Archive for October 2009
Lavish US Lobbying Pushes Nuclear Energy — Taxpayers on the hook for 360 billion to 1.6 trillion dollars (again)
BERLIN, Jul 31 (IPS)
Climate change and the resulting need for low-carbon energy sources is driving the current interest in nuclear energy despite the industry’s near universal legacy of staggering cost-overruns, technical difficulties and dependence on enormous government subsidies.
Government interest in new nuclear energy plants seems far more political than practical or economic in light of the fact that Europe’s latest nuclear plant under construction in Finland is four years behind schedule and 50 to 70 percent over budget.
Any claims that nuclear is a viable low-carbon or clean energy source are negated by its extraordinary costs that have increased at least five-fold in the past decade.
“Nuclear energy has always been heavily subsidised by governments around the world,” Ellen Vancko, a nuclear energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based non governmental organisation.
Under proposed U.S. legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Waxman-Markey Energy Bill), billions more dollars are headed the nuclear industry’s way in the form of research and development funding, production tax credits, and 20 billion dollars in loan guarantees.
Added to that a major push by some politicians in the U.S. Senate to dramatically expand government-backed loan guarantees to subsidise the construction of 100 new nuclear plants in the U.S. over the next 20 years, Vancko told IPS.
“The U.S. taxpayer could be on the hook for 360 billion to 1.6 trillion dollars. This potentially is as large or larger than the U.S. financial crisis,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »
“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy,” — Millions of Trees Burned for ‘Green Energy’
Burning trees for energy produces 1.5 times as much carbon as coal – study shows
By Stephen Leahy*
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 24 ’09 (Tierramérica)
Millions of trees, especially from the developing countries of the South, are being shipped to Europe and burned in giant furnaces to meet “green energy” requirements that are supposed to combat climate change.
In the last two months alone, energy companies in Britain have announced the construction of at least six new biomass power generation plants to produce 1,200 megawatts of energy, primarily from burning woodchips.
At least another 1,200 megawatts of wood-fired energy plants, including the world’s largest, in Port Talbot, Wales, are already under construction.
Those energy plants will burn 20 to 30 million tonnes of wood annually, nearly all imported from other regions and equivalent to at least one million hectares of forest.
“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy,” Simone Lovera, of the non-governmental Global Forest Coalition, which has a southern office in Asunción, Paraguay, told Tierramérica.
Europe has committed to reducing its carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 in an effort to fight climate change. Biofuels and biomass energy will have key roles in achieving those goals, experts say.
[UPDATE: New story details the government subsidies, increased air pollution from wood burning and the big lie that burning wood is carbon neutral Europe’s Green Energy Portfolio Up in Smoke?]
Please throw something in the tip jar before reading on. This is how I make my living.
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 7 2009 (IPS)
Lester Brown says his views sometimes appear extreme – because the mainstream media largely doesn’t understand the urgency and challenges in avoiding catastrophic climate change.
The founder and president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, he is also considered by many to be one of the world’s most influential thinkers.
“It looks like I’m a radical because the mainstream media aren’t reflecting the reality of our situation,” Brown says.
A farmer from the eastern U.S. state of New Jersey, Brown entered the U.S. Civil Service in the 1960s, becoming an expert on foreign agricultural policy before leaving to found the Worldwatch Institute in 1974.
The winner of many awards and honourary degrees, Brown is the author of 50 books. In 2001, he founded the Earth Policy Institute to provide a roadmap for achieving an environmentally sustainable economy.
His most recent book is “Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization”, the fourth and perhaps most urgent version of the Plan B series, available for download at the institutes’s website. In Plan 4.0, Brown calls for carbon emissions cuts of 80 percent by 2020.
“We cannot afford to let the planet get much hotter,” he explains simply. Read the rest of this entry »
Analysis by Stephen Leahy
BERLIN, Jul 13 (IPS)
The G8′s failure to make meaningful commitments on climate last week pushes the world ever closer to global climate catastrophe, experts warn. Without commitments to take action, there is little comfort in G8 countries’ agreement to keep overall global warming below 2.0 degrees Celsius.
“If they took the 2.0-degree commitment seriously, it would imply a vigourous and immediate carbon emission reduction programme,“ said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University in the U.S.
“It would mean carbon emissions would have to peak by 2020 and decline. That’s a tall order but that’s what needs to happen to stabilise at around 2.0 degrees C,” Oppenheimer told IPS.
The Group of Eight of the world’s largest economies comprises Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Canada, Japan and the United States.
Climate experts stress that 2.0 degrees is not in any way a guarantee of safety. There are already significant impacts currently from climate change. However, from what scientists know today, risks increase markedly over 2.0 degrees of warming, Oppenheimer warned.
Global temperatures have already risen 0.8 C in the last hundred years and will reach 1.2 to 1.5 C based on emissions already in the atmosphere.
“The climate system is unpredictable. Two degrees is just a guideline,” Oppenheimer said. Read the rest of this entry »
Canadians are calling and writing the Minister of Health to ask that she immediately halt the introduction of Monsanto’s new eight-trait GM (genetically modified) corn called “SmartStax” because it was not assessed for safety by Health Canada.
“SmartStax” corn was authorized this summer by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for planting next year but was not examined by Health Canada for human health safety.
This is part of a global action opposing Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops under the first “International Day of Action Against Multinational Corporations” initiated by the global farmers’ movement called La Via Campesina.
“Its extremely significant that La Via Campesina is focusing their World Food Day action on Monsanto and GM crops. It shows us that farmers around the world see GM crops as a major threat to their survival,” said Devlin Kuyek, a Montreal-based researcher for the international group GRAIN.
[Here's my full story on SmartStax corn variety that could be planted next spring in US/Canada]
Monsanto, Dow Stacking the Deck, Critics Say
By Stephen Leahy
BERLIN, Jul 29 (IPS) – The most complex genetically engineered corn (maize) yet has been approved for use next year in Canada and the United States without its potential health and environmental risks being investigated, anti-biotech activists charged Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 2 (IPS)
Rocketing food prices and hundreds of millions more starving people will be part of humanity’s grim future without concerted action on climate change and new investments in agriculture, experts reported this week.
The current devastating drought in East Africa, where millions of people are on the brink of starvation, is a window on our future, suggests a new study looking at the impacts of climate change.
“Twenty-five million more children will be malnourished in 2050 due to effects of climate change,” such as decreased crop yields, crop failures and higher food prices, concluded the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) study.
“Of all human economic activities, agriculture is by far the most vulnerable to climate change,” warned the report’s author, Gerald Nelson, an agricultural economist with IFPRI, a Washington-based group focused on global hunger and poverty issues.
The report, “Quantifying the Costs of Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change“, may be the “most comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate change on agriculture to date”, as IFPRI claims, but researchers concede that there is no current way to quantify all of the future repercussions of changing weather patterns on the food supply.
A critical component of agriculture is knowing the best time to plant seeds, for example. Farmers rely on their past experience and weather records. But one of the most robust science findings is that climate change has and will produce significant increases in weather variability.
This means extremes like droughts or floods will happen more often or last longer, and extreme temperature shifts are more likely. The past is no longer a reliable guide for farmers because the fundamental conditions in the atmosphere have been altered – far more heat is being trapped in the atmosphere today because of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases than at any time since the dawn of agriculture.
Nelson told IPS that the IFPRI report is a “conservative estimate” of the potential impacts and does not include impacts of pests and disease, loss of farmland due to rising sea levels or loss of water from melting glaciers. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m not doing a full article on this year’s Antarctic ozone hole but you should know that the maximum size appears to have peaked at 24 million sq km, less than the 2006 record year 27 million sq km. Although some media reported this as a downward trend, it is too soon to say because ozone depletion is a complicated process and affected by local weather conditions.
Chilean Children Warned to Stay Indoors
The hole moves and shifts overhead like a unseen gigantic amoeba and on Oct 9 officials in southern Chile warned residents that the hole had extended itself over Punta Arenas and warned children to stay indoors and avoid exposure to the very hi-level UV rays.
Children hiding indoors during the day at the southern tip of Chile could have been the fate for much of the planet without the Montreal Protocol treaty 21 years ago to eliminate some of the ozone destroying chemicals used in deodorants and refrigerants.
This ought to be crucial cautionary tale for climate change.
Some of my previous articles on ozone:
By Stephen Leahy
COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sep 24 (IPS)
Promises are easy to make.
But promises by world leaders will not halt the heat-trapping carbon emissions that are dialing-up global temperatures and altering the climate, say critics and climate researchers meeting in this U.S. Midwestern city.
As evidenced at the U.N. leader’s summit on climate change in New York Tuesday, the world’s big economies are refusing to commit to actions that will prevent this and future generations from inheriting a hostile climate no other humans have ever faced.
“Do we have the social and political will to deal with a problem that we will only see partially in our lifetimes?” wonders Don McConnell, president of Battelle Energy Technology, the world’s largest non-profit research centre.
“What most don’t realise is that the biggest impact from climate change will be shifts in precipitation, not temperature increase,” McConnell told IPS at the McCormick Energy Solutions Conference at Ohio State University this week.
‘The only real hope is for a global citizens’ movement unlike anything ever seen on the face of the Earth’ — Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs
By Stephen Leahy
BROOKLIN, Canada, Sep 14 2007 (IPS)
Global trends indicate a looming environmental catastrophe, and engaging high school students around the world may be the only hope say experts.
Governments, the corporate sector and media continue to champion industrial and economic growth at the cost of escalating impacts on the environment, concludes the latest report from the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, “Vital Signs 2007-2008″.
For a number of years, the “Vital Signs” report has tracked 44 trends that are shaping the future, and they document a record level of industrial growth, says Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs project director.
“‘Vital Signs’ also documents the escalating impacts of such growth on the environment,” Assadourian told IPS in an interview from Barcelona.
The scale of the environmental crisis, in which catastrophic climate change is just one of many, is undermining the ecosystems that support life on Earth.
“Climate change and other environmental problems are symptoms of the root problem, which is the obsession with consumerism,” he said.
Vital Signs reports that in 2005, more wood was removed from forests than in any previous year. Fossil fuel usage dumped 7.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Meat production hit a record 276 million tonnes (43 kilogrammes per person) in 2006. Rising meat consumption is driving rising soybean demand to feed cattle, which in turn is a driver of deforestation as tropical forests are turned into soy fields.
And on it goes: global seafood consumption breaks records, steel and aluminium production too. None of this is sustainable – another three or four or five planets would be needed to maintain these levels of production and consumption. Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy*
DÜBENDORF, Switzerland, Sep 16 (Tierramérica)
A solar-powered aircraft will take flight next month from Switzerland with hopes ultimately to circle the Earth in 2012, without fuel, and stopping every five days only to change pilots.
Designed to use only energy from the sun during the day and run on sun-charged batteries at night, it could stay aloft perpetually, like a giant version of the thin-winged Arctic tern that migrates annually from the Antarctic to the Arctic, non-stop.
“The big lesson of the Wright brothers is that if you don’t try you never succeed,” Borschberg told Tierramérica in the Dübendorf Airfield hanger outside of Zurich, where the first prototype was being assembled for a test flight in October or November.
The U.S. inventors Orville and Wilber Wright are credited with the first airplane flight in 1903. “They never dreamed that a plane could cross the Atlantic Ocean, and yet less than 25 years later (in 1927) Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris,” Borschberg said.
“It is our hope that the Solar Impulse will be a symbol to the world and create awareness about our own energy use,” he added.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype plane is essentially a 64-metre long thin wing with four small propellers and narrow pilot pod and tail attached underneath.
Sitting in the airport hangar, even with its inner workings exposed, it doesn’t look like much more than a big paper glider – not much for 100 million dollars. Read the rest of this entry »