Climate

DeSmogCAST 14: Canada's Silenced Scientists, Tanker Train Industry Fights and Coal's Climate Secret

In this episode of DeSmogCAST host Farron Cousins discusses DeSmog Canada's recently unsuccessful attempt to interview an Environment Canada scientist.
 
Steve Horn from DeSmogBlog gives the background story to the in-fighting between oil refiners and tanker train operators who don't want to pay extra to transport dangerous fuels like Bakkan oil or diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands.
 
Finally Cousins asks DeSmogBlog's Mike Gaworecki to explain new revelations that coal companies are taking climate change very seriously - but only behind closed doors.
 

Wisconsin Climate Change Gag Order Part of Broader Industry-Tied Attacks on Science

On April 7, Wisconsin's Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted 2-1 to ban those employed by the agency from doing any work pertaining to climate change or global warming while doing public lands related work.

Although the story was covered by multiple media outlets, lost in the public discussion so far is how the vote fits into the broader multi-front industry attack in America's Dairyland-turned-Petro State and which industry interests may have played a role in the vote. 

The historical roots of the vote appear to trace back to an April 2009 congressional testimony given by Tia Nelson, executive secretary for the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands and daughter of former Wisconsin Democratic Governor Gaylord Nelson, in favor of passage of the American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009.

That bill is better known as the controversial and eventually nixed Waxman-Markey climate bill, a bill opposed vigorously by the fossil fuel industry (and some environmentalists, too). 

What Are The Top 5 American Cities Best Poised To Reap The Benefits Of The Solar Boom?

Representatives from 30 European cities got together in Paris last week to formally commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions no less than 40% by 2030 — the same target set by the European Union’s climate change roadmap — and to call attention to the role major urban centers can play in combating global warming.

According to a joint statement published in French newspaper Le Monde, the representatives say that while climate change is a global issue, the solutions are primarily local, which was why they “decided to join forces and strengthen the instruments that will lead us toward the energy and environmental transition.”

While there haven’t been any major gatherings by mayors of cities in the United States recently, there are still plenty of local solutions being implemented. And, as you might expect, some major American cities are better poised to reap the benefits of the clean energy revolution than others.

For instance, Los Angeles currently has more solar photovoltaic capacity installed than any other American city, followed by San Diego, Phoenix, Indianapolis and San Jose, California.

If you sort major American cities by installed solar PV per capita, however, then Honolulu, Indianapolis, San Jose, San Diego and Wilmington, Delaware top the list. All of them have 50 watts or more of installed capacity per resident, qualifying them as what a new report by Environment America calls America’s “Solar Stars.”

No End In Sight For California’s Climate-Exacerbated Drought

As of January 26, the California Department of Water Resources reported that snowpack statewide was at just 27% of its normal level, which is 15% of the average for April 1, the point at which snow is typically expected to stop accumulating and begin to melt.

Which means, of course, that California is in for another dry year. Melting snowpack provides water to streams and rivers and replenishes reservoirs that are used for drinking water and agriculture.

In a cruel irony, a dry year also means more fossil fuels will have to be burned for electricity to make up for the shortfall in hydropower generation. And burning more fossil fuels will, of course, pump even more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, making global warming worse.

In addition to being the hottest year on record in California, 2014 was also the third year of extreme drought in the state, which scientists tell us is a telltale sign that global warming is already impacting our lives right here and right now.

How Obama’s Campaign For Fast Track Authority On The Trans Pacific Partnership Is At Odds With Efforts To Combat Climate Change

In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama made the case for Congress granting him fast track authority to negotiate free trade deals.

“I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

Obama is specifically seeking special authority to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a so-called free trade agreement his administration is in the midst of negotiating with Canada, Mexico and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region like Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam—countries that, together, constitute 40% of the world’s GDP and 26% of global trade, according to the Washington Post.

Despite opposition from his own party, Obama has been on the stump for “trade promotion authority,” also known as “fast track authority,” which Congress would have to grant, essentially waiving its Constitutional right to give “advice and consent” on any international agreements negotiated by the president

On January 8, several Democrat members of Congress went so far as to join with union leaders and environmental and consumer advocates to hold a press conference on their opposition to fast track authority for the TPP.

In a letter to Congress sent the day after the State of the Union speech, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and 42 other environmental groups urged the rejection of forthcoming legislation that would grant Obama fast track authority and “enable the president to push through flawed international trade agreements at the expense of the environment, public health, and communities.”

Obama Vows To Fight For Climate Policies In State Of The Union But What He Didn’t Mention Was Just As Telling

President Barack Obama could not have signaled more clearly in his 2015 State of the Union address that he intends to fight for his legacy on climate change in the face of a hostile, anti-science GOP-led House and Senate.

But it was what the President didn’t mention that could negate his climate legacy: free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership that undermine local efforts to lower emissions, projects like Keystone XL that lock us into decades of continued dirty energy use, and the exporting of American-made coal, crude oil and natural gas to overseas markets.

Which is not to say that every policy position Obama laid out regarding energy and the environment entirely matched his lofty rhetoric about climate change.

Social Cost Of Carbon Drastically Underestimated: Report

The U.S. government could be drastically underestimating how much climate change is going to cost us, according to a study published by Stanford researchers in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers concluded that the Obama Administration is using a Social Cost of Carbon estimate that may be just one-sixth of the true cost—and that the true cost is high enough to justify aggressive measures for lowering emissions enough to limit global temperature rise to the 2 degrees Celsius that scientists tell us is the threshold for averting catastrophic climate change.

The Social Cost of Carbon is an official estimate of how much economic damage will be caused per metric ton of carbon emitted into our atmosphere—damages like lower crop yields and higher healthcare costs. It is used by the EPA and other federal agencies to calculate the benefits of policies intended to improve energy efficiency, lower emissions, and combat climate change. It is also often used to justify not taking action if the proposed action would cost more than the damage it is intended to mitigate.

The Obama Administration raised its official estimate of the economic cost of a metric ton of CO2 from $21 to $37 in November 2013. Even back then, however, many experts challenged that estimate as far too low.

According to the team at Stanford, that estimate was way too low—they calculate the true Social Cost of Carbon as $220 per metric ton.

Energy Shift Requires Shift In Conversation

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Abundant, cheap fossil fuels have driven explosive technological, industrial and economic expansion for more than a century. The pervasive infrastructure developed to accommodate this growth makes it difficult to contemplate rapidly shifting away from coal, oil and gas, which creates a psychological barrier to rational discourse on energy issues.

The ecological and true economic costs of energy use force us to scrutinize our way of living. And because our infrastructure doesn’t allow us to entirely avoid fossil fuels, we must face the contradiction between how we should live and constraints against doing so.

Canada has no national energy plan, other than governmental desire to be a fossil-fuelled energy-export superpower. Given the consequences of human-induced climate change already hitting home, you’d think the highest priority of governments at all levels would be to decide on the lowest-emission energy path. But politicians focused on election intervals have difficulty dealing with generational issues.

DeSmogBlog’s Top 10 Stories of 2014

It was a year of highs and lows as far as climate change and energy issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lows got a lot of the attention, which is why the top 10 posts on DeSmog this year are mostly of the outrageous, infuriating or depressing variety.

We’ve already collected the top clean energy revolution stories of the year, so if this post gets too heavy for you, you can always pop over there and have some of your hope for the future restored.

But for those of you who can't look away, here are the top ten stories we posted on DeSmog this year, as measured by the amount of traffic each received:

Climate Legacy: Report Offers Stark Reminder Why Fossil Fuel Industry Is So Intent To Avoid Accountability For Pollution

If the governments of the world get serious about tackling climate change and adopt aggressive limits on global warming emissions, many fossil fuel companies’ could see their assets become stranded, forcing them to fundamentally change their business models or go out of business altogether.

But there’s another reason why those companies are so desperate to forestall any and all attempts to rein in climate emissions by holding polluters accountable: fossil fuels companies themselves are responsible for a massive amount of the greenhouse gases cooking our climate.

The Climate Accountability Institute has updated its Carbon Majors Project in time for the climate talks in Lima, Peru, “detailing the direct and product-related emissions traced to the major industrial carbon producers in the oil, natural gas, coal, and cement industries” through 2013. CAI has found that the carbon-based fossil fuels and cement produced by just 90 entities were responsible for 65% of the 1,443 billion metric tonnes of CO2 emitted between 1751, the dawn of the industrial era, and 2013.

Some 50 investor-owned companies are among the 90 entities on the Carbon Majors list, and they are collectively responsible for nearly 22% of all global warming emissions up to 2013, while the 36 state-owned companies on the list are responsible for another 20%.

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