Over the next week and a half, I'll be posting some of the most interesting parts of the International Conference on Climate Change last week in New York. I spoke at the event about the interplay between science and policymaking - more on that tomorrow.
The best single moment of the event, however, was the speech of Czech President Vaclav Klaus. An economist by training, difficult in a formerly communist country, Klaus gave the keynote presentation on the final morning of the event. The most moving moment in his speech (which can be read here) was the following:
A week ago, I gave a speech at an official gathering at the Prague Castle commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1948 communist putsch in the former Czechoslovakia. One of the arguments of my speech there, quoted in all the leading newspapers in the country the next morning, went as follows: “Future dangers will not come from the same source. The ideology will be different. Its essence will, nevertheless, be identical -- the attractive, pathetic, at first sight noble idea that transcends the individual in the name of the common good, and the enormous self-confidence on the!
side of its proponents about their right to sacrifice the man and his freedom in order to make this idea reality.”
He noted that the day after this comment appeared in the press, the Czech Green Party attacked him for the statement. He looked at the crowd and said, "I'm glad they knew I was talking about them."
When the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) firebombed the Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001, one environmental activist wrote to the Seattle PI, calling them "eco-patriots." He was, of course, careful to say that he himself didn't condone firebombing, but he certainly condoned their politics.
Now, the Stranger seems to be following in the footsteps. Erica Barnett writes this week in the Stranger that:
Obviously, I don't condone burning down houses (even unoccupied, unsold, multimillion-dollar "eco-dream homes")—for one thing, it obliterates the efforts of mainstream environmentalists to get the word out about the real, catastrophic climate impacts of choices like living in the suburbs. But the statement that ELF allegedly spray-painted on a sign at the arson scene—"McMansions in [rural cluster developments] r (sic) not green"—is neither debatable nor particularly controversial. ... Perhaps more importantly, there's no such thing as a sustainable suburban lifestyle."
Isn't saying that this makes it difficult for "mainstream environmentalists to get the word out" about this problem admitting that the ideology is the same, only the tactics are different?
Yesterday the Governor's climate bill, which calls for a "sustainable revolution," passed to much fanfare from the environmental community in Seattle. Today, that revolution is imperiled...and it is all the fault of an abandoned Denny's in Ballard.
Days after Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels declared that Seattle would become the "green building capital" of the country, Seattle has protected a decidedly un-green building. Most ironic is that the building was going to be demolished to make way for high-density housing, known as condominiums.
The Governor's Climate Advisory Team's Interim Report calls for such increased density, noting that "Variants on the smart growth concept exist, but many call for clustering living units with easy access (often walking distance) to shops, schools, and entertainment and recreational facilities..." Instead of building housing in the middle of Ballard, the City of Seattle has brazenly ignored the threat from climate change and taken steps that require more housing to be built outside the city requiring long commutes and more CO2 emissions.
"We're talking about remaking the economy of the nation, the whole globe." - Becky Kelly, Washington Environmental Council, on the passage of the Governor's climate change bill at the legislative deadline yesterday, Seattle P-I, February 20, 2008
An "old saw" is a hackneyed or tired bit of wisdom that seems true but is really quite useless. One such old saw is the claim that we are destroying "old-growth forests" as a justification for policies of one sort or another.
Last week the green-building coordinator at the Department of Ecology, Rachael Jamison, used this justification to argue for using Forest Stewardship Council certified timber in green buildings. FSC was created by environmental activists to encourage companies to use more restrictive standards when harvesting. She says green buildings that use FSC can "stimulate the growth of a new market within Washington's timber industry."
Chief among the reasons to use FSC certified wood is, in her words, that harvests following its rules "Do not contribute to the destruction of old-growth forests." Whenever I see this claim, it is very clear to me that the person making the claim knows very little about forestry in Washington.
The understandable reason people express concern about old growth is that there is very little left. The creatures that rely on old growth forests have difficulty adapting to other types of forest habitat.
But applying the simple rules of supply and demand also says that when something is scarce, like old growth timber, it is also very expensive. A builder looking to use old growth for construction would be needlessly increasing their costs with little, if any, benefit in quality. In fact, there isn't a single major mill in Washington state that can even handle the large logs that come from such forests anymore.
I wanted to demonstrate how expensive it would be to use old growth as compared to standard timber. Currently, timber is selling at about $250 per thousand board feet. When I went to find out how much it would cost to use old growth, however, I hit a wall. I called two people who routinely sell timber in Washington state and neither of them even knew where I could get such information. We simply don't harvest old growth in Washington under FSC rules or any other set of rules.
This isn't the first time we've taken Rachael Jamison to task for inaccurate claims. Relying on tired, old saws about old growth harvesting to justify policies demonstrates that they don't know much about the area they are looking to regulate and policies justified on that basis are likely to be costly and ineffective.
Al Gore refers to climate change as a "planetary emergency."
Here is a state emergency announced today:
Meanwhile, Gov. Christine Gregoire declared a state of emergency this afternoon for more than a dozen counties as a result of the "relentless" snowstorms that have been pounding mountain passes and Eastern Washington for days."
This is not normal. And it just goes to show that Greg Nickels was right in 2005:
At first, Nickels said he was not distressed by these trends. "I think like most Americans I sort of said, 'So what? It would be nice if it were a few degrees warmer.' " But then he learned more about how Seattle's water and electricity supplies could be hurt by a shrinking snowpack. In meetings with Seattle's water and electricity department chiefs, Nickels said he heard repeated forecasts for below-average snowpack. Eventually he said he realized "we're never going to get average again."
dir="ltr">We're certainly not getting average this year. In 2005 when we didn't have average, the Mayor decided to launch the US Mayors Climate Conference to combat global warming. What will the Mayor do this year?
Global warming activists often refer to the scientific "consensus" on climate change as a justification for the costly government programs they advocate. The science, however, is still evolving, as is evidenced by this new study done by NOAA indicating that climate change may actually reduce the severity of hurricanes.
But even if there isn't a scientific consensus on the impacts of climate change, K.C. Golden of Climate Solutions and a member of the Governor's Climate Advisory Team cited another group whose testimony persuaded him when speaking to the State Senate last week.
"...our federal government has not stepped up and provided very satisfying answers to those questions. I was reminded as we just heard the companion bill in the House when I heard the voices of the [children] who came up insisting on solutions in a very clear voice, it isn't right that the federal government hasn't stepped up and offered solutions."
At the next legislative hearing on climate change, expect to see fewer NOAA scientists testifying and more children.
Yesterday, we turned in our comments to the Washington State Climate Advisory Team.They released their draft recommendations in December, outlining their plan to reduce carbon emissions and strategies aimed at “transforming our economy and our lifestyles.” Washington Policy Center submitted our comments in three pieces: general comments; a discussion of jobs and the climate strategies; and a detailed analysis of one of the more expansive recommendations that calls for changes in growth management, building codes and even the name of the Department of Transportation.
One serious flaw deserves attention. There is a summary chart in the draft listing the expected (although the draft says "guaranteed") reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It projects a reduction of 272.3 million metric tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG). It says that the net-present-value (costs - benefits, adjusted for time) of these reductions will be -$949 million, i.e. a savings of nearly $1 billion. They're practically paying us to reduce CO2! How can this be?
Well, one reason is that for some of the most expensive strategies they list the cost as "not quantified," and treat the NPV as zero. This, despite previously listing costs (slightly different from NPV) for three of the strategies at over $9 billion in November. In the December public draft these numbers are gone. Even if we accept that the NPV for these is difficult to estimate (which is the reason they give for removing the $9 billion), they should also remove the projected GHG savings for those strategies. They do not, leaving the impression that you can get 272.3 million metric tons of GHG reductions for the low, low price of negative $1 billion. This is misleading at best, dishonest at worst.
There are some elements of the proposal we believe are appropriate, such as the emphasis on looking at a range of incremental changes and the recognition that technology is key to reducing greenhouse gases.
The draft, however, is burdened by a very heavy reliance on political decisions and the hand of government. We have three general critiques of the draft:
It is incomplete, leaving the most significant area of carbon reductions, transportation, to future decisions and planning.
The economic estimates are very rosy. In a number of cases the cost estimates for the recommendations are low or artificially lowered.
The greenhouse gas projections are often only targets and others are unlikely to materialize. The projections often are built on the belief that government can more effectively choose the correct direction of technology and investment than the market – an assumption that has shown time and again to be unsupportable.
The CAT meets again this Friday to discuss next steps and the draft recommendations. We'll see how their discussion goes.
We sent in our comments on the Washington State Climate Advisory Team's draft recommendations today. We will post a link to the complete comments tomorrow.
One thing we did not comment on, but deserves attention are the CAT's comments about the impact on transportation projects on jobs. They argue that "Transit capital investment is a significant source of job creation. This analysis indicates that in the year following the investment 314 jobs are created for each $10 million invested in transit capital funding."
The Seattle Times, provides a different, refreshing, take today. Regarding the President's plan to offer $500 checks, they say "In fact, the economy is not a mechanism operated by the president. It is all of us, earning, spending, saving and investing. ... These problems are not going to be fixed with $500 checks. They will be fixed by people cutting their losses, replenishing their savings, adjusting their attitudes about risk and making better decisions."
While we can debate the merits of the stimulus package, it is nice that the Times states clearly who really makes a difference in the economy. In the short-term these checks may help, but it may add to the debt if government spending does not decline.
Similarly, spending money on transit to "create" jobs doesn't really do that. It simply takes money from people who might have invested more efficiently elsewhere and steers it to transit. Thus, the CAT and others who make these claims, count the jobs created but ignore the jobs lost elsewhere.
In this way, stimulus checks without spending reductions and government spending are similar. Both take money from people in the form of taxes and then put it back into the economy in the form of rebates or government spending. Rebates are better because they go where the economy needs it most (i.e. where demand is high) whereas government spending goes where politicians decide.
So, when the Climate Advisory Team or others make the claim that increased government spending will "create" jobs, we hope the Seattle Times will remind them that the economy is not operated by government, but by all of us earning, saving, spending and investing.
The Seattle Times today reported that a new analysis done by the UW Climate Impacts Group projected that sea level would rise 6 inches in Seattle by 2050, and would likely climb 14 inches by the end of the century. They said that sea level along the coast would not rise until 2100, when it would increase by 2 inches. The sea level rise there would be offset by the uplifting of the tectonic plates.
Sea level has been rising for centuries, although this would be a modest increase in the rate.
Whenever I see stories like this, I like to go back and see what had been predicted previously. I frequently refer back to two studies, one done by the Puget Sound Action Team in October 2005 and the other by the Department of Ecology in November of 2006.
The Puget Sound Action Team report, "Uncertain Future," said this about the rise in sea level: "This is one of the best understood and predictable components of future climate." In the report they predict, on page 21, that sea level will rise by 1 meter (3.28 feet) by 2100 and Seattle will see a sea level rise of over 2.5 feet. Neah Bay on the coast, they claimed, would see an increase of 1.3 feet. They called these projections the "mid-range."
The Department of Ecology also did a study. The purpose of that piece was to estimate the economic costs of climate change on Washington state.
In that report they said that "Sea levels in the northeast Pacific Ocean are projected to rise between 3 inches and more than 40 inches above current levels by the end of this century."They went on to say that "Tacoma can expect sea levels to rise between 5 inches and 20.6 inches by 2045 compared with present levels." Today's estimate, 6 inches, is at the lowest end of their previous projection.
To come up with their economic projections they used three scenarios. For that the "Department of Ecology has mapped the impact of modest (2’) and catastrophic (10’ and 20’) sea level rise on the state’s present-day shoreline." The new study shows that what was "modest" in November 2006 is almost twice the likely level of increase today. Today, catastrophic is 4 feet, which the Climate Impacts Group now calls "highly unlikely," or one-fifth of the Department of Ecology's previous estimate.
The most telling line, however, is that barely 14 months ago the Department of Ecology claimed that "Like other aspects of climate change, sea levels appear to be rising faster than earlier models had projected." Now that their projections are significantly lower, however, don't expect them to write "sea levels appear to be rising more slowly than earlier models had projected."
The error is in these documents is dramatic. The Puget Sound Action Team overestimated sea level rise by anywhere from 3 to 7 times. The Department of Ecology doubled the likely increase and inflated the worst-case scenario by a factor of 5. It is likely, however, that the Department of Ecology document will continue to be used to justify high costs of addressing climate change.
This data also makes clear how strong the bias is at the organizations writing the reports. Despite claims that their data is "scientific," the errors are always in the same direction. Such a consistent pattern of overestimation points to an obvious political bias.
These numbers show why climate alarmists' claims of "certainty" and "conservative estimates" sound increasingly like "I am not a crook."
Reporting on yesterday's testimony of the Climate Advisory Team in Olympia, the Vancouver Columbian reports that when global warming hits, "A possibility that residents of the Evergreen State might one day need to seek refuge at 'public cooling centers' from heat waves like the one that took more than 30,000 lives in Europe in 2003."
Here, from Wikipedia, is a discussion of the causes of the deaths in France, which account for half of the total number and was hardest hit:
"The administration of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin laid the blame on: the 35-hour workweek, which affected the amount of time doctors could work; family practitioners vacationing in August (Many companies traditionally closed in August, so people had no choice about when to vacation. Family doctors were still in the habit of vacationing at the same time); families who had left their elderly behind without caring for them; The opposition as well as many of the editorials of the local press have blamed the administration. Many blamed Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei for failing to return from his vacation when the heat wave became serious, and his aides for blocking emergency measures in public hospitals (such as the recalling of physicians). A particularly vocal!
critic was Dr Patrick Pelloux, head of the union of emergency physicians, who blamed the Raffarin administration for ignoring warnings from health and emergency professionals and trying to minimize the crisis."
Temperatures reached 104 F. It is certainly clear that the French health system contributed seriously to the problem. But the implication is that some other cause was responsible for the death. Here (with the benefit of the letters R, S, T, L, N and A) is a hint about what politicians thousands of miles away are now blaming in order to justify an expensive and ineffective raft of regulations: _ L _ _ A L _ A R _ _ N _.
"There is a suspicion, and I have that suspicion myself, that a large number of people who label themselves 'green' are actually keen to take us back to the 18th or even the 17th century." - Sir David King, recently retired UK Chief Science Adviser who convinced Tony Blair to tackle climate change, The Guardian, January 12, 2008
"Don't miss this Jared Diamond opinion piece, which the P-I ran Sunday, in which he argues that when it comes to sustainability, consumption levels are a *lot* more important than the population explosion." - Seattle P-I reporter and Society of Environmental Journalists board member Robert McClure, Dateline Earth blog, January 10, 2008
"In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism,that curse our existence. ... Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest lasting lifestyle in human history. In contrast, we're still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and it's unclear whether we can solve it." - Jared Diamond, "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race," Discover magazine, May 1987
Today the Senate Natural Resources, Ocean and Recreation committee met in Olympia to discuss the role timber harvesting played in causing the recent Chehalis floods. The Seattle Times wrote two stories in December making this link and now the legislature is looking at the issue. Three things stand out.
First, state climatologist Phil Mote testified about the amount of rain during the storm. Weyerhaeuser has rain gauges indicating more than 10 inches of rain in some areas. National Weather Service data indicated something similar. Mote countered that his data says it was more like 3 inches and it was not a "top three" rain event. Actually, he admitted, he only has limited data. The complete data won't come to him for a while because the volunteer monitors send the data to the National Climatic Data Center and then they send the data to him after a period of time. He also noted that the Centralia rain gauge had a tree over it which would decrease the amount of rain falling in the gauge and, therefore, was unreliable.
Thus he is unclear what the truth is. But, since he was there, he felt like drawing some conclusions. The amount of rain that fell during the storm, he argued, was unremarkable, therefore any impacts must be human caused, like diking or timber harvest.
Well, that isn't exactly true either. He did note that three of the highest rainfall totals in the area have occurred since 1990 and that rain events of 3-4 inches, like this one, were increasing. So the rainfall was higher than usual...and the cause is global warming.
So was this rainfall unusual? According to Phil Mote:
No, the timber harvests caused the floods.
Yes, global warming caused more rain and the floods.
Later came UW Geologist David Montgomery. He presented information about the unstable nature of the land in the area and showed modeling indicating that part of the timber harvest featured in the Seattle Times should not have been logged. He did not, however, overlay the photo with the actual location of the landslides with his modeling. He told me that he didn't get a chance to because he had only been invited two days prior and he had to rush to put the presentation together.
It appeared that at least one of the slides on the harvest was in an area his model indicated was suitable for logging (an area he identified as unsuitable was left unlogged, but a slide occurred anyway). If his model showed that the landslide occurred in an area acceptable for harvest, it would seem to be further testimony to the ferocity of the storm.
Most telling was his closing comment. He lamented the amount of harvesting and development, arguing that they caused landslides and flooding. Unfortunately, he said, these events don't happen often enough to force us to change our ways. Perhaps I am missing something here, but isn't the goal that these things don't happen very often? A lot of statistics were thrown around during the hearing, but this was the only indication of how often these slides occur, which is to say, not very often.
Lastly, it was interesting that the committee invited a UW climatologist, a UW geologist but not a UW forester or anyone from the UW College of Forest Resources. Perhaps they were invited but could not attend. It would have been nice to hear from the one department at the University who spend their whole time working on these very issues.
The Associated Press is reporting today that autism cases in California continued to rise even after mercury was removed from vaccines, which environmental groups like the Washington Toxics Coalition, claimed caused autism. They wrote that "Researchers from the state Department of Public Health found the autism rate in children rose co!
ntinuously during the 12-year study period from 1995 to 2007. The preservative thimerosal [a form of mercury] has not been used in childhood vaccines since 2001, but it is used in some flu shots."
One year ago the British medical journal Lancet published the largest study to date on the impacts of mercury in fish on mothers and their children. The study found that, in the words of the Washington Post, "children of women who ate little fish during pregnancy had lower IQs and more behavioral and social problems than youngsters whose mothers ate plenty of seafood, a finding that challenges the U.S. government's standard advice to limit seafood while pregnant." The advice is based on a concern about the mercury content in fish.
These studies vividly demonstrate the danger of the "precautionary principle" which environmentalists use to justify the banning of chemicals they don't like. When the science is in doubt, they argue, it is "precautionary" to create restrictions because they feel it is better safe than sorry. But this only counts impacts on one side of the ledger.
Pregnant mothers who reduce their intake of fish because of a concern about mercury may find they are doing real damage to their children. Removing effective preservatives from vaccines make it more difficult to keep them effective and store them. Those cautionary concerns, however, don't fall under the principle's umbrella.
The web page for the Washington Toxics Coalition, which lavishly praises the precautionary principle, says it "protects public health and the environment by eliminating toxic pollution." The question is, when their policies harm public health, will they listen to the science and change or cling to their ideology?
What did I do the past two weeks? I did what everyone did...I ate too much and relaxed.
What I should have been doing was reading the Draft Recommendations of the Climate Advisory Team (OK, I did actually take it with me and go through it a bit...I'm a geek). The 200 pages in the three documents that make up the recommendations were released December 21, the Friday before Christmas. The deadline for comment is next Thursday, January 10. The total comment timeline is 21 days, which is shorter than the typical comment period for environmental policies.
The short timeline isn't because the recommendations are limited. In the draft, the second paragraph notes that the draft provides a "clear sense of the path forward" and provides policies that are "breathtaking in scope." They go on to say that it is "one of the most critical, if not the defining, issue of the 21st century."
Given the scope and import of the issue, it would seem that the people of Washington deserve more than 21 days during the holidays to look at the nearly four dozen policies which are being proposed.
We sent a letter today asking that the public have additional time to review, analyze and comment on the Draft Recommendations. You can read it here.
Update (January 4, 2008)
The Seattle P-I is reporting that the Climate Advisory Team is extending the deadline for comment on their Draft Recommendations. I'm not surprised. We wouldn't have asked for the extension if we thought they wouldn't consider it. While I have a different view on these issues than the Ecology Director and others running this effort, those folks are not unreasonable. In fact, my discussions with folks at CTED have been very enjoyable and interesting.
Washington residents now have three weeks in the new year to take a look at the recommendations and comment.
I encourage people to look at the report and comment. Don't feel you need to look at everything. If you have strong feelings about energy policy, transportation, agriculture, forestry or growth mangement, comment in those areas. There are dozens of recommendations and even if your interest is only in one area, send your thoughts.
Feel free also to send your thoughts generally about the costs and benefits of climate policy. If you feel that Washington should put tax reduction, education funding or transportation ahead of addressing climate change, then simply say that.
They have publicly announced that they won't entertain a discussion about the reality of climate change so comments in that area will likely fall on deaf ears.
If you have an interest, you should comment. Many others will be and your voice should be heard.