Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More on Irreversibility and its Importance

Cumulative Effects
by J.B. Ruhl

As my last post was quite a while back, I'll remind readers that I've been exploring the phenomenon of large-scale cumulative effects, a category of "wicked problems" that I contend plagues many of our environmental and social issues of the day. I define these as having several key properties: (1) massive agent numbers; (2) nonlinear aggregation thresholds; (3) agent resistance to change ("roots"); and (4) interaction with other systems ("tentacles"). My most recent post added "irreversibility" to that list and said I would move on to explore how successful two management approaches--unrestrained markets versus cost-benefit regulation--are likely to be in defying this inherent challenge.

Before going there, however, a few more thoughts on irreversibility based on some discussions with Neil Manson, a philosopher at the University of Mississippi doing some interesting work on the precautionary principle. My concern arises from the growing use of "irreversibility" as a buzzword in discourse on looming issues such as global climate change, sustainable development, and the precautionary principle. The term is being thrown around a lot without much precision as to its meaning. And it is usually portrayed as a "bad" thing, when in fact it is normatively neutral in the systems sense.

Irreversibility in the sense used in complex systems theory is a matter of degree. All systems are irreversible--you can't unwind time. What we're really talking about when we use it in practical applications is whether a perturbation has thrown the system off trajectory in a way that makes it very difficult to get back on approximately the same trajectory as before. Getting "back on track" is more difficult as the attributes described above for cumulative effects are increasingly in play. Some cumulative effects phenomena, in other words, exhibit what I will call high-resistance irreversibility--the effort it would take to get back on track, if one even could figure out how, may be beyond our social and economic capacity.

Global climate change is, in my view, the net product of numerous human and physical systems going through cumulative effects events with high-resistance irreversibility. The problem is that "irreversibility" as used in much of the literature on global climate change, as well as in the debates over sustainability and the precautionary principle, suggests that its causes are simple, known, predictable, and that its effects are uniformly negative. None of these claims is true.

The precautionary principle, for example, teaches us to avoid taking steps that will lead irreversibly to bad effects. Sustainable development is premised on the assumption that we can know which set of actions taken today will be sustainable versus which will lead us irreversibly into oblivion. While I find much of value in the ideas of the precautionary principle and sustainable development, they're trying to sell us too much in these claims about the predictability and effects of irreversibility in the context of cumulative effects. My concern is that the distortion of irreversibility as a predictable, bad event is often used to lead to the prescription of policies which, purportedly, will help us avoid it or control it. Rather, it strikes me that we need to come to grips with irreversibility as an unpredictable threshold with mixed effects and ask ourselves what system of governance is most likely to be able to cope with it over the long haul. That is what is leading me, soon, to the discussion of markets and cost-benefit analysis.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Literary Warrant [3]

Update: As illustrated by the first post below, a good deal of valuable information may be found in reports to Congress by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), although these reports have been notoriously elusive. Now it appears they will be all the more difficult to obtain.

A third installment of recent—that is, all but the January 2006 UW webcast on disaster planning—news, reports, and commentary.
  • Congressional Research Service (via National Council for Science and the Environment), Roundup of Recent/Updated CRS Reports: Environment (March 14, 2007)

    Docuticker's occasional enumeration of links to PDFs of CRS reports, including works on the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and "sound science," stratospheric ozone depletion, and others.

  • Viren Doshi, Gary Schulman & Daniel Gabaldon, Lights! Water! Motion!, strategy+business

    "The world's urban infrastructure needs a $40 trillion makeover. Here’s how to reinvigorate our electricity, water, and transportation systems by integrating finance, governance, technology, and design."

  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, State of the World's Forests 2007

    "Most countries in Europe and North America have succeeded in reversing centuries of deforestation and are now showing a net increase in forest area. Most developing countries, especially those in tropical areas, continue to experience high rates of deforestation and forest degradation. The countries that face the most serious challenges in achieving sustainable forest management are, by and large, the countries with the highest rates of poverty and civil conflict."—Foreword.

  • Frédéric Forge, Library of Parliament (Canada), Science and Technology Division, Biofuels—An Energy, Environmental or Agricultural Policy? (February 8, 2007)

    "Global production of biofuels is booming, as higher oil prices and technological breakthroughs have made it a more profitable business. Other key factors are the political will in most industrialized countries to find a reliable source of energy, and the implementation of new incentive programs; these have stimulated the industry’s growth and helped develop a level of infrastructure that can take advantage of favourable economic conditions."—Introduction.

    "The expansion of biofuel production will depend largely on government policies with ambitious goals, such as decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the current data, biofuels alone will not enable these goals to be met. Their advantages, however, are expected to increase if technologies that allow for the use of feedstocks that are less demanding to produce become more attractive economically.

    "The effect of future biofuel market expansions on agriculture should also be monitored. Despite strong hopes for higher grain prices, there is still much uncertainty about the effect of an increased demand for grains for biofuel production. Food and feed markets could well be affected, and production adjustments may offset higher prices to the farmer."—Conclusion.

  • The Future of Coal: Options for a Carbon-Constrained World (MIT 2007)

    "An interdisciplinary MIT faculty group "examines the role of coal in a world where constraints on carbon dioxide emissions are adopted to mitigate global climate change."—Exectuive Summary.

  • Law Librarian Blog, New CFR Book Warning America Remains Vulnerable (March 15, 2007)

    A publisher's description (including an excerpt) of Stephen E. Flynn, The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation (2007). "We have learned little from the cataclysms of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. When it comes to catastrophe, America is living on borrowed time—and squandering it."—Book Description.

  • Robert Meltz, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division, Congressional Research Service (CRS), The Supreme Court Takes Five Environmental Cases for Its 2006-2007 Term

    "The Supreme Court has accepted five environmental cases for argument during its 2006-2007 term, a significant proportion of the 72 cases it will hear during the term. Two cases involve the Clean Air Act: one asking whether the act allows EPA to regulate vehicle emissions based on their global warming impacts; the other, whether an hourly or annual test must be used in determining whether a modification of a stationary source makes it a 'new source' requiring a permit. A third case asks whether an EPA decision to delegate the Clean Water Act discharge permitting program to a state is subject to Fish and Wildlife Service consultation under the Endangered Species Act. The fourth case deals with whether a liable party under the Superfund Act may seek contribution under one section of the act even though barred from doing so under another section because no EPA civil actions have been filed at the site. And the fifth case addresses whether county 'flow control' ordinances evade the strict scrutiny test for compliance with the dormant commerce clause or indeed evade the clause entirely, owing to the fact that the designated collection facility is publicly rather than privately owned."—Summary.

  • Slashdot: News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters, Global Warming Endangered by Hot Air? (March 17, 2007)

    "The BBC reports that leading climate researchers are concerned that the tone of speculation surrounding many reports (scientific as well as in the media) could be making it more difficult for legitimate science to make a case for the future." This Slashdot post, replete with the usual assortment of comments—fair, facile, and funny—links to the BBC story, which identifies the recent report, Sense About Science: Making Sense of the Weather and Climate ("An introduction to forecasts and predictions of weather events and climate change"), prepared by scientists identified in the story.

  • Robert Stavins, Judson Jaffe & Todd Schatzki, Too Good to Be True? An Examination of Three Economic Assessments of California Climate Change Policy (Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Faculty Research Working Papers Series, no. RWP07-016) (March 2007)

    "We find that although opportunities may exist for some no-cost emission reductions, these California studies substantially underestimate the cost of meeting California’s 2020 target. The studies underestimate costs by omitting important components of the costs of emission reduction efforts, and by overestimating offsetting savings that some of those efforts yield through improved energy efficiency. In some cases, the studies focus on the costs of particular actions to reduce emissions, but fail to consider the effectiveness and costs of policies that would be necessary to bring about such actions. While quantifying the full extent of the resulting cost underestimation is beyond the scope of our study, the underestimation is clearly economically significant. A few of the identified flaws individually lead to underestimation of annual costs on the order of billions of dollars. Hence, these studies do not offer reliable estimates of the cost of meeting California’s 2020 target. Better analyses are needed to inform policymakers."—Executive Summary.

  • United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Committee Examines Political Interference with Climate Science (March 19, 2007)

    "This hearing examined evidence and allegations of political interference with the work of government climate change scientists under the current Administration." Links to testimony, exhibits, a supplemental memorandum, and a video of the proceedings are included, courtesy of this beSpacific post, which also links to earlier hearings in January. According to the supplemental memorandum prepared for the March 19 hearing, "The CEQ documents appear to portray a systematic White House effort to minimize the significance of climate change. The documents show that Mr. Cooney and other CEQ officials made at least 181 edits to the Administration's Strategic Plan of the Climate Change Science Program to exaggerate or emphasize scientific uncertainties. They also made at least 113 edits to the plan to deemphasize or diminish the importance of the human role in global warming. Other Administration documents that were heavily edited by Mr. Cooney and CEQ include EPA's Report on the Environment andthe annual report to Congress entitled Our Changing Planet."

  • University of Washington, Webcast: Regional Disaster Planning Efforts & The Biology of Pandemic Influenza (January 30, 2006)

    "This three-part talk addresses how Harborview Medical Center is working together with the hospitals in Seattle, King County, and King County Public Health to create an emergency health care coalition—of hospitals, pandemic flu planning and emergency preparedness, and the biology of pandemic influenza—and what we have learned from it in the past."—Description. Speakers include the CEO, an administrative director, and a professor of medicine at the Medical Center.

  • Waxman Introduces the Safe Climate Act of 2007 (March 20, 2007)

    "The Safe Climate Act freezes U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, at the 2009 levels. Beginning in 2011, it cuts emissions by roughly 2% per year, reaching 1990 emissions levels by 2020. After 2020, it cuts emissions by roughly 5% per year. By 2050, emissions will be 80% lower than in 1990. These goals are comparable to emissions reduction goals adopted by many states and called for by leading American companies, small businesses, religious organizations, environmental advocates, and others."—Summary of the Bill. Includes links to the full text of the bill and a section-by-section summary.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Personal Experience with Cumulative Effects and Nonlinear Thresholds

For those few of you who noticed my absence from Jurisdynamics for the past six weeks, you'll be happy to know I have field tested cumulative effects and nonlinear thresholds. My first two weeks of February were lost to a nasty cold, which, when combined with my position at FSU as chair of the hiring committee, led to the proverbial digging of a hole. The pace at which the hole deepened crossed a nonlinear threshold about the end of February as hiring work ran up against the deadlines law schools have adopted for such matters. Mowing the lawn (this is Florida), washing the car, walking the dog, and posting on blogs all went by the wayside. As things settled down in early March, I saw first hand that reversing a nonlinear dynamic system is...difficult. It takes a lot more work to get out of the hole than to get into it. But I washed the car the other day and, barring another major perturbation, I will resume my discussion of cumulative effects after this coming weekend, which my family and I are spending at the beach at Destin pictured above--we want to see it a few more times before it becomes a victim of another set of cumulative effects called *lob** wa****g (edited by the White House). JBR

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Silencing the Scientists

The illustration is from an op-ed on the Bush Administration's use of science by Chris Mooney, author of a recent book on the subject. The controversy seems to be continuing.

From yesterday's Times:

A House committee released documents Monday that showed hundreds of instances in which a White House official who was previously an oil industry lobbyist edited government climate reports to play up uncertainty of a human role in global warming or play down evidence of such a role.


California Health Care Reform


By Edward D. Spurgeon, Board Member, National Senior Citizens Law Center; Executive Director, Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging; and Distinguished Visiting Professor and Holder of the Gordon D. Schaber Chair in Health Law and Policy, Pacific McGeorge School of Law

Soaring health care costs and almost 47 million uninsured (6.5 million in California alone) are economic and moral imperatives for national health care reform. By any reasonable measures -- access, cost ,and overall health status -- the system is broken and must be fixed. Despite the world’s best trained health professionals; excellent hospitals and rehabilitative care centers; state of the art medical equipment, technologies, and pharmacology; and well-funded medical research and development, the United States has lacked the political will necessary to forge a comprehensive solution that assures every American access to affordable basic preventative, acute, and long-term health care. Reform legislation should and can be enacted in California this year, and action by the country’s most populous state should also advance the nation toward a longer term national solution.

Since the last failed national comprehensive health care reform effort of the early 1990s, Congress has taken only limited and incremental steps to improve existing federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California), through the 1997 creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the addition to Medicare of a prescription drug benefit and expansion of managed competition in 2003, and various cost cutting measures in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. What has prevented Congress, and the President, from proposing and enacting truly comprehensive reform? There are many contributing causes, among them our country’s longstanding deeply rooted belief in the free market system, distrust of government regulation and aversion to tax increases, worry about government inefficiency and waste, and the active opposition of deep-pocketed, self-interested groups such as health insurers and for-profit medical providers.

Federal inaction, the widespread human and economic impacts of the health care crisis, and growing public awareness and resulting political pressure, have led some states, most notably Massachusetts, to enact reform legislation. Others, California most prominently, are actively considering statewide health care reform. Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2007 health care plan proposal, like Massachusetts's successful 2006 legislative reform effort, comes in the wake of earlier failed efforts. Massachusetts made three prior unsuccessful attempts while earlier California attempts to mandate that employers provide employees with health insurance failed and last year’s single-payer plan passed the legislature but was vetoed by the governor.

The Massachusetts plan now in effect and the California plan proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger mandate that all state residents have prescribed minimum health insurance coverage with partial or total premium subsidies for low income residents. Both plans are otherwise a patchwork of existing and expanded public and private insurance. California, like Massachusetts in 2006, has a Republican governor and Democratic state legislature. Given the similarities in the political climate in Massachusetts and California, and the commonalities in the plans, California’s experts, stakeholders and legislators should carefully study the Massachusetts plan and early implementation efforts. However, in considering whether or not the Massachusetts mandated insurance plan will work here, we must remember that Massachusetts is much smaller (around 6.4 million people), has a relatively low percentage of uninsured residents (10% vs. 19% in California and 16% nationally), and has a lower percentage of residents (28% vs. 45% in California) living below 300% of the federal poverty level. Furthermore, when its plan was enacted, Massachusetts had 68% of residents already covered by employer health insurance and an ample uncompensated care fund.

Were it is not for political realities, Californians would be better served if the state adopted a single-payer plan similar to that vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger last year rather than the mandated insurance proposal now on the table. The experience of England, Germany, Canada, and other countries with government controlled and financed health care has demonstrated that their citizens have access to at least basic preventative, emergency, and acute care, with overall health outcomes and status at least comparable to ours, at significantly lower cost. Although these countries make more tradeoffs than the U.S. does in terms of benefits offered and wait-times for procedures, our tradeoffs include a lot of health care for some and none for others.

California’s health care crisis needs immediate attention, and the Governor’s proposal offers a politically realistic starting point for fashioning a feasible plan that will improve California’s current deplorable situation. Longer term, however, the country needs an overarching national health care policy rather than a patchwork of state plans that cover only that state’s residents, add further complexity, and act as a significant incentive or disincentive for individuals and businesses to move into or out of a state. Only by utilizing nationwide resources and funding mechanisms can health care providers across the country hope to meet the medical needs of all Americans. Much of our health care system is already national. Federal standards, federal programs (e.g. Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Health, and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program) and federal funds already predominate. Large health insurers, managed care plans, and large medical providers now operate in many states.

The Bush administration and the prior Republican controlled Congress have consistently favored tax incentives and market driven policies when addressing health care access and cost issues. Most recently, in his State of the Union message, the President proposed that a single taxpayer with employer or individual health insurance coverage be given up to a $7,500 standard deduction ($15,000 for joint filers) to help them subsidize health insurance premium costs. Employees covered by employer health plans could no longer exclude employer paid premiums from their taxable income. Although likely to benefit the insurance industry, this approach would not significantly reduce the number of uninsured or health care costs. Even the Bush Administration concedes its proposal would only result in coverage for only a few million of the almost 47 million uninsured. Also tax deductions rather than refundable tax credits are of little or no benefit to the lower income uninsured. As a practical matter, the now Democratically controlled Congress has declared the Bush proposal dead on arrival.

Nationally, health care policy goals are to provide the millions of uninsured with access to quality care while containing overall cost growth. These are difficult, but not impossible, challenges. Plans enacted or being considered by the states contain approaches and ideas well worth serious consideration in Washington. As a starting point, we could allow uninsureds between ages 56 and 65 access to Medicare, expand Medicaid coverage for low income children and adults, and permit individuals and families without employer-sponsored group insurance to buy into the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Political pressure for health care reform is increasing, with business and labor groups, as well as individuals now demanding change. Certainly the topic will be part of the 2008 presidential candidate debates. Already, John Edwards has outlined his vision for universal health care coverage through a mandated insurance plan with many similarities to the Massachusetts and California plans. Senator Hilary Clinton addressed the Rochester Health Care Forum on what she thinks is wrong with the system and how we make it right, and candidate Senator Barack Obama says affordable, accessible, high-quality health care is a priority. Although Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani have not laid out their positions, then-Governor Mitt Romney played a major role in passage in 2006 of the Massachusetts plan. One can only hope that the state initiatives and upcoming presidential debates will ultimately lead to badly overdue comprehensive national heath care reform.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Melting Ice

From Science Daily:

Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at CU-Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center who led the study synthesizing results from recent research, said the Arctic sea-ice extent trend has been negative in every month since 1979, when concerted satellite record keeping efforts began. The team attributed the loss of ice, about 38,000 square miles annually as measured each September, to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and strong natural variability in Arctic sea ice.

"When the ice thins to a vulnerable state, the bottom will drop out and we may quickly move into a new, seasonally ice-free state of the Arctic," Serreze said. "I think there is some evidence that we may have reached that tipping point, and the impacts will not be confined to the Arctic region."

A review paper by Serreze and Julienne Stroeve of CU-Boulder's NSIDC and Marika Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research titled "Perspectives on the Arctic's Shrinking Sea Ice Cover" appears in the March 16 issue of Science.

The loss of Arctic sea ice is most often tied to negative effects on wildlife like polar bears and increasing erosion of coastlines in Alaska and Siberia, he said. But other studies have linked Arctic sea ice loss to changes in atmospheric patterns that cause reduced rainfall in the American West or increased precipitation over western and southern Europe, he said.

The decline in Arctic sea ice could impact western states like Colorado, for example, by reducing the severity of Arctic cold fronts dropping into the West and reducing snowfall, impacting the ski industry and agriculture, he said. "Just how things will pan out is unclear, but the bottom line is that Arctic sea ice matters globally," Serreze said

.The picture, by the way, is from a source aptly called Damocles, which processes data on Arctic melting. Damocles is funded by the European Commission.

Post-Katrina Insurance Wars

From a N.Y. Times article about Richard Scruggs, the nemesis of the insurance industry:

Insurers note that they have paid $41 billion for damage from Katrina, including $5.5 billion for homes in Mississippi. The insurers add that only 1 percent of their customers have taken them to court, but that amounts to more than 2,000 lawsuits in Mississippi and many more in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana that are being dealt with separately.

For months after the hurricane hit on Aug. 29, 2005, the insurance dispute in Mississippi was stalled. But in mid-January a Biloxi couple won a $1 million verdict against State Farm, the largest home insurer in the nation and in Mississippi.

Less than two weeks later, Mr. Scruggs completed negotiations on settlements with State Farm worth at least $130 million, setting the pattern, many insurance experts said, for resolving hundreds of other cases and potentially providing hundreds of millions of dollars for rebuilding along the coast.

The photo to the right is of Scruggs, standing next to the remains of one client's house. For a good discussion of the "wind versus water" issue that underlies the suits, you might want to start with this research paper by Seema Patel and Sarala Nagala.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Literary Warrant [2]

A second installment of notable new publications, reports, and announcements.

  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW Sues Council on Environmental Quality Sued over Global Warming Documents

    "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has sued the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today for its failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to global warming science and policy. CREW filed its FOIA request after media reports—including a 60 Minutes piece—and documents gathered by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform revealed that political appointees at CEQ, including former Chief of Staff Philip Cooney, edited various government reports to downplay and obscure scientific findings about global warming."—Press Release (February 20, 2007)

  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The State of Fisheries and Aquaculture 2006

    "Although the proportion of the world’s marine fish stocks rated by FAO as overexploited or depleted has remained stable over the past 15 years, the status of certain highly migratory and high-seas species is cause for serious concern, a new report from the UN agency warned today."—Press release (March 5, 2007)

  • V.L. McGuire, Water-Level Changes in the High Plains Aquifer, Predevelopment to 2005 and 2003 to 2005 (U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5324, 2007)

    Texas High Plains"The High Plains aquifer underlies 111.4 million acres (174,000 square miles) in parts of eight States—Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Water-level declines began in parts of the High Plains aquifer soon after the beginning of extensive ground-water irrigation. This report presents water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer from the time prior to substantial ground-water irrigation development (about 1950) to 2005 and from 2003 to 2005."—Abstract.

  • Slashdot, Scientists Threatened for “Climate Denial” (March 12, 2007)

    "A former professor of climatology at the University of Winnipeg has received multiple death threats for questioning the extent to which human activities are driving global warming." A caveat: Slashdot is deservedly one of the earliest and most widely read technology blogs, but it also fairly dubs itself, "News for Nerds." The vast number of comments—over 1150 for this post—are frequently sarcastic, haughty, erroneous...and funny.

  • United States Department of State, Memorandum of Understanding Between the United States and Brazil to Advance Cooperation on Biofuels

    "The agreement highlights the importance of biofuels as a transformative force in the region to diversify energy supplies, bolster economic prosperity, advance sustainable development, and protect the environment."—Press release (March 9, 2007)

  • United States Government Accountability Office, Leaking Underground Storage Tanks: EPA Should Take Steps to Better Ensure the Effective Use of Public Funding for Cleanups (Report to Congressional Requesters, GAO-07-152, February 2007)

    "The cleanup of known releases from leaking underground storage tanks could take years to complete, and states reported that it would cost around $12 billion in public funds from state and federal sources. This amount reflects states’ estimates of public cleanup costs for about 54,000 of the approximately 117,000 known releases that states reported had not yet been fully cleaned up as of September 30, 2005. Tank owners or operators will pay to clean up the majority of the remaining 63,000 known releases, according to state officials. However, an unknown number of releases lack a viable owner to pay cleanup costs. Some of these releases may lack a viable owner because the tank owner or operator failed to maintain adequate financial responsibility coverage. While 16 states require annual proof that tank owners or operators are maintaining the required coverage, the remaining states generally reported that they check this coverage less often or not at all, even though coverage may change on an annual basis. Without regular monitoring that tank owners or operators are maintaining their required coverage, this coverage may lapse, potentially making the owner or operator nonviable and, in the event of a release, may result in the need to use public funds to ensure timely cleanup."—Results in Brief.

  • David A. Wirth, Globalization and the Environment: Why All the Fuss? (Boston College Law School Faculty Papers, no. 189, February 12, 2007)

    "The relationship between globalization and environmental policies presents more nuances than the popular paradigm of free trader versus self-serving protectionists, the familiar model of environmentalist battling greedy polluters, or the outmoded view of a progressive multilateral agenda juxtaposed against a parochial, inward-looking domestic one. This piece sets out a structural and analytical framework for addressing the major issues in the field – including (1) unilateral trade-based measures to protect the environment; (2) science-based tests applied through trade agreements; (3) disciplines on foreign investment that may have a 'chilling effect' on environmental regulation; and (4) the relationship between free trade agreements and multilateral environmental agreements. The implications for domestic law in the United States, including federal administrative law and federal-state relations, are also examined."

  • David A. Wirth, Hazardous Substances and Activities (Boston College Law School Faculty Papers, no 188, February 12, 2007)

    Emissions"This piece analyzes and critically evaluates the enormous number and variety of international instruments addressing the regulation of hazardous substances and activities, from consumer products to nuclear power plants. International authorities are categorized according to regulatory theory, ranging from hazard identification and testing to disposal. Other regulatory approaches include limitations on pollutant releases, prevention of and response to industrial accidents, and international trade in toxic chemicals and waste. Multilateral norms originating from global and regional institutions, UN specialized agencies, and non-UN organizations are analyzed. The piece addresses both 'hard' (binding or conventional) and 'soft' (nonbinding) instruments, correlating legal form with policy purpose. The relationship between each international policy analogous domestic regulatory approaches is explored."

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Literary Warrant

Old BooksIt is my pleasure to join the contributors of Jurisdynamics in my capacity as a law librarian. I work in the library (naturally) at Boalt Hall, the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. For some time, I have been directing occasional pertinent notifications of new books, reports, web sites, blogs, and so forth to Dan Farber and other Boalt professors interested in topics discussed in this forum. My goal has been at the very least not to fill their e-mail in-boxes with old news, and perhaps even to identify immediately useful material for them. Thanks to Profs. Farber and Chen, I now have leave to cast these announcements more widely via this blog.

Below then, in no particular order—well, the librarian's default when all else fails: alphabetical—I present this initial post of miscellaneous publications that have come my way during the past few weeks. I have deliberately linked in most cases not directly to the resource itself, but to the source by which I was notified. For example, many of these came to my attention via DocuTicker, a daily compilation of new reports and other research tools covering a wide range of topics. It strikes me that readers of Jurisdynamics might profit from learning about these sources as well as the specific content they collect. What's more, these sources often include links to press releases and other relevant materials.

Why "literary warrant"? It denotes the basis for deciding when to include a new term in a subject classification of literary works, such as books. A classification relying on a principle of literary warrant uses words or phrases appearing in a class of literature to describe "discrete, identifiable concept[s]" addressed by the class, rather than, say, some other more idiomatic or precise word or phrase (such as Natural disasters rather than Natural calamities). The trend toward socially generated online taxonomies, or "folksonomies," is a retreat from the principle of literary warrant. I use the term more loosely, simply to indicate that this and future posts will include notice of new publications that, I hope, will warrant your attention.
  • Climate Change and Environment Issues Poll (Hamilton College National Youth Polls, January 2007)

    "American high-school students do not understand climate change issues well. The average high-school student fails a quiz on the causes and consequences of climate change. Students who learn the most about climate change from TV news and shows know as much as students who have learned the most about climate change in school. However, students who learn the most using the Internet do better than the average. Teaching students about climate change outside typical science courses, for example, in a special class dedicated to the natural environment, increases students' knowledge."—Executive Summary.

  • European Environment Agency, Transport and Environment: On the Way to a New Common Transport Policy (TERM 2006: Indicators Tracking Transport and Environment in the European Union) (EEA Report no. 1/2007)

    "The objective of the report is to indicate some of the main challenges to reducing the environmental impacts of transport and to making suggestions to improve the environmental performance of the transport system as a whole. The report examines seven key issues which need to be addressed in the coming years. These issues are derived partly from the policy questions that form the backbone of TERM [Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism] and partly from other on-going projects at the EEA. As with previous TERM reports, this report evaluates the indicator trends with respect to progress towards existing objectives and targets from EU policy documents as well as various transport and environmental directives."

  • Global Warming: Confronting the Crisis (31st Annual UNIS-UN Student Conference Working Paper, March 1-2, 2007)

    "The articles compiled in this working paper, written entirely by members of the UNISUN Student Organizing Committee, examine the causes and consequences of the warming crisis as well as alternative solutions in resolving the concern. Further investigated are International Organizations which are struggling to combat global warming. It is our hope that this working paper will encourage attendees of this year's conference to actively participate in spreading a general awareness of the significance of global warming to our world and its inhabitants."

  • Impact of Climate Change on Golf Playable Days in the United States (WeatherBill, Inc., February 22, 2007)

    Golf Ball"The recent report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that global warming is 'unequivocal' and one of the serious challenges of our time. Climate change and uncertain weather are not only environmental and political issues, but are likely to have severe economic ramifications as well. The IPCC expects more frequent heat extremes, more frequent heavy precipitation events and areas of increased drought frequency. WeatherBill's analysis of U.S. weather data from the last 30 years points to more rain in the key April-September period in many cities in the East and Southeast, more drought in the West, and higher temperatures across the United States. Weather data recorded at most United States weather stations supports the IPCC climate change predictions and these changes will undoubtedly impact Golf Playable Days and the ability to accurately forecast financial earnings at golf courses around the country."

  • James M. McElfish, Jr., Ten Things Wrong With Sprawl (Environmental Law Institute, January 2007)

    "Portions of the building industry sometimes say that our current development patterns perfectly reflect the satisfaction of American social demands. Whatever we have, whatever we are creating, it must be what we want, or the market would provide something else. However, this position requires us to deny the influence of laws, institutions, zoning codes, financing rules, government subsidies and market failures. Much of the sprawl we see is the unintended result of laws and policies that were imperfectly aimed at something else, such as easing transportation delays, encouraging school modernization, providing healthy settings for housing, or stimulating home ownership."

  • Pew Center on Global Climate Change, What’s Being Done in the States

    "Across the country, states and regions are adopting policies to address climate change. These actions include increasing renewable energy generation, selling agricultural carbon sequestration credits, and encouraging energy efficiency. Such policies reduce vulnerability to energy price spikes, promote state economic development, and improve local air quality. Addressing climate change will require comprehensive national policy and international agreements. However, in the absence of federal policy, states and regions are taking the lead on developing policies that may provide models for future national efforts."

  • United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Inspector General, Evaluation Report: EPA Relying on Existing Clean Air Act Regulations to Reduce Atmospheric Deposition to the Chesapeake Bay and its Watershed (Report No. 2007-P-00009, February 28, 2007)

    Chesapeake Bay"The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, covering 64,000 square miles. Six States and the District of Columbia, various Federal agencies, and others are involved in Bay restoration. EPA estimates that nitrogen depositing back to the earth from the atmosphere accounts for approximately 32 percent of the man-made nitrogen load to the Bay and is a significant contributor to continuing water quality problems in the Bay."—Background.


Friday, March 09, 2007

While America Slept

The New York Times reports here on yet another clash between scientists and the Bush Administration:

The stipulations that the employees “will not be speaking on or responding to” questions about climate change, polar bears and sea ice are “consistent with staying with our commitment to the other countries to talk about only what’s on the agenda,” said the director of the agency, H. Dale Hall.

One of the two employees, Janet E. Hohn, is scheduled to accompany a delegation to Norway led by Julia Gourley of the State Department at a meeting on conserving Arctic animals and plants.

* * *
The other employee, Craig Perham, an expert on polar bears, was invited by the World Wildlife Fund to help advise villagers along the Siberian coast on avoiding encounters with the bears, said Margaret Williams, director of the Bering Sea program of the fund.

Of course, the Administration has long had this head-in-the-sand attitude toward climate change. There is something sadly ironic here. The Bush folks have long been admirers of Winston Churchill. But history may remember them as much more akin to Chamberlain., temporizing in the face of the greatest challenge of the time rather than confronting it head on.


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