Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why do today what you prefer not to do?

Today in the Herald we had a delayer party. My feeling from the attention I have paid is that "delayer" pretty well represents the mindset leading the Herald. They will not go denier and try to refute that there is global warming or that it poses a threat, but they will quickly accept most excuses to not do anything about it.

In the news section there was an article from AgWeek entitled "Study: Beets hit hard in carbon tax scenario". The study was noted as done "at the request of the region’s sugar industry", though the industry had the expected result already. I wish I could say that the NDSU Center for Agricultural Policy and Trade Studies (CAPTS) that performed the study was an advocate for action on climate change. However they seem to comfortably dispense with the likes of, "well, it would not be free, so..."

That is what the cited article is all about. It laments how the "very efficient" sugar beet industry would be supposedly devastated by pricing carbon. Like I said before, if your business model requires being able to dump massive amounts of climate altering greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at zero cost, then that is a serious flaw in your business model. Though the article at the end gets into a little 'if there is effort to reduce', everything else points to delay, delay, delay - the production will just move outside the US without really reducing net global GHG emissions, China has to act too, consumers will foot the bill, etc. The mouth is mumbling something like "yes", but the eyes, body language and everything else says "no". Excuses, excuses, excuses.

I think it is worth mentioning that the CAPTS Global Sugar Policy Simulation Model assumes "average weather conditions". I wonder how much they consider how the changing climate would factor into sugar and wheat production.

In the op-ed section though we true textbook delayer pablum from Ross Douthat. The thesis is summed up at the end as, "wait, get richer, and then try to muddle through."

Douthat accepts climate change is occurring but does not seem to understand that is a problem. He says that overpopulation worries from a few decades back were proven unwarranted, so that gives a pass to skepticism about dealing with climate change. Of course saying since 'not X' that means 'not Y' too is a logical flaw, but that X is not even settled as not true. Global population is still growing toward probably 9 billion around 2050, and our ability to continually increase food production is not a certainty, especially as climate change becomes more impactful. He resorts to weak appeals to supposed authorities on do-nothing, Bjorn Lomborg, Freeman Dyson, and Jim Manzi.

There is also the problem with the assumption that we will be richer going forward not doing something about climate because doing something about climate would not be really easy. You can daily find news about how climate change is already costing us collectively, and that will continue. The negative effects cannot all be assumed off in some distant future nor that it is a sure path of greater wealth to that future.

So we can wait, but we may not even be richer, and also we may very well not be able to muddle through. Ezra Klein pokes another big hole in the delayer no-plan. Basically things may get so broken we cannot fix it. The damage may be way beyond what "rich" can remedy. Even if we were richer in the future, the cost of doing something later (to adapt, maybe not even try to undo) may well exceed that greater wealth, assuming we even decide to start acting at some point.

If one is so fond of the delay strategy, why not use the 'wait until later' strategy for everything? Why not put off fighting terror until the economy improves? We will be richer and more able to afford the costs then by this logic, so why not wait? But we only try to put off things that way and not worry about them when they seem far away and readily controllable, like supposedly deepwater oil drilling had. It would be worth realizing that climate change is not as far away as many think and may not be something we can just handle when we feel like it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dorgan knows the issue is there even if he will not face it

Last time ended with a note on a powwow Senator Byron Dorgan had with high level individuals in the coal industry. Couched in a common metaphor, Dorgan told them that because they are reflexively fighting addressing carbon emissions and refusing to sit down at the table, they are going to end up on the menu.

By demonizing as "cap-and-tax" a flexible market approach to addressing carbon emissions by setting a necessary limit and letting the market figure out the cheapest and most efficient way to achieve the ends, the fossil fuel industry is facing a future of less accommodating regulations. The EPA have recognized the problem with unfettered greenhouse gas emissions and are finally declaring enough is enough.

The effort led by Lisa Murkowski to tell the EPA that in spite of being the "Environmental Protection Agency" that they are not allowed to protect the environment failed last month, but more such efforts are certain, though there is reason to believe they will not reach fruition. Even if the Jay Rockefellers of the Congress could somehow get some sort of a delay in carbon regulation, it would be a short-lived victory for them.

Senator Rockefeller's recently passed delegation partner Robert Byrd recently came to realize that. Imagine that - a Senator near the end of his tenure from a state highly dependent on coal changing his tune, at least a little. Looks like Dorgan may be doing the same. Like Byrd, Dorgan is not pushing for any movement away from coal use but rather simply saying that the ignored costs of environmental damage will finally soon have to be paid. Dorgan is still pro-coal to a fault but is saying the industry should accept reality.

It is reassuring that Dorgan recognizes coal is going to have to face the music in spite of how the Senate figures to change this year. Byrd's presumable replacement and Dorgan's sure replacement John Hoeven show no signs of Byrd's and Dorgan's recognition, instead holding a coal-can-do-no-wrong attitude. Dorgan apparently sees though that the sand these people are burying their heads in is slowly blowing away. He still mostly has his back turned to the issue of cutting emissions (carbon sequestration is very unlikely to be any sort of panacea for fossil fuels), but Dorgan has his head out of that sand. Hopefully with time more of those out of the sand, whether to begin or forced by recognition of the situation, will have the courage to do something positive. Byrd accepted that would happen, and Dorgan seems to see that too. I just hope it happens before we dig ourselves too much deeper.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Some days, the bear gets you

I suppose congratulations are in order to the deniers, delayers, and other head-in-sand-ers after the Senate capitulated to the forces of the status quo intent on having America hang on to the 1940s forever. We are for now not going to be moving forward even slightly with a comprehensive national legislative strategy to shift meaningfully toward clean energy and away from climate altering massive carbon emissions. So by postponing action we are taking a pass on the economic benefit of investing sooner in the clean energy future, and we are making the future worse climatically. It is like a tax increase for the future.

Make no mistake, we will have to confront and address the issue at some point. The choice is whether to do it earlier and avoid more of the dire consequences of our actions or to wait longer so that the situation grows catastrophic and we can only make it less awful. We are choosing for fingers-in-the-ear ignoring of the issue, which will be realized at some point as stupid.

Though not surprising, obviously this is a very disappointing situation. I think Dave Roberts at Grist pretty well captured many of my feelings. He points out that overall there is still momentum on taking action to rein in emissions, that the Senate contains many cowards, and summarizes,
It's a sad, corrupt state of affairs this country finds itself in. I wish I had some hopeful words to offer. But at this point, American government appears to be broken. And our children and grandchildren will suffer for it.

Roberts notes a very interesting conversation soon-to-retire Senator Byron Dorgan had with coal bigwigs as the current Senate process was falling apart. I want to expand on this in its own post, but Dorgan basically said that just because the Senate dropped the ball, there is still action coming down the line.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Some days, you get the bear

This past Saturday was a nice day when reading through the Herald. There were two news stories pertaining to weather, particularly specific instances of warmth, and both matter-of-factly mentioned their relationship with climate change. It was so nice to see just the facts and neither any sort of contrived controversy nor hat tips to fringe elements who do not want to believe the facts.

The first article started below the fold on page 1. It was a small, actually rather non-"newsy" piece from AP science writer Randolph Schmid. Mostly it just noted some of the observed weather extremes across the US in June. But early in the article it said,
Nationally averaged, June was warmer than normal, a pattern that has been continuing in recent years as greenhouse warming caused by industrial and other emissions increases.

Exactly! Emissions are driving warming and a hotter than average month is obviously completely consistent with this. No need to add in qualifiers or hedges as so often seen, such as 'emissions that some scientists say may contribute to possible warming', just like there is no need to mention gravity with qualifiers like 'a force that some scientists suggest may play a role in keeping people from floating off the surface of the earth'.

The other article was more in-depth. It was another AP piece, this time on the unusual warmth of Lake Superior this summer. It basically reported on researchers efforts in monitoring the Lake's temperatures. That there is global warming occurring is simply taken as a given by the researchers, which is quite sensible since all the evidence points that way.

It is noted how the researchers have found Lake Superior water temperatures have gone up at twice the rate of air temperatures over recent decades. The researchers said that it had been thought that there was no sort of "memory" in those water temperatures from the previous year, but the evidence said otherwise. The article describes the positive feedback mechanism,
They say there's a self-perpetuating correlation: The warmer the air and water, the less ice forms. The less ice, the warmer the water gets. Then less ice forms next winter.

Nice! It is a very small scale study, yet still people could accidentally learn some science if they were not careful reading that article.

Overall the media do a poor job conveying accurate information about climate change, and the Herald is quite typical in this regard. Even if there is not anything unseemingly driving purposeful poor or misleading coverage, start with perhaps poor communication from scientists and add journalists who are not knowledgeable on the subject and thus try to achieve some sort of balance that does not exist, and the result is writing that often fails to accurately portray the science.

But days like one noted give me hope the trend in the media (including in the Herald) is in the right direction. Just like the temperature trend, though continuing upward in the long-term, will have short-term slips and downswings, I know the coverage and op-ed pages (including in the Herald) will have their mealy-mouthed confusion and gibberish. Maybe though such instances will become rarer and the quality of climate information will gradually improve so that people will become better-informed, whether they like the facts or not.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Is the PSC itself in a fantasyland?

The day the most recent Herald-printed letter from PSC commissioner Brian Kalk came out the same day of news of a PSC employee who had put up anti-Obama posters in his workplace at the PSC. The next day the Herald had an editorial entitled "No place for partisanship at N.D. PSC", then today there was a letter from Dan Sylvester calling out the commissioners for their poor leadership and suggesting they resign. Plenty here in this episode on which to opine...

First, the issue of the posters. According the Herald news article there was one with a little girl giving the finger with text, "Thanks, Obama. You’ve spent my lunch money, my allowance, my inheritance, 35 years of future paychecks, and my retirement. You (expletive)." Another had a picture of Obama and text, "Peace Prize. Just like welfare and socialized medicine. You don’t have to work to get it." If that was something passed around in email or shared at the water cooler among like-minded friends in the office whose political leanings would make them enjoy it, that would be quite fine with me. Slapping the things up on the wall however gets well into, if not flies past, the gray area between conversation item and PSC philosophy.

That the Herald acted concerned about possible partisanship within the PSC a day after printing another political attack from Brian Kalk was a bit rich. I have no problem with the PSC commissioners being political like most any other officeholder. But when it comes to public statements like a letter to the editor, I would expect the partisanship to be toned down rather than, say, basically accusing the President of a "Chicago style" shakedown to get some sort of emissions-limiting legislation passed. If the Herald really want to put some pressure on the PSC leaders to not allow strong partisanship to permeate the organization, why not avoid publishing contributions like Kalk's latest? Or if they still insist on publishing, why not call them out for their rhetoric on the editorial page?

I essentially fully agree with the sentiments of the Sylvester letter. I see no point though in calling for Cramer, Kalk, and Clark to resign since that will go nowhere. But in general it seems their PSC puts very high priority on delivering profit mostly through fossil carbon while caring nothing about climate and the environment. Hopefully this episode can help nudge North Dakota more toward a PSC that leads away from rather than directly toward a dirty, hot dead-end of unabated fossil fuel dependency and that does not try to convince us that it would be too expensive to avoid wreaking havoc on the enviroment and climate.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

If only we did live in the fantasyland of Brian Kalk

Yet again Herald readers have been graced by a letter from PSC member Brian Kalk in which he pushes the mindset that the only care in the world is to maximize short-term profit, especially for the energy industry.

First and foremost in Kalk's version of the world apparently there is no such thing as global warming and there will forever be abundant fossil fuels to excavate and burn and no significant change in climate. Kalk parrots unsubstantiated claims of drastically increasing energy costs if efforts are made to decrease carbon emissions and does not even allude to the reasons that compel us, or at least some of us, to that action of producing less greenhouse gases. Today though I do not want to hammer on Kalk for his usual that nor his corporatist "balanced approach" talking point that happily condemns the future so some people make a buck in a variety of ways.

The main new point Kalk is making in his political hitjob today is that in the capitulation that is pulling legislative efforts from an economy-wide cap on carbon emissions to possibly a utility-only cap, this is even worse for North Dakota. It is difficult though to top the hyperbole when he said that the economy-wide system would destroy the fossil fuel industry, but he tries to sell utility-only as worse.

There is a lesson that can be taken - if you dig in your heels, bawling and fighting against lesser action sooner, then you risk forcing yourself into more extreme action later. Do not want to invest in flood protection? Fine - you can pay to rebuild the city when it does flood, assuming folks want to rebuild.

An economy-wide cap-and-trade system means there is price on dumping climate-altering greenhouse gases into the atmosphere rather than it being some sort of free dumping ground, and it allows market forces to determine efficient ways to scale back emissions. Personal responsibility and The Market - you might think that conservatives would love the idea. Instead we get the likes of Kalk pretending there is no problem and that the solution to this problem they ignore or even deny means the end of the world. That is helping write a prescription for even less appealing solutions, and not just command-and-control regulations. The longer we avoid action the more we will have to devote to accommodating the effects of climate change, like coastal cities gradually being inundated by rising sea levels, more extremes of weather, increased stress on freshwater and food supplies, acidifying oceans...

Hey, maybe the we of today will follow the Brian Kalks of the world but still luck out and not have to face the worst pains of climate change - maybe it will be only our children, grandchildren, and subsequent generations that face the consequences of our inaction. At least then they will never forget us! Or is that "forgive"?