Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Schneider Visit to Willamette Almost Live

Streaming video of Dr. Steve Schneider, former IPCC chair and co-recipient of the Nobel Prize with Al Gore, visit to Willamette earlier this month is available now. Repaired: video link!   Schneider is an extremely humorous and pragmatic guy -- who definitely believes that we've waited far too long to make meaningful efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

March 26, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Proposed Revision of Forest Service Mining Regulations

Yesterday, the U.S. Forest Service proposed revision of the bonding and environmental requirements for hard-rock mines operating within national forests or grasslands.  Those regulations can be found at 73 FR 25694-01.  The summary and proposed provisions are provided below.  Comments are due May 27, 2008.

They purport to be based on the 1999 NRC recommendations.  It sure took them awhile -- the entirety of the Bush administration!

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March 26, 2008 in Governance/Management, Mining, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Award Winning IUCNPaper: Validity of Actions taken by COPs organized under Multilateral Environmental Agreements

Louise Camenzuli from Sydney, Australia is the winner of the 2007 Alexandre Kiss Environmental Law  Papers Award, sponsored by the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law. She won the prize for her paper on “The development of international environmental law at the Multilateral Environmental Agreements’ Conference of the Parties and its validity”, which includes a thorough analysis of the legal mandates of the different Conferences of the Parties of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). Full Paper

It is now well understood that many environmental challenges are global in nature. This recognition has led to a proliferation of international legal instruments directed at environmental conservation and protection, such as multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). This paper examines the role of Conferences of the Parties (CoPs) in MEA based law making. It promotes the view that effective international environmental law must be dynamic and responsive to changing environmental conditions and changes in the state of knowledge on the best measures and methods to deal with the subject matter of MEAs. In this context, it is now recognised that while MEAs may set out the basic framework in respect of global environmental matters, treaty based law must be shaped by continuous interaction
of member States to provide guidance on, and ensure consistency in, the implementation of the MEA in a way that responds to the environmental challenge it seeks to address. It is in this process that MEA CoPs have and should have law making functions. However, the legal status of acts and decisions of CoPs is unclear. To date, little consideration has been given to the legal personality of CoPs, in particular, whether the exercise of their law making powers (if any) are properly conceptualised within the law of treaties and/or within international institutional law. This in turn has given rise to questions regarding the validity and legally binding nature of CoP made ‘law’.

In this context, this paper reviews existing research on what powers CoPs have to develop international law. It considers the validity of the exercise of these powers and the implications of CoP law making for the legitimacy of international environmental law. Through this process of review, several important research priorities are identified that must be urgently pursued in view of the significant role CoPs play in providing efficient and effective responses to serious emerging and pre-existing environmental challenges. The recent attention to CoP made law and the questions being asked about its legal basis will
otherwise result in a significant threat to the legitimacy of international environmental law.

March 26, 2008 in Governance/Management, International, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Another one bits the dust: another antarctic ice shelf bites the dust

Generally, rock songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s are the associations that I make in my mind as I read.  The association here might be "another one bites the dust" as we're about to lose the 7th shelf in recent years.  But the other song is from Buffalo Springfield: Something's happening here....

To avoid the alarmist tag, I'll simply quote the press release from the British Antarctic Survey press office:

British Antarctic Survey has captured dramatic satellite and video images of an Antarctic ice shelf that looks set to be the latest to break out from the Antarctic Peninsula. A large part of the Wilkins
Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula is now supported only by a thin strip of ice hanging between two islands. It is another identifiable impact of climate change on the Antarctic environment.  Scientists monitoring satellite images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf spotted that a huge (41 by 2.5 km) km2 berg
the size of the Isle of Man appears to have broken away in recent days - it is still on the move.  Glaciologist Ted Scambos from the University of Colorado alerted colleagues Professor David Vaughan
and Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) that the ice shelf looked at risk. After checking daily satellite pictures, BAS sent a Twin Otter aircraft on a reconnaissance mission to check out the extent of the breakout.  Professor Vaughan, who in 1993 predicted that the northern part of Wilkins Ice Shelf was likely to be lost within 30 years if climate warming on the Peninsula were to continue at the same rate, says,"Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula yet to be threatened. I didn't expect to see things happen this quickly. The ice shelf is hanging by a thread - we'll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be."  Jim Elliott was onboard the BAS Twin Otter to capture video of the breakout for Vaughan and colleagues.   He says, "I've never seen anything like this before - it was awesome. We flew along the main crack and observed the sheer scale of movement from the breakage. Big hefty chunks of ice, the size of small houses, look as though they've been thrown around like rubble - it's like an explosion."  The breakout is the latest drama in a region of Antarctica that has experienced unprecedented warming over the last 50 years. Several ice shelves have retreated in the past 30 years - six of them collapsing completely (Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller and the Jones Ice Shelf.)  Professor Vaughan continues, "Climate warming in the Antarctic Peninsula has pushed the limit of viability for ice shelves further south - setting some of them that used to be stable on a course of retreat and eventual loss. The Wilkins breakout won't have any effect on sea-level because it is floating already, but it is another indication of the impact that climate change is having on the region." Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado says, "We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years. But warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up."

March 26, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Giving Makes You Happy: Behavioral Economics Wins Again

Most of us were schooled in neoclassical economics, which makes a series of assumptions about  the behavior of homo economis that behavioral economists and their colleagues in other disciplines dispute.  These and other heterodox economic approaches are gradually creating much more sophisticated notions of how the world works. Some of the most interesting research is on happiness.  What makes people happy -- is it the self-interested behavior that we typically associate with rational actors in economics and public choice theory or something else?  Does money make people happy as economists tend to assume?   Some more light on these issues has been provided by some new research by social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia.

While rich people are a little happier than poor people, the correlation between wealth and happiness is weak. It turns out that how we spend our money may be most important in creating happiness.  While we think we'd rather spend money on ourselves than others, actually spending money on others makes people happier. 

According to Dunn the effects of altruistic spending are probably akin to those of exercise,  which can have immediate and long-term effects. Giving once might make a person happy for a day, but "if it becomes a way of living, then it could make a lasting difference," she says. She hopes the finding might someday spur policymakers to promote widespread philanthropy that could make for a more altruistic--and happier--population.

Check out ScienceNOW Daily News, March 20, 2008 for the full report.

March 25, 2008 in Economics, Governance/Management, Social Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Rankings Czar: US News and World Report

The ABA Journal offers a story on the rankings, which are due out on Friday.  I still adhere to the position that no law professor or law school should respond to its questionnaires.  It is high treason with respect to making the world a better place.ABA Journal

March 25, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Huh?: The Bush Administration Response to Massachusetts v. EPA and the Rule of Law

It is quite fashionable for American politicians and pundits to suggest that somehow the United States has a unique role in spreading the rule of law throughout the world.  The response of the Bush administration to the Supreme Court's decision certainly calls into question the United States' qualifications as an epitome of diligent observance of the rule of law.  Almost one year ago, the Supreme Court held that EPA's denial of the petition was arbitrary and capricious and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.  It concluded, as it always does, "It is so ordered."   EPA dutifully prepared an "endangerment" finding on the petition and forwarded it for White House review.  The White House is simply sitting on the finding, now suggesting that somehow the new CAFE rules excuse it from complying with the Court's mandate.  And now EPA has been forced to dodge and weave in oversight hearings on the Hill and decline to provide documents to Congress concerning its response.  Even if one does not regard the Bush administration's current attempt to avoid the clear import of the Supreme Court's decision as blatantly illegal or unconstitutional, the interplay between EPA, the White House, and Congress in the past year in response to the Supreme Court should be required reading for any student of law or government.

If you're interested in raising the issue, you might start with:
Massachusetts v. EPA decision  (the most relevant excerpt is posted below)
House Oversight Committee's letter to EPA's Administrator Steve Johnson
Hearing held by House Select Committee on Global Warming

EPA has refused to provide the documents that would establish the role of the White House and EPA's political management in drafting the endangerment finding required to comply with the Supreme Court's decision. e-NewsUSA Report on EPA Refusal 

Other excellent substantive blog postings include:
Center for American Progress - Robert Sussman
Hill Heat
Warming Law



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March 24, 2008 in Air Quality, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Today's AMS Seminar addresses relative contributions of GHG emissions, solar radiation, and cosmic rays to global warming

American Meteorological Society's Environmental Science Seminar Series

Solar Radiation, Cosmic Rays and Greenhouse Gases: What's Driving Global Warming?

What are the relative contributions from the sun, cosmic rays, and greenhouse gases, to the observed warming in the late 20th century and what are their expected contributions during the 21st Century? How does this compare to natural climate variability of past centuries and millennia? What is the principle driver or drivers of global warming in the 20th and 21st centuries? How are cosmic rays different from solar irradiance? Are there direct measurements of solar irradiance changes over the last 30 years or so? If so, what do these measurements show? What are the signals of this solar variability in the Earth’s atmosphere, and how do climate models reproduce these? Are we likely to observe additional changes in solar irradiance in the future and what might such variability have as an effect on climate? How is the ozone layer affected by solar activity changes and how does it influence surface weather and climate?

Today's seminar with Dr. Judith Lean, Senior Scientist for Sun-Earth System Research, Space Science Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC and Dr. Caspar Ammann, Research Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO answered those questions.  According to the Program Summary  which is available below, climate reconstructions suggest there has been a small, but persistent, climate response to solar variability on both a global/hemispheric scale as well as in some regions. Solar forcing and volcanic activity appear to have driven the majority of global/hemispheric climate variations over the past Centuries. But from about the mid-20th Century onward, the sum of these natural factors is no longer consistent with the observed warming. Only anthropogenic forcings, such as greenhouse gas increases and emissions of aerosol particles, can explain the observed temperature record. This explanation is even stronger when the vertical structure of the trends is included in the explanation. The panelists suggest that future natural solar variations will be insufficient to counter global warming that we can anticipate from future increases in greenhouse gas concentrations.

The next AMS Seminar is scheduled for April 7, 2008. Tentative Topic: Adapting to Climate Change: What Happens to Our Energy and Transportation Infrastructure?


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March 24, 2008 in Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Kansas Governor Kills Coal Fired Power Plant

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius vetoed legislation that would have revoked the power of the Kansas environmental agency to reject air permits based on greenhouse gas emissions.  The legislation was an attempt to reverse that agency's decision to deny a permit for a $ 3.6 billion project to build two 700 MW coal-fired electric generating plants because of its CO2 emissions.  Governor Sebelius reasoned that federal legislation regulating GHG emissions would be implemented with a few years and that Kansas should not build facilities making it more difficult to comply with those regulations.  She is apparently a rising star in Democratic politics, having given an eloquent response on behalf of the Democratics to President Bush's 2008 State of the Union address.  If she didn't live in the Midwest and if she had some foreign policy experience, I'll bet that Obama would be considering her as a running mate.

March 24, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)