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February 11 2014

20:17

EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference

Global warming, job creation and the growing divide in incomes and wealth – three controversial, divisive issues that have come to take center stage in U.S politics and society since the dawn of the new millennium. Though his efforts have wholly pleased neither left nor right, Democrat or Republican, oil industry executive or environmentalist, President Obama and his administration have sought to address all three, and in an integrated manner, to a greater degree than any of his predecessors.

Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference highlights the benefits of the green economyHeard, read about and seen in various guises – sustainable development, the green economy or low-carbon society – the President has been assembling the elements of a new self-organizing paradigm for the U.S. economy and society in the 21st century, one that recognizes that while economic development and growth are vital to the health and well-being of society, so is a fair, equitable and inclusive distribution of income and wealth, and so are clean air, clean waters, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

Taking this green economy platform out to the public, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is one of a host of prominent Americans speaking today and tomorrow at the eighth Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C.

Environment, economy, ethics

In the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference’s first plenary session, a panel that included United Steelworkers International president Leo W. Gerard, BlueGreen Alliance Foundation President David Foster, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar discussed U.S. infrastructure needs.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was the featured speaker in an afternoon panel session that also included Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Ms. McCarthy opened with a strong statement of values and environmental ethics:

“Whether it’s the teachers union or the steelworkers, the moral of the story is the same, our work and our family values have little value without fair protections that keep us all safe and healthy. At the end of the day, what is economic productivity worth if our water is too dirty to drink and our air is too dirty to breathe?”

The terrible, and rising, costs of climate change inaction

Times they are a’changing, the EPA Administrator continued, highlighting the emergence of a new, clean energy economy and the growing costs and threats posed by climate change. “Climate impacts are not only hurting our people and our planet, they are a threat to our economy.”

By how much exactly?  Emergency and disaster relief cost the U.S. government and taxpayer $110 billion in 2012, the second highest price tag in American history, “all off budget,” Ms. McCarthy highlighted.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka earlier this month talked about the already high and terrible costs of climate change inaction, Ms. McCarthy noted. Repeating Trumka for emphasis, “The nation that goes all in on innovation today will own the global energy [of] tomorrow,” she stated.

“That’s what this president, President Obama, said in his State of the Union. President Trumka, President Obama know what they’re talking about. They agree on these issues. That’s why we need to work together to explore creative approaches to meet our energy demands.

Making lemonade

“That’s why President Obama reiterated his commitment to climate action in the State of the Union. And we need to take action without sacrificing the health protections, without sacrificing jobs in our communities, and without sacrificing a reliable, affordable energy system. And we need to do it with every sensitivity to the workers who have brought energy to American families for decades.

“It’s not just about jobs, it is about fairness, it is about communities, communities where those workers live, and we need to be sensitive to those issues as we struggle to find the right solutions moving forward.”

Strong words. Good words. Positive words, delivered with what sure looks like hones belief and genuine commitment. Tune in and listen to Ms. McCarthy’s entire speech

*Image credit: Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference

The post EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 30 2014

22:51

The Perilous Contradictions in the President’s 2014 State of the Union Address

Staying within prescribed climate change limits will be difficult under Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy. Although Obama may be the greenest President in American history he is not doing enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. In his State of the Union address, he did talk about the veracity of climate change and the need to further reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions, however his ongoing support for fossil fuel extraction is dangerous and imperils hopes that we can tackle the issue of climate change before we reach irreversible tipping points.

The President made many laudable points during his address including his desire to increase protections for air, water, land and American communities. He quite correctly explained that, “we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods.”

In his state of the union address, Obama touted his The President touted the growth of solar power saying: “[W]e’re becoming a global leader in solar too. Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”

The President has repeatedly stated his desire to put an end to tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry and use that money for fuels of the future (ie renewables). A point which he reiterated in his State of the Union address.

The President also touted his efficiency efforts including efficiency standards for new cars. He went on to suggest that he will be imposing new fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy weight trucks. However, their is an irreconcilable paradox between efficiency and the expansion of fossil fuel.

The President indicated that he wants to “cut red tape” to help businesses build factories that use natural gas. As he explained, “If [natural gas is] extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”

While natural gas could be made far less destructive if we could eradicate (or substantially reduce) methane leaks associated with extraction, it is easier said than done.

The President made the point that the U.S. has reduced its carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth over the last 8 years. He further indicated that he wants to set new standards for power plants which would tighten restrictions on CO2 emissions.

All of the above – Obama can’t have it both ways

While efforts to reduce GHGs are beyond reproach, his overall strategy conceals an irreconcilable contradiction. Reducing GHGs is at odds with increasing domestic dirty energy exploitation. The simple fact is he cannot have it both ways.

Despite pleas from the leading U.S. environmental organizations to stop fossil fuel extraction, President Obama’s State of the Union address indicates that he intends to move forward with his “all of the above” energy strategy.

The reliance on natural gas and oil may undermine efforts to stay within prescribed scientific limits. The first limit concerns temperature increases, the second involves greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to keep warming below the internationally agreed upon upper threshold limit of 2°C, we will need to stop pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It is widely known that the primary contributors of GHGs are fossil fuels.

This is the conclusion reached by numerous studies including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was published late in September 2013. According to the IPCC report, we cannot add more than another 140 gigatons of carbon globally (500 GtCO2).

If we continue to exploit and burn fossil fuels at the current rate, we will considerably exceed these limits. If we burn only 20 percent of estimated available carbon reserves we will have already reached the upper allowable limit of carbon emissions. If the remaining reserves are exploited there will be no way to stop runaway climate change.

We cannot afford to move forward with planned coal projects or the tar sands, nor can we afford President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy.

In fairness, President Obama acknowledges the veracity of climate change but he is constrained by the Republicans in congress and the general ignorance of many Americans. We cannot appreciate efforts to engage climate concerns without factoring political considerations. Obama may be advancing domestic fossil fuels for political reasons, not the least of which is the impending midterms. If he loses control of the Senate, his efforts to manage climate change will suffer a serious blow.

A Ceres report titled, “Inaction on Climate Change: The Cost to Taxpayers.” sees political factors as a major part of inaction. “[T]he reason for our collective shortsightedness is that the issue of climate change, and what to do about it, has become politicized in the U.S,” the report said.

Despite his considerable efforts (not the least of which is his climate action plan), the President can be faulted for failing to lead efforts to educate Americans. To create the political support we need to see, Americans need to be apprized of the implications of failing to act. Obama’s State of the Union address focused on education and this could be expanded to include efforts to explain the rationale for action and expose the ignorance of climate denying Republicans who control the House.

More than any other single factor, people respond to economic considerations. The focus on the economy and jobs in the President’s State of the Union speech is a reflection of this understanding. He needs to do a better job informing Americans about the price associated with climate change.

The President can do far more to help Americans apprehend the scope of the costs of failing to stay within the prescribed limits. Failing to heed these limits will result in a massive price tag that will cripple the U.S. (and global) economy and ultimately, irrevocably change life on Earth.

The costs of climate change

Evidence for these costs are not just part of some apocalyptic future, they are with us here and now. According to the the Ceres report, Federal and state disaster relief payouts are estimated to have cost every person in the U.S. more than $300. According to the report, the costs of climate change to taxpayers going forward will get worse and ultimately be “debilitating.” A cogent argument can be made for acting now, as one dollar spent on prevention saves four dollars in damages. From this perspective mitigation efforts are a far better investment than adaptation.

“Continuing to ignore these escalating risks may be more comfortable than confronting the challenges of climate change, but inaction is the far riskier and more expensive path,” the Ceres report concluded.

“[T]he debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did,” the President said.

However, “booming” oil and natural gas production is inconsistent with efforts to combat climate change. Reducing emissions while boosting domestic oil and gas production is a contradictory policy position. At a time when we most need the President to lead, we really got nothing new in this state of the Union speech.

The U.S. cannot simultaneously be a leading producer of fossil fuels and at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change. Selling the facts to the American public will not be easy, but it is necessary.

“The the shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way,” the President said. The question is whether he is prepared to make those tough choices.
——————
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: scatteredView, courtesy flickr

The post The Perilous Contradictions in the President’s 2014 State of the Union Address appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 08 2014

18:38

NY Governor Launches $17B Plan to Enhance Resiliency to Extreme Weather

Hammered by an unprecedented nine federally declared disasters since he took office three years ago and with much of the state now frozen solid as a result of the southward drifting polar vortex, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled details of a far reaching rebuilding plan that aims to enhance New York state’s resiliency to climate change and its emergency preparedness.

Dubbed “Reimagining New York for a New Reality,” the $17 billion plan will see the state invest a wide range of projects “that will transform New York’s infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, weather warning system and emergency management system to better protect New Yorkers from future extreme weather,” the governor’s office explained in a press release.

Credit: New York State Office of the Governor

Extreme weather is “The New Reality”

Along with its own funds, the state government is putting federal disaster funds granted in response to 2012′s Superstorm Sandy and 2011′s Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee to work to implement the far reaching plan to enhance New York’s climate change resiliency and emergency preparedness. Its key aspects include:

  • Building the most advanced weather detection system in the nation, with 125 interconnected weather stations to provide real-time warnings of local extreme weather and flood conditions;
  • Launching the nation’s first College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity;
  • Replacing and repairing 104 older bridges at risk due to increasing flooding;
  • Implementing the largest reconstruction of the state’s transit system in 110 years with $5 billion of federal funds;
  • Creating a statewide Strategic Fuel Reserve, and statewide gas station back-up power on critical routes throughout the state;
  • Hardening the state’s electric grid and creating 10 “microgrids” (independent community-based electric distribution systems);
  • Building new natural infrastructure to protect the New York’s coastline, and provide advanced flood control for inland waterways;
  • Training a new Citizen First Responder Corps to make New York residents the best prepared in the nation to deal with emergencies and disasters; and
  • Expanding the $650 million NY Rising Community Reconstruction program to allow 124 communities around the state to create their own individualized storm resilience plans.
  • Issuing special license plates for first responders

Avoiding climate change catastrophe

Besides enhancing New York’s emergency preparedness and climate change resiliency, carrying out the $17 billion plan is sure to provide the state economy with a big, much needed, economic boost.

Unveiling the strategic plan at a press conference in Albany, the state capitol, Governor Cuomo highlighted the new reality of more frequent extreme weather events and recounted the unprecedented disruption and devastation that resulted, both downstate, in and around New York City, as well as across the length and breadth of upstate New York.

Of the one-year process that resulted in creation of the plan, the governor stated,

“This was a special challenge for us, because it called for us to literally reimagine the state in light of what we went through with Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy, storms Irene and Lee, and taking those lessons, and taking really that trauma, and reshaping our vision of New York through that experience. We call it ‘Reimagining New York’ because we are now facing a new reality after what we went through.”

 

“Extreme weather is the new reality, like it or not. What caused it is a separate discussion for a separate day, but the reality is extreme weather and we have to deal with it.”

The governor also acknowledged that the plan couldn’t have come to fruition without extraordinary support and assistance from the Obama Administration and federal government, as well as local leaders throughout New York State.

Joining Governor Cuomo at the press conference, Vice President Joe Biden praised the plan and Governor Cuomo. “Governor, I am delighted to be able to be here with you today,” the vice president began.

“I think you rebuilding New York, reimagining a future is exactly what we have to do in this country. And once again, in the tradition of this state and the tradition of Andrew Cuomo, you’re leading. You’re not just leading in New York, you’re leading the country. And I think a lot of governors and a lot of folks can learn an awful lot from what they see and what you do here.”

For more on this, check out the Office of the Governor’s press release or watch the press conference below:

Image credit: New York State Office of the Governor

The post NY Governor Launches $17B Plan to Enhance Resiliency to Extreme Weather appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 19 2013

20:09

All I Want for Christmas is a Price on Carbon

As 2013 winds down, there are promising signs that we may actually see a price on carbon in the U.S. In 2010, the cap-and-trade bill was killed in the Senate by the fossil fuel industry’s ubiquitous misinformation campaigns. However, a confluence of events have renewed hopes that we may yet see carbon pricing legislation that could significantly reduce U.S. carbon emissions.

Implementing a carbon tax is no longer a pipe dream but understood as a coming - and much needed - realityWhy we need a carbon tax

Paying for carbon pollution is the best way to put free markets to work to reign in emissions that cause global warming. There is a virtual consensus among economists who say that putting a price on carbon is the most effective way to fight global warming. The case for carbon pricing is strong, this point has been repeatedly made by the World Bank and a number of economists including a team from the London School of Economics.

According to most analyses, carbon pricing is the most powerful regulatory mechanism we have to bring down emissions without wreaking havoc on the economy. Putting a price on carbon will allow market forces to drive down demand for carbon rich industries like fossil fuels and help to buoy cleaner low carbon technologies like renewable energy.

On a very pragmatic level, carbon pricing could enable the U.S. to achieve the pledges it has made at UN climate talks. This includes carbon emissions cuts of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

Corporate juggernauts are onboard for putting a price on carbon

One of the reasons to be hopeful comes from a Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) report which indicates that at least 29 big American corporations are actively preparing for a carbon tax. The companies in the CDP report include powerhouses like American Electric Power, ConAgra Foods, Delta Air Lines, Duke Energy, DuPont, Google, General Electric, Microsoft, Walmart, Walt Disney and Wells Fargo.

What is most surprising is that this list also includes five major oil companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell). While they can hardly be called champions of a low carbon economy, they are, if nothing else, economic realists. They see the writing on the wall, and their actions are a strong indication that they see some form of carbon tax as inevitable.

Make no mistake about it, fossil fuel companies are not embracing the common good, they are acting in their own best interest. Preparing for the expense of a carbon tax is simply good business and for many, it represents a great opportunity. To illustrate the point, ExxonMobil, America’s wealthiest corporation supports a carbon tax because it has a vested interest. As the nation’s biggest producer of natural gas, it would profit from carbon pricing. Such a scheme would inflate the costs to the coal and crude oil industries far more than natural gas.

Republicans may be left out in the cold

Support for a carbon tax from corporate interests including fossil fuel companies could be a real problem for the GOP’s political future. Republican opposition is a salient reason for the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in 2010. The GOP’s climate denial was underscored during the 2012 presidential elections and they continue to beat the climate denial drum to this day. As recently as Wednesday December 11, their ignorance was on display for all America to see. On this day, Republicans in the House of Representatives held sham hearings that called upon climate change denying scientists to reinforce their subterfuge.

Corporate interests are the traditional support base for Republicans, but as they embrace a carbon tax, Republicans will be left out of the cold if the companies responsible for global warming are seeking a carbon tax.

The Koch brothers may be the only friends that the GOP has left. The only U.S. supporters from big oil still onside with climate denial is Koch Industries, who continues to pressure Republicans to stay onboard the denial train. In 2012, all of the GOP’s presidential candidates had ties to the owners of Koch industries. Koch continues to use its various front groups to oppose science and resist any form of carbon tax. However, this oil company has repeatedly been exposed as the nation’s biggest purveyor of misinformation. Koch industries is a pariah even in the dirty and destructive fossil fuel industry. Republicans who embrace Koch may undermine their own election hopes and further tarnish the GOP’s already badly battered brand.

According to the latest research, Americans, including supporters of the Republican party, embrace the veracity of climate change and want government to do something about it. A Stanford University study showed that all states, even traditionally Republican states, acknowledge global warming and would like government to find ways to reduce climate change causing emissions. Recent election and ballot initiatives may also signal a change in American attitudes.

Republicans have effectively painted themselves into a corner. Changing public and corporate attitudes are stranding GOP policy positions. If Republican support is eroded they may not have enough political representation to thwart progress and this could in turn pave the way for carbon pricing.

Carbon trading in place and calls for emissions reduction from U.S. state governments

Carbon trading is increasing around the world with emissions trading schemes now operating in 35 countries, 13 states, provinces and cities. Europe already has the world’s biggest emissions market and China is launching its own schemes. In North America, new additions to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) doubled carbon trading in 2012. There are now 48 schemes internationally and when added to the 7 in China, a total of 880 million people, representing about 20 percent of global emissions will be part of some form of carbon pricing.

As reported by Reuters on December 16, fifteen U.S. states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington) are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt their carbon-cutting policies.

As part of President Barack Obama’s climate change strategy announced in June, the EPA has been directed to develop federal emissions standards for existing power plants. Now a coalition of states have told the EPA that they would like to see a “system-wide” approach to cutting emissions rather than working on individual power plants.

The Clean Air Act has stipulated that states must develop their own plans to meet EPA standards. States have been asked to provide feedback ahead of a planned June 2014 proposal which is scheduled to be finalized a year later. States that are part of carbon pricing schemes want to make sure that the EPA gives them credit for being early adopters.

Benefits of price on carbon far outweigh cost

The most frequently cited argument against carbon pricing and carbon taxes is the cost. According to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the introduction of a carbon tax could cause fossil fuel companies to lose between $9 trillion an $12 trillion in profits by the end of the century. That is because a carbon tax would drive up costs and decrease demand, as the demand was reduced the prices would fall.

However, the Potsdam Research indicates that the cost to fossil fuel companies would be more than compensated for by carbon taxes (or carbon auction revenues). Their analysis reveals that such taxes would generate revenues equaling $21 trillion to $32 trillion by the end of the century. That translates to a net economic benefit of around $20 trillion, in addition to potentially staving off the worse impacts of climate change and providing citizens with cleaner air and water. The profits from carbon taxes could be used for green-energy projects and climate adaptation efforts.

There was a time in the recent past when putting a price on carbon was dismissed as a utopian dream, however, the overwhelming logic is becoming increasingly undeniable, even in the most unlikely places.

The introduction of a carbon tax is unlikely to occur without a political fight, but the weight of the evidence will inevitably triumph over ignorance.

——————
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Gustavo Madico, courtesy flickr

The post All I Want for Christmas is a Price on Carbon appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 10 2013

23:31

EPA Launches 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 5 released its 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan as it looks to build on four years of efforts to streamline operations, cut expenditures, and reduce waste and the carbon footprint of federal government operations.

The inaugural Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan for the federal government was produced in October 2009 in the wake of President Obama issuing Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, which set “aggressive targets for reducing waste and pollution in Federal operations by 2020,” according to an EPA press release.

The EPA launches its Strategic Sustainability Performance PlanThe Federal government’s Green Economy leadership

Strengthening the federal government’s leadership in forging a “greener,” more dynamic economic model, the President this past June launched the nation’s first Climate Action Plan.

Coincident with the release of EPA’s 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, the President on December 5 issued a Presidential Memorandum that further reduces federal government waste and pollution by setting a target of more than doubling the amount of renewable energy consumed to 20% by 2020.

The 2013 Strategic Sustainability Plan adds impetus to and seeks to realize the aims of these initiatives, providing “an overview of how the agency is saving taxpayer dollars, reducing carbon emissions, and saving energy.

“Meeting this renewable energy goal will reduce pollution in our communities, promote American energy independence, and support homegrown energy produced by American workers,” the EPA stated.

As the EPA highlighted, in just the past four years, the Obama Administration’s waste, energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives have:

  • Reduced energy use by almost 8 percent; allowing EPA to avoid $1.5 million in utility costs annually. Compared to the 2003 baseline, EPA has reduced energy by more than 25 percent
  • Used renewable energy and purchased Green Power Renewable Energy Credits equal to 100 percent of its conventional electricity use. Use of Green Power, coupled with energy conservation and fleet management efforts, reduce EPA Scope 1 and 2 Greenhouse Gas emissions by nearly half from FY 2008 levels.
  • Reduced annual water use by more than 25 percent – that’s more than 30 million gallons per year.

The principal goals the EPA aims to achieve in the 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan include:

  • Pursuing reconstruction of key EPA research infrastructure. Projects completed at the Cincinnati, OH, A.W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center, EPA’s second largest research center, have already reduced energy use by more than 30 percent.
  • Consolidating the Research Toxicology Laboratory in Durham, NC into the Main laboratory at Research Triangle Park, NC. This project will reduce agency rent costs, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and result in a net reduction in EPA space without impacting research capacity.
  • Continuing work on EPA’s award winning water conservation program.

The EPA has published Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans for federal agencies online.

The post EPA Launches 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 19 2013

23:21

Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Energy and climate scientists call for a coal moratorium, saying unabated coal is the road to climate catastrophe

Coal Sunrise over Beijing

An international group of 27 prominent energy and climate scientists are calling for a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants, a policy they say has become a global imperative if “climate catastrophe” is to be avoided this century.

Their call comes amid renewed efforts by coal and power utility lobbies “to portray ‘high efficiency low emissions coal combustion’ as a climate solution.” Global carbon emissions are set to hit another new record high this year, according to a report released earlier this week as UN climate treaty negotiators meet in Warsaw. Ironically, taking place at the same time in the Polish capital is the Coal and Climate Summit.

The assertion that coal combustion to produce electricity should be considered a “climate-friendly” power technology flies in the face of the facts, all good judgment, and, needless to say, any semblance of adhering to the “precautionary principle.” Agreeing to it would set humanity and ecosystems around the world firmly on course for global warming of 6°C (10.8°F) , according to the scientists.

That’s three to four times the 1.5-2°C cap (compared to pre-industrial era levels) and climate warming threshold world leaders agreed to at the UN’s climate treaty negotiations in Cancun in 2010.

On the road to climate catastrophe

The world’s known coal reserves contain more than 2,000 gigatons (Gt) of CO2. Burning or combusting these reserves “would dramatically overshoot the remaining global carbon budget of about 1,000 gigatons CO2. This comes on top of oil and gas reserves accounting for more than 1600 gigatons,” the scientists highlight in a press release.

“The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA’s 6°C scenario. That risks an outcome that can only be described as catastrophic, beyond anything that mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth,” the scientists state.

Source:

Source: “New Unabated coal is not compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“The IEA’s medium-term coal market report (IEA, 2012) projects a further expansion of coal use that is even higher than IEA’s own 6DS scenario for 6°C warming in the long-term,” they elaborate.

“The 6DS scenario assumes around 4°C warming by 2100 (Schaeffer and Van Vuuren, 2012). As the Secretary General of the OECD warns: ‘Without CCS, continued reliance on coal-fired power is a road to disaster. (OECD, 2013)”

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“We are not saying there is no future for coal”, added Professor P.R. Shukla of the Indian Institute of Management, “but that unabated coal combustion is not compatible with staying below the 2°C limit, if we like it or not.”

Following is a short list of the main points of the climate and energy scientists’ statement:

  • Unabated coal is not a low carbon technology
  • Avoiding dangerous climate change requires about 3/4 of known fossil fuel reserves to stay underground
  • Current trends in coal use are harbouring catastrophic climate change
  • To keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial, use of unabated coal has to go down in absolute terms from now on
  • Alternatives are available and affordable
  • Public financing institutions and regulatory agencies are reining in unabated coal, but more is needed to prevent new unabated coal to be built

False claims, Sustainable energy scenarios

The group of scientists also noted that “false claims about ‘high-efficiency coal’ as a low-emissions technology” were made by the World Coal Association (WCA) in their recently released Warsaw Communiqué. In it the WCA “calls for ‘the immediate use of high-efficiency low-emissions coal combustion technologies as an immediate step in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

Contrary to such assertions, Dr Bert Metz, former Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group on Climate Change Mitigation, stated,

“New or retrofitted coal plants without CO2 capture and storage will have a life time of 40-50 years. We need to dramatically reduce emissions over the next 40 years. That is not possible with unabated coal.”

“Alternatives to fossil fuels are already available and affordable. It is therefore up to the coal industry to show that coal-fired plants with CCS can compete with other zero carbon options.”

The scientists welcomed the growing number of prominent multilateral and international financing institutions and regulatory agencies, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, to curtail or “rein in unabated coal.” Much more action is needed, and now, however, they added.

As Professor William Moomaw of the Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA pointed out:

“The trend of future coal use is changing rapidly. The World Bank, US development assistance and the US Import-Export Bank will no longer finance or support new unabated coal power plants internationally, except in rare cases.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed carbon dioxide emission standards that rule out unabated coal power plants altogether. The European Investment Bank and Scandinavian countries have taken similar steps.”

Genuinely low-emissions alternative, renewable energy technology are readily available, competitive with fossil fuels, and continue to decline in cost, the scientists highlight. This stands out in stark contrast to trends in fossil fuels, which are increasingly costly in narrowly defined dollars-and-cents terms, and much more expensive over the long-term when their environmental, health and other socioeconomic costs, such as military interventions, are factored into the equation.

In their statement, the scientists lay out a range of alternative energy and emissions scenarios:

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

For more on this topic, check out the scientists’ full statement on coal

 

Main and featured image credit: Shel Israel, courtesy flickr 

The post Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 12 2013

20:19

Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw?

A sunny day in Beijing

A sunny day in Beijing

For all their potential promise, apparent earnestness and gravity – not to mention their possible effects and potential ramifications – it’s hard at times not to be cynical about high-level political negotiations. Such might be felt of the United Nations (UN) climate treaty negotiations which got under way this week in Warsaw, Poland.

People have good reason to be skeptical of the climate treaty process, not because global warming and climate change are based on faulty science or because viable options aren’t in hand, but because governments and societies around the world are so invested in fossil fuels that the thought that political leaders would collectively take aggressive action to phase out carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is nigh unthinkable.

Take, for example, that even as representatives from the 195 UN member nations party to the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet to establish the framework of an agreement to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that G20 governments doled out $523 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers in 2011, the latest year such figures are available. What’s more, fossil fuel subsidies are rising, even as the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) just last week reported that global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high in 2012.

To say such subsidies are counterproductive would be gross understatement. Perverse would be a better modifier. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would remove a perverse incentive that stands in the way of leveling the energy markets “playing field,” putting a true cost on carbon in an attempt to address global warming and climate change.

Releasing a report entitled Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) documents “the scale of fossil fuel subsidies and sets out a practical agenda for their elimination in the context of the global goal of tackling climate change.”

Climate treaty negotiators convene in Warsaw

Against the backdrop of devastation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan – reportedly one of, if not the largest and strongest, typhoon ever recorded – the 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC is convening November 11-22 in (ironically enough) Warsaw, Poland, a nation with a government that has steadfastly resisted efforts to shift off coal and fossil fuels toward a more diversified energy mix centered on cleaner, renewable alternatives.

Convening at COP 19 in Warsaw over the next 11 days, representatives from the 195 UN member nations that are parties to the international climate treaty (the U.S. included) and the 192 that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol (the U.S. excluded) will attempt to hammer out the framework of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Full details of a new accord to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are to be ready for signing by 2015 to go into effect in 2020.

Trying to make the negotiations as inclusive as possible, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) has become a major public event. At COP 19 in Warsaw, representatives of 195 UN member nations will be joined by a host of NGOs, civic groups, other public and private sector organizations, the press, and, more than likely, large numbers of demonstrators.

Enhancing the efficacy and credibility of global climate change action

The UNFCCC’s public credibility – not to mention its efficacy – would be greatly enhanced if the national governments party to the international treaty were to take one expedient, cost-effective step: eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, ODI asserts, and they are by no means the first to advocate taking such a step.

Source:

Source: “Time to change the game,” ODI, 11/2013

Straight from the executive summary of “Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate,” here are ODI’s key points:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies are expensive. They were at over $500 billion globally in 2011, and up to $90 billion in the OECD alone.
  • These subsidies are increasing and are a major obstacle to green investment, and seriously undermine attempts to put a price on carbon.
  • In developing countries the majority of benefits from fossil fuel subsidies go to the richest 20 percent of households.
  • Domestic and international support for fossil fuels dwarfs spending on health and education in a number of countries, and outstrips climate finance and aid.
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in G20 countries by 2020 (and globally by 2025), with proper safeguards for the poor, would enable the triple win of inclusive green growth.

Perverse incentives indeed, and the above is only a short list. According to ODI’s study, “international financial institutions (IFIs) also support carbon-intensive energy systems.

“Over 75 percent of energy-project support from IFIs to 12 of the top developing-country emitters went to fossil fuel projects. There has been no significant shift in this trend: in the last financial year alone (2012-13), the World Bank Group increased its lending for fossil fuel projects to $2.7 billion, including continued lending for oil and gas exploration (Oil Change International, 2013).”

As ODI goes on to state:

“If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet. They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.

“Coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel of all, is taxed less than any other source of energy and is, in some countries, actively subsidized (OECD, 2013a). For every $1 spent to support renewable energy, another $6 are spent on fossil fuel subsidies (IEA, 2013).”

Following, in summary form, are the key actions ODI is urging G20 UNFCCC climate treaty delegates take in Warsaw:

  •  G20 countries use the Warsaw CoP meeting to agree a broad timeline for action
  • G20 governments call on technical agencies to agree a common definition of fossil fuel subsidies
  • G20 governments commit to phasing out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, with early action by rich-country members on subsidies to coal and to oil and gas exploration by 2015
  • that governments and donors work together to ensure that measures are put in place to protect vulnerable groups from the impact of subsidy removal.

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would be one of the most straightforward, cost-effective and effective steps world governments could take to address the profound threats and rising costs of addressing global warming and climate change. Will they muster the will and toughness to do so? Not likely, but one can at least hope for the best.

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November 07 2013

19:25

Recent Elections and Ballot Initiatives May Suggest A New Era of Environmental Interest is Dawning In U.S. Politics

The recent elections indicate a shifting momentum for environmental awareness in the electorateIn previous U.S. Elections, environmental concerns were largely absent, but this changed on Tuesday November 5, 2013. Ecological issues were an important part of Virginia’s Gubernatorial race, they were also the primary focus of a county council election in Washington and several ballot initiatives.  Taken together, these results may be indicative of changing attitudes. Voters showed their support for renewable energy, and better water management, they also stood up to the fossil fuel industry and won.

Virginia Gubernatorial Race

In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe’s win over Ken Cuccinelli bodes well for the state’s environmental efforts. These candidates presented two diametrically opposed visions of the environment and climate change. The differences between these two candidates underscores the contrast between Republicans and Democrats.

The policy differences between the two candidates for governor could not be more stark. McAuliffe expressed his support for the President’s climate change offensive, and repeatedly talked about the need to address environmental concerns. Conversely, Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli received most of his financing from the fossil fuel industry and he ran on a platform that doubts the veracity of climate change.

While McAuliffe raised about $34 million, Cuccinelli was only able to raise $20 million. However, the real story here is not the discrepancy between the funds raised by these two men, it has more to do with where the funding came from. McAuliffe’s campaign was financed by environmental groups and concerned citizens.

Cuccinelli has enjoyed the support of the dirty energy industry for more than 12 years. In 2012, Cuccinelli’s office was accused of impropriety for helping a coal company which provided a $143,544 donation. The case was so egregious that the people of southwest Virginia launched a class-action lawsuit in which a state judge called the conduct of a senior member of Cuccinelli’s staff shocking. Even the State’s inspector general deemed the behavior to be inappropriate.

When a reporter from NBC Washington asked McAuliffe if he supported the new proposed guidelines on carbon pollution for new power plants, McAuliffe said: “I do. You bet. What I’ve looked at I support, what we need to do to protect our air and water.”

Rather than support the EPA, Cuccinelli sued them over their finding that carbon pollution posed a danger to human health. In 2012, the D.C. Court of Appeals found the EPA to be “unambiguously correct.”  This was not the only time Cuccinelli used the courts to advance an anti-environment agenda.

Cuccinelli is infamous for using his powers as attorney general to launch an unjustified attack against University of Virginia (UVA) climate scientist Michael Mann. During the campaign, McAuliffe railed against Cuccinelli’s attacks on Mann saying, “the fact that UVA was forced to spend $600,000 to defend itself from its own Attorney General is outrageous.”

While McAuliffe wants clean air and water and sees the economic merits of renewable energy, Cuccinelli denies basic climate science. A report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund suggested that Cuccinelli’s climate denial could have cost the state $45 billion and 314,000 Virginians jobs, if he were to have been elected.

Although Virginia is a conservative-leaning swing state, a Fall poll showed Cuccinelli was out of step with voters’ views on climate change and a range of other issues. Another poll found that 85 percent of Virginians think climate change is happening. A July poll found that 73 percent of young voters (18-35) associated people who deny climate change with words like “ignorant,” “out-of-touch” or “crazy.” That included 53 percent of Republican respondents. In the same poll, 80 percent of respondents supported President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and 79 percent reported they were more likely to vote for a candidate who wanted to take action on climate change.

In response to the election, Virginia LCV’s executive director Jeff Painter said, “Voters sent a strong message tonight in support of Terry McAuliffe’s vision for Virginia’s renewable energy future and trusting him to appoint strong conservation leaders to his administration.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement, “the voters have spoken and a climate denier has been denied. By electing Terry McAuliffe, Virginians are sending a clear message: they want a leader who will stand up for good jobs and climate action, not an extremist who will stand with big polluters.”

Climate scientist Michael Mann succinctly summarized the sentiments of many when he wrote that he is “pleased that Virginia voters rejected his [Cuccinelli's] dangerous brand of politics & his contempt for science & rational thought.”

New Jersey Gubernatorial Race

In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie won as expected easily defeating Democratic nominee Barbara Buono. His take on climate change is far more nuanced than the GOP’s typical denial. Despite Christie’s exit from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), in June 2011, he said that “climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts.”  A point which he reiterated in the last campaign debate. However, Christie also said he does not believe there is any proof that Hurricane Sandy was caused by climate change. It would appear that Christie is playing politics with the climate issue as he knows that many in his base are deniers. It has been widely reported that Christie will seek the GOP Presidential nomination in 2016. He may be straddling the fence on the climate issue in anticipation of a change in public attitudes. This may also explain why he regularly distances himself from his Republican colleagues.

New York City Mayoral Election

Bill de Blasio was elected in New York City making him the first Democratic mayor of that city since 1993. This bodes well for action on climate adaptation efforts in one of the world’s largest cities. While neither candidate focused on climate change during the campaign, de Blasio is very progressive and as such he is expected to continue Mayor Bloomberg’s proactive stance on adaptation.

County Council Election in Washington

Four candidates opposed to coal exports defeated their Republican aligned opponents and won seats on the seven member Whatcom County Council in Washington State. The newly elected County Council will resist the proposed building of a gateway that would have shipped 48 million tons of coal to Asia. Anti-coal forces won in the county despite opposition from coal umbrella groups like the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports.

“Tonight, the people of Whatcom County stood up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in big polluter cash to secure a victory for a healthy future for our communities, our families and our planet,” said Natalie McLendon, a Sierra Club volunteer leader in Bellingham, WA.

Colorado’s Fracking Ballot Initiative

Three out of four towns in Colorado said no to fracking. Colorado voters in Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins agreed to impose a fracking moratorium despite almost one million dollars spent on city specific campaigns by Colorado Oil and Gas Association. In Broomfield, the anti-fracking measure failed by just 13 votes.

Boulder, Colorado Utility Ballot Initiative

In two ballot initiatives, voters in Boulder cleared the way for the city to take control of its own electric grid. One ballot initiative enables the city to incur debt to buy Xcel Energy’s infrastructure and the other kept the city on the path to municipalization which will enable the city to create its own utility and increase its reliance on renewable energy. The win for renewable energy comes in spite of a million-dollar campaign waged by Xcel.

“We made it really clear that this issue is about our environmental and economic future,” Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said.

Texas Water Ballot Initiative

A Texas Water Ballot initiative gave the state the right to amend the constitution and invest in better water management. The $2 billion investment will come from the state’s rainy day fund and be poured into a water bank that will finance water planning projects.

Portland, Maine Tar Sands Ballot

By a slim margin of only 200 votes, South Portland, Maine residents narrowly defeated (4,453 to 4,261) a ballot initiative intended to prevent the export of Canadian tar sands oil. A grassroots coalition was defeated by a group of oil companies and affiliates who outspent them by a margin of nearly six to one.

“It is clear to all of us why this vote played out why the vote was so close: oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into South Portland, in one of the biggest expenditures on a local referendum in Maine history,” Pohlmann continued. “This money was used to fund a relentless campaign that spread misinformation and fear.”

Despite the loss, they are not yet ready to capitulate to big oil. Led by Mayor Blake, the council voted for a 180-day moratorium banning new construction on the piers.

Adirondacks Land Swap Ballot Initiative

Voters across New York state approved amendments to the state Constitution clearing the way for land swaps in the Adirondack Park. The ballot initiative authorized the state to exchange a 200 acre old-growth forest preserve for land of equivalent value from mining company NYCO Minerals. After NYCO’s mining of wollastonite is completed, the land will then be returned to the state.

With voters showing their support for a wide range of ecologically themed initiatives, the environment was the big winner on Tuesday night.  Overall, these elections and ballot initiatives suggest that there is growing support for environmental concerns in the U.S.  These results give us reason to believe that democracy can withstand the powerful influence of the old energy interests. We may very well be witnessing the beginnings of changing public attitudes.

“Public opinion polls across the country show that the call from voters for clean energy and climate action is loud and clear—now, its time our political leaders listen,” Brune said. ”Those running for office now must choose whether they stand with solutions or whether they stand in the way. The climate crisis won’t wait, and neither will we.”

These elections and the outcomes of the ballot initiatives can be interpreted as a referendum on the changing environmental attitudes of American voters.
——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Steve Wall, courtesy flickr 

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October 30 2013

22:14

74 Percent Of Voters Back EPA Power Plant Emissions Regulation

74% Of Voters Back EPA Power Plant Emissions Regulation (via Clean Technica)

Fighting emissions regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency must be a winning national electoral issue, right? Otherwise why would so many politicians fight so hard to allow power plants to keep spewing pollution into the air? Um, not so much…



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October 29 2013

20:22

Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible

rosietheriveterCompletely phasing out net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is not only technically feasible, but could be done at very manageable cost, according to a comprehensive study by Ecofys for the Global Call for Climate Action.

“It is technically and economically feasible to reduce emissions to zero for roughly 90% of current sources of GHG emissions with technological options that are available today and in the near future.” The remaining 10% of GHG emissions could be offset by enhancing carbon sinks, the Ecofys’ report authors conclude. The cost of doing so: around 5% of GDP per year.

Realizing this goal would effectively assure that mean global temperature would not exceed the 2ºC climate change tipping point theorized by the world’s leading climate scientists and agreed to by world leaders in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009. It would also improve the odds of keeping global mean temperature increase to 1.5ºC by the end of the century to 50%.

Phasing out GHG emissions by mid-century

Affecting the changes required to phase out net GHG emissions by 2050 would require globally coordinated action of unprecedented speed, scope and scale, the report authors rightly point out:

“Reducing net emissions close to zero by mid-century means fundamentally restructuring all of our economic sectors in the coming decades.”

“The energy system presents the greatest potential for emission reductions through efficiency savings and fuel shift,” the Ecofys report authors found. Use of fossil fuels for energy, transport, buildings and industry accounts for some 2/3 of global GHG emissions. The other 1/3 results from land use, raising livestock and industrial processes, they explain.

imageedit_3_5663497138

In their study, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century,” Ecofys modelled “several low emissions scenarios that result in (nearly) zero net GHG emissions by 2050…Thse are categorized as one of two types, reflecting two slightly different modelling approaches and resulting strategies:

  • Scenarios with (near) 100% renewable energy by 2050: These scenarios aim, at the outset, at a certain emissions target as well as a certain contribution of renewables. They find that 100% renewable energy by 2050 is possible. Saving energy is a key strategy in these scenarios because high efficiency facilitates an energy supply based almost entirely on renewable sources.
  • Scenarios with less than 100% renewable energy but carbon capture and storage (CCS): So-called integrated assessment models are commonly used to choose from different technological options to achieve a cost optimal global energy system within certain economic boundary conditions, e.g. very low emissions. Energy efficiency is modelled on a more generic level. Consequently, these scenarios result in a higher use of energy and a lower share of renewables. To still meet certain emissions targets, the models assume that carbon capture and storage (CCS), and possibly also nuclear power, are deployed on a large scale. The use of biomass with CCS enables these scenarios to sometimes reach net negative emissions in the second half of the century.”

The possible and the probable

While technically and economically feasible, the likelihood of such fundamental, globally coordinated change occurring is remote given current political, economic and social conditions and trends. While GHG emissions are on the wane in the world’s largest industrialized countries, including the EU and US, responsible for the bulk of anthropogenic GHG emissions in the atmosphere, they’re increasing by greater amounts in rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India.

Barring a series of climate-linked disasters, it seems clear that enacting anything remotely akin to a national strategic plan to phase out GHG emissions in the US would continue to be stymied in a Congressional quagmire of opposition and debate. For their parts, China, India and other large, emerging market economies are clearly unwilling to accept the uncertainty and take the risks of seeking to develop their economies and societies in ways that don’t require locking in their own dependence on fossil fuels.

In their report, Ecofys’ authors echo calls by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the conclusions reached in groundbreaking, comprehensive studies such as the “2010 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” As the Ecofys report authors state,

“Initial steps taken to decarbonise need to be amplified drastically. The longer we wait to act, the more expensive change becomes. Whether a phase-out is politically feasible will be determined in the coming years.”

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October 21 2013

18:14

Enviro News Wrap: LA Times Says NO to Deniers; Economic Impact of Climate Change; Challenges to EPA Carbon Regulation, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • The LATimes has decided to not publish any letters to the editor that contain factual inaccuracies regarding climate change. Not surprisingly, the conservative media freaked out and framed it as a repression of debate. Debate is healthy, but to be of any real value it needs to be based on fact. Ignoring facts makes a real debate impossible.
  • Climate change has an economic impact, and a large one at that. The Asian Development bank did a study and found that climate change could reduce the GDP of Asian countries.
  • Fighting climate change involves more technological development. We have the tools to do some mitigation, but the full effort to avoid climate change involves the continued development of technology. It seems like a trap though, the more we develop technology the more we can deal with the effects of past technologies, but the more we are able to hurt ourselves in the present. I hope its not a paradox that humans get caught in.
  • Environmentalists want the EPA to regulate carbon emissions as a pollutant thus allowing them to reduce carbon emissions. There is a challenge to the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon that will be decided in the Supreme Court.
  • SunPower produces the world’s most efficient commercially-available solar panel. They have been in business for 25 years and it has been a hard fight, especially with the rise of Asian manufacturers. SunPower is surviving and weathering the storm of low Asian prices. Now it is the Asian solar companies that are struggling to stay afloat.
  • The strength of an industry can be shown in the number of new patents it is creating. Solar is creating many new patents and hopefully the innovation will pay off with a future filled with inexpensive, well-built and efficient solar panels.
  • Nuns are allies to the environmental movement. Their voice should be elevated so church-goers are more sympathetic to the good cause.

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October 07 2013

18:06

Enviro News Wrap: Climate Denial Propaganda; Tesla EV Catches Fire; Fukushima Leaks Radioactive Water, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • With the IPCC publishing it latest findings on climate change the denial campaign has been stepped up. American and British organizations are partnering to create confusion over science that is very clear. The denial propagandists have spent a lot of time creating strategies that only a sharp and studied person can see through. Think about this, how many climate change skeptics are scientists from a relevant field of study doing current research? Very few if any. The denial side is filled with pundits, otherwise known as regular people paid money to provide non-expert (but touted as expert) opinions.
  • A Tesla electric car caught fire when a metal object pierced the 3-inch protective case to the battery. It is important to remember that cars are inherently unsafe (if less so than decades ago with improvements in safety features and designn), especially the ones driving around with gallons of highly flammable gasloline. Tesla is responding to the incident.
  • The decline of coal continues! Two plants in Pennsylvania are closing  because they are no longer profitable. This is the power of economics, you don’t need to argue with anyone because if something doesn’t make money then it stops. So, good-bye coal, and hello cheaper renewable energy.
  • The government shutdown, while ultimately ridiculous, is impacting renewable energy. Larger projects with permitting timelines and completion deadlines for government incentives are at risk of not meeting their development targets.
  • Renewable energy has become cheaper, but natural gas is still the cheapest energy source in 2013. Natural gas extraction and use is skyrocketing, but what happens when the price spikes and we are stuck on yet another dirty and expensive energy source.
  • There is a single word that sums up the argument against nuclear power: Fukushima. If an energy source carries an unacceptable risk to the environment and human health then it should not be used. The joke goes, an oil spill is a disaster, a solar spill is called a nice day.
  • Methane gas is a byproduct of materials breaking down; our landfills produce a lot of methane and now it is being sold as car fuel in California. Recapturing our waste to use it again is a very good idea.
  • Roads are pollution corridors and lots of people live right next to big roads. Ever see a home on the side of the freeway with black smudge on the outside walls, well that is the same stuff that people are breathing.

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September 09 2013

18:37

Enviro News Wrap: Syria and the Price of Oil; Solar in the Move in the U.S.; Global Warming Splits the GOP

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Oil, Oil, Oil – the Syrian conflict is pushing up the price of oil, the recovering American economy is pushing up the price of oil, the price of oil will always be high and trending upwards. Producing oil at home is the purported escape from high global prices. But, that is not how oil prices work, you cannot escape the global price of oil.
  • A grand deal on the XL Keystone pipeline between Canada and Obama is underway. The new Canadian approach is to propose a reduction in the pollution of the oil and gas industry overall to justify the dirty XL Keystone Pipeline.
  • While many Americans have moved on from the BP-Transocean-Haliburton Gulf oil spill the clean-up continues. The cleanup effort nears conclusion not as all the oil is removed from the Gulf, but only that which is “feasible.” Think about that the next time you see a smiling BP representative on TV talking about how much they care for the region. Care too late that is.
  • Solar PV is exploding in the US. There are many reasons for this but the biggest influence is the federal tax credit. Since all sources of energy are subsidized by the government solar can not continue without a level playing field. It would be more simple to stop giving tax breaks to dirty energy companies, start a small carbon tax that grows with time, and eventually tax breaks for renewable energy would likely not be needed. The other reason why the sector is growing so quickly is the rapid technological innovation for solar. This development will continue and in the next 10 years we will hopefully have flexible,  high efficiency solar cells that are cheap and can be installed anywhere.
  • Crowd-funding to finance community renewable energy projects, is the business model of Solar Mosaic. Innovations like this are pushing solar forward.
  • Solar is growing and in places where it is successful the utilities are losing profit and are starting to fight back. To paraphrase Gandhi – First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win.
  • Not all Republicans are climate change deniers. There is a split amongst Republicans on this issue and I think that as Republicans lose more national elections they will be pressured to come around on this issue.

 

 

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September 03 2013

18:09

A Roadmap of a Roadmap for a Sustainable, Fossil-Fuel Free Central America

Credit: Costa Rica News

Credit: Costa Rica News

A rapid transition to sustainable, fossil fuel-free Central American economies and societies powered and fueled entirely by renewable energy resources is not only technically possible and cost effective, but would be socioeconomically beneficial, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, with support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and Costa Rica’s INCAE Business School.

Central American governments and societies continue to try to cope with, manage and address deep seated socioceconomic and environmental problems and improve overall living standards and quality of life for fast growing populations. While contributing little in the way of global greenhouse gas emissions (they’re in fact ‘frontrunners’ when it comes to renewable energy use), Central American countries – as is true for all nations around the world — are nonetheless increasingly challenged to address the effects and potential threats climate change and ecosystems degradation pose to their economies and societies.

Though unique in significant aspects, Central America can serve as a microcosm for the state of regional and global affairs when it comes to energy policies, markets, industry and investment, and their ramifications across societies and the ecosystems upon which they ultimately depend. While blessed with an abundance of untapped renewable energy resource potential, Central American governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels heavily. Energy policies, incentives and practices that lock in and assure ongoing fossil fuel dependence and more in the way of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions remain in place, increasing the threats and costs.

It doesn’t have to, and indeed should not, be that way, according to authors of “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America.” Whether or not unaccounted for costs to the health and integrity of society and ecosystems are factored into policy and investment decisions, the high, and growing, costs of fossil fuel reliance are becoming increasingly clear and real. So are the benefits, and cost effectiveness, of making a rapid transition to complete reliance on a diversified mix of renewable energy resources.

A “Roadmap of a Roadmap” for sustainable energy, economies & societies

“The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Wordlwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The first phase of a holistic and comprehensive initiative to develop “a roadmap of a roadmap” for sustainable energy, economic and social development, “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” assesses the status of renewable energy technologies in Central America, “scopes the improvements that need to happen with regard to the key components of a sustainable energy system and establishes the necessary methodology and groundwork for comprehensive national energy strategies,” Worldwatch explains in a press release.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Central America, long a frontrunner in hydropower and geothermal energy, is exploring its potential for expanding these technologies in a more sustainable manner while also developing other renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, biofuels, and agricultural waste. Costa Rica is leading the world in its ambition to be “carbon neutral” by 2021.
  • Still, as the economies of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama expand, use of fossil fuels is on the rise, while the use of fuelwood, primarily for cooking, continues to be unsustainably high.
  • Across the region, an estimated 7 million people still have limited or no access to electricity services. Renewables are the only convincing and affordable solution to provide underserved communities that are far from existing grids with access to modern energy services.
  • Central America’s non-hydro renewable electricity share is 13 percent, impressive when compared to the global average of only 5 percent. The urgent challenge for the region is to build on past successes and avoid locking in economically, socially, and environmentally costly fossil fuels for decades to come.
  • The potentials for renewables are enormous: Geothermal alone could satisfy nearly twice the region’s predicted electricity demand through 2020. Existing regional wind powerinstallations currently use less than 1% of the available resource potential. Solar and biomass have enormous potentials throughout the region.
  • Despite their sustainable energy ambitions and policy statements, the seven countries of Central America have been unable to comprehensively design, synchronize, and implement the program of work necessary to promote sustainable energy solutions to their full potential.
  • The full costs and benefits to society of specific energy development options remain unclear. What is evident, however, is that the region pays an enormous socioeconomic price for its reliance on fuelwood and imported fossil fuels.
  • Most Central American countries have been able to greatly improve their investment climate for sustainable energy. Still, powerful financial barriers remain, ranging from the unavailability of capital and the lack of human expertise, to investment insecurity and costly administrative processes.
  • Most countries in the region have concrete policy mechanisms in place for advancing renewables.These policies and measures, however, are not always sufficient to level the playing field with fossil fuels, which are subsidized (directly and/or indirectly) in all Central American countries.

Going beyond Levelized Cost of Energy

Source:

Source: “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Worldwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The Worldwatch report authors devote a significant amount of time and effort in analyzing the comparative costs and benefits of renewable versus fossil fuel energy. They found that an increasing range of renewable energy resources are cost effective and yield greater and wider benefits whether they are evaluated on conventional levelized cost of energy (LCOE) terms, or broader, more holistic and comprehensive terms, using LCOE+, a methodology that factors in the effects of fossil fuel that are typically ignored, or shunted aside, for the public sphere to bear. As they note,

“A recent LCOE study of Central America by the World Bank compared geothermal, hydropower, and fossil fuel technologies and concluded that renewables are more cost competitive than fossil fuel energy sources.

“The report estimates the cost of geothermal power at 5–8.9 U.S. cents per kWh (kilowatt-hour) and the cost of hydropower at 7–8 cents per kWh. In contrast, for plants powered by heavy fuel oil, generation can beas high as 12–15 cents per kWh; costs of coal-powered generation are 10–11 cents per kWh.

They go on to highlight that,

“standard LCOE estimates still fail to include the true cost of energy due to externalities associated with power generation, as well as the market distortions caused by the heavy use of subsidies. In Central America, both fossil fuels and renewables currently receive subsidies,but the balance leans disproportionally in favor of fossil fuels despite their detrimental external costs.”

A methodology exists to account for these unaccounted for costs exists, however. “Extending the standard LCOE analysis to account for these externalities—through an approach known as LCOE+—can help address these missing factors. Te LCOE+ is an important tool for analyzing the real societal costs of fossil fuel energy and to demonstrate the actual cost gap between renewable and non-renewable electricity production.”

Making climate change mitigation and adaptation a core, strategic element of decision making across the government, public and private sector spheres is increasingly seen as an imperative. Similarly, extending current decision making frameworks and methodologies to account for the unaccounted for public, social and ecological costs of industrial and commercial decisions — as does LCOE+ — is imperative if climate change mitigation and adaptation is to be “mainstreamed.”

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August 26 2013

19:24

Enviro News Wrap: Ignorance Doesn’t Stop Journalists Misleading Public on Environment; Climate and National Security, more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • It’s because of article like this one by Jennifer Hickey published in NewsMax that so many Americans are confused about environmental issues and renewable energy. The article’s main qualms with wind power are that it does not produce enough energy, has unanticipated effects (killing birds) and costs more than originally thought. The article implies that every other energy source (oil, gas, coal) kills no animals, has no extra costs and only took a couple of years to develop. We need real, honest, balanced journalism if common non-expert citizens are going to understand complex issues like renewable energy.
  • Then, there is Richard Lindzen who says that we should just continue polluting and hope that clouds take care of the single issue of global warming. Best quote from Richard starts with, “if I’m right.” I am not counting on Richard to be right, and what about all the other effects of massive amounts of pollution? What about top soil loss, human health effects, species extinction, dead zones?
  • Too many pundits are commenting on environmental issues without any education. Meanwhile the situation is getting worse and worse.
  • I think one of the main problems is that global warming is a phenomenon we are not psychologically prepared to deal with. First of all, to admit that there is a problem is to admit that you have been part of the problem, who can take this burden on in a healthy emotional way? Then, the problem is systemic and not apparent in the daily lives of everyone. Humans are prepared to deal with immediate, visible problems, not mostly invisible problems of the future. This is why humans wait for a disaster before addressing issues that we have seen coming from miles away. The issue with global warming is that when the issue is in your face you are only able to adapt instead of prevent. Hmm, I am seeing the parallels between global warming and the American healthcare industry. For both, we will spend a lot of money and effort on crisis management and almost nothing on prevention.
  • Military and national security experts consider climate change as a major national and global security threat - and have for some time now. The US Military is quite serious about this threat, this should be very surprising and confusing to conservatives in America.
  • In the currently weak American economy of 2013, renewable energy jobs are growing faster than the rest of the economy. Texas is taking on many of these jobs and now Texas has more renewable energy workers than ranchers.
  • Innovation in the renewable energy industry will bring it into the mainstream more than lower equipment prices. Solar Mosaic is trying to do just that; innovate solar into the mainstream.

 

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August 15 2013

19:19

ALEC Must Die

ALEC seeks to thwart open democracy and progress on clean energy and climate actionThere is a sinister force that is corrupting American politics by giving the most environmentally destructive elements of Big Business significant control over state legislatures. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) turns 40 this year. This organization is composed of large corporations and state lawmakers. They draft environmentally harmful model laws that have been adopted in state legislatures across the country.

ALEC describes itself as “nonpartisan public-private partnership” and is registered as a not for profit organization. While the organization enjoys 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, many groups see it as little more than a front for one of the most powerful and influential lobby groups in America.

The threat to America’s democracy from ALEC should not be underestimated as this is a well-funded and well-coordinated organization that has a proven track record of successfully manipulating state legislatures.

According to a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), ALEC continues to hold sway over statehouses across the country. In total, CMD identified 466 ALEC bills that were introduced in state legislatures during the first seven months of 2013. At least eighty-four of these measures have become law.

As reviewed in PR Watch, ALEC’s real mission in state legislatures is, “to allow dirty energy companies to pollute as much as they want, to attack incentives for clean energy competitors and to secure government handouts to oil, gas and coal interests,” says Connor Gibson, a Research Associate at Greenpeace.

Fossil fuel lobby

One of the most egregious threats to the public interest comes from the fossil fuel industry’s involvement with ALEC. “Disregarding science at every turn, ALEC is willing to simply serve as a front for the fossil fuel industry,” says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.

Corporate sponsors of ALEC include the leaders of the fossil fuel industry. Companies like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy, Peabody Energy, BP, Shell, Chevron, TransCanada and American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, as well as industry trade associations and large corporate foundations provide almost all of ALEC’s funding.

ALEC’s goals are clear, they seek to provide financial rewards and protections to the companies that they work with.

According to Calvin Sloan, a legislative researcher with People for the American Way, corporations pay $50,000 each for full membership in ALEC. The purpose of the ALEC meetings is to instruct lawmakers on policy initiatives, which according to Sloan is “a fossil fuels-funded agenda.”

“They [ALEC] have participating corporations like fossil fuel companies drafting legislation that benefits those corporations directly, and then can get that legislation introduced in 50 states within a year,” Sloan said. “It’s part of an overall framework of corporations exerting their will and agenda upon the people.”

ALEC supports some of the most destructive fossil fuel legislation ever tabled including bills supporting coal, fracking and the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  It should come as no surprise that TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, is also a member of ALEC. The company even sponsored an expense-paid trip called “ALEC academy” for nine ALEC-member state legislators. Following the trip, some of those in attendance introduced resolutions backing the pipeline in their state legislatures.

According to CMD, 77 ALEC bills promoting fossil fuels and undermining environmental protections were introduced in 34 states in 2013. At least seventeen of these measures have become law.

Climate change denial

ALEC’s activities extend beyond support for fossil fuel interests and encompass climate change misinformation. The Environmental Literacy Improvement Act which passed in at least four states, teaches children that climate change is a “controversial theory.” (The truth is that with 98 percent support, there are few theories that have garnered more support from scientists than anthropogenic climate change).

ALEC is a leading organization that actively denies the veracity of anthropogenic climate change and opposes limits on climate change causing emissions. At the 2013 meeting of ALEC, climate change was one of the items on the agenda.

One of the speakers at this year’s ALEC meeting was Joe Bastardi, he is a leading climate change denier and television weather forecaster who frequently comments on Fox News. He has called human-caused global warming an “obvious fraud.”  This year, Bastardi was the speaker at a plenary breakfast meeting misleadingly titled “A Thoughtful Approach to Climate Science.” In 2011, he spoke about “The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2″ at ALEC’s annual meeting.

As reported in a May 2013 Forbes article, Bastardi says that “blaming turbulent weather on global warming is extreme nonsense.” While many have speculated as to whether he is willfully ignorant, willful, or just plain ignorant, as a meteorologist Bastardi should know better.

Opposition to renewable energy

ALEC does not only work in support of dirty hydrocarbons, it also is working to snuff out renewable energy. “ALEC’s long time role in denying the science and policy solutions to climate change is shifting into an evolving roadblock on state and federal clean energy incentives, a necessary part of global warming mitigation,” says Gibson.

Through legislation called the Electricity Freedom Act, ALEC sought to prevent states from requiring energy companies to increase electricity production from renewable energy sources. Because the Electricity Freedom Act failed to gain the support of state legislatures, ALEC is modifying its plan of attack against renewable energy standards. At its August 2013 meeting, ALEC introduced a bill called the Market Power Renewables Act, which seeks to undermine the Renewable Portfolio Standard or RPS.

As explained by PR Watch, this legislation “would phase-out a state’s RPS and instead create a renewable “market” where consumers can choose to pay for renewable energy, and allow utilities to purchase energy credits from outside the state. This thwarts the purpose of RPS policies, which help create the baseline demand for renewables that will spur the clean energy investment necessary to continue developing the technology and infrastructure that will drive costs down.”

Opposition to emissions reduction

ALEC has drafted laws that seek to oppose state efforts to reduce emissions. This includes a model bill titled, “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives”, which opposes limiting climate change causing carbon emissions.

ALEC bills have not only opposed efforts from state agencies to regulate pollution, they even tried to stop the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In essence, ALEC’s goal is to undermine emissions reduction efforts and to continue our reliance on fossil fuels. Resistance to limiting atmospheric CO2 represents a serious threat to global health as it is widely understood that failure to reign in carbon emissions will have catastrophic consequences.

Control of water, land and information

An ALEC bill titled “Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act” would give for-profit companies control over wastewater treatment and drinking water. Another ALEC law titled “Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act” would give states access to resources in federal lands that are protected as wilderness preserves.

In addition to promoting anti-environmental bills, and seeking control over resources, they also craft legislation to control information and help industry escape public accountability. ALEC’s Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act would quash the First Amendment rights of reporters, investigators and videographers by making it harder for them to document issues associated with food safety and animal cruelty.  This is similar to Utah’s ag-gag law of 2012, which led to charges against a young woman named Amy Meyer, who filmed the outside of a slaughterhouse from public land. This ALEC model bill could also criminalize environmental civil disobedience.

Click here to view the full list of 2013 bills from the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force bills.

Growing resistance

The American public is increasingly aware of ALEC’s activities. As ALEC gathered for its 40th annual meeting in Chicago on August 7, they were met by protesters who marched outside the Palmer House Hotel where the meeting was held. The thousands who demonstrated included environmentalists, union members, civil rights activists, and social justice campaigners. Although this was not the first protest against ALEC, it was the largest to date.

Groundbreaking news coverage has helped to expose ALEC. Some of the most inclusive coverage of ALEC was provided by the CMD in the 2011 piece titled “ALEC Exposed.” Another was a documentary from Bill Moyers & Company titled “United States of ALEC.

One of the ways that ALEC has managed to wield so much power is by virtue of the fact that they have always functioned in the shadows. However, people are increasingly coming to terms with the nefarious ways in which ALEC threatens democracy and efforts to combat climate change.

The normally clandestine activities of ALEC are no longer hidden under a blanket of secrecy. Companies are increasingly understanding that involvement with ALEC is a PR liability.  Already, there have been a number of big multinationals that have withdrawn from the organization. Over the past year-and-a-half, almost 50 global corporations have dropped their ALEC membership and national campaigns are encouraging others to abandon ALEC.

After four decades of covert operations, ALEC is starting to feel the pressure from public scrutiny. Although ongoing resistance can be expected from the fossil fuel industry, public awareness can divest ALEC of its influence over state legislatures.

Shinning a spotlight on ALEC’s activities will kill the succubus that is draining the lifeblood of America’s democracy.
——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Main image credit: DonkeyHotey, courtesy flickr
Featured image credit: Light Bridgading, courtesy flickr

 

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August 05 2013

18:34

Enviro News Wrap: Young U.S. Voters Want Climate Action; Fossil Energy Divestment Takes Hold; Utilities vs. Rooftop Solar…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Young people in America know that global warming is real; as long as we can get them to vote we will never have another President that opposes a healthy environment. And, when did having a healthy environment become just a Democrat thing? Nixon passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Bush the First updated the Clean Air Act and created a market based solution to acid rain. Its weird days in the US when a powerful political party is actively trying to ruin the only land we have.
  • If you don’t want dirty energy companies affecting politics, then why invest in them? Divestment is becoming more popular and is a needed correction. You should vote the same way you buy products and invest your money. Don’t let your money speak louder than your vote.
  • Many utilities in the US are trying to kill the advance of solar. Instead they should embrace the movement of innovation in energy. Our current way of producing and delivering energy is antiquated and still, in the world’s richest nation most people lose power 1-7 days a year. We need new ideas about how to produce sustainable energy and overcome the inherent challenges of wind and solar, because it is true that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.
  • There are about 20 US states supportive of solar PV. If you live in one you should look into getting solar on your home. Solar energy is true energy independence.
  • Hybrid cars are selling well in America, 300,000 sold so far this year, but few all-electric cars (EV) have been sold. The electric car will have its time, but it is new to the mass market and needs to continue innovating. Batteries need to be smaller, cheaper, quicker to charge and have less of an environmental impact. The cool thing about electric vehicles is that they are as environmentally friendly as the fuel for the battery, so PV solar is a perfect companion for EVs.
  • The enormous Alberta Tar Sands operation has unintended consequences. Sometimes when drilling for oil a pipe just starts pulling up oil and spilling on the surface. This is happening in Canada and its awful. There is pressure in the EU to reclassify oil from the Tar Sands as a banned import.
  • Azerbaijan is going Green.
  • Laboratory meat has been achieved, its taste is described as “edible.” When we can grow authentic tasting steaks will it become the new standard? Without the land impact lab meat is the better option for the environment. Only problem is that lab meat could become cheap and abundant and encourage rich people to eat more of it and poor people to start eating it everyday (eating less local food). We would be increasing obesity, population growth and mechanizing and centralizing our food even further. Are we stuck in a cycle that we can not get out of?

 

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August 01 2013

18:46

Detroit was Killed by Decades of Environmental Abuse

Detroit environmental abuse: a cities left in ruins - socially, economically, and environmentallyThe findings in this post-mortem of Detroit suggest that the city was killed by environmental abuse compounded by the failure to adapt to a changing economic landscape. Understanding the fall of Michigan’s largest city has important implications for cities across America and around the world.

With a population of more than 700,000 people, Detroit is now the largest U.S. municipality to file for bankruptcy. Detroit’s seeming obliviousness to changing economic realities and history of environmental neglect have made the city unsafe. This has crushed the local economy and contributed to one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Although the city recently adopted an ambitious sustainability strategy, it was too late to save the city from decades of ecological insanity.

Detroit environmental abuse

One argument explaining the demise of Detroit is that the city fell prey to rampant pollution and monumental environmental shortsightedness. In April 2013, the Sierra Club Detroit released a report that reviewed the city’s environmental abuse.  The report concluded that more than most communities in Michigan, metro Detroit’s proximity to industrial pollution is an “environmental injustice” that constitutes “human rights abuse.”

According to the Sierra Club assessment, the levels of contamination in Detroit are the cause of inordinately higher levels of asthma, cancer, neurological disorders and birth defects. The report cites statistics from the Michigan Department of Community Health that show that Detroit adults suffer from asthma 50 percent more than the state of Michigan as a whole.

Pollution comes from a wide range of nearby industries including auto plants, steel mills, an oil refinery, a wastewater treatment plant and others. Some of the worst sources of pollution were identified as Severstal Steel plant, DTE Energy’s coal-fired River Rouge power plant, Marathon’s oil sands refinery; EES Coke and Battery

Detroit Renewable Power is one of the nation’s largest solid waste incinerators. The facility is the fourth-largest producer of nitrous oxide emissions in the state, which according to studies, affect people’s nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

The Great Lakes Works, a U.S. Steel facility, released more than 10.1 million pounds of toxic substances in 2010, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Sierra Club’s study notes that manganese levels at the site were found to exceed residential particulate inhalation standards set by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Detroit Wastewater Treatment Facility is the largest source of discharge into the river with 47 billion gallons of diluted raw sewage released during combined sewer overflows in 2011.

Large corporations have been abusing Detroit’s environment for decades, but one of the city’s most agregious polluters are the Koch Brothers. These two oil barrons are infamous for their three story high pile of petroleum coke in the city near the banks of the Detroit river. The mountain of petroleum coke, a by product of oil production, belongs to Koch Carbon which is owned by David and Charles Koch, the wealthy climate change denying conservative industrialists.

The emissions laden petroleum coke originates from the refining of Canada’s tar sands. The waste byproduct comes from extracting bitumen produced by Marathon oil which as mentioned above, has its own shameful legacy of environmental abuse. The EPA does not allow coke to be burned in the U.S. so it is exported overseas to places like China. There are currently 79.8 million tons of the dirty inefficient fuel stockpiled.

In 2010, residents began complaining of a strong smell coming from their basements and sewers. The fumes were so pervasive that it had discolored painted walls of homes, and prompted the growth of unknown substances on furniture. An examination of the fumes showed twenty different toxic gases emanating from one house while hydrogen-sulfur seeping up from sewers was identified as the main culprit. Marathon Oil hushed up the issue by quietly purchasing thirteen homes in the area.

Detroit and Rouge Rivers

Although we have seen some improvements, decades of environmental abuse to the Detroit’s local waterways have taken their toll. As explained by the EPA, industrial pollution of the Detroit and Rouge Rivers dates back to the end of 19th Century. In the late 1940s, oil pollution started to cause massive winter duck kills. In 1948, the situation climaxed when approximately 11,000 ducks were killed due to oil pollution in the Detroit River.

Even though there were a series of relevant legislative events to address the problem, in 1962, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare reported that oil slicks were still being reported on the Detroit River one-third of the time during the winter and spring.

An International Joint Commission in 1968 identified other sources of pollution in the Detroit River including municipal wastewater treatment plants, government installations, combined sewer overflows, and shipping.

More recent data collected by the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center in 2005 indicated that there are still years in which the total volume of oil and other petroleum products spilled in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers is comparable to the estimated oil releases in 1961. Some of the more noteworthy spills include a 100,000 gallon oil spill in the Rouge River in 2002.

Oil pollution continues to be a serious problem because of combined sewer overflow events and industrial releases. Since 1995, up to 40 percent of all the reported oil spills in Michigan occurred in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers.

A sustainable plan for the city

In December 2012, Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit Works project did make an attempt to address the city’s woeful environmental record. They crafted a 350-page plan known as the “Detroit Future City” report. The 50-year plan includes a number of sustainable ideas like building “blue and green infrastructure” to help address water and air-quality issues, creating new open space networks that incorporate habitat for local wildlife, and diversifying the city’s public transportation modes. The report calls for adding new, large areas of greenspace, but it’s also emphatic about the need to reuse old buildings.

To help finance the plan, the W.K. Kellogg, Kresge, and Ford Foundations collectively pledged millions.

While the Detroit Future City project is laudable, it was far too late to save the city.

Transparency

The absence of transparency in Detroit has been put forth as a reason contributing to the city’s demise. The issue of transparency is central to sustainability and across the nation and around the world transparency, is being advanced as a bulwark against environmental abuse.

Despite concerns and reservations, businesses are embracing transparency acknowledging that this is the only way forward. At the municipal level, transparency in decision-making processes is fast becoming a central strategy for engaging stakeholders, combating corruption and improving the quality of urban governance overall.

Transparency supports sustainability and good governance. There is no denying that Detroit municipal democracy and local sustainability initiatives could have been improved by a framework that encourages greater transparency.

It is important to have access to public records if for no other reason than to hold accountable those in power. Although local media have been reporting on Detroit, many question the public’s access to information in the lead up to the city’s filing for bankruptcy.

While greater municipal transparency may have helped, it is unlikely that it could have saved the city on its own.

Demographic data

Demographic data is one of the keys to understanding Detroit’s decline. In 1960, Detroit was the richest per capita city in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now, 60 percent of all of Detroit’s children are living in poverty. Almost half of the city’s population are functionally illiterate, a third of Detroit’s 140 square miles are vacant or derelict, and almost one fifth are unemployed.

The city’s unemployment rate has nearly tripled since 2000 and the city’s homicide rate is at the highest level in nearly 40 years. The FBI considers Detroit to be one of the most dangerous cities in America.

In the 1950s, there were more than 1.85 million people in the city, now there are only 706,000 people. Over the last 13 years alone, Detroit’s population has plummeted more than 25 percent.

U.S. 2010 Census data notes that Michigan lost almost half (48%) of all its manufacturing jobs from 2000-2010. This includes high-skill, high-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs, many of which were in the auto industry. In 1970, the EPA was created and the city did not develop a strategic plan to transition to more environmentally responsible manufacturing. Nor did they have a plan to source sustainable energy supplies upon which heavy industry depends.

The auto industry

The fall of the American auto industry was a central factor in Detroit’s demise. The city’s big automakers were beholden to a business model that was way out of step with a changing world.  From this perspective, Detroit was a casualty of the changing global reality and the resultant economic paradigm shift. The Michigan based auto industry did not adjust as demand waned for the wasteful gas guzzling behemoths that defined Detroit in its heyday.

As explained in a Forbes article:

“American carmakers are best at producing muscular, noisy, gas guzzling rides (think GM’s Suburban, Cadillac and Corvette, Ford’s Bronco and Lincoln lines)….the biggest factor [for the demise of Detroit] has to do with the quality of American cars…Put simply, Michigan and its city most known for the rise of the automobile clung to a business – car manufacturing – that was long ago rendered yesterday’s commercial news.”

Part of the reason that Detroit declared bankruptcy can be attributed to the demise of the old auto industry that was the lifeblood of the city. Big auto’s failure to anticipate and respond to economic and environmental concerns helped to divest the city of its tax base and push Detroit into bankruptcy.

The fall of great cities in history

Like Detroit, other cities have fallen due to their unresponsiveness to changing realities. Wanton pollution and unbridled exploitation of resources made Detroit a textbook recipe for decline. Detroit seemed oblivious to the need to develop new business models designed to address growing resource scarcity and climate-change-causing emissions.

Throughout history, once great civilizations have perished due to their failure to adapt. During the golden age of Mayan civilization (250 AD to 900 AD), there were more than 15 million people living in 40 cities. These were some of the most advanced city states in the world at that time. However, like many other technologically advanced civilizations these cities came to an abrupt end.

According to one theory, the Mayans were the victims of their own success. Over-farming to feed growing populations combined with drought and cultural upheavals may have caused the Mayan decline.

Some researchers have suggested that climate change caused Mayan cities to fall. Climate change has also been a predominant theory put forth to explain the abandonment of Cambodia’s ancient city of Angkor as well as the decline and fall of Roman civilization.

What we must learn

There is much we all can learn from Detroit; the fate of the city is a cautionary tale that we all would be well advised to heed. This is not just a theoretical concern for the distant future, climate change is an existential threat faced by many cities today. According to a PNAS study published at the end of July, within a decade, more than 1,300 U.S. cities and towns and ultimately a quarter of Americans could be submerged under water due to climate change.

We cannot afford to ignore the environment and the changing climate. Failure to curtail adverse ecological impacts imperils more than our cities, it is a threat to civilization itself.

We are all called to do what we can in terms of mitigation, however, for many of the impacts of climate change, it is already too late. Like Detroit, we are faced with a stark choice, either adapt or die.

——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Don Harder, courtesy flickr

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July 29 2013

18:07

Enviro News Wrap: Young Americans Reject Denial; the Politics of Solar; Halliburton’s Slap on the Wrist, more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Young people in America believe in science: when polled 73 percent say that global warming deniers are “crazy, out of touch and ignorant”
  • Solar energy is vulnerable to political attacks. Each state and local area has its own rules and laws that make solar possible. California has lead the charge for solar and also receives the most attacks, including a current round of attacks by lawmakers and conservative interests.  Despite the attacks solar is winning the battle in a dozen states.
  • Utilities hate solarmost utilities and their investors consider solar energy as a risk to their profit margins. Companies and investors respond in a big way when their bottom line is threatened. I just wonder if they will respond by trying to dominate the solar market or crush it.
  • After the Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico blew up in 2010 the three companies operating the rig – BP, Transocean and Halliburton – scrambled to prove their innocence and limit their liability. In that scramble Halliburton destroyed documents that were not favorable to their position. The truth has come out and now Halliburton has to pay for their crime, just a little though: three years of probation and a maximum fine of $200,000. A tiny drop in the bucket for the ginormous corporation. Certainly not enough to stop them from what they do best – profiting off of the destruction of the only environment we have.
  • Coal-fired power plants in Australia could be a thing of the past in Australia by 2040 if the current growth rate of the solar market doubles. Good luck Australia!
  • What does a hot America in 2100 look like? NASA is helping us conceptualize the future of global warming.
  • With the popularity of electric vehicles on the rise we need more charging stations. The growing pain of so many other industries, determining industry standards – in the case for charger standards – puts producers, designers, manufacturers – and consumers – at odds.
  • Climate change deniers claim that global temperatures have not increased for 15 years. The fact is that we had a really hot year 15 years ago, but that does not negate the upward trend of global temperatures in the past 50 years. It is sad that articles like this one by Benjamin Zycher push this lie and call it news.
  • China is trying to bring millions of people out of poverty and restore themselves as the superpower of the world. But, this is happening at the cost of their environment. If your economy is dependent on depleting the resources that provide the fuel for the economy then at some point you hit a breaking point.

 

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July 23 2013

21:25

Keystone XL: First Big Test of President’s Climate Change Action Plan

Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline: The destruction to communities and habitats outweigh the benefits of tar sands oil

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport liquefied bitumen from massive tar sands deposits in Alberta south through Midwest US watersheds and agricultural areas and on down to the Gulf of Mexico would significantly boost the carbon emissions that fuel climate change and thus fails to meet the criteria set out in President Obama’s recently announced National Climate Change Action Plan, according to a detailed analysis undertaken by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Just how polluting would Keystone XL be? The amount of additional carbon dioxide (CO2) that would be added to the atmosphere is staggering, even when compared to transporting conventional oil: Keystone XL would add as much as 1.2 billion metric tons more CO2 to the atmosphere over its 50-year life than if it were used to transport conventional oil. That’s more in the way of CO2 emissions than that pumped into the atmosphere by all the cars in the US in a year, according to an NRDC press release.

Looked at from another perspective, the additional CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by Keystone XL would offset all the reductions anticipated if all the new emissions reductions targets for heavy trucks and fuel efficiency set out in President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan were to be realized, NRDC says.

Keystone XL: Drawing a line in the Tar Sands

The Keystone XL pipeline project has become a key battle ground for those looking to literally and figuratively draw a line in the sand when it comes to just how far societies – Canada and the US specifically – will go to explore for and produce climate-changing fossil fuels. Pioneering climate scientist turned social activist Dr. James Hansen stated that exploiting the Athabasca Oil Sands would mean “it’s essentially game over” in terms of our chances of mitigating human-induced climate change.

Yet exploitation of Canada’s tar sands and other uncoventional fossil fuel deposits proceeds. In a recent Guardian article, environmental journalist Stephen Leahy provides an account of the Tar Sands Healing Walk recently organized by local First Nations’ community groups and international environmental activists including Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein.

Protecting the Sacred One Step at a Time – Tar Sands Healing Walk 2013 from Zack Embree on Vimeo.

Part and parcel of the Tar Sands Healing Walk, nearly 15,000 Canadians called on Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and Alberta Premier Alison Redford to meet local community members being affected by Tar Sands exploitation face-to-face.

Conversely, NRDC estimates that 18.7 million-24.3 million metric tons per year of CO2 emissions would be avoided if the Obama Administration were to deny approval of Keystone XL. That, the environmental organization adds is “comparable to savings from new US heavy duty truck emissions rules – 27.4 million metric tons a year – and from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in New England the Mid-Atlantic – 11.9 million metric tons a year.”

Furthermore, denying approval of Keystone XL would greatly decrease the likelihood of further expansion of tar sands oil production, NRDC points out.

Tar sands expansion is not likely without the Keystone XL pipeline; the expanded development of tar sands oil it would drive; tar sands transportation alternatives such as other pipelines and rail; the destruction of peatland that naturally pulls carbon out of the air; and total new carbon pollution added to the atmosphere.

“Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the Keystone XL pipeline would dramatically boost the development of dirty tar sands oil, significantly exacerbating the problem of climate pollution,” director of NRDC’s international program Susan Casey-Lefkowitz was quoted as saying.

“Approve it, and our children’s future is jeopardized. Deny it, and we’ll avoid sending over a billion tons of additional carbon pollution into the air. The right choice is obvious: Keystone XL fails the president’s climate test and he should reject it to protect our national interest.”

The following is NRDC’s list of bullet points for its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project analysis, how and why it fails to meet the president’s National Climate Change Action Plan and other criteria, and hence why the State Dept. should deny approval of the project:

  • Over the project’s 50-year timeline, Keystone XL would add between 935 million and 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution to our atmosphere. Today, the roughly 230 million cars on the road kick out about 1 billion metric tons of carbon pollution annually.
  • The extraction, production, and refining of tar sands oil is more carbon-intensive than conventional oil. The State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency both concluded that from the tar sands mine to the gas tank, tar sands emissions are 81 percent higher than conventional oil.
  • Keystone XL’s climate impact should be considered within the broader context of U.S. policy regarding high-carbon infrastructure. In addition to Keystone XL, the State Department is considering other tar sands pipeline projects that could increase carbon emissions by 16.2 million tons.
  • Due to limited refining capacity, Keystone XL is a necessary component of expansion of tar sands production – and its associated climate emissions. Because of refinery limits in the U.S. and Canada, Keystone XL is the only viable way to deliver tar sands oil to the Texas Gulf Coast to be refined and sold to overseas markets.
  • Export pipelines from the tar sands region are expected to reach capacity by 2014, and Keystone is the only major pipeline proposal for transporting bitumen in the near-term.
  • In the absence of pipelines, rail is not an economically viable alternative for heavy tar sands transport. The State Department was incorrect in its Draft Supplemental Impact Statement by asserting that tar sands development and transportation would happen regardless of whether Keystone XL is approved. Rail is expensive for tar sands crude, which is why it has been largely absent in the current crude-by-rail boom.
  • Industry and market opinion say Keystone XL is a linchpin for tar sands expansion.
  • Canada is not pursuing climate policy that would effectively counteract significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions, or meet its international climate target.

Main image credit: BPOffCampus.org

The post Keystone XL: First Big Test of President’s Climate Change Action Plan appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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