Friday, September 11, 2015

Hello Ethon! Moving my blogging digs to a new Rabett hole

This is just a note to my fine readers that I will be taking up new digs with Eli Rabett and John Farley at Rabett Run. They've got the science well-covered but I'll put up some uninformed commentary about that, policy, and whatever else.

I hope you all will join me there. As for this blog, I will cross-post both here and at Eli's for at least a while, but I'm turning off the ability to add comments here and really encourage people to go there, especially to read and participate in what I expect will be a vibrant comment community. Starting May 24th of 2011, all posts here are crossposts of what I've got up at Rabett Run.

"Date posted", btw, may not be accurate here at BSD because the original posts are at Rabett's and I only cross post a bunch of them at a time. Any updates to a post saying  "read the comments" would have to be read at the original post at Rabbet's, as that's where people are commenting.

I'll keep bumping this post up near the top of the blog. Thanks again for reading, and see you at Eli's!

Well it's one solution: go marry a climate denialist

Interesting article from a man married to an anti-vaxxer. It reminds me a little about studies showing that a prejudiced people need intense contact with the members of the group they're biased against before eliminating their prejudice; casual contact can be counterproductive.

In the case of the article, overcoming bias was a two-way street, with the author having to abandon his (lazy) belief that anti-vaxxers were just uninformed and stupid. He ascribes his wife's viewpoint to casual and highly negative contact with conventional medicine creating a fear of vaccines. He also mentions her affiliation to her sister, whose professional career is naturopathy (there really is something to the whole Dan Kahan/cultural cognition thing; it's just too bad he exaggerates it so much).

In the author's case, it took years of conversation before his wife finally let her daughter get vaccinated, but it did work. Single people out there who believe in science, you now know what to do.

Or short of that, some empathy for those who only sip at the cup of denialism, while laughter may be more appropriate for those who wallow and profit from it.

ELI:  Perhaps the bunnies might send a delegation to Peter Webster and ask how that has turned out?

Dear Bishop Hill: read your links. Also, take a look at this graph.

Bishop Hill thinks they've caught Nicholas Stern in a contradiction, saying one thing in 2009 and another in 2015. So let's take a look, using BH's own links.

Stern 2009:
Lord Stern said that although robust expansion could be achieved until 2030 while avoiding dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions, rich nations may then have to consider reining in growth...."At some point we would have to think about whether we want future growth. We don't have to do that now."

(Emphasis added.) That would be the second sentence of the article BH linked to.

And Stern 2015:
...Professor Stern, the chair of the Grantham research institute on climate change and the environment, said that it was a false dichotomy to posit growth against climate action. “To portray them as in conflict is to misunderstand economic development and the opportunities that we now have to move to the low-carbon economy,” he said. “To pretend otherwise is diversionary and indeed creates an ‘artificial horse race’ which can cause real damage to the prospects for agreement.” Green parties in Europe have often argued that decarbonisation requires an end to the model of economic growth “at all costs”. But Stern said that there was now “much greater understanding of how economic growth and climate responsibility can come together and, indeed, how their complementarity can help drive both forward”.

(Emphasis added.) In both cases Stern appears to be focusing on the short to medium term, and in both cases saying there's not a conflict between economic growth and addressing climate change.

In BH's telling, Stern said in 2009 they had to stop growing (BH gave no time frame so one would assume it was immediate) but that Stern in 2015 is saying grow away. Alarmist hypocrisy!!!

As for whether there's a difference over what to do in 2030, who knows - Stern wasn't being asked recently about policies 15 years from now, but I don't see a necessary difference in his statements. Even if there was a difference, BH somehow finds it unforgivable that someone could change their mind on a peripheral issue (what policies should be in place in 2030, as opposed to policies today).

Finally, BH might want to take a look at a graph at renewable power prices. Any graph really, but here's one:

This is new information available to Stern in 2015 and not in 2009, and I could see it having an effect on someone thinking about long-term compatibility of growth with limiting carbon emissions. I remember the debate 5 years ago over whether the long-term decline in solar costs would continue. Now we have the result.

Inability of denialists to adjust opinions to new facts is matched only by their inability to accept long-established ones.

Coal collapse and the first burst carbon bubble

The last few months have seen major bankruptcies among American coal companies and the near-elimination of the market value for the rest over the last 5 years (another Hockey Stick, except mirror-imaged and with the stick part also tilted down). What hasn't changed much is the amount of coal reserves these companies have. To the extent that these companies had been valued based on the reserves they own, usually the major component of their value, then the climate divestment argument that fossil fuel stocks are overvalued by a carbon bubble gets a lot of support. The market appears to be saying that a lot of that coal these companies own is now worthless and will stay in the ground.

I shouldn't overplay that argument as it applies to climate divestment. A number of these companies took on a lot of debt several years ago buying other coal companies (and their reserves) in a bet that there would be a major expansion in coal usage - a bad bet. The low-to-negative valuation reflects that debt in part, not a market assessment that all of their reserves are staying in the ground. OTOH, even before these purchases the coal companies had a much higher valuation, so if you assume that the recent coal acquisition is balanced out by recent debt, you still have to explain why the all the coal owned by the companies from prior years is valued so low.

Some parts of the bankrupt companies are still profitable under current law which allows them to impose pollution costs upon neighbors and the entire planet, so some of their reserves will still get used. We might have a better idea based on the valuation when they emerge from bankruptcy and can see then whether the carbon bubble in coal bounces back.

This is a pretty useful example for climate divestment. Six years ago no one could have predicted it. While natural gas had started its expansion back then, everyone expected unabated demand in China and India. Now it's much more up in the air, and meanwhile the bankruptcy papers are shaking out some interesting connections between climate denialists and previously undisclosed coal funders.

During the years that natural gas got primary credit for driving out coal, the renewable industry grabbed nearly half as much away from coal (see page 3, and good reference on coal's problems in general). That trend can accelerate.

One other question is whether climate divestment played a role in coal's trouble. You hear zero credit given to the movement, which I think is slightly unfair. We're now in a situation where at one point I'm watching a random business cable channel and see a discussion of the carbon bubble, and I think divestment helped highlight that risk to investors. And while I'm no stock expert, I don't see a lot of opportunistic buying of the still-standing companies even though you can get them over 90% cheaper than they used to be - as divestment grows and increasingly focuses on coal, it can help create uncertainty that blocks funding for the companies.

"You can see it and you can feel it"

Starts about 15 seconds in:

"We can see it and we can feel it - hotter summers, rising sea levels, extreme weather events like stronger storms, deeper droughts, and longer wildfire seasons, all disasters that are becoming more frequent, more expensive, and more dangerous."
More backing for my argument that climate communication to the public should use the "can feel it in your bones" approach. Obama is talking about things people can experience directly and compare to their past.

I liked the next part too:
"Our own families have experienced it too - over the past three decades asthma rates have more than doubled and as temperatures keep warming, smog gets worse, and those Americans will be in even greater risk of landing in the hospital."
He's making clear that climate change is a direct risk to the listener and that person's family.

Two other comments on the Clean Power Plan:  first, nice piece by Simon Lazarus at Balkinization pointing out that the new standard for more active judicial review in the Obamacare case could affect review of whether the CPP is legal. One on hand it means less deference to agency interpretation, potentially bad for CPP since the agency interpretation is what makes CPP work. On the other, the new review pushes judges to interpret the law in a way that makes the law work, and the whole point of CPP in providing flexibility is to make the law work more effectively. So let's hope for the best.

Second, missing in the whole discussion of existing power plants is a reworking of the rule for new power plants. New coal plants would have to incorporate carbon sequestration. Good luck with that, although Clean Coal proponents keep talking about it. Their own talk can be used against them when they litigate on the basis that it's unrealistic.

Alternatives to the Iran Deal

Somewhat Realistic:

New Deal - one with less restrictions on Iran. This deal gets negotiated by countries other than the US. The US continues sanctions, so Iran is only willing to agree to a deal that provides fewer economic benefits because the new deal imposes fewer restrictions.

No New Deal Version 1 - sanctions fall apart, with the US and maybe some other countries continuing sanctions, while China, Russia, and many others end sanctions. Iran takes detected and undetected steps towards a nuclear weapon but doesn't explode a device over the next 10-15 years. The US wisely decides against a military attack to "stop" progress towards a bomb, and Israel wisely decides it can't effectively stop Iranian nuclear bomb progress on its own.

No New Deal Version 2 - same as Version 1 except that US and possibly Israel bomb Iran. In Iran public support coalesces around hardline opposition to the Great Satan, reinvigorating the aggressive theocrats for another 20-30 years. Theocrats vow to rebuild the nuclear program and more support for terrorist groups, insurgencies, and Assad in Syria. In 3-5 years Iran explodes a nuclear device (or possibly, just build their nuclear weapon capability without finalizing it via a test).

No New Deal Version 3 - same as Version 2 except that a year after the first bombing, the US bombs again to destroy the rebuilt nuclear program and thereafter continues periodic bombing along with continuous attacks to degrade Iran's air defense capability. Other consequences of Version 3's long-term low-grade warfare are unpredictable but likely to be unpleasant.

Very Unlikely:

Renegotiated Deal Version 1 - the facesaver. After getting voted down in Congress, the US gets some very minor tweaks that provide political cover for enough Congressmembers to finally support it.

Renegotiated Deal Version 2 - The Unicorn! During a last-minute attempt at renegotiation after Congress votes the original deal down, somebody thinks of an approach that no one had thought of before that makes the deal somewhat better in restricting nuclear development while still being acceptable to Iran.

Same Deal Minus the US - Iran is so desperate to lift sanctions from other countries that it renegotiates a similar deal as before with a few facesaving changes, despite continuation of sanctions from the US.

One-off Military Attack - this is not the Military Unicorn believed in by the John Boltons of the world. Instead this is similar to the Somewhat Realistic, No New Deal Version 2 except that after a single military attack on its nuclear program, Iran decides to discontinue it, AND to get revenge by other means such as vastly expanded support for terrorists and insurgencies. Very hard to see why Iran would do this, given that the attacks just build public support for hardliners. Maybe they decide to put Iran's economic interest ahead of their own political interests. This is Very Unlikely.


None of the realistic alternatives are better than the current deal. Only one of the very unrealistic options, The Unicorn Renegotiated Deal, is better, and it's both hard to imagine it being that much better while being much more likely to end up as one of the worse alternatives.

A familiar legal faceplant

Rabett Run remembers David Schnare and the currently-monikered Free Market Environmental Law Clinic. At Legal Planet (good lawblog btw), I read about a 10th Circuit opinion that in no uncertain terms killed off a far-fetched attempt to say Colorado can't require some in-state use of renewable power because it buys power out of state and that would constitute governmental regulation across state boundaries. I went to the read the unanimous court opinion and only then found out who was involved.

Interestingly, the opinion was written by a Bush appointee who is the son of Ann Gorsuch, not someone likely to be a knee-jerk enviro. He was not amused by the arguments, writing the following:
Yes, the district court rejected all three arguments. But for reasons known only to it, [appellant] EELI has appealed just the district court’s disposition under Baldwin. So whether Colorado’s law survives the Pike or Philadelphia tests may be interesting questions, but they are ones that will have to await resolution in some other case some other day.
EELI’s contrary position would also risk serious problems of overinclusion. After all, if any state regulation that “control[s] . . . conduct” out of state is per se unconstitutional, wouldn’t we have to strike down state health and safety regulations that require out-of-state manufacturers to alter their designs or labels? See supra at 9. Certainly EELI offers no limiting principle that might prevent that possibility or others like it. Instead, it seems to embrace such results and, in this way, it seems to call on us not merely to respect the actual holdings of the most dormant authorities in all of dormant commerce clause jurisprudence but to revive and rebuild them on the basis of dicta into a weapon far more powerful than Pike or Philadelphia. That’s an audacious invitation we think the Court unlikely to take up, especially given its remarks about the limits of Baldwin doctrine in Walsh, and it’s a novel lawmaking project we decline to take up on our own.

That second issue in particular is telling. If you're going to try to get courts to extend the law in a new direction, you're more likely to win if you can tell the court that it's just a wee extension, almost perfectly justified by precedent, and clearly limited from making a hash of prior decisions. If instead you have visions of grandeur, you can take a different route, but it didn't work so well here.

I went to the Schnare's web page to look at their litigation victories, and I guess we can say they've been industrious about filing FOIA requests.

One other thing:  this type of litigation based on the dormant commerce clause is making use of classic judicial activism, but apparently that's no big deal.

Play it again Uncle Sam - climate action for the next president without Congressional approval

I was going to write about Clinton's initial climate plan and still will, but I got distracted with a plagiarism proposal I want to suggest. Much of her plan requires Congressional approval, and we all now how problematic that will be. What can be done without it?

I think the answer is a lot - just by doing more of what we're already doing, by plagiarizing Obama's Clean Power and making it stricter. More specifically, wait until the Clean Power Plan has cleared all its legal hurdles, and then set up the sequel. (NOTE:  this refers to the Draft CPP and was written before the final CPP came out with substantial changes).

It's not all the easy to find the guts of the CPP, but it's here (starting on page 8). A modified version of each state's predicted baseline carbon emission rate per MWh is established, and here (page 34837, assuming I've read it correctly) each plant has to meet that average rate or find a way to offset the excess, possibly through some state-established system. If all the above-average emission facilities have to get to average levels in some form, then the total emissions go down.

CPP tries not to be arbitrary, so making it tougher in a non-arbitrary way presents a challenge. OTOH, one factor in determining the predicted baseline rate is each state's future Renewable Portfolio Standard (see first link, page 15). If instead of using the individual RPS, the EPA applies the best-in-class RPS from a similarly-situated state, then that could significantly knock down the baseline average emission that plants would have to match.

Figuring out the best-in-class is somewhat flexible, but you could look at every state with a similar or worse level of existing percentage of renewables, take the one that has the highest RPS for the future, and determine that to be the best-in-class. This wouldn't force each state to match the toughest RPS, because they could find other ways to reduce carbon emissions.

This is my version of the "if ain't broke, do it some more" rule. Regardless, serious presidential candidates need to say what they will do on climate change if Congress doesn't cooperate with reality.

Fraud via proxy still seems fraudy.

A puzzled Stoat asks what's the big deal and what's new about revelations that Exxon picked up on climate change issues back in 1981 while funding climate deniers for many years after.

I'll note by response that first those are two separate questions - even if you think it's not particularly news, that doesn't eliminate the problem for Exxon

The real issue as I see it is if Exxon has been trying to spread messages it knows aren't true - that's called fraud, and that's what got the tobacco companies in trouble. Paying someone to commit your fraud for you is no magic shield from liability.

There's this quote at Stoat (but not by Stoat):
Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system. It did question ‐ legitimately, in my opinion ‐ the validity of some of the science…
Well, I'm not sure that's an accurate statement, but again it doesn't matter too much if you're using someone else to do your denial for you.

Proving to a judge and jury that's what Exxon did isn't necessarily simple though. It's not Exxon speaking directly, so you'd have to show that Exxon is promoting that speech. Funding climate-denying politicians could just be because Exxon likes their bold stances in favor of motherhood and apple pie. Climate-denying non-profits that exist to do little else could be more problematic. Being able to subpoena documents could really clear this stuff up in terms of nailing down what the motivation was.

Via the Ubiquitous John Mashey, I see Scripps did a forum on the tobacco/climate connection from a few years back. I'm going to have to look at it in depth, but there's this:
A key breakthrough in the public and legal case for tobacco control came when internal documents came to light showing the tobacco industry had knowingly misled the public. Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups, and there are many possible approaches to unearthing them.
We might have the first stage of this internal documentation with the latest info on what Exxon knew in 1981. Maybe we'll find out more.

Cascadia quake and climate correlations

New Yorker's article on the exposure of the Pacific Northwest to a massive quake and tsunami is well worth the read. I used to live there and knew they're equivalently vulnerable to quakes as we are in California, and much less prepared. I didn't know about the tsunami danger.

The correlations I see between this issue and climate are in the seriousness of risk, timescale, and effort needed to respond to the problem. Overall Cascadia may have an even greater problem with the quake and tsunami than they/we have with climate change - the long tail of risk includes immediate catastrophe as a possibility. If they/we are lucky for the next 50 years, taking action on both mitigating emissions and tsunami-proofing our coastal areas without a catastrophe hitting, my guess is the cost of tsunami-proofing in the region would be higher than mitigating and adapting to climate change.

One other overlap is that one way to adapt to tsunamis is to relocate away from sea level, at least with your most vulnerable communities and critical infrastructure, and that will help with sea level rise as well. Finally, they are doing something to deal with this problem, just not doing enough.

Having said all that, one thing that did bother me with the article is that some things seemed exaggerated. Getting knocked over by ankle-deep running water? Call me skeptical. Same thing with Sacramento's alleged vulnerability to tsunamis - I'd like to get learn more about this, but I do know that there are two constriction points between the city and the ocean (Golden Gate and Carquinez Strait) and lots of room for water to spread. Hopefully the other risks aren't exaggerated.

Ezra Kleinian hippie-distancing

A version of something I wrote on email struck a chord with some folks regarding the assertion "GMOs are safe":
The term "safe" should be bifurcated into "safe for human health" and "safe for the general environment".  
GMOs are health-safe so far, with complications regarding farmworkers exposure to pesticide. There are serious concerns and reasons to proceed cautiously on environmental safety, especially for genetic contamination of wild relatives of domestic plants and animals.  
 I think there's a "cool kids" attitude among some, the Ezra Klein types, that tries to show how they're not old-school dirty hippies by expressing love of GMOs.
Incidentally, the term "safe to eat" is carefully chosen - many people conflate that as "safe for people" or just "safe", when it's a nice dodge around the issue of farmworkers' increased exposure to herbicides.*

I think there's also a broader issue here that connects to Ecomodernism and its unhealthy relationship to the unnatural. They're not quite hippie-punching, but they definitely want to show a distance. So to them being unnatural is either everything to be avoided on the natural side of the earth that is to be decoupled from humanity, or nothing to be worried about (and maybe even encouraged) on the parts of the planet where the human footprint should dominate.

Unnatural is a something that needs to be considered, not an everything or a nothing. Unnatural means we can't rely on experience and must rely on our feeble brains instead:
To some, [Ecomodernism] carries a whiff of triumphalism. “For a long time, I’ve been a card-carrying pragmatist about environmental issues, but the pragmatism of the Breakthrough Institute is a pragmatism I don’t recognize,” Ben Minteer, a professor of environmental ethics at Arizona State University and a co-editor of the new anthology “After Preservation,” told me. “I don’t see any of the humility or caution that’s such a central part of pragmatism.”
That doesn't mean don't go ahead, but rather as John Mashey says, "proceed with caution". And maybe don't proceed in some cases - I wouldn't plant GMO crops in regions where the wild originator of the domesticated plant exists, or where the plant spreads widely as a weed.

Unnatural indicates caution in other ways, with nuclear power as an example. The unnatural concentration of long-term radioactive waste is a problem, not something we have experience or even a geological record to understand how it may go wrong in future millenia. Still, it's a limited problem with a limited geographic scope. I'd put it a distant third in terms of the problems of nuclear power, after the distant second of catastrophic accidents, and the by-far number one problem that nuclear costs way too much.

Considering unnaturalness can be done, pragmatically acknowledging our limitations while not letting them control all we do. Ecomodernism misses this.

*GMOs may also result in farmworkers being less exposed to more poisonous herbicides, and to some insecticides. It's complicated, making "safe to eat" a not very comprehensive vision.

Divestment and Dilberto si

The encyclical emphasizes a moral element to the climate debate that the drier analyses miss. I wrote previously that a bishop flubbed a response to a Foxquestion about whether we shouldn't do other things to help the poor instead of reducing our precious carbon emissions. He said the encyclical invited people to a dialogue to figure out what to do, so let's just sit down and talk.

The best answer is that Fox is referring to a Lomborgdeception, a study artificially minimizing the impact of climate relative to other impacts, but we might not expect the bishop to know that. The next best answer he should say, however, is that moral questions can have strict answers. If a particular action you're doing is harming someone else, you may prefer to continue harming that person while making it up to them in other ways, but the decision is not up to you. If Lomborg et al. want to persuade the most-harmed that there's a better deal for them, the inactivists can try, but I don't think Australia is where you want to go for that. 

The moral case the Pope emphasizes is that GHG emissions harm the poorest, and the same logic works on divestment. The only reason to invest in fossil-fuel companies at their current price levels is because they make the poor pay a significant portion of the cost of their product, and are offering to pass on part of the resulting profit to you, the investor.

The issue of divestment and the Catholic Church hasn't escaped the notice of many other people, although what's unclear to me is whether much anything is happening within the official church hierarchy, let alone action to reduce the Church's own GHG emissions. Hopefully the encyclical teaching will move to the next steps of action on divestment and on emissions as models that the Church can point to as models for the rest.

Someone should collect these climate conversion stories

There may be some useful common thread to how educated people resist climate science for a while, maybe years, and then come around. And it's probably different than what shifts the average voter who spends very little time thinking about the issue.

The excellent science journalist Dan Vergano gives us his conversion story. Short version is he began as a member of the hippie-punching Cold Warrior tribe who reflexively disbelieved in climate change. His self-image as engineer opened the first crack though, when someone he trusted challenged him to check the data and he was educated enough to understand it. Not enough to be convinced though. 

Convinced happened years later as a science journalist, when he applied the "nut test" to professed experts on both sides of the climate issue. The real scientist acknowledged the possibility of being wrong, while the denialist acknowledged none, and the issue was settled for Vergano.

I still find it somewhat perplexing to understand why people go unpersuaded for years by mountains of evidence and then finally change their minds, but this helps a little. Maybe we need a database about how to shake people from their mental frames.

Ironically, I think solutions work the opposite way for most people who spend little time on the issue and are persuaded by certainty and confidence. "The science is settled" is more persuasive to most people (and also true) than "our horde of scientists are still thinking rationally, while the tiny clique on the other side are controlled by irrational certainty and can't be trusted."

You have to understand your audience. Some years ago at my water district when it considered fluoridation, I was annoyed with the pro-fluoride proponents who claimed certainty that fluoridation was safe. The other side was even worse and I sided with fluoridation, but both were using the wrong arguments with me.

Side note:  here's 10 minutes of pretty favorable coverage of the Pope's encyclical on Fox News Sunday. That type of coverage could help given the network it's on. Wallace trots out a version of the Lomborg nonsense about doing something to help the poor other than fixing climate, and I think the bishop flubs his response, but the back and forth is less important than the overall favorable coverage.

Bringing Catholic science to the climate change fight

Don't know how I missed this video, but definitely worth watching.

I planned to write something the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, that the Pope has a strong scientific backing for tomorrow's encyclical, but Bloomberg already did it.

The leaked draft sounds good and is stirring up trouble. We'll see what happens. Catholic support played a role in Nebraska's repeal of the death penalty, so there's still some political heft in religious affiliation. Probably more of a long-term effect, but it's a marathon.

No Child Left Inside Legal Defense Fund

An idea I had years ago got called out recently by Richard Louv, author of Last Child In the Woods. Louv was mad about a little girl being forced by city regulators to tear down a treehouse and he remembered something I'd written:
In 2006 [actually 2007 -ed.], an environmental lawyer named Brian Schmidt started thinking about nature-deficit disorder and came up with a novel idea, which he shared in his blog: “Set up a legal foundation that pays the legal defense costs of institutions and individuals who bring children outdoors and then [are] hit with frivolous lawsuits.” In the 2008 update to “Last Child in the Woods,” I passed along Schmidt’s idea, and suggested calling it the No Child Left Inside Legal Defense Fund.

At the outset, the fund would defend people “against the claims that would have established the worst precedents or had the worst potential impact,” he said, in an email. “The fund would support “all or part of defendant’s legal costs afterwards,” if the defendants did not settle the case. “Regardless of how successful this idea could become, it will never cover all the costs of defending against all lawsuits. Still it could help, and just the fact that a defendant knew it was possible to recover costs might make the defendant less likely to settle".....

Who would pay for such a fund? How about trail lawyers and other attorneys, through donations and pro bono services. Many are genuinely concerned about the growth of litigiousness and the kind of regulation enforcement that can give good regulations — the kind that fight corporate polluters for example — a bad name.

“I also expect that businesses that support the outdoors would be interested in funding the foundation,” added Schmidt. He said he was just tossing “this idea out into the Googleable universe, with the additional mention that I’d be willing to put in some of my own money or time as a lawyer if the idea goes anywhere.”
I wrote a little more here.

Louv matched this idea with conservative Charles Murray's wish for a legal organization that challenges onerous government regulations. I can't say I'm a fan of Murray, but I think there are some government regulations that enviros would like to see challenged, like mandatory off-street parking requirements. I've also thought for a long time that zoning should either be aimed at high density or low density, not the in-between density that afflicts suburbia, and high density means lifting restrictions on uses.

For what it's worth, maybe something will happen with all this.

Side note:  a Quora thread on what fossil fuel company employees think of their own role in climate change. Interesting to see different levels of denial, even from people who's deny their in denial about climate change.

Maxim Lott must be a great uphill runner

Maxim Lott sees the slope of the line for the last 17 years as being virtually flat. I imagine that if he went for a run and came to a hill, he wouldn't even notice it.

The NASA data he cites is here (which doesn't include any of the scorching 2015 data), and his article here. Sadly, his article is a cut above the normal Fox News piece in that it least includes, if buried somewhat down the piece, the statement by scientists that possibly-increased rain in Africa is outweighed by risks and costs of climate change.

The article otherwise contains the mixed messages that the climate isn't changing, the climate is always changing naturally, and that the climate change we're causing is having beneficial effects. Fox News and Maxim Lott haven't quite figured out what the message is, but I doubt many Fox readers click on the link they're given to see if NASA actually says what's claimed.

I emailed Lott last week about this. I assume he's very busy.

And yes to the idly curious, he is John Lott's son, the "Ma" of Mary Rosh. That's not his fault, but this article is.

Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine

Haven't done a foreign policy post in a while, so here's three in one:

1. The list above shows messed-countries and messed-up outcomes, so that part's consistent, but what's inconsistent is the level of effort by the US to change the outcome. Whether the US did relatively little like in Syria or a lot like in Libya, things didn't go well.

For Egypt in particular, the US has done everything right AFAICT since the beginning of the Arab Spring and it made no difference to the final outcome. It might have helped save Egyptian students from a massacre in 2011, and that's not nothing, but it's not permanent change either.

Overall I think the lack of results counsels in favor of less interference. I'd also say it might support defensive support over aggressive support. Stopping Qaddaffi from massacring people in Benghazi is good, as is stopping ISIS aggression in Syria. OTOH, helping what appears to be Shiite militias in Iraq with little government control attempt to take over a major Sunni city sounds like a situation to stay away from, at least until government control and Sunni support become real and not fig leafs.

2. One thing Obama did that has turned out fantastically well is in making his Syria red line comment. Before the comment, Syria had lots of chemical weapons, and now they're gone. I'm still incredulous that people call it a loss for the US, including in the current issue of The Economist.

A good thought experiment is to imagine what an honest answer from Assad would be, as to whether the hundreds of millions of dollars Syria spent over the decades on chemical weapons turned out to be money well spent. Or imagine whether some tinpot dictator in some other country thinking about establishing a chemical weapons program to be deployed on his own or neighboring people would be encouraged or discouraged by what happened with chemical weapons in Syria. Yet many people who think they're qualified to discuss foreign policy would prefer that Obama had ignored any chance to consult Congress and blow up a few air bases in Syria, and count that a better outcome.

I could see an argument that the US was lucky in how it turned out, but there's no question that the world's in a much better shape with how it happened.

3. An accountability moment for myself - in early 2012, when things were going really well in Libya, I offered a bet over Libya's long-term future:
So, Freedom House gave Libya the worst possible ratings in 2010 on a scale of 1 to 7, with a 7 for political rights and 7 for civil rights.  I predict at the end of 2013 there will be at least three grades of improvement, e.g. political rights could improve to at least 5 and civil to at least 6, but it could be in other combinations.  My guess is that it'll be more like four or five (and one has already happened), but I think three grades clearly represent a benefit to the country.
No one took the offer. Somewhat strangely, I would've won. Things weren't that bad in 2013 but got much worse starting in 2014 - although Freedom House still gives Libya slightly better ratings than under Qadaffi. I don't think a technical victory from my perspective is much of a vindication. 

FWIW, I think Libya still has a shot at a much better future than the past it had under Qadaffi or the pretty-rotten present.

Problems with Wood for Trees data

UPDATE:  problem seems fixed, for now anyway. See comments.

David Appel says Wood for Trees, a fun site for us amateurs to play with climate data, has wrong data and unclear sources. Too bad, but worth passing along.

Maybe they'll fix things.

...into the bucket of jellied eels, spread across the Toast Of The Not Knowing

Not Toast Of The Not Knowing

A little more on the lawsuit flop against John Mashey - Stoat has posts (one of them with a brilliant headline), and John M links to his lawyers' brief arguing for dismissal. If you thought the summary of the flaws in the case looked bad, read the full brief. The jaw drops.

Per Stoat, it made Retraction Watch, but just a tiny mention and not a full article that it deserves. I poked around George Mason websites for a combative student newspaper to cover this, but wasn't sure I found much.

UPDATE:  thought I'd respond to the speculation about motivations and timing, that when the effort is this haphazard and flawed, it will be very difficult to figure out what "rational" intent lay behind it.

Needs more glaciers

Good start though.

Weird paper claims climate change helps biodiversity

ScienceDaily says a paper found that climate change has less impacts on biodiversity than land use has. My first thoughts were that it's plausible, that the negative effects are combined, and that the priority might depend on the assumptions. I tried to RTFA, but it was paywalled other than a long abstract. The long abstract, however, nearly contradicts ScienceDaily, saying climate change has a mostly positive effect on biodiversity. Weirdly, it said that the climate change effect on biodiversity distribution by altitude was a positive effect in its study area, when I'd think that all other things being equal, a species will find less land available to it as its habitat range moves from lower to upper areas.

So, after some waffling I forked out the six bucks for temporary access, and I now have thoughts. I should be hesitant to pass judgment as a total amateur, so qualify this accordingly, but the main issue I'm fixating on is that they examined a single watershed catchment of a small, steeply-sloped river (1700 square km, elev. 45m to 1700m) in rural China. Your classic watershed is pie-shaped, with more land as you move uphill, even though our planet's land surface isn't similarly shaped. I think their finding, that in their case climate change benefits biodiversity when it moves habitat ranges uphill, is an artifact of their study area's topography. I looked for any discussion of this disparity between their study area and the terrestrial world in general, and didn't see it.

Other thoughts:

  • It studies stream macroinvertebrates, just one specialized aspect of biodiversity, and is very dependent on projected changes in hydrology. I'm surprised to read the claim that one could do meaningful, quantitative predictions for future hydrology at a small scale. Maybe I shouldn't be.
  • Speaking of predictions, the paper ends its predictions in 2050. I'd guess wildly that 2050 is about when land use impacts would've hit their maximum for a rural part of China, but climate change impacts are just beginning. Extending the analysis to a full century might give a different sense about the negative aspects of climate change.
  • The paper discusses the issue of a "summit trap" where the species habitat hits the maximum altitude and then disappears, but apparently it just wasn't an issue in this study.

In summary, I have no sense that paper is denialist or the authors were skewing it in that direction, but the catchment area and 2050 timeline IMHO exclude applying this analysis to saying climate change is secondary to land use in impact, let alone that climate change has a positive impact on biodiversity.

California Democratic Party convention becomes first to call for climate divestment

I was at the party convention when it happened last weekend, but worked on campaign finance disclosure rather than divestment (disclosure got supported too). It's good news:

The California Democratic Party approved a sweeping resolution on Sunday to drop fossil fuel stocks from the state's two major public pension funds, valued at about $500 billion.  
The party also wants the state's 33 public universities to purge such investments from their $12 billion in total endowments. The resolution will not likely result in new legislative action soon.  
However, it could generate enough support among the Democratic majority to pass a less aggressive divestment bill, Senate Bill 185, working its way through the state legislature.  Beyond California, this resolution adds to the fast-growing momentum of the fossil fuel divestment movement, which kicked off on college campuses in 2011 and has spread to cities and major corporations worldwide.  
Before the final vote, RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic Party's environmental caucus and author of the resolution, delivered a one-minute speech. In an interview with InsideClimate News she recounted her message: "The world is watching...We need to send a moral message that California will not invest in those businesses that burn our planet in the name of profit and this resolution is that message. Divestment from South Africa helped bring down the system of apartheid and [divestment] will likewise bring down our dependence on fossil fuels. And further, [the] passage of this resolution will help pass Senate Bill 185."

AFAICT and from asking around, it's the first party convention to do this. I was surprised at the lack of coverage originally, but a little more has leaked out over the last few days.

This helps mainstream the divestment movement and show the party leadership where its activist base is coming from. We'll see what happens in coming months.

I've heard from South Africa divestment veterans that climate divestment is happening at a more rapid pace - I guess it depends on whether the starting point for South Africa was 1977 or 1984. Regardless, climate divestment is at least comparable.

UPDATE:  wiki says the South Africa divestment movement got 53 educational institutions to fully or partly divest in 1984, 127 in 1987, and 155 in 1988, so there are some markers to measure against. The link at the top says about two dozen universities have done some form of climate divestment so far.

Falling out of the clown car, down the stairs and into the electric eel pond.

I don't have much to say beyond go read how the $2m lawsuit against John Mashey by luckwarmists didn't go well. It's a heartwarming tale, and congrats to the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund for their great work.

My one semi-serious comment is that this is the quality of the opposition. We ought to be kicking their butts.

Bjorn Lomborg demonstrates why universities should steer clear of him

Hat tip:  Greg Laden

Australia's do-nothing-on-climate government attempted to foist luckwarmist Lomborg on University of Western Australia, with a sweetener of a $4 million to take him. UWA's administration bent the knee so enthusiastically that they faceplanted, with the actual academics rising up successfully against having this guy join them.

While there are countless reasons why Lomborg doesn't belong at a university, his cover-up of how his "consensus" analysis deliberately underplays the impact of climate emissions shows the lack of honesty that should stop any university from associating with him. It's not just underplaying, it's how he covers up what he's done.

Here's the exchange in Danish newspapers (emphasis added, some typos corrected):

Kare Fog, a critic of Lomborg:
....Lomborg will presumably refer to his Copenhagen Consensus conference, where it is shown with - seemingly - matter-of-fact cost/benefit calculations that it pays better to solve other problems than global warming..... 
[The audience members] do not know that the figures have arisen by discounting calculations and that Lomborg has cheated in these calculations. He has used one discount rate for climate projects, and another discount rate for the remaining projects. 
 If he had used the same rate for all projects, an endeavour for the climate would have appeared much higher on the ranking list; it would have obtained a more favourable cost/benefit ratio than the endeavours against tuberculosis, malaria, child diseases and heart diseases....

Lomborg responding some days later:
Kåre Fog writes...that we in Copenhagen Consensus have "cheated with the calculations", because we have used one rate of interest for climate projects and another rate of interest for the remaining projects. 
This is simply wrong. Indeed, our Nobel laureates have stressed the importance of using the same rate of interest for all projects (which naturally is also the only fair approach), and this yields that solely CO2 cuts are an extraordinarily poor way of helping future generations....

Fog responds again:
....There really have been used different rates of interest. This appears from the papers in the Copenhagen consensus conference, and it has also been confirmed to me by one of the climate economists of the conference, Richard Tol.... Jamison´s text on diseases and in Horton´s text on malnutrition they will see that there has been used a discount rate of 3 percent (as prescribed by Lomborg) (the rate of discount is easily found by searching for the word "discount" in the text). But if they enter the climate papers, they will see that Yohe et al. has a discount rate of 4 to 5 percent, and Green has a discount rate of 4 percent.... 
[Green's] climate project gives a benefit/cost ratio of approximately 16 when he uses 4 percent, but if he uses 3 percent, like in the health projects, this yields a ratio of no less than 28.5.... 
So what does Lomborg do to ensure that the climate projects do not look so favorable? He has them evaluated at a more unfavorable rate of interest....

And then Lomborg again:
...KF claims that the health paper uses only a low rate of interest of 3%. This is wrong; on page 60 it clearly apears that the paper also evaluates a high 6 percent rate of interest.....all papers were asked to evaluate all projects at both 3 percent and 6 percent. In some fields, for instance the climate models, this is extraordinarily cumbersome, and therefore the climate economists chose one rate of interest "in the middle" and made a qualitative evaluation of the estimates at higher and lower rates of interest.
....all the papers have presented, as well as it is possible, costs and benefits for a range between 3 and 6 percent rate....the Nobel laureates insist on thereafter prioritizing all solutions at the same, consistent rate of interest.

Finally, the last from Fog:
....It is a rather large detective work to unravel how the calculations have been made, and especially it is unclear - remarkably unclear - how Lomborg has arrived from the particular cost/benefit calculations to the final ranking list.  
....It is actually true that all other projects than the climate projects have applied a rate of discount of three percent. In addition one has also worked out what the result would be with six percent, but the result of these supplementary calculations has not been used to rank the projects ...[Lomborg] has compared the profitability of non-climate-projects with a rate of three percent and of climate-projects with a rate of four-to-five percent. 
If the climate- and non-climate projects had been calculated with the same rate of interest, investment in climate technology would rank higher than vitamin A supplementation....Thus it must also be maintained that the project calculations are not comparable and that the ranking in Copenhagen Consensus is not worth the paper it is printed on.  
 I have actually waited for a long time when Lomborg would include this detail about the extra six percent as his next step in the process of confusing people....

None of this would have come out if Fog hadn't been as tenacious and knowledgeable, and if the Danish paper hadn't been willing to let the dialog happen. I expect in the vast majority of situations, Lomborg's initial denial would've been the end of it. He's another Benny Peiser, saying something he knows to be wrong when it's possible that the audience doesn't know.

My question for a university dean pondering whether to take the money and have Lomborg on campus is this:  does Lomborg's second response demonstrate whether his first response is honest? That first response demonstrates the quality of work you should expect. Then decide whether the money to take him in is enough.

Climate Cognition notes

I attended the San Francisco Commonwealth Club's Climate One meeting yesterday, on "Climate Cognition" with George Lakoff, Kari Norgaard, and Per Espen Stoknes.

Lakoff did his usual thing on framing, YMMV. I think the idea of framing is correct although I'm less sure that the frames he says categorize the political spectrum are accurate. Both he and Espen Stoknes had some useful things to say on ways to communicate (emphasize climate health, risk management as opposed to uncertainty, etc.). Espen Stoknes has a book on climate communication, and I think it looks worthwhile - he may be further down the road of Dan Kahan/cultural cognition stuff then I like, but it's not completely off-base. Lakoff was very negative towards climate scientists for failing to teach "systemic causation", that the inability to attribute a particular weather event with 95% certainty to climate change doesn't eliminate a systemic level of causation of bad things.

I got a much less clear sense of Norgaard's message, not sure whether that's her fault, the moderator's fault, or my fault. Fairly usual ratio for such things, three white men and one (white) woman on the stage.

I'll say this for Lakoff - after the taping, a long line formed to talk to him, and he stayed to answer every person's question. I stopped Espen Stoknes to ask him about my hobbyhorse, the fact that many children alive today will live to see the world's climate in 2100 and whether that might make the distant problems of climate seem more real. He said it's not enough to refer people to real children they may know, that you have to tell a story and give a sense of what kind of life that child will face in 2100.

The podcast should be up soon, and you can also watch the video at some point.

UPDATE:  one thing in particular that Lakoff said that I found interesting - the only style of argument found to appeal to conservatives regarding climate change is to associate unchanged climate with "purity". I don't think the term has a lot of scientific meaning, and on one level maybe that doesn't matter. OTOH, if climate "health" and climate "integrity" are useful buzzwords for conservatives, they at least have a nodding acquaintance with the real world.

Heard of these - DIY glaciers

A retired civil engineer in Ladakh is detaining flowing water in high-elevation shaded areas in winter to create "glaciers" (really ice fields - these things aren't moving). He has nine glaciers going so far, storing water that melts much later in the summer than the snow, providing water when it's most desperately needed.

I've heard of examples like this (more are discussed in the article) and it may be something we'll want to copy here in California. "Guzzlers" are common at lower elevations to provide water to wildlife - I have doubts about their wisdom in most circumstances, but it's an example of dispersed manipulation of water systems. I could imagine installing cheap stream diversions on mountainsides that move some flowing water to from southern to northern exposures and spread it out to freeze. This might support a more natural hydrograph than one without adaptation to climate change.

Not certain it's a good idea, but maybe worth considering.

In other news, a very nice salute from Jonathan Zasloff, "Requiem for a Bottom Feeder" about the retirement of Don Shoup, the land use planning academic who wrote The High Cost of Free Parking. Shoup decided to focus on the lowest prestige/least-researched issue in his field, zoning regulations, and ended up doing great things because of it. Quite a contrast to the tiny handful of mediocre academics who decided to reach out for prestige that's eluded them by refuting the entire field of climate science.

Still wary, but a reasonable defense of Trans Pacific Partnership is here

UPDATE:  a slightly (just barely) contrary opinion on TPP from my go-to guy Paul Krugman. More like he doesn't think it's worth the bother.

From Brad DeLong's blog, with him quoting Gary Hufbauer. I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Warren, but she is still a national-level politician.
As one of the people who did the NAFTA economic impact estimates for the Clinton Administration. I definitely have some explaining to do.

Our models showed NAFTA as:

a small plus for the American manufacturing sector, including manufacturing workers; a larger but still small plus for American consumers; a substantial plus for Mexico; and a minus for other developing countries that were potential competitors with Mexico for the American market. In reality, it turned out to be:

a substantial short-run minus for Mexico (the 1994–95 financial crisis; a long-run plus for Mexico that I still hope Will be larger than the short-run minus (guaranteed tariff- and quota-free access to the US market is worth a good deal); a bigger plus then I expected for Wall Street; a plus for American consumers; a small minus for American manufacturing; and a minus for other developing countries that were potential competitors with Mexico for the American market. It turned out that the most important aspect of NAFTA was not the increase in balanced trade from lower trade barriers, and was not the increase in factory construction in Mexico because of increased confidence in Mexico’s government and in US willingness to except Mexican exports and in US manufactured equipment exports to enable that construction.

It turned out that the most important aspect of NAFTA was the Mexican financial liberalization that allowed Mexico’s rich to cheaply purchased political risk insurance from Wall Street by getting their money into New York.

That experience--my personal analytical nadir as an economist, I might add--convinced me that analyzing modern trade agreements as if they were primarily Ricardian deals is likely to lead one substantially astray. One has to think, and think deeply, creatively, and subtly, about all the potential general equilibrium effects. One has to work hard to bound their magnitude.
Gary Hufbauer: Senator Warren Distorts the Record on Investor-State Dispute Settlements: "ISDS provisions enable a foreign investor to seek compensation in an amount determined by an impartial panel of arbitrators... ...if a host government expropriates its property, or regulates its business in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner. Such protections have been deemed necessary in agreements going back at least to a Germany-Pakistan accord in 1959.... Starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, the United States has also included ISDS in the investment chapters in nearly all its free trade agreements (FTAs), now numbering 20. Given this rich history, Senator Warren should be able to cite actual examples of the multiple abuses that she claims have occurred. She has not done so, because she cannot. Senator Warren makes a big deal about the hypothetical outcome of the old Methanex case against California’s regulations on gasoline additives, but the case was decided against the Canadian corporation....

Over the decades, only 13 ISDS cases have been brought to judgment against the United States. The United States has not lost a single case. Why? Because the United States does not expropriate private property without compensation, and the United States does not enact arbitrary or discriminatory laws against foreign firms. Contrary to what the Senator implies, American taxpayers have not had to cough up millions and even billions of dollars in damages. They have not had to cough up anything. To be blunt, Senator Warren has no facts.... Her op-ed... resorted to hypothetical scenarios that had no basis in 50 years of ISDS history....

Senator Warren...warns that plaintiffs may succeed in suing such countries as Egypt, Germany, and the Czech Republic to overturn their laws. But these are hypothetical scenarios. The cases have not been decided and the countries in question may well prevail. Her descriptions of these lawsuits overlook something that Senator Warren should know as a former law professor: Lawyers often bring cases seeking huge damages precisely when the facts are against their claims. Just look at the 13 ISDS cases brought against the United States and dismissed, or the 175 cases dismissed worldwide. Sounding like a Tea Party politician railing against the United Nations, Senator Warren contends that international courts might replace the US legal system. Again she has the story backwards. The United States has been the chief architect of ISDS and other forms of international dispute settlement precisely because the United States has been able to export its legal principles to other countries....

Since NAFTA was ratified two decades ago, ISDS provisions have been amended to ward off frivolous claims involving environmental, health, and safety regulation of corporate practices. We do not yet know the precise terms of the ISDS provisions in TPP. A good guess is that they will follow the template found in the Korea-US FTA. That template might be further improved by requiring briefs to be published at a suitable time and establishing an appeals mechanism. But just because the existing ISDS template falls short of perfection is no reason to jettison the concept. It is even less of a reason to reject the entire TPP, though that seems to be Senator Warren’s objective.

My little California DISCLOSE Act video project

Been working on this for a bit, making fair use of snips from the Star Wars trailers to highlight legislation to reform the California political process:

I think it's working now - had some hiccups yesterday. for more info.

Biodiversity loss is an order of magnitude worse than other climate impacts....

...if you measure by recovery time. Full recovery of the climate from anthropogenic GHG emissions will take hundreds of thousands of years. Recovery from mass extinctions, like the one that climate change is exacerbating for 1 out of 6 species, can take 10 million years (or longer).

The biodiversity crisis seems underemphasized to me. I think there's a chance that with a combination of luck both on climate sensitivity and speed of technological change, together with achieving the better end of the range of feasible political action on climate, we can escape a climate tragedy (for most people). The mass extinction, though, is already here. It's just a matter of how much worse we'll make it.

Shortened version of Obama with Anger Translator

I've been playing with video editors, so if anyone wants a shorter version of Eli's clip below, here it is. I kept the intro but cut out a minute of the video preceding the climate change section:

The anger translator, btw, is half of the comedy duo Key and Peele. They're very funny, with lots of excerpts on Youtube and Comedy Central.

UPDATE: Here's one of my favorites: