Tag Archives: drought

Climate Change in the Courts

Remember school house rock and “How a bill becomes a law?” The Saturday morning programming focused on wide-ranging subjects including civics. The video addressed legislation but there is another mechanism to “make law” or at least influence government policy. Individuals and cities or states can seek redress in the courts to force actions of government agencies when they think the agencies are acting in violation of existing laws or constitutional mandates.

The suggestion that human activities, most notably burning fossil fuels, can influence global climate has been around since early in the Nineteenth century. The connection has been strengthened ever since. A landmark decision of the supreme court occurred during George W Bush’s second term in 2007. Several states and cities, led by Massachusetts successfully sued the Environmental Protection Agency to force regulation of Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gasses as pollutants.

The case, Massachusetts v EPA turned on the definition of a pollutant. The court ruled that greenhouse gasses are pollutants and therefore should be regulated to protect the environment. This allowed the Obama administration to ramp up efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and to produce the clean power plan which clamped down on carbon emissions from power plants.

President Trump has acted to reverse both of these Obama era regulations. His actions are being contested in the courts, based to a considerable degree on the previous supreme court interpretation of greenhouse gasses as pollutants and the need for their regulation.

Another interesting case is before the court now. This case, Juliana v U.S. is being brought by a group of children ages 11 to 22 against a number of agencies including the EPA, Energy, Interior, and Defense departments. This is literally a children’s crusade for the right of future generations to live in a stable climate.

Apparently, the government will not challenge the scientific consensus that the planet is warming and the climate changing. Nor will they deny human influence on the changes. Rather the government will argue that the claimed harms of weather extremes cannot be reasonably connected to climate change.

The connection between any individual storm event and climate change is a difficult claim to make but let me use a favorite sports analogy. Mark McGuire, a slugger for Oakland and St. Louis, hit home runs both before and after employing anabolic steroids to enhance his performance. Can any one home run be linked to “juicing?” No, of course not. However, both he and Sammy Sosa both broke the previous home run record while juicing.

We are now breaking records for climate disruption while enhancing climate change. The job of the litigation will be to make that connection. If so the court should rule with the children to protect their future.

The children are not asking for damages per se, but rather are asking the judge to order the affected agencies to revamp regulations with the goal of reducing emissions of Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gasses to much lower levels than exist today.


Whistling Past the Graveyard

“Whistling past the graveyard” is an old expression used to exemplify willful ignorance; more specifically, trying to remain cheerful in the presence of a known threat. It’s use here applies to those in denial about the risks of global warming and the concomitant changes in climate.

a natural whistler

a natural whistler

Denial ranges from simple willful ignorance up to and including malicious lying about both the current reality and future risks. The simplest denial is to not participate in society by not being informed about important issues which affect us all. Another level is those who try their best to find a justification for their denial. Websites abound for those folks. There are numerous sites designed to appear to be promoting free enterprise or unfettered capitalism but are actually front groups.

Those promoting active denial are essentially all guided by the fossil fuel industry. The Heartland Institute has created a school curriculum that employs numerous half truths to promote the notion that there is a real scientific controversy.

Frank Luntz has advised members of the Republican Party that denial should take the form of
pointing repeatedly to a lack of scientific certainty. In reality there is very little uncertainty and essentially no controversy. Denial ranges from sublime to the ridiculous, for example witness Senator Inhofe’s snowball show on the senate floor recently. He brought a snowball into the senate chamber to make that point that it was cold outside, hence global warming is a hoax.

The absolutely worst form of denial is that which comes through taxpayer funding. The Miami Herald recently reported that the Florida State “ DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports. This is according to “former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.”

Of course Governor Scott of Florida denies any such order. He was noncommittal when asked if the DEP plans for or even believes in global warming. He also refused to say whether he personally believes global warming is a problem.

In 2012, the Republican dominated legislature in North Carolina passed a law to the effect that state scientists could only use data from the year 1900 forward to project sea level rise and then only extrapolate out linearly. The scientists have been denied the use of the best data and computer modeling.

At the national level, the republican led House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to a Defense Department funding bill: None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order…

“Facts don’t cease to exist because they are ignored” Aldous Huxley

Global Warming and Agriculture

Global warming and agriculture

Combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon accumulated over millions and millions of years. The carbon is released in the form of Carbon Dioxide and is accumulating in the atmosphere. The current concentration is about 400 PPM, higher that hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. Recently the EPA has begun to regulate CO2 as a pollutant.

Generally plant life requires three things to grow; soil, water, and CO2. The need for CO2 for plant growth has led some to believe that more of it is a good thing. The problem is that more CO2 means more global warming. The environmental and agricultural damage done by global warming far outweigh any beneficial effects of elevated CO2.

Agriculture is an important component of our economy, more so in Arkansas than many other states. One in six jobs are directly related to agriculture. We are number 1 in rice production, number 2 in broilers (chicken), number 3 in catfish, number 4 in saw logs (timber) and on and on for many other agriculture products.

The first and most obvious risk to agriculture is rising temperature. Rising temperatures can stress both plants and animals resulting in lower productivity. With modern mechanized agriculture and huge economies of scale, profit margins are thin. Even small changes in productivity can mean big changes in income for farmers.

One of the major projections for global warming is a change in rainfall patterns across the continent, with mid continental regions becoming drier and the coastal regions wetter.

Even if net rainfall doesn’t change there are other negative consequences related to the availability of water for agriculture. How much it rains is important but soil moisture is the real factor. Warmer air means faster evaporation from the soil and less water available to plants.



Climate instability will also impact agriculture via changing rainfall patterns. How much rain falls is important but when it rains is also important. Rain outside the growing season has much less value than rain when it’s needed.



Intense storms during the growing season damage crops. Floods, high winds and hail storms all damage crops. Tornadoes damage crops. Droughts damage crops. Much of the crops lost would have been animal feed, so all of the above damage livestock, directly or indirectly. Cattle, Broiler houses, and farrowing barns will all be negatively impacted.

Imbalances in rainfall can be partly corrected by the use of ground water, but it is already stressed in the agriculturally important grand prairie. The Sparta aquifer which underlays much of the grand prairie has already been pumped down to a dangerous degree. For over 50 years the withdrawal has exceeded recharge rates. This makes water more expensive to pump, and also may allow lateral intrusion of saline waters, requiring expensive treatment to be useful.

Overly simplistic claims like extra CO2 is good, or warmer weather is good, are at the heart of much of the denial of the risk of global warming. We face a difficult future if we don’t act now to reduce risk. Solutions are known and available, we need to act.