Archive for the ‘climate’ category

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

May 22, 2017

While we focus on the various obvious bathetic catastrophes (from blowing secrets to the Russians to the big man’s collapsing in a heap after a mere one day on the road) committed by the shitgibbon and his band of merry (but never gay — oh no! not that) men, it’s important to keep at least some attention on the rolling, very real damage the Trump administration wreaks on a daily basis.

I’m so far behind on a book project that I can’t really keep up, and I certainly can’t blog with anything remotely resembling depth and insight, so I’m going to try instead to throw up quick posts as various bits of policy news cross my magpie’s field of vision.

This morning’s treat comes via a Saturday story in FTFNYT.*  Under Scott Pruitt, it seems, the EPA has become the Captain Renault of environmental regulators: everything has its price, and the Captain is always eager to make a deal:

Devon Energy, which runs the windswept site, had been prepared to install a sophisticated system to detect and reduce leaks of dangerous gases. It had also discussed paying a six-figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen.

But something changed in February just five days after Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general with close ties to Devon, was sworn in as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Devon, in a letter dated Feb. 22 and obtained by The New York Times, said it was “re-evaluating its settlement posture.” It no longer intended to move ahead with the extensive emissions-control system, second-guessing the E.P.A.’s estimates on the size of the violation, and it was now willing to pay closer to $25,000 to end the three-year-old federal investigation.

The administration’s response?

The E.P.A. has not yet made a public response to Devon’s new posture, and Mr. Pruitt declined to comment for this article.

Want to bet on how it will turn out?

In just the last three months, with Mr. Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A. postponed a long-planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas — a major contributor to climate change — and to collect more data on how much of the gas is spewing into the air.

The Interior Department, meanwhile, announced this month that it would reconsider a separate rule limiting the burning of unwanted methane gas from wells drilled on federal and Indian lands, a process called flaring. That announcement came the same day the Senate narrowly rejected industry calls to repeal the same rule.

Interior officials have also announced their intention to repeal or revise a contentious rule requiring companies like Devon to take extra steps to prevent groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a drilling technique in which chemicals and water are forced into rock formations.

You get the idea. Pruitt has a history of working with Devon Energy; the administration has both a pro-extractive industry bias and powerful faction and the always reliable motive of f**king with anything that Obama accomplished.  Some of what the shitgibbon’s people aim to do can, no doubt, be delayed, obstructed, tied up.  Much, perhaps most will go through, at least over the next year or so, up until the pressures of the next election begin to bite.

So:  constant vigilance and trust no Republican. They’ll load up anything they can on anything they can, transferring public goods (clean air, clean water, anything not nailed down) to private hands.

Over to y’all.

*Publication of such stories  is why I continue to subscribe. Their political desk is…dodgy…but they still field more fine reporters than just about anywhere else I can think of. YM, as always, MV.

Image: Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the Library of Congress, 1896.

Advertisements

The Common Inheritance, The Common Defense

March 5, 2017

A bit of self promotion here, but I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that might be of interest to some here.

It’s a look at what the idea of the commons — not just the abstract, model commons of Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, but the historical commons as actually lived and used — can tell us about current problems.  The TL:DR is that commons are not inherently prone to tragedy, but that the preservation of communal goods requires…wait for it…communal action: regulation, self-regulation.

This is, of course, exactly what the Republican Party denies — more, loathes and condemns.  With Trump, they’re getting their way, but its vital to remember that the consequences that will flow from these decisions are not down to him, or simply so: the entire Republican power structure is eager to do this, and when we pay the price, we must remember who ran up the bill.

Anyway, here’s a taste from my piece.  Head on over to the Globe’s site if you want more.

The idea of the commons is deeply woven through the history of the English countryside. Shakespeare captured this idyllic approach to nature’s wealth in “As You Like It,” when the shepherd Corin explains to the cynic Touchstone the joys of his life. “I earn that I eat, get that I wear,” he says, adding that “the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck” — in the unowned, readily shared Forest of Arden.

There can be trouble in such an Eden, as Hardin pointed out in an influential 1968 paper. Hardin asked what would happen if access to a commons were truly unfettered — if Corin and every other villager ran as many sheep as they could there. In such cases, Hardin argued, the endgame is obvious: Too many animals would eat too much fodder, leaving the ground bare, unable to support any livestock at all.

The evolution of resistance to antibiotics fits that story perfectly. The first modern bacteria-killing drug, penicillin, came into widespread use in 1944, as American laboratories raced to produce millions of doses in time for D-Day. The next year, its discoverer, Alexander Fleming, used his Nobel Prize lecture to describe precisely how this wonder drug could lose its power, telling the sad tale of a man who came down with a strep infection. In his tale, Mr. X didn’t finish his course of penicillin, and his surviving microbes, now “educated” (Fleming’s term), infected his wife. When her course of penicillin failed to eradicate these now-resistant microbes, Mrs. X died — killed, Fleming said, by her husband’s carelessness. It took just one more year for this fable to turn into fact: In 1946, four American soldiers came down with drug-resistant gonorrhea, the first such resistance on record.

Go on — check it out.  You want to hear about the great Charnwood Forest rabbit riot.  You know you do…

Image: Jacopo da Ponte, Sheep and Lambc. 1650.

Unlimber That Gas Mask

March 4, 2017

Amidst all the attention grabbing stuff — you know, just a president accusing his predecessor of high crimes — the Trump administration proceeds with impressive consistency with moves designed to make the world worse, Americans sicker/poorer, and their inner circle enriched.

Next week, it’ll be the air-we-breathe’s turn:

The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.

The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.

During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.

I don’t want to go all-apocalyptic on this news, in part because I want to sleep more than four hours tonight, and more because there are some secular processes underway that reduce the impact of Trump’s and Republican willingness to destroy the climate and give Americans respiratory diseases — think the long-term losing market battle coal is waging against everything else, and the advances in transportation tech that will help mitigate the license to ill being granted the domestic auto industry. (I’d note that those car companies based in countries that do impose efficiency rules will now get an advantage over the big three that could very likely hit the domestic industry hard in a decade or less…rather like the way Japanese car companies were poised to take advantage of the oil shocks of the 70s, to great wailing and gnashing of teeth in Detroit.)

But even with that rather meagre reed of hope, there’s no way to spin this as anything but craptastic news for both the global and every local environment.

Every act this administration takes; every law this congress takes is the fruit of a poisoned tree: an election manipulated by foreigners, and undermined by domestic law enforcement.  There’s no room for negotiation here.  Step one: 2018.

Image: Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Gas masks for man and horse demonstrated by American soldierc. 1917-18

Do Not Be Distracted By What The Shitgibbon Says. Pay Attention To What His People Do

November 28, 2016

One of the signal failures of the media throughout the Trump dumpster fire of a campaign was to focus on his words — parsing, shifts in terminology, trying to distinguish between lies and hyperbole, or simply providing theater criticism on his performances, connections to audience and so on.  All the while, the critical information: what the combination of his ample history, the (few) clear positions he staked, and the people he hired revealed about what Trump would actually do as President.

That basic error is still with us, nicely diagnosed in this post by Robinson Meyer over at The Atlantic:

It works like this: Donald Trump, the president-elect himself, says something that sounds like he might be moderating on the issue. Then, his staff takes a radical action in the other direction.

Last week, Trump told the staff of The New York Times that he was keeping an open mind about the existence of climate change.

This was, as Meyer notes, treated as a major shift, given Trump’s earlier claim that global warming was a Chinese hoax.  As a result, many slow learners touted this story (Meyer self-indicts here.) But, of course, Trump’s almost certainly intentionally vague statement —

“I think there is some connectivity” between human activity and the warming climate, Trump said. “There is some, something. It depends on how much.”…

both grants him almost unlimited freedom of maneuver and was almost immediately belied by what his transition team is actually doing:

A day after Trump talked to the Times, The Guardian reported that the Trump administration plans could cut all of NASA’s Earth science research….

…which, as many have already noted, is vital for ongoing climate monitoring and ongoing attempts to study the implications of human – driven global warming with the resolution needed to inform action.

hieronymus_bosch_versuchung_des_hl-_antonius

Then there’s this:

Politico reports that the Heritage Foundation senior research fellow, Steven Groves, has been added to Trump’s State Department transition team. Just last week, Groves called for the United States to leave the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the overarching treaty that governs how the world organizes itself to address global warming. Groves also said the U.S. should move to “dismantle” domestic climate regulations.

Thus, a picture of a Trump administration policy on climate change: destroy the research infrastructure needed to study climate, and wreck both national and international prospects for action to address what a true existential crisis.

The moral, to use Meyer’s phrase, is that Trump is a master of the two-step, baffling the unwary (aka, seemingly, the entire New York Times staff) while proceeding behind that verbal smokescreen towards the worst possible choices.  We need a much more vigilant press, and a brave one.

Image: Hieronymous Bosch, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (left panel detail), 1495-1515.  Not an exact match to the post, but I’m kinda just looking for apocalyptic images these days, and this certainly works for that.

WASF, Part ∞

November 23, 2016

If we can’t see it, it won’t happen, climate change edition:

Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space.

After all, we can’t have any of that nasty left wing bias that reality imposes:

There is overwhelming and long-established evidence that burning fossil fuels and deforestation causes the release of heat-trapping gases, therefore causing the warming experienced in recent decades.

[Trump campaign advisor Bob] Walker, however, claimed that doubt over the role of human activity in climate change “is a view shared by half the climatologists in the world. We need good science to tell us what the reality is and science could do that if politicians didn’t interfere with it.”

Walker is, as one expects from Trumpistas, simply lying. Half of the world’s climatologists do not doubt the fact of human-driven climate change, unless you include those who got their advanced degrees at the University of Exxon’s Koch School of Science.  Ostriches and sand ain’t in it.

carl_eytel_and_george_wharton_james_in_a_horse-drawn_wagon_on_the_butterfield_stage_road_in_the_colorado_desert_ca-1903_chs-2280

This is a hugely consequential move.  There are two technologies that are essential to modern climate science: large scale numerical modelling made possible by the insane advances in computing power and associated computer science over the last several decades…and remote sensing, the ability to monitor earth systems on a planetary scale.  That’s what NASA — and for the forseeable future, no one else, brings with its earth science programs.  Kill that and we not only lose data going forward, we degrade a capability in an intellectual infrastructure that will take a long time indeed to restore:

Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said as Nasa provides the scientific community with new instruments and techniques, the elimination of Earth sciences would be “a major setback if not devastating”.

“It could put us back into the ‘dark ages’ of almost the pre-satellite era,” he said. “It would be extremely short sighted.

“We live on planet Earth and there is much to discover, and it is essential to track and monitor many things from space. Information on planet Earth and its atmosphere and oceans is essential for our way of life. Space research is a luxury, Earth observations are essential.”

This is a call your representative kind of issue.  It’s going to be difficult, certainly, if Trump really does go down this path, but NASA is enough of a pork barrel, and some GOP senators, at least, are not wholly clueless on this issue, so it might be possible to avoid the worst outcome.  It’s necessary to try.  If and as I hear of organized campaigns on this, I’ll bring the news  here.

Feh.

PS: that laser like media focus during the campaign on issues like climate change sure was impressive, wasn’t it?

C. C. Pierce, Carl Eytel and George Wharton James in a horse-drawn wagon on the Butterfield Stage Road in the Colorado Desert, c.1903. (Eytel was a painter associated with the “smoketree school” of artists working on desert subjects; James was a journalist and photographer.)

Kung Fu Pope v. Big Carbon

June 13, 2015

Via Slate, I came across this little bit of video:

Per Eric Holtas in Slate, this is the brainchild of some delightfully twisted Brazilian climate change activists.
My favorite shot?  Dawn-backlit papal Tai-Chi exercise.  IOW:  just watch this.
PS — the soundtrack could/should have been Inhofe and Santorum skull detonations.

They Are Who We Thought They Were (Republicans And Their War On Our Kids)

November 11, 2014

Republican priorities are — not “becoming,” because they always were — clear. Facing the one unequivocal existential threat to the American way of life (for starters) over the next century, here’s the GOP response to the oncoming rush of human-caused global warming:

The new Republican Congress is headed for a clash with the White House over two ambitious Environmental Protection Agencyregulations that are the heart of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible.

Just to update your scorecard, here’s what the latest IPCC report confirms is at stake:

i) Risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea level rise.37 [RFC 1-5]

ii) Risk of severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations due to inland flooding in some regions.38 [RFC 2 and 3]

iii) Systemic risks due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.39 [RFC 2-4]

iv) Risk of mortality and morbidity during periods of extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.40 [RFC 2 and 3]

v) Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.41 [RFC 2-4]

vi) Risk of loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.42 [RFC 2 and 3]

vii) Risk of loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for coastal livelihoods, especially for fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.43 [RFC 1, 2, and 4]

viii) Risk of loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for livelihoods.44 [RFC 1, 3, and 4]

Many key risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope.

 

In case those near-term consequences aren’t motivation enough, consider the IPCC’s view of the longer term:

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Fall_of_the_Rebel_Angels_(obverse)_-_WGA2572

Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial levels (as shown in Assessment Box SPM.1). Global climate change risks are high to very high with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more above preindustrial levels in all reasons for concern (Assessment Box SPM.1), and include severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security, and the combination of high temperature and humidity compromising normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year (high confidence). The precise levels of climate change sufficient to trigger tipping points (thresholds for abrupt and irreversible change) remain uncertain, but the risk associated with crossing multiple tipping points in the earth system or in interlinked human and natural systems increases with rising temperature (medium confidence).

There is hope, or would be, given smart climate policy — really, almost any climate policy

The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change. Risks are reduced substantially under the assessed scenario with the lowest temperature projections (RCP2.6 – low emissions) compared to the highest temperature projections (RCP8.5 – high emissions), particularly in the second half of the 21st century (very high confidence). Reducing climate change can also reduce the scale of adaptation that might be required…

But, of course, such an approach — reducing the impact of climate change by controlling carbon emissions, while planning for a higher-carbon future —  is precisely what the Republican party has vowed to block.

My son was born in 2000.  in 2050, at the threshold of that second half of his century, he’ll face the world we make for him now.  The Republican party is conspiring with their paymasters in ways that will make his world significantly worse than the one our parents’ generation left for us.  Potentially — see Oreskes and Conway on this — it could be horrifically degraded, my son and his generation and their kids confronting catastrophic failures in the systems that make modern life go.

Obviously, this means that despite the wretched feelings that remain from last Tuesday’s debacle, we gotta keep fighting.  We need the Presidency in 2016, and as much of the Senate as we can claw back — and, perhaps more important, all those local and regional governments in which it is possible to attempt global-warming policy jurisdiction by jurisdiction.  A hard slog.  But necessary.

At the same time, I do have one question:  Why do Republicans hate their children so?

Image:  Hieronymous Bosch, Hell (the world before the flood) — panel from the Fall of thRebel Angels triptych,