Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category



November 15, 2009

Bummer, this. Fortunately for the rest of us, there was room and land enough for civilization after Rome. Maybe not the case this time around.

At a hastily arranged breakfast on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting on Sunday morning, the leaders, including Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark and the chairman of the climate conference, agreed that in order to salvage Copenhagen they would have to push a fully binding legal agreement down the road, possibly to a second summit meeting in Mexico City later on.

Romm has a somewhat more upbeat take:

Indeed, had leaders gone into Copenhagen without this recognition of the obvious and let the whole effort collapse under the weight of unrealistic expectations, that would have been all-but-fatal to the domestic bipartisan climate bill.

Now it will be obvious when the Senate takes up the bill up in the winter that the rest of the world is prepared to act — that every major country in the world has come to the table with serious targets and/or serious commitments to change their greenhouse gas emissions trajectories.  Every country but ours, that is.


What We Do

November 13, 2009

In a recent post, Roger commented on a paper that was authored by his father and a team of many others. I find the conclusions of his father’s paper interesting, maybe because I’m missing something.  (Am I missing something?) There’s a whole chicken-coop of shitstorms brewing over this paper, but I fail to see what’s so controversial.

For one thing, the idea that there are multiple anthropogenic causes of global climate variability strikes me as nothing new. As a non-specialist, I feel like this has been the narrative for a long time. I don’t know the scientific controversy surrounding this, so I’ll refrain from commenting on that. But isn’t it reasonable to show the many, many anthropogenic reasons why our earth is warming? Why is this controversial in any way?

Is it that it challenges the conclusions of the IPCC? Is it that it is perceived to threaten global climate policy? Is it that it’s not true that there are other causes of global climate change?

From what I gather, it’s some combination of these. What’s at issue is the extent to which policy prescriptions practically follow from (as opposed to “reasonably follow from” or “are conceptually distinct from”) the scientific conclusions. Clearly it’s the case that our public policies should be responding to the actual state of affairs. At the same time, it’s also true that our public policies can be structured to handle several anthropogenic causes at once. If GHGs, or land use, or biochar, or aerosols, or my dad’s stinky socks, are contributing factors to global climate change, then it seems to me reasonable that we should adopt broad-reaching policies that address each of these various causes.

For a long time the thrust of environmentalism was concern over the things that we do, mostly related to wilderness areas. As an ethicist, this is precisely what concerns me: what we do, and whether it’s right or wrong, permissible or impermissible, morally complex or morally simple. I have no particular commitment to carbon, or to SO2, NO2 or even H2O. It’s all twater to me.

In recent years, the environmental movement, as well as the environmental policy community, has gotten caught up in the climate discussion.  In doing so, it has left other important environmental issues off the table. If GHG emissions contribute disproportionately to climate change, and climate change will make or break all of these other major issues regarding forests and oceans and wildlife, maybe that’s as it should be. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder why we shouldn’t also be concerned about the multiple other factors at well. We should, shouldn’t we? All the more so if they are contributing factors to climate variability.


Barcelona Wrap-Up

November 11, 2009

Clean Skies Network has a wrap-up on the climate bill and events in Barcelona.

UPDATE: Also, be sure to check out these working group documents at the UNFCCC website. A little light reading for your Wednesday evening.

Vodpod videos no longer available.



Gag Me With a Spoon

November 8, 2009

When we last left Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, our caped legal crusaders had promulgated a video critical of the cap-and-trade legislation currently moving through Senate. David Roberts at Grist has unearthed a story suggesting that the EPA has requested (demanded?) that Williams and Zabel remove their video from YouTube by the close of business Friday. Evidently, that did not happen. Keith Kloor has some interesting commentary.

As it turns out, I support Kerry-Boxer, mostly for political reasons, even though I have my criticisms of cap-and-trade regimes. (Working on a paper about that right now. Maybe I’ll air a few concerns over the next week.) What I don’t support, however, are gag rules, either of the Reagan-Bush-Bush variety, of the Jim Hansen variety, or even of the recently minted-Tom Price variety.

In the spirit of open discussion, here’s their video:


U.S.-China Collaboration

November 4, 2009

Friend and fellow philosopher Andrew Light has released a co-authored report from the Center for American Progress carving a path for collaboration between the U.S. and China on CCS. In the run-up to Copenhagen, it’s worth a read. Andrew worked with John Podesta and Julian L. Wong to write the report, the full version of which can be found here. In effect, the report argues that collaborating with China will:

  1. Accelerate U.S. technology development.
  2. Create U.S. jobs.
  3. Lower U.S. electricity costs.
  4. Reduce emissions rapidly.
  5. Save on direct costs.

But you should read it for yourself.



November 2, 2009

Joy of joys, the “personhood amendment” is back on the docket, sponsored by the people who brought you “How to fail your introductory philosophy class” and “I don’t understand the legal ramifications of my reductio.”

And lookie here, it’s more ambitious than last year. Yippie!

The new amendment is even farther reaching, moving the initial marker for the beginning of life from “fertilization” to “the beginning of the biological development of a human being.”

Now what about about calling an ‘egg’ a ‘person’ doesn’t make sense?

A: Why… just about everything.

As any good philosophy student will know, there are strong arguments in favor of abortion even if an embryo or a fertilized egg is determined to be a person. These arguments are partly reflected in our laws protecting the rights of individuals, which means that widening the definition of ‘person’ won’t necessarily achieve anything close to the objectives aimed at by abortion opponents. Notwithstanding the legal implications of this view, there are deep and puzzling questions about personhood that should give all philosophers pause. Several of my philosophy colleagues have published extensively on abortion (here and here, among other places) and their work is not to be missed.

Also, it bears noting that personhood is primarily an ethical concept, aimed to isolate morally relevant features of biological entities. It is not a essential description of those entities. It should be relatively clear to most people that eggs don’t have the morally relevant attributes that might qualify them as persons. You can read about personal identity and ethics at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy if you’re interested in a short overview of one facet of this complex discussion. But, really, philosophical work on this issue is a mile deep.


Naïve Realism

November 1, 2009

On Friday, Roger Jr. pointed to a recent study in Science observing that climate change is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional problem involving many more pollutants than CO2. He writes the following:

This recent research suggests that we must now be open to the possibility that there will not and cannot be a single policy approach to addressing the full spectrum of human influences on the climate system. The recognition of complexity may present an opportunity to move climate policy forward, by providing a justification for reconsidering the flawed (and some would say doomed) approach.

I think Roger’s point is fairly clear, but others on his comment board make great hay of his claim. Some even take his observations to be a full-blown indictment of climate science altogether. As evidence of this, Marc Morano takes the opportunity to impugn climate science by headlining on his blog with the words “Settled Science?” and then linking to Roger’s post. Missing only is the Drudge-style siren.

I simply fail to see how this [Roger’s post, coupled with the study in Science] is anything like an indictment of climate science. I suspect that the confusion has something to do with a presiding misconception that somehow science, generally speaking, and climate science, narrowly speaking, infallibly uncovers facts about the objective world. It’s hard to say what’s behind this, except that this sort of naïve realism is just exceptionally common. Too bad it’s also deeply flawed.

More after the jump…

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All Tricks, No Treat

October 31, 2009

Evidently the Republican caucus will boycott a committee vote on S. 1733 (PDF), which aims to reduce GHG emissions. The boycott is among several procedural obstructions that Republicans have in their trickbook:

Boxer cannot hold the markup unless at least two Republicans show up, and EPW ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) signaled that he has unanimous support among the panel’s minority members to boycott the session until they get more data on the legislation from U.S. EPA and the Congressional Budget Office.

Inhofe said he will wait for Boxer to file an official notice of the markup — expected today — before responding with his own declaration of the GOP’s markup strategy.


Nonstop Silliness

October 30, 2009

[white+paint+can.jpg]Levitt and Dubner apparently don’t back down. Here’s their article from Wednesday’s USA Today. I’m sure they’re selling a lot of books, but in doing so, they’re being disingenuous: acting one way and simultaneously decrying what they’re doing; doing ethics and claiming not to do ethics. For what follows, I’ll ignore their scientific claims. As I’ve said, I’m not qualified to criticize the climate science. Let’s just start here, with their scenario:

Imagine for a moment that a terrible, unforeseen threat to humankind had suddenly arisen, one so grave that it endangered the very future of the planet. Two teams of respected scientists immediately set to work, trying to find a solution to the impending disaster.

The first set of scientists returned with a potential solution, but it had some shortcomings. It was expensive, with a price tag in the trillions of dollars. It also required nearly every human being on the planet to change his or her behavior in fundamental ways. And even if the scientists’ scheme worked, it would take decades for the benefits to be felt.

The second set of scientists returned with a very different answer. Their solution cost less than one-thousandth as much to implement and did not require anyone to change his behavior. The scientists could get their solution up and running in roughly a year, with the benefits to be felt immediately. And if the simple fix turned out to not work as expected, it was quickly and easily reversible.

Fair enough. Fun example. From what I can tell, it has nothing to do with climate science, but okay. Deltoid has the full scoop on why it’s a terrible comparison.* I’ll just mention a few points…

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Endanger Mouse

October 29, 2009

Dave Cherney notes that a recent lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity seeks to list five different species of Pika. As Cherney notes, what makes this lawsuit unique is that the Center is claiming that the sole threat to the Pika is climate change. Surmising that no feasible management strategy could be adopted to address this problem, Cherney then speculates that perhaps this is primarily a symbolic battle.

Ooh-eck. Ooh-fiddle.

I’m no lawyer, but I suspect there’s more to it than sheer symbolism. Concrete management strategies may not emerge out of a ruling, true; but if it can be demonstrated in court that climate change is the primary mover, such a ruling will either give Interior greater jurisdiction and justification to regulate emissions, just as EPA does with pesticides (and maybe soon GHG emissions), or it will result in a re-examination of the scope of the act. Indeed, the Center played a similar card a few years ago with EPA.