September 25, 2006

NASA Study: Global Heating Passing Highest Levels in Thousands of Years

An ongoing migration of plant and animal species towards the poles is not keeping up with the global heating from greenhouse gases (GHG) generated by man's use of fossil fuels, according to a new study announced today by NASA. NASA - NASA Study Finds World Warmth Edging Ancient Levels

The authors of the study cautioned that the rising global temperatures of the last three decades are approaching the levels associated with destructive planetary changes. According to the announcement: "During the warmest interglacial periods the Earth was reasonably similar to today. But if further global warming reaches 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know. The last time it was that warm was in the middle Pliocene, about three million years ago, when sea level was estimated to have been about 25 meters (80 feet) higher than today.”

Among the "plant and animal species" that would be forced to migrate toward the poles and to higher ground as sea levels rise are tens of millions of humans presently living in coastal regions around the world who will seek land presently occupied by tens of millions of other humans.

Posted by dougsimpson at 08:47 PM

US Indicts Gen Re and AIG Execs in Finite Reinsurance Matter

United States Attorney Kevin O'Connor announced a superseding indictment of four former Gen Re executives and one AIG senior executive arising from allegations of conspiracy, securities fraud, mail fraud and false statments to the SEC in connection with finite reinsurance transactions in 2000 and 2001. The defendants are accused of using the transactions in order to mislead investors as to AIG's financial situation.

Related charges were contained in a federal grand jury indictment returned in February 2006 in Norfolk Virginia. Venue was transferred to the District of Connecticut in April for the convenience of the parties. Press Release: "Gen Re and AIG Executives Charged in Superseding Indictment" (September 20, 2006).

A copy of the full 49-page indictment, with detailed allegations as the alleged overt acts, is accessible from a link in the press release or here: Superseding Indictment: United States of America v. Ferguson, et al, 3:06-CR-137(PCD)

Earlier references in Unintended Consequences regarding finite reinsurance and these actions include:

Unintended Consequences: Four Indicted in Finite Reinsurance Probe(Feb. 6, 2006)

Unintended Consequences: Wharton's Thoughts on AIG and "finite reinsurance" (April 7, 2005)

Unintended Consequences: "Finite Risk Reinsurance" background online (Nov. 24, 2004)

Unintended Consequences: Spitzer and SEC investigate "finite insurance" (Nov. 16, 2004)

Unintended Consequences: AIG targeted by US Grand Jury, AP reports (Oct. 22, 2004)

Posted by dougsimpson at 08:22 PM

September 23, 2006

Pricing and R&D Needed to Reduce Carbon Emissions

The Congressional Budget Office released a study about the role of prices and research and development in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide released by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is the chief component of climate polluting greenhouse gases (GHG).

As usual, the CBO refrained from explicit recommendations, but their study makes clear the importance of combining efforts in both pricing (e.g. a carbon tax or 'cap and trade system') and R&D. It also makes clear that external costs of carbon emissions result in a failure of the market system to produce "voluntary" solutions sufficient to overcome short-term motivations.

From the Introduction: "The possibility of climate change involves two distinct 'market failures' that prevent unregulated markets from achieving the appropriate balance between fossil fuel use and changes in climate. One market failure involves the external effects of emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels—that is, the costs that are imposed on society by the use of fossil fuels but that are not reflected in the prices paid for them. The other market failure is a general underinvestment in research and development (R&D) that occurs because investments in innovation may yield “spillover” benefits to society that do not translate into profits for the innovating firm. The first market failure yields inefficiently high use of fossil fuels; the second yields inefficiently low R&D."

This study is useful in balancing the assertions by those policymakers that claim that "voluntary" measures are the best choice to deal with the climate threat. Doing so denies the reality of external costs and the limitations of the market economy to deal with them.

Congressional Budget Office - Evaluating the Role of Prices and R+D in Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions (September 18, 2006)

Posted by dougsimpson at 08:28 AM

Royal Society Ask ExxonMobil to Stop Funding Climate Change Deniers

Britain's Royal Society has challenged ExxonMobil to make good on its pledge to stop funding climate change denial groups. Many are convinced that inaccurate and misleading public statements by ExxonMobil and groups it funds are deliberate attempts to undermine the scientific consensus that human activity (principally the burning of fossil fuels such as ExxonMobil's products) is causing global warming through the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG).

Paid deniers of the human causes of global warming have been identified to include the US Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the International Policy Network, the George C Marshall Institute and a UK group called the Scientific Alliance. Such "think tanks" have been used as stalking horses to provide cover for fossil-fuel-friendly politicians and administrators who delay public action to reduce GHG emissions that would impair profits at fossil-fuel producers.

Environment Unlimited | Climate change | Royal Society tells Exxon: stop funding climate change denial (Manchester Guardian, September 20, 2006)

The Manchester Guardian provides a link to a PDF of the actual September 4, 2006 letter from the Royal Society to ExxonMobil.

Posted by dougsimpson at 08:08 AM

September 22, 2006

Branson's Billions Researching Against Global Warming

Sir Richard Branson pledged $3 billion over 10 years for R&D to fight global warming, to kudos at the Clinton Global Initiative. Funds will come from profits on Virgin's air and rail transportation operations. Branson pledges $3B to fight global warming - Sep. 21, 2006

In July, Richard Branson told Business 2.0: "I used to be skeptical of global warming, but now I'm absolutely convinced that the world is spiraling out of control. CO2 is like a bushfire that gets bigger and bigger every year. * * * All of us who are in a position to do something about it must do something about it. Because Virgin is involved with planes and trains, we have even more responsibility. So we've put aside quite a lot of money to invest in alternative fuels. Over the next four years, we'll invest something like $1 billion in alternative fuels." The best business ideas in the world - August 1, 2006

Branson joins billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and influential personalities like Bono to focus real money and influence on long-term challenges. Recent setbacks for others, such as the "Big Three" auto manufacturers, show how management focused on short-term profits can make rational decisions that can result in lasting damage to the welfare of humanity and the company itself, while making individual managers wealthy.

Clayton Christensen highlighted those logical traps in "The Innovators Dilemma," and Jared Diamond, in "Collapse," revealed how the same sorts of decisions led the the downfall of entire civilizations, usually following the height of their power, influence and hubris. The examples of "long view" thinkers with the power to act on their beliefs is encouraging. Now, if we could only get national and international politicians in the same mindset. To do that will require political will of the majority of the electorate. And, I hear on good authority (Al Gore) that "political will is a renewable resource."

Posted by dougsimpson at 07:56 AM

September 21, 2006

Interior Protected Oil Companies from Fraud Suits

The U.S. Interior Department has been suppressing action on audits showing underpayment by oil companies, and refusing to issue subpoenas against them, according to a New York Times article focusing on lawsuits unsealed in Oklahoma. False Claims Act suits by three department auditors allege that top brass at Interior blocked recovery of fraudulent underpayments of royalties for oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. Suits Say U.S. Impeded Audits for Oil Leases - New York Times

Posted by dougsimpson at 09:26 AM

September 20, 2006

California's Public Nuisance Suit Against Automakers

Water problems, coastal erosion, wildlife damage caused by Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from autos have cost the State of California millions and will cost millions more. California Attorney General Lockyer filed suit today against the six largest auto manufacturers, alleging their products cause a public nuisance substantially contributing to global warming. Attorney General Lockyer seeks damages on behalf of the people of California.

According to the A.G.'s press release:
"The complaint alleges that under federal and state common law the automakers have created a public nuisance by producing “millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide,” a greenhouse gas that traps atmospheric heat and causes global warming. Under the law, a “public nuisance” is an unreasonable interference with a public right, or an action that interferes with or causes harm to life, health or property. The complaint asks the court to hold the defendants liable for damages, including future harm, caused by their ongoing, substantial contribution to the public nuisance of global warming."

According to sources quoted in a story found on Yahoo News, a similar suit in New York was dismissed as presenting a political question properly addressed to the legislature. California sues carmakers (Sep. 20, 2006).

Complaint in California v. General Motors, et al,

List of Witnesses

Attorney General's Press Release on Sep. 20, 2006.

Posted by dougsimpson at 07:46 PM

September 12, 2006

Humans' GHG Warming Oceans, Intensifying Storms, Says NAS Paper

Human activities drive the warming of the oceans, which drive increasingly severe tropical storms, conclude 19 scientists in a The National Academy of Science report published this week. Some scientists still dispute whether recent severity of Atlantic tropical storms is a significant change or natural variation. Fewer dispute that global warming is happening and that human consumption of fossil fuels is a significant cause. Articles in the popular press are less frequently defering to the minority of sceptics and recognizing the scientific consensus, despite efforts by fossil fuel lobbyists to "teach the controversy."

The full article is in the September 12, 2006 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. B.D.Santer, et al, "Forced and unforced ocean temperature changes in Atlantic and Pacific tropical cyclogenesis regions" The full article costs $10 for immediate download, but here is the abstract (free):
"Previous research has identified links between changes in sea surface temperature (SST) and hurricane intensity. We use climate models to study the possible causes of SST changes in Atlantic and Pacific tropical cyclogenesis regions. The observed SST increases in these regions range from 0.32°C to 0.67°C over the 20th century. The 22 climate models examined here suggest that century-timescale SST changes of this magnitude cannot be explained solely by unforced variability of the climate system. We employ model simulations of natural internal variability to make probabilistic estimates of the contribution of external forcing to observed SST changes. For the period 1906-2005, we find an 84% chance that external forcing explains at least 67% of observed SST increases in the two tropical cyclogenesis regions. Model "20th-century" simulations, with external forcing by combined anthropogenic and natural factors, are generally capable of replicating observed SST increases. In experiments in which forcing factors are varied individually rather than jointly, human-caused changes in greenhouse gases are the main driver of the 20th-century SST increases in both tropical cyclogenesis regions."

See news stories about the article at: ABC News: Hurricane Warning (ABC News, September 11, 2006) and Report links global warming, storms (San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 2006).

Posted by dougsimpson at 07:46 AM