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The State Against Climate Change: Response to Christian Parenti

By BRRN Radical Ecology Committee - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, July 3, 2018

A response to Christian Parenti’s assertion that the state is the only way to meet the challenge of the climate crisis.

(Working Paper #5) The Hard Facts About Coal: Why Trade Unions Should Re-evaluate their Support for Carbon Capture and Storage

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 6, 2015

The Hard Facts About Coal – Unions and CCS - Coal use has grown dramatically in the past 25 years and is today responsible for 44% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions.  It also has a dramatic impact on health and life expectancy.

Much hope has been placed in carbon capture and storage (CCS) to help address the CO2 generated by burning coal. Its proponents have included trade unionists, climate scientists, environmentalists, and governments looking for a way to greatly reduce emissions. And indeed, this evolving technology promises to capture up to 90% of the CO2 produced by coal-fired power plants and to permanently bury it in stable geological formations deep underground.

However, the promise of CCS has so far gone unfulfilled. In fact, the potential of deploying CCS—and the support it receives from unions and others—has been used as political cover for the development of new coal infrastructure. It seems increasingly unlikely that CCS will ever be deployed at an adequate level, leaving us with a locked-in carbon infrastructure without the promised mitigation.

Even if CCS is deployed at the levels needed to significantly reduce emissions, the environmental damage done by extracting, transporting, and burning coal will continue. Indeed, the “energy penalty” associated with CCS means that coal’s impact on human health and the environment may even be increased. In this context, trade union support for CCS risks alienating frontline communities and other allies who are taking the lead in building a movement for climate and environmental justice.

In this TUED Working Paper, Sean Sweeney, the director of the International Program for Labor, Climate and the Environment at CUNY’s Murphy Institute, looks at CCS in the context of coal-fired electricity generation. He argues that rather than supporting CCS within a market-dominated policy debate, the trade union movement should be exploring a “third scenario,” one that challenges the neoliberal policy framework and the “growth without end” assumptions that dominates policy discussions on energy use. CCS may have a place in the transition to a post-carbon world, but this place must be determined democratically, and by public need.

Rail union RMT responds to Jo Johnson speech

By Mick Cash - RMT, February 12, 2018

General Secretary Mick Cash said:

"If you were serious about cracking on with the phasing out of diesel trains you wouldn't be scrapping key ele‎ctrification projects which will mean the commissioning of more diesel operated fleet. That scrapping of long-planned electrification rail works by Chris Grayling makes a mockery of Jo Johnson's "aspiration" to scrap diesel units by 2040.

"There is also the question of who pays for this. There must be no free ride for Britain's rip-off private rail companies at the tax payers expense.

"The bottom line is that if we hadn't had over two decades of privatisation and profiteering on Britain's railways we wouldn't have ended up jammed in the slow lane. The money siphoned off by the spivs and speculators would have enabled us to keep pace and build a railway fit for purpose.

"Instead of promises of jam tomorrow we need to tackle the crisis on Britain's railways today and that means a planned service, publicly owned and free from the exploitation that has left the British passenger paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on clapped out, rammed out and unreliable trains where private profit comes before public safety."

Focus on China: The East is green?

By Martin Empson - Socialist Review, February 2018

China’s rapid economic expansion is based on massive state investment, low pay and manufacturing for export to the Western economies at the same time as the promotion of domestic consumerism. Global competition for resources and markets means China must continue this economic model. But this brings with it the risk of war, economic crisis and the threat of workers fighting for an increased share of the enormous wealth being generated. But it is also driving environmental disaster on a local and international scale.

Last October Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined a five-year economic strategy. He focused on putting China at the centre of the world economy, offering “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”. But commentators noted how Xi also emphasised the environment, using the word 89 times in the 3-hour, 23-minute speech and pledging to lead globally on the environment.

In a dig at Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, Xi argued that, “No country alone can address the many challenges facing mankind. No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation.” By contrast he claimed that China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”, and echoing Friedrich Engels, concluded that, “Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.”

China faces an unprecedented environmental crisis. Mao Zedong’s decision to make China’s economy match and then overtake the West triggered numerous environmental problems. But the sheer scale of today’s economic expansion means that China’s environmental crises today are colossal.

China is the world’s leading polluter in absolute terms. The country is responsible for around 30 percent of global carbon emissions, twice that of the next biggest polluter, the US. In per capita terms, China’s emissions (7.9 tons per person) fall below those of many other industrialised countries such as the US (16.4) or Germany (9.2). But this merely highlights the size of China’s population (1.4 billion). Meanwhile, current economic trends will only drive emissions upwards. In 2000 China’s per capita emissions were just 2.7 tons per person.

Site C Dam Decision Causes Friction Within NDP Ranks Ahead of Provincial Council Meeting

By Sarah Cox - DeSmog Canada, February 2, 2018

When B.C. cabinet members arrive at the NDP’s provincial council meeting tomorrow in New Westminster, they will face a group of “very concerned” delegates and party members who are urging the government to reconsider its decision to proceed with the Site C dam.

We’re not going to let this rest,” said Jef Keighley, vice-president of the Surrey South NDP constituency association. “The NDP campaigned on the whole concept of transparency so let’s be transparent.”

Keighley is one of 400 people — the majority of them NDP members and supporters — who attended a Site C Summit in Victoria last weekend aimed at making the government accountable for its decision to continue with Site C and outlining an action plan to stop the $10.7 billion project on the Peace River.

We believe the NDP cabinet was misled in its ill-considered decision to proceed with Site C,” states a letter from summit participants to NDP provincial council delegates and observers, a copy of which was provided to DeSmog Canada.

A reconsideration and reversal of that decision, sooner rather than later, is critical to the long-term interest of the people of B.C.”

The letter says it is “imperative” that the provincial council agenda be amended to include a discussion on Site C. The main items on the agenda are currently the upcoming provincial budget and proportional representation.  

The council, which meets four times a year, is the governing body of the NDP between conventions, with input on issues from cabinet and the NDP’s provincial office. Constituency associations around the province elect voting delegates to the council.

A simple message to Clean Energy Jobs Bill supporters: This is not a comprehensive climate solution

By - Center for Sustainable Economy, January 30, 2018

Climate change is one of the most daunting challenges humanity has ever faced and requires a commensurate policy response. A robust climate agenda would consist of a number of key interventions to holistically address the issue, including:

  • Ramping down all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible;
  • Making climate smart production the law not the exception;
  • Catalyzing wholesale changes in consumer behavior and public purchasing to scale up demand for goods and services with minimal carbon footprints;
  • Halting construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure;
  • Making a just transition to a 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency platform;
  • Divesting from the fossil fuel industry and redirecting those funds into sustainable alternatives;
  • Ensuring that communities most impacted by the consequences of climate change and risks associated with fossil fuel infrastructure and pollution are prioritized in adaptation plans and projects;
  • Halting the expansion of suburban sprawl and freeways and ensuring that we move as quickly as possible to public transit for all, and;
  • Rebuilding the resiliency of natural landscapes made vulnerable to climate change by bringing an end to industrial-scale forestry and agriculture practices and ensuring our land use practices enhance the drawdown—not the continued release – of carbon from the atmosphere.

Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs (CEJ) bill barely scratches the surface of these problems. As such, it should not be hyped up as a comprehensive climate solution for the entire state economy, but explained for what it is – a limited experiment in creating some green jobs and generating public revenues through a market-based greenhouse gas reduction mechanism that will be applied to about 100 facilities and affect just a fraction of the carbon emissions attributable to production, consumption and trade activities in the state.

Big Oil praises Gov. Brown's state of the state address, activists challenge his policies

By Dan Bacher - IndyBay, January 26, 2018

Amidst predictably fawning media coverage, California Governor Jerry Brown delivered his sixteenth and final State of the State address at the State Capitol in Sacramento on January 25.

Brown proclaimed that the "bolder path is still our way forward" on climate change, cap-and-trade and infrastructure investment, including the implementation of the water bond of 2014 and the construction of his Delta Tunnels, and an array of other issues.

He said the renewal of his cap-and-trade program on a bipartisan basis was “a major achievement and will ensure that we will have substantial sums to invest in communities all across the state -- both urban and agricultural.”

“The goal is to make our neighborhoods and farms healthier, our vehicles cleaner -- zero emission the sooner the better -- and all our technologies increasingly lowering their carbon output. To meet our ambitious goals, we will need five million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030. Think of all the jobs that will create and how much cleaner our air will be,” said Brown.

A statement from Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) President Catherine Reheis-Boyd praising the Governor's State of the State address pretty much summarizes the oil industry's deep partnership with Jerry Brown since he began his fourth term as Governor In January 2011 and their strong support of his controversial carbon trading program.

In fact, documents leaked to the media in 2017 revealed that Brown’s highly touted cap-and-trade bill, AB 398, was based on a WSPA and Chevron wish list.

Reheis-Boyd, who also served as the Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California, proclaimed:

“Throughout Governor Brown’s historic years leading our state, he has worked to ensure California sets ambitious standards in climate change policy. As our state’s leading energy producers, we we continue to work with him, future Governors and our state’s leaders to me California’s climate change goals.

Despite hundreds of millions in state rebates and investments, even the Governor noted today that zero emission vehicles, like electric cars, represent a very small percentage of the vehicles on the road today. Of the nearly 26 million passenger cars in California, only 300,000 are zero emission vehicles.

Our members will continue to provide the reliable and affordable fuel that powers our state and the vehicles that Californians choose every day for their families and small businesses.”

The Clean Power Plan Is Not Worth Saving. Here Are Some Steps to Take Instead

By Dennis Higgins - Truthout, January 19, 2018

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was proposed by President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 to mitigate human-caused factors in climate change. It focused principally on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The plan was much heralded by environmental groups. Not surprisingly, in October 2017, Trump's appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt, signed a measure meant to repeal this plan. 

Several states attorneys general and many national environmental groups are pushing back. However, in censuring Trump's attack on the CPP, valid criticisms of the plan itself have been ignored. No one remembers to mention that promoting gas was always at the heart of the CPP.

The current US gas boom is due to hydraulic fracturing of shale beds. This extreme extraction mechanism jeopardizes human aquifers, uses millions of gallons of water per well, and produces toxic flowback whose disposal is linked to water contamination and earthquakes. The product of fracturing is often referred to as "fracked gas." In short, the CPP supports the use of "natural" (fracked) gas.

Under Obama, the EPA, aided by the gas industry, declared "natural gas" to be "clean." Gas is mostly methane, and "fugitive methane" -- the gas that leaks by accident or through intentional venting, from well-head to delivery -- was discounted in the CPP. Noting the only factor in methane's favor (it generates less carbon dioxide on combustion than coal or oil), the field is tilted in favor of gas-burning power plants. In an article entitled, "Did the 'Clean Natural Gas' lobby help write EPA's Clean Power Plan?" Cornell scientist Robert Howarth points out a fundamental flaw in the CPP. The plan, "addresses only carbon dioxide emissions, and not emissions of methane... This failure to consider methane causes the Plan to promote a very poor policy -- replacing coal-burning power plants with plants run on natural gas ... "

Only at leakage rates lower than 1 to 3 percent (depending on usage) is gas cleaner than coal. But methane leaks at rates between 2 and 12 percent, and its climate impact -- or global warming potential (GWP) -- is 86 times that of CO2 over 20 years. (The GWP means a pound of methane in the atmosphere has the warming equivalent of 86 pounds of CO2 over 20 years. Of course, we're not talking about pounds here, but about millions of tons per year.) In a review of the CPP, Howarth said, "Converting to natural gas plants, which is what this latest rule is likely to do, will actually aggravate climate change, not make things better. It's well enough established to suggest the EPA is on the wrong side of the science."

It should be noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Paris accord and New York State all use the year 1990 as a baseline from which to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. But, perhaps disingenuously, Obama's EPA chose to use 2005, at which time recession had already achieved significant carbon reduction, rendering the plan's proposed cuts to CO2 even less significant.

In August 2015, James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for three decades and one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming, described the CPP as "almost worthless" in that it failed "to attack the fundamental problem." Hansen stated bluntly: "As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy, someone will burn them." Of the steps the CPP claimed to be taking to address global warming, Hansen said, "It is not so much a matter of how far you go. It is a matter of whether you are going in the right direction." That same year, the US Energy Information Administration came to the same conclusion that others had: Under the CPP, the natural gas industry would benefit before renewables did.

Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University also examined the efficacy of the CPP. He told Truthout that instead of using the IPCC's global warming potential for methane of 86 pounds over 20 years, the CPP assessed methane's impact (GWP) at 25 pounds over 100 years. This factor, its failure to fully assess fugitive methane, as well as its curious 2005 baseline, mean that the projected 32 percent reduction in CO2 from power plants by 2030 would have the net effect of reducing those greenhouse gas emissions by only 11 percent. The CPP "more than compensates for the elimination of coal CO2 with additional CO2 and methane," according to Ingraffea. "If this is all we manage in the power sector in the next 13 years, we are screwed," he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown Already Expanded Offshore Oil Drilling in State Waters

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, January 8, 2018

California Governor Jerry Brown today joined Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee in condemning Trump’s plan to expand oil and gas drilling in federal waters – at the same time that California regulators under Brown have expanded offshore oil drilling by 17 percent in state waters.

“This political decision to open the magnificent and beautiful Pacific Coast waters to oil and gas drilling flies in the face of decades of strong opposition on the part of Oregon, Washington and California – from Republicans and Democrats alike,” the governors proclaimed in a joint statement.

“They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states. They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science,” they said.

“For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action,” they concluded.

Brown also issued a personal statement blasting Trump, pledging “resistance” to Trump’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling.

“Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course. He’s wrong on the facts. America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris Agreement. He’s wrong on the science. Totally wrong. California will resist this misguided and insane course of action. Trump is AWOL but California is on the field, ready for battle,” Brown claimed.

Those are nice words condemning Trump’s plan to open new offshore oil drilling leases on both coasts. However, what the Governor’s Office press release and most media neglected to mention is that Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved permits for 238 new offshore wells between 2012 and 2016 in existing leases within three nautical miles of shore, according to Liza Tucker, consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog.

Was 2017 the year that the tide finally turned against fossil fuel projects?

By Suzanne Dhaliwal - Open Democracy, December 21, 2017

Last week AXA announced its sell off of €700m of tar sands investments from its balance sheets, covering 25 tar sands companies and 3 major pipelines projects. Thomas Buberl, the company’s chief executive, called the projects “not sustainable and therefore also not insurable.”

This was a significant win for activists like the UK Tar Sands Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network, who have been calling on financial institutions to end investments in the tar sands projects and pipelines since 2009, and who have most recently taken their campaigning efforts to the insurance industry.

The AXA decision comes just weeks after BNP Paribas broke the news that it will no longer finance new shale or tar sands projects, nor work with companies that mainly focus on those resources. Last Friday, Norway’s largest life insurer, KLP announced that it would exclude from its portfolio any firms that derive 30 percent or more of revenues from the extraction of tar sands. In the same week the World Bank announced it would cease financing upstream oil and gas after 2019.

It’s welcome news. Based on the financial risks, climate impacts and indigenous rights violations, we have seen a significant shift in financial institutions backing fossil fuels. The Bank of England now recognizes the monetary risks associated with climate change and is advising the central banks and governments to get out of highly polluting fuels due to the pending carbon bubble and the bad business associated with ‘extreme’ energy extraction. As a result BP, Shell, Exxon and others have pulled out of major tar sands projects and pipelines.

And now the insurance industry is beginning to act more meaningfully. As early as the 1970s, the insurance industry acknowledged the risk of climate change and the need for the sector to take meaningful action. Insurers have already seen the costs of climate related catastrophes and extreme weather events skyrocket, compelling them to be among some of the first movers divesting from coal and also develop policies to stop the underwriting of new fossil fuel projects. But they have massive holdings in fossil fuels. And so they need public pressure to push them to divest.

So despite last week’s news, we must be careful not to pop those champagne corks too fast. Significant action and commitment has yet to be seen by Asian and American insurers. Moreover, regenerative steps need to be taken to ensure that the communities whose livelihoods depend on fossil fuels benefit from the transition to the clean energy economy. Simply put, who will be responsible for the massive clean-ups of stranded projects and direct the green energy transition?

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