Repost from the Associated Press [Editor: Significant quote: “A factor behind all these trends is that the writing is on the wall about the future of coal and thus the future of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The regulatory noose is tightening and companies are anticipating a future with lower and lower dependence on fossil fuels and lower and lower carbon dioxide emissions.” (Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer) For background data, see U.S. Energy Information Administration report on April emissions. – RS]
US carbon pollution from power plants hits 27-year low
By Seth Borenstein, Aug. 5, 2015 5:00 PM EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Heat-trapping pollution from U.S. power plants hit a 27-year low in April, the Department of Energy announced Wednesday.
A big factor was the long-term shift from coal to cleaner and cheaper natural gas, said Energy Department economist Allen McFarland. Outside experts also credit more renewable fuel use and energy efficiency.
Carbon dioxide — from the burning of coal, oil and gas — is the chief greenhouse gas responsible for man-made global warming.
“While good news for the environment, we certainly would not want to assume that this trend will continue and that we can simply relax,” said John Reilly, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
Electric power plants spewed 141 million tons of carbon dioxide in April, the lowest for any month since April 1988, according to Energy Department figures. The power plants are responsible for about one-third of the country’s heat-trapping emissions.
April emissions peaked at 192 million tons in 2008 and dropped by 26 percent in seven years.
Carbon pollution from power plants hit their peak in August 2007 with 273 million tons; summer emissions are higher because air conditioning requires more power.
In past years, experts said the U.S. reduction in carbon dioxide pollution was more a function of a sluggish economy, but McFarland said that’s no longer the case.
“You don’t have a 27-year low because of an economic blip,” McFarland said. “There are more things happening than that.”
The price of natural gas has dropped 39 percent in the past year, he said. Federal analysts predict that this year the amount of electricity from natural gas will increase 3 percent compared to last year while the power from coal will go down 10 percent.
Those reductions were calculated before this week’s announcements of new power plant rules. The new rules aim to cut carbon pollution from electricity generators another 20 percent from current levels by 2030.
The pollution cuts in April are because efficiency has cut electricity demand and energy from non-hydropower renewable sources has more than doubled, said Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer.
“A factor behind all these trends is that the writing is on the wall about the future of coal and thus the future of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions,” Oppenheimer said in an email. “The regulatory noose is tightening and companies are anticipating a future with lower and lower dependence on fossil fuels and lower and lower carbon dioxide emissions.”
Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle [Editor – This report signals a highly significant shift in the discussions surrounding climate change and the oil industry: cut demand … or cut supply? A must read! – RS]
Gov. Brown wants to keep oil in the ground. But whose oil?
By David R. Baker, July 26, 2015 8:16pm
Even the greenest, most eco-friendly politicians rarely utter the words Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at the Vatican’s climate change symposium last week.
To prevent the worst effects of global warming, one-third of the world’s known oil reserves must remain in the ground, Brown told the gathering of government officials from around the world. The same goes for 50 percent of natural gas reserves and 90 percent of coal.
“Now that is a revolution,” Brown said. “That is going to take a call to arms.”
It’s an idea widely embraced among environmentalists and climate scientists. Burn all the world’s known fossil fuel supplies — the ones already discovered by energy companies — and the atmosphere would warm to truly catastrophic levels. Never mind hunting for more oil.
But it’s a concept few politicians will touch. That’s because it raises a question no one wants to answer: Whose oil has to stay put?
“They’ve all got their own oil,” said environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, who first popularized the issue with a widely read 2012 article in Rolling Stone. “Recognizing that you’ve got to leave your own oil — and not somebody else’s — in the ground is the next step.”
No state has done more to fight global warming. By 2020, under state law, one-third of California’s electricity must come from the sun, the wind and other renewable sources. Brown wants 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and has called for slashing the state’s oil use in half by the same year.
But he has shown no interest in cutting the state’s oil production. He has touted the economic potential of California’s vast Monterey Shale formation, whose oil reserves drillers are still trying to tap. And he has steadfastly refused calls from within his own party to ban fracking.
“If we reduce our oil drilling in California by a few percent, which a ban on fracking would do, we’ll import more oil by train or by boat,” Brown told “Meet the Press.” “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
California remains America’s third-largest oil producing state, behind Texas and North Dakota. The industry directly employs 184,100 Californians, helps support an estimated 271,840 other jobs and yields $21.2 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
‘Phasing out oil drilling’
Any governor, no matter how environmentally minded, would have a hard time turning that down. Even if many environmentalists wish Brown would.
“Just like we have a plan for increasing renewables, we need a plan for phasing out oil drilling in California,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California.
It’s difficult for politicians to even talk about something as stark as putting limits on pumping oil, he said.
“Solar and wind and electric cars are really hopeful things, whereas keeping oil in the ground sounds more like doomsday,” Jacobson said.
And yet, Jacobson, McKibben and now apparently Brown are convinced that most fossil fuel reserves must never be used.
The percentages Brown cited come from a study published this year in the scientific journal Nature. The researchers calculated that in order to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — above preindustrial levels, the world’s economy can pump no more than 1,100 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere between 2011 and 2050. Burning the world’s known fossil fuel reserves would produce roughly three times that amount, they wrote.
Most governments pursing climate-change policies have agreed to aim for a 2-degree Celsius warming limit, although many scientists consider that dangerously high. So far, global temperatures have warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius from preindustrial times.
“The unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 degrees Celsius,” the study concludes.
Nonetheless, states, countries and companies with fossil fuel reserves all have an obvious and powerful incentive to keep drilling.
The market value of oil companies, for example, is based in part on the size of their reserves and their ability to find more. Activist investors warning of a “carbon bubble” in their valuations have pushed the companies to assess how many of those reserves could become stranded assets if they can’t be burned. The companies have resisted.
President Obama, meanwhile, has made fighting climate change a key focus of his presidency, raising fuel efficiency standards for cars, pumping public financing into renewable power and pushing for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Cut demand or cut supply
But Obama has also boasted about America’s surging oil and natural gas production — and tried to claim credit for it. Last week, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell the green light to hunt for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Keeping oil in the ground does not quite square with his “all of the above” energy policy, observers note. At least, not American oil.
“The same government that is working very hard to get a Clean Power Plan is allowing Shell to go exploring for hydrocarbons in the middle of nowhere, oil that may never be producible,” said climate activist and former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer, with audible exasperation.
He notes that Obama, Brown and other politicians intent on fighting climate change have focused their efforts on cutting the demand for fossil fuels, rather than the supply. Most of the policies that climate activists want to see enacted nationwide — such as placing a price on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — would do the same, ratcheting down demand rather than placing hard limits on fossil fuel production.
“The political thinking is the market itself will take care of figuring out which fossil fuels have to stay in the ground,” Steyer said.
Some climate fights, however, have focused on supply. And again, the issue of whose fossil fuels have to stay put has played a part.
Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, for example, see blocking the project — which would run from Canada to America’s Gulf Coast — as a way to stop or at least slow development of Alberta’s enormous oil sands. James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, famously declared that fully developing the sands would be “game over for the climate.”
Obama has delayed a decision on the pipeline for years. Given America’s own rising oil production, rejecting a project that could be a boon for the Canadian economy would be difficult, analysts say.
“The message would be, ‘We’re not going to help you develop your resources — we’ll essentially raise the cost,’” said UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein. He is convinced that Canada will develop the tar sands, regardless.
“It’s become such a huge symbol that it’s impossible for Obama to make a decision on it,” Borenstein said. “I think he’s just going to run out the clock.”
Just as the British Government slashes subsidies for solar power and gears up to open up large swathes of the countryside to fracking, a coalition of human rights lawyers and academics have announced an international tribunal to put fracking “on trial”.
Based on a descendent of the Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal of the sixties, the so-called Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), which is based in Rome, is an internationally recognized public opinion tribunal. It functions independently of state jurisdictions.
From June 1979 to the present date, the PPT has held some 40 sessions, including examining the world’s worst chemical disaster at Bhopal in the early eighties which killed thousands of people, injuring hundreds of thousands.
Tribunals apply internationally recognized human rights law and policy to cases brought before them and are nearly identical to traditional courtroom proceedings.
What this allows is ordinary people to compile and submit prima facie evidence about how the shale gas industry has impacted their health, their environment, their livelihood or human rights.
Hearings will be held both in the United States, which has been at the forefront of the fracking boom and the UK, and will take place in front of five to seven jurists experts in international human rights law.
This said, the PPT will be inviting witness testimony from citizens all over the world who will be invited to also hold preliminary mini-tribunals in their own country.
The experts will then decide whether there is sufficient evidence to indict certain nation states on charges of “failing to adequately uphold universal human rights as a result of allowing unconventional oil and gas extraction in their jurisdictions.”
One of the organisers, Dr. Tom Kerns, Director of the Environment and Human Rights Advisory in Oregon USA said: “The Tribunal will consider the human rights dimensions of a range of potential impacts: human and animal health, environmental, climatic, seismic, hydrologic and economic impacts, as well as those on local physical and social infrastructures.”
Dr. Damien Short, Director of the Human Rights Consortium at the University of London, and another one of the instigators of the PPT, added that “Fracking has taken place around the world in spite of serious public opposition and with large numbers of people alleging that their human rights have been ignored by those who supposedly represent them. This PPT aims to consider those allegations in an even handed and judicial way.”
The hearings are not due to start until the Spring of 2017, giving communities affected by fracking enough time to compile the evidence of impact and harm.
Meanwhile, the British Government’s plans to slash subsidies to solar was widely condemned yesterday. Britain’s sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas labeled the Government plans as “short sighted”.
“This cut would further undermine Britain’s commitment to meeting our climate change targets and deepen our addiction to dirty fossil fuels,” she said.