Thursday, April 24, 2014

Eli Finds a Toothpick

For some time now, Eli has been carrying around another olive that he plucked from the Tobacco Archives tree (a gift that keeps on giving).  Just the other day, he found the toothpick to spear it with thanks to Climate Change Communications which reposted a letter from Robert Gould and Edward Maibach appearing in a recent issue of Science

IN 1962, LUTHER TERRY, THE SURGEON GENERAL OF THE PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE, ESTABLISHED the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. On 11 January 1964, he released the committee’s report, “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States” (1), which reviewed the existing science and concluded that lung cancer and chronic bronchitis are causally linked to cigarette smoking. 

This landmark report marked a critical pivot in our national response to tobacco products, leading to packet warning labels, restrictions on cigarette advertising, and anti-tobacco campaigns. But it by no means ended the debate about what we now know to be horrifically negative public health impacts of
tobacco use. Instead, it galvanized the tobacco companies, through their industry-funded Tobacco Institute, to publish a large number of “white papers” to rebut scientific reports critical of tobacco (2). The demise of the Tobacco Institute came in 1998, as part of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, where 46 state attorneys general obtained $206 billion dollars over 25 years from the tobacco industry for its culpability in creating a public health crisis (3). 
This bit of history has important parallels to our national discussion of climate change.  .
Concluding, and properly so with a few footnotes and 
Today it’s inconceivable that an American decision-maker would risk the public opprobrium that would result from expressing skepticism that tobacco causes cancer. We believe that it is an obligation of all scientists to hasten the day when the same is true for climate change, where the stakes are even higher.  
1. L. Terry et al., “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States” (U-23 Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Public Health Service Publication No. 1103, 1964).
 2. Tobacco Smoke and the Nonsmoker: Scientific Integrity at the Crossroads (Tobacco Institute, Washington, DC, 1986);  
3. Master Settlement Agreement (National Association of Attorneys General, 1998).  
Which brings Eli to the game plan, perhaps better said, one of many, that is to be found in the Legacy Archives, but a fairly complete one from 1993 when the industry was worried about Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) and the possibility of higher taxes.  The detail and reach of the plan is a fine introduction to the tactics of the fossil fuel industry and their dependents but, of course, there is more.

John Mashey will undoubtedly comment, and Eli may have the details wrong, but the tobacco archives are the ne plus ultra document dump.  So large that no one really knows what is in there.  Those old enough will recall that IBM's tactic to respond to discovery in various anti-trust suits was to provide everything, truck loads of it, knowing that no one could go through the chaff to find the wheat.  Until the day that CDC figured out that if you were a computer company you could build a computerized data base, and document dumps became more difficult.

Anyhow, to whet the bunnies appetites, here are some goodies from the Tobacco Institute game plan
Activate the volunteer "advocates" in our systems and begin phone bank operations to generate calls to Congress on excise taxes.

Develop generic scripts and approve generic scripts for phone backs and letter writing.
Generate news stories, editorials and commentaries critical of the EPA Risk Assessment and unreasonable smoking ban legislation.
Proactive Op-ed placement in selected hometown newspapers of key legislators
Coordinate all tobacco lobbyists through TI . This is no time for anyone to freelance
On the sciency side we have some interesting comments
Scientific organization on how Risk Assessments done : cellular phone, ETS and others.
-Stanford Research Institute to review EPA statistics (Steve Parrish to work on who has
contacts with Stanford)
Identify one or more scientists willing to speak on the ETS subject in support of our position. Place them in speaking opportunities.
*PM TB - APCO/Burson Marsteller are identifying various environmental symposia where ETS can be raised and various policy group speakers will will be reviewed as possible candidates .
Description: A series of position papers or "White Papers" needed on the ETS and excise tax issues . Assign writers to complete the following :
•Write paper on EPA Science as it relates to electromagnetic fields (EMF), diesel, and chloride in water (in process) . 
 and, just further on, Eli has a hint of whom this was,
PM TB/JB - Will arrange a meeting with RJR to discuss a consultant's proposal that raises the weaknesses and the ramifications of the risk assessment to the EPA. Additionally, we will discuss another proposal for EPA's methodology to be reviewed by an outside statistical group
 Enjoy your assigned reading.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tu Quoque or John Quiggin Does the Dozens

Over at Crooked Timber (and on his own blog for the Southerners out there) John Quiggin disposes of the argument that left and right pick the science they like, an argument that the right tosses out like used preservatives

But, far more often their response takes the form of a tu quoque or, in the language of the schoolyard, “you’re another”. That is, they seek to argue that the left is just as tribalist and anti-science as the right. Favored examples of alleged left tribalism included any rhetoric directed at rightwing billionaires ( Murdoch, the Kochs and so on). The standard examples of alleged left anti-science are GMOs, nuclear power and anti-vaxerism, but it is also sometimes claimed that US Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to be creationists.
Allow Eli to restate his position on GMOs, he eats the shit, as does about everyone on God's green Earth.  More details about the position of the blog on GMO's can be found here, and might be summed up as go forward but be observant, which is also our position on nuclear.  As to the anti-vaxers, well, Eli will leave that to Respectful Insolence.

There is, in fact, rather useful research that shows that opposition to GMOs is spread across the political spectrum, and if anything, best correlates to sex (nononono ... not the absence thereof, but the fact that guys will shove any piece of pizza they can find into their mouths, women, not so much).

Quiggin points out that tu quoque, or as your mom put it, because your buddy does it, doesn't mean you have to be stupid.
 I’ll argue over the fold that these examples don’t work. What’s more important, though, is what the tu quoque argument says about those who deploy it, and their view of politics. The implied claim is that politics is inherently a matter of tribalism and emotion, and that there is no point in complaining about this. The only thing to do is to pick a side and stick to it. What passes for political argument is simply a matter of scoring debating points for your side and demolishing those of the others. So, anyone who uses tu quoque as a defence, rather than seeking to dissuade their own side from tribalist and anti-science rhetoric, deserves no more respect than the tribalists and science deniers themselves, who at least have the defence of ignorance.
Go read.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Predictions test

I'm a little delayed on this, but the Keystone decision probably won't happen until after November elections. In that case we'll see whether my prediction that it will go down, if delayed that long, gets verified. Roger Pielke Jr's prediction of approval in February 2013 just keeps getting wronger.

The best political outcome for Democrats is to never approve or disapprove the pipeline, but there's got to be a limit to delay (I think). Still, delay's a partial victory, and it's that much more time for the Canadians to come to their senses and elect a non-idiot as PM.

Not much sense in the first link to Bill McKibben being upset about the delay, unless he figures it's not really about the pipeline at all but about organizing a movement to either build on a victory or to lead the charge against a wrong decision. Hard to organize a movement over some governmental thing that just keeps being nebulous.

I still think that no matter what, this will be part of the 2016 presidential election.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fate of the World - PowerFlip 2036

Dano writes to Eli

“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.” – Blaise Pascal

Two things the bunnies may have noticed about recent denialist complaining: the recycling of the “models can’t predict” talking point has grown quite loud, assertive and certain, and of course the increase in noise of the “no warming since 1998” talking point. We’re not here at the bar, sharing a carrot juice, to give these serious consideration - except for background to the following, in the context of head bunny Eli’s revealing recent posts about RP Jr/Revkin, and why denialists deny.

First a little background for the journey.

Bunnies may have read Michael Mann’s recent SciAm article about the climate danger threshold. Basically, he calculated when the tipping point would be depending on likely Equilibrium Climate Sensitivities (ECS). The headline of this SciAm piece said it would be the year 2036 – in many of your lifetimes. A good chance not mine, but maybe yours. Mann also said that if the Faux Pause is robust and continues, the tipping point/threshold is extended ~10 years.

As the chorus of voices saying ‘we should do something’ grows louder, getting close on dates (‘by when’) is important (and perhaps the motivation behind the increasing number of disinformation transmissions about “models can’t predict”).

Recently Eli shared with us some of the interesting backgrounds of a couple dwellers in the Wegmanesque Web of so-called “honest brokers”, who want you to believe we shouldn’t rush into things let we upset the delicate confidence of the rentier class job creators. As the bunnies know, the longer we wait the greater the future costs (and less hit to profits next quarter). The last press releases on costs if we start now are a mere annual reductions of global GDP of 1.7% in 2030 and 4.8% in 2100 compared to a baseline growth of 300 to 900% in the century.

This amounts to an annualized cost of 0.06% compared to baseline growth of 1.6 to 3% per year.  In other words, the cost, IF WE START NOW, is in the noise (cue collective gasp from the usual suspects) – this doesn’t comport with the soothing sounds from the honest brokers. And having a date in the near future makes honest brokering seem specious. But golly, maybe it’s too late anyways and so all our money should go into adaptation. So what to believe?

Well, maybe first we should have a better dialogue on what are these ‘thresholds’ or ‘tipping points’ or ‘inflection points’, depending on your discipline – I say “tipping points” in ecological contexts or “a-ha moments” if talking about social diffusion.

What is a tipping point in ecology/society? It is merely this: a point that indicates a change of state to a new state or condition. A “flip” in state, if you will, to a new state. A new system takes over, with new drivers and new outcomes. That’s it.

Depending on the system, that “point” might have a time scale of a year, a day, a decade. The important thing is that there will be a new state, with new drivers, new energy flows, new reactions to disturbance. Biota – living things – now have to react to new inputs, new flows, new  changes in nutrient cycling for which they may or may not be adapted (or have the ability to adapt to).

Since there has been no large-scale state change since the end of the last ice age, human societies have no record to draw on for guidance on how to go forth in this new state (or, also a possibility, transitional state). Doubly troubling – the climate’s temperature has been quite steady since stabilizing after the last glaciation, a rarity in the global record as we understand it.

Is this a “catastrophe” and should the denialists start screaming CAGW!! or what? We don’t know. We’ve never done this before. Risk managers, generals, and some leaders might not like the chance that society as we know it – constructed on $trillions of sunk costs – might change on large scales and some of that investment in society will be literally sunk.

To me, most importantly, we’ve never grown food in a system that’s flipped to a new state – and nested in other systems that may or may not flip, further increasing uncertainty and fostering emergent conditions (that’s ecologyspeak for ‘surprise”). This article on the challenges to adapt food systems to human population and diminished terrestrial resources in 2050 seems to me to have an undercurrent of system brittleness to it, and doesn’t really mention climate disruption to a realistic degree. Pile on the fact that we’ve only just begun to urbanize and we are nowhere close to figuring out how to get along and trade fairly with one another, and the challenges are daunting.

But that is not to say this is a “catastrophe”. There will be monumental changes. There will be risk. And loss. And disruption. And less – there will likely be much less if the population sustains only a small hit. We will have a hard landing or a soft landing, but that depends upon us. Can we actually learn to get along with each other in order to continue after the disruptions?

Maybe the denialists deny because they know they do not get along well with those outside their tribe and they will have to after the tipping point. I won’t give them that much credit for thinking it through, though, and will stick with: denialists deny to protect their self-identity.

One other thing: two interesting recent articles were published in the wake of all this recent publishing and posturing, about our ability to conceptualize and face what’s coming. One from an old, hard environmental activist and one from an environmental history `professor, both saying about the same thing. More pop psychology, anyone? Me, I’ll have another carrot juice from that bartender with the very shiny fur. Mmmmmmm.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Paul Krugman on WGIII

Posted without comment

So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong?
Oh, wait.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Academics at Public Universities Win Big Time

ATI vs. Rector was the case where the American Traditions Institute sued UVa to gain access to Michael Mann's Emails.  In a surprising (to Eli) and sensible decision, the Virginia Supreme Court came down with a major decision for academics at public universities

One of the issues in the case was whether UVa and by extension Michael Mann had a proprietary interest in the matters discussed in the Emails.  Given that the Virginia FOIA law specifically exempts proprietary materials and that ATI claimed that proprietary implied the possibility of profit, this would have opened the doors to further mischief.

The door just slammed, at least in VA (emphasis added)

We reject ATI's narrow construction of financial competitive advantage as a definition of "proprietary" because it is not consistent with the General Assembly's intent to protect public universities and colleges from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in relation to private universities and colleges. In the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression. This broader notion of competitive disadvantage is the overarching principle guiding application of the exemption.
and they quoted from a brief filed by the UVa Vice Provost John Simon
If U.S. scientists at public institutions lose the ability to protect their communications with faculty at other institutions, their ability to collaborate will be gravely harmed. The result will be a loss of scientific and creative opportunities for faculty at institutions in states which have not established protections under state FOIAs for such communications. . . .
For faculty at public institutions such as the University of Virginia, compelled disclosure of their unpublished thoughts, data, and personal scholarly communications would mean a fundamental disruption of the norms and expectations which have enabled research to flourish at the great public institutions for over a century . . . .
Scientists at private institutions such as Duke, where I previously worked, that are not subject to state freedom of information statutes, will not feel that it is possible to continue collaborations with scientists at public institutions if doing [s]o means that every email or other written communication discussing data, preliminary results, drafts of papers, review of grant proposals, or other related activities is subject to public release under a state FOIA in contravention of scholarly norms and expectations of privacy and confidentiality. . . . Compelled disclosure [in this case] will also impair recruitment and retention of faculty . . . .
I can state unequivocally that recruitment of faculty to an institution like the University of Virginia will be deeply harmed if such faculty must fear that their unpublished communications with the scientific collaborators and scholarly colleagues are subject to involuntary public disclosure. We will also lose key faculty to recruitments from other institutions – such as Duke, if their continued work at University of Virginia will render their communications involuntarily public.
This is indeed a major decision which may stop much of the pursuit of climate scientists by industry, think tanks and denialists.  Eli thanks ATI for bringing this about.  Also thanks to UVa, the lawyers representing UVa, Michael Mann, who has taken a brave decision to fight his pursuers (Hi Steve) and Prof. Mann's lawyers.

Science incompetence doesn't bother me

William decided not to waste making a comment when he could write a post instead speculating on why the denialati do what they do, and I've decided to do the same.

He thinks they're incompetent at the science so they deny it fluffily and therefore never reach the subject of climate policy, which has a broad ideological range of potential solutions that might actually work.

The reason I disagree with that is that unlike William or my cobloggers Eli and John, I'm not a competent scientist and I'm okay with that. I can more-or-less understand the occasional paper I read - discussion sections aren't that hard to follow generally. I don't understand them enough to judge their accuracy or have any insights of my own, but I don't need to and neither would the denialists. An individual, cutting-edge study shouldn't matter to the non-scientist anyway - it's the consensus or lack thereof that can plug into policy analyses.

Being amazingly competent with the science is not so much of an issue - I can disagree with Ray Pierrehumbert on whether regulating methane is important, or with Hansen's ridiculous opposition to cap-and-trade. I'm not arguing with them about the science but about the best political method for solving the problem.

What's bothering the denialists is a lot of things but I think the most important is they can't admit the hippies were right and are right. They believe this all about making them feel guilty and they don't want to feel guilty so therefore this isn't happening. The economic issues making people psychologically incapable of persuasion are there for some denialists or people they know. The economic issues are also important for some factions of their tribe and that has a reinforcing effect, but I think it's ideology that drives it more. The fact that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is completely unacceptable to the conservative side of the spectrum just says a lot about the mental closure and tribal affiliation (I buy some of what Dan Kahan says, just not the whole store).