The Supreme Court is hearing a case today brought by 12 states and a coalition of environmental groups that sued the Bush administration in 2003 for refusing to issue regulations limiting carbon emissions. “On a global scale, forced cutbacks in CO-2 emissions would create an unconscionable setback for developing countries where economic development is just beginning to pull people out of poverty,” writes Jay Richards.
Right about now, the Supreme Court of the United States should be hearing the beginning arguments in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120). Not much attention has been paid to this case over the last few months, but recently a spate of media attention has arisen, citing this case as perhaps “the most important environmental case in many years,” as well as “one of the biggest environmental cases in years.” (Jonathan Adler responds to the NYT editorial at The Volokh Conspiracy.)
There are reasons to doubt the hype surrounding this case, however, and not just because of the dubiousness of the scientific “consensus” on climate change.
A spate of amici briefs Atlantic Legal Foundation and the National Council of Churches (PDF), the latter of which argues in part that scientific “uncertainty alone cannot justify inaction. To decide rationally whether climate change may ‘endanger public health or welfare,’ EPA must consider the harm that would result if the risk of climate change, however uncertain, is realized.” As I have argued against similar views elsewhere, such claims bring economic considerations, especially cost/benefit analysis of action vs. inaction, to the fore, which do not necessarily bear out the conclusion that the potential harm necessitates political action.
In fact, the EPA is not citing scientific uncertainty as its sole justification for refraining from regulatory action. One of its main claims is that it lacks the statutory authority to regulate CO2 emissions, and thus a large part of the case hinges on interpretation of certain provisions of the Clean Air Act.
Regarding the complexity of the case, Hugh Hewitt writes that “in one case do we get important issues of standing, legislative intent, deference to administrative agencies and, of course, the debate over global warming.”
He concludes, “The argument will be one worth listening to very closely, and the decision when it arrives in the spring will be, I predict, a duel between the justices who take seriously the idea of a Court of limited jurisdiction versus those justices eager for the EPA to get on with the urgent business of grappling with climate change.”
In a helpful overview of the case, Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog notes a similar concerns of a group of conservative law professors, including Robert H. Bork, that the petitioners’ claim is
part of a multi-faceted effort to draw the federal courts into one of the most important and controversial foreign policy and political battles of our time….Petitioners seek to remake U.S. climate change policy through litigation in the federal courts.
Likewise Rivkin and Casey in today’s WSJ, who filed an amicus brief in the case, conclude that “if economic growth is to be sacrificed because of global warming fears, the decision should be taken by Congress and the president, the people’s elected representatives, and not by the courts.”
At its current state, the petitioners’ claims were denied in a 2-1 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court, after which the appeal by the petitioners came to the Supreme Court. John Gartner of Wired’s Autopia warns, “If the Court sides with the EPA, it will be further proof that the judicial branch of government is out of step with the populace,” a claim which, while perhaps true, seems to advocate legislation from the bench.
Despite such rhetoric, the case has two major components, focusing not only on the science of climate change but on the question of the appropriate governmental authority to make policy decisions. Denniston summarizes it this way:
The controversy pursued in the briefs thus focuses heavily on the harms believed to arise from global warming, countered by the claims that the science on climate change is still evolving and uncertain. But equal controversy has arisen over what might be called the separation-of-powers issue: who decides how to attack the perceived problem of climate change?
Because of the multi-faceted nature of the case’s arguments, Denniston writes that this decision could end up not setting a major precedent on the politics of climate change: “Before the Court ever reached the ‘global warming’ problem, it could be stopped by a maze of procedural issues, as well as by a bold challenge to the judiciary’s power to take on the problem.”
Update: Autopia’s John Gartner now says that the court’s greenhouse ruling “won’t matter,” at least in the short-term.
[UPDATE: Goldberg at the Corner invokes a variation on the skepticism theme: "Anti-clericalism was certainly partly driven from the suspicion that priests and other clergy were preaching their versions of the gospel simply to empower themselves. I’ve long argued that one of the reasons Washington-based reporters are liberal, or statist, is that if the subject they cover is considered hugely important, then they in turn will be considered hugely important." A reader responds with Cui bono.]
If climate scientists ever wonder why they are looked upon with suspicion among some people in society, they need look no further in their willingness to compromise their own intellectual standards in policy debate on the issue of disasters and climate change.
What he’s saying is that the scientific method involves both establishing an hypothesis, and making a diligent effort towards disproving that hypothesis to see whether one’s original assumptions still hold up.
I’m not sure many of the outstpoken global warming moralists in evangelical circles today get this. That’s because people of faith don’t normally operate like this.
Other than notables like McDowell who found Christ while trying to disprove him, Christians are geared from children’s church onward to absorb and apply church doctrine based on the concerted studies of biblical authorities, or in the case of Scripture, first-hand witnesses inspired by the Holy Spirit. While we might critically analyze biblical truth as it applies to our lives today, we rarely set ourselves toward disproving the Bible itself as a way to establish it’s veracity.
There is an important distinction, then, between aggressively promoting environmental stewardship as a God-ordained moral ethic (which it is), and aggressively promoting a particular area of human-derived environmental science as a moral ethic (which it is not).
Being salt and light in the world means making this distinction evidently clear to all.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world… — 1 John 4:1
[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist.]
The UN has been busy updating the Chicken Little fable into a contemporary context. You know the story where the little chick runs around crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
In this edition, however, the looming disaster is (predictably) climate change. The news comes courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (HT: NewsBusters).
The Gaia motif is perhaps the most revealing part, as in “Tore and the Town on Thin Ice,” (PDF) the title character is visited by “Sedna, the Mother of the Sea” who claims to be “the one who created and cares for the sea creatures – whales and walruses, seals and fish.”
Of course the Christian faith provides a more than adequate basis for true stewardship of the environment, which neither divinizes the creation nor absolutizes human power over the world.
The Lord who “created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind” also made man the “ruler over the works” of his hands, including “the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”
If it is true that the sea life is suffering, I think it is less a sign of the distress of Sedna than it is something else…the day of the Lord, perhaps? See what some of the prophets have to say about this, particularly Ezekiel and Zephaniah.
But perhaps that story is too scary for the UN. It prefers the Chicken Little myth and the illusion both that human action is the direct cause of and the potential solution for all disasters.
Prior to yesterday’s vote, Republicans for Environmental Protection had announced its slate of endorsed candidates for U.S. Congress.
‘Each of these candidates is a conservation-minded Republican dedicated to responsible environmental stewardship,’ said REP President Martha Marks. ‘While our party as a whole is not where it should be when it comes to environmental stewardship, electing this slate of Republican candidates would represent a giant stride toward changing that.’
Thought it might be interesting to see how they did in the election. Did being green garner them any turn-out-the-vote support?
Here’s how things shaped up. Incumbents are denoted with an asterisk. Info in [ ]’s is their League of Conservation Voters Environmental Score and whether they featured the environment prominently in their campaign platform based on Google hits and my review of campaign websites. Click the name for their REP endorsement (in .pdf form) if one was available. Other notes are in ( )’s.
In response to Sir Nicholas Stern’s cost/benefit analysis of dealing with climate change, Christopher Monckton, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and journalist, has published an article (a second will be published next week) and what looks like a very long, researched and documented paper [pdf] explaining why the “consensus” regarding global warming is not correct. Here is a summary of his argument:
All ten of the propositions listed below must be proven true if the climate-change “consensus” is to be proven true. The first article considers the first six of the listed propositions and draws the conclusions shown. The second article will consider the remaining four propositions.
- That the debate is over and all credible climate scientists are agreed. False
- That temperature has risen above millennial variability and is exceptional. Very unlikely
- That changes in solar irradiance are an insignificant forcing mechanism. False
- That the last century’s increases in temperature are correctly measured. Unlikely
- That greenhouse-gas increase is the main forcing agent of temperature. Not proven
- That temperature will rise far enough to do more harm than good. Very unlikely
- That continuing greenhouse-gas emissions will be very harmful to life. Unlikely
- That proposed carbon-emission limits would make a definite difference. Very unlikely
- That the environmental benefits of remediation will be cost-effective. Very unlikely
- That taking precautions, just in case, would be the responsible course. False
While I tend to disbelieve the general “consensus” that our world is warming at exceptional rates, sea levels will rise twenty feet, and we’re all going to die in 50 years because we didn’t ratify Kyoto, I do think it’s generally good stewardship to try not to pollute and to take responsibility for the pollution that we put into the air, water and land.
Anyhow, read the article, and let us know if you share Monckton’s skepticism, or if you are unpersuaded by his analysis.
Following the recent Medico-Legal Society of Ireland’s Golden Jubilee Conference in Dublin, the Irish Medical Times provides a timeline of the history of genetics, beginning in 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species.
Other more recent highlights include the year 2003, in which “scientists at the University of Shanghai successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs, reportedly the first human-animal chimeras (a mixture of two or more species in one body) created.”
Earlier this year, “Irving Weissman, director of Stanford University’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, helped create the first mouse with an almost completely human immune system. The mouse is used to test drugs to fight AIDS.”
Weissman also directs work with mice and neurobiology,”Prof Weissman has also begun injecting human neural stem cells into mouse foetuses, creating mice whose brains are about 1 per cent human.” He has also “proposed creating mice whose brains are 100 per cent human.”
I have previously examined some of Weissman’s work, in conjunction with a survey of a panel of the President’s Council on Bioethics, here.
For those still interested, the latest installment of the Bill Moyers/Cal Beisner saga is in (for those of you who need refreshing, check out the posts here, here, and here. Moyers summarizes his side of the story with links here, under the section titled “Moyers and Beisner Exchange”).
Last week, on Oct. 25, Bill Moyers circulated another letter to Beisner (linked in PDF here). As of Friday, Oct. 27, Beisner said, “Granted that I hope to pursue reconciliation consistent with 1 Corinthians 6, I have chosen not to respond publicly.”
However, presumably due to the further communication on behalf of Moyers by his legal counsel (dated Oct. 31 and linked in PDF here), Beisner has given permission to post the following public response:
“First, I didn’t lie but wrote honestly from the best of my memory. Second, the conversations on which my memory were based occurred before and after the recorded interview, as I reported in the October 12 issue of the ISA newsletter (before ever hearing from Moyers about the October 9 issue) and were not taped.”
About a month ago I posted some responses to the editorial position taken at the Economist. One of their claims was with regard to the Kyoto Protocol and that “European Union countries and Japan will probably hit their targets, even if Canada does not.”
At the time I registered skepticism with respect to these estimates. Turns out my skepticism was well-founded.
From Wired News:
Between 1990 and 2004, emissions of all industrialized countries decreased by 3.3 percent, mostly because of a 36.8 percent decrease in the former Soviet bloc, the U.N. reported. Since 2000, however, those “economies in transition” have increased emissions by 4.1 percent.
Well, I’ve examined the decreased emissions in Russia before, which has been due in large part not to any government action but by the extensive contraction of the Russian manufacturing sector. The decrease in carbon emissions came at a huge economic cost, all of which was incidental and unrelated to the ratification of Kyoto.
More from Wired,
Of the 41 industrialized nations, 34 increased emissions between 2000 and 2004, the U.N. reported…. Among countries bound by Kyoto, Germany’s emissions dropped 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, Britain’s by 14 percent and France’s by almost 1 percent, the U.N. reported. But Kyoto signatories such as Japan, Italy and Spain have registered emissions increases since 1990.
Looks like Russia might have some buyers for those carbon credits after all.