climate change

Thu, 2014-02-06 19:34Graham Readfearn
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Coal Industry Report On Social Cost Of Carbon Relies On Climate Science Denial

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) seems a confusing and confused organisation of major coal miners and burners - even if you only consider its oxymoronic title.

When the industry group was launched in 2008, the message was that coal — the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning globally — could be part of the future.

I believe we can limit greenhouse gases,” declared one of the wholesome American citizens depicted in the ACCCE television adverts.

One can only presume that the ACCCE has now dropped its hopes of limiting greenhouse gases, given that its latest “landmark report” claims the benefits to society of putting extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere massively outweigh the costs. Surely the message should be, “burn baby, burn”?

The Social Costs Of Carbon? No, The Social Benefits Of Carbon report by ACCCE claims the benefits of adding extra CO2 to the atmosphere are between 50 and 500 times higher than the costs.

But the report attacks climate change science using sources as ideologically tainted as the Heartland Institute – an organisation which once ran a billboard campaign with a picture of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to claim that the “most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

At its core, the ACCCE report is one long misrepresentation of the impact of coal on the planet, from its effects on growing food crops to raising sea levels to fuelling risk-laden climate change.

Tue, 2014-02-04 20:29Sharon Kelly
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Risks of Fracking Boom Draw Renewed Attention from Investors

A coalition of investors called out five oil and gas companies for failing to measure or reduce risks associated with fracking on Tuesday, singling out companies both large and small for how they’ve handled the myriad risks associated with shale oil and gas extraction.

Shareholders in five companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron, EOG Resources, Occidental Petroleum and Pioneer Resources — filed resolutions objecting to the ways that the companies describe the risks of hydraulic fracturing and their failures to reduce the environmental and social impacts of fracking.

“The damaging impacts of hydraulic fracturing on air, water, and local communities have made the public understandably nervous and resistant to permitting this controversial industrial activity,” said Leslie Samuelrich, President of Green Century Capital Management, which together with the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, filed the resolution at EOG Resources.

“Companies that fail to demonstrate a public commitment to identifying and mitigating their impacts will fail to earn the public trust,” she added, “and may put shareholder value at risk.”

Four of the five companies – ExxonMobil, Chevron, EOG Resources, and Occidental Petroleum –  received failing scores in a recent report that examined how companies disclosed the impact of fossil fuel extraction and graded their efforts to mitigate risks. Disclosing the Facts: Transparency and Risk in Hydraulic Fracturing Operations focused on 24 companies that use fracking, assessing the ways each handled toxic chemicals, water and waste, air emissions, community impacts, and governance. EOG Resources received a score of 6 out of 32, Chevron a score of 3, ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum each got a score of just 2.

That has some investors, including those overseeing New York City’s pension fund, worried.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59Sharon Kelly
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Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It's our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We're expecting to hear the same conclusion that we've heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

Thu, 2014-01-30 18:39Graham Readfearn
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Australian Report Trumpeted By Coal Bosses Does Not Say What They Want You To Think It Says

WHAT follows are some thoughts about coal from a report just published in Australia.

A longer-term concern relates to the environmental impacts of large-scale coal use, especially its climate consequences….

Coal is a carbon-intensive fuel and the environmental consequences of its use can be significant, especially if it is used inefficiently and without effective emissions and waste control technologies. Such environmental consequences include emissions of pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, particulates, mercury, and carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Indeed coal-sourced pollution remains the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Hence most forecasts show a very wide range of future coal demand, based on differing degrees of environmental policy implementation.

Now who might have written that?  An environmental campaigner?  An anti-coal activist in a less bombastic mood? Maybe they’re the words of an advocate for action on climate change?

Actually, these are the views of Ian Cronshaw, a long-standing advisor to the International Energy Agency who was commissioned by the Energy Policy Institute of Australia to write a report about coal and its future economic outlook.

The Energy Policy Institute of Australia’s board includes a number of figures who have spent their careers in and around the fossil fuel industry.

Tue, 2014-01-28 19:42Brendan DeMelle
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Transcript: President Obama's State of the Union Remarks on Energy and Climate Change

President Barack Obama's remarks on energy and climate change during the State of the Union address: (H/T The Guardian)

Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.

One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’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. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

Tue, 2014-01-28 14:32Chris Turner
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Why It's Not Enough To Be Right About Climate Change

Polar Vortex wind currents from earth.nullschool.net and the washington post

A couple weeks back, I found myself enmeshed briefly in a local debate here in Calgary regarding the validity of the argument that a continent-wide spell of frigid weather raised a serious challenge to the scientific foundations of anthropogenic climate change. In the depths of the cold snap, a rookie city councillor, Sean Chu, tweeted:

I replied:

The exchange and other snarky dismissals of Chu’s line of reasoning got picked up by the Calgary Herald, which ran a news item on its blog and a follow-up piece defending Chu against “anthropogenic global warming religionists” on the op-ed page.

As we were engaged in our local rhetorical joust, climate change deniers continent-wide were re-enacting the same little drama on stages big and small, eventually inspiring one of those killer rapid-fire round-ups of TV news talking-head idiocy on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “Apparently decades of peer reviewed study can be, like a ficus plant, destroyed in one cold weekend,” Stewart concluded.

In itself, any given one of these minor foofaraws (or are they argle-bargles?) is barely worth wasting the pixels contained in this sentence. But as a whole — as a tenaciously consistent, recurring pattern of discourse — they actually illustrate a singular challenge to concerted and sustained climate change action. So if you’ll stick with me, let’s unpack the mess a bit and take a look.

Mon, 2014-01-27 19:49Graham Readfearn
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Mont Pelerin Society A Window Into Ideological Heart Of Kochtopus Climate Denial

It’s known as the Kochtopus – the extensive network of think tanks, institutes, university departments, political funding arms and “grassroots” activist groups funded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch.

The multi-tentacled network has pumped tens of millions of dollars into groups that deny the risks of human-caused climate change.

But if it is Koch cash that helps fuel these groups, then what is it that fuels the Koch brothers themselves beyond the obvious financial interest?

As DeSmogBlog has revealed, Charles Koch is a long-standing member of the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) – a global group of industrialists, academics and economists who share the “neoliberal” ideology of limiting government control.

If the Koch network has many groups dangling from its tentacles, then Charles Koch’s membership with the Mont Pelerin Society provides a window into the ideological heart of the Kochtopus.

DeSmogBlog today publishes the global membership directory of the Mont Pelerin Society as it was in 2010, with all personal contact details redacted.

Tue, 2014-01-21 12:29Sharon Kelly
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In Push For Nuclear Power, Climate Change Concerns Overlooked

Three years ago the world was reminded of the dangers nuclear energy poses when catastrophe struck Japan at the Fukushima power plant. Since then the gravity of the disaster has grown more evident as cleanup efforts have turned into a debacle. In the last month alone we have seen news of radioactive water leaks at the site, lawsuits from U.S. Navy sailors who responded to the initial disaster and are now developing cancer and ongoing harm to the fishing industry.

The nuclear industry is often portrayed as a climate-neutral alternative to coal and natural gas. An industry-tied movie called Pandora's Promise, recently featured at Sundance and debuted through Netflix and iTunes, has been promoting this very perspective.

But nuclear power plants need cooling water, which means they are often situated on shorelines. That makes these plants more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise. They are also more at risk of being affected by the ever-growing number and severity of storms tied to climate change, such as Hurricane Sandy.

Case in point: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers recently concluded that a small six-foot-high miniature tsunami that hit near a New Jersey nuclear power plant this summer was not the result of a seismic event (as tsunamis usually are). Instead, the researchers concluded that the surge was caused by a sudden atmospheric pressure change. The nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, did not report any damage. But experts say there was a cautionary lesson on offer: expect the unexpected. Climate change will cause more destructive and seemingly freakish events like this. Emergency planners need to plan for them — especially when the risks are high as is the case with nuclear plants.

Tue, 2014-01-14 22:27Graham Readfearn
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Exclusive: Mont Pelerin Society Revealed As Home To Leading Pushers Of Climate Science Denial

THERE’S a popular talking point coming from climate change denialists that all people who accept the science and the need to act on it are somehow blinded by faith.

In Australia, climate science contrarian columnists can barely touch their keyboards without typing out the words “global warming faith” or explaining how human-caused global warming is some sort of “new religion”.

This “climate religion” narrative often goes hand-in-hand with another favourite denialist talking point where climate scientists are only doing what they do because there’s a dollar in it.

Presumably the laws of physics, the melting ice sheets, the increasing risk of bushfires, the hottest decades on record and the acidifying oceans are also waiting for their cash.

Maurice Newman, the man hand-picked by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to be the government’s top business advisor, loves both of these debating points.

Newman has described climate scientists as being a “global warming priesthood” and belonging to a new “religion”. In a second opinion column in two weeks in The Australian, Newman repeats his cynicism over the IPCC and climate scientists, describing them as a “cartel” that “will deny all contrary evidence”.  Newman even repeats the myth that in the 1970s scientists were certain the world was heading for global cooling, when in fact, as this study shows, a healthy majority of scientific papers were predicting the opposite. 

Yet Newman has a deep belief system of his own, having long been associated with a form of “classic liberalism” – a particular world view which advocates small government and low regulation of the activities of businesses.

Not only that, but he is a member of a global society of influential business people, academics and think tank associates known as the Mont Pelerin Society who share the same broad ideology.

The Mont Pelerin Society

The Mont Pelerin Society was established in 1947 by free market economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek.

Maurice Newman, a Mont Pelerin member since 1976, has long been an admirer of the work of Hayek and fellow free market economist Milton Friedman, a past president of the Mont Pelerin Society.

Newman was responsible for bringing Friedman to Australia in the mid-1970s, at a time when Newman was helping to set up the Centre for Independent Studies – a Sydney-based free market think tank.

Mont Pelerin’s website explains that while all members don’t agree on everything, “they see danger in the expansion of government, not least in state welfare, in the power of trade unions and business monopoly, and in the continuing threat and reality of inflation.”

The Society, which holds a meeting annually in different parts of the world, also explains how its members see their society “as an effort to interpret in modern terms the fundamental principles of economic society as expressed by those classical economists, political scientists, and philosophers who have inspired many in Europe, America and throughout the Western World.”

To become a member, individuals have to be nominated by a current member and then seek endorsement by the membership committee before being endorsed. 

DeSmogBlog has obtained a full list of the society’s members that includes senior representatives of many of the world’s foremost “free market” think tanks actively pushing back on proposed policy solutions to tackle climate change.

The list, from 2010, includes almost 500 people from 52 countries, with the bulk of members coming from the United States and the United Kingdom. The 70-page list includes private contact details. DeSmogBlog has decided to publish only extracts with contact details redacted.

Among the notable members is Charles Koch (list excerpt here), the US oil billionaire who has been a Mont Pelerin Society member since 1970.

Mon, 2014-01-13 01:30Sharon Kelly
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New Carbon Rules for Power Plants A Missed Opportunity To Rein in Natural Gas Emissions, Critics Say

One of the linchpins of the Obama administration’s high-stakes plan to address climate change moved one step closer to implementation this week, as the EPA officially published proposed new carbon emissions standards for power plants, drawing fire from environmentalists who say the rules for natural gas power plants are too lenient.

The proposed rules cover both natural gas and coal-fired electrical plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The rules would make it virtually impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be built, unless carbon capture and sequestration technology is used, but sets standards that can be easily achieved by natural gas power plants without using any similar tools.

This has led to an outcry from environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.

“If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing greenhouse pollution from all power plants — regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal,” Bill Snape, the senior counsel for the Center said in a statement. “The bottom line is that we can do better.”

The rules for coal plants are not expected to have much direct impact on new power plant construction plans—utilities planned to build very few coal plants even before the EPA proposed its rule.

But once they are finalized, the standards for new power plants will trigger a key clause of the Clean Air Act, and the EPA will next be required to create similar carbon dioxide emissions guidelines that would govern the existing 6,500 coal and natural gas power plants nationwide.

It’s important because it establishes the form that these regulations will take,” John Coequyt, of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign told ThinkProgress.

The EPA move is part of Mr. Obama’s overall climate strategy, which disappointed many observers who criticize its support of fracking and its underwhelming effectiveness. “The Obama administration is aiming for reductions by 2020,” Brad Plumer wrote in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog earlier this week. “But that's not nearly enough to avert a 2°C rise in temperatures, which is the broader goal.”  

Mr. Obama’s climate plan calls for a heavy reliance on natural gas, which produces roughly 50 to 60 percent as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned, to help transition away from coal. But there is strong evidence that natural gas, which is primarily composed of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, may be worse for the climate than coal. The Obama climate plan, in that case, would represent a move from the frying pan into the fire.

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