International News

Our cities need more green spaces for rest and play — here's how

The Conversation - 8 hours 39 min ago
Seoul's Cheonggyecheon Stream was once a freeway.Kwong Yee Cheng/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Your local park is likely playing a vital role in your city’s health, and probably your own too. Parks and other “green spaces” help keep cities cool, and as places of recreation, can help with health issues such as obesity. Even looking at greenery can make you feel better.

But in increasingly crowded cities, it can be difficult to find room for parks. Fortunately, there are other green spaces, or potential green spaces that can provide the same benefits.

In recent research, we found that these spaces are more common than we thought. And innovative green spaces overseas show how we might use them.

Cities are getting crowded

In the next thirty years, almost three quarters of the global population will live in cities. Underpinning this glib statistic is an astounding wave of migration driven by changing livelihoods, global economic changes and environmental change, which is unprecedented in human history.

This presents a number of challenges for urban planning — more housing, schools and hospitals, better infrastructure such as transportation, water, sanitation and electricity.

Parks in this competition for space are often an afterthought. This can lead to some big problems, especially in higher-density cities. Such problems include urban heat (from concrete, bitumen and glass), storm water run-off, and fewer parks to play and relax. Fewer parks can in turn lead to health impacts such as obesity, anxiety and depression.

Worse still, in some cities parks and other green-spaces are regarded as a luxury, not a necessity. In a climate of fiscal austerity, some city managers and elected officials are making decisions that will potentially harm the quality of life of urban residents, now and into the future.

Some local governments regard under-utilised parks as surplus assets, which might be sold to bolster strained coffers.

Other cities, like Melbourne, have sacrificed some park spaces for new road and tunnel projects. But the short-term financial gain from selling parks or converting them to other purposes could very well lead to long term pain.

Making real urban jungles

Around the world, city planners and design professionals have begun to respond to the problem of park shortages by finding innovative solutions to add more green-spaces to cities. These include green roofs, green walls and pocket-parks.

Some unconventional solutions are emerging too. Parking lots, former industrial sites (brown fields) and even abandoned infrastructure like old railway lines are being converted into new green spaces.

Some cities like Seoul in Korea for instance, have torn down freeways to make room for new green spaces for people, plants and animals, with big financial and social dividends. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has seen billion-dollar returns from its Cheonggyecheon stream restoration project, and has realised other benefits too such as cooler temperatures, increased use of public transport, adaptive re-use of buildings, increased tourism, and a return of plants and animals to the “concrete jungle”.

One of San Francisco’s “parklets” Paul Krueger/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The parklets of San Francisco are reinvigorating urban spaces, improving street life and encouraging more people into active lifestyles.

And in Hangzhou, China, the removal of old factories and conversion of grey space into linear parks, as well as park-making on “wasteland”, has opened up spaces for recreation and relaxation to millions of residents.

More parks aren’t always the solution

But making new parks can be expensive, especially in the urban core. Park-making projects can also increase the value of surrounding properties. If these projects are undertaken in poorer neighbourhoods, they can harm marginalised and vulnerable residents, by forcing them out of their homes as rents and property values rise and wealthier residents move in (gentrification).

With our colleagues, we have noted that planners must take steps to prevent this from occurring, such as rent control or park-making on a more “informal” scale, making neighbourhoods “just green enough”.

If we can’t get city officials to buy land for more parks, then maybe we can convert grey spaces — roads, rooftops and storm-water drains — into functional, yet affordable, green-spaces that people can use for active and passive recreation.

In New York for example, the High Line Trail along a disused railway line has become a major attraction, and breathed life back to a blighted space.

New York’s Highline: a park on an old railway. David Berkowitz/Flickr, CC BY

In Mexico, an oil pipeline easement has been converted into a beautiful and functional park — La Línea Verde — in socially vulnerable neighbourhoods. There would appear to be similar opportunities in other cities.

Under-utilised and abandoned spaces such as railway corridors, vacant lots, street verges or even power line easements could make excellent parks.

How much green space?

Until recently, it has been hard for city planners to know how many of these spaces exist, what they are designated for, and whether people can easily access them.

Recent research on “informal green-space” that we have published in PLoS One seeks to answer this question.

We have designed a rapid assessment technique to identify how much “left-over” land exists in cities, which could be used for green-space.

Distribution of ‘informal green space’ across Brisbane Christoph Rupprecht

Surprisingly, informal green-space made up around 5% of the urban core in Brisbane (Australia) and Sapporo (Japan), the two cities we surveyed. This means it contributes 14% to the city centres' total green space — that’s almost 900 soccer fields in Brisbane’s core alone.

We also found that over 80% are at least partly accessible for people to use them. Have a look around on your next walk — maybe a verge or vacant lot near you is just the place for a community garden?

Jason Byrne is a member of the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Better Parks Alliance. He does not receive funding from these organisations, but he is an active advocate for parks and green-space.

Christoph Rupprecht received funding from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Griffith University.

Categories: International News

Will 2015 be the year the world agrees how to live sustainably?

The Conversation - July 24, 2014 - 4:24pm
The Sustainable Development Goals will aim to tackle pollution as well as poverty.Alex Proimos/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Next year will be critical in environmental diplomacy. World governments will be negotiating important global agreements in two areas that will have a major impact on our well-being in coming decades, including the legal framework for climate action beyond 2020.

The second, far less well-known – but potentially just as important – agreement is about setting global Sustainable Development Goals, to follow on from the poverty-focused Millennium Development Goals that will end in 2015.

After a year and a half of negotiations, a picture is emerging of what those goals are likely to be: tackling poverty, hunger, inequality and environmental damage, not just in the developing world but throughout the globe.

Setting the goals

This week, an Open Working Group of the United Nations General Assembly released a set of proposed Sustainable Development Goals and targets. This proposal will form the basis of negotiation between countries about the goals over the next year, leading to a final decision at the United Nations in September 2015.

The Sustainable Development Goals are one of the main outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also called the “Rio+20” summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

Countries agreed at Rio+20 that, with the period of the Millennium Development Goals drawing to an end in 2015, new goals are needed to continue the fight against poverty. But they decided these goals should be broadened to tackle inequality and global environmental degradation.

Unlike the millennium goals, which were aimed at developing countries, the sustainability goals will apply to the whole world. They will be a benchmark against which nations' performance on economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability will be measured.

World Leaders at the Rio+20 summit agreed the world needs new targets to follow on from the Millennium Development Goals. Blog do Planalto/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

What are the targets?

The working group’s proposal includes 17 goals and more than 160 targets. The proposed goals and targets continue the focus on ending poverty and hunger, but also include goals for social inclusion, health, education, economic growth and jobs, and reducing inequality. Importantly, the proposal also includes goals for water, energy, sustainable consumption and production, ecosystems and tackling climate change. The proposal also suggests goals and targets for sustainable cities, infrastructure and governance.

Despite contention, there is a proposed goal on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies and access to justice and targets on sexual and reproductive health rights.

There are probably too many suggested goals and targets, and the list needs to be consolidated. However, there has been remarkable agreement among the representatives of 70 countries who have put together the proposal.

Australia’s role

It is easy to see that many of the goals are as relevant to Australia as they are to the rest of the world. Australia faces challenges of increasing inequality, high greenhouse gas emissions, and threats to biodiversity. The Sustainable Development Goals can help to guide Australia’s response to these problems.

Cynics might scoff at the United Nations' efforts and argue that the goals are bureaucratic and meaningless. But these critics ignore the real, positive impact that concrete goals and targets can have on governments, businesses and communities.

Neither the Millennium Development Goals nor the proposed Sustainable Development Goals are legally enforceable. Yet the millennium goals provided both a spur and a guide to action, and a benchmark against which governments and communities could assess their performance. Many developing countries have included achievement of the millennium goals in their national development plans, and used them to reduce poverty and target better health and education.

The Millennium Development Goals delivered some successes, notably in improving access to safe water. Richard Webb/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Over the past 20 years, global poverty rates have halved and about 700 million fewer people now live in extreme poverty. More than 2 billion people have gained access to improved water sources and the target of halving the number of people without safe water has been met ahead of schedule.

More people around the world can read and write, more go to school, and more women are getting an education – a key factor in reducing population growth and improving child survival. The Millennium Development Goals are not the sole reason for these improvements, but they have certainly contributed.

However, in two critical respects the millennium goals have not been successful. Despite the improvement in economic and social indicators since 2000, inequality within most countries (including Australia) has worsened. At the same time, the scale of humans' impact on the planet has reached dangerous levels. The environment is in peril.

Secrets of success

Why have some of the Millennium Development Goals been more successful than others?

One of the answers lies in the trade-offs between different goals or objectives which make solutions much more complex to find. It is relatively easy to grasp the issue of providing more safe water. It is much more complex and challenging to balance the trade-offs inherent in achieving energy sufficiency without excessive carbon emissions; in achieving food security without damaging biodiversity; and in becoming economically competitive without increasing inequality.

This is why, in developing and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, the ability to solve problems from many different points of view will be critical.

There are sweet spots between economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. But finding them will require collaboration between governments, business, and people with skills in many disciplines.

In Australia, for example, in the last decade we significantly reduced water use in agriculture while increasing agricultural value through a combination of the water market, business strategies and better technologies. But we still have a long way to go in achieving environmental sustainability, and have much to learn from other countries about achieving social inclusion at the same time as economic growth.

It is early days, but the Sustainable Development Goals may help us get there.

John Thwaites works for the Monash Sustainability Institute, which is conducting workshops and research on the Sustainable Development Goals. Some funding for this work is received by the Harold Mitchell Foundation.

David Griggs works for the Monash Sustainability Institute, which is conducting workshops and research on the Sustainable Development Goals. Some funding for this work is received by the Harold Mitchell Foundation.

Tahl Kestin works for the Monash Sustainability Institute, which is conducting workshops and research on the Sustainable Development Goals. Some funding for this work is received by the Harold Mitchell Foundation.

Categories: International News

Arctic Ice: Then and Now

Climate Crocks - July 24, 2014 - 2:42pm
DailyClimate: The impacts are increasingly being felt everywhere – bigger storms in the Midwest, soggy summers in England, drought in Colorado. But nowhere on the planet are the impacts as dramatic as the Arctic, and the ice cap is a prime example. If you’re sweltering in New York or Miami or Los Angeles, the only […]
Categories: International News

North Carolina: New Battlefield for Solar Energy

Climate Crocks - July 24, 2014 - 10:10am
I’ve reported on clashes between clean energy activists and Utilities in Georgia and Arizona. Other battlefield states emerging as the solar/renewable wave moves across the country.  What we’ve seen so far is that the overwhelming popularity of renewable energy has overcome big money and big clout from utilities and dirty energy advocates like ALEC and […]
Categories: International News

Another Way Tobacco Companies Contribute to Climate Change

Climate Crocks - July 24, 2014 - 10:05am
Speaking of Rainforests, (see post on this page).. I guess it wasn’t enough for the Tobacco companies to perfect the anti-science movement template. Turns out global deforestation is also business as usual.Filed under: Crock of the Week
Categories: International News

Rainforest Protection – with Used Cell Phones

Climate Crocks - July 24, 2014 - 10:03am
These folks have a Kickstarter campaign, that runs thru next week. If you have already helped out with Dark Snow Project, and have some extra enthusiasm, check this out. Rainforest Connection: Rainforest Connection (RFCx) transforms recycled cell-phones into autonomous, solar-powered listening devices that can monitor and pinpoint chainsaw activity at great distance. This changes the game by […]
Categories: International News

New 3D Look at Apollo 11 Landing site

Climate Crocks - July 24, 2014 - 10:00am
Everyone that was alive can remember where they were when they heard of this. From the Description: Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20th, 1969, a little after 4:00in the afternoon Eastern Daylight Time. The Lunar Module, nicknamed Eagle and flown by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, touched down near the southern rim […]
Categories: International News

Danger Of Flash Floods And Landslides Grow As Washington Wildfire Slows

Climate Progress - July 24, 2014 - 9:55am

CREDIT: A.P. Images

The largest wildfire in Washington state’s history is now 52 percent contained after powerful storms swept through the area on Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and even hail.

But now, a new threat has emerged, even as the massive fire begins to come under control — floods and landslides. On Wednesday firefighters battling the Carlton Complex blaze had to be pulled out of the area after the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch.

According to the warning, “It takes as little as 10 minutes of heavy rain to cause flash flooding and debris flows in and below areas affected by wildfires. Rain runs off almost instantly from burned soils, causing creeks and drainages to flood at a much faster rate than normal.”

The Carlton Complex fire, which grew from four separate lightning strikes on July 14, has scorched over 400 square miles of forest in the state, leaving vast areas denuded of the vital vegetation and tree roots that hold soil in place and help absorb water.

“The cooler temperatures and the higher relative humidities will allow the firefighters to get in and get a better handle on the fire,” Katie Santini, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, told the LA Times. “But it brings in the possibility of flash floods and makes travel around the fire more difficult.”

Tens of thousands of people lost power during the storm , which saw winds from 50 to 70 mph. The weather service reported more than 5,500 lightning strikes in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

“I thought we were in a tornado,” Krystle Schneider, who lives in Northwest Spokane, told the Spokesman-Review.

In central Washington, flash floods were reported along the Entiat River in a burned out area. The Spokesman-Review reported that the flood waters brought down debris at mile 11 at the Entiat River and boulders were dislodged during a storm near Tommy Creek

President Obama has asked Congress for $615 million in emergency spending to fight Western wildfires. Speaking at a fundraiser earlier this week in Seattle, he noted that spending on fires has been steadily increasing and made the link between the increased fire activity and climate change. The cost of fighting U.S. wildfires has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2000. Last year, the price tag was $1.7 billion. Twenty-five California Democrats recently signed a letter urging House and Senate members to take action on addressing firefighting funding shortfalls.

“A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change,” Obama said.

Late Tuesday, Obama signed an emergency declaration that authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief for Washington state.

The post Danger Of Flash Floods And Landslides Grow As Washington Wildfire Slows appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

This Town Is Using The Ocean To Provide Heat To Low-Income Residents

Climate Progress - July 24, 2014 - 9:27am

CREDIT: DEERNS International

DUINDORP, THE NETHERLANDS — When most people think of harnessing renewable energy from the ocean, the gigantic spinning blades of offshore wind farms are probably the first thing that come to mind. Or maybe it’s gracefully bobbing buoys capturing wave energy or dams that skim power off rushing tides. Very few people, however, think of the oceans as a vast source of renewable heat that can be used to keep homes warm and showers steaming. But that’s exactly what a growing number of seaside towns in northern Europe are doing, despite having some particularly chilly ocean water.

Technologies like solar panels were just too expensive and wouldn’t produce enough energy in this region.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that the ocean can be used to climate control our homes. After all, the Earth’s oceans essentially climate control the entire planet. The more than 70 percent of the Earth that is covered by water serves as a kind of global thermostat. Oceans take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps to moderate temperatures, and they also emit heat from the sunlight they absorb. Clouds, too, which perform a variety of cooling and insulating functions to help regulate temperature on Earth, form from water evaporating off the ocean.

Harnessing just a tiny fraction of the heat stored in the world’s oceans has theoretically been possible for many years, but has only recently been put into practice. One of the first places in the world to draw on the ocean for residents’ heating needs is Duindorp, a small harbor town near the Hague in the Netherlands.

Being dependent on the ocean is nothing new for Duindorp — for decades, the small fishing village relied almost entirely on the water for its economic lifeblood. Fishing in the harbor has since declined, but now a new era of reliance on the ocean for energy has begun.

Ariel view of Duindorp, the Netherlands.

CREDIT: DEERNS International

The project began nearly a decade ago, as 1,200 cramped fishermen houses dating back to 1915 were taken down in town to make room for 800 new homes that met modern standards for affordable housing in the Netherlands.

“Residents wanted their homes to be heated using renewable energy,” said Paul Stoelinga, senior consultant at Dutch environmental engineering firm Deerns International, which designed Duindorp’s current heating system. “But how to offer that for low-income residents was a problem. Technologies like solar panels were just too expensive and wouldn’t produce enough energy in this region.”

District heating using seawater turned out to be the most affordable solution, insuring no resident would have to pay more than the national average of €70 (about $94) a month for heat and hot water.

While deeply connected to the sea, Duindorp seems like an unlikely place to take advantage of heat in the oceans. The birds skimming over the choppy harbor are mostly cormorants, familiar cold-weather birds that proclaim the fact that the water here is hardly warm. For most of the winter, the temperature in the harbor is right around 35 to 40° Fahrenheit, although in summer it can climb to near 70° Fahrenheit.

The harbor at Duindorp, the Netherlands.

CREDIT: Joanna M. Foster

The system is based on a district heating plan, which is quite common in Europe, but only recently starting to catch on in the U.S. District heating systems warm water at a central location and then distribute it through a system of underground pipes. None of the water in the pipes is used directly in homes, but the heat from the water is skimmed off and used to warm showers and floors.

The process is similar to the circulatory system in a person’s body. Blood gets oxygen from the heart and then delivers it through the body, returning de-oxygenated blood to the heart to start the process all over again. Likewise, the water in the pipes that services the neighborhood is heated at the central facility and then runs through town distributing heat and eventually loops back to the power plant to be heated up once again.

In the summer, creating warm water to flow through the district heating network of pipes is relatively straightforward. Intake pipes at the harbor draw in about 25,000 to 50,000 gallons of warm seawater every hour. An extensive series of filters throughout the intake system ensures that no sea life is sucked into the plant. That seawater is then used in a heat exchanger to heat freshwater for the pipes to around 54° Fahrenheit. The warmed freshwater is then sent out along a five mile network of insulated pipes that services the 800 homes in the new affordable housing neighborhood. At every house connected to the system, a 5 kWh-capacity heat pump raises the temperature of the water to between 110-150° Fahrenheit, to then be used for heating and warm water.

In the winter, the system is more complex.

“Just at the moment when you really want a hot shower and need heating in your home, that’s when the ocean is at its coldest,” said Stoelinga. “Sometimes just 2° Celsius. It’s a tricky contradiction, when you need the heat, its not there.”

During these chilly months, a heat pump is used to transfer heat from the seawater to the district heating system. Every home in the U.S. uses similar technology in refrigerators and air conditioners. Heat pumps don’t create heat, they merely transfer it from one medium to another. Heat pumps require a source of energy as they push heat against its natural gradient — heat naturally wants to flow from hot to cold until an equilibrium is reached. In a refrigerator, they push heat from a cold area, the inside of the fridge, to a warmer area, the kitchen. Unlike a typical fridge, the heat pump in Duindorp uses ammonia as the refrigerant. It’s extremely efficient, but also quite toxic, and not something any homeowner would want in their kitchen.

These pipes draw in between 26,000-190,000 gallons of seawater from the harbor every hour.

CREDIT: DEERNS International

Much more water is needed in the winter, compared to the summer, to keep the system running. About 190,000 gallons of water is taken in every hour when the ocean is at its coldest and only a few degrees of heat can be transferred.

“You can’t get much heat out of water which is just a few degrees above freezing” explained Stoelinga, “so you need much more flow.”

Originally, Deerns planned to make the system 100 percent renewable by building two 1.5 MW wind turbines in the harbor to supply all of the energy needed to run the heat pump during the winter. Unfortunately, local zoning codes didn’t allow wind turbines to be built in the area, so the electricity needed to run the heat pumps, about 3 MW, is taken off the grid. The system is still extremely efficient, however, generating 15 kilowatt-hours of heat for every 1 kWh of electricity pumped into the system. This reduces carbon emissions by 50 percent when compared to conventional heating using natural gas.

Stoelinga explained that while district heating systems and heat pumps certainly aren’t new ideas, making the system run smoothly with an affordable price tag was a massive undertaking.

This design would work especially well and cost even less if the community was near a large body of freshwater.

“I would say that about 80 percent of the engineering work we did at this site was dedicated entirely to battling the problem of corrosive seawater,” said Stoelinga. “We are dealing with huge volumes of very salty water in our mechanical systems every day and finding ways to cut down on how often we had to replace corroded components was by far the biggest challenge. ”

Now that solutions to that problem have been designed, Stoelinga says that seawater district heating is a promising alternative for any community near the shore. The system will be most cost effective in areas where new development is taking place. Since district heating depends on an underground network of pipes, retrofitting a community to run on a district heating system would add considerably to the price tag.

“This design would work especially well and cost even less if the community was near a large body of freshwater,” said Stoelinga. “If you don’t have to worry about saltwater ruining equipment, it’s much simpler.”

In the U.S., any town or city on the coasts, along the Great Lakes, or even near large rivers like the Mississippi could benefit from a similar system.

For Stoelinga, the next project is a seawater cooling system based on the similar principles for resorts in Aruba. In order to cool the resort, intake pipes will be built to collect the cold water deep in the ocean. That cold water can then be used in a heat exchanger to provide cold water in taps and air conditioning throughout the hotel.

The post This Town Is Using The Ocean To Provide Heat To Low-Income Residents appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

The Dark Snow team investigates the source of soot that's accelerating Greenland ice melt | John Abraham

Guardian - July 24, 2014 - 9:00am

The crowd-funded Dark Snow Project is trying to figure out where Greenland soot is coming from

Around the planet, wildfires are becoming larger and more destructive. This summer, a series of wildfires enveloped large areas of Canadas Boreal forest, blanketing western North America with smoke. One key question is, do these fires have an effect on climate by darkening Arctic ice with layers of soot, causing more sunlight to be absorbed by the ice?

For the second year, the Dark Snow Project science team has taken to the ice on Greenland to investigate the forces driving Greenland's ice loss. They are looking at the causes of surface darkening on the ice sheet that's been observed over the last decade.

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Categories: International News

The threat to chalk streams, our unique contribution to global ecology

Guardian - July 24, 2014 - 5:38am

They are an irreplaceable relic of our past, but over-abstraction and abuse is placing these unique rivers at risk

For a garden water feature, most people make do with a fish pond. The well-to-do might run to a decorative fountain. Not Victoria Harrison. Rolling in and out beneath the floor of her dining room in medieval Itchen Stoke mill, she has almost a mile of one of Englands clearest, purest and especially in the heat of last week coolest streams.

This is so wonderful, we hate to keep it to ourselves, she says as we cross the rickety wooden bridge across her stream and onto the meadows. We gaze down at wild trout and grayling loitering among dark mats of Ranunculus weeds, looking for mayflies hatching among the gravel beds in the shallow stream. Dragonflies hover above. We love to share all this. We had six school groups here last term.

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Categories: International News

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to attend major Ban Ki-moon climate summit

Guardian - July 24, 2014 - 4:55am

US and Chinese heads of state on 'very long list' of leaders confirmed for New York meeting to build momentum for global emissions deal, RTCC reports

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are set to attend a climate summit hosted by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon in September.

The US and Chinese heads of state are on a very long list of confirmations to attend the one-day conference in New York, according to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

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Categories: International News

The 'pre-Holocene' climate is returning – and it won't be fun

The Conversation - July 24, 2014 - 12:24am
The polar vortex played havoc with Niagara Falls (and much of the rest of North America too).EPA/Rick Warne

A string of events earlier this year provided a sobering snapshot of a global climate system out of whack. Europe suffered devastating floods, Britain’s coastline was mauled, and the polar vortex cast a US$5 billion economic chill over America. Meanwhile, an abnormally mild winter in Scandinavia disrupted bears' hibernation; while Australia was ravaged by fires and record-breaking heat.

These happenings give us an idea of what life must have been like in the lead-up to the Holocene Epoch, living on the brink of seismic change, amid a series of abrupt climate shifts.

As the archaeologist Steven Mithen wrote in his book After the Ice:

People were thin on the ground and struggling with a deteriorating climate … massive ice sheets had expanded across much of North America, Northern Europe and Asia. The planet was inundated by drought, sea level had fallen to expose vast and often barren coastal plains. Human communities survived the harshest conditions by retreating to refugia where firewood and foodstuffs could still be found.

Since then, we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the ensuing 10,000-odd years of peaceful, stable climate during the Holocene itself. This has allowed us to tame crops and livestock, and to come together to form communities, villages and, ultimately, cities.

But the calm and tranquil Holocene has now been replaced by the Anthropocene – heralding a return to a volatile and destructive climate. Truly, we have woken an angry beast from its slumber.

From ice age to rapid warming

When the last ice age began to teeter 14,700 years ago, meltwater began to pour into the oceans, raising levels by up to half a metre per decade. The sea moved inland like a slow tsunami.

But after a hesitant couple of millennia of warmer conditions, the cold was back with a vengeance, turning western Asia and Europe into ice empires. This event, dubbed the Younger Dryas, derived from the collapse of the ice walls on Lake Agassiz in North America, sending freshwater flooding into the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. As a result it cut back the Gulf Stream, returning the planet to cool and dry conditions in a matter of decades, with the average Northern Hemisphere temperature plummeting by 7C.

These cold conditions lasted for about 1400 years. Then, just as rapidly, the warm and wet conditions returned, marking the beginning of the Holocene about 11,700 years ago.

Extent of the glacial Lake Agassiz roughly 7900 years ago. Several millennia earlier it dumped freshwater into the oceans, causing widespread cooling. Chris Light/Wikimedia Commons (derived from USGS data), CC BY-SA

Stable era

Since then, the world’s climate has remained remarkably stable – boring, even. The relatively static shorelines have made farming, fishing, towns and cities possible.

Humans have got used to thinking that this is a natural state of affairs. But, as James Hansen has declared, “it’s our relatively static experience of climate that is actually exceptional”.

Of course, there have been divergences from the norm, although these have thankfully been few and far between. One was 5000 years ago, when the Sahara went from a land of hippos and giraffes to desert in a mere 100-200 years.

In geological terms, the Sahara became a desert overnight. GaetanP123/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

That event was caused by gradual changes to the Earth’s orientation towards the Sun. It shows us that even when the forces are gradual, the climate may not always respond gradually but instead can move in juddering, unpredictable shifts.

At about the same time, seismic change was happening in our own midst, with the eruption of Mount Gambier sending an ash plume up to 10 km high – an event that would have partially obscured the Sun.

Eruptions like this were the main cause of climate variability in the Holocene, causing cooler, drier episodes such as the “Mediaeval little ice age“.

Things are different now

Now, however, carbon dioxide has reached levels not seen for at least 3 million years, and fossil fuel emissions have become the dominant driver of the changes to our climate. In a world potentially several degrees warmer than the one that spawned our civilization, we had better ready ourselves for some surprises.

This isn’t alarmism; it’s just sensible risk management. Retired US Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, now head of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, pointed out that governments still spend money on defence, despite the declining number of people killed worldwide in war. He told the US Congress that “we rightly invest in our security and defence as one component of hedging against unknown or unlikely security risks”. Inaction on climate change violates that same fundamental risk-management principle.

What’s nature ever done for us?

Of course, nature will carry on regardless, albeit savaged. As the MIT physicist and humanities professor Alan Lightman has noted, “tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions happen without the slightest consideration for human inhabitants”.

Yet if we turn our backs on nature, while at the same time climbing the population hill to nine billion, we will create a horrid future for humanity’s survivors, with ongoing wild species extinctions and a world polluted by human-invented chemicals.

Some have predicted that, within just two or three centuries, we could be alone except for pets, chickens, livestock, and an unknown suite of microbes and freeloaders such as mice and cockroaches.

For a sneak preview of this “biosimplification”, look no further than the swathes of European countryside where there has been a crash in bird populations – no songs, no glimpses of plumage, just an eerie silence – as a result of the wholesale ripping up of hedgerows, draining of wetlands and ploughing over of meadows robbing farmland birds of their homes and sustenance in order to boost farming production.

That would leave us living in a drab, crummy landscape where surviving native plants cower in small niches away from the weeds; zoos exhibit a lost fauna; and biophilia is reduced to watching carp.

It’s surely a trajectory that’s worth getting off.

Peter Fisher does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Categories: International News

Environmentalists have a right to protest – but not at all costs

The Conversation - July 23, 2014 - 4:17pm
Environmental activist Jonathan Moylan (centre) with supporters as he leaves a Sydney court in 2013. Moylan has been charged over a hoax email that affected the share price of Whitehaven Coal.AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Here is a tough question – what are the limits of legitimate protest? As Lord Keynes is famously reputed to have said, everything depends on everything else. What is protest? What is legitimate?

I’m going to take as my starting point that protest is legitimised by the rule of law. The kind of acceptable behaviour that one might observe in a liberal democracy is very different from that in a dictatorship.

Another way of stating the case is to argue that the social licence to protest varies in time and place.

Many protesters, however, are of the view that they have unlimited licence to protest. That once their intentions are self-declared to be noble that there can be no limit on their behaviour.

Licence to lie?

Take, for example, the Whitehaven Coal hoaxer Jonathan Moylan, who faked an ANZ press release stating that the bank had withdrawn a A$1.2 billion loan facility due to environmental concerns. He is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to disseminating false or misleading information affecting market participation. His actions were clearly illegal, yet there is a website that describes his actions as being civil disobedience and an act of good conscience. Elected members of the federal parliament congratulated him on his actions.

Consider another example. Clive Hamilton recently complained that Australian security agencies were monitoring anti-coal activists. Small-l liberal minded people might be horrified at that prospect – until we also read Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald telling us democracy has failed, and calling for a “people’s revolution”.

To be fair, Farrelly might be engaging in some hyperbole, but our security agencies are paid to be paranoid.

The rule of law

The thing is this: however noble “saving the planet” might be, in a liberal democracy, under the rule of law, protest must be conducted through both non-violent and non-coercive means.

Restricting violence and coercion is a legitimate function of government. As the great liberal economist Ludwig von Mises indicated:

One must be in a position to compel the person who will not respect the lives, health, personal freedom, or private property of others to acquiesce in the rules of life in society. This is the function that the liberal doctrine assigns to the state: the protection of property, liberty, and peace.

We might want to believe that environmental activists should be able to issue false media releases, or even conspire to overthrow the democratically elected government without interference from the authorities. But the proper way to do so is to campaign for those changes at the ballot box.

As it turns out, the environmental movement is failing to convince voters or politicians of their cause. Last year the International Energy Agency reported “15% of global CO2 emissions receive an incentive of $110 per tonne in the form of fossil-fuel subsidies while only 8% are subject to a carbon price.” With Australia about to abolish the carbon tax that 8% figure will be falling.

It’s not just Australia; the Climate Change Performance Index shows that “no single country is yet on track to prevent dangerous climate change”.

Small wonder the broader environmental movement is turning to non-liberal and non-democratic means to pursue their aims.

Making environmentalists accountable for their actions

The fossil fuel divestment campaign is a prime example. This is an internationally orchestrated, well-funded, and apparently sophisticated campaign against fossil fuel investment. Once you strip away the apparent sophistication of their argument you end up more or less with a call for a series of secondary boycotts of fossil fuel producers and their sources of capital.

At the moment environmental groups are exempt from the prohibition on secondary boycotts. This is an astonishing exemption for a country that trumpets equality before the law.

The Abbott government has flagged that this exemption will be removed. There are some, like my good friend Chris Berg, who argue that the whole notion of secondary boycotts are inconsistent with the right to free speech.

The fossil fuel divestment campaign, with its explicit aim of stigmatising Australia’s coal industry, might well fall foul of s1041E of the Corporations Act 2001. The same section of the same law used to convict Jonathan Moylan.

The campaign to convince investors to divest from fossil fuels on the basis of an undefined “carbon bubble” that can only exist if and when environmental activists convince government to change the rules of the game – having failed up until now – is something the corporate and market regulators should be closely examining.

Environmentalists have the right to campaign for their policies, but they don’t have the right to provide misleading stock market advice.

The argument that fossil fuels have social costs does not undermine my position at all. Yes, the social costs of fossil fuels exceed zero – but it isn’t clear that these costs exceed the social benefits of fossil fuel usage.

Access to cheap and reliable energy will do more to alleviate global poverty and foster economic development everywhere than the environmental movement ever will. By agitating for a divestment from fossil fuels, the environmental movement are condemning millions of people to a lower lifestyle and standard of living than they would otherwise enjoy.

Sinclair Davidson is Professor of Institutional Economics at RMIT University and a senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. His opinion pieces have been published in The Age, The Australian, Australian Financial Review, The Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, and Wall Street Journal Asia. His report "A critique of the coal divestment campaign" was published by the Minerals Council of Australia.

Categories: International News

21 Protesters Arrested While Attempting To Block The First Tar Sands Mine In America

Climate Progress - July 23, 2014 - 4:09pm

An aerial view of a mining site for Canadian tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

CREDIT: Josh Burstein/NextGen Climate Action

Twenty-one activists in Utah were arrested Monday after they chained themselves to fences and equipment at a site planned to become the first to mine tar sands in the United States.

The activists, who were released on bail after spending Monday night in jail, are facing possible charges of trespassing, conspiracy to escape, and interfering with arrest, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The 21 arrested were part of a group of about 80 protesters with the Utah Tar Sands Resistance group, who set up a blockade at the PR Spring mine site.

The activists say one protester was injured while he was being arrested and was targeted by sheriff’s deputies because he was filming the protest. Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said that the effort to arrest the protesters “became physical” after protesters resisted arrest. Protesters claim they were “grabbed in an aggressive manner” and that some were “thrown to the ground” by police, while the Sheriff’s office says one deputy was punched in the head by a protester.

Calgary, Alberta-based U.S. Oil Sands, the company that plans to mine for tar sands at the Utah site, has been cutting down trees and clearing vegetation from the site to get it ready for mining. So far, though, no tar sands oil has been extracted. The protesters, who erected banners with messages like “You are trespassing on Ute land” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” wanted to highlight the environmental damage tar sands mining will impose on the area.

“These projects do nothing but devastate the land and pollute the water and air,” Tar Sands Resistance spokeswoman Jessica Lee said.

Tar Sands Resistance has been working since 2012 to stop plans for tar sands mining in Utah, organizing protests and announcing in late May that they would be holding a “permanent protest vigil” at the mine site. About 20 protesters set up a vigil near the site soon after U.S. Tar Sands announced in mid-May that it had enough funding to begin mine operations, and the stakeout has remained ever since, with additional protests like the one on Monday also taking place at the site.

Tar sands has been labeled the “dirtiest type of liquid fuel,” one whose extraction creates toxic holding ponds that have proven deadly to birds and requires four barrels of water to make each barrel of oil, a high demand that’s particularly concerning in dry Utah. Tar sands extraction could also put groundwater at risk — one University of Utah scientist warned in 2012 that the same tailings ponds that have killed birds in Alberta, Canada could also leech toxic chemicals into groundwater.

Extracting tar sands oil is also at least three times as carbon-intensive as conventional crude oil. The PR Spring site encompasses more than 5,900 acres and U.S. Oil Sands plans to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day.

Lee said Tar Sands Resistance plans to continue protesting the planned mining site.

The post 21 Protesters Arrested While Attempting To Block The First Tar Sands Mine In America appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Divest CalSTRS responds to Engagement - July 23, 2014 - 3:52pm

Jane is a retired English and Spanish middle school teacher who receives a pension from the world’s largest educator-only pension fund (and the second largest US pension system), California State Teachers Retirement System (“CalSTRS”).

A few weeks ago, Jane wrote a letter to the CEO of CalSTRS, Jack Ehnes. The letter started like this, “I am very concerned that my CalSTRS pension has holdings in the fossil fuel industry for two reasons–moral and financial.”

Jack Ehnes replied to Jane with a well-crafted response that covered CalSTRS environmental, social and geopolitical investment policies and general beliefs in investment climate risk. He went on to describe CalSTRS proclivity to engagement as opposed to divestment, and even mentioned the role CalSTRS played in soliciting a response from Exxon about stranded assets.

Jane’s second email to Jack Ehnes is worth a read. This movement is well framed in a debate between a retired English teacher and the CEO of a $200 Billion pension fund. A small group of retired teachers have leaned in to join the conversation (seen as the undersigned). In short, people are ready for more bold action. Enjoy:

Mr. Ehnes, thank you for your response that addresses CalSTRS’ continued investment in the fossil fuel industry. We appreciate the effort CalSTRS has made in addressing climate change, especially the work of the Green Initiative Task Force. However, we believe engagement is inadequate to alter the course of an industry that has no intention of leaving its carbon reserves in the ground and spends hundreds of millions daily in search of new carbon to burn.

Climate change has already happened and many people are suffering. Extreme droughts have caused human displacement and wrought instability to many regions worldwide. And let us not forget the emotional plea of Philippines lead negotiator Yeb Sano at the opening session of the UN climate summit in Warsaw—calling for “an end to this madness” as his country suffered the strongest typhoon that ever made landfall in the course of human history. Closer to home, California is witnessing a record drought. “Right now, we have communities whose wells have gone dry, completely. They are literally living out of water in buckets for their basic bathing needs,” said Firestone, co-director of the Community Water Center, which works in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Unlike other worthy divestment causes, CalSTRS’ divestment from fossil fuel has an unprecedented ethical obligation that is nothing short of helping to maintain a climate conducive to human life.

CalSTRS’ fiduciary duty to protect the pension fund from an impending carbon bubble may outweigh its ethical responsibility. Who better to understand this risk than Republican Henry Paulson, who was secretary of the Treasury when the credit bubble burst? He warns, “We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing as the risks go unchecked….This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore…. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course. We need to act now….”

Acting by merely engaging fossil fuel companies is inadequate. The situation is too urgent. It is unrealistic to wait for a third of the companies that CalSTRS targeted and who showed “evidence of their desire to either disclose efficiency efforts or consider alternative approaches” to take sufficient action. We are on a tight time-line that doesn’t lend itself to time-consuming negotiations which will likely produce unacceptable results. Even though some fossil fuel companies acknowledge climate change, they seem to be oblivious of the urgency to act. From their point of view, to acknowledge the looming carbon bubble would be bad for business. Their actions are similar to those of the banking industry at the brink of the housing crash.

Exxon’s reluctant decision to report how it will assess the risk of stranded assets from climate change probably was influenced by shareholder engagement, but once Exxon acknowledged the risk, Rex Tillerson, CEO continued to reassure investors that none of ExxonMobil’s assets will become stranded. Engaging with such companies to keep 80% of their reserves underground seems futile. New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of one of the largest pension funds in the country concludes, “Investors have repeatedly engaged fossil fuel companies, but the results have fallen short given the threat it poses to the entire global economy.” Enough of engagement.

CalSTRS Divestment Policy clearly states that it will not divest unless “one of the 21 Risk Factors is violated over a sustained time frame to the extent that it becomes an economic risk to the Fund, a potential loss of revenue exists, and where it weakens the trust of a significant portion of members to the System.” With financial entities such as HSBC and World Bank; the likes of Bevis Longstreth, former Commissioner of SEC who makes a strong financial case for divesting from fossil fuel; Henry Paulson, former US Secretary of Treasury; and Comptroller DiNapoli sounding an increasingly urgent alarm to the investment community about the financial and environmental risks of climate change, the Environmental Risk Factor has indeed been violated. It is time for CalSTRS to proceed to step two of its Divestment Policy—evaluation.

We ask that Christopher Ailman, CIO, bring the issue before the Investment Committee for consideration of divestment from fossil fuel companies with input from financial experts including those who would present the financial arguments for divesting from the CTI’s top 200 fossil fuel companies. Please direct your response to Jane Vosburg who will communicate your response to the undersigned.


CalSTRS Network of Educators for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Jane Vosburg, Melissa Matson, Deborah Silvey
Scott Johnson, Kent Minault, Jim Waterhouse
Jess Kochick, Bill Balderson, Danitsa Finch
Ed Navarro, Jocelyn Coltrin, Carmen Osoro
Sandi Martin, Mark Wardlaw, Seth Geffner
Will Dunn, Rachel Carusone, Ron Krsitof
Carolyn Kristof, Bill Vosburg, Dave Franzman
Sandi Martin, Julie Seorle, Jean Costa
Becky Hiss, Gary Waayers, Bob Duxbury
Art Horner, Becky Hiss

The post Divest CalSTRS responds to Engagement appeared first on Fossil Free.

Categories: International News

Change In Antarctic Sea Ice Trend Not So Extreme, Study Finds

Climate Progress - July 23, 2014 - 3:45pm

Iceberg surrounded by sea ice in Antarctica

CREDIT: Eva Nowatzki, distributed via

A new study finds that the change in the trend of Antarctic sea ice growth over time is “not as extreme as the published literature indicates,” as one coauthor put it.

The most important thing to know about Antarctica and ice is that a large part of the South Pole’s great sheet of land ice is close to or at a point of no return for irreversible collapse. Only immediate action to sharply reverse CO2 emissions could stop or significantly slow that.

And that really matters since 90 percent of Earth’s ice is in the Antarctic ice sheet, and even its partial collapse could raise sea levels tens of feet (over a period of centuries) and force coastal cities to be abandoned.

So you can imagine why the people who don’t want to take any action on climate change focus on floating Antarctic sea ice, which has been increasing (unlike Arctic sea ice, which has sharply declined). In particular, articles on Antarctic sea ice extent had reported an 8-fold jump in the rate of increase between 2000 and 2012.

For the dwindling number of people who seriously deny the objective reality of man-made warming, this is “proof” that their anti-scientific views are right. For the 97% of climate scientists (and world governments and others) who understand the reality of human-caused climate change, this is an intriguing puzzle to be solved.

In the reality camp, Skeptical Science reviews the scientific literature (here) and offers this summary explanation:

Antarctic sea ice has been growing over the last few decades but it certainly is not due to cooling – the Southern Ocean has shown warming over same period. Increasing southern sea ice is due to a combination of complex phenomena including cyclonic winds around Antarctica and changes in ocean circulation.

Now “The Cryosphere” has published a new study on “A spurious jump in the satellite record: has Antarctic sea ice expansion been overestimated?” (European Geosciences Union news release here).

The abstract explains:

Recent estimates indicate that the Antarctic sea ice cover is expanding at a statistically significant rate with a magnitude one-third as large as the rapid rate of sea ice retreat in the Arctic. However, during the mid-2000s, with several fewer years in the observational record, the trend in Antarctic sea ice extent was reported to be considerably smaller and statistically indistinguishable from zero. Here, we show that much of the increase in the reported trend occurred due to the previously undocumented effect of a change in the way the satellite sea ice observations are processed … rather than a physical increase in the rate of ice advance.

The study found that this change in data processing “caused a substantial change in the long-term trend.” The authors note that “our analysis does not definitively identify whether this change introduced an error or removed one, the resulting difference in the trends suggests that a substantial error exists in either the current data set or the version that was used prior to the mid-2000s.”

But one of the co-authors, Dr Walt Meier, a cryoscientist, explained to me that the climate scientist who maintains the data set for NASA has rechecked it — and found the error was in the original processing. In other words, “the most recent Antarctic sea ice trends are correct” but “the earlier published trends are incorrect and the change in trend over time is not as extreme as the published literature indicates.”

Bottom line: Antarctic sea ice trends are an intriguing scientific puzzle worthy of academic interest, whereas Antarctic land ice trends are like the planet running around with its hair on fire, yelling “stop the madness of denial and delay before it’s too late.”

The post Change In Antarctic Sea Ice Trend Not So Extreme, Study Finds appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Storms, Sewage, And Maggots: Climate Change Comes To Chicago

Climate Progress - July 23, 2014 - 3:29pm

A thunderstorm with heavy rains approaches downtown Chicago, Monday, June 24, 2013.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Scott Eisen

Add sewage in homes and maggot infestations to the list of what climate change can bring to American life.

A big report in the Washington Post on Wednesday laid out how Chicago’s aging infrastructure is intersecting with climate change’s tendency to drive heavier bursts of precipitation in some parts of the country, with some exceedingly unpleasant results. As in other older cities like Boston, the design of Chicago’s waste water system is 120 years old, and as a result handles both storm water and sewage. The city’s system was constructed for a much smaller population, on the assumption the biggest storms would hit once each decade. So when more than one inch of rain hits in a single day, the system overflows into the Chicago River — and when 1.5 inches or more hits, the system backs up into basements and homes across the city.

Lori Burns, a resident of Chicago’s South Side, told the Post that her home had flooded four times between 1995 and 2006, with the inundations recently increasing to every other year. In April 2013, her home was one of roughly 600 Chicago buildings that was flooded by sewage. It ruined her rugs, clothes, and family heirlooms, and forced Burns and her brother to go through the house with bleach. A week later, Burns entered her basement only to find a horde of maggots had occupied it thanks to the sewage bringing eggs up the drain.

“It was like a scene from Amityville horror,” Burns told friends. “I couldn’t see past the staircase!”

According to the Post, rains of 1.5 inches or more in Chicago have noticeably increased in recent years, and projections say rains of 2.5 inches or higher should ramp up another 50 percent in the next two decades. The National Climate Assessment paints a similar picture: annual precipitation in the Midwest has already gone up 37 percent since 1958, and is anticipated to go up another 10 to 20 percent by 2100.

“Designs are based upon historical patterns of precipitation and stream flow,” the assessment says, “which are no longer appropriate guides.”

Nor does the impact end with residences and buildings; the overflows from increased precipitation are also bringing more sewage and fertilizer and other runoff into the Great Lakes. As a result, the west side of Lake Eerie is now often overrun by algae blooms during the summer.

This past May, Farmer’s Insurance brought a landmark suit against the City of Chicago in Illinois court, citing the April 2013 sewage flooding as a preventable failure. The lawsuit alleged the city “should have known that climate change in Cook County has resulted in greater rainfall volume… than pre-1970 rainfall history evidenced,” and that its existing infrastructure is inadequate.

Chicago’s own 2010 Climate Action Plan acknowledges the way humanity’s carbon emissions contribute to climate change and help drive up the odds of extreme weather events. It outlines new energy efficiency targets, efforts to build up reliances on renewables, and pollution cuts, among many other goals. But the city is still grappling with some of the fossil fuel industry’s dirtiest actors: another lawsuit has been brought against the Koch Brothers and 10 of their companies, over the health effects of petcoke pollution. The substance is a byproduct of tar sands oil refining, and the Koch’s companies allegedly stored it in large piles along the Calumet River on Chicago’s southeast side. As a result, clouds of petcoke dust have plagued low-income residents in the area.

Farmer’s Insurance eventually dropped their lawsuit. But the firm hopes the attempt will “encourage cities and counties to take preventative steps,” while laying precedent for future such lawsuits across the country if climate change persists.

As for Lori Burns, she reacted to her experience by joining an urban flooding support group, writing the city, and speaking up at council meetings. Chicago’s South Side is one of the city’s most socio-economically diverse areas, with many residents who don’t have the resources to deal with sewage floods every few years.

“What are we supposed to do on the South Side,” she asks. “What are old or poor or sick people supposed to do? Surely not be forced out of their homes every year?”

David St. Pierre, head of Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, told the Post the city is working to upgrade its storm and waste water storage system. It can now take on 2.7 billion gallons of overflow, and should be able to 7.5 billion gallons by 2015 and 17.5 billion by 2029. Chicago’s Climate Action Plan also includes adding French drains to highways, repaving roads, and adding $50 million in flood prevention infrastructure — rain barrels, permeable alleys, trees, and other natural ways to cut storm runoff by 250 million gallons. Other cities like Boston are gearing up for similar efforts.

“I don’t see any overflows happening when that’s done,” St. Pierre said. “We’re getting this under control, maybe more than any other city in the U.S.”

The post Storms, Sewage, And Maggots: Climate Change Comes To Chicago appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

The EU Wants To Get 30 Percent More Energy Efficient By 2030

Climate Progress - July 23, 2014 - 12:04pm

Wind turbines stand behind houses of the village of Feldheim near Berlin, Germany.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

The European Union has introduced an energy savings goal of 30 percent by 2030, a goal that goes beyond the EU’s current energy efficiency target of 25 percent by 2030.

Now, EU member countries will decide whether or not the goal will be implemented at a country-wide or EU-wide level. The EU’s new proposed goal of 30 percent energy efficiency by 2030 builds on the union’s current goal of 20 percent by 2020, a goal the EU says can be reached as long as all member countries fully implement agreed-upon climate legislation.

A higher goal by 2030 will save EU consumers money and help wean member countries off fossil fuels, the Commission said in a release. For every 1 percent increase in energy savings, EU gas imports are predicted to fall by 2.6 percent, according to the commission, and energy efficiency policies are expected to create new jobs in construction and manufacturing.

EU Energy Chief Günther Oettinger said in a statement that the 30 percent goal was ambitious but realistic.

“Our aim is to give the right signal to the market and encourage further investments in energy saving technologies to the benefit of businesses, consumers and the environment,” he said.

The goal falls short, however, of the 40 percent energy efficiency target that some environmental groups were pushing for, saying it would result in further reductions of gas imports. Oettinger ruled out the 40 percent goal earlier this month.

The EU’s proposal to up its energy efficiency goal comes as a new report shows the group of nations are already leading the world in terms of energy savings. The report, released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), ranked the world’s 16 largest economies and found that Germany ranked number one in energy efficiency, while Italy was number two and the rest of the EU came in at number three.

The U.S., on the other hand, came in at number 13 on the list, ranking above just Russia, Brazil and Mexico. In 2012, ACEEE ranked the U.S. in ninth place, due largely to its focus on expanding car infrastructure rather than public transportation. Since then, the group says, the U.S. has made little progress in energy efficiency. However, the EPA’s proposed rule on curbing emissions from power plants could help the U.S. rise in rankings by spurring investment in energy efficiency, ACEEE says. Additionally, earlier this year the Obama administration announced that it would invest $2 billion into making federal buildings more energy efficient.

And though the EU does lead the world in energy efficiency, its coal plants are still standing in the way of some of its goals on climate, according to a new report. The report looked at the most heavily-polluting coal plants in the EU and found that Germany and the U.K. each have nine of the dirtiest coal plants in Europe. Despite leading the world in energy efficiency, Germany uses more coal to generate electricity than any other EU country, according to the report.

The post The EU Wants To Get 30 Percent More Energy Efficient By 2030 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

White House To Propose New Rules For Crude Oil Rail Shipments

Climate Progress - July 23, 2014 - 11:08am

Crude oil train


Bloomberg reports the Obama Administration will propose new rules for transporting crude oil by rail Wednesday, aimed at reducing speeds and requiring sturdier tanker cars.

The rules are a reaction to a spate of derailments and explosions that have plagued the rail transportation of crude oil in North America recently, as the drilling and tracking boom has driven the amount of crude oil hauled by train to new heights.

While the specifics remain unknown, two unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the rules will include slower speed limits for trains to reduce accidents, and thicker hulls for the tanker cars to provide more protection should a derailment occur. They also said the new rules would apply to the rail shipment of ethanol biofuel.

Members of the industry itself are split on what form the new rules should take. Railroad operators agreed in February to slow down their speeds in urban areas to 40mph, which is 10mph slower than the previous speed limit. Rail executives fear the White House may decide to lower that ceiling further to 30mph, which they argue will impede shipping, create bottlenecks and raise costs.

But a letter from Union Tank Car Co. — a tank car manufacturer owned by Warren Buffett — argued this month that most of the recent accidents were due to rail operations or infrastructure. So rail operations, including speed limits, needed to be updated.

“The quickest and most meaningful way to improve crude-by-rail safety is to approve new regulations regarding railroad operating procedures and classification and testing of flammable liquids,” the letter said.

Manufacturers like Union Tank Car Co., however, are also trying to avoid the new requirements that would fall on their portion of the industry. New modifications to tank car design and thickness could increase costs by as much as $60,000 per car, in some estimates.

The crude oil produced by the Bakken shale boom in North Dakota has proved more flammable and explosive than other forms of crude. But the American Petroleum Institute (API) has opposed reclassifying it more flammable than other crudes, as this would require shipping it in specially designed cars intended for dangerous chemicals.

API is a trade association of major oil producers, and has been at loggerheads with the Association of American Railroads — which represents operators — over the design of tanker cars. The operators have proposed increasing the thickness of tank car hulls to 9/16 of an inch. But the oil industry says the current 7/16 of an inch thickness is sufficient, and increasing it would cut down on the amount of oil that can be shipped per car. Meanwhile, Bill Furman, the CEO of tank car manufacturer Greenbrier Co., said technology advancements have opened the door to other modifications that will maintain capacity even with the thicker hulls.

So earlier this month, the two groups split the difference, and proposed an 8/16 inch thick hull, plus a three-year phaseout of older tank car models. It’s unknown whether federal regulators will take them up on the offer.

Rail carloads of oil hit 408,000 in the US last year, way up from 11,000 in 2009. And 2013 saw a string of train wrecks and explosions, as cars carrying oil derailed in Minnesota, Virginia, Alabama, Nevada, and several places in Canada.

The post White House To Propose New Rules For Crude Oil Rail Shipments appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News


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