Five Posts

May 5, 2007


Pay Attention, This Could Be on the Test



The Supreme Court Rules!

April 10, 2007

Supreme Court Greenhouse Gas Decision Extends Beyond the Tailpipe 

The United States Supreme Court, on April 2, 2007, ruled in Massachusetts, et. al. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency , 549 U.S. ___ (2007) that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants and may be regulated in new motor vehicles by EPA…Traditionally, in order for a party to maintain a suit in federal court a litigant must demonstrate that it has: (1) suffered a concrete, and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant, (3) that a favorable decision will redress that injury….The majority…concluded that Massachusetts did satisfy Article III standing requirements. With respect to concrete harm/injury, the Court found that Massachusetts had demonstrated that its coastal lands were being impacted by rising seas.  As to causation, the Court noted that EPA did not dispute the connection between man-made GHG emissions and global warming, and therefore that “at minimum, . . EPA’s refusal to regulate such emissions ‘contributes’ to Massachussetts’ injury.”  With respect to redressability, the Court stated that the relief sought by Massachusetts – regulation of GHG emissions from new motor vehicles – need not relieve every injury suffered. Rather, the majority concluded that it is enough that the relief sought will at least reduce the risk by slowing the pace of GHG emissions.” 

This decision expands the category of regulatable emissions to include greenhouse gases.  While most of the newsbytes relating to the decision have focused on tailpipe emissions, regulation of automobiles will not be the only result.  The door is now open for the regulation of industrial GHG emissions. 

The fact that the potential risk of loss of Massachusetts coastline was held as an imminent, concrete and particularized injury opens the door for all sorts of interesting arguments. The second and third standards seem to be even bigger streches.  The percentage of worldwide GHG produced by American automobiles is between 3-5%.

Counting Carbs

March 29, 2007

 A 300-mile journey: planes, trains, or automobiles?

This is the subject of a recent blogpost on New Scientist.

How do you decide?  What factors enter into your decision-making process?  For most of us, cost is a factor, but let’s assume the difference is negligible.  Obviously, time is also a factor.  The trip takes a little over an hour by plane, and between 6-8 hours by train or car.  The difference is significant, especially if your time is valuable (who’s isn’t?).  Considering only these factors, the decision is an easy one.

Is the decision actually this simple?  Or do other factors carry weight in the process?  How about global warming?  The plane (even if all tickets are sold) emits far more GHG per person than either alternative.  Does the climate change problem concern you enough to sacrifice some comfort?

If you answered no (shame on you) you’re not alone.  Greenpeace offered ticketed-travelers flying from London to Newquay (about 280 miles) free train tickets.  One person out of fifty-one accepted the offer…and this is in the UK!  Wasn’t Al Gore’s movie released over there?

Yes, says David Miliband, UK Environment Secretary. 

He draws a connection between the fight against climate change and natural resource conflicts.

Mr Miliband, in a speech to the global environment campaign group WWF, said tackling climate change was “our best hope of addressing the underlying causes of future conflict in the world, and is as significant for foreign policy as it is environment policy”.

Well, I like where his heart is, optimism is certainly a useful attitude when attempting to tackle such an enormous problem.  These sound to me like the words of an environmentalist overestimating his issue’s importance.  While I agree that a successful campaign against global warming would increase future prospects for cooperation, I think it would be foolish to assume that it is our best foreign policy hope, or that it would curtail future conflicts.  In light of the growing consensus concerning climate change, it is reasonable to expect undesirable consequences from global warming (even if it is successfully halted.)  In other words, the environmental and natural resource conflicts to which Mr. Miliband refers will likely continue to take place even after global warming is stopped.

From ABC News:

 “March 21, 2007 — Former Vice President Al Gore — a politician turned crusader against global warming — returned to Capitol Hill today, asking lawmakers to consider their place in history when rising to the challenge of fighting what he calls a “climate crisis.”

Among Gore’s comments was this gem:

“Twenty of the 21 hottest years ever measured in the human record have been in the last 25 years.  The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor.  If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘I read a science fiction novel that says it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire you don’t speculate that the baby is flame-retardant.

I think Melvin (Jack Nicholson) says it best in “As Good as It Gets.” (from

I like his intentions, but it’s all in the delivery.  I think climate change needs a new face.  Is Obama available?

INSURANCE premiums for property will increase as global warming raises sea levels and creates more frequent and intense storms, the chairman of the world’s biggest insurance market Lloyd’s of London says.

Lord Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyd’s and a past British chief of defence, said the evidence for global warming had become “pretty overwhelming”.

“No one in the insurance industry seriously doubts that climate change is taking place,” he told an Australian British Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney yesterday. “For the insurer there are few greater concerns right now.”

Lord Levene says it is no coincidence that the 10 warmest years on record have all been since 1990.

“Glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising,” he said.

Lord Levene said 2005 was the worst year on record for natural disasters for property insurers, with claims of $A107.86 billion worldwide.

Hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita in the United States accounted for $A85.76 billion of this total. But 2006 was a far more benign year.

Lord Levene said some insurers had started pricing the risk of rising sea levels into premiums for property insurance for customers in coastal regions.

It’s normal to speak of the monumental monetary costs of combatting global climate change.  Ask the chairman of one of the world’s largest reinsurance markets, and you will hear about the cost of maintaining the status quo.  I don’t think this is limited to the insurance industry.  If the cost of risk allocation (insurance) is increasing then it is implied that risk is also increasing.  What are the monetary values of these increases in risk to other industries?  It seems clear that the potential harm from global warming is so severe that it calls for the use of the precautionary principle

It’s About Time

March 6, 2007

EU leaders should this week make the most ambitious commitment ever to tackle climate change, the EU Commission’s president said on Tuesday, but officials admitted that the devil is in the detail.

The 27 member states are keen to forge a united front when they meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday and to place the European Union in the front line of the fight against climate change.

With temperatures, oil prices and the EU’s dependency on overseas oil supplies increasing, “the status quo is not an option,” president of the bloc’s executive body Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference in Brussels.

The countries’ leaders are expected to agree on cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and up to 30 percent if emerging economies, particularly China and India, join them, German EU presidency sources said in Berlin.

The only part I find surprising is that it took until now.  Domestic concern about environmental issues has been much higher in European countries than anywhere else over the last 50 years.  It’s promising to see the ‘issue framing’ move from ‘symptom-focused’ to ’cause-focused’.