Supreme Court Amicus Curiae from scientists

In the wake of the NY times editorial yesterday, we’ve been asked to provide a link to the Amicus Curiae (draft) written by David Battisti, Christopher Field, Inez Fung, James E. Hansen, John Harte, Eugenia Kalnay, Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, James C. Mcwilliams, Jonathan T. Overpeck, F. Sherwood Rowland, Joellen Russell, Scott R. Saleska, John M. Wallace and Steven C. Wofsy in the current Supreme Court case (Commonwealth of Massachusetts et al vs. US EPA et al). Some discussion of this statement is also available at Prometheus.

Update: The actual brief (of which the first link was a draft) is available here (see comments below).

Update 2: We also note that on the final brief, Mario Molina, Ed Sarachik, Bill Easterling, and Pam Matson were additional signers.

  1. Roger Pielke Jr.:

    Thanks for the link. You guys might also be interested in these comments on the oral arguments in this case today. The representation of the science of climate impacts was pretty poor across the board (by both lawyers, and various justices).

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/001003quick_reactions_to_a.html

  2. Roger Hill:

    I had heard tat Scalia had already started to complain that it was over his head and that it is why he never liked science or something.

    I for one am sick and tired of the mechanical intellectual laziness switch that is thrown every time this most important issue comes up.

    There must be a very simple explanation about global warming.

    Carbon is in the ground and some of it in the atmophere. It is being burned from being dug out of the ground where it is a fossil fuel. Now in the atmosphere – add sunlight and it warms pure and simple.

    Too much carbon in the atmosphere where it will warm too much. It’s really not that hard to comprehend is it?

    There needs to be campaign to boil this down or sugar this off as we say in Vermont for the “simpletons” so that the intellectual “Scalia types” can no longer hide behind their ignorance.

    Oy

  3. Pat Neuman:

    Re 2.

    People need to hear simple explanations about global warming from officials they consider the experts on weather and climate. Those officials are with the National Weather Service, but officials answer serious questions about global warming with:

    … “I’m not really a climate change expert, so I can’t offer much insight here.” …
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/ask/20030801.html

    National Weather Service staff receive training on “Climate Variability”, but they don’t receive training on climate change.
    http://www.comet.ucar.edu/class/common/html/2007course_sched.htm

    Agency staff are hiding behind controversy and politics. The public is not being served in climate education.

  4. Neal J. King:

    re: 2, Roger Hill:

    I don’t think your explanation is quite right. Trying to reach the level of straightforwardness you’re hoping for, my attempt would be:

    - CO-2 is much better at blocking infrared radiation than visible light. So the effect of CO-2 is to allow radiation from the sun to pass freely through, but to block IR coming from the earth. The IR radiation is the way that the earth cools off (reflected light has never heated the earth), so CO-2 discourages cooling.

    - Because the amount of CO-2 in the atmosphere makes it “optically thick” in the IR, the probability of an IR photon passing through the atmosphere without interacting with a CO-2 molecule is small. In this situation, the properties of the IR radiation that makes it out of the planet reflects closely the temperature of the atmosphere that is within optical depth (OD) value = 1 of the vacuum: that is, if you track the path of an escaping IR photon backwards, OD = 1 implies that that photon has interacted with a CO-2 molecule above or around that height. So the properties of the IR radiation reflect the upper layer of the CO-2, the CO-2 with which the radiation has most recently interacted.

    - In particular, the intensity of the IR radiation is close to the blackbody radiation intensity (at IR frequency) at the average temperature of the CO-2 at OD = 1.

    - So now, if you increase the amount of CO-2 in the atmosphere significantly, the spherical shell of CO-2 expands. In particular, the point at which one is at OD = 1 from the vacuum of outer space moves further out. Since the typical temperature in the troposphere generally drops with height (radius), roughly according to the adiabatic lapse rate of about 6 degrees/km (this is an upper limit on how fast the temperature can drop with increasing height), the temperature at the OD = 1 point is lower than it was before.

    - This means that the amount of IR leaving the earth is reduced, reflecting the lower temperature of the new OD =1 point. But that means that the energy balance of the earth is affected: The same amount of visible radiation is pouring in as before, but the amount of IR power radiated out and away has been reduced. This results in net radiant-energy income, and thus heating.

    - If the amount of CO-2 is now fixed, this imbalance will continue to create a heating effect until the temperature at the OD = 1 point is the same as it was when there was an equilibrium before. Simple-mindedly, I would expect a net increase in global average temperature to equal 6 degrees x the number of kilometers the OD = 1 point has moved upwards.

    - I have ignored all feedbacks in this picture. I have also ignored the small increase in the radiating surface area, due to the expansion of the CO-2 sphere. However, on the basic mechanism of the greenhouse effect, I think this is essentially right. The real experts can correct me if I’ve erred.

  5. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    So much for the supposedly “pro-life” judges being pro-life. I mean, I can understand perhaps why many pro-lifers voted for certain candidates with inconsistent platforms (against abortion, but okay with not reducing global warming). And I can understand candidates juggling issues in an inconsistent fashion to find the right mix to get elected (that’s why we call them politicians). But these judges don’t have those excuses here. Which just leads me to believe they are total…[well, you'll just delete what I have to say].

  6. Daniel Rosenberg:

    The Supreme Court has posted the transcript of today’s oral argument.

    You can try this link:
    http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/05-1120.pdf

    Or click on Oral Arguments on the Court’s Home Page, then Argument Transcripts (second bullet from the bottom), and then it is the fifth case down in the “2006 Term Cases” box.

  7. Geordie:

    I don’t think anybody has a hard time understanding that more CO2 will heat the earth more and why it does. That’s not even an important point, is it? I think what gets confusing is proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that future generations will be greatly effected because of our actions or inactions. It is known by most people that temperature followed by CO2 levels naturally fluctuate and are currently doing that. So how can you squarely point the finger at certain countries or states that have added more CO2 without knowing for certain what the future effects will be. The problem is that there seems to be no smoking gun and no dead body, what I mean is our victim is somebody in the future and there is no absolute 100% pure fact that can be used to lay blame on certain people. Instead we have best guesses put together on a computor model that is beyond understanding for 99.9% of the world.
    At least that is why I still feel in the dark. I can’t understand how a model can exactly replicate the chaotic world but then again I can’t even understand (like most people) how my own computor exactly works. So maybe that is where the faith comes in, faith in the computor models.
    I don’t think the concept of a thicker coating makes something warmer, should be all that difficult to grasp. For me, it is all the doubts and questions that follow it.
    It can’t just be “All the models demonstrate increased temperature with raised CO2″ or “A consensus of scientist agree”. It has to be unrefutable and understandable proof.

  8. John L. McCormick:

    Hear an excellent summary of the oral arguments offered by Georgetown University Law School professors.

    Immediately after the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments, the Georgetown University School of Law Environmental Law Society hosted a discussion on the oral presentations and the reactions they prompted among the Justices. It was a quality forum that provided a clear and concise rendition of the issues the Court will have to decide and offered opinions on possible outcomes.

    Use the following link:

    http://tinyurl.com/6vpsa

    to go the C-SPAN home page. Scroll down and access the following site:

    Georgetown Univ. Law Center on Massachusetts v. EPA
    In Washington, DC, the Georgetown University Law Center holds a panel discussion on Massachusetts v. the Evironmental Protection Agency.
    11/29/2006: WASHINGTON, DC: 1 hr. 31 min.

    It is worth the time to hear the entire discussio….almost as good as being in the Chamber.

  9. Eli Rabett:

    There seems to be agreement that CO2 is an air pollutant.

  10. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    The scientific question is a critical issue in this case. Much of the courtroom discussion focused on the right of the states and enviros to sue (standing is the legal term). If the science were certain the parties who want to regulate GHG win without much problem. So climate science is a major part of this case.

  11. Hank Roberts:

    thank you John, agreed, the Georgetown panel is well worth listening to.

  12. Russell Seitz:

    I have grave tidings for Roger Pielke–Justice Scalia is well ahead of the Beltway learning curve . In a rare moment of lucidity, that Neocon Must Read, The American Spectator let staunch republican William Tucker air the common scientific wisdom on climate forcing last week , in an article entitled Endorse Kyoto. It drew a withering response, headed by this missive from Julius Blank of Los Altos California:

    “Mr. Tucker must be joking or ill informed. …None of the pundits on either side of the issue seem willing to recognize the fact that an increase in atmospheric CO2 of 100 ppm cannot possibly add enough heat to raise atmospheric temperatures by anything measurable unless somehow the CO2 gets heated up to some absurdly high temperatures.

    For example; if you want to raise the temperature of one million pounds of air you will need to add 250,000 BTU. Air has a specific heat of 0.25 BTU per pound per degree F. CO2 has a specific heat of 0.20 BTU per pound per deg F. If you add 100 pounds of CO2 ( 100 ppm) you get 20 BTU for every degree of heated CO2. You can do the math to see how much CO2 needs to be heated to get to 250,000 BTU. This is not rocket science. Most students of thermodynamics and heat transfer can easily verify this.”

    The good news is that Mr. Blank is not a lawyer. The bad news is that he is the doyen of the chemical engineers who founded Fairchild Semiconductor.

    [Response: Oh dear…. – gavin]

  13. pete best:

    #12, if that is true then why don’t they also factor in the additional heat trapped by increased waper vapour which is a feedback from increased warming from Co2 and what about the Methane also.

  14. John L. McCormick:

    RE #9

    Eli, I do not agree [There seems to be agreement that CO2 is an air pollutant]. That view has to fit the confines of the Clean Air Act. And, the courts will have a hard time coming to your conclusion. Though, they must.

    However, CO2 is contributing to increasing emissions of volatile organic compounds which morf into ozone and thus contribute to ozone non-attainment in metorpolitan areas such as Washington, DC, Denver, LA, etc.

    It would be of value for RealClimate to present the evidence on hand that CO2 fertilization of vegetation and longer growing seasons, increasing daytime temperatures, possible change of air flow causing increased air inversions is a yet to be explored justification for EPA to link CO2 with ozone non-attainment and thereby rule CO2 as an agent of smog generation.

  15. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    On the argument that increasing GHGs from China would outweigh any gains from the U.S. reduction of GHGs (with new vehicles), I would respond that the small reductions from the U.S. would have even more impact in reducing harm in that context, since a slight reduction in a dire situation is much more helpful than a slight reduction in harm in a relatively benign situation. It is sort of like a dollar being much more valuable to a starving person, than to a millionaire.

    I would also argue that our GHG emissions are causing harm now & will be doing do almost in perpetuity. Mr. Milkey did say the harms were continuous, but I would have liked to have heard the compounding effects of adding GHGs, esp CO2 (see the RC post from Archer on its longevity in the atmosphere), day after day, year after year. This isn’t like a pending death sentence, where the court decision and outcome could be extremely close, as when the court decides just before or just after the person is executed. But the GHG issue IS a close call in another way. If we do not start reducing very soon, huge damage is imminent in the sense of being “in the pipeline” and being compounded. It’s our Indo-European languages that have problems, channeling and limiting our thinking. In Hopi, for instance, verb tenses are not thought of in terms of space (length, point, or segment of time), but in terms of verifiability, what is more or less certain.

  16. Aaron:

    John L. McCormick:
    Your suggestion reminded me of an oddball insight that occurred to me last night. Rogert Corder is getting a lot of press right now for his work on procyanidin concentrations in red wine. One of his findings is that:

    Slow ripening boosts the levels of all polyphenols and two key enzymes involved in polyphenol synthesis are increased by ultraviolet (UV) light. So grapes grown at higher altitudes, where there is more UV exposure, could potentially contain higher levels of procyanidins.

    Now, I doubt the overall utility but isn’t it interesting that one of the theoretical implications of stratospheric ozone depletion is an increase in the antioxidant power and consequent health benefits derived from wine?

  17. Jana Wilson:

    I am a layman who reads this blog on a regular basis in hopes of gaining some balanced understanding of climate change. Sometimes I understand the topics and sometimes I don’t. I have learned quite a lot, though.

    I just finished reading the Amicus Curiae written by David Battisti, Christopher Field, Inez Fung, James E. Hansen, John Harte, Eugenia Kalnay, Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, James C. Mcwilliams, Jonathan T. Overpeck, F. Sherwood Rowland, Joellen Russell, Scott R. Saleska, John M. Wallace and Steven C. Wofsy in the current Supreme Court case.

    It is, for the non-scientist, a very good analysis of the entire situtation surrounding the science of climate change. I plan on using parts of it to explain issues to others. I find the whole communication issue between scientists and the public at large to be fascinating, because there are constantly miscommunications. It is an issue that flies under the radar, but is terribly important in our world today.

    Thanks!

  18. Hank Roberts:

    Economists: “… Climate change and Social Security remain areas of disagreement.”
    Robert Whaples (2006) “Do Economists Agree on Anything? Yes!,” The Economists’ Voice: Vol. 3: No. 9, Article 1.
    http://www.bepress.com/ev/vol3/iss9/art1

  19. Michael Salem:

    What annoys me when people talk about uncertainty in climate understanding, is that everything we understand is uncertain. One needs to contemplate relative uncertainties to evaluate information.

    In this case, I would expect most educated people to agree that our uncertainty in how negative will be the effects of unmitigated climage change are significantly smaller than our uncertainty in the economic ramifications of mitigating climate change. In fact, it’s not even clear that the economic ramifications will sum to be negative.

    This is aside the point that it is, to put it bluntly, childishly irresponsible to prioritize our economic goals over the welfare of the world.

  20. Henry Molvar:

    Thanks for this article.

    The Amicus Curiae brief linked in the first paragraph states, in at least two places:

    c. This amount of warming is very likely to drive
    steady melting of arctic ice sheets and further
    increases in global average sea level, which is
    projected to reach an additional 0.1 – 0.9 meters (1/3
    - 1 foot) by 2100, and to continue rising to much
    higher levels in the decades to millennia following
    2100.

    I get (1/3 – 2.9 feet) for 0.1 – 0.9 meters; is this difference significant to the case or am I just nit picking?

    Henry Molvar

  21. Grant:

    Re: #19

    This is aside the point that it is, to put it bluntly, childishly irresponsible to prioritize our economic goals over the welfare of the world.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Re: #20

    Not just nitpicking; indeed the difference between 1 ft. and 2.9 ft. will be significant for coastal areas!

  22. Mitch Golden:

    What is interesting is that this brief appears to be specifically targeted to appeal to Justice Scalia. At several points they quote from his opinions (one dissenting), and they emphasize arguments bound to appeal to him.

    I’ll be interested to see if they are right that he is persuadable.

  23. Zeke Hausfather:

    re: Henry Molvar
    I noticed that basic math error as well. To be honest, it probably will have no real impact on the case (given that this is just one of many amicus briefs, and all the plaintiffs have to prove is that the harm is significant and imminent to have standing), though clearly they need a better editor…

  24. John L. McCormick:

    RE# 16

    Aaron, I like the way you think.

    Perhaps we can thank Amphictyonis; the Goddess of Wine and of Friendship Between Nations for ozone depletion. Look for the silver lining!

  25. SecularAnimist:

    Mitch Golden wrote in #22: “What is interesting is that this brief appears to be specifically targeted to appeal to Justice Scalia.”

    I have not yet seen the complete transcript but from the brief excepts that I have seen, it appeared that Scalia was reading from the denialist script, e.g. “there is no scientific consensus that global warming is caused by human activities.”

  26. Mitch Golden:

    Re #25: Just to clarify: I was referring to the Amicus Curiae brief. I suspect what you’re referring to is the oral arguments. I won’t be surprised if Scalia votes the wrong way on this. The court has had a terrible record with respect to understanding science and scientific arguments, and Scalia has definitely been part of that.

  27. Sashka:

    It was pretty silly of NYT to opine that a plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the states are right. First of all, it is really a bad form to issue pre-judicial opinion. Second, if I may follow their bad example, if anything, the plain reading would suggest the opposite because (as the NYT conviniently ignored) the law says in its judgment. However stupid the EPA judgement is there is not much to do that can be done about it. That alone pretty much decides the outcome of the case, in my uneducated non-binding non-legal yet not so humble opinion.

    The proceedings at this stage seem to be focus on whether or not the states have the standing to bring up the case. For that they need to show that they stand to be harmed by the EPA inaction. I guess the current projection is that MA will lose to the tune of 15 feet along the coast line if the policy doesn’t change. With the new standards that the states want enacted this number will change to what? I’m guessing 14.8-14.9. Then the EPA inaction takes away 1-2 inches of land along the coast. Technically, it may be construed as harm but in reality this is less than any forecast uncertainty.

    The whole thing is just a political stunt, particularly because the Bush administration have recently proposed to tighten the CAFE standards.

    http://www.hybridcars.com/cafe.html

    What more do the states want?

  28. LucysGranddaughter:

    Political stunt, for sure. But maybe one that will have some positive consequences. If the case keeps global warming–and the Bush administration’s denial of it–in the papers and on the evening news for awhile, it could further sway public opinion until the administration has to change its stance….?

  29. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Weren’t there any endangered species affected by GW in these states that filed? And if so, couldn’t they also use that (or maybe it isn’t imminent enough).

    Also, why can’t states (& cities) also make a claim that in addition to reducing harm to themselves, they also wish to reduce their harm to other people & species around the world (or at least in the U.S.)? Should a state or city be prevented from regulating its harm it does to others?

    Another thought, states and cities (& nations) could be gravely harmed in their reputation & standing in the world. The U.S. has decided to be a skunk about GW & not care that other nations around the world think very lowly of us for it & might even sanction us for it, but why should states and cities be barred from preventing their reputations from being smashed to smitherines? There are other harms beside physical harms, and sometimes these are more important (as in people would give their lives for various principles).

  30. Sashka:

    Re: 28.

    Don’t hold your breath.

  31. Scott Saleska:

    As one of the (much lesser known) scientists on the climate scientists brief, I am gratified to see it appreciated by some of the readers here.

    Please note, however, that the RC link provided here is to our Amicus Brief submitted at the stage when petition for Certiori (Mass et al.’s request that the Supreme Court review the case) was filed back in May.

    Our more complete climate scientist’s Amicus brief “on the merits” (the one that is considered at the stage of oral argument, and was cited by Justice Stevens yesterday during oral argument) is at:

    http://www.communityrights.org/ClimateScientistsAmicusFinal.pdf

    Parts of our later “merits brief” parallel the earlier “Cert. brief” (but with the units conversion error detected by Real Climate’s very perceptive readers removed!), but with a greater integration of the science into the legal issues.

    Interested readers should note that not only our brief, but all relevant documents for the case (now including the transcript of oral argument) are at the website referenced above. Backup to:

    http://www.communityrights.org/LegalResources/PendingSupremeCourtCases/Mass.asp

    This includes EPA and Massachusetts filings, and all Amicus briefs filed on behalf of both sides. In particular, RC readers might be interested to see that the Competitive Enterprise Institute has assembled a group of contrarians (Sallie Baliunas, Pat Michaels, et al) to file a brief on the other side, disputing ours.

    Best regards,
    Scott

  32. Michael Tobis:

    I think climatologists should welcome honest challenges from outsiders, and be willing to accept the possibility that we are making herd mentality mistakes. I find it difficult to see why economists should be exempt from doing likewise. It’s my perception that economists have a near unanimity of opinion on matters that under present circumstances deserve reconsideration.

    Comment #18 and the referenced article put one of them into focus.

    I jumped through the hoops and downloaded the article. I was unsurprised to see that the perceived “disagreement” on greenhouse gases was in fact a near unanimity among economists. The question was posed as one about the impact of CO2 restraints on GDP. The disagreement amounted to a spread in opinion of probably less than 20 per cent in the estimate of GDP impact of greenhouse gas emissions. This amounts to a very small difference in annual growth rates over a century. Consequently what we see among the surveyed economists (leaving aside a few possible outliers) is near unanimity that the entire question isn’t very important.

    Many of us believe otherwise. Therefore we must either question the conclusion, or question the framing of the issue.

    Accepting the framing of the question amounts to a concession that “GDP” is a meaningful measure of human well-being over long time scales. Is this necessarily true?

    While on sufficiently short time scales GDP growth is a meaningful measure, as the time scale gets long it is necessarily measured in s fictitious quantity called the “inflation adjusted” currency. This adjustment is preformed relative to a standard “basket of goods” that establishes prices, but the contents of the “basket” themselves are frequently readjusted.

    I can’t resist pointing out, to those who express great concern about errors in the historical temperature record and great confidence in economic assessments of long-term policies, that this adjustment amounts to a drift not in the intrumentation but in the quantity being measured!

    Over a century, this highly nonlinear drift in the definition of wealth can dominate the year-over-year growth rate. It is absolutely unclear what the quantity being measured is, because it is impossible to actually establish an exchange rate between 2006 currency and 2106 currency.

    If climate shifts spectacularly, perhaps the economy will “grow” in the direction of increased military activity, increased medical spending, increased spending in water management, increasing expenditures on insurance. If climate stabilizes, perhaps it will “grow” perhaps less, perhaps more, in the direction of purchases of musical instruments, art supplies, libraries. Which society will be better off? Will the scenario A basket of goods be more accessible in the scenario B world, or vice versa? Is it possible that the question doesn’t actually have a meaningful answer>

    Is it too much to suggest that a dollar in the business as usual world might not have an obvious exchange rate versus a dollar in the carbon stable world? Did any economist respond to the question

    “In comparison to a world in which greenhouse gases were stable, rising levels of greenhouse gases by the end of the twenty-first century [will have what quantitative net effect on GDP]?”

    with a resounding “that is an ill-posed question”?

    The “size” of an economy is a socially constructed quantity. Leaving aside for the present the issue of whether the largest economy on some measure is necessarily the most desirable one, consider the fact that not just the instrument, but the quantity being measured, drifts!

    Still, it seems generally accepted that the fate of the biosphere is to be decided by the experts in this wonderland croquet.

  33. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    #27 (Sashka) The NY Times editorial is correct about a plain reading of the Clean Air Act. The arguments in court dealt with standing and the EPA’s position that additional policy considerations outside of the CAA trumped the language of the CAA.

    #29 (Lynn Vincentnathan) AGW and endangered species have already made it to the courts, but under the Endangered Species Act. Corals were recently added to the Endangered Species Act after an environmental group filed a lawsuit. The relevant agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, has admitted that one of the things that has been killing corals is higher than normal temperatures.

    The Center for Biological Diversity was the group that threatened to sue. They are fairly new and they love to litigate. Here’s a reuters article
    http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=10397

  34. Doug Watts:

    Re: 27: “I guess the current projection is that MA will lose to the tune of 15 feet along the coast line if the policy doesn’t change. With the new standards that the states want enacted this number will change to what? I’m guessing 14.8-14.9. Then the EPA inaction takes away 1-2 inches of land along the coast. Technically, it may be construed as harm but in reality this is less than any forecast uncertainty.”
    ——-
    I am from coastal Massachusetts (Buzzards Bay). Buzzards Bay and many other sections of the coastline of Mass. have extensive salt marsh habitats that serve as the nursery areas for an enormous number of marine species, many of which live as adults in deeper areas. This is why salt marsh and marine estuarine habitats are protected, and in many instances, are now being restored.

    The US EPA itself has a longterm saltmarsh/estuary protection and restoration project on Buzzards Bay, the Buzzards Bay Estuary Project. It is the US EPA’s project. Its goal is to preserve and restore these critical habitats from past and ongoing anthropomorphic impacts, particularly increases in nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage, development and non-point source pollution.

    An anthropomorphic sea level rise (even a small one) due to climate change would alter and likely harm these habitats and undo the very work the US EPA is now funding to protect their ecosystem functions. So, in effect, it can be said that by the US EPA refusing to acknowledge the potential effect of climate change on these habitats (ie. due to sea level rise), the US EPA is an actor in defeating the explicit goals and purpose of its Buzzards Bay Estuary Project and all of the efforts now being undertaken by the people and towns around Buzzards Bay and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The US EPA would be the chief “culprit” in preventing its own stated protection and restoration mission from being achieved. We have met the enemy and he is us.

    Through this illustration, I think it is obvious that Massachusetts has a strong standing claim in this case. Salt marshes and shallow estuarine habitats are critical habitats for a wealth of marine fauna, many of which are economically important. These habitats are sensitive to very small changes in sea level.

    Lastly, what is at issue here is not the difference in sea level rise between a No Action model and what the states are asking for at present in CO2 reductions. That is a strawman because it puts on trial the effect of the requested reductions — rather than the EPA’s claim it has no legal authority to mandate any reductions. These are two completely different things. As far as I understand it, this case is not a debate about how much CO2 emissions should be reduced pursuant to the Clean Air Act (ie. Reduction Alternative A or B or No Action), but whether the Act gives the EPA the legal authority and responsibility to reduce them at all. That’s why it is before the Supreme Court, because it is a threshold issue of interpreting legislative intent. If this were about two CO2 reduction plans and their various costs and benefits the Supreme Court would not have accepted the case for hearing.

  35. Mark Ritzenhein:

    I, too, am a lay reader of this blog. I hesitate to say anything except that I am left so confused by the debate and the minutiae argued over here that I cannot understand how any scientist can detect a trend of any sort. I value this site and am very glad that it exists. However, my certainties of global warming have been wrecked and wracked by doubt and seemingly-crossed data or methods argued over here. How is a non-scientist supposed to cope with this? How do scientists cope with such uncertainty? How can one stand back and reach any conclusion at all? What scientific “truths” do any of you hold to?

  36. Hank Roberts:

    Thank you Dr. Saleska.

    Mark, if you’ve read the documents Dr. Saleska just pointed us to, you’ve got a good start. If not,
    http://www.communityrights.org/LegalResources/PendingSupremeCourtCases/Mass.asp

  37. Rod Brick:

    I understand the necessity to to describe things in simple terms to try to win people over. But at some point the credibility gets undermined when one starts actually beliving that what is arguably (one of) the most difficult and complex scientific fields IS simple. ‘Cause it just ain’t, the conclusions of the self-assured not withstanding.

  38. Henry Molvar:

    Re:35 Mark Ritzenhein I’ve been a scientist for over 40 years and the answer to your question, What scientific “truths” do any of you hold to?, will probably seem very curious and perplexing to a layman.

    My answer is that truth is in the province of religious beliefs.

    The highest certainty that science holds is accepted theory; and any theory can be overturned by new data or improved methodologies.

  39. Hank Roberts:

    Mark, start reading here:
    http://www.communityrights.org/LegalResources/PendingSupremeCourtCases/Mass.asp

  40. Jim Dukelow:

    Re #20 and the math error:

    Another possibility is that someone mis-transcribed a hand-written 0.3 meters (or 1 foot) into a type-script 0.9 meters. The quantitative estimate of sea level rise appears to have been replaced with a qualitative statement in the Climate Scientist’s Final Amicus Brief.

    Best regards.

    Jim Dukelow

  41. Mark Ritzenhein:

    Perhaps I should have asked more specific questions. Thus: 1. How does one sort “noise” from “trend?” 2. Is there any certainty (underlying, tacit “belief”–let’s leave the age-old argument out here) that CO2 is warming the planet in a direct correlation (I have seen graphs of CO2 and average planetary temp from Antarctic ice cores which show an exact correlation, and I use this as the basis for my belief that the planet will become extraordinarily hotter–is this a mistaken assumption?) 3. Models always require refinement, but are current climate models reliable enough to take for granted? 4.Does scientific inquiry allow speculation for a proposed disaster date for life on this planet, due to current GW (yes, I understand the provisional and cautious nature of scientific theory)? Thank you.

  42. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 41

    Well Mark, you have trumpted I. F Stone, a brilliant thinker and peace activist of another generation who said:

    If you expect to have you questions answered in your lifetime, you are not asking big enough questions.

    Mark, go back to reading the TAR and eagerly await the FAR.

  43. Sashka:

    Re #34

    Doug,

    If the Buzzards Bay Estuary is such a sensitive a habitat as you seem to imply you can can safely assume it destroyed 100 years from now with or without EPA action. If, OTOH, it is not that sensitive then it’s hard to see haw another couple of inches would make any difference.

    Back to the court case, I’m also curious why the EPA chose to invoke the legal authority argument. IMHO it would be quite sufficient to fall back on the aforementioned judgement provision and end the debate right there ad then.

  44. Hank Roberts:

    The argument that little changes don’t make any difference, as Justice Souter aptly remarked, is one that could be equally applied to many other government endeavors, but isn’t.

    Is there a classic logic name for the argument that small steps get nowhere, and so you might as well not move at all? it seems an odd variation of Zeno’s Paradox that I can’t quite put a name to.

  45. James:

    Re #41: Mark, I think you’re confusing the details of climate modeling and prediction, which are complex, with the basic mechanism of CO2-caused global warming, which (at least to not-a-climate-scientist me) seems quite simple. Here’s my suitable-for-lawyers explanation:

    Exhibit A: We know from theory and measurement that when visible light strikes a surface, such as the earth, some of it is re-radiated in the infrared.

    Exhibit B: We know (because it’s been measured by experiments) that CO2 transmits visible light, but blocks infrared.

    Exhibit C: We know that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing over the last century or so, because people have measured that increase.

    Therefore, we expect the earth to get warmer as a result. If it were a nice simple system, without complications like oceans, clouds, and vegetation, we could look up the relevant formulas and easily calculate just how warm it would get. (The reason climate scientists get PhDs is so they can deal with the complications :-))

    OK, that explains why Global Warming is happening. For why the guilty party is H. sapiens, in the 20th century, with many fires,

    Exhibit D: We can calculate the amount of CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels, and it’s pretty close to the increase seen in the atmosphere. We also know of no other source (volcanos, etc) that emits anywhere close to enough CO2.

    I think that meets the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, don’t you?

  46. Sashka:

    Re: #43

    I have trouble following the logic here. I think you and Justice Souter argue that since the government is known to have done some stupid things in the past it follows that it is legally obligated to do other stupid things.

    This thought may have come from a top judicial mind but I humbly beg to disagree.

  47. Dano:

    RE 32 (Tobis):

    Well said. The phrasing I often use in laypeople’s terms is: our economy is based on our current condition – if we enter a climate stage that is unprecedented, our economy will be in uncharted territory and many bets may be off.

    I would add to Mr Tobis’ perhaps the economy will “grow” in the direction of increased military activity, increased medical spending, increased spending in water management, increasing expenditures on insurance. that there may well be many climate refugees, moving to more habitable areas and competing for the resources of their new location [viz. Katrina]. A portion of our GDP will not go into investment, but into disaster relief and be largely absent from the economy, in addition to the losses incurred to infrastructure, crop yields, etc.

    Best,

    D

    [Response: Indeed, it seems that all economists except Amartya Sen and Bill Nordhaus have forgotten that, even in economics, GDP is not identitical to what is more broadly known as “welfare,” but rather is an objectively measurable statistic that is broadly believed to be loosely correlated with “welfare.” Bill Nordhaus has done work on better measures of “welfare,” but strangely does not seem to use these to any great extent in his work on economic impacts of climate change. Measureing GDP is easy, predicting GDP is hard, but coming up with a good workable quantitative definition of “welfare” is tough, let alone predicting it. –raypierre]

  48. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    #34 (Doug Watts) #43 (Sashka)

    The salt marshes are sensitive to even small changes in sea level. Marshes exist in narrow bands and what makes the existence of salt marshes possible is their relationship to sea level. The current rates of sea level changes are slow on a human scale but ecologically very quick and these rapid changes are making it difficult for salt marshes to adapt. Thanks to Doug for reminding me about AGW and the salt marshes.

    When I was an undergraduate I took a class on wetlands ecology, and the class took field trips to sites where there were attempts to construct wetlands. There were acres of ground that were supposed to be marshes, but were completely barren because the contractors made mistakes of placing the marshes a few inches above or below sea level when.

    “IMHO it would be quite sufficient to fall back on the aforementioned judgement provision and end the debate right there ad then”.

    The reason the government did not rely on the judgment provision because the judgment provision is does not give a sufficient legal basis for not regulating CO2. The Clear Air Act is clearly states the EPA is to regulate substances that are harmful when released into the air.

    There is one provision in the CAA that states that the head of the EPA has discretion, but when the whole law is read this discretion is very limited. The government and industry lawyers know this and so aren’t making it a focus of their argument.

    “what is at issue here is not the difference in sea level rise between a No Action model and what the states are asking for at present in CO2 reductions”

    There are legal technicalities that make this a critical issue. The states and enviro’s are suing the EPA to force the EPA to act. To have the right to sue (standing) they have to show that the the regulation of CO2 from cars in the U.S. will reduce harms caused by AGW. This is tough for the states and enviro’s. If they don’t have the right to sue they can’t force the EPA to regulate CO2, not matter how harmful it is. Thats why standing is a focus of the government’s case.

  49. cat black:

    One gets the sense from this forum and others that while people are generally opposed to the idea of even minute levels of suspected carcinogens being released into the environment, or vague kinds of accidents or product safety issues, they are less sensitive to small changes in an existing component like CO2 or methane that is not itself a health threat but which, at sufficient levels, will someday certainly change life as we know it in ways as yet uncertain. This is much like the fear we exhibit regarding the appearance of a single mountain lion at the edge of a neighborhood, which brings out armed police, while the ravages of introduced exotic species on native flora and fauna, to their eventual extinction and the destruction of vast areas of natural habitat of inculculable value and beauty, hardly raises a ripple.

    We are “self centered” in that we fear for our lives and demand great societal intervention even if the threat is very remote or abstract, while we are far less concerned with a general destruction of our environment or indeed of other peoples not our own.

    Of course this is all chalked up to that old buggaboo “human nature” which, if we are to take that as our inescapable reality, means we are both irreducibly stupid and profoundly callous, and therefore whatever happens next in our drunken careen toward personal profit and shared indifference is probably simply our just due. Though of course the suffering being debated will happen not to me or my family or anyone reading this, but to countless poor and uneducated peoples unable to comprehend what has just taken place. I see their faces in the future and I harden against the idea that we can endure AGW impacts just fine.

    Some of us will endure, and some of us may die by the hundreds of millions a lingering death of starvation and disease in places not of our birth, confused and lost, homeless and alone and torn from family and clan and land, weeping in self-doubt not knowing what we personally did to deserve such a gristly end and the slow destruction of everything we ever knew or thought could endure beyond our short days.

    Put that in your denialist pipe and smoke it, for all the pleasure it gives you.

    cb

  50. Ike Solem:

    There is another aspect to this, which is the relationship between coal-fired power plant emissions, CO2 emissions and a whole host of associated air pollutants, including mercury, arsenic, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide species. The problem seems to be that the legal definitions of the matter exist in a different realm then the basic science involved.

    The notion of a ‘threshold’ is what’s scientifically questionable. The EPA tries to set safe thresholds for pollutants, but that notion doesn’t make sense. Would you sprinkle a little arsenic, sulfur and mercury on your dinner plate, even if the EPA assured you that ‘you were beneath threshold’? Probably not, right? Now some people at the EPA seem to be trying in good faith to set a ‘threshold’ for CO2 in the atmosphere, which is laudable from the regulatory standpoint, since it provides a legal support for efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and move towards renewable energy as a replacement for fossil fuel energy.

    As far as certainty and uncertainty in climate science, it seems to me the largest uncertainty by far is going to be human behavior over the next few decades, which is a subject for which no equation exists. The best science can do (and this is what the IPCC does) is construct climate scenarios for different human behaviors.

    It’s somewhat reminscent of Richard Feynman’s examination of the Challenger disaster, in which he asked engineers and managers to write down estimates of the the possibility of failure. The manager wrote down “0% chance of failure” and the engineers wrote down things like “1 in a 1000″. (I think the data to date shows 1% chance of failure for every launch). Still, a lawyer would say “I want absolute, unrefutable proof that the space shuttle is not safe”- that’s a legal argument, not a scientific one. What’s the scientific measure of ‘safe’? Perhaps the real failure is that of basic scientific education in this country.

    Global warming is happening; the only real questions that are being asked are ‘how fast’ and ‘how far’? It’s the human variable that presents the greatest uncertainty in answering such questions. The accumulating evidence doesn’t look good – scientists used to think it’d take the Greenland Ice Sheet 1000 years to melt, and I believe the more recent estimates are on the order of 100 years (under B-A-U scenarios). Then you have the increased incidence of deadly heat waves, the shrinking artic sea ice, the disintegrating antarctice ice shelves, the melting tropical glaciers, the warming oceans, the responses of plants and animals to new climate regimes, low-oxygen water masses and changes in ocean circulation, intense and frequent hurricanes, historically erratic weather patterns, softening permafrost… I mean, what more do you need?

    The only rational thing to do is to try and reduce CO2 emissions by 70% or so as fast as possible on a global scale, while continuing to monitor the climate system in as much detail as possible. You’d think that any rational person would want that information, but the truth is that some finanical and political interests are actually eager for a lack of information (otherwise why hack the climate satellite funding?).

  51. Eli Rabett:

    I think everyone is missing the climate for the weather here. First, again , the court appeared pretty unanimous that CO2 was a pollutant. Second, based on the questions, if EPA under some future administration decided to outlaw combustion sources on the grounds that they emitted NOx, SOx, heavy metals, etc. it sure sounded like the Supreme Court would agree that they had the right to do so. Good luck to making a combustion system emission free except for CO2 and H2O.

  52. Keith Jackson:

    #27 – I understand what you are saying about the plain meaning of “in its judgement”, however you have to read the whole clause, not a fragment. The whole phrase is “which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare” (42 USCS § 7521). A plain language interpretation of that phrase is that judgement is limited to whether the pollutant is reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. Granted, this plain language reading is less convincing then the one that seems to have convinced Scalia that CO2 is within the Clean Air Act’s scope, but it is fairly clear nonetheless.
    Remember, Mass. et al aren’t actually asking the Court to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. They are asking the Court to make the EPA revisit the petition that asked the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases and rule on permissable grounds. The EPA says it can decline to make a pollutant finding for policy concerns that are not in the text of the statute.

  53. Rod Brick:

    Re #27, 52 et al: The EPA’s “judgement” can not be unilateral nor without current scientific evidence way beyond conjecture. Virtually every pollutant the EPA regulates came after considerable study, including usually epidemiological analysis, private and public hearings, etc. They can’t just declare CO2 a pollutant to be regulated. (However, they have been known to try to sneak things in before…. )

  54. Nathan Brown:

    Roger,

    I think a simple explanation has been provided about climate change, it’s Al Gore’s movie ;-)

    It seems obvious to me that the conservative judges are going to rule against the EPA, and the liberal one’s will rule in favor of the EPA. I don’t think the evidence that is presented matters much.

    Does anyone have a reason to think otherwise?

    Nathan Brown
    Learn how to prevent global warming by joining me in making one simple change.

  55. Keith Jackson:

    #53 – what you say is correct, though I think you overestimate the “reasonably calculated” standard, which is a fairly easy standard to meet in legal terms. As for the analysis, private and public hearings, etc. the EPA has already held them in response to the petition that started this case. This wouldn’t be a case of “sneaking” anything in. The fact is, the EPA knew that if it made a finding, it would have to find CO2 is a pollutant and regulate it. So, instead, the EPA declined to make a ruling based upon policy considerations not in the statute.
    In this way, this case is similar to the FDA tobacco case. The FDA had clear statutory authority to regulate tobacco, but when petitioned to, declined. The difference is that Congress had legislated for years under the assumption that the FDA could not regulate tobacco, and so had set up a different regulatory scheme. In this case, Congress has not passed any regulatory scheme for greenhouse gases at all, so the legislative precedent doesn’t exist.

  56. Barton Paul Levenson:

    I’ve been looking for an appropriate forum to do this in, but one hasn’t turned up, and I don’t want to make this an excuse for never doing it. A couple of months back I was pretty savage toward Gavin (I think it was Gavin) over whether real anti-technology ideologues existed. Whether I was technically right or not is irrelevant, I could have been a heck of a lot more polite. My apologies to Gavin and anyone else I offended, and my apologies again for taking so long to post this.

  57. Hank Roberts:

    > Nathan Brown
    > … seems obvious to me that the conservative judges are going to rule against the EPA,
    > and the liberal one’s will rule in favor of the EPA

    Not even wrong.

  58. Archskeptic:

    I have been an environmental scientist for over 20 years. Went down to the Antarctic to measure the effects of enhanced UV-B on the plant life there. Not a sausage. And this at a time when all the “Greens” were shouting doom and gloom. Well the Ozone hole is still there and still no disaster.
    Looking at the current debate over Global Warming, I see some interesting parallels- Gloom, doom and more disaster. And over what a 0.6C temperature rise in about 100 years? Still well within the range of natural variation and no proof that it is to do with man, or CO2. In fact a recent publication makes this absolutely clear.
    And I quote “The writers show that the human-induced climatic changes are negligible.”
    (Khilyuk, L.F., and G. V. Chilingar. 2006. On global forces of nature driving the Earth’s climate. Are humans involved? Environmental Geology, 50, 899-910.)

    Comments please.

    Archskeptic

    [Response: Hmmm… and I suppose you have actually read this paper, rather than just quoted a line from an advocacy web site? The authors claim that the natural rate of methane emission is an order of magnitude larger than human emissions…. tricky to reconcile that with the highest values (more than double pre-industrial values) in over 650,000 years… I would suggest that you focus your reading on papers with actual scientific content. -gavin ]

  59. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    I’ll second Gavin’s Hmmm.

    #58 (Archskeptic) “Went down to the Antarctic to measure the effects of enhanced UV-B on the plant life there.”

    What plant life in Antarctica were you studying?

  60. Hank Roberts:

    >an advocacy web site
    Yep, Western Fuels’ PR agency posted this 12/1, yesterday; they disallow questions.

  61. P. Lewis:

    Re #59 and #60

    The author of #58 is Don Keiller, I think. He’s written a number of papers, including co-authoring this one:

    Montiel P., Smith A. & Keiller D. (1999) Photosynthetic responses of selected Antarctic plants to solar radiation in the Southern maritime Antarctic. Polar Research, 18(2), 229-235.

    HTH

    I’ll further second the Hmmm!

    I don’t agree with Archskeptic’s views on most things to do with GHG and warming (he was a prolific anti on the recently closed BBC S&N boards), but I don’t think allusions to hemp, whether true or not, are particularly helpful. :)

  62. Dontbuyit:

    re: 58-61
    Wow, how rude people can be, especially to a peer, or to a person who actually has field work in places most of the rest of you can only talk about. At least #62 brought the level back up to less rude.
    So what’s wrong with this paper he’s citing? The question more interesting is, have any of you read it?

    [Response:Yes, it’s bunk on mutliple levels. It has so many out and out incorrect statements that I would be amazed if this got any review at all. For instance, they claim to be able to model the effect of greenhouse gases purely as a function of their mass and ignoring their absorption of LW radiation. As the rebuttal (in press) states:

    It is astonishing that the paper of Khilyuk and Chilingar (2006) (as well as Khilyuk and Chilingar 2004, for that matter) could pass the review process of a seemingly serious journal such as Environmental Geology. Such failures of this process, which is supposed to guarantee the quality of published literature, are likely to damage the reputation of this journal.

    Indeed. -gavin]

  63. Steve Bloom:

    Re #41: Mark, I think it’s very common for people to have questions like yours when they first start to delve into the admittedly complex details of climate science. Reading the brief Hank linked to is a good idea, but I would suggest first reading the Discovery of Global Warming (which describes how the present scientific consensus formed starting from a base of very little knowledge just a few decades ago) and then the Real Climate FAQs. With these under your belt, the details will become much more comprehensible.

  64. Steve Bloom:

    Re #62: OTOH, considering the present interest of the BBC in obtaining evidence of the alleged suppression of skeptic/denialist ideas, it may be useful to occasionally publish things like this. If that were the case here, though, I would expect to see some kind of accompanying note to keep the editors from being subjected to blame.

  65. Chuck Booth:

    RE #58 “Well the Ozone hole is still there and still no disaster.”

    I’m not familiar enough with alleged claims of impending “disaster” to evaluate their merit, and I’m not even clear about what qualifies as a “disaster.” But, there are negative consequences from the ozone hole in the southern hemisphere that seem pretty serious (and should be familiar to anyone who has worked in Antarctica):
    http://www.atmosphere.mpg.de/enid/20c.html
    http://www.epa.gov/ozone/science/sc_fact.html
    http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/reporting/atmosphere/ozone.html

  66. Doug Watts:

    Re #34: Doug,

    If the Buzzards Bay Estuary is such a sensitive a habitat as you seem to imply you can can safely assume it destroyed 100 years from now with or without EPA action. If, OTOH, it is not that sensitive then it’s hard to see haw another couple of inches would make any difference.

    Sashka,

    I do not imply that salt marshes are very sensitive habitats. They simply are very sensitive environments, like all wetlands. Ample literature documents this. It can be fairly said that salt marshes are the physical expression of sea-level acting within a very low gradient shoreline environment dominated by organic detritus. My purpose in posting was (a) to state that the concern in Massachusetts over sea-level change is naturally focussed on those coastal environments most sensitive to sea-level change (ie. salt marsh habitats) (b) that a lot of the Mass. coastline is comprised of this habitat and (c) that this habitat is critical to the health and productivity of steeper gradient and deeper marine habitat nearby because of its function as a nursery for the larvae of numerous marine fauna.

  67. Doug Watts:

    RE: 48. Joseph O’Sullivan.

    Thank you very much Mr. O’Sullivan for the apt example. People don’t realize how sensitive wetlands and marine wetlands (ie. salt marshes) are to long-term disturbances until they try to restore one or to recreate one from scratch. Wetlands in southeastern Massachusetts are long-term physical expressions of the entire post-glacial history of the region. Entire suites of plant communities and biomes can markedly shift just on the basis of a 1 inch change in elevation above the seasonal water table or sea level (in the case of estuarine salt marshes). The observable changes in these plant communities form the entire basis of how wetland delineations are performed in the field by trained botanists. In essence, the plant species and associations are used as highly reliable bio-indicators of seasonal water table patterns. Therefore, taken in reverse, it is easy to understand why an alteration to the seasonal water table (or sea level) must cause noticeable and irreversible changes to the plant community, which determines the fauna which can live in that plant community. I know from a lifetime of observation of southeastern Mass. freshwater and marine wetlands that just a one inch change in water elevation can radically alter the resident plant community, ie. favoring one species community and ruling out another. The 6,000 acre Hockomock Swamp in my town (Easton, Mass.) provides outstanding examples of this, as does the southern side of Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay and Montaup (Mount Hope Bay).

  68. Hank Roberts:

    Don’t fall for the Denial Two-Step:
    1) It’s not happening
    2) It’s too late to do anything about it

  69. Mark Ritzenhein:

    Re: 53 et al. I’ve come to realize that I thought of this blog as a Global Warming blog and not a Climate Modeling blog, which seems more correct. I’ve been reading about enviro issues and GW for twenty-five years, so I am familiar with the general outline. My real confusion here, again, stems from the seeming-focus on minutiae and the seemingly-endless doubt around what can be called established facts. Of course, if all of the answers were known then there would be no debate. However, the doubt and confusion made me question whether any conclusions at all could be made.
    Personally, I am more concerned with the human social response to the increasing pressures which GW will bring, which I feel has its own feedback loop towards disaster. Simply, if increased heat leads to desertification of grasslands, suddenly 6.5B people cannot be fed. They won’t just sit down and die. This, as much as any other thing, may lead to social chaos. Breakdown of social order (as seen in Bosnia, e.g.) will lead to instant destruction of remaining forests. The rest is clear, as massive population shifts will not be able to compensate for the losses of whole eco-regions. Skies and oceans empty of life down to the micro level, even, will mean a similar loss of a food source and system stability to the human race.
    As I’ve read in the popular press, especially since 2000, the discovered changes in ecosystems and in the general climate become more extreme and occur more rapidly than I ever estimate, leading me to a recent alarmism that there is no time to counter any changes. Hence, my anxiety and despair. My initial questions remain, however, and if carefully considered could have plain answers.
    Thanks to all for allowing me to speak. I will check out some more of the references generously provided. M

  70. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 69

    Mark, you seem to have come to terms with consequences of AGW. Now, I suggest you get past the need to separate yourself from those pesky matters such as:

    How does one sort “noise” from “trend?”
    How do scientists cope with such uncertainty?
    How can one stand back and reach any conclusion at all?
    What scientific “truths” do any of you hold to?

    Get on with what your senses tell you and do something with what you know rather than spin your wheels to assure yourself and those who see and feel AGW that we first need “truths” before we act.

    If the fireman is standing in my living room with the fire hose in hand, I do not ask him if the water will damage my plasma screen TV.

    Get a move on, Mark.

  71. Sashka:

    Re: #68

    Regarding the secong item:

    Of course, something can be done but this would be a meaningless statement. The meaningful question is “can something meaningful can be done?” Well, define “meaningful” first, then define the timeframe then one could discuss the claim on merits. Otherwise it’s just a slogan.

  72. Sashka:

    Re: #66

    Doug,

    I’m afraid the inhabitants of salt marshes will have to adapt or perish. There is nothing that can be realistically done about it. It is not in EPA power to stop or meanigfully affect the sel level rise.

  73. Hank Roberts:

    Mark, this is recommended in the parallel discussion over Prometheus:
    “basic biogeochemistry and global elemental cycling (William Schlesinger’s text, “Biogeochemistry: an Analysis of Global Change”, is the standard in the field)”
    http://www.amazon.com/Biogeochemistry-Analysis-Global-W-H-Schlesinger/dp/012625155X
    $25 used in paperback, it looks like a very good basis for understanding what’s known. Mine’s on order, but there are more copies available.

  74. Grant:

    I’m afraid the inhabitants of salt marshes will have to adapt or perish. There is nothing that can be realistically done about it. It is not in EPA power to stop or meanigfully affect the sel level rise.

    You’re probably right about salt marshes, but you’re completely wrong about sea level rise.

    Yes, we are “committed” to a certain level of temperature increase and sea level rise, and emissions reductions won’t change that. But what doesn’t seem to be sufficiently emphasized is that emissions reductions will reduce the amount of change. Alas, it’ll be some time (probably after my lifetime) before the difference becomes “meaningful.” But it will be meaningful.

    Just because it’s not presently in our power to “fix” the problem, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to avoid making things even worse.

  75. Phillip Shaw:

    Re #68 & #71:

    Hank, as an avid dancer I respectfully suggest that the Denialist Disinformation Dirge isn’t a two-step, it’s a triple-step, i.e.:

    1. Global Warming is not happening.
    2. It’s happening, but it’s natural so we can’t do anything.
    3. Even if we are causing Global Warming, it is too late/costly/complex to do anything.

    Sashka, small AGW mitigation actions are ‘meaningful’. Even small reductions in GHG emissions slow the rate of climate change and give the environment, and our societies, more time to adapt. If I’m in a leaky liferaft, every leak I patch keeps the liferaft afloat that much longer. It is foolish and defeatist to say that if we can’t solve the whole problem then it is not ‘meaningful’ to solve part of the problem. It is important for each individual, each corporation, each city and town, and each country to do what they can. That goes for the EPA, too. This is not a feelgood slogan, this is survival.

  76. Dano:

    RE 72 (Sashka):

    I’m afraid the inhabitants of salt marshes will have to adapt or perish. There is nothing that can be realistically done about it.

    And all those ecosystem services, provided for free? Gone. Human capital better spent on something else will be needed to replace those services.

    Sounds wasteful and inefficient to me, but I’m more of a microecon guy and only had one quarter of macro.

    Best,

    D

  77. Doug Watts:

    Don’t fall for the Denial Two-Step:
    1) It’s not happening
    2) It’s too late to do anything about it

    - Hank Roberts.

    ————–

    Thank you very much, Mr. Roberts. My brother Tim and I do a lot of advocacy work on endangered species in New England, particularly the Atlantic salmon and the American eel. We encounter the “Denial Two Step” often in our work.

    Thankfully, the U.S. Endangered Species Act explicitly forbids this spurious method of argument. The ESA does not allow the decline of an animal due to “natural causes” to be an argument against listing, foremost because the term “natural causes” is itself a spurious abstraction.

    And thankfully, the ESA by letter and Congressional intent declares the native flora and fauna of the U.S. to have a priori importance, value and significance to the people of the United States, meaning the loss of this natural wealth is considered a priori to be a bad thing that should and must be avoided. The ESA does not allow for a debate or argument over whether the loss of a species or subspecies is “bad”. That matter is settled within the design of the statute itself. The only matters of relevant fact in an ESA listing process are whether the species is actually in danger of extinction.

    It is worthy to note that ESA status review documents for both the American eel (in preparation) and the Atlantic Salmon (issued Sept. 2006) both discuss in detail the impact of ongoing climate change as a factor which may contribute, or is now contributing, to the documented decline of both of these native animals in the United States and their global range.

  78. Sashka:

    Re: #74

    Just because it’s not presently in our power to “fix” the problem, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to avoid making things even worse.

    This is true. But it also also true that we don’t need to bend over backwards to reduce the sea level rise by 1%. Some measures may be effective other are certainly not.

    You are quite right that any deviation from the “business as usual” scenario could become (statistically) noticable only after our life time. Which was precisely the point I was making WRT to the merits of this lawsuit in general and the fate of the salt marshes in particular.

    For longer time scales one needs to (at least) demonstrate that the achieved reduction is greater than the uncertainty in the forecast. I’m not aware of such estimates.

  79. Doug Watts:

    I’m afraid the inhabitants of salt marshes will have to adapt or perish. There is nothing that can be realistically done about it. It is not in EPA power to stop or meanigfully affect the sel level rise.

    This is not true. If we are irrevocably committed to an X increase in sea level increase due to climate change, what will occur is that low gradient saline estuary habitats will migrate landward and regress shoreward. This is well documented in New England via studies of the Pleistocene sea level minima and maxima after the most recent Ice Age (for example, drowned white pine forests along Scarborough Marsh in Scarborough, Maine).

    To thoughtfully prepare for this coming event, one would ensure that residential development and in-filling of areas directly adjacent to salt marsh habitats is minimized so as to accommodate the landward migration of these habitats as sea levels rise. If this is not done, the salt marsh habitats will literally have nowhere to go as they attempt to migrate landward because they will hit artificial fill and rip rap etc. along their developed edge.

    The counter-argument to the above is shown to be spurious in that if we project a significant loss of marine estuarine habitats due to irrevocable climate change trends and just throw our hands up in the air, then there is no rationale or justification for protecting these habitats at present. Ie. if they are going to be destroyed in the long-term, why bother doing anything to protect them in the short-term? In effect, this argument leads to a self-fulfilling prophesy which I believe scientists and the community at large should seek to avoid.

  80. Hank Roberts:

    Lobsters are charismatic megafauna in Massachusetts, remember.

    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0160-8347(198806)11%3A2%3C83%3AUOSPRB%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L

    “We discovered and studied an undescribed juvenile lobster habitat in Nauset Marsh, Cape Cod. Juvenile lobsters (X = 26.7 mm carapace length, 6 to 72 mm, n = 38) were collected from suction samples primarily in “peat reef” habitats during the period from August 1985 through October 1986. The reefs consisted of large blocks of Spartina alterniflora peat that had separated from the marsh surface and fallen into adjacent subtidal marsh channels. The smallest lobsters (6 to 7 mm CL) were collected from peat reefs in October 1985, and April and July 1986. In these habitats, juvenile lobster density averaged 2.5 individuals ${rm m}^{-2}$ (range 0-5.7) in suction samples. Peat reef habitats occur in other salt marshes in the northeastern United States and may be an important nursery habitat for small juvenile lobsters.”

  81. Sashka:

    Re: 79

    what will occur is that low gradient saline estuary habitats will migrate landward and regress shoreward

    To migrate a few yards away is one way to adapt. I’m not sure what you are objecting to. I’m not sure, too, why you insist on the sensitivity of the marshes. If the inhabitants are able to survive by moving up as the water rises, why worry?

    To thoughtfully prepare for this coming event, one would ensure that residential development and in-filling of areas directly adjacent to salt marsh habitats is minimized

    Since I don’t own beach property, I don’t have a big problem with this suggestion … yet. I don’t see, however, what it has to do with those two inches of land that the EPA can help salvage.

    if they are going to be destroyed in the long-term, why bother doing anything to protect them in the short-term?

    This is a valid argument assuming the projections are correct.

  82. Doug Watts:

    RE: #80.

    Thank you again, Mr. Roberts. A significant impact upon marine fauna due to small changes in sea level is also well illustrated by the striped bass, which is an immensely important and valued species along the entire Atlantic seaboard. Striped bass eggs have neutral buoyancy and drift in the water column prior to hatching into free-swimming larvae. Highly saline water is fatal to striped bass eggs (I believe the salinity threshold is on the order of 11 parts per thousand). This is why the primary striped bass nursery grounds in the U.S. are found in large, brackish to freshwater tidal estuaries (ie. Hudson River, tribs. to Chesapeake Bay, Merrymeeting Bay, Maine and numerous others). Sea level increase would, in general, cause the salt wedge to migrate landward, thus reducing the quantity of freshwater habitat necessary for striped bass eggs prior to hatching.

    Again, if we are facing an irrevocable increase in sea levels of X due to climate change that is in the pipeline, one mitigating action would be to remove dams or otherwise provide passage at dams located on large freshwater rivers along the Atlantic seaboard which formerly hosted migrating runs of striped bass far above tidal influence. The Susquehanna River is a prime example, as are the Kennebec and Penobscot in Maine and the Connecticut River.

    Such intentional actions would at minimum provide an offset for striped bass spawning areas that are viable at present but would be lost entirely or diminished substantially due to sea level increases. Thankfully, actions such as this are being undertaken, notably on the Kennebec and Penobscot (head of tide dam removals), not due to possible climate change impacts, but for the larger and more general purpose of habitat restoration.

    The point here only being that if we are facing certain irrevocable changes due to climate trends, there is a wide and varied menu of actions we can take right now (or start planning for right now) to at least mitigate for the cascade of deleterious consequences we can predict will most likely occur. I think the striped bass provides an illustrative example. The limiting factors of salinity and migratory barriers/access for stripers in their historic spawning habitats are very well known and the impacts of changes to these factors can be modelled very effectively right now.

    This leads to a more general rule of thumb (for me, at least). The more we can do now to increase the health and robustness of faunal populations that may be negatively affected by irrevocable climate change impacts, the greater the chance these populations may be able to survive those specific changes that are outside of our immediate control. I offer this as a starting point. Thanks.

  83. Gareth:

    Re: #75 (&71/68)

    …as an avid dancer I respectfully suggest that the Denialist Disinformation Dirge isn’t a two-step, it’s a triple-step…

    You can’t count! It’s in 4/4 time:

    1. Global Warming is not happening.
    2. It’s happening, but it’s natural so we can’t do anything.
    3. Even if we are causing Global Warming, it’s going to be a minor problem so it’s not worth doing anything.
    4. Even if Global Warming’s going to have impacts, it’s too late/costly/complex to do anything.

    The “credible” deniers (or the deniers who want to be credible) are grouping round the third and fourth beats (downbeat and offbeat – but it’s all a beat up).

    Cheers

  84. Sashka:

    Re: 75

    I didn’t choose to use the word “foolish” first but if you insist I’ll say that it is foolish indeed to pretend that you solved (a part of) the problem while you didn’t solve any.

    The word “meaningful” reflects a quantitative measure of achievement. Before you can present serious quantitative assesment of the impact of the proposed measures (compared to the existing trend) it remains exacly what you said: feelgood slogan.

  85. Sashka:

    Re: 83, and similar before that.

    I think it will be more fun if you start presenting scientific arguments instead of dancing around.

  86. Ed Sears:

    (to Sashka)Why the refusal to protect our natural environment? According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Rand Foundation and Stern, the cost of introducing low-carbon instead of high-carbon technology when our current equipment wears out, will be negligable. And why not start with one small part of the problem (new cars)? The states are asking the EPA to start thinking constructively about reducing emissions, not expecting them to solve the entire problem of global warming.

  87. Marcus:

    Re: Sashka’s comments:

    In fact, there are plenty of studies on climate policy under uncertainty, showing significant benefits in terms of reducing temperature change both in terms of average and in terms of upper bounds. See Webster et al, 2003, Climatic Change, vol. 61. p. 295-320 for one example.

    Indeed, much of the point of climate policy is not to stop all temperature changes, but to keep the changes within some reasonable bounds.

    And indeed, the 6% of global emission due to US transport is only a small piece, but if no one acts on any of the small pieces, then certainly we won’t get anything meaningful done. (I do wonder why the case only addresses transport, and not the other 19% of global emissions that the US emits) (note also that transport is, I believe, the fastest growing emission sector) Whereas if we do start on transport, that gives us a certain amount of moral authority to convince others to take on their own targets (and Europe is certainly moving on that path even without our actions)

  88. Phillip Shaw:

    Re 84:

    Reducing carbon emissions by mandating more efficient private and commercial vehicles IS a partial (and necessary) step towards mitigating GW. It’s a partial solution.

    In the US, the EPA is the appropriate federal agency to address this issue but it has dodged its responsibility for years and would continue to do so if allowed. Hence the suit now before the Supreme Court.

    Please don’t dredge up the tired and discredited old canard that vehicle efficiency is better addressed through market forces than through government regulations. The reason the EPA came into existence is that ordinary human and corporate nature places a greater emphasis on today’s convenience and profit than on the needs of a distant future. If the EPA has no role (or accepts no role) in mitigating AGW then let’s dissolve it and spend that money on an agency willing to accept the mission.

    Gareth (83) – thank you for the correction.

  89. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 83
    Gareth, I hear what you are saying in #4, but you did not get their sytax straight.

    Here is what the denialists are really saying:

    Because it’s too late/costly/complex to do anything, Global Warming’s going to have impacts.

    Lets face the truth, there is no will, motivation nor interest among Americans to address AGW. We are about trying to hold on to what we have and enjoy the remainder of the football season.

    Were that not the case, there might be some indication of a heightened sense of urgency, focus and strategic thinking among incoming Democrats or the environmentalists. (Lets give Senator Boxer her due but it will take 60 votes to move anything in the Senate).

    According to a press release by the PEW Research Center issued
    WEDNESDAY, JULY 12, 2006 entitled:

    Partisanship Drives Opinion: LITTLE CONSENSUS ON GLOBAL WARMING

    Global Warming a Low Public Priority is definitely that, even among Democrats.

    The following is percent rating of each issue as â??very importantâ??

    Republicans……………..Democrats……….â?¦â?¦.. Independents

    Terrorism 84…………… Health care 89….â?¦.â?¦. Education 83
    The economy 80……….Education 86…..â?¦…. ..Health care 79
    Education 75…………… The economy 80…â?¦.. The economy 78
    Taxes 74………………. â?¦Social Security 79.â?¦ .Terrorism 72
    Social Security 73……… Situation in Iraq 78â?¦ Situation in Iraq 72
    Situation in Iraq 72……. Job situation 78..â?¦… Social Security 71
    Health care 69…………. Terrorism 69…….â?¦â?¦ Energy policy 67
    Immigration 64…………. Minimum wage 68…..Taxes 63
    Flag burning 60………… Taxes 66………..â?¦â?¦.. Job situation 63
    Energy policy 56……….. Energy policy 66.â?¦.. Environment 58
    Inheritance tax 54……… Environment 64…..â?¦. Immigration 57
    Job situation 52……….. ..Budget deficit 62..â?¦. Budget deficit 55
    Abortion 50……………. ..Global warming 56…. Global warming 49
    Budget deficit 47………. Immigration 52……. â?¦Minimum wage 48
    Gay marriage 43…………Gov. surveillance52.. Gov. surveillance47
    Minimum wage 36……….Flag burning 44â?¦…. Inheritance tax 45
    Gov. surveillance33…….. Abortion 39……..â?¦.. Flag burning 44
    Environment 30…………. Inheritance tax 37… â?¦Abortion 41
    Global warming 23………Gay marriage 31….â?¦.Gay marriage 28

    Heck, Democrats view global warming as a higher priority than flag burning.

    Cannot wait for 2008. Hope springs eternal.

    Or,maybe we should heed Alastair McDonald’s warming. And, be sure you anchor the windmill tower deep enough.

  90. Roger Smith:

    “I think it will be more fun if you start presenting scientific arguments instead of dancing around. ”

    Well, your posts are almost entirely on the policy implications of climate change dressed up in serious-sounding language. Which is fine and fun but not science.

    Critera for what is worth protecting, the degree of proof required to make such choices, the influence of uncertainty on the decision, balancing the costs of inaction with the cost of action are all value-based policy judgments. Your values, my values and the Supreme Court’s values may well differ on this subject, and science cannot bridge this gap.

  91. Steve Reynolds:

    Re 88:
    > Please don’t dredge up the tired and discredited old canard that vehicle efficiency is better addressed through market forces than through government regulations.

    Regulations that command and control are generally inefficient at accomplishing the goal. If the goal is reducing carbon emissions, then a tax on carbon emissions will allow market forces to best allocate resources to reduce emissions at the lowest cost.

  92. Doug Watts:

    If they are going to be destroyed in the long-term, why bother doing anything to protect them in the short-term? This is a valid argument assuming the projections are correct. (Sashka)
    —–

    Err … no. What I presented above was an absurdist canard which follows the same lines as “Because humans only live for XX years, it makes no sense to provide seat belts or air bags in cars because we’re all going to die anyways.” Or that medical care should be denied to elderly people because they are a few months or years from dying anyways.

    Your seeming agreement with this canard implies that humans today should bear absolutely no responsibility for the condition of the Earth our own children and grandchildren will inherit from us.

  93. Robin:

    I think this is a great idea!!!! I always read every article discussed here, in an attempt to understand climate change better. Thank you!

  94. Sashka:

    Re: #86

    Why the refusal to protect our natural environment?

    I don’t. I’m just saying that not all efforts in that direction are equally smart. If a certain habitat is doomed for whatever reason (which doesn’t seem to be the case WRT marshes) then I’m sure one can find better ways to allocate resources than to fight for a lost cause.

    And why not start with one small part of the problem (new cars)?

    Because this is not the way to solve anything. If your roof is leaking, will you start with the biggest hole or with the smallest?

  95. James:

    Re #83: “You can’t count! It’s in 4/4 time”. Oh, no, it’s 5/4. You’ve forgotten 5: Global warming is good for you!

    As I read the last few posts, I suddenly realized that I live in an area – the US Great Basin – that suffered considerable adverse (at least to my way of thinking) impact from the last round of global warming at the end of the last Ice Age. At that time the whole area seems to have been a fairly lush mix of forest and grassland, inhabited by a varied and now mostly extinct megafauna, with a couple of Great Lakes sized freshwater lakes (Lake Lahontan and Lake Bonneville). Now most of it is sagebrush and playa, with scattered refugia in the higher mountains.

    Seems to me that the end of Ice Age changes would make a good parallel for the kinds and degrees of change that the current warming might bring about.

  96. Doug Watts:

    Critera for what is worth protecting, the degree of proof required to make such choices, the influence of uncertainty on the decision, balancing the costs of inaction with the cost of action are all value-based policy judgments. Your values, my values and the Supreme Court’s values may well differ on this subject, and science cannot bridge this gap. Comment by Roger Smith â�� 4 Dec 2006 @ 6:07 pm.

    Well said and thank you, Mr. Smith. If societal Group A doesn’t like to eat lobster and societal Group B does like to eat lobster and societal Group C is comprised of families who derive their income from lobster fishing, it is obvious all three Groups will reach different conclusions on the “value” of the American lobster. The value of the lobster, expressed in terms of “how much are you willing to pay to preserve it”, will most likely differ among the three groups.

    A critical, and often underplayed role of science, is to discern the various ecosystem functions performed by one species (or one habitat type) which provide real societal benefits not accounted for in a linear, single species analysis. To be a fair and accurate accounting which accords with reality, these “externalities” must be factored into the analysis.

    A well-studied example is the manifold ecosystem benefits provided by the Pacific salmon species in their respective freshwater environments. Spawning Pacific salmon constitute an important food supply for various mammals, including grizzly bears, but their spawned out carcasses also provide an abundant source of marine derived nitrogen (MDN) into watersheds very far from the ocean, due to the enormous spawning migrations of these animals. This MDN in turn has been shown to have a significant beneficial effect on the productivity of these waters and surrounding terrestrial habitats that can only be supplied by healthy runs of spawning Pacific salmon. As such, a quantitative analysis of the “value” of healthy runs of Pacific salmon, and the lost value due to their disappearance, must include the benefits and services provided by the marine derived nitrogen they supply to inland watersheds. An analysis which fails to account for these benefits is skewed from the outset; and skewed against preservation of the species.

  97. Eli Rabett:

    Sashka, the truth is that you cannot escape the public square on this issue, at least not if you want to use your science to drive policy. The public square is full of jugglers, clowns, pickpockets, and folks who omit, misquote and simply lie to prove their point. Those who would deny climate change (funded by Exxon, Western Fuels, etc.) learned from the tobacco lobby and for a decade have been able to control the discussion in the US. A large part of their effort has been devoted to ridicule. If you doubt me, take a look at such tripe as Michaels “Satanic Gases” or Essex and McKitrick on “Taken by Storm”. That this is being now turned against them is necessary given the nature of the public discourse.

    Real Climate is one necessary leg in the effort to convince people that we have a serious problem. Posts like 83, pointing out the cynicism of the denialists, are another.

  98. Doug Watts:

    Seems to me that the end of Ice Age changes would make a good parallel for the kinds and degrees of change that the current warming might bring about. Comment by James � 4 Dec 2006 @ 9:14 pm.
    —–
    Let’s bring this thread back to topic, the Supreme Court case involving whether CO2 should be defined and regulated as a pollutant pursuant to the Clean Air Act. A recent unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court involving whether the operation of hydroelectric dams constitutes a “discharge” pursuant to the Clean Water Act offers an instructive lesson (S.D. Warren v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection, http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/05pdf/04-1527.pdf). For the record, my historic research was used and cited in the case.

    At issue in this case was whether the operation and existence of hydroelectric dams on rivers could be defined as a discharge that might lead to pollution, as defined in the Clean Water Act. The Supreme Court said yes. The ruling rested on the basic premise that an activity (in this case, a “discharge”) which can harm the biological and physical integrity of a waterway meets the definition of a pollutant that is subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. All record evidence clearly showed that hydro-electric dams can indeed harm the biological and physical integrity of a waterway.

    In the instant case, the facts and law are quite similar. If evidence shows anthropomorphic CO2 emissions can cause profound negative impacts to humans, their natural environment, and the services this natural environment provides to humans, then manmade CO2 emissions can fairly be called a pollutant, just like mercury or lead. That CO2 emissions, in and of themselves, are not harmful for humans to breathe misses the point. What is the point, in my opinion, is what I call the “cascade of deleterious impacts” which accrue from these emissions on the basic fabric of our environment and the services it provides to humans. To me, this is a rather simple and irrefutable evidentiary case.

    In S.D. Warren v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection, we (plaintiffs) presented to the Court the scientific evidence. The construction and operation of hydro electric dams can so profoundly alter rivers that native fish species can no longer live in their native habitat within them (ie. Atlantic salmon, American shad, blueback herring). For this reason, these species become extinct from these watersheds.

    In S.D. Warren, which focussed on the Presumpscot River in Maine, we presented the science and historical evidence which showed that species such as Atlantic salmon once abounded in the river, that record evidence showed they became extinct due to the construction of dams without fish passage, that these species are extinct in the river today, and that no other cause except for dams could explain their extinction.

    In essence, we showed the effect of these dams on native Atlantic salmon in the Presumpscot River was identical in effect to dumping into the river a chemical which made it impossible for Atlantic salmon to live in the river. Even the plaintiff (S.D. Warren Company) agreed that discharge of such a chemical would be subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. In May 2006, the Supreme Court affirmed our argument unanimously, 9-0.

    In my naive opinion, the US EPA in the instant case wishes to avoid regulating CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act solely because the EPA, as presently constituted, would prefer the Clean Air Act itself did not exist. The EPA cannot make this argument in court, since it is bound by law to enforce the Clean Air Act. In lieu, the EPA relies upon questioning the underlying scientific evidence which shows the manmade CO2 emissions in the U.S. clearly meet the definition of a pollutant, just like mercury or lead. If a substance is manmade, causes harm and its emissions to the public commons can be reduced, then it is a pollutant.

    Cheers.

  99. Chuck Booth:

    Re # 75 To which I would add one more argument:

    4. Besides, global warming, will be beneficial – cold boreal climates will become moderate, with new agricultural land becoming available to feed the masses.

    Does that make it a Merengue? Or maybe a quadrille?

  100. T. M. Ritter:

    For those interested, inherent in Scalia’s seemingly flippant “over my head” or dislike of science remarks during oral argument, is actually a very calculated legal point. Theoretically, at least, the agency involved (EPA) has the expertise in this area (at least, relative to the judicial branch of government). Hence, in Scalia’s jurisprudence, the judicial function will be to defer to that “expertise”. His point, I imagine, is: why should 9 (or 5 of 9) lawyers substitute their views for the view of the government body invested with the scientific expertise to regulate (or, not) in an area where such technical expertise is clearly demanded? -Todd Ritter

  101. Doug Watts:

    RE: #100. Todd, see the above discussion on S.D. Warren v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection. The case and the Court’s decision touch on the exact issue you are raising.

  102. Sashka:

    Re: #88

    Please don’t dredge up the tired and discredited old canard that vehicle efficiency is better addressed through market forces than through government regulations.

    So the market forces is a (no less!) discredited old canard? I presume this comes from someone who enjoys the benefits of living in a capitalist country, right? I don’t think any further comment is needed.

  103. Sashka:

    Re: #90

    Critera for what is worth protecting, the degree of proof required to make such choices, the influence of uncertainty on the decision, balancing the costs of inaction with the cost of action are all value-based policy judgments. Your values, my values and the Supreme Court’s values may well differ on this subject, and science cannot bridge this gap.

    You are right. Science must precede the discussion of values, not bridge the differences. When we know the base scenario and what we want to achieve and associated uncertainties then it’s time to talk about whether it’s worth it or not.

    Unfortunately the vocal majority here just wants to jump to action omitting preceding steps.

  104. Sashka:

    Re: #97

    Since you mentioned lies (to me, it includes lies by omission), let me point to this page

    http://www2.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/Newsroom/OpEds/Corporate_NR_OE_ClimateChange.asp

    where Exxon talks about their investment in the climate change research, emission reduction technologies and even Bermuda Biological Station. You do have a link to this page in your blog, don’t you?

  105. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 104

    I went to that link.

    It had the feel of low-tar cigarette research in my opinion.

  106. Grant:

    Re: #102

    So the market forces is a (no less!) discredited old canard? I presume this comes from someone who enjoys the benefits of living in a capitalist country, right? I don’t think any further comment is needed.

    You’ve misrepresented his claim. He never implied that the “discredited old canard” is “market forces,” rather that it is the “better addressed through market forces than through government regulations” part.

    You may dispute this idea, and you may be right. But to discredit his statement by your mischaracterization is a fine example of the logical fallacy known as “straw man.”

  107. Phillip Shaw:

    Re 102:

    As they relate to vehicle safety and emissions standards, yes, market forces are a tired and discredited old canard. Vehicle manufacturers have historically fought the introduction of safety and emission control technology by invoking the cry “This will cost jobs because consumers won’t pay for seat belts/airbags/unleaded gas/catalytic converters/fuel efficiency/anti-lock brakes/hybrid drivetrains”. And the automakers have been consistently wrong. Today we hear the same lame defense being offered by american automakers when asked why they don’t offer electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Is it any wonder why they continue to lose market-share to more strategically minded foreign automakers?

  108. Hank Roberts:

    Yep. The royal libertarian argument doesn’t even work by pointing to how Japanese and Chinese automobiles are driving US automobiles out of the market while providing better safety and pollution features, because those are their governments’ requirements, not pure free choices by individual car makers to make better cars in the hope people will buy them.

    Car safety and pollution laws are like property insurance for homeowners and DPT vaccination for children — nobody believes they personally have the bad luck that they will need it, most people would go without it unless required to buy it, and yet overall, everyone benefits from having these services required because they not only spread the cost, they reduce the total damage overall.

  109. Sashka:

    Re: #107

    Repeating this word ad infinum doesn’t make it any more true.

    To my (limited) knowledge, the emissions trading in NOX and SOX have been effective market-based mechanism of pollution control.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emissions_trading
    http://www.climatebiz.com/sections/emissionstrading.cfm

    Europe has already started trading in CO2 emission credits. I hope, US will follow soon:

    http://www.chicagoclimatex.com/

  110. James:

    Re #107: We might also take into consideration the vectors along which market forces act. To drive an increase in fuel efficiency, fuel cost has to be significant, otherwise there’s no resultant force. Despite the sounds of whining at every small increase, for most people in the US it’s not – compare purchase price of typical vehicle vs lifetime cost of fuel.

    On the other hand, if you can use advertising to convince the gullible that big, inefficient vehicles are safer, more prestitious, or will enhance their sex life, you’ve created a new vector along which market forces will act…

  111. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 109

    Sashka, you said:

    [To my (limited) knowledge, the emissions trading in NOX and SOX have been effective market-based mechanism of pollution control.]

    Allow me to add some informtion to your (limited) knowledge regarding the effectiveness of the US SOX emission trading program.

    It utilimately put a premium on low sulfur complaince coal for Eastern coal-buring electric generation units the operators opted not to retrofit with a SO2 scrubber.

    God made the mistake of putting that high btu, low sulfur coal in the high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains where Massey and other coal companies obliged by ripping the tops off those beautiful mountain peaks and shoving the spoils down into the riverine vallies.

    So much for effective. Lakes in Maine dodged a bullet. Appalachian Mountains of WV, VA, KY took the bullet.

  112. Dano:

    RE 110 (James):

    On the other hand, if you can use advertising to convince the gullible that big, inefficient vehicles are safer, more prestigious, or will enhance their sex life, you’ve created a new vector along which market forces will act…

    Hence the vehement reaction to visual AGW stimuli such as Gore’s movie. Folks know advertising is effective, and if you allow pro-science AGW movies to continue, there is the real possibility that people will be swayed. They don’t spend $US200B on advertising for nothing.

    But back to the topic. The prevalance of certain inaccurate comments in this thread reflect the SC Justices: as a society, we are separated from the natural environment by the built environment.

    This separation prevents us from understanding the issue at hand. This may also affect the standing issue, which Mr McCormick is getting at above.

    Best,

    D

  113. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    There was a good article in the NY times about the use of science in the courts and the current supreme court global warming case.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/05/science/05law.html?th&emc=th

    Re #107, 109, 110 et al
    NOX and SOX were reduced because the industries that emitted it were forced to by the EPA. The regulations do use market based incentives. The polluting industries vehemently fought environmental regulation, and without the EPA’s intervention NOX and SOX would not have been reduced.

    Pollution has been reduced because of regulatory action, not because of market forces. The free market has built-in obstacles to environmental protection. Environmental regulations that mix mandatory limits with market forces are usually effective and efficient.

  114. Roger Smith:

    The Chicago Climate Exchange is of limited value as the pollution reduction goals corporations set are essentially voluntary (read: weak) and verification is even weaker with some real problems of double-counting. There are no penalties for non-compliance that I am aware of, making it a nice training ground but little more.

    The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (northeast from NJ-Maine) is a mandatory program that will cap power plant emissions in this region and allow credit trading within the region. Markets exist within political constraints- if you want to see the failure of purely voluntary initiatives, look at the Bush carbon intensity fiasco.

    “God made the mistake of putting that high btu, low sulfur coal in the high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains where Massey and other coal companies obliged by ripping the tops off those beautiful mountain peaks and shoving the spoils down into the riverine vallies.
    So much for effective. Lakes in Maine dodged a bullet. Appalachian Mountains of WV, VA, KY took the bullet. ”
    Stringent state air regulations are no subsitute for stringent Federal and state water regulations and strict enforcement. It’s not just the lakes and forests that suffered- SO2 kills thousands of people every year. CT’s regulations pushed the Bridgeport coal plant to move to Indonesian coal (who knows what the regs are there…) AND install scrubbers, and New England’s largest coal plants source their coal from Columbia.

  115. Hank Roberts:

    A longer post may have been lost; if so, this will suffice: Stephen Jay Gould on Justice Scalia’s reasoning in a previous case, about teaching evolution. At the time, Scalia believed the creationists’ definitions, and based his reasoning entirely on them. He’s had years since to learn more about science than he did at the time. I expect he’ll show he’s grown.
    http://www.sjgarchive.org/library/text/b16/p0137.htm

  116. Sashka:

    Re: 111

    God made the mistake of putting that high btu, low sulfur coal in the high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains where Massey and other coal companies obliged by ripping the tops off those beautiful mountain peaks and shoving the spoils down into the riverine vallies.

    Thank you for that. I never heard of coal companies mining the tops of mountain peaks. My poor imagination fails to picture heavy equipment climbing up the steep slopes to the top.

    What I do know, however, is that at least some of the low sulphur coal is currently imported from Indonesia. Somebody took a bullet indeed. The American coal miners, for example.

    But the pollution is reduced as required by the Clean Air Act. And you still have power in your house. What else do you want? A perpetuum mobile?

  117. Doug Watts:

    I would hate to see a “free market based alternative” to fire and electrical codes for buildings and homes.

    Under this alternative to the dreaded, inefficient “command and control” paradigm, home owners and apartment landlords would be free to use and install even the most disastrously unsafe and flammable materials during home construction if these materials achieved the owners’ short-term economic objectives. Then the “market” would determine the efficacy of such decisions based upon the number of burned corpses of children and other helpless folk consumed in the resulting completely avoidable blazes.

    This way, educated renters would have the “market freedom” to select an apartment without fire escapes in exchange for a slightly lower monthly rent and thus be encouraged to not smoke in bed because there’s no way to get out if the building catches on fire.

    It’s so obvious. Fire escapes = rewarding bad behavior. No fire escapes = encouraging responsible use of flames.

    Sorry for the cynicism but there is a very good reason why we do not, as a society, rely upon “market based solutions” for food and drug safety and fire, electrical and building codes but instead rely upon the heinous pariah of “command and control” approaches to these basic components of contemporary life.

    Cheers.

  118. Sashka:

    Re: #113

    Environmental regulations that mix mandatory limits with market forces are usually effective and efficient

    OK, fair enough.

  119. Marcus:

    Re #111: There’s some interesting history behind sulfur regulations: I remember hearing that Senator Byrd (West Virginia) pushed hard for mandatory scrubbers because eastern coal in general contains more sulfur than western coal, and having an emissions standard (or cap and trade) would give industries the option to use western coal rather than scrubbers.

    Is this a bad thing? Well, for the sites with clean coal, yes. But I don’t think that is really a good critique of the SO2 trading program. If you are upset with the results of coal mining, then you should be regulating the mining process, not trying to affect it at a distance by tweaking your SO2 control program. Much as I disagree with Sashka in general, I think he is correct that the SO2 cap and trade program has been an extremely cost effective way to reduce emissions, and ideally that makes it easier to create tighter emissions standards in the future.

    This does not mean that cap and trade is appropriate to every situation: you need to have well quantified emissions, a politically acceptable way to allocate permits, not too much temporal or geographical variation in impacts (though you can theoretically design your trading program to take into account time and geography: I believe LA’s NOx trading regimes have different geographic sectors, for example), and the constraint should be designed to be equivalent or stronger to the alternate non-market measure being proposed. But if these conditions are met, then yes, market based mechanisms will usually outperform standards based mechanisms.

  120. Sashka:

    Re: #117

    It’s a good post but it wasn’t necessary. I do appreciate that free market approach has its limits. It doesn’t follow that it won’t work in the case of CO2 emissions. If there is an intellegible argument as to why CO2 will be different from SOX and NOX – I’m willing to listen carefully. Otherwise it’s just rhetorics.

  121. yartrebo:

    Regarding wetlands, they are capable of moving inland under two conditions:
    1 – There is flat land behind the existing wetlands that can be used.
    2 – Sea levels rise fairly slowly.

    Humans have been quite detrimental to both factors, which are major reasons why we are losing so many wetlands.

  122. Steve Reynolds:

    Re 117> I would hate to see a “free market based alternative” to fire and electrical codes for buildings and homes.

    Underwriters Laboritories has been a “free market based alternative” for many years. Insurance companies can require compliance. Government is not needed for everything, unless you believe everyone should be treated as a child by ‘big mother’.

  123. Doug Watts:

    Sashka: A prerequisite to any CO2 tradings plan is that the US EPA recognizes CO2 as a pollutant pursuant to the Clean Air Act. The EPA refuses to do this, hence the Supreme Court case and this thread. The US EPA is the obstacle. If they simply agreed to regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, we could be talking seriously about the various plusses and minuses of command & control vs. offsets trading. But that is not the case, thanks solely to the US EPA. This never should have reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the first place.

  124. Russell Seitz:

    Meanwhile back in the Legislative branch, Rush Limbaugh staffer turned Senatorial climate guru Marc Morano has invited us all to a curious Washington DC event-

    December 5, 2006

    Dear Concerned Citizen,

    Thank you for expressing your support for Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Chairman of Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (EPW). We would like to alert you to tomorrow’s (Wednesday December 6, 2006) Media and Climate Change Full Committee Hearing at 9:30am (ET).

    The EPW hearing will look at how the media has presented scientific evidence regarding predictions of human caused catastrophic global warming. The Committee will examine the media’s history of hyping climate fears going back over 100 years and look at how today’s media covers the complex issues of climate science. You can view this hearing live by going to http://epw.senate.gov/epwmultimedia/epwmultimedia.htm or check C-SPAN to view broadcast of the hearing.

    Senator Inhofe has called global warming “the most media-hyped environmental issue of all time …. This hearing will serve to advance the interests of sound science and encourage rational policy decisions,” said EPW Majority Communications Director Marc Morano.

    Related Links:

    Renowned Scientist Defects From Belief in Global Warming – Caps Year of Vindication for Skeptics

    http://epw.senate.gov/pressitem.cfm?party=rep&id=264777

    See also DrudgeReport.com linking to this Washington Times article out today:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20061205-121929-8314r.htm

    I hope the Senator and his staff recieve a warm reception.

  125. Eli Rabett:

    Desmogblog has some of the statments for this hearing.

  126. Richard:

    Scott (#31)

    Thanks for the links. Is there a rebuttal to the arguments in the CEI brief?

    Thanks,
    Richard

  127. Sashka:

    Re: #123

    Doug, please notice that I never objected to CO2 being recognized as a pollutant. My point in this thread is that focusing on cars is a dumb approach to fighting GW and that the states have no appreaciable harm from car emissions.

  128. Sashka:

    Re: #124

    I found it curious that they called Dan Schrag to testify. I wonder what they expect him to say.

  129. Doug Watts:

    Sashka — View noted and corrected.

  130. Doug Watts:

    Regarding wetlands, they are capable of moving inland under two conditions:
    1 – There is flat land behind the existing wetlands that can be used.
    2 – Sea levels rise fairly slowly.

    Humans have been quite detrimental to both factors, which are major reasons why we are losing so many wetlands.

    Comment by yartrebo � 5 Dec 2006 @ 6:07 pm.
    ——
    Massachusetts has very stringent wetlands protection laws, in part because we have so many wetlands, especially in southeastern Mass. As previously stated, the coastal wetlands (brackish to highly saline) constitute an incredibly important resource as nursery grounds for shellfish, crustaceans and fish as well as migratory bird habitat. These habitats are critical to the state’s commercial and recreational fish and shellfish industries, which are very substantial. So in this court case, Massachusetts is attempting to ensure these areas receive as much protection as can be afforded to them under federal law.

  131. Scott Saleska:

    To Richard (#126) about whether there was a reply to CEI brief.

    There was no formal venue for a reply, at least not before the court. The general consensus of those of us who discussed it was that the CEI brief was pretty poor anyway. For what it is worth, below are some comments I emailed to my colleagues after I reviewed the CEI brief, followed by comments by Dr. Curt Covey, whose work was cited in the CEI brief:

    — begin quoted excerpts of my email —

    Our climate scientist brief focused narrowly and conservatively on two questions: (1) whether the state of the science was accurately represented by the EPA and by the lower court, and (2) whether the science is sufficiently compelling to support a judgement that the legal standard for regulation is met (i.e., may greenhouse gas emissions “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare”?)

    A relevant claim that our scientists brief is wrong or misleading would therefore have to consist of an argument that either (1) the state of the science was in fact accurately characterized by the EPA or the Appeals Court, or (2) that in fact, greenhouse gas emissions may NOT be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. The CEI brief does neither, so I suspect it will not have much relevance to the case at hand.

    The CEI brief discusses a range of broad questions on which the Climate Scientist’s brief takes no position (e.g. whether the “net” effects of CO2 emissions “will” endanger public health or welfare, or what history would have been like if industrial development had taken a less CO2-intensive trajectory), and quibbles with technical details which have little or no effect on the answer to the overall question no matter how they are resolved (e.g. whether the NRC/NAS statement in 2001 that post-1950 ocean warming was 0.050C is meaningfully different from the Levins et al. 2005, more recent figure of 0.037C).

    As far as the technical details, a quick survey convinces me there is not much there. Just to cite a few, taken more or less at random (I have not had time to look at all):

    CO2 growth rates (CEI, p. 11): arguments about what growth rates for CO2 emissions that some models use are besides the point of what the science says about the climate sensitivity of the earth system (emissions growth rates are if anything an economic question). It is well-recognized that many of the original emissions scenarios in IPCC overstated the trajectories that were actually realized (indeed, this was a minor point made in the NRC/NAS 2001 report that was picked up on, and misunderstood or misrepresented, by the Appeals Court), but so what? Unless they are arguing that actual BAU emissions will be so low as to prevent CO2 from any further significant build up (or at least stay under a doubling), this is a detail entirely irrelevant to climate science, and almost entirely irrelevant to the question about “reasonable anticipation of endangerment”.

    Hurricanes (CEI, p. 16). We barely mention this, as a parenthetical (not as a “prediction” but as a citation of IPCC TAR’s reference to “likely increases” in tropical storm intensities). I am surprised they went after this, with all the recent work showing that the evidence for this has only gotten stronger since 2001. Yes, there is still debate about whether it has reached canonical levels of statistical significance (95% confidence), and there are problems with data quality yet to be fully resolved, but the standard in the law is lower (â��may reasonably anticipateâ�� endangerment). Are they arguing, in the light of Emanual 2005, and Webster et al., 2005, that it would be entirely unreasonable to anticipate stronger hurricanes in the future? If not, what is the point?

    Satellite and surface temp records (CEI p. 23). The main substantive thing we said with respect to this is that “all available data sets show that both the surface and the troposphere have warmed,” which the CEI brief criticizes. But the quote they criticize is not ours, it is from the U.S. CSSP (2006) re-assessment (the subtitle of which is “understanding and reconciling differences”). An author of the CSSP (and of the Executive Summary, from which our quote is taken) is John Christy, who is an amicus on the CEI brief. Is he arguing against himself? Perhaps he didnâ��t realize this CEI comment was in there when he signed on.

    —- end Saleska quotes —-

    With regard to the CO2 scenarios, the CEI brief cited a paper by Curt Covey. My colleague and co-amici David Battisti inquired of Dr. Covey if he had any comments about the way CEI cited his work, and he responded, saying we were free to circulate his comments. Here they are:

    — begin quote of Covey email —-

    Dear Prof. Battisti,

    Part of my job here at LLNL is to accurately communicate the results of
    my work to scientific colleagues and the public. Accordingly, you
    should feel free to share the comments below.

    Page 11 of the brief begins, “As shown below, computer models predicting
    future warming must overestimate warming, because they generally use an
    incorrect increase in carbon dioxide concentration of 1% per year.” It
    is not true that models “generally use” this rate of increase. Model
    simulations of 20th century global warming typically use actual observed
    amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, together with other human (for
    example chloroflorocarbons or CFCs) and natural (solar brightness
    variations, volcanic eruptions, …) climate-forcing factors. Model
    simulations of future global warming use analogous input; of course it
    is not possible to observe the future, so a variety of scenarios
    involving possible atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, etc.,
    are employed. These range from stabilization of atmospheric carbon
    dioxide at twice its pre-industrial value by the end of this century
    (IPCC SRES B1) to continuously increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide at
    the rate of a bit less than 1% per year (IPCC SRES A2). Each climate
    model simulating the future is run several times, with several different
    scenarios. All of this has been standard practice in climate modeling
    for the past ten years.

    Pages 11-12 quote my 2003 review paper correctly regarding idealized
    simulations in which atmospheric carbon dioxide is assumed to increase
    at the precise rate of 1% per year. Note that in the end of the quoted
    passage, I say that this rate of increase could “perhaps” be considered
    realistic “as an extreme case in which the world accelerates its
    consumption of fossil fuels while reducing its production of
    anthropogenic aerosols.” I’m no expert on scenarios, but from what I
    hear about China and India I wonder if the world is already on that
    track. In any case, the purpose of the 1%-per-year scenarios is to
    compare different models’ responses to identical input — not to produce
    realistic possibilities of future climate. For the latter purpose,
    climate model output from the IPCC SRES B1, A2 and other scenarios has
    been widely used for several years and has been publicly available for
    over two years on my group’s Web site at
    http://www-pcmdi.llnl.gov/ipcc/about_ipcc.php.

    Finally it is not true, as implied on Page 12, that “sole reliance on
    models to the exclusion of observed behavior” is the basis of future
    climate prediction. As noted above, modern climate models are used to
    retrospectively simulate the 20th century as well. Simulation of 20th
    century global warming is an important confidence-builder for climate
    models. Indeed, the observed warming during the 20th century cannot be
    explained other than by assuming that the models are reasonably accurate
    in their response to greenhouse gases. This point was clearly made by
    the IPCC report published in 2001. Pages 12-13 ignore all this and
    instead use “a constant-rate warming” of 1.8 degrees C per century
    “based on actual observations.” A constant-rate (i.e. straight-line)
    extrapolation of global warming from the 20th to the 21st century, as in
    the brief’s Figure 2, is a favorite technique of one of the authors, Pat
    Michaels. This technique gives 21st century warming at the low end of
    the spectrum of possibilities resulting from the different model-input
    scenarios. It is one possible future, but it’s never been clear to me
    (or to anyone else I know besides Pat) why the other possibilities –
    all of which involve more global warming — should be ignored.

    Sincerely,
    Curt Covey

    —- end of Covey email —

    Hope that is helpful to you and other interested parties.

    Best,
    Scott

  132. Roger Smith:

    On the coal mining thread above, if you have trouble visualizing the removal of mountain tops, here you go:
    http://www.ohvec.org/galleries/mountaintop_removal/007/index.html
    If you’ve been to this part of the country you know we’re not talking about craggy peaks but about older forest-covered mountains. This type of mining is also supposed be less labor intensive (more machinery) than traditional mining or smaller-scale strip mining, so I wouldn’t expect much in the way of employement from it.

  133. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 116

    Sashka, open the link posted on # 132 to see the consequence of Appalachian mountaintop mining. Views of the equipment that wrought this destruction, if you are interested, can be accessed at other web sites. Please ask and I will provide, if you are curious.

  134. T. M. Ritter:

    Thanks for the cite Doug. Interestingly, the conservative editorial page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch printed an editorial questioning whether the administration’s position in the present case is hypocritical. Typically, you hear a harsh critique of judicial activism from the administration, yet the editorial suggested it was an activist approach to urge the Court to disregard the legislatively defined terms of the Clean Air Act. Although CO2 is not, by most ordinary standards, a pollutant, as vehicle emission, it certainly appears to fall within the definition under the Act. I am curious though, as to whether anything was raised in oral arguments about the breadth of this delegation to the EPA? -Todd

  135. Sashka:

    Re: 132-133

    If you’ve been to this part of the country you know we’re not talking about craggy peaks but about older forest-covered mountains.

    No I haven’t. Thank you for he clarification (clearly I couldn’t think of those hills as mountains) and for the site.

    Surely it’s an ugly view but I wonder where one can see a pretty coal mine. What do people want: to have power in their houses but no so much as a cut on the surface of the planet? Unfortunately, energy comes at a price. Which is not to say that regulation is not needed.

  136. guthrie:

    AHhh, Sashka touches on one of my bugbears. The world is so large and interconnected these days that it is hard to get home to people what is done in their name, so that they can have cheap clothes and a warm house. Campaigns can help educate people, but its a slow process. Certainly not enough people are involved in educated decision making about what is worth trying to keep, what people are willing to destroy, and what alternatives there are.