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May 09 2012

18:02

European Elections and Sustainable Development in America


European voters rejected austerity in favor of growth. What will that mean for sustainable development in the US?In Europe, voters have chosen growth over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.

In France, Francois Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and in Greece, the parties supporting the international rescue package have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.

France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity

Both France and Greece appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth through investment in sectors like renewable energy.

Investment in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable energy and respect France’s international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help France reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent by 2020. Greenpeace France notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.

Prior to the election, France’s right leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment. In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right” saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France invests nine times less than Germany and five times less than China in clean energy.”  They further drew attention to the fact that there are no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per inhabitant, France was in thirteenth place in Europe and the country had no offshore wind developments.

The fate of Greece is much less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become the first developed nation to default on its debt.

If a coalition government cannot be formed, Greece will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have refused austerity.

Rio+20

All of this intrigue takes place just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including corporate executives and representatives of various social movements. Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways to support sustainable development.

U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet Declaration.

However, some of Europe’s key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.

Whatever happens in Rio, the elections in Europe have changed the political map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.

Sustainable Development in America

Austerity in Europe was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.

In Europe, government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the Democrats are the only game in town.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America. According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the new economics sweeping across Europe.

As stated by Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:

“This should be the Democrats’ moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity, and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”

There is reason to believe that Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.

The near term fate of sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth rather than a policy focused on austerity.
——————–
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, a leading sustainable business blog 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: National Post/Getty Images

February 02 2012

15:38

On Our Radar: A Glacier Thief?

After intercepting a refrigerated truck carrying illicit ice, the authorities accuse the driver of theft and are considering charging him with violation of national monuments.
Sponsored post

January 15 2012

22:00

Albatross boosted by Climate Change, study suggests

Climate Change may have helped boost survival chances of endangered albatrosses, scientists believe.

December 09 2011

18:24

Fracking Ohio's Utica Shale to "Boost Local Economy"? A "Total" Sham

It is a well-known fact that the unconventional gas industry is involved in an inherently toxic business, particularly through hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which the EPA just confirmed has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The documentary film "Gasland," DeSmogBlog's report "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," and numerous other investigations, reports, and scientific studies have echoed the myriad problems with unconventional oil and gas around the globe.

What is less well-known, but arguably equally as important, is who exactly stands to benefit economically from the destruction of our land, air, and water in the gas industry's rush to profit from the fracking bonanza. The U.S oil and gas industry would have us believe that they are principally focused on ushering in American energy independence. But their claims are increasingly suspect as the real motivation of this industry becomes clearer by the day.

A hint: it's not the small "mom and pop," independent gas companies, but multinational oil and gas corporations. Another hint: it's often not even American multinational oil and gas corporations, but rather, foreign-based multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to gain the most.

France's Total S.A. Enters Ohio's Utica Shale, as well as Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya

On December 7, Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion

Total S.A., the largest oil and gas producer in France, is a multinational corporation perhaps most notorious for its involvement in Iraq's "Oil-For-Food" scandal. In 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's officials to secure oil supplies. 


Total SA also brokered another big deal on December 7, this one in Uganda, a place I recently wrote about on AlterNet in a piece titled, "Did Obama Just Kick Off Another Oil War — This Time in Africa?" It appears the question raised and answered in my article is being confirmed more and more with each passing day.

Explaining the terms of the deal, Reuters wrote, "French oil major Total said it could build a pipeline from South Sudan to Uganda that would continue to Kenya’s coast, potentially solving the fledgling state’s headache about how to export its oil."

These announcements comes on the heels of a December 1 announcement by another foreign corporation, Norway's Statoil, stating that it "would like to add to its acreage position in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas as it looks to grow its unconventional oil and gas position in North America."

Speaking of corruption, by the way, Ohio is a natural landing spot for Total S.A.

Ohio: Home to Big Gas Money

Common Cause of Ohio, in a recent report titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," revealed that from 2001 through June 2011, Republican Governor John Kasich received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the gas industry. The Republican Senatorial and House Campaign Committees took another $210,250 from the gas industry during that same time period.

Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, former Democratic Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, received $87,450 during that time frame. 

Top donors included the following:

  • Ohio Oil & Gas Producers Fund - $820,285
  • British Petroleum PAC & Employees - $215,438
  • Marathon Oil PAC & Employees - $207,054

Summing things up, Common Cause wrote,

Companies engaged in fracking contributed $2.8 million to state candidates, political committees, and parties in Ohio from 2001 through June 2011, helping the natural gas industry preserve what are some of the nation’s most lenient fracking regulations. Ohio does not require full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, has stripped from local governments the power to regulate fracking, and allows fracking as close as 100 feet to a residence.

All in all, this is a bad deal for the people of Ohio, but a great deal for global multinational oil corporations, a pattern all too familiar in the American political fray.

Any way one slices it, the claim that the gas industry first and foremost is a "good neighbor" who will "benefit the local economies," is a total sham. 

 

November 28 2011

15:26

World Energy Expenditures

US$6,000bn for energy consumers, and substantial revenues for governments

World energy expenditures have more than double in 20 years

More than US$6,000bn -10% of the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP)- is spent each year in the world for energy purposes (figures in US$2005ppp). This places energy second to health care expenditures in many countries; and in some cases first.

read more

July 11 2011

13:31

Energy Transition in France

Up to 600 wind turbines, with a generating capacity of around 3 GW, will be installed off the coasts of France by 2015, if the French government’s recent tendering process is successful. Suitable locations in the Mediterranean, the English Channel and along France’s Atlantic coast have been identified. The precise sites to be developed first have not been specified. The goal is to create up to 10,000 jobs in France’s offshore wind sector.

read more

July 09 2011

14:45

A Pan-European Approach To Banning Unconventional Gas?

A German member in the European parliament (MEP) is proposing a straightforward way to prevent (or outlaw) exploration and drilling for unconventional gas in the European Union (EU). His plan, bypass national strife and instead build consensus for a European-wide ban.

Jo Leinen, chair of the committee on the environment, public health and food safety, is considered one of the most influential MEP’s. He recently told The Guardian that he wants to work on a new energy quality directive that is expected to focus on penalizing and/or banning the extraction, import and use of fuels which are environmentally destructive – namely unconventional gas and even tar sands oil.

While some consider unconventional gas as a clean burning source of fuel, each day seems to bring more and more bad news about its damaging health and environmental effects.

What’s more, the International Energy Agency has found that gas reliance would be disastrous for fighting climate change. This is supported by recent findings from Cornell University which show that over a 20-year period, unconventional gas emissions are at least 20% greater than coal, and maybe as high as 50%.

At the national level, efforts to regulate the unconventional gas industry in Europe have been a mix of success and failure.

France just banned hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), passing both the lower and upper houses of the French National Assembly. While this is a success, a full ban on unconventional gas was viewed as too prohibitive by the governing UMP party and subsequently dropped from consideration before it ever came to a vote.

In Britain, the debate around unconventional gas rages on. Huw Irranca-Davies, the Labour party’s shadow energy minister recently wrote to energy minister Charles Hendry urging him to temporarily ban gas drilling and fracking, at least until the technology and its impacts can be studied [pdf] further.

At the moment, drilling supporters in parliament outnumber detractors. The parliamentary committee on energy and climate change just rejected any possibility of a moratorium on unconventional gas. The committee stated: "We conclude that, on balance, a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present." Tax breaks to encourage drilling are still being considered.

Unfortunately, in other countries like Poland, the unconventional gas “barometer of Europe,” drilling is advancing at an “unprecedented speed.” At present, Polish leaders are touting unconventional gas as a pan-European project.

Jesse Scott, program leader with E3G, a British NGO promoting sustainable development, said the portrayal of unconventional gas as the "European solution" is a battle yet to be won.

This fight will soon be waged in Germany, where diversifying sources of energy has become especially important, since parliamentarians recently voted to end the use of nuclear energy by 2022. Without nuclear, Germany will rely more and more on alternative energy options like hydropower, wind and solar, which it already wants to grow to at least 35% by 2020.

With many countries in Europe either reluctant to ban unconventional gas drilling or ready to push ahead with it - and with unconventional gas drillers trying to label their fossil fuel as a green energy source - Leinen’s proposed energy directive faces an uphill struggle.  But it may encounter success at the European level where MEPs previously passed Europe’s “20-20-20” targets (20% less carbon emissions and 20% of energy production from renewables by 2020).

Photo Credit: The Economist

July 04 2011

22:23

France Becomes First Country To Ban Fracking; Gas Drilling Still A Go

In a major setback for the oil and gas industry, the French Senate last week voted 176 to 151 to ban hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), the controversial gas industry drilling method facing scrutiny the world over due to water contamination and other concerns. Once the legislation receives presidential approval, France will be the first country to permanently outlaw fracking.

The ban on fracking is a major victory for the French public, wary of the health, safety and water contamination impacts that unconventional gas drilling would have on communities. Still, with up to five billion cubic metres of unconventional gas spread across southern France, the drilling drama is likely far from settled.

The majority of the Senators voting in favour of the ban on Thursday come from President Nicholas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party. On the other side, many of the Senators voting against the law, which passed a similar lower house vote in May, decry it for not going far enough.

The legislation to ban fracking was originally intended to cover all forms of unconventional gas drilling, but that effort was seen by many UMP parliamentarians as too restrictive.

The French ban means that companies granted drilling permits last March will have two months to prove that they are not using fracking techniques. U.S. gas company Scheupbach Energy received two licenses and France's Total was given the other. Their permits will be revoked if they wish to frack, and they could face fines and prison sentences for any fracking attempts.

Opponents of the law continue to voice concerns that only a blanket ban on all forms of unconventional drilling will truly protect public health, water supplies and the environment. These parliamentarians claim that gas companies could theoretically continue to frack wells due to provisions allowing for ‘drilling for scientific research purposes.’ Ecologist senator Jean Desessard, like many opposition politicians, also feels that the fracking-specific ban means that those eager to drill will change the name of their gas extraction technique, or use another drilling method which might prove equally if not more damaging.

This is a real concern since the text of the law does not properly define fracking. Although a challenge has already been prepared, for now, opposition parliamentarians will not appeal to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on the matter.

From the gas industry’s perspective, the law is a major setback. The Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, which represents Total and other oil and gas interests, suggests that “the law will prevent an evaluation of shale hydrocarbon resources and their impact on the French economy.” There is also some concern that drillers could challenge the law in court. Last month, French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said that a challenge of some sort was likely. However, during the Senate debate, she said “financial and legal risks have been limited.”

The fracking ban legislation now heads to President Sarkozy’s desk for signing.

May 27 2011

20:37

May 25 2011

20:18

French Vote To Ban Fracking: The End Of The Story Or Just The Beginning?

Earlier this month, members of the French national assembly voted to ban hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) by an overwhelming 287 to 186. While the vote had significant support across party lines, a great deal of skepticism remains about whether or not the unconventional gas drilling ban goes far enough and if it will actually stop drillers from fracking.

Between 2008 and 2010, the French government granted numerous exploration permits to companies claiming that drilling for unconventional gas trapped in shale rock offered a silver bullet solution to growing economic and climate change pollution challenges. But more recently the public learned about several threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, including impacts on public health, drinking water supplies, and a much larger pollution footprint than previously assumed. As a result, governments around the world are changing course and banning unconventional gas fracking.<!--break-->

This seemed to be the direction in France too when, earlier this year, the government commissioned a report to critically examine the economic, environmental and social impacts of exploiting unconventional gas. In mid-April, Prime Minister Francois Fillon even stated that fracking for unconventional gas is risky and that he supported rescinding the drilling permits and wanted a ban.

Just days later, however, on April 21st, a preliminary version of the report [pdf] was submitted to Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Industry Minister Eric Besson and surprisingly, it highlighted the benefits from fracking. The pre-report warned that a ban would be detrimental to the economy and that unconventional gas should be pursued under specific conditions.

Now, concerned French citizens, environmentalists and opposition party politicians are claiming that dirty energy lobbyists are influencing the country’s drilling regulations. As one example, they point to the rosy outlook of the pre-report, which was heavily edited.

France Nature Environnement describes the report as whitewash, stating:


“…if after submitting evidence to the inter ministerial task-force, we anticipated a more favourable report on the exploitation of shale gas we did not at all expect such a caricature of a report, one which almost without any qualification, appears interested in just one outcome — to make shale gas drilling acceptable to the French.”


On the legislative side, opposition parties continue to argue that the anti-fracking law is too watered down and falls short because of an amendment providing a major loophole which may still allow for fracking. Gas companies that were granted permits have two months to explain how they will drill for unconventional gas, and the now-flawed legislation theoretically would allow companies to simply not describe their drilling technique as fracking, therefore holding on to their permits. In other words, if they simply stop talking about fracking and describe the drilling process more vaguely, they could go on about their business as usual.

Richard Paul-Jones of Schiste Happens, sums up the issues well noting that “if the companies come up with any method other than hydraulic fracturing, they will retain their licenses without further inquiry.”

The Connexion put it more clearly:

“The text that is being debated today with a vote tomorrow now gives licensees two months to detail the processes they intend to use and, while hydraulic fracturing will not be permitted, if this is not mentioned in the companies’ submissions then the permits will be approved.”

In fact, prior to voting to support the legislation, many believed that a united opposition would vote against the ban because it did not go far enough.

The French centre-left has its own fracking ban ready for debate. For now they have removed their bill but will bring it up again if they see the present legislation further watered down and think fracking is back on the table. The existing UMP bill to ban fracking next moves to the Senate in June.

In the meantime, parliamentarians from all parties have the chance to review the bill as it is written and to consider the entirety of its implications. France would do well to follow the proposed ban in New Jersey, the moratorium in Maryland, New York's temporary ban, and others. France should also thoroughly study the condemnations fracking has received in Québec and the embarrassment that government has received for its poor management of unconventional gas reserves.

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

April 06 2010

00:33

April 5th: Global News Highlights from an Environmentalist


Editor's Note: This is the first of a new series of environmental current event reviews from our new contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander.

  • Koch is a large, mostly unheard of US company that is one of the main funders of the climate denial movement. MotherJones shines a spotlight on them.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund explains the US Climate Change bill now in congress in hope that more understanding will bring more support. Their main foci are environmental protection, the economy, encouraging other nations to act, and dependence on foreign oil and national security.
  • The UN meeting about Climate Change in Copenhagen passed with an expected disappointment for many. World Resources Institute explains the aftermath and what it means for a country to be “associated” with the Copenhagen Accord.
  • France’s Preisdent Sarkozy has dropped his support for a carbon tax that would tax consumers and small businesses while leaving big industry exempt. It may be seen as a victory since the effort would seemingly not impact big industry much. But the tax would have changed consumer behavior which would have impacted industry. Companies would find people buying their products less and would be forced to make different products or change how they make their existing products. It would be painful for consumers at first because of higher prices, but in the long term all would benefit through improved products (increased durability, increased recyclability, etc.), a cleaner environment and the emergence of a new environmentally focused economy that would create many new jobs. Or, so the theory goes.
  • Obama is trying to open up areas for offshore drilling in the US while increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and small trucks along with Canada. Increasing the floor for MPG on new vehicles is way overdue when you look at other developed countries, and it is important for America to lead as we look to steer ourselves away from being so dependent on hydrocarbons. The Week supplies some quotes about opinions on Obama’s offshore drilling decision and gives a link to an article by The Economist.
  • A fully solar powered boat is being tested as it gets ready for its maiden voyage around the world to pave the waterway for more renewable energy to be used in our waters. The Guardian reports.
  • A Chinese coal freighter crashed into the Great Barrier Reef. Australian officials are trying to figure out what to do amongst predictions that the ship could break into pieces and spill the 1,000 tons of bunker fuel aboard.
  • Nanotechnology may play a large part in the future of environmentalism. Batteries could be much improved through the use of carbon nanotubes, but first scientists are trying to find out how serious the human health risk is of introducing so many nanoparticles to our environment and our bodies.

March 23 2010

16:56

France Drops Carbon Tax After Defeat

The idea of a carbon tax had been widely opposed by France's business lobby and members of the governing party.

January 19 2010

13:27

A Nuclear Critic Draws a Lesson from France's Success

A new statistical analysis of an almost-secret topic -- what it costs to build nuclear reactors in France -- may have some lessons for a "nuclear renaissance" in the United States.
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