» 2010 » February

Global warming: the partisan divide, according to polls

According to this graph from well-regarded public policy and polling outfit, PPIC, from a poll taken last summer, most Californians and most Americans believe that global warming has already begun:

PPICpollonglobalwarming
But it's different among Republicans: one-third believe global warming "will never happen." 

How do you compromise those two views?

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No editors? No problem! Except that…

France's most famous intellectual revealed to be inept Googler. From the Times of London:

When France’s most dashing philosopher took aim at Immanuel Kant in
his latest book, calling him “raving mad” and a “fake”, his
observations were greeted with the usual adulation. To support his
attack, Bernard-Henri Lévy — a showman-penseur known simply by his
initials, BHL — cited the little-known 20th-century thinker
Jean-Baptiste Botul.

There was one problem: Botul was invented by a journalist in 1999 as
an elaborate joke, and BHL has become the laughing stock of the Left
Bank.

There were clues. One supposed work by Botul — from which BHL quoted — was entitled The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant.
The philosopher’s school is known as Botulism and subscribes to his
theory of “La Metaphysique du Mou” — the Metaphysics of the Flabby.
Botul even has a Wikipedia entry that explains that he is a “fictional
French philosopher”.

But Mr Lévy, a leader among the nouveaux philosophes school of the 1970s, was unaware…

Thinking in the 21st century: It's tougher than it looks on the Internet…

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Sierra butterflies hit by global warming, habitat destruction

A changing climate has hurt butterfly species in the Sierra Nevada, reducing species richness by about fifty percent in the last 35 years. so reports a team at UCDAvis led by Arthur Shapiro, and reported in the PNAS: Compounded effects of climate change and habitat alteration shift patterns of butterfly diversity — PNAS

Here we present 35 years of data on 159 species of
butterflies from 10 sites along an elevational gradient spanning 0–
2,775 m in a biodiversity hotspot, the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California. Species richness has declined at half of the sites, with the most severe reductions at the lowest elevations, where habitat destruction is greatest. At higher elevations, we observed clear upward shifts in the elevational ranges of species, consistent with the influence of global warming.

Or, in the blunter tones of a story from that wild-eyed lefty journal USA Today:

The unprecedented, 35-year analysis of butterfly populations in the Sierra Nevada details how several species are fleeing to higher elevations to escape warming temperatures.

Those butterflies that already live on mountaintops and can't adjust to the heat have "nowhere else to go but heaven," says Arthur Shapiro, a biologist at University of California-Davis who collected the data.

Climate is clearly one factor degrading populations and pushing species up the mountains, but another agent at work is habitat destruction:

This suggests that some factor in
addition to climatic change has affected butterfly species richness
…We suggest habitat alteration at low elevations,
which has likely destroyed habitat directly (potentially
affecting both larval hosts and adult nectar resources) and
reduced connectivity among habitats.

Next question: How to save these and related species? The authors suggest preservation not just of habitat and species, but of "fauna." Hmmmm….

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Even Sarah Palin’s best friends don’t believe her

From Timothy Egan in his Grifters Tale in The New York Times:

If Palin truly believed in the Tea Partiers and their discontent,
she would not be charging $100,000 to stoke their fears [at an upcoming convention]. She can do
that for free, on Fox. And what policy solutions does she offer the
troubled middle class? Tax cuts, like the ones that caused this massive
deficit to begin with? Preventing new regulation of the banks that got
us into this horrid economic collapse, under the guise of “less
government”?

She has nothing to offer but honeyed words, the syrup for suckers.

Say what you will about Tea Partiers, but many of them can see
through this scheme in Nashville. “Smells scammy,” wrote Red State
Blogger Erick Erickson, no friend of the media elite. Others are
boycotting it, citing the $549 price for the convention, or the single
night tab of $349 to hear Palin.

You could even see a bit of suspicion creep into Glenn Beck, Palin’s
enabler on Fox, during the strangest of interviews a few weeks ago.

Beck to Palin: “Who’s your favorite founder?”

Palin: “You know, well, all of them.”

Beck was skeptical.

Yes, women can be grifters too.

Guess Beck's not a complete nut, even if he is mad as a hatter.

Brodner brilliantly illustrates this idea, along with the heavy promotion of gold that Beck and other right-wingers encourage, in the Gold Standard, and throws in Sarah as well. It's astonishingly good, I think.

Teapartybeckandpalin

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Obama admits cap and trade is dead

This week the President admitted what D.C. insiders have been saying for months about the Democratic plan to control greenhouse gas emissions.

ACES, The American Clean Energy and Security Bill passed by the House last fall, which is intended to control emissions by a cap-and-trade mechanism, is politically dead.

At a town hall meeting in Nashua, NH, Obama said:

The House passed an energy bill, and people complained about, well,
there's this cap and trade thing, and you just mentioned, you know,
let's do the fun stuff before we do the hard stuff," Obama told former
New Hampshire Rep. Dick Swett.

Obama went on to point out that cap and trade is a market-based approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions, but obviously that fact failed to sway conservative Democrats, far less Republicans.

But is it possible that the failure of cap and trade is not a disaster, but a second chance to pass a better bill? Jonathan Zasloff, of Legal Planet, argues so, saying this will compel Dems to give up on the super-majority, and simply pass a carbon tax as part of a reconciliation deal between the two houses. 

A budget reconciliation bill cannot be filibustered: according to
the Budget Act of 1974, the Senate is limited to 20 hours of debate on
it.  It does not get rid of the filibuster because you cannot put
everything in a reconciliation bill: only those items whose
relationship with the budget is more than “merely incidental” qualify.

But one thing is clear: tax bills virtually always qualify, because by definition, they are centrally concerned with the budget.

Neither Waxman-Markey nor Kerry-Boxer would qualify.  But a refundable carbon tax, such as has been proposed by the Carbon Tax Center, clearly would. 

Hmmm. Well, if you listen to our leading climate scientists, cap-and-trade was a bad idea from the start. James Hansen, in his blunt new book Storms of My Grandchildren, argues at length in his book about it:

I almost forgot that I had agreed to provide a proof that the [cap-and-trade] approach pursued by governments today cannot conceivably yield their promise of an 80 percent emission reduction by 2050. It is an easy proof. An 80 percent reduction in 2050 is just what occurs if coal emissions are phased out between 2010 and 2030. This is based on the moderate oil and gas reserves estimated by the IPCC — implying also that we cannot go after the last drops of oil. First ask if the governments are building any new coal plants. The answer: "Lots of them." Then ask how they will persuade the major oil-producing nations to leave their oil in the ground. The answer: "Duh." Proof complete.

Hansen for years has been arguing against new coal plants, and the science argument, backed by the decades-old Clean Air Act and a threat of some sort of carbon tax, has been surprisingly effective at preventing the construction of new coal plants in this country.

Still, the death of the hopes of the best and brightest for legislation on this issue cannot be considered good news. Maybe it's not all bad, but…as Toles points out, it's not exactly a milestone

Capandtrade

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Teens turn against blogging: more adults like it now

When I grow up, I want to work for the Pew Research Center. They study all the interesting questions, it seems, and all their centers have really long and impressive names, such as the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, the Pew Global Attitudes Project, and many others.

Their latest publication (unless a new one came out in the last five minutes) is a survey of attitudes towards the Internet, blogging, and cellphones, called Social Media and Young Adults. (This is not about sexting, by the way: That's a different report.) 

This one reveals that blogging is no longer very cool for teens, but is increasingly popular among grown-ups.

Bloggingstats
In other words, my brief flirtation with coolness (as an adult blogger) is now officially over.

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Get ready: seven foot sea level rise this century

If there is one question about climate science that went unanswered in the 2007 IPCC report, it was sea level rise. As the EPA notes, the report estimates a two-foot rise this century…at the most. 

But that estimate did not include the possibility of degradation of the polar ice sheets, which in the last two years has been observed by NASA's astounding GRACE satellite:

We use monthly measurements of time-variable gravity from the GRACE
(Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite gravity mission to
determine the ice mass-loss for the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets
during the period between April 2002 and February 2009. We find that
during this time period the mass loss of the ice sheets is not a
constant, but accelerating with time, i.e., that the GRACE observations
are better represented by a quadratic trend than by a linear one,
implying that the ice sheets contribution to sea level becomes larger
with time.

The IPCC could not estimate sea level rise, it said, because the unknowns were too great, so it assumed that warming would result in the same sort of sea level rise we saw in the 20th century. As authors Rob Young and Orrin Pilkey write on the Yale Environment 360:

In the 20th century, sea level rise was primarily due to thermal
expansion of ocean water. Contributions of melting mountain glaciers
and the large ice sheets were minor components. But most climate
scientists now believe that the main drivers of sea level rise in the
21st century will be the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (a
potential of a 16-foot rise if the entire sheet melts) and the
Greenland Ice Sheet (a potential rise of 20 feet if the entire ice cap
melts).

[edit]

Seeking to correct the IPCC’s failure to come up with a comprehensive
forecast for sea level increase, a number of state panels and
government committees have produced sea level rise predictions that include an
examination of melting ice sheets. For example, sea level rise panels
in Rhode Island and Miami-Dade County have concluded that a minimum of
a three- to five-foot sea level rise should be anticipated by 2100. A
California report assumes a possible 4.6-foot rise by 2100, while the
Dutch assume a 2.5-foot rise by 2050 in the design of their tidal gates.

The authors, professors at Duke and Western Carolina University, think that for the purposes of urban planning, a seven foot rise is a prudent estimate. 

Miami tops the list of most endangered cities in the world, as measured
by the value of property that would be threatened by a three-foot rise.
This would flood all of Miami Beach and leave downtown Miami sitting as
an island of water, disconnected from the rest of Florida. Other
threatened U.S. cities include New York/Newark, New Orleans, Boston,
Washington, Philadelphia, Tampa-St Petersburg, and San Francisco.

They're just saying…that pictures like this one, of the sea hitting St. Ives in Cornwall last September, will become a lot more common in years to come.

St. Ives_D8278 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!_1265173939166

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