greenhouse gases

Bank Of America, Once The Largest Funder Of US Coal, To Cut Coal Funding Worldwide

At its annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina last week, Bank of America announced that it was officially committed to slashing its financing of coal.

This is a major policy reversal for the bank. Just a few years ago, Bank of America, then the biggest bank in the US, was the largest underwriter of the US coal industry. From 2009 to 2010, for instance, the bank pumped some $4.3 billion into US coal companies, a fifth of all coal financing by the top 25 banks and financial institutions.

Coal Companies Talking Out Both Sides Of Their Mouths When It Comes To Climate Change

Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S., deployed one of the lawyers on its payroll to Congress last week to argue against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon rule.

This is so common that it normally wouldn’t rate a mention, but in this case it happened to be Obama’s former Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who now works for Peabody and is critical of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, saying it is tantamount to “Burning the Constitution.”

But then, even that ranks pretty low in terms of newsworthiness given that, as a new analysis by Greenwire E&E reporters Corbin Hiar and Manuel Quiñones puts it, “The highest profile practitioner of targeted climate messaging is Peabody Energy Corp.”


The Greenwire analysis shows that many coal companies are, in fact, frequently talking out both sides of their mouths when it comes to climate change, and uses Peabody in particular as a case study of the legal and shareholder risks involved.

Newspapers Complicit In Selling Phony “War On Coal”

U.S. newspapers are helping conservatives push their misleading “war on coal” narrative, according to a new report.

There are a number of reasons why the tide has turned against the coal industry around the globe. Mining and burning coal for energy poses huge risks for human health and the environment, for instance, mainly due to the vast amounts of air and water pollution created throughout coal’s lifecycle.

Then of course there’s the fact that coal is the single largest source of global warming pollution—while coal-fired power represents only 39% of all electricity generated in the U.S, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is responsible for 75% of carbon emissions.

And of course the health of coal miners and the safety of mining operations is a cause for concern, as well. The indictment of coal baron Don Blankenship is proof enough of that—a U.S. attorney recently pressed conspiracy charges against Blankenship for violating federal mine safety and health standards and impeding federal mine safety officials, among other offenses committed before and after the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010 that took the lives of 29 workers.

If you need more proof, there was a study conducted this year that found a severe form of black lung is affecting miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia at levels not seen in four decades.

But it’s not just the dangers of the job that are driving coal miners out of work: greater automation in coal mining operations and the rise of cheap, abundant natural gas thanks to fracking have also taken a heavy toll on the coal industry.

Yet a Media Matters analysis of the 233 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year that mentioned the phrase “war on coal” found that more than half ignored all of these underlying causes of the coal industry’s decline.

Walmart’s Reliance On Dirty Energy Responsible For 8 Million Metric Tons of Carbon Pollution Per Year

Recent revelations that the Walton Family, majority owners of Walmart, are funding attacks against the rooftop solar industry called into question the big-box retailer’s very public “100% renewable energy” commitment. A new report by the Institute on Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) documenting Walmart’s massive carbon emissions is likely to add even more fuel to that fire.

According to ILSR, which also exposed the Walton Family’s anti-rooftop solar initiatives, Walmart is one of the heaviest users of coal-fired electricity in the United States, resulting in 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution produced every year by the mega chain’s operations.

Since making its environmental commitments in 2005 with great fanfare, Walmart has done little to honor its pledge to transition to renewable energy and “be a good steward of the environment.”

Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR and co-author of the new report, wrote in April that Walmart's use of renewables peaked in 2011 and has slipped since then.

“Walmart’s progress on renewable power is particularly pitiful when you look at other retailers,” she added. “Staples, Kohl's, and Whole Foods, along with numerous small businesses, have already passed the 100 percent renewable power mark.”

Today, just 3% of the electricity powering Walmart’s U.S. stores comes from renewable sources.

NASA Confirms A 2,500-Square-Mile Cloud Of Methane Floating Over US Southwest

When NASA researchers first saw data indicating a massive cloud of methane floating over the American Southwest, they found it so incredible that they dismissed it as an instrument error.

But as they continued analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography instrument from 2002 to 2012, the “atmospheric hot spot” kept appearing.

The team at NASA was finally able to take a closer look, and have now concluded that there is in fact a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane—roughly the size of Delaware—floating over the Four Corners region, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all intersect.

A report published by the NASA researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters concludes that “the source is likely from established gas, coal, and coalbed methane mining and processing.” Indeed, the hot spot happens to be above New Mexico's San Juan Basin, the most productive coalbed methane basin in North America.

Europe Poised to Press Ahead on Drastic Greenhouse Gas Reductions As Other Nations Lag Behind

Solar farm

Pressure continues to grow for European politicians to agree to further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030.

The European Union’s 2020 climate and energy package, which is binding legislation, calls for emissions to be cut by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. In addition, the plan calls for energy efficiency savings of 20 per cent and a 20 per cent increase in renewable energy technologies.

While the European Union seems largely on track to meet those targets, later this month politicians are going to vote on even greater emissions reductions, energy savings and growth in renewables by 2030.

In January, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, published the 2030 policy framework for climate and energy.

Despite six years of economic uncertainty, the plan includes targets to reduce EU domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent below the 1990 level by 2030, which would ensure that Europe would meet its objective of cutting emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050.

Reining In Global Warming Emissions Will Be Good For The Economy: Report

Not only will it lead to more costly and catastrophic events like wildfires, droughts, and floods, but delaying action on climate change will in and of itself consitute a missed opportunity to bolster the US economy, according to a new report.

Entitled “Seeing Is Believing: Creating A New Climate Economy In The United States,” the report notes that failing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions will result in a 20% reduction in per capita consumption worldwide over the long term, but stresses that addressing climate change will most certainly be good for the global economy.

Published by the World Resources Institute, the report looks at needed changes in five sectors of the US economy that, altogether, comprised 55% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2012: reducing the carbon intensity of electricity generation; improving efficiency in residential and commercial electricity consumption; building more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles; stopping methane leaks from natural gas systems; and lowering consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas commonly used as a refrigerant.

By surveying peer-reviewed reports from academics, industry associations, think tanks, government labs, and others, the report concludes that: “The ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while benefitting the economy has already been demonstrated through numerous policies and programs implemented in the United States.”

Here are key findings from the report in each of those five areas:

NY Times' Joe Nocera Overlooks Key Flaws in EDF Fracking Climate Change Study

Yesterday, New York Times' columnist Joe Nocera weighed in on the study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin) on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)DeSmogBlog got a special mention in Nocera's op-ed titled, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.” 

Nocera praised UT-Austin Professor David Allen and colleagues for obtaining what he claimed was “unassailable data” on fugitive methane emissions and fracking's climate change impact potential. 

“The reason the Environmental Defense Fund wanted this study done is precisely so that unassailable data, rather than mere estimates, could become part of the debate over fracking,” wrote Nocera. “You can’t have sound regulation without good data.”

Missing from Nocera's praise: new findings by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change in their latest comprehensive review of the climate crisis.

IPCC revealed “over a 20-year time frame, methane has a global warming potential 86 [times the amount of] CO2, up from its previous estimate of 72 [times],” as explained by Climate Progress' Joe Romm.

In juxtaposition, Nocera dismissed DeSmog's criticisms of the study - one we referred to as “frackademia.” 

Simplifying the crux of my 3,000-word DeSmog critique and the 800-word follow-up as “because the nine companies involved had both cooperated and helped pay for it,” Nocera then rhetorically asks “why a study that necessitated industry cooperation and money is inherently less valid than a study produced by scientists who are openly opposed to fracking was left unanswered.”

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.

Debunking GWPF Briefing Paper No3 - The Truth About Greenhouse Gases

This post is part 3 of a series examining the UK-registered educational charity the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and the work it allegedly does explaining global warming to the public.

In part 1 the GWPF and its principles (or lack of them) were examined. In part 2 the many serious and fundamental flaws in GWPF Briefing Paper No2 were laid bare. So it will be good if we can find something positive to say about the GWPF here in part 3.

The GWPF Briefing Paper No3 The Truth About Greenhouse Gases examined here is a longer document (all 5,500 words of it) written by “a working scientist” (a physicist to be exact) who tells us he has “a better background than most in the physics of climate.” This sounds good as there is much physics involved in the subject of greenhouse gases, things like the EM spectrum and climate forcings. So on face value, this GWPF Briefing Paper No3 should be a worthwhile read.

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