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In Push For Nuclear Power, Climate Change Concerns Overlooked

Three years ago the world was reminded of the dangers nuclear energy poses when catastrophe struck Japan at the Fukushima power plant. Since then the gravity of the disaster has grown more evident as cleanup efforts have turned into a debacle. In the last month alone we have seen news of radioactive water leaks at the site, lawsuits from U.S. Navy sailors who responded to the initial disaster and are now developing cancer and ongoing harm to the fishing industry.

The nuclear industry is often portrayed as a climate-neutral alternative to coal and natural gas. An industry-tied movie called Pandora's Promise, recently featured at Sundance and debuted through Netflix and iTunes, has been promoting this very perspective.

But nuclear power plants need cooling water, which means they are often situated on shorelines. That makes these plants more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise. They are also more at risk of being affected by the ever-growing number and severity of storms tied to climate change, such as Hurricane Sandy.

Case in point: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers recently concluded that a small six-foot-high miniature tsunami that hit near a New Jersey nuclear power plant this summer was not the result of a seismic event (as tsunamis usually are). Instead, the researchers concluded that the surge was caused by a sudden atmospheric pressure change. The nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, did not report any damage. But experts say there was a cautionary lesson on offer: expect the unexpected. Climate change will cause more destructive and seemingly freakish events like this. Emergency planners need to plan for them — especially when the risks are high as is the case with nuclear plants.

Shale Gas and Foreign Policy: A "Highly Uncertain" Gamble for America

The Obama administration has systematically ignored the environmental risks of fracking and on several occasions it has even suppressed science to pave the way for increased shale drilling, according to a recent report by the environmental group Earthworks. The report focuses on Karnes County, TX, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale region, where state regulators found levels of airborne contaminants so high that inspectors evacuated themselves – but failed to fine the companies involved or warn residents living nearby.

From the regulators in Texas to the United States EPA, government agencies are running away from their own data showing that fracking pollution is harming communities,” said Jennifer Krill, Executive Director of Earthworks. “We are seeing a pattern from Karnes County TX to Dimock PA to Pavilion WY - where oil and gas is being produced, oil and gas impacts are being ignored.”

For the past several years the oil and gas industry has enticed Republicans and Democrats alike with promises that shale reserves can offer the U.S. renewed energy independence. The hope is that vast and newly-tapped supplies of domestic gas and oil will help shift the geopolitical balance, lessening American and European reliance on Russia and countries in the Middle East. This newly perceived leverage has even emerged recently as a bargaining chip in trade talks and negotiations with gas-importers like Japan.

The Obama administration has hailed the drilling boom, sending strong signals about its support for continued fracking. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” President Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union address. “We need to encourage that.”

But banking on the continued shale boom is a major gamble, as productivity has already fallen in shale gas plays across the U.S.

In a classic display of corporate cynicism, Toyota fights stronger emission standards in U.S.

As the U.S. Congress debates the first substantial fuel-economy boost in decades for automakers, Toyota has joined Detroit in the fight to sustain the practices that have imperiled the planet and driven American car manufacturers to the brink of bankruptcy.

Why would the industry leader in fuel-efficient cars take such a reckless path amid growing awareness of global warming? Because there’s a lot more money to be made if Toyota can slow innovation in Detroit and sustain gas-guzzling.

Bush tries new spin on global warming, but retains bias for growth over emission controls

President Bush is trying hard to polish his image on global warming, but buried in his fancy talk about setting long-term goals for reducing emissions by mid- 2008, the U.S. president’s core message is still the same – don’t dare mess with economic growth.

Instead of binding limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, favored by the United Nations and many countries, he’s still pushing a voluntary approach on climate change and lobbying some of the world’s biggest polluters to rally behind him.

Link between beef production and global warming sparks denialist outburst

It didn’t take the denialist shock troops long to pounce on recent disclosures about the cattle industry’s role in global warming. An all-too-familiar diatribe, penned in Colorado, appeared as a guest editorial today in a Vancouver newspaper. The author, like others of his ilk, has discarded scientific research to pitch his own delusion.

UN chief says U.S. is finally listening to urgent call to arms on climate change

UN leader Ban Ki-moon says global warming is the biggest struggle facing mankind, and that the Bush administration, a strong opponent of the Kyoto Protocol, has finally awakened to the seriousness of the issue.

New study ties beef production to global warming

Japanese scientists have concluded beef production typically contributes more to climate change than cars do. The main source of greenhouse gas emissions is the methane released from an animal's digestive system.

Japan's PM looks beyond Kyoto

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed a new international framework that would see worldwide carbon emissions cut in half by 2050.

Prime Minister Abe is getting a little unfair criticism for being short on details of what the final emission targets of his plan will look like. But Abe is right in his diplomatic obfuscation (for now), these are early days and a new international framework will have to take pains to ensure that it is embraced by the United States, who opted not to be part of the Kyoto Protocol.

Tokyo having its first winter without snow in 131 years

The Japanese capital has just experienced its first-ever winter without snow since records began in 1876, but weather officials are playing down any link to global warming.

Toyota Set to Get with the Times

Good news… Toyota allegedly has plans to step up its production of hybrid cars by 50% in Japan.

Of course, they are still an auto company, and far from blameless. It'll be interesting to see how the court case we blogged about last week turns out… but nonetheless, it's encouraging to hear of auto manufacturers getting with the times and shifting their trajectory in acknowledgement of the reality of climate change.

Apparently, this moved means that “Toyota is more likely than ever to overtake General Motors Corp as the world's top seller of automobiles – a position GM has held for 75 years.”

I think I'd have to call that natural selection….
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