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Delaying climate action will triple costs

Delaying climate action will triple costs


We can pay now, or we can pay later — with interest.

If the world puts off cooperative efforts to fight climate change until 2030, they will be more than three times as expensive as they would be in 2015.

That’s according to a study led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters. A team of researchers modeled the economic impacts of possible international climate agreements and found that if the world starts in 2015 to take the difficult but necessary steps to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, then international economic growth would be crimped by 2 percent. But delaying those steps until 2030 would mean growth is curtailed by about 7 percent. (Those figures refer to the effect of climate policies during the first decade, not sustained impacts.)

In the following graph from the paper, the y-axis shows the reduction in worldwide economic growth, while the x-axis shows temperature rise. The bars on the right reference four scenarios: one in which the world starts taking action today to reduce emissions under a meaningful global agreement, and others in which action doesn’t start until 2015, 2020, or 2030.

Environmental Research LettersClick to embiggen.

When it comes to saving the planet, a penny saved is not a penny earned. Rather, a penny spent is nearly a nickel earned.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Climate & Energy



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Wind farms seek federal OK to kill eagles, pissing off both left and right

Wind farms seek federal OK to kill eagles, pissing off both left and right

Watch out!

It’s not easy to unite the right-wing Heartland Institute and bird-loving environmentalists.

But that’s what some wind energy developers appear to be doing by proposing to the federal government that they be allowed to kill bald eagles and other protected species with their turbines.

Across the country, 14 wind projects have applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permits that would let them “take” — aka harm or kill — a certain number of eagles each year. That includes four wind farms in California, one in Minnesota, and one in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma project could be the first in the nation to actually receive such a permit. The company behind it, Wind Capital Group, wants permission to kill up to three bald eagles every year for 40 years on its proposed 94-turbine wind farm. A Native American tribe in the area is protesting, as are some conservation groups. The Daily Ardmoreite reports:

Osage Nation Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle expressed his deep concern and opposition to killing eagles in Osage territory from a cultural standpoint.

“The eagle is a sacred and symbolic figure to the Osage people, and the area targeted for this project contains a high bald eagle population,” Red Eagle said. “While the Osage Nation does not oppose wind energy or alternative energy, we do oppose the specific area for this project. It all comes down to siting projects in appropriate places, and this is not an appropriate place for a massive wind energy project.”

Reuters reports that the Obama administration has been working to loosen wildlife rules to facilitate wind development:

The fight in Oklahoma points to the deepening divide between some conservationists and the Obama administration over its push to clear the way for renewable energy development despite hazards to eagles and other protected species. …

It is illegal to kill bald and golden eagles, either deliberately or inadvertently, under protections afforded them by two federal laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

In the past, federal permits allowing a limited number of eagle deaths were restricted to narrow activities such as scientific research.

But the Obama administration in 2009 broadened such permitting authority to include otherwise lawful activities like wind power developments.

Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking to lengthen the duration of those permits from five to 30 years to satisfy an emerging industry dependent on investors seeking stable returns.

As we’ve reported previously, the Obama administration has never prosecuted a wind farm for killing a protected bird, and it recently assured a California wind farm and a luxury real-estate development that they wouldn’t be prosecuted for accidentally killing endangered California condors.

The prospect of eagle “take” permits has angered some folks on the left and on the right — and in between. This despite conditions that would be attached to such permits compelling wind companies to contribute to eagle conservation efforts.

Of course, conservationists and right wingers don’t actually see eye to eye on this issue. The conservationists don’t want bald eagles, golden eagles, or other protected birds to be killed in the name of energy. “If they kill two birds, I think it’s a crime,” Steve Groth of the Minnesota-based Coalition for Sensible Siting told Minnesota Public Radio.

On the other hand, the Heartland Institute, whose funders include ExxonMobil, is opportunistically seizing an excuse to slam a fast-growing alternative to planet-baking fossil fuels.

The wind industry, for its part, says worries about eagle deaths are exaggerated. Again from Reuters:

Fewer than 2 percent of all human-caused deaths of golden eagles occur at modern wind farms and only a few bald eagle deaths have been documented in the history of the industry — far less mortality than is attributed to such causes as poisoning or vehicle collisions, said the American Wind Energy Association spokesman Peter Kelley.

The American Bird Conservancy thinks that birds and wind energy can exist in harmony — it’s just going to take hard work, careful research, and federal regulations. From the nonprofit’s website:

American Bird Conservancy supports wind power when it is bird-smart, and believes that birds and wind power can co-exist if the wind industry is held to mandatory standards that protect birds.

Bird-smart wind power employs careful siting, operation and construction mitigation, bird monitoring, and compensation, to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss. These are issues that the federal government should include in mandatory wind standards.

The bald eagle is a symbol of freedom and an iconic beneficiary of America’s environmental movement, which saved it from extinction by banning DDT and passing laws to protect endangered species. No climate activists would want it to become the new face of opposition to the renewable energy revolution.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Wind farms seek federal OK to kill eagles, pissing off both left and right

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What Is a Derecho, Anyway?

Mother Jones

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You’ve probably heard that a massive system of storms is currently bearing down on the Midwest and expected to reach the mid-Atlantic on Thursday. Meteorologists are warning that the storms may turn into derechos, or “land hurricanes.” Almost 75 million people are in the path of the storms, and forecasters believe that conditions are favorable for one or more derechos this week. So what can we expect from these intense storms?

What is a derecho?

According to NOAA, a derecho is a “widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” In order for a weather event to be classified as a derecho, the wind damage zone must extend more than 240 miles and include wind gusts of at least 58 miles per hour. In “super” derechos, wind gusts can top 100 miles per hour. “You can think of a derecho as a tropical cyclone over land,” NOAA research meteorologist Ken Pryor told Discovery Magazine. “The impacts are very similar. There are damaging winds that cover a significant area.” The storms are known to occur frequently at night, and they often bring hail, flooding, and tornadoes.

Is it like a tornado?

Not exactly. The two types of storms can occur in the same system, but the damage of a derecho is directed along a fairly straight path and tornadoes are more isolated events. “A tornado, when it does occur, may be on the magnitude of a mile or two wide; a derecho could go for hundreds of miles producing significant damage,” Jim Keeney, weather program manager at the national weather service’s office in Kansas City, Miss., told CBS.

What causes it?

Derechos are associated with showers and thunderstorms where there are strong outflow winds that “move preferentially in one direction,” and are the products of downbursts, according to NOAA. “Imagine taking a water balloon and dropping it, where you see the balloon break and splatter on the ground. That’s basically how a downburst works,” Ken Pryor told NBC News. “And you can think of a derecho as a large cluster of those downbursts all happening simultaneously.”


When and where do they usually occur?

They are most common in late spring and summer with more than 75 percent occurring between April and August. Check out this handy NOAA map below to see how frequently they hit different regions:


When was the last one?

A particularly destructive derecho causing $1 billion in damage hit a 700 mile swath between the Ohio Valley and the mid Atlantic last June. FIVE million people from Chicago to the mid Atlantic Coast lost power, and 22 were killed. NOAA has documented 26 noteworthy derechos since the late 1960s. Below is a diagram of one that hit Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas in 2001:

Area affected by the May 27-28, 2001 derecho (outlined in blue). Curved purple lines represent the approximate locations of the gust front at three-hourly intervals. “+” symbols indicate the locations of wind damage or wind gusts (measured or estimated) above severe limits (58 mph or greater). Red dots and lines denote tornadoes. NOAA

Is climate change involved?

According to NOAA, “Some of the most intense summer derechos, especially those of the progressive type, occur on the fringes of extreme heat waves.” After last year’s deadly derecho, some wondered if climate change caused or intensified it:

“Since climate change can boost the odds of major heat waves such as this one, and the extreme heat contributed to the severe weather, it’s plausible—albeit rather speculative at this point—that climate change played some sort of role in the derecho event. However, it will require rigorous scientific analysis to determine whether this may have been the case.”

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What Is a Derecho, Anyway?

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Fracking accident leaks benzene into Colorado stream

Fracking accident leaks benzene into Colorado stream

Garfield County

Officials in Parachute, Colo., stopped the flow of creek water into a reservoir following a natural-gas fluid spill.

Once again, Colorado’s fracking boom has residents wondering if there’s something in the water — carcinogenic benzene, in this case. A plant for fracked natural gas processor Williams Energy, near Parachute, Colo., spilled an estimated 241 barrels of mixed natural gas liquid into the ground, some of which eventually washed as benzene into Parachute Creek.

More than two months after the spill was discovered, neighbors of the plant are wondering why the energy company is being put in charge of the cleanup — and why the state has failed to issue any fines.

Benzene levels in Parachute Creek rose above a safe-to-drink 5 parts per billion following the spill, which was caused by a faulty pressure gauge on a four-inch pipeline.

The safety limit for benzene in Coloradoan drinking water sources is 5 parts per billion. But the state doesn’t define the creek as a source of drinking water, and the limit for such water bodies is 5,300 parts per billion. Less than two miles downstream from the Williams Energy plant, headgates that control the flow of water from Parachute Creek into an irrigation reservoir have been closed since the spill was discovered.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

“I’d like to say they’ve cleaned it up,” said [downstream rancher Sidney] Lindauer on Wednesday, referring to the combined efforts of Williams Midstream and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

But he said he is skeptical about the wisdom of leaving the cleanup in the hands of the company that owns the facilities from which the liquids leaked.

“We need an independent agency that isn’t associated with the industry, or any industry, to monitor that creek,” he said on Wednesday, lamenting that “they [the CDPHE] pretty much leave it up to Williams.”

He said he has seen unexplained layers of dingy, brownish foam on the creek’s surface in recent weeks, something he has occasionally seen in the past but in masses that were less dense than those he has spotted recently.

“Sometimes that creek is cloudy and off color, so you know something’s going on,” he concluded, explaining that he gets water for his horses and his pastures from the creek, though his domestic drinking water is from the Town of Parachute’s water system.

Following the spill, Colorado lawmakers were shocked to discover that state penalties for such accidents had been capped at $10,000 for the last half century. So they passed legislation [PDF], which was signed by the governor [PDF] earlier this month, that increases possible state fines for such incidents. But that all matters little so far: The state has yet to fine Williams Energy a penny.

From a May 16 article in the Denver Business Journal:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is launching into negotiations with Williams Cos. Inc. (NYSE: WMB) and subsidiary Bargath LLC for a “consent order” outlining the cleanup of an estimated 241 barrels of natural gas liquids that spilled near Parachute Creek in western Colorado. …

There are no plans at this time for that consent order, expected to be signed within a month, to include fines and penalties on the companies, Chris Urbina, executive director of the CDPHE, said Thursday.

However, he said, fines could be levied if Williams or Bargath, Williams’ pipeline subsidiary, fails to follow the department’s consent order for the cleanup.

Also, Urbina said, “We’re considering other fines and penalties associated with this spill. We take this very seriously.”

Why no fines? That’s one of the many questions neighbors have been asking. The answer is in the Business Times story:

The consent order won’t have a fine associated with it “as the release was not due to negligence but to accidental equipment failure,” the department said.

An accident, you say? Oh, well in that case. So sorry to have disturbed you, fracking company. Carry on.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who


, posts articles to


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A Small Rant About the Meaning of Significant vs. "Significant"

Mother Jones

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Jim Manzi has a long blog post today about the Oregon Medicaid study that got so much attention when it was released a couple of weeks ago. Along the way, I think he mischaracterizes my conclusions, but I’m going to skip that for now. Maybe I’ll get to it later. Instead, I want to make a very focused point about this paragraph of his:

When interpreting the physical health results of the Oregon Experiment, we either apply a cut-off of 95% significance to identify those effects which will treat as relevant for decision-making, or we do not. If we do apply this cut-off…then we should agree with the authors’ conclusion that the experiment “showed that Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years.” If, on the other hand, we wish to consider non-statistically-significant effects, then we ought to conclude that the net effects were unattractive, mostly because coverage induced smoking, which more than offset the risk-adjusted physical health benefits provided by the incremental utilization of health services.

I agree that we should either use the traditional 95 percent confidence or we shouldn’t, and if we do we should use it for all of the results of the Oregon study. The arguments for and against a firm 95 percent cutoff can get a little tricky, but in this case I’m willing to accept the 95 percent cutoff, and I’m willing to use it consistently.

But here’s what I very much disagree with. Many of the results of the Oregon study failed to meet the 95 percent standard, and I think it’s wrong to describe this as showing that “Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years.”

To be clear: it’s fine for the authors of the study to describe it that way. They’re writing for fellow professionals in an academic journal. But when you’re writing for a lay audience, it’s seriously misleading. Most lay readers will interpret “significant” in its ordinary English sense, not as a term of art used by statisticians, and therefore conclude that the study positively demonstrated that there were no results large enough to care about.

But that’s not what the study showed. A better way of putting it is that the study “drew no conclusions about the impact of Medicaid on measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years.” That’s it. No conclusions. If you’re going to insist on adhering to the 95 percent standard—which is fine with me—then that’s how you need to describe results that don’t meet it.

Next up is a discussion of why the study showed no statistically significant results. For now, I’ll just refer you back to this post. The short answer is: it was never in the cards. This study was almost foreordained not to find statistically significant results from the day it was conceived.


A Small Rant About the Meaning of Significant vs. "Significant"

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Actually, the Iraq War Has Had a Surprisingly Small Effect on American Politics

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Ross Douthat argues that the Iraq War was the undoing of the Republican Party.

The Bush White House’s “compassionate conservatism” was the last major Republican attempt to claim the political center — to balance traditional conservative goals on taxes and entitlement reform with more bipartisan appeals on education, health care, immigration and poverty.

….But once Bush’s foreign policy credibility collapsed, his domestic political capital collapsed as well: moderates stopped working with him, conservatives rebelled, and the White House’s planned second-term agenda — Social Security reform, tax and health care reform, immigration overhaul — never happened.

Boy, I sure don’t see this. Social Security reform was never going to happen, period. Democrats were unwaveringly opposed from the start, and would have been under any circumstances. Likewise, although it’s true that immigration reform was sabotaged by a conservative rebellion, there’s little reason to think it had anything to do with the war. It was a grass roots revolt from a party base that had always hated the idea. As for tax and healthcare reform, I don’t remember those even being on the table. There was never any serious push for healthcare reform—or any expression of interest from the Bush administration—and tax reform was more a vague wish than a serious proposal.

The mundane truth is that presidents rarely accomplish big things domestically in their second terms. And to the extent they have, they’ve done it under worse circumstances than Bush: LBJ had Vietnam, Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra, and Clinton had Monica Lewinsky. The Iraq War may have played a part in Bush’s second-term collapse, but his domestic failures were due far more to scandal, political miscalculation, and garden variety weariness than to the war—and Obama’s win in 2008 was due to all those things plus an epic financial collapse. His margin of victory was pretty much exactly what you’d expect given a lousy economy and eight years of his party being out of office.

Douthat’s followup is even harder to credit:

This collapse, and the Republican Party’s failure to recover from it, enabled the Democrats to not only seize the center but push it leftward….Nor is it a coincidence that these liberal policy victories have been accompanied by liberal gains in the culture wars. True, there’s no necessary connection between the Bush administration’s Iraq floundering and, say, the right’s setbacks in the gay-marriage debate. But cultural change is a complicated thing, built on narratives and symbols and intuitive leaps.

As The American Conservative’s Dan McCarthy noted in a shrewd essay, the Vietnam War helped entrench a narrative in which liberal social movements were associated with defeat in Indochina — and this association didn’t have to be perfectly fair to be politically and culturally potent.

In a similar way, even though Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney weren’t culture warriors or evangelical Christians, in the popular imagination their legacy of incompetence has become a reason to reject social conservatism as well.

I don’t get this at all. Social liberalism proceeded apace all through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The failure in Vietnam did nothing to slow it down at all. And the aughts were a mixed bag. Abortion and gun rights, for example, stayed stuck in the same rut they’d been in for years. Gay rights advanced, but that was just the continuation of a long-term trend. I’m hard put to give Iraq credit for any of this.

There’s no question that the Iraq War debacle was one entry on the bill of particulars against the Republican Party in 2008. But take a look at what’s happened since then. Obama has all but adopted Bush’s foreign policy as his own: he launched a war against Libya; escalated the war in Afghanistan; enormously expanded the use of drone attacks; and embraced virtually all of the worst aspects of Bush’s national security policy. But on the domestic side, he passed a big stimulus bill; repealed DADT; passed financial reform; and enacted a historic healthcare reform bill.

To believe that Iraq was responsible for this, you have to adopt the perverse view that a huge foreign policy failure was responsible for (a) a continuation of that very foreign policy, but (b) a repudiation of Bush’s completely unrelated domestic policy. That doesn’t strike me as very plausible. Unfortunately the evidence suggests just the opposite: on a wide variety of measures, the effect of the Iraq War has actually been startlingly modest. It played no more than a bit role in ushering us into the Obama Era.

Mother Jones
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Actually, the Iraq War Has Had a Surprisingly Small Effect on American Politics

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WATCH: Justice Scalia: Those Were the Days Fiore Cartoon

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Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

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WATCH: Justice Scalia: Those Were the Days Fiore Cartoon

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Inside Major League Baseball’s Dominican Sweatshop System

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Yewri Guillén, in an undated family photo

THE BASEBALL MEN started coming around when Yewri Guillén was 15. Like thousands of other boys in the Dominican Republic, he had been waiting for them for years, training on the sparse patch of grass and dirt across the road from the small concrete-and-wood house he shared with his mother, father, and two sisters in La Canela, a hamlet 45 minutes southwest of Santo Domingo. By the time the American scouts took notice, he had grown into a 5-foot-10, 165-pound, switch-hitting shortstop with quick hands and a laser arm. In 2009, at the age of 16, he signed for $30,000 with the Washington Nationals. The first thing he’d do with his bonus, he told his parents, was buy them a car and build them a new house.

But soon after Guillén’s signing, Major League Baseball put his plans on hold. The league, having grown more vigilant about identity fraud, suspended him for a year, alleging that he’d lied about his date of birth on paperwork to boost his potential value to scouts. Guillén’s family got a lawyer to fight the suspension, and in the meantime he lived and trained without pay at the Nationals’ academy in Boca Chica, the epicenter of MLB’s training facilities in the country. There, he was notoriously hard on himself. Johnny DiPuglia, the Nationals’ international scouting director, said Guillén would even take himself out of games after making small mistakes like missing a sign from the third-base coach. “He had no education, none at all,” DiPuglia told me. “I didn’t think he had any teeth because he never smiled. And he always had watery eyes—there was always sadness in his eyes.”

DiPuglia made it his mission to cheer up the teenager, “to open up his heart.” He wouldn’t let Guillén pass without giving him a hug and a smile, and little by little, DiPuglia said, Guillén started to loosen up, becoming a better teammate and a happier kid. Later, when other talent brokers approached Guillén claiming that they could get him a better deal with a different team, Guillén turned them away because he felt that he owed it to the Nationals for sticking with him. After MLB finally authorized his contract at the beginning of 2011, the Nationals told him they’d be sending him to play for their rookie league team in Florida. He was to leave in mid-April.

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Inside Major League Baseball’s Dominican Sweatshop System

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#6: Good Ideas EZCJR-BLK 7-Cubic-Foot Compost Wizard Jr.


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#6: Good Ideas EZCJR-BLK 7-Cubic-Foot Compost Wizard Jr.

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Quote of the Day: Defining "Politically Plausible" Down

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From David Brooks, in a Q&A with Ezra Klein about his column today, in which he wrote (inaccurately) that the White House doesn’t have a proposal to avert the sequester, “let alone one that is politically plausible”:

What would be far enough, in your view? What would you like to see them offer?

My fantasy package, and I’m not running for office, would include a progressive consumption tax, and it would have chained CPI, and it would have a pretty big means-test of Medicare. I’d direct you to Yuval Levin’s piece in the Times a few days ago, which seemed sensible.

I guess I shouldn’t complain about this. I mean, props to Brooks for admitting that he went overboard, and props for being willing to talk to Ezra about it in a good natured way. Still, I have to chuckle when he complains about Obama not proposing a “politically plausible” plan, and then offers up an alternative that includes a progressive consumption tax, something that Republicans have been unrelentingly opposed to for decades in any reasonable form. Democrats aren’t all that keen on the idea either. I think we really need to have a little chat about just what “politically plausible” really means.

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Quote of the Day: Defining "Politically Plausible" Down

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