27, 2012 Board Meeting, Item 4.1)

Later on I suggested that we have a "Climate Impact" discussion included in every agenda item just like we currently have a "Financial Impact" discussion with every agenda item.

My point in mentioning this is that these types of actions fall somewhere in the long tail of actions to fight climate change - a program that can affect a lot of people while falling far short of the headline-generating action on a state or national level.  Just as individuals changing their behaviors can make a difference, though, so can these types of institutional changes.  I don't know of a good way to isolate and measure the effects of voluntary actions by local and regional institutions to address climate change, but they shouldn't be ignored.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Time to show fingerprints on Syria issues

From NYTimes:

The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.... 
The experience in Libya has taken on new urgency as the administration considers whether to play a direct role in arming rebels in Syria, where weapons are flowing in from Qatar and other countries.

The Obama administration did not initially raise objections when Qatar began shipping arms to opposition groups in Syria, even if it did not offer encouragement, according to current and former administration officials. But they said the United States has growing concerns that, just as in Libya, the Qataris are equipping some of the wrong militants....  
Relying on surrogates allows the United States to keep its fingerprints off operations, but also means they may play out in ways that conflict with American interests....

“....When you have an intermediary, you are going to lose control.”
The obvious reaction is either stop getting involved or stop worrying about showing your fingerprints. I'll go for Door #2.  I supported making the threat of limited military involvement in February and more actual support for the opposition in July, and I think either case would have shortened the time frame of the civil war and improved a future transition.  I remain concerned about ethnic massacres and religious instability in the post-Assad future.  Supporting groups that are less likely to do this, and especially getting Alawite opposition groups into a prominent position in the opposition military forces, could be crucial for the country's future.  Unfortunately, I think the war might still grind for months more, giving time for this option to work out.

For my less interventionist friends, I'll just mention that until recently I hadn't been too opposed to the drone war in Pakistan overall as a legitimate function of self-defense against Al Qaeda, but I'm reconsidering.  Al Qaeda in Pakistan isn't that big of a threat, while Pakistan itself desperately needs stability.  Pakistan is simply more important, and the drone strikes aren't helping.  Not sure if I'd completely eliminate them, but the go/no go decisionmaking needs to change.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A modest carbon tax has modest carbon reduction results

Been meaning to highlight Brad Plumer's post on a paper about the effect of a carbon tax on emissions (full paper here).  A tax of $20/ton, with an inflation-adjusted 4% annual increase, knocks emissions down 14% by 2020, and a larger number in 2050 if you believe economic projections that far in the future.

I include my caveat about 2050 because economics modeling is far harder than climate modeling.  In particular I can't tell what assumptions they make about the cost of renewables in the future, which seems like a game-changer to me.

Still this seems a reasonable argument that a carbon tax has only modest benefits.  By all means we should do it, but also use the funding for renewables, and pursue stricter regulation.  One aspect that surprised me is how much money this tax would raise, over a trillion dollars in the next decade.  That can really help with deficit reduction and maintaining social welfare programs as well as renewable energy funding.

UPDATE:  I really should've mentioned that an annual 4% real increase is not enough in their model to drive large decreases in emissions.  The implication is that if you choose a small initial tax then you need a higher annual increase.  The California cap's minimum price is even smaller than this study ($10/ton), and has a 5% annual increase.  Still it's just part of the pricing system, with emission allowances hopefully functioning as the real control on the amount, together with regulation.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Good Yglesias, Bad Yglesias

In the Good Yglesias category, we have "the spice must flow" problem in that stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and other pipeline-fighting as led to a boom in shipping oil by rail.  This correctly points the problem with a regulatory approach to carbon reduction - someone looks for a way around the regulation.   OTOH, oil is not the same as Herbert's spice - it's a lot more price elastic in the long run, and anything running up the price will reduce the quantity purchased.

Regulation is an imperfect substitute for a carbon cap or carbon tax, but it's better than nothing.

For Bad Yglesisas, we have a cursory rejection of the idea that people making over $400,000 could have their entire income taxed at the highest rate instead of just the amount falling in the highest bracket.  The flaw is a simplistic approach Yglesias takes - identify a problem and then pronounce the whole thing dead.  Yes, as he describes, a ten-dollar increase in income could result in tens of thousands of dollars in additional taxes.  He fails to take the next step to see if the problem has a solution.  In this case, just alter the proposal so that the more a person's income exceeds $350,000, the larger the share of that person's income under $200,000 that gets taxed at the top rate.  It satisfies the Republicans' inane criteria of not raising the top rate while getting more tax money out of the top earners.  The solution isn't too difficult.

That's not to say it's a good idea when compared to simply raising the rate as Obama proposes, along with restoring estate tax rates to the 2009 level.  John Sides notes this proposal protects the ultra-rich by going after the rich.  That seems to be a common theme in Republican Party policy.

UPDATE:  Pat Robertson finds a nut.

Climate change would also fall under a "revealed science" category to the extent that category equals "about as proven as you're going to get in science."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ironic that a man named Mead doesn't understand the US Civil War

Maybe his misunderstanding comes from losing the "e" at the end of the name.  The current Mead sayeth:
An endless war of limited intensity is worse, many Americans instinctively feel, than a time-limited war of unlimited ferocity. A crushing blow that brings an end to the war—like General Sherman’s march of destruction through the Confederacy in 1864-65—is ultimately kinder even to the vanquished than an endless state of desultory war.
This Mead wants massive Israeli retaliation against Gaza regardless of civilian casualties and thinks Americans would agree with him.  He appears to be under the impression that not much happened in the US Civil war prior to Sherman's march, and that single crushing blow was all that counted.

The reality was that it took years of unlimited ferocity to win the Civil War.  The side that had better logistics won the war, and Sherman's march was a logistical success, living off the land while destroying its ability to support the enemy.  Not a lot that parallels Gaza here.

More broadly, I think there's little evidence that shock and awe achieves its psychological goals.  The British, German, and Japanese people didn't break over the bombing raids.  Psychology does have its place - the Doolittle Raid heightened American morale and convinced the Japanese to make the stupid mistake of withdrawing carriers to defend the home islands and to undertake the high-risk attack on Midway.  Brutality by itself, though, won't win wars.

Tangentially related:  Brad DeLong has been live-blogging a history of World War II.  Definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The California Cap passes its first test, barely

News coverage of the California cap-and-trade auction results diverged fairly sharply into whether it went well or had problems. Put me in the half-full category that it went well enough, but just barely.

The Air Board announced a sale price of $10.09 a ton, just barely above the reserve price of $10 and lower than the expected $11-15. Digging around a little doesn’t make the auction mechanics very clear – many bids were far higher than this. The reports imply that everyone paid $10.09, which would mean some type of Dutch auction setup.  (UPDATE:  confirmed it's a Dutch auction arrangement where everyone pays the same price.  Good explainer of the whole auction by Reed Smith is here.  The reserve price is a minimum that keeps the market from collapsing - if there's not enough demand for all the allowances to keep the price above that minimum, the effect of the reserve price is to reduce the supply of allowances being sold.)

I doubt it’s coincidental that the price is just above the reserve – that suggests the ‘market’ expectation is that it won’t be too hard to for California emitters to meet the cap, something that’s uncomfortably close to the problem of the European market that has too high a cap and a collapsed market. OTOH, emitters didn’t have to buy any allowances if they thought they could meet the cap on their own, so their expectation is that the Air Board will keep the California market from collapsing. I put the word ‘market’ in scare quotes because a sealed-bid auction barely qualifies – we’ll get a better idea of market price when trades start happening on a regular basis.

So it worked. A somewhat higher price would suggest a better-functioning market and more incentive for carbon reductions, although a much higher price would provide ammunition to critics’ ridiculous claim that the cap harms California’s economy.

Critics of the system include the state-level California Chamber of Commerce, treading a perilous line against California green energy businesses. The state Chamber filed a lawsuit against the auction on the day before it started. I expect they’ll take some flak for waiting so long to file, but I’ll have to save a look at their legal interests for another day.

The economic interest here is that free carbon allowances actually benefit emitters – the allowances have economic value that can be resold, and California is issuing 90% of the first emissions for free (that percent will decline over time). A 90% benefit isn’t good enough for the Chamber though – they want it all for free, forever. At least they claim they’re not trying to destroy the cap market – they just want free allowances – and that distinguishes them from the evil that is the US Chamber.  This isn't a trivial distinction from the US Chamber, by the way, and shows some-if-inadequate level of responsiveness to in-state business politics.

Even a 100% auction in my opinion would benefit California green businesses and help cement the leadership this state has on the green economy. The state Chamber is being short-sighted on a number of levels, especially if their effort to change the cap market ends up destroying it. This might be a good place for the state legislature to step in and backstop the Air Board’s decision, something that could be possible now that the Democrats have two-thirds majority in both houses, a requirement under the tax-revenue stupidity of California's Proposition 13.

An aside - there is a dividend component to the cap.  In a somewhat complicated procedure, utilities get all their allowances for free but are required to sell some and split the proceeds so 15% goes to reducing greenhouse emissions and the remainder as a credit applied to utility bills.  Seeing that credit will help counter the inevitable claim that the money is just going to solar power fat cats.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lessons or lack thereof from bipartisan movements

As Obama heads off to Burma, I think back to when I knew something about that country.  I spent two winters there doing volunteer work in the early 90s and then several years in the mid-90s in Oregon focusing on Burma human rights work, comparing the situation to South Africa.  I'm cautiously optimistic at this point, although the ethnic conflict is far from over and even democracy will be no guarantee of good treatment for ethnic minorities.

Relative to most other western nations, the US did pretty well in Burma, backing up Suu Kyi and others in the elected/overthrown leadership.  When we activists went Congress to ratchet up sanctions, the senators we counted on were Patrick Leahy, Mitch McConnell, and Jesse Helms (Ted Kennedy was also good, I think).  Our little Oregon group got every member of the Oregon congressional delegation to support sanctions, with liberal Republican Mark Hatfield being the hardest one to convince.  Burma never became polarized in American politics, as far as I can tell.

In another field that has long been polarized, things are changing.  Washington Monthly has a good piece titled The Conservative War on Prison, with conservatives starting to hop onto the alternatives-to-prison bandwagon.  The article is good on the what and when aspects of conservative change, but less so on the why and why at this particular time aspects.  There was this, though:
At the start of the 2007 legislative session, legislative analysts predicted that Texas was on track to be short 17,700 prison beds by 2012 because of its growing inmate population. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s response was to ask legislators to build three new prisons, but Madden and Whitmire had other ideas. Not only did they bring back a revamped version of their probation proposal—they also took aim at the revolving-door problem by cranking up funding for programs such as in-prison addiction treatment and halfway houses. This time, Perry relented (persuaded at least in part, the duo contends, by a high-stakes meeting they held with him shortly before the opening of the legislative session). Since then, the prison population has not increased, and last year, the TDCJ closed a prison for the first time in decades.

Budget shortfalls do not explain this shift. In 2007 Texas was basking in a huge projected surplus, and the Great Recession was still a year away. Instead, Madden and Whitmire had different winds at their backs. For one thing, the policy context favored reform. One legacy of the state’s prison litigation trauma is that Texas has strict restrictions on overcrowding (unlike, say, California). Under Texas law, when the system approaches capacity, corrections staff must seek certification from the attorney general and the governor to incarcerate more prisoners. The approval process forces state leaders to confront the choice between more prisons and more diversion programming. The political environment had also changed since the GOP completed its takeover of state politics in 2003. As a longtime observer of the state’s criminal justice notes, “Now … all the tough guys are Republicans. They don’t want to be outdoing each other on this stuff.”

I'm not entirely happy with this explanation.  I have my own, which is that ideological movements get bored.  After saying the same thing for a long time, there's a desire to say something else.  I think conservative ideology takes longer to get restless than others, but it still happens.  It's also not always successful:
Of course, there are limits to how far ideological reinvention can go. As political scientist David Karol has argued, it is unlikely to work when it requires crossing a major, organized member of a party coalition. That’s something environmentalists learned when they tried to encourage evangelicals to break ranks on global warming through the idea of “creation care.” They got their heads handed to them by the main conservative evangelical leaders, who saw the split this would create with energy-producing businesses upon whom Republican depend for support.
That's a rather simplified description of what happened among evangelicals, including who started it, how far it got, and whether the movement's truly ended.  It also downplays the difficulty in crossing the ideological and economic barriers of the tough-on-crime mindset and the prison-industrial complex.

I'm not sure what lessons to draw from all this for climate policy purposes.  Sometimes all you can do is wait for people to change - or push change through without their help.  I've also thought for a while that Al Gore has been careful to avoid some of the limelight.  Conservatives are showing some real ferment over immigration, modest change on gay marriage, and tiny little cracks in climate denial.  Maybe we'll get lucky.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Happy California Cap-And-Trade Eve

Nice radio program on California's cap-and-trade allocation auction that starts taking bids tomorrow, and on Monday we'll find out the price per ton, with a minimum price set by regulation at $10/ton.  Second biggest cap-and-trade market in the world after Europe.  Hopefully we've learned from other's mistakes (and I think we have).

One critique deserving a response is whether including a minimum and maximum price on allocations somehow proves a failure of the cap system.  The idea is if a cap's appeal over a carbon tax is that it determines the total amount of emissions, then the floor and ceiling prove the lack of commitment to determine the right amount of emissions.

Three responses:

1. Doesn't matter anyway unless the price hits the floor or ceiling.

2. It's a little simplistic to say a tax focuses on specific price for carbon while a cap focuses on specific quantity of carbon emissions.  The floor and ceiling for a cap just lets society choose a tradeoff between price and quantity.  You could do something similar with a tax by letting the tax price change if total emissions fall through a floor or above a ceiling.

3. If greenhouse gases were as easy to eliminate as ozone-destroying chemicals then we'd have a similar schedule for phaseout.  It's not that easy, so we're doing things less quickly under either a carbon tax in Australia, or cap in Europe and in parts of the US.  Putting a floor is an indication that we overestimated the difficulty in achieving a reduction and therefore will require a larger reduction.  It's actually good news, that we can achieve reductions more quickly than anticipated.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The path to citizenship will be crooked for Republicans

A few more thoughts on the election and then I'll let it go:

Immigration.  The Republicans are in trouble on immigration and citizenship no matter what they do.  No change and they imitate the California Republican Party in relevance.  Much of their elite seems to realize this and want to compromise, but the Democrats should put them through a wringer and demand everything the Ds think should happen:  a reasonable pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been here for a reasonable amount of time.  The 1987 amnesty applied to people who had been in the country for over five years, setting them on a path to citizenship seven years after being legalized.  Personally I'd lengthen the first period and shorten the second one, but it's a reasonable model for the future.

If the Rs refuse to pass something like this through Congress, then beat them up over it in 2014 while also getting the best compromise possible.  If the Rs do pass something substantial, then they still lose, because those legalized citizens will be Democratic voters for a generation and a fraction.  The Rs painted themselves into this corner, it'll be a long time to get out.  The white vote share of the presidential electorate is declining 2 points every four years, probably translating into a one-percent gain each cycle for the Democratic candidate.

Denialists lost seats.  In under-reported news, four out of five Congressional Representatives dubbed the "Flat Earth Five" by the League of Conservation Voters for denying climate reality lost their seats, and eleven of twelve generally anti-environment candidates also got beat.  These people were specially targeted and I've been looking for more specifics; the League needs to update their website (a little update here).  This is a nice bit of karmic payback for 2010, when most of the eight Republicans who voted to do something about climate lost their seats to primary challengers.

Citizens United redistributed income.  Some billionaires redistributed a few percent of this year's income to the somewhat-less wealthy without causing too much harm at the federal level in this election.  I'm not quite as sure they were harmless at the state and local level this cycle, and even the dumbest of rich people may learn to spend their unlimited campaign money more effectively in the future, again most likely by targeting it at the state and local level.  Watch out for next time.

Overturning Citizens United.  Obama will probably nominate 2-3 justices over the next four years.  Ginsburg, age 79 and with previous cancer bouts, should have retired a year or two ago but took a huge risk hanging on.   Hopefully she'll do the right thing, and Breyer, age 74, might do the same.  The conservatives' ages are 76 (Scalia), 76 (Kennedy), 64 (Thomas), 62 (Alito) and 57 (Roberts).  They'll do their best to last out four years, but might not have a choice.

Bahrain Silence = Climate Silence.  Juan Cole had an interesting post about continuing repression in Bahrain against the Shiite majority.  Too bad that Romney wasn't asked to compare his relative activism over Syria, which I liked, to the situation in Bahrain.  Maybe the Republican talking heads on the Sunday shows could still get asked - this is the worst situation of the US looking the other way, for somewhat obvious military reasons.

Hanging up my local politics crystal ball.  My water district had three elections, and I called all three wrong.  It doesn't make the results bad - I'm actually thrilled that our funding measure that needed two-thirds' support under California law received 72.65% support, and it includes $24 million that helps prepare for sea level rise along San Francisco Bay.  Staff's first draft had $5 million for this; I can (and will) take credit for much of the increased funding.

UPDATE:  forgot to add my plea to reduce the Senate filibuster bottleneck, along with the actually-still-alive hope that Harry Reid might do it.

UPDATE 2:  with actuarial tables and my trusty calculator, I get a 79% chance of four-year survival for each of Scalia and Kennedy, 93% for Thomas, 94% for Alito, and 96% for Roberts, leaving a 52% chance that all five will survive four years.  Their health probably makes this an underestimate, but severe disability might also get one or two of them to leave if they really couldn't serve.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Sixty seconds of Sergio

Not sharing Eli's hesitation about blogging on subjects beyond my expertise, I thought I'd fix the dearth of spaghetti western blogging here at Rabett Run:

I've been watching the above clip for more times than I can count as part of a little project I'm working on.  It's the climax from Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the second best of Leone's westerns, and the best climax.  The rest of this post is all spoilers, of course.

The part that really interests me is the final 60 seconds of the face-off, starting about 6:30 in the video.  Watch it once and it seems to end in a swirl of faces and a gunshot.  Watch it a couple dozen times and you get a story.

A timeline:

6:30 Angel Eyes starts inching his hand over to his gun.

6:33  Blondie looks at him, and he brings his hand back

6:49  Blondie looks at Tuco and gives him the slightest nod.  Now we who know the outcome also know there's no direct reason for Blondie to give a signal to Tuco - Blondie had tricked him and unloaded his gun.  It's what happens next that shows the reason - Angel Eyes saw the nod and flickers his view back and forth, unsure if there's a plan against him.

7:01  Unnerved, Angel Eyes starts slowly reaching for his gun, looking for Blondie to spot him moving.  Blondie never looks at him again, staring straight ahead at Tuco.

7:16  Angel Eyes takes an almost-last look at Tuco, hand inching closer.  Tuco's starting straight at Blondie.

7:17 - 7:27  Confusing closeups accelerate.

7:28 - 7:31  Tuco finally glances at Angel Eyes.
                  Angel Eyes nervously shifts his view between both opponents and makes his move.
                  Tuco sees the move and begins drawing himself (not that it matters).
                  A shot rings out, and Angel Eyes falls.  Blondie shot him without ever looking away from Tuco.

We learn later that Blondie had tricked Tuco by emptying Tuco's gun, so Blondie never had to really worry about Tuco.  Only by watching it closely do you see that Blondie also tricked Angel Eyes with the meaningless head nod to Tuco, and then by seeming to not pay attention to Angel Eyes, while watching him with peripheral vision and waiting for him to draw.

Nice.  Really nice.

Couple other points:  I had trouble with Angel Eyes walking across the line of fire between Tuco and Blondie earlier in the clip, but I finally realized it helped conceal his draw from Blondie even if it made the hand more visible to Tuco.  Maybe he wasn't quite as worried about Tuco.

At 7:32 you can see Tuco shooting his empty gun at Angel Eyes, i.e. not at Blondie.  Maybe it was just a response to Angel Eyes, but it might have been a choice.  Maybe that had something to do with Blondie's decision to spare Tuco at the end of the movie (not in the clip).

Speaking of the movie's end, Blondie tortures a guy with a fake execution/near strangling and he's "The Good"?  Maybe it was less jarring in the days before enhanced interrogation.  That's just one more good thing about re-electing Obama.

In the preceding movie, Angel Eyes was a good guy.  Nice climax as well, clip here.  Interesting how much swarthier Leone made the kind-of same character and same actor when he was The Bad.

I started watching this clip over a month ago, and immediately started getting lots of Romney ads on YouTube.  I thought that was amusing.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The time window for a revenue-neutral carbon tax is 2017-2018, so get cracking

My theory that our time for serious climate legislation is the two years after the 2016 election relies on the following reasons why up to 2016 won’t work:
  • Before 2014 is no good because the current House majority would never pass it (and the Senate minority would filibuster).
  • 2014-2016 is no good because the president’s party almost always loses seats in the House in the off year.
Then there’s 2016, the counterpart of the lucky fate of 2012 Senate elections. The Senate gets elected in three separate waves, with a few more Ds than Rs. Fate decreed an uneven distribution with a large minority of Ds up for election in 2012, 23 Ds versus 10 Rs, a big reason why this election was supposed to be bad in the Senate, until the Rs pulled out their unregistered pistols and shot up their own feet. Fate said 2014 would be somewhat closer in distribution between parties, so Math said that 2016 is the vulnerable year for Rs, with 24 Rs up for election compared to 10 Ds.

While far from certain, it’s possible that for two years after the 2016 election, and only for those two years, Ds will have somewhere in the vicinity of 60 votes in the Senate. That’s the chance. The 2018 election puts the Ds back on the defensive, 25 D seats versus 8 R seats.

I suggest two alternatives for explaining climate politics. One is Roger Pielke Jr.’s so-called Iron Law:

When policies focused on economic growth confront policies focused on emissions reduction, it is economic growth that will win out every time.

The other is the acronym BOSO, or Brian’s Obvious Statement of the Obvious:

Getting 60 votes in the Senate is hard.

Only one of these is likely to display true insight into climate politics. The Iron Law appears to be unfalsifiable because it’s not applied where it doesn’t work, so you can probably guess which way I lean. If you go with the Iron Law though, then you make a few bets on technology and just hope for the best (and please don’t annoy Godwin by pointing out that was Hitler’s end-game strategy too). If by contrast you’re just a BOSO, then look for the best strategy to get to 60.

I’m assuming the president will be a Democrat, or a Republican who favors action, and that the House will pass a bill like they were able to in 2010. Getting Republican and possibly squishy Democratic support is the reason, really the only reason, to do a revenue-neutral carbon tax. A revenue-generating tax could do positive things for climate mitigation and adaptation, or a cap-and-trade law could provide similar incentives. It’s the possibility of getting a few Republican votes and the difficulty of BOSO that makes me think we should explore a revenue neutral tax.

And I’m saying “possibility,” not probability for all the above. On the hopeful side, science will continue to beat over the heads of the ignorant, and not-hopeful tragedies like Sandy may do the same.   Renewables will continue to expand while costs decrease, and shale gas can cut into the stranglehold that coal has over electricity politics in swing states like Ohio.  Demographics also favor reality. On the other hand, two election cycles between now and 2017 aren’t that many to get reality into Republican politics, which is actually getting more ideologically rigid at the state and local level.

Still, it’s an opportunity that we should plan for as much as possible, and revenue-neutral carbon tax might be the best way to do it. Meantime, stick with Eli’s strategy of regulating our way through this via the Clean Air Act (and I expect eventually through the Clean Water Act for ocean acidification).

 If the Republicans don’t bend in 2017 and there aren’t enough votes to get around them, then their rigidity will eventually make them a national version of the California Republican Party, a group so unpopular and powerless that it will have less than one third of the seats in both houses of the state legislature. That, however, will take even more time before it happens.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Taking on our toughest challenges

The Christie cameo is probably no accident - enviros would love to split him off from the denialists.

P.S.  For my wonderful Santa Clara County voters, please vote Yes on Measure B!

Friday, November 02, 2012

If campaigns are zero-sum games, why will neither side talk about climate?

I've seen the justified lamentations about the lack of climate discussion in the campaign, and occasional discussion of why Obama hasn't talked that much about it.  (I provided my own explanation - Ohio.)  There's less discussion of why Romney doesn't talk about it, and little about why the interaction between candidates doesn't produce discussion.

In zero-sum politics, a disadvantage for one candidate should be an advantage for the other candidate, so why doesn't at least one of them push his opinion?

Unlike Karl Rove, I don't have THE answer, but I do have possibilities:

1.  This NYTimes article says their positions aren't that different.  Both acknowledge people are changing climate, so there's no reason to talk about that as opposed to their actual differences over energy policy.

I'm not buying it, first because it far overstates Romney's acceptance of climate change: "there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue."  That leaves plenty of room for a fight between reality and denial.  Also the strong difference in energy policy - support a growing sector versus abandoning it to China in favor of a declining and polluting sector - should easily reference back to climate.

The article does provide a service in saying Obama hasn't been completely silent.  And Romney's oblique references have been mocking Obama's intention to do something about it.  Let's refine the question to why both sides say so little instead of being silent.

On to more promising ideas.

2.  One or both sides overestimate the risk to their position.  If each side thinks the issue can backfire and hurt their side relative to the other, then neither will bring it up.  Both campaigns might think the issue has a 55% chance of helping the other side - that's not possible in zero sums, but would mean someone has bad political judgment.

I think this plays a role.

3.  It's not climate as an issue but their own ability to hurt themselves.  Maybe the candidates figure anything they say is more likely to motivate the other side than it is to motivate their own side, so again they keep quiet.  The analogy would be to Romney's relative silence over his abortion position, and the Democrats' relative silence about their somewhat-tepid opposition to torture and civil rights violations.

Problem with this one is that surrogates and Superpacs would likely go on the attack over climate, but everyone has little to say.

4.  It's like space policy - not enough people cared to force it on the agenda.  If Hurricane Sandy had happened in September then things might have been different.  If last summer's heat wave had more time to get into the public mindset, it also might have changed things.  The idea here though is that while the policy elites may be thinking of these things, most of the public isn't.

Sadly, I'm giving this last option the most credit, with an assist from overestimating risk.  It doesn't excuse a lack of leadership, but again helps explain it.  And it means those of us who care about climate have to do more.

For a little respite from climate silence, here's a debate between campaign surrogates with the last part discussing climate.  Romney's surrogate flat-out lies in the debate about current coal technology not producing pollutants, but admits that Romney would eliminate greenhouse gas controls that the EPA is currently phasing in under the Clean Air Act.  He also says the government should provide some money for energy research, but nothing to reduce carbon emissions.  So much for the NY Times article.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

How dare Nate Silver suggest that someone put his money where his mouth is

The public editor at the NY Times is aghast that Nate Silver proposed a $1000 bet for charity against Joe Scarborough over the election outcome.  Silver thinks the math and data shows a high likelihood of Obama victory, while Scarborough doesn't like math and think people that use it should be told to shut up.  Perhaps sensing that her pearl-clutching isn't too convincing, the editor suggests people think he's a journalist when he's clearly a columnist discussing his own view of things, and gets a news editor to suggest discomfort with a journalistic slippery slope.

I honestly don't get why people have problems with other people proposing bets.  My guess is they don't like betting themselves and therefore think nobody else should be allowed to bet, so they make statements like it's "classless" to bet with money going to charity.  I kind of like incentives, myself, but maybe I'm classless.

As for that scary slippery slope, I would gladly give a push and would love to see other columnists put their money where their mouths are, because it might rein them in a little bit, or their critics.  Kind of harder to do that on the straight news side where it's an institution that's reporting out, not just the names on the byline, but if the institution can figure out a way to do that, then more power to them.  What a wonderful world it would be.

A better critique, also noted by people in Silver's Twitter feed, is that if Scarborough believes the odds are 50-50, and all Silver is offering is an even odds bet, then there's no advantage to Scarborough in taking the bet.  No disadvantage either, but there's no incentive from Scarborough's perspective.  Silver should put up $1250 against $1000 to fix that.  Also the money shouldn't go to the same charity but ideally to different ones that the two sides rank differently in preference.  Part of betting is to make people think carefully about their claims, and if the same charity gets the money then you lose some of that incentive.

And while I'm on the subject - there are many many reasons why Mitt Romney would be terrible for the country, especially on climate change, but I don't think his $10,000 bet offer was one of them.  As a gotcha line in the debate it might have been kind of lame, the outcome might have been deceptive, and the cavalier attitude towards that kind of money is unfortunate, but the simple concept of betting someone over a false statement isn't wrong.  Bloomberg has much better reasons for voting for Obama instead of Romney.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blackouts a reminder of the potential advantage of Vehicle-to-Grid power supply

NYU Langone Medical Center:
At times with only flashlights to illuminate the way, NYU Langone Medical Center began evacuating about 260 patients, carrying some of them down 15 flights of stairs to awaiting ambulances ready to take them to the safety of other hospitals.... 
But between 7 and 7:45 p.m. Monday, the hospital's basement, lower floors and elevator shafts filled with 10 to 12 feet of water, and the hospital lost its power, according to Dr. Andrew Brotman, senior vice president and vice dean for clinical affairs and strategy.
"Things went downhill very, very rapidly and very unexpectedly," Brotman said. "The flooding was just unprecedented." 
Emergency generators did kick in, but two hours later, about 90% of that power went out, and the hospital decided to evacuate patients.
I wrote a while back about an idea I'm researching of using electric vehicles to supplement backup power during blackouts, a bridge to the truly big idea of Vehicle-to-Grid battery power storing energy from intermittent renewable sources, for release when needed.  This article suggests another reason for EVs as additional power backup - in case your emergency generators fail.

Hospitals strike me as pretty power-hungry, so I'm not sure how long EVs could support them, but you could probably triage crucial uses and cut off the rest.  Any extra time would likely be appreciated.

Somewhat related - I attended a lecture by a Japanese consular official last summer on recovery from the tsunami.  He said that electric networks took only days to get back online, while gasoline supplies took weeks.  The implication is that a system relying more on EVs than gas engines will be more resilient.  Unfortunately we have another chance to see how that plays out here, albeit on a much smaller scale of tragedy.

UPDATE:  as of Saturday Nov. 3, it appears that power is coming back faster than fuel supplies.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Emergency kits: no time like the past, but the present is better than nothing

For those in Hurricane Sandy's evacuation areas, please read Eli's post above.  Or better yet, don't read it.  Just leave, now.

For everyone else, regardless of where you live on the planet, get emergency kits.  People who will have to ride out Sandy in place won't benefit from this 2010 repost, but it's a reminder to the rest of us:

Easy-but-not-cheap 72-hour emergency kits for home, with purchase links

It's hardly responsive to the Haiti quake, but I've been meaning to write about the earthquake/emergency kits I put together for Christmas presents. At least it's a way to lessen the burden on emergency services should something similar happen here.

There are nine members of my wife's family in the Bay Area, and when I found out no one had the 72-hour emergency kits we're supposed to have, I put them together as presents (in-laws loved the kits, too). My emphases were making them easy for me to put together, easy for people with no camping experience to use, and ones that would last as many years as possible without needing replacement or maintenance. In return I was willing to pay more, be more bulky than the minimum possible, and have limited control over food selection.

72-Hour Home kits:
  • Water in plastic jugs, 3 gallons/person
  • Iodine water-purification pills in case water goes bad (after 6 months, assume it's bad), in case it's leaked away, or in case you need more water (UPDATE: chlorine tabs have been suggested as lasting longer in storage than iodine)
  • Mountain House 72-Hour Emergency Meal Kit, 1 per person
  • Mountain Oven Flameless Heating Kit: each kit can be used 5 times and can prepare 2 meals at a time. So 2 kits per two people in a household, but also 2 kits in a single-person household.
  • Plastic silverware
  • Emergency phone numbers/contact list
The above is the absolute minimum. Meals can be eaten in their pouches, so no dishes are needed. Flameless heating kits eliminate the need for cooking stoves (water has to be purified, though). Emergency meals also can be eaten with cold (purified) water although they taste bad. The food and flameless kits should be good for at least 3 or 4 years, and probably more than twice that long.

Your kit should be stored outside your home in case you can't get inside. So in your yard, your car, or somewhere else. The only maintenance this requires is to simply look every six months to see if the water's leaked through the seams of the plastic jugs - it happens fairly often.

Additional useful items:
  • Cheap flashlight/headlamp
  • Spare batteries in clear plastic bag so you can see if they've become corroded over time
  • Plastic tarp and cord as a rain shelter
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Emergency shelter, 1 per 2 people
  • Cheap or expensive first aid kit (I went with cheap kits from the local drugstore)
  • Cheap rain gear, spare shoes and clothes
Don't let the extras delay you from putting together the minimum.

I also made better-than-nothing emergency kits for everyone's car, in case you're stuck on the road:

Car kits:
  • Half-liter water bottle (enough to keep you hydrated for a few hours until you can find a water source. Keep more than one if you have kids.)
  • Iodine (can disinfect murky water from ditches, and you might need to) (or chlorine tabs)
  • Emergency shelter
  • Small amount of long-lasting food (I found tins of honey-roasted peanuts that were good for four years)
  • Cheap rain poncho (I didn't include this, but should have)
  • Emergency contact list
  • Shoes you can walk many miles in, if that's not what you normally wear
  • Cheap, tiny flashlight
You can do much better than this car kit, but it's something in case destroyed roads/bridges keep you from getting home for 12-24 hours.

Additional tricks for both kits: put the contact lists in their own ziplock plastic bags to reduce the chance that they'll mold/get wet over the years. I've also found that the metal caps on the iodine bottles tend to rust over a few years, so I bagged them in their own ziplock bags, and poured a little table salt in the bags to absorb humidity.

Hopefully this is all unnecessary.

UPDATE:  lots of great comments below, and a resource link at Making Light.

N.B.  I've altered the posting time so Eli's post is seen above this one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Romney in Ohio

Romney's team is replaying the tricks that Karl Rove wore out several times, a false sense of guaranteed victory.  From saying in 2006 that Republicans would control the Senate and the House right before they lost both, to the current claim of momentum, it's smoke and burnt toast.

In Ohio, polls show Obama ahead, and way ahead in the locked in, early vote:
On one hand, the two candidates are locked in a dead heat among Ohioans who have not yet voted but who say they intend to, with 45% of respondents supporting the President and 45% preferring his Republican challenger. 
But Obama has clearly received a boost from Ohio’s early voting period, which began on Oct. 2 and runs through November 5. Among respondents who say they have already voted, Obama holds a two-to-one lead over Romney, 60% to 30%. 
When those two groups are combined, the TIME poll reveals, Obama leads by five points overall in Ohio. 
“At least for the early vote, the Obama ground game seems to be working,” says Mark Schulman, president of Abt SRBI, which conducted the poll. 
Nearly one third of all Ohioans voted early in 2008.
(Emphasis added.)  Romney's losing ground with every day.  If he doesn't pick up three or four points or even more starting now, not just on Election Day, then he loses Ohio (assuming the poll's right, of course).  Nate Silver says the candidate who wins Ohio wins the election in 95% of his simulations.  If Romney loses Ohio, he then needs to win Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Virginia.

Keep talking up that momentum Mitt, but you're losing the race as long as the Democrats do a good ground game on turnout, or someone springs an October surprise.

UPDATE:  I forgot to add the obvious that Ohio is car-manufacturing oriented, and the less-obvious that it's 82% dependent on coal.  This might help explain, although not excuse, Obama's climate silence.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Republicans care more about diplomats than soldiers

It's not something I would have predicted, but it's hard to make logical sense over the Republican scrutiny of every detail of the four tragic American deaths in Benghazi while having little interest in the events immediately preceding the deaths of thousands of US soldiers under hundreds of scenarios in wars under both Bush and Obama.  I guess diplomats matter more to Republicans?

It's a dangerous world and people make mistakes.  There's no evidence tying security mistakes to Obama and Biden, at less so than the Paul Ryan and the Republican's vote to decrease security funding for diplomats, not to mention Ryan's deception in the last debate by saying no Marines were in Benghazi even though the Republicans had incompetently leaked that the CIA security was present.

Hope some of that comes out tonight, if we are forced to put a microscope on a that small part of the Libyan revolution that otherwise has had enormous positive consequences for Libya and the rest of the world (other than Mali).

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rogue geoengineering and scrivener's error

A shadowy businessman from my state named Russ George has apparently dumped boatloads of iron into the Pacific off the Canadian coastline in an alleged carbon sequestration project.  I first thought he had hooked up with the Haida, a Canadian First Nations indigenous group, in order to get some political backing, but the link shows it may have been more involved:

The dump took place from a fishing boat in an eddy 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii, one of the world's most celebrated, diverse ecosystems, where George convinced the local council of an indigenous village to establish the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation to channel more than $1m of its own funds into the project. 
The president of the Haida nation, Guujaaw, said the village was told the dump would environmentally benefit the ocean, which is crucial to their livelihood and culture.  
"The village people voted to support what they were told was a 'salmon enhancement project' and would not have agreed if they had been told of any potential negative effects or that it was in breach of an international convention," Guujaaw said.
One imagines they could have done better things with a million dollars than financing Mr. Ross.  He is of a certain infamy from his Planktos company's effort to do the same thing five years ago and sell carbon offsets certified AFAICT on the basis of their own say-so.

So now they seem to have legal trouble with international agreements that tried to regulate efforts such as those by George.  However, wherever you can find a dubious legal interpretation that could harm the environment, it seems one can find a connection to the recent Rabett favorite, David "Heartstrings" Schnare:
• The London Convention / London Protocol: You may fertilize if the intent is to grow fish but not if the intent is to dispose of carbon in the ocean. Hence, focus on “restoration”.
At the same link, Ken Caldeira writes:

It would be useful if any legal minds in the group would assess exactly the relevant language that Russ George has supposedly violated. 
I recall that in negotiations under the London Convention / London Protocol, there was concern not to impact fish farms which of course supply copious nutrients to surrounding waters. 
If my recollection was correct, somebody proposed an exception for mariculture. I piped up and said that all ocean fertilization could be considered mariculture and that the CO2 storage could be regarded as a co-benefit, achieved knowingly but not intentionally (just as when we drive a car we knowingly heat the planet although that is not our intent). 
My recollection was that in response to this comment, the word 'conventional' was added to the language, so that it now reads: 
"Ocean fertilization does not include conventional aquaculture, or mariculture, .. ". Resolution LC-LP.1(2008) - IMO 
Incidentally, it seems that they have a misplaced comma, as I believe the word 'conventional' was meant to apply to both 'aquaculture'' and 'mariculture', but with the placement of the comma, I read this as 'conventional aquaculture' or 'mariculture'. I am not enough of a lawyer to know whether the intended meaning or the literal meaning is the one likely to prevail under some sort of adjudication process.
The misplaced comma is what lawyers call scrivener's error, a great way to mess up legal documents and run up legal bills.  To broadly over-generalize, under US domestic law courts will correct scrivener's error when it leads to absurd results.  It strikes me as absurd to limit the regulatory exception to conventional aquaculture while expanding it to all mariculture.  The legal issue here isn't domestic law though, but international law as interpreted by domestic authorities, probably Canada in this case.  Hardly my field, but Article 79 of the UN Treaty on the Law of Treaties says if signatories agree there was a clerical error, you just go and fix it.  I think that's where we would stand now on the clerical error, but there are other reasons for thinking George is in legal trouble (comments of Jim Thomas) regardless of the misplaced comma.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

One climate adaptation in process for local water demand

So I'm going to get at least one of the climate change goals I've had for my Water District - recalibrate anticipated future water demand based on anticipated future temperatures.

I know that anticipating our future local water supply (about 35% is local, 55% from the Sierras, and 10% is from conservation) is really difficult.  Most likely it will be worse - longer droughts and larger percent of precip coming in large storms where the water mostly flushes to the ocean instead of percolating to groundwater or caught in reservoirs.  Also less snow - and we do get snow in the Bay Area hills, even if it doesn't last.  But none of this translates into numbers that we can plug into our 25-year projections.

Demand, or at least aspects of it, can be modeled in a climate-changed world.  Thanks to weather, we've got past unseasonably-warm years that will be just typically-warm years of the future, and the increased demands from crops and landscapes due to warmth should be easy to see.

While this analysis didn't go into a water supply master plan that we approved last week, it will go into the next iteration.  I brought up the issue below, and got support from our board chair and (after discussion of other issues by staff) from the conservative Republican director on our board:

If the video above goes away, click here, click on the October 9 2012 video, and go to Minute 43.

Wish it was this easy all the time.  Adaptation to climate change still seems like the easiest way to bring about acceptance of climate reality, despite North Carolina's legislature.

(Updated to replace "next week" with "last week".)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Schnare on screen, Captain.

I'm annoyed that Eli beat me to the punch, but I did get the above spy-cam video showing David Schnare's latest work.  More GIFs of Schnare here.

You think that is a Scharescapade, Brian?  This is the real Schnarey thing - Eli


Monday, October 15, 2012

Brian's call to Santa Clara County environmentalists to vote for the Safe Clean Water Measure

After the jump below is a shortened version of a letter I'm sending far and wide to the local environmental community in support of a funding measure for the Santa Clara Valley Water District that I represent.  The funding goes to watershed restoration, water supply, and flood control, with this appeal directed to environmentalists.  Mail-in ballots will go out next week.

Letter to Santa Clara County Environmentalists about the Safe Clean Water Measure
Brian Schmidt
October 4, 2012

As a long time environmentalist with what I hope is some “street cred” on valuing the environment and knowing the Water District, I urge you, I beg you, to support the Safe Clean Water measure - Measure B - on the November ballot and to tell your friends to do the same. This fall might be our only chance for a decade or longer to get expanded environmental funding, and it definitely is our best chance based on what we currently know about future circumstances.

(More after the jump....)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

False balance and simplistic denunciation of the anti-GMO movement: Keith Kloor and Ed Yong, call your offices

Ed Yong certainly and Keith Kloor possibly understand false balance in climate reporting:  the scientific mainstream and a few outliers should not get equal billing.  Keith Kloor certainly and Ed Yong possibly don't understand the false balance problem in the simplistic and blanket denunciation of opposition to GMO foods that equates the anti-GMO movement to climate denialists.*

Neither can distinguish wheat and chaff, separating a few real environmental concerns and some pretty hypothetical health concerns from an admittedly-large amount of unfounded anti-GMO concerns, particularly about health.  One real environmental concerns is of genetic contamination in the wild from GMO genes, both of species related to domesticated species and of plant species gone "feral".  Another is how GMOs facilitate increased herbicide use through inserting resistance genes in targeted crops.  A hypothetical health concern is from transferring allergenic genes to otherwise non-allergenic foods.  Another (possibly less-hypothetical) is farmworker exposure to the increased herbicide use.

Despite that, the Kloor article that Yong cites has this disingenuous summation:
After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.
Emphasis added.  Several paragraphs later, even Kloor has to admit poorly-phrased versions of some of the environmental issues, but that didn't get him to remove his summation or false equivalence to climate denialism.  He just then segues into the particularly-inane argument that GMOs are just a fast form of traditional breeding.  No.  Or at least, horizontal gene transfer from wildly different species is so unlikely in traditional breeding as to make it a ridiculous claim.

GMOs have real promise.  I'm particularly interested in the possibility of turning annual grasses like corn into perennials, something that could have significant climate benefits by allowing more carbon to be stored in no-tilled soils.  No point in being simplistic about GMOs though, including their real problems.

*This is mostly about Kloor, but Yong has a blog history of simply supporting the anti-anti-GMO people, including this Kloor article.

UPDATE:  Another potentially-good example of a GMO - inserting resistance to a non-native disease in the all-but-disappeared American chestnut.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Strained Silver and strange predictions on climate

It's not the usual lopsided intellectual battle we discuss here at Eli's.  This is Michael Mann criticizing Nate Silver's somewhat skeptical take of climate prediction capability in Silver's new book:
It's not that Nate revealed himself to be a climate change denier; he accepts that human-caused climate change is real, and that it represents a challenge and potential threat. But he falls victim to a fallacy that has become all too common among those who view the issue through the prism of economics rather than science. Nate conflates problems of prediction in the realm of human behavior -- where there are no fundamental governing 'laws' and any "predictions" are potentially laden with subjective and untestable assumptions -- with problems such as climate change, which are governed by laws of physics, like the greenhouse effect, that are true whether or not you choose to believe them.
As usual, I'll leave the heavy lifting to someone else, Mann in this case.  Also as usual, I haven't read Silver's book, so maybe there's more to it.  What I can add, however, is that it's helpful to look at climate predictions by Silver himself and by a denialist he credulously supports.

Three years ago, Nate offered to bet climate denialists on a monthly basis over whether the temperature in their hometown was one degree above or below the historical average.  As I said at the link, this was a somewhat aggressive bet offer that could've been vulnerable to letting his opponents rely on a short-term seasonal prediction of colder temps to game the system against him.  It would be interesting to see if he discusses his past bet offer and why he's critical of predictions that are much less affected by random noise.

Second is Silver's enthusiasm for the discredited Scott Armstrong, a crackpot climate denier.  In that case, there was a prediction and a betting market created by Armstrong's fans at InTrade, a skewed and unfair prediction that they still managed to lose spectacularly (link goes to a series of posts on Armstrong and the bet).

Like Mann, I'm a Fan of Nate, but he whiffed on this one.

One more thing:  Nate apparently wrote something about Gavin Schmidt (no relation) and his unwillingness to get involved in betting over climate models.  As someone who is willing to bet over climate, here's my response about climate denialists who won't bet over their predictions:
Of course any particular skeptic might honestly not be interested in betting, but the widespread lack of interest tells you something.
There's a difference between an individual's disinterest in betting versus the widespread disinterest among denialists as a community (with honorable skeptic exceptions) in putting their money where their mouths are.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


1. AAUP proposes revisions of rules on research misconduct:
The proposal defines research misconduct as "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results." To arrive at a finding of research misconduct, in-vestigators would have to establish that the conduct in question was a significant departure from accepted practices in the relevant research community, and that the action was committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.
My emphasis added.  Doesn't sound all that different from current rules that are being flaunted by George Mason University over plagiarism among their climate denialist academics.

UPDATE:  No wonder it sounded familiar, it actually was the old set of rules - I stumbled through a link and thought it was new (HT to John Mashey).  Even more importantly, I should've said "flouted" the rules instead of "flaunted" the rules.

2. My sadly-unpaid advertising for Chris Mooney's Point of Inquiry continues, this time about the Truth Markets innovation that attempts to reward truth in political discourse with money.  Great idea, no idea if it will work.  I don't share Mooney's concern that the conservative reaction to the mostly truthful wikipedia - creating Conservapedia - represents a successful response on any level.  OTOH, the proposal for a Truth Campaign, "Over 95% of American scientists believe climate change is real" is problematic.  It should read "over 95% of climatologists publishing on climate change believe climate change is real."  Still, I hope the overall idea works out.

3. Nice Felix Salmon article about the positive interaction between straight regulation, a gas tax, and a theoretical carbon tax:
Porter is also right that in countries with higher gas taxes, fuel economy tends to be much higher. But he’s not necessarily right that the higher gas taxes alone are responsible. Porter implies that the US only has fuel-economy standards just because “a tax on gasoline doesn’t stand a chance” of being passed. But the fact is that even countries with very high gas taxes have fuel-economy standards as well. And, guess what, they’re significantly tougher than ours, and they always have been.... 
Auto emissions pollution was a problem in the 70s and 80s; it’s not a problem now, with today’s much cleaner cars. [Wow, that was a really wrong sentence in an otherwise smart article - Ed.
The fact is that fuel-economy standards are a pretty good way of ensuring that carmakers can plan for a more fuel-efficient future, without worrying about competitors undercutting them with gas-guzzlers. If the US government ever comes to its senses and increases the gas tax, or if it — wonder of wonders — actually implements a broader carbon tax, then at that point you would have three different forces conspiring to make America’s fleet more efficient. You’d have the tax, you’d have the fuel-economy standards, and you’d have the general global increase in fuel efficiency.
I added the emphasis, a point that I hadn't thought of before.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Your Joe Bastardi entertainment moment

In 2010, predicting a big recovery in sea ice nearing historical levels in 2011, and slow progress over 20-30 years to above normal levels:

Apparently he now claims it's all just cycles that will turn around.  Funny how cyclical effects are producing new records, and they just happen to tend to be records you'd see from humans changing the climate....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Romney refuses to disclose whether he paid a significant amount of income taxes before 2010

The headline above is the takeaway I get from the "disclosures" by the Romney campaign that just went up an hour or so ago.  All they're saying is percentage of adjusted income spent on taxes, not whether the income is virtually eliminated by tax strategies like write-offs from capital losses.  If the vast majority of his $250 million is in investments that lost money, and he made some money on speaking fees that paid normal income taxes, his overall tax bill would be not that much larger than someone in the upper middle class.

What they need to do is show the tax returns, which would give some way to examine if they've been playing games.  Failing that, they should at least provide brief details with actual amounts paid in each of the years they've summarized, just like they did for 2011.  If we believe the summaries released today, Romney did pay taxes every year, but we don't yet know if the taxes amounted to a hill of beans.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Coda to Eli's UVa post

See Eli's previous post.

Eli's right about ruling from the bench, as opposed to listening to the lawyers babble, ask some questions, and then taking the matter under submission to re-emerge weeks later with an opinion.  Ruling from the bench means the judge was very confident about who was right, and nothing in the four hours of oral argument preceding the ruling made the judge waver and consider delaying action to review the written briefs.  It's a smack-down of the side that loses.

Getting fees from the losing side when the losing side is a private entity is very unusual in America, so unfortunately I doubt that'll happen in this case.  OTOH, it's all a matter of state law, so maybe Virginia law might have something that would help.

A grain of salt about the accuracy of the summary by the losing side.  Maybe it's accurate, but don't bet the farm.  They make it sound like Mann's side lost some backup arguments they were trying out in case the main argument failed.  Losers are putting on a brave face, but they can't help noticing that they lost.  I expect there may be cross-appeals from Mann's side about their backup arguments, assuming he has the legal resources available to put in the effort.

It would be interesting to know if the judge ruled from the bench while reading a carefully-prepared statement or spoke more colloquially.  The former would probably carry more weight on appeal.

I read somewhere that 14 or so other states have similar provisions in their laws.  If the ruling is appealed and sustained, then the appellate court precedent could be persuasive elsewhere.  If it's not appealed, the decision by a lower court like this one has little or no persuasive authority.  Bad guys get to decide whether to double down on the issue.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The bridge we need? Fracking depends on context.

Whether fracking for gas really is a bridge to reduced greenhouse emissions depends on context - does gas replace coal, or not?

That may seem too obvious to be worth discussing, but it's helpful to me as a matter of geography and chronology, especially chronology.  The reason for time being important depends on whether you accept that the long-term trend of significant decline in solar power costs, faster than efficiency for coal, will continue in the future and reach grid parity.  Similar evidence for wind, if not quite as dramatic.  I'm mostly buying these arguments.

On the geographic scale of the middle and eastern US, fracking has clearly replaced coal, and seems beneficial from a climate perspective (ignoring the other environmental issues).  In the western half of the US and much of western Europe, coal is much less important a power source, and gas from fracking seems more competitive with low emission energy.  When you add the chronological aspect that fracking will take 5-15 years to really develop, the same time period when renewables are approaching grid parity, then the argument for its development seems a lot shakier.

Exporting gas from the US will also take a decade or more, so again from a climate perspective, that only makes sense if the exports replace reliance on coal.  Maybe in China, India, and other developing markets, the climate would be better off if they had more gas.  Exports to Europe would be bad, I think. Not sure where the gas is really anticipated to go.

Fracking is an emerging issue here in California, where we have very little coal use to displace.  And even more locally in Santa Clara County, we've got lots of shale, where we've stored in underground aquifers a year's worth of drinking water for 1.8 million people.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

That stagflation they predicted in 2009 doesn't seem to be happening

Here's me bloviating in February 2009:

Conservatives choose inflation as a test of whether the stimulus will be a failure
I've seen conservatives railing against the stimulus package as something that will bring inflation without economic growth, or a return to stagflation. Sounds like we've got a good, Republican-chosen, measurable parameter of whether the stimulus fails.
If inflation in the next year or two spikes dangerously far above last year's 3.85%without being caused by something external like an oil shock, then the Republicans turned out to be right. I don't think the absence of inflation by itself proves the stimulus worked, but it will show the downside risk was very low.
Of course, I expect conservatives will attempt to have people forget everything they said about stagflation when the time comes around, but this is one way to make it slightly harder.
For related fun, here are the Republican prophecies of doom at the time of the Clinton 1993 stimulus plan.

Now with the latest action by the Fed, we hear more of the same inflation nonsense from the same people, such as this genius given a February 2009 Op-Ed space in the NY Times:

Thirty Years Later, a Return to Stagflation  
CONGRESS has made a terrible mistake. Amid a rhetorical debate centered on words like “crisis,” “emergency” and “catastrophe,” it acted too fast. While arguments were made about the stimulus bill’s specific components — taxpayer money for condoms, new green cars and golf carts for federal bureaucrats, another round of rebate checks — its more dangerous consequences were overlooked. And now the package threatens a return to the kind of stagflation last seen in the 1970s.
 Be sure to check out the entire entertaining read from the future Vice-Presidential nominee of the GOP.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Needed: a November 1 blog blizzard that more snow doesn't mean less warming

Things Break beat me to the punch on this issue with a much better post that included some actual science-type material.

It's pretty simple.  Lots of snow doesn't tell you anything about temperature trends.*  If you see lots of recently fallen snow, you could probably derive that temperatures somewhere in the nearby atmosphere had recently been below freezing, but not whether overall temperature trends are neutral, declining, or warming.  As TB points out, the right conditions of warming could actually lead to more snow, and we might get a lot this year.

Record cold, or average temperatures that are significantly below long term averages, are much more relevant.  Of course a single season doesn't tell you a whole lot either, but at least it's a relevant-if-minor data point.

We had plenty of idiocy two years ago when we had lots of snow, but this time we can anticipate it.  November 1 might be a good time for blogs based on the real world to rally around and remind people in advance that snow tells you nothing about warming.

*UPDATE:  okay, it's a little more subtle than telling you absolutely nothing about temps - as usual, see the comments for edification.  Let's say that lots of snow doesn't tell you anything about temperature trends that can be coherently discussed in a 30 second Fox News soundbite or a dismissive tweet.  Increased temps could mean more snow or less snow, depending on circumstances, so if you're trying to understand temperature trends and don't have lots of time to put into it, the better focus would be to look at temperature trends.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Denialists denied by judge in New Zealand lawsuit

Via John Mashey, there's a blog post by Gareth on yet another attempt by climate denialists to muddy the record on climate change, this time by suing New Zealand's National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research for publishing a temperature record that shows New Zealand warming up over the last century.

Definitely check out Gareth's post, or if you have time, the ruling itself.  Skimming it, seems like the denialists didn't have very good lawyers at first (or none at all) and then found someone more reasonable to help them.  A lawyer can't make magic out of bad material though, so in the end they got shut down completely (to be a fly on the wall and hear what their new lawyer told them about their prospects, or to see what document the lawyer required them to sign acknowledging those prospects).  Kind of fun to see my old friend Bob Carter get the skeptical treatment he's earned for himself.

And also these results:
[172] In summary on this point, the Trust [denialist group -ed.] alleges generally that NIWA failed to properly deal with the UHI/shelter issue which had the effect of other stations acquiring derivative warming from the inclusion of the Albert Park (Auckland) and Kelburn (Wellington) sites. Dr Wratt disagrees. He says that the excess temperature trend identified by the Trust for the Auckland series is incorrect. Further, even if it was correct, the effect it would have on the other sites would be negligible. Dr Wratt is of the view that Dr Carter has misinterpreted the scientific literature in making the claims he does.
[178] NIWA refers to eight lines of evidence that indicate New Zealand has warmed significantly over the period 1909 to 2009: 
  • the consistent results of the recalculated 7SS following the review, which was consistent with the results recorded in the original 7SS series based on the Salinger 1992 work, plus subsequent annual updates; 
  • peer review for the pre-2010 versions of 7SS, including by the editors of International Journal of Climatology; 
  • the analysis and calculation of the trends using the Salinger post-1992 7SS by a separate set of scientists within NIWA; 
  • trends from the independent 11SS, which disclosed that with no homogenisation the warming trend was 1.0 degrees Centigrade for 1931 to 2008; 
  • results from the 21+3 station series; trends from ship measurements and surrounding oceans;52 retreat of New Zealand glaciers; 
  • observed global climate changes. The IPCC 2007 assessment concludes warming of the climate system is unequivocal. It reports the 100 year linear trend (1906 to 2005) and global surface temperature is +.74 degrees Centigrade ±0.18.
Someone is judicially unimpressed with the ubiquitous urban heat island argument, and with the other arguments ignoring the mountain of evidence showing us that we're warming.

Should be interesting to see whether the agency will get its costs covered as the judge ordered.  Like Gareth, I wonder if the non-profit trust created to bring the lawsuit, instead of the denialist Climate Science Coalition, will be found to be a mysteriously asset-free husk capable of paying its own lawyer in advance, but otherwise broke.

One final note:  while Americans are legitimately criticized as litigious, this type of ridiculous lawsuit can't be done here.  It was just a scientific report - if you don't like it, then go do your own scientific report and argue it out.  You can only sue here over an action taken on the basis of a report, not to suppress the report itself (on the federal level at least, I can't vouch for Red states).  We did just barely dodge this bullet - industry groups snuck a two-paragraph rider into a budget bill in 2000 called the Information Quality Act or Data Quality Act as a means of gumming up the works and preventing exposure of their misdeeds.  Chris Mooney included it in his Republican War on Science book, but courts have generally told industry groups to go away when they tried to sue with it as a tool.  So that's one thing we've done right, at least.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Useful with a boulder of salt

Shell has a good, simple explanation of a planned carbon capture and sequestration facility in Alberta:

So the good stuff first:  they're not using it for enhanced oil recovery, which creates additional emissions.  They're injecting CO2 into salty groundwater 2 kilometers down, which is also supposed to maximize retention.  And they claim it will start in 2015, soon enough to know in short order if this is a real project or just an excuse to keep going after the tar sands.

OTverybigOH, it's tar sands, with plenty of environmental problems in addition to climate change.  While this project may recover emissions from the refining process, it won't from the extraction process, where the sands have to be heated to extract the bitumen (and of course there's the emissions from end use).  No word in the video about what percent reduction of CO2 they expect to achieve with the project.  And my understanding is the biggest problem with CCS is cost, so we'll have to see how well they handle that issue.

So it's an interesting component of a bad overall project.  More on CCS from Shell here.

UPDATE:  lots of good comments as usual, and in John's post on the same issue.