December 5, 2013
We know that, even as some grassroots conservatives wake up to the benefits of renewable energy, the powers that pull the strings of the conservative establishment are doing everything they can to throw roadblocks in front of the energy revolution.
I’ve reported on the attempts to squash the burgeoning Arizona solar industry, and the awakening “Green Tea Party” movement – renegade conservatives who actually believe all that stuff about freedom, markets, and choice. These people are no longer welcome in the rigidly controlled authoritarian fossil fuel brigade.
An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilizing to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.
Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.
Details of Alec’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage – from the individual rooftop to the White House – are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.
About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and the Republican budget guru and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.
Other Alec speakers will be a leading figure behind the recent government shutdown, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and the governors of Indiana and Wyoming, Mike Pence and Matt Mead.
For 2014, Alec plans to promote a suite of model bills and resolutions aimed at blocking Barack Obama from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and state governments from promoting the expansion of wind and solar power through regulations known as Renewable Portfolio Standards.
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December 4, 2013
One of the most important things to grasp about the new industrial revolution around renewable energy, is that, this is not just a nice thing to do, the right thing to do – it is essential for the survival of civilization.
Leslie Glustrom has been sounding the alarm about the bogus “200 year supply” of coal for some time now. Here’s an update.
The report says that the U.S. may have already passed “peak coal,” the point at which production declines rather than increases. It says production may be approaching its peak in terms of volume extracted, and peak coal has probably already passed in terms of total energy content, since modern mining focuses more on low-energy coal than in decades past.
Illinois, the fifth largest coal-producing state, actually passed its coal peak almost a century ago — in 1918, according to the report. Production in 2012 was 46 percent lower than that year.
Top coal producer Wyoming had its peak in 2008, while the rest of the top six coal states are also long past their peaks:– West Virginia (1947), Kentucky (1990), Pennsylvania (1918) and Texas (1990).
Indiana and Ohio, the number eight and 10 states, peaked in 1984 and 1970, respectively.
The Illinois basin is one of the country’s major coal-producing regions, covering 50,000 square miles over much of Illinois and parts of Indiana and western Kentucky.
Illinois is considered to have the nation’s third largest reserve of recoverable coal, behind Montana and Wyoming, according to the Energy Information Administration.
But based on USGS statistics, the report notes that only 36 percent of Illinois basin coal is technically recoverable, and only 9 percent is likely to be economical to extract. This is a lower percent than four other major reserves: two in Appalachia, the Somerset basin in Pennsylvania, and the Northern Wasatch plateau in Colorado and Utah.
The report notes that even with rising coal prices, the amount of coal in western fields considered economically recoverable has been significantly downgraded. Much of the coal is too deep to mine economically. Strip-mining, the standard method for the West, would involve moving too much dirt; and underground mining or gasification is possible but more expensive than strip mining.
Glustrom predicts the country’s five largest coal mines, all in Wyoming, have only 9 to 13 years of life left before they become no longer profitable. Since some of the same companies mining in the West also run major Illinois basin mines, the economic decline of western mining will have direct ripple effects on Illinois basin mining. Among other things the mining companies face higher interest rates the higher their debt rises, meaning it is harder for them to finance new or expanded mines.
Glustrom’s report notes that Peabody, the country’s largest mining company, “reported just over $1 billion in losses in the fourth quarter of 2012 and $58 million in losses for the year, driving their Adjusted Earnings Per Share down from $3.77 in 2011 to $0.84 per share in 2012.”
Peabody produces 30 million tons of coal from Illinois and Indiana annually, making it the Midwest’s largest producer.
The other two largest companies, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, also have major Illinois basin operations and have taken serious economic hits in the past few years. Alpha Natural Resources reported a loss of $458 million in the third quarter of 2013, a loss almost 10 times greater than in the third quarter of 2012.
The major energy story of the 21st century has been the natural gas revolution and cheap gas prices undercutting coal-fired power. But the report notes that even independent of competition from gas, the production costs of coal are rising enough to make coal-fired power increasingly uneconomical. Production costs are rising because the coal that’s left is increasingly hard to extract, because of rising transportation costs and other world market factors.
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December 4, 2013
In Appalachia, greens are banding together with the Tennessee Conservative Union to oppose mountaintop mining. In Georgia, the Sierra Club and Atlanta’s tea party have formed a Green Tea Coalition that is demanding a bigger role for solar power in the state’s energy market. Elsewhere, veterans of the George W. Bush administration are working with the Environmental Defense Fund on market-based ideas for protecting endangered species.
It’s not yet a broad national trend, and may not be enough to begin dampening Washington’s bitter left-right split over President Barack Obama’s environmental policies. But some activists — particularly outside the Beltway — see potential for the kinds of coalitions that used to get big things done, back in the days when Theodore Roosevelt was creating national parks and George H.W. Bush’s administration was taking on acid rain.
“I do think there’s a big schism there, but there are some things we can all agree on,” said Lloyd Daugherty, chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union.
Daugherty’s group — and its roughly 15,000 members — joined an effort with environmentalists last spring against mountaintop mining. While Daugherty and his organization had long privately objected to the mining because of its effect on property rights, hunting and fishing, he decided to fight publicly after a Chinese company bought mineral rights in Tennessee.
“We’re proud that Tennessee is a red state. But just how red are we willing to go?” asked a 30-second ad that Daugherty’s group ran, which shows Tennessee’s state flag morphing into the Chinese flag.
The ad was put together by Shelby White, a senior campaigner at Catapult, an environmental strategy firm that looks to build unusual coalitions on issues like climate change and logging.
“We’re looking to find more of those issues that can bring conservatives, businesses and other unusual bedfellows together,” said Glenn Hurowitz, a senior member of Catapult and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Catapult has also recruited rock stars like Mick Jagger to combat guitars made from illegally logged wood and elite frequent fliers to lobby United Airlines to reduce pollution.
December 4, 2013
Had not heard this one, at least that I remember.
The Koch Brother’s father, Fred, was, of course, a founding member of the John Birch Society – so this element is still with us, maybe stronger than ever.
I must be feeling folky in anticipation of the Coen Brother’s new film, “Inside Llewyn Davis”.
Finally, if you’re still in the mood, check Mississippi John Hurt’s fingers (and soul) below.
Climate deniers hate those pesky intrusions of reality. For Insurance giants like Munich Re, Swiss Re, and Lloyds of London, climate change is a reality that is showing up where it hurts most, on the ledgers. The long piece excerpted below is quite an extraordinary investigation for a mainstream publication, and deserves a look.
In the aftermath of the German and Canadian floods, the victims, the insurers, the media, the politicians and the scientists were all asking the same questions: What caused them? Was it the relentless buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide? Could “extreme” weather events become the new normal or were they once-a-millennium acts of god?
In Munich Re’s offices, there wasn’t much debate as the claims cheques flew out the door: The higher frequency of extreme weather events is influenced by climate change; and recent climate change is largely due to burning hydrocarbons. “I’m quite convinced that most climate change is caused by human activity,” says Peter Höppe, head of geo-risks research at Munich Re.
His statement is not remarkable, even though the big American insurers don’t like to put the words “climate change” and “anthropogenic” in the same sentence. What is remarkable is that Munich Re first warned about global warming way back in 1973, when it noticed that flood damage was increasing. It was the first big company to do so—two decades before the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit triggered a planetary anxiety attack by publicizing the concepts of “global warming” and “climate change.”
Munich Re, Swiss Re and the other reinsurers, along with the Lloyd’s of London insurance market (unrelated to the bank of the same name), stand out from the rest of the business world by being on the same page as scientists on climate change. What’s more, while most of the planet has its head in the sand about the reality and requirements of global warming, the reinsurance industry has already moved on to mastering the math on other catastrophes.
Höppe is compact, intense and enthusiastic. A bit rumpled, like a scientist from Central Casting, he loves to back up his statements with official sources, jumping up every few minutes during an interview to retrieve documents. The 1973 document he prints out for me is a source of pride within the company, which bills itself as “the first alerter to global warming.” The warning notes “the rising temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere [as a result of which glaciers and the polar caps recede, surfaces of lakes are reduced and ocean temperatures rise].” It points to the “rise of the CO2 content of the air, causing a change in the absorption of solar energy.”
The warning ends with a pledge: “We wish to enlarge on this complex of problems in greater detail, especially as—as far as we know—its conceivable impact on the long-range risk trend has hardly been examined to date.”
The pledge was fulfilled. Munich Re has been examining climate change since then, compiling the world’s most extensive database on natural disasters, covering some 33,000 events and drawing on research by its own staff and more than 200 other sources. “There hasn’t been any industry or company that has addressed climate change this early,” Höppe says.
How did Munich Re and the other reinsurers get it right so early? The answer, in a word, is fear—fear of losses that could destroy their business. No industry has more incentive to know the effects of climate change than the reinsurance and insurance industries.
LONDON, 30 November – The insurance industry doesn’t like climate change. Global warming is introducing a whole new element into the business of quantifying risk – the basic function of the insurance business. One of the main challenges facing insurers is the increased occurrence of floods in many countries.
The UK is one of the world’s leading insurance centres: a recent seminar at the University of Oxford in the UK examined flood patterns in Britain over recent years.
December 2, 2013
Whenever scoundrels want to justify something, once they’ve wrapped themselves in the flag, the bibles come out. Whether it’s slavery, war, child/spousal abuse, or environmental crime, you’ll hear the perps tell you it’s all ok, cuz it’s “in the BAH-bull.”
All across the country—most recently, in the state of Texas—local battles over the teaching of evolution are taking on a new complexion. More and more, it isn’t just evolution under attack, it’s also the teaching of climate science. The National Center for Science Education, the leading group defending the teaching of evolution across the country, has even broadened its portfolio: Now, it protects climate education too.
How did these issues get wrapped up together? On its face, there isn’t a clear reason—other than a marriage of convenience—why attacks on evolution and attacks on climate change ought to travel side by side. After all, we know why people deny evolution: Religion, especially the fundamentalist kind. And we know why people deny global warming: Free market ideology and libertarianism. These are not, last I checked, the same thing. (If anything, libertarians may be the most religiously skeptical group on the political right.)
And yet clearly there’s a relationship between the two issue stances. If you’re in doubt, watch this Climate Desk video of a number of members of Congress citing religion in the context of questioning global warming. (above)
December 2, 2013
The American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting is a week away, I’ll be going to San Francisco to observe and participate where possible. I’m reposting the above interview, one of my favorites from last year, with Dr. Eric Rignot, the ice expert’s ice expert.
Dr. Rignot,discussed ice balance and the impact of IMBIE – the recently published Ice Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise which brought together divergent data sets on ice sheet dynamics. Takeaway – yup, it’s pretty much all melting like we thought.
I originally posted the clip with the news item below. Both the clip and the news item are relevant to some discussion that has recently occurred in the comment threads.
OSLO, Dec 23 (Reuters) – West Antarctica is warming almost twice as fast as previously believed, adding to worries of a thaw that would add to sea level rise from San Francisco to Shanghai, a study showed on Sunday.
Annual average temperatures at the Byrd research station in West Antarctica had risen 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3F) since the 1950s, one of the fastest gains on the planet and three times the global average in a changing climate, it said.
The unexpectedly big increase adds to fears the ice sheet is vulnerable to thawing. West Antarctica holds enough ice to raise world sea levels by at least 3.3 metres (11 feet) if it ever all melted, a process that would take centuries.
“The western part of the ice sheet is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought,” Ohio State University said in a statement of the study led by its geography professor David Bromwich.
The warming “raises further concerns about the future contribution of Antarctica to sea level rise,” it said. Higher summer temperatures raised risks of a surface melt of ice and snow even though most of Antarctica is in a year-round deep freeze.