November 30, 2006

Katrina Canal Breach Opinion

The U.S. District Court, E.D.La. has issued its opinion concerning whether the Water Damage Exclusion in a number of all risk policies precludes coverage for the policy holders for damage due to the Katrina Canal breach. To read that opinion, see Doc. No. 1803.

The Court has also posted an notice that it has learned that the Supreme Court of the United States denied writs on a Motion to Recuse Judge Duval.

Canal Cases webpage at website of the U.S. District Court - Eastern District of Louisiana

Posted by dougsimpson at 07:06 PM

November 17, 2006

Grist Discussion of Stern Review

In Grist, journalist Kate Galbraith discusses the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change.

She addresses criticism by the Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg and the Cato Institute, and compares its findings with a study by Tufts University and William Nordhaus' calculations of the social cost of carbon dioxide. She concludes that the Stern Review, however controversial, need be neither right nor wrong to serve the valuable purpose of stimulating policy makers to think about the consequences and costs of climate change.
What's the real cost of climate change, and where do all those numbers come from? | By Kate Galbraith | Grist | Main Dish | 16 Nov 2006

See also Unintended Consequences: Stern's Prescription & Dirty Harry's Question (Nov. 4, 2006).

Posted by dougsimpson at 08:33 AM

November 16, 2006

Use CFLs to Retire Reddy Kilowatt

Six months ago, a friend pressed on me a six-pack of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Odd little pig-tail curls, but they fit in standard light bulb places. He's a retired electrician, so I listened when he gave me what turns out to be valuable advice: "These give out the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent. They use one-quarter of the electricity. The home stores put them on sale regularly for about $4 for a six-pack. Buy them and replace every bulb in your house. Don't wait for them to burn out, because every day you keep the old ones, you waste money. And they'll last for years."

I followed his advice, added some aggressiveness turning off unused lights and "vampire" rechargers and "instant on" appliances. And now, I'm looking at an electric bill showing my usage is half --- 50% --- of what it was a year ago.

80 years ago, Alabama Power created Reddy Kilowatt (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) the little lightning-bolt figure, to promote electricity usage. Not surprisingly, today the electric utilities are less interested in encouraging conservation than promoting consumption, but they had the sensitivity to retire Reddy Kilowatt years ago. I suspect he's in a twelve-step program with Mr. Butts (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), the 8-foot tall kid-friendly "public service" cigarette character from Gary Trudeau's comic strip Doonesbury.

Retire Reddy at your house, too. If you're like me, you'll cut your electric bill in half. For me, that's worth $75 per month. All for a $30 investment in light bulbs and a few minutes swapping them all out.

According to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs : ENERGY STAR, if every American home replaced just one light bulb with a CFL that meets Energy Star standards, "we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars."

Help save the climate. Stuff it to OPEC and Big Coal. Get your compact fluorescent lights (CFL) on the job this weekend.

And don't forget that extra six-pack to give to a friend.

Posted by dougsimpson at 07:51 PM

November 15, 2006

"Out of Step and Out of Time": Kofi Annan

Secretary-General Kofi Annan decried a "frightening lack of leadership" in response to the climate change crisis that threatens the lives and stability of millions of people. "It is increasingly clear it will cost far less to cut emissions now than to deal with the consequences later," Annan said.

He said the science on climate change "is not science fiction" and that those who try to sow doubt about it are "out of step, out of arguments and out of time."

Some observers at the UN conference on climate change regard the "do nothing that might hurt the US economy" position of the USA as unchangeable during the current presidential administration.

Annan: Leaders need courage to fight warming -

Posted by dougsimpson at 07:55 PM

November 14, 2006

Micro-CHP - it heats! It lights your home!

Emergence of residential micro combined heat-and-power (micro-CHP) systems. Distributed electricity production combined with a gas-fired home heating plant. This note in the CSM does not indicate the comparative efficiency of the micro-CHP to the oil-fired forced hot water heating system common in New England.

Exploring an on-site, gas-fired source of electricity should be attractive to many in my area, given the frequency of power outages due to winter storms in New England, plus the rising electricity rates. The Massachusetts-based company mentioned in the article is working on a system that will start and run off-grid, as in a power outage, but does not yet have it.

It heats. It powers. Is it the future of home energy? - Yahoo! News

Two U.S. micro-CHP providers are mentioned in the article. I have no financial interest in either, but here are links to their sites:

Climate Energy (Medfield, MA)
Marathon Engine Systems (E.Troy, WI).

Posted by dougsimpson at 06:44 PM

November 08, 2006

Investing in Demand-Side Efficiencies Will Payoff Big - IEA Report

"Business As Usual" energy policy will increase dependence on foreign oil for the U.S. and other consuming nations, threaten energy security and make climate change worse, according to publicity about a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Formed after the oil crisis of the '70s, the IEA holds a stockpile of oil and provides advice and information to member nations, which include the U.S. and most developed nations. World Energy Outlook 2006, issued on November 7, 2006, examines high economic and climate costs from a "Reference Scenario" based on existing governmental policies projected into the future.

Improved energy use efficiency provides the biggest potential payoff in greater security, climate protection and economics, according to IEA's "Alternative Policy Scenario." More use of nuclear and renewable power sources such as biofuels also offer significant opportunities, according to the report. Production of biofuels will compete with rising demand for food production, it suggests, presenting challenges until new technologies like ligno-cellulosic ethanol production get to economic production.

(read more 'below the fold')

The IEA's Executive Director advised the press that the recommended policies are cost-effective, but require up-front investment, saying: "Demand-side investments in more efficient electrical goods are particularly economic; on average, an additional $1 invested in more efficient electrical equipment and appliances avoids more than $2 in investment in power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure."
World Energy Outlook 2006 updates the 2004 report and includes current data on world energy prices, demand and production. The 600-page full report is offered as a PDF by the IEA for 120 Euros at its website or 150 Euros in paper form.

The IEA offers a free public database of Climate Change Mitigation - Policies and Measures, as well as a more technically-oriented Demand Side Management Programme (DSM) that provides a "tool kit" for governments and utilities. The DSM website also includes a free online library of PDF reports and email update subscriptions.

Posted by dougsimpson at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

"Evolving into Wisdom" - In This Presidency?

Climate scientists have pointed to various potential "tipping points," elements of our complex climate system that could trip it into a cascade of self-reinforcing and irreversable damage. Julia Whitty , in "The Thirteenth Tipping Point" Whitty, "The Thirteenth Tipping Point," | News (Nov-Dec 06), poses the question why humans fail to take corrective action. She points to Anthony Leiserowitz's 2005 study for Risk Analysis, in which he found that most Americans think the negative consequences from climate change will fall on someone else, someone far away.

What Whitty explores in her article is what she calls the "thirteenth tipping point, the shift in human perception from personal denial to personal responsibility? Without a 13th tipping point, we can't hope to avoid global mayhem. With it, we can attempt to put into action what we profess: that we actually care about our children's and grandchildren's futures."

A fascinating, brief and refreshing paper addressing psychology, politics, game theory, and the societization of altruism, all in the context of human response to climate change. She closes with a hopeful suggestion for turning a negative into a positive, suggesting that the fossil-fueled obstructionism of the current administration can be a stimulant to progress:

"Whether or not Marie Antoinette actually said, 'Let them eat cake,' she inspired change that reverberated far beyond Europe. Likewise, when George W. Bush says we can't act on global warming until we 'fully understand the nature of the problem,' we can use his callous disregard as a rallying cry."

In London, 20,000 protestors demanded action from the U.K. government on climate change, in demonstrations organized by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition. Climate change protesters demand British government act fast - iht,europe,Britain Climate Change - Europe - International Herald Tribune (Nov. 4, 2006).

Meanwhile, the U.S. negotiator sent to the international climate change conference in Nairobi defended Washington's stand against compulsory caps on global-warming emissions, and said the Bush administration was unlikely to change its policy "in this presidency." U.S. defends stance on global warming - Yahoo! News (Nov. 6, 2006).

Read it, please: Julia Whitty, "The Thirteenth Tipping Point," | News (Nov-Dec 06)

Posted by dougsimpson at 07:31 PM

November 04, 2006

Stern's Prescription & Dirty Harry's Question

Both criticism and praise have greeted the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which forecasts the possibility that preventable climate change will cause economic harm like that of a global depression or a world war, and calculates that the cost of preventing it is a better economic bargain. Press Release re Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Oct. 30, 2006). See also: Unintended Consequences: Stern Report "Optimistic" IF Governments Act (Nov. 1, 2006). Stern's prescription is controversial and criticisms like that in the Wall Street Journal find support in the economic literature, but the Economist concludes it doesn't matter. They argue that investing in prevention is an insurance premium that needs to be paid. Dirty Harry asked the same question in a different context.

(read more below the virtual fold)

Despite widespread praise of Sir Nicholas' report, especially in Europe, editors at the Wall Street Journal chose to publish and adopt the critical remarks of Bjørn Lomborg (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), a Danish statistician who is one of the more controversial climate skeptics around. In a 11/2/06 piece for the Journal, Lomborg agrees that climate change is real and human caused, but disagrees that it makes economic sense to focus resources on changing consumption patterns. As an example, he points to economic studies that cite likelihood of increased agricultural productivity in places like Sibera due to global warming.

As an editorial in the Economist notes, many economic analyses agree with Lomborg, and assess the cost/benefit of climate change using negative impacts in the range of 0%-3% of global output. Those studies suggest that the industrialized world populations might tend to come out neutral or gain, with the developing nations (more dependent on subsistence agriculture) being hurt. See "It May Be Hot in Washington, Too" (Economist, 11/2/06, p. 69).

This is consistent with studies such as those mentioned in today's New York Times Magazine, in Dubner & Levitt, "The Price of Climate Change : What Global Warming Might Do To Us" (p. 26). Dubner and Levitt are the authors of the popular book "Freakonomics," and more information about their article is on their website at Freakonomics in the New York Times: The Price of Global Warming - by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (Nov. 5, 2006)

According to Dubner and Levitt, academic papers authored by Olivier Duschenes (U.C.S.B.) and Michael Greenstone (M.I.T.) examined the future of agriculture in the U.S., using long-range climate models to look out at the impact of climate change through the end of this century. According to the article, the 2004 paper forecast a net gain of about $1.3 billion in annual agricultural profits. The benefits, however, would not be uniform. Some states (New York, for example) will benefit at the expense of others (California, for example) who will suffer. You can read it yourself at: SSRN-The Economic Impacts of Climate Change: Evidence from Agricultural Profits and Random Fluctuations in Weather by Olivier Deschenes, Michael Greenstone (SSRN, July 2004)

But the whole story, even for the U.S., is not positive. Dubner and Levitt point out that Deschenes and Greenstone are just now polishing up a more recent article that looks at the likely effects of climate change on mortality in the U.S. toward the end of this century. They see a 1.7% increase in the death rate for American males and 0.4% increase in death rate for American females, totalling some 30,000 deaths a year. Most of this will be due to cardiac and respiratory problems made worse by hotter weather. The economic loss, they calculate, will be about $31 billion per year, according to the Times article. For more, see: Michael Greenstone : Papers

These conclusions about disparate impact even in the U.S. are consistent with other studies released just in the last year.

In February, the California Climate Change Center released a study commissioned by the California Energy Commission and the California EPA. It forecasts "serious risks" in the form of increased fires, floods and agricultural damage that can be moderated by prompt reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) and other global warming pollution emitted by human use of fossil fuels. See: Unintended Consequences: Serious Risks to California from Climate Change: White Paper (October 16, 2006).

An October report from the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), included a similar conclusion about the impact of heat, especially to vulnerable urban populations:
"While summer heat affects us all, extreme heat is a particular concern in big cities. Hot temperatures intensified by the urban heat island effect can create dangerous conditions, especially for the elderly, infants, the poor, and other vulnerable populations. * * * These projections show that conditions dangerous to human health could become commonplace in most of the region’s major urban centers over the course of this century." See: Unintended Consequences: Hotter Cities Will Endanger Health in Northeast States (October 6, 2006).

In his 2004 book, "Catastrophe: Risk and Reward," Richard Posner brings the Chicago school of law and economics perspective to the questions of how to respond to the threat of the sorts of catastrophes that threaten the survival of the human race: big asteroid hits, sudden global warming, terrorist-spawned pandemics and the like. Although remote, such events are possible; even a once-in-a-million-years event could happen tomorrow. There are measures that can be taken to prevent or protect against them. In this book, Professor Posner analyzes the cultural, psychological and economic factors that may explain what action is taken (or not taken).

Those cultural factors include what Posner calls "scientific illiteracy" and the problem of "limited horizons" by which politicians cut their own throat if they propose to raise taxes today to reduce the possibility of catastrophes in the far distant future. He points to the "economy of attention," the fact that the human brain can stay focused on only so many things at a time. This may justify disregarding the least likely risks, or the most complicated, as distractions from those more immediate or more understandable that face us daily.

According to Posner, "global decentralization" adds to the challenge. For example, while the wealthy industrialized countries are the biggest contributors to global warming, the poor countries near the equator are likely to be the principal victims. Yet the latter lack the financial ability to compensate the former for the costs of reducing greenhouse gases. Hence the refusal of the present U.S. administration to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

He points also to Public Choice Theory, the body of scholarship "that tries to explain public policy as the outcome of rationally self-interested behavior." (Id. p. 133) He suggests that "(h)aving a limited time horizon, politicians prefer policies that yield tangible benefits for constituents in the near term." (Posner, Catastrophe, p. 137). To that, he adds the significant public doubt about the global warming threat, and the inertia of public policy, reminding readers: "Think of how, for many years, even slight scientific uncertainty enabled the tobacco industry to issue plausible denials that smoking was hazardous to health." (Id. p. 138). (For more about Posner's book, see Unintended Consequences: Reading: Posner, 'Catastrophe: Risk and Response' (2004))

In a page 12 editorial today, The Economist notes the widespread controversy over Sir Nicholas' report, and acknowledges that economists can dicker with Sir Nicholas' warning and prescription. They conclude that it does not matter, because the possibility that Sir Nicholas is right, and that Lomborg is wrong presents a risk of catastrophe that merits response in the nature of an insurance premium. The Economist closes their editorial by restating Sir Nicholas' central thesis:
"that governments should act not on the basis of the likeliest outcome from climate change but on the risk of something really catastrophic (such as the melting of Greenland's ice sheet, which would raise sea levels by six to seven metres). Just as people spend a small slice of their incomes on buying insurance on the off-chance that their house might burn down, and nations use a slice of taxpayers' money to pay for standing armies just in case a rival power might try to invade them, so the world should invest a small proportion of its resources in trying to avert the risk of boiling the planet. The costs are not huge. The dangers are."
Economics of climate change | Stern warning | (Nov. 4, 2006).

Clint Eastwood's roughshod cop Dirty Harry Callaghan (1971) put it more concisely, to the armed bad guy he'd cornered after a hot pursuit:

"I know what you're thinking. 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question:
..... Do I feel lucky?

..... Well, do ya, punk? "

Posted by dougsimpson at 02:18 PM

November 01, 2006

Stern Report "Optimistic" IF Governments Act

Unchecked human-caused global warming will cause trillions of dollars in damages in our lifetimes, with impact comparable to a world war or global depression, but shifting to a low-carbon economy will bring huge economic growth opportunities. The economic benefit of reducing carbon emissions could total $2.5 trillion each year, according to the most comprehensive economic analysis of the effects of global warming, released in October by Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the U.K.'s Government Economic Service and former World Bank Chief Economist.

According to the press release announcing the study:

"Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has seen. Three elements of policy are required for an effective response.

The first is carbon pricing, through taxation, emissions trading or regulation, so that people are faced with the full social costs of their actions. The aim should be to build a common global carbon price across countries and sectors.

The second is technology policy, to drive the development and deployment at scale of a range of low-carbon and high-efficiency products. And the third is action to remove barriers to energy efficiency, and to inform, educate and persuade individuals about what they can do to respond to climate change."

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change focuses on the risk/benefit analysis of runaway climate change and the global policy challenges of changing to a low-carbon economy. The study makes clear that the greatest and earliest impacts of unchecked global warming will be upon the poorest nations, dramatically transforming the physical and political geography of our planet.

Sir Nicholas himself portrays the report as "essentially optimistic," because "there is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and internationally. * * * Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change."

Press Release re Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Oct. 30, 2006)

An index of the elements of the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change is available here: Stern Review Index page, which includes links to his presentation slides, comments on the report by other economists, supporting research.

Link to Full Report (27 chapters): Stern Review Report.

Thanks for the link to: Monday, 30 Oct 2006 | Grist | Daily Grist | 30 Oct 2006

Posted by dougsimpson at 09:47 AM