Comments by David Lewis Subscribe

On There's Plenty of Blame for Flint, Michigan's Water Crisis

The chart your link goes to shows that 4.25% of all US children who were actually tested for lead in the US in 2014 tested as high or higher than the kids who tested high in Flint.

You have to take the numbers provided and do the calculation, but that's what that chart's data shows.  That chart was compiled by someone in the CDC who had their previous reference level, then known as the level of concern, in mind.  That level was 10 ug/dL up to 2012. Note the chart shows the percentage of US kids under 72 months who tested higher than 10 ug/dL, but it does not give a % of kids testing higher than their current reference, i.e. 5 ug/dL. 

The CDC would no doubt say that the 4.2% figure I calculated from their data doesn't accurately describe the situation for children in the US, i.e. that the lower figure the CDC gives, i.e. "only" 2.5% of US children would test as high as the Flint kids, is accurate, because, and they are no doubt right about this, testing tends to be more concentrated in populations of children authorities feel are more exposed to lead. 

(My calculation:  At the bottom of the chart , for 2014, it gives a total for the entire US, of children who tested higher than 5 ug/dL in 2014, i.e. 105,966, and it gives the total number of tests done that year, 2,496,140.  I divided 105,966 by 2,496,140 to get 4.25%)

The CDC redefined what a significant blood lead level is in 2012 when they declared that no level of lead in blood is safe.  They felt the evidence was so solid against lead they didn't want to be seen saying any level of it was safe in blood of children, so they give a "reference" level now, which they want authorities to use as a guide - if you see kids test higher than their reference, do something about it. 

The CDCs own description of how they calculated the current 5 ug/dL reference level is here   The 97.5 percentile of the NHANES blood lead distirbution they describe, means 2.5% of US children are expected to test higher than the value selected. NHANES data is the most authoritative snapshot of blood lead values at the time it is compiled that is available for US children. 

A blog post more fully explaining what I'm talking about that I have so far not been able to get posted on TEC is here

February 4, 2016    View Comment    

On There's Plenty of Blame for Flint, Michigan's Water Crisis

There are 500,000 other children in the US today who the CDC says have enough lead in their blood that they would test as high as the kids who were poisoned in Flint. 

The CDC defines the blood lead reference level that way.  They take the estimated blood lead level in the most contaminated 2.5% of all US children, which is roughly 500,000 kids, and they declare that to be their reference level.  Authorities are supposed to wake up if kids in their jurisdiction are testing higher than that, and do something about it.  Kids in Flint suddenly started testing higher than 5 ug/dL, that is the CDC reference level, so the pediatrician sounded the alarm. The way this issue is being covered, you'd think the only kids in the US who are being poisoned are a few kids in Flint. 

Another way the CDC wants authorities to look at this is, if kids in your jurisdction are testing higher, why are they testing higher than 97.5% of all US kids, and what are you going to do about it? 

The reference level is a declining level:  the CDC says children in the US have declining blood lead levels, so when CDC recalculates what its blood lead reference level is every four years, the new reference level will be lower than what it is now.  They want to get blood lead levels as low as possible so they are ratcheting the reference down. 

So right now, its s 500,000 US children, plus the few hundred or thousands in Flint, that have more lead in their blood than the CDC reference level.  Flint kids are a tiny bit of the US problem, and the US problem isn't going to be fixed by throwing money at Flint. 

February 3, 2016    View Comment    

On As Sea Level Rise Accelerates, Buying Shorefront Property Becomes a Game of Musical Chairs

The music is still playing and few understand it will stop. 

Audubon magazine published a cover story in their March - April 2015 issue about the effect of rising sea level on Outer Banks, North Carolina. 

Some clown who arrived from the Midwest to vacation in a rental home one house back from the waterfront was said to be "mystified" that in between the time he reserved the rental home and when he arrived for his family vaction the property had become waterfront because the house in front of it was gone. 

The article goes on:  "The dad, a businessman back home, couldn't help but divine a savvy strategy for investors in the local real estate market - buy a cheaper house a few blocks back from the waterline... and wait until the waterfront comes to you". 

The article noted that property values in Outer Banks are "up a healthy 5%". 

April 6, 2015    View Comment    

On 2°C Or Not 2°C: Why We Must Not Ditch Scientific Reality In Climate Policy

Schellnhuber, who had as much to do with getting the EU to accept 2 degrees C as a target as anyone, was saying prior to Copenhagen that unless civilization got serious at that point, it would be impossible to limit global warming to 2 degrees.  He at least is not pretending he didn't know what he was talking about then. 

He is saying now (eg at the recent Berlin Climate Engineering conference, starting at minute 2:45 into this video) that the best that can be done is 2.6  degrees. 

Why pretend otherwise? 

Few at that Berlin conference were as optimistic as him.  Most were there because they are interested in what emergency measures can be developed in time to present as options to civilization when it finally wakes up to the fact it faces an existential threat. 

As for the Nature article, why does it matter what gibberish a political scientist and a retired distinguished astrophysicist have to say, when it comes to assessing how serious climate change is?  It is easy in the US to find arrogant people ignorant enough to believe they know more than the scientists who have distinguished themselves as they spent their entire working lives studying climate. 

What is disturbing is that the editors of Nature thought the article worth publishing. 



October 4, 2014    View Comment    

On The Triumph of Climate Pragmatism

Where is the triumph?   Have you succeeded in reducing the concentration of a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere?  Has the planetary system returned to energy balance? 

Have you drunk too much of your own bathwater? 

May 29, 2014    View Comment    

On 2C in our Rear-View Mirror, Geoengineering Dead Ahead

Ken Caldeira is a leading researcher studying geoengineering.  Eg:  he coined the term SRM, i.e. "solar radiation management". 

Some years ago he attended a talk given by an advocate of what has become known as SRM and he stood up and denounced the guy giving the talk, saying this is impossible.  He then went back to his lab and ran some simluations and discovered that it probably is possible to return Earth's temperature to the preindustrial even with the extra CO2 civilization is liable to put in over the next decades fairly cheaply. 

He's done a lot of research in to the topic by now.  He doesn't advocate SRM, except as an emergency treatment similar to giving morphine to a cancer patient.  His idea of when civilization should start employing SRM is after it has stopped building new things that use the atmosphere for a waste dump. 

He's put a certain amount of effort into coming up with an explanation of what he knows suitable for the general public.  An example of how he explained things a few days ago in an interview is available here

April 26, 2014    View Comment    

On New Jersey Must Consider Climate Change Risks in Recovery Programs

When asked, post Sandy, about whether there was any connection between climate change and that storm Christie said this:  "... this is just, listen, this is a distraction. I’ve got a place to rebuild here and people want to talk to me about esoteric theories.”  (NBC story here

And according to this story from Inside climate news, "That philosophy has permeated New Jersey's post-Sandy recovery effort".  They just rebuilt as fast as they could, ignoring recent discoveries of accelerating sea level rise and the likelihood of increased extreme events.  "As a result, the state spent billions of federal aid dollars to rebuild boardwalks, businesses and houses almost exactly as they stood pre-storm". 

"The coastal protection measures New Jersey has proposed, such as dune systems or flood gates, will defend communities only at current sea levels—not the 3.5 feet of sea level rise that New Jersey is expected to see by 2100. The state has partnered with six New Jersey universities to study how communities were flooded by Sandy, but that research will not consider how those communities, or others, may be affected under future climate scenarios."

But things can change, right?  They already have.  New Jersey was once a leader on climate issues, until Chris Christie took office at the beginning of 2010. 

"Almost immediately, Christie closed the Office of Climate Change and Energy in the state's DEP. He also cut off funding for the Global Warming Response Act, effectively rendering it a stagnant law, said Mauriello, who was replaced as NJDEP commissioner when Christie took office.

In 2011, Christie pulled the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, claiming the program wasn't helping New Jersey cut its emissions. "RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measureable impact upon our environment," the governor said at the time."



March 10, 2014    View Comment    

On Why We Shouldn't Throw Out Flood Insurance Reform

The deficit FEMA has was caused by two East coast storms, Sandy and Katrina.  Take away those two events and the flood insurance program was basically solvent. 

It is no wonder that the solution that you support, getting citizens in the rest of the US to pay, and your rationale, its their fault for living dangerously, is rejected by increasing numbers of voters as they realize what the changes in Biggert-Waters mean.  It isn't just the rates on the what FEMA maps deem as the high risk and supposedly subsidized areas that are going up.  The cost of flood insurance generally was skyrocketing before Biggert-Waters, and now the rate of acceleration in its cost will increase again. 


When Chris Christie was asked what about climate change and the acceleration in sea level rise that has already been measured, which compounds the risk by not only making the next Sandy more likely and more damaging, he said he was too busy managing the rebuilding effort to worry about an "esoteric theory" like that. 

When Katrina hit New Orleans it was Category 3.  The levees were supposed to hold.  They failed not because flood premiums on FEMA policies were too low, but because those responsible for designing and maintaining the levees didn't do their job. 

The issue, who is going to pay for the damages caused by extreme weather events, is a lot larger than what you are talking about. 

When North Carolina legislated against sea level rise, many people thought they were just insane.  But what they were doing is attempting to keep on building where they know the risk is increasing because reforms such as what you advocate ensure that the US taxpayer and the citizens who pay for flood insurance in the rest of the US will continue to subsidize their "economy".  

What about the Stafford Act?  How can it possibly still make sense to flood disaster areas with federal funds mandated to rebuild what was there no matter whether the risk has increased?  

Have you looked at the California study that added up the cost of a lesser event than the one that bankrupted the state in 1861-2 and found that it was comparable to what they think the next big earthquake will cost them?  The entire Central Valley was turned into a lake.  What of climate models that spit out predictions of worse in the future on an accelerated cycle?  Who is going to pay for that?

Got to go. 




March 10, 2014    View Comment    

On Radiation: The Facts

The NAS latest BEIR report has a list of references that runs to what looks like over 1000 peer reviewed papers, including some written by scientists who dispute LNT.  Its a bit difficult to believe the committee didn't examine what evidence there is. 

If people who aren't expert listen to you, it seems that they would have to accept that the NAS can't assess a scientific issue.  If the NAS can't assess a scientific issue, who can?  You?  A minority of scientists who study radiation?  

What does it say about the evidence that civilization should do something about climate change that the NAS, these morons who can't grasp the most basic thing about radiation, have in the case of climate agreed with you?  Or are you one of these pro-nuclear types who believe there is nothing to the case that civilization has a climate problem who cynically use climate to argue for more nukes?

My reading of BEIR VII was that because we live in a sea of background radiation it has been impossible so far to give the definitive answer you say you can come up with. 



March 4, 2014    View Comment    

On Radiation: The Facts

If the National Academy is wrong to adopt LNT as a "model" to guide us as we decide what to do about radiation exposure in humans, and we should therefore regard them as not capable of assessing what the current state of knowledge is in the study of radiation, why should anyone take them seriously on any other subject, for instance, climate change? 

How can the NAS be so wrong, decade after decade, report after report, about how dangerous radiation is, yet be right when they say civilization needs to decarbonize as rapidly as possible to avoid facing the most dangerous consequences of climate change? 



March 4, 2014    View Comment    

On Can Geoengineering Save the Planet?

Paul Crutzen's paper on geoengineering is said to have brought this entire debate out of the shadows. 

Basically, his point was that given a civilization blithely ignoring the warnings of climate scientists it was time to more openly and actively pursue options for planetary system palliative care.  He emphasized repeatedly that what is required are sufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions, however, he shared his view that such reductions appear at the moment to be "a pious wish". 

He said that the developing world was eventually going to clean up some of what was coming out of its smokestacks, as the developed world has already done, and we'd better think about how to replace the effect of what is going to be taken out, because that smoke, i.e. aerosols, is masking the full effect of the GHG already in the atmosphere.

"Geoengineering" discussion bogs down as opponents of doing the slightest thing to so much as research techniques seem to ignore the collosal scale of what civilization ignorantly and tragically does every day. 

The proposals are simply to deal with reality as it is, and to prepare for what many fear will come next.  . 

January 24, 2014    View Comment    

On CO2 Emissions Budget Framing Is A Recipe For Delaying Concrete Action

Those promoting this "allowable CO2 emissions budget" concept believe it clarifies the issue for politicians and the public. The approach came about in part because all previous efforts to get through to civilization have failed. The most common calls for civilization to take action have involved emission reductions by set dates, for instance the G8 +5 Science Academies  Joint Statement which said civilization needed to achieve "approximately 50% reduction in global emissions from 1990 levels by 2050" to address what the leading figures in science in the entire developed world called a "crucial challenge for the future of humanity".   The failure of calls like this to convince civilization to act decisively, I say, has more to do with collective denial on the part of civilization as opposed to any fault in the way the message was phrased.   Critics of calls like the G8 +5 Joint Statement say the urgency of immediate action could be conveyed in a better way.  They feel that prescribing a percentage reduction by a certain date allows todays politicians and the public to feel they can put things off and get away with it.  2050 is far away, and if nothing is done this year, why in 2015 we could always aim for 50% reduction by 2050 and make it.  Why, we're so good at things once we become unified about needing to do it we could probably put things off untiol 2048, or maybe even December 30 2049.  What sticks in the mind is we've got to achieve 50% reduction by 2050.    On the other hand, an "allowable" emission budget involves explaining that to have any kind of chance of staying below an adopted target temperature, i.e. the widely accepted 2 degrees C global, there is only so much more CO2 that can be emitted.  Emissions today must be subtracted from emissions allowable tomorrow.  If action is put off for just a few years, very rapidly no further emissions are possible on any time frame because the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has built up too much.  Schellnhuber, chief scientific advisor on climate change to Chancellor Merkel of Germany, gave a good explanation of the idea in his keynote and the closing remarks at the 4 degrees conference in Australia. He explained that contrary to popular belief and what many otherwise well informed people say, the 2 degree C target many scientists advocate has nothing to do with what scientists think is "safe".  "It's a compromise", he explained. There will be no coral reefs.  Sea level will rise and keep on rising for centuries.  Many changes are cast in stone at 2 degrees that humanity will regret.   What Schellnhuber said was good about the 2 degrees line is that it is a limit, beyond which, he said, the science is that the chances of large scale irreversible discontinuities in the planetary system are too likely to be set off.  He explained calmly that heating the planet beyond 2 degrees risked a very large reduction in Earth's ability to support civilization.  He wasn't pretending the 2 target was safe, and he wasn't saying the oft repeated method of explaining how this might be achieved under the allowable total emission concept, i.e. limiting human emissions of CO2 to 1 trillion tonnes, was what a wise person would choose.   He asked the audience if many of them play Russian Roulette at home.  Why not, he asked, your odds are better than this allowable emission budget of 1 trillion tonnes has of limiting planetary temperature rise to 2 degrees.   Nevertheless, Schellhuber was and is a staunch advocate of adopting the carbon budget approach and of attempting to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees.  He thinks setting a limit is far better than just burning all fossil fuels economic forces can cause to be produced. Romm and Caldeira can say whatever they want about how dangerous it is for anyone as sincerely concerned about climate change and what to do about it such as the scientists involved with the IPCC who are advocating explaining things using the carbon budget approach, but the fact is the entire load of published Caldeira and Romm work has not resulted stopping the acceleration of civilization's emissions.  Probably those advocating speaking in terms of an allowable carbon budget will find their work suffers the same fate.   Nothing anyone has said or done seems to have made any difference at all.  It is a fact that looked at globally, civilization is recarbonizing its energy system while expanding the rate at which it emits greenhouse gases as even the chance worse than the odds in Russian Roulette of limiting global warming to 2 degrees fades away.    
October 4, 2013    View Comment