Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beam Eli Up Scotty, There's No Intelligent Life on This Planet

Steinn Sigurðsson, an old buddy from USENET daze, explains why everybunny should be excited about the search for exoplanets
Why do we need to spend any more effort on extra-solar planets?
We found some, they’re there. Lumps of rocks, gasballs. We’re done, right?

This, loosely paraphrased, was a serious question I got last week.
The context was a question of why I was spending serious effort on exoplanet research, rather than focusing exclusively on other subfields.
I’ve heard similar comments from physicists, some particle physicists are notoriously focused in their consideration of what counts as “real physics”, but this came from an astronomer; and one that I know does stars, inside the galaxy, sometimes, not just extragalactic.

We live on a planet.
We are surrounded by planets.
It behooves us to understand them in some detail,
and as with so many other phenomena, more data is really helpful.
and exobiology
All of this is pushing us to constrain the presence of exolife, on all fronts: we will soon, within decades, directly test Mars, Europa and Titan for the presence of life, and see if it is there and whether it is the same as on Earth; we will also get a direct look at the asteroids and comets, just in case there is something weird going on there – these are places with chemical substrates and interesting levels of free energy flows.
with some pointed snark
Part of the reason for this is short term view of political administrations, well summarised by Scott Hubbard’s quote at a panel: “Will it discover life before the end of the second administration?” – asked about the Mars Lander planning in the last decade.
Eli has always been of the Fermi School on alien technology, e.g. "Where is everybody?"   As to exobio perhaps Eli can explain. At the time the NASA exobiology program started the Bunny was closely associated with someone who played an important role is setting it up and he knows many people who hopped on the bandwagon.  Suffice it to say that much of the research, although it is good research has bugger all to do with life on other planets, although the proposals all (they have to) depart from that point.

The thing that really sticks in peoples craw tho is how the manned space flight crew glommed onto exobio to justify a joy ride to Mars. That sucked the wind out of a lot of other stuff.

So yeah, exobiology is a program looking for a mission.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare part deux - credit where due

Brian Beutler on March 26:

In a little-noticed exchange Monday, conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts may have tipped his hand that he’s entertaining the possibility that the health care law’s individual mandate can be upheld on a constitutional basis that’s different from the one supporters and opponents have made central to their arguments....Roberts suggested he’s skeptical that the mandate and its penalties can be treated separately and may have opened the door to finding that Congress’ power to impose the mandate springs from its broad taxing power.

And Mark Kleiman on Wednesday:

....the ill-tempered and intemperate) outbursts from Alito about juvenile LWOP and (especially) Scalia about immigration make me wonder. If their side had won a huge victory – if they were about to overturn Obamacare – wouldn’t you expect them to be on their best behavior, and disinclined to reveal the full extent of their partisan hackery?
On the other hand, if Kennedy or maybe even Roberts decided that killing ACA was a bridge too far, it would be perfectly understandable if that put the extreme reactionaries in a pissy mood. 
I offer no prediction. But I’m not in total despair. I’ll leave that for tomorrow.

I've heard others say they had the same suspicion, but didn't hear them say it before the decision came out.

Another effect includes Vermont single payer plan getting a boost:

Vermont's push for universal, publicly funded, single-payer health care is going ahead no matter what, Gov. Peter Shumlinsaid Thursday, but he hailed the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal Affordable Care Act as a big boost for the state's efforts.
Shumlin called Thursday "a great day for Vermonters and a great day for Americans." But, he added, "I would say that of all the states of the Union, the least to be impacted by the Affordable Care Act is probably the state of Vermont."
That's because Vermont's health care overhaul, which legislation passed last year says will be implemented by 2017, goes well beyond the federal law, in the direction of a Canadian-style public system.
The biggest impact from the federal law will be money: an estimated $400 million a year in tax credits to help people with low and moderate incomes buy health insurance. That's expected to provide a partial answer to a big and still unanswered question: how Vermont will pay for its new health care system.

I'll add more on that Commerce Clause dicta thing:  if Obama's re-elected and gets to replace one of the five justices who made up the nonsense, it's far easier for a lower court to make up its own mind rather than glumly affirm a bad precedent and wait for the Supremes to overrule it.

Finally, Anthony Kennedy as a radical with some liberal social views, not a moderate.  I guess I can see it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The weird politicized and legally conservative Obamacare ruling (plus dicta)

Well, that was unexpected.  Supreme Court - actually, John Roberts -  rules Obamacare is legal not based on the Commerce Clause but based on the government's power to tax.  Roberts actually ruled the law is not a valid exercise of the Commerce Clause.

The weird and politicized aspect is that there's relatively little evidence in favor and some evidence against the idea that Congress was using its power to tax as a basis for Obamacare.  I think Roberts wanted to reach the outcome that he got on the Commerce Clause without causing the most disruptive overturning of a Congressional law since the Great Depression.  He got what he wanted, a limitation on the Commerce Clause.  Compare that to the SWANCC case I mentioned earlier, where there was plenty of evidence that Congress relied on the Commerce Clause and the Court majority ignored that so they could get the result they wanted without dealing with commerce issues.

The ruling on Commerce Clause advances legal conservatives position, even though the tax outcome leaves Obamacare intact.  The Medicare ruling is even more legally conservative - the power of federal government to spend money as it wishes for the public welfare has been almost unconstrained outside of First Amendment issues, but now its ability to move states in the direction it wants, with its own money, is facing a limit.

Surfing around the legal blogs, they're starting to notice that the "holding" on the Commerce Clause is actually dicta - reasoning that wasn't necessary to reach the conclusion made by the Court majority, and therefore just a statement that is no binding precedent on lower courts.  These are statements that Court actually shouldn't even make but if they do, we can ignore them in theory.  In practice, it's pretty clear where a majority of the current Supreme Court would go on this issue, so a lower court would hesitate to ignore it.

Given this tiny amount of restraint though, I guess the justices shouldn't be elected.  They're playing court politics, not politics politics.

UPDATE:  Nice post at SCOTUSblog on the Medicare issue.  Because it was a plurality but not a majority opinion, that means the plurality opinion isn't binding on future cases.  And what's up with Kagan and Breyer joining Roberts in his nonsense that the feds can't decide when to stop spending money?  This is an incredible door to judicial activism - they imply that a smaller penalty would be okay, but we'll never know what's okay except by countless lawsuits that will have to be relitigated for any new law involving funding of the states by the feds.

On the good side, and per the comments discussion, the implication here is that if a law looks like a tax, even if it otherwise suggests that it isn't a tax, then for purposes of determining whether it's constitutionally permissible it is to be considered a tax.  That goes a half-step beyond what courts usually say when they say they will search for an interpretation of a law that allows it to be constitutionally valid.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"The decisions came in the context of accumulating scientific evidence"

Above is from George Will of all people, acknowledging that juvenile criminal defendants have different brains and different levels of culpability than adults:

This [Supreme Court] ruling extends two others, one holding that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children under 18, the other that it bars life without parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense. These decisions held that regarding culpability, and hence sentencing, children are constitutionally unlike adults. The decisions came in the context of accumulating scientific evidence about increased impulsivity and diminished responsibility because of adolescent brain development.
I vacillate between wanting to react with snarkiness versus simply welcoming sanity when I find it coming from an unexpected person.  I sure wish he'd replicate his interest in accumulation of scientific evidence to the far more conclusive area of climate change.  Or better yet, I'd like to know why a person like Will can think reasonably in some regards (this isn't the first time for him) and fall so short in others.

Anyway, thanks for the sanity, George.  Consider expanding it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The IPCC and the Federal District Court of Appeals

Sometimes a bunny just hangs about after quoting someone else and watches heads explode.  The Court was not amused.

 Those petitions asserted that internal emails and documents released from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU)—a contributor to one of the global temperature records and to the IPCC’s assessment report—undermined the scientific evidence supporting the Endangerment Finding by calling into question whether the IPCC scientists adhered to “best science practices.”

The petitions pointed to factual mistakes in the IPCC’s assessment report resulting from the use of non-peer-reviewed studies and several scientific studies postdating the Endangerment Finding as evidence that the Endangerment Finding was flawed.

According to EPA, the petitioners’ claims based on the CRU documents were exaggerated, contradicted by other evidence, and not a material or reliable basis for questioning the credibility of the body of science at issue; two of the factual inaccuracies alleged in the petitions were in fact mistakes, but both were “tangential and minor” and did not change the key IPCC conclusions; and the new scientific studies raised by some petitions were either already considered by EPA, misinterpreted or misrepresented by petitioners, or put forth without acknowledging other new State Petitioners have not provided substantial support for their argument that the Endangerment Finding should be revised. State Petitioners point out that some studies the IPCC referenced in its assessment were not peer-reviewed, but they ignore the fact that (1) the IPCC assessment relied on around 18,000 studies that were peer-reviewed, and (2) the IPCC’s report development procedures expressly permitted the inclusion in the assessment of some non-peer-reviewed studies (“gray” literature).

Moreover, as EPA determined, the limited inaccurate information developed from the gray literature does not appear sufficient to undermine the substantial overall evidentiary support for the Endangerment Finding. State Petitioners have not, as they assert, uncovered a “pattern” of flawed science.

Only two of the errors they point out seem to be errors at all, and EPA relied on neither in making the Endangerment Finding. First, as State Petitioners assert, the IPCC misstated the percentage of the Netherlands that is below sea level, a statistic that was used for background information. However, the IPCC corrected the error, and EPA concluded that the error was “minor and had no impact,” and the Endangerment Finding did not refer to the statistic in any way. Id. at 49,576–77. Second, the IPCC acknowledged misstating the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are receding. EPA also did not rely on that projection in the Endangerment Finding. studies.

Running with Rabett

Eli is pleased to announce that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal District, agrees with the Bunny that the EPA has it nailed.  As those of you with only mild cases of Alzheimers (not Eli) may remember, this blog featured a number of rather trenchant comments from the EPA's endangerment finding about excess atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Today, a panel made, bunnies would think, in denialist heaven, gave them the heave ho.  Judges Sentelle, Rogers and Tatel told Ken Cuccinelli and Co. where to insert their pleadings.

we conclude: 1) the Endangerment Finding and Tailpipe Rule are neither arbitrary nor capricious; 2) EPA’s interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct; and 3) no petitioner has standing to challenge the Timing and Tailoring Rules. We thus dismiss for lack of jurisdiction all petitions for review of the Timing and Tailoring Rules, and deny the remainder of the petitions.
A great deal of the attack on the endangerment finding relied on accusing the EPA of outsourcing to the IPCC and the NRC and various other assessments.  The court had a Rabett Run class answer for that
State and Industry Petitioners assert that EPA improperly “delegated” its judgment to the IPCC, USGCRP, and NRC by relying on these assessments of climate-change science. See U.S. Telecom Ass’n v. FCC, 359 F.3d 554, 566 (D.C. Cir. 2004). This argument is little more than a semantic trick. EPA did not delegate, explicitly or otherwise, any decision-making to any of those entities. EPA simply did here what it and other decisionmakers often must do to make a science-based judgment: it sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted. It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence in large part consisted of “syntheses” of individual studies and research.  Even individual studies and research papers often synthesize past work in an area and then build upon it. This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.
Something we should quote in the future.  And here is one that Nigel Persaud will just love
EPA further relied upon evidence of historical estimates of past climate change, supporting EPA’s conclusion that global temperatures over the last half-century are unusual. Endangerment Finding, 74 Fed. Reg. at 66,518. Scientific studies upon which EPA relied place high confidence in the assertion that global mean surface temperatures over the last few decades are higher than at any time in the last four centuries.  Technical Support Document for the Endangerment Finding (TSD), at 31. These studies also show, albeit with significant uncertainty, that temperatures at many individual locations were higher over the last twenty-five years than during any period of comparable length since 900 A.D. Id.
And right below that one in the kisser for the Post Normal Science crowd
they contend that the record evidences too much uncertainty to support that judgment. But the existence of some uncertainty does not, without more, warrant invalidation of an endangerment finding. If a statute is “precautionary in nature” and “designed to protect the public health,” and the relevant evidence is “difficult to come by, uncertain, or conflicting because it is on the frontiers of scientific knowledge,”
 More to follow

Après NC-20, le déluge

Eli was one of the first to point to the North Carolina Leges exercise in Canuteism, ignoring a report of the Coastal Commission's scientific advisors that the state should plan for a one meter (39 inch) rise in sea level over the current century.  They took the advice of one John Droz, Jr., a guy with a masters degree in physics who built a real estate fortune, hates wind power, is a scientific adviser to Chris Horner's crowd (the guys suing for Mike Mann's emails) and a speaker (guess what) at the Heartland Institute bun fight.

Yale 360 has a post by Rob Young, one of the science advisory board, describing what happened.

 The reaction to our report was rapid and effective.  NC-20, a group purporting to represent North Carolina’s coastal counties, attacked both the integrity of the science panel members and the body of sea level rise literature that was reviewed.  The rebuttal consisted largely of oft-repeated arguments pulled from the climate skeptic blogosphere, along with an adamant assertion that predicting the future is impossible.  To the great surprise of those of us on the state’s science panel, these tactics have worked. 
Young points out that
I have received many emails and phone calls from other scientists over the last two weeks pledging their assistance and volunteering to “come help educate the senators” in North Carolina. Sadly, I don’t think it will help.  Quite frankly, those fighting the need to plan for accelerated sea level rise in coastal North Carolina do not want to be “educated.”

They assert that talk of sea level rise will ruin the coastal economy, impact insurance rates, and deter coastal development.  This is absurd.
It is, of course, your blog average denialism in action, and the reason why it is absurd to allow the denialists to bully us about being mean to them.  They ARE in denial and proud of it, except when their denial is called out for what it is.

And as Young points out, that denial is going to cost everyone a lot of money for rebuilding after the deluge, and, if anyone is stupid enough to believe the Canutes, in throwing money into doomed and badly planned coastal infrastructure.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Eli Outsources to Wikileaks

In which a Republican House member forgets himself and talks a bit of sense

Reference id: 05HELSINKI613
Cable time: Thu, 2 Jun 2005 05:00 UTC
Origin: Embassy Helsinki
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Attached is the draft reporting cable on CODEL Hyde's meetings in Helsinki.
CODEL is Congressional Delegation for those of you who live outside the Washington Beltway
¶1. (U) CODEL Hyde -- House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL), HIRC Minority Leader Tom Lantos (D-CA), Representative Melvin Watt (D-NC), Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Representative Diane Watson (D-CA) -- visited Finland, May 29-31. On May 30, the CODEL met with Finnish Parliament Speaker (and former PM) Paavo Lipponen, . . . .
¶12. (U) Representative Watson voiced concern that the phenomenon of global warming has still not received the level of intensive research that it deserves, and said she hoped that nations can come together on a common approach. Representative Issa, referring to cooperation within the Arctic Council, asked whether Lipponen thought the U.S. was doing enough to protect the Arctic. It sometimes seemed, Issa remarked, that U.S. legislators think of the Arctic only in terms of its oil reserves. The Speaker urged the U.S. to do more in the area of energy efficiency and diversification. Issa, who chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Resources of the House Government Reform Committee, noted that if the United States had built every nuclear power plant that had been on order at the time of Three Mile Island, we would be Kyoto-compliant today. Lipponen agreed that one cannot say "renewable energy is good, nuclear energy is bad." Finland's experience shows that nations can safely produce nuclear energy. Critical rhetoric is sometimes hypocritical: the Swedes "made a big deal" of closing two reactors, but at the same time raised capacity in existing reactors, so that overall Sweden now gets seven percent more of its power from nuclear sources than before.
Darryl Issa?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

For Every Complicated Problem There Is a Simple But Wrong Answer

There is an interesting report from the US Embassy in Thailand about dikes as a solution to sea level rise

On February 1, ESTHoff, Staff and US Embassy Science Fellow went to a well-attended presentation, "Is Bangkok Sinking?" that summarized Bangkok's subsidence history, the need for more research on cause and effect scenarios with climate change in SE Asia coastal regions, the need for a regional approach for adaptation and mitigation strategies already considered to contend with conservative future flooding scenarios, education of the general population in Bangkok to fuel political will to address the problem proactively.
Dutch Professor Cor Dijkgraaf advocated a the building of a dike based on Netherland model designs in the Bay of Thailand to contain flood waters and protect the city from climate change sea level rise and storm or tsunami surges. Similar dike strategies are being considered in United States (New Orleans), South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Environmental consequences were mentioned as a concern but not addressed directly. Other technological concerns such as positive pumping of wastewater for treatment outside the city, mangrove reforestation to protect coastlines and technology to reverse subsidence and increase holding capacity in groundwater reserves were mentioned as interests by the audience but not directly addressed by the panel as viable long term strategies.
Comment: For Thailand, the proposed location of this dike could turn the northern portion of the Gulf of Thailand into a freshwater lake, encompassing the important tourist resorts of Hua Hin and Pattaya. Shrimp and other fisheries would be devastated and commercial shipping affected if not strangled. The billions of dollars price tag would significantly divert resources from other infrastructure priorities. BMA officials noted that the dike is only one scenario under consideration but other ideas are few. This is where the USGS expertise could play a significant role in educating the Thai how diking actions have had counterproductive effects in the U.S. New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta, with its extensive rice agriculture, are arguably more analogous to the Chao Praya Delta than it is to the Netherlands, upon which the diking plan is based. End Comment.

Wm. Burroughs on Economics

Frankly this is so out there, that Eli had to post it.  Use this as an open thread on economics.   Play nice.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Yes, carbon taxes can work in theory

I've argued a million times that some enviros shot and are shooting themselves in the foot by opposing cap-and-trade so they can get their-way-or-the-highway alternative of the carbon tax.  I'm not enjoying the highway very much.

To balance this criticism, I should say the liberal economics blog NoahOpinion is wrong to say "Carbon taxes won't work".   Had he said "carbon taxes are unlikely to be politically achievable in the short to moderate term at levels that are sufficient to change behavior, and other approaches deserve prioritization of political capital," then he'd have a worse title but better argument.  His problem though is that he mushes a political argument into what purports to be an economic analysis.

Noah briefly tries to unmush the politics but doesn't do it.  He mentions the political difficulty and then says that's not an argument that economists should use.  He says the solution is technology development, standard Breakthrough Institute stuff (thankfully minus their prioritization of nuclear uber alles).

So.  Even if you think we really can't get 90% GHG reductions with current technology, a debatable but unimportant argument given the decades that we're talking about, then anything that incentivizes a move away from carbon will assist new technological development.  Therefore a theoretical carbon tax, especially a substantial carbon tax, will provide some of that incentive that he wants.

As for his other points, coordination is difficult, but Europe is moving, Australia has a carbon tax, and other countries are making efforts.  Carbon tariffs on imports seem like an important solution to the coordination problem, although I'm not clear to what extent that raises World Trade Organization issues.  Noah says the pointy-headed intellectuals might not want tariffs, but that hardly matters politically.

His argument that carbon taxes can be revoked and therefore have little effect is another political argument.  If you assume the political strength exists to get them started, my guess is that worsening climate impacts over time will only reinforce that resolve.  Finally his argument that a small reduction does almost nothing is a misstatement of his previous argument about temporary reductions.  If he wants to make a scientific argument instead, go to it then.

It all comes down to politics.  I'm happy to support a carbon tax, but will also support cap-and-trade that seems to get a lot farther politically.  It passed the full House of Representatives in 2010 and versions have passed Senate committees.  If Noah's ideal technological support legislation had reached similar levels before being stopped, then I'm sure he'd call that substantial support, not something that "went nowhere fast".

Of course, cap-and-trade and carbon taxes will go nowhere on the national level barring a natural disaster for at least a few years.  Support for technology is fine, but it shouldn't be viewed as the only possibility on an indefinite basis.

UPDATE:  I should have mentioned that I generally like the other posts at Noah's blog, but of course I have to complain about the one where I don't like the free ice cream.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bill Gates and Richard Tol walk Into a room

with three people in it, and the average income goes up by a billion dollars or so, and then everyone runs screaming.

Eli has been having a look at the report that Niamh Crilly, Anne Pentecost and Richard S.J. Tol authored and that was withdrawn by Richard's former employers in Dublin, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), for having some questionable issues, which, to be honest, ESRI did not explain, and Tol, well you know Tol.

Since the watchword at Rabett Run is RTFR the Rabett went and did that.  Eli has some questions, really two.

The report claimed that

The main finding is that the additional costs of working are highly significant at nearly €7000 per year without children; increasing to nearly €9000 per year with one child under the age of five. These substantial additional costs seriously hamper work incentives as it is shown that there is a 25-fold increase (without young children) in the number of individuals who have a higher income when unemployed than when in employment with the inclusion of these additional costs of working.
which as the bunnies might imagine caused no end of anguish.  The key graphic is Fig. 2

This generates two series of income when in work and not, for otherwise identical individuals. This forms our baseline figure of the difference between in-work and out-of-work pay for each individual. From this baseline, the additional costs of working (the far right hand column in Table 15) were subtracted. Figure 2 shows only two scenarios against the baseline as the graph for zero children under 5 years old is very close to the no childcare scenario and the two children under 5 very close to the 1 child under 5 and thus not shown for clarity.
Negative numbers mean that you make more money on the dole than on the production line..

The Rabett looks at this figure and says, ok, at the right end are the 1% or 10% who have a lot of income when they are employed and not so much when they are unemployed or on the dole.  That's a difference in annual income of  €30,000 or more, and on the left end the folks who don't earn much more than they would get on the dole so the baseline difference is zilch.  But, dear bunnies, here is the interesting thing.  If you look at the red and purple lines, they pretty much run parallel to the blue one.  The implication is that folks who are well off have the same reduction in costs when unemployed as the folks who are dirt poor.  The difference is about €200 per week across the board.

A huge problem with that is that if you look at direct income, over 30% of households in Ireland had direct income of less than €200, and even considering transfer payments, a bit less than 20% had weekly income of less than €200.  This is from the 2004-5 Household Budget Survey that Crilly et al used).  Are you telling Eli that they blew it all on work related expenses and did not spend a dime on rent (more about that later) or food cooked in the house??

To figure out what it cost to work, Tol and friends looked at childcare, transport, Take away food and clothing costs (dress for success).  For example, in Table 15 they set the average expense for transportation if someone is working as €106.30 and €23.93 if not working.  Now some, not Eli to be sure, are on the floor laughing their asses off.  If a bunny is well off, has a car and commutes from the suburbs well, that €106.30 is reasonable.  If not, if your weekly income is €106.30 you are not spending it all on a car (well maybe if you are a 20 year old, that fags and Guiness). It's Bill Gates walking in to the room

Decile Transport Housing Food Away from Home
1 18.65 25.99 7.56
2 38.59 40.78 9.78
3 57.28 51.82 15.19
4 76.46 73.26 22.32
5 106.13 79.77 27.51
6 126.14 99.18 37.4
7 166.52 110.22 45.49
8 166 122.74 51.46
9 197.49 131.12 59.76
10 274.1 210.17 86.77

So right away it looks like expenses were not properly assigned by income.  Richer people have higher expenses, poorer people scrimp and scramble.  If expenses related to work are lower for poorer people (and two of the categories above were the ones Tol looked at) then while the blue line would stay where it is, the other two lines would angle up to the left, moving the point at which they cross the axis towards the left and substantially decreasing the number of people better off unemployed.

It looks like friend Richard assigned high costs of work to low income people.

Which brings the Rabett to housing.  Housing costs, rent and mortgages, simply don't appear in the Tol paper.  Some, not Eli to be sure, would point out that when your income goes to zilch because you are unemployed, you loose your house, either to the mortgage or the rent.  You get tossed out on the street.  That is a rather negative outcome that is not considered.  Or perhaps not if you are Richard Tol.

In case anybunny asks

about the difference between the exchange time for individual CO2 molecule from the air to the ocean and back, and the retention time during which an increase in overall CO2 atmospheric concentration remains show em this

UPDATE: And since tony brought this up in the comments, Eli presents the Juggler's Apprentice

The Rabett expects video from Japan momentarily.  Jules has AVI capability on her S100.

Supreme Court justices should be elected

UPDATE:  okay, turned out better than I expected.  Let's not elect them, but still give them term limits.

This is my pre-emptive post reacting to the near-future decision by the Supreme Court on Obamacare.  Maybe they'll preempt my preempting by doing the right thing instead, but I doubt it.  My best guess from reading Kennedy's and Roberts' questions is the same as the conventional wisdom, that they'll at least strike down a significant portion of the ACA on the fatuous activity/inactivity distinction.

I read Bush v. Gore the day it came out - five judges with little (Kennedy, O'Connor) to no (other three) history of ever caring about equal protection before that point suddenly joined two of the other four who also saw a problem in how the Florida Supreme Court was conducting the vote recount, but the five then refused to fix the problem but rather just stopped the recount.  The five used a contorted decision-making process to reach that result and then declared it had no effect on any subsequent decisions, to make sure their decision didn't accidentally provide equal protection to people who actually needed it.

Less well-known outside of environmental law is the SWANCC case, where the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling pretended the Clean Water Act didn't rely on the Commerce Clause for its constitutional authority, but only on constitutional authority to regulate navigable waters.  They made this up, because the majority wasn't ready to address the extent of the Commerce Clause.

Skip to 2012, where they'll soon adopt this activity/inactivity distinction.  Kevin Drum has a good take on it:

Of course it [ACA] was constitutional. Even Randy Barnett, the law professor who popularized the activity/inactivity distinction that opponents latched onto as their best bet against the mandate, initially didn't really think it was anything but a long shot. 
So how did that conventional wisdom change so dramatically in only two years? Ezra Klein writes about this in the New Yorker this week, but hell, Ezra's a liberal. He's probably sort of flummoxed too. Instead, let's hear what a nonliberal has to say about it:
Orin Kerr says that, in the two years since he gave the individual mandate only a one-percent chance of being overturned, three key things have happened. First, congressional Republicans made the argument against the mandate a Republican position. Then it became a standard conservative-media position. "That legitimized the argument in a way we haven't really seen before," Kerr said. "We haven't seen the media pick up a legal argument and make the argument mainstream by virtue of media coverage." Finally, he says, "there were two conservative district judges who agreed with the argument, largely echoing the Republican position and the media coverage. And, once you had all that, it really became a ballgame."

I've previously supported 18-year term limits for the Court, partly as a way to reduce the politicization of the nomination process by reducing the stakes involved, but that's not enough.  We're in the worst of possible worlds right now, with a Court making political decisions but without political accountability.  Let them face the voters if they've decided to be politicians as well.

It's not going to happen.  Term limits don't seem likely to happen either, although Democrats should at least lift a finger in support of it.  Elections shouldn't happen with lower judges who are bound somewhat by precedent, but term limits should.

Despite the terrible image we lawyers have, I like to think there's at some background level an integrity about the law that can overcome politics.  With this Supreme Court, though, maybe we should admit our weakness and bring democracy to limit the politicized "justice".

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Open thread for non-climate related comments

An experiment.  Anything non climate-related is fair game.  An adjacent post is for climate-related comments.  If you prefer just one open thread, say so.  If you prefer none, then silence speaks volumes.

Open thread for climate comments

An experiment.  Anything climate-related is fair game.  An adjacent post is for non climate-related comments.  If you prefer just one open thread, say so.  If you prefer none, then silence speaks volumes.

It’s not just that the conclusions are ideological; it’s that the questions are

Out there another blogstorm has broken, but one where the thunder is noisy and the lightening illuminating.  Mark Regnerus published a study in Social Science Research,

how the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-of-origin types. The results reveal numerous, consistent differences, especially between the children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents.
Hidden in there a bit is what the study really looked at, which is outcomes of stable heterosexual couples compared with outcomes where one of the partners took up with someone of the same sex.   If a sexual relationship blows up a marriage, that the kids suffer, is not exactly news or unexpected. The novelty of the study is that the bomb was an adulterous same sex relationship rather than the usual opposite sex partner at the office.  Offhand, any bunny would agree, that after a marriage breaks up, why yes, the kids tend to suffer no matter what the reason, and there is lots and lots of evidence for the truth of that assertion. 

Lurie Essig at the Chronicle (beloved of John Massey) has a comment
Okay those of you who have had Survey Design 101, what is wrong with that comparison? That’s right–he’s comparing oranges to apple slices. One is “still married biological parents” and one is “had a relationship.” One is an ongoing family structure; the other might have been a two-week fling.  As Thalia Zepatos, director of public engagement at the marriage equality group Freedom to Marry, pointed out:
It would be like comparing two parent Catholic families and divorced Mormon parents and coming out with a conclusion that Catholics are better parents than Mormons.
What Regnerus did is EXACTLY what the tobacco companies did, what the anti-evolution folks do, what those in denial about climate change do.  Crow bar a study into the literature that answers the wrong question badly and then use their PR (trained journalists all) to blow it out in the media supporting denial.   Sometimes they take something that was well done, but answered a different question and spin it like a top.  The Churnalists don't give a damn.  It's news.

Readers of Rabett Run can find any number of links on this current blogstorm, but the real issue is the Churnalism that is bootstrapping this into the Overton window.  It is the typical denialist housebreak scenario.  

In this one Will Saletan is playing Judith Curry and Slate WUWT.  It's a little complicated, but originally, Slate, Tony Watts like, provided a platform for Regnerus, they wanted the eyeballs.  However, some editor sensed that the study and the post were rather flawed.  For balance Saletan put up a post on Slate that pointed out the problems with Regnerus' provocation.  Actually it tore it to shreds.  Slate put links at the top of Regnerus' and Saletan's posts pointing to the other one.

OK, blogstorm breaks, Overton window is jimmied, and now comes the interesting Churnalism, or perhaps wrt climate science, Curryism.  Saletan has ANOTHER post up
 Wow. Regnerus’ paper certainly has flaws. But before we all go get our stones, pitchforks, and kerosene, may I suggest an alternative? Trust science. Don’t bury this study. Embrace it. The evidence Regnerus collected can help all of us rethink our ideas about sexuality and marriage. It can enlighten the right as well as the left. In fact, it’s already doing that.
E.J. Graff at the Prospect was among those who said that Slate should be ashamed of publishing such propagandistic tripe.  
Saletan knows better. I don’t know about the LGBT groups, but I wasn’t taking aim at Slate for the underlying research. What Slate should be ashamed of is publishing Regnerus’s sleight-of-hand interpretation of his results. Saletan’s first-take analysis was correct: the study did not measure what Regnerus said it measured.
 but Slate publishing it got it into play.
Regnerus is smart enough to know this. He did one thing while purporting to do another. He compared fidelity with adultery. He compared stability with instability. Then, in Slate, he said he was comparing different-sex parenting with same-sex parenting—conflating the effect of family explosion with the effect of parental sexual orientation. Saletan spotted that crap right away, and called it out in detail....

Yes, as Saletan writes, “There’s nothing evil about the data set.” True. But there’s something evil about the propagandistic distortion of that data set. Most Americans aren’t nerds like us who look at the underlying questionnaire and drill down to expose the flaws. They’re ordinary people who are following what’s important in their own lives. By the time they hear this news, what they’ll hear is some TV anchor saying, briefly, “A new controversy emerged today about gay parents.
aka the games that Keith Kloor and the rest of the Pielkesphere play.  So no Keith, Eli doesn't want Judy and Tony to shut their blogs up, he wants them to slam their window on tripe (c comments).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Message from the Unknown

In a comment on the post below, a bunny who wishes to remain Unknown points to a Jennifer Francis's work on how global climate has been changed by climate change and specifically ice melt in the Arctic

which is summarized as 
If the theory is correct, that Arctic amplification reduced ice pack alters the jet stream patterns, leading to prolonged weather patterns, then we have entered a new meteorological system. Then shifted probability curves (based on the old meteorology) don't really make sense. The new meteorology we have created could have a very different probability curve for prolonged heat waves (as well as droughts, cold spells, extreme and prolonged flooding events, major snowstorms) in the NH than the prior meteorology.
but in passing makes an important point that Eli has repeated several times, most often over at Open Mind.  One can too easily fall into the trap of only looking at the statistical properties of some occurrence, it is even more important to understand the physical origins, as a matter of fact the later in IEHO is more important, sometimes you have to wait a bit on the statistics, but the physics (and chemistry) is basic.
Another approach to studying these events tries to identify whether the meteorology of the earth has changed. Prolonged weather patterns produces a heat wave, instead of a hot week. And prolonged weather patterns depend on the positioning of the jet stream. The direct cause of all three events in your post was a stalled jet stream (a blocking pattern in the jet stream). 

Friday, June 15, 2012


Like Alex Trebek, the bunnies know the answer, there were humongous heat waves in Texas (2011), Russia (2010) and Europe (2003), but what is the question?   Otto, Massey, Oldenborgh, Jones and Allen (Allen being Myles) have two answers, but their answers untangle much of the to and fro about these events.  Their bottom line is that the slightly warmer weather event crowd and the climate dice are loaded bunch are both right, because they are asking different questions.

The first asks whether similar heat waves can be found in the meteorological records.  The answer, is that similar, although perhaps slightly cooler heat waves can be found in the meteorological records of all these areas, and that the slightly increased temperatures might be a sign of climate change or simply natural variability.  Therefore the heat waves are not convincing markers of climate change.  Dole, et al "Was there a basis for anticipating the 2010 Russian heat wave?", Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L06702, doi:10.1029/2010GL046582 have been pushing this answer, and, of course, any number of Eli's friends. 

The second asks how frequent such heat waves were in the past and are now.  Here one finds a significantly higher percentage of extreme (three sigma) events and assigns the recurrence of such events and the events themselves as markers of climate change.  Hansen, Ruedy and Sato and Rahmstorf and Coumou (2011), "Increase of extreme events in a warming world", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 108(44), 17905–17909. are two of those holding this view.  On the bloggish side Michael Tobis has been the strongest voice.

Otto, et al., have a nice figure illustrating this.  Using they created a large ensemble which they examined for significant heat waves.

"These two approaches are different but complementary in quantifying the role of human influence on a 2010-like Russian heat wave. This is illustrated by Figure 4, which shows return times of the heat wave conditions for the 1960s (green) and 2000s (blue). The threshold exceeded in 2010 is shown by the solid horizontal line, which is more than 5°C above 1960s mean July temperatures, shown by the dashed line. The difference between the green and the blue lines could be characterized as a 1°C increase in the magnitude of a 33-year event as shown by the vertical red arrow. This arrow is substantially smaller than the size of the anomaly itself, supporting the assertion that the event was “mainly natural” in terms of magnitude which is consistent with D11. Alternatively it could be characterized as a three-fold increase in the risk of the 2010 threshold being exceeded, supporting the assertion that the risk of the event occurring was mainly attributable to the external trend."

Rabett Run might throw a link at John Nielson Gammon who got that there were two parts
In other words, nature made it a record.  Climate change made it a phenomenal record.
although he would not have won the Daily Double.

It Ain't Majic

The problem is that it ain't majic, it is science, and we need it to inform the debate about what to do about just about anything in today's world.  What we need is information without the disinformation. We don't need Judith Curry giving a platform and credibility to fools like Claes Johnson.  We don't need Tony Watts and Roger Pielke Sr. going around for ziggtity years telling people that the surface temperature records are nonsense, we don't need people claiming that vaccines cause autism and AIDS can be cured by beet juice.  It does mean listening to those who think and do science.

Science is young, barely emerging from the infant stage 100 years ago.  Rutherford's atomic model of the atom is only 101 years old.  The medicine of 100 years ago was as likely to get you dead as to cure you, but was a lot better than the medicine of 200 years ago which would for sure kill you.

One of the things that science (and Eli includes the technology enabled by science in this) has done is make it possible for many more people to live in the world and live to an age.  That has its difficulties, but a benefit is that there are lots of clever people thinking about how the universe works.

This is doubly hard because science has enabled technologies which make virtual worlds appear as real as the one we live in, look at your television, your computer, your Wii or Xbox.  Now you are a kid.  What is real?

The problem is that we have piled up a lot of great science in the last 100 years but to most it looks like magic (ask the guy next to you how a computer works), and we are taught to enjoy but not to believe in magic.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good News, Bad News

Via Climate Progress

Via Kevin Drum

MT loses.  It's the weather.

Doing their best to prove me wrong

I've argued at times that climate adaptation will be easier to push through denialist resistance than climate mitigation, because:

1. It's not asking denialists to give up the bad things they do.
2. It doesn't blame the denialists for bad things that are happening, except in an indirect way.  At least it doesn't focus primarily on whether their/our lifestyle is causing problems for other people.
3. It's saving their own bacon (or maybe their community's bacon) rather than helping/not harming other people far away.  Folks that would confidently deny climate change might be much less confident in arguing against preparing for climate change.

I've also argued that preparing for the possibility of climate change will encourage people to accept its reality, a kind of backwards way of reasoning but one that still gets to the best policy outcome.  Hopefully people will then realize that mitigation reduces the need for adaptation.  None of this works though unless climate adaptation is an easier sell than climate reality overall.

North Carolina and Virginia legislatures are testing my hope that adaptation is an easier sell.  People in both states have noticed that coastlines sure seem flooded a lot, and both states have lots of low-elevation land.  Legislatures want to plan how to respond to this but have come down with hives at the mention of, or express adaptation for, climate change.

Still, North Carolina has backed away somewhat from its widely-mocked effort to limit projecting sea level rise to no more than the historical record.  Now they say accelerated sea level rise could be considered if derived from good science, kind of.  It has problems but it doesn't stop planning for some level of climate adaptation.

Virginia also has problems, with the city of Norfolk spending $6m annually to keep roads and homes clear of coastal flooding.  Their bill dances around the issue of climate change, dropping the words entirely in favor of "recurrent flooding".

On one level this is equal parts laughable and sad.  It reminds me of the controversy over BBC America's Frozen Planet series and the initial effort to drop the discussion of climate change that was shown in the original British version (they did show it in the end).  No surprise that Americans are in climate denial when their leaders and media hide the truth from them.

But even if they're not using the "CC" words in Virginia and North Carolina, it's not that hard to read between the lines.  Someday people will ask why taxpayers should be paying for this out of income and sales taxes, instead of polluters paying for it along with the emissions that cause the problem.

UPDATE:  Anonymous has a great art project idea in the comments.  I'd put it at 7 meters above sea level though instead of 20 - we still have time to save the Antarctic ice sheets.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Carrick finds a mirror

Nick Stokes got a pile of aggro from Tony Watts a short while ago.  Tony thinks that his buddies never, never threatened any of the scientists at the Australian National University.  Much to his discredit Carrick, someone Eli thinks better of, proceeded to try and parse away the problem in a thread at Moyhu.

Well, somebunny decided to FOIA ask for the abusive Valentines that Tony and Judy's playmates sent to Phil Jones and Simon Hopkinton has them.  They are so bad that Bishop Hill, after jumping on Watts' wagon about the ANU,  is trying to walk away from them

In the wake of the death threats that weren't at ANU, several people sent FOI requests to the University of East Anglia asking for copies of the death threats that they said Phil Jones had received. The relevant emails have now been released and can be seen here
Be warned, this is very, very ugly stuff, and there are several messages in there that seem to me to be criminal.
Colour me disgusted
A milder one start
I hope you fuckers die slowly and painfully you are the scum of the Earth and should be put in front of a firing squad.
 The good Bishop, Tony and yes you Judy, need to accept ownership of encouraging these haters.  They organized the jihad that went after Phil Jones (and Mike Mann and Ben Santer) and they encouraged the ignorant mob.  What Eli really expects is more of the same nonsense dealt out when the CRU emails were stolen, about how it was not really theft (death threats and wishes in this case) but someone inside who done it (everyone at CRU hates Phil Jones). 

Oh right, just look at the comments over at the Good Bishops:
Although the all-caps 23rd Nov 2009 email comes very close to being an actual threat, only the 24th Nov 2009 email with the subject line "One thing to say" is an actual threat, in my opinion. Nevertheless, they are all nasty, venomous, horrible little screeds, and for the first time I actually feel sorry for Phil Jones for having to deal with that sickening bile. The poor spelling and grammar in practically all of the emails suggests to me that the people writing them are just idiotic trolls, but that hardly makes it any better. Yuck!
Carrick gets a mirror

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

100% Natural Spontaneous Phase Change

Formerly known as Ice Melts

As Neven has pointed out the Northern Sea Route is opening something fierce.  Of course, Hudson's Bay is melting and the sea ice extent is diving

If you look at Cryosphere Today, is even lower than 2011.  Bremen shows the current state

This was all pretty obviously going to happen given how thin the ice was over large areas.  Stoat has something on that.  Not likely to end well either


News comes of a working paper which has been withdrawn pending re-estimation of the results.   Now some, not Eli to be sure, would say that we got a serial offender here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

The Woodie Guthrie Archive has a lesson plan to teach children and bloggers about the Dust Bowl

What mistakes do people make today with regard to the land? Unsound agricultural practices continue. So do unsound logging practices, strip mining, overgrazing, the use of agrochemicals and pesticides, high water consumption, destruction of rain forests, over consumption of non-renewable resources. Students can branch out into issues of ecology and stewardship of the earth. Look into local ecology groups who can link your class with special hands-on projects.

But looking a pictures give one a better, deeper and scarier appreciation of what we need to avoid repeating.  There are reasons to be scared.

Joe Romm for the Woodie Committee Meets Here

Some, not Eli to be sure, may be wondering why Eli has volunteered to be head Bunny of the Joe Romm for the Woodie award.   Eli is a very old Rabett, so he has a memory of the real Woodie Guthrie, not the disneyfied version that the white glove environmental organizations are trying to sell.  Those folk, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, even the Sierra Club, would never have let the real Woodie inside the door, and the Rabett suspects their attitude to Joe Romm would be symmetric.

To really understand why Joe would be an appropriate winner of the Woodie, or at least the one that has wandered into environmental blogs, bunnies need to understand where Woodie Guthrie was born, where he suffered and what he did.  Guthrie was born into a fairly well off family in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912.  His dad lost it all and the family was impoverished when the oil boom hit and left town, "busted, disgusted, and not to be trusted." at the end of WWI.

Guthrie's primary concern was to fight the exploitation of workers by the mine and oil field owners, but he personally knew and hated the environmental consequences of the fossil fuel industry and especially  the industry's rapaciousness driven by greed.  Note the resemblance to Joe Romm, and well, if you think Woodie had a love for the coal industry, consider the Dying Doctor

She walked the coal towns of Force and Byrndale
She saw the sewage waters flowing down the street.
She saw the children drink the cankered water
She saw the chickens fly up on the roof
She saw the waters overflow the sewers
And flood their gardens of victory.
She went to the big shots of the Shawmut Company
She did not beg and she did not plead
She stood flatfooted and pounded the table
Sewer pipes and bathrooms are what we need.
My dady told me to fight to cure sickness
But I can't cure sickness with sewage all around
These germs kill people quicker than I can cure them
Of course, after the oil boom, came the Dust Storms of the 1930s.  The Okies, Woodie was one,  are but a foretaste of the climate change refugees which Joe worries so much about.  So Long, Its Been Good to Know You, one of Guthrie's most famous song tells of how people were helpless against the Dust Bowl

I've sung this song, but I'll sing it again,
Of the place that I lived on the wild windy plains,
In the month called April, county called Gray,
And here's what all of the people there say:

CHORUS: So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home,
And I got to be driftin' along.
A dust storm hit, an' it hit like thunder;
It dusted us over, an' it covered us under;
Blocked out the traffic an' blocked out the sun,
Straight for home all the people did run,
Now some, not Eli to be sure, would go on, and on, and on, but the basic case is made.  If Joe Romm has two identifying themes, they are worry about coming climate refugees and disgust at the greed of the fossil fuel industry.  These were Woodies themes too.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Why NASA has issues

UPDATE: A discussion about satellite mishaps that bears on this

From NASA Watch the Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite has serious issues.

"To Whom It May Concern:
Due to the culmination of abusive behavior by the Mission Systems Engineer over the past year, including hostile treatment in front of project and division management during a review, and continued assault in the parking lot later that same day; I resign my position as Lead of the High Gain Antenna System for the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite at Goddard Space Flight Center effective immediately. . . . 

(It goes on for like five pages).  No doubt, the project is at risk.

Below are pictures of the antenna and the satellite with the antenna

James should pass the Woodie Guthrie Award on to Joe

First, congratulations to James Annan for accepting the Woodie for services to Earth Science Blogging, and best wishes to John Nielsen-Gammon who passed it on, but somehow, Eli thinks that folks are becoming a bit unclear on the concept.  You get a hint of that from the sign on Woodie Guthrie's guitar.  Guthrie was, in the current parlance, a premature anti-fascist.

Guthrie was an Okie, chased out of OK by the dust bowl, who wandered out to CA and then all around the US.  His environmentalism was love of the land and concern for his fellows.  He didn't think much of the idea that corporations could own the Earth.  The verse you never hear from This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land is

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
The sign was painted, it said 'private property';
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
and through all of his work, there is the theme of shared responsibility for the environment and all people.  Neither was very fashionable at the time.  Guthrie was a very dangerous man for those who desecrate the Earth for power and profit.  Pete Seeger talks about the disneyization of Guthrie in an interview which touches on many relevant themes

Guthrie wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, Bound for Glory, the subject of a study by Matthew Sutton, while a graduate student at William and Mary.  The abstract of a presentation by Sutton summarizes what the Woodie should be about,
Guthrie's semi-fictional 1943 autobiography Bound for Glory has long been examined as a protest work, a vivid chronicle of the Dust Bowl, and a proto-Beat travelogue. What has been overlooked up until now is its power and relevance as an ecocritical text. What Bound for Glory advocates, ultimately, is neither Romantic pastoralism nor a green Utopia, but rather a reciprocal sustainability between working people and the land.

To illustrate the stark dialectic between sustainability and rapaciousness, citizen and subject, Guthrie employs the trope of the Ghost Town. Using his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma as a synecdoche for the nation, Guthrie lambasts the civic irresponsibility of oil companies, who pollute the environment with their hit-or-miss wildcat drilling, deplete the region of its natural resources, and leave despair and economic disaster in their wake. As the book's protagonist "Woody" wanders a seemingly endless highway of lifeless Ghost Towns abandoned by oil speculators, Guthrie shows us fear in a townful of dust.

When his journeys take him West out of oil country into California, Guthrie discovers a similar system of exploitation toward migrant fruit pickers. Guthrie, whose guitar was emblazoned with the legend "This Machine Kills Fascists," draws clear parallels between the European fascist and the American corporation that strips the most vulnerable laborers of their identity and rights. As migrant workers are herded into makeshift camps amid squalid conditions, they are systematically robbed of the three necessities William Morris outlines in his 1884 essay "Art and Socialism": honorable and fitting work, decency of surroundings, and leisure. With little recourse but to sacrifice their health and overtax their land for a substandard wage, the migrant-citizens in Bound for Glory still cling to hopes of recovery, tied not simply to wealth and land ownership, but responsibility and land stewardship.

Depicting the Depression era as a crossroads, with the nation's ideals tested by hard times, Guthrie appropriates the rhapsodic cadences of Whitman and Steinbeck to express optimism and dignity in story and song. Neither the Ghost Town nor the migrant camp defines America so long as Guthrie and his chorus of characters commit themselves to working the land judiciously and productively. Bound for Glory deserves reconsideration and a fresh reading as we reach another crossroads, as issues such as environmental protection, immigration/migration, and the rebuilding of New Orleans demand that we find common ground at a place where citizenship and stewardship meet.
 Woodie Guthrie was a fighter, a clear thinking fighter, but a fighter none the less.  He used words to move mountains and he was always pushing past respectability.  He didn't care much for that.

Eli nominates Joe Romm for the next pass on (Eli is not very optimistic about his suggestion being followed).

If you want to learn more about Woodie Guthrie, take a look at the Official Woodie Guthrie Website, and finally a concert for the new winner

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Improving existing coal plant efficiency is the political sweet spot

UPDATE;  Management strongly encourages readers to look at the bottom of the comments, a very interesting and informative discussion of electrical power distribution and generation has broken out.  Whoda thunk.

Nice post by Brad Plumer about unglamorous low-tech fixes for the climate:

Catherine Wolfram, an economist at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says that we too often ignore simpler solutions, such as wringing more efficiency out of our existing fossil-fuel and nuclear plants. Many of those power plants, after all, are likely to stick around for decades to come.... 
Wolfram described what happened in the 1990s after some U.S. states began deregulating their electricity sectors. Utilities sold off their nuclear reactors to private operators. And, Wolfram found in a recent paper with Lucas Davis, electricity output at these newly privatized reactors increased 10 percent compared with those that stayed in the hands of tightly regulated utilities.
....Even today, Wolfram notes, many U.S. power plants still don’t have incentives to operate as efficiently as possible. There are many coal plants in the Southeast that are regulated under “cost-of-service” rules, in which power plants can pass their fuel costs onto consumers. That means there’s less reason to operate as efficiently as possible. And a carbon tax wouldn’t necessarily fix this — not if utilities could just pass costs onto consumers. 
Bruce Buckheit, a former EPA official, concurs. He notes that the efficiency of the U.S. coal fired fleet has remained flat since the 1970s. And a variety of research (pdf) suggests that small improvements in operations could boost the overall efficiency of the U.S. coal fleet by as much as 5 percent. (Wolfram, for instance, has found that a coal plant’s efficiency can vary as much as 3 percent depending on the skill of the guy sitting at the controls.) That may not sound like much, says Buchkeit, but spread across hundreds of coal plants, there are real carbon savings to be had here.
A mandate requiring the utilities to get off their lazy butts, improve coal plant efficiency to match the best-in-class levels, and pass the savings on to customers sounds like a political winner to me.  The Republicans will call it a slippery slope, but if you can't fight them on this then the game's over.  Seems like a nice initiative to move forward this fall.

It might be too expensive for the oldest plants to convert and shut them down instead, as if that's a sad story, but overall this should save people money.  I suppose the new investment might be used against an effort to shut the plants down in a few years, but for the vast majority of them, I think Brad is right that they're going to be around for more than a few years.  Anyway, it doesn't sound like it needs much of an investment, just some willingness to hire trained people.

UPDATE:  one possibility would be to exempt coal plants if the owners commit to shut them down or otherwise make them as efficient as natural gas within a certain period, say 5-10 years.  If the grandfathering that's found throughout the Clean Air Act came with time limits, we'd be much better off.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free

Some people like really bad analogies, others like to create them.  Now some, not Eli to be sure, think that Roger Pielke Jr. must be the monarch of bad analogies.  Eli has pointed out that the analogy police have an all puns bulletin out for him.  The Honest Broker has it all (wrong) because Roger doesn't have a clue about what a broker really does.  To repeat myself (which Eli does very well), Roger's naive injection (let's be nice) of the "honest broker" into climate science policy studies has pushed discussion into a fruitless direction. As with many such things, reality shows how hollow this is.  IEHO looking at what brokers do in the real world better illuminates the issue.

Brokers do not expand the scope of choices available to clients, they narrow them. Brokers make markets. Brokers make a living by matching buyers to sellers and taking a commission (You thought they do it for free? What carrot wagon you fall off of bunny?). Ethical brokers will go out on the market seeking product suited to clients and will seek clients suited to products available to them. Ethical brokers have mutual obligations to sellers and buyers, to qualify the buyers and vet the sellers, not to sell every piece of nuclear waste to every rube with a cell phone.

But Roger, of course thinks that the Honest Broker simply hands over the 2.5 zillion results you get from Googling anything on your Iphone.  Of course, this is excellent from his point of view, because it means that knowledge and judgement are not needed.

However, you knew there was going to be one of those, didn't you bunnies, Roger is feeling the competition.  His new one is even better.  Consider, he said he considered, what the best analogy would be for real economic innovation.  What would Roger do.  Well try:


If you didn't know, it is a restaurant chain that sells bad food delivered by young ladies in, well, clothes that show their, you know what.  Now Roger thinks this is really clever.  Eli on the other hand remembers the 50s guys who read Playboy for the literary value, or more to the point, the young cool with it dudes who joined the Playboy club and jangled their Playboy key chains.  If you think about it Hooters is the playboy club without the admission fee and lower prices.  The kind of place your relationship with the hooter sex might survive if she caught you having a burger there.  Maybe.  Peek, don't touch.

Now some, not Eli to be sure, would go on for hours about this, much amusement could be had, but the real problem is that this is NOT the worst analogy out there.  That honor belongs to a real Heartland Institute Expert Rael Jean Isaac’s and her “Roosters of the Apocalypse”.

Isaac, who is basically the Girl from Likud has to earn a living.  She builds Roosters of the Apocalypse around the deadly delusions of the Xhosa.  In 1856, a young girl had a vision
She claimed that the spirits had told her that the Xhosa people should destroy their crops and kill their cattle, the source of their wealth as well as food. In return the spirits would sweep the British settlers into the sea. The Xhosa would be able to replenish the granaries, and fill the kraals with more beautiful and healthier cattle. . . .

Mhlakaza repeated the prophecy to Paramount Chief Sarhili. Sarhili ordered his followers to obey the prophecy, causing the cattle-killing movement to spread to an unstoppable point. The cattle-killing frenzy affected not only the Gcaleka, Sarhili's clan, but the whole of the Xhosa nation. Historians estimate that the Gcaleka killed between 300,000 and 400,000 head of cattle.

Nongqawuse predicted that the ancestors' promise would be fulfilled on February 18, 1857, when the sun would turn red. On that day the sun rose the same colour as every other day, and the prophecy was not realised. . . .

In the aftermath of the crisis, the population of British Kaffraria dropped from 105,000 to fewer than 27,000 due to the resulting famine.
Anyone with historical vision, recognizes this as millenialism run wild.  A vision, taken seriously resulting in disaster.  In more current terms, a cargo cult
A cargo cult is a religious practice that has appeared in many traditional pre-industrial tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults focus on obtaining the material wealth (the "cargo") of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices. Cult members believe that the wealth was intended for them by their deities and ancestors.
the basis of which was well summed up by Arthur C. Clarke who pointed out that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  The irony here, is that Isaac has not a clue about science, therefore to her science is a magic, and belief in magic is optional, and may be fatal and climate scientists are delusional.  She really belongs on a Pacific Atoll.  Say for the next 50 to 100 years.