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Wed, 2014-02-12 12:04Guest
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The NSA and Climate Change Spying: What We Know So Far

This is a guest post by Joshua Eaton.

The carbon footprint for the new data center the National Security Agency (NSA) is building in the middle of the Utah desert must be massive. Despite its planned LEED Silver certification, the one-million-square-foot, $2-billion facility will draw 65 megawatts of power and use some 1.7 million gallons of water a day to cool its servers, according to Wired Magazine. When it comes to the NSA, however, many environmentalists have much bigger worries.

To begin with, documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed the agency’s keen interest in the global fossil fuel industry. In November, The New York Times published a 2007 Strategic Mission List from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. One of the missions it lists is “Energy Security,” with a special focus on “threats to production and global distribution” of fossil fuels in “Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, Russia and Nigeria.”

We now know that the NSA put that directive into practice by spying on the Brazilian oil firm Petrobras, the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, OPEC, Russian energy companies and the French energy company Total. The Australian Signals Directorate — with which the NSA shares data and facilities — may even have helped an Australian coal company in a trade deal with Japan, though there is no evidence the NSA was involved in that operation.

But the NSA’s surveillance of the fossil fuel industry is just the tip of the iceberg. According to an article in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian last November, NSA and the Australian Signals Directorate used the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali to spy on Indonesian officials and map out the country’s communications networks. The article was one in a series of reports spread across multiple outlets that disclosed Australia’s surveillance of Indonesia and other Asian countries on behalf of the NSA.

Agency officials have repeatedly said the U.S. only uses its immense surveillance capabilities to monitor serious security threats such as terrorism or weapons proliferation. Among themselves, however, agency analysts admit this operation was a fishing expedition.

The goal of the development effort was to gain a solid understanding of the network structure,” says one internal NSA document quoted by The Guardian, “should collection be required in the event of an emergency.” It is unclear what sort of emergency they anticipated.

A New York Times article published on the same day as The Guardian’s describes the NSA’s surveillance of the 2007 conference as “a major eavesdropping effort.” While neither The Guardian nor the Times mention whether that effort extended to climate negotiations, there are reasons to suspect that it did.

Sun, 2014-02-09 06:00Guest
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Harvard and Brown Are Wrong To Reject Calls To Divest From Fossil Fuels

This article was originally published in the February 17th issue of The Nation and is republished with permission. Read the full text of the editorial here.

by James Lawrence Powell

University presidents once spoke their conscience on matters of great public importance. In the early 1950s, many protested the loyalty oaths that required faculty members to forswear membership in the Communist Party. One of the most courageous critics of McCarthyism was Nathan Pusey, first as president of Lawrence College in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, then as president of Harvard. In the 1960s, some university presidents openly opposed the war in Vietnam. Even at the cost of donor support, Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr. publicly contested the war and decried the inequities in the draft. He permitted protest demonstrations and skillfully kept the Yale campus open and relatively calm.

In the 1980s, a protest movement arose on American campuses as students—and some campus presidents—argued that it was immoral for universities to own stock in companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. Although Harvard president Derek Bok refused to support divestment over apartheid, Harvard eventually did sell most of its South Africa–related stock—and Bok did endorse the sale of stock in tobacco companies.

Today, university presidents and the institutions they lead confront a moral choice over a crisis that threatens human health and society on a far greater scale than either tobacco or apartheid: climate change. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in Field Notes From a Catastrophe, “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” In the last few years, students have begun urging their colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies (FFCs), whose products are driving climate change. Two of the first university presidents to respond, Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard and Christina Paxson of Brown, this fall placed themselves and their institutions on the wrong side of science and of history by rejecting divestment.

I believe that presidents Faust and Paxson were wrong, gravely wrong, not only in the broadest sense—because their choice harms humanity—but because they failed in their narrow duty to protect their institutions and their present and future students.

Thu, 2014-01-23 10:19Guest
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David Suzuki: Rail Versus Pipeline Is The Wrong Question

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

Tue, 2014-01-21 13:17Guest
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West Virginian Communities Still In Need After Coal Chemical Spill

This is a guest post by Jesse Coleman, cross-posted from Greenpeace USA blogs

On January 9th, Freedom Industries, a company that stores chemicals for the coal industry, spilled 7,500 gallons of crude Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a little known, little understood compound into the Elk river. The spill occurred one mile upriver from the water intake that supplies tap water for all of West Virginia's capital city of Charleston.

The thick oily chemical was pumped through the water system and into homes and businesses throughout the area, causing vomiting, skin problems, and diarrhea. Now, nearly two weeks since the disaster was discovered, the water has been deemed “safe to drink,” though water from the tap still releases a sickly sweet chemical odor, especially when heated.

Pregnant women and children are still advised to drink bottled water, but very few people in the affected area are interested in drinking from the tap, with child or not. The tremendous need for potable water has led to the creation of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, a community led effort to provide the people of Charleston and the outlying areas with bottled water, a need that government agencies have largely ignored. Sign this petition to demand justice for people whose water has been poisoned.
  

Mon, 2014-01-13 15:40Guest
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Range Resources Spokesman Matt Pitzarella Misrepresented Education Credentials, Never Received Business Ethics Degree

This is a guest post by Amanda Gillooly, originally published on Marcellus Monitor.

Range Resources Director of Corporate Communications Matt Pitzarella has long listed a master of science degree in leadership and business ethics from Duquesne University as one of his educational accomplishments – one he claimed to have earned in 2005. That degree is listed under his educational experience on his Linkedin profile.

In a profile piece that appeared on the website for the Cal Times (the student publication of the California University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his undergraduate degree),  contributing editor Casey Flores wrote:

Matt is a genuine success story. After graduating from Cal U with a major in public relations and minor in marketing, Matt went on to work his way up through the education and corporate world with a master’s degree in leadership and business ethics from Duquesne University. He attributes much of his success, however, to the internships he completed during his time at Cal U.

He also lists the degree on yatedo.com here.

However, an investigation into his education reveals that Pitzarella never earned a degree through Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Marcellus Monitor received this email from the university’s Director of Communications, Tammy Ewin in response to our inquiry into Pitzarella’s degree:

Matt Pitzarella does not have a degree from Duquesne University. He attended from the spring of 2004 through fall 2004 in the master of science in leadership and business ethics program.
Wed, 2014-01-08 09:12Guest
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Is the Smart Money Bailing on Northwest Coal Exports? Goldman Sachs Sells Stake in SSA Marine

This is a guest post by Eric de Place, originally published at Sightline Daily.

The news is everywhere: finance titan Goldman Sachs is selling off its stake in SSA Marine, the would-be coal exporter of Whatcom County. (To be precise, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, a subsidiary of the big firm, is selling its stake in FRS Capital Corp and Carrix, the parent companies that house SSA.) Many see the move as a major bet against the economic viability of Northwest coal export schemes.

Though it is important to remember that SSA Marine is a big company with a range of port terminal holdings around the globe, there is evidence for believing that the sale is connected to worries about coal.

As usual, Crosscut’s Floyd McKay has some of the best coverage:

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