President Biden Refuses to Make our Climate Crisis Worse

Cancels Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Keystone XL

Welcome to the web version of Need to Know: Science & Insight, a new form of personal journalism. Free subscription.


Hello again, I hope you and yours are well. There’s been considerable press about the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline but much of it lacks context and some is plain wrong. So let’s start at the heart of this 12 year saga, a school bus in Canada’s tar sands. 

I wasn’t going to stop for the school bus stuck in the mud outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta in the heart of the Canada’s tar sands industry but my kids insisted. It had been raining most of the week and the grassy field was soaked and slick. We stopped and got out and looked at the 12,000 kilogram bus uselessly spinning its wheels, digging deeper into the mud. Someone got the driver to stop, essentially saying you’re making a bad problem worse.

No one had a vehicle large enough to tow or push the bus which would have likely become mired as well. A few other people came by, and collectively, we came up with ideas. I thought it an impossible task for a handful of people barely able to stand in the muck ourselves. A few trials, some planks of wood and a gleeful bouncing up and down inside the back of the bus produced the unexpected result of freeing the vehicle. 

I was surprised we’d done it and by my own feelings of intense satisfaction at what we strangers had collectively accomplished. By not making a bad problem worse, we figured out a way to solve it together. 

Keystone XL would have added 110 millions tons of CO2

President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline is an example of not making a really bad problem worse. The Need-to-Know here is that KXL would have added 110 million tons of climate-heating CO2 into the atmosphere every year for at least 50 years a study in journal Nature Climate Change reported in 2014. That’s country-sized emissions — enough to put it on the list of the top 35 worst carbon-polluting countries in the world, as I wrote in Vice at that time.

I first learned of KXL more than ten years ago and ended up writing a dozen articles about it, including how Canada’s spy agencies were monitoring KXL protestors as potential threats to national security. The 36-inch diameter pipe was intended to pump 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta tar sands down to US Gulf Coast for refining. Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines, now renamed TC Energy, originally claimed the pipeline was needed for US energy security, but environmentalists said it was to be refined into diesel and exported to Europe. An interesting Need-to-Know today is that the US doesn’t need the oil and Europe doesn’t want dirty diesel. In fact, Europe bought nearly 1.4 million electric vehicles in 2020, more than any other country in the world.

Here’s where things got interesting in 2020

Click here for the rest of the article.

Europe’s Game-Changing Climate Action Commitment

The 6% Solution to the Climate Crisis

In this issue of Need to Know  I spent Saturday at the United Nation’s Climate Ambition Summit 2020. It was a virtual event to mark the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change. I’m happy to report there was a game-changing announcement.

When the Paris Climate Agreement was signed December 12, 2015, I wrote an article that said, with some sarcasm: ‘The Paris Agreement is a historic plan for at least 3.0 degrees C of warming’.  To be clear, 3.0C would be disastrous for much of humanity, but that is what countries’ Paris commitments to cut CO2 emissions would result in. That’s a long way from their agreement to keep the heating of our atmosphere to “well below 2.0C”. 

When challenged about this huge gap, many countries said they would have plans to improve their CO2 reduction efforts by 2020.  

Well, 2020 is nearly over, and most countries haven’t put in the effort to meet their original Paris reduction pledges, never mind improving their plans. Four countries have submitted plans to improve their reduction targets. Today’s big need-to-know is that one of those ‘countries’ has the potential to be a climate-action game changer: the European Union (EU).

The EU, a 27-member country union, just made a legal commitment to cut its CO2 levels at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Equally significant is the United Kingdom new pledge to cut emissions by 68% by 2030. And then there’s Denmark; Europe’s largest oil and gas producer. They’ve announced a phase out of all oil and gas production by 2050 and legally committed to a 70% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030.

All fossil-fuel producing countries need to phase out their production by 2050 said the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the UN Climate Ambition Summit 2020

“We made a promise in Paris. The children of the world are depending on us to keep that promise,” said Frederiksen.

To read more go to Need to Know: Science and Insight.

Planetary Emergency vs Business as Usual

Some guiding principles for the world we want

This chart shows where economic stimulus money went in a few select countries. (Green is for low carbon, red is for high carbon fossil fuels; yellow is for social and health care.)

We’re in a state of planetary emergency. And yet hardly anyone seems to know or be bothered by it. This week’s Need to Know takes a brief look at why we aren’t rolling out the solutions we already have to end the emergency and how having guiding principles could help.

Read all about it the latest issue of Need to Know.

Climate Reality and the Politically Impossible

This close to meeting the 1.5C climate target

In the immortal words of Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Things Are Only Impossible Until They’re Not“.

In this issue of Need to Know: Science and Insight I look at how politically realistic” and “political will” maybe finally coming to together to give hope for a 1.5C to 2.0C climate future. And how 2020 proves this can be done.

Read the issue for free today.

Three Simple Rules for Climate-Safe Living

blue-marble-720x696-720x696 copy

R.E.D. Guide to Climate-safe Living

1. Reduce.

Reduce your personal fossil fuel consumption (oil, coal, gas) every way you can.

2. Eliminate.

Eliminate all non-essential activities and products that involve the burning of fossil fuels.

3. Demand.

Demand that business and government provide transport, activities and products without or minimal fossil fuel use.

Reduce. Eliminate. Demand. R.E.D.

Paris Climate Agreement – Historic Plan for 3.0C of Warming

serveimage

World hopes to improve the Master Plan to keep warming to 1.5C

The best the Paris Agreement can do to control climate change is to keep the warming to 2.7C according to the international Climate Action Tracker. That is assuming every country meets their individual CO2 emission reduction target does and no natural feedbacks will speed the heating of the planet.

Other analysis find the Agreement will result in global temperatures rising to 3.0C or more. Even 2.7C is far too dangerous for humanity and most natural ecosystems we all depend on. Coral reefs will not survive scientists have warned.

Keeping warming below 2.0 will be more challenging – 1.5 even more so. This something humanity has yet to fully understand.

Here’s some things that will have to change:

* No more exploration for more oil, gas, coal

* The current $650 billion to $1 trillion/a year in fossil fuel subsides shift to alternative energy

* No new oil or gas wells, no new coal mines

* Sharply reduce the manufacture of anything that requires fossil fuel or convert them to run on renewable energy including cars and trucks, buildings, power plants and so on. See Study: Stop Building Carbon Infrastructure by 2018

That’s just for starters.

Climate science uses hard numbers. Those numbers say Fossil fuel use has to go to net zero sometime between 2060 and 2070. There is no negotiation.

Paris Climate Talks – ‘Betrayal’ vs ‘We Can Work With This’

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 10.30.12 AM.jpg

 

Two Sets of Civil Society Reactions to Final Text of Paris Agreement

– Links to today’s official UN press conference videos –

Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam: We can work with the Agreement’

Friends of the Earth, Third World Network, International Trade Union Confederation: ‘Agreement is a Betrayal

 

Paris Climate Talks – Reactions to Saturday’s Final Agreement

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 9.56.49 AM.jpg

Breaking: Final Plenary to Vote on New Climate Agreement  Delayed to 17:30 CET Saturday

Now that parties have had a chance to review the final text points of disagreement remain. Some changes will likely be made in the final plenary this evening. However these usually need to be agreed on beforehand in the informal sessions that are happening right now.

Tension mounts while it is clear nearly everyone senses the end of COP21 is very near.

Wide Range of Reactions to the new final text:cop21 logo sml

The Paris agreement is a historic turning point for the whole world. One of the most remarkable outcomes of the agreement is that its objective is to “pursue efforts to limit” global warming to 1.5C above preindustrial, while holding warming “well below 2C.

While the agreement is itself historic, the challenges ahead in achieving it will dominate the 21st-century. The agreement has been made at a time when national greenhouse gas emission reduction contributions for 2025 and 2030 together far exceed the levels needed to hold global warming well below 2C, let alone limit to 1.5C.”

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics

“If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades.

John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

There’s much in the text that has been diluted and polluted by the people who despoil our planet, but it contains a new imperative to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states.”

— Kumi Naidoo, International Director, Greenpeace

Rich countries have moved the goal posts so far that we are left with a sham of a deal in Paris. Through piecemeal pledges and bullying tactics, rich countries have pushed through a very bad deal

Sara Shaw, Friends of the Earth International climate justice and energy coordinator.

t’s a sad day for vulnerable people everywhere. An exclusion clause that robs the poor of their right to compensation.

Azeb Girmai, LDC Watch International

If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades. … CO2 emissions have to peak well before 2030…

John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

“If agreed, this deal will represent a turning point in history, paving the way for the shift to 100% clean energy that the world wants and the planet needs. By marching in the streets, calling leaders and signing petitions, people everywhere created this moment, and now people everywhere will deliver on it to secure the future of humanity.

Emma Ruby-Sachs, Acting Executive Director, Avaaz

For the first time in history, the whole world has made a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change

Mohamed Adow, Senior Climate Advisor, Christian Aid