Friday, December 2, 2011


Hmm, what a surprise. When energy companies go onto privately-owned land to dig oil and gas wells, the landowners aren't the big winners. But the companies are. Of course, it's not hard to make big money when you off-load the costs on to others, but pocket all the proceeds. Almost makes you think that opening up the Marcellus Shale of western Pennsylvania and New York to fracking might not be a wise idea:
“I guess our terms should have been clearer” about requiring the company to remove the waste pits after drilling, said Mr. Ely, of Dimock, Pa., who sued Cabot after his drinking water from a separate property was contaminated. “We learned that the hard way.”

Americans have signed millions of leases allowing companies to drill for oil and natural gas on their land in recent years. But some of these landowners — often in rural areas, and eager for quick payouts — are finding out too late what is, and what is not, in the fine print.

Energy company officials say that standard leases include language that protects landowners. But a review of more than 111,000 leases, addenda and related documents by The New York Times suggests otherwise:
¶ Fewer than half the leases require companies to compensate landowners for water contamination after drilling begins. And only about half the documents have language that lawyers suggest should be included to require payment for damages to livestock or crops.
¶ Most leases grant gas companies broad rights to decide where they can cut down trees, store chemicals, build roads and drill. Companies are also permitted to operate generators and spotlights through the night near homes during drilling.
¶ In the leases, drilling companies rarely describe to landowners the potential environmental and other risks that federal laws require them to disclose in filings to investors.
¶ Most leases are for three or five years, but at least two-thirds of those reviewed by The Times allow extensions without additional approval from landowners. If landowners have second thoughts about drilling on their land or want to negotiate for more money, they may be out of luck.
In the rush to embrace geoengineering as a potential solution to catastrophic climate change, how to properly govern geoengineering research and deployment of geoengineering technologies is generally not given the emphasis it warrants. The scientists all too often want to do the science before considering social consequences, or put faith into everything working out when these technologies are eventually deployed — as if countries that are unable to agree to carbon cuts will suddenly acquiesce to handing over control of a global climate thermostat with unknown results. Fortunately, more attention is being paid to geoengineering governance:
The regulatory issue “requires much more extensive deliberation,” the report states. But at the moment, it adds, there is no institution or international convention equipped to do the job.

It adds that early concerted action on research governance could promote research while limiting the possibility that countries, companies or individuals might act on their own.

Yet such joint efforts will require a balancing act, the report says. “The more countries involved in S.R.M. governance, the more legitimate the governance arrangements could be, but the less likely and slower the process would be to achieve clear agreement,” it says. “Managing the trade-off between inclusivity and effectiveness will be central.”

Like other reports on geoengineering, the document cautions that it is far too soon to say whether any of the techniques will mitigate the effects of climate change to a meaningful extent, and that conventional efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions must continue.
The full report can be seen here. (For what it's worth, James Fleming's four-year old piece from the Wilson Quarterly on geoengineeringlater turned into a book — is still the best piece I've read on the trials and travails of trying to govern geoengineering schemes.)

A new report from the Pacific Institute and collaborators on how to enhance resilience in the urban water sector in developing world cities to the twin challenges of urbanization and climate change — via a case study in Indore, India:
The Climate Change and Urbanisation report recommends policy and tool solutions to ensure that the systems and the infrastructure for the provision of basic services are managed in a more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable manner:
  • diversify water supply (Indore, for example, relies on one primary and energy-intensive source: the Narmada River);  
  • increase access to municipal supply/improve infrastructure; 
  • increase water storage at all levels (municipal and household);  
  • promote water-use efficiency and reuse; 
  • implement equitable water rates; 
  • improve water quality; reduce energy dependence; 
  • and improve connections among all stakeholders in the sector.
Full report (.pdf) here.

How does scientific literacy relate to climate change and risk perceptions? A new working paper says not very much, but rather, as others have noted previously, we filter our scientific knowledge through our cultural norms and biases: 
In results that we describe in a working paper, science literacy and numeracy also have very minimal impact on perceptions of climate change — assessed independently of cultural worldviews. Once cultural worldviews are taken into account, the impact of science literacy & numeracy on climate change risk perceptions depends on peoples' cultural orientations: as they get more science literate & numerate, egalitarian communitarians see more risk, but hierarchical individualists see even less.
Kahan has covered this ground before, and Chris Mooney had a nice piece on the “science of why we don't believe science” so this isn't quite surprising, but it's nice to have some further evidence of the phenomenon. And as Kahan notes in his blog post: 
As we discuss in the paper, this pathology isn't intractable -- but if one doesn't even know that cultural polarization increases as science literacy does or why, then the problem is unlikely to go away.
Meanwhile, it seems perceptions of climate change are also affected by both short- and long-term local weather patterns:
MIT’s Tatyana Deryugin found that short-term abnormalities in temperature and precipitation have a sizable influence on whether people believe that “the effects of global warming have already begun to happen.” But that shift is short-lived, lasting just a few days. After a week has passed, the effect of a hot day on climate beliefs seems to vanish

On the other hand, Deryugin also found that prolonged periods of abnormal weather — say, an extended drought of the sort that Texas has been suffering this year — can shift people’s attitudes fairly significantly. (That runs in both directions, though: An extended cold snap can convert the locals into climate skeptics, too.)

Climate change is introducing a “new normal” in the Arctic:
A record low for sea ice was observed in 2007. The report's authors say there are now enough observations since that year's dramatic decline to show that longer periods of open Arctic waters are becoming the norm. The melting ice and rising carbon dioxide levels are also making the Arctic ocean less salty and more acidic, the report finds. But water chemistry is not the only thing changing.

"We’ve always expected physical changes in Arctic to come first but in previous report cards we’ve had mixed signals when it comes to the ecosystem or the biodiversity," says Mike Gill of the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme of the Arctic Council Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna.

This year, however, "we are starting to detect a response from these ecosystems to those physical changes," says Gill.

With thinner and less ice covering the sea, more light shines into the ocean (see More light under ice). The additional solar energy promotes further melting and increased productivity at the base of the marine food chain. "These increases are particularly strong in the eastern Arctic where production has increased 70% in the Kara sea and 135% in the eastern Siberian sea," says Karen Frey, a geographer at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Species at the top of the food chain are affected in a different way: Loss of pack ice on the Chukchi Sea has hindered the ability of both polar bears and walruses to hunt.

"For polar bears, 7 of 19 subpopulations appear to be declining in number, with trends in two of the populations linked to reductions in sea ice," says Frey. This summer, thousands of walruses hauled out of the water onto land in Alaska, a first for that time of year and a major risk to the animals.
And even more bad climate news from the northern reaches: the possibility of a methane bomb from thrawing Arctic and sub-Arctic permafrost could lead to a greater climate catastrophe than previously assumed, says a new study published in Nature:
Thawing permafrost will release about as many greenhouse gases as those caused by deforestation, which accounts for about 15 percent of human-caused carbon emissions. “Permafrost carbon release is not going to overshadow fossil fuel emissions as the main driver of climate change, but it is an important amplifier of climate change,” said Schuur.
What does that all that methane look like? UAF researcher Katey Walter Anthony has a nice series of videos illustrating methane release from Arctic lakes that's worth checking out. 

What might climate change look like in New York's Adirondacks?:
Nothing we see here is found at temperatures 10 degrees warmer, and very little makes it to five degrees warmer,” Mr. Jenkins said matter-of-factly on a mild fall day. “We will be in a climate that this community has never known in its history. One has to go back to world climate levels we haven’t seen in 15 million years.”

Such warming is what scientists’ temperature models forecast if significant steps are not taken, and soon, to cut carbon emissions. The Adirondack Mountains, host to two Winter Olympics, could lose much of their ice and snow by the end of the century.

Glenn Greenwald chimes in on the debate about stripping habeas rights of American citizens on US soil; it's just a continuation of the status quo of perpetual war, he says, and let's not give Obama too much credit for his veto threat, since the administration's real concern is with preserving executive power:
Let’s be very clear, though, about what the “veto threat” is and is not. All things considered, I’m glad the White House is opposing this bill rather than supporting it. But, with a few exceptions, the objections raised by the White House are not grounded in substantive problems with these powers, but rather in the argument that such matters are for the Executive Branch, not the Congress, to decide. In other words, the White House’s objections are grounded in broad theories of Executive Power. They are not arguing: it is wrong to deny accused Terrorists a trial. Instead they insist: whether an accused Terrorist is put in military detention rather than civilian custody is for the President alone to decide.


[T]he “debate” over this bill has taken on the standard vapid, substance-free, anti-democratic form that shapes most Washington debates. Even Democratic opponents of the bill, such as Mark Udall, have couched their opposition in these Executive Power arguments: that it’s better for National Security if the CIA, the Pentagon and the DOJ decides what is done with Terrorists, not Congress. In other words, the debate has entailed very little discussion of whether these powers are dangerous or Constitutional, and has instead focused almost entirely on which of Our Nation’s Strong National Security Experts should make these decisions (one of the few exceptions to this is Rand Paul, who, continuing in his New-Russ-Feingold role on these issues, passionately argued why these powers are such a menace to basic Constitutional guarantees). In sum, the debate is over who in the National Security Priesthood should get to decide which accused Terrorist suspects are denied due process, not whether they should be.
But so long as the warmongers and the proponents of a perpetual state of war from the military-industrial complex rule government, the very idea of restraining our military is off the table:
Perpetual spending increases on defense have not always been taken for granted. Eisenhower made significant cuts in spending after the end of the Korean War. So did Richard Nixon when American forces began withdrawing from Vietnam. But the amorphous bogeyman of global terrorism has made the notion of significant adjustments in defense spending off limits. Officials who should know better—including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, an old deficit hawk in his days as a congressman from California—warn of the dire consequences of potential cuts.

Even if the most severe scenario now under discussion occurred—even if the congressional supercommittee on the debt and deficit failed to act and automatic “doomsday” cuts of more than $500 billion over 10 years were imposed on the Pentagon—that would still amount to a decrease of only about 15 percent, leaving roughly the equivalent of what we were spending in 2007. It would hardly represent a radical rethinking of national priorities.

And, of course, it is the twisting of national priorities that is the most pernicious ripple effect of this military spending. It has become all but impossible to close any military base (the chore has repeatedly been farmed out to special commissions, insulated from political pressure), and it is always a heavy lift to cancel any weapon system, because some community (or member of Congress) depends on it, economically or politically. It takes only a glance at National Journal or Politico, filled with full-page color advertisements from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, from Northrup-Grumman and L3 and KBR, to get some indication of where our priorities lie. Great corporate engines once worked to build the U.S. civilian economy and the infrastructure that underlay it; now they are at the service of military power and its projection abroad.


The defense sector contributes less money to politicians than many other industries, but it remains perhaps the most powerful force in politics because it is the one sector that no politician of either party wants to be accused of rebuffing. With more than 1,100 lobbyists representing some 400 corporate clients, it is a powerhouse in the influence game. It spent $137 million on federal lobbying efforts in 2009. The lobbying is invariably done by former legislators or top Pentagon brass in a revolving-door system that is deeply entrenched and has resisted all attempts at reform.

The surest sign of the stranglehold that the national-security state has on the capital is the inability of even the most articulate, presumably determined critics of the status quo to change it. Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of retooling the Bush administration’s foreign and military policies, and he has sounded some tonal shifts, notably on the use of torture to interrogate suspected terrorists. But he has failed in his goal to close the terrorist-detention center at Guant√°namo Bay, in Cuba; has continued his predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge for some suspected terrorists; has allowed a secret committee of national-security officials to target terrorists for summary execution by drone attack; and has appointed a virtual musical chairs of the same officials who have been conducting military and foreign policy for years, from his new head of the C.I.A., General David Petraeus, to his White House counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. Although Obama had vowed to impose a ban on onetime lobbyists serving in government, he sought a waiver to allow Raytheon’s former chief lobbyist to become his deputy secretary of defense. To the chagrin of many of his supporters—and to the sneering surprise of critics such as Dick Cheney—Obama’s policy is, in important ways, functionally indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s, stuck in a box outside of which no president has dared to go in half a century.

Speaking of how Congress is so thoroughly corrupted by big money that it is unable to respond effectively to crisis, Larry Lessig connects the dots on the “link between the structure of deregulation and the [economic] collapse”:
Before 2008, the zeitgeist was deregulation, and Wall Street succeeded in getting deregulation. Frank Partnoy calculated for me that in 1980, 98 percent of financial assets traded in our economy were traded subject to the normal rules of transparency, anti-fraud requirements, basic exchange-based rules of the New Deal. By 2008, 90 percent of the assets traded were traded invisibly because they were not subject to any of these basic requirements of transparency and anti-fraud exchange-based obligations.

But the really astonishing thing is that after 2008, after we suffered the biggest collapse since the Depression, after every independent analyst had said there was a link between the structure of deregulation and the collapse, after the dean of deregulation—Alan Greenspan—confessed he made a mistake in assuming that the self-interest of the banks would lead them to behave virtuously rather than behave in a way that would drive to their maximum profit, after all of that, even then, Wall Street was able to blackmail the Democrats and the Republicans into handing them essentially a “Get Out of Jail Free” card and effect no fundamental change in the architecture of our financial system. That is, frankly, terrifying.

The power of large corporations over regulations is, of course, something that pervades the environmental sphere, as well. Newly released emails show just how much power Coca-Cola had over a proposed ban on plastic water bottles in the Grand Canyon (a story that the Times originally covered last month):
[National Park Service director] Mr. Jarvis cited only one concern, Coca-Cola’s contributions to the National Park Foundation, in discussing the ban with a regional manager of the Park Service. “While I applaud the intent” of the ban, he wrote in the e-mail, “there are going to be consequences, since Coke is a major sponsor of our recycling efforts.”

“Let’s talk about this” before the park “pulls the plug,” he added.

Last month Mr. Jarvis said in a statement that “my decision to hold off the ban was not influenced by Coke but rather the service-wide implications to our concessions contracts, and frankly the concern for public safety in a desert park.”

At the same time, Big Coal is fighting against new proposed regulations, screaming loudly about the huge costs. Well, it's all bunk, but the press reports it as fact. Dave Roberts pithily summed it up here:
Polluters have been wrong about the effects of EPA regs 100% of the time over the last 40 years. Yet press takes them seriously every time.
Roberts' offers a slightly longer and more nuanced take on the lies of the coal industry insofar as the costs of regulations go in a piece for Grist:
In short, there's a growing -- at this point overwhelming -- body of evidence that it is perfectly possible to shut down the nation's dirtiest coal plants and still keep the lights on. This won't stop industry shills from fear mongering, but it should fortify the spines of wishy-washy moderates in Congress.

Is the BLM self-censoring, in order to keep the grazing lobby happy? It sure does look like it.

While here in Arizona, our statewide elected officials are doing all they can to ignore the will of the voters and prevent medicinal marijuana from being available, governors in Washington and Rhode Island are actually willing to be sane about how we approach pot.

Mike Birbiglia is a funny man, as he showed on this great story from This American Life:
And now he's going to be a movie star.

And now for everyone's favorite feature, Heather's Happy Link of the Day™: today featuring recipes in the style of famous authors. The Raymond Chandler bit is my fave.

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