14 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for September 2nd: Banks Grow Wary of Environmental Risks; Japan endures hottest summer on record; Doing more while using less energy
Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists’ biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.
For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.
After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.
In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted last month what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”
The bank was a small player in the sector, representing about $78 million in bonds and loan financing for such companies from 2008 to April of this year, according to data compiled by the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group tracking the issue.
But the policy shift by Wells Fargo follows others over the last two years, including moves by Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank, to increase scrutiny of lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal “” or to end the lending altogether.
HSBC, which is based in London, has curtailed its relationships with some producers of palm oil, which is often linked to deforestation in developing countries. The Dutch lender Rabobank has applied a nine-point checklist of conditions for would-be oil and gas borrowers that includes commitments to improve environmental performance and protect water quality….
Japan is sweltering through its hottest summer on record, weather officials said Thursday.
The Asian country joins a large swath of the Northern Hemisphere that has experienced an unusually hot summer. Meteorologists say 17 nations have recorded all-time-high temperatures this year, more than in any other year, and scientists have said that July was the hottest month on record for the world’s oceans.
A heat wave in Russia unprecedented in 130 years of record-keeping triggered thousands of wildfires, while a surge in temperatures across much of Europe caused crops to wither and roads to melt. In the U.S., many cities in the northeast had record summer heat, while earlier this month 18 states issued heat advisories.
In the Middle East, temperatures hit a record high in Kuwait during June, while those in Saudi Arabia were several degrees above average. In China, Shanghai had its hottest August on record, while other provinces broke decades-old records, according to domestic media reports.
Energy efficiency is a way to meet the world’s growing energy needs, just like building more power plants “” except that it costs less, emits no carbon dioxide or radiation, and does not rely on scarce resources in potentially hostile places.
Efficiency is often confused, detrimentally, with conservation. Conservation connotes making do with less “” turning down the heat or driving a smaller car. Efficiency means getting more bang per buck. For example, California’s 35 years of efficiency standards for appliances have created refrigerators that use 75 percent less electricity than models from the 1970s. Yet today’s refrigerators are larger, have more features and cost less in inflation-adjusted dollars.
In transportation, “we could double fuel economy for light-duty vehicles by 2035 without changing the size or acceleration of vehicles,” said Lester B. Lave, an economics and engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the chairman of a 2010 report on efficiency potential from the National Academy of Sciences.
Imagine Shenandoah National Park without its autumnal showcase of colors, or a sign along the Virginia coastline noting that the site of the Jamestown colony is offshore and under water. Both scenarios could be realized in less than a century if human-influenced climate change isn’t slowed, according to a report.
Compiled by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Fund, the report envisions Shenandoah without the many hardwood trees that provide the kaleidoscope of Fall color, and Jamestown Island as well as the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuse inundated as a result of sea-level rise.
The report does, though, qualify its conclusions, saying it’s difficult to make local predictions related to climate change compared to large-scale predictions. “These should be taken as suggestions of future change, not definitive predictions,” the authors point out. “… future temperatures may be either lower or higher than projected using the scenarios used in this analysis. With effective global actions to reduce heat-trapping gases, future temperature increases can be held lower. On the other hand, emissions in recent years have gone up faster than assumed in even the highest-emissions scenario developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change…”
That said, the report stated that not only would the predicted impacts be damaging in their effect on natural, cultural, and historic resources, but overall they’d have a significant adverse effect on Virginia’s economy due to reduced tourism, the report’s authors said.
“Maybe Mr. Flores doesn’t understand what the Department of Energy does, but that is a very dangerous misunderstanding, and this proposal is one that would have serious consequences both here in Texas and across the nation,” Edwards said during a call with reporters.
The 10-term Congressman gave four reasons abolishing the agency would negatively affect the district: It would cost 5,000 jobs at the Comanche Peak nuclear plant, it would lead to greater risk for nuclear terrorism, it would end the funding of research programs at Texas A&M University, and it would stop the agency’s work toward independence from foreign oil.
Edwards also used the call as a chance to burnish his credentials as a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water. He took credit for the inclusion of nuclear loan guarantees in the energy and water appropriations bill passed earlier this year.
In advance of the Clean Energy Summit 3.0: Investing in American Jobs next week, Senator Harry Reid brought together Pacific Gas & Electric Chief Executive Officer Peter Darbee, the Center for American Progress, and Energy Resource Management for a press conference today.
Reid emphasized Nevada’s focus on building out clean energy infrastructure as an investment geared to create more jobs.
“The Recovery Act planted the seeds, but what we need to do is make those seeds blossom,” Reid said. This is where private investment will come in.
California has its eyes set on getting one-third of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
“This roadmap allows utility companies and others to plan for the long term and make major capital investments today. State leadership has provided a critical foundation, but the federal government can provide needed leadership. Private investment and job creation will follow,” Darbee said.
But the most important objective is creating policies that will attract more investment dollars into cleantech by making the market more consistent.
Climate change in Latin America “” and the accompanying drought, flooding and desertification “” is likely to drive increased illegal migration across the Mexico-U.S. border in coming years, according to a report.
Worsening economic conditions, spiraling social tensions and growing political instability will drive greater numbers to make the dangerous journey to the United States in the long term, according to the American Security Project, a bipartisan nonprofit research group focused on national security threats.
A separate study from the Pew Hispanic Center found that illegal migration across the southern U.S. border had fallen in the past two years, likely owing to the tepid U.S. economy and increased enforcement.
While migration might be down in the short term, in the long term the “United States is likely to see an increase in migrants all across the southern border due to climate change and its follow-on effects,” said the report’s author, Lindsey Ross, a scholar at the American Security Project.
Because of established migration routes into the United States and the opportunities for a better life, “climate migrants” from across Latin America are likely to seek to immigrate, the report said.
At least some of the coal producers and other companies working with the Department of Energy to build an experimental coal-fired power plant in Illinois have decided to stick with the project despite major changes to the original plan.
Members of the FutureGen Alliance said in a statement Tuesday that they would build and operate a pipeline as outlined under a revamped plan, which calls for transporting carbon dioxide from a power plant in western Illinois to an underground storage site.
Surprise changes announced this month for the long-delayed $1.2 billion project include scrapping plans to build a new power plant in Mattoon in eastern Illinois and store the carbon dioxide there. Instead, the Energy Department wants to modify an existing power plant in Meredosia and pipe the carbon dioxide to another location. Alliance companies also would develop and operate the storage site.
Steve Winberg, chairman of FutureGen Alliance, said a majority of the companies agreed to stick with project and will submit a proposal in the coming months about how to build and run the pipeline and storage site. He wouldn’t say which companies haven’t decided whether to stay.
Greenpeace halted exploratory drilling by a Scottish oil firm off the coast of Greenland on Tuesday after four protesters scaled an oil rig and suspended tents from its underside.
“The drilling rig we’re hanging off could spark an Arctic oil rush, one that would pose a huge threat to the climate and put this fragile environment at risk,” said Sim McKenna, one of the protesters, in a statement from the rig.
More than a day after boarding the rig, the protesters remained suspended roughly 40 feet above the frigid ocean. The rig was anchored more than 100 miles off the west coast of Greenland.
The Danish Navy was on the scene but said it would not intervene unless one of the protesters fell in the water. Greenpeace said the group had enough food and water to remain for several days.
Greenland, which last year opened a new era of self-governance leading to its eventual independence from Denmark, is thought to have tens of billions of barrels of oil off its extensive coastline. Accessing that oil has long been prohibitively expensive because of the perils of floating ice in the region. But global warming has drastically increased the number of ice-free days each year off the coast, making drilling far more cost-effective.
Deep below a lush landscape of ripening Champagne grapes, Thierry Gasco, the master vintner for Pommery, ran his finger over the shoulders of a dark green bottle that looked just like the thousands of others reposing in his chilly subterranean cellars.
But to the practiced hand and eye, there is a subtle, if potentially significant, difference.
“This is how we’re remaking the future of Champagne,” he said, pointing to the area just below the neck. “We’re slimming the shoulders to make the bottle lighter, so our carbon footprint will be reduced to help keep Champagne here for future generations.”
The Champagne industry has embarked on a drive to cut the 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide it emits every year transporting billions of tiny bubbles around the world. Producing and shipping accounts for nearly a third of Champagne’s carbon emissions, with the hefty bottle the biggest offender.
Yet while many other industries might plaster their marketing with eco-friendly claims, changes to Champagne, as with so much else in France, are being made discreetly. Producers in this secretive business are tight-lipped about the costs and occasionally enigmatic about how much their carbon emissions will really be cut.
Global warming might be one explanation for Pakistan’s devastating floods, but scientists believe poor land management, outdated irrigation systems and logging are at least as much to blame.
Flooding has battered Pakistan since the onset of heavy monsoon rains a month ago, affecting a wide central belt. More than 1,600 people have died and more than 6 million are homeless, according to the U.N. The total population affected is at least 17 million.
Water covers a fifth of the country — an area the size of Italy — much of which is agricultural. At least 3.2 million hectares (7.9 million acres) — about 14 percent of Pakistan’s entire cultivated land, have been damaged.
A major factor that led to the massive flooding is illegal logging in the northwest province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, experts said. Jamshed Ali, Secretary-General of Sarhad Awami Forestry Ittehad (SAFI), an organisation meant to protect forests in the province, said in parts of Malakand district more than 70 per cent of forests had been felled by a well-connected “timber mafia” that was difficult to stop.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard scored the first victory in the contest to end Australia‘s parliamentary deadlock on Wednesday, winning a formal assurance from the Greens Party that it would support her bid for a further three-year term.
Adam Bandt, the lone Greens Party legislator in the House of Representatives, agreed to support Ms. Gillard in exchange for meeting demands including a renewed focus on climate change and a referendum on recognizing aboriginal Australians in the Constitution.
Australia is facing its first parliamentary stalemate in 70 years, after the national election on Aug. 21 failed to produce a clear victor. Neither Ms. Gillard’s center-left Labor Party nor the opposing coalition of the conservative Liberal and National Parties has enough seats to declare a majority in the House.
Both sides have been scrambling to enlist the support of Mr. Bandt and a handful of independent legislators. The conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, was quick to condemn the alliance, saying the “Labor-Green beast” would drive up taxes and hurt the economy.
The accord, which hinges on Labor’s securing the 76 seats needed to form a minority government, put Labor and the Liberals in a neck-and-neck race. Each side controls about 73 seats.
A University of Michigan researcher says it’s possible to triple fuel economy in gasoline-powered cars by 2035, but it’ll mean getting our automotive kicks from smart electronic technology and other forms of virtual performance rather than horsepower.
As federal regulators are poised to propose the next round of fuel economy mandates, John DeCicco, a senior lecturer at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and faculty fellow with the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, says the most cost-effective answer is steady progress in advanced combustion engines and hybrid drive — but stopping short of plugging in and requiring super batteries or gaseous fuels.
He finds that the solution is in our garages if Americans shift gears in terms of priorities. What DeCicco calls a “revolution by evolution” avoids politically trendy breakthrough technologies that will remain too expensive for most consumers.
“If we really prioritize efficiency, we can get just as far with less sticker shock,” he said. “Evolutionary change can be of profound consequence for cutting oil use and greenhouse gas emissions, and do so with manageable costs and minimal risks for automakers.”
DeCicco has completed a study for The Energy Foundation examining how far fuel economy can be taken if it becomes a top priority in product planning. See the study here.