Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In the limelight

Here is an irresponsible (but not necessarily inaccurate) blog post (from ThinkProgress):
Climate change death toll ‘to double within 25 years.’

“Deaths and injuries from climate change are set to more than double in the next 25 years, according to estimates” by the World Health Organization. Deaths “linked to even a very narrow number of causes most closely connected to shifting weather patterns will reach more than 300,000 a year by 2030.”
That's it. That's the whole thing. Needless to say, the comments section over there is all stirred up.

The original article from the Financial Times cites some WHO data which points to "deaths inked to even a very narrow number of causes most closely connected to shifting weather patterns." I think that asserting such data as highly accurate is difficult because of the indirect relationship between climate change and individual weather events which haven't happened yet. I've said it a million times- climate is not weather. Although we could predict a mean of hurricane intensity or frequency over the next twenty years, we can't predict whether another one will hit New Orleans or Miami or Houston years ahead of time. Furthermore, populational and geopolitical issues have a huge role in predicting these deaths (e.g. migrations, emergency response, food supply) and thus the uncertainty grows.

Here's a good analogy for this type of report: What if you were to estimate the number of people killed by "poverty" in the United States over the next 20 years? This would seem difficult, because you would have to figure in deaths from poor medical treatment, deaths from exposure (for the homeless), deaths from malnutrition and maybe even deaths from drug-related gun violence. Is poverty the actual cause of death? No. But poverty is arguably the principal underlying cause. Climate change works the same way- a two degree rise in temperature may not kill anybody, but the hurricane resulting from more intense tropical ocean convection just might.

The issue here isn't the WHO report, which is surely based on broad estimates and designed to be preliminary and cautionary. The issue is that ThinkProgress presented the story so sensationally in a forum where people are looking for stories like these to confirm their biases. This is not good reporting, nor is it informative.

[ThinkProgress: Climate Change Toll to Double in 25 years]
[Financial Times: Climate Toll Will Double by 2030]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Labeled me a ho

Article in today's Times about Home Depot getting into green labeling. Perhaps this is a sign that being green is attractive to consumers in this down economy. I seem to recall that this was a big thing with lumber some time back- boasting of the concientious logging your companies suppliers practiced.

As most know, in the absence of any sort of regulation, a label doesn't really mean shit. The debate about what exactly qualifies food as "organic" illustrates this perfectly. If the label sells, people will surely try to sell the label without taking the hit associated with actually providing the bona fide product. I'm not saying this is what Homie D (nomenclature that proves I've worked on a construction site) is doing, but I'm just sayin is all. keeps their eye out for this sort of thing. Recognize.

News on them internets:

-The Philadelphia Eagles are crediting members of their organization who invest in wind energy. Maybe that's because Lincoln Financial Field is in the Delaware River flood plain.

-I came across an interesting blog recently called Framing Science. The blog doesn't talk about science itself so much as it talks about the way in which science is talked about- e.g. The Frame. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term "framing" it can be losely understood as the way in which an issue is presented and understood in the public debate. For example, here are two competing frames: Estate Tax versus Death Tax.

Basically, Framing Science keeps up with the issues of rhetoric, debate and discussion in science policy. I have said numerous times before that I think scientists have to work harder to make themselves understood and accessible so that they are not pushed around in the public debate by people with political goals but no factual backup.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Get schooled

I figure this is the appropriate forum for some horn-tooting, because a little bit of self-aggrandizing may help inform my dear readers of my credentials. This week I formally accepted entrance into a Ph.D program in Ecology and Evoloutionary Biology at Brown University, a program run in conjunction with the Ecosystems Center at the internationally renowned Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, which has played home to fifty one (51!) Nobel laureates over the years. I have studied before at the MBL, and I am excited to be not only Ivy League material but also a student at one of the world's truly legendary biological institutes. I'm deferring for a year, because, after all, I am a low-level superstar DJ in Philly, am I not?

So at least you know I'm bona fide.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ante up

After yesterday's Supreme Court decision, I neglected to mention that just because the court says that the EPA has the ability to regulate carbon dioxide and tailpipe emissions, it almost certainly won't until there's a new president. I was having an argument with somebody about the real differences between the parties and I pointed out that traditional conservatives are wont to let executive departments sit without enforcing the laws on the books, whereas liberals are unlikely to relax enforcement. This is largely a matter of beliefs regarding the role of government. The President, as the enforcer of federal law can generally choose to enforce or not enforce, to a certain degree. Conservatives, with a traditionally Libertarian perspective that minimal government is good government, generally try to use the existing governmental apparatus as little as possible, or eliminate parts of it should the opportunity arise. This is how Reagan turned thousands of homeless and mentally ill folks out onto the street in the 1980s, by cutting off funding to Federal programs pretty much regardless. He was a fucking dickhead.

A good example of lax or delayed enforcement is Brown vs. Board of Education, which served to strike down segregation in 1954. However, functional desegretation didn't happen until Eisenhower was forced to act on behalf of the Little Rock Nine to protect them from Arkansas governor Orval Faubus in 1957. George Wallace was forcing the Feds to play their hand still in 1963 at the University of Alabama. Another example of the potential laxity in executive enforcement would be the secret White House plan (recently uncovered) to limit the number of species which can be protected under the Endangered Species Act. More info on this here.

Anyway, back to the court decision. The New York Times has a good graphic showing the states that have their own carbon dioxide caps or regulations. I'm posting it here, but you can't host New York Times graphics on imageshack for some reason, so the graphic will probably rot in a week or so:

Not surprisingly, most of these maps look a lot like this one, from back in 2004:

Edit: I should point out that the states which have ethanol initiatives include those in the midwest, because these are the big agricultural states. However, this seems not to correlate with emissions regulation. Ethanol is a renewable energy source, but it does not eliminate greenhouse gas emission. I am not sure if ethanol burns cleaner than other combustion fuels.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Supreme Clientele

By a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court issued a ruling today in favor of states petitioning the EPA to classify greehouse gases such as carbon dioxide as pollutants. This means states can regulate carbon dioxide and so too can the federal government, I suppose.

This is a really, really big deal.

Here's the ruling (PDF) from scotusblog.