Ben Jervey

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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.

Climate Disruption Tax Costs Americans Billions

Here’s a term that bears repeating: climate disruption tax. What is a climate disruption tax? It’s the cost to the American taxpayer of dealing with the impacts of climate-related weather events, as introduced by NRDC’s Dan Lashof and Andy Stevenson.  

The concept of a climate disruption tax is actually hugely important. Why? Because climate change is costing us more than trying to avoid climate change ever would, but unfortunately, this troubling little bit of economics is somehow constantly overlooked in the climate debates. We always hear about how much it will cost to transition away from fossil fuels and to slow deforestation. But the costs of inaction rarely stick in the discussion.

It’s not for lack of research or knowledge, nor for lack of bloggers bringing it up. Over the past few years, a range of voices have weighed in with warnings from all across the socioeconomic and ideological spectra. If not quite first, but foremost, the master economist Sir Nicholas Stern sounded the alarm, only to recently double down on his dire predictions.

Then there are the massive insurers and even more massive reinsurers like Munich Re and Swiss Re. There are the , of course. There are NGOs and think tanks like DARA with a cold, hard economic calculus in their Climate Vulnerability Monitor. There are academics.There’s the U.S. government itself warning of the severe costs of unmitigated climate change.

These studies and reports are written about, blogged, tweeted, and sometimes cited, but they haven’t managed to nudge their way into the mainstream climate conversation. The costs often seem too far off, too theoretical–a problem for another time.

Which is why any clever new way of framing climate-related costs should be celebrated and spread far and why. Over on Switchboard, Lashof and Stevenson are onto something.

Say it with me again: Climate Disruption Tax.

Don Blankenship, Dark Lord of Coal Country, Implicated in Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion Deaths

Just under three years ago, an explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia stole the lives of 29 miners. Many were quick to condemn Massey Energy – the coal giant that operated the mine – for their long record of lax safety oversight, and to bemoan the preventability of the disaster.

Blame was directed straight to the top of the company, to then-CEO Don Blankenship, “the dark lord of coal country” himself, who had grown a vile reputation in the field for systematically putting production and profit over worker safety.

Late last week, in a surprise twist during a routine plea hearing in a federal court, all that blame was seemingly justified as Blankenship was directly implicated in conspiring to skirt safety regulations. A former Massey Energy official called our his boss, Blankenship himself, for conspiring and plotting to hide safety violations from federal safety inspectors.

Drop Some Climate Reality Into the Web of Denial Myths

If you spend any time at all reading online articles or blogs about climate change (and of course you do, you’re here), and you like to punish yourself by scrolling down to the comments, you know how quickly the anti-science shysters and merchants of doubt pounce.

Having posted hundreds upon hundreds of climate-related items over the past decade or so, I can practically predict the canned comments before they’re posted. Pay any attention to them, and you’ll pretty quickly come to realize that the same talking points surface again and again and again.

There’s a good reason for this – the climate denial communications machine is very well funded, and has plenty of shadowy channels to help funnel this disinformation into comments sections and Facebook feeds and Twitter and everything else.

Well now there’s a great new weapon that the pro-science crowd can use to help fight the good battle against climate disinformation. It’s called Reality Drop, and it dropped this week from the good truth-tellers at the Climate Reality Project.

Oil Aboard! Tar Sands Industry Eyes Nexen Rail Alternative to Stalled Pipelines

Facing enormous opposition to the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, Canada’s tar sands industry is taking to the tracks to get its sticky bitumen to China. Canadian and Chinese oil companies have explored the “pipeline by rail” option for years now, but over the past month, the prospect of tar sands trains has taken a few big steps closer toward reality.

For over a year, Calgary-based Nexen, Inc. has been developing plans to load tar sands crude onto trains for transport to the West Coast, where it would be loaded onto barges and shipped to China. Late last month, the Canadian government approved the sale of Nexen to a nationalized Chinese oil company, and earlier this week, the U.S. government, which has some say because of Nexen’s major operations in the Gulf of Mexico, gave its stamp of approval.  According to Nexen, the company now has “all the requisite approvals” and the deal “is expected to close the week of February 25, 2013.” (So much for Canadian tar sands benefiting Canadians first and foremost.)

Rail is considered more and more appealing to industry insiders as numerous plans to ship tar sands crude by pipeline have grown increasingly controversial and have been stalled by climate and private property activists from British Columbia to New England to Nebraska. (See: the Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway, and Trailbreaker/Enbridge Line 9.)

In fact, the industry is growing desperate to find ways to export the heavy Canadian crude, as export pipeline capacity is currently maxed out, causing a glut in supply in Alberta, which is driving down prices and causing, according to the Globe and Mail, “billions in forfeited revenues.”

Swiss Re Tallies Huge Costs of Climate Inaction

The world’s largest insurers are tallying the costs of climate inaction, and the numbers are staggering.

Swiss Re announced recently that total economic losses in 2012 from “natural catastrophes and man-made disasters” – primarily weather events – should reach roughly $140 billion. Over 11,000 lives were lost due to the so-called “natural catastrophes” alone.

According to the Swiss Re report, “Natural and man-made catastrophes in 2012,” the top five insured loss events are all in the U.S.

“Hurricane Sandy is the largest Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of wind span. This record storm surge caused widespread flooding and damage to a densely populated area on the East Coast of the U.S. It also led to the worst power outage caused by a natural catastrophe in the history of the U.S.”

Keystone XL Conflicts of Interest Piling Up

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.

UN Climate Delegates Agree on Something: Geo-engineering Is No Solution

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.

Bloomberg Businessweek Gets It Right: Sandy Wasn't "Caused" By Climate Change - It IS Global Warming

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.

Lone Star Standoff: Texan Landowners and Climate Activists Unite to Block Keystone XL

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.

Irony Alert: Tobacco Apologist Steve Milloy's EPA Human Testing Scare Campaign

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, 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, – 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: