Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ending ethanol subsidies, still working on the technology

Congress' alleged aversion to subsidies hasn't had much useful results that I can tell, but there is one exception:  the end to three decades of ethanol subsidies, and the massive tariff on imported ethanol.  The environmental impact is less clear because the requirement to oxygenate gas remains, so the ethanol will still get produced - it's just that the oil industry won't be getting a $6 billion annual undeserved tax writeoff.  Still, a good step.


Another longer term possibility is using scientific research to change corn yield to emphasize ethanol production, something that can change a borderline wasteful product into something useful.  We'll see, maybe it'll work.

In other news, the guys at the Breakthrough Institute apparently have a new book arguing the groundbreaking concept that science and technology can be used to solve our environmental problems.  I'm underwhelmed.  I'd be more whelmed though if instead of saying new tech solutions must include nuclear, they said that it could include nuclear, and let the performance of various solutions play themselves out.

To be fair, I haven't read it so maybe there's something interesting there.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And Matt Yglesias followed it with a post on economic bubbles

I have trouble understanding how a smart guy like Yglesias manages to keep going further down this path, but when I've said that he prefers society to always have more younger people than older people, I meant it as a somewhat joking criticism.

The joke's on me, because he's pretty literal about it now as a path for growth:

 [If immigration and lax land use regulation prime a state for population growth] then you don't need any particularly optimistic beliefs to see that the state is primed for certain kinds of investment. We're going to need new houses for these new people in the short-run, and we'll need new schools & hospitals, new car dealerships, and new highways for them in the medium run. So we're investing. And with that investment happening we need new Whataburger franchises and new H-E-Bs and probably new power plants as well. And now suddenly we're on the high equilibrium. We need more accountants and more wedding planners, we're going to need some fancy restaurants, we'll need hotels, we'll need more of everything. And since we'll need more of everything and the price of new homes will remain moderate, we'll expect the population to keep growing as people from around the country tend to move here in search of work.

As for how long that all is supposed to last, he's silent.  Ironic that the very next (not so good) post was about economic bubbles, so he acknowledges issues of unsustainability, while missing his own huge blind spot.

And yes, population growth can help economic growth, but it's unsustainable in any number of senses of the word.

Monday, December 26, 2011

End of the year odds - Eli cleans the attic

One of the stranger, are you sure you have thought this through bits, was the piling on Jared Diamond based on Hunt and Lipo's new book (Eli will point to Judith Curry for giggles, Planet 3.0, and KK, oh never mind Eli prefers reliable sources for those who want their memory refreshed without leaving a bad taste from the author's whining.)

Much of it is deep in the weeds, e.g. were the statues moved by rollers (Diamond), sleds (Eli and Thor Hjerdahl) or refrigerator delivery guys (Hunt and Lipo) but that is a sideshow

Pretty clear how you could roll the things downhill on their backs, but how do you do it standing up? (note the bit about uneven terrain, that means you are moving the damn things UPHILL for a fair and gut busting amount of time. While Eli has no experience moving 90 tons, the bunny has maneuvered a whole bunch of a ton like optical tables and without rolling it ain’t a whole lot of fun.)

So to move these things standing up you need strong ropes which you can get from palms (or other trees), and some sort of grease to put under the narrow base and a smooth road of some sort. Since there were not large animals on the island that throws you back on palm oil, or maybe oil from porpoises/wales. To get the sea creatures you need boats, which means wood and ropes to build ships. Otoh rounding logs with obsiden tools is not a walk in the park either.

and, of course sleds as several pointed out. Then what wiped out the palms, rats or people (or some combination). Interesting to sort out by archeologists, but not the serious part.

What is the serious part? Mark Lynas touched it off, and the usual suspects, Peiser, Kloor, Curry and more piled onto Diamond claiming that his version of ecocide depopulating the island was a pile of wet spagh, but what dear readers, have the usual suspects embraced in the Hunt and Lipo version. Mark Lynas got it in one and was then submerged

Falsely accusing the islanders of killing and eating each other is bad enough. But it gets worse. Whilst the conventional narrative blames the islanders for committing a kind of collective ecological and social suicide (hence the term ‘ecocide’) this reading of history is almost certainly perpetuating a monumental injustice. For the Easter Islanders were indeed subject to a genocide – but it did not come from within. Instead, visiting ships brought epidemics of new diseases which wiped out the majority of the population – with most of the remnants later carted off in slave raids.

It is grimly ironic that Jared Diamond, of all people, missed – or misread – this more realistic version of history, given that it forms the central thesis for his earlier and much more convincing book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’. In this work, Diamond provides compelling evidence for how diseases unknown in the New World decimated whole populations, facilitating European invasion and setting the scene for appalling crimes committed against native populations from the silver mines of Potosi to Tenochtitlan.

So why could he not understand that the same thing happened at Easter Island? Hunt and Lipo again:

“For Rapa Nui, Fischer reports that of the approximately 1,500 Rapanui who were blackbirded to Peru, the vast majority died there. In the repatriation from South America to Polynesia, eighty-five of the survivors died at sea, leaving a mere dozen or so Rapanui who actually made it back home. Then in 1871, a majority of islanders left for Tahiti and Mangareva; and even in their neighboring islands of Polynesia, the Rapanui met with death in large numbers. By 1877, the native population on the island had reached its all-time recorded low of just 110. Through a series of disastrous encounters with foreign visitors, the Rapanui population had collapsed, rebounded, collapsed again, and then recovered to a degree, only to be ravished in slave raids.”

Nor was this the final insult. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the island was converted into a massive sheep ranch, with its surviving human population held in virtual captivity. The sheep converted it into a true ecological wasteland, eliminating the remaining smaller trees and causing large-scale soil erosion – for which the early Easter Islanders would once again later be blamed by latter-day environmentalists.

So Kloor, Peiser, Curry and friends, in order to stick it to Jared Diamond, are arguing that Western "civilization" and its capitalist system are corrupt and genocidal. Well, that's what they said, who is Eli to disagree? (Now watch them try and throw Hunt and Lipo under the bus)


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Been there, didn't do that, but it was still pretty cool



We went there in 2010 and did a little bit of volunteer work with a group focusing on mountain gorilla preservation. We did the one-day hike through Bwindi thing and had what we considered an amazing encounter with a gorilla group, but not like this. I'm just impressed at the relatively calm dominance of the silverback in this video. The silverback we saw was far less tolerant, partway bluff-charging our guides when they walked in a direction that he wanted to go (they bluff-waved their machetes around in response, and everybody settled down).  You're not allowed to approach the baby gorillas but they can approach you.  We had one that came within ten feet of us, and that was pretty amazing to us.

The silverback in this video is calm but not completely, like at minute 2:50 when he pulls an infant away that was intensely scrutinizing the tourist's face.  One interesting speculation is that the silverback may have thought that staring into the man's face would be somewhat threatening, as it would've been to the silverback, but it would be hard to reason all the way through that without using a theory of mind.  And the silverback's quick glance at the man as he left was interesting - somewhat cautious, a bit threatening, and I suspect maybe just as curious as the females and juveniles but constrained by social norms from showing it as openly.  Or maybe I'm just anthropomorphizing, but it all seems plausible.

Only 700 of these guys in the wild, split into two geographically-separated groups.  As we see from the population structure of one male and a number of females, the effective breeding population is far smaller.  These gorillas haven't been bred in captivity.

Here's hoping this video helps raise awareness and maybe some money to keep the species alive.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mosher's Gambit


Everybunny is familiar with the usual run of ideas

  1. First they ignore you.
  2. Then they ridicule you.
  3. And then they attack you and want to burn you.
  4. And then they build monuments to you
Having passed through stage 3 with Phil Jones, the ignorati are consumed with how not to get to 4, thus the Mosher gambit,
CRU data was requested by McIntyre for one purpose and one purpose only. To ascertain whether there was any "value added" by CRU as they had repeated and claimed. The purpose was not to create an "independent" assessment, although many of us have done that. In short we found what we expected to find: nothing, no substantive value added by their processing.

Of course some idiots expected that CRU had somehow cooked the data. This was never McIntyre's supposition. This was never my supposition. Quite the opposite. We expected that CRU was overselling they "value" that they added to the data, featherbedding if you like.
The tactic being to bury such silly claims in a large pile of offal so that others simply pass over the new insertion, rinse, repeat and as we all know, say it once and it is a habit, twice a revered tradition. But this is Rabett Run and the Rabetts RTFR.

In short this is arrant nonsense. Jones was the first to build a reliable global temperature record. The CRU, GISS and NOAA surface temperature records provide(d) reliable regional as well as global patterns of surface temperature change. Each of these (and the BEST and the RSS and UAH records as soon as they release their software to the public) have different advantages and disadvantages which are and have been discussed in the literature, and, sad to say distorted on several blogs with with Mosher is associated.

Now Eli could go on about the value of the CRU surface temperature record, but the Oxburgh committee summed it up
In the latter part of the 20th century CRU pioneered the methods for taking into account a wide range of local influences that can make instrumental records from different locations hard to compare. These methods were very labour intensive and were somewhat subjective. Much of this work was supported by the US Department of Energy and was published with the details of station corrections several times a year. Since the 1980s the Unit has done no more of this work and have concentrated on the merging and interpretation of data series corrected by others. There have been various analyses of similar publicly available data sets by different international groups. Although there are some differences in fine detail that reflect the differences in the analytical methods used, the results are very similar.

The Unit has devoted a great deal of effort to understanding how instrumental observations are best combined to derive the surface temperature on a variety of time and space scales. It has become apparent from a number of studies that there is elevation of the surface temperature in and around large cities and work is continuing to understand this fully.

Like the work on tree rings this work is strongly dependent on statistical analysis and our comments are essentially the same. Although there are certainly different ways of handling the data, some of which might be superior, as far as we can judge the methods which CRU has employed are fair and satisfactory. Particular attention was given to records that seemed anomalous and to establishing whether the anomaly was an artefact or the result of some natural process. There was also the challenge of dealing with gaps in otherwise high quality data series. In detailed discussion with the researchers we found them to be objective and dispassionate in their view of the data and their results, and there was no hint of tailoring results to a particular agenda. Their sole aim was to establish as robust a record of temperatures in recent centuries as possible. All of the published work was accompanied by detailed descriptions of uncertainties and accompanied by appropriate caveats. The same was true in face to face discussions.

We believe that CRU did a public service of great value by carrying out much time-consuming meticulous work on temperature records at a time when it was unfashionable and attracted the interest of a rather small section of the scientific community. CRU has been among the leaders in international efforts to determining the overall uncertainty in the derived temperature records and where work is best focussed to improve them.

The Unit has demonstrated that at a global and hemispheric scale temperature results are surprisingly insensitive to adjustments made to the data and the number of series included.
Whatever

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A few extra dimensional chess

The EPA announced that all US power plants will have to meet best available technology standards for mercury emissions. Mercury, like other heavy metals is insidious and mercury emissions lead to deaths and dumbness (the later especially for the young) so as Dave Roberts puts it, this is a big deal with major benefits.

But it also is a backdoor way to close down the oldest and the worst of the coal burners that were grandfathered in to the Clean Air Act, and the fuse is short, four years. Eli is quite sour about Obama, but this might be a reason to vote for him

Solar power externality and LCOE

I was talking to a very knowledgeable friend about whether solar power will become cheaper than coal in the next decade, and he pointed out a problem in how solar advocates price their power.  It's well known that you can't just estimate a solar panel's value based on its peak production capability, because much of the time that panel is producing less power or none at all, doing nothing to amortize costs.

Solar advocates admit this, and use Levelized Cost of Energy calculations to divide energy actually produced by all costs involved, over time and with a discount rate. While solar's over twice as expensive as coal now, the advocates project the cost differential to continue to diminish at the rate it has in the past, and to disappear in a decade.

So my friend's problem is this doesn't distinguish peaking power costs.  He's not using the denialist line that baseload power can't include solar at all, but that you still require additional power when solar can't provide it.   That additional power is expensive, and this cost externality isn't included in LCOE calculations.

Mulling this over, I think there's an economic and a political angle to take on it.  The economic angle is that if we want to consider externalities, then let's by all means consider all externalities - coal isn't going to do so well on that basis.

The political angle isn't whether we should consider externalities, but whether we will consider the externalities and which ones.  Greenhouse gas externalities will not be fully priced in for decades, especially for costs imposed on areas outside of the country where the gases are produced (why should we care about those effects?), but they will start to weigh in, a bit, on costs.  The brand new mercury rule shows some of the other externalities of fossil fuels will start getting price tags as well.  Overall, I think the political process will catch up more quickly on fossil fuel externalities, if still very inadequately, than on on LCOE pricing.

One other point my friend made that was a good one - discount rates for future costs mean few companies care about costs more than a decade ahead.  I thought new coal plant starts would be potentially affected by solar price competition, but maybe that price competition is still too far away.


UPDATE:  comments point to a good post at Romm's that discusses the various terms and state of play for solar in the US.  Ignoring environmental issues for a second to focus on economics, I think LCOE is fine for any buyer to use to determine whether solar prices out well, but the overall system has to consider other price issues as well.  The grid parity at the link works when you're buying electricity at the high retail rates, but it will take a lot longer if you're a utility that can buy wholesale.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

McIntyre and Mosher at the door, hand over the rent.


The Idiot Tracker pointed out that Steve McIntyre is a rent seeker, using Freedom of Information to force others to hand over their hard work
He uses the coercive power of the state to force other people to give him, gratis, the fruits of their labor. He does not produce himself -- he uses the data of others, repackaged and sensationalized, to fuel the hit count of his blog.
and in the comments at RR, Steve Mosher self identified.

So Eli has a suggestion, why don't they bug John Christy and Roy Spencer to release their software? Everyone knows that it is buggy, and could certainly be improved by crowd sourcing. There are some amazing people out there with microwave and programing experience. Eric Swanson, for one, comes to mind. As for Mosher (and McIntyre), in their own words
One can ask all sorts of questions that interest me. And the beautiful thing is that you are using a method that is "accepted" There is no need to re invent the wheel.
perhaps Moshpit will be able to say "For me the approaches of UAH and RSS made sense", after looking at the software. To mix direct quote and paraphrase, he only is
basically interested in creating tools, creating them quickly, getting them into many peoples hands and being able to say with confidence that the code is the same as that used by experts. This is vastly different than independent replication, and I've never pretended that it was replication.
"and requesting the UAH software would be for one purpose and one purpose only. To ascertain whether there was any "value added" by UAH as they had repeatedly claimed. The purpose was not to create an "independent" assessment, although many of us have done that. In short we are likely to find what we expect to find: nothing, no substantive value added by their processing.

Of course some idiots expect that UAH had somehow cooked the data. This was never McIntyre's supposition. This was never my supposition. Quite the opposite. We expected that UAH was overselling the "value" that they added to the data, featherbedding if you like."

As Ben Santer puts it in a recent Science article on climate data
"Reducing this uncertainty will require better understanding of the underlying causes of differences between the UAH and RSS TLT retrievals. To achieve this, full public release of the codes used for generating troporspheric temperature retrievals would be highly desirable"
In Congressional testimony, Dr. Christy claimed that the codes UAH scientists have used in generating MSU-based tropospheric temperature retrievals (TLT) were publicly available. This claim was incorrect. The code for producing the TLT record is not publicly available.

Eli hears that RSS will make a public release of their code. RSS is a private company and not subject to FOIA rent seeking, but Christy and Spencer do/did their work at NASA and the University of Alabama Huntsville. In the words of Mosher and McIntyre, that software belongs to us, we paid for it. The Steves need to force Roy and John to hand it over.

Now Eli, Eli is a reasonable Rabett, he only wants all versions of the software, suitable commented so that anybunny can use it straight out of the box, and, oh yes, a well run ftp site for downloading. Perhaps such a thing exists. Pointers please?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Evil Bunny, Evil Thoughts

Much buzz about the warrants, demands for information and seizures of computers and similar at Tallblokes, Jeff Id and the dread Steve's. Eli has been thinking evil thoughts, not that any of these folk (well, ok) actually were involved in the theft (lets be honest) of emails from the CRU, but that there was more that met the eye. J. Ferguson at Lolita's Rondez Vous and Mus Farm put it in words

Somehow I keep thinking that the warrants and the raid at Tallbloke’s are to create the impression that they are the method by which some piece of information which is about to be acted on was obtained.

This rather than revealing the extent and quality of their web surveillance.

Which everyone ignored, but No Such Agency throws a wide net out there from Fort Meade in nearby scenic Laurel, MD. Further you would not think that they would risk exposure on something minor in the run of national security to go after the CRU hackers. They are looking for bigger fish, or as likely, some of the big fish are involved in the CRU hack, and Tallbloke is unlucky enough to have a key piece of the puzzle sitting on his hard drive. How do the spooks know it is there. Silly Rabett.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Status Quo is Never Ante

In a nice piece, "How to Be Manipulative", (sorry, paywall) describing how ecologists can manipulate or observe manipulated ecosystems to learn about how they behave, Robert Pringle talks about how megafauna is being returned to the Gorongosa national Park in Mozambique. Established by the Portuguese in the 1920s the park was severely impacted by the civil war. Today the government wants to reestablish the ecosystem to attract tourists.

The human suffering was immense. But Gorongosa"s unraveling was tragic in its own right, in part because eco-tourism represented one of the few pathways to sustainable development in a decidedly underdeveloped country.
Pringle deals at length with the issue of what should be the end point for restoration, and indeed what restoration means
...consider some of the immediate practical questions facing the Gorongosa Restoration Project. Choosing a baseline by which to define success in restoration requires decisions that affect both people and wildlife. For logistical reasons, 1975 would represent a plausible baseline. That was the year Mozambique gained independence, and we have excellent quantitative data about the state of the ecosystem in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But if we choose 1975, we confront difficult questions. As of late 2011 there are several thousand people living within the park. Should they stay? If so, how many, and on what terms? Human settlements are anathema to many old school conservationists, but others are quick to point out that an African savannah sans Homo sapiens is a very artificial thing indeed. Humans have inhabited Gorongosa for almost as long as there have been humans, hunting, gathering, farming and fishing. It was the Portuguese who imported the notion of a national park without people, transforming hunters into poachers and farmers into squatters The humanitarian implications of forcibly re-evicting a large population of poor people from the reborn national park demands serious scrutiny (and is, in fact against park policy).
but
Whatever the evidence for human-wildlife coexistence prior to imperial conquest there is little reason to assume that it would be stable today in the absence of limits on population growth and livelihood activities. What limits are sustainable? Are they ethical? How should the government weigh the access rights of today's population against anticipated economic growth and the quality of life of future generations/

Likewise for wildlife: What composition of species and confiuration of habitats should the park engineer, and how actively and aggressively must the landscape be managed to obtain that outcome? If we plan a return to 1975, do we then write off the two antelopes - roan and tsessebe - that went extinct prior to 1970 (with an assist from European hunters). White rhinos were extirpated around 1940 but reintroduced in 1970 and cheetahs were reintroduced in 1973. Theoretically, moving our baseline forward or backward a few years would dictate whether these spectacular species should be re-introduced or not.

And then there is the brain-bending question of zebras. The park needs zebras for several reasons: They are a tourist draw; they are food for lions which are an even bigger tourist draw; and they are bulk grazers that would help open up the rank and overgrown grasslands, which in turns would likely increase plant productivity and diversity and reduce the heat and intensity of dry-season fires. The problem is that Gorongosa lies at the biogeographical interface of what some authorities consider two distinct subspecies of zebra. Equus quagga crawshayi to the north and E. q. chapmani to the south.
Here the choice is to take forever repopulating with the remnants of the zebra herd in the park or bring in those of a "slightly different stripe" from nearby countries
This is a problem with no optimal solution. Resolution hinges on the relative values assigned to an ostensibly unique subspecies on the one hand and the urgency of restoring ecosystem function and touristic viability on the other. Again, we are forced to ask: What exactly are we trying to salvage and what are we trying to restore? In a world of limited resources, limited time and limited zebras , what are our priorities? Opinions differ and emotions run strong.

The upshot is this: Restoration in any rigid and consistent sense of the word is impossible. the best we can do is approximate some prior state of any give ecosystem and the approximation we work toward will reflect both the values of the people directing the effort and the inevitable limitations of knowledge and capacity. On top of all that, there is no guarantee of getting what we aim for. Our predictive tools are not sophisticated enough . . .
Pringle concludes that restoration is reimagination and that is liberating
If what we are doing is imagining and creating then we can be imaginative and creative and that is exciting. How should our garden grow? . . . Who are the clients, what do they need and what do they want and which blueprints fuse needs and wants into something truly beautiful?


NIH recognizes chimps can waive rights

The decision by the National Institute of Health to nearly completely eliminate invasive medical experimentation on chimps has received a medium amount of attention.  Good news, overall, except the advisory committee had no consensus on testing vaccines on chimps.  The testing could accelerate vaccine development but requires infecting chimps with potentially horrible diseases.  The lack of a consensus doesn't mean testing should go forward, but leaves a vacuum.


One intriguing development is that research can continue where chimps voluntarily subject themselves to it.  The chimps are trained to receive treats in return for allowing researchers to take blood samples, and it's up to the chimp to decide whether the research will proceed.  I suppose it's not impossible to do something similar with less intelligent animals, but it would be extremely difficult and not considered ethically important.

The other interesting development was the emphasis on testing on other animals instead of chimps - in other words, there's a moral scale and other animals rank below chimps.  These two developments inch toward the sapientist position I support - not animal rights, but rights based on intelligence.  A long way forward before we get there, though.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Telephone Churnalism

In a comment appearing in the American Scientist, Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung take the Steves, Levitt and Dubner to task for some very sloppy work

It’s hard to be sure what process an author uses. But by appearances, the way the authors of the Freakonomics series make their work is too linear to provide adequate vetting of research. In SuperFreakonomics, for instance, economist Steven Levitt trusts authors of primary research whom he knows or respects. Journalist Stephen J. Dubner trusts Levitt’s assessment of their work, and together they create narratives about it. The book’s editors seem by and large to have trusted the authors’ account, delivering it to readers who place trust in the Freakonomics brand. Although there may be more opportunities for feedback along the way than outsiders can discern, the problems and errors encountered in the authors’ work suggest that there is room for improvement.
Bunnies may recall the Freakazoid Franchise's encounter with Ray Pierrehumbert, and Gelman is exactly right, that people who are not expert in an area rely on one who knows, even a trusted one who knows, at their own peril.
The climate-change chapter in SuperFreakonomics is a case in point. In it, Levitt and Dubner throw their weight behind geoengineering, a climate-remediation concept championed at the time by Nathan Myhrvold, a billionaire and former chief technology officer of Microsoft. Unfortunately, having moved outside the comfort zone of his own research, Levitt is in no better a position to evaluate Myhrvold’s proposal than we are.

When an actual expert, University of Chicago climate scientist Raymond Pierrehumbert, questioned the claims in Levitt and Dubner’s writing on climate, Levitt retorted that he enjoyed Pierrehumbert’s “intentional misreading” of the chapter. Referring to his own writings on the subject, Levitt wrote, “I’m not sure why that is blasphemy.” We’re not sure on this point either—we could not find a place where Pierrehumbert described Levitt’s writings in those terms. It is easy to be preemptively defensive of one’s own work, or of researchers whose work one has covered. Viewing alternative points of view as useful rather than threatening can help take the sting out of critiques. And if you’re covering subject matter outside your expertise, it pays to get second—and third and fourth—opinions.

Still Gelman and Fung miss the Churnalism driver. Leveraging their initial best-seller, the Steves created a franchise, and like Mickey D's, franchises require tons of raw meat, though quality is not necessary Any cow to be slaughtered is welcome and they have to grind up a lot of it. Careful testing and research are optional in churnalism.

The interested can read more at Gelman's blog, Statistical Modeling, Causal Interference and Social Science

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting it right

The abuse of Freedom of Information originated in the "sounds like science" efforts of the tobacco lobby have been woven into scientific denialism by the McIntyres, Horners and Schnares of the world. The object, is of course, to chew up time. The Idiot Tracker answers the question of who is doing what to whom:

There has long been a huge amount of climate data freely available to the public. Some of it is not, for reasons that should be evident to any "libertarian": those that own the data (mostly national weather agencies) chose not to make it available to all. The data sets in question cost money to create. Their creators make money by selling licenses (limited licenses) to use the data -- licenses that have no market value if their property is forcible redistributed by the government as soon as a FOI request is made.

Steve McIntyre is what libertarians call a rent-seeker. He uses the coercive power of the state to force other people to give him, gratis, the fruits of their labor. He does not produce himself -- he uses the data of others, repackaged and sensationalized, to fuel the hit count of his blog.
which is why Eli is fond of UVa's tactic of charging for the cost of providing the information. Cleans out the rent seekers

Monday, December 12, 2011

Eli can retire, the EPA on Africa Gate

Stoat has arisen to contemplate the libel suit that Irene Meichsner brought (and won two out of three falls) from Stefan Rahmstorf. This showed up in a post on Klima Zwiebel, and, of course, at the non-innocent Roger Pielke's. Not innocent because Roger was deep into this thing early on.

It arises from some mischief that Eli's friends Jonathan Leake and Richard North had got up to, accusing the IPCC AR4 of making unjustified accusations about how climate change coule lead to decreased ag yields in Africa. IM, simply adopted their frame. Stoat makes the important point that no one is looking at whether SR was right or wrong on the science. The point he won is that the court agreed that his statement

Reading helps, if the author of the article, IM, herself had once looked in the IPCC report, she would have found out that the accusations were completely false.
was an allowable difference of opinion. But of course there is more

Turns out that the EPA and it's various friends in the denialsphere had already read the IPCC report AND the background information (this is long folks)
-------------------------------------------------

Comment (2-10):
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Ohio Coal Association, Peabody Energy, and the Southeastern Legal Foundation take issue with a statement in Section 16(b) of the TSD that: “In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020.” They claim the statement originated from gray literature in the IPCC AR4 and is therefore illegitimate. Southeastern Legal Foundation concludes: “The African Crop Yields claim stands as another example of the IPCC making a claim of imminent disaster that inappropriately relied on non-peer-reviewed literature…”

Response (2-10):
The IPCC statement cites a report by Dr. Ali Agoumi, a climate expert from Morocco (Agoumi, 2003) that was published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and funded by the government of Canada, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other public and private institutions. Based on EPA’s review of the report, it appears that the 50% number was not obtained from the peer-reviewed literature but rather from “vulnerability studies on three North African countries (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) with respect to climatic changes.” These vulnerability studies were prepared under the U.N. Environment Programme Global Environment Fund and included in the National Communications of these three countries to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (Ministry of Territory Development and Environment, 2001, Kingdom of Morocco, 2001 and Republic of Tunisia, 2001).

In response to publicity regarding this purportedly unsubstantiated statement in the IPCC report, Dr. Coleen Vogel, a contributing lead author of the IPCC chapter on Africa impacts, described the context in which Dr. Agoumi’s research was used. She explained that Agoumi’s report received rigorous scrutiny by her fellow authors and was thoroughly discussed during development of the chapter (Kretzmann, 2010). She explained that the decision to include this (gray literature) study was based on the paucity of peer-reviewed material relating to some parts of the world, particularly Africa, and the desire of the authors of the report to provide balanced information. The process described by Dr. Vogel is consistent with the IPCC’s guidance on the use of gray literature, as previously described in Volume 1 of the RTC document and further discussed in Subsection 2.2.4.4 of this Response to Petitions (RTP) document.

Finally, we note that this statement relates to impacts outside the United States, and it did not materially impact the determination of endangerment of public health and welfare in the United States. As noted in Subsection 2.1.1, the Endangerment Finding states (Section III.D): “The Administrator looked first at impacts in the United States itself, and determined that these impacts are reasonably anticipated to endanger the public health and the welfare of the U.S. population. That remains the Administrator’s position, and by itself supports her determination of endangerment.”

Comment (2-11):




Referring to an analysis published by Ben Pile, co-editor of the blog climateresistance.org on the blog of Roger Pielke, Jr. (Pile, 2010), the Southeastern Legal Foundation states that the primary reference supporting the IPCC’s statement on African crop yields “Vulnerability of North African Countries to Climatic Changes” (Agoumi, 2003) was from IISD, an advocacy group.

Regarding the IISD reference, Peabody Energy states:

Thus, the EPA based its findings on the IPCC WGII report, which based its findings on a report [the IISD report] published by an organization with a declared political interest in climate change that based its findings from an assessment of other non-peer reviewed national studies. This is not the way EPA science should be carried out.

Response (2-11):
The implication that the credibility of IPCC’s statement on African crop yields is diminished because the IPCC’s source (Agoumi, 2003) for the statement was published by an advocacy organization or an organization with a “declared political interest in climate change” is unsupported. The organization in question is IISD, which describes itself as follows:

The International Institute for Sustainable Development contributes to sustainable development by advancing policy recommendations on international trade and investment, economic policy, climate change, measurement and indicators, and natural resource management. By using Internet communications, we report on international negotiations and broker knowledge gained through collaborative projects with global partners, resulting in more rigorous research, capacity building in developing countries and better dialogue between North and South.

IISD’s vision is better living for all—sustainably; its mission is to champion innovation, enabling societies to live sustainably. IISD receives operating grant support from the Government of Canada, provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Environment Canada, and from the Province of Manitoba. The institute receives project funding from the Government of Canada, the Province of Manitoba, other national governments, United Nations agencies, foundations and the private sector. IISD is registered as a charitable organization in Canada and has 501(c)(3) status in the United States.

We find no reason to question the credibility and legitimacy of information produced by this organization on the basis of either its mission or funding sources. Moreover, neither the Southeastern Legal Foundation nor Peabody Energy provide any support for the implication that work by an organization such as IISD is automatically suspect or flawed.

Finally, Peabody Energy’s statement that EPA’s findings are based on this material is incorrect. As noted in Subsection 2.1.1, the Endangerment Finding states (Section III.D): “The Administrator looked first at impacts in the United States itself, and determined that these impacts are reasonably anticipated to endanger the public health and the welfare of the U.S. population. That remains the Administrator’s position, and by itself supports her determination of endangerment.”

We discuss the legitimacy of the science and underlying references for the African crop yields statement in Response 2-12.

Comment (2-12):
The Southeastern Legal Foundation alleges that EPA uncritically adopted the IPCC’s “faulty conclusion” with respect to crop yields. It refers to a blog by writer/commentator Richard North (North, 2010) to conclude the Agoumi (2003) reference cited by the IPCC on the issue of rain-fed agricultural yields in Africa relies on studies that “do not support the proposition for which they are cited.”

Relying on Richard North’s blog, the Southeastern Legal Foundation summarizes the vulnerability studies cited by Agoumi (2003) from the National Communications of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. The Southeastern Legal Foundation notes that the Morocco National Communication “lends some support [to the Agoumi reference], saying that by 2020 during drought conditions cereal yields would decline up to 50%” but that “the data apply to cereal yields only, not crops in general as is implied by the IPCC.” The Southeastern Legal Foundation further states that “Algeria’s report said their yields would double, and be trimmed only slightly by ‘climate change’” and “Tunisia’s submission concluded the picture was mixed, but they could have an increase in rain and agricultural production.”

Response (2-12):
The IPCC’s statement on rain-fed agriculture in Northern Africa is not “faulty” and the Southeastern Legal Foundation presents no evidence that it was included uncritically in EPA’s TSD. Furthermore, the Southeastern Legal Foundation’s portrayal of findings on climate and crop yields from the National Communications of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria derived from Richard North’s blog is not complete. When all of the information in these National Communications is considered, we find there is broad support for Agoumi’s (2003) statements on North African rain-fed agriculture, which are:

  • “Some of the key statistics regarding water, soil, urban areas and coastal zones are outlined below. . . . Decreasing rain-based agricultural yields with grain yields reduced by up to 50 percent in periods of drought.”
  • “Studies on the future of vital agriculture in the region have shown the following risks, which are linked to climate change: . . . deficient yields from rain-based agriculture of up to 50 percent during the 2000–2020 period.”

PBL, in its report Assessing an IPCC Assessment (PBL, 2010a), makes the following important point with respect to IPCC’s statement on rain-fed agriculture in Africa:

This statement is not directly a statement on climate change, but on climate variability: in individual years, droughts can cause up to 50% in yield reductions. The implicit message here is that when droughts would become more frequent due to climate change, more years with up to 50% in yield reductions would occur. The statement could easily mislead readers into thinking that average annual yields could be reduced by up to 50% due to climate change. In the Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group II Report, the paragraph that contains this statement starts with a sentence introducing the notion of climate variability, which puts the statement more into context.

It is possible that petitioners misinterpreted the IPCC’s statement as suggesting that the IPCC’s projection was on the basis of climate change alone, given the Southeastern Legal Foundation’s assertion, for example, that IPCC was projecting “imminent disaster.” While we agree with PBL that the IPCC’s statement could easily mislead readers without the proper context, we note that, before quoting the IPCC’s projection on rain-fed agriculture, EPA’s TSD includes the statement “Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries and regions is projected to be severely compromised by climate variability [emphasis added] and change.” Therefore, EPA provided the proper context for the IPCC’s conclusion.

With respect to the basis for the conclusion itself, the following excerpts from the three countries’ National Communication reports on the issues of climate variability and change, precipitation, and crop yields provide broad support for the Agoumi (2003) statements along with accompanying discussion:

  • The National Communication of Morocco states (Kingdom of Morocco, 2001):

The development of climate scenarios for Morocco according to IPCC methodology reveals the following results: . . .

• A trend towards a decrease in average annual rainfall volume by about 4% in 2020 compared to 2000 levels. . . .
• An increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts in the south and the east of the country.

The first quantitative estimate of possible CC [climate change] impacts on water resources in 2020 points to the fact that there would be an average and general decrease in water resources (in the order of 10 to 15 %...).

The study of CC [climate change] impacts on agriculture (dominated by cereal cultivation) in 2020 unfolds the following results: A decrease in cereal yields by 50% in dry years and 10% in normal years.

As the Southeastern Legal Foundation admits, the numbers from Morocco’s National Communication lend support to the statement in Agoumi (2003) that “studies on the future of vital agriculture in the region have shown the following risks, which are linked to climate change: . . . deficient yields from rain-based agriculture of up to 50 per cent during the 2000–2020 period.”

Richard North’s contention (North, 2010, as referred to by the Southeastern Legal Foundation) that “the data apply to cereal yields only, not crops in general as is implied by the IPCC” is arguable considering that Morocco’s National Communication indicates that agriculture is “dominated by cereal cultivation.” Thus, it is not unreasonable to use cereal cultivation as a proxy for all of agriculture in this cereal-crop-dominated region.

  • The National Communication of Algeria (Ministry of Territory Development and Environment, 2001) states: 1

Because of global warming, we must brace ourselves for chronic climate instability and greater frequency of droughts and floods. Droughts damage soils and floods destroy ground cover and contribute to the erosion of soils. With longer spans of time between dry and wet spells comes an even greater impact due to erosion. The southern regions of the country will be most directly impacted by increased temperatures and will be subject to the numerous consequences of accelerated desertification. The increased risk of drought presents the greatest challenge as a result of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expect that the desert regions will extend northward in the Maghreb.

The above text provides a clear qualitative description of the risks climate change pose to agriculture in Algeria. In addition, this information from the National Communication of Algeria provides quantitative output from a model known as CROPWAT, which estimates changes in crop yields using climate change projections obtained from two general circulation models. The National Communication of Algeria reports:

… one can consider an average reduction in the output cereal of about 5.5 to 6.8%, corresponding mainly to instances of climate change [in 2020]( Ministry of Territory Development and Environment, 2001)

When considering these quantitative cereal yield changes, it is very important to note that these percentages refer to changes in cereal yields resulting primarily from climate change alone and not climate variability and change combined. The climate and hence precipitation variability in northern Africa can be quite large. For example, in the report Assessing an IPCC Assessment (PBL, 2010a), PBL states “…the [IPCC] authors made plausible that, due to current climate variability, the yields in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have been varying annually, including yield reductions of nearly 70% in individual years, in the period between 2000 and 2006.”

In other words, if these yield reductions resulting from greenhouse gas–induced climate change were superimposed on the yield reductions that might occur during a particularly dry period arising from the region’s characteristic precipitation variability, they would be higher and comparable with the results from the Morocco National Communication.

Finally, the Southeastern Legal Foundation’s reference to the Algeria National Communication’s projections for net increases in cereal projections in 2020 (relative to prior decades) is irrelevant and misleading. These increases are related not to climate variability and change but to changing agricultural practices and technology. Algeria’s National Communication makes clear that the effect of climate change on cereal yields is projected to be negative.

  • The National Communication of Tunisia states (Republic of Tunisia, 2001):

…Tunisia is in a hydrous stress situation close to a shortage, sharpened by a high anthropic pressure. So minor they be, the Climate Changes can so, result in harmful consequences on water resources, on ecosystems depending of water, and on the different economic activities that need large quantities of water such as agriculture and tourism.

By modifying the evaporation and precipitation rate, the global warming will probably affect the hydrous climate balance and therefore the Tunisian water resources. In this way, if the intensification of the evaporation can lead to a possible important increase of the rain falls, it might not be sufficient to offset the decrease of the sweet water resources. Moreover, due to the global warming, the rain situation can be characterized by a bigger frequency of rains resulting from torrential storms and downpours, disappearing generally in streaming waters rather than be absorbed by the soils.

This information in the Tunesian National Communication does not provide any quantitative estimates of climate variability and/or change on rain-fed agriculture, but the clear qualitative implication is that climate changes—both drought and heavy precipitation events—will stress agriculture in Tunisia. We, therefore, find that the Southeastern Legal Foundation’s statement that “Tunisia’s submission concluded the picture was mixed, but they could have an increase in rain and agricultural production” is an overly optimistic interpretation of clearly expressed negative impacts.

Overall, these three National Communications (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) provide qualitative support for the fact the climate change will likely stress rain-fed agriculture in northern Africa, consistent with the portrayal of Agoumi (2003) and the IPCC. The National Communication of Morocco presents quantitative information consistent with what is reported by Agoumi (2003) and the IPCC (and hence the TSD), while the National Communication of Algeria provides quantitative information that is consistent with these sources when factoring in precipitation variability in addition to climate change. The National Communication of Tunisia does not provide quantitative information.

Our view of the literature behind Agoumi (2003) provides considerable evidence that the scientific basis for the IPCC’s conclusion is legitimate. The PBL assessment of the IPCC notes that “…additional explanations could have provided further foundations for the statement, had they been included in [IPCC’s Working Group II] Chapter 9.” We concur, but the Southeastern Legal Foundation conclusion that “…there is no support for the IPCC’s dramatic pronouncement on African crop yields” is significantly overstated.

Comment (2-13):
The Southeastern Legal Foundation provides the following reaction to the African rain-fed agriculture projection, which appeared in the Sunday Times (Leake, 2010a) and comes from former IPCC chair Robert Watson: “Any such projection [pertaining to African crop yields] should be based on peer-reviewed literature from computer modeling of how agricultural yields would respond to climate change. I can see no such data supporting the IPCC report.”

Response (2-13):
Watson may not have appreciated that peer-reviewed modeling studies of climate change impacts on agriculture in parts of Africa are limited. As the IPCC’s AR4 WGI report states (Christensen et al., 2007): “Several climate change projections based on RCM (regional climate model) simulations are available for southern Africa, but are much scarcer for other regions.” Accordingly, as we discuss in Subsection 2.2.4.4 of this RTP document, the IPCC references gray literature in these circumstances. We also note in Response 2-10 that these studies are not central to the TSD or the Endangerment Finding. Finally, though we discuss some additional modeling studies pertinent to Africa in RTP 2-15, those modeling studies (Parry et al., 2005 and Hulme et al., 2001) were conducted at the global and continental scales and contain limited results pertinent to northern Africa specifically.

Comment (2-14):
The Southeastern Legal Foundation states that EPA ignored contrary peer-reviewed literature and submits literature that the Sahel is greening (from National Geographic and several studies) in contrast to “IPCC horror stories” (projecting reductions in rain-fed agriculture).

Response (2-14):
EPA is aware of the literature cited by the petitioner that suggests greening in parts of the Sahara and Sahel (e.g., Seaquisti, et al., 2009; Anyamba, and Tucker, 2005; Hutchinson et al., 2005; Olsson et al., 2005). The issue raised by petitioners is not new and was raised and responded to through the public comment process (see Response 2-73 in Volume 2 of the RTC document). Thus, these objections do not meet the test in Clean Air Act (CAA) Section 307(d)(7)(B) that it be impracticable to raise the objection during the public comment period or the reasons for the objection arose between June 24, 2009, and February 16, 2010. Nonetheless, we have reviewed these arguments and respond once again.

The fact that precipitation has increased recently in this region, as we note in our TSD in Section 4(d), does not mean that a combination of climate variability and change could not substantially reduce rain-fed agriculture in the future. The climate in this region is highly variable and while it has been relatively wet over the past decade or so, severe drought impacted the region for several decades from the 1960s to the 1990s and dry patterns could return to the region. As one of the studies (Nicholson, 2005) cited by the petitioner states: “The fluctuations between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ in the Sahel/Soudan zones are extreme even on decadal and multi-decadal time scales.” Therefore, if the current wet period reverses to a dry period, the impacts of rain-fed agriculture on the region could be profound, especially when considering the potential enhancement of the drying from human-induced warming (i.e., climate change).

Finally, we note that the literature presented relates to impacts outside the United States, and it did not materially impact the determination of endangerment of public health and welfare in the United States. As noted in Subsection 2.1.1, the Endangerment Finding states (Section III.D): “The Administrator looked first at impacts in the United States itself, and determined that these impacts are reasonably anticipated to endanger the public health and the welfare of the U.S. population. That remains the Administrator’s position, and by itself supports her determination of endangerment.”

Comment (2-15):
The Southeastern Legal Foundation suggests that the IPCC ignored literature that drew different conclusions on the issue of rain-fed agriculture projections in Africa, specifically referring to two studies: Parry et al., 2005 and Hulme et al., 2001. The Southeastern Legal Foundation states: “Both Parry’s own paper and Hulme’s paper were known to and available to Professor Parry [co-chair of IPCC Working Group II] in composing the WGII Report and the Synthesis Report. Yet, Parry’s WGII report ignored his own paper and that of Hulme, which did not predict disaster, and instead relied on one that did, the Agoumi paper, even though it did so incorrectly and improperly and was not peer-reviewed.” The Southeastern Legal Foundation further notes that Hulme et al. (2001) were careful to note uncertainties in understanding African climate change, and implies that the IPCC was not as careful.

Response (2-15):
We have reviewed these papers (Parry et al., 2005, and Hulme et al., 2001) and find that, while not directly comparable with Agoumi (2003), they do not contradict that source. We also find, contrary to the Southeastern Legal Foundation’s assertion, that both of these studies were in fact cited by the IPCC, although not always in the same section or context as Agoumi (2003).

The Parry et al. (2005) study reports the results of a series of research projects that aimed to evaluate the implications of climate change for food production and risk of hunger. The analysis in this study is performed at global and continental scales rather than the regional scale. This is likely why it is not discussed in Chapter 5 of Working Group II’s contribution to the AR4 (Easterling et al., 2007), where Agoumi (2003) is cited in a section focusing on regional impacts in Africa (specifically on Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia). The Parry et al. (2005) study is cited multiple times in Chapter 5 of Working Group II’s contribution (“Food, Fiber, and Forest Products,” Easterling et al., 2007), which provides a global perspective. Therefore, Parry did not “ignore his own paper” as stated by the Southeastern Legal Foundation.

One of the primary conclusions of Parry et al. is that “the region of greatest risk [of losses in food production, and hunger due to climate change] is Africa.” Parry et al. (2005) provide specific cereal yield projections for the 2020s and 2080s resulting from different GHG emission scenarios. They state for the globe: “By the 2020s, small changes in cereal yield are evident in all scenarios, but these fluctuations are within historical variations.” For the 2080s, Parry et al. (2005) provide projections specific to Africa – but not northern Africa specifically, stating that climate change could reduce cereal yields by up to 30%. Importantly, the changes in cereal yield projected for the 2020s and 2080s are driven by GHG-induced climate change and likely do not fully capture interannual precipitation variability which can result in large yield reductions during dry periods, as the IPCC (Christensen et al., 2007) states: “…there is less confidence in the ability of the AOGCMs (atmosphere-ocean general circulation models) to generate interannual variability in the SSTs (sea surface temperatures) of the type known to affect African rainfall, as evidenced by the fact that very few AOGCMs produce droughts comparable in magnitude to the Sahel droughts of the 1970s and 1980s.” Given the different scopes of the two analyses, it is misleading to state that the Parry et al. projections are inconsistent with the Agoumi (2003) yield projections.

The Hulme et al. (2001) study, which reviews observed (1900–2000) and possible future (2000–2100) continent-wide changes in temperature and rainfall over Africa, is also not ignored by the IPCC, contrary to the assertion of the petitioner. In fact, it is cited twice in IPCC’s Working Group II Chapter 9 on Africa (Boko et al., 2007):

  • Hulme et al. (2001) is cited in a statement about the complexity of African climatology: “Other factors that complicate African climatology include dust aerosol concentrations and sea-surface temperature anomalies, which are particularly important in the Sahel region (Hulme et al., 2001; Prospero and Lamb, 2003) and southern Africa (Reason, 2002), deforestation in the equatorial region (Semazzi and Song, 2001; Bounoua et al., 2002)…”
  • Hulme et al. (2001) is also cited in a statement pertaining to uncertainties in precipitation projections in the western Sahel (Boko et al., 2007): “For the western Sahel (10 to 18°N, 17.5°W to 20°E), there are still discrepancies between the models: some projecting a significant drying (e.g., Hulme et al., 2001; Jenkins et al., 2005) and others simulating a progressive wetting with an expansion of vegetation into the Sahara (Brovkin, 2002; Maynard et al., 2002; Claussen et al., 2003; Wang et al., 2004; Haarsma et al., 2005; Kamga et al., 2005; Hoerling et al., 2006).”

These examples demonstrate that the IPCC both cited Hulme et al. (2001) and transparently discussed the complexity of Africa’s climate and the uncertainty in African climate projections. This treatment is appropriate and reasonable, contrary to the petitioner’s implication.

Even in light of the complexities and uncertainties, Hulme et al. (2001) state that a “warming climate will nevertheless place additional stresses on water resources [in Africa], whether or not future rainfall is significantly altered” and they project reduced precipitation over Tunisia. Hulme et al. (2001) do not, however, provide projections for changes in cereal yields (from changes in rain-fed agriculture), so their results cannot be compared directly with Agoumi (2003) or its supporting documents (discussed in Response 2-12).

Overall, the IPCC does not ignore either the Parry et al. (2005) or Hulme et al. (2001) studies. The findings of these studies, while not directly comparable with Agoumi (2003), are broadly consistent. Hulme et al. (2001) project increased drying over northern Africa while Parry et al. (2005) project an increased risk of reduced cereal yields over all of Africa. The petitioner’s claim that IPCC was not careful or acted inappropriately in this regard is not confirmed by careful review of the material.
-------------------------------------

Eli can retire

Bubble, bubble, natural gas is trouble

From Greenframe this pointer to an article in the Independent about methane emissions near the northern Siberian coast, where

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."

Of course, this is right in the Northern Passage area. Hopefully none of the crew on those ships will smoke on deck.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sometimes you take what you can get

Durban kicked the can down the road, the key points being that the Kyoto process survived and that the developing countries (India and China) accepted some responsibility for limiting emissions.

The deal renews the Kyoto Protocol, the fraying 1997 emissions agreement that sets different terms for advanced and developing countries, for several more years. But it also begins a process for replacing it with something that treats all nations equally. The expiration date of the protocol — 2017 or 2020 -- and the terms of any agreement that replaces it will be negotiated at future sessions of the governing body, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The later was the sticking point

United Nations global warming talks headed toward a deadlock as China and India blocked a European Union proposal the 27-nation bloc said was essential for it to extend limits on pollution.

India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she objected to efforts by the EU to force developing nations into a legally-binding treaty limiting fossil fuel emissions by 2020. Chinese envoy Xie Zhenhua said rich nations are “not acting on their commitments” to cut greenhouse gases.

“India will never be intimidated by threats,” Natarajan said at the talks in Durban, South Africa today. “How do I give a blank check and give a legally-binding agreement to sign away the rights of 1.2 billion people?”

More details emerge this morning at the Guardian

A major crisis had been provoked after 3am on Sunday morning when the EU clashed furiously with China and India over the legal form of a potential new treaty. The EU plan to bind all countries to cuts was close to collapse after India inserted the words "legal outcome" at the last minute into the negotiating text. . . .

With tempers rising and the talks minutes from being abandoned, the chair, South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, ordered China, India, the US, Britain, France, Sweden, Gambia, Brazil and Poland to meet in a small group or "huddle".

Surrounded by a crowd of nearly 100 delegates on the floor of the hall, they talked quietly among themselves to try to reach a new form of words acceptable to all.

But it was Brazil's chief negotiator, lawyer Luis Figueres, who came up with the compromise, proposing to substitute "an agreed outcome with legal force" for "legal outcome". This, said an EU lawyer, was much stronger, effectively meaning "a legally binding agreement".

"Yes, yes," cheered the crowd of onlookers around the politicians, and the talks were back on track.

Two hours later the 16-day talks were effectively over, with a commitment by all countries to accept binding emission cuts by 2020. As part of the package of measures agreed, a new climate fund will be set up, carbon markets will be expanded and countries will be able to earn money by protecting forests.

This outcome, although not nearly what was needed shows that the world knows that a climate treaty is necessary.

The outcome was better than nothing, but not hugely so. It may be necessary for the EU to adopt Eli's Simple Plan to Save the World, which does not depend on universal agreement but would lead to large reductions in emissions

In other important news United Russia (aka the Party of Swindlers and Thieves ) is under increasing pressure to admit stealing the recent election and have another one. Evidence of outright vote stealing is clear. The Arab Spring turns into the Occupy Wall Street Fall and now the Russian Winter.

Glenn Greenwald is primarily responsible for the failure of progressive legislation since 2008.

The reasoning's simple:  Greenwald's part of the left, just like Obama and the Democrats who controlled the House and had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for a while.  Greenwald's side failed to pass enough progressive legislation, therefore Greenwald's primarily responsible.


If you don't like this reasoning, complain to Greenwald:  he used the same reasoning to say voters will determine that Republicans are not primarily responsible for the failure to pass progressive legislation, laying responsibility instead at Obama's feet, especially with repeated reference to the 60-person Senate majority.  Greenwald does some really good work on civil liberties but mixes it in with this terrible reasoning.  Fault lies primarily with the Republicans, secondarily with the Democratic Senators (and some Representatives) who refuse to vote in defense of the middle class and for scientific reality.  Obama is not a Prime Minister.  Maybe somewhere Greenwald has laid out how he thinks Obama could've pushed legislation through, but he certainly didn't make that point when I listened to him.

That's not to say Obama is blameless - Greenwald rightly points to the HAMP mortgage modification failure as a self-inflicted wound.  On legislation though, he and we have to deal in reality.

Speaking of reality and legislation, we might want to look ahead.  A best-case scenario in 2012 elections will bring Obama back along with marginal control of the Senate and House.  I'm guessing more likely that Obama returns and we only get one of the two congressional houses, and even worse scenarios are very plausible.  The  best case scenario, in other words, still has us in worse position than 2009-2010.  Things generally get worse in mid-term elections for the majority party, and the majority party starts getting tired and often corrupt after many years in office.  

I think the best chance to pass climate legislation for another four years was the one that we had before the 2010 elections.  It really is a shame that many enviros failed to push for cap-and-trade, because as marginally, politically viable as it was, it was the best shot for years to come.  A national carbon tax was not politically meaningful and will take a lot more changes of political fundamentals before it will be.  Some enviros missed the boat last time.  We can still work together though do things on a piecemeal basis and at the state and local level instead, and gradually enforce carbon regulation through the Clean Air Act and other laws.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Obama good, Obama ungood

The good news is decision that gay rights and human rights "are one and the same" in a speech by Hillary Clinton, one that states the Obama administration will work for this concept internationally, and put some money behind it.   They also acknowledge imperfections here in American, while being studiously silent on gay marriage.


The foreign policy realists would say this will cost us internationally, just as any other human rights effort will cost us.  They'd be correct in some areas, although other places like Europe it should actually help our image and soft power.  Long run is a different story though, as history kind of arcs somewhat toward justice.

How this gets reflected in domestic politics will be interesting, because people who are somewhat conservative on gay rights domestically, say hypothetically a political science professor who supports civil unions, would fall on the far left of the spectrum of the countries with the worst discrimination.  The natural Republican reflex of opposing everything Obama does will then start looking pretty awful in the context of horrible abuses overseas. Rick Perry lost no time decrying "special rights" promotion, but the actual Republican nominee will probably lose votes while irresolutely dodging the issue.  Score one for the good guys.


The ungood side is the decision to overrule FDA's authorization of selling the Plan B contraceptive as a standard over the counter item.  Double plus ungood not because of the politics but the false claim that the science gives any reason to do this.  To the FDA's credit, they more or less stated their disagreement and weren't suppressed from doing that.  This is standard, almost, Republican-style War on Science.  Chris Mooney's book on the subject noted the Democrats were guilty too of this offense, but just not nearly to the same extent.  One strike against the Obama Administration in this regard.


I don't want to end on that note, so I'll add another piece of good news.  Younger Americans are significantly more accepting of climate science than older ones.  Now consider that even some Republicans acknowledge their antipathy to gay rights is a dying cause.  The very few scientists who don't accept climate science are also aging out (page 12) and not being replaced by anyone except lawyers, so the younger generation is being educated the right way.  I'm not sure how many demographically-challenged positions the Republicans really want to take, but maybe they should reconsider.


UPDATE:  Chris Mooney on Plan B here.  Similar grasp of the obvious.

Durban

From the NY Times

When Todd Stern the US Delegate to the Durban conference was denying the obvious

He firmly denied that the United States was dragging its feet and, somewhat ambiguously, endorsed a proposal from the European Union to quickly start negotiating a new international climate change treaty.
A young bunny spoke up

Mr. Stern’s statement to delegates from more than 190 nations at the annual climate conference was disrupted by a 21-year-old Middlebury College junior, Abigail Borah, who told the assembly that she would speak for the United States because Mr. Stern had forfeited the right to do so.

“I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot,” said Ms. Borah, who is attending the conference as a representative of the International Youth Climate Movement. “The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty.”

Ms. Borah, who is from Princeton, N.J., added: “We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric. Keep your promises. Keep our hope alive.”

Scores of delegates and observers gave her a sustained ovation. Then the South African authorities threw her out of the conference. “That’s O.K.,” she said later by telephone. “I think I got my point across.”

Give that girl a carrot.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Water District reducing GHG emissions and California cap-and-trade

Today's Water District meeting featured an energy usage work study session.  We use a lot of energy moving water across much of the state and then treating it, about 5% of all our costs.  While we also have a policy saying we that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, our policy isn't very clear.  I pressed staff on this issue and another director, Linda Lezotte, also followed up:

(Arrgh, something won't let me post more than one video excerpt.  It's here at the December 5 2011 meeting at the 01:11:00 mark, for about 4 minutes.  Two of us seven directors say we need to do more than merely "cost-effective" efforts to reduce GHG emissions, the other five don't say anything.)

We're pretty good overall in our energy usage.  Maybe we can partner with Sonoma County to be better.
We're part of a joint powers authority for buying our power at a rate that's both cheaper and with lower carbon emissions than our local utility provides.  Our CO2 emissions are 435lbs/MWh, one-third the national average (see the first link, Attachment 4, p 17). Not the one-tenth that we need, but pretty good.

While California cap-and-trade doesn't apply directly to us, it does apply to the joint powers authority called PWRPA that we helped establish to get our power, and we may have a chance to sell carbon allowances from environmental improvements that we make (at 1:53:00, end of staff presentation):

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In addition to what you can see on the video is the 3 hours that we spent in closed (confidential) session to discuss internally the negotiations with labor unions for new contracts.  Obviously I can't talk about what happened then, but the financial issues highlight how important the economics of all this is. If doing the right thing environmentally can help us out financially, we're going to do more of the right thing, especially right now when finances are so tight.