Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Earthquakes, lawsuits and fraud

The 27 May edition of New Scientist contains several things that can help towards intelligent thinking. Along with diversions on spiders smarter than monkeys, nano-solar and others issues, there are two useful pieces relating to climate change: Bill McGuire on links to earthquakes, volcanic erruptions and sea-floor landslides, and Jessica Marshall on lawsuits in the US.

As McGuire says, after the December 2004 tsunami some silly ideas went around about links to global warming (in this article I was careful to keep a distinction between the phenomena, but did suggest that there was a lesson in the tsunami for our response to climate change should we be ready to listen ["Human development may be shaped in less destructive ways that take more account of the nature of the world in which we find ourselves"]. The article has faults, but not this one).

McGuire reports, however, that could well be significant geological and related consequences to rapid climate change such as a contribution to large-scale methane release. This could be centuries away.

Jessica Marshall's article is as important for what it doesn't say as for what it does. America's attitude to global warming may ulimately be shaped by its highest court as by its politicians, she says; but that doesn't necessarily mean that good science will prevail. She quotes Richard Lazarus, a supreme court expert at Georgetown:
"The court is not going to say the scientists are right and EPA is wrong," Lazarus says. If the court does side with Massachusetts, it may well instruct the EPA to re-evaluate its regulations rather than compel it to curtail CO2 emissions. Still, sending the message that greenhouse gases deserve consideration as a pollutant would send a broader public message. "People will take it as the Supreme Court saying, 'EPA you're not taking global warming seriously enough.' "
The potential of climate change related law suits (noted in predictions for 2006 here) may be great, but is far from predictable. Some moves in the game are readily apparent. A good example is that the Bush administration has filed a brief backing the car makers case against a California law that requires reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Responses need to be well judged and timed. This is not the same as excessive diffidence. Paul Krugman is right to say that liars need to named and shamed.

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