Archive for the ‘Climate Follies’ Category
Just to reflect a moment on 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere – the highest levels in the past million years or so – WC provides the following useful tool to his readers.
It happens to all of us. You’re at a party, or a family dinner, and the conversation turns to climate change. And your brother-in-law, or the obnoxious woman in sales, trots out some claim that climate change is bogus.
Here’s a link to a handy list of 154 bogus anti-climate change claims, with rebuttal: Skeptic Rebuttals in one line.
The chair the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy is John Shimkus (R, IL). He doesn’t believe in manmade climate change. Rep. Shimkus rejects the human-induced theory of climate change and opposes carbon emissions trading legislation. On March 25, 2009, during a Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing, Shimkus made the following statement regarding the role of carbon dioxide in global warming:
It’s plant food … So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? … So all our good intentions could be for naught. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.
Shimkus then quoted the Bible in attempting to allay concerns of global warming induced rise in sea levels. He reports the biblical signs have yet to properly align. “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length. He reminded his audience that God had promised mankind through Noah that the earth would never again be destroyed by a flood. Next, he contradicted himself and acknowledged that climate change is real, but questioned the benefit of spending taxpayer money on something that cannot be changed versus the changes that have been occurring forever. Remember, this clown is the Chair of the Subcommittee.
On that same subcommittee is oil-company apologist and 27-year veteran of Congress, Rep. Joe L. Barton (R, TX). It was Rep. Barton who apologized to the head of BP in 2010 after the government dared to insist that the company pay for those whose livelihoods were ruined by the gulf oil spill. Barton also cited the Almighty in questioning the wisdom of generating energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.” Wind-generated energy, he said, “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter. “You can’t regulate God!” Rep. Barton told Rep. Nancy Pelosi. This man, too, is on the Sucommittee on the Environment and the Economy.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R, GA) a 20-year veteran of the House, is an evolution denier. Tim Egan reports it’s apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” Rep. Kingston is the Chairman of Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. Rep. Kingston is a former insurance salesman and has a degree in Economics.
WC has already examined the dubious record of Rep. Paul Broun (R, GA). As a refresher, Rep. Broun has said,
All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.
You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.
Rep. Broun serves on the House Science Committee.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R, CA) would be on WC’s shortlist of the boastfully ignorant, if WC could stomach keeping such a list. He is a virulent climate-change denier, with a reckless or willful ignorance of the science. He is the Vice Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Obviously, WC could go on like this for some time. For now, let’s just say this list is not exhaustive.
What can you say about a political party that appoints to science committees individuals who rely on the Bible for their science, or who can’t be troubled to read science before opening their mouths. If a political party appoints anti-science members to critical, key posts, the posts that determine how much money is appropriated for research, and where it is spent, don’t you have to conclude the Republicans are the Anti-Science Party?
WC’s grandmother used to tell him actions speak louder than words. Yes, they do.
And the temperature remains in single digits. Negative single digits. It’s enough to make a fellow surly.
Hey, it’s kind of a bird. Last year this time WC was photographing raptors down Delta Junction way.
This year, not so much.
WC recently read Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. Remarkably, it is available for free from Google Books. Nikiforuk’s book won the 2009 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award , from the Society of Environmental Journalists. It’s a meticulously researched, reasonably well written exposé of the Canada’s descent into the environmental purgatory of extracting bitumen – a kind of third rate crude oil – from the mammoth tar sands of Alberta.
Tar sands look and smell like badly made asphalt.
There is a mind-boggling amount of the stuff underlying much of the province of Alberta. Something that’s very nearly exceptionally thick crude oil, bitumen, can be extracted from tar sands, but at a horrific cost. Some of the costs are detailed by Niriforuk.
It takes immense amounts of energy to extract bitumen from tar sands. The energy in one barrel of oil produces an average of 117 barrels of oil using traditional technologies. The energy in one barrel of oil produces just 3-4 barrels of bitumen from tar sands.
Producing a barrel of bitumen generates three times as much CO2 as producing a barrel of crude oil by traditional means. The amount of CO2 would be much higher, except that relatively clean-burning natural gas is used to generate mostof the energy.
Each barrel of bitumen produced requires consumption of three barrels of fresh water, most of it from the Athabaska River. Every day, Alberta ship one million barrels of bitumen to the U.S. And three virtual barrels of water.
Tar sands extraction generates dangerous hazardous waste. The liquid sludge is laced with heavy metals, cancer-creating chemicals and fish-killing napathalenes. The millions of gallons generated are stored in vast lakes, and few people believe the impoundments are secure. To give you some idea of the scope of this problem, just one tr sands producer, Syncrude, has a tailing dam that is the world’s second largest largest dam in terms of volume of construction material 706 million cubic yards, second only to China’s Three Gorges Dam in size.
The impounded sludge leaks into the Athabasca River, contaminating the water supply. And it seeps into the groundwater.
The same impoundments attract migratory birds. Those that land in the lakes are invariably injured or killed. The surface mines, the patchwork fragmentation of boreal forests create by subsurface mining, are destroying vast swaths of habitat, decimating forest bird populations.
All that is bad enough, another instance of our world’s insatiable demand for oil, regardless of the costs. But, as in the case of Alaska, the buckets of money created by the tar sands extraction industry have bought the Alberta government and, to a shocking extent, the Canada national government.
Alberta has become a classic petrostate. The government isn’t accountable to its citizens, is highly dependent on the tar sands industry and its laws serve the tar sands industry at the grave expense of everything else in the environment.
Canada has nothing like the United States’ Clean Water Act. As a result, something like one billion gallons of tailings waste now leaches into groundwater or surface water every year. Any effort to regulate the mess meets stern, petrodollar-fueled resistance.
The United States and Canada are friends; to the extent that nations can have best friends, Canada is our friend. And friends don’t enable bad behavior of friends. The Keystone Pipeline, which would allow Canada to ship still more bitumen, at still more ruinous cost to the environment, would further enable Alberta’s unhealthy, self-descructive addiction to bitumen.
Apart from the potential devastation that Keystone would have on our environment, harming critical habitats for species like Sandhill Cranes. It would also enable Alberta’s dangerous, deadly addiction to tar sands development.
Friends don’t do that to friends.
It’s true that WC has been a little more cranky than usual lately. There are reasons. There are lot of reasons. In an effort to exorcise his bad attitude, WC will share just a few of those reasons with his patient readers.
Reason #1 – The Weather
This photo speaks for itself, but what part of “last week of March” does the weatherman not understand?
Reason #2 – Pratchett and Orangutans
In the second novel of his DiscWorld series, The Light Fantastic, Terry Pratchett wrote of a magical accident, in which the Librarian of Unseen University, the great school of magic, was accidentally transformed into an orangutan. It was a one-line gag, but over the course of the next 35 DiscWorld novels, the transformed Librarian became a much-loved, recurring character. In 1995, Pratchett traveled to Borneo, the home of the orangutan species. There was a BBC video and a disheartening essay, “The Orangutans Are Dying.” Ook, indeed.
Pratchett, now Sir Terry Pratchett, is returning to Borneo for a follow up look. Of course, his illness makes this much more of a challenge, and there are far fewer orangutans left than in 1995. So the BBC video this time has the signature Pratchett humor, and at the same time makes you think.
A killer title, from a man dying of Alzeimer’s, WC thinks you will agree. But for WC, it’s also a reminder of both the tragedy of WC’s favorite author’s wrenching decline and the loss of another species on our much-abused planet. A double whammy. Who knows if and when the BBC special will be available in the U.S. WC will endeavor to find out.
Reason #3 – Faith-Based Economics
What Dermot Cole has called the repeal of ACES faith-based efforts to increase the flow of oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Those faith-based efforts are about to become law. Dermot is too kind, although he does a nice job of showing just how hard it will be to decide if Captain Zero’s Grand Plan succeeds at anything but giving away buckets and buckets of money. Since no one can agree on what projected throughput in the pipeline will be in 2022, it’s somewhere between difficult to impossible to determine if Parnell’s “solution” will succeed at doing anything but kicking the State of Alaska in the financial groin.
Faith is for church, not economics. Not the financial well-being of a state government. What will we have from the Governor next: a resolution that we all pray for oil?
Worse, there will be two more bad consequences for this breathtakingly stupid financial experiment. First, it gives the Republicans an excuse to pretend Alaska is in desperate financial straits, so that they can axe more programs on the grounds that we can no longer afford them. Pre-school classes, programs to protect women and children, education funding, substance treatment programs; all will stupidly and needlessly be cut. Second, we will have to listen to our legislators brag about how they have saved the State from financial ruin.
The only way you will see the lost tax revenue again is to buy stock in Exxon, Conoco-Phillips or BP. Because the only place the lost tax revenue is going to go is in to shareholder dividends.
All of which, yes, makes WC a little cranky.
Captain Zero lost. Again.
His lame, silly lawsuit to keep the polar bear off of the threatened species list was shot down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Parnell’s record in endangered species litigation is now something like 0-5. The frightening thing is that the Captain is a licensed lawyer, although presently listed as inactive by the Alaska Bar Association. You’d think he’d have a clue about these things. Apparently, you’d be wrong.
The court was as polite as they could be under the circumstances:
Where, as here, the foundational premises on which the agency relies are adequately explained and uncontested, scientific experts (by a wide majority) support the agency’s conclusion, and Appellants do not point to any scientific evidence that the agency failed to consider, we are bound to uphold the agency’s determination. Therefore we affirm the District Court’s decision to uphold the Listing Rule.
It’s always difficult to reverse on appeal an administrative agency decision involving agency expertise. Basically, the appellate court will defer to agency expertise unless there’s something seriously awry. As far as WC can tell, the claim of Captain Zero was that because the threat to polar bears wasn’t immediate, nothing should be done. That in the face of an indisputable threat – the melting polar ice is destroying polar bear habitat – because polar bears weren’t all dead yet the Endangered Species Act could not be invoked. You don’t have to be a lawyer to see the problem with the argument. It fails the red face test.
WC supposes the Governor will attempt a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, but, really, when will the State wake up and smell the coffee? Or, more prosaically, stop spending the State’s money on expensive lawyers in cases that it cannot win? Does the Captain owe favors to these lawyers that he is paying off by paying them to take these dogs? Is this some kind of self-indulgent political street theater?
Unless there is some non-legal excuse for this kind of behavior, even something corrupt, then Captain Zero’s behavior meets the definition of insanity: doing the same thing, over and over, with the expectation that the outcome will change.
An intelligent approach would be to face the reality of polar bear’s threatened status and participate in the rule-making process. To make an effort to develop a recovery plan that accommodates the State’s resource extraction plans. But the Governor’s edict that all state biologists toe the strict party line disqualifies the state from a seat at the table where that plan is being developed. So much for intelligence.
So, Captain Zero, what’s your Plan B?
Marco Rubio, reportedly the best the Republican Party has to offer, offered up a sea of deception in his response to the President’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. Little Lies, Big Lies, Straw Men fallacies. WC asks his readers to take their anti-nausea medicine as we wade into a rank selection.
1. Climate Change
Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.) dismissed the idea that the U.S. government could do anything to combat climate change
The government can’t change the weather. We can pass a bunch of laws that will destroy our economy, but it isn’t going to change the weather. Because, for example, there are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are at this point — China, India, all these countries that are still growing. They’re not going to stop doing what they’re doing.
China and India, in fact, have cap-and-trade systems to control emissions, while the U.S. does not. A proposed system for the U.S. passed the then-Democratic-controlled House in 2010, while it died in the Senate. China is, of course, the world’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide, but it also has a population over four times the United States. Per capita, we’re still the champs. And because someone else isn’t doing anything, we shouldn’t either? How utterly selfish have Republicans gotten?
Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine breaks down the reasoning behind climate change for Rubio:
1. The government has a bunch of rules that control how much coal, oil, and whatnot gets burned. 2. The more greenhouse gasses we burn, the warmer the climate gets. It’s science. 3. The warmer the climate gets, the more frequently we have extreme weather events. This is also science.
Rubio’s climate change skepticism is not newfound. He said earlier this month that he has heard “reasonable debate” about whether climate change is man-made. In fact, a study, published in 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, surveyed 1,372 climate researchers and found that 97 to 98 percent of them agree that climate change is anthropogenic.
Utterly selfish, stupidly wrong and morally repugnant.
Quoting Sen. Rubio again:
This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.
Paul Krugman punks Rubio’s claims:
OK, leave on one side the caricature of Obama, with the usual mirror-image fallacy (we want smaller government, therefore liberals just want bigger government, never mind what it does); there we go with the “Barney Frank did it” story. Deregulation, the explosive growth of virtually unregulated shadow banking, lax lending standards by loan originators who sold their loans off as soon as they were made, had nothing to do with it — it was all the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie, and Freddie.
Look, this is one of the most thoroughly researched topics out there, and every piece of the government-did-it thesis has been refuted; see Mike Konczal for a summary. No, the CRA wasn’t responsible for the epidemic of bad lending; no, Fannie and Freddie didn’t cause the housing bubble; no, the “high-risk” loans of the GSEs weren’t remotely as risky as subprime.
This really isn’t about the GSEs, it’s about the BSEs — the Blame Someone Else crowd. Faced with overwhelming, catastrophic evidence that their faith in unregulated financial markets was wrong, they have responded by rewriting history to defend their prejudices.
Sen. Rubio seems to have drunk a far more dangerous Koolaid and not just an awful lot of water. He and his teabagger buddies are now committed to the belief that their pre-crisis non-regulation doctrine was perfect, that there are no lessons we can take from the worst financial crisis in three generations except that the banking industry should have even less regulation. If Sen. Rubio gets into power, you know he’ll test that theory by giving his banker campaign donors a chance to do it again.
3. Just a Home Boy
Sen. Rubio boasted,
Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.
He’s a Not-Romney, you see. Just one house, in a middle-class neighborhood. A regular guy.
According to the Miami New Times, that would be West Miami. In fact, this regular-joe’s claim to the middle class is a lie, too. In fact, his home is on the market. The asking price? $675,000.
This probably qualifies as a brazen lie. You talk about your one-of-the-boys home in a nationally televised speech when 1) you are actively trying to leave that working-class neighborhood and 2) you stand to make more than a half-million bucks when you sell your digs. Oh, and the Miami New Times has some dirt on how he acquired the house. Not pretty, and another example of why we need the government regulation Prof. Krugman talked about.
WC is already over the 750 word limit that he tries not to exceed. Besides, WC is a little nauseated by disgust, even if his readers may be made of sterner stuff. So we’ll stop the shoveling there, even if WC has a lot of dirt left.
But we’ll end on this note: this is reportedly the best the Republican Party has to offer. This is the guy with new ideas. This is the guy on the cover of Time magazine.
However much humankind may injure and maim the planet, we don’t control nature. Nature bats last. WC continues a category of year end reviews introduced last year, noting instances in this calendar year when we’ve had to be reminded of that lesson once again.
One of WC’s all-time favorite books is John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (Amazon link). McPhee examines three instances of man’s interactions with nature: the massive volcanic eruption at Vestmannaeyjar, near Iceland, and the efforts to protect the harbor there from advancing lava flows; the efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep the Mississippi River from changing its course at the Atchafalaya Channel; and the City of Los Angeles’s efforts control the massive mudflows coming down out of the San Gabriel Mountains. McPhee’s message is that mankind may have short-term successes, but can’t win in the long haul. Nature bats last.
Each year, mankind gets a fresh set of reminders that for all out vaunted science, engineering and technology, we’re here at sufferance. Here are some of the lessons for 2012.
This year, the list could begin and end with Superstorm Sandy.
But despite the incredible damage wrought by Sandy, it wasn’t even the worst storm of 2012. That honor goes to Typhoon Bolaven. As ocean temperatures rise from climate change, the consensus is that the severity of tropical storms will worsen. As ocean levels rise, the consequence will be more and worse flooding.
But there were other reminders in 2012 beyond hurricanes and typhoons that nature bats last. The worst disaster in 2011, the March 11, 2011 Tohoku ML9.0 earthquake and 40-foot high tsunami, spread massive amounts of debris in the pacific, and that debris is starting to wash up on the shores of North America. That debris is starting to wash up on the north and east shores of the Pacific, including amazing quantities of junk on Kayak Island in the Gulf of Alaska.
In the Midwest, in a band from South Dakota to Texas, drought conditions are expected to continue, with the drought particularly acute in Nebraska. Georgia and Alabama, too, remain in severely dry condition. Episodes of extreme weather are one the feature of global climate change that essentially all of the climate models agree upon. Senator Inhofe (R, OK) continues to deny the existence of climate change, calling it a “hoax.”
The world set a new record for minimum arctic sea ice. Only 24% of the Arctic Ocean was covered by ice by mid-September, shattering the record of 29% set in 2007. The absence of ice increases the amount of heat absorbed by the water; white ice reflects far more light than deep blue open water. So the rate of warming is expected continue to accelerate. The Northern Hemisphere is losing its air conditioner.
We continue to run a series of uncontrolled experiments on the habitability of the only habitable planet we know. And remember, nature bats last.
Once again, WC opened the year with wishes for the upcoming months. And once again, WC’s wishes and hopes were mostly dashed. But with just a week or so left in 2012, let’s look at the specifics (Predictions in bold face; outcomes indented below):
1. Overpopulation. Among the crises facing the planet is human overpopulation. During 2011, we rolled the odometer over to an estimated 7 billion. To a deplorable extent, especially in the Western world, the rate of population growth is a function of religious teachings. The Catholic church’s and the Latter Day Saints’ crazed obsession with large families would be two examples. When religious dogma have counter-survival effects, it’s past time to change them. WC calls on those latter day saints and infallible pontiffs to have a revelation: that further growth of human populations is terrible, and must be controlled, that more than two chldren is a sin by whatever definitions they use.
Not. Zilch, zero, nothing. Another 180,000,000 babies were born in 2012, more or less. More than half of them will never have enough food to eat. The closest thing to good news is that we didn’t elect as president someone who thinks their god wants them to breed big families.
2. A second great crisis facing humanity is anthropocentric climate change. The way things are going, to paraphrase Pratchett and Gaiman, we are going to scourge all intelligent life from the planet, leaving nothing but dust, cockroaches and fundamentalists. The time for denying man-caused climate change is past. Can we at least shift the debate about how to deal with it? And can all the global warming-denying politicians who have sold their small, dark, crabbed souls to the fossil fuels industry have a look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Do I care about my gtandchildren?” There will come a day when fossil fuel lobbyists and the politicians they have purchased will be held in the same contempt as Congressmen who defended slavery, or claimed tobacco was harmless. Why not now?
Not. Zilch, zero, nothing. The single glimmer of good news was some movement by U.S. energy consumers from coal to natural gas, an accident of the fracking epidemic. But fracking carries its own, very serious environmental consequences. Some wind turbines are installed, but the tax credit that encouraged them appears to be a victim of the fiscal cliff. More importantly, the climate change deniers haven’t shut up. Did WC mention we set a new record for minimal sea ice in the Arctic Ocean in 2012?
3. The health care crisis facing facing America threatens to sink the economy of our country. The Affordable Care Act remains the only half-way comprehensive solution presented. The need for health care is not going to magically vanish if Medicare and Medicaid are repealed. Passing a reduced amount of money out as vouchers isn’t going to reduce spending or lower costs. It is absolutely clear that traditional capitalist solutions are an abject failure in controlling costs. We’ve been trying it for the last 50 years and it has gotten us where we are. The neocons have to come up with specific, functional proposals to fix a real crisis, or shut up. Not more of the same. Real solutions.
Maybe. A mixed result. The Affordable Care Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, to the horror of the Act’s critics and gnashing and wailing of Fox News. But the SCOTUS gutted some critical Medicaid provisions, and the largely Republican governors are slow-rolling the health care exchanges that would help implement the law. They don’t have a good reason. They just don’t want President Obama’s law to work.
4. Despite the Republican presidential wannabes’ lies, distortions and self-deception, President Barack Obama as a national leader is vastly superior to Mitt Romney and all the Not-Mitts. Despite the protracted and concerted efforts of the Republicans to blow up the economy rather than allow him to effect reasonable repairs, the economy has improved. He has done more to slap down Islamofacsist terrorism than his predecessor managed with two land wars in Asia, up to and including the assassination of bin Laden and the liberation of Libya. He has gotten us out of George W. Bush’s disastrous, ill-conceived and unnecessary war in Iraq. He has stopped and repudiated the use of torture as an instrument of national policy. He has enacted the first real health care reform in the United States since Medicare. He has saved the plutocrats from their own greed and folly. And he has done all this is the face of an unscrupulous U.S. House that would tear the country to shreds if it had its way. Re-elect him. And while we are at it, pitch the Teabaggers out of the U.S House.
Maybe. President Obama was re-elected, whatever Dick Morris may think. Integrity still matters. Yes, the House is still dominated by teabaggers who refuse to come to grips with reality. Or learn from their mistakes.
So it’s another disappointing year. As was the case for 2011, none of WC’s wishes came completely true, but as of year end perhaps two are partially so. Two failed completely. Better than 2010, but still a disappointment to WC. Maybe next year.
Mrs. WC forwarded this slightly hysterical graphic from one of her Twitter acquaintances.
Wuss. Wimp. WC would sneer at your sissiness, but his face is frozen. Keep warm, folks. And be careful in the ice fog.
From the Wunderground forecast for Fairbanks:
We’re all tough Alaskans, of course, but it does make you think twice about your weekend plans.
Where’s global warming when you really need it?
WC doesn’t watch much television, but made an exception for Ken Burns’ latest documentary, The Dust Bowl. The film is superb, and makes the point that the largely forgotten lesson of the worst ecological disaster in American history was significantly man-made. Yes, there was a severe drought, but what made the dust bowl such a disaster was the plow. And, in particular, improper plowing techniques used year after year.
Matt Zoller Seltz, writing in The Vulture, of all places, reviewed the documentary and concluded:
More than anything else, The Dust Bowl is about a certain self-destructive strain in the American character that prizes individual will over collective responsibility, stigmatizes real or perceived failure, and stubbornly refuses to learn from mistakes for fear of being thought weak. One witness frankly describes the Okies’ California trek as “a migration of the defeated,” and there are heartbreaking anecdotes about Okies being ostracized and discriminated against because their very presence in California reminded people that their contentment, too, hung by an invisible thread. There are appalling accounts of farmers continuing to use equipment that pulverized topsoil rather than return to more difficult but responsible methods — even after repeated expert warnings that they were destroying the land — because doing so would have been less “efficient,” and because they didn’t like academic pointy-heads telling them their business. “We always had hope that next year was gonna be better,” says survivor Wayne Lewis. “We learned slowly, and what didn’t work, you tried it harder the next time. You didn’t try something different. You just tried harder, the same thing that didn’t work.”
The lessons for man-caused climate change are obvious, but humanity in general and Americans, in particular, remain obdurate.
We suffer Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, but we don’t do anything differently. Like the Dust Bowl farmers, who plowed the bone-dry soil year after year, Americans continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere, and continue to build and re-build (using federal subsidies) in areas far too close to sea level and to the sea itself.
If insanity is repeating the same behavior with the hope that the outcome will change, then, as a culture, we are clinically insane. Like the Dust Bowl farmers, today’s Americans don’t like the academic pointy heads telling them their business. So they will pass bills denying that sea level is rising, and build and re-build housing and infrastructure in the paths of worsening storms. The federal government will subsidize flood insurance to help those Americans – many of whom claim to detest federal handouts – re-build their homes and business so they can be destroyed again. It’s hard to know whether to laugh, cry or despair. Perhaps all three.
Denying science, ignoring history. Not good choices. It can’t have a happy ending.
Scenarios Network for Alaska & Arctic Planning (SNAP) is a research institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. SNAP’s purpose is to help people plan for the inexorable climate change that is the consequence of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s got a pretty cool website, including some interactive tools that let you view projected models of climate change under various assumptions.
For example, this graph forecasts average temperatures in Fairbanks over the next 90 years at 10 to 30 year intervals.
The chart shows the average temperature in December and January climbing above 0 degrees as early as 2060, and April and October averaging above freezing in 2090. And this is with mid-range emissions. We live in an environment that is adapted to long, cold winters. What will happen to it when the winters are no longer as cold or as long? Isn’t it pretty clear that we are running an uncontrolled experiment that jeopardizes the only habitable planet we know?
But the charts for Arctic communities are even more alarming. Here’s the same charter for Barrow, Alaska:
Note the 25-26 degree increase in average monthly temperature in November and December over the next 80 years. Likely, that’s a consequence of further warming of an ice-free Arctic Ocean. When your community is built on frozen ground, when the North Slope oil and gas infrastructure is built on frozen ground, this chart is terrifying.
Captain Zero, our very own governor, and other self-deluding clowns like Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) deny the hard data, dismiss the science and pander to the industries that generate the greenhouse gases. They consciously choose to sacrifice their children and grandchildren to the industries that
bribe them give them generous campaign contributions.
Visit SNAP’s website. Try out the interactive tools. Read the materials. Educate your friends. Educate our politicians. Make the effort. It’s getting late.
A central tenet of Neocon economic theory is that lowering taxes on the rich will help the economy. It was the central economic plank in The Mitt’s political platform. So it came as a rude, unpleasant surprise to Republicans when the politically neutral, non-partisan Congressional Research Service issued a report finding,
Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The real GDP growth rate averaged 4.2% and real per capita GDP increased annually by 2.4% in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the average real GDP growth rate was 1.7% and real per capita GDP increased annually by less than 1%. There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. (Emphasis added)
The Neocons responded, not by addressing the careful and cogent analysis on the merits, but by forcing the Congressional Research Service to withdraw the report. The closest thing to a substantive criticism that the Republicans could muster was that the report referred to “the Bush tax cuts,” which the Republicans deemed to be “unprofessional.” No. “Unprofessional” is when your political party engages in systematic efforts to suppress inconvenient, damaging reports.
And there is a pattern here. When the Tax Policy Center, a private, highly respected joint project between the Brookings Institute and Urban Institute issued a report demonstrating that The Mitt’s tax plan didn’t pencil out, that “any revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.” The Neocon response was to attack the Tax Policy Center and the authors, accusing them of bias, of inventing data and of fake analysis. The Neocons didn’t bother to rebut the analysis; no, they attacked the author, in a classic ad hominem fallacy.
When the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its September report, showing a modest decline in the unemployment rate, the Neocons accused the Bureau of cooking the books in favor of President Obama. When the Bureau announced the October report might be delayed as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the Neocons accused the Bureau of scheming to hide data which might damage the incumbent’s chances of re-election In the event, the report was not delayed, showed further improvement and was again criticized as bogus data.
This tactic isn’t limited to suppression of inconvenient economic reports. The same pattern of behavior traces back to President Bush’s administration, where a political hack was tasked with editing climate change out of government documents. It’s found in the political platform of the Republican Party, which would suppress the teaching of evolution in favor of superstition. And, of course, it’s the heart of the claims of climate change deniers like Senator Jim Inhofe (R, OK).
WC isn’t a climatologist, and won’t play one as a blogger. But based upon the statements of professional climate scientists, anthropogenic climate change – global warming – impacted Super Storm Sandy in at least three ways.
First, ocean levels have seen a steady rise in the last 25 years. Anyone smarter than U.S. Senator Inhofe (R, OK) knows that when water warms, it expands. That as the Greenland ice cap and smaller icefields melt, water rises. And anyone smarter than the majority in the North Carolina Legislature can connect those dots to the danger of storm surge. Higher water means higher storm surge.
Second, because hurricanes derive their energy from warm water, warmer water means more severe and larger storms. The jury is still out on whether it also means more storms. But the consensus is that the storms we get will be bigger. Hurricane Sandy was a seriously huge storm.
Lastly, the melting of the Arctic Ocean ice was predicted to alter the pattern of the jet streams, causing them to flow further south, and to cause episodes of extreme weather as they pull colder polar air down into the Lower 48. Exactly such a jet stream-induced cold front combined with Hurricane Sandy to create Super Storm Sandy.
Sure, it was bad luck that all this happened at monthly peak high tides (although east coast tides south of the St. Lawrence River are pretty tame by Alaska standards). But the combination of jet stream-induced amplification, vastly worsened storm surge and Class 2 hurricanes in late October could be the new normal. The United States simply cannot afford, either in lives or treasure, more frequent disasters of this size.
Senator Inhofe and his science-denying buddies have some ‘splainin’ to do.
WC’s thoughts are with those who lost loved ones, those whose homes were destroyed, and those whose lives have been badly disrupted. But there are lessons to be learned from all that misery. Now. Before the problem of man-made climate change gets worse.
WC has been off the inter tubes the last couple of days, in southwest Alaska, being a lawyer. It happens sometimes.
But during the most recent presidential debate, WC was flying back, in a Beechcraft Bonanza, a few hundred feet above ground level, through the astonishingly beautiful Lake Clark Pass. The narrow, winding, glacier-carved canyon is one of the most astonishing pieces of scenery in Alaska, and it’s a special treat to fly through it low, watching bears foraging on late-run Silvers on in the river, and waterfalls and hanging glaciers on the near-vertical slopes. However good the debate, WC got the better part of the deal.
Lake Clark Pass is also a place to see climate change happening. The confluence of glaciers at the crest of the pass is long gone. There’s a small lake where that immense pile of ice used to be. The glaciers that made the confluence have retreated quite a ways up-canyon. All that in 30 or 35 years.
Before Lake Clark Pass, WC had an extensive tour of the Lake Illiamna and Lake Clark, including Levelock, Igiugig, Kokhanok and Port Alsworth. No one in those villages was paying much attention to the presidential debates. They were instead paying attention to canning the last of their 2012-caught salmon, dealing with the first snowfall of winter and greeting the mail plane. Priorities. Something we might all be better off keeping out priorities in mind.
So WC didn’t get back home until, as it were, very early this morning, and as a consequence this post is going up late. It happens.
Bliss, in this case, is a very small town on the Snake River plain. Hillsides covered in sagebrush and cheatgrass, broken up by irrigated stretches growing mostly corn and alfalfa. But large wind farm is a new development, and extends off into the smokey haze farther than you can see.The towers are big. In the foreground, you can see full-size telephone poles for scale. The Malad River lies at the bottom of the canyon in the middle distances. WC is ambivalent about wind-generated power. It has a vastly lower CO2 impact than fossil fuels, but the visual impact is real and when the wind farms are located in birds’ migratory flight ways, the results can be gruesome.
But the heart of the Snake River plain is the Snake River and its water. Much of its water is used for irrigation. But at Hagerman, east of Bliss, there are a series of fish hatcheries that incidentally provide terrific habitat for birds, including this small colony of Great Egrets in mid-desert.
Hagerman also has the inevitable American Coots (Ivory-billed Mudsuckers, in Mrs. WC’s unkind phrase).
Stranger still to see an American White Pelican in the middle of the Snake River plain, but it is where they come to breed.
And wherever there is flowing water, you are likely to find Great Blue Herons.
Although it is disconcerting to see them in a tree.
Ten miles from Bliss, indeed.
Royal Dutch Shell has acknowledged it won’t be drilling any off-shore oil wells in the Chukchi Sea this fall. You might have thought the decision was inevitable, with Shell’s containment barge still uncertified in Bellingham, Washington. But the triggering event is bigger and more troublesome.
In one of the certification tests, the containment dome, which Shell proposes to lower over a leaking oil well, “suffered damage” according to Shell’s cryptic press release.
Over the last several days, Shell has successfully completed a series of tests of the first-ever Arctic Containment System. However, during a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged. It is clear that some days will be required to repair and fully assess dome readiness.
The whole story isn’t disclosed yet, but what’s come out is pretty ugly, according to the Los Angeles Times:
Sources familiar with the testing said the mishap occurred when one of several clump weights was placed into about 160 feet of water to mark the area of a theoretical oil spill, to see if the containment dome aboard the barge could be lowered over it.
“When they came back to find it, it [the weight] was lost, submerged into the silt,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation.
Engineers launched a mini-submarine known as a Remotely Operated Vehicle, which is part of Shell’s plan for putting any oil spill containment equipment into place, to help get the oil containment dome carried aboard the Challenger set over the “leak.”
“They got some of the weights set to hold the dome, then one of the eight winches on the dome became inoperative,” the source said. “They attempted to discover what was wrong by using the ROV, and got it tangled in the anchor lines of the dome and it sank into the silt.”
Divers were then dispatched to the sea floor to try to recover the dome without damaging the high-tech umbilical that controls it, he said.
It was not clear how much damage the dome ultimately suffered, but it apparently was enough to prompt Shell to abandon its well-drilling plans for the current season.
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Paul Rhynard, in an email to The Times on Friday, acknowledged that there were “ROV issues” during the testing but said they had no bearing on Coast Guard certification of the vessel.
The containment dome failed. The remotely operated vehicle failed. It took divers to retrieve the failed equipment. Mind you, all this took place on the calm, cool waters of Puget Sound. WC will leave it to your imaginations how this would have played out with a real spill, with pack ice moving in, out in the stormy and freezing cold Chukchi Sea. Can we agree that this test doesn’t inspire confidence? And can we agree that if, as Shell put it, this test was “successfully completed” that we shouldn’t have much confidence in the testing process? If you had any confidence, that is.
Shell isn’t drilling anything right now; the drill rig was forced off the location by a very large pack of multi-year ice that drifted through. Shell has announced it will do limited drilling, creating “top holes” as drilling resumption point in 2013.
Can someone explain to WC why Shell, on its track record, can be trusted with a pair of scissors, let alone a pristine arctic environment?
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) submitted an amendment to a Republican bill that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases. Rep. Waxman’s amendment read, in full:
Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.
The amendment was defeated 184-240.
So Congress, or at least the House of Representatives, is on record as denying anthropogenic climate change is occurring.
Contrast this vote with the undisputed news that the arctic icepack has shrunk to a new record low size, and it is still August. It will shrink still more.
Some kinds of delusional behavior are acceptable. Some are not. Some are ignorant and repulsive; think U.S. Rep. Akin (R, Missouri). When an entire political party is delusional, when it denies reality, and when that denial jeopardizes the future of our country, the delusion may be too dangerous to tolerate.
If our Congress persons are too ignorant to understand the science, they should defer to someone who is smart enough to understand. If they do understand the science and lack the courage to act, they should resign and let the voters choose someone with guts. If they understand the science and are cynically posturing for political advantage, they should be impeached.
There’s not much middle ground left. We only have the one planet.
On Tuesday the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided the EPA’s most recent attempt to attempt to reduce interstate air pollution was improper. You need some context to understand the issues involved and the scope of the problem.
The scope of the problem is interstate. There are upwind states – the states where power plant and industrial smokestacks emit nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxides. And there are downwind states – the states where those same nitrous and sulfur oxides pollute the atmosphere, generate acid rain and threaten the health of citizens. It’s a classic interstate problem that afflicts the lower 48 states. And it is very serious; huge swaths of hardwood forests in downwind states have been annihilated by acid rain. The EPA and the Center for Disease Control estimates that the air pollution kills 13,000 to 34,000 people a year.
The technology exists to at least mitigate, if not solve, the air pollution problem. But it comes at a cost. Purchase, installation and maintenance of the “scrubbers” that would remove the bulk of the dangerous pollutants (if not the climate-changing CO2) will increase the cost of energy to consumers. Or, more correctly, would make them pay a higher portion of the true cost of the energy they use. Increased energy costs might also move more manufacturing overseas, to countries that care a bit less about harm to the environment, so there’s a job loss issue, too.
Most rational folks would agree with everything WC has said so far. The issue is, who should pay? And that’s what the court fights have been about. Sure, there’s a noisy minority that want low energy costs and manufacturing jobs, no matter the cost to themselves, their children and their grandchildren. Mostly, the noisy minority consists of energy-sector employees and their flaks. And Teabaggers, of course.
The EPA’s effort to allocate the costs of reducing pollutants was something called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSPAR). It’s actually the second effort at such a rule; the first effort was rejected by the same court of appeals back in 2008. It’s a cost allocation problem. The simplest approach would have been to apportion the costs of reductions according to the amount of pollution that each upwind state was contributing. The problem is that such a rule doesn’t target the most dangerous and damaging pollutants, or target the ones that are quickest and cheapest to address. So the EPA’s solution was the CSPAR. The CSPAR would have required polluters to cleanup according to the cost of the reductions, so that the work would get done in the places where the cost of capturing a ton of sulfur or nitrogen oxides was the cheapest. The EPA’s rule also created a trading system in which the states could trade in pollution credits, with the actual work being done in the places where it was easiest to do it.
What the D.C. Court of Appeals found by a 2-1 vote was that the EPA’s effort to manage the costs of cutting the pollution exceeded its authority under the Clear Air Act. The court didn’t find that the EPA had erred in attempting to force a reduction in pollutants; only that the cost allocation scheme exceeded the authority granted to the EPA by Congress.
So here’s where things stand: a seriously watered-down version of the interstate air pollution regulation may still remain in effect, but it has proven to be incomplete and ineffective. Industry continues to belch out truly horrific amounts of very dangerous pollutants. Never mind that the $800 million in costs for CSPAR would have been offset by an estimated economic benefit of $120 – 280 billion. That’s a minimum 15,000% rate of return, by the way.
At this point, it would probably take amendments to the Clean Air Act to get a sensible cost-sharing mechanism in place. And the chances of that happening when folks like the Koch Brothers own the House of Representatives are effectively zero. So an estimated 400,000 Americans will suffer aggravated asthma in 2014, and 1.8 million will miss work or school. All at a huge financial cost to the country as a whole. But we can’t do anything about it, because it might hurt profits.