Thursday, July 22, 2010

AB 32 Update

With less than a month till a special election to replace Abel Maldonado and a little over 4 months till the November 8 elections, the air in California feels a little more like a political war zone than the peaceful sunshine state. With attack adds ranging from hitting Santa Cruz's kindly John Laird to asking how many lies Meg Whitman can fit into various things it is hard to keep focused. The fight for climate change over California Assembly Bill 32 continues in the golden state and both sides have had their interesting moments.

Former Green For All director, Obama employee and 'green jobs czar' Van Jones came out publicly against the Proposition and laid out his concern that the effort to repeal AB 32 would hurt the economy of California, the traditional argument for the other side; the side calling for its repeal. From the Sacramento Bee:

Van Jones said efforts to roll back California's landmarkclimate change law will not only hurt Sacramento's budding clean-tech sector but also open the door for competing cities and states to wrest away green jobs and businesses... "It's like taking a sledgehammer to a job-creating machine," Jones said

The fact of the matter is that Van Jones is right, the green sector can be a huge growing industry and AB 32 helps put a cost on sectors that should move in that direction. From the Huffington Post;

More than 100 Ph.D. economists with expertise in California energy and climate issues joined a growing chorus of supporter for the state's energy and climate security law. We released an open letter warning against any delay in the implementation of California clean energy policies. The letter, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, features a broad array of leading economists who disagree with those who want to stop implementation of pollution reduction policies. "Delaying action now," the letter states, "will be more costly than initiating action now."

The argument, and it is a valid point, is that AB 32's implementation is a chance for behavior modification and the encouragement of an industry. If we fail to provide clear benefits for the green industry to grow in this state, other states will be more than happy to be the center of the green tech boom. This is an agreeable point but it must be made clear that there are never any real solid numbers to prove these types of arguments - sampling of information can be done in error, data can be fudged and results can be skewed.

Case in point, a reporthas come out from Varshney & Associates, an investment and advisory firm in California which specializes in stock picks. Supporters of Proposition 23 (that is right, the inverse of 32... funny) have been touting this report as "proving" that the costs of AB 32 becoming active are too much.

This report goes through 50-odd pages of assessments made about the hypothetical ramifications of AB 32 being enacted. Just within the first few pages questions arise with their methodology such as how the list of "discretionary spending categories" was generated and how the causal relationship was linked. At one point there is even a paragraph devoted to explaining the possible hypothetical uses they could come up with for the hypothetical tax revenues that would come in from the hypothetical growth of the industry from lack of implementation; nothing substantial. The report itself gives two caveats that stand out like a sore thumb; 1. " It is important to recognize that this analysis focuses on the costs of AB 32 and not whatever savings there may be." and 2. "...there is some uncertainty as to what the actual costs of AB 32 will be." In other words, this report has basically said "this is totally not 100% certain."

An Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle has shown the importance of this:

The Varshney & Associates report examined only the potential cost of the law and not the savings. As Hank Ryan, the executive director of the advocacy organization Small Business California, said, "Delaying implementation of AB32 is a lose-lose-lose for California - it will cost our state jobs, increase pollution and drive up energy costs for small businesses."

The importance of this fight has not been lost on the blogosphere and in the media. On Triplepundit's website there is a great article titled "AB 32 The Normandy of Climate Change Legislation" that brings us to the real meat of the situation, the political process;

What really matters is AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 which requires California’s greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. But thanks to California’s absurdly easy rules that allow citizens to vote on complex legislation (which has run the gamut from a horsemeat ban to marriage to insurance laws), a measure on November’s ballot, Proposition 23, would scuttle AB 32. Using the argument that AB 32 is a jobs killer, two Texas oil companies are largely behind the effort to roll back AB 32.

This is something that has been of concern for a while. Back during the California recall I was working on a research project regarding Propositions and recalls and other direct democracy methods, how they developed and what the ramifications of that system could be. One of my deductions was that it could easily develop into a system of easily swayed electorates who will be generally misinformed reworking the political structure and process. Since my external hard drive decided to die, I will have to post a link to that later.

For now, the California Independent Voter Network(CAIVN) has a great article that touches upon this:

Our growing problem is that the citizen is nowhere to be seen in this process. Clearly, the California proposition process is so gamed and compromised that the original (and noble) goal of giving ordinary citizens a way to directly influence government is long gone and absent. Instead, we have well-funded special interests paying for the version of democracy they want to have implemented.

CAIVN's argument focuses mainly on the issue of paying signature gatherers. It is really just a small piece of the issue. As with many instances, this effort to get the proposition on the ballot, also has the money to back an outreach and support campaign to get it at least close to passing. PG&E, after the proposition 16 failure, have also thrown their hats in on this issue as well.

This is all coming on the same trail as the currently dead Federal Energy bill which is too depressing for me to talk about right now but has the perfect image for this story;

Again, what the fight overAB32 should come down to is not the jobs argument, or the state budget effects, or even really the environmental argument since it doesn't seem important to the opposition anyway. What we should be realizing is that this is also a fight between direct and representative democracy. This is a straight forward example of the "citizenry" trying to over turn or "recall" a piece of legislation that went through the difficult two house of representatives process to then be signed into law by the Governor, all who had been duly elected by the people. This is an instance where the electorate have been misled by larger business interests and while there are those who defend this act of external investment in our state's political process, it is becoming rather annoying how many times this issue keeps cropping up in our political past. Remember it was also a huge issue for Harvey Milk and the ban on homosexuals in education.

What really tips the scales of why the out of state oil company contribution can't be ignored is the fact that this process didn't start when the bill was ratified in 2006, but a full four years later. I hope that the previously mentioned quote from the mentioned report quells any "well we didn't know what the effects would be" argument since there is uncertainty on both sides. This legislation has been trying to look at the longer vision and the bigger picture since its inception, a viewpoint I hope those who react solely out of fear take a moment to consider.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Climate Gate over?

Some of you may remember a post i did a this last December ago around the Copenhagen Summit regarding Climate Gate and a subsequent post relating Jon Stewart's take on it. For those who don't remember, right before the Copenhagen Climate Conference the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia's system was hacked an thousands of emails and other documents were leaked to the internet. A large controversy arouse from the interpretation of a few unfortunate paragraphs. From Wikipedia's entry on it;
Many commentators quoted one email referring to a "trick" used in Mann's graph to deal with the well-known tree ring divergence problem to "hide the decline" that particular proxy showed for modern temperatures after 1950, when measured temperatures were rising. These two phrases were taken out of context by climate change sceptics including Senator Jim Inhofe and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as though they referred to a decline in measured global temperatures, even though they were written when temperatures were at a record high.[35]
After a media frenzy and a 6-month long inquiry the panel that had examined the alleged falsification of data and misrepresentation of science came back to give a relatively clean bill of health. From the Guardian;
Sir Muir Russell, the senior civil servant who led a six-month inquiry into the affair, said the "rigour and honesty" of the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) were not in doubt. His investigation concluded they did not subvert the peer review process to censor criticism and that key data was freely available and could be used by any "competent" researcher.

The report expectorated the scientists in question but raised an interesting question of Science in the modern age that needs to be touched upon. Since the advent and explosive use of Social Media and various other technologies and techniques, the ways to connect and share (or steal) information have developed to a point where information is instantly spread on the global system. This mixed with sunshining efforts in not only government but also scientific institutions lead to information that could easily be misinterpreted being put into the hands of those most likely to take it out of context. It appears that the real effects of Climategate are on the way information and the conversations surrounding that information in the scientific world is going to be handled. From Newswire;
On the wider issue of how science is to be conducted in a new world of openness, accountability and what Russell called "citizen involvement in public interest science" the panel found that there need to be new ways of making results and data available.

"There need to be ways of handling criticism and challenge, of responding to a range of different sorts of criticism and getting into a more productive relationship with critics than we have sometimes seen in this case," Russell advised.
This was not even a concern or thought at the time the situation occurred, at least it was not mentioned where I noticed it. At the time the most forefront were fears that this incident would derail the Copenhagen talks and cause the entire process to fail and while it may eventual prove fact that Climategate has fueled the climate change-denier movement, many people in the business seem to remain unconcerned. Also from the Guardian;
Jacobs, now a research fellow at the London School of Economics, adds: "Since Copenhagen it's very difficult to tell. There's no question that climate agnosticism has increased, but I think that has more to do with a backlash to all the hype around Copenhagen. We were worried about the impact [of the emails] on public opinion but government action on climate change is not driven by public attitudes, but that it is the right thing to do. Public consent is important but not essential so long as there is not downright opposition. Governments introduce plenty of things that are less popular than action on climate."
There is actually a really well written Blog by George Dyorsky of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies that looks into the reasons behind the perceived failure of Copenhagen Climate Summit which is noteworthy. The main thought around the scientific Climate researcher world is that, over all Climategate hasn't had a major effect in the science or the politics of Climate change;
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said: "It hasn't in any direct way affected the political process. Governments have scientific advisers who know this is just a storm in a teacup."
The report has been mentioned here and there throughout the blogosphere but the importance of this needs to be reiterated, we have to remember that this is just the first instance of science and how it operates in the modern open world.

On the other side of the argument a very interesting opp ed by Pat Michaels, a former professor of environmental sciences and senior fellow at the Cato Institute came to light in the Wallstreet Journal entitled The Climategate Whitewash Continues;
This purportedly independent review comes on the heels of two others—one by the University of East Anglia itself and the other by Penn State University, both completed in the spring, concerning its own employee, Prof. Michael Mann. Mr. Mann was one of the Climategate principals who proposed a plan, which was clearly laid out in emails whose veracity Mr. Mann has not challenged, to destroy a scientific journal that dared to publish three papers with which he and his East Anglia friends disagreed. These two reviews also saw no evil. For example, Penn State "determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community."
For those unfamiliar with the Cato Institute, it is a Libertarian think-tank. It's mission and moto is "Promoting public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peaceful international relations. " They are Libertarian oriented and are also considered a "non-partisan" group by many. They have written extensively on Global Warming and some groups have criticized Cato's work in that regard. For most, it appears that their behavior has been in the Climatechange doubters camp. In one example, PBS Frontline gave an expose regarding prominent Climate Change doubters entiled the Doubters of Global Warming where they discovered that three out of five "Doubters of Global Warming" interviewed were funded by, or had some other institutional connection with, the Institute. The Cato institute is the framework from which Pat Michaels is writing this Opinion Editorial. He continues;
Climate Research and several other journals have stopped accepting anything that substantially challenges the received wisdom on global warming perpetuated by the CRU. I have had four perfectly good manuscripts rejected out of hand since the CRU shenanigans, and I'm hardly the only one. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, has noted that it's becoming nearly impossible to publish anything on global warming that's nonalarmist in peer-reviewed journals.

Of course, Mr. Russell didn't look to see if the ugly pressure tactics discussed in the Climategate emails had any consequences. That's because they only interviewed CRU people, not the people whom they had trashed.
If it is accurate that journals have begun to curb the perspective of those who they publish that is their prerogative but it does not lend itself to open discussion which is what is always needed in a progressing society. While I agree with the concept of seeing both sides of the perspective. The Cato institute's past does taint Mr. Michaels' argument.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why Government Should Not Be Afraid of Social MediaGovernment 2.0, Mashable, O'Reilly, Open Government, Outreach, Social Media, Web 2.0

The American government is a Representative Democracy; we elect officials to the branches of government who then enact laws and, as a result, create departments and agencies who develop their own policies and methodology based on the direction of their branch head. It would be virtually impossible to have a Direct Democracy utilizing the traditional participatory methods; voting on every issue that came before Congress, individual polling, community meetings for direct input on every issue for every department and other similar impossibilities.

Over the years various tools have been implemented to give the citizenry more direct access to government. This includes sunshine ordinances for access to information, ballot initiatives, propositions and recall elections. This has been especially true in California, there is an excellent story from April 18th on NPR related to this.

It appears that the most recent tool set to integrate the citizenry in the business of governing is social media. According to Wikipedia, a Web 2.0 collaborative tool for information sharing, social media is “a term used to describe the type of media that is based on conversation and interaction between people online. Where media means digital words, sounds & pictures which are typically shared via the internet and the value can be cultural, societal or even financial.” ( Today social media is absolutely necessary in marketing, outreach strategies and campaigning; it is a series of tools that makes the jobs of gathering data about target demographic, spreading information, analyzing trends, and communication in general easier than it has ever been.

Mashable, one of the largest blogs on the net relating to internet news and social media recently came out with an entry by Alexander B. Howard, the Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media called “5 Ways Government Works Better with Social Media” and while this is not a comprehensive list of all the ways that social media can be used to increase the effectiveness of participation, outreach and information spreading, it lists five specific examples of where social media has already been used in these areas.

The article discusses social media’s effectiveness in communication to the public about emergencies, disasters and efforts to deal with them by citing the examples of the information outreach for the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Twittering for Storm Reporting. In San Francisco there are already web and phone applications used for similar purposes from receiving smart phone updates regarding the Muni schedule to earthquake preparedness.

The article goes on to speak how social media has helped various agencies communication internally and with other agencies and how it has enabled the outreach and development of social programs through crowdsourcing; basically outsourcing through the internet or to a large community. In most instances crowdsourcing is used for information gathering or spreading but in this specific case it is used to promote a contest specifically geared toward having the community itself develop a web app to develop a social program and spread the message. This same model can be repeated and utilized across municipalities, State Agencies and all manner of government offices not only making the jobs of government employees easier but also enabling the community itself to take a larger stock in the process and outcome of the governing process.

Open 311 in SF

The most interesting aspect of this article is the in the standardization of “the specification for the application programming interface for Open 311.” Many may recognize 311 as the non-emergency number for many cities and municipalities in Canada and the United States. Open 311 creates a standardized system for citizens to communicate with their local governments. This communication includes street repairs, power breakdowns, and other municipal service related issues. What Open 311 will do is, as Mashable points out, “developers across the nation can create applications that will work in any city that uses Open 311.” As in, if a developer creates an application that can work in San Francisco, it will work just as efficiently and effectively in Washington DC, and any future city to utilize Open 311. As a former San Jose City Council Legislative Aide and Community Service Representative I can recognize the importance of this. If there were a pothole in your neighborhood, for example, traditionally one would try and call the proper city office to report the problem or, in most cases, call their representative to report the problem. The representative’s office would then direct the issue as a task order to the proper department and have to continue to check in with said department before reporting back to the concerned citizen. With Open 311 and SeeClickFix (mentioned in the Mashable article) a community member, can instantly report the problem in a couple of simple steps from their smart phone cutting down city staff’s time on these issues and, in the long run, saving taxpayers money.

Local and State Agencies, if they want to keep up with the trend of leveraging social media to deliver their services easier, need to develop and utilize these tools as they relate to their own departments. These tools should not be seen as an intrusion or something to be feared but a medium for communication and delivery of their services. Like any tool, social media and web 2.0 technologies exist to make their jobs easier.

The Federal government has already begun to In January of 2009, President Obama issued a memorandum calling for an Open Government Initiative and, as a result, the Executive Office of the President released a Memorandum on Social Media and how it relates to the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).

According to the US Department of Defense’s “Social Media Hub” (yes, I was surprised to find that they had one as well):

When the PRA was enacted in 1995, it required that federal agencies report and justify the gathering of information from the public, a process that took months. The President’s new memo recognizes that the nature of today’s internet-based capabilities (wikis, blogs, tweets, etc.) is collaborative, and makes it such that these internet-based capabilities do not trigger the PRA. It’s important to note that the memo applies whether interactions are occurring on a .gov site or on a third-party platform.

This is the first step in creating a completely inclusive and collaborative government; eventually enabling the citizenry to have direct input on almost all internal and external policy of Federal Agencies. This will also eventually lead to a more cohesive system of public input and services delivery.

New tools and applications are being invented and implemented all the time, there is a list of a few from 2008 on Mashable’s blog that are instantly interesting regarding their future ramifications. This is an exciting time for government outreach when tools that can fill almost any need are being developed constantly. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.