You are here

carbon bubble

Protests in Mexico Push Country to Brink of Revolution and Nobody’s Talking About It

By Nick Bernabe - AntiMedia, January 10, 2017

San Diego, CA — Long-simmering social tensions in Mexico are threatening to boil over as failing neoliberal reforms to the country’s formerly nationalized gas sector are compounded by open corruption, stagnant standards of living, and rampant inflation.

The U.S. media has remained mostly mute on the situation in Mexico, even as the unfolding civil unrest has closed the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California, several times in the past week. Ongoing “gasolinazo” protests in Mexico over a 20 percent rise in gas prices have led to over 400 arrests, 250 looted stores, and six deaths. Roads are being blockaded, borders closed, and government buildings are being sacked. Protests have remained relatively peaceful overall, except for several isolated violent acts, which activists have blamed on government infiltrators.

The few mainstream news reports that have covered the situation blame rising gas prices but fail to examine several other factors that are pushing Mexico to the brink of revolution.

Hopelessly devoted to fossil fuels

By Amy Leather - Socialist Review, January 2017

World leaders are failing on climate change. Theresa May’s Tory government has given the go ahead to a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, backed the expansion of Heathrow airport and overturned the local decision in Lancashire to stop fracking. Meanwhile climate change denier Donald Trump is heading to the White House.

The last decade has seen a massive expansion of so-called “dirty energies” such as fracking, deep water drilling, and tar sand extraction. The pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries in December 2015, are only voluntary. Even if signatories kept to them we would still be on track for global warming far higher than is sustainable.

The scale of the crisis is widely recognized. Climate scientists and environmentalists such as Ian Angus have shown that we have entered a new geological era — the Anthropocene — in which the dominant influence on the environment is human activity. Unless urgent action is taken we face catastrophic climate change. The solution to global warming is quite simple — we need to stop burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and instead make a rapid switch to renewables.

So why won’t our rulers act? We need to look beyond the individual politicians. There are, of course, the climate change deniers, who must be challenged and stopped, but much of the ruling class does accept that climate change is a reality. The problem is they are guardians of a system with fossil fuels at its heart. Tackling the climate crisis would mean tackling the vested interests of the fossil fuel corporations — some of the most profitable companies in the world. To understand why capitalism and fossil fuels are so intertwined we need to go back to the time of the industrial revolution in Britain.

Andreas Malm, in his book Fossil Capital, outlines how in the early 1800s an energy transition took place in Britain. The first machines of the industrial revolution, the spinning and weaving machines of the cotton industry, were driven by water. In 1800 there were at least 1,000 water mills concentrated in Lancashire and Scotland. Even as late as the 1820s most mills in Manchester were still water-powered. Just ten years later steam generated by burning coal had overtaken water.

Apocalypse postponed: the oil price crash two years on

By Brian Parkin - RS21, December 31, 2016

Between November 2014 and January 2015, oil prices on international markets fell by nearly 80%. Since then many of the smaller ‘unconventional’ shale fracking operations have gone bust while the deep water and Arctic circle developments by the oil and gas ‘majors’ have been put on hold or abandoned. Here Brian Parkin surveys the damage and finds that despite the most bruising experience since 1973 oil price crisis the world of hydrocarbons is still driven by the same speculative greed and climate crisis disregard as ever. But with the cancellation (at the time of publication) of the XL Keystone pipeline, an outstanding victory at Standing Rock and a rediscovered militancy in the UK North Sea offshore industry, things may be changing.

House of fools

Prior to the oil price collapse of late 2014, the sustained high price of oil, largely predicated on expectations of sustained high Chinese economic growth, as well as heroic predictions of world economic growth post-2008 credit crash, had given rise to a speculative boom in ‘unconventional’ oil and gas exploration and production ventures. This meant that hitherto high cost and ‘marginal’ production techniques in smaller and relatively low yield fields, in combination with record low interest rates, suddenly and overnight looked like safe bets.

Another key factor at work was the shared political and strategic consensus in the US, that after the Gulf (of Arabia) military clean-up of a ‘new American century’, the US would seek to become energy self-sufficient by the mid-2030’s, by which time it would have also largely completed its imperialist ‘pivot on Asia’ strategy for the economic and military containment of China[1].

Apart from the marginalisation of OPEC[2] and the securing of wider MENA[3] regional oilfields dedicated to the supply of the US’s strategic allies in Europe and East Asia, the decisive factor would be in the development of ‘tight’ oil (and gas) from hydrocarbon bearing shale ‘plays’ that make up much of the north American east, mid-west and southern states geological formations. Additionally, high production cost ventures in the Gulf of Mexico and Outer Continental Shelf deep waters as well as within the Arctic Circle augmented further by the Canadian tar sands would complete the future hydrocarbon supply mix.

Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere

By Alex Steffin - Medium, December 15, 2016

You can’t understand what Trump’s doing to America without understanding the “Carbon Bubble”

If you’re an American, you’re likely misinformed about the most dire crisis in our world.

American journalists, pundits and media executives have largely convinced themselves that climate change is not a serious political issue, because they think the polls tell them that. A majority of American voters regularly tell pollsters they don’t think climate change is a critically important election issue, so therefore the media decides it must not be an important political issue at all.

Unfortunately, that conventional wisdom blinds us to both to the actual bedrock reality of this era, and to — as I see it — the defining aim of the in-coming Trump administration: delaying climate action.

Trump has surrounded himself with more oil industry and oil industry connected people than any president in history (even George W. Bush). You can’t understand what’s going on with Trump unless you understand the oil industry… and you can’t understand the oil industry without understanding climate change.

Understanding Climate Change

In case you’re just joining us here on Earth, we’re making the planet hotter. The science is incontrovertible that by burning fossil fuels, we’re changing the planet’s climate. Because the consequences worsen dramatically as we emit more climate pollution and the planet gets hotter, every nation on Earth agreed last year in Paris to hold that temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (2ºC).

This means we must limit the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse pollution we put into the sky: we have to meet a “carbon budget.” To meet that budget, we have to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions — burning way less oil, coal and gas — in the next two decades, and set the global economy on a steep path to zero emissions.

Again, the American media has failed to convey the magnitude of the costs of unchecked global warming. Those costs are profound already, today, as the Arctic heatwave, Syrian civil war, bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, worsening storms, droughts, wildfires and freak weather events all show. Those costs will only grow, and they will grow more dire, more quickly as the planet heats.

At the same time, the innovations we need to create zero-carbon prosperity are already here. From plummeting costs for solar, wind, electric vehicles and green buildings to better approaches to urban planning, agriculture and forestry, we already have the tools we need to start building a much more prosperous world, producing hosts of new companies and millions of jobs. Indeed, a giant building boom is what successful climate action looks like.

Because we have no real choice but to act — and, in fact, climate action will make most people not only safer, but better off — big changes are coming, far sooner than most Americans understand.

But some people totally understand: the ones who stand to lose money from these changes.

Without empathy for Trump voters, movements can’t succeed

By George Lakey - Waging NonViolence, November 10, 2016

This was a highly emotional election, and we need time to feel our feelings and sort out what it means for us and for the country. Donald Trump is a con man; his game is to manipulate emotions and activists can be as vulnerable as anyone else. Knowing that, we can give ourselves some space to breathe rather than hype each other’s fear. We can also begin to ask, what does his victory mean for social activists on the left?

First, and most obviously, Bernie Sanders was not Trump’s opponent. Many Trump voters liked Sanders for the same reason they supported Trump: He was an outlier who was an alternative to the establishment that has for decades been implementing what billionaire Warren Buffett calls the economic elite’s “class war.”

We activists on the left, even with some disagreements with Sanders, could reasonably regard him as a standard-bearer for us, but that’s not the choice voters made this November. I voted for Hillary without believing for a minute that she was putting forth my politics — or that my politics even got attention in the general election.

What we learn from the vote against Hillary is that many people who are losing the class war don’t like losing, and took it out on a pillar of the establishment. In 2008 and 2012, many white working-class people in the North gave their support to Barack Obama because he was the most credible hope for change, running in each election against a pillar of the establishment. By wide margins they didn’t let the color of his skin prevent them from voting for the chance of a pause in the battering they’d been getting.

For people interested in learning how to make major change in the United States, the electoral arena is only a tiny peephole covered with gauze. Voter participation is low in the United States compared with, say, Scandinavia, and that was true this year, too. Because the election only involves part of the citizenry and is mostly about money, celebrity and manipulation, it tells us little and invites us to make up stories laced with our own fears.

Nevertheless, combing the electoral data can tell us something. Exit polls, for example, tell us that one in five voters who pulled the lever for Trump do not believe he is qualified to be president.

Why vote for someone so unqualified? One answer is because that voter feels certain they know what a second Clinton presidency would bring: unjust policies that further degrade the lives of the oppressed. Here’s the chance for activist empathy, crucial for our having any chance of success in the future: When people so desire change that they will vote for someone they believe unqualified, they are desperate. Activists are used to calling people who are rendered desperate by unjust polices “the oppressed.” If using that name helps us stop othering working-class Trump voters, let’s use that name.

The white working class reading of recent American history may be more accurate than that of many activists. Bill Clinton betrayed the Democratic Party’s traditional working-class base through the North American Free Trade Agreement, destruction of “welfare as we know it,” and subsidizing corporations’ moving industrial jobs overseas. Even when the presidency and both houses of Congress were in the hands of the Democrats, a union movement that worked night and day to get Democratic politicians elected could not get its priorities enacted.

Many in a social class that once believed the Democratic Party was its ally were bound to notice, sooner or later, that the party’s allegiance is elsewhere. I’ve often heard middle-class liberals complain about working-class people voting against their interests, but I’m not hearing them complain that tens of millions of middle-class people vote against their interests – something they do routinely, and did so again by voting for Trump. In fact, the middle class reportedly provided Trump’s most reliable funding during the primary season.

Standing Rock and Beyond: Big Oil’s Corporate Dislocations and Extortions

By Wendell G Bradley - CounterPunch, November 4, 2016

If a corp (o’rat) wants to be criminally normal, here is how it must think/act:

Conceive of a project that is bigger than ever, yet still propagandizable as ‘in the public interest’.

Such capitalization, in the billions, makes it eligible for government-engineered (made-easy) credit access, and with regulatory approval already ‘play-booked’, for example, as with oil and gas.

Make the project as ‘venturesome’ (risky) as possible, thus bondable only in those high-yield categories the especially brave, free market entrepreneurs alone dare to inhabit, ostensibly creating benefits for everyone.

Big banks are anxious to use their tax-gifted, ever accumulating slush funds (already in the hundreds of billions) to financially ‘correct’ low interest environments.

Such projects are said to deserve their automatic (publicly guaranteed) insurance policies against any/all failures, given they are integral to ‘our’ economy, especially as general job creators.

‘Too big to fail’ projects are not subject to the free market, democratic process. They are not about ‘informed consumers making rational choices’. Foreign Trade Agreements, for example, are made in secret. Slick advertising of the effective kind, affordable only by big, corporate money, is highly successful in shaping public attitudes. The corporately touted basis for ‘free markets’ becomes undermined.

Indeed most risky, big project ideas (think internet) are developmentally funded by public money, at places like MIT. Upon corporate adoption, such tax-financed, highly promoted developments will yield insured, private profit, not free market trials under creative competition.

A particularly instructive ‘case in point’ is fracked oil and its delivery. At current and expected prices ($50/bbl), US oil is largely uneconomic to produce and pipeline to market. For example, the break-even price for both the Bakken (ND) and Niobrara (CO) oil fields has proven to be, on average, at least $75/ bbl (includes acquisition, leasing, capitalization, and transportation charges).

Of course some wells, a few percent in very localized ‘sweet spots’, can still yield profits. However, large scale projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), if based on total-formation output figures, will prove wholly unjustified–least of all for any public-benefit argument used to justify takings of private property, say by eminent domain proceedings.

For example, it simply does not make economic sense to justify DAPL’s $5 billion project cost on the basis of 400,000 bbl/day Bakken production if 90% of that oil, 360,000 bbls/day, is transported simply to recover some revenue from bad, initial investments at the wells.

The environmental degradations from the daily pipeline releases experienced across the US are huge. However, such costs do not figure into official economics. They are simply dismissed from accounting as ‘economic externalities’—another of the privileging violations of actual free market cost/benefit.

At current oil prices, the Bakken has few ‘economically recoverable’ reserves–the only ones that count in Securities Exchange calculations of legitimate investment. Accordingly, the future of legitimate oil development’s production/transport per the Bakken is highly speculative; too much so to establish any clear public benefit from DAPL. For example, if today’s proven oil reserves provided all US consumption, their depletion would fail energy independence in only 1.5 years.

Under a full accounting, DAPL’s justifications for forcible ‘takings/leasing’ finally evaporate altogether. For example, according to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of all oil reserves must stay in the ground if economically devastating climate change limits are to be heeded. DAPL approval is therefore a form of climate denial, one directly counter to Obama’s professed doctrine requiring special review for all additions of climate-influencing infrastructure.

So, why take oil’s public risks, such as its economic and environmental dislocations from pipeline ruptures, when clean, renewable solar is currently available, more economically. For example, solar produces utility-level electricity at less expense than does oil production’s natural gas complement, according to our National Energy Lab (Berkeley). Renewables are even replacing oil in production of plastics and clothing.

Clearly, the oil industry is experiencing a market-based decline known as ‘creative destruction’ under solar penetration. It can no longer compete, even though hugely subsidized. Exxon, the world’s leading oil company, experienced stock price declines (17%) apparently due to profit declines (17%) since 2014, and had a credit rating reduction to its lowest value in 17 years.

The smart money is ‘going solar’; divestments and bankruptcies in oil are increasing (105 filings since 2015; expecting around 200 overall).

Oil is rapidly becoming the dinosaur of energy, yet it continues to enjoy developmental subsidies, world-wide, of about a million dollars per day. Oil is not a rational-market operation.

Indeed, oil’s bigger-than-ever project justifications, such as DAPL, can only be entertained within a captive regulatory framework whose blatant defiance of rational, democratic choice is increasingly being understood as a form of Class Warfare, one enabling an economic elite to extort wealth from a 70% disenfranchised public (Princeton study.)

Witness the deep, gritty awareness at Standing Rock, ND where indigenous people are the first to make all of the above crystal clear in their direct resistance to Big Oil as Water Protectors. What can be more fundamental to well-being than that?

The Sky’s Limit: Unpacking the Climate Math

By David Turnbull - Oil Change International, October 6, 2016

Four years ago, the concept of “unburnable carbon” hit the mainstream when Bill McKibben published “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in Rolling Stone magazine, based off of work by the analysts at Carbon Tracker and before that Greenpeace. The research underlying that concept showed that the carbon embedded in proven fossil fuel reserves on the books of fossil fuel companies is many times greater than what climate scientists have determined the atmosphere can withstand in a safe climate scenario. This month, new analysis by Oil Change International updated that math, took it further, and is making waves.

In the new report, entitled “The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production,” we’ve identified a stark reality when it comes to fossil fuel development and the climate: Existing fossil fuel production, if allowed to run its course, would take us beyond the globally agreed goals of limiting warming to well below 2?C and aiming towards 1.5?C.

For the first time ever, this study utilized data from industry databases (e.g. Rystad Energy UCube) to catalog the fossil fuels that exist in current mines and wells — those sites where investments have been made and development is already underway — and compared it to carbon budgets associated with a two-in-three chance of staying below 2?C, or even chances of limiting warming to 1.5?C, backed by data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Our research found that the carbon budgets will be exhausted with current development, and in fact some currently-operating fossil fuel projects will need to be retired early in order to have appropriately high chances of staying below even the 2?C limit. Further, to meet a 1.5?C goal, the existing oil and gas wells currently in production have enough fuels in them to fill the budget, even if coal were phased out tomorrow.

This analysis is already sending shockwaves through the climate movement and being echoed by influential thought leaders around the globe. More than a dozen organizations, ranging from smaller groups like the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria to larger groups such as 350.org and Christian Aid, joined in to release the report. Climate scientists and energy analysts have expressed agreement with the findings since the release, and countless organizations and prominent individuals have joined the choir to spread the word about the report.

As George Monbiot writes in The Guardian, the report presents three scenarios for moving forward:

First: a gradual, managed decline of existing production and its replacement with renewable energy and low-carbon infrastructure, which offer great potential for employment. Second: allowing fossil fuel production to continue at current rates for a while longer, followed by a sudden and severe termination of the sector, with dire consequences for both jobs and economies. Third: continuing to produce fossil fuels as we do today, followed by climate breakdown.

The good news, as highlighted in our report, is that if the right investments of political will and financing are made, a just transition to renewable energy is definitely possible in the timeframe necessary. Renewable energy is expanding at ever-increasing rates, becoming cheaper by the day, and could be poised to follow the path to universality seen by recent technologies such as the personal computer and cell phone. The report lays out a number of studies that show renewable energy can absolutely fill in the energy gap as fossil fuels are phased out.

Many have already called the report “the math behind the Keep It In The Ground movement,” and, with any luck, just as unburnable carbon entered the public consciousness four years ago, the climate imperative of ending new fossil fuel development may do the same.

Carbon Bubble News #122

Carbon Bubble News #121

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 13, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

Carbon Market Watch:

Other Carbon Bubble News:

Utility Death Spiral News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

Carbon Bubble News #120

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 7, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

Carbon Market Watch:

Other Carbon Bubble News:

Utility Death Spiral News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

Pages