Archive for the ‘weather’ category

Program Notes: Frontline catches … (wait for it) …

April 28, 2008

George W. Bush in a lie about climate change.

So — I am in the middle of an ever-growing post to respond to Steven Postrel’s comments on this post, and I just can’t get it done before red wine and rib steak have their way with me tonight. Tomorrow — I almsot promise.

But I can’t leave the blog to grow yet more lonely, so to keep the climate change thread going, let me draw your attention to this truly depressing report from PBS’s invaluable series, Frontline.

What struck me about the program when I caught it on broadcast was the reminder that in 2000, George Bush ran to the left of Al Gore on controlling carbon emissions, promising a hard cap on emissions to respond to the imminent danger of global warming.

It took just months, as Frontline documents with a devastating interview with the EPA commissioner of the time, former New Jersey Gov., Christine Todd Whitman, for Bush, ably prodded by Dick Cheney, to reverse course and abandon any pretense of caring about climate change for what has turned out to be two terms as the worst president in American history.

The significance of this report lies beyond its worth as a depressing exercise in recent/contemporary history. John McCain has garnered support, or at least praise, for his seeming commitment to the reality of climate change and the need for action to control the human-produced carbon pollution that is broadly understood as the prime engine of global warming.

But people inclined to buy the rather thin gruel that McCain has offered so far (at least on his website) should have heard a warning shot when McCain called for a gas tax holiday, as I blogged here. There is no way to reconcile a measure that provides incentives to drive with a genuine commitment to controlling carbon emissions.

And then I saw the Frontline report (titled “Hot Politics” by the way), and I realized that I had been baited and switched before, by the man who has designated McCain as his political heir. Trust this man on climate science at your own (and your children’s, and everyone else’s) risk.

Usually, I illustrate this blog with fine art. But there is really only one possible artistic commentary here.


Really Stupid Ideas, take two: Hillary Clinton edition.

April 22, 2008

In this post, I tried to lay out why John McCain’s idea (sic) for a gas tax “holiday” (now there’s an Orwellian usage).

Short form: the holiday would save, on average 28 bucks per person; would cost jobs in the construction business (the gas tax supports the highway trust fund, which pays for road construction and repair), damage our infrastructure — and, as a lagniappe, would further damage any US attempt to address carbon pollution and climate change. (See the first post for links).

The point I made below is that McCain has tried to defend his credentials as the one of the few major Republican party figures to take climate change seriously — but that this proposal shows that he ain’t serious. I think the proposal illustrates much that is wrong with the McCain candidacy in general: it reminds us of his deep economic illiteracy; it is a demonstration of his dangerous capacity for holding two incompatible ideas in his head at the same time, with apparently no strain; and it reveals a very risky commitment to a kind of tooth-fairy approach to governance: if there’s a problem, then anything that sounds like a solution becomes one in fact…

except, of course, it doesn’t.

Why repeat all this?

Because today we learn that McCain has company: Hilary Clinton. All the reasons that a suspension of the gas tax is dumb, dumb, dumb apply just as much when the support comes from a me too Democrat as it does when it pops out of a clueless Republican. Barack Obama, to his credit, sees the idea for the harm-causing gimmick it is, and rejects it.

In many ways, Hillary’s endorsement of McCain’s folly is worse than the original silliness. She is not a policy idiot. She has to understand the immediate and long term economic harm that flows from this. (You don’t fix infrastructure, it costs a ton in difficult to measure ways — everything from blown tires and busted shocks from pot hole interactions to the loss of time (money) that comes when deteriorating roads can’t handle the traffic load.) And above all, she says she takes global warming seriously. Check out her proposals here.

She knows better. She does the wrong thing anyway, presumably for a short term political advantage. (Short term — because it is hard to see how trailing along after McCain helps her in a putative general election run.)

She may not mean it, of course, just as McCain quite probably does not. The gas tax suspension has been proposed for this summer when, as you may have noticed, neither of the two candidates will actually wield any executive authority. This could well be one of those “how dumb do they think we are?…Pretty dumb” campaign trial balloons, to be forgotten the moment real governance begins.

Strangely, that doesn’t make me regard either John McCain or Hillary Clinton more kindly.

For further comment, see Virginia Postrel’s on point asperity here. (h/t Andrew) You can follow her link to Stephen Postrel’s quickie analysis of carbon tax vs. cap and trade economics here. S. Postrel falls into a familiar smart guy trap of opining about stuff he doesn’t actually know when he sneers at the state of climate science. (See Eric Roston’s incredibly generous review essay about my twenty year old book on the subject for context). (And hey — if we couldn’t blather about stuff we barely understood, where would the blogosphere be?) But that aside, he’s put together as clear a brief primer as I have yet seen on the economics of carbon regulation.

Update: John Cole can’t stand the idiocy any more either.  Shorter and funnier than me.

Image: Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Carbon Crisis, 1663 edition

January 19, 2008

Well, not really. But in this post over at Carbon Nation, Eric Roston, author of the forthcoming The Carbon Age, writes kindly about my first book, Ice Time, published way back in 1987. He uses that work as a stepping stone to describe some of the pre-history of climate research, linking to a review of 19th century attempts to measure atmospheric carbon.

To extend Eric’s time line, I dug into some of the notes and found the reference to what I believe is the birth of systematic meteorology in the English speaking world. In 1663, Robert Boyle suggested that Robert Hooke, then the fledgling Royal Society’s curator of experiments, start keeping a daily record of London’s weather.

Hooke responded with enormous energy, inventing or improving the basic suite of meteorological inventions — the thermometer, the barometer, rain and wind gauges and other, more specialized devices. He used them to make reliable, standardized measurements in London, and then realized that if he could persuade others to do the same, a picture of a national climate, and not just local weather would emerge. So he published in the proceedings of the Royal Society what amounted to a call to arms, asking the gentlemen of England to rise from their beds and take up their thermometers.

Which they did — most notably, John Locke, rather more famous for other works. Locke’s far-too-exciting political life killed the project after a few months in the 1660s. But beginning in December, 1691, now safely returned from his Dutch exile, he took it up again, making meticulous, daily measurements of the weather afflicting the Essex manor to which he had more or less retired. His weather records ultimately appeared as part of the nation’s stock of knowledge in in 1704 in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

My favorite detail from this story of the birth of a science: Locke used a thermometer made by the celebrated watchmaker Thomas Tompion. Tompion has his own place in the history of standards as the first craftsman known to have used serial numbers to keep track of his productions.

Reading that over, I realize that this may seem like inside baseball. But I love this stuff — after all, someone had to start tracking their work in this way. And it turns out that we know who did.

Image: Thomas Wyke, “Thames Frost Fair,” 1683-4. Source: Wikipedia Commons.