Showing posts with label Weather-Climate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weather-Climate. Show all posts

November 16, 2016

Millions of Dead Fish Found Floating on Open Water

This is also called Climate change which makes the water warmer. If you don’t believe in Climate change but believe in any type of religion in which you don’t see but take by hear say Vs. Climate Change which you see every day in an incremental fashion, then you most the related to the dying fish.

October 8, 2015

Survey Confirm GOP is All [A l o n e] in Climate Change

Today in No Shit News, a paper in the journal Politics and Policy analyzed conservative parties from around the world — specifically, their climate change platforms — and (SURPRISE!) found that the G in GOP might as well stand for “goddamn crazy.”
In comparing climate change policies from the U.S., the U.K., Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany, the author, Norwegian academic Sondre Båtstrand, found the American conservative party is the only one that denies climate change. Awww, poor GOP! It must be lonely out there on the fringes of modern politics.
And yet, we aren’t talking about a fringe party. We’re talking about the REPUBLICAN PARTY! The one with 176 presidential candidates and 12-hour debates that are broadcast on national television! The one that controls Congress!

So, why? What has made the party move so far to the right of rational thought? Grist boyfriend and famous actor-man Mark Ruffalo has a theory. “You’ve had a whole political party turn their back on the science that 97 percent of the world has accepted,” he told students at Dickinson College recently. “It’s a phenomenon unlike anything ever seen in American history. Maybe slavery. Money blinds people. It’s all about money.”

Is Dr. Bruce Banner onto something? Is it all about the Benjamins? The Guardian reports:
One factor is the immensely profitable and politically influential fossil fuel industry. However, Canada and Australia serve as useful analogues. With Australian coal reserves and Canadian tar sands, fossil fuels account for a larger share of both countries’ economies. Nevertheless, Båtstrand noted, “The [Republican] party seems to treat climate change as a non-issue … this appears to be consistent with the U.S. national context as a country with large reserves of coal.”

Båtstrand also found that the emphasis on free market ideology is relatively strong in the Republican Party platform. However, the appropriate free market approach to climate change involves putting a price on the external costs of climate pollution. In fact, that’s why the President George H. W. Bush administration invented cap and trade as a free market alternative to government regulation of pollutants. So, free market ideology can’t explain the abnormal behavior of the Republican Party on climate change.

Alright, so it’s not just about money. From the Guardian:

… today’s Republican legislators are more united than at any time in the past century. And it’s clear from the language the Republican Party leaders use that they view climate change not as a scientific or critical risk management issue, but rather as a Democrat issue. Thus, Republican leaders simply can’t accept the need to address climate change, because that would put them on the same side of an issue as Democrats.
Cool! Let’s just ruin the only habitable planet in our solar system because we’ve got beef with the opposing party, shall we? Sounds like a great plan.
The good news is that there is some evidence that the party is coming around — slowly. Polls show that Republican voters are more in line with reality than Republican politicians. Even more promising, New York Republican member of Congress Chris Gibson and 10 of his Republican colleagues recently introduced a resolution calling for climate action. Eleven of out 247 GOP members of the House? OK, OK, it’s not great. But at least it’s a start.

September 18, 2015

Exxon Found Out About Climate Change in 1977 but still Obstructive


When we think about climate change, many of us have a sense that it’s everyone’s fault. We think there’s no individual to blame for the fact that the Atlantic Ocean is taking up residency in people’s homes — that it’s just the system. It’s every one of us who drives a car or turns on a light switch or eats a hamburger. But while it is true that most of us (Americans) contribute enough greenhouse emissions to kill a polar bear or two, there are some standout climate villains. And one stands out further than perhaps all others: Exxon.

An investigation by InsideClimate News found that Exxon knew decades ago that burning fossil fuels would heat up the planet, long before “global warming” became part of our lexicon. Reporters spent eight months combing through archives and interviewing scientists and federal officials, and discovered systematic efforts by the company to suppress climate action over the course of decades.

Here’s a description of an Exxon meeting from way back in 1977:

At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later. …

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

But despite Exxon’s early internal acknowledgement that burning fossil fuels would ultimately lead to some very bad shit, the company reversed course in the early 1980s and started dismantling its own climate change programs. By the end of the ’80s, it started suppressing evidence, blocking domestic and global action to control greenhouse gases, and spreading doubt about the science of climate change — science based on its own research. It also helped start the Global Climate Coalition, an ironically named coalition of the world’s biggest companies working to stop government action to curb fossil fuel emissions. 

In a video address from 1996, Exxon CEO Lee R. Raymond says, “The scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect the global climate.” We now know this to be false. Raymond knew it then.

May 18, 2015

What a Cow Can do to Help the Climate

As an irrigation system cycles around the pasture, cows are moved from section to section, eating the grass and fertilizing the soil. The technique enables the farm to produce more milk on less land, boosting profits while preserving the wildlife- and carbon-rich Cerrado region.

Fazenda Leite Verde is in the far-southwest corner of Bahia state,
500 miles from Brazil's main dairy-producing region in Minas
Gerais. (Map: Google Maps)

BAHIA STATE, Brazil—Grande Sertão Veredas National Park got its name from João Guimarães Rosa’s sprawling poetic novel about the bandit gangs and cattle ranchers who lived in the lawless sertão, or outback, in the early 20th century. Today the park preserves a piece of this myth-infused region, a savanna that once covered more than a quarter of Brazil’s territory and harbors 5 percent of the world’s species. The tracks of tapirs, jaguars, maned wolves, giant anteaters, and wild horses can be found in the dirt roads here. But the park is now an island of wilderness in a sea of monocrop farms. Much of the land outside Grande Sertão Veredas has been razed for cattle pasture or converted for farming soy, coffee, and eucalyptus, which is burned for charcoal. Less than half of the dry forests, brush, and grasslands in this savanna, known as the Cerrado (pronounced “sey-HA-do”), remains intact.
Help has arrived in the unlikely form of a dairy farmer from New Zealand named Simon Wallace. Using a technique imported from his homeland, Wallace aims to reverse the process of deforestation and high-carbon cattle rearing that’s prevalent in Brazil and develop island farms amid a sea of wilderness. The technique leverages increased efficiency so that more dairy can be produced from significantly less pasture, reducing pressure to clear wilderness and allowing more native habitat to stand.
Wallace’s farm here, Fazenda Leite Verde (“green milk farm”), has been able to produce 10 times the volume of milk of a typical producer in Brazil’s main dairy farming region, known as the Minas Triangle, about 500 miles to the south. As a result, he’s been able to leave 80 percent of the farm’s 5,500 hectares in its natural state as habitat. The technique, known as intensification, could provide an alternative model for development in this region—where the rate of deforestation exceeds that of the Amazon rainforest—that’s both environmentally and economically sustainable. The milk Wallace’s company, Leitíssimo (“ the milkiest”), sells is of a higher quality than other products on the market in Brazil, so it can charge a higher price—which should make the system attractive to other dairy farmers in the tropics. 
According to the company’s rough calculations, if all 32.1 billion liters per year of Brazilian milk were produced with Wallace’s methods, the industry could reduce its land use by 24.5 million hectares—an area the size of Italy. If that land were allowed to return to its native state, it could absorb between 6 billion and 10 billion metric tons of our carbon dioxide emissions. With all of humanity emitting about 40 billion tons per year, and about 15 percent of greenhouse gases worldwide coming from the meat and dairy industry, what happens on this dairy farm could affect all of us.
So far, observers are impressed. “If more people follow this model in tropical countries, it can reduce the dairy industry’s impact on the environment,” says Victor Cabrera, a Peruvian-born dairy scientist at the University of Wisconsin who has reviewed Leitíssimo’s numbers. “This is great work; there’s no doubt about it.”
About 20 miles from the park’s border, Wallace, a tall, pale man who favors a weather-worn cowboy hat, squints into the sun, surveying the Cerrado landscape. In the distance, his brown-and-white-splotched cattle graze on a green pasture carved out of the brush.
“The tropical system is fabulous,” he says in a thick accent. “Twenty-seven hundred hours of sunshine [a year], marvelous water, and sheer productivity.” Dairying in Bahia, Wallace brags, is like driving a “biological Ferrari.”
Wallace shares the belief of many conservationists that the most practical way to slow deforestation while feeding a growing population is by getting the most food possible out of every hectare of land devoted to agriculture. 
So he set out while in his 20s to improve environmental and working standards in the milk business. Now 42, Wallace comes from a family of dairy farmers back in New Zealand; his father had a business exporting dairy cattle bred for tropical environments. After earning a master’s degree in philosophy and spending a few years in London and Spain, Wallace decided in the early aughts to move into milk, and he began researching countries where he could start a business. “I thought Brazil was a place of opportunity and hope,” he says.
Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest consumer of milk, and demand for a high-quality product has grown as the population has become wealthier and moved off farms and into cities over the last few decades. Wallace drummed up support for his endeavor among a quirky group of socially minded investors in New Zealand.
Because land prices are high there, farmers have come up with a variety of ways to get the most out of relatively small plots. Brazil, Wallace realized, had the opposite problem: Land was so cheap farmers simply cleared whatever land they needed. It didn’t matter if the pasture was low-quality because there was so much of it. The industry might get more efficient eventually, but by then the carbon sink of wild Brazil would become a carbon source as its vegetation was cut—and the country’s biological heritage would be lost. It needed to make a quantum leap. 
Bahia state, in Brazil’s arid east, isn’t much of a dairying region, but Wallace found that the basin around Grande Sertão Veredas National Park had an abundant supply of water, and the air temperature dropped to the 50s at night. He would be 300 miles north of any major milk producer in the country—a risk, in that maybe the others knew something that he didn’t, but also an opportunity, in that he would be able to sell in both the capital, Brasília, and northeastern cities like Salvador and Recife, where dairy demand was poorly served.
From the beginning, Wallace made it clear to his investors that his aim went beyond maximizing profitability. The first clause of the shareholder agreement states that among Leitíssimo’s goals are “to lift the living and working standards of people working in the Brazilian dairy industry” and “to set high standards relating to environmental management and animal husbandry.” Little did he realize that it would take him almost a decade to get his first bottle of Leitíssimo milk onto shelves. “Luckily, our investors were patient,” he says.

Wallace wants to show off his farm’s most important product—grass—so he steps over a strand of electric fence enclosing a circular pasture and plucks a handful, pointing out its bright green hue. Without grass, there would be no milk—and the astonishing speed at which the grass grows here accounts for a large part of the dairy’s success. A beneficial climate is one factor; the other secret to the farm’s productivity is center-pivot irrigation, a method common in the U.S. for crops such as cotton, soy, and potatoes but seldom used for pasture. A metal pipe, with an array of sprinklers distributed along its length, stretches 1,600 feet from the pasture’s center to its edge. The sprinkler system is moved incrementally throughout the day by a series of motorized wheels to water the circular pasture. But the whole pasture isn’t used at once. “It’s like a pizza,” Wallace says. The cows are fenced into one “slice” until they’ve eaten all its grass. Then they move on to the next one.
Beneath the pivots and the eternal sunshine, the soil cranks out 44 tons of grass per hectare per year—an astonishing amount compared with the 15 tons that’s typical in New Zealand, where there’s considerably less sunshine, or even the 20 tons the average Brazilian farm produces. Wallace must add a lot of nitrogen fertilizer to achieve those numbers, but the amount is carefully calibrated to the growth rate of the grass, limiting the pollution of the surrounding environment. The pasture, which is measured before and after every grazing, provides the cattle with about 86 percent of their food; corn purchased from neighboring farms supplements their diet. The farm produces fewer liters of milk per cow than U.S. dairy operations, but thanks to all that grass, Leite Verde beats the Yankees on a per-hectare basis by squeezing in many more cows on a smaller plot of land. 
Irrigating cattle pasture is standard practice in New Zealand but relatively uncommon in the rest of the world, where dairy cattle are fed corn and other grains when the grass isn’t growing. However, the New Zealand model has been adopted successfully at Hawai’i Dairy Farms on Kaua’i and at Greenstone Grazing in northeast Georgia. Other temperate zone dairy farms have experimented with center-pivot irrigation when grain prices have risen, but it is all but unknown among dairy farmers in the tropics, partly because of the capital investment required to set it up. Wallace, like a good Ferrari mechanic, has fine-tuned his system for this region, taking advantage of the abundant water and sunshine, which allows grass to grow as green July as in January. Leitíssimo has 6,000 cows—all reared without antibiotics or hormones—on eight pivots, which are clustered to create wildlife corridors through the property.
The farm’s management structure is also unusual. Each pasture operates as an autonomous entity, with a manager and workers living in company-built houses around the perimeter and in walking distance of the milking parlor. Wallace wants employees to get to know their cows and have a stake in the success of their unit. Like his workers, Wallace lives in a breezy concrete-block home with a view of the pasture on one side and the vast Cerrado on the other. The company built and finances the operation of a bilingual school for the children of employees on the property. In the school cafeteria, a photo-collage shows a younger, shirtless Wallace arm wrestling with workers. 
Although Brazil is home to large-scale farming of soy and other export crops, about half the country’s milk still comes from small farms, where productivity is low and the pay is pitiful. Leitíssimo says it pays employees about 3.6 times what the average dairy worker in Brazil receives, which it’s able to do partly by efficiency—Wallace says the farm produces two to three times more milk per worker than the large dairy farms of Minas Gerais—and partly by vertical integration, bottling and distributing the product itself. Each day, 45,000 liters of ultra-pasteurized shelf-stable milk roll in recyclable bottles out of a factory right on the property. (Rather than clearing savanna for the bottling plant, Wallace situated it on marginal land that was once a pine plantation.) With a higher butterfat content than competing shelf-stable milks available in Brazil —another result of high-quality pasture—Leitíssimo is able to price its product at a premium and has recently launched the high-end Delicari brand of gelato and Greek yogurt. The hip Brazilian food blog Gastrolândia has declared Leitíssimo “the best in the country” and “the closest we have in Brazil to the excellent milk of Europe.”
Wallace knows that even sustainable dairying has a substantial impact on the climate, and he dreams of making Leitíssimo the first carbon-neutral dairy in the world. It’s a tall order, but the company is making progress. The bottling plant’s electricity comes from hydropower, and the farm produces 200 liters of milk for every liter of diesel it uses. According to company director Craig Bell, Leite Verde’s methane and CO2 emissions amount to just 0.9 kg of carbon dioxide per liter of milk per year, which is less than one-third of that of other producers in Central and South America. Countering those meager emissions, Bell has recorded increases in organic matter and dead plant roots in the soil and estimates that the farm could be absorbing as much as 100 metric tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year. The soil in the pasture is darker than that outside the circle, and it will continue to get more loamy until it reaches an equilibrium where organic matter decays at the same rate as the dead grass, decaying roots, and cow poop are added to the soil. 
Independent of its climate impact, Wallace’s system has clear benefits for wildlife. Leitíssimo plans to set aside half its land as a permanent reserve for conservation. “It’s not only a carbon-sequestration project,” says Reuber Brandao, a University of Brasília ecologist who helped establish the neighboring national park and is planning the permanent preserve for the company. “It’s a biodiversity-protection project. You have armadillos—and you have native Cerrado.” Many of the species found in the park are comfortable spending time on Leite Verde. A maned wolf visits Wallace’s home some evenings. “He calls in every now and then to say hello,” he says.
After a quick survey of the pasture, Wallace struts into the milking parlor at Pivot 5. He waits as 50 or so cattle amble in from the field, on schedule, and line up single file in the covered parlor. The cows hang their heads over the railing and wait their turn to be hooked up to the milking contraption. After a few seconds, fresh, sustainable milk from the sertão splashes into a glass tank at the end of the line. It’s now ready to be pasteurized, bottled, and trucked into grocery stores, where Brazilians will have the chance to support this new model for dairy and help their country’s—and the world’s—ecology in the process.
New York–based Brendan Borrell has written for Scientific AmericanSmithsonianSlateBloomberg BusinessweekNature, and The New York Times.
Travel for this article was funded by's Special Reporting Initiatives program.

March 19, 2015

Climate change isn’t just out to ravage our future: The Mummies are Oozing

 A group of Chinchorro mummies - dated between 5000 B.C. and 3000 B.C.- at the cultural centre of the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago.

Climate change isn't just out to ravage our future; it's after our past, too.
Thousands of years before ancient Egyptians took the practice mainstream, the Chinchorro, who lived in modern-day Chile and Peru, were the world's first group of people to mummify their dead. Despite remaining well preserved for millennia, the mummies — which radiocarbon dating has placed from as far back as 5050 BC — have begun visibly degrading within the past decade, sometimes even turning from preserved body to black, oozing goo.
The problem, according to a team of Harvard University researchers, is bacteria that thrives in high humidity conditions. Arica, the site of the University of Tarapaca's archeological museum in Chile and one of the world's driest places, has recently seen increased moisture, possibly due to climate change, making for a more comfortable home — and a more voracious appetite — for the tiny, mummy-eating microbes. 
"We knew the mummies were degrading but nobody understood why," said Professor Ralph Mitchell. "This kind of degradation has never been studied before. We wanted to answer two questions: What was causing it and what could we do to prevent further degradation?"
Some of the nearly 120 mummies housed at the museum, where scientists first noticed the problem, have been affected. Mitchell led the Harvard team, which used samples of both degraded and preserved mummy skin shipped in from Chile, to identify the bacteria and, in turn, excess moisture as the culprit. 
'The geographic and cultural quilt that tells the American story is fraying at the edges — and even beginning to be pulled apart — by the impacts of climate change.'
John Van Hoesen, a Green Mountain College professor and 2011 recipient of a Fulbright award to study Chinchorro burial masks, explained the group's unusual mummification style.
"The Chinchorro carefully removed the skin from the bodies, removed the flesh and organs, and then re-created the body using clay, sticks, and sediment. They stretched the skin back over the bodies, often having to insert sea lion skin where the skin dried and contracted too much, and added clay face masks," Van Hoesen told VICE News. "The final step involved painting the masks and skin; the earlier mummies were the black style and the paint was dominated by a manganese-rich paint and the later red styles used more iron ochre."
Mummies in the climate-controlled museum are at risk. But the increase in humidity could be more dangerous to the estimated hundreds of specimens that remain undiscovered. 
This theme, of rapidly changing conditions outpacing scientists’ efforts to preserve newly-unearthed history, isn't exclusive to the sandy valleys of Arica, nor are the mummies' burial grounds the first heritage site to be threatened by global warming. 
In Norway's Jotunheimen mountain region, rapidly retreating glaciers have exposed artifacts from Viking ancestors faster than archaeologists can collect them, at times hundreds at once. Their discovery and analysis better our knowledge of these peoples' lives, hunting techniques, and equipment. But the artifacts come with a ticking clock: leather, feathers, and other materials can disintegrate in a matter of days, if undiscovered when their frozen graves melt away.
Van Hoesen called global warming and artifact study a double-edged sword, saying that, as in Norway and in the ancient Greek city of Zeugma, changing conditions have led to new discoveries.
"It is easy to think of climate change as being destructive when we think of hurricanes or increased precipitation," he told VICE News. "But these [Greek] mosaics were likely 'spared' and in such great conditions because the climate warmed and flooded the region. Retreating ice sheets or shrinking lakes may reveal important archaeological sites that help better constrain on the demise of the Neanderthal or Anasazi." 
But even in the US, relatively young on a historical scale, some of the most significant places are threatened. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) spelled out these heightened concerns, site by site, in a 2014 study, analyzing how climate change could damage these highly recognizable, quintessentially American places.
"From sea to rising sea, a remarkable number of the places where American history was made are already under threat. The geographic and cultural quilt that tells the American story is fraying at the edges — and even beginning to be pulled apart — by the impacts of climate change," the report said.  An extensive list of foes, including sea level rise, coastal erosion, increased flooding, heavy rains, and more frequent wildfires, were named as possible threats.
Sites like Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, Faneuil Hall, where Boston's Sons of Liberty planted the seeds of revolution, and Ellis and Liberty Islands, where millions of immigrants entered the US and which sustained $77 million in damages from Hurricane Sandy, are in jeopardy. 
But the path forward is clear, according to UCS.
"Given the scale of the problem and the cultural value of the places at risk, it is not enough merely to plan for change and expect to adapt," says the group. "We must begin now to prepare our threatened landmarks to face worsening climate impacts; climate resilience must become a national priority. We must [reduce] the carbon emissions that cause climate change.”
Follow Darren Ankrom on Twitter: @darrenankrom

March 17, 2015

Big Oil $$ and Oil Model is Burnt and Why high Prices are Not in The ‘Horizon’


 Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

Until last fall, when the price decline gathered momentum, the oil giants were operating at full throttle, pumping out more petroleum every day. They did so, of course, in part to profit from the high prices. For most of the previous six years, Brent crude, the international benchmark for crude oil, had been selling at $100 or higher. But Big Oil was also operating according to a business model that assumed an ever-increasing demand for its products, however costly they might be to produce and refine. This meant that no fossil fuel reserves, no potential source of supply — no matter how remote or hard to reach, how far offshore or deeply buried, how encased in rock — was deemed untouchable in the mad scramble to increase output and profits.

In recent years, this output-maximizing strategy had, in turn, generated historic wealth for the giant oil companies. Exxon, the largest U.S.-based oil firm, earned an eye-popping $32.6 billion in 2013 alone, more than any other American company except for Apple. Chevron, the second biggest oil firm, posted earnings of $21.4 billion that same year. State-owned companies like Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Rosneft also reaped mammoth profits.

How things have changed in a matter of mere months. With demand stagnant and excess production the story of the moment, the very strategy that had generated record-breaking profits has suddenly become hopelessly dysfunctional.

To fully appreciate the nature of the energy industry’s predicament, it’s necessary to go back a decade, to 2005, when the production-maximizing strategy was first adopted. At that time, Big Oil faced a critical juncture. On the one hand, many existing oil fields were being depleted at a torrid pace, leading experts to predict an imminent “peak” in global oil production, followed by an irreversible decline. On the other, rapid economic growth in China, India, and other developing nations was pushing demand for fossil fuels into the stratosphere. In those same years, concern over climate change was also beginning to gather momentum, threatening the future of Big Oil and generating pressures to invest in alternative forms of energy.

A “Brave New World” of tough oil                        

No one better captured that moment than David O’Reilly, the chair and CEO of Chevron. “Our industry is at a strategic inflection point, a unique place in our history,” he told a gathering of oil executives that February. “The most visible element of this new equation,” he explained in what some observers dubbed his “Brave New World” address, “is that relative to demand, oil is no longer in plentiful supply.” Even though China was sucking up oil, coal, and natural gas supplies at a staggering rate, he had a message for that country and the world: “The era of easy access to energy is over.”

To prosper in such an environment, O’Reilly explained, the oil industry would have to adopt a new strategy. It would have to look beyond the easy-to-reach sources that had powered it in the past and make massive investments in the extraction of what the industry calls “unconventional oil” and what I labeled at the time “tough oil”: resources located far offshore, in the threatening environments of the far north, in politically dangerous places like Iraq, or in unyielding rock formations like shale. “Increasingly,” O’Reilly insisted, “future supplies will have to be found in ultradeep water and other remote areas, development projects that will ultimately require new technology and trillions of dollars of investment in new infrastructure.”

For top industry officials like O’Reilly, it seemed evident that Big Oil had no choice in the matter. It would have to invest those needed trillions in tough-oil projects or lose ground to other sources of energy, drying up its stream of profits. True, the cost of extracting unconventional oil would be much greater than from easier-to-reach conventional reserves (not to mention more environmentally hazardous), but that would be the world’s problem, not theirs. “Collectively, we are stepping up to this challenge,” O’Reilly declared. “The industry is making significant investments to build additional capacity for future production.”

On this basis, Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, and other major firms indeed invested enormous amounts of money and resources in a growing unconventional oil and gas race, an extraordinary saga I described in my book The Race for What’s Left. Some, including Chevron and Shell, started drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; others, including Exxon, commenced operations in the Arctic and eastern Siberia.  Virtually every one of them began exploiting U.S. shale reserves via hydro-fracking.

Only one top executive questioned this drill-baby-drill approach: John Browne, then the chief executive of BP. Claiming that the science of climate change had become too convincing to deny, Browne argued that Big Energy would have to look “beyond petroleum” and put major resources into alternative sources of supply. “Climate change is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next,” he had declared as early as 2002. For BP, he indicated, that meant developing wind power, solar power, and biofuels.

Browne, however, was eased out of BP in 2007 just as Big Oil’s output-maximizing business model was taking off, and his successor, Tony Hayward, quickly abandoned the “beyond petroleum” approach. “Some may question whether so much of the [world’s energy] growth needs to come from fossil fuels,” he said in 2009. “But here it is vital that we face up to the harsh reality [of energy availability].” Despite the growing emphasis on renewables, “we still foresee 80 percent of energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030.”

Under Hayward’s leadership, BP largely discontinued its research into alternative forms of energy and reaffirmed its commitment to the production of oil and gas, the tougher the better. Following in the footsteps of other giant firms, BP hustled into the Arctic, the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, and Canadian tar sands, a particularly carbon-dirty and messy-to-produce form of energy. In its drive to become the leading producer in the Gulf, BP rushed the exploration of a deep offshore field it called Macondo, triggering the Deepwater Horizon blow-out of April 2010 and the devastating oil spill of monumental proportions that followed.

Over the cliff                                                      

By the end of the first decade of this century, Big Oil was united in its embrace of its new production-maximizing, drill-baby-drill approach. It made the necessary investments, perfected new technology for extracting tough oil, and did indeed triumph over the decline of existing, “easy oil” deposits. In those years, it managed to ramp up production in remarkable ways, bringing ever more hard-to-reach oil reservoirs online.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, world oil production rose from 85.1 million barrels per day in 2005 to 92.9 million in 2014, despite the continuing decline of many legacy fields in North America and the Middle East. Claiming that industry investments in new drilling technologies had vanquished the specter of oil scarcity, BP’s latest CEO, Bob Dudley, assured the world only a year ago that Big Oil was going places and the only thing that had “peaked” was “the theory of peak oil.”

That, of course, was just before oil prices took their leap off the cliff, bringing instantly into question the wisdom of continuing to pump out record levels of petroleum. The production-maximizing strategy crafted by O’Reilly and his fellow CEOs rested on three fundamental assumptions that, year after year, demand would keep climbing; that such rising demand would ensure prices high enough to justify costly investments in unconventional oil; and that concern over climate change would in no significant way alter the equation. Today, none of these assumptions holds true.

Demand will continue to rise — that’s undeniable, given expected growth in world income and population — but not at the pace to which Big Oil has become accustomed. Consider this: In 2005, when many of the major investments in unconventional oil were getting under way, the EIA projected that global oil demand would reach 103.2 million barrels per day in 2015; now, it’s lowered that figure for this year to only 93.1 million barrels. Those 10 million “lost” barrels per day in expected consumption may not seem like a lot, given the total figure, but keep in mind that Big Oil’s multibillion-dollar investments in tough energy were predicated on all that added demand materializing, thereby generating the kind of high prices needed to offset the increasing costs of extraction. With so much anticipated demand vanishing, however, prices were bound to collapse.

Current indications suggest that consumption will continue to fall short of expectations in the years to come. In an assessment of future trends released last month, the EIA reported that, thanks to deteriorating global economic conditions, many countries will experience either a slower rate of growth or an actual reduction in consumption. While still inching up, Chinese consumption, for instance, is expected to grow by only 0.3 million barrels per day this year and next — a far cry from the 0.5 million barrel increase it posted in 2011 and 2012 and its 1 million barrel increase in 2010. In Europe and Japan, meanwhile, consumption is actually expected to fall over the next two years.

And this slowdown in demand is likely to persist well beyond 2016, suggests the International Energy Agency (IEA), an arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the club of rich industrialized nations). While lower gasoline prices may spur increased consumption in the United States and a few other nations, it predicted, most countries will experience no such lift and so “the recent price decline is expected to have only a marginal impact on global demand growth for the remainder of the decade.”

This being the case, the IEA believes that oil prices will only average about $55 per barrel in 2015 and not reach $73 again until 2020. Such figures fall far below what would be needed to justify continued investment in and exploitation of tough-oil options like Canadian tar sands, Arctic oil, and many shale projects. Indeed, the financial press is now full of reports on stalled or cancelled mega-energy projects. Shell, for example, announced in January that it had abandoned plans for a $6.5 billion petrochemical plant in Qatar, citing “the current economic climate prevailing in the energy industry.” At the same time, Chevron shelved its plan to drill in the Arctic waters of the Beaufort Sea, while Norway’s Statoil turned its back on drilling in Greenland.

There is, as well, another factor that threatens the well-being of Big Oil: Climate change can no longer be discounted in any future energy business model. The pressures to deal with a phenomenon that could quite literally destroy human civilization are growing.  Although Big Oil has spent massive amounts of money over the years in a campaign to raise doubts about the science of climate change, more and more people globally are starting to worry about its effects — extreme weather patterns, extreme storms, extreme drought, rising sea levels, and the like — and demanding that governments take action to reduce the magnitude of the threat.

Europe has already adopted plans to lower carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and to achieve even greater reductions in the following decades. China, while still increasing its reliance on fossil fuels, has at least finally pledged to cap the growth of its carbon emissions by 2030 and to increase renewable energy sources to 20 percent of total energy use by then. In the United States, increasingly stringent automobile fuel-efficiency standards will require that cars sold in 2025 achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, reducing U.S. oil demand by 2.2 million barrels per day. (Of course, the Republican-controlled Congress — heavily subsidized by Big Oil — will do everything it can to eradicate curbs on fossil fuel consumption.)

Still, however inadequate the response to the dangers of climate change thus far, the issue is on the energy map and its influence on policy globally can only increase. Whether Big Oil is ready to admit it or not, alternative energy is now on the planetary agenda and there’s no turning back from that. “It is a different world than it was the last time we saw an oil-price plunge,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in February, referring to the 2008 economic meltdown. “Emerging economies, notably China, have entered less oil-intensive stages of development … On top of this, concerns about climate change are influencing energy policies [and so] renewables are increasingly pervasive.”

The oil industry is, of course, hoping that the current price plunge will soon reverse itself and that its now-crumbling maximizing-output model will make a comeback along with $100-per-barrel price levels. But these hopes for the return of “normality” are likely energy pipe dreams. As van der Hoeven suggests, the world has changed in significant ways, in the process obliterating the very foundations on which Big Oil’s production-maximizing strategy rested. The oil giants will either have to adapt to new circumstances, while scaling back their operations, or face takeover challenges from more nimble and aggressive firms.

February 18, 2015

New Climate Study Shows New York Needs URGENT Action

New Climate Change Study Calls For Urgent  

ACTION for New York City
Red Hook after Sandy (Adam Reichardt)
We can keep debating global climate change (it's real!) until the last polar bear takes its final gasping breath. But let's never forget that this seaside city is in imminent dangera new study confirms New York's temperatures are skyrocketing, sea levels are rising, and we're in for one hell of a grim ride.
The Mayor's Office has just released this year's incredibly bleak New York City Panel on Climate Change report today, noting that their findings "underscore the urgency of not only mitigating our contributions to climate change, but adapting our city to its risks." Not that this should be surprising at this point. Here are some fun things to look forward to, according to the report:
Mean annual temperatures are expected to shoot up by 4.1 to 5.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s. By the 2080s, those mean annual temperatures could increase by as much as 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison's sake, mean annual temperature increased a total of 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit from 1900 to 2013, so that's a pretty big jump in under a century. 
This temperature spike will result in more heat waves, which sound pleasant on a day like today, but will be far less so while you're underground waiting for a futuristic F train in July 2088. (Kidding, F trains won't change between now and 2088.) The report predicts that heat wave frequency will triple by the 2080s, from two per year to six per year. Then again, extreme cold events will likely decrease, so...pick your poison
And woo boy is it going to get rainy: mean annual precipitation will likely increase by 4 to 11 percent by the 2050s. By the 2080s, that number will have increased by 5 to 13 percent, and we'll be able to expect 1.5 times more extreme precipitation days per year. 
The news gets worse. The sea level will increase between 11 inches and 21 inches by the 2050s; by the 2080s, it'll be up to between 18 and 29 inches, and by 2100, we can expect an increase of between 22 and 50 inches. And if the science gods are against us—and aren't they always?—that sea level could see a rise as high as six feet by 2100. Bye, Red Hook!
In fact, by 2100, sea level will have risen so much it'll have doubled the area for 2013's designated coastal flooding zones for both the 100-year flood and the 500-year flood, leaving a lot of previously untouched inland vulnerable:
Don't swallow that entire bottle of pills just yet—there's more! All this climate confusion will likely increase respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, increase allergens, asthma and air pollution, and perhaps even amplify diseases spread by ticks, mosquitos, food, and water. We can expect more heat-related deaths, particularly among seniors, children, the poor, and disadvantaged minorities, to name a few.
There is some good news, though it still doesn't sound good enough. The city's implemented a number of new projects recommended by the NPCC report that aim to, at the very least, mitigate the effects of destructive climate change. These include funding a $335 million flood protection system for the Lower East Side, using the NYC Cool Roofs program to coat building roofs with cooling reflective paint, and funneling $100 million into protecting at-risk waterfront communities like Coney Island Creek. They've also added sand dunes to Staten Island, updated building and zoning codes, and added 4.15 million cubic yards of sand to city beaches.
Future efforts will include upgrading flood protection systems and coastal protection in at-risk areas like Red Hook and Breezy Point, preparing NYCHA for heavy flooding, ensuring hospitals don't lose electricity during major weather events, and putting $450 million toward constructing levees and the like in Midland Beach and on Staten Island's East Shore. 
The scary thing here, though, is that so much of these efforts are meant to protect us from the effects of climate change, and won't actually do much to slow down what is apparently an imminent, relentless, and terrifying alteration to the environment in which we live. The city has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly, which will ultimately help future generations if more municipalities in America and around the world follow suit, but that's not happening. This is the overheated, increasingly toxic bed we've made, so, might as well let the sheets strangle us, right? 

October 14, 2014

Defense Dept. Equals Climate Change with Terrorism Threat

The submarine USS Annapolis breaks through three feet of ice in the Arctic Ocean during an exercise in 2009. A report today from the Pentagon calls for an increased US military presence in the Arctic. 
In one of its strongest statements yet on the need to prepare for climate change, the Defense Department today released a report that says global warming "poses immediate risks to US national security" and will exacerbate national security-related threats ranging "from infectious disease to terrorism."
 The report, embedded below, builds on climate readiness planning at the Pentagon that stretches back to the George W. Bush administration. But today’s report is the first to frame climate change as a serious near-term challenge for strategic military operations; previous reports have tended to focus on long-term threats to bases and other infrastructure.(Report not shown)
The report "is quite an evolution of the DoD's thinking on understanding and addressing climate threats," said Francesco Femia, co-director of the Center for Climate and Security. “The Department is not looking out into the future, it's looking at what's happening now."
The report identifies anticipated climate impacts to basic military operations, training and testing procedures, infrastructure, and supply chains. It doesn't recommend specific policy changes or detail costs. Rather, it issues a general call for DoD agencies to build climate change into their procedures and to ensure climate change is accounted for in any collaborations with foreign governments and private contractors.
The threat posed by climate change to military bases has long been acknowledged by the Pentagon; a survey of the climate vulnerability of more than 7,000 military facilities worldwide is due to be completed soon. In May, for example, a report prepared by 11 retired military commanders found that the cluster of 29 installations near Virginia's Chesapeake Bay that together house more than 20 percent of the Navy's fleet could experience up to seven feet of sea level rise by 2100.
Today's report also placed special focus on impacts that are likely to sweep US troops into action in the short term, a sign that top brass are increasingly concerned about "the probability that climate change will increase the likelihood of conflict in strategically significant parts of the world," Femia said. Water shortages in the Middle East could benefit terrorist organizations, who can exploit hunger and unrest to tighten their grip on locals. Increased shipping traffic in the melting Arctic could spark political tension between polar nations. Increasing prevalence and severity of natural disasters worldwide will become a more significant burden for military-led relief efforts.
Although the report is a product of a 2009 order by President Obama for all federal agencies to evaluate climate risks to their operations, Femia said the strong language is more the result of bottom-up agitation from troop commanders who are witnessing climate change first-hand. Last year, for example, Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the top US military commander in the Pacific, singled out climate change as a principle concern for his operations.
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