Category Archives: Coal

Obama’s Conflicting Energy Legacy: Interview with Chris Williams and Steve Horne

Sharmini Peries talks to Chris Williams, Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Pace University and the author of Ecology and Socialism. They are also joined by Steve Horne, a research fellow at DeSmog Blog and a regular contributor at the Guardian and The Nation. Williams and Horne discuss the many grandiose claims made by President Obama in his final State of the Union address and expose the limits and missed opportunities of Obama’s energy legacy. (The Real News)

Grand promises of Paris climate deal undermined by squalid retrenchments

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris.By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.

Inside the narrow frame within which the talks have taken place, the draft agreement at the UN climate talks in Paris is a great success. The relief and self-congratulation with which the final text was greeted, acknowledges the failure at Copenhagen six years ago, where the negotiations ran wildly over time before collapsing. The Paris agreement is still awaiting formal adoption, but its aspirational limit of 1.5C of global warming, after the rejection of this demand for so many years, can be seen within this frame as a resounding victory. In this respect and others, the final text is stronger than most people anticipated.

Outside the frame it looks like something else. I doubt any of the negotiators believe that there will be no more than 1.5C of global warming as a result of these talks. As the preamble to the agreement acknowledges, even 2C, in view of the weak promises governments brought to Paris, is wildly ambitious. Though negotiated by some nations in good faith, the real outcomes are likely to commit us to levels of climate breakdown that will be dangerous to all and lethal to some. Our governments talk of not burdening future generations with debt. But they have just agreed to burden our successors with a far more dangerous legacy: the carbon dioxide produced by the continued burning of fossil fuels, and the long-running impacts this will exert on the global climate.

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Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF

Damian Carrington reports for The Guardian:

Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.

The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.’

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Peabody Energy exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for The Guardian:

A nurse walks with a little girl suffering from Ebola, at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) compound in Monrovia. Peabody suggested more energy access with coal generation could have helped with the distribution of an Ebola vaccine, had there been one.Public health experts involved in the response to the Ebola crisis have condemned what they described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain by the world’s largest privately-held coal company.

As part of a PR offensive to rebrand coal as a “21st-century fuel” that can help solve global poverty, it has emerged that at the height of Ebola’s impact in Africa, Peabody Energy promoted its product as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis.

Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody, a US-based multinational with mining interests around the world, included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year. The slide suggested that more energy would have spurred the distribution of a hypothetical Ebola vaccine – citing as supporting evidence a University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert.

The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted Ebola in an outbreak of the virus in West Africa last year, and more than 11,000 died – although the international agency believes that is probably an underestimate.’

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Flat CO2 Emissions Not Enough to Curb Climate Change, Experts Say

Shannon Hall reports for Live Science:

‘Global emissions of carbon dioxide — one of the leading causes of global warming — stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years that there was no climb in CO2 emissions during a time of economic growth. The results suggest that efforts to reduce emissions may be on the upswing, but experts say the situation is not so simple.

In fact, some scientists say that the findings, announced last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA), represents only one data point and that the overall trend in carbon dioxide emissions is continuing upward.’

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How Solar Power Could Slay the Fossil Fuel Empire by 2030

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Vice Motherboard:

‘In just 15 years, the world as we know it will have transformed forever. The ​age of oil, gas, coal and nuclear will be over. A new age of clean power and smarter cars will fundamentally, totally, and permanently disrupt the existing fossil fuel-dependent industrial infrastructure in a way that even the most starry-eyed proponents of ‘green energy’ could never have imagined.

These are not the airy-fairy hopes of a tree-hugging hippy living off the land in an eco-commune. It’s the startling verdict of ​Tony Seba, a lecturer in business entrepreneurship, disruption and clean energy at Stanford University and a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Seba began his career at Cisco Systems in 1993, where he predicted the internet-fueled mobile revolution at a time when most telecoms experts were warning of the impossibility of building an Internet the size of the US, let alone the world. Now he is predicting the “inevitable” disruption of the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Seba’s thesis, set out in more detail in his new book Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, is that by 2030 “the industrial age of energy and transportation will be over,” swept away by “exponentially improving technologies such as solar, electric vehicles, and self-driving cars.”’

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The Coming Blackout Epidemic

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Motherboard:

‘​Industrialized countries face a future of increasingly severe blackouts, a new study warns, due to the proliferation of extreme weather events, the transition to unconventional fossil fuels, and fragile national grids that cannot keep up with rocketing energy demand.

“We need a fundamental re-think about how electricity is generated and distributed and who controls this,” said lead author Prof Hugh Byrd of Lincoln University, a specialist in international energy policy and urban sustainability. “It is not in the interests of the privatized power industry to encourage less electricity consumption.”

Every year, millions of people around the world experience major electricity blackouts, but the country that has endured more blackouts than any other industrialized nation is the United States. Over the last decade, the number of power failures affecting over 50,000 Americans has more than doubled, according to federal data.’

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China wants blue skies for world leaders when it hosts APEC forum

‘Ethical’ funds still pouring money into coal, oil and gas, new report finds

Rupert Jones reports for The Guardian:

‘Should ethical investment funds be putting millions of pounds of people’s money into oil, gas and coal companies?

A new report says too many UK ethical funds are still invested in fossil fuels and heavily polluting industries, at a time when growing numbers of people are looking to reduce their exposure to these sectors.

Launched to coincide with Good Money Week (the new name for National Ethical Investment Week), which kicks off on Sunday 19 October, the report from ethical independent financial adviser firm Barchester Green names the “sinners” and “winners” of the multibillion-pound ethical and environmental funds industry.’

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Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire

Tim Dickinson writes for Rolling Stone:

‘The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they’ve cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today’s GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year’s midterms. So far in this cycle, Koch-backed entities have bought 44,000 political ads to boost Republican efforts to take back the Senate.

What is less clear is where all that money comes from. Koch Industries is headquartered in a squat, smoked-glass building that rises above the prairie on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas. The building, like the brothers’ fiercely private firm, is literally and figuratively a black box. Koch touts only one top-line financial figure: $115 billion in annual revenue, as estimated by Forbes. By that metric, it is larger than IBM, Honda or Hewlett-Packard and is America’s second-largest private company after agribusiness colossus Cargill. The company’s stock response to inquiries from reporters: “We are privately held and don’t disclose this information.”

But Koch Industries is not entirely opaque. The company’s troubled legal history – including a trail of congressional investigations, Department of Justice consent decrees, civil lawsuits and felony convictions – augmented by internal company documents, leaked State Department cables, Freedom of Information disclosures and company whistle­-blowers, combine to cast an unwelcome spotlight on the toxic empire whose profits finance the modern GOP.’

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Chris Hedges on Wilful Blindness, Climate Corporatism & the Underground Revolt

Abby Martin speaks with journalist and author, Chris Hedges, going over where the recent mass climate change demonstrations in New York fall short, as well as why he believes revolt is the only solution to restoring a functioning American democracy.’ (Breaking the Set)

Capitalism and Climate Change Redux

Rob Urie writes for CounterPunch:

uriecapclim1‘[…] Today the ‘logic’ of capitalism is fully instantiated in the West with privatization of public resources, the granting of extra-personal rights to corporations, the diminution of local and regional governance in favor of corporate privilege and rights and heavily militarized public-private police forces used to enforce corporate ‘rights’ and to protect the privilege of the wealthy. But it is corporate globalism that makes political resolution in any dimension, including environmental issues like global warming, so intractable. Even if local and regional political control could be recovered the ability of large corporations to shift production to areas more fully under corporate-state control means that global issues must be dealt with globally.

The large scale dislocations likely to be caused by global warming, by dead and dying oceans and by ‘private’ control over crop seeds, arable land and water supplies, suggest that current circumstance and trajectory are dire. They also suggest that global warming is only one of a host of related environmental issues in need of rectification. Even without the overwhelming evidence that already exists that environmental degradation and destruction are radically altering the world basic prudence would argue for dramatic measures toward environmental reconciliation. The challenge for / to climate change deniers is that if they are wrong ‘the world’ in any form recognizable to us will no longer exist. The risks of doing nothing versus something to resolve environmental destruction are wildly asymmetrical.’

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Naomi Klein on Capitalism vs. the Climate

Severe black lung returns to 1970s levels

James R. Carroll reports for The Courier-Journal:

fileblacklung.jpg‘Coal miners in Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia are contracting serious cases of black lung disease at rates not seen since the early 1970s — just after preventive regulations were enacted, according to a study published Monday.

Only 15 years ago, progressive massive fibrosis — an advanced form of black lung for which there is no cure — was virtually eradicated, health researchers say. But now, the prevalence of the disease in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia is at levels not seen in 40 years… Black lung is caused by the excessive inhalation of coal dust.’

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Global Warming President Presides Over Drill-Baby-Drill America

Michael Klare writes for TomDispatch:

‘Considering all the talk about global warming, peak oil, carbon divestment, and renewable energy, you’d think oil consumption in the United States would be on a downward path. By now, we should certainly be witnessing real progress toward a post-petroleum economy. As it happens, the opposite is occurring. U.S. oil consumption is on an upward trajectory,  climbing by 400,000 barrels per day in 2013 alone, and if current trends persist, it should  rise again both this year and next.

In other words, oil is back. Big time.’

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The Commodification of Nature & the Market-Based Approach

Alyssa Rochricht writes for CounterPunch:

‘Taken for granted in the climate change discussion is the assumption that nature or the environment is something that can or should be commodified, yet the structure of capitalism is such that it seeks to commodify everything, including human life (labor) and the environment (land and natural resources). The commodification of nature and the environment, inherent in the capitalist system, is problematic in its own right. Within this economic system, land, as well as labor, are seen as a commodity – something that can be purchased – and an essential part of industry. Yet what does it mean to say that something like “labor” and “land” are commodities? Karl Polanyi, the great economist, anthropologist, philosopher and sociologist, argued that both are not created as something to be sold. Labor is essentially human activity, a necessary part of life. Land, synonymous with nature, is not produced by man and in fact, encompasses man as a part of itself. When we sell the right to harm the natural environment, we are effectively selling something that is not ours.

Yet many seek to solve the climate change crisis through market mechanisms and through the buying and selling of rights to pollute or degrade the natural environment through things like carbon taxing and trading. This is effectively selling the rights to pollute something that is not ours to sell. Many economists have proposed the idea of a carbon economy, where a market would be created for the trading of carbon permits, where states, corporations, or even individuals would be given a certain allocation of permissible carbon emissions and those permits could be sold or traded. While this raises many important issues with regard to rich countries taking advantage of poor, underdeveloped countries, as well as leaving much room for manipulation by states and corporations, one of the fundamental problems has to do with permitting pollution so long as an agent is able to pay. When polluters are fined for actions that have an adverse effect on the environment, the wrongness of the action remains intact. When carbon permits are offered (pollution permits), it is as if the action of pollution is now permissible, and the wrongness of the act is absolved.’

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The Great Climate Change Conspiracy

‘The climate change denial hoax is a well-oiled, sophisticated machine with cogs turning in every sector of our society. Corporations, front groups, wealthy philanthropists, anonymous donors, scientists, politicians and self-interested groups combine to spin a spider’s web and deceive the public. These groups have done everything in their power to pull the wool over the eyes of the general population. This is the great climate change conspiracy.’ (Truthloader)

Local Protesters Are Killing Big Oil and Mining Projects Worldwide

Jason Koebler writes for VICE Motherboard:

‘Multinational corporations are infamous for pushing native people off their land in order to open a new gold mine, extract oil, or otherwise extract local resources. For decades, backlash has been thought to be both limited and ineffectual, but new evidence suggests that protests from local people are effective, extremely costly for the companies, and often lead to substantive changes to or total abandonment of a project.

Researchers at the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining interviewed employees at several dozen major international corporations who are involved with extractive activities, and found that companies are increasingly having to deal with the social and environmental impacts of their work, and that it’s hurting them where it hurts most: their bottom lines.’

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World’s Largest Ghost City Lies 98% Abandoned After Failed Real Estate Investments

Ross Brooks writes for Inhabitat:

Darmon Richter, China's Ghost City, Ordos Ghost Town, China's real estate boom, The Land of Many Palaces, coal mining investment, abandoned city in China

When coal was discovered in the Northern Chinese city of Ordos 20 years ago, it underwent a massive boom that was expected to create a wealthy city of one million people, but now it’s home to a mere 20,000. Widely known as China’s Ghost City, it’s also a prime example of the real estate bubbles that threaten many parts of the country. There are entire streets of unfinished buildings, and even though the area’s GDP is higher than that of Beijing, many residents are trying desperately to escape.

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Why Are We Hauling Pennsylvania Coal All The Way To Germany?

S.V. Date writes for NPR:

Several tons of anthracite coal fill a basement space in Pottsville, Pa.

Credit: Bradley C. Bower/AP

[…] Germany’s environmental policy is to shift away from coal — which produces twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas does for the same amount of energy. Even setting that aside, there is plenty of anthracite to be found on the European market — at a fraction of the price of American anthracite, after factoring in the shipping costs.

So why haul Pennsylvania coal all the way to Germany?

Hoermann points to a $20-million-a-year contract which requires it. And the contract requires it because, year after year, Congress has inserted into defense appropriations bills a requirement that the heating of the military bases at Kaiserslautern be done with “United States anthracite.”

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‘Enough toxic sludge to fill 73 Olympic sized swimming pools’

India’s Coal Inferno: 100,000 Premature Deaths a Year and Rising

Sarah Stirk writes for CounterPunch:

India ranks third in the world in the production of carbon dioxide and is burning more coal than ever before, with 66% of power generated by coal-fired thermal power plants.

Future plans are for massive expansion, with India’s 12th five-year plan ending 2017 adding 76GW of coal-fired power capacity. The 13th five-year plan, ending in 2022, aims to add another 93GW.

This is a colossal programme – equivalent to more than three times the UK’s entire peak power demand. It represents a response to an increasing population, a growing middle class hungry for modernity – and an energy policy that holds coal power as integral to the development of the country’s economy.

But as India pursues its aggressive path of coal-powered industrialisation, its leaders are showing themselves willing to sacrifice millions of people and huge swathes of the country to a dark and uncertain future.

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Obama: Fossil fuels are here to stay, so let’s clean them up

From The Hill:

President Obama said he is putting a big priority on his carbon action plan in order to keep fossil fuels viable in a world that is battling climate change.

In an interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, Obama said “it’s not feasible” to think that nations like China will stop building coal power plants.

“And so if we can figure out a carbon-capture mechanism that is sufficiently advanced and works, then we are helping ourselves, because the Chinese and the Indians are going to build some coal plants, and even if we don’t build another coal plant in this country, there are going to be a lot of coal plants around the world that are built,” Obama said in the interview, released Thursday.

“And we have a huge investment in trying to figure out how we can help them do it more cleanly,” he added.

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Nafeez Ahmed: US Army colonel warns world is sleepwalking to a global energy crisis

Photograph: Dave Reede/All Canada Photos/CorbisNafeez Ahmed writes for The Guardian:

A conference sponsored by a US military official convened experts in Washington DC and London warning that continued dependence on fossil fuels puts the world at risk of an unprecedented energy crunch that could inflame financial crisis and exacerbate dangerous climate change.

The ‘Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue‘, which took place on 10th December last year, was co-organised by a US Army official, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis, operating in a private capacity, in association with former petroleum geologist Jeremy Leggett, chairman of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Gas.

Participants, who addressed one another via video link, consisted of retired military officers, security experts, senior industry executives, and politicians from the main parties – including two former UK ministers.

According to US Army colonel Daniel Davis, a veteran of four tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and regular contributor to the Armed Forces Journal:

“We put the event together because the prevailing idea that we have a bright future of increasing oil and gas production that can sustain our current way of life indefinitely is based on a selective appraisal of the data. We brought together experts from across the spectrum, and with a wide range of opinions, to have a comprehensive look at all the relevant data. When you only look at certain things, like the very real resurgence of US oil and gas production, the picture looks fine. But when you dig deeper into the data, it becomes clear that this is only part of the picture. And the big picture proves that our current course cannot continue without significant risks.”

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Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions

 Sandbag’s report into the emergence of emissions trading in China : carbon pollutionFrom The Guardian:

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.

[…] Half of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years – well past the date when governments and corporations became aware that rising greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal and oil were causing dangerous climate change.

Many of the same companies are also sitting on substantial reserves of fossil fuel which – if they are burned – puts the world at even greater risk of dangerous climate change.

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Two Australian coal mines alone will emit more greenhouse gases than 52 countries

From Quartz:

Climate-change debates often focus on how to cut the carbon spew of particular countries—China and the US above all. But another way to do such carbon accounting is to look at individual fossil-fuel projects. All it takes is single massive coal mine to outstrip the CO2 emissions of many countries.

As the Guardian’s Graham Readfearn detailed yesterday, two controversial coal mines in the Australian state of Queensland would emit nearly 125 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) annually. (Those emissions, based on court documents and environmental impact statements Readfearn obtained, include the actual burning of the coal as well as emissions associated with its extraction.) The Australian government has approved the two projects, which remain mired in litigation brought by opponents of the mines.

To put that number in perspective, that’s a bigger carbon spew than Vietnam, Uzbekistan or Iraq. And altogether, there are nine proposed coal mines for the Galilee Basin in central Queensland.

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Nafeez Ahmed: Tory anti-environment advocacy protects corporate, not public, interests

Cuadrilla fracking site at BalcombeFrom the Guardian:

Yesterday Jacob Rees-Mogg, member of parliament for North East Somerset, wrote an article in the Telegraph claiming that the fundamental cause of the UK’s “high energy prices” is “climate change alarmism.” His piece coincided with Prime Minister David Cameron‘s announcement that to tackle rocketing gas and electricity bills he would “roll back” green levies on energy bills and subject Britain’s “Big Six” energy giants to a “competition test.”

Even the Tory’s own lead environmentalist MP, Zac Goldsmith, was appalled. “In 2010, leaders fought to prove they were the greenest”, he said. “Three years on, they’re desperately blaming their own policies on the other. Muppets.”

But Rees-Mogg’s piece illustrates the insidious nature of the anti-environment economic ideology that has been so influential in the Tory party, and that has derailed the potential for meaningful environmental policy. Energy companies have announced prices rises against the background of government regulation and “green taxes”, he writes, because concern over climate change has led to unjustifiable opposition to coal and fracking:

“In the 2010s it is not the price of bread that is falsely and unnecessarily inflated by obstinate politicians but that of energy. There are cheap sources of energy either available or possible but there is a reluctance to use them. Coal is plentiful and provides the least expensive electricity per megawatt, while fracking may provide a boon of shale gas.”

He is wrong on both counts – laughably so. A number of recent scientific studies in major journals such as FuelEnergy, the International Journal of Coal Geology – to name just a few – have projected that a peak in world coal production is only a few years away, followed by production declines and spiraling prices.

As for fracking, its capacity to provide cheap shale gas has been questioned by leading independent experts who point to steep production declines at wells, along with overinflated industry reserve estimates that have led to a “bubble” that could burst in the next five years.

At the core of Rees-Mogg’s obfuscation on energy is an ideology that paints corporations as the key to prosperity for all.

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Scientists: Peak Oil May Keep Catastrophic Climate Change in Check

From Scientific American:

Even as governments worldwide have largely failed to limit emissions of global warming gases, the decline of fossil fuel production may reduce those emissions significantly, experts said yesterday during a panel discussion at the Geological Society of America meeting.

Conventional production of oil has been on a plateau since 2005, said James Murray, a professor of oceanography at the University of Washington, who chaired the panel.

As production of conventional oil, which is far easier to get out of the ground, decreases, companies have turned to unconventional sources, such as those in deep water, tar sands or tight oil reserves, which have to be released by hydraulic fracturing.

But those techniques tend to lead to production peaks that tail off quickly, Murray said.

The panelists said these trends belie the high-end emission scenario from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That scenario, known as RCP 8.5, and often referred to as the “business as usual” scenario, has carbon dioxide emissions increasing through 2100.

“I just think it’s going to be really hard to achieve some of these really high CO2 scenarios,” Murray said.

David Rutledge, an engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology who studies world coal production, said the IPCC’s “business as usual” scenario is unrealistic because it essentially assumes that growth of fossil fuels like coal will continue apace, which is unlikely.

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Pollution cuts life spans by 5.5 years in north China, study says ~ LA Times

Miners shovel coal at mine in Xiahuayuan county in north China's Hebei provinceby Julie Makinen
Los Angeles Times

Life expectancy is 5.5 years lower in northern China than in the south because of heavy air pollution, a new study examining 20 years of data has determined.

The research, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by four economists in China, the U.S. and Israel, examined air quality readings collected in 90 Chinese cities from 1981 to 2000 and compared those with mortality data collected at 145 locations across the country from 1991 to 2000.

Other studies have established strong correlations between air pollution and poor health and attempted to quantify the loss of life in China due to air pollution. But the specificity of the study published Monday may provide a jolt to policymakers and the public as debate intensifies over how much China has sacrificed to achieve rapid economic growth.

FULL ARTICLE @ THE LA TIMES