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Rich Species, Poor Species:

From an official description of a University of New Mexico Law School class, Environmental Global Warming: "Global climate change is the major environmental threat of our era. Its effects are felt by all species, but especially on those who are poor..." I didn't realize that interspecies distribution of wealth is such a hot (no pun intended) issue! (Hat tip: Christina Hoff Sommers, who was too busy criticizing political bias at UNM Law to notice the humor in the line she quoted.)

Daniel Chapman (mail):
Classic!
10.17.2006 4:03pm
Houston Lawyer:
We have reached the point where it is impossible to spot sarcasm unless you know the views of the writer or speaker in advance.
10.17.2006 4:14pm
OrinKerr:
Here's the entire description:
Global climate change is the major environmental threat of our era. Its effects are felt by all species, but especially on those who are poor, those whose livelihoods depend on nature (fishing, marine mammals) and those who live in regions under environmental stress (parts of Africa, for example). The entire ecological basis of life is affected by global warming and extinctions will accelerate.

The solutions to global warming require changes in our carbon based economy. There are exciting innovations occurring worldwide that point to the world's ability to make these changes, but institutional factors (legal, political, economic) are key to progress.

This course will be a seminar in which we work together to understand the science behind climate change and how it will affect different regions of the world, the economics of change, and, most importantly, the role of law in bringing about change. The U.S. Congress is beginning to address global warming and our Senators are the most important players in the Senate. New Mexico and other states are also taking measures, prodded by the failure to act at a national level. After some thirty years of development of environmental law, this enormously complex problem calls on us to craft a legal approach that is effective and can command support from diverse interests. We will learn about cutting edge approaches to environmental regulation and international law.

Students will meet weekly for lectures and discussions. The practicum will put the student in the role of a participant in the debate, preparing a useful memorandum for a stakeholder. For example, a student might address a question for a staffer in the Congress, for a NGO, or prepare an environmental justice analysis for a local group.

Professor Fort has worked in environmental law for about 25 years with state government, environmental justice organizations (SWRIC, CBE-CA), national environmental groups, as well as in more traditional academic research and writing projects.
10.17.2006 4:18pm
bchurchhowe (mail):
Doesn't seem so bad in context, although it's certainly an example poor wording/sentence structuring. I'd put this on par, though, with some of the more pedantic "Bushisms" over at Slate-- which got a pretty harsh critique from this site, if I recall correctly.
10.17.2006 4:26pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I'm pretty sure the poor wording was the point... That was funny enough for me, and that's the point of pretty much every "bushism." Of course, I clicked the link in the post.
10.17.2006 4:30pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
bchurch, this was only brought to readers' attention as an example of poor grammar, as the sentence, including the part I left off, has as its subject species, not people.
10.17.2006 4:33pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
Actually, the whole thing is a little weak in terms of construction &usage. For example: "the entire ecological basis of life is affected by" doesn't make any sense to me at all; when you Google "ecological basis of life" (with quotation marks) you get 145 results, almost all of which seem to refer to the same tiny branch of biology -- "life history and diversity," and most of which refer to the same paper. Only a few are using the term by itself, and in the ones I clicked through to, it was in a highly jargonistic (is that a word?) context, full of essentially meaningless phrases.

Kind of like that entire course description, actually... it reads like a badly written "objective" from someone's resume.
10.17.2006 4:37pm
ErnieG (mail):
It's reminiscent of the joke NYT headline: WORLD ENDS TOMORROW: WOMEN, MINORITIES HARDEST HIT.
10.17.2006 4:49pm
Mahlon:
It is sad that someone who believes so passionately about a topic can be so incapable of expression. It makes you wonder about the merits of the class. If its (presumably) greatest advocate is unable describe the course with few logically connected words, is that person going to be able to convey the actual content of the subject any better?
10.17.2006 4:56pm
bchurchhowe (mail):
Hi David,

I understand the grammatical/structural mistake in the sentence, and that it leads to a humorous interpretation.

My question is how it differs greatly from the "Bushisms" criticized here. If I remember, a major complaint was that Slate took out of context comments from Bush to give the impression that he believed some ridiculous statement-- when it was clear from the context of the quote that he had just misspoke.

Truth be told, I don't really care that much. I had at least a mild chuckle at the post, as I do at the occasional Bushism. And in fact I think it was Mr. Volokh himself who had a problem with Slate, not you. So hypocrisy of course wouldn't a fair charge for me to make-- just thought the incongruity between the reactions to each quote was a little interesting.
10.17.2006 5:05pm
te:
Boy, the Grand Old Party of Torture and Molestation must really be getting the sh*t kicked out of it if this is the best attack somebody could come up with on those nutty enviro-lefties.
10.17.2006 5:09pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
*blink*
10.17.2006 5:13pm
lucia (mail) (www):
This bit sounds pretty funny too: "and our Senators are the most important players in the Senate".

I assume by "our" the writer meant "New Mexico Senators" rather than "American Senators", but I still mentally laughed for a second before continuuing.

I think laughing at tortured writing in a university course description falls in the bounds of fair. The course descriptions are presumably written by people with advanced degrees and reviewed by several other people.
10.17.2006 5:16pm
orson23 (mail):
Lame, lamentable, and sad - is how I reacted to this.

The IPCC documentation in the most recent (Third Assessment) review states that climate change modeling is so immautre that regional estiamtes of climate change cannot be made. Yet this doesn't stop either law profs (as above) nor "climatologists" from attempting to do the impossible!

Where there's a will there's a whey - eh?
10.17.2006 5:25pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Another grammatical mistake:

"This course will be a seminar in which we work together to understand the science behind climate change and how it will affect different regions of the world"

The "it" is meant to refer to "climate change," but in the construction it actually refers to "science" The effect that the science behind climate chang will have on different regions of the world is somewhat different than the effect that the climate change itself is supposed to have. It would make for a much shorter course.
10.17.2006 5:31pm
randal (mail):
Its effects are felt by all species, but especially on those who are poor, those whose livelihoods depend on nature (fishing, marine mammals) and those who live in regions under environmental stress (parts of Africa, for example).

This sentence isn't ungrammatical. It's saying that all species can feel the effects of global warming on poor people. The poor people get sunburned and you can feel the blisters. Yes, "all species" may be technically over-broad - plants don't have a sense of touch in the way we understand it - but I think the statement is clear.

The passage does emphasize that species who depend on nature are more susceptible than unnatural species, like roombas... which is pretty undeniable. Marine mammals and fishings are especially susceptible, as well as those of Africa's parts who live in environmentally stressful regions.
10.17.2006 5:32pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
bchurchhowe,

One difference would be that Bushisms arise from unscripted, off-the-cuff oral remarks, while the object of ridicule here is from the official, formal written course description in a university's law school catalog.

Another difference would be that this blog doesn't make a regular habit of scouring every word of the University of New Mexico's law school catalog looking for something to make fun of. With its relentless pursuit and out-of-context quoting of the utterly irrelevant Bushisms, Slate begins to resemble Inspector Javert.
10.17.2006 5:37pm
Tom952 (mail):
those whose livelihoods depend on nature (fishing, marine mammals) and those who live in regions under environmental stress (parts of Africa, for example).

Well, don't all species depend on nature for their livelihood?

And why does she think parts of Africa will be harder hit than, say, parts of Australia or parts of Mexico? Are Africans better victims?
10.17.2006 6:03pm
John (mail):
There's nothing wrong, I suppose, in trying to teach lawyers some science. But how to "deal" with global warming is much more controversal than the "science" behind the assumption that we are causing it.

Somehow, I doubt that these students will be given anything like a fair presentation of how to deal with the issue; the course description seems to suggest that there is only one way to deal with it, and that is to attack our "carbon based" system through the use of the law.
10.17.2006 6:05pm
BobNSF (mail):
With church mice now in danger, perhaps the religious right will start to take global warming seriously...
10.17.2006 6:11pm
EricH (mail):
Boy, the Grand Old Party of Torture and Molestation must really be getting the sh*t kicked out of it if this is the best attack somebody could come up with on those nutty enviro-lefties.

Let me guess, University of New Mexico Law School grad? Circa 2005?
10.17.2006 6:19pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Eric, you are giving him waaaaay too muc credit. That looks like an AA from DailyKos Community College.
10.17.2006 6:26pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Yeah, this course actually makes the Arts &Sciences portion of UNM look good.
10.17.2006 6:42pm
Peter Wimsey:
(1) Rich species include those species that wear fur, despite it being cruel. Minxes and foxes and bears and dogs will do fine. (Even when it gets warmer, fur will help with thermoregulation). Poor species are those with little or no hair, like reptiles and worms and hairless cats. These species will do less well, unless they rise up against their furry exploiters and make some fur coats of their own.

(2) No one who has read any environmental regs would expect good writing from an environmental law practitioner. If a course description for an env. law seminary flowed mellifluously from the page and employed advanced stylistic techniques like periods and parallelism and paragraph breaks, you should suspect a charlatan.
10.17.2006 7:27pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Peter, thank you, LOL.
10.17.2006 7:32pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
The thing about climate change is that while the Greens tote out lists of 'scientists' who agree with them- the vast majority of them are inevitably from every discipline in the world except those studying climate. Their foremost expert of late is Stephen Hawkings. Brilliant man- but what are his qualifications and background in the subject?

On the other hand, there just arent all that many experts in paleoclimatology and meteorology in the world to go around- but it so happens that they tend to be the most soft spoken and circumspect of their findings. Leave it to the physicists to go limb walking I guess. It also happens that the foremost skeptics of global climate disaster are experts in the field. Here's a list of Canadian scientists alone who called on the Canadian government to revisit to Kyoto based science. Look at their specialties. Brave people considering they are (if they havent already) due to be smeared as stooges for the oil companies by the Greens.
10.17.2006 7:48pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
Besides the poor writing, there is no evidence that global warming is a major environmental threat. There is evidence that the earth was warmer in the past than now. There also were periods when the earth was much colder. (Oh, yeah, those ice ages where glaciers covered over a third of our land masses) Somehow, the world, its flora and fauna, and mankind survived the much more dramatic changes from ice ages to warmer than current (and projected) temperatures.
10.17.2006 7:52pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
I wonder if there is a course taught in any law school on the effect of worldwide environmental regulations on the price of petroleum products, including the price of gasoline.

I suspect not.
10.17.2006 9:33pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Lots of environmental events are no big deal on a grand scale, but a major pain for the human population.

Floods on the Mississippi are a much bigger problem for people now then they were 400 years ago. Mudslides in Malibu probably weren't that big a deal in the early 1800s.

Ninety percent of the U.S. population lives within a few miles of the Ocean. If the global warming theories are right, then most, if not all of this population will have their homes put underwater. So, even if global warming doesn't threaten the planet, or even alot of species, it could still present a pretty big pain in the butt to huge populations of people. That is, unless you think that 10s if not 100s of millions of refugees is no big deal.

Please note, I don't have any opinion one way or another about whether the climate is getting warmer, whether people caused the warming, if it exists, or whether people can do anything to alleviate the problem. I'm just saying that it is entirely possible that its not a "major environmental threat," and for it still to be a huge cause for concern. And I wouldn't simply dismiss it because the earth has gone through warming periods before. When it did, there were not extraordinarily large populations of people waiting to be submerged.
10.17.2006 10:09pm
Tagore Smith (mail):
Duffy- "climate change" is an unfortunate wording itself. "Climate change" has been with us as long as we have been around, and some argue, credibly IMHO, that it has been the dominant factor in the history of the species.

I see your point, and I don't think it is wrong, exactly. In fact I would say that it is, strictly, correct. But it fails to address the argument in important ways.

The people you speak of will certainly be inconvenienced at some point, in the manner you describe, or in another. Rivers change course over time, wet areas become dry, and dry areas become wet. The global mean temperature seems to swing by as much as 5-10 degrees C disconcertingly often on geological time scales, and seems to do so over human time scales- less than a generation in some cases.

I think you miss the point a bit- it's not that I, at least, dismiss the disruption that Manhattan sinking into the sea will cause- it is that I think it is inevitable. Thinking that, I am not particularly concerned with preventing it- I am concerned with how we will deal with it.
10.17.2006 10:37pm
Roy Stogner (mail):
When it did, there were not extraordinarily large populations of people waiting to be submerged.

I know the funny quote here is supposed to be the one about the species who don't have enough money, but I didn't let out a real laugh until I pictured millions of people, sitting in their homes watching the tides rise around their waists, trying to figure out what to do before their heads go under.

Yes, I know, by "large populations of people" you're really concerned with the trillions of dollars of real estate those people own, but the wording still amused me.
10.17.2006 10:39pm
magoo (mail):
Thank you, Professor Kerr.
10.17.2006 11:16pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
"Thinking that, I am not particularly concerned with preventing it- I am concerned with how we will deal with it."

That will all depend on how fast it happens, if it ever does. And one way to deal with it would be to prevent it in the first place. A few well placed nukes could probably put enough dust into the atmosphere to cool things off for awhile. But that might have some other unpleasant consequences.


I've never understood why the water level is going to rise so dramatically. If you take a glass, add a bunch of ice cubes, and then fill it, when the ice melts the glass doesn't overflow. How much water is actually floating over the surface or is frozen on land masses? It must be alot more than I imagine if the water level is going to rise as much as people think.
10.17.2006 11:40pm
cathyf:
Gee, I thought that the contrast was with the ice age that killed the dinosaurs. You know, the big powerful "rich" species got wiped out while the poor little mammals (that eventually evolved into us) survived. I think they are trying to claim

ice age = bad for rich species

global warming = bad for poor species

...uhhhhh... Ok.
10.18.2006 12:26am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Income disparities among species are well documented. Lizards, for example, excrete urea in solid form. As a result, they not only have not a pot to pee in, nor a window to throw it out of, but even lack any pee to put in the pot in the first place.

I wonder if her reference was not a trendy "all creatures are equal" one. But even the most "splitter" of biologists would maintain that fisherpersons are not a seperate species. They often interbreed with nonfisherpersons when mature, the most splitter of species definitions (probability of interbreeding vs. physical abilty to do so and produce fertile offspring). And marine mammals are not a species at all.
10.18.2006 1:05am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Duffy, rising ocean levels would be caused not by melting of Arctic ice, which floats on the sea just like the ice cubes in the glass, but by the melting of Antartic ice, which sits atop an actual continental land mass. That ice isn't in the glass yet.
10.18.2006 1:12am
Lev:

Its effects are felt by all species, but especially on those who are poor...


Dung beetles?
10.18.2006 1:29am
Truth Seeker:
Lizards, for example, excrete urea in solid form.

THAT'S why the ones on my porch leave black and white fecal material! The white is the urea. Like birds. Whodathunkit?
10.18.2006 1:29am
SMatthewStolte (mail):
Rising ocean levels are caused by the expansion of water at higher temperatures. This effect is more significant than the displacement from any melting ice.
10.18.2006 1:39am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Well, if we global warm enough, then the oceans will boil. That will keep water levels from rising.
10.18.2006 2:24am
NickM (mail) (www):
ErnieG beat me to it.

Are species considered richer if they're young at heart?

Nick
10.18.2006 2:50am
sammler (mail) (www):
I think Alex Whitlock noticed this first (in Ten Second News).
10.18.2006 8:58am
Zubon (www):
Ninety percent of the U.S. population lives within a few miles of the Ocean.

Can I ask where this claim comes from? By my glance at the map, about half the states do not border an ocean, and I assume that the others have a fair inland population. Michigan, Indiana, Illionis, and Ohio have over 10% of the population.

Was it supposed to be within a few miles of some body of water? 90% of the world population? Within (some large number) of miles of the Ocean?
10.18.2006 9:33am
Lawbot2000:
The difference between "BUSHisms" and this is that this is in WRITING. People tend to be much more careful with their words when writing and egregious mistakes like this are less acceptable.
10.18.2006 11:53am
Tom952 (mail):
If you sign up for the class and demonstrate that you agree with Professor Fort, I bet you'll get an easy A.
10.18.2006 12:06pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Maybe I mis-remembered, and its within a few miles of a coast. It doesn't change the basic point.
10.18.2006 1:12pm
bearmore:
I think you may be thinking of the figure that 90% of Americans live within 15 miles of a Walmart.
10.18.2006 3:44pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
But then in today's newspaper I read reports like this one, by Dr Oliver Curry, a research associate in the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science of the London School of Economics, in a study commissioned by the Bravo television channel that homo sapiens could speciate in 100,000 years into Eloi and Morlocks. He also suggests that in 1000 years all humans will be coffee color.
10.18.2006 4:49pm
bearmore:
What is coffee color?
10.18.2006 5:11pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I am attending UNM Law. The Professor who teaches that class is quite fair and reasonable. I've had her for something else, and she isn't as silly of a liberal as the description might suggest. Also, of note, she has worked under both Bush and Clinton.

With that being said, the Sommers article is about 80% accurate.
10.18.2006 6:56pm
Gray Ghost (mail):
Duffy,

You wrote that "Ninety percent of the U.S. population lives within a few miles of the Ocean. If the global warming theories are right, then most, if not all of this population will have their homes put underwater."

Your wrote later that maybe you meant to write that 90% of the population lives within a few miles of a coast but that does not change your basic point.

Your basic point is fatally flawed because what matters is not how far one lives from the coast, but how high one lives above sea level, and how much sea level rises. If I live in Bangladesh, I might be 30 miles from the ocean but only a few feet above it. A typhoon can inundate my house. But if I live in Maine I might live 200 yards from the ocean but 100 feet above it. Climate change is unlikely to affect me, at least not by inundating my house and causing me to become a refugee. You better go find some more relevant statistics and be able to cite their source if you expect your arguments to have any impact.

Furthermore, just because someone lives near a coastline, does not mean that coastline will be affected by global warming (if it happens). I live 3 miles from the coast of Lake Michigan. Will Lake Michigan water levels go up or down, or stay the same, due to global warming? Nobody knows, but if the water goes up, it will have to go up about 150 feet before it gets to my house. Tens of millions of people live within a few miles of the Great Lakes coast, and you have no basis whatsoever for any assertion that global warming places them at any risk of being inundated. So, I think the difference between living within a few miles of "the ocean" and within a few miles of "a coastline" does in fact make a big difference to your argument.

GG
10.18.2006 7:36pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
OK, how bout this:

"A one-meter sea level rise would wreak particular havoc on the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard of the United States.

""No one will be free from this," said Overpeck, whose maps show that every U.S. East Coast city from Boston to Miami would be swamped."

From NatGeographic

And yes, I was all wrong about the population statistics. Its only 53% of the population in the coastal counties. And its only the Ocean and Gulf coasts are the fastest growing areas in the country. From Ocean Service So we are only talking about 10s of millions of refugees in the U.S. Not to mention the low lying areas in the rest of the world that just don't count.

The basic point is that climate change may not be a threat to the Earth but still a major pain in the butt to human populations. I fail to see what's really been added by picking at nits in the numbers I used.
10.18.2006 10:36pm
Lev:

What is coffee color?


Halle Berry
10.19.2006 1:19am
Lev:
10.19.2006 1:20am
David Chesler (mail) (www):

"A one-meter sea level rise would wreak particular havoc on the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard of the United States.

""No one will be free from this," said Overpeck, whose maps show that every U.S. East Coast city from Boston to Miami would be swamped."


The most realistic thing in that work cited seems to be that storms so severe that we now call them hundred-year storms could become 15-year storms.

The first page I found with tide heights shows a little more than 13 feet (4 meter) range between the lowest and the highest tide level in Boston. Like Gray Ghost suggests, we know how much beach we gain or lose for those 4 meters — it stretches credulity to think that large parts of cities are going to be flooded if average sea levels go up half that distance.

I've seen what happens when they build in the flood plains of the Mississippi or Merrimack Rivers (and simultaneously pave the upstream flood plains so that the absolute flooding increases) but I don't see that happening in the coastal cities. Maybe Florida, being a giant sandbar to begin with, but north of the Hutchinson River? Not likely.

A lot of the papers I found cite the IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, such as this one that has some good maps of salt marshes in the Carolinas becoming wetter, but note the map on page 17 of the PDF. You've got to enlarge it to see that very little north of Atlantic City is actually impacted by a 10-foot increase in sea level. The salt marsh in Crisfield, VA might go further inland, but don't count on that beachfront property in Scarsdale.

It's striking me as do the claims that due to destruction of the rainforest, 500 species per year (or is it 35 or even 137 species per day) — I've seen those claims for more than a decade, and I can't think of a single species I'd care about, not a dodo, not an Irish elk, not a passenger pigeon, not a Carolina parakeet, not even an ivory-billed woodpecker, among the 5000 or 125,000 or 500,000 species that are no longer on the earth.
10.19.2006 6:03pm