Friday, April 12, 2013

News of the Week - April 12

  • Bill McKibben wrote another excellent piece on the climate change movement for Rolling Stone.  "We've watched great cultural shifts and organizing successes in recent years, like the marriage-equality and immigration-reform movements. But breaking the power of oil companies may be even harder because the sums of the money on the other side are so fantastic – there are trillions of dollars worth of oil in Canada's tar sands and the North Dakota shale. The men who own the coal mines and the gas wells will spend what they need to assure their victories. Last month, Rex Tillerson, Exxon's $100,000-a-day CEO, said that environmentalists were 'obtuse' for opposing new pipelines. He announced the company planned to more than double the acreage on which it was exploring for new hydrocarbons and said he expected that renewables would account for just one percent of our energy in 2040, essentially declaring that the war to save the climate was over before it started. He added, 'My philosophy is to make money.'"
  • The other biggest headlines this week have been the hearings and confirmations of Obama cabinet appointees. Hearings for DOE appointee, Dr. Ernest Moniz were dominated by questions over natural gas. "Moniz tried hard to respond to questions on the issue from members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee without directly answering them, but his responses indicated that he would be more likely to support, rather than oppose, increased exports of natural gas." 
  • Sally Jewel was confirmed as Secretary of the Department of the Interior. "At Interior, Jewell will oversee more than 500 million acres of national parks and other public lands, plus more than 1 billion acres offshore. The lands are used for energy development, mining, recreation and other purposes. One of the first challenges Jewell will face is a proposed rule requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations."
  • And on Thursday, hearings for the appointee at the EPA, Gina McCarthy, began. This hearing was more contentious: "As Republicans piled up attacks, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., shot back, "This is not a debate about Gina McCarthy.… It is a debate about global warming and whether we are going to listen to the leading scientists of this country who are telling us that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis we face.'"
  • In the McCarthy hearings, there was a particularly ugly moment featuring Republican Senator James Inhofe. "'What Sen. Inhofe has written and talked about is his belief that global warming is one of the major hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people, that it’s a hoax pushed by people like Al Gore, the United Nations and the Hollywood elite,' [Senator] Sanders told the committee. 'I think that is a fair quote from Sen. Inhofe. Is that roughly right, Sen. Inhofe?' Sanders asked the Oklahoma Republican. 'Yes,” Inhofe agreed. 'I’d add to that list, George Soros, Michael Moore and a few others.'"
  • The new President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, Andrew Steer, wrote on methane emissions from fracking and natural gas production. "Shale gas isn't a low-emissions fuel source yet. But by putting the right policies and technologies in place, it could be headed that way."
  • Nick wrote last week about the importance of apex predators, such as sharks, in maintaining ecosystem health. The Environmental Defense Fund had a similar piece this week. "Eliminating sharks may induce what scientists call 'ecological cascades,' where one effect induces another, and so on through the living world. One example of that process is the rise in populations of certain rays – key shark prey – in regions where shark populations have declined. If there are too many bottom feeding rays, that may threaten seagrass beds and the shellfish that inhabit them. Those seagrass beds also serve as nurseries for many other species. So losing sharks may seriously degrade marine ecosystems, which could threaten the human fisheries tied to them."
  • Climate change will likely make forests (and other ecosystems) vulnerable to invasions from pests like the Mountain Pine Beetle. "Since the late 1990s, climate change has driven a massive expansion of forest-destroying Mountain Pine Beetles in Canada, delivering the country one of the worst ecological disasters in its history. The insects are not technically invasive, and until recently they existed in a natural balance with their environment; killing off older trees and making room for new growth. But as a new documentary chronicles, climate change eliminated many of the natural limits on the beetles’ geographic spread and their rate of reproduction. The Mountain Pine Beetles were historically contained to the pine forests west of the Canadian Rockies, which had adapted to the insects’ presence. Their ability to spread and reproduce is heavily affected [sic] by temperature: as the climate warmed, cyclical cold snaps killed off less and less of the population. They dispersed over greater geographic areas and into higher elevations as warmer temperatures rendered those areas more hospitable. They even began reproducing twice per year rather than once. As a result, midway through the 2000s, the beetles crossed the mountains."
  • A Bloomberg piece argued that climate advocates should focus on coal, not the Keystone XL pipeline. "As two analysts committed to addressing climate change, we applaud the organizers’ show of strength [in fighting the pipeline], but recommend they switch targets and address a carbon enemy more worthy of their army: U.S. coal. Coal is the essential 'dirty' fossil fuel. Coal-fired power plants emit deadly particulates as well as smog-producing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide that harm human health. They also constitute one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. Moving away from coal would not only slow climate change, it would also protect the health of countless Americans."
  • And the US coal industry is facing increasing pressure and higher costs. "The confluence of low natural gas prices, mild weather and U.S. EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants generated much of the blame when coal markets experienced a swift downturn in 2012. But analysts and coal officials indicated in interviews that challenges closer to the mine are also significantly impacting revenues. In Central Appalachia, coal seams are thinner and more difficult to reach following decades of underground mining, hindering profitability among coal companies. Less capital-intensive mining methods, like mountaintop removal and surface mining, are under increasing regulatory scrutiny by the U.S. EPA."

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