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I’m Sian, and I’m a fossil fuel addict: on paradox, disavowal and (im)possibility in changing climate change

I’m Sian, and I’m a fossil fuel addict: on paradox, disavowal and (im)possibility in changing climate change

Once upon a time in the wild west

Sometimes life brings experiences that give pause for thought.

In recent years I have returned to west Namibia to work with elders of families I’ve known for over almost 30 years – a legacy of a childhood split between Britain and southern Africa. We have been documenting histories of land connections prior to a series of clearances of people from large areas of the west Namibian landscape, that occurred some decades ago.1 Often now perceived as an untouched and pristine wilderness, our work instead draws into focus a landscape intimately known, named and remembered by people who once lived there. Oral histories recorded as we find and revisit places my companions knew as home, have increasingly struck a chord as a record of lives lived more-or-less untouched by fossil fuels.

In the contemporary terms defined by modernity, industrialisation and capital, theirs was an economically impoverished existence. But this is not how they define and describe their experience.

Beyond the nostalgia that people tend to have for times past, their prior existence is valued in some of the following ways:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal

What Kenney Had to Kill to Embrace Coal

Alberta’s 1976 Coal Policy protected vital drinking water supplies for much of the province. That’s gone now.

kenney-main-coal.jpg
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. His government, after being heavily lobbied by coal interests, opted to open a huge swath of sensitive Rocky Mountains land to open pit mining, rendering longstanding protections ‘obsolete.’ Photo by Jason Franson, the Canadian Press.

Under the cover of a pandemic, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quietly wiped away a near half-century of safeguards against open pit coal mining in most of the province’s Rocky Mountains and foothills.

The result could be the stripping away of mountain tops across more than a million and half hectares of terrain — about half the size of Vancouver Island.

Gone, as of last May, is the province’s 1976 Coal Policy, which protected the headwaters of rivers that secure drinking water for Canadians across the prairies.

The Coal Policy was established by the Progressive Conservative government then led by Peter Lougheed, based on nearly six years of active public consultations. It was quietly axed this spring without input by First Nations or the wider public.

In fact, Kenney’s government only talked to one group, the Coal Association of Canada. (See this related story published today on The Tyee.)The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

That lobbying group is directed by Robin Campbell, a former Tory provincial environmental minister.

Now a handful of largely Australian-owned corporations intent on serving metallurgical coal markets in India and China are poised to begin transforming Alberta’s eastern slopes into an industrial mining zone.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What a milk carton can tell us

What a milk carton can tell us

On the package of organic milk from Coop (Sweden) I can read the plastic cap is made out of oil. For some reason they can’t use biodegradeable plastic made from renewable sources. Instead they “support the production of the same quantity of renewable plastic somewhere else”. In addition they claim that they through this can reduce the use of fossil raw materials. This is supposed to make me feel good.  

In this way, the package of milk illuminates two common phenomena in how modern businesses handle, or not, environmental challenges. The first is the notion of “compensation”, i.e. that we can compensate an ill by doing something good somewhere else. The prime example is of course climate compensation or carbon offset, which it often is called. But there are other examples such as habitat banking whereby you pay someone to provide ecosystems or species which you have destroyed. And now plastic compensation. There are many things to say about the notion that you can compensate for destruction. It leads to financialization and privatization of nature (read this excellent article by Sian Sullivan) and it often means that poor peoples’ environment will be used to compensate rich peoples lifestyle (e.g.. when you compensate your flight with tree planting in developing countries).

Instead, let me instead probe the other message of the milk package: That you can “save” or “reduce use” of fossil fuels using renewable plastics. In the case of my organic milk this is greenwashing in its purest shape. Before Coop introduced the plastic cap, the package had no cap, but the carton could easily be opened and closed. By introducing a cap of made out of oil Coop clearly increases the use of fossil fuels.  But they look at the situation differently.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Turkey Rejects US & EU Calls To Cease East-Med Gas Drilling As Greece Threatens Military Action

Turkey Rejects US & EU Calls To Cease East-Med Gas Drilling As Greece Threatens Military Action

Days after the US State Department warned Turkey over its gas reserves exploration and drilling plans in waters between Cyprus and Greece, which Athens has declared ‘illegal’ given it cuts into Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the European Union has also put Turkey on notice, warning it could move forward with sanctions.

French President Emmanuel Macron said late this week that it’s “not acceptable for the maritime space of a European Union member state to be violated or threatened” and called for sanctions if it moves forward. On Tuesday a US State Department statement demanded that Turkey back down from its drilling plans which have put the Greek Navy on “high alert” – given Turkish exploration ships are already in or near Greek waters.

Greek media sources are now reporting that Turkey through its embassy in Washington DC has informed the Americans that it plans to proceed unimpeded with its drilling research with the Oruc Reis vessel in the disputed eastern Mediterranean watersTurkey’s seismic exploration ship Oruc Reise in the Eastern Mediterranean this week, via Anadolu Agency.

“We urge Turkish authorities to halt any plans for operations and to avoid steps that raise tensions in the region,” the statement said. And Greece’s foreign ministry said it clearly violates the country’s sovereignty and that it stands ready to defend its territory.

Turkey has so far rejected all demands from the US, EU, Greece and Cyprus that it back down. Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper cited President Erdogan’s office as follows:Turkey rejects Greece’s “maximalist” objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean, which lack a legal basis and disregards logic, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said Thursday.

Kalın highlighted that Turkey opposes the rhetoric of threats and favors an equal distribution of resources.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

‘Overt Bastardization of the Truth’: Valve Turner Listed as ‘Extremist’ by U.S. Government Faces Upcoming Trial

‘Overt Bastardization of the Truth’: Valve Turner Listed as ‘Extremist’ by U.S. Government Faces Upcoming Trial

The valve turners recently listed by Homeland Security as “extremists” believe their action of shutting down 15 percent of the daily U.S. oil supply on Oct. 11, 2016 was their only option of fighting the climate crisis.

Valve turner Ken Ward of Climate Direct Action is going to trial this spring for the third time. He is charged with burglary and sabotage. EcoWatch teamed up with Ward and his attorney Lauren Regan, the executive director and co-founder of Civil Liberties Defense Center, on EcoWatch Live to share what this trial means for climate activists and why the U.S. government is listing some of these peaceful activists alongside mass murderers and white supremacists.

Watch the interview here:

“In a fairly short period of time, after making some phone calls to pipeline companies, we broke in to enclosures, cut some chains, closed what are called safety block valves and closed down all five pipelines that carry tar sands oil from Canada into the U.S.,” Ward said of the October 2016 direct action. It “might count as the most significant thing I’ve ever done on climate.”

Ward, who has been working in energy policy since 1978, including a variety of strategic approaches to climate change says “what sociologists and political scientists are demonstrating is that faced with this kind of situation, faced with an intractable political environment, where powerful industries have billions to spend … the single most effective thing that you can do is do engage in nonviolent direct action.”

Five members of Climate Direct Action are seen before a coordinated effort to turn off valves on a pipeline in four states. Climate Direct Action

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trump’s Golden Era of Energy Is Turning to Lead

Trump’s Golden Era of Energy Is Turning to Lead

 A drilling rig on a former ranch outside of Barstow, Texas, in the Permian Basin

It was just over a year ago that President Trump announced, “The golden era of American energy is now underway,” saying that his policies focused on exploiting oil, gas, and coal were “unleashing energy dominance.” 

What a difference a year makes. On July 10, the Financial Times ran an article with a headline that asked, “Is the party finally over for U.S. oil and gas?” And there is no doubt that it has been quite a party for the last decade. At least, for the fracking executives who have enriched themselves while losing hundreds of billions of dollars investors gave them to produce oil and gas. Meanwhile, profits never materialized.

Lately, prospects for the broader fossil fuel industry look more like lead than gold.

For starters, the oil and gas industry in America is facing an era of losses, bankruptcies, canceled projects, and declining demand. It is highly likely that history will show that this point in time was the beginning of the golden era of renewable energy and the decline of the fossil fuel industry. 

Fracked Shale Oil and Gas Industry Failing

President Trump’s 2016 campaign was backed heavily by the oil and gas industry, with strong support from fracking CEOs like Continental Resources’ Harold Hamm. The story of record American oil production due to fracking was even being touted by President Obama, who rightfully took credit for the fracking boom that occurred on his watch. That’s despite President Trump recently taking credit for it as well. 

But as we have documented over the last two years at DeSmog, the fracked oil industry has been a financial failure for more than the past decade. The industry produced record amounts of oil and gas but lost huge sums of money in the process. And now even industry leaders are admitting the U.S. oil industry has already peaked, a little more than a year after President Trump declared the beginning of the “golden era.” 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

THE GREEN ELECTRIC CAR MYTH: 772 Pounds Of Petro-Chemical Plastics In Each Vehicle

THE GREEN ELECTRIC CAR MYTH: 772 Pounds Of Petro-Chemical Plastics In Each Vehicle

How can an electric car be called “Green” when it contains more than 700 pounds of plastic??  Electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers are using more plastic to lower the weight of the car due to the massive battery used, weighing more than 1,000 pounds.  Unfortunately, plastic is still made from petrochemicals, the so-called “Dirty Fossil-fuel Industry.”

So, without petrochemicals, the manufacture of electric cars would be extremely difficult without plastic.  And the primary feedstock for plastic is natural gas liquids (NGLs).  Due to the rapid rise in NGLs production, especially in the United States, plastic production has surged.  We can see in the chart below, that the United States accounted for nearly 90% of global NGLs production growth since 2007.

So, with all this extra NGLs production, the United States has a monopoly on the Global NGLs Feedstock for going GREEN.  Of the 3.8 million barrels per day (mbd) of NGLs global production growth since 2007, the United States added 3.4 mbd of that total.

In tearing apart the “Green Electric Vehicle Myth,” I will focus this article only on the plastic component.

There seems to be this notion that cars manufactured 50 years ago were much heavier than vehicles today due to a higher percentage of metals used.  This turns out to be false when we look at the data.  According to an Autoweek article by Murliee Martin titled, 50 years of car weight gain: from the Chevelle to the Sonic, the Fairlane to the Focus, a 1967 mid-sized Chevy Chevelle weighed in at 2,915 pounds versus a 2,955 pounds for a 2017 Chevy Sonic subcompact car:

(image courtesy of Autoweek.com, General Motors & Pinterest)

Looks are deceiving… eh?  If you read the article linked above, the 1967 Chevy Chevelle with all that metal and very little plastic actually weighed 40 pounds less than the subcompact 2017 Chevy Sonic.  Go figure…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

On the Edge of the Cliff: We need a new way of seeing the world

On the Edge of the Cliff: We need a new way of seeing the world

A new blog by Ugo Bardi, “The Proud Holobionts”
Long-term predictive models don’t have a very good record, but some turned out to be prophetic. One case is that of Hubbert’s 1956 prediction of a peak in the production of fossil energy shortly after the start of the 21st century. He was optimistic about the possibility of replacing fossil fuels with nuclear energy, but, apart from that, he was right on target. Now we are on the edge of the cliff and we have to take a different attitude toward the ecosystem that supports our existence. The concept of “Holobiont” may help us a lot in this task. We are holobionts, the ecosystem is a larger holobiont, we must find a way to live together. 

The American geologist Marion King Hubbert deserves the credit of having been the first to see the main trends of the 21st century, nearly 50 years before it were to start. In his 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels, he presented the figure above: a bold attempt to place the human experience with energy on a 10,000 years scale.

Of course, Hubbert was overly optimistic about nuclear energy which, in reality, started declining before fossil fuels did. But, with this graphic, Hubbert had laid down the human predicament, several years in advance with respect to “The Limits to Growth” (1972). Catton’s “overshoot” (1980), and many others. Without a miracle that could replace fossils well before they would start declining, the human world as it was in the 20th center was doomed. Nuclear energy was not, and could not have been, that miracle.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can Geothermal power make up for declining fossil fuels?

Can Geothermal power make up for declining fossil fuels?

Preface. Geothermal power plants are cost justified only in places where volcanic or tectonic activity brings heat close to the surface, mainly in “ring of fire” nations and volcanic hot spots like Hawaii.   Even then drilling can only be done where the rocks below are fractured in certain ways with particular chemistries.  A great deal of heat needs to be fairly close to the surface as well, since drilling deeply is quite expensive.

The reasons drilling is so difficult and expensive are:

  1. You have to remove all the rock you’ve cut from the hole which gets harder and harder as the hole gets deeper
  2. Drilling erodes the drill bit and pipe so you have to keep replacing them
  3. Drilling heats the rock up, so it has to be cooled down to keep the equipment from getting damaged
  4. The deeper you go, the hotter it gets, and the more expensive the drilling equipment gets using special metallurgy
  5. the fluids wreak havoc on boreholes by destroying their liners and concrete plugs, and are very corrosive,  it’s scary stuff (Oberhaus 2020)
  6. Pipes have to be thick and heavy to survive pumping pressures, about 40-50 pounds per foot. A deep well might have a million pounds of piping.  Just its own weight can break it if not well made, and at some point it’s hard to find hoisting equipment with enough power to lift it
  7. If the rocks aren’t stable, the hole may collapse
  8. There are often pressurized fluids that want to flow up the hole that can cause a dangerous blowout
  9. Some deep rock leaches toxic or radioactive materials, which increases costs to dispose of them and can make the drilling equipment hazards to touch

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Get Off Fossil Fuels Quickly—and Fairly

How to Get Off Fossil Fuels Quickly—and Fairly

Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discuss panel orientation and spacing for a project on simultaneously growing crops under PV Arrays while producing electricity from the panels in South Dearfield, Massachusetts. The project is part of the DOE InSPIRE project seeking to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes.PHOTO FROM SCIENCE IN HD/UNSPLASH Climate experts share a range of ideas and strategies for envisioning a better future.


When it comes to a just transition, it’s going to take a radical reimaging not only of our economy but also of our culture and the shape of our social structures. YES! co-hosted a conversation with experts from the nonprofit The Land Institute to discuss policy proposals and new ways to rebuild our sense of self and community from the bottom up.

The discussion was prompted by a new book, The Green New Deal and Beyond, by Stan Cox, the Land Institute’s lead scientist for perennial crops. He was joined by his colleagues, Director of Ecosphere Studies Aubrey Streit Krug, and President Emeritus Wes Jackson. The event was moderated by YES! contributing editor Robert Jensen.

Together they share a range of ideas and strategies for envisioning a better future.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ROBERT JENSEN: I would propose that the most important word in the title of your book, Stan, is “beyond.” We know the Green New Deal is not a fully fleshed out political program yet, but why do we need to go beyond it?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Vatican Asks Catholics to Ditch Fossil Fuel Investments

Vatican Asks Catholics to Ditch Fossil Fuel Investments

The Vatican urged Catholics to closely consider where they invest their money and to take a close look at the environmental impact of the companies they may be shareholders in, as Reuters reported.

Pope Francis has frequently criticized wanton greed that has led to environmental degradation and a climate crisis that is uprooting the lives of the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished people. On Earth Day, the Pope gave a speech in which he said that humans have sinned against the earth, as EcoWatch reported at the time.

To follow up on the pontiff’s works, the Vatican released a 225-page manual for church leaders and workers that included the guidance to end investments in weapons manufacturing and defense systems, fossil fuels, and to closely monitor companies in the energy sector to see if their actions are causing environmental harm, according to Reuters.

The manual, called Journeying Towards Care For Our Common Home, is a follow up to the Pope’s landmark encyclical on climate change called “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” which gave the official Catholic Church seal of approval to the pope’s environmental concerns. The new compendium offers practical steps to follow up on the Laudato Si, which translates from Latin to Praise Be.

As Reuters reported, the manual’s finance section said that shareholder action “could favor positive changes … by excluding from their investments companies that do not satisfy certain parameters.” It listed these as respect for human rights, bans on child labor, and protection of the environment.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Recent History of GDP Growth, CO2 Emissions, and Climate Policy Paralysis, All in One Table-Runner

The Recent History of GDP Growth, CO2 Emissions, and Climate Policy Paralysis, All in One Table-Runner

Note: I began designing this table-runner just before the COVID-19 pandemic blew up in the United States. In the time I have been embroidering it, rates of death and misery have soared while wealth generation and carbon emissions (the two subjects of this work) have ended their decades-long rise and have plummeted. A deadly virus is a terrible means of slowing greenhouse warming. Whenever we come out the other side of the pandemic, we must pursue a rapid, humane, ecologically sound, and guaranteed-effective course of action to drive greenhouse emissions down to zero. Here’s how— P.G.C.

tablerunner

The color of money is the color of calamity

This table-runner illustrates, from left to right, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from 1946 to the present. Each year is represented by two adjacent stripes: one in gradually deepening shades of green representing that year’s U.S. gross domestic product (adjusted for inflation) and one in increasingly intense shades of yellow-orange-red, representing CO2 concentration.

There are nine shades for GDP and eleven for CO2, with shades indicating roughly equal intervals of increase in each. The shades of both types of stripes darken as the years go by, in accordance with the increases that occurred in both GDP and CO2. (For hi-res, zoomed-in images of the table-runner, see here.)

The shades of yellow-orange-red in the table-runner darken more and more rapidly as the years pass, illustrating how emissions of CO2 accelerated as industrial output and fossil-fuel use rose more rapidly throughout the world. The concentration of COrose at an annual rate of about 0.8 ppm from 1945 to 1980; 1.5 ppm from 1980 to 1995; and 2.1 ppm from 1995 to 2019. (The United States accounted for almost 20 percent of the rise in atmospheric CO2 during those years.)

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Fossil-fueled industrial heat hard to impossible to replace with renewables

Fossil-fueled industrial heat hard to impossible to replace with renewables

Preface. Cement, steel, glass, bricks, ceramics, chemicals, and much more depend on fossil-fueled high heat (up to 3200 F) to make. Except for the electric-arc furnace to recycle existing steel, there aren’t any renewable ways to make cement, other metals, and other high-heat products, and industries aren’t working on this either.

***

Roberts, D. 2019. This climate problem is bigger than cars and much harder to solve. Low-carbon options for heavy industry like steel and cement are scarce and expensive. Vox

Climate activists are fond of saying that we have all the solutions we need to the climate crisis; all we lack is the political will. This is incorrect. There are some uses of fossil fuels, that we do not yet know how to decarbonize.

Take, for instance, industrial heat: the extremely high-temperature heat used to make steel and cement. 

Heavy industry is responsible for around 22% of global CO2 emissions, with 42% of that — about 10% of global emissions — from combustion to produce large amounts of high-temperature heat for industrial products like cement, steel, and petrochemicals.

To put that in perspective, industrial heat’s 10% is greater than the CO2 emissions of all the world’s cars (6%) and planes (2%) combined. Yet, consider how much you hear about electric vehicles. Consider how much you hear about flying shame. Now consider how much you hear about … industrial heat.

Not much, I’m guessing. But the fact is, today, virtually all of that combustion is fossil-fueled, and there are very few viable low-carbon alternatives. For all kinds of reasons, industrial heat is going to be one of the toughest nuts to crack, carbon-wise. And we haven’t even gotten started.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Pandemic Response Requires Post-Growth Economic Thinking

Pandemic Response Requires Post-Growth Economic Thinking

The end of growth is painful. We had a foretaste of it in 2008, but the current crisis promises to be much worse.

New Yorkers make some noise to show appreciation to healthcare workers due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Manhattan, New York City, United States on April 8, 2020. (Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
New Yorkers make some noise to show appreciation to healthcare workers due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Manhattan, New York City, United States on April 8, 2020. (Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Amid a horrific human tragedy of sickness and death, much of it taking place in hospitals staffed by brave but overworked and under-equipped doctors and nurses, we are all learning once again what it feels like when economic growth comes to a shuddering stop and the economy goes into reverse—shrinking and consuming itself. Millions have been thrown out of work, untold numbers of businesses shuttered. The St. Louis Federal Reserve estimates that Q2 unemployment could clock in as high as 32.1 percent (for comparison, unemployment at the depths of the Great Depression was 25 percent, and during the Great Recession of 2008-2010 it peaked at 10 percent). Though radical measures must now be adopted to slow the spread of the coronavirus, those measures are having toxic side effects on the economy.

Yet, economic growth was bound to end at some point, with or without the virus. A few moments of critical thought confirm that the exponential expansion of the economy—whose physical processes inevitably entail extracting natural resources and dumping polluting wastes—is destined to reach limits, given the obvious and verifiable fact that we live on a finite planet.

However, we also happen to live in a human social world in which a decades-long spurt of economic and population growth, based on the snowballing exploitation of a finite supply of fossil fuels, has become normalized, so that world leaders have come to agree that growth can and must continue forever.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Does Pandemic Change the Big Picture?

How Does Pandemic Change the Big Picture?

As of 2019, the Big Picture for humanity was approximately as follows. Homo sapiens (that’s us), a big-brained bipedal mammal, had spent the Pleistocene epoch (from 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago) developing its ability to control fire, talk, paint pictures, play bone flutes, and make tools and clothes. Language dramatically enhanced our sociality and helped enable us to invade and inhabit every continent except Antarctica. During the Holocene epoch (the last 12,000 years), we started living in permanent settlements, developed agriculture, and built state societies with kings, slavery, economic inequality, full-time division of labor, money, religions, and armies. The Anthropocene epoch (more of a brief interlude, really) dawned only a couple of centuries ago as we humans started using fossil fuels, which empowered us dramatically to grow our population and per capita consumption rates, mechanize production and transport, and basically dominate the entire planet. The mechanization of agriculture, by making the landed peasantry redundant, led to mass urbanization and quickly pumped up the size of the middle class. However, the use of fossil fuels destabilized the global climate, while also vastly increasing existing problems like pollution, resource depletion, and the destruction of habitat for most wild creatures. In addition, over the past few decades we learned how to use debt to transfer consumption from the future to the present, based on the risky assumption that the economy will continue to grow forever, thereby enabling future generations to pay for the lifestyle we enjoy now.

In short, the Big Picture was one of ever-increasing power and peril. Suddenly it has changed. A pattern of furious economic growth, consistent over many decades since the dawn of the Anthropocene (with only occasional interruptions, primarily consisting of the Great Depression and two World Wars), has slammed precipitously into the wall of pandemic (un)preparedness. In an effort to limit mortality from the novel coronavirus, governments around the world have put their economies into a state of suspended animation, telling most workers to stay home and to avoid direct contact with others.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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