Forked-Tongue Express

Anybody reading McCain’s answers to an executive-power questionairre published in the Boston Globe last December could be excused for thinking that a McCain administration would represent at least a slight departure from the Bush team’s extravagant theories of presidential prerogative. “I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law,” he said when asked about FISA.  Alas, it seems that McCain has lately discovered the wondrous penumbras and emanations issuing from Article II.  Charlie Savage has the goods


Is Climate Change the World’s Most Important Problem? Part 2

Despite using the World Health Organization’s scientifically suspect estimates of the present-day death toll “attributable” to climate change, we saw in Part 1 that climate change contributed less than 0.3% of the global death toll. At least 12 other factors related to food, nutrition and the environment contribute more. 

Here I’ll examine whether climate change is likely to be the most important global public health problem if not today, at least in the foreseeable future.  

Once again I’ll rely on analyses done by scientists who are not part of the community of skeptics. Specifically, I’ll use estimates of the global impacts of climate change from the British-government sponsored “Fast Track Assessments” (FTAs) which have been published in the peer reviewed literature. Significantly, they share many authors with the IPCC’s latest assessment. For example, the lead author of the FTA’s study on agricultural and hunger impacts is Professor Martin Parry, the Chairman of the IPCC WG 2, responsible for the section of the IPCC report dealing with impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. 

I’ll adopt the FTAs’ estimates for the sake of argument, despite some flaws in their analyses, noted here

I’ll also consider “the foreseeable future” to extend to 2085 since the FTAs’ estimates purport to provide estimates for that date, despite reservations.  In fact, a paper commissioned for the Stern Review (p.74) noted that “changes in socioeconomic systems cannot be projected semi-realistically for more than 5–10 years at a time.” [Yes, that’s the same Stern that did a climate change analysis extending to 2200, or was it 2300? No matter.] 

In the following figure, using mortality statistics from the WHO, I have converted into annual mortality the FTAs’ estimates for the population at risk (PAR) for hunger, malaria (which is responsible for an estimated 75% of the global burden of disease due to the main vector-borne diseases), and coastal flooding. Details of the methodology are provided here

In this figure, the left-most bar shows cumulative global mortality for the three risk categories in 1990 (the baseline year used in the FTAs). The four “stacked” bars on the right provide mortality estimates projected for 2085 for each of the four main IPCC scenarios. These scenarios are arranged from the warmest on the left (for the so-called A1FI scenario which is projected to increase the average global temperature by 4.0°C as indicated by the numbers below each stacked bar) to the coolest on the right (for the B1 scenario; projected temperature increase of 2.1°C).  Each stacked bar gives estimates of the additional global mortality due to climate change on the top, and that due to other non-climate change-related factors on the bottom. The entire bar gives the total global mortality estimate. 

To keep the figure simple, I only show estimates for the maximum (upper bound) estimates of the mortality due to climate change for the three risk factors under consideration. 

This figure shows that climate change’s maximum estimated contribution to mortality from hunger, malaria and coastal flooding in 2085 will vary from 4%-10%, depending on the scenario. 

In the next figure I show the global population at risk (PAR) of water stress for the base year (1990) and 2085 for the four scenarios.  

A population is deemed to be at risk if available water supplies fall below 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year.  

For 2085, two bars are shown for each scenario. The left bar shows the net change in the population at risk due to climate change alone, while the right bar shows the total population at risk after accounting for both climate change and non-climate-change related factors. The vertical lines, where they exist, indicate the “spread” in projections of the additional PAR due to climate change.  

This figure shows that climate change reduces the population at risk of water stress! This is because global warming will decrease rainfall in some areas but serendipitously increase it in other, but more populated, areas.   

The figure also suggests that the warmest scenario would result in the greatest reduction in net population at risk.  

[Remarkably, the original source was reticent to explicitly point out that climate change might reduce the net population at risk for water stress. See here (pages 12-14 or 1034-1036).].  Thus, through the foreseeable future (very optimistically 2085), other factors will continue to outweigh climate change with respect to human welfare as characterized by (a) mortality for hunger, malaria and coastal flooding, and (b) population at risk for waters stress. 

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at a couple of ecological indicators to determine whether climate change may over the “foreseeable future” be the most important problem from the ecological perspective, if not from the public health point of view.

Buzz Out

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates apparently forced out Air Force Chief of Staff General Mike “Buzz” Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne today.

Initial reports are that lax nuclear weapons security was the “last straw.” Good reason.

There’s also this scandal. Moseley was recently slapped by the Pentagon IG after a two-year investigation involving the FBI showed that he might have helped a friend’s company receive a $50 million contract to provide media support for the Air Force’s Thunderbirds air show. That investigation led Senator Levin and the Armed Services Committee to call for another IG investigation of the Air Force leadership’s possible “ethical violations” in steering contracts. The IG’s initial audit of the units that run the Thunderbirds – Air Combat Command and the 99th Contracting Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada – found several contracting improprieties.

I would like to think that another cause of the firings was the Air Force’s recent use of $80 million in tax dollars to propagandize the public about their role in our defense with an ad campaign called Air Force Above All – a name bizarrely reminiscent of Deutschland über Alles. Sample claim: The Chinese have the world’s biggest Air Force. (True if only you count rusting turboprops and irrelevant to the fact that our Air Force is vastly superior to China’s). But that’s just wishful thinking.

The most important reason for the firings was probably the rift between the Air Force leadership and Robert Gates. Gates has repeatedly criticized the Air Force (rarely by name, but no one was fooled) for what he called “next-war-itis,” the tendency to push for its weapons program over immediate war needs. Gates was annoyed by the Air Force’ s reluctance to go full speed in getting UAVs, particularly Predators, to the field, even while it tried to gain control of all US military UAVs; by its inability to accept stopping F-22 production at 183 and end-runs to Congress to get funding for more; and by its overall lack of team spirit.

This goes to wider schism in the Pentagon and really, in the country. On one side you have people like Gates who want to transform the military to fight counter-insurgencies. On the other side, you have the services’ leadership, especially the Air Force’s, who understand that a military transformed to that end makes them an adjunct in fighting our wars, not its primary instrument. The Air Force’s view essentially is that the US military should not get away from its strengths – technology over manpower, standoff strikes versus population management. Gates would answer that there aren’t enough possible conventional wars to justify the Air Force’s agenda. Military analysts have mostly cheered Gates on this front and will likely support the firings for the same reason.

A pox on both your houses, I say. It’s true that the Air Force and Team Big War ignore the dearth of conventional enemies and want to make China into a vessel for all their procurement dreams. But Team Counter-Insurgency is too eager to use the military to fight a series of unnecessary wars, and they overstate our ability to win them.

One thing Gates should consider is selecting a non-fighter general to run the Air Force. The Air Force has been run by fighter pilots since the late 1970s, more or less, when they wrested control of their organization from bomber pilots. If Gates wants to change the Air Force, he might look for a leader from one of the Air Force’s other sub-communities, who may share his frustrations.

Fusion Centers in Search of a Problem

Via Secrecy News: “There is, more often than not, insufficient purely ‘terrorist’ activity to support a multi-jurisdictional and multi-governmental level fusion center that exclusively processes terrorist activity.” This is from a Naval Postgraduate School master’s thesis entitled: “An Examination of State and Local Fusion Centers and Data Collection Methods.”

Though they arose to counter the terrorism threat, “fusion centers” will seek out other things to do. Programs like these are born of slogans - “connect the dots” - “information sharing” - rather than sound security thinking. In a TechKnowledge piece last year titled, “Fusion Centers: Leave ‘Em to the States,” I juxtaposed the active fusion center in Massachusetts with the hair-on-fire overreaction of the Boston Police to a guerrilla marketing campaign featuring stylized Lite-Brites.

No Need for a General Election; Obama Already Has Mandate

An article [$] today in CongressDaily AM outlines the plans of trade-skeptic congressional Democrats wishing to formalize that “time-out” on trade we’ve heard so much about during the Democratic primary campaign.

A bill introduced yesterday (H.R 6180 and its companion S.3083) would slow down the process of approving new trade agreements by requiring the GAO to review existing agreements and judge them not, as logic would seem to dictate, according to the standard of increasing trade, but against the domestic policy standards contained in the bill:

The bill would require GAO to review existing trade deals by June 10, 2010, and an analysis of how the deals stack up against labor, environmental and safety standards enumerated in the bill.

If gaps are found by GAO, the president would be required to submit renegotiation plans for current trade pacts before negotiating new ones and congressional consideration of pending trade pacts. Committees of jurisdiction would then review the renegotiation plans.

According to congressional Democrats, Senator Obama’s win in the Democratic primary is justification enough for introducing a bill that mirrors his plans. Those plans include, yes, loading up trade agreements with possibly deal-killing standards and, at least judging by Senator Obama’s voting record so far, very little new trade liberalization (details here).

If that sounds like a bad idea, it is music to the ears of some members of Congress. Here’s a quote from Rep. Michael Michaud (D, ME):

“I feel very comfortable with Sen. Obama’s position on trade; he understands the devastation that trade has caused to the American people and how flawed these trade deals are.”

We at Cato’s Center for Trade Policy Studies would refute that. Strenuously.

Just Say No to Legislation by Treaty

I’ve written before about the growing problem of trade agreements being hijacked for the benefits of domestic special interest groups, especially the copyright lobby. Free trade is about making it easier for goods to flow across borders. In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing abuse of trade negotiators’ authority, as they’ve inserted provisions into trade agreements requiring the parties to enact extremely specific changes to their domestic copyright laws.

Copyright scholar William Patry raises the alarm about another attempt by the United States Trade Representative to skirt the domestic legislative process with a treaty called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The details are secret, but it appears that the agreement will cover much more than trade and counterfeiting issues. Patry explains why we should be concerned:

USTR is in the driver’s seat in initiating and negotiating agreements that are cast as trade agreements, but which are in fact agreements fundamentally reshaping substantive IP law. No trade official in any country, no matter how well intentioned, should have that authority. In the U.S., the power to make copyright policy vests exclusively in the Congress. We do not want our trade representatives to negotiate on their own agreements that require changes in domestic copyright laws and then present the agreement after signature to the legislature as a fait d’accompli.

Use of the fait d’accompli is not limited to trade representatives, and is seen in other executive branch agencies. The DMCA is an example of an attempted fait d’accompli. Much to the chagrin of its proponents, the DMCA ended up being only passed after considerable hearings and congressional involvement, in large part due to the fact that the Administration, in that instance through the PTO, did not get everything it wanted from other countries in the 1996 WIPO treaties, and hence couldn’t completely rely on the fait d’accompli argument. Had it been able to do so the story would have been different, and that is what the ACTA process is intended to achieve, a result that legislatures will have to accept, unless they are willing to permit the country to be in conflict with an important trade agreement.

I couldn’t agree more. The issue here is not that the particular copyright provisions are bad policy, although I suspect they are. The issue is that the Constitution vests Congress, not the executive branch, with authority to make laws. Congress should jealously guard that authority. At a minimum, it should demand public disclosure of the terms of the treaty well before it’s signed, so that there’s time for Congressional hearings and democratic debate about its provisions. And Congress should send a clear signal that it won’t ratify a treaty that’s negotiated in secret and sprung on the Congress at the last minute. Mike Masnick is absolutely right that this issue should be getting a lot more attention from American media.