climate change

Thu, 2013-09-05 05:00Farron Cousins
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Fracking Away Our Water Supply

As many areas of the country experience severe droughts, the fight for clean, fresh water is becoming vital to survival for many American citizens.  The problem has been made worse by the expansion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which gobbles up hundreds of millions (billions, according to some estimates) of gallons of potable water every month.

The state of Texas has become the prime example of what can happen when the natural gas industry is allowed to run roughshod over citizens.  The state is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in modern times, and certain areas have already had to resort to water rationing

But the dwindling supply of fresh water in Texas has barely slowed down the natural gas industry’s fracking activities.  Even as livestock are dying off, crops are withering, and citizens are having to purchase bottled water in order to quench their thirst, fracking companies are sucking fresh water out of the ground in order to satisfy their need to extract every ounce of natural gas from beneath the Texas soil.

The drought and water shortages in Texas have gotten so bad that some residents have said that on some days, they can turn on their faucets and nothing even comes out anymore.

Fri, 2013-08-30 11:53David Ravensbergen
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At the Limits of the Market Part 2: Why Capitalism Hasn't Solved Climate Change

climate change, capitalism, environmental issues in Canada

Read At the Limits of the Market: Why Capitalism Won't Solve Climate Change, Part 1.

One answer to the question of why free market capitalism has failed to generate technological solutions to the crisis of climate change is that green innovation simply isn’t as profitable as speculation. In an era when financial markets generate record profits and investment banks are too big to fail, the long work of investment, research and construction of new energy infrastructure simply isn’t attractive to profit-seeking corporations.

Faced with the clear failure of the free market to respond to the approaching dangers of climate change, politicians have reacted by attempting to coax corporations into serving the needs of people as well as the bottom line. This is typically referred to as finding “market-based solutions.” It sounds good at first: we’ll harness the best minds in the private sector to develop new technology, create new jobs and solve climate change in the process.

But all too often the phrase “market-based solutions” works as a kind of coded communication. In effect, it signals to corporations that the government will not take any measures that could interfere with their business model. Rather than impose meaningful restrictions on emissions or the extraction of fossil fuels, market-based solutions focus on changing behavior by creating the right set of incentives.  

Tue, 2013-08-27 05:00Graham Readfearn
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Reuters Boss Accused Of Climate Scepticism Denies Agency Has Cut Climate Reporting

Paul Ingrassia

At Thomson Reuters, we’re in the business of turning change into opportunity,” say the owners of one of the world’s biggest and most influential news agencies.

But the commitment of Reuters to reporting on arguably the most pressing issue in human history – climate change – is now being questioned.

In January, after almost 20 years working for Reuters, the agency’s Asia climate change correspondent David Fogarty was told his role was being axed, but that he could be the correspondent for the shipping industry. He resigned. While Fogarty’s position has apparently not been filled, the agency in late July appointed a dedicated “Gaming Correspondent” to “drive casino coverage in Asia”.

Fogarty had spent four and a half years as the agency’s climate change correspondent for Asia. But things started to change in early 2012. He was told that climate and environment stories were “not a priority” and as time went on, he says it became harder and harder to get climate change stories published.

In a blog post for the Reuters-focussed The Baron website, Fogarty recalled meeting Reuters boss Paul Ingrassia, who at the time was deputy editor-in-chief and is now managing editor.

Thu, 2013-08-22 04:00Laurel Whitney
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US Tar Sands Operations Challenged By Grassroots Opposition

While many environmental advocates urge consumers to buy local, in this case, local isn't always better. While the Canadian tar sands are more notorious, developments here in the US are moving forward as local governments issue more permits to allow companies to start mining.

More than half of the U.S. tar sands resources in active play are in Utah. As DeSmog reported previously, the first US tar sands mine was approved in Utah back in October 2012, with plans to seek a few more permits and begin construction in 2013. After the Utah Water Quality Board approved the permit, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining also gave the operation the green light to move forward with production.

Since then, US Oil Sands Inc., the company developing the land for extraction, is marching forward. According to exploratory analysis, the 5,930 acres under lease contain approximately 184.3 million barrels of oil. That's not including over 26,000 acres that weren't evaluated in the report.

“Based on the [report] and the positive results provided by our exploratory drilling program, we are able to credibly showcase the potential our Utah properties hold for the company and demonstrate that we are one step closer to execution of the first phase of development of PR Spring,” announced CEO Cameron Todd in an earlier report, “…detailed pit planning is now underway in these locations.”


The company plans to be commercially operational by 2014.

Tue, 2013-08-13 07:00Sharon Kelly
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Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking's Climate Impact Grows

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands – one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development – to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

But the haze over the Uintah isn’t the most dangerous air pollutant coming from the oil and gas fields in the valley.

A string of studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the core ingredient in natural gas, methane, is leaking at rates far higher than previously suspected.  This methane has climate change impacts that, on a pound-for-pound basis, will be far more powerful over the next two decades than the carbon dioxide emissions that have been the focus of most climate change discussions.

The smog problem is especially pronounced in Utah. But a growing body of research nationwide suggests that methane is leaking from the natural gas industry at levels far higher than previously known.

In Washington D.C., pressure is mounting to ignore these methane leaks. The oil and gas industry says there is no time to waste. We must proceed immediately with the “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy they say, code for “drill baby drill”. This pressure is coming not only from the natural gas industry itself, but also from a surprising ally: the Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported natural gas development as a “bridge” from coal to renewables.

This position has drawn renewed accusations that the EDF is “greenwashing” for the natural gas industry.

Sat, 2013-08-03 08:00David Ravensbergen
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Two Energy Futures: Barriers to Clean Energy Political, Not Technological

two energy futures

For Canadians looking for inspiration in the fight for a cleaner and fairer energy future, there’s a valuable new resource available at Two Energy Futures. Created by the activist group UK Tar Sands Network, the website provides visitors with a detailed infographic that shows the contrast between a fossil-fuelled future and a future powered by clean, renewable energy.

Projecting from our current energy usage, the first future shows that continued reliance on fossil fuels would mean a steady expansion of extreme energy sources, including fracking, deep-sea drilling and the tar sands. The climate impacts of these dirty energy sources will be increasingly severe, and the social implications include intensified global conflicts and the further exploitation of vulnerable populations.

While the parameters of our current trajectory should be familiar, the cleaner, fairer energy future contains a surprise: the world’s energy needs could be met using current levels of technology in wind, solar and other renewables. Coupled with transformations in transportation infrastructure and the elimination of the undue political influence of fossil fuel companies, this future presents an outline for averting the worst effects of climate change and building more just societies.

Sat, 2013-07-27 07:41Don Lieber
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GOP Elder Statesman George Shultz Urges Strong Action on Climate Change - In Stark Contrast To Current GOP Leadership

George Shultz, who served as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State from 1980 through 1984, is urging strong action on climate change and urging the US to move away from oil.    

In an interview in the July 24 issue of Scientific American magazine, Mr. Shultz said that dependence on oil weakens US national security; using coal for electricity ‘gets us nowhere’; using solar power is better than coal and natural gas; and that the US should increase funds for renewable energy research and development.

Mr. Shultz, saying he wanted to ‘walk the talk’, said he installed solar panels on his own roof six years ago – and the savings on his electric bill since then have paid for the initial investment.

He also said that he drives an electric car (a Nissan LEAF), saying “I have a charging device in my garage so I figure I'm driving on sunshine, and it's free. It doesn't cost me anything, so I kind of like it.”

Fri, 2013-07-26 09:00Laurel Whitney
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New Nature Study Calls Melting Underwater Arctic Permafrost An "Economic Time Bomb"

Three academics walk into a bar.

After what must have been the worst happy hour ever, they emerge having discovered that melting oceanic permafrost could come with a hefty $60 trillion dollar price tag, slightly less than the entire world economy.

We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.

Penned in a recent issue of Nature, Gail Whitman (Sustainability professor at Erasmus University Netherlands), Chris Hope (Policy modeler, University of Cambridge) and Peter Wadhams (Ocean physics, University of Cambridge) set out to calculate the economic consequences of an ice-free Arctic, which some have estimated could happen as early as 2020.

Their main concern followed the melting of underwater permafrost - called methane clathrates - in which natural methane gas beneath the ocean is trapped in frozen beds of ice. Normally, the cold temperatures of ocean water and high pressure of ocean sitting atop the clathrates keep them in place. But with the Arctic ice cap quickly melting, the warming may penetrate farther toward the ocean floor and release this 50 Gt reservoir of methane.

Like stinky bubbles emanating from their Arctic bathtub, methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 with about 20x the warming capability, could either be released gradually over time, or in one fell swoop, accelerating atmospheric warming.

Sat, 2013-07-13 06:00Farron Cousins
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Sharknado: Do Cheesy Sci-Fi Movies Cheapen Climate Change Discussion?

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter over the last 48 hours, you’re probably aware of the made-for-TV movie Sharknado that aired on the SyFy channel Thursday night.  It is exactly what the name suggests – a tornado filled with sharks that wreaks havoc upon Los Angeles.

Those of us who watched the movie (and I admit freely that I love horrible science fiction movies), were privy to scenes of sharks exploding out of sewer grates, surfers being eaten in one bite, and the unforgettable moment where the film’s main protagonist cuts his way out of the belly of a great white with a chainsaw that he inexplicably managed to start only after being swallowed by the beast. 

The tornadoes in the film were spawned by a massive hurricane that made landfall around Santa Monica.  And if you blinked, you may have missed the part where the hurricane, the first ever to hit California according to the film, was the direct result of “global warming.”

But here’s the problem – the fact that climate change is spawning more intense hurricanes, like the one depicted in the movie, is real.  The premise of it spawning tornadoes capable of sucking up sharks and hurling them at the public is not.  They have taken a legitimate, serious issue that should be of concern to the public and turned it into a joke.

I’m sure that no one was watching SharkNado and expecting it to be enlightening or scientifically accurate.  But it has the affect of dumbing down the public discourse on a matter that is actually more frightening than a tornado filled with man-eating sharks.

Fri, 2013-07-12 10:53Graham Readfearn
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Climate Sceptic Professor Sacked From Australian University Was Banned By National Science Foundation For "Deceptive Conduct"

A CLIMATE sceptic professor fired from his Australian university for alleged policy breaches had previously been banned for three years from accessing US taxpayer-funded science research money.

Dr Murry Salby, sacked in May by Macquarie University in Sydney, was the subject of a long investigation by the US National Science Foundation.

The investigation (pdf), which was finished in February 2009, concluded that over a period when Dr Salby was working at the University of Colorado, he had likely fabricated time sheets in relation to research paid for through NSF money.

We conclude that the Subject (Dr Salby) has engaged in a long-running course of deceptive conduct involving both his University and NSF. His conduct reflects a consistent willingness to violate rules and regulations, whether federal or local, for his personal benefit. This supports a finding that the Subject is not presently responsible, and we recommend that he be debarred for five years.

The NSF subsequently decided to only “debar” Dr Salby for three years, preventing him from accessing any NSF research grants or being involved in work related to them. The investigation was carried out by NSF’s Office of Inspector General - an arms-length organisation providing oversight to the NSF.

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