They may be the least powerful nations represented in Copenhagen, but those facing imminent threats from a warming planet have made it clear that their future depends on a meaningful agreement here.

The Alliance of Small Island States and the G77, the bloc of the world's most impoverished nations, are presenting a united front against proposals from the developed nations that are neither legally binding nor as strong as they would like to see. The level of warming that would be allowed under the proposal will mean certain catastrophe for some nations, say the leaders of the AOSIS negotiators.

"Some of the delegations need a dose of reality. We bring that reality," said AOSIS chair Dessima Williams of Grenada. "We will go underwater. There's no doubt about that."

Delegates from the AOSIS nation Tuvalu, one of the first victims of a warming world, drew attention earlier this week for walking out of one meeting over this issue. Now the bloc has produced its own PROPOSAL as a counter to the draft from developed nations, calling for a legally binding deal and a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celcius warming. They also call for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be limited to 350 parts per million—a figure that has been endorsed by a number of climate scientists but has not been included in draft agreements from developed nations so far.

Senator Chris Dodd’s re-election prospects have been upgraded from "Toss-up" to "Leans Republican" by well-respected elections predictor the Cook Political Report. Cook editor Jennifer Duffy acknowledged that the prediction is an unusual move for the publication this early in the cycle since incumbents generally catch up once they start campaigning actively. But she made an exception in Dodd's case, writing that the Connecticut Democrat is "as unelectable as unindicted incumbents get."

She's not exaggerating. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, Dodd trails his toughest opponent, former congressman Rob Simmons, by 13 points (48% Simmons, 35% Dodd). And in a match up with former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, Dodd trails by six points. Both Simmons and McMahon have a lot to slam Dodd for, from his connection to financial arch-villains like Countrywide Financial, to his refusal to give up campaign gifts from AIG executives, who later received staggering post-bailout bonuses courtesy Joe TaxPayer. 

So will Dodd step down? Duffy writes that "Democratic leaders have reached a similar conclusion, the question is how public they have to get before Dodd takes the hint that it is time to exit the race, and how messy the situation becomes." Most Democrats holding elected positions in Connecticut have said they will support Dodd. But if he decides to retire, you can expect those same Dems, well-known and obscure, to embrace the move whole-heartedly to welcome a stronger Democratic candidate.

Comedian Eugene Mirman is Grist’s special correspondent in Copenhagen. And by “special,” we mean “e-special-ly” hilarious. Eugene hits the ground running in the Danish city hosting the U.N. climate conference, chatting up birds, babies, buddies, and Bangladeshis on all manner of climate concerns. This is the first of many Mirman reports from Copenhagen, so stay tuned.

This video was produced by Grist as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the constantly updated feed here. Mother Jones’ comprehensive Copenhagen coverage is here, and our special climate change package is here.

In lieu of a public option for health-care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a tentative, still-nebulous compromise this week that allows people 55 to 64 to "buy in" to Medicare starting in 2011. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the buy-in could affect 4 million people without health insurance. And while Reid's plan, concocted with five Democratic and five centrist senators dubbed the "Gang of 10," has been assailed as a major step toward single-payer care (and—gasp!—socialism), other critics do in fact raise raise some serious issues on how Reid's plan completely misses the mark.

First, Medicare is hardly well-suited to absorb additional users. As the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (Medpac) told Congress (PDF) in June, Medicare's financial breaking point is fast approaching, not to mention that 60 percent of people on Medicare now pay for supplemental coverage because of cost-sharing caps. Add to that mess three or four million 55 to 64-year-olds who're likely to need much more care than thirty- or even fortysomethings, and you're looking at a potentially serious viability crisis for Medicare.

The other big unknown with expanding Medicare is whether the health-care system in place—in particular, the physician workforce in place right now—can handle them. To illustrate, I turn to a subject more familiar than the annals of Medicare: the iPhone. When the iPhone arrived in stores (i.e., when people get access to health insurance), millions rushed to the nearest retailer and waited in long lines to buy one. However, when that huge crowd of people then turned on their phones and connected AT&T's network (i.e., newly insured people going to their doctors and receiving care), they overloaded a vastly underprepared system. The result: dropped calls, spotty service, slow loading times, and seething techies. In other words, the infrastructure buckled under the weight of all those new users.

Much the same could happen to Medicare which, like all American health care, lacks the capacity to handle a massive influx of new people. Dr. Ted Epperly, president of the American Association of Family Physicians, told me, "If all of a sudden President Obama increases access to the uninsured, there will be a huge capacity that the demand will not be met for. People will have access issues, and they will be sicker"; and though he was referring to health care in general, his quote equally applies to Medicare. As American Medical Association president J. James Rohack said in a statement this week: "Currently, the flawed Medicare physician payment formula will cause a drastic 21 percent cut to physicians caring for Medicare patients in January, and 28 percent of Medicare patients looking for a new primary care physician are having trouble finding one." Rohack added that the AMA doesn't favor Reid's plan because the group "has longstanding policy opposing the expansion of Medicare given the fiscal projections for the future," and instead prefers a health insurance exchange plan.

Perhaps most telling was this statement by Mayo Clinic executive director Jeffrey Korsmo (read by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)) earlier this week:

"Expanding the Medicare system to persons 55-64 years old would ultimately hurt patients by accelerating the financial ruin of hospitals and doctors across the country. Mayo Clinic alone has begun to limit the number of Medicare patients and their practices, and the growing number of other providers will. This is clearly an unsustainable model."

Coming from one of the most highly regarded health-care institutions in the nation, it makes you wonder whether Reid's policy has less to do with healthy Americans and more to do with politically palatable solutions.

I've been fighting off my cats this week.  Domino has taken to jumping up on my desk and making a nuisance of herself because she wants me to vacate my chair so she can sleep in it.  I finally got tired of this, so I decided to put her pod on the desk and see if she'd be satisfied with that instead.  As you can see, it worked.  So then I put a pillow on the floor next to my desk, put the pod on the pillow, and drew her attention to that.  She seems very happy, and now mostly leaves me alone.

Unfortunately, as you can also see, nature abhors a vacuum and cats abhor an empty spot from which to annoy their humans.  Domino may be happy with her pod, but now Inkblot is the one jumping up on my desk trying to get me out of the chair.  He's never been attracted to pods, so I'm not sure what the solution is going to be if he keeps this up.  Suggestions?

China's Problems

Dan Drezner points to a piece in the New York Times about growing discontent with China in the developing world:

China has long claimed to be just another developing nation, even as its economic power far outstripped that of any other emerging country. Now, it is finding it harder to cast itself as a friendly alternative to an imperious American superpower. For many in Asia, it is the new colossus.

“China 10 years ago is totally different with China now,” said Ansari Bukhari, who oversees metals, machinery and other crucial sectors for Indonesia’s Ministry of Industry. “They are stronger and bigger than other countries. Why do we have to give them preference?”

To varying degrees, others are voicing the same complaint. Take the 10 Southeast Asian nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as Asean, a regional economic bloc representing about 600 million people. After a decade of trade surpluses with Asean nations that ran as high as $20 billion, the surplus through October totaled a bare $535 million, according to Chinese customs figures, and appears headed toward a 10-year low. That is prompting some rethinking of the conventional wisdom that China’s rise is a windfall for the whole neighborhood.

Vietnam just devalued its currency by 5 percent, to keep it competitive with China. In Thailand, manufacturers are grousing openly about their inability to match Chinese prices. India has filed a sheaf of unfair-trade complaints against China this year covering everything from I-beams to coated paper.

I don't have any lengthy comment about this, other than the obvious: China looks scary to some people today because they project its current growth rates into the far future and then assume that everything else in the world will stay the same.  But as China becomes more highly developed, it's going to encounter the same problems maintaining growth that everyone else does.  What's more, it's going to start developing a lot more rivals, both overseas and nearby.  That's going to make its foreign policy way trickier than it is today.  They're already getting a taste of that in Copenhagen, where American representatives are getting occasional breathing spells from the usual attacks as climate activists bash China instead.  It's only going to get worse for them in the future.

Earlier today I posted about a war of words between US climate envoy Todd Stern and Chinese vice foreign minister, He Yafei, over climate change funding. Stern has previously said that the US will provide money to help developing countries cope with climate change, but doesn't see public money going to China. At a press briefing on Friday, He Yafei retorted that these remarks suggested Stern "lacks common sense" or is "extremely irresponsible." Ninety minutes later Stern took the same chair in the briefing room and was quickly asked about He's comments. Stern played it cool: "I think that the coments were a bit unfortunate. I know He Yafei and have enormous respect for him." Stern added, "I don't have any particular comment." But he held his ground: "I don't have any different view than the one I expressed" on international funding and the Kyoto Protocol. As for bridging the significant differences at the summit over how to assign emissions-reducing commitments to the developed nations (the historic emitters) and the major developing countries (the big emitters of the near-future), Stern said, "I think we can get there with China."

 

The Indigenous Environmental Network protested outside the US Embassy in Copenhagen to shame the US government for approving contracts that use tribal lands, such as tar sands, coal, and gas leases.

This video was produced by The Uptake as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the constantly updated feed here. Mother Jones’ comprehensive Copenhagen coverage is here, and our special climate change package is here.

The Problem From Hell

Over at Democracy in America, one of the Economist's teeming masses of anonymous bloggers1 takes a deeper look at Willis Eschenbach's claim that climate data was cooked in Darwin and concludes:

So, after hours of research, I can dismiss Mr Eschenbach. But what am I supposed to do the next time I wake up and someone whose name I don't know has produced another plausible-seeming account of bias in the climate-change science? Am I supposed to invest another couple of hours in it? Do I have to waste the time of the readers of this blog with yet another long post on the subject? Why? Why do these people keep bugging us like this? Does the spirit of scientific scepticism really require that I remain forever open-minded to denialist humbug until it's shown to be wrong? At what point am I allowed to simply say, look, I've seen these kind of claims before, they always turns out to be wrong, and it's not worth my time to look into it?

Well, here's my solution to this problem: this is why we have peer review. Average guys with websites can do a lot of amazing things. One thing they cannot do is reveal statistical manipulation in climate-change studies that require a PhD in a related field to understand. So for the time being, my response to any and all further "smoking gun" claims begins with: show me the peer-reviewed journal article demonstrating the error here. Otherwise, you're a crank and this is not a story.

This, of course, gets to the nub of the problem: climate deniers claim that the scientific community is engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy (or, more subtly, "groupthink") designed specifically to keep them out of the literature.  The fact that their stuff isn't peer-reviewed has nothing to do with its quality, only with the fact that they aren't part of the community.

Now, I don't really know what the answer to this is.  It's a feature of every conspiracy theory that the very fact that experts don't take you seriously is evidence that the conspiracy exists.  So this isn't going to stop.  But what to do?  From a scientific point of view, you don't want to shut out legitimate dissent, but you also don't have the time to deal with every one of the hundreds of cranks who claim to have found an anomaly in your data.  From a public opinion point of view, you don't want to be so dismissive that even reasonable people think you're being a jerk, but you also don't want to give this stuff enough oxygen that you're implicitly saying it's legitimate criticism.  This tightrope is especially difficult to navigate since everyone's self interest (including mine) leads them in the direction of desperately preferring to believe that climate change isn't real.2  So you have to deal with that.

Climate change: it's the public policy problem from hell.  It's the scientific problem from hell.  It's the PR problem from hell.  If you had a classroom assignment to dream up a problem what would be almost impossible to solve given the realities of human nature and global institutions, climate change would be it.  It makes healthcare reform look like a walk in the park.

1And look: if you won't allow these guys to blog under their own names, shouldn't you also ban them from using the words "I" or "me," or from directly arguing with other anonymous Economist bloggers?  This really makes no sense.

2I can't tell you how many times I've wished the deniers were right.  I read their stuff with a combination of contempt for their crankery leavened with a teensy bit of hope that maybe they're onto something this time and the globe really isn't warming.  Because it would make a whole bunch of liberal projects a lot easier if greenhouse gases weren't a problem.

Perry vs. Schwarzenegger comes to the San Francisco federal court building next month, and promises to be one of the most important gay rights cases to date. The plaintiffs argue that the ban on gay marriage in California is unconstitutional, and the case is generally expected to reach the Supreme Court. For more on Perry vs. Scwarzenegger, see Gabriel Arana’s excellent article in The American Prospect.

Meanwhile, on a lighter (but related) note, Sacramento web designer John Marcotte has introduced an initiative to ban divorce in California. The 2010 California Marriage Protection Act, introduced by the married father of two, is meant to lampoon the gay marriage ban. From the CMPA's Web page:

RescueMarriage.org is the brain-child of concerned Christian and political activist John Marcotte, who felt strongly that Prop 8 did not go far enough in protecting traditional marriage. With the help of attorneys and friends, Marcotte is attempting to ban divorce in the State of California.

The initiative has been reported at NPR and the Huffington Post, and David Kirp, who teaches at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, wrote an interesting piece about it in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. From Kirp’s analysis:

The Catholic Church condemns the "mortal sin" of divorce. Wouldn't the clerics have to embrace an initiative that prohibits it? And what about the Mormons, who preach that divorce is the result of not living the Gospel - wouldn't they have to endorse it?

What an ingenious way to expose the hypocrisy of California’s gay marriage ban. Now all Marcotte needs is 700,000 Californian signatures to get the initiative onto the ballot.