Corruption is also a product of the Oil & Gas Industry

Cartoon about manipulation of science by special interests
Image from UCS Blog – Union of Concerned Scientists

“[T]he norms and expectations that once ensured that our government was guided primarily by the public interest rather than by individual or partisan interest have significantly weakened. There are now far fewer constraints to deter abuse by executive branch actors.”

The above understatements of the year are from a report released October 3, 2019 by The National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy, a group formed under the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law to figure out how to restore trust in government. The report focuses on the politicization of government science and research. It lists over a hundred specific occurrences of political manipulation of scientific findings. Examples from the list follow (numbers refer to the report’s itemization system):

#453 – The Dept of the Interior’s top climate change scientist was reassigned to an accounting role, despite no training in accounting, after he highlighted the dangers climate change poses for Alaska’s Native communities. Washington Post July 19, 2017

#448 – After Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers produced a study showing economic benefits to protecting wetlands from pollution, aides to the agency’s administrator told them to produce a new study showing no such benefits. NYTimes August 11, 2017

#482 – Chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) questioned studies that connect serious human health problems to air pollution and accepted research funding from the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry lobbying group that reviewed his findings before publication. ScienceMag (American Association for the Advancement of Science) December 10, 2018

#493 – The news that the EPA stoped updating its climate change websites in April 2017 is confirmed. The agency removed its climate change subdomains from public access, and removed links to its searchable web archive for any past information on the subject. Newsweek November 2, 2018

#485 – Chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) wrote a letter to the EPA administrator criticizing the agency’s use of science to set air pollution standards and questioned the long-established scientific view that fine particulate airborne matter is linked to early deaths. Scientific American March 29, 2019. 

#502 – The Dept. of Agriculture withheld a news release and sought to prevent dissemination of the findings by the department’s research partners concerning a groundbreaking discovery that rice loses vitamins in a carbon-rich environment — a potentially serious health concern for the 600 million people worldwide whose diet consists mostly of rice. Politico June 23, 2019

#441 – High-level Department of the Interior officials altered an environmental assessment for seismic surveying prepared by career scientists in order to underplay the potential impact of oil and gas development on Alaska’s coastal plain. Politico July 26/19

The ill effects of a corrupt executive branch go much deeper than the subversion of scientific findings. President Trump has packed his administration with fossil-fuel friendly officials willing to put Big Oil interests ahead of the public interest. The decisions made by these unelected officials, anxious to do the bidding of their bosses in and out of government, are helping to destroy the environment and cripple the country’s economic prospects. For example, here’s how this top-down rot is working to hobble the country’s nascent offshore wind energy industry:

Vineyard Wind, a $2.8 billion, 800-Megawatt offshore wind power project planned for waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, has been put on hold by the Trump administration. Vineyard had submitted its Construction and Operations Plan (COP) to the Department of the Interior (DOI) in December 2017 and had expected to receive the go-ahead last month. The map below shows the proposed wind turbine layout submitted to DOI by the company.

Map to show location of Vineyard Wind offshore project

So what is the government’s  excuse for delaying the project? In an August news release, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) — the agency under DOI responsible for managing development of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf — provides two excuses:

(1) “Comments received from stakeholders and cooperating agencies [have] requested a more robust cumulative analysis.” 
(2) “Because . . . 
a greater build out of offshore wind capacity is more reasonably foreseeable than was analyzed in the initial draft EIS [Environmental Impact Statement], BOEM has decided to supplement the Draft EIS and solicit comments on its revised cumulative impacts analysis.”

Excuse (1) is the Trump administration’s way of saying that the delay is open ended and that it doesn’t have defensible reasons to justify it.

Excuse (2) refers to the fact that the wind energy industry has shown great interest in building wind farms off the East Coast (an estimated $70-billion in wind industry investments over the next decade). The claim that that interest was not “reasonably foreseeable” by DOI, is nonsense. The following is from TheHill June 4, 2013:

“Interior announced on [June 3, 2013]  that it would hold an auction on July 31, 2013 for 164,750 acres off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which has the potential to generate 3,400 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 1 million homes. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the pending lease sale — which has drawn interest from nine firms — “history in the making.” 

If former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was able to foresee, in 2013, the potential for “a greater build out of offshore wind capacity”, then you can bet current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was able to foresee it too. It’s just that Mr. Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil industry, doesn’t like the view. David Halperin, writing in Desmogblog March 26, 2019, says: “Bernhardt is . . . more skilled [than his predecessor Ryan Zinke] in the ways of law and government. But in terms of the ways that money corrupts politics and policy, his record is even more concerning. David Bernhardt is the ultimate swamp creature.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) is quoted by WBUR Boston, Aug 9, 2019: “When it comes to the nation’s first major offshore wind project — which has gone through years of extensive study, public comment and mitigation plans for impacted communities — they are trying to delay it to death. . . . Worse still, they are threatening the future of large-scale renewable energy development at a moment when the price of our oil and gas dependency becomes more obvious — and more terrifying — by the day.”

Six hundred thousand (600,000) U.S. wind energy jobs by 2050: that was the prediction made in a March 2015 report from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. According to the Environment & Energy Study Institute, the wind industry now (July 2019) supports 111,000 direct jobs. To Oil & Gas Industry executives, those figures are the stuff of nightmares. The shift to renewable energy is an existential threat to their industry. They need people like David Bernhardt to help slow it down.

Aerial photo of Wind Farm, North Sea UK
Offshore wind farm, North Sea UK

 

U.S. Senate Committee pushes oil industry’s antisocial LNG scheme.

Oil & Gas field, Midland, Texas. Photo credit: EcoFlight

How long can the fracking spending spree last?
— Houston Chronicle
headlineSept 14, 2018.

The answer to the Chronicle’s question is: for as long as investors have money to burn. Justin Mikulka, writing Dec 18, 2018, for Desmogblog, puts it this way: “Fracking in 2018 was another year pretending to make money. . . . Whether fracking companies are profitable or not doesn’t really matter to Wall Street executives who are getting rich making the loans that the fracking industry struggles to repay.”

Yet the industry is currently pumping more fracked gas than ever before. The market is swamped and prices are at or below break even (see “Natural Gas Prices Fall Below Zero In Texas” – Oilprice.com, Nov 28, 2018). And now there’s a push to liquify as much of the stuff as possible for shipment overseas to anyone who’ll buy it.

Speaking at a July 11, 2019 hearing of the U.S.  Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on “The Important Role of LNG in Evolving Global Markets”, Nikos Tsafos, Senior Fellow, Energy and National Security Program Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said:

There is an oversupply of LNG on the market, leading to historically low prices in Europe and Asia . . .  Despite [these] historically low prices today, companies are betting billions to enable the next wave of LNG supply—and this wave will be far bigger, more diverse, and perhaps more politically complicated than earlier waves. . . . [There are an] unprecedented number of proposed LNG supply projects that might reasonably start construction over the next two year.

Since the U.S. Senate is controlled by Republicans, only people supportive of the oil and gas industry and its LNG subset were invited to give evidence at the Senate Energy Committee hearing. The talk was all about how best to promote the industry and take advantage of an imagined “window of opportunity” to strengthen its global competitiveness. There was no mention of global warming or the need to restrain the production of fossil fuels. This is how Steven E. Winberg, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy U.S. Department of Energy, summarized his testimony:

“Natural Gas has transformed our Nation and the world for the better. The increased use and production of natural gas has grown our economy, created countless American jobs, and made our air cleaner. Further, increasing exports of domestically produced natural gas to 36 countries around the world has given our allies a stable, reliable and secure source of clean energy.”

Here’s what’s wrong with that picture: Hydraulic fracking is a filthy business, it poisons the water table, adds greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, and far from making the world better, it makes it bad (see below for specifics on just how bad); The people employed in the industry would be far more constructively employed in building the nation’s renewable energy economy; Natural Gas is not a stable, reliable, or secure source of energy, let alone a clean one — gas deposits are bound to become stranded due to the superior economics of renewables. And considering the political and social pressures surrounding climate change, “our allies” would be well advised not to get hooked on it.

Renewables are displacing fossil fuels. During this transition, the U.S. has more than enough natural gas to satisfy its current domestic needs. That’s what energy security means. The push to export LNG is not about energy security, or even about making money, it’s about building expensive infrastructure (pipelines, liquefaction plants, terminal facilities, etc) to keep the Oil & Gas Industry in business. Pitching the benefits of investing in this LNG boondoggle is Charlie Riedl, Executive Director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas. Here’s part of his testimony before the above mentioned Senate hearing on LNG markets.

“The U.S. is now home to four LNG export terminals in operation, six projects under construction, and seven projects that are permitted and awaiting Final Investment Decisions. There are another fourteen projects in the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] FERC queue. Each of these projects individually represents billions of dollars of investment in America’s energy future. . . . Technological breakthroughs in the oil and natural gas industry have unleashed an energy renaissance, establishing the United States as the world’s largest natural gas producer – and domestic production continues to grow. We have enough natural gas to supply affordable energy domestically for at least 100 years with current technology, as well as to significantly increase U.S. participation in the global market for LNG.” (my underlines)

Mr. Riedl paints a picture of a world living indefinitely on fossil fuels, a world much to the liking of the Oil & Gas Industry. He does not mention the impact of global warming or the Paris Climate Accord which calls for a sharp reduction in the total use of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency’s ‘Sustainable Development’ estimate of World Energy Demand to 2040, shows no increase in natural gas consumption beyond 2020 (see post of July 6, 2019, titled Oil & Gas Industry aims to make global warming even warmer).

Witnesses to the Senate hearing, including Mr. Riedl, refer to natural gas as a clean fuel. It isn’t. Here’s how it compares to other fuels in terms of CO2 emissions:

Lbs of CO2 emitted per million BTU of energy: 
Coal (anthracite) – 229 Lbs
Gasoline – 157 Lbs
Natural Gas – 117 Lbs
Solar (wind or PV’s) – zero emissions

During its production cycle, natural gas also releases methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times as potent as CO2. Last month, the Trump Administration announced plans to weaken existing rules designed to curb the release of methane. That’s not all. Natural gas is routinely flared (burned off) or vented when emitted from wells drilled primarily for oil. The following table from Bloomberg News June 12, 2019, shows the amount of gas flared by certain companies operating in the Permian Basin oil field of Texas:

Table showing gas flared (as a percentage of gas produced) by oil companies operating in Texas
Gas flared (as a percentage of gas produced) by oil companies operating in the Permian Basin of Texas. Original source: Rystad Energy

An article in Bloomberg Businessweek Sept. 10, 2019, by Ryan Collins and Rachel Adams-Heard, contains the following passage: “Gas flaring globally emits more than 350 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in a year, according to the World Bank. . . . In the U.S., flaring accounts for an estimated 9% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the oil and gas industry. In addition, the practice spews particulate matter, soot and toxins into the air that have been shown to be hazardous to humans.”

Fracking natural gas is bad for the climate, bad for the country, bad for the world. The current scramble to increase — at any cost — LNG production and shipping, is nothing more than a hostile and antisocial scheme by the Oil & Gas Industry to prolong its own life by delaying an orderly transition to renewable energy. It’s an industry scheme that’s being eagerly supported by the Oil & Gas-dependent Republicans in Congress and their like-minded buddies in the Trump Administration.

Gas flaring. Image: Dallas Morning News

Carbon Capture — Big Oil’s bogus response to global warming

Carbon Capture cartoon
Carbon Capture. Image credit: Pilita Clark, Financial Times, Sept. 9, 2015

The Oil & Gas Industry wants us to keep on burning fossil fuels, come hell or high sea level. To divert attention from that sorry objective, the industry is promoting a techno-fix that policymakers and investors can get behind — it’s called Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS  for short. It’s a ruse, a scam. CCS won’t change industry’s behaviour, won’t cause emissions to drop.

Last April, a group of U.S. Senators — 8 Democrats, 4 Republicans — sent a letter to the Senate appropriations committee requesting “robust funding” to develop carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies “that will address COemissions from coal, natural gas, and industrial facilities.” The letter contains a mixture of false statements, dubious claims, and baloney. Examples follow:

▲ The Senators claim that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified CCUS as “a critical component of the portfolio of energy technologies needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.” The claim is false. Here are the facts:

The Paris Climate Agreement, signed Dec. 2015 by 95 countries, set a goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Global average temperature has already exceeded 1.0°C. Last year, the IPCC prepared a special report on the impacts of global warming to 1.5°C and on the CO2 emissions pathways that could limit warming to that temperature. Here’s what the report’s ‘Summary for Policymakers’ says  in its single statement (item C.2.2) about the use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS):

In 1.5°C pathways with no or limited overshoot, renewables are projected to supply 70–85% of electricity in 2050. . . . [T]he use of CCS would allow the electricity generation share [from] gas to be approximately 8% (3–11%) of global electricity in 2050, while the use of coal . . . would be reduced to close to 0%.

In other words, the IPCC views the use of CCS, not as a critical component of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, but as a bit player, and not even an essential bit player. What the IPCC does predict is that ‘natural’ carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques, such as reforestation and soil carbon sequestration, will play the major roles.

The Senators state that “Like the wind and solar industries, a combination of federal incentives such as tax credits and federal funding for research, development, and demonstration, will be needed to improve [carbon capture] technology so that it can be cost-competitive with other forms of low COemitting technologies.”

Here the Senators make the absurd implication that energy from fossil fuels  can be made cost-competitive with energy from renewables (solar, wind) by throwing money into carbon capture research. The fact is, energy from fossil fuels cannot compete with energy from renewable today; adding carbon capture technology — no matter how well researched — to fossil fuel exhaust systems, will result in energy that is even less competitive tomorrow. No amount of funding will change that certainty.

▲ The Senators state that “Innovators across the United States are already developing a wide range of CCUS technologies that can improve the efficiency of electricity generation and utilize carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and other sources for more efficient resource development and valuable products, such as algae-derived chemicals, plastics, and fuels.”

Here the Senators are trying, but failing, to show that CCS can pay for itself. The reference to “more efficient resource development” points to ‘enhanced oil recovery’, a process in which captured CO2 is injected into existing wells to force more oil out of the ground. When the recovered oil is burned, it releases as much or more CO2 into the atmosphere as was captured in the first place. The process has nothing to do with true carbon storage, nor with serious efforts to reduce global warming CO2 emissions.

As for the reference to “valuable products”, the world is awash in chemicals, plastics, and fuels, all derived from fossil carbon feed stock (oil, gas, coal). When that fossil carbon feed stock is burned, its carbon is released into the air. The claim that that same carbon (captured from the emissions) can form the basis for new or different products, makes no sense.

▲ The Senators claim that “Investment in carbon utilization technologies will transform carbon dioxide into an economic resource, lower the cost of reducing emissions, create jobs, save consumers money, and safeguard our environment.”

At least the part about jobs is true. Scientists will work on anything, no matter how nutty the project, just so long as they get paid to do it.

Photo of U.S. Senate building
U.S. Senate. Image: Senate.gov

The Senators’ letter is dated April 4, 2019 and signed by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I- Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

If the Senators had actually read the IPCC’s 2018 special report’s ‘Summary for Policymakers’, they would have discovered that holding global average temperature to 1.5°C by 2050 requires action on restricting CO2 emissions NOW.  Pushing CCS technology on behalf of the fossil fuel industry will not do the trick. Here’s what the ‘Summary for Policymakers’ says on the matter:

Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) [e.g., reforestation] can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030 (item D.1).

The lower the emissions in 2030, the lower the challenge in limiting global warming to 1.5°C after 2030 with no or limited overshoot. The challenges from delayed actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions include the risk of cost escalation, lock-in in carbon-emitting infrastructure, stranded assets, and reduced flexibility in future response options in the medium to long term (item D.3).

In other words: ignore the carbon capture ruse, focus instead on reducing fossil fuel production. That’s the real challenge for policymakers. Are they up to it?

How to sue Big Oil — Part 2

Image of painting by Rossetti of Pandora
Pandora holding the box. Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1871

This is a follow up to my last post. It’s an attempt to clarify the logic underlying it.

Global Warming has two separate and distinct parts. Part 1 is about controlling the production, distribution, and burning of fossil fuels. Part 2 is about the consequences of burning them.

Part 1 is under the control of humans as represented by legal units such as national, state, or municipal governments. These units make rules, regulations, and laws, and assign departments or agencies to administer them, all with the intention of regulating the production and use of fossil fuels.

Part 2 is totally different. As soon as fossil fuels are burned and carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are emitted into the atmosphere, human control of the situation ceases. Those CO2 molecules are incorporated into the atmosphere where they work to enable global warming and its damaging consequences. Once C02 molecules from fossil fuels are allowed to enter the atmosphere, they are beyond human control.

Part 1 lawsuits are about how perfectly or imperfectly fossil fuels are being regulated. The litigants have opposing views about how new regulations or changes to existing ones may affect future events. 

Examples:
— The Trump Administration opens public land to drilling. Citizens sue to stop that happening 

— The EPA moves to weaken the Clean Air Act. New York State sues to stop it doing that.

— The Federal Government fails to act against global warming. Kids sue to force action (Juliana v. United States).

Part 2 lawsuits are about the climate damage that has occurred and is occurring due to the release of fossil fuel CO2 into the atmosphere. The litigants have opposing views on who is at fault and who should pay the damage costs. Such lawsuits are tricky because they involve assigning blame and assessing compensation. But that is what judges are for.

Example:
— Cities sue big oil companies to recover climate damage costs.

Unlike Part 1 lawsuits, Part 2 lawsuits have absolutely nothing to do with the regulations designed to control fossil fuels, or with the government departments or agencies who apply them.

By the time a Part 2 lawsuit is launched, the damage costs to be litigated have already been paid. As noted in my previous post, the U.S. Government Accounting Office, in its report dated Oct. 24, 2017, determined that damage from Climate Change over the 10 year period ending 2o17, cost the government $350 billion in taxpayers money. The costs include funding for disaster recovery programs, flood insurance claims, repairs to defence bases, etc. The tax-hit on any city for that same 10-year period is the per capita cost multiplied by the city’s population.

What needs to be emphasized is that when cities sue Big Oil, they are doing so on behalf of their citizens. The citizens paid taxes to cover the costs of climate damage. The oil corporations paid nothing. What the lawsuits ask is that some of those costs be shifted onto the shoulders of the oil corporations. The idea that such claims are best handled by the executive and legislative branches of government, as some judges have suggested, makes no sense. The facts of such cases have nothing to do with the control and regulation of fossil fuels. What Big Oil did was lie to their clients about the dangers that flow from the use of their products. That can be proved. Climate damage became worse as a consequence of those lies and, as a result, taxpayers became poorer, oil companies became richer. The question to be settled is how much money should the oil companies pay the cities to correct that imbalance.

The image at the top of this post shows Rossetti’s interpretation of the Greek myth about Pandora. It shows Pandora’s right hand resting on the lid of the box. Has she just closed the lid? It appears so. Note the plume of smoke rising from the box. The industrial revolution was well underway when Rossetti composed the work in 1871. Was he influenced by the industrial revolution? Probably. In any case, the evils let loose from the box surely included CO2 from fossil fuels. Who should be held responsible? Pandora because she opened the box out of ignorance? Or the person who loaded the box with CO2 but failed to inform Pandora about the dangers?

How to sue Big Oil for money and win . . . maybe

Photo of judges hammer and money
Image: from NY Post

Last year (Jan 2018) New York City sued five major Oil & Gas companies — ExxonMobil, BP, SheIl, Chevron, and Conoco Phillips — for contributing to global warming and the resulting physical damage to city property. It asked the court to hold the oil companies liable for the damage they’ve caused, and award the city monitory compensation. But on July 20, 2018, the court dismissed the lawsuit in favour of the oil companies.

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge John F. Keenan, ruled that the city’s claims come under federal law involving greenhouse gas emissions that cross state lines, thus putting them under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Problems associated with climate change, the judge said, should be tackled by Congress and the executive branch. In its brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals November 12, 2018, the city claims that Judge Keenan misunderstood the lawsuit. The appeal argues that the city did not ask the court to regulate emissions but, rather, to award the city damages on the basis of Public Nuisance, Private Nuisance, and Trespass, which, to a non lawyer, sounds pretty mild.

If Judge Keenan misunderstood the city’s lawsuit it’s because the city framed its 67 page brief around global warming as an international threat instead of what was intended, a limited and local demand for compensation. The titles of sections IV thru VIII in the brief give the flavour of the thing:

IV. Climate Change Impacts on New York City
V. Fossil Fuels Are the Primary Cause of Climate Change
VI. Defendants Have Produced Massive Quantities of Fossil Fuels—and Have Continued to Do So Even as Climate Change Has Become Gravely Dangerous
VII. Defendants Had Full Knowledge that Fossil Fuels Would Cause Catastrophic Harm
VIII. Despite Their Early Knowledge that Climate Change Posed Grave Threats, Defendants Promoted Fossil Fuels for Pervasive Use, While Denying or Downplaying These Threats

Within the brief, ‘greenhouse gas’ is mentioned 29 times, ‘emissions’ 46 times, ‘global warming’ 48 times, ‘climate change’ 100 times. On the other hand, the word ‘damages’ appears in the brief only 7 times. The impression given is that the city is afraid that the judge might not understand the situation unless provided with multiple reminders that global warming exists and that it’s a serious problem.

The fact is, the judge understands the issue very well. New York City framed its complaint in terms of global warming, an international problem that requires an international solution. The judge ruled accordingly. Fossil fuel companies are happy to defend themselves at the national or international level. They know how slow and ineffective national efforts to limit global warming are. They know how to influence those efforts so as to slow them down to a crawl. They even go so far as to promote placing taxes on CO2 emissions, knowing that that distances the production of fossil fuels from the possibility of direct control. It’s a tactic that also gets others to pay what  the oil companies should be paying.

If New York City’s lawsuit fails on appeal, it will show that the Nuisance and Trespass laws are not sufficient. What then? How can any city structure it’s climate lawsuits in such a way that the trans-boundary issue is sidelined?

Here’s my contribution to solving the puzzle:

1. The science linking fossil fuels to global warming , climate change, increasing damage from storms, drought, sea level rise, etc., is settled. Global Warming is happening now. The judges know it. The Oil & Gas companies do not deny it. They most certainly do not want to wind up in court fighting the science. They would lose. Instead, when sued for climate damages, oil companies fight back by attacking the lawsuit’s legal right to stand. There’s no need to stress the existence and effects of global warming when suing oil companies.

2. Even though oil companies have known for decades about the dangerous effects that result from the use of their products, they deliberately kept the knowledge to themselves.

3. New Yorkers generate pollution while engaged in manufacturing, transportation, electricity generation, day to day living, etc. The energy used in these activities includes fuels purchased from the oil companies. New York takes responsibility for the pollution it generates and is working to abate it.

4. As New Yorkers use fossil fuels purchased from the oil companies, carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are released into the atmosphere. All of those CO2 molecules released by New York to date, remain in the atmosphere and will remain there indefinitely, doing their part in causing the atmosphere to heat up. Once in the atmosphere, those molecules that originated in New York cannot be controlled or regulated by any agency. 

5. The CO2 molecules released by New York from the fossil fuels supplied by the oil companies, add to the burden of CO2 molecules that have built up in the atmosphere over time from other sources. It follows that the atmospheric heating and consequent damage has increased by some measure due to New York’s use of those fossil fuels. To put it another way, if New York had not used any of those fossil fuels, the amount of damage inflicted on New York would be less by some measure (see item 7).

6. The oil companies learned in the 1980’s or earlier about the dangers posed by their products.  Had they behaved honestly and, at that time, informed New Yorkers about the dangers, it’s reasonable to assume that the city would have acted earlier to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by at least 50% of what it is today. The oil companies should pay the costs flowing from that failure to tell the truth.

7. According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office (report dated Oct. 24, 2017), damage from Climate Change has cost U.S. taxpayers $350 billion over the past decade (2007 to 2017). When adjusted for population size, New Yorkers’ share of that cost was 2.6% or $9.1 billion. 

Considering all the above, how much money should the oil companies pay New York in damage compensation?

For the period 2007 to 2017 (see item 7), 50% of $9.1 billion = $4.55  billion in the form of a lump sum payment.

Since climate damage is ongoing, annual costs following 2017 will be one tenth of $9.1 billion = $0.91 billion per year (see item 7). Oil companies should therefor pay 50% of 0.91 = $0.455 billion per year starting in 2018. For how many years should the oil companies pay that annual amount. Idefinitely or until they go bust.

Photo of Verrazano bridge taken Oct 2012 during Hurricane Sandy
Verrazano bridge from Brooklyn waterfront, NYC, during Hurricane Sandy Oct. 29, 2012. Image credit: Carlos Ayala

Oil & Gas Industry aims to make global warming even warmer

Photo of oil well pumps
Oil well pumps. Image credit: CBC

There’s a growing mass mobilisation of world opinion against oil, which is “beginning to … dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry” Mohammed Barkindo, the secretary general of OPEC said. Climate activists are “perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward”, he also said.
— from The Guardian and other press reports, July 5, 2019.

Mr. Barkindo is like the arsonist who sets fires for money and then complains that fire engines are threatening his business. He should know that ‘climate activists’ are not the only people delivering unwanted messages to the Oil & Gas Industry about global warming. Similar (although milder) messages are originating from within the industry’s own ranks. The problem is that, as yet, most of the industry’s bosses refuse to listen.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an intergovernmental body established in 1974 following the 1973 oil crisis. The agency’s purpose at the time was to respond to disruption in the supply of oil. Its mandate has since expanded and the agency now acts to provide member states, as well as as Russia, China, and India, with information and policy advice on energy security, economic development, and Environmental Protection.

The following chart in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, shows the Agency’s estimate of total world energy demand to 2040 under what it calls its New Policies Scenario (NPS). The NPS, the report says, “Incorporates existing energy policies as well as an assessment of the results likely to stem from the implementation of announced policy intentions.” In other words, the chart represents the IEA’s business-as-usual prediction. The chart shows demand for fossil fuels (Natural Gas + Coal + Oil) steadily rising beyond 2020.

Estimated World energy demand by IEA
Estimated world energy demand to 2040 – business as usual. Image: International Energy Administration (IEA)

The next chart is from the same page of the same IEA report. It shows the Agency’s estimate of total world energy demand to 2040 under what it calls its Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS). The SDS, the report says, represents “an integrated approach to achieving internationally agreed objectives on climate change, air quality and universal access to modern energy.” In other words, the chart shows what the IEA estimates will happen to world energy demand, should the signatories to the Paris Accord follow up on on their commitments. Result: fossil fuel production falls.

The IEA’s estimated world energy demand to 2040 - Sustainable Developmemt Scenario. Image: IEA
The IEA’s estimated world energy demand to 2040 – Sustainable Development Scenario. Image: IEA

In what way is the Oil & Gas Industry reacting to this obvious policy message from a respected industry policy advisor? (1) It tries to ignore it. (2) It works to undermine the message in any way It can. One way it works to undermine the message is to produce estimates of its own showing that the world needs more fossil fuels, not less.

The following bar chart from BP’s ‘2018 Energy Outlook’ shows estimates of GROWTH in total worldwide energy consumption to 2040 according to nine different fossil-fuel focused organizations. All of them predict growth in the consumption of fossil fuels ranging from 0.3% to 0.9% per year. Note that BP has included an IEA estimate (4th from left), but one that is based on the Agency’s business as usual scenario, not on its Sustainable Development Scenario.

Bar chart showing growth to 2040 in worldwide energy consumption according to various organizations
Estimates of GROWTH to 2040 in total worldwide energy consumption according to various fossil-fuel-focused organizations. Image: from BP 2018 Energy Outlook

BP =   BP plc (formally British Petroleum)
CNPC = China National Petroleum Corporation
EIA = U.S. Energy Information Administration
IEA = International Energy Agency (OECD)
IEEJ = Institute of Energy Economics (Japan)
IHS = IHS Inc (a London based ‘Information Handling Services’ Company)
OPEC = Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
Statoil = Statoil ASA (Norwegian state oil co. now called Equinor)
XOM = ExxonMobil Corporation

Here’s what  BP says about its prediction labeled ‘BP ET scenario’ (first bar in the chart): Our report’s “Evolving Transition scenario suggests that a continuation of the recent progress and momentum in policies and technologies is likely to cause the growth in carbon emissions to slow markedly relative to the past. But this slowing falls well short of the sharp drop in carbon emissions thought necessary to achieve the Paris climate goals. We need a far more decisive break from the past .” (my underlining)

In other words, BP’s prediction assumes ‘business as usual’ as do all the other predictions shown in the chart. BP tries to distance itself from the implications of its own report by stating that the scenarios in its report “are not predictions of what is likely to happen or what BP would like to happen.” Nevertheless, its business as usual ‘scenario’ is taken by other Oil & Gas Industry heavyweights as a valid prediction that supports the industry’s business as usual behaviour.

For example, while ExxonMobil’s report titled ‘2019 Energy and Carbon Summery’ is peppered with references to emissions reduction and the goals of the 2015 Paris Accord, the company’s true position is exposed by two statements on page 9: “Natural gas will expand its role, led by growth in electricity generation and industrial output” and  “Rising oil demand will be driven by commercial transportation and the chemical industry.” See last bar in the chart.

BP’s ‘2018 Energy Outlook’ contains a surprisingly frank statement (underlined above) concerning the Paris Accord and how to achieve its goals. “We need a far more decisive break from the past” the writer of the report states.  Very true. Thing is, the decisive break from the past is going to hit the industry whether it likes it or not. More storms, more droughts, more floods, and more climate activists will see to that.

In the mean time, there’s only one way to meet the Paris climate goals and that is to cut fossil fuel production. Taxing carbon emissions will not do the trick; that’s just a silly game and the fossil fuel pushers know it. Taxing fossil fuels at the well or mine head and/or at ports of entry will work. Better still, mandate the elimination of fossil fuels as some jurisdiction are already beginning to do. One thing for sure: don’t expect help from the fossil fuel crowd. They are not part of the solution, they are the problem.

How to survive global warming — Nail the culprits before they nail us

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) continues its rapid rise. Last month (May 2019) CO2 in the atmosphere set a new record with the average peaking at 414.7 parts per million at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory (see graph below). 

NOAA graph showing atmospheric CO2 2014 to present
The red line represents the monthly mean values. The black line represents the same as a moving average of 7 adjacent seasonal cycles, after correction for the average seasonal cycle. Image: NOAA

The highest level of CO2 in the atmosphere during the 800,000 years preceding the industrial revolution was 300 ppm. That occurred about 330,000 years ago, long before modern humans arrived on the scene (see graph at bottom of post).

What is being done about the present accumulation of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere? Here’s what the World Bank (April 2018) says: Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future.  Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.”

As the above graph shows, these carbon pricing efforts, while well meaning, have had no noticeable effect on the rise in atmospheric CO2. Is it possible that if the carbon pricing efforts become more widespread, their effect will become noticeable? That is unlikely. Why? Because the carbon pricing schemes currently in use target the emissions from fossil fuels rather than the fossil fuels themselves.

In a shooting war, the bullets are not the enemy, the people loading the guns and pulling the triggers are the enemy. To win the war, you duck the bullets and focus your attack on the gunmen. In our climate war, we need to look past the CO2 emissions and set our sights on the gunmen, the people who extract fossil fuels from the ground, the oil and gas industry. 

The best way to fight the industry is to replace fossil fuel based technologies with clean technologies. That’s already happening simply because the cost of clean technologies has dropped sharply. Clean technologies are now cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuel based technologies and they are starting to be used in large areas of the economy (see May 27 post — NY Governor Cuomo goes for clean power technology in a big way). The fossil fuel industry will eventually collapse because of its inferior economics. But not fast enough.

Applying a carbon tax is a way to speed things up. However, to be effective the tax must be targeted, not against the CO2 emission from fossil fuels, but against the carbon content of the fossil fuels before they are burned. The most effective time and place to apply the carbon tax is when and wherever the fuels are extracted from the ground or imported into the country. The correlation between the amount of tax charged and the resulting reduction in oil and gas produced will be close, unambiguous, and directly measurable; a huge advantage for the administrators.

Is it right to single out a particular industry and tax it so as to throttle its production? Of course it is. Our survival depends on it. Being fair to the enemy is not a winning strategy. In any case, fossil fuel companies do not deserve equitable treatment. They knew for years that the use of their products would cause global warming. Did they inform the public? No. They kept the knowledge to themselves, continued pumping fossil fuels, and lied about the dangers.

Keep this in mind:
The oil and gas industry is in favour of taxing CO2 emissions. Why? Because it provides a smoke screen in which to hide. When CO2 emissions are taxed, everyone pays. It allows the oil and gas industry to masquerade as just another industry paying its fair share. It is not just another industry, it is the culprit. As I write this post, the culprit is busy promoting a scheme to 
tax CO2 emissions, a scheme much to its advantage (see May 12 post — Oil Industry promoters want to pay Americans not to complain about global warming).

Subsidize clean technologies. Sue oil and gas  corporations in court. Ban fossil fuel industry tax breaks. Dump investments in oil and gas. Dump politicians who support the oil and gas industry. Those are all great ways to hit the fossil fuel industry and its promoters. Here’s some pertinent advice:

“hit them fast, hit them hard, hit them a lot” — Jack Reacher (Lee Childs’ fictional character)

Graph showing Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in parts per million (ppm) for the past 800,000 years, based on European Project for Ice Coring in the Antarctic (EPICA) data. Image: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in parts per million (ppm) for the past 800,000 years, based on European Project for Ice Coring in the Antarctic (EPICA) data. Image: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Mayor de Blasio resurrects project to bring hydro power from Quebec to NYC

Photo of Indian Pt. nuclear power plant as seen from west side of Hudson River
Indian Point nuclear power plant, Peekskill, NY, as seen from Hwy 202 on the west side of the Hudson River. Image: Google

The Indian Point nuclear power plant sits on the east bank of the Hudson River near Peekskill NY, 42 miles upstream from Lower Manhattan and the center of the NY Metropolitan Region. The plant’s proximity to the city has been viewed as a potential catastrophe and an ongoing health threat ever since it first started generating electricity in 1962. New Yorkers will breath easier when the plant shuts down for good in 2021. However, the shut down will leave a 2,000 MW hole in the state’s electricity supply which will have to be filled by a renewable source of energy. If NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way, power from hydro-rich Quebec will help fill the gap.

Mayor de Blasio announced his ‘Green New Deal’ for New York City on April 22, three months after Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, announced his ‘Green New Deal’ for the state (see previous post). While de Blasio’s plan ‘commits’ the city to carbon neutrality + 100% clean electricity by 2050, Cuomo’s plan commits the state (including NYC) to 100% clean electricity by 2040. Two Green New Deals for New York? Well, two are better than none. The Mayor, a Democrat, has entered the race to become U.S. President and is showing his environmental credentials.

The Mayor can aspire to carbon neutrality for the city. He can work towards it. But he doesn’t have the authority to mandate it. That’s Cuomo’s job — a moot point since the Governor hasn’t promised carbon neutrality. In any case, neither Cuomo nor de Blasio have defined what carbon neutrality means. Mayor de Blasio’s justification for making the 100% clean energy commitment is a plan to bring electric power from Quebec directly to New York City. The rationale is that when the electricity is added to the state grid, it will be enough to power all city-owned buildings in NYC. The more obvious effect will be simply to offset half the power that will be lost when the Indian Point nuclear plant shuts down.

First proposed in 2008, the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) is a 369 mile high voltage, direct current (HVDC) buried transmission line designed to carry 1,000 megawatts of clean power from Quebec to New York City. The buried transmission line would originate at Hydro Quebec’s Hertel substation in La Prairie, south of Montreal. On the map below, the red dot just south of Montreal is the approximate location of Hydro Quebec’s Hertel substation. The red dot immediately north of New York City is the approximate location of the Indian Point nuclear power station.

Map of North-east USA and Canadian boarder region

The CHPE transmission line will cross the international boarder at Rouses Point NY, then head south by way of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley, terminating in the NYC borough of Queens. The line will follow existing rights of way as well as water ways. The promoter of the U.S. section of the project is Transmission Developers Inc of Albany NY. A 2014 news release by the company put the cost  of the “merchant transmission project” at US$2.2-billion. During his NYC Green New Deal announcement on April 22, the Mayor said he wanted to start talks with Quebec immediately on finalizing a deal to get the CHPE project moving.

The Mayor’s Green New Deal contains initiatives that he does have the authority to mandate. They include: reducing greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings; banning new inefficient glass-walled buildings; replacing the city’s fossil fuel powered fleet with electric vehicles; ending the purchase by the city of single use plastics; divesting investment of $5-billion in city pension funds from the fossil fuel industry — all good ideas that he could have promoted years ago.

Photo of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing his Green New Deal
NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announces Green New Deal April 22, 2019. Image: from NYGov video

How the Oil & Gas Industry gets others to fight for its life

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at a meeting of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association on March 8, 2019, delivered the following message to the members: “The oil and gas industry, I want to promise you,” he said, “has no greater friend than President Donald Trump. And as the President said, in his words, our administration will not only seek American energy independence but will seek American energy dominance.” (whitehouse.gov –  briefings)

Photo of VP Mike Pence speaking to Ohio Oil & Gas Assoc. March 8, 2019
VP Mike Pence speaks at a meeting of the Ohio Oil & Gas Assoc. March 8, 2019. Image credit: Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch

The oil industry is on the defensive for causing global warming, sea level rise, mega storms, the end of life as we know it. People who want it stopped are protesting in the streets, launching lawsuits. Smart energy technologies such as photovoltaics are showing the industry up for what it is: smelly,  poisonous, obsolete. Is the industry buckling under the weight of these assaults? Not yet. Since science and the facts are on the side of their tormentors, oil industry executives are fighting back with a weapon that can defeat any amount of truth — money.

The industry is wielding its money weapon in three ways: 1. buying politicians; 2. swamping the market; 3. financing climate science deniers.

Politicians are first on the industry’s purchase list. The following chart from a report by OpenSecrets, shows the top Oil Industry contributors to the 2017-2018 election cycle. As the chart makes clear, oil industry contributions go to Republicans by an overwhelming margin. Oil industry executives know where to get the biggest bang for their bucks. They own the Republicans in Congress.

Chart of top Oil Industry contributors to election campaigns, 2017-2018
Top Oil Industry contributors to election campaigns, 2017-2018. Image credit: OpenSecrets.org

The chart shows only direct political donations— money that’s easy to track. The oil and gas industry spends millions more dollars on lobbying and Political Action Committees (PAC’s), money that’s difficult to track.

Do political contributions work? During his talk to the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the Vice President made sure to tell his listeners how their contributions do indeed work: “We [the Trump administration] approved the Keystone and Dakota pipelines; withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris Climate Accord; eliminated the hydraulic fracking rule; rolled back methane; we’re ending the Clean Power Plan; scrapped the Stream Protection Rule; and now, under President Donald Trump, the war on coal is over. American energy is booming.” (Applause)

There are two ways to swamp a market. One way is to increase production so as to undercut the competition (cleaner more efficient energy technologies). The second way is to invest heavily in down-stream facilities so as to embed the use of a product more firmly into the economy. The oil and gas industry is lavishing its investors money in both ways. A 2018 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute (API) titled ‘U.S. Oil and Gas Infrastructure Investment through 2035’, predicts that the industry will spend at least $1 trillion (a million million dollars – see pie charts below) on new facilities such as pipelines, storage tanks, refineries, export terminals. There’s nothing in the 154 page report about renewable energy technologies or anything related to global warming. For the API and its members, the goal is fossil fuel domination, the planet be damned.

Pie charts showing projected investment in oil and gas infrastructure
From a 2018 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Inst. Image credit: ICF Fairfax VA

Providing financial assistance to individuals and groups willing to spread disinformation about climate science is a big part of the industry’s survival strategy. There are dozens of groups that work to discredit climate science and the impacts of global warming. The Trump administration is packed with individuals drawn from oil companies or from the disinformation mills that live off them. Some of the better known groups include: the American Enterprise Institute; the Manhattan Institute; the Heritage Foundation; the Heartland Institute. Not wishing to become objects of mockery themselves, oil industry executives never publicly express agreement with the absurd views generated by such outfits. Instead they buy clowns and crazies to do it for them. It doesn’t matter how outlandish or mad the stories are. The important thing is that they reach the ears of the millions of people prone to believe them.

President Trump — a faithful servant of the oil and gas industry — is an exemplar of the ‘clowns and crazies’ crowd. He has a talent for delivering climate-science falsehoods to large appreciative audiences in the manner of a standup comic. Speaking at a National Republican Congressional Committee fund raising dinner, April 2, Trump said: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75% in value. And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me (waves his arms while vocalizing sound of rotating windmill).” See 26 second video clip below.

Trump is simply a windbag who puffs out drivel in support of his masters, the oil industry bosses. Those are the guys the Democrats need to bring under control. Until that happens, advancing the objectives of the Paris Climate Accord will be difficult.

 

 

 

 

Climate Bafflegab: the words Big Business uses to keep us ignorant

Bafflegab: language deliberately used to confuse, obscure, baffle

The Limits to Growth, a report commissioned by The Club of Rome, hit the book stands in 1972. Widely discussed at the time, it’s a study of industrial and population growth in relation to the supply of resources. It concluded that, unless the world changed its ways, limits to growth would become evident by the year 2072. Since its publication, more than 30 million copies of the book have sold, and it continues to generate debate to this day.

Photo of The Limits to Growth, 1st Edition cover

Question: why is the phrase ‘Limits to Growth’ so rarely mentioned in the press or elsewhere? What happened to it? Answer: Big Business, aided by its friends in government, buried it. Business leaders like to talk about growing their businesses, never about stunting them. Outside of academic circles, talk about limiting growth is considered bad taste, like spitting in public. How did Business manage to suppress the phrase so completely? Easy. It promoted an alternative phrase more to its liking. It’s called ‘Sustainable Development’, a masterpiece of bafflegab.

Google’s Ngram Viewer consists of a search engine and a database of about five million books published up to the year 2008. It provides a way to chart the frequency over time of any set of words or phrases appearing in the data set of printed texts. By choosing 1900 as the start date, and entering these three phrases, industrial development, limits to growth, and sustainable development, the Viewer generates the following chart.

Image of Google Ngram chart
Google Ngram Chart. (All) = case insensitive

The People who write books tend to use the words and phrases acceptable to the people they hope will read them. Books reflect what people are talking about at any point in time. When it was published in 1972, the Club of Rome’s book reflected the growing discomfort with industrialization. That’s when talk about ‘industrial development’ started heading downhill (see chart) and talk about ‘limits to growth’ began to gain traction. Big Business had to act fast and it did. By 1990, the new, business-friendly phrase ‘sustainable development’ had eclipsed the phrase ‘limits to growth’, and would soon take over from the phrase ‘industrial development’.

Does that mean Big Business is out of the woods, free to carry on as before? Not quite. There remains the question of global warming and its bafflegab replacement phrase ‘climate change’.  Yes, that’s right, ‘Climate change’ is a phrase chosen and promoted by Big Business in its ongoing attempt to bury the words ‘global warming’. Business hates the phrase ‘global warming’. The words imply that, not only is the world getting hotter, but that there’s no limit to how hot It will get. Business does not want to get blamed for cooking its customers. ‘Climate change’ by comparison, sounds positively benign. As President Trump has remarked, the climate could “change back again”.

Here’s what the Ngram chart shows when the phrases global warming and climate change are added.

Image of Google Ngram Chart
Google Ngram Chart (All) = case insensitive

‘Climate change’ and ‘sustainable development’, the two bafflegab phrases, are up there leading the pack, exactly where Business likes to see them. ‘Global warming’, the truthful phrase, although still in the race, is lagging.  ‘Limits to growth’, also a truthful phrase, remains lying in the dirt — for now.

Juliana v. United States: the battle heats up

My earlier post dated January 19th, outlined ‘Juliana v. United States’,  the youth climate lawsuit. The suit claims that the federal government, because of its ongoing failure to limit fossil fuel extraction and use, has violated the young people’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and failed to protect the country’s public-trust resources. The case is currently held up in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals following an appeal by the government, the latest of many attempts by the Trump administration to derail the action.

Photo: James R. Browning Courthouse, San Francisco CA
James R. Browning Courthouse, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco CA. Image: Google

On February 4th., the court agreed to begin hearings on the government’s appeal next June, in Portland, Oregon. Also on February 4th., Donald Trump nominated David Bernhardt to head the U.S. Department of the Interior. Bernhardt had become acting head following the departure of scandal-plagued Ryan Zinke.

Photo of David Bernhardt
David Bernhardt. Photo credit: D. Zalubowski/AP

It’s expected that Mr. Bernhardt, a former fossil fuel industry lobbyist, will continue to work on advancing  the President’s “energy dominance” agenda for the country. According to the New York Times, this has already involved “some of the largest rollbacks of public-land protections in the nation’s history . . .  opening millions of acres of public land and water to oil, gas and coal companies.” The Guardian of Dec. 16, 2018 quotes Natural Resources Defense Council’s Bobby McEnaney: “It’s not so much who [Mr. Bernhardt] has helped, it’s who hasn’t he helped in industry so far. The notion that he could extricate himself from benefiting his former clients is impossible.”

Reduced to its essential meaning, the young people’s lawsuit is accusing the Trump administration of ecocide — the destruction of the natural world, including all the humans in it. Underlying that accusation is the fact that, while the plaintiffs are young, the people causing the destruction are old — like Trump. It follows that while the old people have only a few years left to live, the young people have their whole lives ahead of them, provided the old people can be prevented from killing them prematurely.

Despite the Juliana lawsuit, and perhaps in spiteful reaction to it, President Trump, with the help of Mr. Bernhardt and many others like him, has actively persisted in his objective, which is to open up every square foot of the country’s federal lands to fossil fuel extraction. His current push to open the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves to offshore drilling, has caused even some Republican legislators to become queasy.

Map of USA showing federal lands
U.S. federal lands. Map produced by Bureau of Land Management, Washington DC

On February 7th, reacting to the Trump administration’s nose-thumbing behaviour, the Juliana plaintiffs filed an “urgent motion” in the Ninth Circuit Court, asking it to grant an injunction preventing the government (pending the resolution of its appeal) from: mining coal on federal public lands; engaging in offshore oil and gas exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf; developing new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines and fossil fuel export facilities.

Accompanying and following the motion were supporting briefs from more than 30 diverse groups and individuals, including one from Zero Hour (zerohour.org) on behalf of 32,340 children who responded to an online petition.

The government filed its opposition to the plaintiffs motion on February 19th.

 

Big Oil rattled by Electric Vehicles; Senator Barrasso tries to help

Worldwide sales of electric vehicles (EVs) have been climbing steadily since 2010. While the proportion of EVs to new car sales is still less than 3% worldwide, the oil industry is disturbed by the trend in total numbers sold (see graph below).

Graph showing sales of EVs in leading markets 2011 to 2017
Sales of EVs in leading markets. Image from Wikipedia.org

Transportation is now the country’s largest source of global warming carbon dioxide. If CO2 emissions are to be reduced, EVs will have to play a major role. For oil refiners, that’s bad news. Electric Vehicles don’t run on gasoline, which means less profit at the pump.

What do giant corporations do when confronted by threats to their market dominance? The simple answer is, they buy political influence. But they also need to be helpful (in a practical way) to the politicians they aim to influence. That is, they need to show them exactly what legislation to adopt and pass into law. That’s where ALEC comes in.

ALEC, short for American Legistative Exchange Council, is a conservative, non-profit, bill-writing organization headquartered in Arlington VA. Its motto is, ‘“Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism”. Membership includes state legislators and private sector representatives, people who get together to discuss and agree on their political objectives and then convert those objectives into the legislative language of government bills. These ‘model’ bills are then distributed to states that want to adopt them. The bills generated by ALEC reflect the politics of its right wing, conservative, Republican membership. Bills aimed at reducing corporate taxes, cutting environmental regulations, opposing gun control, introducing tough voter ID rules, and weakening labor unions, are typical of the organization’s output.

Several nations, including the U.S., have introduced incentives designed to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles. The U.S. offers a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 to people who buy new EVs., a measure that predates the Trump era. Last November, and again in December, oil industry representatives and state legislators held ALEC meetings to discuss (in private) how to kill the tax credit. According to The Guardian of 4th Dec., the participants secretly approved resolutions “supporting stripping tax benefits from electric vehicles and endorsing Donald Trump’s pro-fossil fuel energy agenda. And they voted down a proposal to limit monopoly control of the power industry, which backers said would give consumers more choice and help grow renewable electricity faster and more cheaply.”

Entities linked to the ALEC meetings included Marathon Petrolium, the nation’s largest refiner, and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Association (AFPM). Marathon alone has reported spending close to a million dollars lobbying Congress about the EV tax credit and other issues. The fossil fuel industry’s man in Congress is John Barrasso, Republican Senator from Wyoming.

Photo of U.S. Senator John Barrasso
U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). Image: Facebook

Barrasso heads the Senate Environment & Public Works Committe, and sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committe. According to OpenSecrets.org Barrasso received $520,650 in campaign financing from the fossil fuel industry over the period 2013 to 2018. Last October, the Senator introduced a bill to Congress to revoke the EV tax credit and to impose a highway use fee on electric vehicles to make up for the fact that their owners  don’t pay a gasoline tax.

On March 6 of this year, Barrasso Spoke from the Senate Floor on the subject of the Democrats “Green New Deal”. He was responding to a challenge from Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to tell the Senate what the Republicans planned to do about climate change. Here’s part of what Barrasso said (Senate Committee Press release):

It’s a plan: cut carbon through innovation, not regulation. The question is: do we believe the climate is changing? Do humans have an impact? The answer is yes to both. . . . Second, the United States and the world will continue to rely on affordable and abundant fossil fuel, including coal, to power our economies for decades to come. And we need to also rely on innovation. Not new taxes, not punishing global agreements. That’s the ultimate solution.

Interesting plan — Stick to fossil fuels and innovate. Innovate how? I’m guessing ‘green plan’ type innovations such as wind generators, photovoltaics, battery storage systems, and electric vehicles, are not what the Senator has in mind.

Four-door electric sedans currently sell In the U.S. for $30,000 and up. How will the oil industry react when prices fall? The image below shows the EV currently being built in China  by Great Wall Motors. It’s listed at around $9,000, little more than the tax credit Senator Barrasso is so keen on killing. That’s the future the oil industry will have to contend with.

Idaho: safe from Sea Level Rise but not from Drought and Fire

Crown fire in mixed conifer forest, southern Idaho, 2016
Crown fire in a mixed conifer forest, southern Idaho, 2016. Photo by Karl Greer, U.S. Forest Service

Idaho, an inland State, most of which lies above 2,000 feet in elevation, is safe from Sea Level Rise, but not from the warming atmosphere that’s causing it. Average summer temperature across the Pacific Northwest are predicted to rise by several degrees in the coming years. That will translate into serious trouble for the regions forests.  The Seattle Times of Sept. 11, 2017, quotes Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington: “We expect to see more fires and bigger fires. People are just beginning to wake up to this, but public lands managers do think about this and the potential risks.”

The 2018 fire season validated that prediction. The  image below shows a satellite snapshot (as an overlay on a map of the U.S.) of dense smoke across the West Coast on the morning of August 20, 2018.  The smoke cover extends north into Canada, south to Texas, and east to the Great Lakes. Idaho is hidden.

Satellite snapshot of wildfire smoke across the U.S. Aug. 20, 2018
Satellite snapshot of wildfire smoke across the U.S. Aug. 20, 2018. Image: NOAA

According to the U.S. Forest Service budget report for 2015, climate change has extended the wildfire season by an average of 78 days per year since 1970. Funding for fire fighting has remained flat for years, and rising costs have repeatedly broken the Service’s annual budget. Last year, Congress passed a ‘fire funding fix’. The bill, which will become effective in 2020, provides $2.25 billion to cover fire fighting costs that exceed regular appropriations. In addition, the bill contained half a billion in emergency fire fighting funds for 2018.

Mike Crapo, U.S. Senator from Idaho, was the principal backer of the ‘fire funding fix’. Speaking about the new funding regime at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, on May 3, 2018, he had this to say:

“It’s taken us . . . thirty years to get here in terms of what was not the adequate management we needed to be putting into place on the ground. We are not going to solve it all in one fire season. So it’s true, we’re still going to be dealing with some of the things that have been building up over time and are giving us the problems that we have now. That being said, we are now going to start managing properly, and, as Vickie Christiansen, the Acting Chief of the [U.S.] Forest Service said, we are now going to move toward that point — which will take us some years to achieve — but to that point where fire is the servant not the manager of our forests.”

Mike Crapo, U.S. Senator from Idaho
Mike Crapo, U.S. Senator from Idaho. Image: McClatchy Videos

Senator Crapo doesn’t believe (or refuses to admit) that Global Warming is real, or that it’s an unfolding catastrophe caused by the burning of fossil fuels. That’s why he doesn’t mention the impact of climate change. As far as Crapo is concerned, the increasing number of wildfire disasters are due to the cumulative effect over thirty years of improper forest management practices, and that the problems will be solved because now, the Forest Service will have enough money to do a better job. You’ll recall how the Service has already received tips from President Trump on ways to improve their forest management practices.

Will increased funding enable the Forest Service to put a stop to the uncontrollable burning up of the western forests? It can help. It can delay. It can mitigate. But It can’t succeed until the root cause of the problem — the increasing temperature of our planet’s atmosphere — is brought under control.

On June 3, 2017, President Trump announced his intention to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. A month earlier, 22 Republican Senators jointly sent a letter to the President urging him to dump the deal. Mike Crapo and his fellow Idaho Senator, Jim Risch, were among the signatories. According to The Guardian of June I, 2017, the 22 Senators had collectively received $10.7 million in campaign donations from fossil fuel industries, over the previous three election cycles (2012, 2014, 2016). Mike Crapo’s share was $110,250. Jim Risch received $123,850.

America currently remains a party to the Paris Accord. Three years must elapse before its withdrawal becomes official. Is there any possibility that Idaho will support efforts to reverse President Trump’s decision to withdraw? Considering Idaho’s current standing as a solid red State, and the apparent fealty of its Republican politicians to the fossil fuel industry, that seems unlikely. Every stick of Idaho’s forests will burn before some minds are changed.

There is, however, an indication that light has begun to penetrate Idaho’s Republican darkness.  Brad Little, a Republican, was sworn in as Idaho’s 33rd Governor on January 4th. According to High Country News, the Governor, while addressing the Idaho Environmental Forum on January 16th, told the crowd that “Climate Change is real.” His statement reportedly reduced the crowd to stunned silence. Responding to questions later, he said, “Climate is changing, there’s no question about it. We’ve just gotta figure out how to cope with it and we gotta slow it down. Now, reversing it is going to be a big darn job.” (quote from Idaho Press)

Map of the United States showing location of Idaho
The red State of Idaho. Image: Wikipedia

The 1,000-year Tennessee flood of 2010 — what are the odds?

It started raining on Saturday, May 1, 2010. By the time the rain stopped 36 hours later, large areas of middle and western Tennessee were under water. Fiftytwo of the state’s nintyfive counties would later qualify for disaster assistance. The amount of water that bucketed down that weekend was epic. The meteorologists called it ‘a thousand-year flood.’ What’s remarkable about the weather system that caused so much damage is that it showed up unannounced. No named storm was involved.

Map of Tennessee showing rainfall distribution May 1 & 2, 2010

The rains that inundated Houston, Texas, in 2017, were carried in from the Gulf by hurricane Harvey. The rains that dumped on the Carolinas in 2018, were transported from the Atlantic by hurricane Florence. People knew those tropical storms were coming, days in advance. We could watch the approaching cyclones on our TV screens. The deluge that swamped Tennessee in 2010 arrived without any warning at all. Here’s what the Memphis Office of the National Weather Service had to say:

“A significant weather system brought very heavy rain and severe thunderstorms from Saturday, May 1 through Sunday morning, May 2. A stalled frontal boundary coupled with very moist air streaming northward from the Gulf set the stage for repeated rounds of heavy rainfall. Many locations along the I-40 corridor across western and middle Tennessee reported in excess of 10 to 15 inches, with some locations receiving up to 20 inches according to Doppler radar estimates.”

It was an ordinary weather system — except for the “very moist air.” Apparently that’s what made the difference between a typical Tennessee rain storm and a thousand-year flood.  What is a thousand-year flood, anyway? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website (climate.gov) contains an engaging article titled, “How can we call something a thousand-year storm if we don’t have a thousand years of climate observation?”  Here’s my interpretation of the statistics it covers:

Records gathered over the past 100+ years showing the correlation between rainfall amount and flooding are available for most parts of the country. Flood predictions are derived from the statistical analysis of these records. The term ‘thousand-year flood’ means that the chance for a flood of a certain magnitude to occur at a particular place, in any given year, is one in a thousand or 0.1%. For Tennessee, it means that the chance for a 2010-sized flood to re-occure this year (2019) or in any following year, is one in a thousand.

But wait a minute. If the meteorologists are doing their job, they are constantly updating the available records with the most recent data. And if (as news reports from around the world suggest) the existing records are being broken with increasing frequency, statistical predictions will eventually reflect that trend. Floods that were once labeled 1,000-year floods, may now more properly by labeled 500-year or 100-year floods. For Tennessee, it means that the chance for a 2010-sized flood to re-occure this year, could be one in a hundred rather than one in a thousand.

How should politicians, concerned about the safety of the people they represent, respond to an increasingly dangerous climate? Since the problem is global, the response must be global. Hence The Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the international effort to halt the rise in temperature of the world’s atmosphere and thereby limit its destabilizing effect on climate.

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a coalition of 16 (and counting) U.S. States committed to upholding the objectives of the Paris Agreement. What are the chances that the State of Tennessee will join the Climate Alliance? Considering Tennessee’s current political leadership, about one in a million. The following YouTube video, published December 2009, records the position of GOP House Rep. Marsha Blackburn, on the question of Climate Change — she says: it’s cyclical; the science is not settled; humans are not responsible. Blackburn is now a U.S. Senator representing Tennessee.

 

Trump mulls funding for new Hudson River Rail Tunnel, but continues to balk

Photo showing scene inside Penn Station, NYC
Inside Pennsylvania Station, New York City

Every weekday, about 450 trains pass through the Hudson River Rail Tunnel carrying New Jersey commuters to and from NYC’s Penn Station, as well as Amtrak passengers traveling the Northeast Corridor between Boston, New York, and Washington. The tunnel is over one hundred years old and seriously decayed, and it can’t be renovated until a new tunnel is built. The estimated cost for a new tunnel: $13 billion.

Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senator from New York and Senate Minority Leader, speaking to transportation planners in December 2016 (Bloomberg News report) said: “We don’t build this, and these tunnels fail, the whole economy will collapse. There will be a deep recession in the New York metropolitan area and a recession probably in the whole country.”

A year earlier, in 2015, the federal government reached an agreement with New York and New Jersey to split the cost of a new tunnel three ways, with the feds (who own the tunnel) paying fifty percent. But when Donald Trump assumed the presidency, what had once been considered a done deal, became undone. No federal funding is guaranteed these days. There are no done deals. Deals are fluid things, subject to cancellation on a whim.

The current president is like the ogre featured in fairy tails, the one pictured lurking under a bridge, blocking traffic and the way forward. What does the ogre want? He wants wins, personal wins, and federal funds are a means of getting them. Need federal funds? Give him a win. No win, no funding. And don’t forget, he’s armed with a bag of derogatory names and a veto-tipped cudgel. If you don’t give this ogre what he wants he’ll clobber you.

Last October, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo starred in a video in which he’s seen inside the Hudson Tunnel pulling loose chunks of concrete from its wall (see: Help! The Hudson River Rail Tunnel is falling to bits). The New York Times called it a stunt designed solely to win over an audience of one, the one in the Oval Office. Apparently the stunt worked because a month later, the President invited Governor Cuomo to a meeting in Washington to discuss the need for funding.

At a press briefing November 28, the governor described the meeting as “productive.” Did he a get a funding commitment? No. Will he get one? That depends on what’s in it for the President. Some sort of quid pro quo? Support for his boarder wall in exchange for a funding commitment perhaps? Governor Cuomo says no, not from him. What then? The tunnel project, even if it started today, will not be completed for 8 to 10 years. If there’s a win in that situation for Mr. Trump, I don’t see it. Will he support the project simply because it’s the right thing to do? What do you think?
The following YouTube video shows the Press Briefing held by Governor Cuomo following his meeting with President Trump. It’s worth watching in its entirety.

 

Climate Change in Florida — Seeing is Believing

Photo of Miami skyline
Miami, Florida. Image: Unsplash.com. Photo by Muzammil Soorma

Back in 2014, Rick Scott, then republican governor of Florida, was asked if he had a plan to deal with Climate Change. Here’s a 24-second YouTube video clip in which Scott gives his answer: No Plan. That was his position for the remainder of his term in office.

The threat posed by sea level rise to the future of Miami is known and it is dire. Yet people continue to purchase ocean front properties as if no such threat exists. The question is, why? Noah Smith, in an opinion piece for Bloomberg News dated May 3, 2018, suggested that “Increased probability of coastal flooding makes waterfront real estate a bit like a junk bond.” It’s an analogy that calls for elaboration.

A junk bond is a high-yield, moderate-risk security. For example, a city in danger of going broke, may raise money by selling ten-year junk bonds that pay a higher rate of interest (the yield) to attract buyers. The risk to the buyer is that the city may go bankrupt before the ten-year maturity date is reached, in which case the bonds become worthless. Waterfront property threatened by ocean flooding can be compared to that city. The property will continue to attract investors so long as it continues to offer a higher than normal quality of life (real or imagined). That’s the yield. The risk to the buyer in the short term — 10 to 20 years — is the unlikely chance that the property insurers (private or government) run out of money to cover damage when flooding does occur. In other words, the short-term risk to the buyer is negligible.

What about the long term threat posed by sea level rise (3 to 6 feet higher by the end of the century)? As far as Miami real estate transactions are concerned, it hasn’t yet become an issue. The immediate attraction of a higher quality of life (seaside living) has so far trumped whatever worries buyers may have about sea level rise. Furthermore, the prevailing political position has been to avoid giving the buyers reasons to to worry. State officials have taken a see-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach to the threat. There are no zoning laws or other disincentives aimed at discouraging further development in the region’s  flood-prone areas. In effect, the politicians are sitting on their hands, apparently waiting for the ocean to force the issue. 

That raises another question: when forced to act by rising waters, what will the city or the state do to protect the people and their way of life? Move them to higher ground? Miami is built on land that lies barely above sea level. The average elevation of Miami-Dade County is about 6 feet. The highest point in the county is about 25 feet. This means that high-tide flooding already affects those parts of the city that sit at little more than a foot and a half above Mean Sea Level (the average level of the sea between high and low tide). And even conservative predictions say that in 15 to 25 years, sea level will be a foot higher than it is today.

There’s a geological feature called the Atlantic Coastal Ridge stretching along the eastern edge of the Florida peninsula. It consists of outcrops of limestone, which In some places provide marginally higher ground. For example, the North Miami communities known as Little Haiti and Liberty City are built on ridge limestone that rises a few feet higher than the surrounding land. Noah Smith, in his opinion piece for Bloomberg News, mentions studies showing that “higher elevation locations have risen in price faster than similar locations at low elevations.” Okay. But it’s a side issue. The population of the Miami metropolitan area is pushing seven million. The place can’t speculate its way out of the problems that lie ahead. It needs a real plan.

Florida now has a new Governor, Ron DeSantis, another republican. Here’s a YouTube video in which he says, “I see the sea rising, I see the flooding in South Florida, so I think you’d be a fool not to consider that as an issue we need to address.” That’s progress. Let’s see what he actually does about it?

 

New York takes baby step towards solving its plastic trash problems

NYC litter basket overflowing with plastic bags
NYC trash basket — only for litter? NYTimes image

New York City has a plastic-waste problem. Discarded carryout bags can be found clogging drains, hanging from trees, coating vacant spaces like tide wrack. According to the city’s sanitation department, New Yorkers throw away more than 10 billion — 10,O00,000,000 — single-use plastic bags every year — one thousand bags for each man, woman, and child. That works out to about 20 billion bags discarded every year in New York State as a whole.

Confronted by the scale of the pollution, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill last April which states, “BEGINNING JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND NINETEEN, THE PROVISION OF PLASTIC CARRYOUT BAGS AT ANY POINT OF SALE TO CUSTOMERS IS PROHIBITED.”
The law is unsatisfactory because of what it leaves out. The ban does not apply to plastic bags to carry uncooked meat, fish, poultry, or food sliced to order. Bags used to contain bulk items such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, or candy, are exempt, as are plastic bags sold in bulk, or repackaged for sale such as trash bags or bags used for food storage. Also given a pass are plastic garment bags, bags used to carry newspapers for delivery to customers, and bags provided by restaurants and similar establishments for carryout food. And there may be other exemptions whenever the government thinks of them.

The Law isn’t going to solve the State’s plastic trash problem any time soon. But it should at least improve appearances. It’s a baby step in the right direction. The question now is, will the bill pass? As of today, the bill is held up in the NY State Senate Rules Committee. The image below shows it’s current status and the steps it must follow before it can be signed into law by Governor Cuomo. Looks like that’s not going to happen by the intended date of January 1, 2019.

Image from NY State Senate website showing status of bill S8258
Image from New York State Senate website

When Governor Cuomo introduced the bill last April, the NY State Senate had a republican majority, so there was some doubt the bill would ever get passed. Come January, the democrats will be in control which should assure the bill’s passage. But one never knows. Politicians are not known for speed or reliability. Here’s a photo of the Senate floor showing Senators at work.

Photo of NY State Senate Floor
New York State Senate Floor. nysenate.gov image

While plastic packaging is an out-and-out evil, not everything found in garbage is ugly. In fact, some of it is good-looking and interesting enough to make up the contents of a fascinating New York City musium.

Treasures in the Trash Musium

The Treasures in the Trash Musium was founded by Nelson Melina,  a Sanitation Department employee for many years. The collection consists of about fifty thousand artifacts found in New York City trash by Molina over a period of thirty years. The museum is located in East Harlem, above a NYC Sanitation Dept. Garage at 343 E 99th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues. It’s not open to the public on a regular basis. The department arranges tours from time to time. 

Musical instruments at Treasures in the Trash Musium, NYC
Musical Instruments. Treasures in the Trash Musium, NYC. Image credit : untappedcities.com

For more photos of the musium’s collection, go to Untapped Cities: Behind the Scenes at the NYC Sanitation Dept. Trash Musium on the Upper East Side.

Plastic packaging overwhelms humanity — industry looks to increase the supply

Image of plastic water bottles on production line
A few of the 50 Billion plastic water bottles used and discarded in the U.S. in one year

Since its invention in the early 20th century, plastic has been put to a multitude of valuable uses. Plastic packaging is not one of them. It’s a scourge. The stuff keeps piling up in landfills and garbage tips. It accumulates along beaches and floats in the oceans as micro particles. It slowly degrades in sunlight, releasing methane and ethylene, potent greenhouse gases. When burned with trash in the open air (as happens routinely in poor countries) it releases a range of deadly fumes, including dioxin. When burned in an incinerator as a source of energy (plastic is made from fossil fuels) it releases its carbon content into the atmosphere, thus increasing global warming.

Image of discarded flexible packaging
Discarded flexible packaging. Image: RecycleBC

Plastic trash is a highly visible form of pollution. That’s a problem for the plastics industry.  Stung by public criticism, manufacturers and users of plastic packaging have begun to react. Amcor, a leading manufacturer of plastic packaging, together with some of the big users (including, Coca-Cola, Danone, MARS, Novamont, L’Oréal, Pepsi, Unilever, and Veolia), say they have committed themselves to the New Plastics Economy, an initiative by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This is what the organization’s website says it wants to achieve:

In a new plastics economy, plastic never becomes waste or pollution. Three actions are required to achieve this vision and create a circular economy for plastic. Eliminate all problematic and unnecessary plastic items. Innovate to ensure that the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Circulate all the plastic items we use to keep them in the economy and out of the environment.

If those statements sound to you like the kind of New Year resolutions a weak-willed glutton might make, you’re right. Plastic products are cheap, most of the public accepts them, and the industry wants to continue feeding the market with as much of the stuff as it will swallow. According to the industry newsletter Plastics Today, the plastic packaging market is expected to grow in value from about $200 billion in 2017 to $270 billion in 2025, a 35% increase.

Of course the industry wants something to be done about the trash. It’s an embarrassment. Look at the last statement in the committments they made about circulating all the plastic items we use. The question is, who do they think will execute that part of their commitment? Right now, municipalities handle garbage collection and recycling, provided they have a tax base to support it. Municipalities in poor countries don’t have that luxury. Does the plastics industry intend to fund the collection and recycling of plastic trash in all those places in the world where that work falls short of 100% efficiency? Of course not. What the industry is angling for is a commitment, by others — governments, municipalities, you and I — to pay for it.

Suppose, as is likely, no one wants to pay the cost of dealing with plastic pollution on a global scale, what then? In the case of plastic packaging, the obvious solution would be to switch back to non-polluting materials such as paper and glass. People lived without plastic before. We can do so again.
Industry representatives opposed to the idea raise the usual objections: impractical; ill informed; too expensive; jobs would be lost, etc. Or they imply that there is no alternative. For example, Amcor CEO Ron Delia, quoted in his company’s website, says: “Plastic packaging is vital for products used by billions of consumers around the globe. It’s highly effective and easy to adapt, so that those products are safe, nutritious and effective.”  So . . . Plastic packaging is not just useful, it is vital. Foodstuffs that are not packed in plastic are unsafe, ineffective, lack nutrition. Use plastic or billions will suffer. Those are the messages Mr. Delia’s statement implies.

We humans have a tendency to eat until we burst. Our excessive consumption of plastic is just one example.  Fortunately it’s a habit we can easily break. But to succeed, the break will have to be made despite the New Plastic Economy crowd.

The following YouTube video by Ravi Bajoria shows a primative garbage sorting line in operation. Poor countries cannot afford to buy and operate the automated, high-tech systems that are available. If we stop using plastic packaging, they won’t need them.

 

Climate Change threatens America; the U.S. Military responds; Trump feints

Cartoon. Trump with his finger in the climate dike
THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF STICKS HIS FINGER IN THE CLIMATE DIKE

The 2018 Federal Assessment for the U.S., was released on November 23rd. The report highlights likely impacts and risks from the changing climate.
An introductory statement says: “A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.” The report concludes that Climate Change threatens the “natural, built and social systems we rely on.” Disruptions expected to accompany Climate Change include: rising temperatures; extreme heat; drought; wildfire on rangelands; heavy downpours; transformed coastal regions; higher costs and lower property values from sea level rise; extreme weather events; changes to air quality; changes to the availability of food and water; and the spread of new diseases.

Here is President Trump’s initial response to the report:

During an interview with the Washington Post on November 27, the President was asked to explain his negative response to the climate report.
This is his verbatim response:

“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.”

“Number two, if you go back and if you look at articles, they talked about global freezing, they talked about at some point the planets could have freeze to death, then it’s going to die of heat exhaustion. There is movement in the atmosphere. There’s no question. As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it — not nearly like it is.”

Despite Trump’s attempts to bury climate change, and his all-out support for fossil fuels, the U.S. Military is marching to a different tune. According to the Center for Climate & Security, since Trump assumed office in January 2017, eighteen senior officials at the U.S. Defense Department have recommended actions to address the security implications of climate change. These officials include: Secretary of Defense, James Mattis; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva; and Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spenser.

James Mattis, a former United States Marine Corps general, has a history of supporting efforts to reduce troop dependence on petroleum. In 2003, he urged the military to develop ways to “Unleash us from the tether of fuel.” At his confirmation hearings in 2017, he said, “Climate Change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.” He also said, “I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation.”

Military War Room
Military War Room

The world is facing an existential threat. It appears the U.S. Military is ready and willing to engage the enemy. But to be truly effective, it needs a Commander-in-Chief willing or able to acknowledge the threat. The sooner it gets one, the better for all of us.

When will North Carolina’s loathsome CAFOs be shut down?

Much of North Carolina’s eastern half lies within the continent’s coastal plain. Rivers flowing from the Appalachian foothills onto the plain, slow down and become sluggish. That makes them prone to flooding, particularly during and after the storms and hurricanes that blow in from the Atlantic carrying heavy loads of rain. The widespread flooding caused by last September’s Hurricane Florence is a good example.

D452B5AD-E438-4BF5-BF42-114631012A3F

This soggy, low-lying land is home to about 2,200 industrial pig farms. Known in the trade as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), the waste (pig shit) from these factory farms is not treated in any way, rather it is flushed into open pits (called lagoons) and eventually sprayed onto surrounding land, or, in the event of flooding, distributed far from its source by way of creeks and rivers. Each year, about 18 million tons of liquid pig shit (laced with pharmaceutical residues) are released into the environment from the state’s more than nine million pigs.

Pig farm sheds and lagoons
Pig farm (CAFO) sheds and lagoons. Image: Sierra Club

Most of North Carolina’s pig farms are located in the southeastern part of the state, with the heaviest concentration centred in and around Duplin and Samson Counties. This has created a life-threatening pollution problem for the people living in the area.

Map of North Carolina showing distribution of hog farms on coastal plain
North Carolina showing distribution of CAFOs. Coastal plain lies east of the blue line. Map by Steve Wing, UNC-Chapel Hill

A recent study by J. Kravchenco and others, published in the North Carolina Medical Journal, October 2018 (vol.79 no 5 287-288), concerning health risks to humans living near pig farms, has this to say:

“North Carolina communities located near hog CAFOs had higher all-cause and infant mortality, mortality due to anemia, kidney disease, tuberculosis, septicemia, and higher hospital admissions/ED visits of LBW infants. . . . Among North Carolina communities, including both high-income and low-income communities, the lowest life expectancy was observed in southeastern North Carolina. . . . The residents living in close proximity to hog CAFOs . . . are chronically exposed to contaminants from land-applied wastes and their overland flows, leaking lagoons, and pit-buried carcasses, as well as airborne emissions, resulting in higher risks of certain diseases. In fact, previous survey-based studies of residential communities reported significant health risks for residents, including higher risks of bacterial infections, higher frequencies of symptoms of respiratory and neurological disorders, and depression.”

To say that CAFOs stink is an under statement. Here’s Elsie Herring, who lives in Wallace, Duplin Co., speaking about what it’s like when spraying starts at the pig farm near her home:

“You stand outside and it feels like it’s raining but then you realise it isn’t rain. It’s animal waste. It takes your breath away. You start gagging, coughing, your pulse increases. All you can do is run for cover.” — quote from The Guardian, May 2018

Why do the human inhabitants of the region put up with being rained on by animal faecal matter to the point of dying prematurely? No need to look further than North Carolina’s 2018 Farm Bill recently passed into law by the Republican controlled legislature. While the bill allows pollution from pig farms to continue unabated, it, in effect, prohibits citizens from challenging the polluters in court. The focus is on protecting the $2.9 billion industry and its owners from interference by the citizens. The citizens need for protection from the industry’s filthy practices is not even considered. Yuck! Living downwind from certain politicians can really stink. North Carolina’s hog industry is run by Murphy Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, which was purchased by China’s WH Group in 2013.

Sufferers from pig farm pollution are not the only people that have it in for the industry. Animal rights groups are also out to get them. If the farm operators were discovered treating dogs the way they treat pigs, they’d be in court facing animal cruelty charges. It’s my guess, however, that the environment will prove to be the industry’s most powerful enemy. As our warming world generates larger, more violent hurricanes, industrial pig farming on a waterlogged coastal plain will become untenable. Will the industry be allowed to move its CAFOs to higher ground, where the politicians live? What do you think?

Map of the USA showing location of North Carolina
North Carolina in red