Tag Archives: Treehugger

Not-So-Hot Tuna

Heather Horn at The Atlantic has the round-up

Paul Greenberg at The New York Times Magazine:

On the morning of June 4, in the international waters south of Malta, the Greenpeace vessels Rainbow Warrior and Arctic Sunrise deployed eight inflatable Zodiacs and skiffs into the azure surface of the Mediterranean. Protesters aboard donned helmets and took up DayGlo flags and plywood shields. With the organization’s observation helicopter hovering above, the pilots of the tiny boats hit their throttles, hurtling the fleet forward to stop what they viewed as an egregious environmental crime. It was a high-octane updating of a familiar tableau, one that anyone who has followed Greenpeace’s Save the Whales adventures of the last 35 years would have recognized. But in the waters off Malta there was not a whale to be seen.

What was in the water that day was a congregation of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish that when prepared as sushi is one of the most valuable forms of seafood in the world. It’s also a fish that regularly journeys between America and Europe and whose two populations, or “stocks,” have both been catastrophically overexploited. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of only two known Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, has only intensified the crisis. By some estimates, there may be only 9,000 of the most ecologically vital megabreeders left in the fish’s North American stock, enough for the entire population of New York to have a final bite (or two) of high-grade otoro sushi. The Mediterranean stock of bluefin, historically a larger population than the North American one, has declined drastically as well. Indeed, most Mediterranean bluefin fishing consists of netting or “seining” young wild fish for “outgrowing” on tuna “ranches.” Which was why the Greenpeace craft had just deployed off Malta: a French fishing boat was about to legally catch an entire school of tuna, many of them undoubtedly juveniles.

Brian Merchant at Treehugger:

Sea Shepherd’s tactics may turn some heads, and draw the ire of many, but the activist group is proving itself incredibly effective. First, reports have surfaced that Sea Shepherd may have slashed Japan’s illegal whaling catch by half. Now, in yet another daring exploit, the group’s divers have saved 800 of the most endangered fish on earth, the Bluefin Tuna, from poachers — using rotten butter to aid the rescue operation.


Bluefin tuna are one of the most valuable fish in the world — and as a result, they’re fast becoming extinct. High demand for the fish in Japan, where it’s used in high-end sashimi, is one of the primary reasons that it has been devastatingly overfished in recent years. And yes, you may have read about one of the Bluefin tuna’s few breeding grounds — in the Gulf of Mexico — being direly threatened by the BP spill. Scientists say that unless fishing is halted, or at least slowed dramatically, the bluefin will be entirely extinct in a matter of years. Unfortunately Japan persuaded China to block a trade ban proposed by the UN, so it remains legal to catch, albeit in limited numbers.

But those limited numbers are often ‘overlooked’ by poachers who recognize the bluefin’s value, and such regulations are frequently violated. Which is why activist groups like Sea Shepherd are poised to become heroes to many, and a scourge to fisherman — as they’ve already proved themselves to be both whaling arena.

Francesca Vella at The Malta Independent:

A Maltese fisherman was injured yesterday, in yet another clash with anti-bluefin tuna fishing activists in the Mediterranean.

The incident involved Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Maltese aquaculture operators who were towing bluefin tuna cages, in what the Resources and Rural Affairs Ministry said was a legal operation.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, on the other hand, said its ship, Steve Irwin, had identified two purse seiners committing illegal activities.

The incident took place in Libyan territorial waters, allegedly about 35 nautical miles off the coast of Tripoli, and a Libyan patrol boat was sent to the area.

Although information on what actually happened was sketchy yesterday evening, a Maltese fisherman seems to have suffered a ripped arm after one of the activists threw a grapnel at the tuna pen.

Bluefin tuna fishing has long been a matter of controversy due to badly depleted stocks. Only recently, member governments of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) turned down a proposal to ban international commercial trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna – a measure that could have helped avert the rapid extinction of the species.

Both Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society estimate that 80 per cent of bluefin tuna have already been fished out. The organisations have been calling for an end to bluefin tuna fishing to allow populations to recover to healthy levels.

A few days ago, the European Commission decided to close the bluefin tuna fishery to purse seiners in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic, due to the exhaustion of the allocated quotas.

The European Commission said: “The closure of the purse seine fishery is necessary to protect the fragile stock of bluefin tuna and to ensure its recovery as envisaged by the recovery plan of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The Commission has declared a zero tolerance approach towards overfishing and will take all necessary measures to ensure full compliance across the board.

Bruce Einhorn and Stuart Biggs at Businessweek:

Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market is a long way from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Starting at 4 a.m. every day, agents from Japanese trading companies bid for bluefin tuna and other fish from around the world that lie side by side on the floor of a cavernous warehouse. Bluefin is a mainstay of any sushi restaurant in Tokyo, and the giant fish—sometimes weighing more than 500 pounds—is the king of Tsukiji. BP’s spill is billowing near one of two spawning grounds for the Atlantic variety of bluefin (the other is in the Mediterranean). For now, fishmongers in Tsukiji say they’re not worried about the effect the BP (BP) disaster will have on the bluefin population. “If there’s an impact,” says one trader for local wholesaler Umino who won’t give his full name, “we won’t see it for a few years.”

Go to the U.S., though, and you’ll find plenty of scientists, state officials, and fishermen wondering already about the disaster’s impact on the bluefin. Japan last year consumed about 80 percent of the world’s bluefin catch, or 52,000 tons, according to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries. A large chunk of that comes from the Atlantic. The chemicals BP is using to contain the spill could damage the bluefin larvae produced by adults that spawned in the Gulf. “The oil plus the dispersants are likely to have a huge effect,” says Bill Fox, managing director for fisheries at the World Wildlife Fund. For the Atlantic bluefin, “this is a real blow.”

Scientists from several institutions, including the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, are trying to figure how big the blow really is. Bluefin tuna live for up to 40 years, and in that time many repeat the same cycle endlessly: spawn in the Gulf or the Mediterranean, then head to the teeming waters of the North Atlantic to feed. Spawning in the Gulf takes place from March to June, and the spawning ground overlaps with the oil spill. Bluefin need clean ocean water to spawn—adults spawn at the surface, so they may have gotten coated with oil while spawning this year.

No one is sure exactly what happened this year when the Gulf spawning season started. If there is an effect, “we’ll see [it] in about three to four years,” says Greg Stunz, marine scientist at the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. That’s when the bluefin tuna born this year reach adult size. A weakened, underpopulated generation of bluefin would show something serious happened. Some fishermen, though, say enough of the spawning occurred before the Apr. 20 spill to minimize the damage.

The Economist:

Things might be better for the bluefin if it were possible to breed them in captivity, as well as raising them there. Though they call it farming, what Mr Azzopardi and his competitors are engaged in is actually more like ranching. Real husbandry nurtures animals from birth to death rather than just fattening up wild-caught individuals. That could bring economic benefits. It would also, some people think, take the pressure off wild stocks.

Clean Seas Tuna, an Australian company, has been working on the idea of farming bluefins for more than a decade, and seems to have made some progress. Last year it posted a video on YouTube showing baby southern bluefin that it had bred.

But there is more to farming than just breeding. A recurring problem for tuna-rearers is “spooking and walling”. Alex Mühlhölzl of Oceanic Tuna, a company based in Scotland which also claims to be able to breed bluefin, explains that the fish are easily frightened. In the sea, there are no walls and a frightened fish’s best escape is to swim off very fast indeed in whatever direction takes its fancy. In tanks and cages, however, this is a bad—often fatal—strategy.

Another argument against both ranching and farming is that the tuna still have to be fed, and that means with other fish caught from the wild. But this could change. In the case of salmon, a carnivorous species that is now farmed routinely, it has proved possible to mix veggies and other sources of protein into the fish’s chow. The fish content of salmon food has been reduced from 70% in 1972 to around 20% today, says Kjell Bjordal, the head of Ewos, a Norwegian fish-food company.

Feeding has also become more efficient. Mr Bjordal says that for salmon the conversion rate—the number of kilos of food needed for a gain of one kilo of body weight—is now almost 1.1:1. For tuna it can be as bad as 6:1. But that is where salmon farming was 35 years ago, so there is plenty of scope for improvement.

If bluefin could be farmed routinely, it might bring the price down, relieving pressure on wild stocks, as happened with salmon. That would be a boon to the hungry consumer. It would also be a boon to the species itself, though—again, as with salmon—the wild animal might become a premium product in its own right.

Robert Prather:

No doubt a mixed approach will be necessary that will contain market mechanisms and some instances of command and control. As for market mechanisms, I would prefer a system of tradable fishing quotas. In essence, there would be a permit that entitled existing fishermen to catch a certain amount of fish each year in an area and the permit would be tradable, creating a transferrable property right that would have value, much like the medallion system for taxi cabs in New York City (though that’s not a commons problem).A fisherman who wanted to exit fishing at some point, either for retirement or to start a new career, could sell his permit to another fisherman. The benefits to this seem obvious to me, such as creating a method for fishermen to exit or enter the profession based on how much it’s worth to them while also giving them a sort of “ownership” of the ocean. Alone though, it won’t be enough.

The article goes into some detail discussing the existing treaty arrangements and the potential solutions to the larger problem of overfishing. For once, this is an area where the UN’s involvement is essential and welcome, to me. We’re dealing with a resource that’s in international waters and no other organization has jurisdiction. Of course, treaties will be needed and command and control policies, such as a ban on fishing in large parts of the ocean, might be necessary to allow fisheries to recover.

There’s another article that’s quite interesting on genetically engineered salmon that I wanted to address, but this post is quite long already. I’ll leave you with a comment from the article’s comment section (#236) that’s nothing more than a leftist laundry list of Luddite laments:

Scientists are killing us with their good intentions. Chernobyl, Deep water drilling, Bhopal, Roundup Ready soybeans, genetically modified fast growing chickens, cows and now fish. This planet is going to hell in a handbasket. The problem is overpopulation, greed and ignorance compounded by “scientific breakthroughs” that allow overpopulation, greed and ignorance to continue uninterupted.

Now most of these aren’t even necessarily bad, but that’s a discussion for another time. Between the far left’s anti-science positions as described above and the far right’s creationism and such, it’s a wonder there was ever a Renaissance or Enlightenment.

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Filed under Animal Rights, Energy, Environment, Food, Foreign Affairs

The Getting Back Of One’s Life Is Best Done On A Boat Named Bob

Joshua Green:

In a classic Friday afternoon news dump, BP has apparently demoted the bumbling Tony Hayward. According to the New York Times:

A day after he came under relentless attack at a Congressional hearing, BP chief executive Tony Hayward was displaced as the man in charge of the company’s response to the spill.

This move might have made sense a month ago, when it first became clear that Hayward had been born, tragically, without a smidgen of self-awareness. But after yesterday’s performance before Congress, I’m not so sure this is justified or wise for BP: whatever Jedi mind trick Hayward employed to compel Joe Barton’s apology seems like a most useful asset. Most of the reaction today wasn’t about “evil BP” but about what a blinkered moron Barton was for apologizing. If I were running BP, I wouldn’t be so quick to give that up.

Nicole Allan at The Atlantic:

After his grueling testimony before Congress yesterday, BP CEO Tony Hayward is being moved out of the limelight. Carl-Henric Svanberg, chairman of the company, has announced that Hayward will no longer be overseeing day-to-day clean-up operations in the Gulf. He will return to England while BP’s managing director, Robert Dudley, takes over the company’s spill response effort.

Dudley’s appointment is a clear attempt on BP’s part to re-brand its reaction to the spill. He grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and often spent summers on the Gulf Coast. He has expressed horror at the damage the spill has levied on the region and lends a more sympathetic, in-touch, and, significantly, American presence to BP’s leadership team.

Hayward, on the other hand, has been pegged as an arrogant, unfeeling Brit. The American media slammed his cold, complacent demeanor at yesterday’s hearing, but the U.K. papers took a different stance. The Daily Mail ran a story titled, “Sliced and Diced on Capitol Hill: BP Boss Treated Like Public Enemy No. 1 by American Politicians,” while the Daily Express compared the hearing to a “public execution.” Hayward has not done much to endear himself to the reeling residents of the Gulf Coast, notoriously saying that he wants to get the spill under control because he’d “like [his] life back.”

Brian Merchant at Treehugger:

Of course, Hayward’s dismissal from US public operations, means little to the elements of the spill that truly matter — like stopping it, for starters. Whether or not Hayward is around to make an ass of himself and his company probably has little bearing on how the cleanup effort is orchestrated (though if his public remarks have been any indicator, his common sense may be, well, lacking …).

Regardless, the well keeps on gushing oil, crude continues to make landfall, and life around the Gulf continues to be threatened. So let’s all bid our pal Tony adieu — I mean, the poor guy is finally getting his life back.

Danny Groner at Huffington Post:

With word that Hayward is out as a spokesperson, bloggers delivered the expected and necessary snark upon word of his dismissal. They did their jobs in eerily similar ways, taking Hayward’s words and using them against him. Here, a collection of some of the headlined punch lines being hurled at the executive:

“Tony Hayward, BP CEO, gets his life back, no longer in charge of running Gulf cleanup operations”- New York Daily News

“Tony Hayward Gets His Life Back”-Time

“Rejoice: BP’s Tony Hayward Will Get His Life Back”-Gawker

“Tony Hayward Gets His Life Back”-DealBreaker

“BP’s Hayward ‘Gets Life Back’ in Demotion”-NewsMax

“BP CEO Tony Hayward Relieved Of Day-To-Day Gulf Duties, Gets Life Back”-Mediaite

“BP CEO Tony Hayward Does Not Want His Life Back Anymore”-New York magazine

Here’s hoping Carl-Henric Svanberg steps down and in turn gets repeatedly labeled a “small person” for it.

Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

For Tony Hayward, after dealing with the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history every day for 60 days, it’s vacation time. He’s currently attending a yacht race around England’s Isle of Wight, where his 52-foot boat named “Bob” is participating. “He’s spending a few hours with his family at a weekend. I’m sure that everyone would understand that,” said a BP spokesperson, insisting it was Hayward’s first break since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig April 20. Sixty days and nights! As for the race, Hayward is “well known to have a keen interest in it.” Straws, camels, backs, etc. Tony, get used to vacation. Though it seemed like Hayward’s time running (ruining?) operations in the Gulf of Mexico was over, today it’s merely a brief reprieve, according to the New York Times:

BP officials scrambled on Saturday to say that Tony Hayward, their embattled chief executive, was still in charge of all BP operations in spite of comments from the company’s chairman the day before indicating that Mr. Hayward was relinquishing his duties in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Shit Sandwich, called it “part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes.” At this point, the only question remaining is how many hours until the official Hayward-getting-yanked announcement comes through. Or if someone’s going sink his boat. “To quote Tony Hayward, he’s got his life back,” Emanuel continued.

If Hayward is around when I am next Saturday, I’ll eat my shoe and put it on YouTube.

Jeff Neumann at Gawker

Hugh Collins at Politics Daily:

The race’s website describes it as a “great opportunity to watch world-renowned sailors racing against families and first time racers.” Every boat receives a memento to mark the race and there are over 60 prizes up for grabs, according to the website.

Hayward’s boat finished fourth in its class, Fox News reported.

“This will be seen as yet another public relations disaster for him from people who have got exceedingly upset about this whole thing,” Hugh Walding of the environmental organization, Friends of the Earth, said, according to The Daily Mail. “He should at least be managing the image of the company better.”

Yesterday, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said that Hayward would be taking a back seat in the Gulf clean-up operation. Svanberg acknowledged that some of Hayward’s comments in the aftermath of the disaster had harmed the company.

“It is clear Tony has made remarks that have upset people,” Svanberg told Sky News.

Hayward’s blunders include downplaying the size of the spill by saying, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean” and commenting that growing health problems among clean-up workers may be related to food poisoning, rather than their exposure to crude oil and dispersants.

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We’ve Been Hit By A Smooth, And Oily, Criminal

Image from Gawker

Giles Whittell, Robert Lea and Ian King at The Times:

BP’s future as a global concern was at stake tonight after the US Attorney General, announced that he was launching a criminal and a civil investigation into the Louisiana oil spill.

As Eric Holder made his announcement, the British company’s chief executive fought to halt a headlong slide in its stock price.

After losing a third of its value in just six weeks, BP is expected to promise shareholders their full annual dividend in a last-ditch bid to retain their loyalty. More than £12 billion was wiped off the company’s value today alone, as Mr Obama dispatched his top prosecutor to Louisiana and vowed to bring to justice those responsible for what he called “the greatest environmental disaster of its kind in our history”.

Shares in what used to be Britain’s biggest company endured their worst day’s trading in more than two decades, dragging down the FTSE 100 index and with it the value of dozens of leading pension funds.

In Washington, Mr Obama stepped up his efforts to assert control over the disaster response with his second televised address in less than a week. “If our laws have been broken leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of the catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region,” he said.

Mr Holder announced that he was launching a criminal and a civil investigation into the oil spill. Earlier, he met Louisiana law enforcement officials in New Orleans after ordering BP to preserve records that could shed light on what led to the disaster. He has also instructed US Department of Justice staff to look for evidence of “malfeasance” in the days and hours before the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up.

Gus Lubin at Business Insider:

Attorney General Eric Holder has launched a criminal and civil investigation into Deepwater Horizon. Although expected, this confirms the worst fears of BP CEO Tony Hayward and associated executives.

“If I were an exec at BP, I wouldn’t be sleeping for the next several years,” said Tony Buzbee, a trial lawyer who has faced BP in several cases.

Buzbee expects a federal criminal investigation to occur in secrecy over several years. The most likely charge is violation of the Clean Air and Water act, which could lead to one year in jail for persons deemed responsible.

Manslaughter charges are unlikely, as these fall outside the ambit of a federal prosecutor, according to Buzbee.

Matthew McDermott at Treehugger:

I can here the collective cry of ‘Right on!’ and ‘About effing time!’ rising up from the TreeHugger readership… CNN is reporting that US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the Gulf Gusher. We’ll have more as it emerges, but this is what we know so far:

Holder said the investigation would be comprehensive and aggressive. He promised that the federal officials will prosecute anyone who broke the law. Holder, who made the announcement during a visit to the Gulf, called early signs of the spill heartbreaking and tragic. The attorney general was in the Gulf to survey the BP oil spill and meet with state attorneys general and federal prosecutors from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the Justice Department.

This all comes after a group of Senators sent Holder a letter last week urging an investigation of potential criminal and/or civil wrongdoing by BP; and statements by Holder last month that the Justice Department would “ensure that BP is held liable.”

Again, more as it emerges. It’s likely to take some time. Though hopefully not as long as it’s taking BP to stop this madness…

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

Some context for understanding possible points of interest for DoJ investigators comes from a preliminary report released last week by Robert Bea, the Director of UC Berkeley’s Catastrophic Risk Management Center: “Failures of the Deepwater Horizon Semi-Submersible Drilling Unit.” Bea’s report, which he describes as “preliminary insights … based upon more than 500 hours of analyses of currently available data provided by approximately 60 informants,” places joint responsibility for the disaster on both BP and the regulatory authority, MMS.

Here’s the most relevant excerpt:

  • Based on the information available to me thus far, I believe the Deepwater Horizon failure developed due to:
  • improper well design (configuration of well tubulars),
  • improper cement design and placement (segmented discontinuous cement sheath, minimal volume placed adjacent to lost circulation zone),
  • flawed Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA / QC) — no cement bond logs, ineffective oversight of operations,
  • bad decision making — removing the pressure barrier — displacing the drilling mud with sea water 8,000 feet below the drill deck,
  • loss of situational awareness — early warning signs not properly detected, analyzed or corrected (repeated major gas kicks, lost drilling tools, including evidence of damaged parts of the Blow Out Preventer [BOP] during drilling and/or cementing, lost circulation, changes in mud volume and drill string weight),
  • improper operating procedures — premature off-loading of the drilling mud (weight material not available at critical time),
  • flawed design and maintenance of the final line of defense — including the shear rams of the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) and the associated electrical and hydraulic equipment.

I’m not sure at what point any of the multiple instances of BP incompetence cross the line into criminal malfeasance, but we will certainly be learning more about that in the weeks and  months to come. In the meantime, BP CEO Tony Hayward says: “I want my life back.” I don’t think he’s going to get it.

Annie Lowrey at The Washington Independent:

And Congress is starting to take a hard look at regulatory legislation surrounding the oil industry as well. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he heads, will hold a hearing next week “to examine how recent court decisions and federal liability caps influence corporate behavior, affect American taxpayers, and provide justice to victims.”

New laws are coming. One option would be to address the negative externality of cleanup costs: taxing all oil companies and processors in the United States, and forcing them to use the funds to explore new technologies to be used in the event of a disaster. For even if BP had managed to prevent the Deepwater Horizon incident, another catastrophic oil spill would have happened somewhere else, sometime soon. The technologies used to contain and clean up oil remain rudimentary and highly ineffective, particularly those used at sea — top kill, bags of hair, faulty seals. (Of all the well shut-down methods I have seen, it is distressing that the Russians’ controlled nuclear explosion has seemed most promising.) The next conflagration will take light at some point. It would be useful to force the companies at fault to invent the fire hydrant before then.

How to structure the tax? I leave it to the public policy experts to figure that out. But I would imagine either requiring oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries to spend one or two percent of profits on cleanup and prevention research, then allowing them to license or sell their products to one another; or taxing the oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries, putting the funds into a pool and having the government disburse the money to vetted research organizations.

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Filed under Crime, Energy, Environment

“What Would Brian Boitano Do?”

Pareene at Gawker:

Despite the fact that this is essentially an ad for a Viacom product that also promotes a GE-sponsored celebration of nationalism, this Shepard Fairey poster for Stephen Colbert’s Olympics trip is pretty cool. So go paper Vancouver with it, kids!

Matthew Yglesias:

I love any good high-level sports competition, so I’ll be watching some winter Olympics even though it’s definitely worse than the summer games. Hockey, curling, and short-track speed-skating are, in my view, the best of the winter offerings. The various figure skating and ice dancing events are pretty dull if you ask me. I think the games could be improved by shifting some of the indoor summer activities to the winter, particularly some of the fighting sports that wind up getting lost in the summertime shuffle. Is there some particular reason judo can’t be a winter sport? I don’t think so.

That kind of move would also make the winter games less white. Speaking of which, any time I think of the winter Olympics I think of Reihan Salam’s great article from four years ago “White Snow, Brown Rage”.

Reihan Salam‘s old piece in Slate:

Mind you, I am rooting for the United States. I am pleased to see that a generation of would-be ski bums are putting aside the Propecia, the Jack Daniels, and “the doob” in the hopes of becoming Olympic contenders. And though I spent my childhood winter vacations eating chipped lead paint, I don’t begrudge those of my compatriots who were off drinking hot cocoa with Muffy, Buffy, and Tad. Still, I can’t help but wonder: What if there had been chocolaty role models taking the slopes by storm when I was but a young pup?

Like the Augusta National Golf Club, the Winter Olympics is “exclusive.” Paul Farhi, writing in the Washington Post, has described it as “almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations.” Growing up, I forsook the lily-white Winter Olympics for the multi-culti Summer Games. I still vividly recall the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when my middle sister and I cheered on every wiry, diminutive American athlete of a darker hue. When you squint, a fearsome Latino bantamweight looks not unlike one of the burnt ochre Salams.

Now, let’s compare that image of a powerful brown-skinned pugilist with that of my Winter Olympic role models. In 1988, we of course had the Jamaican bobsled team, immortalized in the classic film Cool Runnings. Given the team’s lackluster performance, Stool Runnings might have been a more apt characterization. Pluck and determination count for something, to be sure. And yes, Jamaica has no snow, leading some softhearted types to give its Winter Olympians a pass. But even as an 8-year-old, I was hoping for something more. Specifically, I was hoping to see this Third World band of brothers humble their colonialist oppressors with furious bobsled action. Instead, I was told that merely finishing the race was a “triumph of the human spirit” for these stumbling boobs. Meanwhile, pasty and perfumed Hanz and Franz were high-fiving each other on the medal stand. Call it tribalism of the basest sort, but I will never apologize. I want some brown sugar, on ice.

Chuck Klosterman at Esquire:

In order to enjoy the Olympics, you can’t think critically about anything. You just have to root for America (or whatever country you’re from) and assume that your feelings are inherently correct. It’s the same kind of antilogic you need to employ whenever you attend a political convention or a church service or movies directed by Steven Spielberg. When Savannah power lifter Cheryl Ann Haworth tries to clean and jerk the equivalent of a white rhino, we (as Americans) will be obligated to pray for her success, despite the fact that we know nothing about her or any of her foes. We’re all supposed to take inspiration from Sada Jacobson, who (I’m told) is the world’s number-one female saber fencer, which is kind of like being the world’s number-one Real World/ Road Rules Challenge participant.1 In a matter of weeks, everyone is going to be ecstatic about the prospect of Michael Phelps winning as many as eight gold medals in swimming, even though I have yet to find a single person who knows who Michael Phelps is.

This is what I can’t stand about the Olympics, and it’s also what I can’t stand about certain sports enthusiasts: the idea that rooting for a team without any justification somehow proves that you are a “true fan.” All it proves is that you’re ridiculous, and that you don’t really consider the factors that drive your emotions, and that you probably care more about geography and the color of a uniform than you do about the sport you’re ostensibly watching. I have a sportswriter friend who constantly attempts to paint me as a soulless hypocrite because I adored the Boston Celtics in 1984 but am wholly ambivalent toward them today. His argument makes no sense to me. I have no idea why my feelings about an organization twenty years ago should have any effect on how I think now. The modern Celtics have different players, a different coach, a different offense, different management, different ownership, and play in a different arena; the only similarities between these two squads are that they both wear green and they both use the same parquet floor.

I’m not rooting for flooring.

Stephen Messenger at Treehugger:

While the Eastern seaboard of the US faces whiteout conditions, the host city for the Winter Olympics, set to open this Friday, is finding itself strangely short on snow. Since organizers realized that none was on the way, they have been scrambling to do all they can to ensure there’s enough of the stuff to support the games. The problem is that temperatures during January were the highest on record and snowfall has been sparse. Conditions are so balmy, in fact, residents have been seen wearing shorts.

Nature is Not Providing Any More Snow
According to a report from The Guardian, after learning they weren’t going to be delivered any snow by nature before the start of the games, organizers have been working tirelessly to procure the stuff other ways. Helicopters have been bringing snow every five minutes, trucks have been driving it in from far away, while snow cannons have been blowing constantly.

On the mountainside, organizers are cooling what little snow there is with dry-ice to try to keep it from melting in the unseasonably warm weather.

For Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old luger from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, this would be his death. In an accident so grisly and horrific that Canadian TV stations suggested viewers turn away, the young athlete died shortly after flying too fast through the 50-50 Curve, losing control on the final 270-degree turn, hurdling projectile-like over an icy wall and slamming into an unpadded — yes, unpadded — steel pole. A rescue crew tried to revive him trackside by pumping his chest and giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but there was no hope. Kumaritashvili was dead, a victim of a sport gone mad and organizers who weren’t paying enough attention.

So sadly, for a subtle country that aches to show its might and efficiency, Canada already has its defining moment of the XXI Winter Games. Regardless of Vancouver’s beauty or how spectacular the competition turns out, how are we going to forget that a luger perished because a bunch of morons built the track too fast? A full house of Canadians, trying to make the best of an awful situation, mustered cheers and energy Friday night during the Opening Ceremony inside B.C. Place. But frankly, they should have postponed the Ceremony for a night out of respect to the fallen athlete, even if NBC protested and had to air Conan O’Brien reruns. Only seconds into the proceedings, the public-address man announced somberly that the ceremony was being dedicated to Kumaritashvili’s memory. No matter how many lights sparkled, how many times they played the stirring “Oh, Canada,” how many athletes tried to smile and how many native singers entertained — Nelly Furtado, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang among them — thousands of us sat inside the downtown dome and thought only about the senselessness of it all.

Wayne Gretzky and Steve Nash among those lighting the Olympic cauldron at night’s end? Didn’t faze me. I was numb, thinking about the crash and a young man’s family. And I sat disgusted by what I heard from Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC. At an afternoon news conference, he struggled to hold back tears when speaking of the tragedy. “This is a very sad day. The IOC is in deep mourning,” he said. “(Kumaritashvili) lost his life pursuing his passion. I have no words to say what we feel. It clearly casts a shadow over these Games.”

But when asked why the safety warnings weren’t heeded or addressed, Rogge suddenly grew abrupt. “I’m sorry, this is a time of sorrow. It’s not the time to ask for reasons,” he said. “That time will come.”

That time is now, Jacques. Shame on you for not answering the question with more care. We need to know why the track was so dangerous, why no one listened to the lugers about safety. We need to know why some of these Winter Games events are too life-threatening, why we’re seeing too many accidents like the one that left Shaun White eating the halfpipe while performing his dangerous Double McTwist 1260, or the late-January wreck that dislocated the hip of U.S. skier Daron Rahlves and might knock him out of the Games. I realize we’ve bemoaned the growing irrelevance of the Winter Olympics and have urged IOC officials to light a spark.

The Funeral competition was not what we had in mind.

Milton Kent at Fanhouse:

NBC may have intended to throw a big party for Friday’s opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, but the events of the day, to wit, the death of a competitor, forced the network to call a temporary halt to the fun and frivolity.

The network eschewed the expected opening panoramic shots of Vancouver and its surroundings set to the Olympics theme, “Bugler’s Dream,” to go right into coverage of the story of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luger who died Friday during a practice run before the official opening of the Games.

Off the top of the broadcast, Bob Costas and Matt Lauer, on hand to anchor the ceremonies at Vancouver’s B.C. Place, launched a solid eight-minute block of coverage into Kumaritashvili’s death.

The reporting, smartly handed off to the network’s news department, was probing, but sensitive, noting the questions that had been asked about the safety of the course, as well as documenting the crashes that had taken place before Kumaritashvili’s fateful practice run.

Still, the tone of the coverage seemed aimed more at explaining the accident through the prism of the inexperience of the 21-year-old athlete rather than calling attention to what the viewer could obviously see.

Namely, the wall over which Kumaritashvili slid over seemed perilously low, and his crash into an unpadded concrete support beam appeared inexplicable, yet it took to near the end of the report for news anchor Brian Williams to raise those questions.

John Nichols at The Nation:

Not to be too tough on the organizers of the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics, but how come someone else had to sing the Leonard Cohen song?

Of course, there was going to be a performance of “Hallelujah,” the passable Cohen song that has achieved iconic status thanks to cover versions by Jeff Buckley and so many others.

But why have k.d. lang sing it?

Why not Cohen?

After all, if the Olympics opening ceremonies are about anything akin to cultural authenticity — a suggestion that organizers take seriously, even if savvy critics find it amusing — then any not have the writer and original singer (and the man who, upon his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was aptly described by Lou Reed as having entered “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters”) of the song perform. True, Cohen is 75 and he’s got an ailing back, but something tells me he could have made it to Vancouver for this show.

His performance, perhaps as a duo with lang (a longtime Cohen fan whose performance Friday night was riveting), would have been far more powerful than what we got.

And what of the obligatory version of “O Canada”? Was it really necessary to have a talented young artist, June Award-winning jazz stylist Nikki Yanofsky,” mutate the national anthem into a cringe-worthy power ballad. If the organizers really thought the song needed to be punched up, they should have just gone for it and had Rush perform. (A note here: The full band, not just Geddy Lee.)

Better yet, have Joni Mitchell perform “A Case of You” and then break into “O Canada” where her lyrics reference the song.

Even better, how about War Party morphing their aboriginal hip-hop anthem “This Land Was Ours” into “O Canada”?

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Oh Canada. After much speculation about who would light the flame, tonight’s very lengthy, very Canadian, Winter Olympics 2010 opening ceremony ended with a, shall we say epic, passing off of the Olympic torch: from Rick Hansen, to Catriona Le May Doan to Steve Nash (yes, he’s Canadian) to Nancy Greene Raine, to the Great One Wayne Gretzky (was there ever another choice?). It was perfect. Then things got a bit tricky. It’s a moment perhaps best enjoyed via Twitter (video below):

@cherwenka: Uh oh. We forgot the cauldron.


@rachelsterne: “Truth be told, they may be experiencing something of a mechanical failure here.”

: omg gretzky’s face. omg. please work, whatever is supposed to work. also, i’m sorry for laughing.

@cherwenka: Anyone else thinking about spinal tap right now? #olympics

@MajoratWH: An OC “door malfunction.” How discreetly Canadian.

@raywert: Wayne Gretzky doesn’t look happy.

@eahanks: Someone is getting fired right now, in very angry French, I imagine. #van2010

@raywert: How many Canadians does it take to light an Olympic torch? #toosoon #Olympics #badjokes

@dceiver: Okay, so apparently, Gretzky is going off to do this again with Chief Justice John Roberts, and everything will be fine.

@cherwenka: RT @colleenlindsay: This just in: Olympic torch pillars being recalled by Toyota. #olympics

@MajoratWH: Anyone can do harmonically balanced, 4 pronged indoor ice crystal. 3 legged one, so unconvetional, arch, unique. #torchexcuses

Fear not, the flame was eventually lit. The Winter Olympics 2010 have officially begun.

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Just When Things Couldn’t Look Any Worse, Bob Vila Comes In And Saves Us

David Leonhardt at NYT:

And the economy still needs help. So White House officials are looking at creating a new version of cash for clunkers — this time for home weatherization.

John Doerr, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and former President Bill Clinton have separately suggested versions of the idea to the White House. Mr. Doerr calls his proposal, which would give households money to pay for weatherization projects, “cash for caulkers.” Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, told me, “It’s one of the top things he’s looking at.”

The idea has a lot to recommend it. The housing bust has idled contractors and construction workers, who could be put to work insulating homes and caulking air leaks. Many households, meanwhile, would save substantial money — not to mention help the climate — by weatherizing their homes, research by McKinsey & Company has shown. All in all, a cash-for-caulkers program seems like a promising part of the jobs program for 2010 that Mr. Obama has suggested he is planning.

But I would also mention one point of caution: the details of any caulkers plan will matter enormously. Weatherizing a home, as I recently discovered, turns out to be a lot more complicated than buying a car.

This year, my wife and I had an energy audit done on our home. We were interested in finding out if we could save money and, given the attention that weatherizing was starting to get, I figured it could also make for good column fodder. For $400, an auditor spent hours scouring our house, with the help of a big fan he set up in our front door and an infrared camera. He produced a full-color, 13-page detailed report, informing us of the leaks in our house, and he was also willing to tell us which changes were usually a waste of money (new windows).

Even so, we are still trying to figure out which weatherization projects we should do. The whole package would probably cost $4,500 and save us something like $400 a year. We may not stay in the house nearly long enough to justify the investment.

Such concerns are typical. How do you find an auditor? How do you know whether you should seal a few ducts or pay $2,000 for new insulation? Which of the existing subsidies — state and federal — might you qualify for?

Calculated Risk:

This proposal has merit. There are many unemployed construction workers – so this would help with unemployment (a real jobs bill) – and weatherization would save the homeowners money over time.

Added: Of course homeowners with negative equity will probably not want to invest in their homes since deferred maintenance is common for “debtowners”. (ht Tim waiting for 2012)

Ezra Klein:

As Leonhardt reports, a number of such programs are being considered under the cute title “cash-for-caulkers,” both because they’re good stimulus policy and good energy policy. It’s exactly the sort of stimulus the government should be funding: It wouldn’t happen without federal support, it works in concert with other government priorities, and it’s both a stimulus program and a jobs program.

Stephen Spruiell at National Review:

Whether the stimulus has created any jobs at all is subject to serious debate — I take up this question in the next issue of NRODT — but one thing we know is that it has not created anywhere near the number of jobs its supporters claim it did. Tens of thousands of the jobs the stimulus reportedly saved were never really in danger; other job totals were inflated when government agencies and non-profits counted raises as new jobs. Scattered construction projects? You mean like the $3.4 million eco-passage for turtles in Florida or John Murtha’s airport to nowhere? There’s a reason these measures are not popular: They are powerful reminders that government has neither the incentives nor the information to guide economic resources to where they are most needed.

Despite the government’s abysmal track record in this regard, the alternative — letting individual economic decisions guide resources — is just too horrible for some people to contemplate. Case in point: Millions of homeowners have evaluated the costs and benefits of energy-saving weatherization projects and decided they’re not worth it. Horror! What’s needed, Leonhardt says, is a “cash for caulkers” program.

This idea is not new. The stimulus bill gave the Department of Energy $5 billion to fund weatherization efforts in low-income communities. For starters, these programs are especially prone to waste and fraud:

The money is first allocated to state governments, which are then directed to give funding priority to “community action agencies.” (Hello, ACORN!) Prior to the stimulus windfall, the program had a tiny budget; its auditors nevertheless found tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of waste in one state (Pennsylvania) alone.

They also fail the test of timeliness: Unions have tied up the spending with lawsuits:

In another state (Nevada), the massive influx of stimulus funds met with delays and confusion after organized labor claimed it wasn’t getting a big enough share. After the stimulus passed, Nevada Democrats passed a law requiring half the new workers to have gone though union apprenticeships, adding to the cost of the program and slowing its pace. On top of that, the AFL-CIO sued the state housing division, arguing that all the new jobs should pay union wages and benefits. States and unions are involved in similar disputes in other states, leading even green advocates to question how much bang for the buck the program is providing.Leonhardt stresses the need to make sure that we design cash for caulkers so that it doesn’t have all that waste and fraud normally associated with government programs. “The details . . . will matter enormously,” he writes. Leonhardt’s admonition will also serve as a handy excuse when the program becomes as big a bust as the rest of the stimulus. It’s not that the government is ill-equipped to spend money wisely or efficiently, you see. It’s just that it keeps screwing up the darn details!

Democracy in America at The Economist:

If weatherising buildings saves money, why aren’t people already doing it? The McKinsey report explains that extremely well:

Energy efficiency measures typically require a substantial upfront investment in exchange for savings that accrue over the lifetime of the deployed measures. Additionally, efficiency potential is highly fragmented, spread across more than 100 million locations and billions of devices used in residential, commercial, and industrial settings… Finally, measuring and verifying energy not consumed is by its nature difficult.

So there you go: lots of potential for saving energy, if you can organise people with the right incentives. Which brings us to our second easier-than-people-realise global-warming fighter: dispersed generation of electricity from solar photovoltaic panels. Todd Woody writes at Grist.org that thin-film solar panels have evolved so fast and dropped so rapidly in price that industry analysts like Black & Veatch are having to rewrite their reports.

In short, solar panel prices have plummeted so much as to make viable the prospect of generating gigawatts of electricity from rooftops and photovoltaic farms built near cities.

“This has pretty significant implications in terms of transmission planning,” Ryan Pletka, Black & Veatch’s renewable energy project manager, told me last week. “What we thought would happen in a five-year time frame has happened in one year.”

California has mandated 60,000 gigawatt hours of renewable-energy electric generation by 2020. Originally, “distributed generation” (ie, photovoltaic cells on homeowners’ and businesses’ roofs and buildings) wasn’t supposed to play much of a role in that goal; instead the state relied on huge new solar projects out in the desert, which in turn required large transmission projects to bring the electricity to cities. But with the drop in price for thin-film solar panels, it may now be cheaper and faster to pay urban homeowners and businesses to deploy solar panels and feed their electricity into the grid than to build giant projects far from cities. Just last year, Black & Veatch estimated distributed generation could meet just 2,000 megawatt hours; Mr Pletka now estimates it could contribute 40,000 gigawatt hours, or two-thirds of the total demand.

So, yeah, things are moving too fast, and we can’t keep up. But some of the things that are moving too fast to keep up with are going in the right direction.

Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic:

I actually think, from a consumer standpoint, it’s exactly the wrong kind of stimulus project. The reason why cash for clunkers worked so well was because consumers often only need to put a little money down initially when purchasing a car, but can pay the loan over 5 to 7 years. That means even though money is tight right now, that’s okay: most of the cost will come in future years, as the economy improves.

Unless the caulkers program also envisions providing home improvement loans, I just don’t see consumers jumping at the idea of coming up with $2,000 to $4,000 dollars to cover half the cost of these weatherization projects. Remember, the energy savings will be quite gradual, so there won’t do much to help their finances at a time when Americans need it most.

I’m also completely unconvinced that people will be excited about weatherization. People loved cash for clunkers because it gave them a shiny new car to drive around. There’s no instant gratification here, only the prospect of saving a few hundred dollars per year on energy costs going forward. The average American consumer has a notoriously short attention span and isn’t fiscally responsible enough to much care about saving a few hundred dollars per year if it costs them thousands up front. If they were, these weatherization projects would already be wildly popular. So I think participation will be lackluster.

But if I’m wrong, and demand is staggering, then that could be a problem too. Effective weatherization isn’t trivial: you need a company that actually knows what it’s doing and can perform an extensive evaluation of your home to determine what needs to be done. Leonhardt explains his own experience in his piece — it involved a highly skilled weatherization expert. Surely, there aren’t many companies out there that truly specialize in this expertise, so how would the industry be able to handle the kind of demand Congress would hope for? Training would be required to hire more workers to develop the necessary skills, so the jobs wouldn’t be shovel-ready.

Finally, there might be some political anger about this one: it would serve as yet another example of the government handing money to homeowners and ignoring renters. Most landlords have their tenants pay the electric bill — so the property owners have no incentive to weatherize and wouldn’t participate. As a renter myself, I can relate to the annoyance of the government focusing so much on homeowners with their mortgage bailout and home buyers’ credit. Do they really need another subsidy?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum

UPDATE #2: Brian Merchant at Treehuggers

Sam Stein at Huffington Post

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Not All Your Hoaxes Involve Balloons And Boys


The e-mail is obviously from Marc Ambinder’s page.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

The headline, if true, would be a news story indeed: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to a press release e-mailed to journalists this morning, had decided to reverse its opposition to strong climate change legislation.   But that’s false. Some unknown group decided to punk the Chamber. And in the process, at least one news organization, Reuters, fell for it.

The news release, e-mailed about 11:00 a.m., linked to a “Chamber” webpage — a fake — which, in turn, featured links to official Chamber sites. The spoof page features a short National Press Club speech, purportedly by Chamber President “Tom Donahue” — his name is misspelled –, where he acknowledged that “[t]oday’s momentous decision indeed comes after a difficult period – a very long one.”
Then comes the comment from the Chamber spokesperson, one “Hingo Sembra.”

“We believe that strong climate legislation is the best way to ensure American innovation, create jobs, and make sure the U.S. and the world are on track to reduce global carbon emissions, and to provide for the needs of the American business community for generations to come.”

Keith Johnson at WSJ:

One interesting thing in the fake statement by the fake Chamber: Carbon taxes are still perferable to cap-and-trade legislation under consideration in Congress. “A carbon tax means less need for legislating by Congress, a surer business environment for companies, and a simpler, competition-friendly mechanism for reducing carbon than the bill’s current cap-and-trade approach,” the fake announcement read.

The Chamber’s reversal may well have been a joke. But the arguments in favor of a carbon tax are anything but a hoax.

Daniel Kessler at Treehugger:

In an amazing turn of events, the US Chamber of Commerce has changed its position and now supports action on global warming. Well, this would be true if the folks at Avaaz Action Factory had their way. The group put on a fake press conference today posing as the Chamber to draw attention to the business association’s backward looking position on climate action. The ruse worked for Reuters, which covered the “press conference” as if it was real.

Zachary Roth at TPM:

It’s not yet clear who perpetrated the hoax announcing that the Chamber of Commerce had changed its position on climate change. (It hasn’t, and remains opposed to serious efforts to deal with the problem.)

But some evidence points to the Yes Men, a group of activists known for similar stunts.

An email address attached to the domain name registration for the website hosting the fake press release has also been identified in online postings as being tied to a November 2008 hoax which the Yes Men played a role in, involving handing out fake copies of the New York Times announcing falsely that the Iraq War had ended.

The Chamber told TPMmuckraker it doesn’t know who was behind the hoax, and is looking into it.

Neither of the Yes Men’s two principals, Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos, responded immediately to requests for comment from TPMmuckraker.

UPDATE: Zachary Roth at TPM

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time

UPDATE #2: Julian Sanchez

UPDATE #3: Zachary Roth at TPM

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Look For A Silver Lining In The Carbon Cloud


Joseph Romm at The Energy Collective:

The Energy Information Administration released its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) last week with a bombshell prediction for near-term carbon dioxide emissions:

Projected carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels fall by 6.0 percent in 2009 because of the weak economic conditions and declines in the consumption of most fossil fuels (U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Growth Chart).  Coal leads the drop in 2009 CO2 emissions, falling by nearly 10 percent because of fuel switching from coal to natural gas in the electric power sector.  The projected recovery in the economy contributes to an expected 0.9-percent increase in CO2 emissions in 2010.

Now that’s the perfect storm:  a weak economy, low natural gas prices, state renewable energy standards, and a clean-energy-friendly stimulus (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!“).


If my calculations are right, this means by year’s end we’ll actually be more than 8.5% below 2005 levels in energy-related CO2 emissions, which make up the overwhelming majority of U.S. greenhouse gases.  And that is halfway to the 2020 Waxman-Markey target!  And EIA doesn’t project a dramatic recovery in emissions in 2010 — just a 0.9% rise.

Matthew McDermott at Treehugger:

Based on this analysis, Climate Progress has a laundry list of recommendations for how the climate bill can be strengthened: Reducing emissions allowances for “at least the first several years”, redoing cost estimates of the bill based on the new data, revised projections of CO2 emissions through 2020 (or 2030), and increasing emission reduction targets — 20% below 2005 levels is recommended.

I’ll be the voice of more here: If we’re already halfway to proposed 2020 levels, perhaps an even greater target than 20% below 2005 is in order.

Just to remind everyone: What most climate scientists recommend to ensure global average temperature rise is contained to less than 2°C are reductions (based on 1990 levels) in the range of 25-40% by 2020.

Kate Sheppard at Washington Independent:

This also means that the various agencies toiling away at predictions for how much carbon dioxide reductions would cost the economy should perhaps revisit their predictions. The Congressional Budget Office, the EIA and the Environmental Protection Agency have all offered figures on the economic impacts of emissions reductions, but if the country is already halfway to the targets, the cost would likely be significantly lower.

And it means that the authors of climate legislation will want to dial back the number of allowances put into the market. As the example of the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative demonstrates, accurate accounting will be key to maintaining the integrity of a cap-and-trade program.

Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard:

Obama’s economic stewardship has brought use halfway to the Waxman-Markey target!!! It only took 2.5 million people losing their jobs!!!!!! Imagine how much more damage Obama can do to the economy, and how much less CO2 this country will produce, if Obama can put another 2.5 million people out of work!!!!!!!

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Finally, A Scientific Study Worth The Money

It’s zombies v. humans and guess who wins…

Pallab Ghosh at the BBC:

If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.

That is the conclusion of a mathematical exercise carried out by researchers in Canada.

They say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the fictional creatures.


In their study, the researchers from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University (also in Ottawa) posed a question: If there was to be a battle between zombies and the living, who would win?

Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake) and colleagues wrote: “We model a zombie attack using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies.

“We introduce a basic model for zombie infection and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions.”

To give the living a fighting chance, the researchers chose “classic” slow-moving zombies as our opponents rather than the nimble, intelligent creatures portrayed in some recent films.

“While we are trying to be as broad as possible in modelling zombies – especially as there are many variables – we have decided not to consider these individuals,” the researchers said.

Alex Massie:

In other words they are cheating. It’s like something out of Dad’s Army: You can’t fight like that, it’s not in the rules… Then again, if we can be destroyed by Zombie 1.0, just think how powerless we’d be when confronted by Next Generation Zombies…

Alex Tabarrok

Frank Swain at The Science Punk at Scienceblogs


NotoriousLTP at Neurotopia at Scienceblogs:

They use the mathematical models applied to outbreaks of infectious diseases to show that — absent a cure or concerted eradication of large proportions of zombies simultaneously — we are well and truly screwed. This realization should in no way detract from the observation that MATH IS COOL. It will be a damn shame when the zombies eat it out of our brains.

David Prentice at The Family Research Council blog:

Given the results of the analysis, it might be a good idea to get a copy of “The Zombie Survival Guide“.

Brian Merchant at Treehugger:

Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the UK government’s chief advisors on swine flu, notes the study’s parallels with infectious diseases: “None of them actually cause large-scale death or disease, but certainly there are some fungal infections which are difficult to eradicate.” He says there are “some viral infections – simple diseases like chicken pox has survived in very small communities. When you get it when you are very young, the virus stays with you and can re-occur as shingles, triggering a new chicken pox epidemic.”

Which is why this seemingly outlandish zombie attack scenario is still worth taking a look at scientifically—it may not be done on a serious subject, but the principles are nonetheless sound.

Professor Smith? told BBC News: “When you try to model an unfamiliar disease, you try to find out what’s happening, try to approximate it. You then refine it, go back and try again. We refined the model again and again to say… here’s how you would tackle an unfamiliar disease.”So with SARS, so with swine flu—so with an incoming zombie attack.

But Daniel Drezner wins the internet and looks at this from a different angle (almost entire post here, because editing it seems wrong):


what would different systemic international relations theories* predict regarding the effects of a zombie outbreak? Would the result be inconsequential — or World War Z?

A structural realist would argue that, because of the uneven diustribution of capabilities, some governments will be better placed to repulse the zombies than others. Furthermore, anyone who has seen Land of the Dead knows that zombies are not deterred by the stopping power of water. So that’s the bad news.

The good news is that these same realists would argue that there is no inherent difference between human states and zombie states — they are all subject to the same powerful constraint of anarchy. Therefore, the fundamental character of world politics would not be changed. Indeed, it might even be tactically wise to fashion temporary alliances with certain zonbie states as a way to balance against human states that try to exploit the situation with some kind of idealistic power grab made under the guise of “anti-zombieism.” So, according to realism, the introductions of zombies would not fundamentally alter the character of world politics.

A liberal institutionalist would argue that zombies represent a classic externality problem of… dying and then existing in an undead state. Clearly, the zombie issue would cross borders and affect all states — so the benefits from policy coordination would be pretty massive. This would give states a great opportunity to cooperate on the issue by quickly fashioning a World Zombie Organization (WZO) that would codify and promnulgate rules on how to deal with zombies. Alas, the effectiveness of the WZO would be uncertain. If the zombies had standing and appealed any WZO decision to wipe them out, we could be talking about an 18-month window when zombies could run amok without any effective regulation whatsoever.

Fortunately, the United States would likely respond by creating the North American F*** Zombies Agreement — or NAFZA — to handle the problem regionally. Similarly, one would expect the European Union to issue one mother of a directive to cope with the issue. Indeed, given that zonbies would likely to be covered under genetically modified organisms, the EU would likely trumpet the Catragena Protocol on Biosafety in an “I told you so” kind of way. Inevitably, Andrew Moravcsik would author an essay about the inherent superiority of the EU approach to zombie regulation, and why so many countries in Africa prefer the EU approach over the American approach of “die, motherf***ers, die!!”  Oh, and British beef would once again be banned as a matter of principle.

Now, avid followers of social constructivism might think that Wendt and Duvall (2008) have developed a model that would be useful for this kind of event… but you would be wrong. Back when this paper was in draft stage, I specifically queried them about wther their argument about UFOs could be generalized to zombies, vampires, ghosts, the Loch Ness monster, Elivis, etc.  Their answer was an emphatic “no”:  aliens would be possessors of superior technology, while our classic sci-fi canon tells us that the zombies, while resistant to dying, are not superior to humans. So that’s a dead end.

Instead, constructivists would posit that the zombie problem is what we make of it.  That is to say, there are a number of possible emergent norms in response to zombies. Sure, there’s the Hobbesian “kill or be killed” end game that does seem to be quite popular in the movies.  But there could be a Kantian “pluralistic anti-Zombie” community that bands together and breaks down nationalist divides in an effort to establish a world state. Another way of thinking about this is that the introduction of zombies creates a stronger feeling of ontological security among remaining humans — i.e., they are not flesh-eaters (alas, those bitten by zombies are now both physically and ontologically screwed).

Unfortunately, I fear that constructivists would predict a norm cascade from the rise of zombies. As more and more people embrace the zombie way of undead life, as it were, the remaining humans would feel social pressure to conform and eventually internalize the norms and practices of zombies — kind of like the middle section of Shaun of the Dead. In the end, even humans would adopt zombie-constructed perceptions of right and wrong, and when it’s apprpriate to grunt in a menacing manner.

Now, some would dispute whether neoconservatism is a systemic argument, but let’s posit that it’s a coherent IR theory.  To its credit, the neoconservatives would recognize the zombie threat as an existential threat to the human way of life.  Humans are from Earth, whereas zombies are from Hades — clearly, neoconservatives would argue, zombies hate us for our freedom not to eat other humans’ brains.

While the threat might be existential, accomodation or recognition are not options.  Instead, neocons would quickly gear up an aggressive response to ensure human hegemony.  However, the response would likely be to invade and occupy the central state in the zombie-affected area.  After creating a human outpost in that place, humans in neighboring zombie-affected countries would be inspired to rise up and overthrow their own zombie overlords.  Alas, while this could happen, a more likely outcone would be that, after the initial “Mission Accomplished” banner had been raised, a fresh wave of zombies would rise up, enmeshing the initial landing force — which went in too light and was drawn down too quickly — in a protracted, bloody stalemate.

Readers are hereby encouraged in the comments to posit other IR theoretical prediction of the response to a zombie uprising. For example, would the zombie uprising confirm Marxist predictions about the revolt of the proletariat?

Zombies of the world unite! You have nothing to lose, as you already decomposing!

UPDATE: Tim Cavanaugh in Reason

Tom Maguire

UPDATE #2: JL Wall

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Only Paul Krugman Could Go To China


Paul Krugman went to China and all he brought us back was this column. He argues for a carbon tariff on Chinese goods.

Jim Manzi at The American Scene disagrees with Krugman:

Along with all that carbon dioxide the West put in the air, it also invented polio vaccine, the limited liability corporation, the high-efficiency power turbine and so on. While the West made a ton of money selling these things to what we now call developing countries, there were and are huge externalities because inevitably a lot of this knowledge leaks. The West invented the basic tools for increasing wealth that the successful parts of the developing world are now using to escape poverty, and incidentally emit more carbon dioxide. It is less than obvious why we would select only one of these items, and determine that we have a moral duty to make reparations for it, without considering that the net global effect of the overall system that created these emissions has been extremely positive.

Matt Y has a post up on the subject, with links to other posts:

The bottom line about the international aspects of climate change is that the very idea of an effective response assumes the existence of a generally cooperative international environment. It doesn’t assume the non-existence of the odd “rogue” state here or there, but it assumes the absence of any kind of serious great power rivalries. Not just China, but also India and probably Russia, Brazil, and Indonesia as well are going to need to cooperate in a serious way with the OECD nations on this. And I just don’t see how you’re going to get where you need to get through coercion. If anything, I think attempted economic coercion of China is more likely to wind up breaking down solidarity between the US, EU, and Japan than anything else. First, we impose our carbon tariff. Then suddenly Airbus and European car companies are getting all kinds of sales because the EU hasn’t followed suit. Now not only are the Chinese mad at us, we’re mad at the Europeans. Optimistically, at this point everyone decides coercion is unworkable and we start to back away.

Matt links to James Fallows:

While his [Paul Krugman’s] conclusion — that China has to be part of global efforts to control carbon emissions — is obviously correct and important, his premise — that no one in China admits this — does not square with my observation over these past three years.* As it happens, I spent this very day at a conference in Beijing where the first five presentations I heard were about emissions-reductions and sustainability in one specific domestic industry. (Also, I wrote in the magazine, a year ago, about Chinese people and organizations making similar efforts in a variety of other fields.)

Matt also links to Tyler Cowen, with a list of reasons why the carbon tariff may be unwise.

Brentin Mock in Tapped:

The U.S. could avoid the worst of that struggle if Congress takes it upon itself to pass a climate bill that shows a serious commitment to decreasing its emissions. That means sticking to the “cap” principle of its cap-and-trade plans by not over-allocating permits. The compromise on the Waxman-Markey bill already generates free allocations of over half of its permits. But if a carbon tariff was implemented, as Krugman calls for, then Congress will have to ensure that it auctions as many permits as possible and uses that revenue to rebate or tax break relief for consumers. But without serious U.S. action, China will have little incentive step their clean energy game up.

Alex Pasternack at Treehugger

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