Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Here are the worst places to live in the U.S., and climate change isn’t helping

November 7, 2014

From wildfires and drought in the Southwest to hurricanes andfloods on the Eastern seaboard, sometimes it seems like there’s nowhere left to hide from climate change. Well, we can’t (read: don’t want to) tell you where you should go, but at least now we can name the 50 places to live in the U.S. where you are MOST at risk for natural disaster — including the sorts of disasters climate change is expected to throw at us in the coming years.

The Weather Channel, despite some unfortunate early ties to the climate-denying grandpa you never had, can do some pretty impressive stuff from time to time. For example, sifting though 18 years worth of data from every county or parish in the U.S. — all 3,111 of them — taking into account everything from flood and fire risk, to how much it costs to heat or cool a home, to how many weather-related property damages and deaths occur on average. And while none of this could have made for cheering subject matter, 50 places definitely came out on top of this Olympic podium of suck. Let’s take a fly-by tour of a few of them:

Orleans Parish, La.

Saving the worst for first, Orleans Parish, La., tops this terrible list of places, with a whopping $21.6 billion in damage, most of that supplied by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Even more significant are the hundreds of people (around 215) who died in their homes in New Orleans during the storm — a tragic combination of natural fury and poor disaster preparedness.

Before we move on, it’s worth mentioning that five of the counties on this list are in Louisiana, and a full eight are in Mississippi. We won’t go through all of those, because they are bummers of a similar sort, But know that when it comes to flood damage and struggling infrastructure, the low-lying lands of the lower 48 have the stage set for disaster

Ocean County, N.J.

Ocean County, New Jersey

When Superstorm Sandy made landfall in Ocean County, in 2012, it brought desolation down on the Jersey Shore to the tune of $10 billion, and earned the area sixth place in this terrible race. While plenty of towns on the East Coast had it just as bad, including Monmouth County just to the north, Ocean County faces a second set of risks as well — these ones from land. Just inland from the hurricane-wrecked shore are the Pine Barrens, a bizarrely pristine forest with a moderate risk of wildfire. Between all that water and fire, you might want to just keep taking that turnpike outta Dodge.

Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska

Nikolai, Alaska
Wikimedia Commons

Coming in at No. 13 on the list of worst places to be, this large swath of Alaska is the most sparsely populated county in America, with about 6,000 people spread across an area the size of Germany. And no wonder so few people want to live there — 99.8 percent of the days in Yukon-Koyukuk are “heating degree days” with average temperatures below 65 degrees F. Couple the cost of keeping warm with risk of wildfires in the summers AND plenty of miscellaneous weather-related damage, and you get one hell of an inhospitable landscape.

Bright side, bright side … uh, if the polar vortex keeps wobbling around, maybe the Yukon-Koyukukans will catch a bit of a breakthis winter.

Marin County, Calif.

Marin County, California
John Kim

Marin County is one of the wealthiest places in the U.S. — with the fifth highest income-per-capita in 2009 — but it is also, trust us, one of the WORST places you could possibly live (the 17th worst place, to be specific). Not only will your view of the Bay be marred by a sprawling multimillion-dollar mansion, but you will also be living on a spiderweb of several major faults that pass under this region. Massive earthquakes in 1989 and 1906 caused billions of dollars of damage and cost hundreds of Marin residents’ lives, and they could do so again.

What’s more: All that ocean-front property and flood-prone picturesque valleys leave Marin vulnerable to all kinds of water risks, especially during rain-heavy winter storms.

Oh, yeah, and though wildfires haven’t plagued the county too badly in the past, the historic ongoing drought in California will almost certainly make this whole region a little hotter-under-the-collar.

Washoe County, Nev.

Reno, Nevada

There are lots of reasons not to live in Reno, but here’s another: Despite being smack-dab in the middle of a desert state, Washoe County is so chock-full of lakes and snow-fed rivers that it is expected to experience a disastrous flood every 50 years, a fact which earns it spot 22 out of 50 on this list. The last flood in 1997 inundated countless homes as well as the airport, and cost the district $500 million. If that was a 50-year flood, that means you still have 30 years and change to pick up roots and move somewhere a little less extreme. Then again, why wait — any place whose official motto is “The Biggest Little City In The World” doesn’t need climate change’s help to make it suck more.


For the rest of the list, you’ll have to turn to the professionals. Let’s just hope when it comes to the terrible futures in store for the stars-and-stripes, these weather forecasters are as famously wrong as ever.

Worst Places to Own a Home, Weather Channel.

Meet your new fossil fuel-loving GOP senators

November 7, 2014


The Democrats got wrecked on Tuesday, and now Republicans aretaking over the Senate. Some of the new Republican senators are outright climate deniers. Those who admit that climate change is happening often hide from the issue with nonsensical yammering about how global warming might be due to natural causes. Regardless of their views on the science, they are unanimous in their opposition to actually doing anything about it, and in their enthusiasm for exploiting America’s land and water for the benefit of the fossil fuel industries.

Below is a guide to the new Republican senators and their views on climate change, energy, and the environment. Note that we included Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is headed for a runoff against Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu that he is likely to win, and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who is ahead of Sen. Mark Begich in the vote count thus far, although at press time Begich has yet to concede.

For those who have served in Congress, we’ve provided their lifetime environmental voting scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). The score represents the percentage of time that they have taken the pro-environment vote on a bill. According to their grades, they’re a bunch of F students on the environment.

Tom Cotton
Gage Skidmore

Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

Currently serving in the House of Representatives, Cotton opposes EPA regulation of CO2, and supports the usual list of fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline. Yet you could call him a moderate by the standards of this group, because he sort of accepts climate science. Sort of. Here he is in a talk at the Clinton Library, wrapping an admission of anthropogenic global warming in a bogus right-wing talking point: “The simple fact is that for the last 16 years, the Earth’s temperature has not warmed. That’s the facts … Now, there’s no doubt that the temperature has risen over the past 150,200 years. It’s most likely that human activity has contributed to some of that … Why would we change the way we live our life on a fundamental, civilizational level based on computer models?” Of course, the actual fact is that there has been warming over the last 16 years, and this year is on pace to be the hottest in recorded history. And there are plenty of good reasons to change the way we live even if you don’t trust climate models, such as the fact that fossil fuels will eventually run out anyway, and extracting and burning them creates local air and water pollution.

Lifetime LCV Score: 7 percent

Steve Daines
House GOP

Steve Daines (R-Mont.)

Rep. Daines, talking to NPR’s Sally Mauk in 2012, offered some peculiar ideas about climate science: “I think the jury’s still out in my opinion, Sally, on that. I’ve seen some very good data that says there are other contributing factors there, certainly looking at the effect the sun has, and it’s the solar cycles versus CO2 and greenhouse gases.” Ah yes, “the solar cycles,” that’s just what the IPCC report blames for global warming too, right? No. As you would expect of someone who tries to concoct silly alternative explanations for the warming and extreme weather that is plainly occurring, Daines has voted the wrong way on every climate bill. That aside, you might expect someone from the Rocky Mountain west to at least oppose letting coal mining companies dump toxic waste in mountain streams when conducting mountaintop-removal mining. You’d be wrong. Daines has voted in favor of that. He also voted for an anti-environment farm bill that would endanger Montana’s forests and wildlife.

Lifetime LCV Score: 4 percent

Shelley Moore Capito
House GOP

Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)

Rep. Capito loves coal. One of her regular talking points on the campaign trail and in her ads this year was that President Obama has proposed a rule that would ban all new coal-burning plants and even burning coal in existing plants. Politifact rated the former claim “mostly false” and the latter claim just plain “false.” When asked in an October debate if she agrees with climate scientists that human activity is causing climate change, Capito said, “I don’t necessarily think the climate’s changing, no.” When questioned by reporters after the debate, she modified her position, with the brilliance and eloquence we’ve come to expect from Republicans discussing climate science: “Is the climate changing? Yes it’s changing, it changes all the time. We heard it raining out there. I’m sure humans are contributing to it.” Whatever she thinks we’re doing to contribute to climate change (rain dances?), Capito doesn’t believe we should do anything to stop it. She has voted repeatedly against calculating the social cost of carbon, funding for renewable energy, and allowing the federal government to regulate methane emissions from fracking.

Lifetime LCV Score: 21 percent

Mike Rounds

Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)

Former Gov. Rounds accepts the scientific consensus that human activity contributes to climate change, although he downplays it with gibberish. “There are a number of different causes that we recognize, and the scientists recognize, are the cause of global warming,” said Rounds in 2006. It’s unclear what these mysterious “other causes” are. Although Rounds isn’t totally anti-science, he is ardently anti-environment. He has called for eliminating the EPA, and as governor, he vetoed tax credits for wind energy facilities. He describes the EPA’s proposed rules on CO2 emissions from power plants as a “carbon tax,” which is completely inaccurate. You can guess, though, where he would stand on an actual carbon tax.

Cory Gardner
ACU Conservative

Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)

Rep. Gardner did a good job pretending to be a moderate on energy in his successful Senate election, cutting an ad touting his fondness for wind power. But his actual positions show that he is no friend of the environment. He did vote for tax credits for clean energy in 2012, but he turned around and voted against them in 2013. The rest of his record follows the standard Republican playbook. He voted to direct federal land managers to prioritize oil drilling over hunting, fishing, and hiking. He opposes EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, and wants to remove EPA authority to set more rigorous standards for regulating coal ash. Asked in a Senate campaign debate to answer yes or no as to whether “humans are contributing significantly to climate change,” he refused. “I don’t think you can say yes or no.” Later he added that he thinks the climate is changing, but human activity is less responsible than the news media would have you think.

Lifetime LCV Score: 9 percent.

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

Ernst is insane on environmental issues, even by the standards of the Republican Party. She subscribes to the discredited far-right conspiracy theory that “Agenda 21,” a non-binding U.N. resolution encouraging conservation of natural resources, is a scheme to take control of American towns and turn them into high-rise hellholes. As for federal environmental protection, she’s against that too, saying, “Let’s shut down the EPA. The state knows best how to protect resources.” When asked about climate change she takes the standard, cowardly Republican “I”m not a scientist” dodge: “I don’t know the science behind climate change. I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact, whether it’s man-made or not … I do believe in protecting our environment, but without the job-killing regulations that are coming out of the [EPA].” For Ernst, this qualifies as moderation.

Bill Cassidy
Gage Skidmore

Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

Like Cotton, Rep. Cassidy deploys bogus climate science-denying talking points. In an October debate, he claimed that “global temperatures have not risen in 15 years.” Even the conservativeWashington Examiner was moved to flatly observe, “That’s not true. Data show that the rate of warming has slowed during that period but temperatures are still rising year-over-year.” In 2013, Cassidy voted to expand logging on public lands, to defund the federal government’s policy of not buying unconventional fossil fuels, and to expand offshore drilling. That last one is especially ironic, since Cassidy will likely represent the state most devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Lifetime LCV score: 11 percent

David Perdue

David Perdue (R-Ga.)

Perdue, a former corporate executive, is so retrograde on energy policy that he is to the right of a utility company, Alliant Energy Corporation, whose board he used to sit on. Alliantsupported cap-and-trade while Perdue was on the board, but now he is having none of it. Perdue’s campaign was so extreme in its anti-environmentalism that it attacked his opponent, Michelle Nunn, for being endorsed by the nonpartisan LCV, complaining in a statement that “[Nunn’s] jobs plan refuses to address how burdensome regulations on the coal industry will raise energy prices and destroy jobs. Her website says she wants to ‘act now’ on climate change … Nunn claims to support the Keystone Pipeline, but if she seriously supports moving forward with it, how did she secure the support from this far-left group?” It’s fairly obvious how Nunn got LCV’s endorsement despite supporting Keystone: The group thought Perdue would be much worse.

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska)

Dan Sullivan, served from 2010 to 2013 as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, an excellent vantage point from which to observe climate change. But while he accepted climate science when he worked in the Bush State Department back in 2008, he now tries to confuse the issue. He still admits that the climate is changing and that human activity is contributing, but earlier this year he made the following bizarre statement: “Despite what many climate change alarmists want us to believe, there is no general consensus on pinpointing the sole cause of global temperature trends.” Unless Sullivan thinks 97 percent unanimity among scientists isn’t a general consensus, that’s a falsehood. Presumably, his argument hinges on the word “sole,” contending that there may be natural causes as well. But he is obviously raising this red herring to confuse voters, not to be scientifically precise. Sullivan opposes government regulation of greenhouse gases and in Alaska, he has prioritized exploiting natural resources over concerns for the environment or indigenous people.

Thom Tillis
North Carolina National Guard

Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)

As speaker of the North Carolina state legislature, Tillis promoted a far-right agenda, including on environment and energy issues. In a rare setback, he was unable to repeal the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard. He did find ways to undermine clean fuel promotion by cutting more than $2 million from North Carolina’s Biofuels Center, a nonprofit that closed as a result. Tillis also pushed through a bill that, instead of requiring full disclosure of fracking chemicals, allows companies to claim chemical combinations as trade secrets and disclose them only to the state geologist. Tillis opposes EPA climate regulations and citesdiscredited “research” from the right-wing Heritage Foundation to overstate the costs of such regs to North Carolina’s economy.

More by Ben Adler

UN: World Faces Do-Or-Die Carbon Threat

November 3, 2014

 (photo: Jason Hawkes/Getty Images)
(photo: Jason Hawkes/Getty Images)

By Al Jazeera America

03 November 14


Report says world has until 2100 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero or face ‘irreversible’ consequences

limate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts will require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a report published Sunday.

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the report’s launch in Copenhagen.

The report is meant to serve as a scientific roadmap for U.N. climate negotiations, which continue next month in Lima, Peru. The meeting will be the last major conference on the issue before a 2015 summit in Paris, where a global agreement on climate action is supposed to be adopted.

Governments can keep climate change in check at manageable costs, but will have to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2100 to limit the risk of irreversible damage, the U.N. report said.

The biggest hurdle is deciding who should do what, with developed countries calling on China and other major developing countries to take on ambitious targets, and developing countries saying the already developed have a historical responsibility to lead the fight against global warming and to help poorer nations cope with its impacts. The IPCC carefully avoided taking sides on the issue, saying the risks of climate change “are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.”

The report, which was the fourth and final installment in the IPCC’s climate assessment, summed up 5,000 pages of work by 800 scientists who concluded that global warming was now causing more heat extremes, downpours, acidifying the oceans and raising sea levels.

Failure to reduce greenhouse gas output, produced by the burning of fossil fuels, to zero this century might lock the world on a trajectory with “irreversible” impacts on people and the environment, the report said.

Amid its grim projections, the report also offered hope, saying the tools needed to set the world on a low-emissions path – such as solar and wind energy generators – already exist.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said. “All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the report “another canary in the coalmine.”

“The bottom line is that our planet is warming due to human actions, the damage is already visible, and the challenge requires ambitious, decisive and immediate action,” Kerry said in a statement. “Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids.”

Pointing to solutions, the IPCC said the costs associated with mitigation action, such as shifting energy systems to solar and wind power and other renewable sources, would reduce economic growth only by 0.06 percent annually.

Pachauri of the IPCC said that cost should be measured against the implications of doing nothing, putting “all species that live on this planet” at peril.


‘It Is Not Hopeless,’ says World’s Chief Climate Scientist

November 1, 2014
Published on

As Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change opens meeting to finalize latest report to the world, head of agency says meeting challenge of global warming will not be easy, but that it can be done

‘May I humbly suggest that policymakers avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change,’ said Rajendra Pachauri, chairperson of the IPCC, on Monday. (Photo: NASA)

“It is not hopeless.”

That was the key message delivered in Copenhagen on Monday by Rajendra Pachauri, chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as the agency met to finalize the findings and language of its pending Synthesis Report, the last installment of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), designed to provide the world’s policymakers with a comprehensive scientific assessment of the risks of human-caused global warming and climate change.

“We still have time to build a better, more sustainable world. We still have time to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change… But we have precious little of that time.” —Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chair

“The Synthesis Report will provide the roadmap by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change,” said Pachauri. “It gives us the knowledge to make informed choices, the knowledge to build a brighter, more sustainable future. It enhances our vital understanding of the rationale for action—and the serious implications for inaction.”

What was critical for world leaders, policymakers and the global public at large to understand, he said, was that though it won’t be easy to avert the worse impacts of the world’s changing climate, it is possible.

“A great deal of work and tall hurdles lie ahead. But it can be done. We still have time to build a better, more sustainable world. We still have time to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change,” he said.  “But we have precious little of that time.”

The series of recent IPCC reports that have come out over the last twelve months and make up the AR5 assessment have shared the common theme of urgency and the Synthesis Report, once finalized, will be the official word from the world’s top climate scientists as national government’s send their delegates to next year’s meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Paris. Alongside the most thorough review of the available climate research ever conducted, the report will offer specific guidance on both mitigation and solutions to address the dangerous levels of greenhouse gases that are increasingly warming the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.

“Much has been made of the growing peril of delaying the hard choices that need to be made to adapt to and mitigate climate change,” said Pauchari. “I do not discount those challenges. But the Synthesis Report shows that solutions are at hand.”

At the last high-level UNFCC talks, known as Conferences of Parties meetings or (COP), world leaders agreed to the goal of limiting global temperature increases this century to 2°C, but so far no binding commitments have been made, either at the national or international level, that scientists say would such a target.

Watch the IPCC’s opening session:

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What can we do about climate change?

October 24, 2014

I could rephrase this question. What should we do about climate change. The reason I might rephrase this is because we may not ben that sure of what wecan do, but we should do something. Or, more accurately, some things. There are a lot of possible things we can do, and we have little time to do them. So, maybe we should do all of them for a while. We could spend years working out what the best three or four things we can do might be, and try to implement them. But there will be political opposition from the right, because the right is inexplicably opposed to any action that smells like environmentalism or something that Al Gore might suggest. There will be powerful and effective opposition by those who happen to own or control the vast fossil Carbon based reserves because they know that whatever it is we do about climate change, it will involve keeping their Carbon in the ground, which will render it nearly valueless. The very process of working out the handful of best solutions will falter because of those opposing action. So instead, maybe we should do a Gish Gallop of climate change action. Just do everything. Every thing. It will be harder to stop.

That is a pragmatic argument for doing everything, but there is also a more systematic rational argument. When new technologies, or new applications of technologies, emerge they often take an unexpected course. In retrospect, we realize that of a handful of options, the one we picked did not do what we thought it might do. It may have fell short of expectations, or it may have functioned in an unexpected and disruptive (in a good way) matter. Meanwhile, we sometimes see that the technologies we did not develop may have been better choices. In this way, technology and industry evolve. We don’t have time for this slow evolution, so may be we should do everything and later, after some of these solutions have run for a while, weed out those that are not working as well and focus on the newly adapted, evolved solutions.

Obviously when I say “everything” (or every thing) I don’t really mean every single thing; it is reasonable to pick and choose. But we need to take a much more comprehensive approach than often suggested. In the world of clean energy there are many (increasingly institutionalized) schemes with promotors who actually spend time and energy putting down the alternatives. Pro solar people will tell you bad things about wind, and pro wind people will tell you bad things about solar. Those who wish us to have a totally reformed and rebuilt transportation infrastructure will tell you that electric cars are not the way, even though their reimagined transport system is at best a century in the future, while shifting much of our vehicular fleet to inherently efficient electric cars could be done at at time scale of a few years. So, what I mean is, do every thing that is on the table, deployable, right now. Geothermal heating and cooling in domestic, commercial, and industrial settings. No roof should be without at least some photovoltaic panels. Build more windmills. Paint the roofs white in cities. Develop incentives for people to live closer to work or travel less by working from home. Electrify everything that moves from cars to city and school buses to commuter trains. Tax Carbon, provide tax or other incentives for the purchase of highly efficient appliances. All of it.

Lawrence Torcello and Michael Mann (philosopher and climate scientist) have an interesting piece at The Conversation integrating climate science, strategies, and philosophy. In part, they say,

…the warming level already reached will likely displace millions of people worldwide. Entire island cultures may be scattered and their traditional ways of life destroyed. Any resulting refugee crisis will be exacerbated by a greater range of agricultural pests, tropical diseases, increasingly frequent heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and subsequent crop failures. Migrating climate victims will be at risk of further injustice as social and political tensions intensify….

If we fail to avoid 2°C warming, a possibility we must be ready for, aggressive action taken now will still position the next generation to better build on our efforts—while learning from our mistakes. The difficulty of our situation is no excuse for moral dithering.

That is certainly a good way to sum up what our plan should be: Aggressive.

Climate Change: How to Make the Big Polluters Really Pay

October 18, 2014

Naomi Klein has a new book: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. (photo: Guardian UK)
Naomi Klein has a new book: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. (photo: Guardian UK)

By Naomi Klein, Guardian UK

17 October 14


By dropping Shell, Lego shows new ways to target the astronomical profits of the fossil fuel industries

hen the call came in that the University of Glasgow had voted to divest its £128m endowment from fossil fuel companies, I happened to be in a room filled with climate activists in Oxford. They immediately broke into cheers. There were lots of hugs and a few tears. This was big – the first university in Europe to make such a move.

The next day there were more celebrations in climate circles: Lego announced it would not be renewing a relationship with Shell Oil, a longtime co-branding deal that saw toddlers filling up their plastic vehicles at toy Shell petrol stations. “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations,” a Greenpeace video that went viral declared, attracting more than 6m views. Pressure is building, meanwhile, on the Tate to sever the museum’s longtime relationship with BP.

What is happening? Are fossil fuel companies – long toxic to our natural environment – becoming toxic in the public relations environment as well? It seems so. Galvanised by the “carbon tracker” research showing that these firms have several times more carbon in their reserves than our atmosphere can safely absorb, Oxford city council has voted to divest; so has the British Medical Association.

Internationally, there are hundreds of active fossil fuel divestment campaigns on university and college campuses, as well as ones targeting local city governments, non-profit foundations and religious organisations. And the victories keep getting bigger.

In May, for instance, California’s Stanford University announced it would divest its $18.7bn endowment from coal. And on the eve of September’s UN climate summit in New York, a portion of the Rockefeller family – a name synonymous with oil – announced that it would be divesting its foundation’s holdings from fossil fuels and expanding its investments in renewable energy.

Some are sceptical. They point out that none of this will hurt oil or coal companies – different investors will snap up their stocks and most of us will keep buying their products. Our economies, after all, remain hooked on fossil fuels, and affordable renewable options are too often out of reach. So are these battles over fossil fuel investments and sponsorships just a charade? A way to clean our consciences but not the atmosphere?

The criticism overlooks the deeper power and potential of these campaigns. At their core, all are taking aim at the moral legitimacy of fossil fuel companies and the profits that flow from them. This movement is saying that it is unethical to be associated with an industry whose business model is based on knowingly destabilising the planet’s life support systems.

Every time a new institution or brand decides to cut its ties, every time the divestment argument is publicly made, it reinforces the idea that fossil fuel profits are illegitimate – that “these are now rogue industries”, in the words of author Bill McKibben. And it is this illegitimacy that has the potential to break the stalemate in meaningful climate action. Because if those profits are illegitimate, and this industry is rogue, it brings us a step closer to the principle that has been sorely missing from the collective climate response so far: the polluter pays.

Take the Rockefellers. When Valerie Rockefeller Wayne explained her decision to divest, she said that it was precisely because her family’s wealth was made through oil that they were “under greater moral obligation” to use that wealth to stop climate change.

That, in a nutshell, is the rationale behind polluter pays. It holds that when commercial activity creates hefty public health and environmental damage, the polluters must shoulder a significant share of the costs of repair. But it can’t stop with individuals and foundations, nor can the principle be enforced voluntarily.

As I explore in my book This Changes Everything, fossil fuel-based companies have been pledging for more than a decade to use their profits to transition us away from dirty energy. BP has rebranded itself as “Beyond Petroleum” – only to back off renewables and double down on the dirtiest fossil fuels. Richard Branson pledged to spend $3bn of Virgin’s profits finding a miracle green fuel and fighting global warming – only to systematically lower expectations while sharply increasing his fleet of aeroplanes. Clearly, polluters aren’t going to pay for this transition unless they are forced to do so by law.

Up until the early 1980s, that was still a guiding principle of environmental law-making in North America. And the principle hasn’t totally disappeared – it’s the reason why Exxon and BP were forced to pick up large portions of the bills after the Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters.

But since the era of market fundamentalism took hold in the 1990s, direct regulations and penalties on polluters have been superseded by the drive to create complex market mechanisms and voluntary initiatives designed to minimise the impact of environmental action on corporations. When it comes to climate change, the result of these so-called win-win solutions has been a double loss: greenhouse emissions are up and support for many forms of climate action is down, in large part because policies are perceived – quite rightly – as passing costs on to already overburdened consumers while letting big corporate polluters off the hook.

It is this culture of lopsided sacrifice that has to stop – and the Rockefellers, oddly, are showing the way. Large parts of the Standard Oil trust, the empire John D Rockefeller co-founded in 1870, evolved into Exxon Mobil. In 2008 and 2012, Exxon earned about $45bn in profits, which remains the highest yearly profit ever reported in the US by a single company. Other Standard Oil spin-offs include Chevron and Amoco, which would later merge with BP.

The astronomical profits these companies and their cohorts continue to earn from digging up and burning fossil fuels cannot continue to haemorrhage into private coffers. They must, instead, be harnessed to help roll out the clean technologies and infrastructure that will allow us to move beyond these dangerous energy sources, as well as to help us adapt to the heavy weather we have already locked in. A minimal carbon tax whose price tag can be passed on to consumers is no substitute for a real polluter-pays framework – not after decades of inaction has made the problem immeasurably worse (inaction secured, in part, by a climate denial movement funded by some of these same corporations).

And that’s where these seemingly symbolic victories come in, from Glasgow to Lego. The profits of the fossil fuel sector, made by knowingly treating our atmosphere like a sewage dump, should not just be seen as toxic – something from which publicly minded institutions will naturally distance themselves. If we accept that those profits are morally illegitimate, they should also be seen as odious – something to which the public itself can make a claim, in order to clean up the mess these companies have left, and continue to leave, behind.

When that happens, the pervasive sense of hopelessness in the face of a crisis as vast and costly as climate change will finally begin to lift.


Newly-Released Study Vastly Underestimates The ‘Worst-Case Scenario’ For Sea Level Rise

October 17, 2014

POSTED ON OCTOBER 16, 2014 AT 11:04 AM

Newly-Released Study Vastly Underestimates The ‘Worst-Case Scenario’ For Sea Level Rise

Thwaites glacier

West Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier, one of a cluster that appear to have started irreversible collapse, suggesting current estimates for sea level rise this century need to be revised up.


The worst-case scenario for sea level rise is 6 feet (1.8 meters) by 2100, according to a new study. Unfortunately, this study is already out of date because it is based on expert opinion from back in 2012.

This year, however, we’ve seen multiple bombshell studies on the growing prospect for West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse — and similar findings that “Greenland will be far greater contributor to sea rise than expected.”

Even so, the plausible worst-case is important to understand because it is what should drive planning and “adaptation.” Also, avoiding the worst-case is typically a driving force behind prevention measures (people quit smoking because it might kill them or cause cancer) — in this case, slashing carbon pollution.

In fact, as the study points out, given a sufficient level of risk of high climate impacts, “no cost of mitigation is too high to justify.” Significantly, as the news release for the study notes, the major Fifth Assessment report (AR5) of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “was not able to come up with an upper limit for sea level rise within this century.”

There are five core contributors to warming-driven sea level rise, according to the study:

  • Thermal expansion
  • Glacier ice loss
  • Greenland ice loss
  • Antarctic Ice loss
  • Changes in land water storage

Thermal expansion is simply (ocean) water expanding as it warms up. Mountain glaciers that melt also contribute to sea level rise. Also, large amounts of groundwater are “pumped for both drinking water and agricultural use in many parts of the world and more groundwater is pumped than seeps back down into the ground, so this water also ends up in the oceans,” contributing to sea level rise.

These three factors are relatively straightforward to estimate. The study uses the uncertainty distributions from the AR5 to determine the probability of different outcomes.

But figuring out ice sheet loss in Greenland and Antarctica is more complicated, requiring knowledge of complex ice sheet dynamics that are not yet fully understood and modeled. So the authors “replaced the AR5 projection uncertainties for both ice sheets with probability distribution function calculated from the collective view of thirteen ice sheet experts” determined in a January 2013 study.

Here were the results:

Sea level rise

Projected component of global sea level rise by 2100 relative to 2000 and their uncertainty. Vertical light grey bars indicate the 5, 50 and 95th percentiles in the uncertainty distribution. Dark grey bars represent projected sea level components calculated in this study. Thick red lines show the likely range of the sea level contributions from the AR5 and red thin lines are our fit to the AR5 distribution.

As you can see, the experts estimated Greenland would probably contribute under 0.2 meters (20 centimeters or 8 inches). Same for Antarctica. Notice also that the “fat tail” of the distribution — the slow trail off on the right hand side of the figures representing the highest (i.e. worst case) sea level rise — comes almost entirely from Antarctica and not Greenland.

Here is their resulting cumulative sea level rise projection for the business-as-usual RCP8.5 emissions scenario (where the world keeps doing very little to restrict carbon pollution or carbon cycle feedbacks like the melting permafrost are high):

Sea level rise

Projected global mean sea level rise by 2100 relative to 2000 for the RCP8.5 scenario and uncertainty. Vertical grey bars indicate the 5, 17, 50, 83, and 95th percentiles in the uncertainty distribution.

This is how the study comes to the conclusion that “seas will likely rise around 80 cm” [31 inches] by 2100, and that “the worst case [only a 5% chance] is an increase of 180 cm [6 feet].”

Of course, the expert opinions are now more than two years old. And so the authors of the new study note:

We acknowledge that this may have changed since its publication. For example, it is quite possible that the recent series of studies of the Amundsen Sea Sector and West Antarctic ice sheet collapse will alter expert opinion.

In fact, expert opinion already has changed. NASA’s Eric Rignot, the authors of one of the two studies from May on WAIS collapse, told meat the time that if we stay near our current emissions path, then “I think that the minimum will be the upper end of the IPCC projections (90 cm [12 inches]) by 2100 and the maximum is hard to figure out but will likely exceed 1.2 – 1.4 meters.” Note that the May studies were not worst-case analyses!

One week after the WAIS studies, a similarly stunning Greenland studycame out with a similar conclusion, that its ice sheet was far less stable than thought. Indeed that study noted that “older models predicted that once higher ground was reached in a few years, the ocean-induced melting would halt. Greenland’s frozen mass would stop shrinking, and its effect on higher sea waters would be curtailed.” But as the lead author explained, “That turns out to be incorrect. The glaciers of Greenland are likely to retreat faster and farther inland than anticipated — and for much longer.” And that means Greenland “glacier melt will contribute much more to rising seas around the globe.”

So it seems likely that many experts would revise their predictions of minimum, likely, and worst-case sea level rise contribution for both Greenland and Antarctica, shifting the peak of the above curve to the right and fattening the tail significantly. Why is that important? The study explains:

Assessing how to deal with the impact and costs of sea level rise poses serious structural issues in economic cost-benefit analysis (Weitzman 2009), but widely used assumption is of a quadratic function for climate change impacts (Nordhaus 2008, Weitzman 2010). The annual damage costs for the European Union with sea level rise of 1.4 m by 2100 are projected to be six times greater than for the rise of 0.6 m with A1B climate scenario (Brown et al 2011). However, Weitzman (2009), in his ‘Dismal theorem’ shows that if the rate of decay of the probability tail of the climate impact function is polynomial while the cost of damage rises exponentially, then the cost-benefit function does not converge and no cost of mitigation is too high to justify.

The references are here. I wrote about Weitzman’s work in a 2009 post, “Harvard economist: Climate cost-benefit analyses are ‘unusually misleading,’ warns colleagues ‘we may be deluding ourselves and others’.”

BOTTOM LINE: Right now, the latest science makes clear the tail of the climate impacts graph is not merely fat, but obese, simply from the risks of sea level rise and Dust-Bowlification alone. That strongly suggests “no cost of mitigation is too high to justify.”

Russell Brand And Naomi Klein Talk Climate Change And The Need For Revolution

October 15, 2014

Posted: 14/10/2014 17:30 BST Updated: 14/10/2014 17:40 BST
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Russell Brand and the author Naomi Klein have called for a “revolution” that could potentially see oil giants like Exxon Mobil dismantled.

Speaking to Brand as part of a podcast exclusively shared with The Huffington Post, Klein agreed with the comedian’s call for a political and economic revolution, but warned: “It’s not going to happen in the right way if we don’t talk about the distribution of resources.”

The pair zeroed in on multinational oil giants such as Exxon Mobil, referring to them as companies that were “addicted to stupid money”, with Klein arguing that the world could convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy within 15 years.

“What the hell’s going on,” said Brand. “Is there no money in it? Why don’t people do it? They could still make money out of windmills couldn’t they?”


Klein, author of the new book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate“, cited “really good” research from Stanford University in the United States that noted the technology was available and “it is economically possible”. She also warned that the current model of capitalism is causing “spiralling inequality”.

Meanwhile Brand, whose own new book “Revolution” is out this month, warned that the choice was whether to “ditch capitalism and save the planet or ditch the planet and save capitalism”. He urged people to be “aggressive” and “take down massive corporations” like Exxon.

“Once you’ve seen corporations have behaved irresponsibly, revoke their charters,” he said. “With Exxon you could say that we don’t need Exxon anymore.”

Moving to dismantle such a corporation, he said, would spark outrage from politicians. However, Brand said that his message would be that “politics is just one big business”, proving the argument that “Exxon is destroying the planet and these political figures are trying to prevent us from dismantling something that is destroying the planet.”

naomi klein

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein

“When there’s a crisis is when people do come together spontaneously, no one else except you is going to do something,” he added. “You have to spontaneously become involved and do something. There is a solution.”

See also:

Brand appeared as a guest on the ‘Late Show With David Letterman’ on Monday night in order to outline his vision of a “revolution”.

The actor went on to give a passionate and breathless mini-speech about wealth inequality and why politicians are failing to talk about the issue.

Exxon Mobil has said in the past that it is focused “on developing technologies that allow us to both produce and deliver energy that the world needs and do so in a way with a lower environmental impact”.

How America can help save the planet and still come out ahead

October 11, 2014

FRIDAY, OCT 10, 2014 02:14 PM CDT

Dealing with climate change is already proven to be really, truly good for the economy, a new report finds
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How America can help save the planet and still come out ahead


How America can help save the planet and still come out ahead
(Credit: Robert Lucian Crusitu/Shutterstock)
Hey, remember that big, important report that claimed we could fight climate change for free? Crazy! You thought, and in some cases told me directly, they only way we can address so-called “climate change” is by plunging the world into economic catastrophe.

Well, the folks at the World Resources Institute are out with a follow-up study, and it too makes a pretty good case for how the U.S., at least, can have it all. What’s more, they found that reducing emissions in five key sectors of the economics will provide economic benefits before we even get to the advantages of avoiding droughts, sea level rise, superstorms and other costly effects of climate change. And even better, they’ve got some concrete examples for how it’s already happening.

One example: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program for power plants in nine states that will, during its first three years, save customers nearly $1.1 billion on electricity bills and create 16,000 net job-years while adding $1.6 billion in net present economic value to the region’s economy.” Another: Wisconsin’s energy efficiency program is expected to add over $900 million into the state’s economy, and provide over 6,000 new jobs, over the next decade. “After taking into account the benefits from reduced electricity and natural gas bills as well as avoided air pollution,” the report adds, “total benefits are estimated to be three times greater than program costs.”

Sounds pretty good, right? Here’s the rundown, via the WRI’s blog, of some other benefits we could see across these five sectors:

Reduce the carbon intensity of energy generation: New natural gas generation is significantly cheaper than new coal-fired power plants, and renewable energy is becoming increasingly cheaper than most. Up the renewables, the report finds, and ratepayers could save from $83 to $241 — per person — on electricity costs.
Improving efficiency: This one’s easy: use less electricity, and you pay less. State efficiency programs, according to the report, save customers $2 to $5 for every $1 that’s invested.
Building cleaner cars: If we could get vehicle emissions down 80 percent below 2005 levels, we’d accrue $670 billion to $2.3 trillion in fuel costs.
Getting natural gas leaks under control: The big problem with natural gas as a replacement for CO2-emitting fuels is that its impact on the climate, when leaked, is a lot more powerful than carbon’s — and it leaks a lot. If the entire industry were to adopt best practices, they could increase their revenues by $1.5 billion, while significantly reducing emissions.
Reducing consumption of HFCs: We did this once, with the ozone-saving Montreal Protocol, and the report argues that we can do it again for HFCs, the commonly used refrigerants that also have a disastrous climate impact. Our standard setter: Heineken, which saved 15 percent on the price of its coolers through a large-scale investment in HFC-free versions.
“States, companies, and federal agencies have been demonstrating for years that there is much that can be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing net economic benefits to average Americans,” Nicholas Bianco, the report’s lead author, said in a statement. “Now the question is whether the nation will build on that success by scaling up its investment in low-carbon technologies that save money.” It would seem it’s time for the people in charge to start paying attention.

Lindsay Abrams
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email

Naomi Klein says climate activists need to get comfortable attacking capitalism

October 10, 2014

Naomi Klein — “the most visible and influential figure on the American left,” as The New Yorker puts it — dropped by the Grist office to chat with David Roberts about her new book. They kicked things off by discussing its provocative title: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.


Grist is giving away a signed copy of This Changes Everything. If you’re subscribed to a Grist newsletter, you’re already entered to win. If you’re not, sign up here.


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