Fossil Energy Interests Buy Politicians – and they’re cheap says economist

[This interview with economist Robert Repetto (now at Yale) was published two years ago. It is more relevant than ever in showing how fossil fuel money influences politics and prevents real action on climate. — Stephen]

‘What else can you do with coal except burn it? Railways make a lot of money shipping coal’

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 2, 2011 (IPS)

Powerful fossil energy interests are preventing the United States from making the necessary transition to 21st century energy sources, one of the country’s leading environmental economists documents in a just-published book.

Fossil energy interests are spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” lobbying U.S. politicians in Congress and funding groups to confuse the public about the serious risks climate change poses, says Robert Repetto, author of  “America’s Climate Problem: The Way Forward”.

IPS climate and environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Repetto about his new book.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: We’re running out of time. The latest science shows that climate change is coming faster and posing greater risks than previously thought. We are at risk of triggering positive feedbacks that will lead to uncontrollable climate change.

Meanwhile, America is locked in a climate-policy stalemate, with very few in the public comprehending the real risks climate change poses. Most don’t understand that climate change is happening now. They don’t link extreme weather events we’ve been experiencing with climate change. As a result they are not demanding that politicians take action.

Q: Why don’t most Americans understand the fact that climate change is already underway and poses serious risks? Continue reading

The Most Important Number in Human History

Carbon overload Carbon in atmosphere and amount in fossil fuel reserves
Carbon overload Carbon in atmosphere and amount in fossil fuel reserves

That number was 52 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2012

Only when this number declines will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 17 2012 (IPS) 

The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.

With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.

To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.

Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.

Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020. Continue reading

Nuclear Energy and the ‘Mother of all Subsidies’

[The two year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster  is March 11. Little has changed from this 2011 article (except cleanup costs may be higher at $250 billion). Generations of Japanese taxpayers will have to cover those costs. Other countries also have liability caps which means the public provides ‘free insurance’ to the industry. As this article shows it’d be cheaper to give interest-free loans to solar or wind industry. — Stephen.]

“…it is basically insanity to shoulder the public with risk to get relatively small amount of electricity…”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 6, 2011 (IPS)

The nuclear energy industry only exists thanks to what insurance experts call the “mother of all subsidies”, and the public is largely unaware that every nuclear power plant in the world has a strict cap on how much the industry might have to pay out in case of an accident.

In Canada, this liability cap is an astonishingly low 75 million dollars. In India, it is 110 million dollars and in Britain 220 million dollars. If there is an accident, governments – i.e. the public – are on the hook for all costs exceeding those caps.

Japan has a higher liability cap of 1.2 billion dollars, but that is not nearly enough for the estimated 25 to 150 billion dollars in decommissioning and liability costs for what is still an ongoing disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Seven weeks after the tsunami caused the disaster, radiation levels continued to spike higher.

No one knows when the reactors will finally be in cold shutdown, or when the costs of the Fukushima disaster will stop piling up. One report suggests decommissioning will take 30 years.

This independent environmental journalism depends on public support. Click here learn more.

Japan’s credit rating was downgraded because of the accident, noted Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based energy and nuclear policy analyst who has worked in Japan. “The Japanese know it’s just a matter of time before another large earthquake occurs,” Schneider told IPS.

“Japan will never build another nuclear plant.
Continue reading

Canada and US Spending Billions to Create Climate Chaos

tar sands pipeline protest signs

Welcome to Bizarro World

[This is a 2011 repost about Keystone XL and expansion of fossil fuel production while world’s nations are supposed to be reducing climate-wrecking emissions of carbon. — Stephen] 

Analysis by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 10, 2011 (IPS)

Canada and the United States are now the centre of Bizarro World. This is where leaders promise to reduce carbon emissions but ensure a new, supersized oil pipeline called Keystone XL is built, guaranteeing further expansion of the Alberta tar sands that produce the world’s most carbon-laden oil.

“It’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy – and that we leave the tar sands in the ground,” the U.S.’s leading climate scientists urged President Barack Obama in an open letter Aug. 3.

“As scientists… we can say categorically that it’s [the Keystone XL pipeline] not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest.”

The letter was signed by 20 world-renowned scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and George Woodwell, founder of the Woods Hole Research Center Continue reading

Climate Change B.S. Detector: Sorting Fact from Fiction

which makes more sense sml

By Stephen Leahy

Uxbridge Cosmos, Feb 2013

There is quite a bit of misinformation about climate science and climate change (global warming). This is the most important issue of our time but it can be a complex subject. Here are some tips to help sort fact from fiction based on my experience of writing about science and climate change for the past 15 years.

Tip #1: Consider the source

It’s important to know where the information is coming from. Are they an expert or someone with an impressive looking website but no climate science training? No one goes to an engineer if they want their appendix removed.

If someone says a group of retired NASA scientists claim there is no evidence carbon dioxide causes global warming, I check to see if they are climate scientists — they’re not. Then I go to the official NASA website and in a big headline it says: “97% of climate sciences agree” climate change is happening.  This is followed by a long list of well-regarded scientific societies from around the world who also agree.

Tip#2 Verify

A reader once sent me a link to a “science” article from Investor’s Business Daily that said increased activity of the sun was entirely responsible for the current warming according to the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, a well-known research centre in Germany. A quick check of the Max Planck Institute’s website revealed their actual conclusion: “Solar activity affects the climate but plays only a minor role in the current global warming.”

Tip#3 Brush up on some science

Our atmosphere traps and retains the suns heat which is called the greenhouse effect. Without this the Earth would be more like the moon: +100C in the day and -170C at night. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that helps keep the planet warm by retaining some of the sun’s heat.  John Tyndall proved this 150 years ago in 1861. In the last 100 years our burning of oil, gas and coal has added 40% more CO2 to the atmosphere. That extra CO2 has warmed the planet 0.8C globally and 1.5C to 2.0C in Canada so far.

Tip # 4: Follow the money

Ask this question who has the most to gain or lose? Climate scientist’s largely rely on getting research money from governments. Scientists are smart people who are good with numbers so if they just wanted to make money they’d be working on Bay St or Wall St.

On the other hand the oil, coal and gas companies represent by far the richest industry in human history. In 2010 their revenues were estimated to be $5 trillion, far more than Canada’s $1.7 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) that year. (A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years).

The five biggest oil companies made a record $137 billion in profits in 2011. Surprisingly Canada’s largely foreign-owned oil and gas industry still receives $1.3 billion a year in public subsidies despite many promises to end this taxpayer handout.abyess cartoon 2012Toon05

Some fossil fuel companies have been caught sowing confusion and doubt about climate change just like the tobacco companies did regarding the link between smoking and lung cancer. Fossil fuel interests fund organizations that look official or science-based and they publish reports, write opinion pieces or do media interviews stating that global warming is a hoax and there is no real need to burn less oil, gas or coal. One of these organizations is Canada’s Friends of Science and its related site ClimateChange101 that received funding from Calgary oil company Talisman Energy to put out false and long-debunked critiques of climate science.

Here’s two of the best sources I use to help me sort fact from fiction:

For climate science go to “Skeptical Science”, a volunteer community with clearly written, rock solid science-based answers on climate.

For everything else go to “DeSmogBlog – Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science” . There is now a Canadian version “DeSmogCanada”  that I will be contributing to.

No one really wants to think about climate change and what it means for our children’s future. It is too difficult, too painful to even consider. But avoiding or denying global warming and its dangers prevents us from taking action to minimize future impacts. Inaction and delay are truly terrifying. However taking action at the personal, family and community levels is liberating and empowering. We need to start a conversation about this.

Uxbridge’s Stephen Leahy is the 2012 co-winner of the Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for Climate Change reporting . He is the senior science and environment correspondent at IPS,  Inter Press Service News Agency, based in Rome. His work is also published in National Geographic, The Guardian (UK), New Scientist, Al Jazeera, Earth Island Journal and others.

Or Just Print This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Win Every Climate Argument (thanks to Mother Jones)climate-flowchart_FINAL2sml

Why Our Weather is Weird ‘n Wild and Why It Is Getting Worse

Repost from 2011: More and more science reveals the not surprising connection between a warming planet and extreme weather. Won’t stop unless emissions of fossil fuels stop — Stephen 

(Bonus: How we can kick the fossil fuel addiction)

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 16, 2011 (IPS)

Human-induced heating of the planet has already made rainfall more intense, leading to more severe floods, researchers announced Wednesday.

Two new studies document significant impacts with just a fraction of the heating yet to come from the burning of fossil fuels. Fortunately, another new report shows the world can end its addiction to climate-wrecking fossil-fuel energy by 2050.

“Warmer air contains more moisture and leads to more extreme precipitation,” said Francis Zwiers of the University of Victoria.

Extreme precipitation and flooding over the entire northern hemisphere increased by seven percent between 1951 and 1999 as a result of anthropogenic global warming. That represents a “substantial change”, Zwiers told IPS, and more than twice the increase projected by climate modeling.

Zwiers and Xuebin Zhang of Environment Canada used observations from over 6,000 weather stations to measure the impact of climate warming on the intensity of extreme precipitation for the first time. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

This independent environmental journalism depends on public support. Click here learn more.

The planet is currently 0.8 degrees C hotter from the burning of fossil fuels. However, global temperatures had not yet started to increase in 1951, the first year of rainfall data Zwiers and Xuebin examined. By 1999, global temperatures had climbed by about 0.6 degrees C. The average temperature increase over that 50-year period is relatively small compared to the present but major impacts have been documented in terms of storm and flood damage even with this small increase in temperatures.

This suggests that the Earth’s climatic system may be more sensitive to small temperature increases than previously believed.

Continue reading

At international wildlife meeting today Canada is fighting to continue to trophy hunt endangered polar bears: Russia says NYET! Here’s what’s going in the Arctic – Stephen

Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

polar-bear-snout-wwwfirstpeopleus-smlIce-free summer in the Arctic is just a matter of time – mostly likely within the next 5 years. Here’s a “six-pack” of my recent articles on how global warming is transforming the Arctic:

The Arctic — The Earth’s Freezer — Is Defrosting With Dire Results

The rapidly warming Arctic region is destabilising Earth’s climate in ways science is just beginning to comprehend.

Arctic Leaking Methane a Super-Potent Global Warming Gas — Reaching Feared Tipping Point?“The way we’re going right now, I’m not optimistic that we will avoid some kind of tipping point.ceberg-in-glacier-strait-nunavut-canada-image-credit-sandy-briggs

Arctic Ice Gone in 5 Years – First Time in One Million Years– “We’re going to see huge changes in the Arctic ecosystem”

Things Happen Much Faster in the Arctic — “Things are happening much faster in the Arctic. I think it will be summer ice-free by 2015,” said David Barber, an…

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