Canada’s timber industry is rebounding from the economic downturn, stronger than ever. That was the news out of Ottawa on Thursday as Natural Resources Canada presented its 2013 annual report, The State of Canada’s Forests.
“Canada’s forest sector is providing exciting new products for the domestic and international markets, providing jobs for 234,000 Canadian workers and contributing $19 billion to our nation’s economy,” said Joe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources in a statement. The growth in Canada’s forestry sector is thanks in large part to the gradual recovery of U.S. housing construction and new markets for Canadian wood in Asia, especially China.
Unfortunately, the ostensibly rosy economic news from what’s been happening to Canada’s forests in recent years has a dark side. Last month, the Global Forest Change map — a joint project between researchers at the University of Maryland and Google that tracks the losses and gains of the world’s forests over the last 12-years — showed that Canada is one of the countries with some of the most disturbing rates of forest destruction.
Saskatchewan and northern Alberta are losing boreal forests at alarming rates thanks to mining operations and tar sands oil extraction. Growing demand for pulp and paper in China is also keeping paper mills in B.C. and Quebec busy.
The biggest threat to Canada’s forests, however, may turn out to be climate change — a point noted in the 2013 State of Canada’s Forests report, amid all the positive growth numbers.
The pine beetle, which is now often able to live through the winter, thanks to milder conditions, has killed 723 million cubic meters of Canadian timber. More severe droughts in Western Canada and an increased risk of forest fires are also a serious threat. A study published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that the boreal forests of the world have not burned at the rates seen today for at least the past 10,000 years.
The world’s forests act as giant CO2 sponges, soaking up vast amounts of carbon dioxide as they grow and storing it out of the atmosphere. Combined, the world’s forests are estimated to absorb around 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, or about one-third of the carbon dioxide released through the burning of fossil fuels. Fewer forests are expected to lead to less carbon dioxide being taken out of the atmosphere, which may in turn lead to more severe climate change and even fewer trees — a classic example of a positive feedback loop for carbon emissions.
“It’s ironic that Minister Joe Oliver’s department would be warning of the risks of climate change while the minister himself is travelling the world promoting rapid pipeline and oilsands expansion, which is the single biggest contributor to climate pollution in Canada,” prominent B.C. environmentalist Tzeporah Berman told the Vancuver Sun.
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CREDIT: Associated Press
U.S. marijuana growers have increasingly brought their farms indoors, in large part to remain hidden from law enforcement. But the industry comes at a significant carbon cost. A 2011 study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the marijuana industry is responsible for 1 percent of U.S. electricity use, primarily because of resources associated with indoor cultivation and storage. In California, indoor cultivation accounts for 3 percent of the state’s energy use.
That finding was before two states legalized recreational marijuana, in addition to several more medical marijuana states. Now, Colorado growers with utility bills of $20,000 to $100,000 per month are warning that indoor growth may not be sustainable.
“Energy consumption in this business is pretty astronomical,” marijuana business owner John Kocer told CBS Denver. “As this industry expands at its current pace I do believe that we will be a tax on the energy grid: something has to change.”
Indoor marijuana cultivation requires indoor grow lights, in addition to temperature control and ventillation. Overall, it sucks up $6 billion in energy costs, and creates as much greenhouse gas as 3 million cars, according to Sustainable Business.
Marijuana growers cultivate indoors for several reasons. But one of the primary ones is to keep their business hidden from view. Even in states where marijuana is legal, growing marijuana outside would put their federally illegal operations right under the noses of passers-by. It also makes them vulnerable to theft from the still-vibrant illicit marijuana market.
So long as marijuana is federally prohibited and regulation is suppressed, this will be one of many adverse environmental consequences of illicit marijuana growing. Unregulated outdoor farms impose harms from unchecked forest clearing, filling and diversion of streams, use of toxic pesticides, and even road building.
One California county with a particularly high volume of pot growers took a novel approach to tackling this issue by issuing licenses to locally compliant growers, and using revenue from the licensing program to crack down on large-scale bad actors. But the program was forced to shut down, after the Drug Enforcement Administration raided the model grower for the county’s pot licensing program.
Washington’s new marijuana law sets out regulations for both indoor and outdoor growing, but those who produce indoors are permitted four harvests per year, while those who go outside are limited to two per year, prompting complaints from some that the rules favor indoor growth. Because the states are still facing a federal prohibition, and have committed not to allow their marijuana supply to flow into other states, they are still incentivized to keep growth contained.
Colorado initially intended to prohibit outdoor marijuana cultivation. But its new recreational marijuana regulations now allow outdoor facilities that have secure fencing and surveillance.
The post How Marijuana Prohibition Drives Up Energy Costs And Warms The Planet appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The largest private-sector union in Canada has pledged its opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, joining more than 100 First Nations groups and other unions who have vowed to fight the project.
On Thursday, the British Columbia director of Unifor signed the Save the Fraser declaration, an accord that aims to ban all tar sands projects from First Nations territory and from the ocean migration routes of the Fraser River salmon. In a speech, Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s B.C. director, said a “good jobs revolution,” with opportunities in clean energy and expansions in public transit, would bring better opportunities to B.C. than the pipeline would.
“The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project seeks to massively increase oil exports as if climate change wasn’t real,” he said. “It proposes to travel through our communities and First Nations with profit as the first motive instead of respecting our environment and social obligations to each other. It creates few jobs in Canada compared to its scale and exports more of our natural resources even faster.”
Unifor has been outspoken about oil and gas development before — last month, the union released a paper calling for a moratorium on all new oil and gas fracking in Canada, citing environmental risks and the need to preserve the desires of First Nations to keep their lands free from energy development. On Thursday the union vowed to join First Nations in protesting the project if it were to proceed.
“We signed in solidarity, so we’ll be there in solidarity to support them,” McGarrigle told the Globe and Mail. “We support lawful and peaceful protest. We know what solidarity means: It means you stand together with a sense of purpose. We have a saying in the labour movement: We’ll be there one day longer.”
Unifor’s signature adds significant weight to the fight against the Northern Gateway pipeline, a project which would carry Athabasca tar sands bitumen from Alberta to a marine terminal in Kitimat, B.C. The union was formed through a merger between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada and has more than 300,000 members in all economic sectors, including the oil and gas industry. But it wasn’t the only one to join the more than 130 First Nations who had pledged their opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline — the B.C.’s Teachers’ Federation, which represents 41,000 public school teachers and has promoted anti-pipeline literature in the past, also signed on to the declaration Thursday, as did the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
The unions’ decision to oppose the pipeline contrasts sharply with the stances many U.S. labor unions have taken on Keystone XL. In 2012, the Laborers’ International Union of North America split with the BlueGreen Alliance, a group that unites labor unions and environmental organizations. LIUNA cited BlueGreen Alliance’s anti-Keystone stance and said they were “repulsed” by any labor unions that continued to oppose the project. The issue has created a divide among unions, which have had to weigh their often pro-environmental views with arguments about job creation. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Teamsters and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters for the United States and Canada are among the unions that support the project, while the Transport Workers Union opposes it.
Last month, the Labor Network for Sustainability released a report that argued more jobs could be created through improving existing pipeline infrastructure than building Keystone XL.
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The U.K. government on Thursday announced generous tax breaks to the hydraulic fracturing industry, just one day after touting a green energy investment strategy that it says will bring $65 billion in renewable energy investment to the country.
According to U.K. Treasury Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement, companies that explore shale gas will now be relieved of up to 75 percent of taxes for their early profits. The Chancellor said the tax breaks would make it easier for fracking companies to operate, therefore bringing “thousands of jobs, billions of pounds of business investment, and lower energy bills.”
Interestingly enough, the announcement came just one day after the country’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), announced reforms to its electricity market that it said would attract $65 billion in renewable investment over the next seven years. Those changes are updated “strike prices” — akin to subsidies in the United States — that indicate just how much monetary support different types of renewable energy projects get from the government in exchange for investment in a low-carbon grid. The new strike prices will increase government support for offshore wind, geothermal, and hydro power.
The pairing of the two energy reforms is strange given the government’s carbon budget, which mandates Britain to cut greenhouse gases 34 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. While $65 billion in increased investment in low-carbon, renewable energy by 2020 would be a huge step toward meeting those goals, the government could be partially offsetting them by implementing an enormous incentive for a controversial methane-emitting fossil fuel industry.
In addition, buried in the DECC’s renewable reforms were the fact that the government would actually cut monetary support for solar parks and onshore wind farms.
Under the renewable rules, the DECC will implement sweeping cuts to subsidies for the onshore wind industry, which some renewable groups say could damage plans for small, on-farm turbines and large-scale onshore wind farms. Paul McCullagh, the chief executive of small wind developer UrbanWind, told Business Green that the government’s decision to cut onshore wind was particularly “ham-fisted,” as it “naively lumped all types of onshore wind together and made the draconian move of cutting subsidies across the board.”
The solar industry also received news that its subsidies would be cut, but in another weird turn of events, the Solar Trade Association told The Telegraph on Wednesday that it had actually asked for less money. According to the paper, the industry group didn’t even want the subsidies they were awarded under the new rules. The STA “can’t understand why” the government would reject its request to receive support in 2016, a year it expects to be doing particularly well.
It’s not hard to be skeptical of clean energy objectives set forth by the current U.K. government, which has had a questionable history meeting the challenges of climate change. Since Premier David Cameron has promised “the greenest government ever,” he has been plagued with skeptics who assert differently. Cameron, for example, last year appointed known climate denier Owen Paterson as his Environment Secretary. Chancellor George Osborne, who announced Thursday’s fracking tax breaks, has for more than a year has said the U.K. shouldn’t lead the world in reducing pollution from fossil fuels. Just recently, the Sun reported that Premier David Cameron ordered his aides to “get rid of all the green crap” from energy bills in an attempt to bring down costs. The PM has denied the claim.
The DECC’s proposed reforms would, however, provide large government benefits to companies who invest in offshore wind, hydro, and geothermal power. Under the new rules, the DECC will boost subsidies for the offshore wind industry in order to ensure an extra 2GW of wind capacity by 2020. The geothermal industry will also have its support levels increased by £20 per megawatt hour each year, while the hydroelectric industry received a boost of a £5 per megawatt hour.
“This package will deliver record levels of investment in green energy by 2020,” Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey said in a statement. “Our reforms are succeeding in attracting investors from around the world so Britain can replace our aging power station and keep the lights on.”
In addition, Greenpeace policy director Doug Parr told Solar Power Portal that cuts to subsidies for onshore wind and solar are actually good news, because it means the industry is becoming more self-sustainable. “Today’s cuts to onshore wind and solar support schemes show how quickly the cost of clean energy technologies are falling,” he said. “Onshore wind farms will power our homes and factories more cheaply than new nuclear stations, and the same is expected of solar.”
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Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at age 95, leaves two legacies for climate hawks — the necessity of persistence and the value of divestment.
Who among us can even imagine the persistence required of a man who spent more than 27 years in jail — from 1962 to 1990 — in his quest to end Apartheid? But his indefatigable spirit triumphed, and he was elected the first black president of South Africa a little more than 4 years after his release. His forbearance and moral sensibility prevented what many saw as an inevitable civil war and achieved, instead, national reconciliation.
Desmond Tutu wrote in a 2010 WWF editorial:
“Last month we saw celebrations marking 20 years since the release of Nelson Mandela. That historic day signaled a turning point in the path this country was to take; we embarked on a new journey filled with hope for the future. Indeed, there were many who had to pinch themselves when it happened, so bleak were the preceding months and years during which many South Africans saw their country in crisis.
The global movement urging action on climate change should take heart from that great event…. It took individual and collective activism and a sense of urgency and responsibility to change our nation. Twenty years later that’s what it will take to change the world.”
Climate hawks have already begun to take a page out of the strategy that helped bring down apartheid. Bill McKibben discussed that very point in a 2012 National Journal profile:
McKibben now plans to pressure U.S. institutions, starting with universities, to end their financial investments in oil, gas, and coal companies. He’ll launch a 20-college tour, joined by Nobel laureate and South African human-rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to pressure university boards, via student protests, to end university endowment’s holdings in fossil fuels.
“Two hundred colleges divested their holdings in companies that did business with South Africa. And when Nelson Mandela got out of prison, the first place he came was not the White House—it was California to thank University of California students who had helped get their system to divest $3 billion in holdings in South Africa,” McKibben said.
“As Desmond Tutu says, this is the next great moral issue that we face, and the same kind of tactic is what’s necessary to face it.”
Economy-wide divestment from fossil fuels is inevitable (see “Invest, Divest: Renewable Investment To Hit $630 Billion A Year In 2030, Fossil Fuel Stocks At Risk Today”). But, as I’ve written, we are poised to miss the window to avert catastrophic climate change by just a decade or two — resulting in possibly hundreds of years of misery for billions and billions of people.
That’s why climate hawks must redouble our efforts against our redoutable opponents. Indeed, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote in 2010 that this was the heartening lesson Mandela’s persistence held for those tackling “the great causes of today” such as climate change: “And so the lesson of the South African struggle is surely that change never comes without a fight, but when we fight, progressives can change the course of history.”
Mandela famously said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” But he had so many inspirational quotes. In his 1995 book, “Long Walk to Freedom,” he wrote, “There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
And, finally, he also wrote this:
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
Emily Atkin assisted with the research on this piece. Photo via iHeartClimateScientists.
The post Nelson Mandela’s Legacy for Climate Hawks: ‘It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ukrainians continued to blockade streets and occupy government buildings in Kyiv on Friday, vowing to expand their mass protests until the current government is gone. Activists are calling for Ukrainians to join a ‘March of a Million’ in Kyiv on Sunday, deeming it “the last chance.”
The demonstrations are the country’s largest since the Orange Revolution of 2004, and crowds swelled to an estimated 350,000 people in Kyiv alone last Sunday, their outrage fueled by a brutal police crackdown that left hundreds of people injured.
The protests began on November 22, after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed course and refused to sign political and trade agreements with the European Union that had been in the works for years after heavy pressure from Moscow to abandon the agreements. In the weeks leading up to this about-face, Ukraine and Russia appeared to be headed for a major feud over natural gas.
In October, Russia complained that Ukraine owed $882 million for gas delivered in August. “Ukraine, which pays around $400 per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas, one of the highest prices in Europe, has asked Moscow to ease terms it considers excessive and unaffordable for its debt-strapped economy,” Reuters reported at the time. As the date for signing the EU agreements neared, Russia warned of economic catastrophe and civil unrest if Ukraine signed the accords and offered an alternative: join our customs union instead.
Ukraine has long been dependent on natural gas from Russia and that dependence has been a key source of strife between the two nations for several years. Russia has raised the price it charges Ukraine for gas several times and has been known to shut off gas supplies, even in the middle of winter, over payment disputes. Complicating the tug-of-war over Ukraine even more, Ukraine controls the pipeline that transports Russia’s natural gas to the rest of Europe — with Europe currently dependent on Russia (and Ukraine) for 40 percent of its natural gas.
In an attempt to lure Ukraine toward its union of former Soviet republics and away from the EU, Russia offered something it knew its neighbor needed: cheaper gas prices. “No one other than Russia can provide Ukraine with the necessary funds so quickly and in such a quantity,” Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told Bloomberg News. “A gas agreement could help relieve Ukraine of a huge problem. We can also give them a loan, but we will not help them without commitments on their part.”
After the EU accords had been scuttled and Yanukovych turned his attention back to Russia, Ukraine’s national energy company announced on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with Russia’s Gazprom to delay payments for winter fuel deliveries to spring of next year, RIA Novosti reported. Gazprom’s CEO disputed the account, saying Ukraine owed over $2 billion for gas deliveries this year and an agreement to pay back the debt had not been reached.
On Wednesday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvyedev urged “stability and order” in Ukraine as a Ukrainian delegation arrived in Moscow “seeking cheaper gas and financial aid to close gaping external deficits that could set off a balance of payments crisis,” Reuters reported. The talks could be critical, as Ukraine’s dire economic situation continues to worsen. Negotiating cheaper gas from Russia could afford Ukraine some much-needed time to find outside funding to pay off its massive debts. Including the private sector, Ukraine will have to make debt repayments of more than $60 billion next year — equivalent to one third of the country’s gross domestic product.
Earlier this year, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Ukraine routinely overpays for the gas it receives from Russia, to the tune of $20 billion over three years.
For its part, “Russia vehemently denies using trade embargoes and gas deliveries as a form of intimidation against Ukraine and says it is only taking measures to protect its own economy,” according to RIA Novosty.
In an effort to take steps toward energy independence, Ukraine signed two major shale gas deals with Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron this year. Chevron’s investment in the project could reach $10 billion and, if significant reserves are found, could be “a game changer,” according to analysts. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates Ukraine has 42 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, enough to meet the country’s demands for several years, but extracting it requires the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Because of the threat it poses to groundwater and other environmental and public health concerns, fracking is largely out of favor in Europe.
In nearby Romania, locals continue to fight a Chevron shale gas project, claiming they were beaten by police and forcibly removed from their makeshift camp near the drilling site. Prime Minister Victor Ponta responded to the treatment of anti-fracking protesters around the country by saying that “the actions of the gendarmes were 100 percent according to the law and I congratulate them for this.”
The post How Natural Gas Has Helped Fuel Ukraine’s Violent Unrest appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: Smith-Midland Corporation
Ocean Gate, a little town of 2,200 people on Toms River in New Jersey was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. Almost half of the homes in Ocean Gate suffered serious damage from floodwater and 65 percent of the boardwalk was washed away.
Given that level of destruction, perhaps it’s not surprising that this picturesque Jersey shore town is investing in beach defenses reminiscent of barricades set up along the English Channel during World War Ii. This time, however, the barriers aren’t intended to keep out enemy boats — the enemy here is the ocean.
The defenses are called “beach prisms” — triangular concrete wedges that look a lot like highway barriers with giant slits cut through them. When placed just off the beach, they create a porous underwater wall that disperses wave energy before it can scrape sand from the beach. Because of the large slits, the prisms also help to naturally replenish beaches — wave and wind action push water and sand through and the sand accumulates at the shoreward base of the structure.
The Ocean Gate project is the first time this sort of erosion prevention method has been used in New Jersey. The structures resemble beach defenses of WWII because they were inspired by the observation that similar-looking barricades designed to keep tanks off of beaches in Britain, seemed to attract mounds of sand around them.
Thirty-five beach prisms arrived at Ocean Gate at the end of November and on Monday, the first five were placed in Toms River about 50 feet from the sand. Each prism is about four feet high and ten feet long and will just be visible from the beach.
Beach prisms are a relatively economical solution to tackling beach erosion. The three sections of beach prisms planned for Ocean Gate are expected to cost around $150,000, or $1,275 per prism, far less than sand berms or rock riprap which could cost upwards of $1 million for the same length of waterfront.
Smith-Midland, the Virginia-based manufacturer of beach prisms, has been testing the structures at 20 sites in the Chesapeake Bay area for years. Beach prisms are also being used off of Wallops Island, Virginia, to help protect the end of a runway at the NASA launch facility and on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii to protect homes from winter surf.
Since Superstorm Sandy, most communities along the Jersey shore have been focusing almost exclusively on building artificial dune systems to protect homes from future storms. While well-constructed and-intelligently oriented dunes saved towns like Harvey Cedars, Surf City, and Brant Beach from the catastrophic devastation endured by communities with no dunes, the cost of maintaining huge piles of sand which are routinely eroded by frequent coastal storms may not be sustainable. Climate change is expected to lead to more intense and frequent storms, which will make keeping sand on beaches even harder in the future.
Beach replenishment projects, which began in earnest along the Jersey shore in the 1980s, have dumped 73.2 million cubic yards of sand on the coast to keep the Atlantic Ocean at bay. The vast majority of the $556.8 million that these projects have cost is picked up by the federal government. Municipalities pay just $87,000 for every $1 million in federal funds.
Because they are porous and relatively low, beach prisms alone won’t protect a town from high water, but they would help protect the precious sand dunes that stand in between the angry ocean and billions of dollars of property.
Rodney Smith, CEO of Smith-Midland said in a phone interview that his company has been inundated with inquires about beach prisms in recent weeks.
“We’ve had so many people, so curious about what we’re making,” he said. “We been testing and perfecting for nearly two decades, and now, all of a sudden, everyone wants to know about beach prisms.”
The post How A Relic From World War II Could Help Protect The Jersey Shore appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Researchers at Southern Methodist University have linked a string of 2009 and 2010 earthquakes in Texas to the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground, according to a new study.
The researchers examined the group of more than 50 earthquakes that hit the area of Cleburne, Texas in 2009 and 2010, and found that they could have happened because of wastewater injection wells associated with fracking operations. Before 2008, the Fort Worth Basin of Texas had never experienced an earthquake.
“Because there were no known previous earthquakes, and the located events were close to the two injection wells and near the injection depth, the possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection,” the authors write in their report.
In Cleburn, injections of fracking wastewater began in 2005, but earthquakes didn’t start until 2009. This doesn’t rule out the potential for wastewater injection to have caused the quakes, however — scientists believe the fracking process makes it more likely in general that an earthquake will happen, even if there is a delay.
“The model I use is called the air hockey table model,” Cliff Frohlich, a research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin, told StateImpact Texas. “You have an air hockey table, suppose you tilt it, if there’s no air on, the puck will just sit there. Gravity wants it to move but it doesn’t because there friction [with the table surface].”
Once the air is turned on, the puck slips — the same way, he says, if you pump wastewater into a fault, the fault can slip and cause an earthquake. The presence of the fluid could make it much easier for an earthquake to happen, even years later when an external force becomes strong enough to move the earth. Brian Stump, chairman of Geological Sciences at SMU, said he thinks an earthquake can only be triggered if the fluid reaches an underground fault.
In general, linking wastewater injection to earthquakes isn’t uncommon (wastewater injection has been confirmed as a possible trigger of earthquakes by the U.S. Geological Survey). In 2010, researchers from SMU and UT-Austin determined that a wastewater injection well was a “plausible cause” for the series of earthquakes in North Texas in 2008 and 2009. Earlier this year in Ohio, fracking wastewater disposal was also linked to the 109 earthquakes that shook Youngstown in 2011 — an area that hadn’t ever experienced an earthquake before an injection well came online in December 2010. After a 3.9-magnitude earthquake struck the Ohio city on Dec. 31, 2011, the injection well was shut down.
This also probably isn’t the last time we’ll hear about the link between wastewater injection and earthquakes in Texas in particular. Last month, North Texas was hit by more than 20 earthquakes, prompting calls for an investigation into a possible wastewater disposal link.
“If it is determined that quakes are caused by the disposal wells, then the disposal wells need to stop. It’s that simple,” the city of Azle’s Mayor Alan Brundrett said.
The post Researchers Link Earthquakes In Texas To Fracking Process appeared first on ThinkProgress.
A telephone poll testing out messaging techniques on fracking and creating American jobs through expanded fossil fuel drilling and refining, apparently paid for by the American Petroleum Institute (API), was interrupted Tuesday by a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shaking the outsourced calling center near Davao City in the Philippines.
Tuesday evening, I received a call from a pollster calling from a number showing up as (801) 899-4119. The woman identified herself as calling from Survey Sampling International and asked if she could ask me some questions about national issues. The questions focused almost entirely on energy policy and asked for reaction to a series of mostly pro-industry statements.
Among the topics included in the survey were queries about:
- Whether the EPA should be stripped of its authority to promulgate regulations without Congressional permission.
- Whether the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should be built to create jobs and promote “North American” energy independence.
- Whether corporate taxes should be kept low to promote job growth.
- Whether offshore oil drilling should be expanded to reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil.
- Whether protecting the environment should be a higher priority than meeting America’s energy demand.
- Whether hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) should be expanded to produce more natural gas.
Six minutes into the survey, the interview was interrupted by sounds of screaming. The woman apologized, explaining that she was experiencing an earthquake, and requested permission to call back and finish the interview later. Despite the Utah area code, an Internet search of seismology sites quickly revealed that the interviewer was calling from the Philippines.
Wednesday evening, a different woman with the same caller-ID number, called to complete the poll. She noted that no one from the company had been physically injured by the quake, but that her colleague who had begun the interview was sufficiently shaken up by the events of the night before that she had taken the day off. Three minutes later, the remainder of the survey was complete.
At the conclusion of the survey, the pollster reiterated that it had been done by Survey Sampling International and noted that it had been paid for by the American Petroleum Institute, 1220 L Street, NW, Washington, DC.
Following a series of personal Tweets noting the ironies that the survey about “American jobs” was apparently outsourced and that questions about fracking (which some scientists believe may cause earthquakes) were interrupted by a significant quake, the API responded. The staffer running the industry trade association’s official Twitter account Tweeted: “I believe you are mistaken” “- that we polled you.” API did not respond to a Tweet and a phone request for a further explanation as of press time.
API has made the industry’s role in creating American jobs a frequent talking point in its messaging. The group’s materials boast that the oil and natural gas industry supports 9.2 million American jobs and claim that “our vast domestic oil and natural gas resources is vital to bolstering our nation’s economic recovery and energy security, while serving as a vital bridge to our energy future.”
Survey Sampling International did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about their call centers, but the company’s 2013 corporate fact sheet boasts that it employs “2,500+ skilled interviewers throughout an integrated network of call centers in the US and Philippines.”
The post American Petroleum Institute Poll On American Energy Jobs Apparently Outsourced To The Philippines appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Mount Doom is like LA and the Shire like Lincolnshire, so says a climate model based on author's famously detailed maps
Climate sceptics regularly work themselves into a lather dismissing mainstream climate science as fantasy – but for once they have a point.
A researcher at Bristol University has trained his powerful supercomputer not at predicting the earth's future climate, but on the fictional world of Middle Earth – the backdrop for JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
To reproduce Middle Earth's climate, Dr Dan Lunt, an expert on past climate change, traced one of Tolkein's famously detailed maps, and then effectively "scanned" that into the university's supercomputer.
"For a model to work, all you need is a map of where continents are, and how high the mountains are," Lunt says. The machines at the Advanced Computing Research Centre then crunched the weather patterns of Rohan, Mirkwood, and the rest of Tolkien's world for about six days, or roughly 70 years in the model.
According to Lunt's analysis, the climate around Mount Doom (where Frodo must take the evil ring of power to be destroyed) is like LA – hot, with the volcanic ash creating a similar effect to LA's infamous smog. Meanwhile the Shire, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins' peaceful neighbourhood, is most similar to Lincolnshire or Leicestershire in the UK.
The Shire's climate is also similar to that of Dunedin in New Zealand, he found, suggesting the director of the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson chose the wrong locations for filming. "They made a mistake by filming in the north island – they should've filmed in the south island," says Lunt.
Writing under the pen name of Radagast the Brown in a mock paper on the work, Lunt also suggests that:
• Ships sailing for the Undying Lands in the west set off from the Grey Havens due to the prevailing winds in that region.
• Much of Middle Earth would have been covered in dense forest if the landscape had not been altered by dragons, orcs, wizards etc.
• Mordor had an inhospitable climate, even ignoring the effects of Sauron – hot and dry with little vegetation.
But there's a serious point to the exercise, says Lunt,:
"The serious side is that the climate models I used, and those [other models] out there, are actually based on our fundamental understanding of science, of fluid mechanics, fluid motion, the science of convection in clouds, radiation from the sun, and the science of biology. And because of that, they're not just tuned for the modern earth, they can simulate any climate."
Climate models are used to predict what might happen to future temperatures as we pump out carbon dioxide via our factories, cars and power plants, leaving greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at what the UN climate science panel said in September were "unprecedented" levels. The Bristol team fed into that IPCC report with models that largely match previous climate records, a match that "give us confidence in the [projections for] future", says Lunt.
Lunt, who undertook the work in his spare time, admits to being a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan. "I read them a few times as a child," he says, before pausing. "And a few times as an adult, I must confess."Adam Vaughan
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The media failed to accurately report facts prior to the Iraq War; climate reporting is failing in similar fashion
"Iraq is developing a long-range ballistic missile system that could carry weapons of mass destruction up to 700 miles." Iraq is progressing towards "dirty bombs that spew radioactivity, mobile bio-weapons facilities, and a new long-range ballistic missile." An Iraqi defector "tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites." It is an "undisputed fact" that September 11 attacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague.
Those claims appeared in mainstream newspapers during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. All those claims were false. The nonexistence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq immediately prior to the invasion and the absence of links between Iraq and al-Qaida eventually became the official U.S. position with the Duelfer Report and the report of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
A decade later, those media failures are relevant not only because of the war's six-figure death toll and because the Iraqi per capita GDP has so far failed to return to prewar levels, but also because they remind us that the media, including highly reputable newspapers, can sometimes get things quite wrong.
A similar media failure is arguably under way this very moment with regard to climate change. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded with near certainty that human economic activity is responsible for ongoing global warming, and some of the largest insurance companies on the planet have blamed the increase in losses from extreme weather events to climate-related disasters.
This has not kept some newspapers from reporting that Arctic ice is "recovering", a rather adventurous claim in light of the fact that the Arctic has lost 40% of its ice cover since 1980 and that ice extent is now lower than during several millennia preceding 1980. A recent quantitative analysis of climate coverage in the Australian media confirmed that misreporting of the science is widespread.
There are some interesting similarities and differences between the media failures involving Iraqi WMDs and climate change.
One notable difference between pre-invasion reporting on Iraqi WMD and climate change is that, in contrast to the near-hegemony of war-supporting reporting (at least in the U.S.), the public has a broader choice now when it comes to climate change: While there is a large supply of disinformation that threatens the public's right to being adequately informed, there is also no shortage of actual scientific information, both in the mainstream media and beyond.
The diversity of sources empowers the public to select their information wisely, but it also provides a playing field for the dominant influence of people's cultural worldviews or "ideology", which can override even education. People whose core personal values are threatened by possible responses to climate change, such as a price on carbon or regulatory measures, are known to rely on media sources that are more likely to create confusion about climate change than disseminate scientifically accurate information.
Worldviews may also explain another cognitive difference between Iraq and climate, which concerns the asymmetry in the evaluation of evidence in the two cases. In the case of Iraqi WMDs, we now know that the media—and politicians among the "Coalition of the Willing"—used weak and insufficient evidence to call for a pre-emptive war against a largely imaginary risk. In the case of climate, by contrast, a mountain of scientific evidence pointing to a risk far greater than that posed by Saddam Hussein is ignored, and mitigative action refused, on the basis of similar worldviews.
There are also similarities. In both cases, a link can be drawn between misinformation and the likelihood of warfare. Together with colleagues, I reviewed the literature on this relationship in a recent paper using the Iraq War and climate change as case studies. We report a reasonably clear link between the acceptance of misinformation and support for the Iraq War, both before and after military action commenced. In one U.S. study, belief in misinformation—that is, the existence of WMDs—was the most powerful predictor of support for the Iraq war. Belief in WMDs quadrupled the likelihood of support for the war.
There is also increasing evidence of a link between climate change and violent conflict, with a recent study suggesting that the risk of violent conflict may increase globally by upward of 30% by 2050 if human-caused warming continues unabated. The link between climate change and conflict is of a statistical nature and not entirely certain, but it should alert us to the possibility that any further delay of climate mitigation, whether based on dissemination of misinformation or other factors, may cause unnecessary future deaths.
Another ironic similarity is that the same newspapers and the same journalists who beat the war drums a decade ago are now also frequently misrepresenting the risk the world is facing from climate change. After WMDs failed to materialize in post-invasion Iraq, this led to occasional anguish among journalists who regretted that they used "'evidence' now known to be bogus" to push for war. The lethal fallout from misinformation a decade ago primarily affected the people of Iraq. The fallout from misinformation about climate change is likely to affect us all.
Stephan Lewandowsky is a Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol and received a Wolfson Research Merit Award from the Royal Society in 2013. On Twitter he is @STWorg. His research examines the distinction between skepticism and denial, misinformation, and the role of uncertainty in people's thinking about climate change.
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I was disappointed by the recent summary for policymakers (SPM) of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) assessment report 5, now that I finally got around to read it. Not so much because of the science, but because the way it presented the science.
The report was written by top scientists, so what went wrong?
I guess we need to recognise the limitations of the format of the SPM, and the constraints that they have to work under (word by word approval from 190 country representatives) may not have been helpful this time. The specified report length, combined with attempts from lots of people to expand on the content, may have complicated the process.
My impression is that the amount of information crammed into this report was more important than making a few strong messages.
The SPM really provides a lot of facts, but what do all those numbers mean for policy makers? There was little attempt to set the findings in a context relevant for decision making (ranging from the national scale to small businesses).
It is difficult to write a summary for a report that has not yet been published, and for that reason, the SPM is cluttered by technical details and discussions about uncertainty and confidence which have a better place in the main report.
The authors of the SPM are experts at writing scientific papers, but that is a different skill to writing for non-scientists. Often, the order of presentation for non-scientists is opposite to the way papers are presented in sciences.
A summary should really start with the most important message, but the SPM starts by discussing uncertainties. It is then difficult for non-scientists to make sense of the report. Are the results reliable or not?
I asked myself after reading the SPM – what’s the most important finding? If the IPCC hoped for good press coverage, I can imagine all journalists asking the same question.
My recommendation is that next time, the main report is published before the SPM. That way, all the space used on uncertainty and confidence in the SPM could be spared.
I also recommend that people who decide the structure of future SPMs and undertake the writing take a course effective writing for non-scientist. At MET Norway, we have had such writing lessons to improve our communication skills, and I have found this training valuable.
It takes some training to find more popular ways to describe science and spot excessive use of jargon. Many words, such as ‘positive feedback‘ have different meanings if you talk to a scientist or a non-scientist (a bad phrase to use in the context of climate change for people with very little science background). Also the word ‘uncertainty‘ is not a good choice – what does it mean really?
There are some examples of how the report could be written in a better way: The European Academies of Science Advicory Council (EASAC) followed a different strategy, where the main report was published before the summary, and hence the summary could be written as a summary and with a more coherent structure and a stronger connection to the reports target group.
The World Bank report of last year also comes to my mind – I think that is a much clearer form of presentation.
If I could have my way, I would also suggest that IPCC’s main reports in the future come with supporting material that includes the necessary data (extracted for the plotting purposes, but with meta-data providing the complete history of post-processing) and source code for generating all the figures in the report.
One way to do that could to use so-called ‘R-packages’ as suggested by Pebesma et al (2012) (PDF). It would also be good if future assessment reports pay more attention to replicating important results as a means of verification or falsification.References
- E. Pebesma, D. Nüst, and R. Bivand, "The R software environment in reproducible geoscientific research", Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, vol. 93, pp. 163, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2012EO160003
Danish author uses low-ball estimates of climate costs and ignores fossil fuel subsidies
What do the poorest people on the planet - those likely to be the hardest hit by human-caused climate change - need right now?
According to Bjørn Lomborg, the economist and self-titled skeptical environmentalist, what they need are cheap fossil fuels.
It's one of the those arguments that seems so counter-intuitive - so crazy-balls nuts - that it might make some stop and think that it could just be true. But not for long.
Lomborg heads a think-tank called the Copenhagen Consensus Center which, as the name doesn't suggest, is based on the outskirts of Washington DC in the United States.
For a decade, Lomborg has made films, written books and spoken all over the world with a message which has changed only slightly. Humans cause climate change but the economic impacts won't be great and there are other things we should spend money on first.
His two recent high-profile contributions to the climate change debate - again making essentially these same points - came with a speech to Australia's National Press Club and in a column for the New York Times.
Embarrassingly (or at least, I'd be embarrassed if I'd done it), Australia's ABC News24 rolling television programme introduced Lomborg as a "climate scientist" which even he would admit is entirely inaccurate.
But he did have a view on climate change, to what one Twitter attendee's picture suggested was very thin Canberra audience.
Lomborg spoke about a "recent hiatus" in global temperatures (that's the same "hiatus" which has delivered the hottest decade on record and which continues to allow the planet to build up heat). This "does not mean global warming is not real" he said, but then came this.
It does probably indicate that the high temperature increases - the very scary scenarios that get banded around - are much less likely simply because they are not nearly as likely to compare with the findings of the models compared to reality.
This was Lomborg's only genuine venture into climate change science, but is it correct? Does a "hiatus" in one observation of climate change "probably indicate" that computer models that deliver scary numbers are "much less likely" to be right?
Professor Roger Jones, an expert on climate change impacts and risk at Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, says Lomborg is dead wrong.
To show why, he sent me a graph which shows that a computer climate model which recreates a slow-down in surface warming (the one which Lomborg points to) goes on to project 3.5C of global warming by the end of this century.
Jones told me:
Lomborg makes the mistake of assuming that models do not reproduce recent observations because the results are often presented as smooth curves. However, this graph of results from a single model clearly shows a slight cooling between 1995 and 2015, yet warms by 3.5 C by 2100 from pre-industrial temperatures. This is sufficient to effectively destroy coral reef ecosystems, initiate the collapse of large ice sheets and have significant impacts of regional water supplies.
James Hansen, former NASA climate scientist, puts it another way in research published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.
Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice.Doing moral good
Lomborg often talks about doing "moral good" in the world and he uses the simple metric of money to measure how this "moral good" should be shared out. Where does the most "bang for your buck" come from if you want to alleviate poverty, he asks.
He invariably comes to the conclusion that this bang does not come from the current approaches to cutting emissions.
Instead, he says the world should invest billions in research and development to make renewable technologies cheaper. As he wrote in the New York Times:
But let's face it. What those living in energy poverty need are reliable, low-cost fossil fuels, at least until we can make a global transition to a greener energy future. This is not just about powering stoves and refrigerators to improve billions of lives but about powering agriculture and industry that will improve lives.
Lomborg talks in the article about the 3.5 million deaths which a World Health Organization study has attributed to poor people dying from the indoor pollution caused from the smoke and fumes from the fires they use to cook with.
But the problem of poor people dying from indoor air pollution from cooking over open fires or in crude stoves isn't solved by replacing dung and wood with a fossil fuel.Rather, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, it is the technology deployed.
Remember, plenty of people in rich countries also burn wood in their homes for heat (and because it looks all nice and cosy). They burn this wood using stoves that don't let most of the nasty stuff escape into the room, but rather go up a flue pipe.Low-ball Lomborg
To make many of his arguments stick, Lomborg uses a very low estimate of what's known as the "social cost of carbon" - that is, how much economic damage each extra tonne of carbon dioxide delivers?
He puts this figure at US$5 per tonne, which he says if translated to a price on emissions doesn't drive reductions in fossil fuel use. Except that the $5 figure is at the very, very bottom of a range of estimates that are out there.
For example, the United States Government puts the figure at around US$32. Roger Jones says a recent review of several studies into the cost per tonne of carbon gives a range between $15 and $74.
There are also a number of ways which economists try and arrive at this figure, using different modelling techniques (if you want details, the Yale Forum on Climate Change has a summary).
Also in the US, one economic study has found that even there - in a developed country - the coal industry costs the economy more in impacts from pollution than it gives back in economic gain. The study did not count the costs of the impacts of climate change.Pick your subsidy
Lomborg is also not a fan of solar panels, which he described in an interview on Australia's Radio National as being "inefficient" which he said was "why you have to subsidise them".
Yet neither in the interview, nor in his speech to the National Press Club, nor in his op-ed in the New York Times, does Lomborg consider the more than $500 billion annually in subsidies which the International Energy Agency says is currently going to supporting the fossil fuel industry.
Now, on balance Lomborg sees fossil fuels as a morally acceptable choice for the developing world.
So that must mean that these subsidies fall into the suite of money which Lomborg says is being spent to try and do "good" in the world. Given Lomborg rarely mentions fossil fuel subsidies, we don't know if he thinks these subsidies should go up (which they currently are) or go down.
Early in his talk to the National Press Club, Lomborg said that extreme weather events effect countries in different ways. When a typhoon hits a poor country (he gave the example of Nicaragua) then it had the potential to kill many more people and to "destroy their economy".
When extreme weather hits rich countries, those people have the resources to better cope and recover. So Lomborg accepts that the impact of climate change is disproportionate. Poorer countries get hit the hardest.
But then, when Lomborg talks about the economic cost of global warming, he chooses a globally-averaged figure that ignores this disproportionate suffering.
Lomborg cited a study from his think tank which he said concluded that "until about 2070 global warming is a net benefit to the world."
What are the risks of waiting until 2070 to see if Bjørn Lomborg is right? In my view, they are way too high.Graham ReadfearnBjørn Lomborg
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Over the last week, people across New Zealand have taken part in a week of action targeting Westpac bank - a bank that claims to care about climate change, but in reality is busy funding five new coal mines in New Zealand. Ashlee Gross - who took part in the week of action tells us how and why she got kicked out of her bank. There's something she needs your help with - read how you can help at the end!
This Wednesday I got kicked out of my bank…
I won’t pretend I wasn’t expecting to get thrown out; after sending them letters for the past two months and meeting with them last week, I was pretty aware that genuinely listening to me as a customer wasn’t that high on their list of priorities. Also, I was with 15 other people wearing t-shirts asking them to “stop using our money to finance climate change”.
My bank – Westpac - happens to be really proud of its crafted public image of caring about sustainability, and has purportedly strong policies on climate change. When we first started getting people to write to Westpac to ask them to stop financing plans for 5 new coal mines, I thought this might actually make them inclined to listen when we pointed out that these mines were one of the largest new planned sources of climate change from New Zealand.
But at this point, I didn’t figure wearing our request on a t-shirt - that other customers and the general public could see - rather than sending a letter to the CEO, was really going to go down that well. But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself, you probably want to know what actually happened on Wednesday…
Myself and about 15 other customers went in and tried to each take $1 out of our accounts. We wanted to send a message to the bank that as customers we were serious about wanting them to stop re-loaning out our money to a company called Bathurst Resources, who plan to open a series of 5 new coal mines on and around the Denniston Plateau on the South Island of New Zealand…and that we could end up taking out a lot more than a dollar.
As I said, we expected to get kicked out - and did after just the third or fourth person tried to take out a dollar. But I still felt surprisingly frustrated, genuinely let down by my bank, and well, honestly, just a bit flummoxed.
The problem with the global fossil fuel industry’s plans (including Bathurst Resources’ plans) to dig up five times the fossil fuels that we can afford to burn couldn’t get any clearer. It’s a great big maths problem, and we’re trying to have a conversation with a bank, an institution that is all about numbers – how can they not clearly see the solution?
Yet somehow, in sitting in a meeting last week with reps from Westpac, and in reading messages trotted out by the New Zealand Government on why they were approving permits for the mines despite the Denniston Plateau being supposedly protected conservation land (and a globally unique ecosystem), it seems to keep coming back to the idea that ‘we have to go ahead with opening these new coal mines for the sake of the economy.’
Apparently Westpac, Bathurst Resources and the New Zealand Government can’t see any other options for keeping the New Zealand economy afloat except to expand our coal mining regardless of the CO2 emissions, or to open up huge sections of our coastline to exploratory deep sea oil drilling, which also started happening just last week.
Which leaves me thinking back to 7th grade algebra class and feeling like they’ve forgotten to balance both sides of the equation. That’s where I’m hoping you, as 350 supporters from around the world might be willing to help.
I think that Westpac, Bathurst Resources and the NZ Government have forgotten to add to the other side of the equation one of the biggest parts of New Zealand’s economy; the value of our “clean, green”, “100% Pure” image. I also think they are very clearly forgetting to add the costs of climate change.
If you have 10 to 15 minutes over the next week, it would be great if you could help remind them of the value of these things. Whether you’ve been to New Zealand and valued it’s beaches and forests, or know the lost value of a clean environment or the cost of climate change. It would be amazing if you could write a letter to the editor of the New Zealand Herald letting them know what you think the real value of a genuinely clean, green New Zealand is, letting New Zealanders know that you stand with us on hoping to see the Denniston Plateau saved from coal mining, and encouraging Westpac and its customers to do their part by stopping financing to Bathurst. You can send a letter online at http://dynamic.nzherald.co.nz/feedback/letters/index.cfm? Or get more info at http://gofossilfree.org/nz/westpacdumpcoal/
Making Australian cities truly resilient to extreme events is being held back by archaic planning. The majority of buildings don’t fall under new sustainability and resilience regulations, meaning private initiatives have to pick up the slack. It might sound trivial, but more resilient buildings could have prevented losses during events such as Queensland’s devastating 2011 floods.
Recently the journal Urban Policy and Research published a remarkable issue. It featured opinion pieces on the state of Australian cities and their future by Anthony Albanese (MP), Greg Hunt (Environment Minister), Scott Ludlum (Senator) and Kirsty Kelly (CEO, Planning Institute of Australia).
They stated that Australian cities need to become more sustainable, more liveable, and more resilient over the coming decades.
The broader discussion on the strength of Australian cities to date is constructive and points in the right direction. But the proposals on the table have two latent defects. One is an unwillingness to tackle the issue of “grandfathering” existing buildings into new regulation. The other is an over-reliance on collaboration between government, businesses and citizen groups.The problem of grandfathering
Around the globe the traditional approach to strengthening cities is by introducing new regulation. In Australia this is evidenced by the ratcheting up of the National Construction Code. There is however a major problem that new regulations cannot address.
Existing buildings are normally exempted from new regulations. This process is referred to as grandfathering. Existing buildings make up the majority of buildings in a city (about 98%), and they are replaced very slowly (about 1% year). Grandfathering in effect allows for the maintenance of weak links in achieving truly sustainable, liveable and resilient cities.
This problem of grandfathering has been picked-up by, among others, the Australian Resilience Taskforce. It claims that much financial harm and possibly even casualties could have been prevented from the Queensland floods (2010/2011) if only existing buildings had been more resilient (read: if they had complied with current-day building regulation).
Similar issues come to the fore in discussions about the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy that hit New York in 2012.Overcoming the weak link
All over the world citizen groups, businesses and governments seek to overcome this weak link in urban sustainability, liveability and resilience. In Australia they are particularly active in doing so. Below are some of the most impressive efforts.
In 2010, owners of Sydney-based apartment units came together. They wanted to install solar panels on their existing strata-buildings to reduce their electricity bills, but Australian law stood in their way for doing so.
They started Green Strata and brought their problem to the attention of the City of Sydney. The City provided them with a small grant. This has helped Green Strata to grow out to an internationally recognised organisation that provides a wealth of information to strata-owners.
They have shown that strata-buildings can save more than 80% of their communal energy consumption, which significantly reduces the energy bill as well as carbon emissions.
In 2003, Green Star was launched by leaders in the construction industry. They wanted to show their buildings outperform others in terms of sustainability.
To give insight into the relative performance of a building they developed a labelling scheme. For instance, a six-star rated building shows that it outperforms a three-star one. Now, building tenants are willing to pay higher rents for buildings with positive labels, especially for commercial buildings.
Green Star has achieved considerable success in improving the sustainability of new commercial buildings in Australia, with 7.2 million square metres already labelled. Green Star is now moving into the market for existing buildings.
In terms of government, the City of Sydney started the Better Buildings Partnership in 2011, seeking to reduce the carbon emissions of Sydney’s 14 major property owners’ existing buildings. Together these produce about 25% of Sydney’s emissions, mostly due to energy inefficiency.
As a result of being informed on energy efficiency by the City of Sydney and by sharing information among each other, these 14 property owners have saved $25 million on their energy bills, and reduced emission of up to 70%.Strong cities through collaboration?
In the above examples, and in many others, “collaboration” is the key-word in how citizen groups, businesses and governments seek to address the weak link in urban sustainability, liveability and resilience. But is collaboration enough?
First, they are often small innovations in a predominantly conservative industry. Action is needed to scale up these initiatives.
Second, they are isolated pockets of sustainability, liveability and resilience. Linking them could make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Regulation and coordination may be required.
Here I see a role for government unaddressed in Australia’s National Urban Policy. Government should support and link local collaborations, draw lessons from these and communicate those, and replicate best practices throughout the nation.
Yet, to achieve truly strong cities we need to stop grandfathering existing buildings and make them subject to current-day regulations. The collaborations show that the future-proofing of existing buildings saves costs.
When disaster strikes, it may save lives as well.
Jeroen van der Heijden receives funding from the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research. He is affiliated with the Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) at the Australian National University, and the Law School at the University of Amsterdam.
Kristan Uhlenbrock is the Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress.
Thursday, behind closed doors, House and Senate conferees are meeting to negotiate an important provision in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) — an investment mechanism for the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes known as a National Endowment for the Oceans. One of the few bipartisan bills this Congress, WRDA is one that is expected to pass before the end of the year.
Proponents of the measure say creating an endowment for the oceans will provide critical resources and capacity to conserve and restore coastal wetlands. “For all the coastal states, this is really big,” emphasized Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
“We need to relocate critical infrastructure, like water treatment plants and bridges, which are now at risk of being washed away. The National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes can help coastal states and communities protect more of this infrastructure, protect more habitat that sustains our fisheries, conduct more research, and clean more waters and beaches. The need is great and we must respond.”
In addition, the measure would help cities and local governments prepare for the increasing vulnerability of coastal infrastructure such as roads, sewage treatment plants, and energy facilities to the effects of climate change. Written throughout the provision are ways to do this, including “planning for and managing coastal development to enhance ecosystem integrity or minimize impacts from sea level change and coastal erosion” and “protection and relocation of critical coastal public infrastructure affected by erosion or sea level change.”
When seven football fields of coastal wetlands disappear every hour, calculated between 2004 and 2009 by a recent report from NOAA, it’s a serious problem. The report identifies human activity, mostly urban and rural development, as one of the main causes. Loss of these wetlands is further putting pressure on coastal communities already threatened by rising seas.
Sea level will most likely rise between 1.5 and 3 feet by the end of this century, which is greater than the conservative projections from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as recently concluded in a survey of ninety experts. Not only is that going to displace people along the coast, but the billions of dollars that have been invested in infrastructure will be in jeopardy.
In the last 80 years, Louisiana alone has lost an area of coastal land the size of Delaware, much of which had comprised barrier islands that served a critical role defending against hurricanes and storm surge. The same thing is happening in South Carolina where 1,200 acres have been lost in the last 25 years. And on the shorelines of Alaska, indigenous villages are retreating as they see their houses and schools sink into the ground and the sea sneaks closer with erosion rates reaching up to 100 feet a year.
“Climate doesn’t change in a nice, linear way,” says James White from the University of Colorado Boulder on the release of a National Research Council report on Tuesday. “There are thresholds and tipping points in the system. If we cross one of those, handling or adapting to that is going to be a challenge. When it comes to adaptations, speed kills.
Grappling with protection of coastal communities and what is needed for adaptation is not easy. In four densely-populated southeast Florida counties — Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe — $4 billion in taxable real estate and over five million people are at risk from only one foot of sea level rise, which is projected before the end of the century.
Lawmakers are pushing for a funding mechanism, such as a National Endowment for the Oceans, as a way to support communities faced with these challenges.
The idea of a National Endowment for the Oceans stems from a recommendation made by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, comprised of members appointed by President George W. Bush. “When the commission first floated the idea of an ocean trust fund in a draft report and asked governors for comment, support was overwhelming and bipartisan,” wrote Tom Allen, former Representative from Maine.
Sen. Whitehouse has led the latest push for an oceans fund, creating a place for the bipartisan initiative on the docket. Passed by a vote of 67-32 in the Senate, the National Endowment for the Oceans is an amendment in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a behemoth of a bill to fund the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Both the Senate and House passed versions of WRDA, yet the House bill fell short on including any language supporting direct investments in the oceans.
While the Whitehouse amendment to include the endowment wouldn’t actually set aside any funding, it would create the framework for federal support and management tools to help communities effectively adapt to these challenges of coastal land use and the threats posed by sea level rise. And this is where a dedicated stream of funding for ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes priorities can help. The proposed National Endowment for the Oceans would grant at least 59 percent of its annual funds to coastal states, factoring in total shoreline and population densities for a balanced distribution, to help restore, protect, and understand their coasts. It would also support needed research for science and monitoring of our ocean, providing better certainty for management of policies such as catch limits crucial to the fishing industry.
The post Communities Threatened By Sea Level Rise May Get Help — If Congress Can Pass Legislation appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Suffolk University says Beacon Hill Institute had not followed rules and that research plans did not match university's mission
• State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax
The host university of the free marketeer Beacon Hill Institute has repudiated its proposal to carry out research with the express purpose of undermining a regional climate change initiative.
The institute, based in the economics department of Suffolk University, had sought $38,825 to carry out an economic analysis that would aid efforts to weaken or roll back a five-year effort by states in the north-east to reduce carbon pollution, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The proposal from Beacon Hill made no secret of its goal. "Success will take the form of media recognition, dissemination to stakeholders, and legislative activity that will pare back or repeal RGGI," the funding proposal said.
In a prepared statement, Suffolk University made clear it had not been consulted about Beacon Hill's research plans – and would not have authorised the grant proposal if it had been.
"The stated research goals, as written, were inconsistent with Suffolk University's mission," Greg Gatlin, the university's vice-president for marketing and communications, said in an email.
Gatlin went on to write that Beacon Hill had not followed university rules when it submitted its grant proposal, which was presented for consideration to the Searle Freedom Trust, a leading funder of ultra-conservative causes, on Beacon Hill's behalf by the State Policy Network, a coalition of similar ultra-conservative entities.
"The University has existing protocols in place that require approval for all grant proposals," Gatlin said. "The Beacon Hill Institute's grant proposal did not go through the university's approval process. The university would not have authorized this grant proposal as written."
Beacon Hill did not in the end see its proposal funded – a setback for an organisation which has specialised in marshalling economic argument to roll back clean energy programmes in the states.
David Tuerck, the executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, confirmed the authenticity of the document and admitted that the proposal had not been funded by the Searle Foundation.
However, he pushed back strongly at the suggestion that BHI by – defining success according to a specific political outcome – was engaged in lobbying or other inappropriate activity.
"There is never any lobbying," he told the Guardian. "Maybe I need to look up the definition again but lobbying consists of buttonholing legislators and other policymakers to get a particular result on a particular issue and we never do that."
The institute claims on its website to have conducted 16 separate research projects since 2009 on state clean energy programmes, partnering with institutions in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maine, Michigan, Kansas, Delaware, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana and North Carolina.
All arrived at the same broadly similar conclusion: that Renewable Portfolio Standards, or state regulations requiring electricity companies to source energy from wind and solar power were bad for the economy.
Greenpeace said of the effort: "It's a cookie-cutter play to back the American Legislative Exchange Council's efforts to roll back RPS."
In this most recent proposal, Beacon requested $38,825 from Searle to carry out research into the economic impact of the RGGI cap-and-trade system operating in nine states .
In addition to defining success at helping legislators to pare back or repeal RGGI, the proposal noted BHI had offered testimony at state legislative hearings to repeal RPS standards in Kansas.
Tuerck said offering testimony at legislative hearings on renewable energy in Kansas did not fall into that category.
He admitted, however, that the framing of the funding proposal could be seen as political. "Our understanding is that many foundations solicit research in the expectation that that research is going to lead to what they see as constructive policy changes. It was put in there to appeal to them but we maintain that there is a difference in appealing to a granter, using the language we think would be appealing to them, and lobbying."
It also dangles the prospect that its research findings and public relations campaign could prompt Maine's governor, Paul Lepage, to quit the RGGI, as Chris Christie of New Jersey did in 2011, as well as spark possible defections from a similar voluntary cap-and-trade system among midwestern states.
"Given the state's competitiveness problems, Governor Lepage could make Maine the next state to opt out of the cap-and-trade program," the proposal says.
The Beacon Hill Institute, technically an affiliate rather than a full member of the SPN, operates out of the economics department of Suffolk University in Boston. It consists of four full-time staff. Paul Tuerck, its executive director, is also an economics professor at the university and served for many years as chairman of the economics department.Suzanne Goldenberg
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Nearly a month after Super Typhoon Haiyan became the deadliest storm to ever strike the Philippines, the United States may help deal with the aftermath by protecting Filipinos in the U.S. from deportation and letting them work.
Filipino-American groups are calling for temporary protected status (TPS) to be extended to Filipinos currently in the country, allowing them to stay and work without fear of deportation for a set amount of time. That would include any Filipinos already on American soil, including those with tourist and student visas as well as those without any documents. The Filipino Workers Center estimates that TPS would apply to 800,000 to 1 million Filipinos.
Twenty U.S. Senators have signed a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in favor of granting TPS. DHS would have the authority to grant such a reprieve, and to specify how long it would last. All those affected returning to their previous status when it ends, unless it expires during the protected period.
With nearly 20,000 Haiyan survivors streaming into the already-crowded capital region of Manila alone, and 4.3 million people displaced in total, the country’s infrastructure is struggling to deal with mass evacuations from storm-devastated regions into urban areas. That chaos would only be worsened by the arrival of Filipinos deported from the U.S. or forced to return home from an expiring visa.
But instead of being an added tax on an already-stretched-thin system, Filipinos working in the U.S., if granted TPS, would be able to send money to family members who have been displaced or who lost their source of income in the storm.
“We have a country dealing with its own internal refugee situation,” Soriano Versoza told the LA Times. “Instead of absorbing deported immigrants into its infrastructure, it can focus on its own situation and going from relief to recovery.”
Super Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) killed more than 5,200 people, and is expected to cost $5.8 billion in reconstruction. Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on November 7 with sustained winds of 190-195 miles per hour, making it the fourth-strongest tropical cyclone in recorded history, and the strongest ever to make landfall.
Climate change may have contributed to its effects. Rising sea levels could be worsening the destruction caused by storm surges, and warmer-than-usual ocean surface temperatures may have played a role in its incredible intensity.
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