Archive for December 6th, 2009
Most CP readers know about the 2°C warming limit, but many don’t appreciate its full implications. This short essay by two of the analysts who completed the first comprehensive analysis of that limit back in 1989 elaborates on the most important of these implications. Author bios and all references are at the end. Koomey has been a friend and colleague for more than a decade and a half. The figure comes from MetroNaturel.
Why two degrees really matters
Jonathan G. Koomey and Florentin Krause[i]
When the countries of the world meet for climate negotiations in Copenhagen this month, they will discuss how to prevent global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. This warming limit, accepted in principle by the leaders of the G8 countries in July,[ii] is more than just a number—it represents a way to think about the climate problem that can help us develop and evaluate options for solving it.
The current trajectory for greenhouse gas emissions would move the Earth by the middle of this century well outside the temperature range in which humanity evolved, marked by the 2-degree limit. This trend increases substantially the risk of dangerous, irreversible, and, perhaps, catastrophic changes in the global life support systems upon which we all depend.[iii] As the White House Science Advisor John Holdren aptly puts it, we’re “driving in a car with bad brakes towards a cliff in the fog.”[iv] The 2-degree limit is like a road sign warning us to avoid the cliff ahead.
Defining a warming limit implies a greenhouse gas budget, which is an upper limit to our cumulative emissions over the next 50 to 100 years. Such a budget encapsulates our scientific understanding of how emissions interact with the Earth’s climate and affect global temperatures. Some of the most significant greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, stay in the atmosphere for many decades,[v] which is why the budget is defined over the long term.
There’s a perception out there that the Obama administration’s health reform drive is operating hand-in-glove with industry players. You see a left-wing version of this critique from the “public option or nothing” crowd and a right-wing version in things like Tim Carney’s Obamanomics book. And certainly this legislation is friendlier to corporate interests than the bill we’ll be writing when I become dictator.
But the simple fact of the matter is that corporate America is doing what it usually does—attacking progressive legislation, and promoting obstruction by conservative politicians. The Chamber of Commerce is vehemently opposed to health reform, and the insurance industry is making nice sounds while, in practice, trying to kill reform. The insurance industry knows it’s unpopular, so it takes a reassuring attitude in public, but as my colleagues have been documenting there’s a vast industry-funded anti-reform effort underway aimed not just at killing the public option but killing the whole thing.
Meanwhile, Lee Fang reports that the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS’ lobbyists) are covertly backing far-right efforts to get health reform declared unconstitutional. Their key partner in this is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that drafts business-friendly legislation and feeds it to conservative state legislators. ALEC is developing “states rights” legislation aimed at raising “tenther” constitutional objections to health reform, and one of the three masterminds of ALEC’s efforts is Joan Gardner from BCBSA. And as Lee points out, industry players don’t shy away from a little hypocrisy:
Part of the reason the BCBS Association has claimed that it opposes the reform bill in its current form is because of what it perceives as a weak individual mandate. However, the BCBS Association-supported ALEC campaign depicts the very notion of an individual mandate as “anti-freedom.” So either way the Senate acts, BCBS will be able to trash the bill and try to kill reform.
It’s worth being clear about this. Whatever drawbacks there may be to the administration’s health care approach, it is in fact being fought by industry. Similarly, the Obama administration is often alleged to be in bed with the big banks, but it’s the administration that’s pushing to overhaul financial regulations, and it’s the banks and the GOP who’s blocking it.
A lengthy and detailed post about how industry manufacturers doubt to prevent progress. Jeff Masters:
In 1954, the tobacco industry realized it had a serious problem. Thirteen scientific studies had been published over the preceding five years linking smoking to lung cancer. With the public growing increasingly alarmed about the health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry had to move quickly to protect profits and stem the tide of increasingly worrisome scientific news. Big Tobacco turned to one the world’s five largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, to help out. Hill and Knowlton designed a brilliant Public Relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking is not dangerous. They encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which would produce science favorable to the industry, emphasize doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and question all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry. The CTR did a masterful job at this for decades, significantly delaying and reducing regulation of tobacco products. George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels, who is President Obama’s nominee to head the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), wrote a meticulously researched 2008 book called, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. In the book, he wrote: "the industry understood that the public is in no position to distinguish good science from bad. Create doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Throw mud at the anti-smoking research under the assumption that some of it is bound to stick. And buy time, lots of it, in the bargain". The title of Michaels’ book comes from a 1969 memo from a tobacco company executive: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy". Hill and Knowlton, on behalf of the tobacco industry, had founded the "Manufactured Doubt" industry.
The Manufactured Doubt industry grows up
As the success of Hill and Knowlton’s brilliant Manufactured Doubt campaign became apparent, other industries manufacturing dangerous products hired the firm to design similar PR campaigns. In 1967, Hill and Knowlton helped asbestos industry giant Johns-Manville set up the Asbestos Information Association (AIA). The official-sounding AIA produced "sound science" that questioned the link between asbestos and lung diseases (asbestos currently kills 90,000 people per year, according to the World Health Organization). Manufacturers of lead, vinyl chloride, beryllium, and dioxin products also hired Hill and Knowlton to devise product defense strategies to combat the numerous scientific studies showing that their products were harmful to human health.
By the 1980s, the Manufactured Doubt industry gradually began to be dominated by more specialized "product defense" firms and free enterprise "think tanks". Michaels wrote in Doubt is Their Product about the specialized "product defense" firms: "Having cut their teeth manufacturing uncertainty for Big Tobacco, scientists at ChemRisk, the Weinberg Group, Exponent, Inc., and other consulting firms now battle the regulatory agencies on behalf of the manufacturers of benzene, beryllium, chromium, MTBE, perchlorates, phthalates, and virtually every other toxic chemical in the news today….Public health interests are beside the point. This is science for hire, period, and it is extremely lucrative".
Joining the specialized "product defense" firms were the so-called "think tanks". These front groups received funding from manufacturers of dangerous products and produced "sound science" in support of their funders’ products, in the name of free enterprise and free markets. Think tanks such as the George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer’s SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project) have all been active for decades in the Manufactured Doubt business, generating misleading science and false controversy to protect the profits of their clients who manufacture dangerous products.
The ozone hole battle
In 1975, the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) industry realized it had a serious problem. The previous year, Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina, chemists at the University of California, Irvine, had published a scientific paper warning that human-generated CFCs could cause serious harm to Earth’s protective ozone layer. They warned that the loss of ozone would significantly increase the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet UV-B light reaching the surface, greatly increasing skin cancer and cataracts. The loss of stratospheric ozone could also significantly cool the stratosphere, potentially causing destructive climate change. Although no stratospheric ozone loss had been observed yet, CFCs should be banned, they said. The CFC industry hired Hill and Knowlton to fight back. As is essential in any Manufactured Doubt campaign, Hill and Knowlton found a respected scientist to lead the effort–noted British scientist Richard Scorer, a former editor of the International Journal of Air Pollution and author of several books on pollution. In 1975, Scorer went on a month-long PR tour, blasting Molina and Rowland, calling them "doomsayers", and remarking, "The only thing that has been accumulated so far is a number of theories." To complement Scorer’s efforts, Hill and Knowlton unleashed their standard package of tricks learned from decades of serving the tobacco industry:
- Launch a public relations campaign disputing the evidence.
- Predict dire economic consequences, and ignore the cost benefits.
- Use non-peer reviewed scientific publications or industry-funded scientists who don’t publish original peer-reviewed scientific work to support your point of view.
- Trumpet discredited scientific studies and myths supporting your point of view as scientific fact.
- Point to the substantial scientific uncertainty, and the certainty of economic loss if immediate action is taken.
- Use data from a local area to support your views, and ignore the global evidence.
- Disparage scientists, saying they are playing up uncertain predictions of doom in order to get research funding.
- Disparage environmentalists, claiming they are hyping environmental problems in order to further their ideological goals.
- Complain that it is unfair to require regulatory action in the U.S., as it would put the nation at an economic disadvantage compared to the rest of the world.
- Claim that more research is needed before action should be taken.
- Argue that it is less expensive to live with the effects.
The campaign worked, and CFC regulations were delayed many years, as Hill and Knowlton boasted in internal documents. The PR firm also took credit for keeping public opinion against buying CFC aerosols to a minimum, and helping change the editorial positions of many newspapers.
In the end, Hill and Knowlton’s PR campaign casting doubt on the science of ozone depletion by CFCs turned out to have no merit. Molina and Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995. The citation from the Nobel committee credited them with helping to deliver the Earth from a potential environmental disaster.
The battle over global warming
In 1988, the fossil fuel industry realized it had a serious problem. The summer of 1988 had shattered century-old records for heat and drought in the U.S., and NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, one of the foremost climate scientists in the world, testified before Congress that human-caused global warming was partially to blame. A swelling number of scientific studies were warning of the threat posed by human-cause climate change, and that consumption of fossil fuels needed to slow down. Naturally, the fossil fuel industry fought back. They launched a massive PR campaign that continues to this day, led by the same think tanks that worked to discredit the ozone depletion theory.
The George C. Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer’s SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project) have all been key players in both fights, and there are numerous other think tanks involved. Many of the same experts who had worked hard to discredit the science of the well-established link between cigarette smoke and cancer, the danger the CFCs posed to the ozone layer, and the dangers to health posed by a whole host of toxic chemicals, were now hard at work to discredit the peer-reviewed science supporting human-caused climate change.
As is the case with any Manufactured Doubt campaign, a respected scientist was needed to lead the battle. One such scientist was Dr. Frederick Seitz, a physicist who in the 1960s chaired the organization many feel to be the most prestigious science organization in the world–the National Academy of Sciences. Seitz took a position as a paid consultant for R.J. Reynolds tobacco company beginning in 1978, so was well-versed in the art of Manufactured Doubt. According to the excellent new book, Climate Cover-up, written by desmogblog.com co-founder James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore, over a 10-year period Seitz was responsible for handing out $45 million in tobacco company money to researchers who overwhelmingly failed to link tobacco to anything the least bit negative. Seitz received over $900,000 in compensation for his efforts. He later became a founder of the George C. Marshall Institute, and used his old National Academy of Sciences affiliation to lend credibility to his attacks on global warming science until his death in 2008 at the age of ninety-six. It was Seitz who launched the "Oregon Petition", which contains the signatures of more than 34,000 scientists saying global warming is probably natural and not a crisis. The petition is a regular feature of the Manufactured Doubt campaign against human-caused global warming. The petition lists the "Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine" as its parent organization. According to Climate Cover-up, the Institute is a farm shed situated a couple of miles outside of Cave Junction, OR (population 17,000). The Institute lists seven faculty members, two of whom are dead, and has no ongoing research and no students. It publishes creationist-friendly homeschooler curriculums books on surviving nuclear war. The petition was sent to scientists and was accompanied by a 12-page review printed in exactly the same style used for the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A letter from Seitz, who is prominently identified as a former National Academy of Sciences president, accompanied the petition and review. Naturally, many recipients took this to be an official National Academy of Sciences communication, and signed the petition as a result. The National Academy issued a statement in April 2008, clarifying that it had not issued the petition, and that its position on global warming was the opposite. The petition contains no contact information for the signers, making it impossible to verify. In its August 2006 issue, Scientific American presented its attempt to verify the petition. They found that the scientists were almost all people with undergraduate degrees, with no record of research and no expertise in climatology. Scientific American contacted a random sample of 26 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to have a Ph.D. in a climate related science. Eleven said they agreed with the petition, six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember the petition, one had died, and five did not respond…
Continue reading. There is much more and it is specific. Of course, deniers will deny all this as well.
On the General tab (for a local area connection), or the Networking tab (for all other connections), click Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), and then click Properties.
you may have to scroll down the list that appears on the General tab (assuming you have a router) under "This connection uses the following items:" — to find the entry for the Internet protocol (TCP/IP).
This is a food-related post.
Claude Levi-Strauss passed over the border last Friday at the age of 100. He almost made it to 101.
Claude was a famous anthropologist….anyone bludgeoned into taking Anthro 101 has been forced to read Tristes Tropiques or The Savage Mind. I hope.
Claude was the kind of genius that is readily recognizable in physics, chemistry, etc. He looked at modern culture and saw a completely different rationale for the way we live, work……cook. Had he written prose fiction, he would have won a Nobel. As it was he inspired a whole new generation of philosophers who in turn inspired physicists, chemists…..cooks….to think not just outside the box, but outside the hexahedron.
Basically, Claude looked at nature and human culture and saw that we had been struggling to define our world in blacks and whites. Ones and zeros. True and false. Good and bad. Fun and boring. He blamed all this on Plato, and he probably had a point. Well, three points as it turns out.
Claude thought the human brain was actually organized to perceive, evaluate and act on three points of view. 1, 0, and not 1 or 0. Good, bad….and not good or bad.
Claude was the son of a painter who was classically educated in Paris at the Sorbonne. He fell in love with an ethnologist and wound up in Brazil for five years in the 30’s. His observations of primitive Amazonian cultures were what lit him up.
Anyway, one of his big teaching points was the Culinary Triangle. He used this to push his point about the limiting nature of binary thought…
Regular readers may have noticed that I’ve been keeping track of Joe Lieberman’s evolving rationales for opposing a public option. The Connecticut senator is so opposed to letting some consumers choose between competing public and private plans that he’s willing to kill the entire bill over this one issue, but his reasoning keeps changing.
Believe it or not, we’re up to seven arguments over seven months, none of which makes sense.
In June, Lieberman said, "I don’t favor a public option because I think there’s plenty of competition in the private insurance market." That didn’t make sense, and it was quickly dropped from his talking points.
In July, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public is going to end up paying for it." No one could figure out exactly what that meant, and the senator moved on to other arguments.
In August, he said we’d have to wait "until the economy’s out of recession," which is incoherent, since a public option, even if passed this year, still wouldn’t kick in for quite a while.
In September, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public doesn’t support it." A wide variety of credible polling proved otherwise.
In October, Lieberman said the public option would mean "trouble … for the national debt," by creating "a whole new government entitlement program." Soon after, Jon Chait explained that this "literally makes no sense whatsoever."
And here we are in December, and the independent senator has a new explanation, which he explained to the Wall Street Journal:
Why is he adamant? Mr. Lieberman says that while he is not "a conspiratorial person," he believes the public option is intended as a way for the government to take over health care. "I’ve been working for health-care reform in different ways since I arrived here," he says. "It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can’t afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?" It was barely a blip, he says, in last year’s presidential campaign.
"I started to ask some of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus, privately, and two of them said ‘some in our caucus, and some outside in interest groups, after the president won such a great victory and there were more Democrats in the Senate and the House, said this is the moment to go for single payer.’" So, I joke, the senator is, in fact, as big a "conspiracy theorist" as me. He laughingly rejoins: "But I have evidence!"
This really is incoherent. First, independent analyses, including reports from the CBO, have found that public and private plans can compete and co-exist without driving the other out of business. Lieberman may claim to have imaginary "evidence," but there is no conspiracy.
Second, this wasn’t sprung on lawmakers after the election; it was part of all of the major Democratic candidates’ plans as far back as mid-2007.
And third, if progressive lawmakers decided this is "the moment to go for single payer," they would have proposed single payer. As it stands, they’re pushing for a watered-down public option with a state opt-out.
Lieberman’s "conspiracy theory," in other words, is bunk.
Read this account of James Love’s conversation with Ambassador Ron Kirk, the head US Trade Representative, on the question of why the Draconian Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is taking place in secret. Love cornered Kirk on a United Airlines flight from Geneva to DC following a WTO Ministerial meeting. Love asks Kirk why the treaty isn’t public, and Kirk’s answers are — at best — total weaseling and at worst fabrications.
I had a chance to talk to Kirk about the secrecy of the ACTA agreement. He said the ACTA text would be made public, "when it is finished." I told him it that was too late, and the public wanted the text out now, before it is too late to influence anything.
Kirk said he was aware that there were those who wanted the text public, but the issue of transparency was "about as complicated as it can get," and Kirk didn’t want people "walking away from the table," which would likely happen if the text was public, he said.
I said that it was untrue that IPR negotiations are normally secret, mentioning as examples that drafts of the other IPR texts, including the proposed WIPO treaty for disabilities and the climate change agreement language on IPR, as well as several drafts of the FTAA text and the 1996 WIPO copyright treaties had been public. Kirk said that ACTA "was different" and the topics being negotiated in ACTA were "more complex."
I brought up to Kirk that the USTR had shown ACTA text to dozens of corporate lobbyists and all of its trading partners in the ACTA negotiation, and the text was only secret from the public. Kirk did say USTR was discussing this issue with the White House and its trading partners, but that was about all he could say at that moment.
It’s hopeless because the report didn’t say what they had decided in advance it should say. From the Transform Drug Policy Foundation website:
The following article is the latest installment in Transform’s long running campaign to get the Government to release its publicly funded research into the effectiveness of UK drug policy . It appears in this week’s Economist magazine here. For more background see the links after the article.
Dec 3rd 2009
From The Economist print edition
Stretching the law on the disclosure of public documents has been a competitive sport among civil servants ever since the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act was passed in 2000. It requires public bodies to reveal information on request, but provides 23 get-outs, designed to protect secrets that ought to stay under wraps because they threaten national security, personal privacy and so on. The rules are often interpreted in a creative way.
Now The Economist has discovered a contender for the most inventive interpretation to date. After thinking about it for nearly two years and trying out various exemptions, the Home Office has refused to release a confidential assessment of its anti-drugs strategy requested by Transform, a pressure group. The reason is that next March the National Audit Office (NAO), a public-spending watchdog, is due to publish a report of its own on local efforts to combat drugs. The Home Office says that to have two reports about drugs out at the same time might confuse the public, and for this reason it is going to keep its report under wraps.
This is believed to be the first time that a public body has openly refused to release information in order to manage the news better. The department argues that releasing its internal analysis now “risks misinterpretation of the findings of the [NAO] report”, because its own analysis is from 2007 and predates the NAO’s findings. The argument uses section 36 of the FOI act, which provides a broad exemption for information that could “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs”.
The information commissioner, who polices the FOI act, declined to comment because the case was still open. But his predecessor, Richard Thomas, who stepped down in June, questioned the novel defence. “Certainly my office was always quite sceptical of anything which said publishing information is going to confuse the public. If that’s the case, normally you need to put out some extra material alongside it to provide adequate explanation. It’s not a reason for withholding something.”
Sir Alan Beith, the chairman of the parliamentary Justice Committee, which oversees the FOI act, was sharply critical of the Home Office’s excuse. “That’s really scraping the barrel. On those grounds you would have to ban the various hospital reports that are coming out at the moment [see article] because the public are confused about that too. It’s not an argument for censorship, it’s an argument for an even more open and clear debate.” The Home Office was making “a quite ridiculous attempt to hide from freedom of information,” he said.
The legality of the decision is also in doubt, after the department admitted that its refusal to release the document had not been approved by a minister, as is required by law. A Home Office spokeswoman called it an “administrative error”. Retrospective ministerial authorisation was being sought as The Economist went to press.
Legally or not, the Home Office will be able to hang on to its report for now because the FOI act takes so long to enforce. The commissioner’s office is said to be ready to order the release of the report now. If it does, the Home Office has 28 days to launch an appeal, which could take a year. In the meantime, drugs policy will continue to be shaped—or not—by research that the public paid for but may not see.
When I was freelancing for a while, it was amazing the number of people who wanted free work—if I just did the work for free, I would become famous (because the product they wanted the manual for was so great), or I would be paid when the product succeeded, and so on.
So I read this with a great deal of sympathy.
Interesting article by Jared Diamond in the NY Times:
There is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.
But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.
As part of my board work, I have been asked to assess the environments in oil fields, and have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies. I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.
The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.
What’s my evidence for this? Here are a few examples involving three corporations — Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron — that many critics of business love to hate, in my opinion, unjustly.
Let’s start with Wal-Mart…
Continue reading. I continue to believe, however, that most businesses will resist any change and fight any possible diminution of profits. We can look at the fights against the Clean Air Act in decades past—even though cleaning up their emissions ended up saving businesses a lot of money (because they stopped producing the emissions in the first place in many cases, by making the process more efficient), they still fought it tooth and nail. They don’t like change.
Still, it’s good to look at recent evidence.
Until I can see a physical therapist and work through a course of exercises, walking is out. TYD, though, reminded me of the Nordic Track that I have set up: easy on the knees. And today, with my knee not hurting so much, I tried it and it works like a dream. This is great, because I certainly wanted to continue exercising on the rainy days of winter.
I’ll have to work up gradually to a decent exercise duration: different muscles involved, I imagine. But that is a bright spot.
And in the meantime, I am continuing to monitor my diet and step up the amount of non-animal food (going for plants and fungi). I may go out and get some mushrooms for more mushroom burgers—those guys are great.
I got this Withings wireless scale, and I’m enjoying that: figures out weight, lean body mass v. fat body mass, and the BMI, and you get nifty graphs at their site. (Only browsers currently supported: Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. I’m pushing to add Chrome to the list.) Plus the scale itself is beautifully designed and very easy to read (a problem with my old scale).