While the reasons I haven’t updated this blog for a week are complex and multifaceted, the fact that I’ve been flying to another university every 2-3 days, waking up at 7 (AM, not PM) each morning, defending quantum computing research all day including mealtimes, and collapsing in my hotel room during rare free intervals is undoubtedly one of the contributing factors.

And so it is, alas, that I don’t have time to share anything nontrivial today. Instead, in honor of Earth Day, I’ll just link to the text of the landmark US Supreme Court ruling three weeks ago, which forced Bush’s emasculated EPA to either regulate CO2 emissions or else give scientific reasons for refusing to do so. If you the time (and who doesn’t?), I’d also recommend reading the oral arguments, wherein you can enjoy the acidic barbs of Justice Scalia, surely one of the most interesting and articulate assholes of our time.

As with intelligent design cases, it’s not the science that’s on trial here but rather the legal system itself. Is a system set up to decide which farmer was grazing his cows on which other farmer’s land capable of weighing the origin and future of eukaryotic life on Earth? In this particular case, the legal system eked out a 5-4 victory; it could easily have gone the other way.

And yes, I know that Massachusetts v. EPA wasn’t “really” about global warming: it was about whether Massachusetts had standing to sue, the definition of the word “pollutant” in the Clear Air Act, whether the EPA can decline to regulate based on foreign-policy considerations, and so on. Similarly, Plessy v. Ferguson wasn’t “really” about racism, Griswold v. Connecticut wasn’t “really” about contraception, etc. In each case, it was just a happy coincidence, p≈1/512, that all nine justices found that the legal technicalities lined up perfectly with how they felt about the underlying issue.

For those who don’t want to read the whole decision, here are a few key passages:

When a State enters the Union, it surrenders certain sovereign prerogatives. Massachusetts cannot invade Rhode Island to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it cannot negotiate an emissions treaty with China or India … These sovereign prerogatives are now lodged in the Federal Government, and Congress has ordered EPA to protect Massachusetts (among others) by prescribing standards applicable to the “emission of any air pollutant… which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized … That these climate-change risks are “widely shared” does not minimize Massachusetts’ interest in the outcome of this litigation … According to petitioners’ unchallenged affidavits, global sea levels rose somewhere between 10 and 20 centimeters over the 20th century as a result of global warming … These rising seas have already begun to swallow Massachusetts’ coastal land … The severity of that injury will only increase over the course of the next century: If sea levels continue to rise as predicted, one Massachusetts official believes that a significant fraction of coastal property will be “either permanently lost through inundation or temporarily lost through periodic storm surge and flooding events.”

EPA does not dispute the existence of a causal connection between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. At a minimum, therefore, EPA’s refusal to regulate such emissions “contributes” to Massachusetts’ injuries. EPA nevertheless maintains that its decision not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles contributes so insignificantly to petitioners’ injuries that the agency cannot be haled into federal court to answer for them … But EPA overstates its case. Its argument rests on the erroneous assumption that a small incremental step, because it is incremental, can never be attacked in a federal judicial forum. Yet accepting that premise would doom most challenges to regulatory action.

Unlike EPA, we have no difficulty reconciling Congress’ various efforts to promote interagency collaboration and research to better understand climate change with the agency’s pre-existing mandate to regulate “any air pollutant” that may endanger the public welfare … Collaboration and research do not conflict with any thoughtful regulatory effort; they complement it.

EPA no doubt has significant latitude as to the manner, timing, content, and coordination of its regulations with those of other agencies. But once EPA has responded to a petition for rulemaking, its reasons for action or inaction must conform to the authorizing statute. Under the clear terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do … To the extent that this constrains agency discretion to pursue other priorities of the Administrator or the President, this is the congressional design.

EPA has refused to comply with this clear statutory command. Instead, it has offered a laundry list of reasons not to regulate. For example, EPA said that a number of voluntary executive branch programs already provide an effective response to the threat of global warming … that regulating greenhouse gases might impair the President’s ability to negotiate with “key developing nations” to reduce emissions … and that curtailing motor-vehicle emissions would reflect “an inefficient, piecemeal approach to address the climate change issue” …

Although we have neither the expertise nor the authority to evaluate these policy judgments, it is evident they have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change. Still less do they amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form a scientific judgment. In particular, while the President has broad authority in foreign affairs, that authority does not extend to the refusal to execute domestic laws.

Nor can EPA avoid its statutory obligation by noting the uncertainty surrounding various features of climate change and concluding that it would therefore be better not to regulate at this time. … If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment as to whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, EPA must say so.

In short, EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change. Its action was therefore “arbitrary, capricious, … or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

32 Responses to “Ecoprocrastination”

  1. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    Clearly, we should stop burning fossil fuels (e.g., cut down on flying to conferences) and use them for the far more important purpose of tarring and feathering anti-nuclear activists.

    Come to think of it, a nuclear-powered plane was designed a few decades ago.

  2. Scott Says:

    Joseph, I completely agree with you that the environmental movement made a terrible mistake when it went antinuclear. We ought to be breaking ground on dozens of new nuclear plants, and recycling the spent fuel rods like France does. Fortunately, these days at least some prominent environmentalists have realized that possibly destroying parts of the planet is actually a pretty attractive proposition, when the alternative is almost certainly destroying all of it.

    As for the nuclear plane, my understanding was that they never solved the problem of shielding passengers from radiation while keeping the plane light enough to fly. Am I mistaken? In any case, I hope I will someday get to fly to conferences on a nuclear plane … just probably not on the maiden voyage! :-)

  3. John Sidles Says:

    Ahhh … the nuclear-powered airplane.

    Subject of one of the funnier SF novels ever written, Hilbert Schenck’s Steam Bird (Schenck was a trained engineer).

    Discussed at great length in James Killian’s Sputnik, Science, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (p. 184)

    In the last meeting in which I participated, at which the nuclear-powered airplane was discussed with President Eisenhower, he commented that the next thing he know, someone would want to take the liner Queen Elizabeth, put wings on it, and install enough power to make it fly. Dr. [Herbert] York begged him not to let the idea get around, or someone would want to try!

    The above notes were collected incidentally, in the context of a study of the question: “Why is the NSF budget 85% science and 15% engineering, instead 50%-50%, or even 15%-85%?”

    Killian’s book is not so easy to find … my copy is stamped “White House Library and Research Center” on the inside cover!

  4. Kurt Says:

    Didn’t Feynman have an anecdote about the nuclear-powered airplane? Or am I misremembering?

  5. cody Says:

    Kurt: yes, Feynman did have a story about that. while at los alamos, the government had a patent clerk to patent anyone’s ideas for nuclear-related patents. Feynman said he felt it was silly, as you could easily imagine all sorts of uses, and one day he expressed that feeling to the patent clerk, by describing something like how it could be used for a submarine, or a boat propeller, or an airplane. later the patent clerk ran told him the submarine and boat (or possibly something else) were already taken, but the plane was his. there was an anecdote about how the form he had to sign stated that the government was paying him for the idea, so he got some money (a dollar i think?) and bought his friends/coworkers cookies(?) and then everyone demanded payment for their previously patented ideas. also, years later, a company which hoped to construct a nuclear power airplane contacted Feynman with hopes that he would be CEO or something, and he realized it was because his name was attached to this patent (it was this story that caused the recollection of the patent story, i believe). its likely i have screwed something up with this, but thats the ‘jist’ of it i think.

    beyond that, Scott, thanks for saving me the time/effort of having to read/learn about important issues myself. and although i love learning new nontrivial things on your blog, try not to feel obligated to introducing/entertaining me (us) to them.

  6. Tyler DiPietro Says:

    “In this particular case, the legal system eked out a 5-4 victory; it could easily have gone the other way.”

    The real difficulty is that those four votes are utterly predictable. Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito, who can be reliably expected to toe the conservative line in almost every case.

    It would be interesting to see a modern take on whether “intelligent design” can be taught in public school science classrooms. Scalia was one of the dissenters in the 1987 case on creationism. I wonder how the other three conservatives on the current bench makeup would vote if it came their way.

  7. John Sidles Says:

    To provide a historical perspective on the Supreme Court opinion that Scott quoted, the following foresighted commentary on the challenge of global warming was published in 1955, by John von Neumann, near the end of von Neumann’s life:

    All major weather phenomena are ultimately controlled by the solar energy that falls on the earth. …

    “The carbon dioxide released into the atomosphere by industry’s burning of coal and oil—more than half of it during the last generation—may have changed the atomosphere’s composition sufficiently to account for a general warming of the world by about degree Fahrenheit. …

    Intervention in atmospheric and climatic matters will come in a few decades, and will unfold on a scale difficult to imagine at present. …

    Such actions would be more directly and truly worldwide than recent, or presumably, future wars, or the economy at any time. …

    All this will merge each nation’s affairs with those of every other, more thoroughly than the threat of a nuclear or any other war would have done. …

    What safeguard remains? Apparently only day-to-day—or perhaps year-to-year—opportunistic measures, a long sequence of small, correct decisions. And this is not surprising. After all, the crisis is due to the rapidity of progress, to the probable further acceleration thereof, and to the reaching of certain critical relationships. …

    Specifically, the effects that we are now beginning to produce are of the same order of magnitude as “the great globe itself.” Indeed, they affect the earth as an entity. Hence further acceleration can no longer be absorbed as in the past by an extension of the area of operations. …

    The most hopeful answer is that the human species has been subjected to similar tests before, and seems to have a congenital ability to come through, after varying amounts of trouble.

    Given the sparse progress by humanity in the subsequent fifty-two years, we can now appreciate that von Neumann was very optimistic indeed in asserting that humanity “seems to have a congenital ability to come through, after varying amounts of trouble.”

    What is the link to complexity theory (if any)? Opinions may differ, but it seems to me that complexity theory (and its allied disciplines like control theory and information theory) is not going to provide many “magic bullets” that will magically simplify and solve all these massively complex issues.

    But if we regard these disciplines collectively, as the emerging “knowledge of knowledge”, then they definitely supply several necessary ingredients: a emerging synoptic view of human knowledge and morality, cognitive tools for effective planning, engineering, and community-building, and most necessary of all … humility and an appreciation that these challenges are serious for our generation, and desperately serious for our grandchildren’s generation.

    Maybe all you Feynman fans can comment — is this, or is this not, the exact opposite of Feynman’s celebrated philosophy that “I have no personal responsibility for these big issues?”

  8. Kurt Says:

    Maybe all you Feynman fans can comment — is this, or is this not, the exact opposite of Feynman’s celebrated philosophy that “I have no personal responsibility for these big issues?

    Well, didn’t Feynman go through a period of depression after the creation of the atomic bomb? This attitude may have just been part of a defense mechanism on his part. In any event, his involvement in public matters such as state education standards makes it clear, I think, that he did believe in responsibility to the community, just perhaps at a more intimate level.

  9. Andris Says:

    Scalia is hilarious! From his dissent in this case:
    It follows that everything airborne, from Frisbees to flatulence, qualifies as an ‘air pollutant.’ This reading of the statute defies common sense.

  10. Ram Says:


    I loved your blog (and I am in UC) ! By the way, don’t worry about Profs XYZ opinion about writing in a blog… No wonder, academia is failing in the view of the common man… I think some of your papers are very interesting, because amazingly you chose not to make them obscure for guys who are not in CS. Furthermore, you have some unusual ideas.

    A couple of years ago, a math-phys PhD friend of mine made a comment about how the proposition of P=NP could be attacked by finding a set of physics laws where P=NP by construction… I searched a little, and I came to one of your cool papers! I don’t know what to make of QC yet, but it is certainly a neat topic to address to understand better Quantum Mechanics…

    Good luck with your job hunt. By the way, I also have a blog, I also discuss ideas unrelated to my research (why do researchers have to be bots that only talk about their publications? Isn’t that a wierd view?), but they are in portuguese.

  11. Scott Says:

    Ram, thanks for the kind comments! If you didn’t realize, the thing with “Prof. X” was an April Fools joke.

  12. cody Says:

    i dont really know about Feynman’s feelings with responsibilty of the big issues. as Kurt said, he did recall a period of depression after the manhatten project. he said that many of the scientists’ original justification for the project was the belief in a significant chance that germany would develop and use such a weapon, and that since germany fell before the bomb was complete, many of them questioned continuing, but the general attitude seemed to have moved to a curiosity-driven rather than fear/protection-driven.
    after the project he said he was in NYC with his mother (i think?), and he was thinking to himself about how far the bomb would destroy (something about 52nd or 53rd street maybe?), and that he recalled seeing people building bridges and other structures, and viewing it as frivolous, as the new weapons were bound to destroy it all soon. but he also attributed that pessimistic/depressed attitude to his wife’s very recent death.
    Kurt, i tend to agree with you and intrepret his experience with public education, private education, and even his personal attitude about teaching as evidence that he was concerned with mankind’s existence. however, im an optimist, and i tend to interpret even pessimistic views as being good somehow (case in point, Aurther Schopenhauer).

  13. cody Says:

    oh, also, von Neumann, to me, was so incredibly smart that i have to surpress this odd instinctual habit i have to just trust everything he says, and make sure that i think what i want to think, not just what he thought. on the one hand i enjoy hearing that very optimistic prediction from him, but on the other hand, i feel like he states my current feelings, and since nothing much has happened since he said it, it makes me start to think maybe ill be really wrong too. which would be disappointing.

  14. Johan Richter Says:

    Alex Kozinski is an even more fun conservative judge, and more intellectual honest than Scalia. Read his dissent in US v. Ramirez-Lopez, it is hilarious.

  15. Eric Baum Says:

    Unfortunately, the 5 justices chose to explicitly base their decision on hearsay. In a similar recent case in Australia,
    the judge, rather quaintly, required the plaintifs to enter evidence, and considered it. For example, the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC was entered into evidence. Here’s a relevant section of the judge’s decision:
    [17] Finally, the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Summary for Policymakers was released on 2 February 2007.[6] It relevantly concluded that is very likely that human-induced GHGs are causing global warming, and that most of the observed increases in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century are very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human-caused) GHG concentrations. However, a close examination of the global mean temperature chart (Fig SPM-3), which was said to support that view, reveals that the last 106 years had 3 periods of cooling (1900-1910, 1944-1976, 1998-2006) and 2 periods of warming (1910-1944, 1976-1998) and that temperatures rose only 0.5°C from 1900 to 2006. The largest temperature change in the 20th century was a 0.75°C rise between 1976 and 1998, But the fact that very similar rises have previously occurred (1852-1878, 0.65°C and 1910-1944, 0.65°C) was not specifically mentioned or causally explained in the Summary. Also not mentioned or causally explained is the fact that temperatures have actually fallen 0.05°C over the last 8 years.

    [18] If a comparison is made of temperatures over the last 55 years (1951-2006), as the IPCC presumably did in reaching its conclusion, the chart shows that average temperatures increased from 13.85°C (1951) to 14.45°C (2006)—an increase of 0.6°C. As “most” of that increase is said by the IPCC to be due to increases in GHGs, it follows that the temperature increase of concern is about 0.45°C (0.45°C being 75% of or “most” of 0.6°C ). With all respect, a temperature increase of only about 0.45°C over 55 years seems a surprisingly low figure upon which to base the IPCC’s concerns about its inducing many serious changes in the global climate system during the 21st century.[7]

    After considering the plaintifs evidence of AGW, the judge decided their case was without merit.
    Its not clear as you put it Scott, whether a legal system designed for considering suits between farmers is best able to judge science, but its certainly a lot better than hearsay, and hearsay is virtually the only reason I’ve ever heard anybody cite for worrying about AGW, from Laurie David to most commenters on the blog. If this decision leads to a judge asking for actual evidence, you may be surprised at the outcome.

  16. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    IANAL [I Am Not A Lawyer]. Yet I’d like to make a comment on meta-Law and meta-meta-Law.

    In my other life I am a part-time paralegal specializing in Appellate and
    Supreme Court briefs and writs. What we call “The Law” is a chaotic attractor in the space of all possible laws. I keep meaning to explain this in copiously footnoted dense theoretical prose of the Law Review variety. Math and Physics rarely, but sometimes, sneak into such trheoretical legal publications, and sometimes indirectly affect the Supreme Court. Although, anecdotally, the current Supremes read Law Review articles FAR less often that was the case some decades ago.

    The Superior – Appeals – Supreme – Legislature hierarchy, and the precedent-based logic, make the
    laws at a given time evolve sensitively to initial conditions.

    The Constitution and the Declaration of
    Independence are written in plain English. BUT…

    Isaac Asimov wrote about complicated issues of Science, Math, History,
    and Literature in Plain English — inentionally, and superbly. That
    doesn’t make the underlying Science, Math, History, and Literature

    In American Law, there is a 3-level hierarchy of interpreting “plain English.”

    (1) If neither part disputes what the language means, then it is taken
    to mean what they agree it means, on the surface.

    (2) If the dispute what the language means (often at the Appellate
    level) then the analysis proceeds by related laws, by court precedents
    in that state, by precedents in other stares, and by Federal precedents.

    (3) If that still doesn’t decide things, then (usually at the State Supreme Court or US Supreme Court level) then one goes to INTENT of the framners of the language, as established by transcripts of legislative debates, analyses by other authorities, even memoranda of legislative aides and the like.

    Again, I Am Not A Lawyer, and it is a Felony in my state to practice law without a license. So this is only my informed opinion as someone who has, over 15+ years, been a paralegal from time to time researching, writing, serving, and even arguing (in pro per) Superior Court, Appellate Court, and State Supreme Court motions and Writs.

    So, yes, “The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are
    written in plain English.” Yet that does not make the meaning simple. English has changed in 220+ years. The culture has changed. What is “free speech” in the context of the web and Terahertz waves that allow law enforcement to literally look through walls, and satellite photos of people and cars on the ground, and so forth. Ben Franklin could not have predicted these. And the laws of other countries have changed on, for instance, death penalties, and the UN
    exists and the EU, and there is an influence of foreign laws on US laws — that infleunce itself debated.

    So I reassert: even documents in Plain English can simultaneously be “written in code.” For geniuses such as Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, and John Jay, this is often important.

    Also, drafts change. For instance, earlier drafts read: “Life, Liberty, and Property.”

    Then the phrase “pursuit of happiness” was used to replace “property”, probably as a compromise between delegates representing states with
    differing percentages of property-owners and non-property-owners, or the like.

    Does anyone strongly agree or disagree?

    There is much debate as to what “pursuit of happiness” really means. But is seems clear to me that we can pursue happiness better if we are not diseased from pollutants.

    A lot of these things were debated first in other venues.

  17. cody Says:

    Jonathan Vos Post, i really like what you said, especially explaining the US legal system as a chaotic attractor, sensitive to initial conditions. i want to see the application of developed scientific ideas to what is generally considered non-scientific realms more often.

  18. Threetorches Says:

    Nice thoughts, Jonathan Vos Post and cody!
    Lawyers go through an epiphany of sorts when they first discover that the Law is actually about real stuff…whose cow is it, where is the property line, how much did someone agree to pay for it, why did a building fall on it, does the insurance policy cover cows across the line crushed by buildings, etc.

    But then comes that time when you go one step further and realize that in order to try a case about a defective truck, you have to learn how diesel engines work. In detail.
    To try a medical malpractice case, you have to learn how the procedure is supposed to be done. In detail.
    And in order to determine whether a government agency is properly conducting its affairs in acccord with its creating or enabling statutes, you have to learn what it is, exactly, the agency is charged with doing. In detail.
    So lots of lawyers out there are now involved in the science behind the arguments about climate change, and the debate itself over appropriate responses.

    Yes, this is a good thing! Lots of very educated people, people who read things and write things down for a living, are now in a position to insist on accurate science, accurate reporting of scientific studies and conclusions, and genuine and appropriate responses from the government bodies that have been charged with implementing the will of the people.
    Lawyers and scientists understand one another quite well…both strive for logical analysis, specificity, repeatability, and accountability. Both understand that the answers you receive are only as good as the questions you ask.

    The Supreme Court, in effect, informed the EPA that it can no longer stand on the sidelines, but must instead enter the fray and provide solid scientific reasons for the actions it takes, or at least solid scientific reasons for taking no action.

    The EPA response has yet to be seen, but it will be interesting to observe the process.

  19. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    Thank you, Cody. When journalists say describe the Supreme Court as swinging from Left to Right like a pendulum, they are fatally oversimplifying to a 2-dimensional projection. The dimensionality of the Supreme Court has been analyzed by statistics on which Justices are correlated with which, over many opinions. In effect, there are far fewer than 9 members of the Supreme Basis decomposition. But even that is a static, not dynamic description.

    I heard an illustrative legal horror story from a Legal Malpractice specialist. A amn and wife, driving on an L.A. freeway, got into an angry argument. The man unforgivably slapped his wife. A passing California Highway Patrolman pulled them over. The husband was jailed. The next morning, the wife refused to press charges.

    But, when the husband was taken to jail, he made his One Phonecall, to his attorney, asking to be bailed out. The attorney, as it turned out, was vacationing in Fiji, and forgot to have a message or forwarding on the phone, or someone to handle emergency calls.

    As the husband stayed overnight, in a cell with several other inmates, he was badly beaten by a thug, and left permanently paralyzed. So he sued his attorney for Legal Malpractice.

    Unfortunately, in the interim, the California Supreme Court had, perturbed by the size of the Legal Mal backlog of cases, decided that to prove Legal Mal in a criminal case, the plaintiff must first prove Actual Innocence. But, though the wife did not press charges, there was no Actual Innocence. The man had slapped his wife (assault and battery) and admitted it.

    The husband and wife may or may not still be married — sounds dysfunctional to me — by he’s still paralyzed for life, bankrupt, and the lawyer still takes nice long vacations.

    The reinterpretation by the California Supremes was driven by the size of the queue of cases. Given that there is interaction between multiple queues, this is one source of chaos right there.

    There are also economic models of the Superior – Appeals – Supreme – Legislature hierarchy. There are bounds on the acceptable probabilities of a decision at one level being overturned at the next higher level. Lawsuits have costs, and there is a positivity constraint on the convergence of a hierarchy of Markovian appeals. But I’ve gone on too long, and won’t go into what I call eigendecisions.

  20. Jud Says:

    Eric Baum said: “Unfortunately, the 5 justices chose to explicitly base their decision on hearsay. In a similar recent case in Australia, the judge, rather quaintly, required the plaintiffs to enter evidence, and considered it.”

    “Rather quaintly”? How very droll.

    The Supreme Court was not acting as a trial court, so no evidence was introduced, and the rule against hearsay is not germane.

    In fact, none of the litigants, including EPA, disputed the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming, so the introduction of evidence on this point would have been entirely irrelevant. The case turned on legal questions, not on whether anthropogenic global warming exists or its importance (though as Scott adroitly points out, it “was just a happy coincidence, p≈1/512, that all nine justices found that the legal technicalities lined up perfectly with how they felt about the underlying issue”).

    In the Australian case, had the parties agreed on the facts, you’d not have found the judge there wasting time taking evidence on undisputed points either.

  21. Jud Says:

    Scott said: “Joseph, I completely agree with you that the environmental movement made a terrible mistake when it went antinuclear. We ought to be breaking ground on dozens of new nuclear plants….”

    And what was it you intended to do with the pressure vessels and containment buildings for those “dozens of plants” at end-of-life?

    See, e.g., .

  22. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    That “it ‘was just a happy coincidence, p≈1/512, that all nine justices found that the legal technicalities lined up perfectly with how they felt about the underlying issue’” presumes that the Justices were uncorrelated. That they are highly correlated is part of my presentation.

    Open question: it is well-established that quantum games, where players may be entangled, have additional Nash equilibria not possible in classical games. I have discussed this f2f with Nash. What happens when attorneys and judges have quantum computers, and may be entangled?

    My statement that “What we call ‘The Law’ is a chaotic attractor in the space of all possible laws” was, on the surface, a classical meta-law or meta-meta-law statement. How should this be extended to quantum chaos?

  23. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    By the way, today, 28 April 2007, is the 101st birthday of Kurt Gödel. This comment refers to itself.

  24. Tyler DiPietro Says:

    “What happens when attorneys and judges have quantum computers, and may be entangled?”

    Judicial entanglement may go a ways in calling into question Borkian originalism.

  25. John Sidles Says:

    Whenever Scott is not posting, this forum too-swiftly becomes moribund; “there is nothing new under the sun”.

    So I would like to encourage people who have not posted on this topic, to do so.

    All you people who have already posted, should consider keeping silent! Yes, this includes me!

    The reason is laziness. Like most people, I greatly prefer to read other people’s witty and illuminating posts, than take the trouble to attempt to write them myself (and too often fall short).

    C’mon, give it a try. Help Scott out.

    Write about your cat, if no other topic suggests itself. :)

  26. Gus Says:

    Open question: it is well-established that quantum games, where players may be entangled, have additional Nash equilibria not possible in classical games.

    This idea is not so well-established. I have read several papers that claim the existence of new “quantum” Nash equilibria for specific examples of games. In each of those papers, the new Nash equilibria are only present under artificial and unrealistic restrictions on the set of strategies available to the players. What’s more, these quantum Nash equilibria disappear when one allows the players to choose from a more realistic set of strategies. Basically, all these papers tell us is that if you change the rules of the game then you get new Nash equilibria. Duh.

  27. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    And what was it you intended to do with the pressure vessels and containment buildings for those “dozens of plants” at end-of-life?

    Does it matter? In the long run, they’re less radioactive than the original uranium. You can think of that as radiation offsets.

    We will, of course, use that criticism as an excuse to ignore anything environmentalists have to say.

  28. Jud Says:

    Jud said: “And what was it you intended to do with the pressure vessels and containment buildings for those “dozens of plants” at end-of-life?”

    Joseph Hertzlinger replied: “Does it matter? In the long run, they’re less radioactive than the original uranium. You can think of that as radiation offsets.”

    Small problem: The uranium was “there,” when “there” is defined as unconcentrated and in places that tend to be distant from human habitation. The containment buildings are “here,” where “here” is defined as close enough to human habitation that, e.g., radioactive particulates might wind up in human lungs.

    Joseph Hertzlinger said: “We will, of course, use that criticism as an excuse to ignore anything environmentalists have to say.”

  29. cody Says:

    i havent done the numbers, but wouldnt it be cheaper to maintain a closely watched/guarded/monitored nuclear waste site (even if such a site were ‘huge’) for thousands of years, than the cost say filtering and capturing and processing all fossil fuel emissions for the next thousand years? the ‘footprint’ of nuclear waste (from mining to waste products), while much more hazardeous, is also much smaller than fossil fuels, right?

    also, Joseph Hertzlinger, by “less radioactive” do you mean less active for a longer period of time? or more active for a lesser period of time? i was under the impression that our current waste is much more radioactive than U-238/235, but for much shorter periods of time. although i havent looked at any of those numbers in a while. i dont see why its so unattractive to switch to breeders, and maintain yucca mountain; seems like itd be cheaper than alternatives (seems, cause i dont really have a clue).

    Jud, i had a friend that suggested we take the radioactive waste from nuclear plants and spread it evenly over the surface of the earth, but that seems pretty riduclous to me, because i think the products of the reactions are more radioactive than the reactants. that aside, anyone have a good argument against just storing the stuff?

  30. Jud Says:

    Cody -

    “Just storing the stuff” is sufficiently scientifically and socially non-trivial (remember, we are not just talking about the U.S.) that waiting for an acceptable solution to that problem takes us beyond the time frame where we’d have wanted to get started on a solution to anthropogenic global warming. Also remember that we haven’t yet begun to think about EOL-ing entire power plants, including concrete and insulating materials that have the potential to become airborne particulates during demolition. We’ve dealt with analogous problems with regard to asbestos, but think of the expense alone.

    Other stuff to think about: I remember reading a Scientific American article a long time ago that noted nuclear strikes on something like 8 to 20 nuclear power plants upwind of population centers would make the U.S. uninhabitable. (I’m guessing even fewer would be required where there are higher nuclear/population densities, e.g., Western Europe.) This potentially puts Iran, perhaps North Korea, and possibly other nations in a posture of mutual assured destruction (MAD) with us in ~15 years. There is always the potential, through a rogue nuke, airplane, plant takeover, etc., for terrorists to deliberately cause releases of radioactivity to atmosphere from nuclear power plants. Turning from the horrific to the mundane, even discounting the possibility of human error in plant operation causing an accident, what about errors during construction? The very best error rates in field construction of piping materials approach 0.9%, and there’s a lot of pipe in a nuclear plant. Then there are the problems you just can’t anticipate, e.g., I bet the folks designing the Alaska Pipeline didn’t plan for the effects of drunken boat captains.

    Of course there are potential problems associated with any industrial installation, but nuclear power plants are a nearly unique combination of lots and lots of very complicated stuff around a very scary center. For these and other reasons, I don’t prefer the nuclear fire as an alternative to the CO2 frying pan.

    Do I have a potentially better alternative? Well, I’d think hard about putting more money into research on mundane stuff that doesn’t have the NIMBY problem, like better, cheaper insulation, and government-subsidized employment programs to retrofit existing buildings. If installation could be made sufficiently low-tech and low-cost, it might be a solution for developing economies as well as First World nations. This seems at least one aspect of a better direction to me.

  31. cody Says:

    okay Jud, that seems pretty reasonable; i have some sort of optimistic nature to me, so i probably tend to underestimate potential hazards like terrorist attacks and MAD strategies with unfriendly nations. also, while i personally am comfortable with increases in nuclear power i understand most people arent, and even i dont really see it as much of a solution to the global warming issue. i tend to think of it more in relation to energy demands of the world, but upon reflection it seems i have just assumed such demands cant be met with alternative sources. my flaw is probably thinking of alternative sources as mainly wind and solar, which im pretty sure are not capable of solving the problem, but maybe if i include wave, tidal, and biomass/biofuel, itll add up, i dont know.

  32. Jud Says:

    Cody -

    Just IMHO, the “blind spots” for most folks seem to be

    (1) thinking in terms of high-tech solutions, when (especially for the developing world) the solutions ought to be as inexpensive and low-tech as possible; and

    (2) thinking in terms of increasing the supply side of the equation, when lowering the demand side promises to be more low-tech, more decentralized, and easier politically due to fewer NIMBY problems (would you rather have an electrical generating plant next to your home, or have your home insulation improved?).