Category Archives: Energy

Study: Fossil fuel air pollution kills one in five


The fossil fuels we consume to maintain our modern industrial world aren’t just sending global temperatures soaring; they’re literally killing us, according to a new scientific study.

From the Independent:

Air pollution from fossil fuels could account for nearly one in five deaths globally, a new study suggests.

The research finds air pollution from fossil fuel burning accounted for around 10 million premature deaths in 2012 – with China and India seeing the largest number of lives cut short.

The number of deaths associated with air pollution from fossil fuels fell to 8.7 million in 2018, the study estimates, as a result of significant improvements to air quality in China. This figure represents around 18 per cent of the total number of deaths recorded in 2018, the researchers say.

Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study focuses specifically on deaths attributable to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution.

“PM2.5 can penetrate deep into our lungs,” Karn Vohra, study lead author and a PhD student in environmental health sciences at University of Birmingham, told The Independent. 

Chart of the day: Bitcoin, anything but green


From BBC News, graphic evidence that cryptocurrency fuels global warming:

From their report:

Bitcoin uses more electricity annually than the whole of Argentina, analysis by Cambridge University suggests. “Mining” for the cryptocurrency is power-hungry, involving heavy computer calculations to verify transactions.

Cambridge researchers say it consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year – and is unlikely to fall unless the value of the currency slumps.

Critics say electric-car firm Tesla’s decision to invest heavily in Bitcoin undermines its environmental image.

The currency’s value hit a record $48,000 (£34,820) this week. following Tesla’s announcement that it had bought about $1.5bn bitcoin and planned to accept it as payment in future. But the rising price offers even more incentive to Bitcoin miners to run more and more machines.

Carmakers to their grandkids: Suck it up


Carmakers have revealed they have no conscience, ramping up production of vehicles, knowing that Donald Trump would do nothing to stop them as their products spew elevated emissions into the atmosphere, increasing the pace of global warming in a world their own grandchildren will inherit.

From the Associated Press:

A new government report says gas mileage for new vehicles dropped and pollution increased in model year 2019 for the first time in five years.

The mileage increase comes as Americans continue to buy SUVs and trucks, and shift away from more efficient vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the changes show that few automakers could meet strict emissions and mileage standards set by the Obama administration.

But environmental groups contend that automakers used loopholes and stopped marketing fuel-efficient vehicles knowing that the Trump administration would roll back mileage and pollution standards.

The EPA report released Wednesday says gas mileage fell 0.2 miles per gallon, while greenhouse gas emissions rose by 3 grams per mile traveled, compared with 2018 figures. Mileage fell and pollution increased for the first time since 2014.

Tweet of the day: Happy 18th to a world hero


From here Tweetstream, with a hefty dash of humor:

London’s Sunday Times has fielded a compelling interview with the Swedish activist today,

Some excerpts:

She started thinking seriously about climate change after a lesson in which a teacher showed a documentary about the island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. Thunberg started to cry. Others in the class were distressed too but they moved on when the school bell rang. Thunberg could not. It has been pointed out that people with autism are overrepresented within the climate movement and I’m interested to know why she thinks this is. “Humans are social animals. We copy each other’s behaviour, so if no one else is acting as though there’s no crisis then it can’t be that bad. But we who have autism, for instance, we don’t follow social codes, we don’t copy each other’s behaviour, we have our own behaviour,” she says. “It’s like the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes; the child who doesn’t care about his reputation or becoming unpopular or being ridiculed is the only one who dares to question this lie that everyone else just silently accepts.”

It is a different folk tale that springs to my mind as I talk to her; the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. She is not at all emotional when she discusses the environment; she reads, speaks to scientists regularly and is motivated by cold, hard facts. Fame was just a consequence of her conviction and is not something she enjoys. She gets stopped in the street everywhere she goes except at home in Sweden. It is a cultural phenomenon called Jantelagen, or Jante’s law, she has said: a term used by Scandinavians to describe their cultural inclination towards disapproval of individual achievement. “I know that people see me, I can see in their eyes that they recognise me, and sometimes they point, but they don’t stop and talk,” she says. “It’s nice because I’m being left alone, but it gets very socially awkward because I know they know and it becomes like a game they all pretend.”

She copes with it by spending most of her time at home with her family. Her younger sister, Beata, was diagnosed with ADHD, and the family is a tight-knit unit. Over the years there has been a lot of speculation about the influence her parents have over her profile and her campaigning, but it is very clear when you talk to her that Thunberg thinks for herself. Does it make her feel lonely? She shakes her head. “Of course it is hard to find someone who understands what my life is like, but that doesn’t mean I’m lonely because I have so many people supporting me,” she says. One of them is Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel prize-winning Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban and became a global champion of education for girls. They met when they were filming a series for the BBC and have stayed close. Yousafzai, 23, has advised her to “take care of yourself, to remember that you are probably in it for the long run, so you shouldn’t take on too much”, Thunberg says.

<snip>

She is decidedly laid-back about other people’s choices too. I ask what she makes of celebrities who talk about the environment while flying around the world. “I don’t care,” she says. “I’m not telling anyone else what to do, but there is a risk when you are vocal about these things and don’t practise as you preach, then you will become criticised for that and what you are saying won’t be taken seriously.” Nor does she agree that having children is bad for the planet. The whole issue is a distraction, she says, and one that scares people away. “I don’t think it’s selfish to have children. It is not the people who are the problem, it is our behaviour.”

Her own choices demonstrate what she believes is the right way to live. She stopped flying years ago — she famously sailed to America to speak at the 2019 UN climate summit, a voyage that took 15 days (footage shows her ashen-faced, disappearing out of shot with a bucket). She is a vegan and has stopped “consuming things”. What does that mean, I ask. Clothes? She nods. What if she needs something? “The worst-case scenario I guess I’ll buy second-hand, but I don’t need new clothes. I know people who have clothes, so I would ask them if I could borrow them or if they have something they don’t need any more,” she says. “I don’t need to fly to Thailand to be happy. I don’t need to buy clothes I don’t need, so I don’t see it as a sacrifice.”

Australia opts for ‘climate exceptionalism’


Born Down Under in Melbourne, Stephen Pascoe is a history and urbanist and a Mellon Humanities Faculty Fellow at the University of California, Irvine.

As an Australian native, he has a particular interest in the steadfast refusal of Australia’s government to make any significant moves towards climate mitigation.

So what’s the problem?

He walks us through it in an essay for Aljazeera, of which the following is a key excerpt:

Australia’s seemingly suicidal posture towards climate change often puzzles foreign observers. Indeed, the Australian state’s persistent reluctance to take meaningful action as the country wilts from the worst effects of climate change defies rational explanation. Noting that “Australia is already having to deal with some of the most extreme manifestations of climate change”, renowned British conservationist David Attenborough once described the Australian government’s disinterest in responding to the climate emergency as “extraordinary”.

Australia’s apparent indifference towards this global emergency is not so much a case of climate change denialism as it is exceptionalism. There are some climate change deniers on the far right who exercise an inordinate amount of political power relative to the size of their support base. However, more fundamentally, what guides the Australian state’s problematic stance on climate change is a form of exceptionalism.

Australia’s climate change exceptionalism rests on several pillars.

First, the conviction on the part of successive Australian governments that our national consumption patterns have no material effect on climate change and the resulting belief that we can extract ourselves from the global effort to combat it without this causing much harm.

Second, a purposeful downplaying of the contributions of Australian extractive industries to carbon supply chains, which paints the country as an incidental intermediary in the production of global emissions, encourages Australians to view climate change as somebody else’s problem. This, despite Australia now being the third-largest exporter of carbon dioxide in fossil fuels, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia.

These convenient fictions allow Australian governments to ignore the scientific consensus on climate change when politically and economically convenient and opt in an out of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures as they see fit.

Scientists stymied Trump climate report rewrite


The Washington Post today has an excellent report on how U.S. government scientists thwarted the President’s efforts to rewrite a critical report on climate change.

Here’s the intro:

The National Climate Assessment, America’s premier contribution to climate knowledge, stands out for many reasons: Hundreds of scientists across the federal government and academia join forces to compile the best insights available on climate change. The results, released just twice a decade or so, shape years of government decisions.

Now, as the clock runs down on President Trump’s time in office, the climate assessment has gained a new distinction: It is one of the few major U.S. climate initiatives that his administration tried, yet largely failed, to undermine.

<snip>

In November, the administration removed the person responsible for the next edition of the report and replaced him with someone who has downplayed climate science, though at this point it seems to be too little, too late. But the efforts started back in 2018, when officials pushed out a top official and leaned on scientists to soften their conclusions — the scientists refused — and then later tried to bury the report, which didn’t work either.

“Thank God they didn’t know how to run a government,” said Thomas Armstrong, who during the Obama administration led the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which produces the assessment. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Donald Trump has consistently denied climate change, as Inside Climate News noted a year ago:

In almost every agency overseeing energy, the environment and health, Trump selected top officials who dispute the mainstream consensus on the urgency of climate action. People with little scientific background, or strong ties to industries they would be regulating, were appointed to scientific leadership positions. One of the administration’s first actions was to order scientists and other employees at EPA and other agencies to halt public communications. Several federal scientists working on climate change have said they were silenced, sidelined or demoted. At least three—a senior employee at the Department of Interior, one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another at the National Park Service—invoked whistleblower protections. Independent science advisors, such as members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, have also been sidelined. Scientific content on government websites has been altered and the public’s access to data reduced. Climate data from the government’s open portal website was removed. So was the EPA’s climate change website. The words “climate change” have been purged from government reports, and other reports have been buried, including by officials at the Department of Agriculture. The administration even edited a major Defense Department report to downplay its climate findings. Through speeches and tweets, the president has repeatedly spread misinformation to the public through his climate denial and denigration of renewable energy.

EPA, meanwhile, is working to finalize its proposal to suppress the types of scientific evidence the agency can use in writing its rules. This includes prohibiting the use of well-established, long-term scientific studies underpinning the nation’s air pollution rules, a change the fossil fuel industry had sought for years. Known as the “secret science” rule, it has been lambasted by scientists and health experts worldwide. Related, the White House issued a memo offering new ways for fossil fuel and other industries to challenge science-based policies.

Trump’s focus, instead, was on corporate profits, and his ceaseless gutting of environmental rules came with a promise that his efforts would launch an economic book.

That didn’t go so well, as the New York Times reported 3 December:

Economists see little evidence that Mr. Trump’s rollback of climate change rules bolstered the economy. Jobs in the auto sector have been declining since the beginning of 2019, and the trend continued despite the rollback of rules aimed at vehicle pollution from greenhouse gases. Domestic coal production last year dropped to its lowest level since 1978. In September, the French government actually blocked a $7 billion contract to purchase American natural gas, arguing that gas produced without controls on methane leaks was too harmful to the climate.

Meantime, in May, carbon dioxide levels reached 417 parts per million, the highest level recorded in human history.

“Because global emissions in 2020 are so much higher than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, that means that a year wasted in the Trump administration on not acting on climate has much bigger consequences than a year wasted in Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush or Bill Clinton’s administration,” said Michael Wara, a climate and energy expert at Stanford University.

Analysts say that the past four years represented a closing window in which the world’s largest polluting economies, working together, could have charted a path toward slowing the rate of planet-warming emissions. To do that, a scientific report in 2018 found that the world’s economies would need to reduce emissions 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 — and the policies to do so should be implemented rapidly.

Instead, in the largest economy in the world, they began to fray.

We leave the last word, or rather burn to out favorite Swede [and note the face of the guard, too]:

Bidders spurn Trump’s Alaskan oil drilling drive


Some good news, at least for now.

From the New York Times:

After a three-year push by the Trump administration to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling — an effort that culminated in a rush to sell leases before the White House changes hands — in the end the only taker may be the state of Alaska itself.

With a Thursday deadline for submitting bids for 10-year leases on tracts covering more than one million acres of the refuge, there is little indication that oil companies are interested in buying the rights to drill under difficult conditions, to extract more costly fossil fuels for a world that increasingly is seeking to wean itself off them.

Amid the uncertainty, a state-owned economic development corporation voted last week to authorize bidding up to $20 million for some of the leases. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity,” Frank Murkowski, an elder statesman of Alaska politics, told the board of the corporation, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, at a meeting before the vote.

There are legal questions surrounding the action, including whether the development authority qualifies as a bidder. And environmental organizations, some Alaska Native groups and others are seeking an injunction in Federal District Court to halt the lease sales outright, arguing that they are part of a deeply flawed process by the Interior Department that, among other things, played down scientific findings about possible damage to the refuge.

Gavin Newsom: Do as he says, not what he does


Once again California’s chief of state does something that directly contradicts his lofty declarations, and this time it involves tan existential crisis affecting every living thing on earth.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

In the same year Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that the state faced a “climate damn emergency” with wildfires, his administration approved far more permits to let companies drill new oil and gas wells.

California approved 1,646 drill permits in the first nine months of 2020 — a 137% increase over the 694 permits it approved during the same period last year, according to data from the state Geologic Energy Management Division, the agency that regulates oil and gas extraction.

Environmentalists say the increase is emblematic of a disconnect between Newsom’s rhetoric and a lack of strong policies to confront climate change, which many experts believe contributed to a record-setting wildfire year in California in which 1.44 million acres burned and more than 30 people died.

“We’re two years (into Newsom’s term), and we’ve heard lots of good rhetoric and a fear of action,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of the Sierra Club California. “Everything points to the fact that we have to get off of fossil fuels. The problem is, we haven’t found the political leadership that has the courage to make that happen.”

Newsom’s administration defended the permit approvals by noting that oil production in California is down overall and that few of the approved wells have actually been drilled.

Charts of the day: European greening


Two charts from Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistical division, chart the impacts of two “green” policies in the European union.

Our first chart comes from Eurostat’s energy page and reveals the extent of renewable electricity developed by Europe’s nations. Most notable is the fact that two countries, Iceland and Norway, now generate more than renewable electricity to power all their nations’ electric needs:

Our second graphic, from a new report wrapping up statistics on agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, shows the increasing amounts of agricultural land devoted to organic agriculture, with gains in every country except Poland, the U.K., and Norway. The figures are in hectares, with each hectare equivalent to 2.47 acres:

Condition critical: Ocean pollution threatens us all


A sobering new international report highlights the critical state of the world’s increasingly polluted oceans and the threat that degradation poses to life in the seas and the humans who depend on it.

It’s a chilling and exhaustive summation, just published in Annals of Global Health [open access] and it begins this way:

The oceans are vast. They cover more than 70% of the earth’s surface, hold 97% of the world’s water, host some of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems, and support economies in countries around the world. Microscopic organisms in the seas are a major source of atmospheric oxygen. By absorbing more than 90% of the excess heat released into the earth’s environment and nearly one-third of carbon dioxide emissions, the oceans slow planetary warming and stabilize the global climate.

The oceans are essential to human health and well-being. They provide food to billions, livelihoods for millions and are the source of multiple essential medicines. They have traditional cultural value and are a source of joy, beauty, peace, and recreation. The oceans are particularly important to the health and well-being of people in small island nations, the high Arctic, and coastal communities, especially those in the Global South. The very survival of these vulnerable populations depends on the health of the seas.

Despite their vast size, the oceans are under threat, and human activity is the main source of the threat. Climate change and other environmental disruptions of human origin have caused sea surface temperatures to rise, glaciers to melt, and harmful algal species and pathogenic bacteria to migrate into waters that were previously uncontaminated. Rising seas and increasingly violent coastal storms endanger the 600 million people worldwide who live within 10 m of sea level. Rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2 have caused acidification of the oceans, which in turn destroys coral reefs, impairs development of oysters and other shellfish, and dissolves calcium-containing microorganisms at the base of the food web. The oceans are losing oxygen. Fish stocks are declining. Dredging, mechanized trawling, oil exploration, and planned deep undersea metal mining threaten the seabeds.

Pollution – unwanted, often hazardous waste material released into the environment by human activity – is one of the existential challenges of the present age. Like climate change, biodiversity loss, and depletion of the world’s fresh water supply, pollution endangers the stability of the earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.

Note that last phrase: “pollution endangers the stability of the earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Meanwhile, the man in White House has spent the last four years undoing the admittedly feeble efforts the United States has made in trying to curb the harmful effects or our insatiable hunger for more.

More on the report from Boston College:

Oceans in peril, humans at risk; Widespread ocean pollution threatens the health of more than 3 billion people

Ocean pollution is widespread and getting worse, and when toxins in the oceans make landfall they imperil the health and well-being of more than 3 billion people, according to a new report by an international coalition of scientists led by Boston College’s Global Observatory on Pollution on Health and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, supported by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

Atop the proposals to remediate ocean pollution, the researchers recommend: banning coal combustion and the production of single-use plastics, controlling coastal pollution, and expanding marine protected areas.

The study is the first comprehensive examination of the impacts of ocean pollution on human health. It was published in the online edition of the Annals of Global Health and released at the Monaco International Symposium on Human Health & the Ocean in a Changing World, convened in Monaco and online by the Prince Albert II de Monaco Foundation, the Centre Scientifique de Monaco and Boston College.

“Simply put: Ocean pollution is a major global problem, it is growing, and it directly affects human health,” said Professor Philip Landrigan, M.D., the director of the observatory and of BC’s Global Public Health and the Common Good Program. “People have heard about plastic pollution in the oceans, but that is only part of it. Research shows the oceans are being fouled by a complex stew of toxins including mercury, pesticides, industrial chemicals, petroleum wastes, agricultural runoff, and manufactured chemicals embedded in plastic. These toxic materials in the ocean get into people, mainly by eating contaminated seafood.”

Landrigan noted that, “We are all at risk, but the people most seriously affected are people in coastal fishing communities, people on small island nations, indigenous populations and people in the high Arctic. The very survival of these vulnerable populations depends on the health of the seas.”

The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface. Despite their vast size, the seas are under threat, primarily as a result of human activity, according to the findings, drawn from 584 scientific reports, which detail:

  • Pollution of the oceans by plastics, toxic metals, manufactured chemicals, pesticides, sewage, and agricultural runoff is killing and contaminating the fish that feed 3 billion people.
  • Coastal pollution spreads life-threatening infections.
  • Oil spills and chemical wastes threaten the microorganisms in the seas that provide much of the world’s oxygen supply.

Prince Albert of Monaco said that the analysis can be used to mobilize global resolve to curb ocean pollution.

“The link between ocean pollution and human health has, for a long time, given rise to very few studies,” Prince Albert wrote in an introduction to the report. “Taking into account the effects of ocean pollution – due to plastic, water and industrial waste, chemicals, hydrocarbons, to name a few – on human health should mean that this threat must be permanently included in the international scientific activity.

“This document on Human Health and the Ocean, prepared with the contributions of the Monaco Science Centre and Boston College, substantiates that pollution of the Ocean is not inevitable,” he added.

Among the key findings:

  • Mercury pollution has become widespread in the oceans, accumulating to high levels in predator fish and once in the food chain poses documented risks to infants, children and adults.
  • Coal is the major source of mercury pollution, its toxins vaporizing into the air as it burns and eventually washing into the oceans.
  • Pollution along the coasts by industrial waste, agricultural runoff, pesticides, and human sewage has increased the frequency of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) producing toxins associated with dementia, amnesia, neurological damage, and rapid death.
  • Plastic waste – entering the oceans at a rate of more than 10 million tons each year – kills seabirds and fish and is consumed by humans in the form of toxic microscopic particles, now found in all humans.
  • The waters most seriously impacted by ocean pollution are the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, and Asian rivers.

There’s lots more after the jump. . .

Continue reading

Air pollution kills 1.67 million Indians a year


While the world reels under the impact one deadly, invisible, airborne pandemic, another invisible, airborne plague is killing its own millions, a plague spawned by the same forces that are making our word ever hotter and on track to making large parts of our planet uninhabitable.

That plague is air pollution spawned by the burning of fuel.

And now we have a body count for one country, the world’s second most-populous, as well as figures for economic damage.

Bother numbers are staggering.

From Boston College, via Newswise:

New report reveals human, economic toll of air pollution in India

Air pollution in India resulted 1.67 million deaths in 2019 – the largest pollution-related death toll in any country in the world – and also accounted for $36.8 billion (US) in economic losses, according to a new study led by researchers from the Global Observatory on Pollution and Health at Boston College, the Indian Council of Medical Research, and the Public Health Foundation of India.

The 2019 death toll attributed to air pollution in India accounted for 17.8 percent of all deaths in the country in 2019, according to the study’s findings, published today in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

The $36.8 billion in economic loss was 1.36 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the report, titled “The health and economic impact of air pollution in the states of India.”

Pollution-related losses “could impede India’s aspiration to be a $5-trillion economy by 2024,” the researchers concluded. “Successful reduction of air pollution in India would lead to substantial benefits for both the health of the population and the economy.”

“Pollution takes an enormous human toll in India,” said lead researcher Boston College Professor of Biology Philip J. Landrigan, MD, director of the Global Observatory on Pollution and Health. “It is causing 1.67 million premature deaths per year – many more than from COVID-19.”

The consequences will be long-lasting without efforts to reduce air pollution in the nation of 1.35 billion people, according to Landrigan, whose research was funded in part by UN Environment Programme.

“It is also having a profound effect on the next generation of Indians,” said Landrigan. “It increases future risk for heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease for today’s children when they become adults. It is reducing children’s IQ. It will be very difficult for India to move forward socially or economically if they don’t do something about the problem.”

From the study, a series of four maps reveals [clockwise from top left], [A] pollution exposures to airborne particulates, [B] Percentages of households relying on burning solid fuels for heat and cooking, [C] Population-weighted exposures to ozone, and [D] Air pollution economic losses as a percentage of GDP for each state.

Researchers also found rapidly changing patterns of air pollution and pollution-related disease in India, according to the report. The death rate from indoor air pollution, which is caused mainly by poorly ventilated home cook stoves, has decreased by 64.2 percent since 1990.

In the same time period, the death rate due to ambient (outdoor) particulate matter pollution increased by 115.3 percent and that due to ambient ozone pollution increased by 139.2 percent. These increases in deaths from ambient air pollution reflect increasing emissions from cars, trucks, and buses, as well as the widespread use of coal to generate electricity in India.

Among the many costs associated with increased mortality and illness caused by air pollutants, the researchers estimate the air pollution-related costs to India’s health care system at nearly $12 billion in 2019.

Climate change exacerbates pollution, the researchers noted, through atmospheric stagnation, temperature-driven increases in particulate matter, and ground-level ozone formation, which are likely to be particularly severe in India.

State-by-state analysis showed a more than three-fold variation in air pollution death rates across the states of India. Southern Indian states have put policies in place to reduce air pollution when compared to states in the north, where pollution and its consequences showed a greater impact in mortality and economic costs, said Landrigan.

Landrigan said there are ample solutions and examples of successful pollution reduction policies that can be developed to meet the specific needs of the country and its states. China, a country with a similar size population and equally ambitious economic goals, adopted pollution control targets in its most recent five-year plan and is making progress on pollution control, he said.

“We point to countries like the United States where we reduced air pollution by 70 percent since passage of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s,” said Landrigan. “At the same time, US GDP grew by 250 percent. There are similar statistics from Europe, Australia, and Japan. Pollution control does not stifle economic growth.”

While researchers report a decline in indoor air pollution produced primarily by cook stoves used in millions of homes throughout the country, further reductions will require additional strategies that address poverty as well as energy needs, said co-author Gautam Yadama, dean of the School of Social Work at Boston College.

“One of our challenges is to provide the poor with greater access to devices and clean fuels that can be sustainably used in a variety of real-world conditions,” said Yadama. “The more these are developed and tested in collaboration with communities — particularly the women, the devices’ end users — the more likely their uptake.”

Japan offers cash to move next to ruined nuke plant


The site of the reactor complex in coastal Fukushima was hit by the massive magnitude 9.1 Tōhoku earthquake on 11 March 2011. Less than an hour later, ground level areas of the plant were hit by the massive quake spawned tsunami that devastated large parts of coastal western Japan.

The country lost 15,899 dead and another 2,589 missing and presumed dead.

In the wake of the disaster, the complex was rocked by massive hydrogen explosions as sea water corroded zirconium inside the plants, generating the gas. Three reactor cores melted, leading to radiation level so high they killed robots sent in to inspect the damage.

[Here’s a link to our extensive previous coverage.]

While the cleanup is still going on – with final costs possibly topping $200 billion – the government is eager to move folks back into housing near the plant.

And meanwhile, Japan is going to reopen two other nuclear reactor complexes closed by the quake.

From the Asahi Shimbun:

The government will pay up to 2 million yen ($19,300) to families that move to areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, an unprecedented offer for recovery from the 2011 disaster.

Under the program that will start in fiscal 2021, the Reconstruction Agency will provide an additional amount of up to 4 million yen to those who start new businesses in 12 cities, towns and villages where residents had been ordered to evacuate from after the triple meltdown at the plant.

Eleven of those municipalities had come under the central government’s evacuation order, while in the remaining municipality, Hironomachi, residents were ordered to leave by the town government.

Katsuei Hirasawa, the reconstruction minister, said on Dec. 17 that his agency is focused on repopulating those areas because only around 20 percent of residents have returned there even after the evacuation orders were lifted.

One requirement is that the families must live in the locations for at least five years.

The government insists that it’s a safe place to live, but it’s a hard sell. Hence the cash.

Another quake-closed nuke plant is set to reopen

Local residents living near the reactor in Mihama in Fukui Prefecture on the western coast didn’t get hit by the tsunami, which impacted primarily Japan’s Pacific-facing East Coast, the site of the Fukushima complex.

But the vote is unusual, given that the Mihama reactors are all well past their design lifespans.

From the Asahi Shimbun:

The town assembly here gave the green light Dec. 18 to resume operations at a nuclear power plant that has already passed its initial 40-year life span.

The No. 3 reactor at the Mihama nuclear plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. first went online 44 years ago. The town assembly’s decision came a day after the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC) of Japan submitted a proposal to the economy minister about a new initiative for joint use of an intermediate storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture.

Kansai Electric is keen to resume operations at the No. 3 reactor of the Mihama plant in January. The reactor has been offline for about a decade following the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Key local officials will also have to sign off on the plan, and no further decisions are anticipated before the year-end.

The Takahama town assembly in November also OK’d a resumption of operations at the Takahama plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.

And a third shuttered plant is scheduled to open in 2022

This one has the same brand of reactors as the those leaky ones in Fukushima.

From the Mainichi:

A nuclear reactor in northeastern Japan damaged by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake disaster has cleared the last hurdle to resume operations after getting the green light Wednesday from local officials.

The No. 2 unit of Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa plant in Miyagi Prefecture is the first of the reactors damaged in the disaster to win final approval with local consent to restart. The unit is the same boiling water reactor as at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant that caused one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai and the mayors of Onagawa and Ishinomaki, the two municipalities hosting the facility, gave their consent at a meeting after the unit cleared national safety screening in February.

“There is an excellent, stable supply of electricity in a nuclear plant, and the plant can also contribute to the local economy,” Murai said at a press conference after the meeting in Ishinomaki.

Native Americans battle fracking pollution


Hydraulic fracturing [fracking, previously] of oil- and gas-bearing shale formations has driven U.S. Big Oil into world’s leader in oil and gas production.

But it’s a dirty business, thanks both to toxins already found in the shale and to a chemical stew blasted into the shale at high pressures to shatter the layers of rock holding the hydrocarbons in a vise-like grip. It’s the fluids that cause much the problem, concocted from secret chemical recipes kept hidden from the people left to deal with the mess.

And don’t expect help from the government, thanks to laws exempting Big Oil from lawsuits over damages caused by fracking.

Ensia, published under a Creative Commons license by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, looks at the impact of the fracking revolution and the response by a coalition of activists spearheaded by the Native Americans most impacted by the loss of clean drinking water:

In the northern Great Plains, a search for ways to protect drinking water from fossil fuel industry pollution

Lisa Finley-DeVille started drinking bottled water around the same time her friend’s horses began to get sick and die. A half decade ago on the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota, Deville drove up to see her friend in the New Town area. The horses looked dehydrated and brittle, just skin and bones. They’re eating, but it’s like they’re not eating, her friend told her.

It was down the hill, at the pond the horses drank from, where the answer lurked. She believes wastewater from nearby oil and gas production leaked there, where the horses drank it up, poisoned. “I’m always worried,” Finley-Deville says. “This is why we don’t drink the water.”

Finley-DeVille is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, known as the Three Affiliated Tribes in Fort Berthold. Just a half mile (800 meters) from her house, in the town of Mandaree, oil and gas are produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), an increasingly popular approach to fossil fuel extraction that involves injecting pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into the Earth to release the gas or oil within.

North Dakota resident Lisa Finley-DeVille, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, is working to protect drinking water by changing how waste from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is regulated. Photo courtesy of the Dakota Resource Councilthat the fracking process forces to the surface — is still ever present.

Legal loopholes that exempt fracking from elements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and EPA hazardous waste laws are endangering surrounding communities, and putting drinking water at risk of contamination. Now, national, state, and local grassroots efforts, some led by Finley-DeVille, are calling for change.

The Problem

The Fort Berthold Reservation, along with the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to the south, blister with oil underneath. The two areas sit within the prolific Williston Basin, a large rock unit stretched across North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and regions of Canada. From the first discovery of a natural gas well in the state in 1892 to today, western North Dakota has been home to the fossil fuel industry for more than a century. As of 2020, the state is the second largest crude oil producer in the United States (after Texas) and accounts for 2% of the nation’s natural gas reserves.

Thanks largely to fracking technology, oil production in North Dakota increased fourfold since 2010, with the state producing an unprecedented 45 million barrels in 2019. Although a collapse in oil demand in 2020 curbed the boom, fracking has left its mark.

Wastewater — a combination of “flowback,” a portion of the water used to fracture the rock to release fossil fuels that flows back to the surface, and naturally occurring “produced” water that the fracking process forces to the surface — is still ever present.

The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, located in the middle of the oil-rich Williston Basin, is bordered by a massive concentration of fracking wells. Base map credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

According to a report published by the nonprofit environmental organization Earthworks, fracking produced 19 billion gallons of wastewater in North Dakota in 2018 alone.

The risk to drinking water comes in two major ways. First, water used in the hydraulic drilling process can leak into aquifers and other groundwater supplies. Second, the wastewater that fracking produces can contaminate supplies when waste leaks from landfills that accept oil remains, when waste spill from trucks or pipelines moving it, when equipment fails, or when it leaks from unlined disposal pits.

Both flowback and produced water may contain heavy metals such as barium and lead, hydrocarbons, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), and incredibly high levels of salinity. Flowback and produced wastewater can also include chemical additive formulas, with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, ethylene glycol, methanol, and toluene. Between 2005 and 2013, the EPA identified 1,084 different chemicals reported in fracking formulas.

Lots more, after the jump. . .

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More fossil fuel hypocrisy, this time in Utah


How about a case of using funds to wean communities off of fossil fuel mining and diverting them to build a railroad to encourage fossil fuel mining?

From the Guardian:

In July 2019, a proposed railway intended to shuttle fossil fuels across a mountainous corner of eastern Utah received a $28m grant from a local, state-run community fund. The financing allowed the group behind the railway – the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition – to kick off a federally mandated environmental impact survey, that would need to be completed before construction could begin.

There was just one problem: the grant came from a pot of money set aside to help Utahns recover from the state’s legacy of oil drilling, not help the industry expand deeper into the state.

Established in 1982, the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund “was supposed to alleviate the boom and bust cycle of energy production,” said Wendy Park, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Park believes that the $28m grant violates the spirit of the fund, which has provided money for a range of municipal projects like new sewer systems, medical facilities, road improvement and new public buildings.

The CBD, along with the Utah-based environmental group Living Rivers, is suing to stop the municipal agency from funding the $1.5bn railroad. The suit asks a fundamental question: is the development of yet more fossil fuel infrastructure the best way to help rural communities thrive?

EPA nixes COVID-related soot pollution controls


It should come as no surprises, given that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler worked as a coal industry lobbyist before Trump picked him to “save” the environment.

Trump, of course, referred to himself as the greatest environmental president after a fan told him we was the greatest protector of the environment since Teddy Rooosevelt.”Well, why does it only have to go back to Teddy Roosevelt, which is over 100 years? Why can’t we say from George Washington?” he asked at a September campaign rally.

Wheeler’s decision to refuse to soot pollution cutbacks follows on the heels of research that soot particles are directly linked to the severity of cornonavirus infections.

From the New York Times:

The Trump administration on Monday declined to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates.

In one of the final policy moves of an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a regulation that keeps in place the current rules on tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, instead of strengthening them, even though the agency’s own scientists have warned of the links between the pollutants and respiratory illness. In April, researchers at Harvard released the first nationwide study linking long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and Covid-19 death rates.

E.P.A. administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the rule Wednesday afternoon on a video call with reporters, joined by the governor and the deputy attorney general of West Virginia, who have urged President Trump to loosen rules on coal pollution since he first launched his presidential campaign .

Although the E.P.A.’s own staff scientists recommended tightening the current emissions rule, Mr. Wheeler said the scientific evidence was insufficient to merit doing so.

Trump ramps up bids for drilling in Arctic reserve


The Trump administration’s latest bomb targeting the soon-to-be Biden administration accelerates the pace of opening one of the nation’s largest wildlife reserves for oil and gas drilling, a plan opposed by President-elect Joe Biden.

To the region’s indigenous inhabitants the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve is Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.

To the environmental group Alaska Conservation it’s “one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. It is home to polar, grizzly, and black bears, over 200 species of birds, 8 marine mammal species, hundreds of thousands of caribou, wolves, muskoxen, moose, and more. Many of these species need the specific habitat found in the Arctic Refuge to survive and flourish. Dwindling populations of polar bears make their dens here, the largest herd of caribou – the Porcupine Caribou herd – uses the coastal plain as their calving grounds, and migrating birds from all over North America come here to breed. Moreover, these animals are essential to the subsistence lifestyles of the Alaska Native Tribes who have lived in this area for thousands of years.”

But to Donald Trump drilling for oil in the ANWR “is a big deal that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get done and nobody could get done” until he came along.

A 1 February 2018 Associated Press story described how Trump got a phone call that led him to push for opening the pristine wilderness to drill rigs:

“A friend of mine called up, who’s in that world and in that business, and said, ‘Is it true that you’re thinking about ANWR?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think we’re going to get it, but you know.’ He said, ‘Are you kidding? That’s the biggest thing, by itself.’ He said, ’Ronald Reagan and every president has wanted to get ANWR approved.”

The comment had a major impact, Trump said.

“I really didn’t care about it, and then when I heard that everybody wanted it — for 40 years, they’ve been trying to get it approved, and I said, ‘Make sure you don’t lose ANWR,’” Trump said.

Oil in the refuge, Trump said, is one of the great potential fields anywhere in the world.

And now he’s making sure Biden won’t be able to stop the drilling.

From the New York Times:

The Trump administration said Thursday that it would sell oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska in early January, further accelerating its last-ditch effort to allow drilling there.

The Bureau of Land Management said the sale would take place on Jan. 6, following the publication next Monday of a notice of sale in the Federal Register. That notice requires a 30-day comment period before a sale can occur.

The announcement of a sale date came just 16 days after the bureau released a “call for nominations,” which allowed oil companies and others to detail which tracts of land in the refuge were of interest for drilling.

Normally, a call for nominations allows at least 30 days for such responses, followed by weeks of analysis by the bureau to ultimately decide which tracts will be offered. That time frame would have pushed a sale to just a few days before, or beyond, the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has opposed drilling in the refuge.

Oakland implements partial natural gas ban


The ban impacts new construction of apartments and commercial buildings, and we suspect more cities will follow their lead.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban natural gas in newly constructed apartment and commercial buildings.

The measure requires all developers to design new residential and commercial buildings without natural gas. Developers can apply for waivers for “technology feasibility reasons” to avoid abiding by the new regulation. Existing buildings, additions and accessory dwelling units are not affected by the legislation.

“Oakland’s national leadership to build cleaner, safer, and healthier cities for all families continues with this historic transition to all-electric buildings,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in a statement.

Councilman Dan Kalb, the lead author of the legislation, said Oakland can’t meet its climate goals without shifting away from natural gas use. In July, the City Council adopted the 2030 Equitable Climate Action Plan, which calls on the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 56% below 2005 levels over the next 10 years.

U.N. calls for climate action, New Zealand acts


As global temperatures soar, polar ice retreats, oceans rise, drought spreads,and climate disasters fuel mass and politically charged migrations, the world needs to act.

And the Secretary General of the United Nations today issued a resounding call for the world’s nations to united to combat an existential crisis.

From the Guardian:

Humanity is facing a new war, unprecedented in history, the secretary general of the UN has warned, which is in danger of destroying our future before we have fully understood the risk.

The stark message from António Guterres follows a year of global upheaval, with the coronavirus pandemic causing governments to shut down whole countries for months at a time, while wildfires, hurricanes and powerful storms have scarred the globe.

Guterres said: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.”

He listed the human-inflicted wounds on the natural world: the spread of deserts; wetlands lost; forests cut down; oceans overfished and choked with plastic; dying coral reefs; air pollution killing 9 million people a year, more than the current pandemic; and the fact that 75% of new and emerging human infectious diseases have, like Covid-19, come from animals.

More from Reuters:

Large-scale, preventive support for adaptation was “especially urgent for small island developing states, which face an existential threat”, he added.

Measures needed include early warning systems to keep people safe from disasters, more robust infrastructure, improving dry-land farming to help crops survive drought and protecting coastal mangroves, which act as a buffer against storm surges.

Those and other steps “can give the world a double dividend: avoiding future losses and generating economic gains and other benefits”, Guterres said.

He cited a study from the Global Commission on Adaptation, a high-level panel of experts, which found that every $1 invested in adaptation measures could yield almost $4 in benefits.

The problem, Guterres said, is that funding for adaptation and resilience efforts remains far below what is needed.

Here’s his speech in full:

Two developments took place on the other side of the world.

A tale of two neighbors

First, from Australia, a drubbing from the former U.N. climate chief, via SBS News:

The world is impatiently waiting for Australia to end its “suicidal” climate wars and change its “unstable, volatile” stance on climate change, a former United Nations climate chief has warned. 

Christiana Figueres has been involved in climate change negotiations since 1995, and was the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change when the Paris Agreement was reached in 2015. 

Speaking in a pre-recorded keynote to open the Australian Emissions Reductions Summit on Wednesday, Ms Figueres said she has long been frustrated by Australia’s blindness to its potential as a world leader in renewable energies. 

“I have been pretty vocal about my frustration for so many years of the completely unstable, volatile, unpredictable stand and position on climate change in Australia,” she told John Connor, chief executive of the Carbon Market Institute. 

And on a much more positive, Australia’s English-speaking neighbor to the east announced a major development, via the Independent:

New Zealand’s government has declared a climate change emergency and committed to make its public sector carbon-neutral by 2025, calling on the country to “act with urgency”.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who returned to power with a landslide majority in October election, moved the motion in parliament on Wednesday and majority of parliamentarians voted in favour of the motion following an hour-long debate.

Ms Ardern said in parliament the declaration is based on findings by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which suggests emissions need to fall by 45 percent by 2023 and reach zero by 2025 to avoid more than 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global warming.

“[Parliament will] show leadership and demonstrate what is possible to other sectors of the New Zealand economy by reducing the government’s own emissions and becoming a carbon-neutral government by 2025”, Mr Ardern said.

From the Guardian, an excerpt from her address:

Jacinda Ardern declares ‘climate emergency’ in New Zealand

Program notes:

New Zealand has declared a climate change emergency and committed to a carbon-neutral government by 2025, in what the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, called “one of the greatest challenges of our time”.

Speaking in parliament after its introduction, Ardern said the country must “act with urgency”. Wednesday’s declaration also said the government would “demonstrate what is possible to other sectors of the economy by reducing the government’s own emissions and becoming a carbon-neutral government by 2025”. Thirty-two other nations have formally acknowledged the global crisis by declaring a climate emergency.

Chart of the day: Solar power module price plunges


Deflation at its best, via Our World in Data:

Why a Canadian Energy Minister loves COVID


Whilst researching the previous post we discovered a true gem in a 25 May Canadian Press story, and a reason for Big Oil to love the coronavirus:

Alberta’s energy minister says it’s a good time to build a pipeline because public health restrictions limit protests against them.

Sonya Savage made the comment Friday on a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors. She was asked about progress of the Trans Mountain Expansion project, which is under construction on its route between Edmonton and Vancouver.

“Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,” Savage said. “Let’s get it built.”

Call it finding a silver lining in a very dark cloud.

And, hey, at least the guy’s honest, eh?