Friday, October 30, 2009

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Climate Progress

Rep. Jay Inslee slams SuperFreakonomics: "People are still trying to write books to deceive the American public" on climate science.

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 09:01 AM PDT

This is a repost from Wonk Room.

Yesterday, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) rebuked the authors of SuperFreakonomics for participating in a "continuing effort to deceive the American public" on the science of climate change. During an investigative hearing on forged letters sent by the coal industry to oppose climate action, Inslee condemned the industry's effort to "hoodwink, defraud, and deceive the American public now to cover up the toxicity to the world environment" of global warming pollution. Inslee then turned to Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, criticizing them for "absolute deception" in their work on global warming:

The second thing I want to note is this is not the only continuing effort to deceive the American public. I want to note a book called Freakonomics, or SuperFreakonomics, that some authors wrote, that basically said or asserted we don't have to control CO2, we'll just pump sulfur dioxide up into the atmosphere and that will solve the problem. They purported to quote a scientist named Ken Caldeira from Stanford who's one of the predominant researchers in ocean acidification to suggest that Dr. Caldeira didn't think we should control CO2. Which is an absolute deception. Dr. Caldeira I've spoken to personally. He's told me we have to solve ocean acidification. You can't solve ocean acidification without controlling CO2 and yet people are still trying to write books to deceive the American public. And we ought to blow the whistle on them, we're blowing the whistle on one today, we'll continue to do it, because ultimately science is going to triumph in this discussion.

Levitt and Dubner's promotion of geoengineering as a "cheap and simple" alternative to carbon mitigation is in direct opposition to the views of Dr. Ken Caldeira, Paul Crutzen, and the world's scientific community. Although Caldeira objected to the chapter and has since repeatedly said he was misrepresented in multiple ways, the SuperFreakonomics authors have continued their deception, joining the billion-dollar effort by fossil-fuel companies and the radical right to thwart action on climate change.


We have seen this movie before, and it was the exercise by the tobacco industry to try to hoodwink and cover up the science of the devastating toxicity that they were involved in for decades. And it actually worked for decades. And we have seen a similar effort to hoodwink, defraud, and deceive the American public now to cover up the toxicity to the world environment, and ultimately to our own health, of carbon dioxide and other climate change gases. They have used every trick in the book including the ones we will investigate today But I just want to note that they are now failing. The tobacco industry got its comeuppance, if you will, and justice triumphed ultimately.

And that's what's going on right now in the climate change debate. You see in the U.S. Senate, members of the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan basis finally coming out to move based on the science, which is now becoming dominant in the discussion.

The second thing I want to note is this is not the only continuing effort to deceive the American public.

I want to note a book called Freakonomics, or SuperFreakonomics, that some authors wrote, that basically said or asserted we don't have to control CO2, we'll just pump sulfur dioxide up into the atmosphere and that will solve the problem. They purported to quote a scientist named Ken Caldeira from Stanford who's one of the predominant researchers in ocean acidification to suggest that Dr. Caldeira didn't think we should control CO2. Which is an absolute deception. Dr. Caldeira I've spoken to personally. He's told me we have to solve ocean acidification. You can't solve ocean acidification without controlling CO2 and yet people are still trying to write books to deceive the American public. And we ought to blow the whistle on them, we're blowing the whistle on one today, we'll continue to do it, because ultimately science is going to triumph in this discussion.

Update 1: The House Committee on Science and Technology will be holding a hearing on geoengineering next Thursday, with witnesses including Dr. Ken Caldeira.

Update 2:  Inslee, beware! Steven Levitt has licked ocean acidification, too:

Of course, ocean acidification is an important issue. Now, there are ways to deal with ocean acidification, right, it's actually, that's actually, we know exactly how to un-acidify the oceans: it's to pour a bunch of base into it, so, so if that turns out to be an incredibly big problem, then we can deal with that.

Listen here:

Update 3:  At Deltoid, Tim Lambert notes when Dubner claimed "we routinely address the concerns that critics accuse us of ignoring (the problem of ocean acidification, e.g.)," he was lying.

Related Posts:

Republicans for Enviromental Protection push back on Big Oil's attack on Lindsey Graham

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 07:40 AM PDT

A major denier group has started running falsehood-filled ads going after Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the conservative gamechanger who just made a climate bill likely.  As Media Matters explains in their ad fact check:

Using false oil industry talking points, the Big Oil funded American Energy Alliance produced an ad attacking Sen. Lindsey Graham for his willingness to work with Democrats on clean energy jobs legislation.  Contrary to the allegations made in the ad, legislation increasing our investment in clean energy technologies would create jobs in every state and help America become more energy independent, all for less than a quarter a day.

Now Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) are pushing back with their own ad:

The inside-the-beltway GOP and conservative leadership have strayed far from their original roots with their single-minded determination to stop all efforts to preserve a livable climate.  The photo and Goldwater quote above come from the REP website (as does the photo/quote below).  Here is REP's news release that goes along with this ad:

Republicans for Environmental Protection began running television ads on October 30 across South Carolina supporting U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham for his strong leadership on energy and climate change.

The group also plans to air radio ads as well.

The aid may be viewed by clicking here.

"REP applauds Senator Graham for setting a powerful example of conservative leadership," REP Vice President for Government and Political Affairs David Jenkins said. "True conservatives take seriously the risks facing our country, and they take responsibility by supporting prudent measures to reduce those risks."

REP believes that constructive Republican engagement will produce a better climate and energy bill than one produced by Democrats alone.

The ad features State Senator John Courson, a Columbia Republican representing Lexington and Richland Counties, who calls oil companies and other special interests on the carpet for their misleading ads attacking Senator Graham.

"We appreciate Senator Courson's standing up for Senator Graham," REP President Rob Sisson said. "Both of these outstanding leaders are patriots who have served our country with honor and understand what true conservatism is. They recognize the value of problem-solving over gridlock and of statesmanship over partisanship."

"Senator Graham deserves enormous credit for stepping forward to solve real problems facing our nation and world. He correctly connects our national security, energy security and economic security with the need to protect our world for future generations," said REP Vice President for Policy and Communications Jim DiPeso.

"We urge Republicans and Democrats to work together in good faith to frame balanced climate and energy legislation that a broad majority of Americans can support," DiPeso added.

The ads are airing in the South Carolina media markets of Greenville-Spartanburg, Columbia, Charleston, and Florence-Myrtle Beach, and the Georgia media markets of Savannah and Augusta.

Kudos to REP for supporting Graham's bipartisan efforts to address the twin issues of climate and energy security.

For more on the polluter-funded American Energy Alliance:

Republicans for Environmental Protection

Must-have PPTs: GOP witness details harsh impact Bush-Cheney policies had on U.S. manufacturing jobs

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 03:45 PM PDT

Cicio big 1

The US manufacturing sector has lost over 5.1 million jobs in the last 10 years. Output and investment per GDP has fallen consistently and imports have risen sharply. (See charts below) This is not the time to implement risky unproven climate policy. The US economy cannot afford to lose any more jobs or shutdown facilities. Approximately 40,000 manufacturing plants have closed during the seven years ending in 2008. We have lost eleven industries that we were once dominant since the late 1990s. By late 2008, the US trade deficit with China alone was running at close to $1 billion per day, amounting to more than $90 per month or more than $1100 per year for every American.

That's from one of the strangest pieces of testimony you're ever going to see — by Paul Cicio, Executive Director, Industrial Energy Consumers of America.

Cicio was the GOP witness at the landmark hearings for the Senate climate and clean energy jobs bill  today.  He seemed to think that a strong argument against the clean energy bill was that the U.S. manufacturing sector has been devastated by eight years of conservative rule.  I have argued many times that conservative do-nothing energy and economic policies led to sharp increases in energy costs (see "Senate GOP propose 25% 'Do-Nothing' energy tax on Americans") and sharp decreases in US competitiveness (see "Invented here, sold there").

But Cicio has the most (unintentionally) damning set of slides I've ever seen, a few of which I'm going to reproduce here since I'm sure progressives will want to use them in explaining why we must never go back to the Bush-Cheney policies.  The figure above shows how conservative policies have killed manufacturing jobs.   And lest you think that it is purely a coincidence that the manufacturing sector has been slammed by Bush-Cheney, Cicio provides this jaw-dropping figure which goes back another decade:


Invesment in industrial equipment recovered under the Clinton administration and stayed high for most of it, but simply collapsed under the Bush-Cheney administration and stayed low.  Looks like those tax cuts for the rich didn't do very much other than enrich the rich.  The data in green is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, but that amusing "trend line" is apparently from the Industrial Energy Consumers of America.

Here's one more figure:

Cicio Last

Yes, imports of manufactured goods soared, especially after 2003.  Again, thank you Bush-Cheney and a conservative Congress.

Sen. Boxer herself turned Cicio's argument on its head and said that she agreed completely with his historical analysis, but disagreed completely with his conclusion.  The answer was not to continue these devastating do-nothing conservative policies, but to pass the clean energy jobs bill.

During forged letter investigation hearing, coal industry lies under oath about its lobbying history

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 02:09 PM PDT

This is a Think Progress repost.

Today, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing investigating fraudulent letters forged by Bonner & Associates on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) to attack the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454). As the Wonk Room's Brad Johnson has reported, ACCCE President and CEO Steve Miller lied under oath when he told the committee that his organization has never opposed clean energy legislation.

Later during the hearing, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) asked Miller about the purpose of ACCCE. Miller replied that in addition to grassroots lobbying (astroturfing) and state-based lobbying, his front group has only began federal lobbying in "April of 2008″ in its "16 year history":

INSLEE: Your entire goal of your organization is to influence Congress. Is that right?

MILLER: We do work at the state level, we do regulatory matters, we do general education to the public. So, the federal, direct federal lobbying has only been part of our portfolio since April of 2008 with a 16 year history of the organization.

Miller's claim is another example of the coal industry's perjury under oath. In a six month period of 2007 alone, ACCCE, under its previous name of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, spent $2,660,000 lobbying the federal government. Senate disclosures show that the organization has spent millions more lobbying since 2001.

ACCCE was formed in 2008, according to its website, with the combined "assets and missions of the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) and Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC)." So when Miller noted his 16 year history, he was referring to the lobbying efforts of the coal industry's previous incarnations, ABEC and CEED.

Here is Brad Johnson's post:

In the hearing investigating fraudulent letters forged on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) to attack the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), ACCCE chief Steve Miller told Congress his organization has never opposed the legislation.

The record shows otherwise.

ACCCE Politico ad, 6/18/09ACCCE Called Waxman-Markey A 'High-Risk Proposition.' On June 18, a week before the House of Representatives voted on the legislation, ACCCE ran a full-page ad in Politico with the headline, "If a climate bill goes too far, too fast it could keep us from getting where we need to go." The ad described the greenhouse gas pollution reductions in H.R. 2454 as a "high risk proposition."

ACCCE Criticized Waxman-Markey For 'Skyrocketing Energy Costs.' On June 18, ACCCE published on its website the claim that Waxman-Markey could "have consumers paying higher costs for decades." "In its current form, H.R. 2454 does not do enough to guarantee that consumers are protected against skyrocketing energy costs."

ACCCE Said It 'Cannot Support' Waxman-Markey. Following the passage of the legislation in a 217-213 House vote on June 26, ACCCE issued a statement in opposition to the legislation: "ACCCE cannot support this bill, as it is written, because the legislation still does not adequately protect consumers and the domestic economy or ensure that the American people can continue to enjoy the benefits of affordable, reliable electricity, which has been so important to our nation."

Increasing competitiveness through clean energy: Taking on China's broad-based effort to be the world's clean energy leader

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 01:37 PM PDT

I hope you have been watching panel 3 of today's Senate climate bill hearings.  It has been incredibly informative about the international competitiveness issue, especially China's aggressive efforts to become the clean energy leader and the complete turnaround in the thinking of Chinese business and policymakers since Chinese President Hu Jintao's UN speech (see "Are Chinese emissions pledges a game changer for Senate action?").  I'll do a post on it later.  Here is the testimony of CAP president and CEO John Podesta.  I have reprinted the extensive discussion of China's efforts to forever seize leadership in clean energy, which we can only match if we pass the clean energy bill.

Madam Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify before you this afternoon. I am very pleased to have this time to share my thoughts on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, S. 1733, and its power to boost our economy's competitiveness.

The Senate global warming debate has focused on pollution limits and timetables, carbon markets and allocations. But we have lost sight of our principal objective: building a robust and prosperous clean energy economy. Moving beyond fossil fuel pollution will involve exciting work, new opportunities, new products and innovation, and stronger communities. Our current national discussion about constraints, limits, and the costs of transition overshadows the economic opportunity of clean energy investments. It is as if, on the cusp of the Internet and telecommunications revolution, debate centered only on the cost of digging trenches to lay fiber optic cable.

Many of our economic competitors see investments in clean energy technologies as key to their long-term sustainable economic growth. Germany, Spain, Japan, China, and even India are building the foundation for a prosperous low-carbon future. Many leaders in the American business community realize the competitive threat to the United States if we do not join other nations by investing in our clean-energy sector. Venture capitalist John Doerr and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt warn, "There is still time for us to lead this global race, although that window is closing. We need low-carbon policies to exploit America's strengths—innovation and entrepreneurs."

To gain the lead in the clean-energy race—as we have done in other sectors—we need to reduce our global warming pollution as the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act requires. The bill puts a price on carbon pollution that recognizes the harms and costs of global warming, and it would level the playing field between the prices of dirty and cleaner energy sources. The Clean Energy Jobs Act, combined with companion measures before the Senate, would create a clean-energy investment program that would cut greenhouse gas pollution, spur clean-energy technology innovation, create new jobs, and increase American energy independence.

Here is Podesta's discussion of China's astonishingly broad-based clean energy efforts (footnotes are here):

Two months ago, I led a small American delegation to China that included Senator Tom Daschle, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, MIT Professor John Deutch, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy deLeon, and SEIU President Andy Stern. Our group spent three full days speaking with some of the senior-most government officials, leading academics, and members of the financial industry about a range of issues of utmost importance between our two countries.

These discussions made us realize that climate change and clean energy rank among the very top issues of importance to China's social and economic development challenges. China fully grasps the strategic economic opportunity that the clean-energy sector represents. As Li Keqiang, first vice premier of China and Premier Wen Jiabao's deputy, has publicly said on various occasions, the development of new energy sources represents an opportunity to stimulate consumption, increase investments, achieve stable export opportunities, and adjust China's energy structure, all while enhancing its international
economic competitiveness.13

China is also diversifying into clean energy sources for energy security concerns. It already imports almost 50 percent of the oil it consumes, and for the first time in 2007, started to import coal. With China's consumption expected to grow from eight million barrels of oil a day currently to 20 million barrels of oil a day by 2030, its demand for global oil resources is bound to rise steadily and drive oil prices up.14 It has started to build a strategic oil reserve, encouraged its state-owned energy companies to invest in overseas energy assets, and sealed multibillion dollar oil and gas supply contracts with
countries including Russia, Brazil, Iran and Venezuela.15 But Beijing knows that a reliance on fossil fuels is not a complete solution, and is thus making heavy investments in domestic sources of clean and renewable energy.

Over the past few years, China has quietly made significant investments into low-carbon infrastructure.16 Although reported numbers vary, allocations to clean energy and sustainable development account for 14.5 percent of China's $586 billion economic stimulus in 2008, while the proportion is as high as 34 percent if supporting rail and grid infrastructure is included.

China is making steady progress to meet its goal to reduce energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. It has steadily grown its wind power industry as part of its long-term effort to increase its share of non-fossil fuel power to 15 percent of its overall energy mix by 2020. China's installed wind power capacity has doubled for each of the past four years, and this year it has launched major investment programs in solar photovoltaic installation to catalyze the domestic solar market.

The rapid growth in renewable energy deployment in China has compelled its policymakers to revise their 2020 target for wind power from 30 gigawatts to 100 to 120 gigawatts, and for solar power from 1.8 gigawatts to 10 gigawatts. China also plans to make significant investments in nuclear energy—$130 billion over the next 15 years. It plans to expand its nuclear capacity from 11 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts in 2020. China had nearly twice the amount of installed renewable energy capacity, excluding large hydro, compared to the United States by the end of 2008 (76 gigawatts versus 40

China is also an emerging world leader in ultra-high-voltage, or UHV transmission lines, with more than 100 domestic manufacturers and suppliers participating in the manufacturing and supply of UHV equipment. A transmission line from Shanxi to Hubei boasts the highest capacity in the world, and is able to transmit 1,000 kilovolts over 640 kilometers. The State Grid Corporation of China will invest $44 billion through 2012 and $88 billion through 2020 in building UHV transmission lines. China will unveil in the coming months plans to build an extensive smart grid by 2020.

As the world's largest auto market, China is serious about making the clean-energy vehicles of the future. They have slashed gasoline subsidies and increased taxes on cars with bigger engines while reducing taxes on smaller cars. They are spending $2.9 billion on developing energy efficient vehicles. China wants to raise its annual production capacity of hybrid and all-electric cars and buses to 500,000 by the end of 2011. This would account for only 5 percent of total car sales, but is up from only 2,100 in 2008.

Thirteen cities will roll out pilot subsidy programs for the purchase of "new energy vehicles," ranging from $7,350 for small hybrid passenger cars to $87,700 for large, fuelcell-powered commercial buses. The subsidies will target public-sector purchases such as public transportation, sanitation, and postal services. The State Grid plans to deploy pilot networks of charging stations for electric cars in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai, while Nissan-Renault plans to help establish a pilot charging infrastructure network in Wuhan.

China's emerging leadership in electric vehicles is based on its innovation in energy storage technology. The world's first mass-produced, plug-in hybrid is the F3DM, launched by China's BYD Auto last December. Just six years ago BYD Auto was only in the business of making batteries for mobile phones. The F3DM sells in China for approximately $22,000, and the founder of BYD, Wang Chuanfu, is now China's richest person.18

During our delegation's visit to Beijing, we rode on a high-speed train to Tianjin, traveling 65 miles in just 30 minutes—less than half the time compared to conventional rail. This is part of the largest railway expansion in history. China plans to spend almost $300 billion expanding its railway network from 78,000 km today to 120,000 km in 2020. Of this, 13,000 km will be high-speed rail. The 1,300 kilometer Beijing-Shanghai line is under construction and will reduce travel time between those destinations from 14 hours to 5 hours when it opens in 2013. This will attract an estimated 220,000 daily passengers and should dramatically reduce air travel between the metropolises. What's more, China is poised to have the world's largest network for intracity urban rail transit. About 2,100 km of railway lines will be laid and operational by 2015 in 19 cities.

Ten cities currently have 29 urban rail routes, totaling 778 km, and 14 cities are building 46 urban rail lines, which total 1,212 km. Aside from infrastructure, China is also leading the way in manufacturing clean-energy technologies and products. It accounts for nearly 40 percent of the global production of solar photovoltaic panels. Historically, the vast majority of this production has been exported, but as described above, a push to develop the domestic solar market will mean that more solar panels will stay in China to produce clean electricity for the benefit of its own people.

China's rapid wind power expansion has also created a vibrant wind power manufacturing sector. Where some five years ago there were virtually no domestic manufacturers of wind components, now there are as many as 70 to 100 companies, with Sinovel, now the seventh largest in the world, producing one thousand 1.5 MW turbines in 2008 and with a capacity to produce twice this quantity. Though the first priority of these companies is to satisfy the growing domestic market, they are starting to explore international markets.

China's program to increase renewable energy and efficiency will also lower its greenhouse gas pollution. The Washington Post noted that "last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said the efforts are starting to pay off…[and] lowered its estimate of future Chinese greenhouse gas emissions."19 China has also signaled for the first time that it intends to manage carbon emissions growth. Last month, President Hu Jintao announced that China will reduce its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by a "notable margin." How quickly such a deceleration leads to a peaking of China's total emissions depends on the specific carbon intensity targets, but senior Chinese officials have recently given public assurance of its desire to peak its carbon pollution "as early as possible."20

All these actions send signals to the international business community. According to a recent report, the clean tech market in China alone has a potential to develop into a $500 billion to $1 trillion per year market by 2013.21 Enterprising American companies such as First Solar and American Superconductor have sensed the economic opportunity by investing directly in the Chinese clean energy market or, in the case of Duke Energy, partnering with Chinese companies to develop clean-energy projects here in the United States.

Make no mistake about it—China wants to lead the world in the development and production of clean-energy technologies for use at home and abroad. The United States should assume that China is in the clean-energy technology race to win.

Contrarian Chic: Why can't the media tell the difference between an attack on dubious 'conventional' wisdom and an attack on genuine scientific wisdom?

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 11:27 AM PDT

The Atlantic Monthly named Freeman Dyson a "Brave Thinker" for the "contrarian view" he's taken on climate change.  They tout his quote, "I like to express heretical opinions. They might even happen to be true."

Like the authors of the error-riddled Superfreakonomics, Dyson is contrarian for the sake of contrarianism — the truth is secondary.  Coincidentally, the same is true of the reporter who profiled him for the NY Times magazine — see Media stunner: When asked "Does it matter, from a journalistic point of view, whether [Freeman Dyson is] right or whether he's wrong?" his NYT profiler replies "Oh, absolutely not."

In fact, the media's adoration of contrarians means it is a lot less brave to be a contrarian these days than it used to be in, say, Galileo's day.   Dave Roberts at Grist makes that point in a terrific piece (reposted below):

Willing to risk a fawning NYT profile … freeeeeedooooom!
Is Freeman Dyson really "brave"?

What leads people to think that entire areas of climate science and policy, the subject of close study by thousands of very smart people all over the globe every day, can be overturned with facile points of logic and Silver Bullets Nobody's Thought Of?

Well, it ain't bravery….

On the other hand, simply repeat the broad global consensus— climate change is an urgent problem that warrants coordinated action to reduce GHG emissions—and you get nowhere. Boooring.

(I can't tell you how many back-and-forths I've had with media outlets where I try to explain that the thing most people think is right actually is right, and they say, maybe so, but that's not going to titillate our readers.)

Ditto!  Scientific wisdom was, like, so last year.

Krugman had it right in his first take on the Superfreaks:  "If you're going to get into issues that are both important and the subject of serious study, like the fate of the planet, you'd better be very careful not to stray over the line between being counterintuitive and being just plain, unforgivably wrong."  Last week, in "Contrarianism without consequences," the Nobel laureate added:

The refusal of the Superfreakonomists to take responsibility for their failed attempt to be cleverly contrarian on climate change is a sad spectacle to watch….

What it is, instead, is a failure of courage — having paraded their daring contrarianism, the freakonomists are trying to wiggle out of the consequences when it turns out that they were wrong.

Krugman links to a terrific post by contrarian Daniel Davies on the Superfreaks, "Rules for Contrarians: 1. Don't whine. That is all," which I'll repost at the very end

Contrarian Dyson was one of the "geniuses" pushing Project Orion — the absurdly impractical idea of creating a rocket ship powered by detonating nuclear bombs.  Hard to beat that for being contrary to good old-fashioned common sense.  You want real bravery?  How about Dyson test piloting the thing?

More recently he started saying stuff like, "There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the warming is not global" (see "Freeman Dyson, Climate Crackpot").  Contrarian?  Yes.  But it doesn't happen to be true.  The warming is global and occurring in virtually every region of the planet, as made clear in this figure from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies comparing the temps during the 2000s with those from 1951-1980 (you can make your own map here):

Fig 1: Global map

And Dyson started proposing outlandish "solutions" (see Freeman Dyson and his amazing, incredible 'genetically engineered carbon-eating trees'):

If one quarter of the world's forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in about fifty years.

Oh, well, replacing 25% of existing trees with imaginary genetically-engineered carbon-eating trees will solve the problem. Why didn't anyone point this out before? It certainly would've saved the IPCC a lot of time.

Wait, I can improve his idea. It's obviously too risky to take the carbon and "bury it underground." What if it leaked? Let's put the carbon on rocket ships powered by nuclear bombs. That way we can be sure the carbon won't ever return to our atmosphere.

Dyson and his fawning, fact-check-free NYT interview goes on and on:

… "the climate is actually improving rather than getting worse," because carbon acts as an ideal fertilizer promoting forest growth and crop yields.

Except that ain't happening. Quite the reverse (see "Science: Global warming is killing U.S. trees, a dangerous carbon-cycle feedback" and "Climate-Driven Pest Devours N. American Forests" and "Nature on stunning new climate feedback: Beetle tree kill releases more carbon than fires").

But that's the beauty of being an 85-year-old theoretical physicist with no training or publications in climate science — you don't have to concern yourself with the facts.

"Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now," he contends, "and substantially richer in carbon dioxide."

Well, yes. Of course, sea levels were 250 feet higher back then. But Dyson says not to worry:

Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily, but why this is and what dangers it might portend "cannot be predicted until we know much more about its causes."


Note to Dyson: Sea levels are rising because the planet is getting hotter, causing the water to expand and the land-locked ice to melt and/or flow rapidly into the oceans. Those are the "causes." Duh. Either read the scientific literature or shut up. Start here: Startling new sea level rise research: "Most likely" 0.8 to 2.0 meters by 2100.

You can read more debunking of Dyson here.

Dave Roberts full response to Dyson and the Superfreaks is well worth reading:

Freeman Dyson is a noted physicist who's argued—utterly implausibly—that carbon eating trees will save us and we shouldn't worry about the whole climate change thing. For this, he's been profiled in The New York Times and now dubbed a Brave Thinker by the Atlantic. But is he really that brave?

Said friend Oliver Sacks of Dyson, "He feels it's important not only to be not orthodox, but to be subversive, and he's done that all his life." For whatever reason, Dyson decided enviros were the latest orthodoxy to need a thumb in the eye.

It's a pretty common sentiment.  Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are the latest to do it, in their new book Superfreakonomics. Their chapter on climate change sits awkwardly with the rest of their work; the original Freakonomics was based on Levitt's academic work, real data and models the authors used to make ostentatiously counterintuitive points about perverse economic incentives. But Levitt did no original work on climate. The chapter's not about economic incentives. There's no evidence of deep or sustained engagement with the literature or previous research on the subject. The authors just high-stepped in, cast a cursory glance around, and started condescending to the people involved in it (and stepping on rakes).

Why? What leads people to think that entire areas of climate science and policy, the subject of close study by thousands of very smart people all over the globe every day, can be overturned with facile points of logic and Silver Bullets Nobody's Thought Of?

Well, it ain't bravery.

The fact is, anybody who takes a poke at the Dirty F*ckin' Hippies—anybody, for any reason—can get attention and access to media. There's an enormous infrastructure on the right to elevate any anti-DFH voice, including random economists,  physicists, meteorologists, talk show hosts, computer programmers, whatever. You don't need any particular credentials. You don't even have to believe what the right does; as long as you confuse the issue, they'll amplify your voice. (Indeed, they're embracing Superfreakonomics.)

Add to that the fact that mainstream media outlets seek one thing above all else, and that's the unexpected, the contrarian. When it comes to climate change, that generally means taking a poke at greens (or better yet, at Al Gore). It's even better if you're a purported green bashing other greens. That's the kind of media crack Nordhaus & Shellenberger dealt on their way to fame and funding. Bash the greens, no matter your qualifications or the merits of your arguments, and you will find yourself on television and in opinion sections from the New York Times to Washington Post to Wired.

Helpfully, when you offer facile dismissals of science and policy to which people have devoted their lives—"We could end this debate and be done with it," sighs Dubner, "and move on to problems that are harder to solve."—they get angry, and they express that anger. Then you get to be the Brave, Persecuted Freethinker battling the Quasi-Religious Orthodoxy, and the press loves you all the more.  Why else would anyone know Roger Pielke Jr.'s name? Lomborg rode that train, along with Shellenberger/Nordhaus and Dyson. In a smaller, grubbier way, even a flack like Patrick Moore ("co-founder of Greenpeace"!) has made it work for him. It's no wonder Levitt/Dubner thought they could do the same thing, and you can sense their hesitation now that it's not working so well. Though it did work like a charm on the normally sharp Jon Stewart, who offered Levitt this pathetically fawning interview:

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On the other hand, simply repeat the broad global consensus— climate change is an urgent problem that warrants coordinated action to reduce GHG emissions—and you get nowhere. Boooring. (I can't tell you how many back-and-forths I've had with media outlets where I try to explain that the thing most people think is right actually is right, and they say, maybe so, but that's not going to titillate our readers.)

I could start doing this crap tomorrow: Have a revelation that greens are emotional, irrational, in the grips of a cultish faith (a "secular religion"!). Realize that they're doing everything wrong, from their message to their recommended policies. Discover that the real solution is … I don't know, thorium reactors, and everything else is needless hype and meddling. I could be denounced by greens and wear their opprobrium as a badge to gain entry into cable news and op-ed pages.

I would get the egoistic thrill of subversion. I'd get a hearty band of supporters on the right and thrillingly dastardly enemies on the left. I could parlay the conflict into national attention and infamy. If I was a retired physicist in my twilight years, it might even be a real kick in the pants to be back in the fray again.

Yeah, I could do all that. It would be many things, but "brave" isn't among them.

Jon Stewart's "interview" of Levitt was indeed one of his worst in recent memory, but people should realize that Stewart has not taken the time to educate himself on climate science, preferring to take the contrarian role himself in his May interview with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson  — see Treehugger post here:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Lisa P. Jackson

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Brad Johnson of Wonk Room spares me the trouble of critiquing Stewart and yet another debunking of the Superfreaks:

On last night's Daily Show, host Jon Stewart heaped praise on the contrarian approach to global warming taken by SuperFreakonomics author Steve Levitt, a University of Chicago economist. Stewart was baffled by the widespread criticism of Levitt and co-author Stephen Dubner, asking, "Have you stepped on a secular religion?" Stewart, often a tough interviewer, coddled Levitt, saying, "I'm sorry you've taken so much s**t for it." He blamed the uproar over SuperFreakonomics on people who "feel you are betraying environmentalism":

I've been somewhat surprised at how angry people are. The global warming chapter, you don't deny global warming. You don't say that CO2 isn't a factor, but they feel you are betraying environmentalism or our world. Why are people so mad?

SuperFreakonomics mischaracterizes the field in order to argue that "moralism and angst" has blinded scientists and policymakers from pursuing the "cheap and simple solution" of geoengineering. Although the book condemns scientists for fearmongering and promotes a radical alternative to existing policy, Levitt tells Stewart, "I don't try to pretend I know the science."

In reality, the critics of Levitt's treatment of climate science and policy are not "dogmatic" believers of a "secular religion" — they are highly respected climate scientists, energy experts, and economists, including climate scientist Ken Caldeira, who has said Levitt and Dubner misrepresented his views. The widespread criticism isn't based on the book's personal attacks on Al Gore or its mocking of global warming as a "religion," but on the multitude of factual errors, misrepresentations, and false conclusions that the authors use to promote their mindless contrarianism. As science journalist Eric Pooley writes, "The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes."

Levitt recommends untested, planetary scale geo-engineering to block the sun as a "band-aid" that "buys us time" if "we might need to do something," because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time. However, scientists concerned that global warming needs to be reduced rapidly have already found a well-proven approach that's cheaper and safer than pumping unlimited amounts of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere: stopping black carbon emissions of soot from diesel and biomass burning.

Stewart hit the nail on the head when he concluded, "I really don't know what I'm talking about, do I?" However, he failed to understand his mistake when he concluded that he had "apparently frightened our audience by suggesting that conservation isn't the only way out of any of our problems."

Stewart has excoriated other media darlings for their laissez-faire approach to serious issues, from Tucker Carlson to Jim Cramer, and just last week skewered CNN for its failure to do even basic fact-checking of its guests. Unfortunately, this time Stewart ended up being just like those he usually mocks — neither funny nor accurate.

UPDATE 1:  Stephan Faris writes:

In short, Stewart misses the point completely. There's no doubt the environmentalist movement is full of people who are ideologically opposed to consumption. But there are also plenty of people (like myself) who are no fan of hairshirts, but still worry about the potential catastrophic impacts of climate change. The problem with Levitt's book isn't that it attacked a holy cow (it may have done that, but that isn't the problem). Where Levitt went wrong is that the solution he and his co-author Stephen Dubner propose isn't actually a solution.

UPDATE 2:  Geenfyre's Mike Kaulbars writes:

That's right, Levitt doesn't even have to BS the interview because Stewart does it for him. From mocking green living to calling climate science "a religion" Stewart sounds like he is reading Levitt's talking points. Instead of challenging Levitt, Stewart does all of the disinformation and obfuscating for him. Journalism schools could use this as a case study of really appalling interview technique; it's that bad.

Finally, here's Daniel Davies of Crooked Timber:

I like to think that I know a little bit about contrarianism. So I'm disturbed to see that people who are making roughly infinity more money than me out of the practice aren't sticking to the unwritten rules of the game.

Viz Nathan Mhyrvold:

"Once people with a strong political or ideological bent latch onto an issue, it becomes hard to have a reasonable discussion; once you're in a political mode, the focus in the discussion changes. Everything becomes an attempt to protect territory. Evidence and logic becomes secondary, used when advantageous and discarded when expedient. What should be a rational debate becomes a personal and venal brawl."

Okay, point one. The whole idea of contrarianism is that you're "attacking the conventional wisdom", you're "telling people that their most cherished beliefs are wrong", you're "turning the world upside down". In other words, you're setting out to annoy people. Now opinions may differ on whether this is a laudable thing to do – I think it's fantastic – but if annoying people is what you're trying to do, then you can hardly complain when annoying people is what you actually do. If you start a fight, you can hardly be surprised that you're in a fight. It's the definition of passive-aggression and really quite unseemly, to set out to provoke people, and then when they react passionately and defensively, to criticise them for not holding to your standards of a calm and rational debate. If Superfreakonomics wanted a calm and rational debate, this chapter would have been called something like: "Geoengineering: Issues in Relative Cost Estimation of SO2 Shielding", and the book would have sold about five copies.

Viz also, Stephen Dubner:

"They have given the impression that we are global-warming deniers of the worst sort, and that our analysis of the issue is ideological and unscientific. Most gravely, we stand accused of misrepresenting the views of one of the most respected climate scientists on the scene, whom we interviewed extensively. If everything they said was actually true, it would indeed be a damning indictment. But it's not."

Okay, point two. The other point of contrarianism is that, if it's well done, you assemble a whole load of points which are individually uncontroversial (or at least, solidly substantiated) and put them together to support a conclusion which is surprising and counterintuitive. In other words, the aim of the thing is the overall impression you give. Because of this, if you're writing a contrarian piece properly, you ought to be well aware of what point it looks like you're making, because the entire point is to make a defensible argument which strongly resembles a controversial one.

So having done this intentionally, you don't get to complain that people have "misinterpreted" your piece by taking you to be saying exactly what you carefully constructed the argument to look like you were saying. Fair enough, you might not care to defend the controversial point it looked like you were making, but a degree of diffidence is appropriate here, because the confusion is entirely and intentionally your fault:

"(That is the "global cooling" in our subtitle. If someone interprets our brief mention of the global-cooling scare of the 1970's as an assertion of "a scientific consensus that the planet was cooling," that feels like a willful misreading.)"

No it doesn't; it feels like someone read the first two pages for the plain meaning of the words and didn't spot that you were actually playing a little crossword-puzzle game where the answer was "consensus". In general, whatever "global cooling" meant, it was put on the cover in full knowledge of the impression it would give to a normal reader so once more, it is not legitimate to complain that this phrase was interpreted in the way in which it was intended to be interpreted.

In general, contrarians ought to have thick skins, because their entire raison d'etre is the giving of intellectual offence to others. So don't whine, for heaven's sake. Own your bullshit, like this guy.

Related Posts:

Republicans may stall climate change bill Washington Times

PM hails climate 'breakthrough' BBC News

How do you spell murderers? Senate Climate Markup Set for Tuesday but Will Any Republicans Show? New York Times

Climate change coal compromise soothes Baucus - ‎3 hours ago‎

Climate change coal compromise soothes Baucus - ‎3 hours ago‎

Greenland is warming up Financial Times

Greenland is warming up
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Can rural America hold the world to ransom? BBC News

China-US Group Plans to Build Texas Wind Farm New York Times

Methane's role in global warming underestimated USA Today

FPL's Change of Heart on Cap and Trade Reuters

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nine federal agencies agree to fast-track power lines Wyoming Business Report

Wind Power Generates Green Economy In West Texas Wall Street Journal

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Memo to Baucus: Your state's trees are being ravaged by warming-driven pests now and Montana faces 175% to 400% increase in wildfire burn area

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 10:16 AM PDT

Sen. Max Baucus said Tuesday he has "serious reservations" about climate legislation unveiled by his Democratic colleagues, signaling trouble for a proposal that is stronger in certain respects than a bill passed by the House.

In an effort to inject drama and conflict into a hearing that lack both, the WSJ and other media outlets trumpeted the fact that Baucus said he thought Boxer's proposed bill was too strong.

In fact, it's obvious to everyone else that one couldn't get 60 votes for Boxer's bill and the final bill is going to be different (see Breakthrough Senate climate partnership: Graham (R-SC) and Kerry (D-MA) join forces and assert they are "convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress").  The WSJ story never mentioned this fact, but ominously writes, "Supporters of the climate proposal can ill afford to lose any Democratic votes in the Senate, given stiff Republican opposition."  Baucus himself said (full remarks at the end):

I support passing common-sense climate legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while protecting our economy. And the key word in that sentence is "passing."

So Baucus will be voting for the final bill.

One part of the media focused on the real story that Montanans are increasingly concerned about:  Climate change is already hitting their state hard now and is poised to devastate it utterly.  American Public Media's Marketplace has be done a terrific multipart series on climate change, which can be accessed here, along with a map of how different regions of the country are being affected now and how they are likely to be hit in the future.

The first piece "Climate change in our own backyards," tells the amazing story of the warming-driven bark beetle infestation around Helena.  And yes, this is the same exact story that the NYT screwed up in July (see "Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can't tell the story (twice!), how will the public hear it?").

The figure above is from a major recent study, which projects a staggering increase in "wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations in the western United States" — "with the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains experiencing the greatest increases of 78% and 175% respectively" by 2050.  The graph "shows the percentage increase in area burned by wildfires, from the present-day to the 2050s," if we only see an "average global warming of 1.6 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050."  If we don't start reducing emissions sharply — sharper than Baucus wants — the UK Met Office says the plausible worst-case is 13-18°F warming over most of U.S. by 2060. Montana would be an inferno.

You can see how serious Marketplace is about getting the climate story right from the very first words of Kai Ryssdal (audio and transcript here):

Marketplace sustainability reporters Sam Eaton and Sarah Gardner have been out the past couple weeks exploring the reality of global warming right here in the United States. They've come back into the studio to tell us, and each other, about what they found. Sarah?

American Public Media has "sustainability reporters"!

SARAH GARDNER: Thanks, Kai. So Sam let's start with the "what is." The changes that rising temperatures are already causing.

SAM EATON: Yeah, and I think a lot of people would be surprised. I talked to dozens of people over the past few weeks and there's this one interview I did that's really stuck with me. I was in Helena, Montana, where residents are getting a taste of climate change in their own backyards. Their forests are dying.

This is a woman named Diane Tipton.

DIANE TIPTON: I grew up with this landscape. This always was my home and my heart, and I always knew that no matter how crazy things got out in the big world there was this place, this special place in Montana that I could come back to. And it never occurred to me that it could be so transformed in such a short period of time.

SAM: We're going to hear from more people in Helena in just a minute.

SARAH: OK, but first let's take a second to sum up what scientists are telling us about climate change:

There's wide agreement that the planet is warming. And scientists can say with near certainty that the culprit is us — or rather, our burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.

They're also telling us that temperatures are higher and we're warming faster than at any time since we've been keeping temperature records — that's almost 160 years. In fact, in my own lifetime, average temperatures in this country have gone up more than 2 degrees.

We're also seeing more extreme weather events, like floods and droughts. And less snow is falling.


Here's a photo from the NYT story — the pine trees have "been turning red and dying because of infestation of beetles":

You'd never learn this from the NYT, but global warming has created a perfect climate for these beetles — Milder winters since 1994 have reduced the winter death rate of beetle larvae in Wyoming from 80% per year to under 10%, and hotter, drier summers have made trees weaker, less able to fight off beetles.

"The pine beetle infestation is the first major climate change crisis in Canada" notes Doug McArthur, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. "We're seeing changes in [mountain pine beetle] activity from Canada to Mexico," said Forest Service researcher Jesse Logan in July 2004 (here), "and the common thing is warming temperatures."

A 2005 study, led by the University of Arizona, with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Survey, "Regional vegetation die-off in response to global-change-type drought," examined a huge three-million acre die-off of vegetation in 2002-2003 "in response to drought and associated bark beetle infestations" in the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah).  This drought was not quite as dry as the one in that region in the 1950s, but it was much warmer, hence it was a global-warming-type drought. The recent drought had "nearly complete tree mortality across many size and age classes" whereas "most of the patchy mortality in the 1950s was associated with trees [greater than] 100 years old."

Most of this tree death was caused by bark beetle infestation, and "such outbreaks are tightly tied to drought-induced water stress." Healthy trees defend themselves by drowning the tiny pine beetles in resin. Without water, weakened, parched trees are easy meals for bugs.

Marketplace makes this all crystal clear in one of the best stories ever produced on how global warming is harming this country right now.  It deserves to be read in its entirety:

SAM: But of all the impacts of global warming being felt right now, here in the U.S., the most extreme example by far has been the death of pine forests in the West. And it's all because of a beetle, the mountain pine beetle to be exact. You may have heard of it. It's no bigger than the tip of a kitchen match. But it's killing millions of acres of trees all across the West.

And that's why I went to Helena, Montana. It's surrounded by pine forests. And it's basically ground zero for the state's beetle infestation. Here's Helena's mayor, Jim Smith.

JIM SMITH: There's just a whole host of psychological worry that has descended upon our town . . . all because of some teeny little beetle.

SARAH: But wait a minute. Explain for us how this little beetle has anything to do with climate change? Because, I mean, my understanding is that the pine beetle is a native species, right? It's always been there. And a lot of westerners believe the only reason it's gotten out of hand is because we haven't been thinning out the forests enough, right?

SAM: That hasn't helped. And you throw in fire suppression and the beetles basically have an all-you-can-eat buffet of lodge pole and Ponderosa pine. But the scientists I talked to — like Jesse Logan, who's been studying the beetles for decades — say the main thing driving this outbreak is human-caused global warming.

JESSE LOGAN: It's by the actions of people. It's directly our actions that are taking these forests out.

SAM: Let me connect the dots here. Logan says pine beetles have always been held in check by deep winter freezes. But that 2-degree increase in average temperatures you mentioned earlier, Sarah, has meant fewer cold snaps — especially in the high elevations of the Rockies. Basically, the pine beetle couldn't have asked for better breeding conditions.

Now, let me go back to my interview with Logan.

SAM: So it's like this beetle's sitting here waiting for the thermostat to go up and suddenly . . .

LOGAN: That's a great analogy. It was sitting there waiting, and we reached the tipping point in these high-elevation systems, a true threshold event.

SARAH: . So what's this done to the city? I mean, I've been to Helena. It's a beautiful town. What does it look like now?

SAM: Well, let me play you some tape from the mayor. He's describing what the area looks like from a bird's eye view.

SMITH: Well, you'd see dappled orange hillsides right on the crest of the continental divide. And if we kept flying south to Butte, Montana, we'd see entire hillsides that have turned red, orange, gold, within the last two or three years.

SARAH: You know, it's funny. If you didn't know better, you'd think he was just describing pretty fall colors or something.

SAM: You know, it does. But really what he's talking about is the color the pine needles turn after the trees die. The locals call them "red dead." And Smith says it's spreading so fast that if you flew over that same area a year from now it would be twice as bad.

SARAH: So, Sam, how are the people of Helena reacting to this?

SAM: Well, as a matter of fact, many people are afraid. I spent a lot of time visiting people who live right in the middle of these dried-out dead forests. And I have to say, when you're looking up at the sky through trees with these bright orange pine needles there's almost a surreal beauty to it.

But then it dawns on you — you're basically standing in the middle of a million dried out Christmas trees. And all it would take is one match to turn the entire place into an inferno.

Now there's one guy in charge of keeping that from happening. His name is Patrick McKelvey.

We drove up into the hills above Helena so we get a better look at just how serious the fire danger is. Let me just play that tape for a few minutes.

PATRICK MCKELVEY: That's actually a city chunk of ground right below us. And you can see. Look at that. It's 100 percent — 100 percent mortality.

[Sound of getting out of car]

SAM: We stopped at a place where we could look out over the dead trees, all the way down to the state capitol building.

MCKELVEY: So we're up, oh, probably right at 5,000, 5,500 feet, somewhere in there, elevation probably. Just south of town.

SAM: So what's, I mean, when you look at this picture, does it worry you?

MCKELVEY: Well, yeah, certainly. When you are here and look at this venue, and you're seeing all of those trees…. I mean, look at that — there's a forest within the city limits. So as this fire progresses through the topography and through that weather that we know hits us every year — hot, dry, windy — the risk terminates right there in the population center of Helena.

SARAH: Wow. That's a really chilling sound bite.

SAM: Yeah, and actually the day after I left Helena they had a really close call. A fire started a little further up the mountain from where we were standing. And luckily fire crews were able to control it before it got out of hand.

SAM: … Once the beetles kill a tree, it costs more to cut it down and take it to the mill than the lumber's worth. Some people want to use the dead trees as fuel to generate electricity. But that requires these high-tech biomass power plants. And those cost a lot of money.

So nobody really knows what to do with these trees once they cut them. Many are just rotting in piles in the middle of clearcuts.

SARAH: OK, here you have this incredibly scenic mountain town, the capital city of Montana, right, and it's basically surrounded by dead forests that are essentially victims of warmer temperatures, right? So given that, are there still residents there who don't believe in global warming?

SAM: Well, this is a really important point, Sarah. I spent some time with a local writer. His name's Jim Robbins. And walking around his property, which is now essentially a clearcut, you really get a sense of how much this beetle is changing people's lives.

[Sound of walking.]

JIM ROBBINS: This was all forest here. And now it's a lot of smashed pieces of wood here and pine needles and occasional patches of weed that we'll have to spray next year.

SAM: So Robbins says when people are faced with these kinds of images daily, in their own backyards, it becomes a lot harder not to believe in climate change.

ROBBINS: There's a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. I think there's something along that line happening here. I mean, there are still some people who refuse to believe it. But I think there's been an erosion of that disbelief and it's changed pretty dramatically.

SAM: And a lot of people don't want to call it global warming simply because it's such a politically charged term. They basically equate it with Democrats like Al Gore. People they'd never vote for.

Helena's Mayor Jim Smith definitely falls into that category. But Sarah, he told me something I'd never heard before. He said when your community is threatened, the political debate over climate change no longer matters.

SMITH: Whether this climate change is man caused or just the natural order of things, I don't know and I don't have a lot of time to ponder that important question. We just got to deal with the situation on the ground here regardless of what the cause is. So we're doing that.

Yeah, well, Mayor Smith, it matters to Montanans that this is in fact being driven in large part by human emissions — because it means that Montanans, like all of us, are partly culpable and that things are going to get much, much worse if you and your Senator don't support strong action.

SAM: Now, one of the things I realized during this trip was that this beetle epidemic really caught people off guard. And the scary part is all of this devastation was caused by a really small change in average temperatures. Scientists like to call these events early warnings of what's to come. Basically the more we tweak the global thermostat, the more nasty surprises we're likely to have down the road.

How bad could it get?

Back in 2004, researchers at the U.S. Forest Services Pacific Wildland Fire Lab looked at past fires in the West to create a statistical model of how future climate change may affect wildfires.  Their paper, "Climatic Change, Wildfire, and Conservation," published in Conservation Biology, found that by century's end, states like Montana, New Mexico, Washington, Utah, and Wyoming could see burn areas increase five times.

For completeness sake — and because I remain optimistic that more in the media will routinely make the connection between increased forest fires and global warming — let me note that back in 2006 Science magazine published a major article analyzing whether the recent soaring wildfire trend was due to a change in forest management practices or to climate change. The study, led by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, concluded:

Robust statistical associations between wildfire and hydroclimate in western forests indicate that increased wildfire activity over recent decades reflects sub-regional responses to changes in climate. Historical wildfire observations exhibit an abrupt transition in the mid-1980s from a regime of infrequent large wildfires of short (average of 1 week) duration to one with much more frequent and longer burning (5 weeks) fires. This transition was marked by a shift toward unusually warm springs, longer summer dry seasons, drier vegetation (which provoked more and longer burning large wildfires), and longer fire seasons. Reduced winter precipitation and an early spring snowmelt played a role in this shift.

That 2006 study noted global warming (from human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide) will further accelerate all of these trends during this century. Worse still, the increased wildfires will themselves release huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which will serve as a vicious circle, accelerating the very global warming that is helping to cause more wildfires.

Let me end by reprinting Sen. Baucus's (hurried) opening remarks yesterday that made so much news:

I'm keeping Director Orszag and Mr. Summers waiting in my office for 12 minutes, and I deeply apologize. I'll be very, very brief. And I really thank the indulgence of my colleagues. Again, I'll be very brief.

First, I want to thank the senator from Massachusetts. Senator Kerry has worked so hard on climate change. And clearly, his statement today shows how hard he's worked. He's done a great job.

Madam Chairman, I want to thank you and thank Ranking Member Inhofe and our witnesses for being here today to discuss climate change.

The legislation before us today is about protecting our outdoor heritage. We, I think all of us in the county, certainly those of us in Congress, when we leave this place, have a moral obligation to leave it in as good a shape or better shape than we found it. If uncontrolled, the impacts of climate change put this future at risk.

The legislation before us today is about our economy. Montana, with our resource-based, agriculture and tourism economies, cannot afford the unmitigated impacts of climate change. But we also cannot afford the unmitigated effects of climate change legislation.

That is why I support passing common-sense climate legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while protecting our economy. And the key word in that sentence is "passing."

I have some concerns about the overall direction of the bill before us today, and whether it will lead us closer to or further away from passing climate change legislation. For example, I have serious reservations with the depth of the mid-term reduction target in the bill and the lack of preemption of the Clean Air Act's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

We cannot afford a first step that takes us further away from an achievable consensus on common-sense climate change. We could build that consensus here in that committee. If we don't, we risk wasting another month, another year, another Congress, without taking a step forward into our future.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in this committee prior to the mark-up, to address these issues and other key issues. I think it's very important that we do so.

Thank you, Madam Chairman.

Who can doubt that — notwithstanding the status quo media's spin — Baucus will vote for the final climate bill?

But the real story here is that Montana is being ravaged by climate change and won't be recognizable in a several decades if we don't make the deepest and most rapid emissions reductions possible.  That's what Baucus and the media should be talking about.

Energy and Global Warming News for October 28: Solar industry takes on coal and oil lobby; White House continues to step up climate efforts

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 09:42 AM PDT

Solar Industry Takes on Coal and Oil Lobbies

A solar industry leader smacked down the oil and coal industries on Tuesday, calling for renewable energy proponents to open their wallets to level the playing field in Washington.

"The full promise of solar power is being restrained by the tyranny of policies that protect our competitors, subsidize wealthy polluters and disadvantage green entrepreneurs," said Rhone Resch, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, according to prepared remarks for a speech he is to give at the opening of the Solar Power International conference.

The event, being held in Anaheim, Calif., is the solar industry's biggest annual get-together in the United States, and is usually a celebration of the industry's breakneck growth of recent years.

But Mr. Resch said that with the fossil fuel industry devoting tens of millions of dollars to defeat climate change legislation now before Congress, the solar industry needs to start throwing its weight around Washington.

"How our country proceeds on climate change will permanently shape the market for solar," he said in his remarks.

Oil and coal interests "are spending millions of dollars on lobbying, P.R. and advertising, and much of it is financing a deliberate effort to discredit our industry," Mr. Resch added. "At the end of the day in Washington, good intentions won't stand a chance against millions of dollars and intense political pressure. We have relied on good will long enough, and if that's the only arrow in our quiver, we will lose."

Actually, the solar industry is coming off quite a successful year in Washington, winning a slew of tax breaks, incentives and loan guarantees for solar energy development.

But Mr. Resch said fossil fuel industries received $72 billion in federal subsidies between 2002 and 2008 while the solar industry scored less than $1 billion. "Taxpayers are forced to subsidize companies like ExxonMobil, companies that are the richest in the history of the world," he said.

His solution: Start playing the influence game, raising big money for politicians and mobilizing constituents to pressure Congress to support the solar agenda. "In 2008, the oil industry contributed $22 million to political candidates, the utility industry $21 million," said Mr. Resch. "The solar industry: $138,000. We cannot compete with the entrenched energy interests unless we step up our game."

In an interview Monday evening, Mr. Resch said the new aggressiveness reflects the solar industry's continued growth, even in a deep recession. He noted that attendance at the Solar Power International conference has doubled since 2007, with 25,000 people expected in Anaheim this week.

"We need to take a different role in our advocacy, in our relationships in Washington and our ability to influence directions that affect the outcome of our economy," he said.

White House steps up climate efforts

The Obama administration and some Senate Democrats expressed fresh urgency on Tuesday about the need to address climate change and refashion the nation's energy economy.

But they faced determined opposition from Republicans, new concerns from some Democrats and reminders of the financial, technological and political hurdles in remaking the way the nation produces and consumes power.

In a Senate hearing on a new climate change and energy bill and in coordinated appearances by President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the administration promoted measures to cap greenhouse gas emissions and support new means of fueling homes and vehicles with far less carbon dioxide intensity. Mr. Obama appeared at a solar energy installation in Florida and Mr. Biden at an auto plant in Delaware that will produce electric vehicles, talking about the potential of alternative energy to create jobs.

On Capitol Hill, five senior administration officials appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to speak in support of a bill to address global warming and encourage development of nonpolluting energy sources. They said such measures were important not only to the environment but to the nation's economic competitiveness.

"When the starting gun sounded on the clean energy race, the United States stumbled," Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Senate panel, saying that spending on green energy technology in China and several European nations was far outstripping that of the United States. "But I remain confident that we can make up the ground."

He added, "When we gear up our research and production of clean energy technologies, we can still surpass any other country."

The climate change measure, sponsored by Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California, both Democrats, aims to cap emissions of the gases linked to the warming of the planet by setting up a program under which industries can buy and sell emissions permits.

The measure also provides a variety of incentives for new energy technology, including billions of dollars in subsidies for research on capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Conferees vote to increase agency funding by 36%

House and Senate conferees yesterday approved a $10.3 billion spending plan to fund U.S. EPA for fiscal 2010, a 36 percent boost over last year's levels.

Included in the conference report are significant boosts over fiscal 2009 for EPA programs to address climate change, drinking water and Great Lakes restoration.

The package also includes controversial measures that stalled negotiations over the spending bill, including two measures to limit EPA's regulatory authority over air emissions and another to impose wage requirements on federally funded water infrastructure projects.

The rider from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would exempt 13 steamships that operate on the Great Lakes from pending EPA regulations that set limits on the sulfur content of fuel used in internal U.S. waters and along U.S. coastlines. It would also allow EPA to extend waivers to certain ships if their operators show that they would otherwise go out of business, Obey said.

Obey's rider has drawn the ire of environmental groups and air regulators, who have cautioned that such a measure could disrupt pending international negotiations over shipping emissions.

"It's not something I necessarily desire," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. But she insisted that the negotiated language was carefully tailored to affect only a limited number of ships. Feinstein said she had also been contacted by Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, who supported the measure.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the amendment raises serious questions. Large ships are responsible for a very high level of sulfur pollution, Lewis said, and "the language could disallow us to effectively deal with those problems, not just around the Great Lakes, but around our country and dealing with foreign-flagged ships as well."

Obey defended the amendment, saying he takes "a back seat to no one" when it comes to protecting the Great Lakes and all other environmental areas. "But the fact is that the EPA proposed regulation with respect to steamships has one inconvenient problem — it would require steamships to use fuel which if they did use, would blow up the boilers. That could be a bit of a problem on Lake Superior or Lake Michigan."

Without this action, he said, the EPA regulations would put the Great Lakes states at an economic disadvantage.

The final conference report also includes an amendment from the House-passed bill to exempt manure management systems at factory farms for one year from an EPA rule requiring greenhouse gas emissions reporting. The amendment from Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) was included in the House-passed bill but had been removed from the conference report. The measure was later reinserted.

EPA finalized a rule last month to require about 10,000 facilities to begin to collect emissions data. The only agricultural sources that are required to report their emissions are manure management systems at livestock operations where greenhouse gas emissions meet or exceed the 25,000-ton limit. About 100 livestock operations meet that threshold, according to the agency.

EPA crafting multi-pollutant strategy

U.S. EPA is working on a new strategy aimed at providing a clearer road map for industrial investment in air pollution controls, the agency's top air official said yesterday.

EPA's air chief, Gina McCarthy, said she wants to implement a more industry-friendly approach to rulemaking that will allow companies to invest in controls that curb multiple pollutants at once rather than using a more expensive piecemeal strategy.

The agency is poised to issue a slew of new air pollution rules — some are Bush-era rules that were tossed out in courts; others are new climate initiatives that the Obama administration has taken on. And McCarthy wants to coordinate those rules under what she calls a "multipollutant" or "sector-based" strategy.

"We need to look at it all and strategically make sure that the driving investments — particularly in the utility sector — don't just look at the next challenge, but they paint the picture of all the challenges ahead and what we need to do moving forward," McCarthy said yesterday at an air quality conference hosted by the Energy & Environmental Research Center.

Some initiatives McCarthy said she hopes to coordinate are the upcoming replacements for the Bush-era programs to curb mercury and soot- and smog-forming pollutants from power plants.

EPA is under a court deadline to issue a final rule requiring strict maximum achievable control technology, or MACT, for power plants by November 2011. Environmentalists have pressed the agency to issue the new rule since a federal appeals court last year tossed out the Bush administration's Clean Air Mercury Rule, an effort to regulate mercury under a cap-and-trade program.

Also under way is an overhaul of the Clean Air Interstate Rule, another George W. Bush administration program designed to curb soot-forming sulfur dioxide and smog-forming nitrogen dioxide in 28 Eastern states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has temporarily reinstated the rule after initially tossing it out in July 2008. McCarthy said in July that the agency plans to propose a CAIR replacement in early 2010 and to issue a final rule by early 2011.

EPA will also review by 2011 the national air quality standards for all six of the "criteria" pollutants subject to EPA regulation, McCarthy said. Some of those reviews are aimed at revising rules set under the Bush administration, including the national limits for particulate matter and ozone.

McCarthy said she hopes to coordinate all those activities to tell each sector what it needs to do to make progress on clean air as a whole, not just on individual pollutants.

"The last thing that we want to do is figure out all the technology challenges and all of the reliability concerns associated with the utility MACT rule and fail to look at the CAIR rule moving forward, fail to look at the changes in criteria pollutant standards and regulations as we move forward," she said. "We need to look at it all, and we need to look at it comprehensively."

Can potential incentives in climate bill spur nuclear industry?

A possible nuclear energy title in the climate bill with strong financial and regulatory incentives has been touted as one of the top negotiable items to obtain the necessary 60-votes needed to pass the Senate climate legislation.

But how much would strong incentives for nuclear power help spur U.S. industry and quicken the pace of a "nuclear renaissance"?

There are currently 17 applications for 26 reactors before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for which the expected review time is about four years and construction time an additional four to five years. Furthermore, the industry faces several significant hurdles including a bottleneck in the global supply chain for nuclear components — some of which have only one manufacturing facility, a looming shortage of qualified workers and a recalcitrant Wall Street that is hesitant to invest in projects, even with loan guarantees from the U.S. government.

"If someone were to waive a magic wand and give loan guarantees to every single plant, you still wouldn't expect anywhere near all of them to be built all at once," said an industry source.

"There are real constraints on the supply chain and there is a real sense of caution in the industry and especially on Wall Street as to when and for what price new nuclear plants can be built here," the source added.

The Nuclear Energy Institute yesterday unveiled legislative priorities it says are necessary to build 45 reactors by 2030. NEI wants $100 billion in additional loan guarantees for clean energy technology, additional production and manufacturing tax incentives, improving regulation review efficiency and increased funding for nuclear technology research and development.

"What we are trying to do is optimize the opportunity for building new nuclear plants," said Alex Flint, NEI's senior vice president for governmental affairs. "What needs to be put in place is a regulatory and financial framework for new plant construction" so companies and investors can move forward, Flint said.

The NEI proposal echoes nuclear energy language and provisions laid out over the past year by several key moderate Republicans — including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — for whom a "robust" nuclear title is necessary, if not sufficient, to vote for a climate bill.

"The only way we get there … is if we really ramp up nuclear," Murkowski said in a C-SPAN interview last week.

Graham recently reinvigorated negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over cap-and-trade legislation with a commitment to work with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to include robust nuclear and domestic oil and gas drilling titles in the bill.

Hong Kong, Beijing May Become Asia-Pacific Carbon Trading Hubs

Hong Kong or Beijing may become the hub for carbon trading in the Asia-Pacific region within the next three years, with Australia needing to pass climate change laws to be a potential contender.

"I think in another two or three years we will see either Hong Kong or Beijing as the hub," John Marlow, London-based global head of environmental financial products for Macquarie Bank, told the CarbonExpo Australasia conference on Queensland state's Gold Coast today. Australian states are competing against each other to be the hub, rather than working together, he said.

Governments from around the world will meet in Copenhagen starting Dec. 7 for the final round of talks on a climate accord to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The negotiations are being run by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Australia's houses of parliament are expected to vote on domestic carbon legislation by the end of November.

"I think if Australia really wants to be a leader or a hub, then it better get its act together and do something quickly, including passing" the climate change bill, Geoff Sinclair, London-based global head of carbon sales and trading for Standard Bank, said today. Singapore and Hong Kong are working aggressively to become the regional center, he said.

China already has several carbon trading exchanges which have started up, said Mina Guli, Beijing-based vice chairman of Peony Capital. There is involvement from the U.S. to help them grow and expand, she said.

"I think you will see China become increasingly involved in this space," Guli said.

U.S. seeks more clean energy market access in China

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will press for more access for American companies in China's clean energy sector, an area where Washington feels it can make inroads on its enormous trade imbalance with China.

China's ambitious wind power plans, as well as national policies to reduce emissions and use water and fuel more efficiently, create a potential market for U.S. firms who have developed those technologies, Locke said in Hangzhou before the annual Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting.

China's overcapacity in some sectors, including solar panels, drive low-cost exports that have created friction with trading partners, while Western firms have complained they are cut out of China's most lucrative domestic projects.

"These are the issues we've been raising in a number of discussions that are part of the JCCT. Our objective is to allow American companies to compete," Locke told reporters, in response to a question about market access for U.S. firms.

"We recognize that the Chinese companies also have much to offer the United States, and we seek a level playing field for both sides," he said.

Ahead of the JCCT, U.S. industrial services company Harsco Corp. inked a joint venture on Wednesday with Zhejiang Construction Group, one of China's 10 largest construction firms.

"Chinese companies are becoming more aware of the need for efficiency," said Harsco president Geoff Butler, adding his company uses less equipment and labor, reuses materials more and brings greater safety to the construction process.

Locke's visit is overshadowed by a number of trade disputes, including recent U.S. decisions to enact duties on Chinese products that U.S. industry says are flooding U.S. markets.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday set preliminary duties on imports of steel grating and concrete steel wire strand, citing Chinese government subsidies. A final determination on the duties is due in January.

The Obama administration in September imposed safeguard duties on imports from China for the first time, with duties on tires that Chinese officials warned would reduce their willingness to make concessions at this week's JCCT meeting.

Washington Post mocks Inhofe as "the last flat-earther"

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 07:59 AM PDT must be very lonely being the last flat-earther.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, committed climate-change denier, found himself in just such a position Tuesday morning as the Senate environment committee, on which he is the ranking Republican, took up legislation on global warming. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was in talks with Democrats over a compromise bill — the traitor! And as Inhofe listened, fellow Republicans on the committee — turncoats! — made it clear that they no longer share, if they ever did, Inhofe's view that man-made global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

… Agitated, his utterances disjointed, Inhofe went on: "Now, I also was — was kind of — I don't want any of the media to think just because I had to sit here and listen to our good friend Senator Kerry for 28 minutes, that I don't have responses to everything he said."Nobody doubted that Inhofe had a response. The doubt was whether the response would make any sense.

That's Dana Milbank in his regular "Washington sketch" column writing about yesterday's Senate climate hearing.  Milbank is being kind not to count his fellow WashPost colleagues George Will and Fred Hiatt in calling Inhofe (R-OIL) the last flat-earther (see "WashPost recycles another denier WSJ op-ed, this time from coal apologist Bjorn Lomborg. Funny how two new senior Post editors came from the WSJ" and "Memo to Post: If George Will quotes a lie, it's still a lie").

If you've been dissed by the WashPost as being too head-in-the-sand on global warming, you must be buried up to your toes.  Milbank shows just how out of the mainstream, how devoid of sense Inhofe has become by quoting from his fellow Republicans on the science:

"Eleven academies in industrialized countries say that climate change is real; humans have caused most of the recent warming," admitted Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). "If fire chiefs of the same reputation told me my house was about to burn down, I'd buy some fire insurance."

Hmm.  Lamar, if fire chiefs of the same reputation told me that I was about to burn down my own house by throwing gasoline and coal all over the furniture, I'd stop doing that first.  And who the heck is going to sell an arsonist fire insurance?  So we appreciate the shout out to scientists, but let's work on our metaphors.

An oil-state senator, David Vitter (R-La), said that he, too, wants to "get us beyond high-carbon fuels" and "focus on conservation, nuclear, natural gas and new technologies like electric cars." And an industrial-state senator, George Voinovich (R-Ohio), acknowledged that climate change "is a serious and complex issue that deserves our full attention."

Then Milbank skewers Inhofe again:

Then there was poor Inhofe. "The science is more definitive than ever? You keep saying that because you want to believe it so much," he said bitterly. He offered to furnish a list of scientists who once believed in climate change but "who are solidly on the other side right now." The science, he said, "already has shifted" against global-warming theory. "Science is not settled! Everyone knows it's not settled!"


Though none of the committee Republicans are supporting her cap-and-trade plan for carbon emissions so far, Boxer made it clear that her primary grievance is with one Republican. "Since John Warner retired, I don't have a Republican partner on the committee, but I am appreciative for the productive conversations I've had with Senator Alexander, about nuclear energy, and for the wide-ranging conversations and meetings I had with Senator Voinovich," Boxer said, pointedly omitting Inhofe.Inhofe began by expressing surprise that Boxer would even use the term "global warming," asserting that "people have been running from that term ever since we went out of that natural warming cycle about nine years ago." And he turned with a fury on Graham, his fellow Republican, for an "apparent compromise will also entail a massive expansion of government bureaucracy."

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the first witness, turned up the temperature further on Inhofe. He gave a Gore-like tour of climate catastrophe: "the science is screaming at us to take action . . . pine beetles have destroyed 6.5 million acres of forestland . . . 180 Alaskan villages are losing permafrost . . . we have columns of methane rising now in the ocean."

Kerry went on like this for an extraordinary 26 1/2 minutes….  At various points, Kerry signaled an end with "I'll just close" or "I'll just end on this note" but continued on. This infuriated nobody as much as Inhofe, whom Kerry repeatedly singled out for a lecture. "Senator Inhofe, you just talked about the costs of doing some of this," he said. But "the cost of doing nothing," Kerry countered, "is far more expensive for your folks in Oklahoma."

Inhofe, who glared back at Kerry, still seethed a few minutes later when he interrupted the chairman. "You know, I sat here for 25 minutes listening to Senator Kerry talk about me, and I didn't have a chance to respond," he complained. "I will, however."

"I so appreciate it," Boxer said.

Inhofe molested the majority by having committee staffers put up on the dais a series of 3-by-5-foot posters with messages such as "Congressional Budget Chief Says Climate Bill Would Cost Jobs" and "U.S. Unemployment High/Why Kill More Jobs With Cap & Trade?" But this failed to cool Inhofe's temper, and by the time his turn came to question the administration witnesses, Inhofe was so steamed that he used his entire five minutes to vent.

He described the Democrats' proposal as "the largest tax increase in — in history!"  Agitated, his utterances disjointed, Inhofe went on: "Now, I also was — was kind of — I don't want any of the media to think just because I had to sit here and listen to our good friend Senator Kerry for 28 minutes, that I don't have responses to everything he said."Nobody doubted that Inhofe had a response. The doubt was whether the response would make any sense.

Double ouch.

Okay.  I printed that last bit twice.  I just wanted to make it clear that this is settled science:  Inhofe is a flat earther whose responses make no sense.

The weak El Niño appears to be strengthening, as expected, so record temperatures will continue.

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 02:04 PM PDT

Two weeks ago I blogged that NASA reports hottest June to September on record; NOAA says "weak" El Niño "expected to strengthen and last through" winter.

NOAA's National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center (and most other models) have been predicting for a couple of months that the weak El Niño would strengthen, but it hasn't.  Until now, that is.

This sea surface temperature (SST) data is from the NOAA's October 26 weekly update on the El Niño/Southern oscillation, "ENSO Cycle: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions":

SST 10-09

It is the warming in the Nino 3.4 region of the Pacific that is typically used to define an El Niño.  The region can be seen in this figure:

How are El Niño and La Niña defined?

El Niño and La Niña are officially defined as sustained sea surface temperature anomalies of magnitude greater than 0.5°C across the central tropical Pacific Ocean. When the condition is met for a period of less than five months, it is classified as El Niño or La Niña conditions; if the anomaly persists for five months or longer.

You can read the basics about ENSO here.  The following historical data are from NOAA's weekly ENSO update:

ENSO 10-27

As the planet warms decade by decade thanks to human emissions of greenhouse gases, making this the hottest decade in recorded history by far, global temperature records tend to be set in El Niño years, like 2005, 1998, and 2007, whereas sustained La Niñas tend to cause relatively cooler years.

Most models are not predicting an uber-El Niño as we saw in 1998, but NOAA's own CFS (Climate Forecast System) issued last week projects a moderate El Niño lasting through next summer:

CFS 10-27

What would that mean?

Back in January, NASA had predicted:  "Given our expectation of the next El Niño beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance."

The recent outstanding AP story, "Statisticians reject global cooling," ends:

Oceans, which take longer to heat up and longer to cool, greatly influence short-term weather, causing temperatures to rise and fall temporarily on top of the overall steady warming trend, scientists say. The biggest example of that is El Nino.

El Nino, a temporary warming of part of the Pacific Ocean, usually spikes global temperatures, scientists say. The two recent warm years, both 1998 and 2005, were El Nino years. The flip side of El Nino is La Nina, which lowers temperatures. A La Nina bloomed last year and temperatures slipped a bit, but 2008 was still the ninth hottest in 130 years of NOAA records.

Of the 10 hottest years recorded by NOAA, eight have occurred since 2000, and after this year it will be nine because this year is on track to be the sixth-warmest on record.

The current El Nino is forecast to get stronger, probably pushing global temperatures even higher next year, scientists say. NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt predicts 2010 may break a record, so a cooling trend "will be never talked about again."

UPDATE:  Gavin emailed me that "I actually meant that a cooling trend from 1998 wouldn't be talked about again. Obviously, if 2010 is a record year then the talk will turn to a cooling trend from 2010 as early as summer 2011. These people, unlike the climate on a year to year basis, are extremely predictable."

Yes, if the ensemble mean CFS prediction above comes true, then 2010 will probably break the temperature record and the "no warming in 10 years" meme will die — at least until the next La Niña or major volcano and/or general lapse in coverage by the status quo media, as the "best climate blog you aren't reading" depicted with this figure:

Global Warming ends every decade or so ...

It's always cooling, except, of course, when it's not.

The landmark Senate climate hearings: Day 1 debrief

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 01:56 PM PDT

Kerry testifies before EPW

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works began its hearings today on the climate and clean energy bill.  I don't think there was any big news.  Sen. Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Voinovich (R-OH) were a tad more negative than I expected.  I've no doubt Baucus will support the final bill, but I definitely have doubts Voinovich will.  This Wonk Room post is a great summary of everyone's position on the key issues:

This week, hearings begin in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733). This comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), will establish a mandatory global warming pollution reduction market that will fund clean energy and climate adaptation, as well as establish new renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The 19 members of the committee — 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans — are overseeing a three-day marathon of legislative hearings this week, starting with Administration witnesses today.

The committee members can be sorted by their degree of support for clean energy, progressive reform, and strong climate action:

STRONGEST ACTION: Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
STRONG ACTION: Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-CO)
CENTRIST: Max Baucus (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Arlen Specter (D-PA)
ANTI: Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), George Voinovich (R-OH)
EXTREME ANTI: John Barrasso (R-WY), Kit Bond (R-MO), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA)

Below is the Wonk Room's summary of some key issues that will be debated at the hearings, ranging from support for policies to ensure a clean energy future to favored attacks on any action by the Republican members.


CLEAN AIR: "We must act to reduce black carbon," Carper says, "a dangerous pollutant emitted by old, dirty diesel engines like those in some school buses and thought to be the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide." "Among my top priorities was to be sure that we not only address challenges that carbon dioxide poses to our planet, but sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and mercury."

COAL PLANT GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATION: Kerry-Boxer follows Gillibrand's call that "the EPA has to have authority to regulate coal plants under the Clean Air Act." Baucus opposes the retention of this authority.

EMISSIONS LIMITS: As Sens. Cardin, Lautenberg, Merkley, Sanders, Whitehouse requested, the 2020 target for greenhouse pollution reductions has been strengthened to 20 percent below 2005 levels, instead of Waxman-Markey's 17 percent target. Baucus has criticized the stronger targets.

GREEN TRANSPORTATION: Kerry-Boxer includes Sen. Carper's push for green transportation, devoting "a guaranteed share of revenues from carbon regulation to transit, bike paths, and other green modes of transport." The SmartWay Transportation Efficiency Program is modeled on the Clean, Low-Emission, Affordable, New Transportation Efficiency Act (S. 575 / H.R. 1329), co-sponsored by Sens. Specter, Merkley, Lautenberg, and Cardin.

NATURAL RESOURCE ADAPTATION: Whitehouse and Baucus have submitted language to support efforts for natural resource adaptation.


ALLOWANCE ALLOCATION: As chair of the Finance Committee, Baucus can assert authority over emission allowance distribution. Baucus has raised the possibility of "auctioning allowances to cut taxes by cutting marginal rates, by cutting capital gains rates, by cutting payroll taxes or by doing all of the above," although he doubts there will be "major" changes to the House allocation formula, which is supported by the Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group. Baucus has supported additional allocations to rural electric cooperatives and "solid relief to low-income Americans." Carper supports the existing allocation formula, saying, "I thought the utility industry did a great service by coming up with a compromise that all of them could live with."

COAL SUPPORT: Carper led what he calls the "clean coal group," an "ad-hoc group that helped craft the coal provisions," including a change that "allows for advanced distribution of the bill's bonus allowances" for carbon capture and sequestration projects with at least 50% efficiency. The National Mining Association still says the legislation "doesn't work for coal."

NUCLEAR SUPPORT: Carper wants "an expanded role for nuclear" and is "working with Joe Lieberman and others to create a more robust nuclear title when the bill comes to the floor." However, he recognizes that "there'll be a lot of incentives, just from the way the allowance system will be set up," and has called for expanding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rather than increasing subsidies for the nuclear industry. Alexander believes "we should build 100 new nuclear plants" but has offered no proposal on how to achieve that, while dismissing estimates that the legislation under consideration would accomplish his goals.

TRADE: Baucus supports "ways to make sure U.S. companies are not taken advantage of, or discriminated against." Specter supports "strong provisions to ensure the strength and viability of domestic manufacturing," including a "border adjustment mechanism" if "other major carbon emitting countries fail to commit to an international agreement requiring commensurate action on climate change."


CLIMATE DENIAL: Barrasso, Bond, Crapo, Inhofe, and Vitter question the consensus that manmade climate change is a significant threat. Barrasso has said: "I don't believe it is a problem at this point." "None of the farmers I have talked to in Missouri," said Bond, "have expressed concerns about human-caused global climate change." Crapo argues "the underlying cause of these climactic shifts is ultimately not well-understood and is a matter of vigorous debate." "God's still up there," said Inhofe. "We're going through these cycles." "I don't think it is clear and settled," Vitter has said, "the extent of the human impact on temperature trends."

EPA AND CAROL BROWNER: Barrasso, Crapo, Inhofe, Vitter, and Voinovich have repeatedly criticized the EPA and their analyses of the legislation. Voinovich has a hold on EPA deputy administrator nominee Robert Perciasepe. Inhofe, Barrasso, and Vitter have attacked Browner as an unaccountable "czar" and are requesting White House documents about her actions….

FUEL COSTS: Bond co-authored a report that argues clean energy legislation is the equivalent of a $3.6 trillion gas tax, totalling over 40 years extremely pessimistic estimates of fuel prices based on a National Black Chamber of Commerce report, without taking into account fuel economy. Other studies predict that gas prices will fall, as demand lessens and oil company profit margins are lessened.

JOB ASSISTANCE: Inhofe and Voinovich argue that provisions for unemployment benefits and job relocation provide evidence that the legislation will destroy jobs. "There's no credible analysis that suggests this bill will be a net job creator," claimed Voinovich. "Less energy production," says Barrasso, "will mean fewer jobs for Americans."

– Brad Johnson

Actually, there is plenty of credible analysis that this bill will create jobs (see "Investing in a clean energy recovery to create 1.7 million net new jobs").  And is even more obvious that failing to act will destroy jobs and a livable climate (see "When the global Ponzi scheme collapses (circa 2030), the only jobs left will be green").

Obama announces $3.4 billion in smart grid investments "to build a clean energy superhighway." Creating a clean energy economy will require an "all-hands-on-deck approach similar to the mobilization that preceded World War II…. I also believe that such a comprehensive piece of legislation that is taking place right now in Congress is going to be critical."

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 12:12 PM PDT

The President said today that we're having a debate "between those who are ready to seize the future and those who are afraid of the future."

ARCADIA, FLORIDA – Speaking at Florida Power and Light's (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation's transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system.  The end result will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

The $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion.  Applicants state that the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs, and consumers in 49 states will benefit from these investments in a stronger, more reliable grid.  Full listings of the grant awards by category and state are available HERE and HERE.  A map of the awards is available HERE.

An analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that the implementation of smart grid technologies could reduce electricity use by more than 4 percent by 2030.  That would mean a savings of $20.4 billion for businesses and consumers around the country, and $1.6 billion for Florida alone — or $56 in utility savings for every man, woman and child in Florida.

One-hundred private companies, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners received awards today, including FPL which will use its $200 million in funding to install 2.6 million smart meters and other technology that will cut energy costs for its customers….  The awards announced today represent the largest group of Recovery Act awards ever made in a single day and the largest batch of Recovery Act clean energy grant awards to-date.

The White House announced this major down payment on the effort to jumpstart the transition to a clean energy economy.  Obama himself said:

So at this moment, there is something big happening in America when it comes to creating a clean energy economy….  And I have often said that the creation of such an economy is going to require nothing less than the sustained effort of an entire nation — an all-hands-on-deck approach similar to the mobilization that preceded World War II or the Apollo Project. And I also believe that such a comprehensive piece of legislation that is taking place right now in Congress is going to be critical. That's going to finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America — legislation that will make the best use of resources we have in abundance, through clean coal technology, safe nuclear power, sustainably grown biofuels, and energy we harness from the wind, waves, and sun.

I'll repost Obama's entire speech at the end.  It is a good follow on to his M.I.T. speech.

Here's more on where the $3.4 billion went and its projected impact:

  • Empowering Consumers to Save Energy and Cut Utility Bills — $1 billion.  These investments will create the infrastructure and expand access to smart meters and customer systems so that consumers will be able to access dynamic pricing information and have the ability to save money by programming smart appliances and equipment to run when rates are lowest.  This will help reduce energy bills for everyone by helping drive down "peak demand" and limiting the need for "stand-by" power plants – the most expensive power generation there is.
  • Making Electricity Distribution and Transmission More Efficient — $400 million.  The Administration is funding several grid modernization projects across the country that will significantly reduce the amount of power that is wasted from the time it is produced at a power plant to the time it gets to your house.  By deploying digital monitoring devices and increasing grid automation, these awards will increase the efficiency, reliability and security of the system, and will help link up renewable energy resources with the electric grid.  This will make it easier for a wind farm in Montana to instantaneously pick up the slack when the wind stops blowing in Missouri or a cloud rolls over a solar array in Arizona.
  • Integrating and Crosscutting Across Different "Smart" Components of a Smart Grid — $2 billion.  Much like electronic banking, the Smart Grid is not the sum total of its components but how those components work together.  The Administration is funding a range of projects that will incorporate these various components into one system or cut across various project areas – including smart meters, smart thermostats and appliances, syncrophasors, automated substations, plug in hybrid electric vehicles, renewable energy sources, etc.
  • Building a Smart Grid Manufacturing Industry — $25 million.  These investments will help expand our manufacturing base of companies that can produce the smart meters, smart appliances, synchrophasors, smart transformers, and other components for smart grid systems in the United States and around the world – representing a significant and growing export opportunity for our country and new jobs for American workers.

The Administration says the full effect of these investments, when fully implemented, will be to:

  • Create tens of thousands of jobs across the country.  These jobs include high paying career opportunities for smart meter manufacturing workers; engineering technicians, electricians and equipment installers; IT system designers and cyber security specialists; data entry clerks and database administrators; business and power system analysts; and others.
  • Leverage more than $4.7 billion in private investment to match the federal investment.
  • Make the grid more reliable, reducing power outages that cost American consumers $150 billion a year — about $500 for every man, woman and child in the United States.
  • Install more than 850 sensors – called 'Phasor Measurement Units' – that will cover 100 percent of the U.S. electric grid and make it possible for grid operators to better monitor grid conditions and prevent minor disturbances in the electrical system from cascading into local or regional power outages or blackouts.  This monitoring ability will also help the grid to incorporate large blocks of intermittent renewable energy, like wind and solar power, to take advantage of clean energy resources when they are available and make adjustments when they're not.
  • Install more than 200,000 smart transformers that will make it possible for power companies to replace units before they fail thus saving money and reducing power outages.
  • Install almost 700 automated substations, representing about 5 percent of the nation's total that will make it possible for power companies to respond faster and more effectively to restore service when bad weather knocks down power lines or causes electricity disruptions.
  • Power companies today typically do not know there has been a power outage until a customer calls to report it. With these smart grid devices, power companies will have the tools they need for better outage prevention and faster response to make repairs when outages do occur.
  • Empower consumers to cut their electricity bills.  The Recovery Act combined with private investment will put us on pace to deploy more than 40 million smart meters in American homes and businesses over the next few years that will help consumers cut their utility bills.
  • Install more than 1 million in-home displays, 170,000 smart thermostats, and 175,000 other load control devices to enable consumers to reduce their energy use.  Funding will also help expand the market for smart washers, dryers, and dishwashers, so that American consumers can further control their energy use and lower their electricity bills.
  • Put us on a path to get 20 percent or more of our energy from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Reduce peak electricity demand by more than 1400 MW, which is the equivalent of several larger power plants and can save ratepayers more than $1.5 billion in capital costs and help lower utility bills.  Since peak electricity is the most expensive energy – and requires the use of standby power generation plants – the economic and environmental savings for even a small reduction are significant.  In fact, some of the power plants for meeting peak demand operate for only a few hundred hours a year, which means the power they generate can be 5-10 times more expensive than the average price per kilowatt hour paid by most consumers.

And the President's speech delivered another great speech on clean energy at the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Florida:

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, guys.  Thank you very much.  Please, have a seat.  Thank you so much.

Well, first of all, let me thank Lew Hay and his visionary leadership at Florida Power & Light.  It's an example of a company that is doing well by doing good.  And I think it's a model for what we could duplicate all across the country.

To Greg Bove, who just gave me the tour and was a construction manager for this facility, congratulations.  We've got a couple of special guests here:  Representative Kathy Castor from Tampa, a great friend.  (Applause.)  Arcadia Mayor Dr. Roosevelt Johnson.  (Applause.)  And State Representative Keith Fitzgerald from Sarasota.  (Applause.)

And I want to once again thank Lew for the generous introduction.  I want to congratulate you and all the workers who are involved in this outstanding facility for Florida Power & Light.

It's an honor to be here on a very big day not just for Arcadia but for the cause of clean energy in America.  With the flip of a switch, FP&L will — has moved the solar panels behind me into a position where they can catch the sun's rays.  And now, for the very first time, a large-scale solar power plant — the largest of its kind in the entire nation — will deliver electricity produced by the sun to the citizens of the Sunshine State.  And I think it's about time.  (Applause.)

This plant will produce enough power to serve the entire city of Arcadia.  Its construction was a boost to your local economy, creating nearly 400 jobs in this area.  And over the next three decades, the clean energy from this plant will save 575,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is the equivalent of removing more than 4,500 cars from the road each year for the life of the project.  Think about that, 45,000 [sic] cars from the road each year for the life of the project.

And yet, to realize the full potential of this plant and others like it, we've got to do more than just add extra solar megawatts to our electrical grid.  That's because this grid — which is made up of everything from power lines to generators to the meters in your home — still runs on century-old technology.  It wastes too much energy, it costs us too much money, and it's too susceptible to outages and blackouts.

To offer one analogy, just imagine what transportation was like in this country back in the 1920s and 1930s before the Interstate Highway System was built.  It was a tangled maze of poorly maintained back roads that were rarely the fastest or the most efficient way to get from point A to point B.  Fortunately, President Eisenhower made an investment that revolutionized the way we travel — an investment that made our lives easier and our economy grow.

Now, it's time to make the same kind of investment in the way our energy travels — to build a clean energy superhighway that can take the renewable power generated in places like DeSoto and deliver it directly to the American people in the most affordable and efficient way possible.  Such an investment won't just create new pathways for energy — it's expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs all across America in areas ranging from manufacturing and construction to IT and the installation of new equipment in homes and in businesses.  It's expected to save consumers more than $20 billion over the next decade on their utility bills.  And I know nobody minds seeing their utility bills cut.  I'm sorry, Lew, but they really don't mind that.  (Laughter.)  It will make our grid more secure and more reliable, saving us some of the $150 billion we lose each year during power outages.  It will allow us to more effectively transport renewable energy generated in remote places to large population centers, so that a wind farm in rural South Dakota can power homes in Chicago.  And by facilitating the creation of a clean energy economy, building this 21st century energy infrastructure will help us lay a foundation for lasting growth and prosperity.

So that's why today, I'm pleased to announce that under the Recovery Act, we are making the largest-ever investment in a smarter, stronger, and more secure electric grid.  This investment will come in the form of 100 grants totaling $3.4 billion — grants that will go to private companies, utilities, cities, and other partners who have applied with plans to install smart grid technologies in their area.

And throughout this week, the members of my Cabinet are going to be fanning across the country talking about some of the winning projects.  Some of the projects involve modernizing old, inefficient transmission lines that just waste too much energy.  And to speed that process along, nine federal agencies have signed an agreement that will help break down the bureaucratic barriers that currently make it slow and costly to build new transmission lines on federal lands.

But most of the projects that are receiving grants involve the installation of what are known as smart meters — devices that will have a direct benefit for consumers who want to save money on their electric bills.  For example, even as Florida Power & Light is bringing this solar plant online today, it also is deploying hundreds of thousands of these smart meters in people's homes throughout Florida.  Much like the Recovery through Retrofit plan we launched last week to boost the weatherization and retrofit industry, these devices will help you greatly improve the energy efficiency in your own home.

Now, let me explain what's going on with these smart meters.  Smart meters will allow you to actually monitor how much energy your family is using by the month, by the week, by the day, or even by the hour.  So coupled with other technologies, this is going to help you manage your electricity use and your budget at the same time, allowing you to conserve electricity during times when prices are highest, like hot summer days.  Through these investments in a variety of smart grid technologies, utilities like Florida Power & Light will also be able to monitor the performance of its electricity grid in real time, which means they'll be able to identify and correct service interruptions more quickly and effectively.  And all this information will help increase renewable energy generation, provide support for plug-in electric vehicles, and reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change.

Here in this region of Florida, this project will reduce demand for electricity by up to 20 percent during the hottest summer days that stress the grid and power plants.  It will provide smart meters to 2.6 million more customers.  And most importantly, it will create thousands of jobs — good jobs, by the way, that can't be outsourced; jobs that will last and jobs that pay a decent wage.

On their own, the opening of this new solar plant or the installation of new smart meters or the investment in grid modernization will not be enough to meet the challenges posed by our dependence on fossil fuels.  But together, we can begin to see what a clean energy future will look like.  We can imagine the day when you'll be able to charge the battery on your plug-in hybrid car at night, because your smart meter reminded you that nighttime electricity is cheapest.  In the daytime, when the sun is at its strongest, solar panels like these and electricity stored in car batteries will be able to power the grid with affordable, emission-free energy.  The stronger, more efficient grid would be able to transport power generated at dams and wind turbines from the smallest towns to the biggest cities.  And above all, we can see all this work that would be created for millions of Americans who need it and who want it, here in Florida and all across the country.

So we're on the cusp of this new energy future.  In fact, a lot of it is already taking place.  Even as I'm here today, Vice President Biden is in Delaware announcing the reopening of a once-shuttered GM factory that will soon put people back to work building plug-in, electric hybrid vehicles.  On Friday, I was in Boston — that's good news.  (Applause.)  On Friday, I was in Boston, where workers will soon be breaking ground on a new Wind Technology Testing Center that will allow researchers in the United States to test the world's newest and largest wind turbine blades for the very first time.  And there are recovery projects like this in cities and counties all across the country.

So at this moment, there is something big happening in America when it comes to creating a clean energy economy.  But getting there will take a few more days like this one and more projects like this one.  And I have often said that the creation of such an economy is going to require nothing less than the sustained effort of an entire nation — an all-hands-on-deck approach similar to the mobilization that preceded World War II or the Apollo Project.  And I also believe that such a comprehensive piece of legislation that is taking place right now in Congress is going to be critical.  That's going to finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America — legislation that will make the best use of resources we have in abundance, through clean coal technology, safe nuclear power, sustainably grown biofuels, and energy we harness from the wind, waves, and sun.

The House has already acted and passed such legislation and the Senate is on the way.  In fact, just today, the Environment and Public Works Committee, under the leadership of Senator Barbara Boxer, is holding the Senate's first hearings on this bill.

The creation of a clean energy economy has to be made as swiftly and carefully as possible, to ensure that what it takes to grow this economy in the short, medium, and long term is no longer delayed.  And I'm pleased to report that a consensus is growing to achieve exactly that — consensus between Democrats and Republicans, environmentalists and evangelicals, labor leaders and especially so many business leaders like Lew that are ready to jump on board because they understand that the growth of clean energy can lead to the growth of our economy.

Now, I have to be honest with you, though.  The closer we get to this new energy future, the harder the opposition is going to fight, the more we're going to hear from special interests and lobbyists in Washington whose interests are contrary to the interests of the American people.  Now, there are those who are also going to suggest that moving towards a clean energy future is going to somehow harm the economy or lead to fewer jobs.  And they're going to argue that we should do nothing, stand pat, do less, or delay action yet again.

I just want to point out we've heard such arguments before.  We've engaged in this same type of debate a lot of times through our history.  People don't like change, and they get nervous about it.  Lew and I were just talking about it.  He said especially utility executives get nervous about change.  (Laughter.)

It's a debate between looking backwards and looking forward; between those who are ready to seize the future and those who are afraid of the future. And we know which side the United States of America has always come down on.  We know that we've always been a people who were unafraid to reach for that more promising future.  We know that the promise of places like DeSoto and projects like the creation of a modern electricity grid mean a continuation of that long march of progress in this country.  And we refuse to believe that our politics are too broken to make the energy future we dream of a reality.

I know what the American people are capable of when they're called upon to meet big challenges.  I know it because of I've seen here in Arcadia and I've seen it all across America.  This is the nation, after all, that harnessed electricity and the energy contained in an atom; that developed the steamboat and the modern solar cell; that connected a continent with a massive system of highways and railroads.  And I believe we can blaze such trails again, and I commend all of you for being so critical in these early first steps.  Congratulations to you on your extraordinary achievement, and when it comes to the development of clean, renewable energy, I hope there are going to be a lot of days like this one to come.  I know I'm going to be working as hard as I can to make it possible.

And while I'm here, I just want to introduce Carol Browner, who works with me in our White House, and she is helping to lead the charge in Washington.  (Applause.)  She just happens to be from Florida and so she knows a little bit about the Sunshine State.  We are so excited by what you've done and we are absolutely confident we're just going to keep on building on the great progress that you've already made.

Thank you, Arcadia.  Thank you, Florida.  (Applause.)

Hear!  Hear!