Archive for Climate Change
www.latimes.com 25th January 2013
Texas has lodged a complaint against the neighbouring state of New Mexico with the US Supreme Court this month. Texas claims New Mexico “has been diverting water it is obligated to send downstream under the 75-year-old Rio Grande Compact.” The compact was created in 1938 between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and established a “formula” for allocating the Colorado river’s water to the various states. Two giant reservoirs, the Elephant Butte and Caballo, were built in New Mexico as a result yet Texas now claims that as many as 2500 wells have been installed below the Elephant Butte diverting water from the river to the underground aquifer. This, says Pat Gordon, Texas’ representative on the Rio Grande Compact Commission, has reduced water for the irrigation network. New Mexico denies the allegations claiming those drawing water from the river actually have water-rights that predate the compact. A prominent water law specialist Charles DuMars seemed to back New Mexico in the dispute when he stated that the compact “only requires that New Mexico deliver a set amount of water into Elephant Butte Reservoir…as to what happens to the river between there and Texas, New Mexico’s water law probably applies, not the compact.”
www.nytimes.com 21st January 2013
In perhaps a surprising move, President Barack Obama put climate change at the forefront of his inaugural speech. Eight whole sentences were devoted to the subject, more than any other. The focus on climate change comes after a comprehensive failure to introduce any legislation on the issue in his first term. This time around, the president plans to use his executive power to avoid opposition by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Climate change was also brought up in election-night speech where he related it directly to the rise of extreme weather. A number of steps will be taken to help the US tackle the issue of greenhouse gases. The main step will be the power given to the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on emissions from coal power-stations. Another is to increase energy-efficient standards in buildings and home-appliances. A third is to increase the development of public transport. Despite a failure to secure any legislation in his last term, emissions in the US still dipped 10% between 2008 and 2012, a result of the economic slow-down and moves towards energy efficiency by government and industry.
www.latimes.com 3rd January
A Royal Dutch Shell oil rig called Kulluk ran aground off the Alaskan coast just before the new year after drifting in high seas. The rig was being towed to Seattle for maintenance after its first season in the Beaufort Sea. Attempts to salvage the craft have so far failed. Kulluk is believed to be carrying 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel and another 12,000 of other oil products. However, US Coastguard aircraft failed to spot any signs of a leak and the rig is currently deemed stable. Shell has said a significant spill is unlikely as the ‘fuel tanks [are] isolated in the centre of the vessel and encased in heavy steel’. The Kulluk’s 14 man crew had already disembarked because of the weather. It is uncertain, and Shell cannot give a reason, as to why the rig was being moved in such bad weather. According to the LA Times, the oil company appears to have underestimated the conditions in the Arctic region. A long list of errors by Shell have included an inadequate capability to de-ice the Kulluk crew’s transport helicopters (which set back the moving operation by several months), a failure to build an arctic-worthy containment dome and spill-response barge (which kept the company drilling to adequate depths to reach oil this year), and serious deficiencies involving pollution controls and crew safety in the Noble Discoverer, the drilling ship Shell used in the Chukchi Sea.
www.nytimes.com 18th December 2012
Quoted from source:
‘An industry group representing oil and gas companies has sued a city in Colorado that outlawed hydraulic fracturing, saying voters had no right to ban the drilling practice. The lawsuit, filed on Monday by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, seeks to overturn the ban on the contentious practice that passed by a wide margin last month in the northern Colorado city of Longmont. The measure, the first of its kind in the state, still allows oil and gas drilling within city limits, but it prohibits hydraulic fracturing, which has lifted energy production across the country but has raised concerns about air and water contamination. The oil and gas association said the ban amounted to a prohibition on all efforts to tap the estimated $500 million in oil and gas resources locked in the rocks deep beneath Longmont. “The ban is illegal, and we expect it to be overturned by the courts,” said Tisha Schuller, the president of the group. City officials had been bracing for a lawsuit challenging Longmont’s right to make rules for an industry regulated largely by the state and federal authorities. Colorado officials opposed the city’s ban but have declined to sue to overturn it. Sam Schabacker, one of the ban’s leading advocates, called the lawsuit an attempt to “undermine a democratic vote in order to put a dangerous industrial activity next to homes, schools and public parks.”
www.guardian.co.uk 1st October 2012
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‘Coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef has dropped by more than half over the last 27 years, according to scientists, a result of increased storms, bleaching and predation by population explosions of a starfish which sucks away the coral’s nutrients. At present rates of decline, the coral cover will halve again within a decade, though scientists said the reef could recover if the crown-of-thorns starfish can be brought under control and, longer term, global carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.
Coral reefs are an important part of the marine ecosystem as sources of food and as protection for young fish. They are under threat around the world from the effects of bleaching, due to rising ocean temperatures, and increasing acidification of the oceans, which reduces the corals’ ability to build their calcium carbonate structures. The Great Barrier Reef is the most iconic coral reef in the world, listed as a Unesco world heritage site and the source of $A5bn (£3.2bn) a year to the Australian economy through tourism. The observations of its decline are based on more than 2,000 surveys of 214 reefs between 1985 and 2012. The results showed a decline in coral cover from 28% to 13.8% – an average of 0.53% a year and a total loss of 50.7% over the 27-year period. The study was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal (subscription).’
What better way to raise awareness for climate change than get a respected meteorologist to jump off a tall building? Make that meteorologist weatherman Michael Fish MBE and put the tall building in the vibrant city of London during the security blitz of the Olympics and we quickly have to thank the imagination of the Rapanui team who put the whole thing in motion. Rapanui is an eco-clothing brand founded by Rob & Mart Drake-Knight and based on the Isle of Wight. It uses ethically accredited factories that are powered by wind and solar energy and cutting edge eco-textiles from sustainable sources.
The Rapanui team got together with Michael Fish (above) to film the latter BASE (Buildings, Antenna, Spans [bridges], Earth [cliffs]) jumping from a tower block in central London. The resulting video can be viewed above and is highly entertaining (“if anything is going to raise awareness for climate change it is doing damn silly things like this”). In Michael’s own words: “Despite what most people think, my TV career was not based on my stunning good looks. I’m a highly qualified meteorologist - and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change. It’s probably the biggest problem we’ve ever faced and it’s not going away. If we want to live sustainably, we need to take action now, not when it’s too late.”
www.e360.yale.edu 11th July 2012
Quoted from source:
“The European Union has introduced strict new auto emissions standards that officials say would cut carbon dioxide emissions by a third by 2020. The new standard, which must be approved by all member states and the European Parliament, would require that new passenger cars emit no more than 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, compared with 130 grams today, and 147 grams per kilometer for vans. Connie Hedegaard, the European commission’s climate chief, said the new standards would help European automakers compete with foreign manufacturers and cut fuel costs for consumers. According to EU estimates, the average driver would save about €340 in fuel during the first year, and between €2,900 and €3,800 during the lifetime of the vehicle. In addition, the EU predicts it would save about 160 million tons of imported oil. Greenpeace officials, however, called the plan too weak, saying that, among other loopholes, it allows manufacturers to continue producing heavy-emitting vehicles in return for building zero-emitting electric cars, regardless of how many electric vehicles are sold.”
www.bbc.co.uk 22nd June 2012
Quoted from source:
‘On the final day of the UN sustainable development summit in Rio, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged governments to eliminate hunger from the world. The secretary-general said in a world of plenty, no-one should go hungry. The final phase of the summit has seen pledges from countries and companies on issues such as clean energy. But a number of veteran politicians have joined environment groups in saying the summit declaration was “a failure of leadership”. And UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described the outcome as “insipid”. The meeting, marking 20 years since the iconic Earth Summit in the same city and 40 since the very first global environment gathering in Stockholm, was aimed at stimulating moves towards the “green economy”. But the declaration that was concluded by government negotiators on Tuesday and that ministers have not sought to re-open, puts the green economy as just one possible pathway to sustainable development. Mary Robinson, formerly both Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was not enough. ”This is a ‘once in a generation’ moment when the world needs vision, commitment and, above all, leadership,” she said.’
Treehugger has just posted a series of photographs from the Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940-1950, from the Archives Service Center at the University of Pittsburgh. See a selection of the photographs below. They demonstrate how it is not just modern-day cities such as Beijing, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro that experience severe air pollution. Many cities that have relatively clear skies today such as Chicago, London, and Berlin also used to have dangerous smogs but these were tackled with curbs on emissions and stricter controls on air quality. Let us hope the industrialising nations manage to implement their own restrictions soon. These beautiful yet terrifying images are taken from war-time Chicago. The air quality is much the same as that LMV saw in the Beijing of today.
The National Geographic November 2011 Issue
Decades of civil war has taken its toll on the rich biodiversity of the East African Rift Valley, a monumental geological phenomenon that separates the Nubian tectonic plate from the Somalian plate before forking down either side of Uganda. The region has seen the numerous conflicts over the last century including the most deadly since WWII: The Great African War, which saw around 5 million die. It also happens to be home to the highest biomass of large mammals in the world as well s huge reserves of important minerals such as gold, tin and coltan. This, combined with the huge population increase that places like the Democratic Republic of Congo have seen recently (for example in Goma, pictured, which is located next to an active volcano), has made for a volatile situation. People want land, and there is only a limited amount to go around.
For the national parks of the area, times are not good. Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga National Park founded in 1925, is a ‘warzone’ with many people already settled inside the park’s boundaries. The lodges are gutted and tourism is almost non-existent following the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The remaining park rangers are constantly battling with local militias, called Mai-Mai fighters, who control illegal fishing and charcoal production. Conogolese soldiers stationed on the western shore of Lake Edward have decimated populations of megafauna. 96% of the park’s hippo population has been slaughtered and sold for bush meat by militias. If the park rangers’ job is hard enough, they also face direct threats to their lives. In response to the rangers destroying illegal fishing boats (the fishing fleet of Lake Albert has swelled from 760 in the 1960s to 6,000 today), the Mai-Mai have put out bounties on the rangers. Furthermore, 100,000 villagers have demanded the government to reduce the park by 90%, or they’ll take it by force.
The Ugandan Queen Elizabeth Park (above), established in 1952, is not a lot better. By 1980 elephant numbers had dropped from 3,000 to 150. A common belief among the crowded villages is that national parks are making the population poor. In Uganda’s Kagombe Forest Reserve, a presidential decree has disallowed National Forestry Authority from evicting immigrant settlers, largely because of the upcoming elections. In order to placate the native populations about the rise of immigrants, politicians then announced that they too should seize land (see picture below). Most wildlife has now been hunted out of the reserve, a once important corridor for chimps and other animals. According to the forestry authority’s sector manager, Patrick Kakeeto, “they’re cutting all of this down and we can’t touch them. For us, it’s kind of psychoprofessional torture.”
www.bbc.co.uk 17th April 2012
A government appointed panel has stated that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, should resume in the UK. The technique, used to extract gas trapped in underground rock, was put on hold following two earthquakes felt in the area of Blackpool due to fracking operations by a company called Cuadrilla. The panel was put together by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and their report on the process now goes out for a six-week consultation period before the DECC makes any final decisions. Although similar to a report put together by Cuadrilla that admits the company was responsible for the Blackpool earthquakes, the DECC appointed panel’s report claims other earthquakes could well happen, something Cuadrilla denies. However, these earthquakes are not likely to be larger than 3 on the Richter Scale (the previous two were 2.3 and 1.5 in April and May last year respectively). A decision to re-allow fracking in the country has angered environmentalists and conservationists who believe the coalition government (David Cameron’s self-described ‘greenest government ever’) should be doing more to reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels. Fracking uses a combination of water and industrial chemicals that are sprayed at high-power into underground rock formations to loosen gas reserves trapped within them. In the US, there have been reports of contamination of the local water supply as a result, which in worst case scenarios causes tap water to become flammable.
e360.yale.edu 11th April 2012
Quoted from source:
‘NASA has developed a system capable of growing large amounts of algae for biofuel production within a network of floating plastic bags, an innovation its developers say could ultimately produce a new fuel source. By pumping wastewater and carbon dioxide into four nine-meter plastic bags at a demonstration plant in California, researchers have shown that the system can grow enough algae to produce nearly 2,000 gallons of fuel per year under ideal conditions, according to a report in MIT’s Technology Review. If built near wastewater plants, the technology would overcome two of the challenges associated with large-scale algae biofarms — access to huge amounts of fertilizer and large areas of land. One significant challenge, however, is that the technology currently would require an enormous amount of plastic. For instance, a scenario capable of producing 2.4 million gallons of algae per year would also require five square kilometers of plastic bags, which would likely have to be replaced annually.’
The current standoff in the South China Sea reported in the BBC has the potential to be the beginning of something far larger in scale. The standoff is between China and the Philippines, and the area of contention is Scarborough Shoal, a small atoll of islands and reefs that lies well within the Philippines 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) dictated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (above). However, along with most of the rest of the South China Sea, China claims the atoll belongs to them. On Sunday (8th April), the Philippine’s largest warship, on a routine patrol of the area, found eight Chinese fishing vessels around Scarborough Shoal. Upon boarding one, the Philippine navy found a large amount of illegally caught fish and coral. Two days after this, two Chinese navy surveillance vessels arrived on the scene and positioned themselves between the fishing vessels and the Philippine warship, foiling any attempts the latter had to arrest the fishermen. Tensions grew yet further with news, reported in the BBC today (Thursday 12th April), that a Philippine coastguard vessel was to join the warship to face down the Chinese.
China claims territory within the 200 mile EEZs of five other countries around the South China Sea: Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Regional flare-ups have happened in the past but they have, as yet, not ended in violence. One factor that must be taken into account when studying the geopolitics of the region is the possibility that a large amount of oil and gas resides beneath the Sea. This maybe one reason why China has been bolstering its navy in recent years, a move that makes it now the second largest naval force in the world after the USA with over 500 combat vessels. The People’s Liberation Army’s Navy also trialled its first aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.
However, another factor that is sure to play a part in regional tensions in this part of the world is fish. It is interesting to note that although the confrontational nature of the Chinese surveillance vessels off Scarborough Shoal maybe to safeguard the area for future fossil fuel exploitation, it kicked off because of illegal fishing around the islands. With 70% of the world’s fish stocks being fished close to, already at, or beyond capacity has led experts to predict a catastrophic collapse in worldwide fish-stocks by the year 2048. Coastal communities in south-eastern Asian countries such as China and the Philippines have traditionally relied upon fish as a main source of protein and as fish populations decline, fishermen are having to travel further afield to satisfy demand. Not only does this have a devastating effect on the marine environment (from unsustainable fishing practices alone), but it also causes territorial disputes such as the one brewing around the Scarborough Shoal.
The fact that the Philippine navy is about to commence naval exercises alongside the US Navy in the same area makes for an interesting, and possibly fatal, few months. Although it is by no means certain that hostilities will commence (actually it is extremely unlikely as the last thing either the USA or China want is a clash), the fact that a standoff is even happening is because, presumably, the Chinese fishing vessels cannot find enough fish in areas of water that are less contested. This of course does not take into account the possibility that the boats were deliberately sent to the Shoal to reinforce China’s claim on the area.
Nobody wants a naval war to start in the South China Sea. Exploiting oil and gas reserves would become very difficult if it did. However, China does need to decide what is a more important resource: oil or fish. The former may matter more for the economy but the latter may be worth more to the population. Riots have started for far less than an increase in the price of fish. If it turns out that fish is a more important resource, then we here at LMV would not be surprised if clashes do happen in the South China Sea.
www.nytimes.com 10th April 2011
The global recession has had many an unintended consequence in our society. One way European governments are tightening their belts is by reducing subsidies on new technologies such as renewable energy, thereby making it more expensive for citizens to use. Coupled with the current negative attitude towards nuclear power following the awful Japanese tsunami of March last year, there is suddenly a gap in the energy market. And it seems we are falling back on fossil fuels as a result. Countries all over sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing billions of dollars of investment as energy giants look for the next lucrative oil or gas field to exploit. Mozambique, for example, has seen interest from the American company Exxon-Mobil, the British BG Group, and the Italian Eni. Potentially, the eastern African country has more gas reserves than the largest producer in Europe: Norway. Much of these resources will be diverted towards the energy hungry East, where China’s demand is forever increasing. The scramble for new resources good have benefits on a national scale. Energy companies are diversifying their sources for fossil fuels, and the introduction of the contentious ‘fracking’ of shale gas could allow countries like Poland escape their reliance on Russia for gas. However, environmentally, this renewed boom of fossil fuel exploration can only have a detrimental effect.
www.bbc.co.uk 8th April 2012
Denmark has long held ambitions to move away from fossil fuels, ever since the price fluctuations of the 1970s caused widespread economic difficulties in the country. Now a bold initiative, which has cross-party support, has been laid out that would see Denmark have a third of its energy needs from renewable energy by the end of this decade. By 2050, this could rise to 100%. The bold decision has been made for mostly economic reasons, which may explain the broad popularity of the idea throughout the political spectrum. Even the right of centre, pro-business politicians support it. Ms Lykke Friis, a front-bench spokeswoman for the opposition Liberal party, said, “No matter what we do, we will have an increase in the price of energy, simply because people in India and China want to have a car, want to travel. That is why we came out with a clear ambition to be independent of fossil fuels: so we are not vulnerable to great fluctuations in energy price.” Energy production will focus on wind power but will also make the use of solar energy and the burning of biomass. There are certain hurdles that need to be overcome (such as the storage of energy for when there is no sun-shine or wind) but for now Denmark has set out the most ambitious and progressive energy plan in modern history.
www.sciencedaily.com 1st March 2012
A new study by Colombia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory indicates that today’s ocean acidification through human carbon emissions is happening faster than at any time during the past 300 million years. Over this time there have been four mass extinctions caused by natural ‘pulse’ emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, which sent temperatures soaring. According to lead author Bärbel Hönisch, ”What we’re doing today really stands out. We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out — new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about — coral reefs, oysters, salmon.” The study is the first to explore the geological record for signs of ocean acidification over time. The research team behind the study came from five different countries and reviewed hundreds of paleoceanographic papers to come to their conclusion. In the past 300 million years, there was only one time period where the ocean acidified as quickly as it is today. Spanning 5,000 years roughly 56 million years ago, a mysterious surge of carbon into the atmosphere caused an estimated 6 degree rise in global temperatures. The carbonic acid created in the ocean by the absorption of CO2 led to the dissolving of carbonate plankton shells on the seafloor creating a layer of mud. Normally these shells help regulate the acidity of the oceans.
Pennsylvania has passed a controversial new law that allows gas companies to carry out hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, as close as 90m (300ft) to residential housing. The bill renders previous zoning laws obsolete in a move that the state governor says will ‘level the playing field for gas exploration.’ Fracking is a controversial method of removing gas from underground rock by blasting them with water, sand and chemicals at high pressure. The practice has come under scrutiny following reports that it has contaminated drinking water supplies in the USA. Recently, Bulgaria has become the second state, after France, to ban fracking completely. The link below takes you to a video by the Guardian that documents the township of Dallas in Pennsylvania and their battle with the gas companies.
e360.yale.edu 13th December 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Russian scientists sampling the waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf have discovered enormous plumes of methane, some more than a kilometer wide, bubbling up from the thawing seabed. Igor Semiletov, an oceanographer from the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said a research cruise late this summer detected more than 100 of these extensive methane “fountains” in an area of less than 10,000 square miles. Semiletov, who has been studying the region’s seabed for 20 years, said the scale and volume of the plumes far surpasses anything he had seen previously and could indicate that slushy methane hydrates on the seabed are thawing at an intensifying rate as Arctic Ocean ice disappears and sea temperatures rise. In 2010, Semiletov estimated that the emissions of methane — a powerful heat-trapping gas — bubbling from the seabed in this region were about 8 million tons a year, but he said the recent expedition has shown that methane releases could be far higher. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale,” Lemiletov told the UK’s Independent newspaper. Scientists fear that continued warming of the Arctic could release so much methane that the global climate could pass a tipping point and be pushed into an era of rapid warming.’
As the world’s leaders and scientists meet in Durban this weekend to discuss the end of the Kyoto Protocol and climate change, several nations seem intent on disrupting negotiations. Key among them is the USA who, along with China, Japan, Canada and Russia, has refused point-blank to agree to any new targets on CO2 reductions at the summit. The USA under George Bush rejected the current Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012 and aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 5% compared to 1990 levels, back in 2001 citing the unfairness that the Protocol did not include developing countries such as India and China. Now, with the presidential elections looming, the Obama administration is refusing to agree to a new set of limitations. The stance has led to angry criticisms from many attending the Durban summit including small island nations who are likely to be the worst affected by changing weather patterns and rising sea levels. The UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, who played a key role in the original Kyoto negotiations, spoke out against the approach. Speaking to the BBC, he said: “Let’s have a reassessment of it by 2015. But if you don’t finish in time for the ending of Kyoto Two, which is next year, 2012, then, you know, it will actually wither on the vine and that’s what Canada and America wants – and one or two other rich countries. It’s a conspiracy against the poor. It’s appalling. I’m ashamed of such countries not recognising their responsibilities.”
Although the USA and co have been labelled as the villains at the UN sponsored conference, there is evidence that a shift in the UK government’s strategy towards climate change is afoot. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, hinted at this change when he said: ”We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers.” His words run against the government’s previous assertions that it intends to be the ‘greenest government ever’. In response, the President of the coalition’s partners, the Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron, claimed Mr Osborne was taking on climate-sceptic attitude ”to placate 50 or 60 climate deniers on the [Tory] back benches, people who read the Daily Mail and people called Jeremy Clarkson”. It all seems that with the global economy in a downturn, environmental issues are being sidelined.
e360.yale.edu 23rd November 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Google Inc. says it is abandoning its ambitious program to drive down the cost of renewable energy, one of seven major initiatives canceled by the Internet giant this week as it looks to focus on its core projects. Launched four years ago through Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, the so-called Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE < C) initiative included a team of engineers dedicated to researching renewable energy technologies, with a focus on solar energy technologies. The Google program invested in Brightsource Energy and eSolar, companies working on concentrated solar power projects, and also invested in potentially breakthrough technologies. “At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level,” the company announced on its corporate blog. Google published the results of its energy research online, encouraging other companies to use it to advance the renewables industry. The changes come as Google, the world’s top search engine, faces increasing competition in mobile phone technology and social media.’
www.telegraph.co.uk 22nd November 2011
Conservative peer Lord Leach of Fairford has dismissed Sir David Attenborough’s views on climate change as not “worth listening to”. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Walker at the launch of his wife’s book in Holland Park, Lord Fairford said: “he’s very endearing but I don’t think there’s any truth to what he says — he has no idea about it. The fact is you can be jolly nice to monkeys but it isn’t the same as knowing what you’re talking about on climate change.” Lord Leach is a noted climate-sceptic and supports the BBC’s decision to drop an episode of Sir David’s new wildlife series Frozen Planet that focusses on climate change so that the programmes can be better sold abroad. The episode is now an ‘optional extra’, which foreign TV stations can ignore. Lord Leach has had success in gaining public support for his views. He was the chairman for the recent No to AV campaign that saw two-thirds of the British population vote against voting reform.
President Barack Obama made his priorities clear recently when he rejected proposals from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tighten the national standard from smog. The decision angered environmental and public health groups who called it: ‘bald surrender to business pressure, an act of political pandering and, most galling, a cold-blooded betrayal of a loyal constituency.’ The move is being seen as the first important environmental decision made in President Obama’s campaign season. Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the EPA, was told that she could revisit the Clean Air Act standards in 2013, if the Democrats were re-elected. Republicans and industry lobbyists praised the move but there have been other decisions that have not gone their way. Previously, the Obama administration stated that it was going to delay a key decision on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline until after the 2012 elections. Fears are afoot that the Democrats are abandoning their environmental promises after the Democrats also announced a significant expansion of oil drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. Commentators have stated that these moves highlight the White House’s growing awareness of the cost of ‘environmental regulation in a battered economy’.
After years of political debate, the Australian Senate has finally passed The Clean Energy Act, a law which will see the 500 worst polluting companies taxed at a rate of A$23 per tonne of carbon emitted ($23.80; £14.80). The law was heavily opposed by several opposition parties causing the margin of victory to be extremely small. The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had to rely on the support of the Green Party to push through the legislation with 36 Senate votes in favour and 32 against. Opponents of the bill believe it will raise the cost of living and cause job losses but the government hope it will galvanise innovation in the renewable energy sector thereby kicking Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels. Currently Australia accounts for 1.5% of the world’s emissions and is the developed world’s highest per capita polluter. The Clean Energy Act is far stricter than similar laws in the EU where fines range between $8.70 and $12.60 per carbon tonne. Ms Gillard told a news conference, “Today we have made history. After all those years of debate and division, our nation has got the job done.”
www.telegraph.co.uk 2nd November 2011
The main company exploring for shale gas in the UK have admitted that small earthquakes that hit the Lancashire coast in April and May were caused by hydraulic fracturing, the process whereby water, sand and chemicals are blasted at high pressure underground to release trapped gas from rocks. The company, Cuadrilla Resources, insist the tremors were not dangerous and that ‘fracking’, as hydraulic fracturing is more commonly know, is a safe process. However, there is growing concern that this may not be true, particularly in light of stories from across the pond of fracking causing flammable tap water and people becoming ill from contaminated water. Protests are on the rise in the UK where one drilling operation in Lancashire has already been brought to a standstill and a meeting of industry investors was stormed. James Barnes, a member of Frack Off (the group responsible), said, “We hear a lot about energy shortages, and we really need to be investing in researching sustainable energy sources, rather than finding tiny pockets of non-renewable gas and destroying our planet in order to get to them.” Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, also warned against mass use of shale gas by saying not enough was known about it to “bet the farm on it”. Charities, including Friends of the Earth and WWF, are attempting to implement a moratorium on fracking until more evidence on its safety can be collected.
e360.yale.edu 2nd November 2011
Quoted from source:
‘One of the Obama administration’s signature environmental proposals — requiring tough new fuel efficiency standards for cars — is under attack from a powerful lobby of car dealers. President Obama had forged an agreement with major U.S. automakers requiring that automobiles would get an average of 54 miles-per-gallon by 2025, nearly double the current efficiency standards. After taking billions in government bailout money, carmakers like General Motors and Chrysler were under intense pressure to agree to the new standards, which are currently being formulated. Now, however, thousands of U.S. automobile dealers are supporting Republican legislation that would upend that agreement and soften the fuel efficiency standards. The bill, introduced into the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, would block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from being involved in fuel efficiency decisions, leaving the matter up to the Department of Transportation, which has traditionally supported a more gradual jump in efficiency standards. The car dealers say the agreement between Obama and the automakers bullies consumers and dealers into accepting overly strict mileage standards that will significantly increase the costs of cars.’
Two scientists involved in the so-called ‘Polarbeargate’ scandal have been asked to take lie-detector tests by the US Department of the Interior (DOI). In 2004 Jeffrey Gleason and Charles Monnett wrote a paper on dead polar bears floating in the Arctic, apparently drowned, and in doing so helped highlight the plight of the species in relation to melting Arctic ice. However, this year allegations within the DOI emerged claiming that acts of ‘scientific misconduct’ may have been committed in relation to the report prompting the DOI’s Office of Inspector General to launch an investigation. After several interviews, the DOI suspended Mr Monnett, who works for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, causing accusations of politics interfering with science and a witch-hunt. Although Mr Monnett has since returned to work, the focus has now shifted to his fellow author Mr Gleason, who was asked if he would take a polygraph. He replied that he would only if the agent interviewing him would take one also. ”There appears to be kind of a desperate, almost fierce nature to pursue this until they find something,” said Mr Gleason’s lawyer, Jeff Ruch, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Mr Ruch has filed a complaint with the DOI saying his client should be investigated by a review board of scientists, and not the Office of Inspector General.
e360.yale.edu 5th October 2011
‘The European Union says crude oil extracted from Alberta’s tar sands should be ranked as a dirtier fuel source than oil tapped from conventional oil wells, a move that could effectively ban the import of the controversial oil. The European Commission endorsed a measure that would essentially rate fossil fuels based on the CO2 emited during extraction, refining, and combustion. The EU has proposed that tar sands oil be ascribed a greenhouse gas value of 107 grams per megajoule of fuel, compared with 87.5 grams for ordinary crude oil. “With this measure, we are sending a clear signal to fossil fuel suppliers,” said Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate change commissioner. “As fossil fuels will be a reality in the foreseeable future, it’s important to give them the right value.” Such a ratings system may eventually be applied to natural gas extracted from shale oil formations. The exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands has generated increasing protest from environmental groups. In addition to destroying large swaths of forest, the extraction and processing of the sludgy bituminous material typically requires more energy and water than conventional production. Canadian officials and petroleum industry leaders vowed to fight the measure, calling it a “stigmatization” of a fuel source found only in Alberta and Saskatchewan.’
The creative team at the Climate Reality Project has been ‘hard at work making short videos that punctuate the urgency around the crisis in an unusual way — and take a good poke at those who think we can deny our way out of climate change.’ Have a look at this brilliant video of theirs.