The United States agrees to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2025 and China commits to levelling off its carbon emissions by 2030.
When China or the United States act on any major global political issue, other countries take notice. And when China and the U.S. work in partnership on a major global issue, other countries definitely take notice. Looking at early analysis of what these announced targets represent in terms of the impact on our climate, it is clear they don't go far enough. However, it is a grand gesture by two powerhouse countries and that will have big ripple effects.
This all leaves Canada and its Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a very awkward position.
Despite what you may have heard about the death of the coal industry, Peabody Energy is ramping up mining activities and going on the offensive, pushing “clean coal” on the world’s poor with a disingenuous but aggressive PR campaign. And for good reason: Peabody has got to sell the coal from the world's largest coal mine to someone.
Speculation is rife that the new GOP-led Senate will join with its similarly fossil fuel-beholden House colleagues to usher in a new era of coal. Peabody, the world’s largest privately held coal company, isn’t waiting around to find out.
The company has teamed with public relations firm Burson-Marsteller—the notorious PR giant that helped Big Tobacco attack and distort scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking tobacco—to launch Advanced Energy for Life, a desperate attempt to shift the discussion around coal away from its deleterious effects on health and massive contributions to climate change and instead posit the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty.
The aim of this PR offensive, according to a piece by freelance journalist Dan Zegart and former DeSmog managing editor Kevin Grandia (one of Rolling Stone’s “Green Heroes,” and deservedly so), the reason for Peabody’s charm offensive is simple: there’s money to be made selling coal in Asian markets, and Peabody aims to make it—as long as initiatives to combat global warming emissions don’t intervene. Which makes Burson-Marsteller the perfect ally:
Burson-Marsteller, which has a long history of creating front groups to rehabilitate the images of corporate wrongdoers, helped Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro, tackle the Asian market, where Burson fought anti-smoking regulations and developed crisis drills for Philip Morris personnel in Hong Kong on how to handle adverse scientific reports.
As the US produces a glut of cheap natural gas, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan seeks to set emissions standards that would make building new coal-fired power plants all but impossible impossible, and the domestic demand for coal drops, Peabody’s value as a company has dropped as well, from $20 billion to just $3.7 billion in the space of three years. The company is in desperate need of new business if it’s to even stay afloat.
In a sign of things to come, a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says Ottawa should create a new “climate migrants” immigration class to prepare for the inflow of people fleeing extreme climate change.
“Estimates of the number of climate-influenced migrants range widely, but most projections agree that in the coming years climate change will compel hundreds of millions of people to relocate,” the report says. “Climate change is one factor that interacts with many others to drive population movements.”
“Industrialized countries like Canada have disproportionately benefitted from the combustion of fossil fuels, whereas others who have contributed least to climate change will disproportionately feel its impacts,” the report states.
Canada is the fourth highest per-capita greenhouse gas emitter in the world according to 2008 World Resources Institute climate data (this estimate does not take into account emissions resulting from the burning of exported coal, oil and gas).
Oil companies and fossil fuel investors seeking further developments in the Alberta tar sands have been dealt another setback with the publication of a report showing producers lost $17.1 billion USD between 2010-2013 due to successful public protest campaigns.
“Tar sands producers face a new kind of risk from growing public opposition,” Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at IEEFA, and one of the lead authors on the report, said. “This opposition has achieved a permanent presence as public sentiment evolves and as the influence of organizations opposed to tar sands production continues to grow.”
This week DeSmog is launching its inaugural episode of DeSmogCAST, a weekly newscast featuring our writers, experts and invited guests. Each week we’ll discuss breaking stories and engage in analysis of politics, energy and environment issues in the U.S., Canada and around the world.
A Horn explains, “if you look at this report it second guesses a lot of the estimates put out by the Energy Information Agency in the States.”
“There’s a concept called the drilling treadmill in industry: you have to drill more and more just to maintain productivity. Which means all the things we know about, water contamination, climate change impact, on a county by county basis across the U.S. those happen all over the place just so industry can maintain flat levels of production.”
No doubt a few eyebrows were raised and possibly some palms smashed against faces earlier this year when the richest person on the planet came out in qualified support of policies to burn massive amounts of coal in the developing world.
In June, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates took to his GatesNotes blog to promote the views of Danish political scientist Dr Bjorn Lomborg.
For one thing, poor countries represent a small part of the carbon-emissions problem. And they desperately need cheap sources of energy now to fuel the economic growth that lifts families out of poverty. They can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them wait for the technology to get cheaper.
Gates urged people to consider the view of Lomborg and his think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center. Alongside the blog post were two “GatesNotes” branded videos where Lomborg presented his arguments.
In the videos Lomborg said it was “hypocritical” for the developed world to try and deny poor countries access to fossil fuels when so much of the developed world is still fueled on them. Lomborg also linked the issue of reducing the impacts of indoor air pollution to increasing use of fossil fuels.
In the video, Lomborg said:
The solution to indoor air pollution is very, very simple. It’s getting people access to modern energy and typically that’s electricity and that’s going to mean fossil fuels for those three billion people who don’t have access. We have a very clear moral imperative to make sure that people don’t cook with dirty fuels and make sure those people get out of poverty and have a decent life.
The World Health Organization says indoor air pollution caused by the burning of fuels like wood, dung and coal (Lomborg didn’t mention coal) kills about four million people a year.
While Lomborg argued that the “simple” solution to indoor air pollution is access to coal-powered electricity, the more immediate solution is access to cleaner-burning cooking stoves, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
Radha Muthia, the executive director of the alliance, wrote to the New York Times in December last year after the newspaper had published a column where Lomborg had again argued that while more efficient cooking stoves “could help” what the world really needed were “low cost fossil fuels” – chiefly, coal.
Muthia wrote that “fossil fuels are not the only solution” and that the “stakes are too high” to rest on Lomborg’s assumption.
If you want to see the future of the shale industry — what today's drilling rush will leave behind — come to Bradford, Pennsylvania.
A small city, it was home to one of America's first energy booms, producing over three quarters of the world's oil in 1877. A wooden oil rig towering over a local museum commemorates those heady days, marking the first “billion dollar oil field” in the world.
But times have changed dramatically in Bradford. Most of the oil has been pumped out, leaving residents atop an aging oil field that requires complicated upkeep and mounting costs. Since its height in the 1940's, Bradford's population has steadily declined, leaving the city now home to only 8,600 people, down from over 17,000.
The story of Bradford these days is a story of thousands of oil and gas wells: abandoned, uncapped, and often leaking.
To drive through McKean County, home to Bradford and much of the Allegheny National Forest, is to witness an array of creative ways people have found to hide the remnants of this bygone boom. Rusted metal pipes — the old steel casings from long abandoned wells — jut from lawns and roadsides. Mailboxes are strapped to some of the taller pipes. In autumn, abandoned wells are tucked behind Halloween props and hay bales in front yards.
The aging steel pipes aren't just on land. They line creek beds, water flowing around one rusted pipe then another.
Hundreds are even submerged in the Allegheny Reservoir, small bubbles of methane gas the only visible sign of their existence. But in many cases, these rusted top hats from now deceased wells simply protrude from locals' lawns.
They are visual reminders that, for local communities where mining or drilling happens, fossil fuel wealth burns hot and short. Where there's a boom, there's bound to be a bust.
The B.C. government’s claim that LNG exports offer the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is inaccurate in the absence of stronger global climate policies according to a new report released today by the Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.
“Natural gas is often described as a bridge fuel. The question is, how long should that bridge be?” says MacNab, B.C. regional director for the Pembina Institute, a national non-profit focused on transitioning Canada to a clean energy future.
“Our research suggests it must be very short if we’re going to be able to get off the bridge in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.