New coal plants ‘most urgent’ threat to the planet, warns OECD head

The Guardian reports: Governments must rethink plans for new coal-fired power plants around the world, as these are now the “most urgent” threat to the future of the planet, the head of the OECD has warned.

In unusually strong terms for the organisation – best known as a club of the world’s richest countries – its secretary general Angel Gurria, told governments to think “twice, or three, or four times” before allowing new coal-fired plants to go ahead.

“They will still be emitting years from now,” he warned. As a result, many could turn into “stranded assets”, having to be mothballed decades before their economic lifetime had expired. “We are on a collision course with nature,” he warned.

New research, published by the OECD on Thursday, has found that, on current trends, coal-fired power generation will result in more than 500bn tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere between now and 2050. That is the equivalent of about half of the “carbon budget” – the amount of greenhouse gas that we can safely pour into the atmosphere – for this half-century, if we are to stay within the 2C limit that is widely agreed as the threshold for dangerous climate change. [Continue reading…]

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Prince Charles calls for ‘profound changes’ to the global economic system to tackle climate change

The Guardian reports: Prince Charles has said that “profound changes” to the global economic system are needed in order to avert environmental catastrophe, in an uncompromising speech delivered in front of an audience of senior business leaders and politicians.

The heir to the throne – often criticised for his meddling in political affairs – argued that ending the taxpayer subsidies enjoyed by coal, oil and gas companies could reduce the carbon emissions driving climate change by an estimated 13%.

Although the prince’s passion for environmental causes is well known, the speech delivered on Thursday evening in St James’s Palace, London was particularly pointed in its criticism of companies that protected vested interests and came with a report that proposed raising taxes on them. [Continue reading…]

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Vatican yet to put its money where its mouth is — but may divest from fossil fuels

The Guardian reports: The Vatican may consider, but is not committed to, divesting its holdings in fossil fuels, a Catholic church official has said, despite Pope Francis’s call for bold action to fight climate change and global warming.

The statement – made at a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the pope’s recently released encyclical on the environment – is likely to disappoint climate activists, who have praised Pope Francis’s essay stressing that climate change is mostly a man-made problem.

“I think that the Vatican bank may think of initiatives which are at the core of this change. So we will see in the future … it [divestment] may be considered by the Vatican,” said Flaminia Giovanelli, a lay woman who serves on the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice.

The hesitancy to act may reflect internal divisions about whether investment decisions by the Institute for Religious Works (IOR)– the official name of the Vatican bank – which has about €6bn (£4.25bn) under management, ought to reflect Pope Francis’s values, particularly ones that might still be considered contentious within the church’s hierarchy.

George Pell, the Australian cardinal who serves as the pope’s chief economic minister, is known to be a climate-change denier. In a speech in 2011, he said that “evidence” that had led the scientific community to conclude that the earth is warming was “insufficient to achieve practical certainty on many of these scientific issues”.

Naomi Klein, the Canadian climate activist and author who recently joined forces with the Vatican on the issue of climate change and is in Rome for a two-day conference on the encyclical, said she believed that a possible divestment policy was under discussion. [Continue reading…]

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Naomi Klein at the Vatican

Religion News Service reports: Anti-capitalism activist Naomi Klein on Wednesday praised Pope Francis for standing up to Republicans who are warring against environmentalists, as the Vatican continues its battle against climate change with a high-level conference at the Holy See.

“I do believe that given the attacks that are coming from the Republican Party and fossil fuel interests in the U.S. it was a particularly courageous decision to invite me here,” Klein, who lives in Canada, told journalists at the Vatican. “It indicates that the Holy See is not being intimidated and knows that when you say powerful truths, you make some powerful enemies.”

A high-profile campaigner who identifies herself as “a secular Jewish feminist,” Klein arrived at the Vatican on Wednesday ahead of a two-day climate change conference. The “People and Planet First” meeting brings together top Vatican officials and laypeople, including scientists and civil society activists, to discuss the pope’s environmental encyclical released in June.

Klein’s comments on Republicans follow the release last month of a Pew Research survey that found that of 51 percent of Republican Catholics who believe the Earth is warming, only 24 percent believe it is caused by human activity. Comparatively, 85 percent of Catholic Democrats believe in global warming and 62 percent of those said it’s a man-made problem.

But climate change denial could change with the pope’s September visit to the U.S., during which he will address Congress, Klein said: “This could mean real trouble for American politicians who are counting on using the Bible as cover for their opposition to climate action.” [Continue reading…]

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The conservative billionaire who wants to turn his 500-square-mile cattle ranch into the world’s largest wind farm

Gabriel Kahn writes: In 2006, Bill Miller was about to sell his boss’ cattle ranch, a 500-square-mile high-desert expanse in south-central Wyoming. A buyer was prepared to pay roughly $50 million for it. But something was gnawing at Miller. Every time he visited the place, called the Overland Trail Ranch, the wind there blew so fiercely he had to brace against it just to stay upright.

Miller’s boss, Philip Anschutz, had become one of the richest men in America—with a fortune of nearly $12 billion—by figuring out an abundance of ways to churn wealth out of real estate, from oil wells and railroads to sports arenas and cattle ranches.

Born in the midst of the 1930s oil boom in central Kansas, Anschutz had a wildcatter for a father and a mother who taught history in a one-room schoolhouse. In the early 1960s, when he was just a few years out of college, he bought his father’s oil company and re-named it the Anschutz Corporation. In the 1970s, land he owned in Utah became home to the largest United States oil find since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. In the 1980s, he chased leases on immense tracts of land in a geological formation in the Rockies called the Overthrust Belt, amassing oil-drilling rights on more than 10 million acres. He diversified, buying the Rio Grande railroad, then the Southern Pacific, later merging them, then selling them again.

Today, Anschutz is the largest shareholder in the nation’s biggest movie-theater chain, Regal Entertainment, and owns the film company Walden Media (they produced the Chronicles of Narnia movies and The Giver). The Anschutz Entertainment Group owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a minority stake in the Lakers. It also owns the Staples Center, the complex where both teams play, along with dozens of other big-city venues. Anschutz owns a company that runs the hotels and concessions in major U.S. National Parks. In the past decade, he has expanded his media holdings to include the Weekly Standard, which he purchased from Rupert Murdoch, and the Washington Examiner, both of which toe a conservative political line. He donates millions to charity every year.

Though Anschutz’s collection of properties is eclectic, his approach to business is straightforward. “Mr. Anschutz’s view of the world,” explains Miller, “is that the basis for all wealth and all opportunity is land.” This year, Anschutz co-authored a book titled Out Where the West Begins, about pioneering businessmen, many of whom also made their fortunes off the land by trapping, trading, mining, or ranching.

One morning in 2006, as Miller stood on the barren bluffs of the Overland Trail Ranch, thinking about the sale of the property, he sensed an opportunity.

Miller was soon sitting in Anschutz’s 24th-floor office, which has a sweeping view of Denver, the high desert, and the Rocky Mountains beyond. The two of them knew that the market for wind energy was growing, and that other oil and gas companies had been poking around Wyoming’s windy corners. “I know we’re trying to sell this ranch,” Miller told his boss, “but we may have something here. So why don’t we peel this orange and see what we get?”

Anschutz, who reads widely about energy markets, seized on the idea at once. Though the pair didn’t realize it at the time, they were about to hatch plans for the largest single onshore wind farm in the world. [Continue reading…]

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More evidence that global warming is intensifying extreme weather

The Guardian reports: Just this week, a new article appeared in the journal Nature that provides more evidence of a connection between extreme weather and global warming. This falls on the heels of last week’s article which made a similar connection. So, what is new with the second paper? A lot.

Extreme weather can be exacerbated by global warming either because the currents of atmosphere and oceans change, or it can be exacerbated through thermodynamics (the interaction of heat, energy, moisture, etc.). Last week’s study dealt with thermodynamics, this week’s study dealt with atmospheric currents. So they approached the problem differently.

The authors, Daniel Horton, Noah Diffenbaugh and colleagues used a new technique to tease apart the complex influences of warming on changes to atmospheric circulation. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Barack Obama interviews David Attenborough

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Bill Gates to invest $2bn in breakthrough renewable energy projects

The Guardian reports: Bill Gates has announced he will invest $2bn (£1.3bn) in renewable technologies initiatives, but rejected calls to divest from the fossil fuel companies that are burning carbon at a rate that ignores international agreements to limit global warming.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Gates said that he would double his current investments in renewables over the next five years in a bid to “bend the curve” on tackling climate change.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, lead by Gates and his wife, is the world’s largest charitable foundation. According to the charity’s most recent tax filings in 2013, it currently has $1.4bn invested in fossil fuel companies, including BP, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In March, the Guardian launched a campaign calling on the Gates’ Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from coal, oil and gas companies. More than 223,000 people have since signed up to the campaign.

Gates dismissed the calls of the fossil fuel divestment movement – which has already persuaded more than 220 institutions worldwide to divest – on the basis that it would have little impact.

Instead he said there was an urgent need for “high risk” investments in breakthrough technologies. He said that a “miracle” on the level of the invention of the automobile was necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe and that current renewables are not yet close to being able to meet projected energy needs by 2030.

Gates told the Financial Times that the only way current technology could reduce global emissions is at “a beyond astronomical cost” and that innovation is the only way to reach a positive scenario. [Continue reading…]

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Supreme Court: If it’s worth it for corporations, pollution may be okay

Jay Michaelson writes: While LGBTs and healthcare reformers are still nursing their celebratory hangovers, the final Supreme Court case of the 2014-15 term just junked twenty years of environmental regulations.

The case, Michigan v. EPA, specifically dealt with the EPA’s regulation of mercury emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act—a long, twenty-year process that has been opposed by industry at every turn, even as mercury air pollution from coal-fired power plants has ++irreparably poisoned the Great Lakes .

Today, the clock has been set back. In its third 5-4 decision of the day, with Justice Kennedy again providing the swing vote, industry has prevailed. Writing for the court, Justice Scalia held that the EPA had to factor in costs in deciding whether to regulate, not just how to regulate. [Continue reading…]

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Report indicates natural gas is no cleaner than coal

The Guardian reports: Natural gas has been touted as an environmentally friendly substitute to coal and oil production, but a new report estimates enough gas is leaking to negate most of the climate benefits of process.

The report, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International, estimated the amount of leaks from natural gas and oil production on federal and tribal land in the US. It also looked at venting and flaring, processes in which drilling sites purposefully let gas go into the atmosphere for a variety of reasons – usually for safety.

The claim that natural gas is environmentally friendly hinges on how much methane leaks into the atmosphere during the production process. But the EDF report adds weight to those who say methane leaks at natural gas sites can make the process nearly or as carbon-intensive as coal.

The EDF found that 65bn cubic feet of natural gas was released into the air on federal and tribal lands in 2013 – amounting to about $360m of lost gas. That, the EDF says, is not only an economic loss, but an environmental problem. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over short periods of time and 30 times more potent over the long term. [Continue reading…]

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Dalai Lama endorses the pope’s message on climate change

The Guardian reports: The Dalai Lama has endorsed the pope’s radical message on climate change and called on fellow religious leaders to “speak out about current affairs which affect the future of mankind”.

The spiritual Buddhist leader was speaking at Glastonbury festival on a panel discussing issues of global warming alongside Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor, and the Guardian columnist George Monbiot.

He praised the pope’s recent encyclical on climate change, which warned of the unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, adding that it was the duty of people to “say more – we have to make more of an effort, including demonstrations”.

The Dalai Lama, who will turn 80 next Monday, called for more pressure to be put on international governments to stop the burning of fossil fuels and mass deforestation and invest more in green energy sources. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis recruits Naomi Klein in climate change battle

The Guardian reports: She is one of the world’s most high-profile social activists and a ferocious critic of 21st-century capitalism. He is one of the pope’s most senior aides and a professor of climate change economics. But this week the secular radical will join forces with the Catholic cardinal in the latest move by Pope Francis to shift the debate on global warming.

Naomi Klein and Cardinal Peter Turkson are to lead a high-level conference on the environment, bringing together churchmen, scientists and activists to debate climate change action. Klein, who campaigns for an overhaul of the global financial system to tackle climate change, told the Observer she was surprised but delighted to receive the invitation from Turkson’s office.

“The fact that they invited me indicates they’re not backing down from the fight. A lot of people have patted the pope on the head, but said he’s wrong on the economics. I think he’s right on the economics,” she said, referring to Pope Francis’s recent publication of an encyclical on the environment. [Continue reading…]

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The pope’s climate change message is really about rethinking what it means to be human

Stephen P. White writes: Given the media coverage since its release, and the political implications of the pope throwing his moral weight behind one side in a high-stakes debate about climate policy, one could be forgiven for thinking that Pope Francis’s new encyclical is mostly about climate change and what we need to do to combat it.

Except it is and it isn’t. In fact, mostly it isn’t.

What makes this encyclical controversial is its reading of contested questions of science, economics, and politics. What makes it radical — in the sense of going to the root — is the pope’s reading of the profound human crisis that he sees underlying our modern world. Abuse of our environment isn’t the only problem facing humanity. In fact, Pope Francis sees the ecological crisis as a symptom of a deeper crisis — a human crisis. These two problems are related and interdependent. And the solution is not simply to eliminate fossil fuels or rethink carbon credits. The pope is calling on the world to rediscover what it means to be human — and as a result, to reject the cult of economic growth and material accumulation.

Reading the encyclical, one quickly realizes that the “pope fights climate change” narrative is far from the whole story. In fact, that line leaves out the most fundamental themes of the encyclical: the limits of technology and the need for what he calls an “integral ecology,” which “transcend[s] the language of mathematics and biology, and take[s] us to the heart of what it is to be human.” [Continue reading…]

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Caring for the Earth is caring for the common good

“We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.” – Pope Francis

Sergio Mello e Souza and Brother Jaazeal Jakosalem write: Although we hail from two different continents, speak many different languages, and represent two different hemispheres of this Earth, this past week was momentous for both of us. That’s because before we became Climate Reality Leaders, we were Catholics, each guided by our faith to love God’s Earth and be good stewards of creation – all living creatures and the planet.

This past week, Pope Francis delivered a historic encyclical – a letter from the pope to Catholic communities around the world – about the interrelatedness of the economy, the environment, and equity entitled Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home.

Pope Francis is not just writing to Catholics in his encyclical. He also hopes it will help people around the world – no matter their faith or creed – understand how the destruction and degradation of our environment is not only harming the home we all share, but also having especially devastating consequences for the poorest among us. It’s a reminder that if we want to solve climate change and poverty, we need to address both at the same time, and that by caring for our world and pursuing a more sustainable way of life, we can lift up the neediest out of poverty and ensure a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy world for future generations. [Continue reading…]

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The world’s power mix is about to change

Scientific American reports: Big changes are afoot for the energy sector in the next 25 years. Coal and gas are headed out and solar and wind are rushing to take their place on a multi-trillion dollar investment bonanza, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance that scopes out the power generating landscape through 2040.

The main reason for the big shift in power generation isn’t likely to be because of a grand climate agreement, national polices or carbon pricing scheme, though. Instead, it comes down to cold, hard cash with renewables offering more power-generating bang for the buck than fossil fuels. Here are the three big numbers. [Continue reading…]

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Climate change judgement in the Hague could inspire a global civil movement

The Guardian reports: “You have been negotiating all my life”, cried out 21-year-old Anjali Appadurai from the lectern of a UN climate change conference four years ago. The activist, speaking on behalf of her nation’s youth, could have speaking for anyone who has taken a mild interest in more than two decades of international negotiations on climate change and stood aghast as world leaders have failed to protect the most basic of human rights – to exist.

But today, thanks to 886 Dutch citizens who decided to sue their government, all of that may change. We may not have to wait for the politicians to save us – the lawyers may step in instead. In the first successful case of its kind, a judge in the Hague has ruled that the Dutch government’s stance on climate change is illegal and has ordered them to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a hefty 25% within five years.

Lawyers say the precedent it sets could trigger similar cases all around the world. Already, in Belgium, 8, 000 citizens are preparing for a similar court case, with others pointing to another possible lawsuit in Norway. Although the case is only binding within the Netherlands, lawyers say that it will inspire lawyers and judges considering similar cases in many other countries. [Continue reading…]

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What climate deniers learned from Big Tobacco

The New York Times reports: Dr. [Naomi] Oreskes is fast becoming one of the biggest names in climate science — not as a climatologist, but as a defender who uses the tools of historical scholarship to counter what she sees as ideologically motivated attacks on the field.

Formally, she is a historian of science. Informally, this diminutive woman has become a boxer, throwing herself into a messy public arena that many career-minded climate scientists try to avoid.

She helps raise money to defend researchers targeted for criticism by climate change denialists. She has become a heroine to activist college students, supporting their demand that universities and other institutions divest from fossil fuels. Climatologists, though often reluctant themselves to get into fights, have showered her with praise for being willing to do it.

“Her courage and persistence in communicating climate science to the wider public have made her a living legend among her colleagues,” two climate researchers, Benjamin D. Santer and John Abraham, wrote in a prize-nomination letter in 2011.

Dr. Oreskes’s approach has been to dig deeply into the history of climate change denial, documenting its links to other episodes in which critics challenged a developing scientific consensus.

Her core discovery, made with a co-author, Erik M. Conway, was twofold. They reported that dubious tactics had been used over decades to cast doubt on scientific findings relating to subjects like acid rain, the ozone shield, tobacco smoke and climate change. And most surprisingly, in each case, the tactics were employed by the same group of people.

The central players were serious scientists who had major career triumphs during the Cold War, but in subsequent years apparently came to equate environmentalism with socialism, and government regulation with tyranny.

In a 2010 book, Dr. Oreskes and Dr. Conway called these men “Merchants of Doubt,” and this spring the book became a documentary film, by Robert Kenner. At the heart of both works is a description of methods that were honed by the tobacco industry in the 1960s and have since been employed to cast doubt on just about any science being cited to support new government regulations. [Continue reading…]

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Inaction on climate change would cost billions, major EPA study finds

The Washington Post reports: A global agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions would prevent nearly 70,000 premature American deaths annually by the end of the century while sparing the country hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of economic losses, according to a major government study on the cost of climate change.

Slowing the carbon build-up in the atmosphere would also prevent severe damage to a wide range of critical ecosystems, from Hawaiian coral reefs that support tourism to shellfish beds off the East Coast, said the report released by the White House on Monday.

The report, a five-year, peer-reviewed analysis that assesses the benefits of alternative strategies for dealing with climate change, concludes that every region of the country could be spared severe economic disruptions that would result if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to soar. [Continue reading…]

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