Hurricane Sandy a Taste of More Extreme Weather to Come

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 2 2012 (IPS)

Killing nearly 200 people in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean and crippling much of New York City and surrounding areas earlier this week, Hurricane Sandy was the kind of extreme weather event scientists have long predicted will occur with global warming.

“Climate change is a reality,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after Sandy swept through his state.

Sandy was twice the size of an average hurricane, and it hit the eastern coast of the United States, where sea levels have been rising the fastest, said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Researchin Boulder, Colorado.

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” Trenberth, an expert on extreme events, told IPS.

Whether climate change caused Hurricane Sandy is the wrong question to ask, added Trenberth. He explained that climate change helped make Hurricane Sandy more destructive than it otherwise would have been.

“This is the new normal,” Trenberth said. “It doesn’t make sense to rebuild in some regions – they’ll just be swept away again.”

Sandy Says: “Bigger Superstorms Coming Unless Dial Down Thermostat”

Alaska temps in degrees F

I was born just over a week ago and more than 100 people have died in the US and Caribbean region as a result. For the rest of today please take care as I will continue to bring strong winds, heavy rains and snowfall from North Carolina to well into Canada. Some of the worst flooding hit Haiti in the hours after I’d passed by.

Read full post at Hurricane Sandy Speaks (crosspost)

Cook Islands Aims for 100 Percent Green Energy by 2020

President of Cook Islands – Henry Puna

 Cook Islands’ Carbon Footprint is the size of a town of 3,000 in America

Stephen Leahy interviews HENRY PUNA, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands

VIENNA, Jul 13, 2011 (IPS) –

“One hundred percent renewable energy by 2020… It is ambitious but it is not impossible,” Henry Puna, prime minister of the Cook Islands, told IPS in a recent interview.

The Cook Islands is one of those low-lying island countries that will drown without serious cuts in the carbon emissions that are warming the planet and melting the world’s ice sheets.

Home to just 14,000 people, the Cook Islands is made up of 15 small islands spread over an area the size of India in the middle of the South Pacific. The entire country’s carbon emissions are about equal to those of the average U.S. or Canadian town of 3,000 people.

With an action plan born of desperation, it wants to be the world’s first zero-carbon emissions country by 2020. With little renewable energy at present and dependent on foreign aid, the Cook Islands plans to generate half of its energy with renewables just four years from now and reach 100 percent by 2020.

IPS senior environmental correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Prime Minister Puna at the Vienna Energy Forum in June, where 1,200 delegates from 120 countries and over 40 government ministers discussed how to bring clean, reliable and affordable energy services to everyone on the planet.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: The Cook Islands have a tiny carbon footprint. Why are you making this commitment to be 100-percent renewable?

A: Statistically, our carbon emissions don’t register. As a people we want to do something about climate change, if not for the world than for ourselves.

Nearly all of our energy comes from oil [diesel and petrol] and we spend half of our national budget on oil. That’s tens of millions of dollars that leaves our islands. We want to keep those millions in our local economy. Cook Islanders people are strongly supportive of our dream is to be the cleanest and greenest destination in the world. One day the world will want to know how we got to 100 percent.

Q: Are you hopeful the international community will finally agree to make the necessary carbon emissions cuts to keep global warming to less than two degrees C?

A: The reality is that things move very slowly at the international level. At the [Vienna] forum, I urged the international community to ensure that global carbon emissions peak by 2015 and begin to decline. We need to act fast. This is the decade where we must bring emissions of climate change under control.

Our circumstances differ, we have different life experiences….but we are all part of Mother Earth and should share responsibility to keep her livable for all of us and not just for some.

Q: Are Cook Islanders worried about climate change?

A: The Cooks are already suffering from sea level rise, coral bleaching, more frequent and stronger cyclones, changes in precipitation, and increases in coastal erosion. We live off the sea and the land – we depend on nature for our livelihoods. Anything affecting nature causes alarm amongst people. Climate change threatens our very survival. There is a general sense of apprehension about the future.

Q: What makes you believe you can achieve your ambitious target?

A: Yesterday, I visited Güssing [in Austria], an impoverished town in the 1990s that re-made itself by going 100-percent renewable energy. They got rid of fossil fuels and achieved energy independence. They also attracted lots of clean and green businesses and become a tourist centre.

I spent time with the mayor. They’re going to come to the Cooks and give us advice. They are willing to share their experience. I’m absolutely excited by this.

Q: Your country has few financial resources. Do you really think the Cooks can do what Güssing has done?

A: It’s a small town and we’re a small country. What I learned from Güssing is that if there is the political will backed by public support, then anything can happen. We already have a plan for a two- megawatt solar plant in one of our islands. We have support from Japan, New Zealand and UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme].

Q: What are some of the obstacles you have to overcome?

A: The technology to generate all of our energy already exists but energy storage is the key. We also need to make sure some of this will be able to be used and maintained by isolated communities without the technical skills.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Knowing we are taking action helps us feel good even if the world does nothing. We’re not doing this just for the Cook Islands. It is our contribution to improve the overall global environment.

First published as Q&A: Cook Islands Aims for 100 Percent Green Energy by 2020 – IPS ipsnews.net.

Costs for Nuclear Energy Skyrocket While Cost of Renewables Plummet

Darlington Nuclear Plant on Lake Ontario

[This is a repost about the financial costs and risks of nuclear technology (written before the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant disaster).   If a country is going to spend $10 billion to generate energy and reduce carbon emissions what technology truly offers the best return on a full cost-accounting basis? The latter calculation is not simple or uncontroversial. Two years ago Canada balked at the costs of new nuclear plants now it plans to build some without knowing the price tag.  — Stephen ]

By Stephen Leahy*

BERLIN, Jul 31, 2009 (IPS)

With costs of nuclear energy skyrocketing while the costs of renewables are falling quickly why is nuclear energy back on the table?

One reason is a powerful U.S. lobby where 14 energy companies spent 48 million dollars in 2007 alone to convince American politicians to give the industry huge loan guarantees because they cannot get financing anywhere else, says Ellen Vancko, a nuclear energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based non governmental organisation (NGO).

This lavish lobbying effort by the energy and nuclear power sector has been ongoing since the mid-1990s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a U.S. NGO and now totals at least 953 million dollars.

Even more has been spent to convince the public that nuclear is one of the keys to energy security so that there is significant public support for new reactors, a Gallup Environment Poll reported this year.

“There are lots of senators and members of congress talking about nuclear as a clean, renewable energy resource,” Vancko says.

The other reason is the French.

France gets about 77 percent of its power from 58 reactors and is often cited as the model for other countries. “France is a special case. The entire industry is 85 percent owned by the government,” says Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based energy and nuclear policy analyst.

The industry gets direct and indirect subsidies, government loans and loan guarantees “on practically anything they want”, Schneider told IPS.

And despite a well-polished reputation for efficiency and low-cost, the French nuclear industry has been plagued by cost-overruns, equipment failures, and relatively low levels of reliability. Even though French reactors are all of similar design, the cost to build a plant in 1998 was 3.5 times higher than the first plants built in 1974, says Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich in the U.K.

Unlike wind or solar energy or virtually any other technology, the costs of nuclear go up over time rather than down even in pro-nuclear France, he said. “I think that is rather telling about the technology,” Thomas told IPS.

The current Finnish nuclear experience echoes the industry’s long history.

Backed byFrench government loan guarantees, Areva, the French government-owned nuclear energy company began construction in 2005 on what is supposed to be the world’s largest and safest nuclear plant at Olkiluoto, Finland.

Plagued by thousands of construction and design problems it is currently 2 to 3 billion dollars over budget and three to four years behind schedule.

“It’s a total disaster for Areva,” Schneider says. Areva will have to sell another 12 reactors to cover the cost overruns thus far or else French taxpayers will, he said.

“The hype around a nuclear power revival or renaissance was based on nothing and is effectively dead.”

Last month Canada backed out of ordering two 1,200-megawatt reactors because cost estimates of 10,000 dollars/kW were three times higher than expected. [update Feb 2011 – Ontario now holding hearings to spend $33 billion to build two new reactors and upgrade others and bans offshore wind!]

However there is real danger that the nuclear industry will continue to promote itself as a ‘silver-bullet’ solution to climate change and give politicians the kind of mega-projects that gets them publicity, warns Schneider.

Equally important is that corporate shareholders of large utility companies can do very well financially on such projects when governments guarantee to cover any losses.

“The worst thing about new nuclear is that it steals billions of public dollars from other more effective things like energy efficiency,” he says.

(Second of two part series)

-30-

Part one:

Lobbyists Push for Nuclear Energy and put Taxpayers on the hook for 360 billion to 1.6 trillion dollars (again)

The Oxymoron of Political Leadership and Political Will

Analysis by Stephen Leahy

VIENNA, Jun 29, 2011 (IPS)

Political will is all that’s needed to bring electricity to the 2.5 billion people with no or unreliable access to power, or to feed the one billion who go hungry every day, or to finally begin to slash carbon emissions to avoid dangerous climate change, or just about any other global problem.

Humanity has the technology, resources and even the money to solve these problems, agree scientists, corporate business leaders, heads of civil society organisations and United Nations agencies and government ministers. “All that is lacking is political will,” they almost always declare at the dozens of international conferences, summits and forums this reporter has attended for the past five years. And then everyone goes home.

What is this magical “political will” that can solve any problem?

via The Oxymoron of Political Leadership – IPS ipsnews.net.

Fossil Fuel Industry Kings of Corporate Welfare

This graphic from GOOD magazine shows who gets the bulk of the enormous US energy subsidies. Many subsidies are hidden and difficult to estimate and this attempt looks to be low according to the experts I’ve interviewed for various articles (cited below). The graphic also doesn’t include subsidies for nuclear which are equally enormous.  — Stephen

The enormous fossil fuel subsidies are rarely acknowledged when complaints are raised about costs of renewable energy. This report shown below says subsidies for fossil fuel are 12X that for green energy but this is a gross underestimate based on the experts I’ve interviewed in June for this article Free Ride for Oil and Coal Industry May Be Over.

Subsidies experts in Switzerland told me that “two-billion-dollars-a-day public subsidy for carbon-based fuels is a very conservative estimate..”

In reality big oil and coal get more like 20X the money green energy. So let’s do some real pricing: electricity from coal 5 cents kWh X 20 for subsidies (not to mention free use of the atmosphere /environment for its CO2, mercury etc waste products.) Corporate welfare at its best.

A few of the many articles I’ve written on the subject of energy subsidies:

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are 12X (more like 20X) Support for Renewables, Study Shows

Every Day Governments Give an Estimated $2 billion to Oil, Coal & Gas Industry

Oil Companies and Special Interests Spend Half a Billion Dollars to Defeat US Clean Energy – Study

Nuclear Power Costs Skyrocket, Cost of Renewables Plummet

Africa’s Future Lies in a Green Energy Grid – Universal Access to Electricity Less Than Cost of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Kenya switched to green energy and now more people than ever have electricity

Universal access to modern electricity would cost much less than current subsidies to fossil fuel industry

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 14, 2010 (IPS)

Development in Africa could falter as climate change grips the continent, increasing the length and severity of droughts and floods by altering precipitation patterns, among other impacts.

The region needs a major shift in its economic development policies and thinking towards decentralised, green economic development, experts now say.

“The world’s big economies are largely living off financial transactions which are unconnected to development,” warns Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

“Export growth does not automatically result in green economic growth, we must look at trade for development,” said Panitchpakdi.

In a rejection of failed neoliberal economic policies, Panitchpakdi said strong national policies on investments, taxation, protection of local industries, including subsidies, and changes to less restrictive intellectual property regimes are what is needed to green economies in Africa and elsewhere.

“Green economic development underpins environmental protection, economic growth and development,” he said.

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