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.

American and Chinese Youth Take Diplomacy Into Their Own Hands At Lima COP 20

Back in November, President Obama took a Beijing stage, shoulder-to-shoulder with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and pretty well shook up the geopolitics of climate change.

The presidents of the two largest polluters of greenhouse gases announced a game-changing climate deal that few saw coming.

Even the most plugged-in climate policy experts—and many Capitol Hill politicians—were stunned. 

The bilateral climate agreement—which basically says that the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions by a little over one-quarter (from a baseline in 2005) by 2025, and that China will peak its emissions by 2030—was met with remarkably consistent praise.

Advocates for a strong international climate treaty liked that the bit of diplomacy took away the “waiting for China to act” argument from American naysayers. 

And coming as it did in the run-up to the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, the timing of the announcement invigorated the typically sputtering negotiations.

Some of the toughest criticism came from the youngest commentators. A partnership of youth from both the U.S. and China delivered their critique in the form of a joint letter to Presidents Jinping and Obama.

Former NDP Comms Director Key Strategist on Edelman Energy East Astroturf Strategy

TransCanada

TransCanada has bought some unlikely support for the company’s public relations astroturf offensive aimed at winning support for the Energy East pipeline.

As first reported by Ricochet, Erin Jacobson, the recent director of communications for the NDP, Canada’s official opposition party, will be helping advise TransCanada on developing the astroturf campaign, bringing her expertise in Canadian public affairs and developing digital political campaigns.

As revealed in documents obtained by Greenpeace (reported Monday on DeSmogBlog), TransCanada hired Edelman, the world’s largest PR company, to create a “grassroots advocacy” campaign to help push the oilsands crude pipeline through the eastern provinces to New Brunswick.

A document prepared by Edelman for TransCanada, titled “Grassroots Advocacy Vision Document,” dated May 15, 2014, lists Jacobson as “Canadian program lead,” and explains that she “will join the Energy East team to provide Canadian-specific advocacy counsel.”

Despite Tech Exodus from ALEC, eBay Sends Mixed Messages About Membership

Over the course of a single short week in late September, one Silicon Valley tech giant after the next cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a libertarian, free market think tank that actively fights against clean energy and climate-focused policies on the state and local level.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt fired the starting gun on the tech exodus, when he claimed on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show that ALEC was “just literally lying” about climate change, and explained that Google’s membership was “sort of a mistake.”

Google, said Schmidt, “should not be aligned with such people,” and announced that the company would not renew its membership in ALEC. Within a week, Facebook, Yahoo, Uber, and Lyft all followed suit. On Monday, AOL joined the march away from ALEC. (Yelp had allowed its membership to expire months prior, and proudly announced that week that it had severed all ties with ALEC.)

And then there’s eBay.

The online auction house is still a dues-paying member of ALEC, and is sending mixed messages to climate campaigners and the site's users and shareholders about its future with ALEC.

A rep from eBay sent DeSmogBlog an uncredited statement, which emphasizes that “we do not agree with ALEC on other issues, including climate change.” The statement in full:

U.S. Tar Sands Action: Reports from the Front Lines in Utah

For the past five months, activists from the Utah Tar Sands Resistance have camped out on the sage-swept, high plateau lands known as PR Springs in eastern Utah. From the site—where the first tar sands mine in the United States is planned, and preliminary clearing work is already underway—you can’t miss the majestic Book Cliffs that tumble from the East Tavaputs Plateau and the canyons full of tall conifers. 

Book Cliffs is an area cherished by sportsmen and sportswomen—the public lands a place where Rocky Mountain Elk roam free, a place beloved by hunters and anglers and campers and backpackers.

Book Cliffs is also an area presently threatened by oil, gas, and tar sands development. Activists with Peaceful Uprising and the Utah Tar Sands Resistance are working to stop the tar sands projects in their tracks.

Statoil to Drill Canada's First Deepwater Offshore Oil Well After Bailing on Alberta's Tar Sands

Climate campaigners and tar sands blockaders widely celebrated the announcement last month that the Norwegian energy company Statoil was halting plans for a multi-billion dollar tar sands project in Alberta, Canada. The company cited rising costs of labor and materials in Alberta, and also blamed “limited pipeline access” for “squeezing away the Alberta margins a little bit,” a point that anti-Keystone XL activists have taken as a clear sign of victory.

Don’t take your eyes off of Statoil, however. The company is quietly reallocating the estimated $2 billion investment to pursue a massive deepwater offshore project off the east coast of Newfoundland, in harsh, sub-Arctic conditions adjacent to an area drillers refer to as “iceberg alley.”

Disrupt Denial: After Leaving ALEC, Google Still Funding Evil

Last week, one tech giant after the next cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), creating a mass exodus from the anti-government front group that routinely drafts legislation to bolster the fossil fuel industry and inhibit climate action and clean energy development.

While the withdrawal of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others from ALEC’s vast pool of corporate funders was widely celebrated by climate campaigners, a recent report released by Forecast the Facts and SumOfUS shows how Google – and many others who claim to do good by climate – are still funding climate denial in politics. 

The report, called Disrupt Denial: How big business is funding climate change denial in the 113th Congress, reveals how companies like Google, Ford, Microsoft, UPS, and eBay continue to support Senators and Representatives in the House who deny the very science of climate change.

Take Google. Though the company’s Chairman Eric Schmidt made great waves with his claim on the Diane Rehm show that ALEC are “literally lying” about climate change, and that Google “should not be aligned with such people,” the Disrupt Denial report shows that Google has contributed $699,195 to climate deniers in Congress from 2008 to 2014.

Exxon to Shareholders: No Carbon Bubble Risk Here. Carbon Tracker to Exxon: Really?

Still own some Exxon Mobil stock and been dithering about divestment?

You’re leaving money on the table, and exposing your portfolio to severe risks that the company itself is underestimating. That’s according to a new report published by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, which finds that the stock’s recently sub-par performance can partially be explained by the company’s increasing dependence on tar sands.

Carbon Tracker says that Exxon is “significantly underestimating the risks to its business model from investments in higher cost, higher carbon reserves; increasing national and subnational climate regulation; competition from renewables; and demand stagnation.”

Back in March, Exxon responded to a shareholder resolution by Arjuna Capital and As You Sow, two shareholder advocacy organizations, regarding potential carbon asset risk. The original resolution had demanded greater transparency in how Exxon assesses the risks to its significant carbon-based assets in a future where low-carbon policies and changing market forces could strand these assets. Exxon responded with a 29-page report, “Energy and Carbon – Managing the Risks.”

The Carbon Tracker Initiative closely examined Exxon’s report and has now published a firm rebuttal.

Massachusetts District Attorney Makes History: Recognizes Necessity of Defending Climate

This morning, a District Attorney in Massachusetts made history as he recognized the “necessity defense” of climate-related civil disobedience, and reduced the charges for two activists charged in their Lobster Boat Blockade.

Some quick background. Back in May 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara boarded their lobster boat, navigated to the shipping channel at the coal-fired Brayton Point Power Plant in southeastern Massachusetts, and dropped anchor. For six hours, the two climate activists and fishermen blocked the “Energy Enterprise” steam ship from delivering Appalachian coal from reaching the power plant.

The “Henry David T,” Ward and O'Hara's boat, blockading the coal ship. Photo: LobsterBoatBlockade.org

The two were arraigned later in the year on four charges in relation to their act of civil disobedience, including conspiracy.

This morning, Ward and O’Hara were due in court, and their lawyers — along with a number of climate experts in Fall River to present testimony to the trial — had intended on using the “necessity defense” to argue that their actions were necessary to combat the greater threat of climate change.

Ward and O'Hara had sought to become the first American climate activists to use this “necessity defense”, arguing that “the blockade was necessary in light of the imminent threat of climate change.” They had planned to call former NASA climatologist James Hansen and environmentalist Bill McKibben to the stand as expert witnesses.

Scheduled for two days, the court proceedings were over in a less than an hour, as Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter immediately dropped the conspiracy charge, and reduced the other charges to civil infractions.

“The truth is that taking these sorts of actions is necessary in light of the drastic news that continues to be described by the science. This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” said O’Hara.

Fuse to the Carbon Bomb: Keystone XL Much Worse for Climate Than Obama Admin Estimated

Last week, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline got all worked up about a study that purported to find that the delay in approving the project has actually increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The narrowly-focused study was based on faulty assumptions (that the tar sands would always find a way to market) and cherry-picked data (disregarding entirely any increases emissions that greater access to tar sands crude would create) in order to portray the pipeline project as positive for the climate. The five year or more delay in approving Keystone XL will ultimately increase carbon dioxide emissions by up to 7.4 million tons, argued the American Action Forum, a self-described “center-right policy institute.”

A study released this week by scientists at the Stockholm Environmental Institute shows just how misleading the American Action Forum claims really are. 

If built, the Keystone XL pipeline would flood global oil markets with crude, increase demand, and dump as much as 110 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere every year, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

This figure is a full four times higher than the State Department estimated in its final environmental review of the project.

The state department had figured that, at most, the pipeline would increase world carbon dioxide emissions by 30 million tons.

“The sole reason for this difference is that we account for the changes in global oil consumption resulting from increasing oil sands production levels, whereas the State Department does not,” wrote study authors Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, both scientists with the Stockholm Environment Institute.

The flawed State Department assumption — saying that the pipeline wouldn’t result in increased production of Canadian tar sands — is the same assumption used by the American Action Forum and other Keystone XL proponents when arguing that the oil will find its wa to market one way or another.

However, the oil industry and other energy experts have acknowledged that Keystone XL and other pipeline projects are crucial to the development of Alberta’s tar sands.

Tar Sands on the Tracks: Railbit, Dilbit and U.S. Export Terminals

Last December, the first full train carrying tar sands crude left the Canexus Bruderheim terminal outside of Edmonton, Alberta, bound for an unloading terminal somewhere in the United States.

Canadian heavy crude, as the tar sands is labeled for market purposes, had ridden the rails in very limited capacity in years previous — loaded into tank cars and bundled with other products as part of so-called “manifest” shipments. But to the best of industry analysts’ knowledge, never before had a full 100-plus car train (called a “unit train”) been shipped entirely full of tar sands crude.

Because unit trains travel more quickly, carry higher volumes of crude and cost the shipper less per barrel to operate than the manifest alternative, this first shipment from the Canexus Bruderheim terminal signaled the start of yet another crude-by-rail era — an echo of the sudden rise of oil train transport ushered in by the Bakken boom, on a much smaller scale (for now).

This overall spike in North American crude-by-rail over the past few years has been well documented, and last month Oil Change International released a comprehensive report about the trend. As explained in Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude-by-Rail in North America (and in past coverage in DeSmogBlog), much of the oil train growth has been driven by the Bakken shale oil boom. Without sufficient pipeline capacity in the area, drillers have been loading up much more versatile trains to cart the light, sweet tight crude to refineries in the Gulf, and on both coasts.

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