Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Weird paper claims climate change helps biodiversity

ScienceDaily says a paper found that climate change has less impacts on biodiversity than land use has. My first thoughts were that it's plausible, that the negative effects are combined, and that the priority might depend on the assumptions. I tried to RTFA, but it was paywalled other than a long abstract. The long abstract, however, nearly contradicts ScienceDaily, saying climate change has a mostly positive effect on biodiversity. Weirdly, it said that the climate change effect on biodiversity distribution by altitude was a positive effect in its study area, when I'd think that all other things being equal, a species will find less land available to it as its habitat range moves from lower to upper areas.

So, after some waffling I forked out the six bucks for temporary access, and I now have thoughts. I should be hesitant to pass judgment as a total amateur, so qualify this accordingly, but the main issue I'm fixating on is that they examined a single watershed catchment of a small, steeply-sloped river (1700 square km, elev. 45m to 1700m) in rural China. Your classic watershed is pie-shaped, with more land as you move uphill, even though our planet's land surface isn't similarly shaped. I think their finding, that in their case climate change benefits biodiversity when it moves habitat ranges uphill, is an artifact of their study area's topography. I looked for any discussion of this disparity between their study area and the terrestrial world in general, and didn't see it.

Other thoughts:

  • It studies stream macroinvertebrates, just one specialized aspect of biodiversity, and is very dependent on projected changes in hydrology. I'm surprised to read the claim that one could do meaningful, quantitative predictions for future hydrology at a small scale. Maybe I shouldn't be.
  • Speaking of predictions, the paper ends its predictions in 2050. I'd guess wildly that 2050 is about when land use impacts would've hit their maximum for a rural part of China, but climate change impacts are just beginning. Extending the analysis to a full century might give a different sense about the negative aspects of climate change.
  • The paper discusses the issue of a "summit trap" where the species habitat hits the maximum altitude and then disappears, but apparently it just wasn't an issue in this study.

In summary, I have no sense that paper is denialist or the authors were skewing it in that direction, but the catchment area and 2050 timeline IMHO exclude applying this analysis to saying climate change is secondary to land use in impact, let alone that climate change has a positive impact on biodiversity.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Plain Speaking

Jeff Nesbit on Twitter points to a bit of plain speaking.

Maurice Strong Newman, is the usual "business" advisor to the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  Strong Newman has the expected attitude about the science of climate, and has expressed on occasion the beleif, well  you can go read his oped in the Australian.  If anything could bring Tim Lambert out of retirement for another go at The Australian's War on Science, this is it folks.  Perhaps some of the refugees from Deltoid might have a crack, which Eli would be proud to publish,

Anyhow, in a meeting of the Australian Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Senator Larissa Walters asked Rob Vertessy, the Director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology about some of Mr. Strong Newman's beliefs.  Lisa Cox in the Sydney Morning Herald has a report on the hearing.  Strong Newman's beliefs had already been called out as a joke by Christine Figueras, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

There were some lovely deadpan answers, but also a classic example of how to handle mansplaining by Senator Walters after the chair of the committee (a woman) tries to close off her line of inquiry at the start.

Among the highlights was Vertessy's answer to the old red herring of how can there be global warming if people in New Hampshire (people in New Hampshire always freeze their butts off)  the south of England are freezing their butts off.
I think it is referring to a bit of an old red herring that suggests that just because you are getting cold weather in the northern hemisphere it somehow discredits the fact that there is global warming occurring. There is a perfectly good explanation for that.  The theory of global warming does not hold that there will be no any cold weather anywhere.  In fact there is evidence to suggest that global warming will actually intensify the onset of some cold weather due to the effect of the changing behavior of the jet stream  which wanders around a hell of a lot more latitudinally than it used to as a result to the changes to the global climate system and that has the effect of  actually  bringing more polar air into some populated areas of the northern hemisphere as well as bringing up some hot weather as well. So it is by no means any kind of proof that global warming is occuring 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

California Democratic Party convention becomes first to call for climate divestment

I was at the party convention when it happened last weekend, but worked on campaign finance disclosure rather than divestment (disclosure got supported too). It's good news:

The California Democratic Party approved a sweeping resolution on Sunday to drop fossil fuel stocks from the state's two major public pension funds, valued at about $500 billion.  
The party also wants the state's 33 public universities to purge such investments from their $12 billion in total endowments. The resolution will not likely result in new legislative action soon.  
However, it could generate enough support among the Democratic majority to pass a less aggressive divestment bill, Senate Bill 185, working its way through the state legislature. Beyond California, this resolution adds to the fast-growing momentum of the fossil fuel divestment movement, which kicked off on college campuses in 2011 and has spread to cities and major corporations worldwide.  
Before the final vote, RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic Party's environmental caucus and author of the resolution, delivered a one-minute speech. In an interview with InsideClimate News she recounted her message: "The world is watching...We need to send a moral message that California will not invest in those businesses that burn our planet in the name of profit and this resolution is that message. Divestment from South Africa helped bring down the system of apartheid and [divestment] will likewise bring down our dependence on fossil fuels. And further, [the] passage of this resolution will help pass Senate Bill 185."

AFAICT and from asking around, it's the first party convention to do this. I was surprised at the lack of coverage originally, but a little more has leaked out over the last few days.

This helps mainstream the divestment movement and show the party leadership where its activist base is coming from. We'll see what happens in coming months.

I've heard from South Africa divestment veterans that climate divestment is happening at a more rapid pace - I guess it depends on whether the starting point for South Africa was 1977 or 1984. Regardless, climate divestment is at least comparable.

UPDATE:  wiki says the South Africa divestment movement got 53 educational institutions to fully or partly divest in 1984, 127 in 1987, and 155 in 1988, so there are some markers to measure against. The link at the top says about two dozen universities have done some form of climate divestment so far.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Falling out of the clown car, down the stairs and into the electric eel pond.

I don't have much to say beyond go read how the $2m lawsuit against John Mashey by luckwarmists didn't go well. It's a heartwarming tale, and congrats to the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund for their great work.

My one semi-serious comment is that this is the quality of the opposition. We ought to be kicking their butts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Sound of Global Climate Change

From the University of Minnesota, Daniel Crawford, Scott St. George and GISSTemp comes

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Climate Club Adopts Eli Rabett's Simple Plan

In the New York Review of Books, William Nordhaus(the intelligent one, not Ted of the BTI) looks Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planetby Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman. Nothing in the review and book will come as a surprise to bunnies who have been paying attention.  Nordhaus discusses the three themes of the book, that attempts to control climate change have a serious free rider issue, that tail risks must dominate any discussion of policy to deal with climate change and that geo-engineering to control climate change has serious risks that make it inadvisable (see, Eli can be nice).

The free rider issue is the key to action,
If the fat tails of climate change are perilous, and geoengineering is itself a dangerous solution, what remains? Here, Wagner and Weitzman largely follow the standard economists’ prescription: “Stick it to carbon.” We might think that capitalism is the problem because economic growth has led to rising emissions. But, they argue, a modified invisible hand is the only workable solution: “It’s capitalism with all its innovative and entrepreneurial powers that is our only hope of steering clear of the looming climate shock.” 
 and Nordhaus has another suggestion
The major challenge for climate policy is to overcome free-riding. The answer, I would suggest, is to rethink the design of climate treaties. We can look at successful treaties such as the European Union, the World Trade Organization, or military alliances as models for a more promising climate treaty.The essence of these successful treaties is the “club model.” A club is a voluntary group deriving mutual benefits from sharing the costs of producing an activity. Members get the benefits but also pay the dues. The benefits of a successful club are sufficiently large that members will pay dues and adhere to club rules in order to gain them. If we look at successful international clubs, we might see the seeds of an effective international system to deal with climate change.

I recently described a possible Climate Club in the American Economic Review.4 Under the club rules, participating countries would undertake harmonized but costly emissions reductions. For example, they might agree that each country would implement policies that produce a minimum domestic carbon price of $40 per ton of CO2. The easiest way to raise the price is through a carbon tax, but countries might prefer other approaches such as setting quantitative limits on emissions, or hybrid approaches.

A crucial aspect of the club is that countries who are outside the club—and do not share in the burden of emissions reductions—are penalized. Penalties for those outside the club are central to the club mechanism, and penalties are the major difference from all other proposals from Kyoto to the upcoming meeting in Paris. Economic modeling indicates that the most promising penalty is uniform percentage tariffs on the imports of nonparticipants into the club region. A country considering whether to undertake costly abatement would have to weigh those costs against the potentially larger costs of reduced trade with countries in the club.
This, of course, is Eli Rabett's Simple Plan to Save the World, proposed in 2007
Nations wishing to make major progress on decreasing greenhouse gas emissions should introduce emission taxes on all products. These taxes should be levied on imports as well as domestic goods at the point of sale, and should displace other taxes, such as VAT, sales taxes, and payroll (e.g. social security, health care) in such a way that tax revenues are constant, and distributed equitably. 
These should be introduced as an Emissions Added Levy (avoiding the bad jokes). EAL would be imposed on sale for emissions added in the preceding step and inherent to the consumption of the product, as would be the case for heating oil and gasoline. Manufacturers would pay the EAL on electricity they bought, and incorporate this and the levy on emissions they created into the price of the product they sell.

Imports from countries that do not have an EAL would have the full EAL imposed at the time of import. The base rate would be generic EALs based on worst previous practices in the countries that do have EALs, which would be reduced on presenting proof that the actual emissions were lower.

All countries with EAL systems would reserve a portion (say 5%) for assisting developing countries with adaptations (why not use acclimations?) and mitigating programs.

By basing the levy on emissions rather than carbon all greenhouse gases stand on a common level, sequestration is strongly encouraged as well as such simple things as capturing methane from oil wells and garbage dumps (that gets built into the cost of disposal). The multipliers would come from CO2 equivalents on a 10 year basis.

The process can be effective without across the board agreement which means the ability of countries such as the US to bargain the process down is decreased. Further, early adopters will control the process and establish the base rates in concert. Imagine a world wide EAL system controlled by the early adapters. The Simple Plan will advantage them and the world.
Paul Krugman adopted the Simple Plan in 2014, and now Nordhaus comes on board. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Heartland Institute - Convenient Cognitive Dissonance

Coal at any cost to help the poor of Africa and elsewhere has become the cudgel of climate change denial.  Led by Bjorn Lomborg the usual suspects, who never otherwise really gave a moments worth of notice for the people of the developing world, have tried it on.

Eli, Eli is a museum goer, and has seen the pollution and illness caused by burning coal in the world both in pictures from the 19th century and in person. Eli thinks that the developing world does not have to replicate the mistakes and misery the developed world suffered through to get to where it is, which is not such a bad place. The developing world does not need telephone poles, they have cell phones and working cell phone systems.  The same cannot so clearly be said about their centralized electrical generation and distribution systems.  Mini-networks based on solar and wind have many advantages.

So, how bad is it out there in China, whose energy economy is built on coal?  Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, prints a letter from a reader about the quality of life there and economic growth

I believe the macro-level statistics and phenomena you discuss are all trailing indicators. I left China with my family almost five years ago as a large number of interrelated quality-of-life issues became increasingly unbearable. Those factors have continued to worsen since then at an accelerating rate, to the point where the economy is now largely driven by people trying to earn or steal enough money to leave.

The once-thriving expat community in Beijing has shriveled to nearly nothing. The cost of living is approaching world-capital (NY, London, Tokyo, etc.) levels for a  miserable existance. The local culture has become increasingly desperate and cutthroat. And Beijing is one of the more attractive places in China to live, work, and raise a family.

People, generally, and Chinese especially, will tolerate all sorts of deprivation in service of a better future for their children. And that is largely what has driven the rapid pace of Chinese development since the end of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning of Deng Xiaoping's opening and reform policies. My feeling is that biggest challenge ahead for China is when the population at large concludes that a better future for their children is no longer in the cards.

When it happens, it will happen gradually, then suddenly. And what happens after that, no one can say, but a continuation of the policies driving hyper-accelerated GDP growth over all else probably isn't it.
It is this sort of misery that lead to the Chinese pledges on climate action for the upcoming Paris talks.

The Rabett's friends at the Heartland Institute, on the other hand, have again shown their adherence to the hypocrats oath.  They too have taken up the Lomborgian call for more coal now, more coal tomorrow, and more coal forever
These policies prolong reliance on open fires fueled by wood and dung. They mean families are denied lights, refrigeration and other benefits of electricity, and millions die every year from lung and intestinal diseases, and other effects of rampant poverty. With hydrocarbons still providing 82% of the world’s energy – and China, India and other rapidly developing countries building numerous coal-fired generating plants – retarding Africa’s development in the name of preventing climate chaos is useless and immoral.
But, of course, the US EPA's new regulations for cleaner burning wood stoves, is to the Heartlanders, an abomination
According to University of Houston professor Larry Bell, “80 percent of wood-burning stoves currently used by homeowners [do not meet the new standards.]”

Close to 2.5 million homes in the United States, 2 percent of all households, use wood as a primary heating source, a figure that has increased 38 percent since 2004. Another 8 percent of households use wood as a secondary heating source.
Of course, the smoke from burning biofuels for cooking and heating indoors, according to the Heartlanders, does nothing in the US, nothing.  Indoor air pollution from burning biofuels only kill Africans and Indians who don't burn Matt "King Coal" Ridley's special blend healing coal.
When EPA proposed the rule in 2014, Stonehill College professor Sean Mulholland submitted comments stating there are “several reasons to be skeptical of the level of benefits claimed from this regulation.” He cited literature questioning the link between particulate matter and mortality, and he criticized EPA for assessing benefits based on national averages rather than accounting for local variability. 
Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, says the link between particulate matter and health problems is not as clear-cut as the agency claims.

“Does [a wood stove] cause smoke? Yeah, of course it does,” Arnold said. “And has that got particulate matter in it? Of course it does. Is it killing everybody? No, it’s not. Is it making everybody sick? No, it’s not. Do some people get sick? Yeah. Is that what’s causing it? Well, EPA says it is, but we really don’t know. But we’ve got predatory scientists who will say it is.”

Critics point out EPA’s new rules will place an increasing financial burden on poor and rural residents who rely on wood stoves as their primary source of heat.
The echos of convenient cognitive dissonance fills the sky.