Archive for the ‘Author: Vranes, K.’ Category

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).

NFIP revamp moving through the grinder

May 13th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The literature on the myriad problems with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is long and deep. One of the main problems is that the program is not insulated from politics and thus is prevented from acting like a real market by setting actuarially-sound rates on its customers. Other problems exist but the premium-setting problem is the most significant and no matter how Congress tinkers with the NFIP, if it doesn’t address the premium issue then the NFIP will continue to be a taxpayer money-sucking problem child.

A NFIP reauthorization has been moving through Congress and yesterday the Senate passed its version. Predictably they moved the current $18+ billion NFIP deficit to general revenues (i.e. the U.S. taxpayer), a move that has a long history in Congress. But some good was included in the bill and the House’s version does not have the $18+ billion shift. The Senate was able to pass an annual premium increase cap from 10% to 15%, which is more significant than it probably sounds. They also authorized $2B for updated floodplain mapping, which is also much more significant than it probably sounds, as currently premiums are not always based on physical reality. (We’ll see how much actually gets appropriated out of that $2B.)

(And hey all, sorry for the non-controversial post.)

Energy? Climate change? Linked? Huh?

November 20th, 2007

Posted by: admin

How does a high-level federal policymaker go on and on about energy policy, energy “balance,” energy technology, clean coal, etc. without the slightest nod to climate change? I’m not sure how it can be done with a straight face, but Texas Senator John Cornyn tried it here Monday in a Dallas Morning News op-ed, and it really is a work of art.

I won’t reproduce the 700-word screed here, but it is captivating reading. The word “energy” appears 33 times. Climate? Warming? Not once.


An appreciation of Mr. Bloomberg

November 5th, 2007

Posted by: admin

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now out in favor of a carbon tax (see also this post by Charlie Komanoff). This is significant because it makes him one of the very few nationally-prominent (or at least nationally-known) politicians to stake out for a C tax over cap-and-trade.

Bloomberg’s support for a C tax is important both because he is seen as a technocrat’s technocrat and because he presides over eight million carbon consumers. Unfortunately, as Redburn illustrates well in his article, carbon tax proponents have more than an uphill battle to get their way on climate mitigation legislation.

It’s not that the carbon tax or cap-and-trade? debate is over already (which, really, would be before it even began), it’s that there is a strong perception in the community that it is over. Wonky types (which in my usage are political realists, not optimists), especially those with some influence on the policy development process, have been telling me personally and conference crowds (like this one) that it’s all over and cap-and-trade is a done deal. This perception might be more important than (the way I see) reality, which is that nobody wants to deal with this problem and because of this, all options are still on the table. It’s not that I am full bore on the C-tax train either, but I would like to see an honest, complete national debate on the two approaches before the “elites” declare the policy problem solved. In particular, I would love to see this issue come out during primary debates for both parties, to at least introduce the average Joe to the issue. Of course, the vagaries of carbon economics will be viewed by party handlers as too nuanced and difficult to explain during debate, but I’ll preemptively call bullshit on that line. Try us.


Water in the west

October 22nd, 2007

Posted by: admin

In case you missed it, the NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story yesterday was the western water problem. Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment, which is closely affiliated with our Center, got a lot of ink, as did other CU and NOAA affiliates.

One thing (among many) hinted at in the article that deserves highlight: Western agriculture is done. Not tomorrow, not even in the next decade or two, but eventually. Without a check on urban expansion and with every drop of water spoken for, the economics are obvious: people in urban areas need water and have the cash to buy it from the agricultural senior rights holders.

Over on the Post-Normal Times, Sylvia adds the variable to the west’s water equation that the Sunday Mag article left out: the ecosystems and endangered species angle (here and here).

Citing carbon emissions, Kansas rejects coal plants

October 19th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Hard to say what John Marburger would say about this (more on him in a minute), but yesterday Kansas’ Secretary of Health and Environment cited carbon emissions in rejecting the application to install two 700MW coal plants in western Kansas.

The move may be more about politics than about climate, but whatever the reasons, the decision was sold on climate and that’s as important as it is surprising. It’s also another loud declaration that the states aren’t going to wait around for a national-level policy to move on climate mitigation. Here’s hoping that the losers on this decision give more thought to developing a profitable wind project on the plains than to giving lawyers millions to argue the coal case. (The quote from the coal plant developer’s spokesman, “We are extremely upset over this arbitrary and capricious decision” invokes the legal key phrase that spells l-a-w-s-u-i-t.)

News on the Kansas move comes on the heels of some bizarre statements on climate change from Mr. Marburger. I’m not sure what his agenda is, exactly, but the Washington Post today has him saying


NFIP reauthorization moving along

October 18th, 2007

Posted by: admin

In what could become the most significant change to the National Flood Insurance Program since it started in 1968, yesterday Senate Banking unanimously passed out of committee its markup of H.R. 3121, which passed the House on September 27. H.R. 3121, the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007, pushes through a small but significant number of changes to the NFIP, including some to address the biggest problem with the NFIP: that it does not (and cannot, because it is not isolated from political interference) charge actuarially-sound rates on the policies it writes.

The bill has 36 sections so I’m not going to pick it apart here, but here are a few things I latched on to (the Senate bill isn’t available yet so the section numbers refer to H.R.3121.EH):

- Quite a few authorizations for studies or reports (yea, I know, I know, but it’s something) on charging actuarially-sound rates, increasing policy holding, including building codes in flood management criteria (go figure); and the creation of a National Flood Insurance Advocate whose main purpose is to write reports.

- Section 4 specifically phases in actuarially-sound rates for non-primary residences and nonresidential properties. This is a great start, but of course specifically and purposefully leaves out setting actuarially-sound rates for most policy holders! It also caps the increase for buildings built before 1974 (known as “pre-FIRM” properties) at 20% and 25% for nonresidential and non-primary residences respectively.


Twenty years of public opinion about global warming

August 29th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Matt Nisbet has a good paper out now about polling results on global warming. The pdf is here and general paper link here.

The polling supports what we’ve been saying for a while: the public is there. They believe (even if they think the scientific consensus isn’t as strong as it really is).

The science community has been freaking out for years about trying to answer the “we’re screaming at them about this problem, why aren’t they doing anything about it???” question. The stock answer from climate scientists is either about skeptics sowing doubt, or the problem is too complicated, or something like that, but it usually comes down to, “the public just isn’t convinced that it’s a problem.” Matt’s paper shows that clearly the public is aware of global warming and does think it is a problem.

So why are we (through our electeds) still not doing anything about it then? Because even the public realizes that the solutions are very, very difficult and will probably mean considerable pain. (And no politician wants to inflict pain on his/her constituents.) Perhaps the collective is making its own collective calculation: a world without potentially disruptive-to-catastrophic global warming or a world without coal-fired electricity and 20mpg family sedans?

This is really my insidious way of making a strong plea to the climate science policy (funding) community: stop spending money on GCMs. Start spending those billions we spend on basic climate research on climate solutions. We do not need 21 models feeding the IPCC process to see the risks. In a resource-limited science funding world, we know enough already about how climate works to see the risks.

What we don’t see is how we’re going to shovel ourselves out of this mess. We would do quite well to quit crying about science budgets, climate skeptics and inaccurate media representations and finally turn our energies to usable, useful science for a very uncertain future. Our politicians and policymakers will listen if we give them useful solutions, especially if we work with them to figure out what kind of information is useful to them. They will continue to NOT listen if we decide to pad our status quo by indefinitely giving them journals filled with GCM studies and 500-page IPCC reports that are all science and no ways out.

New Changnon paper on winter storm losses

August 20th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Keeping in line with similar research being done here on hurricanes (Roger and colleagues) and earthquakes (me), Stanley Changnon has a new paper out on winter storm losses. The abstract:

Winter storms are a major weather problem in the USA and their losses have been rapidly increasing. A total of 202 catastrophic winter storms, each causing more than $1 million in damages, occurred during 1949–2003, and their losses totaled $35.2 billion (2003 dollars). Catastrophic winter storms occurred in most parts of the contiguous USA, but were concentrated in the eastern half of the nation where 88% of all storm losses occurred. … The time distribution of the nation’s 202 storms during 1949–2003 had a sizable downward trend, whereas the nation’s storm losses had a major upward trend for the 55-year period. This increase over time in losses, given the decrease in storm incidences, was a result of significant temporal increases in storm sizes and storm intensities. Increases in storm intensities were small in the northern sections of the nation, but doubled across the southern two-thirds of the nation, reflecting a climatic shift in conditions producing intense winter storms.

The interesting zeroth- or first-order conclusion is that when using damage trends as a proxy for climatic trends, no climatic trends can be seen in hurricanes while a strong one can be seen in winter storms. From the latest Pielke et al. hurricane paper:

…it should be clear from the normalized estimates that while 2004 and 2005 were exceptional from the standpoint of the number of very damaging storms, there is no long-term trend of increasing damage over the time period covered by this analysis.

Whereas from the Changnon paper on winter storms:

Significant temporal increases in storm losses, storm sizes, and storm intensity have occurred in the United States. The national increase over time in losses, given the decrease in storm incidences, was a result of the increases over time in storm sizes and intensities. The marked temporal increases in storm sizes and storm intensities were greatest across the southern two-thirds of the nation.

Where is public confidence in science?

July 17th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Coming in a little late to this one, but on 30-June the WSJ ran an op-ed by Roy Grinker of George Washington University on the vaccines-autism circus. The article is moneywalled, of course, so you’ll need special access to see it, but a couple of snippets should give a good idea of his arguments.

I base my opinion on scientific literature and no court decision is going to change it. Neither will a court decision change the minds of the antivaccine advocates. Two distinct communities have emerged, and though they both employ the language of science, their ideas are simply incommensurable. The two groups co-exist, like creationism and evolutionary biology, but they operate on such different premises that a true dialogue is nearly impossible.

The real problem here, as we have pointed out a few thousand times, is Dan Sarewitz’s excess of objectivity. There is enough ammunition for both sides to keep firing.

We should not expect too much out of this trial, or the next eight. The scientific community and antivaccine parent groups will each continue to look for clues under their own lampposts, because that is where the light is. But we should pay careful attention to this conflict. The antivaccine movement may be evidence that public confidence in science is eroding, which means that public health is at risk too.

Grinker may be right here, but I think something else is important that he misses. The vaccines debate is not and has never been about the science, and it will continue to not be about the science. It is about whether it is reasonable for the government to mandate (whether it does so explicitly or implicitly) that all children receive vaccines. This is a social liberty and public health policy question, not a science question. The antivaccine movement has been forced to debate in the world of science when they want to be debating in the world of social policy. But science as a machine is a hard thing to stand up to, and the antivaccine movement must have sensed that they would get more traction making arguments about bad science than about social liberty. Clearly the argument “I don’t want the government to force my kid to get a shot” is a lot less compelling than “the government is poisoning our kids and covering it up with bad science.”