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July 25, 2007

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LAK

Er, the analogy would be apt if the massive release of greenhouse gasses by industry were a natural phenomenon and there was no responsibility for their production in the first place on the part of any of the parties involved in the potential transaction.

Might I suggest the opposite analogy in tort whereby the U.S. should pay everyone else? That seems to be the equitable conclusion. I know, economists don't like "fairness" or "right and wrong" or "taking responsibility for externalities that are remote in distance and/or time."

Political Umpire

LAK is on to something. Two points:

1. As LAK says, we are dealing in the field of man-made pollution. It is not the same as natural problems such as the hypothetical example poses. Closer analogy would be if Y's flooding was caused by Z's factories.

2. Moreover, the emissions of a country cannot be considered solely the responsibility of that country, particularly in the case of China. It lies rather ill in the mouth of Europe and the US to finger China about the latter's emissions when so many of them come from the manufacturing that the US and Europe have outsourced to China. Moving high polluting production to China and then blaming China for the resultant pollution is rather lame from a moral perspective.

dod

LAK and Political Umpire: I would suggest reading the article linked by Prof. Posner. I have only read the intro (I plan to read the rest later), but it makes clear that the article accounts for the idea of "corrective justice", which seems to be LAK's concern.

Nic Cruickshank

symptomatic of the real problem -- focusing on carbon is a waste of time when actual pollutants pose a more serious and immediate health risk. a Zero carbon imprint does nothing to stem chemical pollution. It's a political game to have us focus on something meaningless that will make many rich while ignoring for a few more decades the immense negative impact we have on the environment around us. the goals of existant political schemes to stem carbon use is to keep the public busy worrying about something small while bigger issues are left alone.

Chelsea

Most greenhouse gas abatement schemes are not based solely on CO2 emissions; in fact the Kyoto Protocol covers 6 gas emissions including methane, HFCs and PFCs, which are not only more potent as greenhouse gases, but also pose a more immediate health risk. For comparative purposes, the gases are put in terms of "global warming potential" and regulated on a common scale, and often are just refered to as CO2 or even just "carbon emissions", which of course glazes over much of what is actually happening behind the policy.

Other pollution abatement schemes handle other types of pollution; for example the Montreal Protocol covers SO2, which is the primary pollutant in acid rain, and also much more immediately harmful to public health.

You're right though, Nic, there are more harmful pollutants that aren't yet covered by global environmental policy, such as heavy metals like mercury. But the danger of those pollutants does not negate the very real danger of unmitigated climate change, which is caused by (among other gases) CO2. If things go the way the IPCC has predicted (with high likelihood), public health could be affected by many other problems, like maleria vectors spreading or drinking water becoming unpotable.

So please, don't be so quick to dismiss the carbon abatement policy (or climate change) - at least there is a global initiative to try and fix it.

Joan A. Conway

Perhaps by now many of you have read the Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 28, 2007, in its article "The making of an urban legend," How did an 1885 Flood of little consequence become an epidemic that 'killed' 90,000 Chicagoans? by Libby Hill.

It was Saturday, August 1, 1885, when the weather went from Sweltering to abreeze and 6 1/2 inches of torrential rain in 24 hours, causing the Chicago River, polluted by runoff from theStock Yards and sewage from the city's 750,000 residents, to surge into Lake Michigan.

The two sharply conflicting versions of what happened are demonstrated below:

One is that the river's toxic brew was swept out to the water-intake cribs, the drinking water was polluted and 90,000 Chicagoans, or one of every eigtht people, died of cholera, dysentery, typhoid and other waterborne diseases.

The other version of events, blames the wind direction which shifted to the northeast and pushed the polluted water west ghrough the Illinois & Michigan Canal, sparing the city.

The first version has been accepted fact.

These were circumstances reminiscent of Europe's Black Death were left unanswered.

And as the legend goes the problem never happened. Further information can be found in the article.

LAK is on to something. Two points:

1. As LAK says, we are dealing in the field of man-made pollution. It is not the same as natural problems such as the hypothetical example poses. Closer analogy would be if Y's flooding was caused by Z's factories.

Libby Hill is author of "The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History," Lake Claremount Press (2000) She teaches in the department of geography and environmental studies at Northeastern Illinois University.

2. Moreover, the emissions of a country cannot be considered solely the responsibility of that country, particularly in the case of China. It lies rather ill in the mouth of Europe and the US to finger China about the latter's emissions when so many of them come from the manufacturing that the US and Europe have outsourced to China. Moving high polluting production to China and then blaming China for the resultant pollution is rather lame from a moral perspective.

How flood-prone are these borders that we are talking about, example New Orlean's Katrina crisis?

International capitalist are enjoying the advantage of global economies to exploit profit opportunities, but it can be argued that they are not in favor of long-term global harmony with nature?

It appears the doctrine of risk, for every loss there exists an opportunity, is applied to China's recent economic upturn.

Beware of the doomsday scenario? How does the probability of chaos enter into the equation of Y vs. Z. People must protect their drinking water by keeping sewage from their lake, etc. Massive flood-control project(s) avoid deadly global epidemics.

Don't let politics play a part into the solution. A panel of independent overseers must use a real world and real data into the solution. And the blame game does no one any good. Competition must still be encourage and not stifled in the delay of a workable solution. Temporary solutions are better than no solution at all.

Posted by: Political Umpire | July 26, 2007 at 05:04 AM

Joan A. Conway

BEIJING (AFP) - Heavy rain and fog hampered efforts to rescue 69 workers trapped in a flooded Chinese coal mine for over a day, state media reported Monday.

The state-owned mine in central China's Henan province flooded on Sunday morning with 102 workers underground, and only 33 were able to escape, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the local rescue bureau's headquarters.

Efforts to save those underground were making little headway on Monday with hundreds of rescuers struggling to put in place pumps outside the entrance to the pit due to the muddy conditions and relentless rain, Xinhua said.

Fog had caused visibility in the area to drop to just 15 metres (50 feet), while trucks carrying rescue supplies had been left stranded on unpassable roads, local officials were cited as saying.

Rescuers later made telephone contact with the miners and were trying to send food and water to them through an 800-metre (yard) ventilation pipe, Xinhua reported. None of the miners had reported any injuries, it said.

The Zhijian coal mine is about 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Henan's capital, Zhengzhou.

The area of the mine where they were trapped was dry but ventilation was poor, the agency said, adding that rescuers were struggling to prevent more water entering the shaft and provide oxygen to the trapped miners.

If the miners do not survive, the accident would be one of the deadliest to have been reported in China's notoriously dangerous coal mining industry this year.

More than 4,700 workers were killed last year, according to official figures, although independent labour groups put the death toll at up to 20,000 annually.

Many deaths in the corruption-plagued industry go unreported, as mine workers and local officials, who are often their business partners, collude to cover up the accidents.

Joan A. Conway

The state-owned mine in central China's Henan province flooded on Sunday morning with 102 workers underground, and only 33 were able to escape, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the local rescue bureau's headquarters.

Many deaths in the corruption-plagued industry go unreported, as mine workers and local officials, who are often their business partners, collude to cover up the accidents.

Political Umpire

May I take the opportunity to observe that Joan A Conway's first post ends with "Posted by: Political Umpire | July 26, 2007 at 05:04 AM "

She is not, I wish to point out, Political Umpire! That's the name I have used on the net for some time, and indeed for the second post on this particular comments thread. Whilst Ms Conway's posts are creative, they are certainly not mine.

(Note I am sure she did not wish to convey that impression, it is just that the quotation is potentially misleading)

Nic Cruickshank

Chelsea I see what you are saying and I thank you but I just see Carbon trading and the way people who previously were disinterested in it have become proponents of it as money schemes. As soon as someone stands to make some money off of this they create traction and advance their solution to the problem which will definitely them richer. I question what effect either long or short term this meaningless capitalist venture will bring about. there are many environmental concerns that we have,yet I find the current focus on carbon to be the product not of thinking and investigation and a desire to help alleviate these concerns but as another way for rich former politicians to get even richer. Being a Canadian I am somewhat cavalier about short term global warming because it helps us to have longer, healthier growing seasons but I see an immediate threat in factory emissions and large scale farming operations of single crops. these affect negatively the lives of many in the community I live in and the children who grow up here. Warming on the other hand will rob some kids of long winters to play hockey and reduce our abundant winter sports programs. Its not hard to see why I have a concern about chemical pollution that trumps inane conversations about changes in climate. Climate cannot kill us any faster than we kill ourselves.

Nic Cruickshank

Not to be harsh but I just see the current focus to be another example of bait and switch. Using fears to manipulate the masses and ease their fears instead of hitting these issues up in frank and honest language. I'm not saying we should embrace climate change but I don't think we need to worry about it to the avoidance of more sincere and tangible threats.

Chelsea

I think there's a balance that has to be struck. I think the bait and switch argument is a little...empty, given how long climate change warnings have been around, and how long it's taken politicians to finally take notice.

As for the capitalist motivations, well, yes. I'm as idealistic as the next hard-core enviromentalist, but if it takes economic motivations to get the job done, so be it. I'd rather get the job done than not, regardless of the reasons behind the actions. (That's not to say that the ends justify the means - the way of getting to the goals is still extremely important, but the motivation is less important, in my opinion.)

And as far as your longer growing season in Canada, isn't that an economic motivation, as well? Sure, it will probably help local communities, but mostly in an economic way (rather than increasing the level of health of the community, say...imported veggies still have nutritional value). And is this benefit to an already developed country worth it at the global social (and environmental and health and economic) cost it will have on countries like those in Africa and South America?

Anyway, thanks for your response. :)

Joan "Joanna" Conway

Climate changes occur within a century!

It goes from 'norm' to the ice age within some peoples' life cycle. More today than in the past.

People migrate to warmer climates quickly and oceans between continents disappear where shallow land lies below, such as Ireland as it relates to England and as they relate to European continent.

But it would greatly disrupt all economic cycles, and great hardship would endure.

Joan A. Conway

Just think of the U.S. Commerce Department's failure to apply tariffs on U.S. companies doing business from their own manufacturing companies in China, which has bankrupt U.S. companies manufacturing in their own country.

Someone is at the controls of the bigger picture, and I don't think it is the compliant politicians for campaign contributions and future positions elsewhere.

Nic Cruickshank

I agree with you Chelsea that it has taken politicians a long time to notice but I fear their focus is not on the immediate issues. they've been sold a bill of goods to talk about and have everyone cheer them on. As soon as scientists have more data and expand current climate change theories I fear the political will behind the current trend will evaporate as fast as it coallated. Also my issues with the capitalist motivations behind Gore specifically have to do with my bait ans switch argument. He is going to get rich wasting public attention on one thing when more serious issues at hand are abandoned. Personally I don't like being manipulated by a hypocrit. David Suzuki has spoken about climate change since I was a child. He has tirelessly brought public attention to real issues. he has advanced the argument, not that climate change should be embraced or ignored, but that people focus too much on it when there is so much work left to be done. Is it worth it to spend the goodwill evironmentalists have garnered thus far on this problem ? I do not believe so but its a valid question.
As for the growing season it is not economics directly but aceess to food for Canadians. the final chapter in "from Naked Ape to Superspecies" addresses probelms in farming as it is commonly applied in North America. the amount of carbon and pollution created to ship vegetables and fruits thousands of miles to my grocery store can be avoided if Canadians engaged in smarter, smaller farming ventures. Also with a longer growing season the variety of things we can harvest increases. these have economic benefits but ultimately the greatest benefit is health and environment. US farmers may suffer slightly from reduced local sales but Canadians can benefit greatly. As for the costs to South America and Africa, while regrettable, the world will go on. If concerns about South Americans and Africans trump every other aspect of debate then perhaps our time would be better spent lobbying for micro loans to physically help the impoverished and suffering versus paying Gore's sin taxes to alleviate our guilt for having helped put them in that situation ?

Sorry for the last outburst there. I do think we need to reduce our impact on our environment around us, I just think carbon is a small part of an even larger problem.

Nic Cruickshank

As an aside, check out NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies revised climate record stats. It's not prominantly posted on the web site but apparently NASA has conceded (without any fanfare) that the 1930's was the warmest decade in recorded American history. 1934 now holds the record that used to belong to 1998. In sequence from warmest to cooler the current data reads 1934, 1998,1921,2006, 1931, 1999,1953,1990,1938 and 1939. Science is never settled because processes are constantly refined.

now I'm no conspiracy hack but doesn't anyone else feel like they are being lead through the motions on climate change ? People have been sold a bill of goods that doesn't provide what it claims. It's not that I disbelieve our changing climate or its potential damage in the future I just don't see a good enough reason to devote all of my energy to making a man rich without substantially helping in the process and lessening our impact for future generations.

Chelsea

Nic, I will definitely look into the NASA data. And your point about local food is totally true, and I support it almost 100%, but not at the expense of other people who will suffer the effects of a changing climate disproportionately worse than those who caused the whole thing in the first place (including Canada, sorry to say; the emissions are not nearly as bad as the US, true, but you are an industrialized country nonetheless).

And you're also right about micro-loans; those will help immeasurably and are often part of a developing country's plan of action for sustainable development and adaptation to climate change. How do you feel about the milennium development goals?

You're right about carbon being one part of a bigger, much bigger problem, but if we don't tackle anything at all, nothing gets done. If carbon is the piece that is ripe for taking on, I say go for it. But I don't think anyone is advocating dropping the ball on other fronts - there are a lot of environmentalists working very hard on other issues. They just aren't getting as much political attention (not on a national scale at least) as carbon is right now.

I'm working right now in the EU on climate change policy (well, that makes it sound more important than it actually is...) and here it is completely different than the US. For example, the Netherlands has been acutely aware of the dangers of climate change for a long time - half their country is below sea level. It isn't about political persuasion and making one guy rich; it's a much bigger deal, in a way, by being less of a big deal. It's part of the EU's policy framework, it's built into their lives and it's taken seriously, and it has been for a few decades already. I think it goes to show just how far behind the US is, that we still get so worked up about it, while in Europe it is just the norm. It's sad, but also incredibly motivating, to think that there is so much that still can - and must - be done at home. It's overwhelming, too, though, and sometimes it's easier for the broad public to focus on fixing one thing at a time.

Joan A. Conway

I feel something very important is happening here. A certain distraction to take our minds of more pressing issues, as if our environment is not important.

But because big business employees large groups of employees and pays huge amounts in employment taxes, and they pay media to adverstise their products, these titans of industry have diminished democracy with their liberties and abuse of discretion.

Legislative politicans will not go against these men, nor will the media, so they are not blocked from their greed and pollution.

All the talk is around scientists, and not these titans, because we have lost control over them. Democracy has been restrained.

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