Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

A National Climate Service?

May 27th, 2009

Posted by: admin

The House Science and Technology Committee will consider H.R. 2407, the Climate Service Act of 2009, during a markup hearing on June 3.  The bill was introduced by the Committee’s Chairman, Rep. Bart Gordon, so it stands a decent chance of passing out of committee.  I have no idea how far it might move after that.  An open question is how closely the fate of this bill is tied to the fate of Waxman-Markey.

The bill would establish a stand-alone National Climate Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The purpose of the service would be to:

(1) advance understanding of climate variability and change at the global, national, and regional levels;

(2) provide forecasts, warnings, and other information to the public on variability and change in weather and climate that affect geographic areas, natural resources, infrastructure, economic sectors, and communities; and

(3) support development of adaptation and response plans by Federal agencies, State, local, and tribal governments, the private sector, and the public.

More specific functional responsibilities of the proposed Service are in Section 4(c)(5) of the bill.  If the bill is passed, the NOAA Administrator would have to develop an implementation plan that would provide more detail about the responsibilities for the NCS and how it would fit with the rest of NOAA.


Where are the eggs that were in this basket?

February 3rd, 2009

Posted by: admin

The Pew Center released poll results of which topics were important to Americans.  Turns out, on the list of things Americans are concerned about, “Energy” ranks sixth.  In the complete report, it appears that “Energy” is short for, “Dealing with US energy problems” as a top priority.  But because nowhere are the “energy problems” defined, they can be anything from the price of gas, to the importation of oil, to the lack of energy Americans have to exercise at the end of the day.

As one looks farther down the list of the top 20 priorities, “Global Warming” ranks last (i.e. “Dealing with Global Warming”).    Yet, what I found noteworthy is that the “environment” is ranked sixteenth (i.e. “Protecting the Environment”).  The Pew Center (and thus, suggesting Americans) finds global warming, the environment, and energy to be separate issues.

Evidently, the White House feels differently then the American people. lumps together energy and the environment.  The agenda lists many things that would, in theory, reduce greenhouse gases and “Make the US a Leader in Climate Change.”  Interestingly, the website’s only mention of the environment is that foreign oil wreaks “havoc” on it.  Further, it appears that to speak of energy is to speak of climate change is to speak of the environment (or vice versa I suppose).

However, it’s not that energy, climate change, and the environment has been lumped together as one issue that I find interesting.   It is that climate change has been pushed onto the policy agenda relinquishing all other environmental issues… even with Americans’ concern for protecting the environment to be greater then that for dealing with climate change.

A Brief History of Geoengineering

February 2nd, 2009

Posted by: admin

My online wanderings brought out this article from the Spring 2007 edition of the Wilson Quarterly (H/T on geoengineering.  It’s a decent, if thin, introduction to past and current plans and schemes to modify global climate for various reasons.  The author, James Fleming of Colby College, suggests that such plans have suffered from a lack of careful thinking through, and is somewhate persuasive on this point.  However, he does not engage a larger question – if these schemes are too big, or their consequences too hard to determine, are there other adaptation measures that could be taken that aren’t quite as broad in scope or fraught with consequence?  The article does indicate that various efforts to try the really big stuff will continue, and it would be nice to have alternatives to consider in the event that the larger ideas are heavily pushed.

Watch the Chu Confirmation Hearing

January 13th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Today the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held its confirmation hearing for Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy.  There is an archived webcast currently online (the hearing actually starts around the 15 minute mark, and runs roughly 2 hours and 14 minutes from that point).  The same committee has a confirmation hearing scheduled Thursday for Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior.

I have not watched the Chu hearing, and Dr. Chu’s nomination is not considered problematic.  What coverage I have seen on the hearing is one article from The Washington Post indicating that Dr. Chu carefully navigated through questions about climate change and alternative energy.

Flood Control and Risk in the Netherlands

January 4th, 2009

Posted by: admin

The January issue of Wired also has an article on Dutch efforts currently underway to expand their flood control plans.  With most of the country below sea level, the Dutch started expanding their dam and flood control systems in the early part of the 20th century.  The Wired article describes the next big phase in the expansion of this system, where the annual chance of flood in high-risk areas will be reduced from one in 10,000 to one in 100,000.  By comparison, New Orleans protection has risk levels where the chance of flood in a year one in 100 (but for more severe hurricanes compared to the storms that spark flooding in the Netherlands).

This is a particularly daunting public works project, expected to take a century.  As the Dutch have experience with long term projects of this scope, it’s not likely to be as much of a shock as it would if this was their first attempt at long range geographic modification.  However, it’s hard to see a 100-year long project surviving the rough-and-tumble politics of most democracies.  While there are certainly climate change implications for what they are doing, the adaptation practices of the Dutch will set an example for engineers and urban planners around the world.  It’s worth taking a look.

Climate Change Impacts Part of Intelligence Report

November 27th, 2008

Posted by: admin

MSNBC reported last week that warnings and trends connected to climate change were included in the recently released “Global Trends 2025″ report issued by the National Intelligence Council.  I put this on par with the determination during the Clinton Administration that the AIDS pandemic in Africa qualified as a national security issue.  As I’ve heard before that wars over water and resources were likely in the future, the kinds of risks outlined by the National Intelligence Council are perhaps more updated than completely new.

The one House race left to watch

November 12th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Now that the election is over there’s one House race left to watch: Dingell v. Waxman.

John Dingell is the Ann Arbor/Detroit Representative who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee.  E&C is the key House committee of jurisdiction for climate policy and Dingell has been unabashed in his reluctance to move climate policy forward.   Considering the aggressive moves by other Congressional Dems – particularly Bingaman, Boxer and Markey — on trying to move the policy conversation forward within the Democratic caucus in advance of January 2009, Dingell has been the bottleneck to movement.

Now, the always-aggressive Henry Waxman, #2 on the E&C committee, has started a push to wrest the gavel from Dingell.  The differences in philosophy and approach between the two men are quite clear, especially on climate.  Dingell has been upfront about protecting the auto industry at all costs and being reluctant on carbon regulations (see for example), while Waxman is clearly itching to move forward on carbon caps.

The politics behind this will be fascinating as it is no secret that many Dems, including Ms. Pelosi, would like to see Dingell relinquish control of the committee (and the attendant control it will have over climate policy in the coming term, although that’s not the only reason).  Pelosi tried to go around Dingell in 2006 by creating an ad hoc committee on climate change (chaired by Markey), only to see Dingell win a fight that ensured the ad hoc commitee would have no legislation-writing authority.  Apparently Dingell is taking the current challenge so seriously that he’s formed a “whip team” to help him fight off Waxman.  But Waxman has apparently been planning this coup for a while, contributing heavily to incoming freshmen Dems.

You can bet that savvy watchers of climate policy are watching this “race” more closely than anything else in D.C. right now.  Ultimately, the ramifications of this fight will have serious and long-lasting implications for the direction and scope of the country’s first real foray into carbon regulations (whether they happen sooner or later).

Public Understanding of Science Should Include Other Scientists

November 8th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Matthew Nisbet, a communications professor at American University and author of the Framing Science blog, noted recently a Policy Forum article in Science (subscription required) that showed something that is perhaps obvious, but bears emphasis.  The article described an experiment conducted at MIT where students with training in science or economics were given parts of the IPCC summary for policymakers on long term accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Approximately two-thirds of those students were unable to accurately recreate the emissions path necessary to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide.  You can read more of Nisbet’s assessment on his blog.

What I take from this is a need to recognize that the ability to communicate scientific results clearly and properly not only requires an appropriate frame, but the public often considered in studies of the effective communication of science should also include other scientists.  Yes, this is probably an example of cross-disciplinary disconnection, but increasing specialization has been happening in science for a long time.  While it may be tough to bridge the gaps, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the gaps exist.  Just because scientists, in general, may be able to think and act in similar ways does not always translate to understanding across fields.  So, the next time you’d like to try and frame some of your research to a public audience, see how a scientist from another field understands you (or doesn’t).

The Future of Arctic Shipping

October 26th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The November issue of The Atlantic has a map outlining future shipping possibilities if the Arctic – as currently anticipated – becomes ice-free in the summers starting five short years from now.  It’s worth taking a closer look at the whole thing.

Arctic Shipping MapGiven the expected timeframe for the clearing of traffic routes, the important policy questions are not restricted to how this might be prevented or reversed.  Countries like Denmark, Russia, Canada and the United States are are already starting to grapple with what policies need to change when shipping changes routes, requiring people, ports, defense and security in places where virtually none of these (and almost as few people) have been for a while.

Technology and the Recent Troubles

September 25th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The title of this post may seem a bit misleading, because I am not going to be writing about what many readers would automatically assume – the role of high-tech companies or products behind the recent shenanigans.  After all, that nonsense was at least one or two speculative bubbles ago. What I want to do is take a few lines and point out that the financial sector is a very real, almost tangible example of the failure of imagination often found in considerations of technology – and, by extension, technology policy.

Financial instruments, whether we’re talking about basic mortgages (sub-prime or otherwise) or more complicated derivatives like the credit default swaps that may have had a hand in locking up several financial services companies, are technologies.  They aren’t as tangible, so to speak, as other technologies, but their creation still has consequences – consequences rarely engaged until after they have emerged and changed the world – for better or worse.  But I don’t expect some kind of ELSI (Ethical, Legal and Social Implications) research program to emerge in business schools or in Science and Technology Studies departments, focused on the financial sector.  Ironically enough, there’s probably no money in it.

Changes in the business world can often be traced to changes in the instruments and forms of organization used by companies to acheive their goals.  Corporations didn’t always exist, after all.  The form had to be created.  Alfred Chandler, in his historical scholarship, has focused on the business operations behind several key industries, most of which were involved in innovation – either then or now.  The Visible Hand is a revelatory (well, for me anyway) history of how the formation of corporations and partnerships was critical to how the railroads and retail emerged in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.  In short, capital intensive industries needed new forms of organizations to function.