You Ought to Have a Look: Supreme Court, Business-as-Usual, Poison Ivy and Shark Attacks

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.


This week, as our title suggests, we have a somewhat eclectic mix of articles worthy of your attention (and some that are not). Let’s get started.

In handing down its decision on Monday in Michigan v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was remiss for not considering costs when deciding to (expensively) regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. This ruling was urged in Cato’s amicus brief, and hailed as a victory for “liberty and sound science.”

But the direct impact on the ruling as it pertains to mercury emissions is likely to be slight as most coal-fired power plants have already been modified (or shut down) in an effort to reduce mercury emissions under the EPA’s 2012 regulation. Rather, what is being debated in the ruling’s aftermath is what the implication may be on future EPA actions.

Some have argued the ruling in Michigan v. EPA was “pointless,” while other have argued that it “may be the beginning of the end of the Obama Administration’s climate agenda.” Perhaps the biggest thing that could result would be for the Supreme Court to re-evaluate its decision in the Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council case.  This possibility was raised by Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion on the case.  The Wall Street Journal editors picked up on this in their review of the Michigan v. EPA decision and highlight its importance:

Which is why Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion deserves a larger audience. He makes a provocative case that the Court’s 1984 decision in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council is unconstitutional. Under what has become known as “Chevron deference,” the Court defers to executive interpretations when laws are ambiguous. Justice Thomas writes that this has become a license for the executive to usurp legislative powers that are supposed to be vested in Congress.

“Perhaps there is some unique historical justification for deferring to federal agencies, but these cases reveal how paltry an effort we have made to understand it or to confine ourselves to its boundaries,” Justice Thomas writes. “Although we hold today that EPA exceeded even the extremely permissive limits on agency power set by our precedents, we should be alarmed that it felt sufficiently emboldened by those precedents to make the bid for deference that it did here.”

That’s an especially apt point coming in a year when the Supreme Court seemed to abdicate much of its obligation to police the Constitution’s separation between the executive and legislative power. A future Court ought to revisit Chevron deference in what has become an era of presidential law-making.

Here’s hoping!

And here’s how it can happen. At Cato, your obedient servants have, through the years, purposefully compiled a massive record of public comments on global warming regulation that we have filed as official responses to requests for them in the Federal Register. These include our Addendum to the Government’s second “National Assessment” of climate change. It was designed to have a look similar to the federal document, with the cover the exact same material paragraph-by-paragraph, if possible, to make comparison as simple as possible. 

Now, suppose someone files in DC District court over the next EPA insult with regard to global warming, claiming authority because of its “endangerment finding” from carbon dioxide, which, they claim, compels them to regulate it under the Clean Air Act. Turns out that 2009 Finding is largely based upon the second Assessment.

In our fantasy world, the plaintiff enters both the Assessment and our Addendum into the record, and, our dream goes, the judge holds them side-by-side and notes the massive amount of science that is missing from the federal report. Perhaps, thanks to Clarence Thomas, he or she might think that the EPA’s purported “science” is clearly an attempt to mislead, and seeing as this is such an egregious insult, upholds the plaintiff based upon an abrogation of Chevron Deference.

Another interesting post this week came courtesy of Blair King who runs the blogsite “A Chemist in Langley.” King is an avowed lukewarmer and has interesting things to say on a variety of climate-related topics. In a recent post, he takes on the term “Business-as-Usual” which has been co-opted by the climate activists to replace “worst case.” While “worst case” sounds like something which can be dismissed as being very unlikely, “Business-as-Usual” (BAU) sounds like something that is imminent unless things change. But, what is conveniently ignored by the activists using the term is that things do change. Which means things changing is really what BAU represents. BAU is not a static technology, frozen actions case. Instead it is a highly dynamic future filled with new technologies, adaptations, etc.

King points out that BAU and the high end emissions scenarios (RCP8.5) described by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent Assessment Report are not synonymous despite increasing usage as such by those pushing climate catastrophe and regulations to avert it.

There are few folks who call the activists out on this. But the numbers are increasing. Besides ourselves, several recent pieces have appeared (see here and here for example), and King’s piece another welcomed example.

King sets the stage:

As I describe in my post “Does the climate change debate need a reset? - on name calling in the climate change debate” one of the critical battles in any debate is control over the labelling of the actors. If you can apply the best possible label to yourself and the least agreeable label to your opponent you immediately gain the upper hand. In the climate change debate, the “Business as Usual” label has been used more times that I can count with activists from the folks at Skeptical Science to the Suzuki Foundation, and from the Pembina Institute to  all finding some way to slip that phrase into their calls demanding immediate action (and of course donations to their cause). As this post will demonstrate, however, the “Business as Usual” descriptor used by the activists in the climate debate is nothing of the sort. Rather it is an artifact from earlier versions of the IPCC reports and was conspicuous by its absence in the most recent (Fifth Assessment) report.

After taking us through the list of reasons why BAU is really not BAU, King concludes:

Looking at what the activists have labelled the “Business as Usual” scenario we see a slew of assumptions that are anything but business as usual… Similarly when an activist talks about “business as usual” in their sales pitch, it is time to put your wallet back in your pocket.

You really ought to have a look at King’s entire piece.


And this week, we introduce a new concept in our You Ought to Have a Look series—Look Away, items that are most definitely not worth your time.

Two notable items fall into our Look Away category this week.

The first is a piece titled “Potent Poison Ivy” that appears on the website—a website that spends an undue amount of time spreading worries about climate change. Their poison ivy piece is a good example of this tendency (and a classic example of our Good for Bad; Bad for Good theory).  Of the literally 1000s of article in the scientific literature that highlight the benefits that an atmosphere enriched with carbon dioxide has on plants, Climate Central decides to highlight the growth enhancement of poison ivy. No doubt, poison ivy does grow better, healthier, stronger, and more productive under conditions of elevated carbon dioxide, but so do virtually all plants—including food crops.

To be better and more fully informed about the impacts of elevated carbon dioxide on plant health, you should visit the wealth of data contained in the website that is run by Cato Adjunct Scholar Dr. Craig Idso. For example, in a recent paper, Craig reviewed the impact of elevated CO2 on the world’s top 45 food crops and found that the yield enhancement to date to be about 10 to 15 percent—a sizeable and significant benefit. Craig expects the crop yield increases to continue to grow as the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration continues to increase as a result of emissions from human activity. We don’t expect finding like these to appear anytime soon at Climate Central.

Another article to look away from comes from the and links shark attacks to global warming. In their post “North Carolina’s ‘Perfect Storm’ for Shark Attacks” National Geographic includes this gem:

“Clearly global climate change is a reality and it has resulted in warmer temperatures in certain places at certain times,” says Burgess.

As warming is expected to increase, it will likely bring more sharks farther north and entice more people to get into the water, which will lead to more bites.

This is exactly how we scripted it many moons ago, when we wrote a tongue-in-cheek  journalist’s guide to linking shark attacks to global warming. We dummied up an article that went like this:

Shark Attacks on Humans Related to Global Warming!

How best to explain the relationship? “Well, Katie [Couric], we suspect (and our preliminary research bears this out) that higher temperatures make sharks more active. We already know those same high temperatures send more people to the beach in an effort to cool off. It just stands to reason that the more people there are in the water, the more opportunities there are for shark attack. As global temperatures continue to rise due to fossil fuel emissions, so too will incidents of shark attack. In fact, that drive to the beach is contributing to the problem. People really ought to stay home.”

The similarity to the National Geographic piece is scary! But of course, we weren’t being serious. So, if you really insist on looking into global warming and shark attacks, our article will prove much more entertaining (and pertinent) than the one from National Geographic—so that’s where you really ought to have a look!