Everywhere you look up and down the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there seems to be a conflict of interest. Over the past couple of weeks, my colleagues at OnEarth have spotlighted a couple of them.
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Ben Jervey has been covering and working in the climate, energy, and environmental fields for a decade. He is regular contributor to DeSmogBlog. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He also contributes to National Geographic News, Grist, OnEarth Magazine, and many other online and print publications. His book–The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City–has been called the “bible of green living for NYC.” A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
The UN's annual climate meetings wrap up in Doha today, and though the feckless agreements are a “delight to no one,” there is one silver lining. Geo-engineering, that grand, scary global experiment of last resort, won “scant enthusiasm” from the vast majority of participants.
“Let's face it, geo-engineering has a lot of unknowns,” Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.'s panel of climate scientists, told Reuters.
Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, agreed, emphasizing the need to focus on actual greenhouse gas emissions reductions and mitigation strategies first. “Let's first use what we know,” said Figueres. “There are so many proven technologies we know exist that are tried and true that have not been used to their maximum potential,” she told Reuters. “To begin with, the simplest is energy efficiency.”
Advocates of geo-engineering strategies – which range from tinkering with the planet, the oceans or the atmosphere itself to force cooling in an effort to combat climate change – claimed a breakthrough in the international negations arena in the Cancun climate talks back in 2010. “The taboo is broken,” Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric scientist who has published on geo-engineering, then told The Associated Press.
That enthusiasm from 2010 seems to be on the wane as opponents of these strategies – including those at the highest levels of leadership in the U.N.'s climate bodies – highlight just how unproven all of these concepts are. Many advocates of real climate change mitigation are also wary of how rich nations could implement these massive, world-changing engineering efforts, the impacts of which are entirely beyond prediction.
Those crazy, radical hippies at Bloomberg Businessweek have gone and done it. With the blunt, no-nonsense cover that likely already appeared on your Facebook feed or Twitter stream or Tumblr dashboard, Businessweek dared state with certainty what so many media outlets have nervously danced around in their coverage of Superstorm Sandy: It’s Global Warming, Stupid.
The cover is sure to generate some controversy, but, as Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel tweeted, “only among the stupid.”
And, I’d add, the nefarious purveyors of disinformation – the merchants of doubt – that are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. (Who probably aren’t stupid…just greedy.)
While the cover is an instant classic, the article itself is just as great – clear, direct, and unequivocal in the connection between extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy and manmade global climate disruption.
Updated 10/29: It’s been exactly one month since eight protesters climbed into tree scaffolding some 80-feet high in the path of TransCanada’s tree-clearing troops. That acorn of an action has grown into a full-blown forest of resistance – with local landowners and climate activists joining hands (and sharing jail cells) to block the unwelcome southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Oh, the irony. A guy who built his career – and fortune – by muddying the science on the health effects of smoking is now accusing the E.P.A. of harming lungs and causing heart problems.
Steve Milloy, the former Big Tobacco flack who now runs the trashy haven for climate denial JunkScience.com, is waging a veritable war on the E.P.A. for their research on the effects of smog (or soot, or fine particulates, or PM 2.5 if you want to get really technical) on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
To hear Milloy describe it – on JunkScience or his newly launched website, EPAHumanTesting.com – the E.P.A. is running “illegal” and “unethical” experiments on human subjects. He’s got allies in this fight, most notably the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a think tank that purports itself as “restoring science, accountability, and liberty to the environmental policy debate.” Milloy is also a fellow at the ATI. On September 24, ATI sued the E.P.A. for “inhumane and illegal treatment of test subjects.”
If you recognize ATI and its lead attorney David Schnare, it might well be from some recent coverage of their role in the pestering of climate scientist Michael Mann. Last month, ATI and Schnare lost a legal battle to expose the Mann’s private emails, a feckless attempt at rehashing the Climategate nonstory, which Kate Sheppard reported on, and which Greg Laden expanded upon.
As Milloy frames this research – E.P.A. tests unwilling humans! – it’s perfect bait for radical conservative media outlets who will jump on any opportunity to bash the E.P.A.
What none of these articles will tell you, and what you can’t find on either Milloy’s or the ATI’s sites, are any of the following realties:
A quick update on the coal train exports front (which I’m henceforth going to start calling the Asian Coal Express, unless anyone else has any better suggestions. Leave 'em in the comments!)
The New York Times ran a must-read piece for anyone concerned about coal companies targeting American taxpayer-owned public lands, carting it by rail over to coastal ports throughout the Pacific Northwest, loading it onto barges and Panamax vessels, and then shipping it overseas to sell at a steep discount to Asian markets.
The article looks at the battle over the Northwest export terminals through the lens of the local American Indian tribes, who worry about the impacts on local fishing rights and the threats to sacred sites.
It was barely two weeks ago that we reported on the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to “fast track” approval of the Morrow Pacific Project, a coal export terminal on the Columbia River that would move over 8 million tons of coal from rail to barge every year.
This Morrow Pacific Project is one of a handful of proposed export terminals that the industry hopes to build to help link coal from the strip mines of the Powder River Basin to overseas markets. As American demand for coal falls, companies (many foreign owned) are scrambling to access the growing Asian markets.
At issue with the export terminals is the process of review and approval, specifically with regard to the environmental impacts. As we wrote about the Morrow Pacific Project, the Army Corps has, at present, the final word in determining whether or not a terminal can be built. This is due primarily to the “dredge and fill” rules established in section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and the origin of Army Corps decisionmaking harkens all the way back to the Rivers and Harbons Appropriation Act of 1899.
Here’s the problem: in determining whether or not to approve a new facility such as a coal transfer terminal, the Army Corps is only compelled legally to look at the immediate environmental impacts at the site itself. These site-specific reviews wouldn’t take into account any broader of cumulative impacts, like, say, the impacts of coal dust along the route of the rail or barge traffic, nor the even broader and inevitable impacts of the coal’s combustion on mercury pollution and global climate disruption.
We’ve talked a lot here on DeSmogBlog about oil (and tar sands crude) pipelines. You know, like the Keystone XL, which TransCanada is currently ramming through Texas, using whatever means necessary (including violence), and Enbridge's Northern Gateway, which was just declared “dead” by one of Canada's top newspapers.
And we’ve talked quite a bit about coal trains. All for very good reason. But we haven’t ever delved into the growing trend of shipping oil by train. Trains are a crucial – and growing – part of oil industry infrastructure, so it’s worthwhile to take a step back and get some perspective on this remarkable system. Understanding oil trains will help you understand, for instance, why oil markets are paying little attention to the pipeline debates.
Let’s start with the raw numbers.
Every week, over 17,000 carloads of oil are shipped in the U.S. and Canada. With roughly 600 to 700 barrels of oil in each carload, that’s between 1.4 and 1.6 million barrels of oil on the U.S. and Canadian rails every day. And these numbers are growing fast. This chart says it all.
Ranking members of the House Committees on Natural Resources and on Energy and Climate released a joint report earlier this week that traces the imprints of climate change on recent extreme weather patterns.
With Going to Extremes: Climate Change and the Increasing Risk of Weather Disasters (pdf), Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) continue to forge ahead in their roles as the most outspoken and honest members of the House when it comes to climate change. Unfortunately, they stand alone even in the critical committees on which they sit: the report includes a front page disclaimer that it “has not been officially adopted by the Committee on Natural Resources or the Committee on Energy and Commerce and may not necessarily reflect the views of its Members.”
Going to Extremes opens with a quote by University of Arizona climatologist Dr. Jonathan Overpeck:
“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level. The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”
It then proceeds to catalog the worst of the devastating weather trends of late, connecting the dots between these impacts and the greenhouse effect.
Mitt Romney has nothing but disdain for fossil fuel companies. At least those freeloaders that are “dependent on government” and “pay no income taxes.” This is true if you believe Romney's very own words and some very circular logic. Follow along:
According to Romney, his “job is is not to worry about” those 47 percent of Americans that don’t pay income taxes.
And of course we know that, according to Romney, “corporations are people,” too. So reason dictates that if a corporation isn’t paying income taxes, it’s not Mitt Romney’s job to worry about them.
Someone tell that to the 33 energy companies in the S&P 500 that paid either paid no income taxes at all or actually received a tax return last year.