Thursday, November 30, 2006

California Global Warming Carmaker Lawsuit is Specious

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California sues carmakers over global warming!
This picture conveys the dignity of this lawsuit.

Less than a week ago I called a featured Chronicle article “ludicrous” when its author called upon two unscientific studies to conclude American freedom of the press was significantly eroded after 9/11, then proceeded to not prove or support any of his points.

Now the San Francisco Chronicle has evolved from “ludicrous” to “specious,” which for the Chronicle is dramatic progress. Soon they may even reach the heights of “plausible,” but probably not any time soon with the current editorial staff.

The article is "Why we sue over soot," by Terry Tamminen, Wednesday, November 29, 2006, San Francisco Chronicle Open Forum. Mr. Tamminen served in the Schwarzenegger administration first as secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and then as the Cabinet secretary, and is the author of "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction."

Mr. Tamminen began his article by building an analogy to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer suing automakers this September for contributing to global warming based on an example of “Bob’s BBQ” opening next to your house and creating a public nuisance that vexes you with greasy soot and cooking odors pouring through your windows.

At this point I determined to suspend all sense of disbelief concerning anything I know about the permitting and regulation of restaurants in residential areas and just try to concentrate on the situation Mr. Tamminen was analogizing. He has identified the nature and source of the public nuisance – it’s the greasy smoke from Bob’s BBQ – and he has identified the damaged party and the damage caused – you, and your grease stained house. If allowed to continue, your quality of life will be lessened, and you will sustain damage to your house requiring repair, and your property value will go down unless you find a buyer who loves living next to a BBQ restaurant.

There you have it – the creator and type of public nuisance is known, and the damaged party and extent of damages can be readily and objectively determined.

What his analogy has to do with the following is a total mystery to me.

“That's why the state of California is suing auto manufacturers on behalf of the public, seeking compensation for global warming pollution that is known to aggravate heat waves, wildfires and coastal flooding. Whether it is BBQ soot or tailpipe emissions, federal law guarantees the opportunity to seek redress against public nuisances -- acts or circumstances that interfere with our right to use or enjoy our surroundings or community.”

Mr. Tamminen names the public nuisance, global warming pollution, and the cause of the pollution, automobile tailpipe emissions. The damaged party is the public living in California, and the damage suffered is heat waves, wildfires, and coastal flooding aggravated by global warming pollution.

Since no damages, no law suit, the first areas to examine are the damages cited by Mr. Tamminen. First, deadly heat waves in California. We had one this year in July, which was thought to be responsible for almost 100 deaths. In 1995 Chicago had one that killed 780. In 2003 an August heat wave in Europe killed 19,000.

Looking back in history it seems that there have been a lot of deadly heat waves, and that the 2006 California one hardly registers on the deadly heat wave scale. For example, in 1936, “the deadliest heat wave in Canadian history hit Manitoba and Ontario. For almost two weeks in July, temperatures more than 44C left 1,180 Canadians dead.”

Can you believe it? That’s seventy years ago, in Canada!

In 1936, in Milwaukee, a heat wave caused 529 deaths. Milwaukee was struck by other notable heat waves in 1947, 1955, 1968, and 1970.

In 1934 in Ohio, during the week July 20-26, the estimated death toll was about 160.

Compared to now, there weren’t very many automobiles in Canada, Wisconsin, or Ohio in the early thirties, but there were deadly heat waves.

The next damages to examine are from wildfires. Here we find California Department of Forestry (CDF) records going back to 1933 of the number of fires, acres burned, and dollar damages. Since the dollar damages haven’t been adjusted for inflation, and homes and other improvements have poured into California fire hazard regions over the past 73 years, I’ll just consider number of fires and acres burned. The CDF records show the number of fires has diminished the last ten years compared to the two previous decades, and have been particularly low compared to historical records the past five years.

Except for 2003, the number of acres burned are about the same or lower than in previous years, and are dramatically lower than in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The worst fire year for acres burned in California was 1936, when 756,000 acres went up in flame. The next bad years were 1942 through 1945, when over a half-million acres burned each year.

Only two years, 1961 and 2003, in the last 50 had even half as many acres burned as in each of the years 1936, and 1942-1945.

So on your second point, Mr. Tamminen, we find a lot more tailpipe emissions and a lot less wildfire damage. Mr. Tamminen, so far the damages component of the California lawsuit against carmakers is non-existent, so we are left with only coastal flooding damages to save your analogy from scorn and derision.

In examining California coastal flooding, there seems to be a decided lack of comparative information. All I was able to find were articles about how California coasts would be flooded if certain global warming predictions came true. One concern was bluff erosion, which seems to be considered one of the greatest hazards of rising ocean levels. However, there was no information showing a dramatic increase in California ocean levels.

I must add from personal experience of living close to the Northern California coast in Point Arena and Gualala off and on since 1949 that crumbling coastal cliffs have always been a source of concern here. They are only more of a concern now because there have been so many homes, ever larger and more expensive, built above the coastal cliffs in recent years.

When I was a boy living here in 1949, I was warned, “cliffs crumble.” We still give that warning today, but it doesn’t stop the building.

During the 1950’s, while living in Point Arena, my friends and I spent a lot of time playing on the beaches and fishing off the rocks. The ocean level on those beaches and the rocks looks the same now as then, and the tides seem to expose and cover the same areas still.

My observations on ocean levels are admittedly unscientific, but please forgive me, because I’m commenting on an article that included even less scientific information to support any of its points as even my observations on the ocean level in Northern California not rising significantly in the past 57 years.

Someone else must be getting all of our increase.

In summary, I see nothing in Mr. Tamminen’s article that demonstrates any California damages, and with no damages to Californians, the California lawsuit against carmakers has no legal standing.

Mr. Tamminen goes on to fill his article with extraneous material, like the enormous penalties against tobacco companies awarded by the Mississippi tobacco lawsuit mill (without mentioning the dismissals on appeal), a lawsuit against pollution damage caused by North Carolina coal-burning plants, and Rhode Island lawsuits over lead-based paint.

In each of these examples, unlike in California, the lawsuits could name damaged parties and demonstrate their losses, and identify the probable causes.

Mr. Tamminen could not do the same for the California lawsuit, so it all comes down simply to this: “No harm, no foul.”

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