Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting to the Questions of Green Schools and Student Performance

Recently, editors of this blog have reported on some of the impressive sustainable efforts of schools around the nation.  Perhaps because I am fortunate to have two of the best little boys on the entire planet, I think the subject matter is worth an ongoing dialogue.  Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, explains the charge: “With so many of our country’s schools in disrepair, it is critical to highlight the importance of providing our children with healthier, more sustainable educational environments that enhance learning.”

On February 27, 2012, co-authors Lindsay Baker and Harvey Bernstein - on behalf of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC and McGraw-Hill Construction – released a report entitled, The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Learning: A Call for Research. The report addresses the very important question of how we research school building design, maintenance, and operations to assess and maximize the relationships between building performance and student health and performance.  The report highlights the state of research on the subject and identifies areas where attention to building performance may reap substantial rewards for our children.  In particular, the authors provide an inventory of student needs in the classroom based on how students hear, breathe, see, feel, move, think, and learn.  The authors also identify the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders in researching the impacts of buildings on childhood education:  school staff and leaders; teachers and students; building professionals; researchers; governmental agencies; and other supporting networks and organizations. The paper suggests a need and basis to account for the already 2,300 schools across the nation that are already participating in the USGBC’s LEED green building program.

One take-away from the report is that the information needed to complete research on this relationship is becoming easier to access, at least in part because high-performing buildings are becoming an easier sell to higher education administrations.  At least, sustainable initiatives are quite popular and stimulated on the campuses of higher educational institutions.

Nevertheless, to many the ultimate challenge remains the cost, a nagging obstruction that is exacerbated by the growing price tag on higher education.  However, the evidence on cost savings associated with energy efficiency continues to grow.  For example, Gregory Kats argued in 2006 that “Green schools cost on average almost 2% more, or $3 more per ft2, than conventional schools. The financial benefits of greening schools are about $70 per ft2, more than 20 times as high as the cost of going green.” More recently, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project recently released The Efficiency Boom: Cashing In on the Savings from Appliance Standards, in which it reported that the existing energy efficiency standards governing appliances will net consumers more than $1.1 trillion in savings cumulatively through 2035.  New and revised energy standards will improve these savings, resulting in typical household savings of over 180 MWh of electricity and over 200,000 gallons of water between 1995 and 2040.

An equally promising trend concerns school investments in “Green Revolving Funds” to facilitate cleantech and other sustainability improvements on campus.  Harvard’s $12 million Green Loan Fund is self-described as follows:

The Loan Fund provides capital for high-performance campus design, operations, maintenance, and occupant behavior projects. Basic project eligibility guidelines state that projects must reduce the University’s environmental impacts and have a payback period of five to ten years or less. The model is simple: GLF provides the up-front capital. Applicant departments agree to repay the fund via savings achieved by project-related reductions in utility consumption, waste removal, or operating costs. This formula allows departments to upgrade the efficiency, comfort, and functionality of their facilities without incurring any capital costs.

The number of schools utilizing the GRF model has been growing steadily, aided in large part by AASHE’s Billion Dollar Green Challenge. Of course, the GRF model may not suit every school, at least because the initial investment may feel like the type of discretionary spending that simply is not available.  Ideally, the lessons learned from existing and contemplated green schools, the predicted market shifts, and the associated forward-thinking will outgrow this misperception.

- Keith Hirokawa

March 14, 2012 in Climate Change, Law, Legislation, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Live Blogging from Silent Spring @ 50

This morning, I will be blogging live from the University of Utah law school's 17th Annual Stegner Center Conference, "Silent Spring at 50: The Legacy of Rachel Carson." As usual, the conference offers a stellar line-up.

If you want more, you can watch the symposium live (or, later, view the archived version).

The morning session is entitled "The Edge of the Sea: Rachel Carson and the Protection of the Marine World" and features the following speakers:

"Heeding the Signs of a Changing Ocean" -- Susan Avery, President and Director, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:
  • "Every second breath you take is provided by the ocean."

  • "We have entered a new geologic age -- the anthropocene era."

  • "The Gulf and other coastal waters have long been a dumping ground for human activities."

  • "One thing that I think Rachel would be pleased about is that science [is now] at the stage where you can predict the emergence of harmful algal blooms."

  • NOAA "has begun now issuing seasonal red tide alerts in the Northeast."

  • "I really think it's harder to get into the ocean than to space. We probably know more about the surface of the moon and Mars than we do the ocean."

  • "It's not funded, but we have a national ocean policy."
"Corporate Ocean Responsibility: Business, Sustainable Use and Stewardship of the Marine World" -- Paul Holthus, founding Executive Director, World Ocean Council
  • "If we think about where we are now with the oceans, and what Rachel Carson would think today, I think she we be partly despairing and partly hopeful."

  • "The economic benefit of the ocean is huge, and it is just beginning to be documented."

  • "Everyone has a stake in the oceans."

  • "One of the keys" to ocean management "is the realization that best practices by an individual corporation is not enough . . . . Collaboration is needed . . . . The problem is that there has not been a structural process to" bring ocean industries together.

  • "Thinking to the future . . . , these are the kind of cross-sectoral things that . . . businesses can get involved in and be part of the solution and not just part of the problem:" (1) ocean governance -- Convention on Biological Diversity, (2) marine spatial planning, (3) regional ocean business councils, (4) smart ocean / smart industries.

  • "Marine mammal issues will increasingly affect marine activities, especially shipping."

  • "We need to balance that growing need for resources and food and energy with those areas that already have resources."

  • "Better data means better modeling and better forecasting," which fundamentally helps businesses, "let alone leading to better environmental management."

"Challenges for Ocean Governance in a Climate Change Era" -- Robin Kundis Craig, Attorneys' Title Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Environmental Programs, Florida State University College of Law

  • "I think what we should really be thinking about is how to keep those ecosystems healthy, functioning, and resilient rather than collapsing."

  • "The problem is we have one ocean but many governments."

  • "As much as we'd like to treat the ocean as one place, there are serious problems for doing that under our current legal system."

  • "Marine spatial planning was introduced, internationally at least, before governments were really thinking about climate change. . . . It is not a panacea. . . . It will not really help with climate change mitigation . . . ."

  • "Marine spatial planning can help with climate change adaptation, and it" can become "more climate change adaptable."

  • "Ocean acidification is the technical fix for anyone who wants to [address] climate change" in the oceans.

  • Australia has a climate change adaptation plan for the Great Barrier Reef. In part, it seeks to "fill knowledge gaps," "identify critical ecosystem thresholds," and translate that into management practices.

  • "Australia is also using the Reef as a reason to engage in climate change mitigation."
  • An example of dynamic zoning possibilities is TurtleWatch, which predicts on a daily basis where sea turtles will be so that fishers can avoid them (and thus prevent closure of the fishery).

-Lincoln Davies

March 9, 2012 in Biodiversity, Books, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Science, Social Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Is the European Union (EU) gently shifting energy law and policy and shaping the future of a climate treaty?

The European Union is steadfast in its commitment to reduce emissions by reducing reliance on traditional fossil fuels. To date it has taken several measures, each of which promises to change the paradigm of energy policy and politics. I have highlighted some recent actions below.

1. An EU law, the legality of which has been confirmed by the Advocate General, imposes a carbon tax on aviation, including international airlines, as part of EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). China has retaliated by introducing legislation banning airlines from imposing a carbon tax. Several countries, including the United States, reportedly, support China’s position and may follow suit in introducing their own measures against the airline tax.

2. EU’s proposed sanctions against Iran. In response, Iran has suspended export of crude to French and United Kingdom and has threatened to suspend supply to several other European nations. It is simultaneously negotiating a contract to increase export of crude to China, as reported here. According to reports, France and the United Kingdom are not concerned. Not only do they claim to have sufficient reserves, but also the two countries recently inked a new civil nuclear energy pact as part of their energy cooperation efforts.

3. Another proposed action aims to include tar sands oil within EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), which was passed by the EU as part of its climate and energy strategy in 2008 and which requires suppliers of oil and gas fuel to the transport sector to reduce their emissions by 10% by 2020, as explained here. Based on a report that the extraction from tar sands is highly polluting because of high CO2 emissions, the European Commission has voted to include oil from the tar sands in the FQD. Even though Canada does not import oil to the EU, it fears that the inclusion can have indirect repercussions on its tar sands industry, as reported here. Pending vote by individual European nations, Canada is reportedly threatening to file a complaint before the World Trade Organization if the tar sand oil is included in the FQD.

 Despite objections from different groups, EU’s measures may eventually have a larger impact on the energy landscape. In its attempt to help create a robust carbon market, it may eventually provide much desired incentive to invest in emissions reduction measure. That is, of course, unless nations who are not Party to the Kyoto Protocol or who have withdrawn from the next commitment period, notably China and Canada respectively, cooperate. Either way, it is worth watching Europe maneuver the energy market and the response of countries affected. What is emerging is a patchwork of subtle legal challenges that can nevertheless change the landscape of global energy production, supply, and consumption, as well as the future prospects of negotiating a meaningful climate treaty.

~~Deepa Badrinarayana

February 20, 2012 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, International, Law, North America, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Series: Environmental Adventures in China

I’m delighted to be joining the Environmental Law Prof Blog as a contributing editor. This year, I’ll be blogging about my environmental experiences in China, where I’m spending 2011-12 as a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at Zhongguo Haiyang Daxue (Ocean University of China). I am teaching a full schedule of American law courses while researching Chinese environmental governance, joined by my husband, 4-year old son, and 73-year-old mother. In our small two-bedroom apartment, we live like a typical Chinese family, with three generations and an only child.

ELPB 1 QingDaYiLuTo be sure, the living is not always easy—but perhaps our most important lesson of all will be to learn what it means to downsize from American consumption levels and live a little more like the rest of the world. (And this is a sobering lesson indeed.)

In light of our rich reservoir of experience here, my blogging will be less academic and more experiential—less about the fact that Beijing will finally begin monitoring air pollution at the 2.5 micron level, and more about how life changes when you are immersed in those particulates day after day. (For more academic reporting, see the excellent Chinese blog, China Environmental Law.) To summarize the overall sentiment of the series, anyone complaining about excessive environmental regulation in the U.S. really ought to spend a year living in China.

Better still, they should bring their young children or aging parents.

This first post provides some context for my series of through-the-looking-glass observations about what it’s like to plunge into China’s modern industrial revolution as an American environmental law professor. No amount of legal research could have prepared me for the differences in environmental perspective that I would encounter here (and even my undergraduate degree in Chinese language and culture falls short). So I hope that sharing these stories will help illuminate some of the cultural gaps we will inevitably encounter as Chinese and American partners work together to solve our global environmental challenges.

China Sept 2011 385I thought I'd start by explaining a little bit about where many of these stories come from. We are fortunate to be living in the beautiful city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, which is on the coast of northeastern China across the Yellow Sea from South Korea. Qingdao is home to about seven million people—a small (!) city by Chinese standards. It is a wonderful place of disarmingly friendly people, complete with weather-worn mountains overlooking a peaceful sea. Home to several of China’s biggest brands and among the ten busiest commercial shipping ports in the world, Qingdao has won several awards for green development. And yes, it is where the famous Chinese beer comes from (“Tsingtao” is just a different Romanization for “Qingdao”!)

Ocean University is one of China's key comprehensive universities under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Education. It has about 30,000 students and faculty and ranks among the top 10% of universities nationwide. The law school has an especially dynamic environmental program, offering master's and doctoral degrees and hosting seven research institutes addressing marine law, coastal zone management, sustainable development, and other important topics. (Of note, the Law School is currently inviting applications from both students and faculty for some very intriguing programs of exchange--about which I've posted separately here.)

ELPB 1 UsThe Dean and faculty have been extremely welcoming, and the students are delightful. Teaching them is especially gratifying because they are so hungry for the kind of engaged and participatory teaching that we regularly use in American law schools. Most of them have never before been asked what they themselves think, or to work all the way through a doctrinal problem, or to question their instructors. It is truly a privilege to be part of this cross-cultural exchange, and I will always be grateful to both the China Fulbright Program and my hosts here at Ocean University for the opportunity.

Nevertheless, the challenges of living here—specifically, the environmental challenges—can be harrowing. In the next few months, I’ll blog about the experiences of living without clean air, potable water, or faith that products in the marketplace won’t make us sick. I'll write about the many ways that established environmental problems foster newer ones, like the consequences of poor public water quality on the ever-increasing stream of waste products to cope with it. I'll write about our palpable homesickness for the kind of government oversight we take for granted to protect us in circumstances ranging from pharmaceutical to pedestrian safety. (For all the chest-thumping in some American circles about the perils of socialism, China is a Tea Partier's dream in many respects—as far away from the Nanny State as most would ever wish to venture.)

Yet I’ll also write about the environmental realms in which the Chinese put Americans to shame—for example, the amazing public transportation system in cities like ours, which can be navigated cheaply and conveniently by bus at all hours (and has a subway system in the making). Or the full-scale embrace of alternative sources of energy, with a solar water heater on every roof. Or the national government’s commitment to price carbon on at least some level--a part of the new Five Year Plan beginning experimentation in seven cities. Or the general willingness among most Chinese to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.ELPB Intro sea

But since this is a blog and not a novel, I'll save my first tale for the next post--a story about how Colorado's Rocky Mountain Arsenal led to surprising insights among my Natural Resources Law students about their own experiences in China. Stay tuned!

--Erin Ryan

February 20, 2012 in Air Quality, Asia, Climate Change, Energy, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Water Quality, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Changing the Way We Think (about Building)

Existing buildings – in their physical presence, design, and operations - challenge the goal of sustainability in the built environment.  Older buildings can be leaky, inefficient, and even unhealthy, and they typically do not perform well against the expectations that we draw from today’s green building techniques and technology.    

There is evidence that green building programs are impacting the existing building stock through retrofit programs offered in LEED and others.   The number of projects certified under LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) surpassed those certified under its new construction counterpart in 2009.  Spending on remodeling and retrofits has been on the rise and is predicted to grow to $10.1 billion-$15.1 billion by 2014.  Recently, the USGBC announced that LEED-certified retrofits have outpaced new construction certifications on a cumulative basis.

We might view green retrofits of existing buildings as significant.  Of course, the past is a major obstacle for achieving sustainability in the built environment, and the provision of alternatives to “business as usual” in existing structures is itself a victory.  In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the growth in green retrofits suggests that sustainability may involve changes in people as well as buildings. 

- Keith Hirokawa

February 15, 2012 in Climate Change, Energy, Land Use, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Electric Power in a Carbon Constrained World

UntitledThere are enough conferences every year that, if one attended them all, no other work would get done. That said, there is a particularly well put together conference coming up on Thursday, February 9. Electric Power in a Carbon Constrained World will feature some of the leading energy and environmental law scholars today. It is organized around four panels:
Registration is available here. If you cannot attend in person, the program will also be streamed live here.

-Lincoln Davies

January 27, 2012 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Land Use, Law, North America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Call for Articles - Fordham Environmental Law Review

In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the Fordham Environmental Law Review plans to publish an issue devoted to water.  They have issued a call for papers, with a deadline of December 15, 2011.  The details follow:

CALL FOR ARTICLE PROPOSALS

The Fordham Environmental Law Review will devote its Spring 2012 issue (Vol. 23.2) to articles on Water, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

The editors of the ELR are looking for articles discussing a range of environmental, natural resource, energy law, and policy topics associated with issues of water and riparian rights.  Articles may address state, national, or international issues. Suggested topics include:

  • Clean Water Act
  • Hydrofracking
  • Waste water treatment and disposal
  • Citizen suits
  • Invasive Species
  • Conflicts between federal and state rights
  • Congressional activism on environmental/ energy/resource issues
  • Environmental enforcement at the federal, state and local level
  • EPA and Surface Mining Act
  • Agency issues
  • Congress v. Agencies
  • Role of science
  • Cross-jurisdictional consistency/standards

ARTICLE PROPOSALS ARE DUE BY December 15, 2011.

Authors will work with an editor from the ELR Board throughout the publication process.  Articles should be between 8,000 and 25,000 words and should be written in standard legal journal style (footnotes conform to The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation).  ELR article guidelines can be found on the ELR website at: http://law.fordham.edu/fordham-environmental-law-review/5518.htm.

Contact: Lee Van Put, Senior Notes & Articles Editor, Fordham Environmental Law Review

-Lincoln Davies

 

November 16, 2011 in Climate Change, Current Affairs, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Position Announcement - Environmental ADR Program Director

The Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law has posted a job opening for a new alternative dispute resolution program focused on environmental, natural resources, and energy issues.  The position is for the director of the program.

Here is the announcement.  Note the link at the end for online applications:

The Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law is establishing a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program focused on environmental, public lands, and natural resource issues and is currently accepting applications for the ADR Program Director. The Director will play a major role in initiating, designing, and developing the new ADR program. Specific responsibilities include identifying issues of local, regional, and national importance and proactively investigating ADR opportunities; public education about the benefits of mediation, collaboration, and other ADR options; providing ADR services to government agencies, corporations, environmental organizations, and other entities; fundraising to support the program; and research on ADR processes and opportunities. Requirements include a Juris Doctor or equivalent degree, along with a minimum of five (5) years of experience in alternative dispute resolution. Experience with environmental, natural resources, or energy law and policy, and especially experience with these issues in the western United States, is strongly preferred. For additional information and to apply, please go to http://utah.peopleadmin.com/postings/11104.

-Lincoln Davies

November 2, 2011 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Mining, North America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Case You Missed It -- The Week of October 16 to 22

Climate change regulation is dead?  Not in California, which this week adopted the nation's first economy-wide cap-and-trade program.

The Tenth Circuit, in a 120-page decision, upheld a Clinton-era rule protecting 50 million acres of forestland from logging and roads.

The Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released its first annual rankings of states; Massachusetts was first, with California second.

An advocacy study observed that FCC standards for cell phones "grossly underestimate[] the amount" of radiation that "smaller adults and children retain," as reported by Greenwire.

BP received approval for a plan to explore for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, its first such approval since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

There is a fascinating article this week in The New Yorker about the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan.  (hat tip: Joe Tomain)

October 23, 2011 in Asia, Cases, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Tea Party, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Climate Change - Too Sure of Themselves?

As Cara Horowitz posted about earlier on Legal Planet, some recent polling data emerged today regarding politics and global warming, looking at the views of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and the Tea Party.  The report was put together by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication.  The data contained lots of interesting information, but the most interesting tidbit to me was that:

"Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are 'very well informed' about global warming than the other groups. Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they 'do not need any more information' about global warming to make up their mind."

Certainly being a specialist in an area does not always make one correct, but reading reports and keeping up with the science of climate change is part of what many of us do for a living. For me personally that is a task separate and apart from my politics, as there is plenty on both sides of the political spectrum with which I both agree and do not agree.  So while I have to rely on the understanding and processes of the scientists engaged in the research, due to my woeful scientific incompetence (I am not, after all, a climate scientist), I can still be somewhat sure from my review of the materials that 95% of scientists truly do maintain a consensus position on the human contribution to climate change, ocean acidification, etc.  Yet I have seen the mindset reflected in the poll when discussing the science of climate change, where I can throw paper after paper and report after report at someone and within minutes they are responding that it just cannot be true, that the debate is still open, etc.  Speed readers? I don't think so.

It reminds me of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but before I get into that let me make very clear that what I am discussing is a derivation of the actual effect. The actual effect is seen across all segments of society regardless of political affiliation, and involves less capable people overestimating their abilities while those more capable underestimate their own abilities relative to others.  But I wonder how this combines with political affiliation to cause people to purposefully put themselves in a position of being "less capable." By that I mean is there a bias toward not believing in climate change that is ideological, but that causes those people to exhibit some Dunning-Kruger-esque view that they are "very well informed" about global warming - more-so than folks who actually trust the science - and that they "do not need any more information"? This is certainly not an argument on my part that members of the Tea Party are less "capable" from an intellectual perspective. I have many, many extremely capable acquaintances who sympathize with the concerns of the Tea Party, but who simply aren't interested in digging deeper than Fox News to find the facts about climate change. Rather, it is that Tea Partiers seem to choose to put themselves into a position where their capability to understand and accept the science is compromised by their political views - they don't even want to track down the data and study it closely because if they do it might demonstrate something incongruous with their political viewpoints. Until one reads the reports and makes an effort to understand the science, that person is "unskilled" in the sense that Dunning-Kruger posits, and is prone to overestimate his or her skill in assessing the "truth" of climate change - just as unskilled as I am at performing surgery or engineering the construction of a building. 

John Cook actually posted about Dunning-Kruger over on Skeptical Science last year.  The site is widely regarded as a respectable source that addresses the arguments for and against the human contribution to climate change.  Cook states:

There are many with a cursory understanding who believe they're discovered fundamental flaws in climate science that have somehow been overlooked or ignored by climate scientists. Some take this a step further and believe they're being deceived . . .

Cook provides the following example:

In the discussion on whether CO2 is a pollutant, a graph was included to show CO2 levels over the last 10,000 years. The graph includes ice core data for CO2 levels before 1950. For values after 1950, direct measurements from Mauna Loa, Hawaii were used.

CO2 Levels

A comment was posted querying the data in this graph. Here is the comment in full:

"Whoa, hold on a minute here. CO2 readings from ONE LOCATION prove we have an enormous GLOBAL spike in CO2 levels? You've got to be kidding me. This is science? That would be like me taking hydrological readings at the bottom of Lake Superior and then declaring that the entire surface of the earth must be covered with water based on my readings. 

By the way, isn't Mauna Loa an active shield volcano? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauna_Loa) Hmmmm, you don't suppose that's where all that extra CO2 came from, do you? C'mon, people, wake up. I find it shameful that this obvious manipulation is allowed to pass as "proof". This is certainly NOT an unbiased scientific conclusion."

The commenter is asking whether it's appropriate to take CO2 readings from one location. Particularly when situated near a volcano which are known to emit CO2. Surely a better metric would be a global average of CO2 levels? These are legitimate questions. However, I deleted this comment as our Comments Policy allows no accusations of deception, whether the attack is directed towards skeptics, scientists or myself. This restriction is necessary to keep discussion constructive and restricted to science. Unfortunately, the comment began with a commendable question and ended with a not-so-commendable personal attack.

If the comment had stayed on methods and not strayed into motive, I would have posted the following response. Mauna Loa was used is because its the longest, continuous series of directly measured atmospheric CO2. The reason why it's acceptable to use Mauna Loa as a proxy for global CO2 levels is because CO2 mixes well throughout the atmosphere. Consequently, the trend in Mauna Loa CO2 (1.64 ppm per year) is statistically indistinguishable from the trend in global CO2 levels (1.66 ppm per year). If I used global CO2 in Figure 1 above, the result "hockey stick" shape would be identical.

Unfortunately, this type of presumptive misunderstanding is seen all too often. Someone doesn't understand a certain aspect of climate science which is understandable considering the complexities of our climate. Rather than investigate further, they assume a flaw in the climate science or worse, an act of deception. This response is often more a reflection of the gap in their own understanding than any flaw in the climate science.  

Perhaps most interesting when considering the Dunning-Kruger effect is that cross-cultural comparisons have demonstrated that Americans may be more prone to the effect than other cultures.  If so, perhaps it is not surprising that American acknowledgement of the threat of climate change trails almost the entire rest of the world: "People nearly everywhere, including majorities in developed Asia and Latin America, are more likely to attribute global warming to human activities rather than natural causes. The U.S. is the exception, with nearly half (47%) -- and the largest percentage in the world -- attributing global warming to natural causes. Americans are also among the least likely to link global warming to human causes, setting them apart from the rest of the developed world."

Ultimately, I wonder if the Tea Party suffers from a politics-induced version of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and simply does not want to dig deeper. Actually, maybe they do want to dig deeper, but only so they can continue to bury their head in the sand.

- Blake Hudson

September 7, 2011 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Governance/Management, International, Law, Physical Science, Science, US | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In Case You Missed It - The Week of August 28 to September 3

* The Obama administration decided to abandon proposed ozone regulations, which the oil industry and other business interests had criticized as unnecessarily costly.

* Although most of the 9 million people who lost power due to Hurricane / Tropical Storm Irene have had their electricity restored, utilities have gone on the defensive, launching PR campaigns in the face of likely investigations from regulators.

* Tropical Storm Lee has forced evacuation of over a third of oil and gas production platforms and drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

* Japan has adopted a feed-in tariff that will take effect next year and seeks to incent 30,000 MW of new renewables installations in the next decade.

* Over a thousand arrests have been made of climate change activists protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, including Darryl Hannah and Bill McKibben.

* A beetle called the goldspotted oak borer is threatening trees in southern California.

* President Obama is pushing for a transportation spending bill, to fund federal highway projects and keep fuel taxes in place.

September 4, 2011 in Air Quality, Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Legislation, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricanes/Heat = Global Warming, but Cold/Snow = Lunacy? How to Handle Isolated Weather Events When Discussing Climate Change?

As this is an issue that I have struggled with for some time now, I write this blog post to ask for advice, guidance, and the perspective of others - so please chime in with comments

It seems to be the bane of existence for those familiar with climate change science - the person who posts on Facebook or Twitter, or who boldly asserts in the classroom or office, "it was a record low in X city, Y state today - suuuurrreeee global warming is real. And there's been record snowfall to boot!" These types of misunderstandings of climate change science have resulted in a shift from "global warming" terminology to "global weirding" or "climate change" - a recognition that though the earth's overall temperature will increase over time, climatic conditions will be quite variable in any given location.   

Stephen Colbert has parodied this thought process quite well in the following video:

When people make comments that cold weather days must disprove global warming, Colbert quips, "Folks, that is simple observational research: whatever just happened is the only thing that is happening . . . [Currently] it is dark outside. Now based on this latest data, we can only assume that the sun has been destroyed. The world has plunged into total darkness. Soon all our crops will die and it's only a matter of time before the mole people emerge from the center of the earth to enslave us in forever night....thanks a lot Al Gore." 

Even though I agree with the silliness of such arguments, I cannot help but wonder what our responsibility is as educators, scientists, and other professionals in the field when it comes to isolated weather events that appear to support "ourposition.  Over the course of this summer I have seen numerous posts on Twitter and various news articles and blog posts from both environmental groups and professionals asserting what essentially sounds a lot like "See! Record heat! Climate change is real!" Also, I saw even more posts, and some articles, during recent Hurricane Irene that seemed to highlight this one hurricane event as proof of climate change. Don't get me wrong - I certainly trust the statistics on warming trends and increased hurricane frequency and intensity over the last few decades. There is little doubt that those trends reinforce and form part of the foundation of climate change science.  But my question is more about framing the issue. It is really hard for me to criticize someone for arguing that cold weather events disprove global warming, and then turn around and say that a single hurricane or a hot month of July support my "position." This is despite the fact that some may say "well sure, of course it is ok to do just that, because we are right. The data is on our side. So of course it is ok to point to these events as proof." That may very well be true, but something about that approach just doesn't feel right. I think it may be one of those arguments we should consider dropping so as not to allow the delivery of the message to disrupt or confuse the message itself. 

In the end, I believe that if those pointing out the reality of climate change do not want to sound exactly like those they criticize, it might be in our best interest to not use hyperbolic sounding arguments based upon isolated weather events. And trust me, this is hard for me - I like hyperbole.  But maybe we should stick to the whole story, and not just parts of it? What are your thoughts?

- Blake Hudson

August 29, 2011 in Climate Change, International, Physical Science, US | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Must Read Energy Books

The most recent edition of the ABA Journal inspired me.  Its cover story is the feature "30 Lawyers Pick 30 Books Every Lawyer Should Read."

This got me thinking.  What are the must-read energy, or energy law and policy, books out there?

Looking around a little, I found one person's answer.  Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, came up with these "13 Energy Books You Need to Read":

  1. Consuming Power by David Nye
  2. Petrolia by Brian Black
  3. The Prize by Daniel Yergin
  4. Energy Policy in America Since 1945 by Richard Vietor
  5. Technology and Transformation in the American Electric Utility Industry by Richard Hirsh
  6. The Bulldozer in the Countryside by Adam Rome
  7. Soft Energy Paths by Amory Lovins
  8. Energy at the Crossroads by Vaclav Smil
  9. Hubbert’s Peak by Ken Deffeyes
  10. A Golden Thread by Ken Butti and John Perlin
  11. Sorry Out of Gas: Architecture’s Response to the 1973 Oil Crisis by the Canadian Centre for Architecture
  12. Wind Energy Comes of Age by Paul Gipe
  13. The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart

Madrigal's is a fascinating, insightful list.  I'm still wondering: what's my list of must-read energy and energy law/policy books?

More to the point, what's yours?

-Lincoln Davies

August 26, 2011 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Social Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Nuclear in the News

In the months since the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, it seems that nuclear energy increasingly has been in the news.  This week was no exception.  If anything, it was a particularly busy few days for news on nuclear energy.  A few highlights:

  • A U.S. envoy to Japan severely criticized that nation's government for their response to the Fukushima disaster.  According to an AP story, Kevin Maher, head of the envoy and the former diplomat to Japan, said:  "“There was nobody in charge.  Nobody in the Japanese political system was willing to say, ‘I’m going to take responsibility and make decisions.’”

  • Meanwhile, Japanese citizens are still dealing with the radioactive aftermath of Fukushima.

  • In New York, residents are split over Governor Cuomo's plan to shutter Entergy's Indian Point nuclear generating station.  According to a recent poll, 49 percent of those living near the plant oppose shutdown, while 40 percent favor it.

  • The Tennessee Valley Authority unanimously approved a proposal to complete construction of the Bellefonte nuclear power plant in Hollywood, Alabama.  Prior construction ended in the late 1980s.

  • At the same time, Exelon's CEO John Rowe spoke out on the difficulty of building new nuclear plants in the U.S.  "The country needs nuclear power if it is going to tackle the problem of climate change," he said.  "But we must keep our hopes for new generation harnessed to facts.  Nuclear needs to be looked at in the Age of Reason and not the Age of Faith.  It is a business and not a religion."

  • And the NRC approved a license for a uranium milling operation in Wyoming.

-Lincoln Davies

August 19, 2011 in Asia, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Mining, North America, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Nixon Administration and Climate Change

Last week, I spent some time in the Nixon Library reviewing documents produced by the Nixon Administration relevant to the beginnings of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air Act.  In doing so, I found many interesting documents that relate to my research.  I ran across one document, however, that I did not expect to find: a memo from White House Counsel (and later Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan discussing climate change.  The memo was addressed to John Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs.  The memo in part reads as follows:

As with so many of the more interesting environmental questions, we really don't have very satisfactory measurements of the carbon dioxide problem.  On the other hand, this very clearly is a problem, and, perhaps most particularly, is one that can seize the imagination of persons normally indifferent to projects of apocalyptic change.

The process is a simple one. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the effect of a pane of glass in a greenhouse. The CO2 content is normally in a stable cycle, but recently man has begun to introduce instability through the burning of fossil fuels. At the turn of the century several persons raised the question whether this would change the temperature of the atmosphere. Over the years the hypothesis has been refined, and more evidence has come along to support it. It is now pretty clearly agreed that the CO2 content will rise 25% by 2000. This could increase the average temperature near the earth's surface by 7 degrees Fahrenheit. This in turn could raise the level of the sea by I0 feet. Goodbye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter. We have no data on Seattle.

It is entirely possible that there will be countervailing effects, for example, an increase of dust in the atmosphere would tend to lower temperatures, and might offset the CO2 effect. Similarly, it is possible to conceive fairly mammoth man-made efforts to countervail the CO2 rise. (E.g., stop burning fossil fuels.)

In any event, I would think this is a subject that the Administration ought to get involved with...

I often had wondered what might have happened had the Nixon Administration identified climate change as a problem.  (Or as the bumper stickers sold in the Presidential Library ask "WWND--What Would Nixon Do?")  After all, during the Nixon Administration, Congress and the President worked dilligently to address a wide array of environmental issues.  To my surprise, climate change was at least recognized as a problem by those working on environmental policy within the administration.  Unfortunately, not so much unlike the Administrations that followed, for the Nixon Administration it was a problem that was acknowledged by some but left unaddressed.

If anyone is interested in getting a pdf of the memo, feel free to contact me.

-- Brigham Daniels

August 8, 2011 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Case You Missed It -- The Week of August 1-7

* The famine in Somalia continues to worsen.

* Shell received conditional approval from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation to drill in the arctic Beaufort Sea, off the coast of Alaska.

* EPA proposed a rule that would exempt carbon dioxide streams from hazardous waste regulations under certain conditions.  The hope is to spur greater use of carbon capture and sequestration technology.

* A new PAC has formed to promote energy efficiency legislation.

* If you haven't seen it yet, Science has out an impressive set of materials on population trends, their environmental impacts, and prognostications about what it all means for the future of the planet.

* The leopards are not happy.

August 7, 2011 in Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Land Use, Law, Legislation, North America, Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Energy Law Treasure Trove

Earlier this year, the University of Utah law school hosted what turned out to be a great symposium on the topic, "The Future of Energy Law."  The articles from that conference have just been published, and offer what can only be described as a virtual treasure trove for energy law enthusiasts.

They feature some of the brightest minds in the game.  To wit:

  • The Past, Present, and Future of Energy Regulation by Dick Pierce

  • Controlling Greenhouse Gases from Highway Vehicles by Arnold Reitze

  • Residential Renewable Energy: By Whom? by Joel Eisen

  • The Next Step: The Integration of Energy Law and Environmental Law by Amy Wildermuth

  • "Our Generation's Sputnik Moment": Regulating Energy Innovation by Joe Tomain

  • The Future of Energy Law - Electricity by Ed Comer

We were lucky enough to hear in person these emerging ideas in what is an ever-changing field here in Salt Lake City earlier this January.

They're now all available for download as well.

-Lincoln Davies

July 30, 2011 in Climate Change, Energy, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Green Energy in Korea

I am in Seoul participating in the Korea Legislation Research Institute's conference, "Architecting Better Regulation to Overcome Energy Crisis."  The conference has produced a fascinating discussion about how best to transition to a renewable energy economy.

Korea has been using a feed-in tariff ("FIT") system to promote renewables deployment.  That changed in 2008 when the system came under criticism, in large part because it placed a strain on government finances.  This goes to show that how policies are designed very much matters.  FITs that raise consumer prices too much are subject to challenge on that ground, but those that choke government coffers may make the point even more acutely.

The plan now is to switch to a renewable portfolio standard ("RPS"), much like what many of the states in the U.S. are using.  It will be a very interesting case study that puts these two mechanisms in sharp contrast.  Debates about whether FITs or RPSs are better at incenting renewables deployment are longstanding; others have advocated that they can work together.  Korea's change may add some clarity to the discussion.

It may also prove to drive home some of the themes that emerged from the conference speakers:

  • Jannik Termansen, a vice president at Vestas, noted that what industry needs is not as much one scheme over another, but rather, "TLC": not tender loving care, but "transparency," a "long-term, stable commitment," and "certainty."  He noted that installed wind capacity in the Asia-Pacific region has now surpassed that of North America, and looks to grow even further in coming years.

  • Penny Crossley from the University of Sydney argued that renewables are important not just from a climate change perspective but also from that of energy security.  "Energy security is another reason why renewables are important," she said.  She noted six different ways that renewables promote energy security, and argued that we should commoditize those security benefits.

  • Prof. Wu Zhonghu and Libin Zhang reminded us of the heavy role China will play in shaping the world's energy future.  They noted that China is now a leader in world energy consumption, and that China remains in a transition from a centrally planned system to a market-based one.  How this affects renewables development long-term remains to be seen.

  • Nicolas Croquet highlighted the EU's 20-20-20 challenge.  It is ambitious indeed:  By 2020, 20% renewable energy use, a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, and 20% decreased primary energy use.  Is this a goal to which Korea, the U.S., and others should aspire?  Should we go further?

It is a lot to chew on, both for the energy outlook for Asia and at home in the U.S. as well.

-Lincoln Davies

July 23, 2011 in Asia, Climate Change, Energy, Law, Legislation, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Getting to Commercial-Scale Carbon Capture and Sequestration

Legal scholarship of late has highlighted the need not just for climate mitigation but also for climate adaptation.  One energy option that falls somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum is carbon capture and sequestration ("CCS"): removing carbon dioxide streams from commercial operations, especially coal-fired power plant emissions, and then transporting it to geologic formations where it can be stored long-term underground.

Despite the fact that the oil and gas industry has used this process for years in enhanced oil reocvery operations, commercial-scale CCS has yet to get off the ground as a climate change solution.  Numerous recent scholarly articles have addressed legal concerns related to carbon capture and sequestration, including, to name just a few, excellent pieces by Victor Flatt and by Alex Klass and Elizabeth Wilson

While many studies have suggested barriers to using CCS on a broad-scale basis -- including its high cost compared to traditional coal combustion, possible legal liability for underground storage gone awry, and difficulties in building the massive pipeline infrastructure that would be needed for commercial CCS -- no study to date has methodically addressed which of these barriers is greatest.  The answer to that question is important, because it implicates what CCS regulation should look like.

One study that I have been working on with colleagues from the University of Utah's Institute for Clean and Secure Energy takes up this question (and several others).  While we are still in the process of finalizing the report, here is a partial preview.

CCSbarriersThe study includes a survey of about 230 industry, professional, regulatory, and academic representatives involved in CCS.  One of the survey questions asked the participants to rate, on a 1 to 5 scale, a number of possible barriers to CCS commercialization.  A score of 1 means that the barrier is "no obstacle" to CCS commercialization, a 2 is a "minor" barrier, a 3 is a "measurable" barrier, 4 a "significant" barrier, and 5 a "critical barrier.

Four obstacles to CCS commercialization ranked highest in the survey: cost, lack of a carbon price or other financial incentive for using CCS, liability, and lack of comprehensive CCS regulation.

In one respect, this ranking is unsurprising.  Cost, liability, and the lack of climate change legislation have been widely acknowledged as problematic for the roll-out of CCS, so one might expect them to top the list.  Perhaps more interesting, however, is how highly the lack of CCS regulation rates.  What this means is that before CCS is likely to get off the ground, a predictable, comprehensive regulatory regime will need to be put in place.

The survey has more to say on that front.  Look for the full report later this summer.

-Lincoln Davies


June 30, 2011 in Climate Change, Energy, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And Now for Some Good News?

Earlier this week, it was hard to tell whether the cries coming from southern California were of joy or despair.  San Diego Gas & Electric is in the process of building a massive transmission line from the Imperial Valley to its load center in San Diego.  Increasingly, it looks like SDG&E will be able to fend off the numerous legal challenges to the project and bring scores of renewable electrons home.

The Sunrise Powerlink project is, by any measure, impressive.  According to SDG&E, the line will run nearly 120 miles.  It will cost almost $2 billion to build.  It will create hundreds of construction jobs and "thousands" of jobs in renewable energy.  It should save consumers $100 million annually.  It will give SDG&E access to numerous renewables projects.  And it will have a capacity of 1,000 MW, enough to power "650,000 homes."

All this sounds like a good thing.  One would think so.  It is well established that one of the biggest impediments to renewables is the need for more transmission lines -- lots of them in many places.  On that score, the Sunrise Powerlink project should be most welcome news.  SDG&E repeatedly has pointed out that this project can only help the state achieve its renewable portfolio mandate of 33% renewable electricity by 2020.

Still, the fact that the Sunrise project has been plagued by litigation highlights the contentious natureof completing any large energy developmenttoday.  NIMBYism reigns not only when developments harm the environment but also when they help.  Companies building environmentally beneficial projects know well by now that environmentalism is not a proper noun, a capitalized word representing a unified front.  It's very much lower-cased; disaggregated, splintered, fractured, multifarious, subject to hijacking.

This, then, underscores three important points that are becoming more and more obvious as we, it increasingly seems, begin a transition to a more sustainable energy infrastructure.  First, the process will be slow.  Sunrise is all about renewables but still facesopposition.  What will be the fate of more mixed projects?  Second, if we are to move to renewables, legislation facilitating transmission build-outs will be extremely helpful, if not necessary.  Utilities clearly prefer big, centrally planned projects.  Without transmission, they can't go forward.  Third, a united front will be necessary.  Climate change certainly has been a galvanizing force for environmentalists over the last decade, and more.  If they want meaningful progress, environmentalists cannot say no to everything.  Some things have to be yes, and the yes needs to be resounding.  That especially goes for projects that have both environmental and economic benefits.

Then there will be some good news indeed.

-Lincoln Davies

June 23, 2011 in Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)