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Thursday, January 31, 2013

BREAKING: Faulty welds in Keystone XL show DAYLIGHT!!! Put into ground with no further inspection!

MEDIA RELEASE: January 31, 2013

Contact: Audrey Campbell, kxlblockade@gmail.com651-472-2061


Activist interrupts pipeline conference, releases photos of flawed welds on Keystone XL pipeline.

Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel, The Woodlands, TX – 9 am this morning, TransCanada executive Tom Hamilton's presentation of a Keystone XL case study at the Pipe Tech Americas 2013 conference was interrupted when a blockader chained himself to the projector screen and delivered a speech to the nearly 300 attendees. Hamilton, the Manager of Quality and Compliance for the Keystone Pipeline, was supposed to give a forty-minute talk about safety and regulations related to the southern portion of the KXL pipeline. Instead, Tar Sands Blockade organizer Ramsey Sprague gave an impassioned rebuttal highlighting TransCanada's poor safety record.

Sprague described shoddy welding practices and dangerous corner-cutting throughout TransCanada's operations as exposed by whistleblowers like Evan Vokes, a metallurgic engineer who came forward in May 2012, leading to an investigation by Canada's National Energy Board. Sprague reminded attendees that TransCanada's first Keystone pipeline has already leaked over 30 times and that other industry leaders such as Enbridge are similarly negligent, with over 800 spills since 1999. He derided TransCanada for routing the KXL pipeline through ecologically sensitive areas and through communities like the one in Douglass, TX, where construction crews are actively laying pipe within sight of the Douglass public school.

Sprague also described how activists who blockaded themselves inside the actual KXL pipe on December 3rd could see daylight through holes in welds connecting segments of pipe – and how Tar Sands Blockade has the pictures to prove it. That mile-long section of the pipe was laid in the ground on the same day; no additional welding or inspection occurred after the photos were taken.
Tar Sands Blockade is a coalition of affected Texas and Oklahoma residents and climate justice organizers using peaceful and sustained civil disobedience to stop the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Donald A. Brown: The Climate Change Disinformation Campaign: What Kind Of Crime Against Humanity, Tort, Human Rights Violation, Malfeasance, Transgression, Villainy, Or Wrongdoing Is It? Part One: Is The Disinformation Campaign a Crime Against Humanity or A Civil Tort?

by Donald A. Brown, Ethics and Climate, January 30, 2013

I. Introduction. The French philosopher Diderot said that skepticism in all things is the first step on the road to the truth.  Although responsible scientific skepticism about climate change science is a good thing that should be encouraged, as we have written about frequently on, there has been a well-organized, well-funded disinformation campaign about the science of climate change that has used tactics that are deeply ethically reprehensible.  In this entry we continue to explore how society should classify this very harmful development.
The tactics deployed by this campaign are now all well documented in the books and peer-reviewed sociological literature identified in the Appendix to this article. The tactics used by the climate change disinformation campaign have included the following ethically abhorrent tactics:
  • Lying or reckless disregard for the truth
  • Cherry picking the science
  • Cyber-bullying and ad hominem attacks on scientists and journalists
  • Manufacturing bogus, non-peer-reviewed science in ideological organized conferences and publications that don’t subject conclusions to peer-review
  • The use of ideological think tanks to promote the views of ideological skeptics
  • The use of front groups and fake grass-roots organizations known as Astroturf groups that hide the real parties in interests
  • Specious claims about “bad science” that are based upon the dubious assumption that no conclusions in science can be made until everything is proven with high levels of certainty
These tactics obviously do not constitute responsible scientific skepticism but disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and even intimidation in the case of cyber-bullying. has described this disinformation campaign in a four part paper series and a three part video series that has examined these ethically abhorrent tactics in considerable detail.
The four part written series can be found at:
The three part video series can be found at:
In this entry we continue to examine how we should classify this kind of disinformation, an important question because the disinformation campaign is, we believe, a new kind of assault on humanity which raises questions about how we should classify it and how society should sanction disinformation about potentially very harmful human behavior. We first examine the basis for claiming that the disinformation campaign is a crime against humanity.
II. Crime Against Humanity
Because the international community has lost over twenty years in developing an adequate solution to climate change, a matter discussed in considerable detail in this writer’s recent book Climate Change Ethics, Navigating the Perfect Moral Storm,in no small measure due to the climate change disinformation campaign and given that the international community is now running out of time because of this delay to prevent dangerous climate change, the  disinformation campaign is likely responsible for huge quantities of human suffering.  That is this delay is causing or increasing the severity of droughts, floods, adverse human health impacts, intense storm damage, and heat related deaths among others adverse impacts.  Without doubt the failure to act in the last twenty years is putting hundreds of millions of people at great risk including some the world’s poorest people and the ecological systems on which their lives depend.
Given the scale of these impacts, what sense can be made of a claim that  the tactics of the disinformation campaign (to be distinguished from responsible scientific skepticism) is some new kind of crime against humanity.
Crimes against humanity are understood to be grave offenses that are part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.
In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in The Hague (Netherlands) and the Rome Statute provides for the ICC to have jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The definition of what is a “crime against humanity” are contained in Article 7 of the Rome Statute which says that:
For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) Murder; (b) Extermination; (c) Enslavement; (d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population; (e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;  (f) Torture; (g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; (h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, or gender, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court; (i) Enforced disappearance of persons; (j) The crime of apartheid; (k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
Thus far only these very odious acts have been recognized as crimes against humanity. Furthermore only crimes that have been committed in nations that have consented to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) may be prosecuted in the ICC. Because the United States has not consented to the ICC and many of the activities of the disinformation campaign have taken place in the United States, it is not likely that fossil fuel companies who have participated in in the disinformation campaign could be prosecuted for a crime against humanity even if the court construes the tactics of the disinformation campaign as “inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering.” Furthermore it is not clear that the disinformation campaign constitutes a “systematic attack against a civilian population” as defined in the ICC statute. Therefor although the  disinformation campaign can be understood as a new kind of assault on humanity, it does not obviously fit the definition of crime against humanity under the ICC.
And so, although a strong case can be made that the intentional acts of those participating in  the disinformation campaign are metaphorically some kind of new crime against humanity, it is not likely that these acts would be construed to be legally prosecutable as crimes against humanity under existing international law.
Before accusing someone of a crime, it is also necessary to be able to prove that they knew or should have known that that they were misleading people in ways that could cause damage or harm. One might ask whether anyone engaging in the tactics discussed in this series on the disinformation campaign is ethically blameworthy. Some skeptics, for instance, who engage in the ethically dubious practice of stressing unknowns while ignoring the large body of well-settled science are simply expressing their opinions or their interpretations of what they know about the science. If people have a right to free speech, it follows that people should be able to express their views on climate science freely, even if their views are based upon incomplete knowledge of the peer-reviewed science on which the consensus view has been based.
Yet there is abundant evidence that some of those participating in climate change disinformation campaign were being advised by scientists advising them that the mainstream scientific view was entitled to strong scientific respect, yet they persisted in spreading claims that there was no scientific basis for concern about human-induced climate change.
Furthermore, those funding the disinformation campaign consistently funded organizations and individuals that were regularly making demonstratively false claims about the state of climate change science or claims made in reckless disregard for the truth.
And so, some of the activities of those engaged in the disinformation campaign could likely be prosecuted on criminal grounds provided a court had jurisdiction to make criminal determinations in such matters under a law that criminalized known false claims about very dangerous behavior.  Given the immensity of the harm from the climate change disinformation campaign, a case can be made that new laws criminalizing disinformation on matters as dangerous as climate change are warranted where the disinformation is transmitted to protect economic interests.
III. Civil Liability Under Common Law for Disinformation
A tort is a violation of civil duties, that is a tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a civil wrong. Tort law deals with situations where a person’s behavior has unfairly caused someone else to suffer loss or harm. A tort is not necessarily an illegal act but an act that causes harm. The law allows anyone who is harmed to recover their loss.
We begin with a specific case,  Kivalina vrs ExxonMobil Corporation, because although this case has now been dismissed, the plaintiffs in this case set out in the complaint assertions they claimed they could prove about the actions of the defendants actions, the majority of which were fossil fuel companies,  that are are relevant to to the disinformation campaign.
Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation, et al. is a lawsuit filed on February 26, 2008 in a US district court asking for climate change damages from flooding to the Alaskan village of Kavalina. This case has subsequently been dismissed by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in October of 2012 on the basis that climate change raises political issues that need to be decided by legislative action rather than by  a court.
Nevertheless, the allegations made by the plaintiff, an Alaskan village,  asserted that some of the defendants including ExxonMobil Corporation, BP America, Inc., Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips Company,  Peabody Energy Corporation, American Electric Power Company, Inc, Duke Energy Corporation, and The Southern Company, conspired to misinform the public on the science of climate change either individually or through their various front groups or  industry trade associations. The complaint in this case further asserted that the object of the conspiracy was to create unwarranted doubts about the existence of global warming and its causes among the public and that the defendants did this to protect their economic interests.
The plaintiffs also claimed that some of the  defendants have conspired to mislead the public about the science of global warming creating flooding harms to the Village of Kivalina.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants  also funded “front groups,” including ƒƒphony citizens’ organizations and bogus scientific bodies, to regularly publish views expressing doubts about global warming in mainstream publications such as the Wall Street Journal. The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendants funded and circulated misleading advertising which questioned the “science” of global warming and human causation. The plaintiffs also alleged that defendants coordinated a “skeptics campaign” that include funding for energy industry groups and other public policy organizations which voiced skepticism regarding global warming, creating the appearance of numerous independent voices speaking out against global warming.
The plaintiffs further claimed that the defendants engaged in a civil conspiracy by ƒƒand through agreements to participate in the intentional creation, contribution to and/or maintenance of a public nuisance through global warming by undermining the public’s understanding of climate change science.
The plaintiffs also alleged that the fossil fuel companies were being told by scientists that were advising them that climate change was a serious threat, yet they continued to fund projects which sought to undermine the science.
The court finally dismissed the case on the ground that the “the solution to Kivalina’s dire circumstances must rest in the hands of the legislative and executive branches of our government, not the federal common law.” Kivalina may be the last blow for parties that are seeking to address climate change via the federal common law. Kivalina was the last in a series of cases seeking to recover damages from climate change under  theories of liability for a public nuisance. These other cases also have been dismissed on the grounds that climate change liability is a matter that must be resolved by legislatures not courts.  The opinion in the Kivalina case makes it clear that both abatement actions and monetary damage actions pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions have been displaced by the Clean Air Act. Most observers have concluded that  public nuisance litigation in the future will likely be litigated in the states, where common law public nuisance actions are still viable although efforts to address climate change via state common law have been unsuccessful (at least so far).
The apparent reasoning followed by the court in this case is that there is no right to damages from climate change under the theory of public nuisance in federal courts because climate change emissions now must be regulated under the federal Clean Air Act. In other words, federal statutory law has preempted the way in which greenhouse gas emissions will be regulated and the penalties that will be allowed for excess emissions. Such a decision is not understood to conclude that the defendants have not been harmed by the conspiracy of the defendants to mislead the public, only that there is no right to recover damages from this harmful behavior in US federal courts using common law tort theories.
And so the tactics employed by fossil fuel companies to undermine the public’s understanding of mainstream scientific conclusions about climate change may be a wrong without a civil remedy for damages under common law, at least in the United States. It is not clear, however, that civil liability for disinformation may not be adjudicated in courts outside the United States. Only time will tell.
Because climate change damages are likely to be so catastrophic for some people in some places, a case can be made that governments should create statutes that would impose severe financial penalties on parties that spread false information about very harmful behavior such as spreading misinformation about climate change.
Part II in this series will look at other legal theories for responding to the disinformation including human rights theories.
IV Conclusion
Thus far we have shown that although the climate change disinformation campaign is equal in destructive power to many human activities that are classified as crimes against humanity, yet the current international legal regime for prosecuting crimes against humanity does not provide an adequate remedy for climate change caused damages that have been caused by those participating in the disinformation campaign. This is so despite the fact that there is strong evidence that at least some of those participating in the disinformation campaign knew or should have known that they were spreading false information about the enormous threat of climate change and did so to protect economic interests.
We have also seen, there appears to be no civil law remedy for damages that tens of millions will experience at least in part because of tactics of the disinformation campaign. Yet a strong case can be made that there should be some civil legal remedy for those who have been harmed by the those responsible for the disinformation campaign.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

George F. Will's Pants on Fire Lies about U.S. wildfires

Spreading like Wildfire

Twice we’ve examined the fakery from George Will about the danger of wildfire in the U.S. and its relation to global warming. It’s hard to imagine being more ignorant about this issue than George Will. Or, is he simply willing to mislead people deliberately, to expose our nation and our people to extreme danger, just to push a political agenda? Or … both?
This much is certain: George Will is completely wrong about wildfire risk in the U.S. But he is oh so right about propaganda! To create doubt about the scientific truth of increased wildfire risk, all you need to do is say whatever you want. No matter how wrong, it will be repeated by those who push your same political agenda. Doubt is their product.
Case in point: Fox “news” is repeating Will’s claim as though it had any relevance at all to the issue. Media Matters reports the whole thing, including video.
This is how denial works. Create doubt, either based on a fact which is irrelevant to the truth of the matter, or based on an outright lie. Push that doubt along, by repeating what you’ve heard from uninformed, ignorant, biased sources again and again. Whether or not it’s relevant at all, whether or not it’s even true at all, makes no difference. Just make sure the doubt spreads — like wildfire.
What I noticed of interest in the report from Media Matters was this graph, showing that acres burned per fire by wildfire in the U.S. increased from 1983 through 2008:
I tested this data for statistically significant trend, using both least-squares and non-parametric (Theil) regression:
Solid blue shows a least-squares regression fit. Dashed blue shows a Theil regression fit. Both are statistically significant. The red line is a lowess smooth.
But, the graph shown in the Media Matters report is out of date, only going as far as 2008. We’ve witnessed four more years since then. And what have those years brought? This:
Although 2012 didn’t have as many wildfires as 2006 (or many other years for that matter), it still brought tremendous wildfire damage because in 2012 the acres burned per wildfire was far more than any previous year. In fact, by any trend you care to use, a least-squares regression line, or a Theil regression line, or the lowess smooth, the trend has more than doubled acres burned per fire since 1980.
Of course, in 2012 the acres burned per fire was extra high because it also showed an upward fluctuation. But that upward fluctuation was on top of an upward trend — and when that happens we’re in real trouble.
If we give any credence to the climate science fakery constantly spewing forth from George Will and from Fox “news,” then we’re in even worse trouble.

Barry Bickmore: Utah Republican Legislator Floats Climate Change Bill…!!!

by Barry Bickmore, Climate Asylum blog, January 29, 2013

I’m gobsmacked.  A Republican legislator from Heber City, Kraig Powell, has submitted a bill to the Utah State Legislature that… (drumroll)… assumes the possibility of human-caused climate change.  The point of the bill (HB77) is to allow state land managers to consider human-caused climate change when developing plans to deal with wildfire mitigation.  Yes, they apparently need the Legislature to give them permission.
Read Salt Lake Tribune articles by Judy Fahys and Paul Rolly.
Read the text of HB77.
Now make sure to contact Rep. Powell and give him your support, especially if you live in his district (Summit or Wasatch counties.)  And if you do live in his district, make sure to show up for your next Republican caucus meeting and vote in delegates who aren’t Tea Party and/or Eagle Forum nuts who will be gunning for him.

What would Lincoln do? Obama must follow through on climate change challenge

by Brad Johnson, The Hill's Congress blog, January 28, 2013

President Barack Obama embarked on his second term with his inspiring inaugural promise to “respond to the threat of climate change” lest we “betray our children and grandchildren.” He can begin to turn ambition into action at this year’s State of the Union on February 12, the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

Of all the bold political moves made by Obama, few are as audacious as his deliberate invitations to be compared to our nation’s greatest president Obama announced his candidacy for president at the site of Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech and was sworn into office on Lincoln’s Bible. Like Lincoln, President Obama is a great orator. But Lincoln is revered not for his great speeches, but for his actions at the moment of America’s greatest crisis. For President Obama to be remembered as a great leader, he must act decisively on the existential threat of our era, climate change.

It thus makes sense to look to Lincoln for guidance. In the decades before the Civil War, Americans struggled to reconcile deep qualms about slavery with the wealth it brought to the young nation. The country’s political class was dominated by the entrenched power of the wealthy southern “slaveocracy” committed to the preservation and the expansion of their “peculiar institution.” Failing to challenge the power of King Cotton, weak presidents instead accommodated the slave power. James Monroe ratified the Missouri Compromise, Millard Fillmore agreed to the Compromise of 1850, Pierce and Buchanan dithered as Kansas bled – until Lincoln drew a hard line against slavery’s expansion into the West.

Speaking on the steps of the Illinois State Capitol, two years before he was elected President, Lincoln described the urgency of the threat facing the Union. “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free, I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” Lincoln’s greatness derives from his willingness to force the nation to admit that freedom and slavery could not coincide — that continued inaction, indecision, and compromise meant the end of the nation. Through the nation’s deadliest war, against widespread demands for another round of compromises, another expansion of slavery, Lincoln held firm.

Today, we have again spent too long ignoring a looming crisis, one that threatens not just our nation, but the world. In 1863, the fate of the world’s only democracy was imperiled by the sin of slavery. Seven score and three years later, the fate of all the world’s people is imperiled by the poisoning of the climate. Over the course of two hundred years, hundreds of billions of tons of carbon have been dumped into our atmosphere, incurring a debt that is now being called for remittance.

Continuing on our fossil-fueled path, scientist Kevin Anderson warns, will take us into a world that is “incompatible with organized global community.” Already, New Orleans and New York, Nashville and Minneapolis, Vermont and Kansas have faced unprecedented floods, fires, and storms, with lives lost and families torn asunder. The maelstrom is now upon us.

Once again, our politics are dominated by a wealthy elite, this time a ‘carbonocracy’ of fossil-fuel corporations. Their money is freely spent to corrupt our democracy; Obama’s inaugural ceremonies this year were brought to us in part by a $260,000 contribution by Exxon Mobil. The profits of these companies depend on their capacity to convince Americans, against all evidence, that climate change is not an urgent problem, that the expansion of offshore drilling, tar-sands pipelines, and natural-gas fracking are acceptable compromises, that the challenge of global warming can be put off for another generation.

If we do not change course now, and instead continue to increase the burning of coal and oil as multinational energy companies desire, we will fundamentally transform the very land we live on, the water we drink, the air we breathe in ways that are beyond our ken.

To defend Americans from the devastating impacts of climate change, Obama must recognize that the fossil-fueled economy is a moral wrong in our society that requires action today. “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” Obama said on Monday. But if he aims to be our generation’s Abraham Lincoln, Obama must do what is hard. If Obama doesn’t present a plan on climate, one that severs our ties to a morally unfathomable economic system of planetary destruction, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end, the union will be lost.

Brad Johnson is campaign manager of Forecast the Facts.

MoJo: The surprising connection between fracking and food

by Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, January 29, 2013

A farmer spreads synthetic nitrogen fertilizer on a field. e
In a recent Nation piece, the wonderful Elizabeth Royte teased out the direct links between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the food supply. In short, extracting natural gas from rock formations by bombarding them with chemical-spiked fluid leaves behind fouled water—and that fouled water can make it into the crops and animals we eat.
But there's another, emerging food/fracking connection that few are aware of. US agriculture is highly reliant on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, and nitrogen fertilizer is synthesized in a process fueled by natural gas. As more and more of the US natural gas supply comes from fracking, more and more of the nitrogen fertilizer farmers use will come from fracked natural gas. If Big Ag becomes hooked on cheap fracked gas to meet its fertilizer needs, then the fossil fuel industry will have gained a powerful ally in its effort to steamroll regulation and fight back opposition to fracking projects.

The potential for the growth of fracked nitrogen (known as "N") fertilizer is immense. During the 2000s, when conventional US natural gas sources were drying up and prices were spiking, the US fertilizer industry largely went offshore, moving operations to places like Trinidad and Tobago, where conventional natural gas was still relatively plentiful. (I told that story in a 2010 Grist piece.) This chart from a 2009 USDA doc illustrates how rapidly the US shifted away from domestically produced nitrogen in the 2000s.
It was the N of the era: In the 2000s, nitrogen production moved offshore as US natural gas prices rose. Source: USDA
Today, Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation off the coast of Venezuela and our leading source of imported N, is in the same position the US found itself in the early 2000s: Its supply of conventional, easy-to-harvest natural gas is wearing thin. In 2012, the International Monetary Fund estimated (PDF) that at current rates of extraction, the nation had sufficient natural gas reserves to last until just 2019.
Meanwhile, the fracking boom has made US natural gas suddenly abundant—and driven prices into the ground. A Btu of US natural gas now now costs 75 percent less than it did in 2008, the New York Times recently reported. Meanwhile, nitrogen fertilizer prices remain stubbornly high, propped up by strong demand driven by high crop prices. Those conditions—low input prices plus elevated prices for the final product—mean a potential profit bonanza for companies that use cheap US natural gas to make pricy N fertilizer for the booming US market.
Not surprisingly, as Kay McDonald of the excellent blog Big Picture Agriculture shows, the industry is starting to move back to the United States to take advantage of the fracking boom. McDonald points to a $1.4 billion project announced in September by the Egyptian company Orascom Construction Industries to build a large new nitrogen fertilizer plant in Iowa close to a natural gas pipeline. According to the Wall Street Journal, "cheap U.S. natural-gas supplies and the nation's role as the world's most important food exporter" drew the Egyptian giant into the US market.
Fertilizer giant CF Industries won more than $70 million in tax incentives from the the state, and $161 million in property taxes over 20 years from the county that houses the plant.
That same month, US-owned agribusiness cooperative CHS announced it was investing $1.2 billion to build a nitrogen plant in North Dakota. An Associated Press article gave a taste of the potential profits in such an operation: "Natural gas prices are now at about $2.50 per thousand cubic feet. At those prices, it takes about $82 worth of natural gas to make a ton of anhydrous ammonia, which is selling for about $800 per ton."
And then there's US fertilizer giant CF Industries, which in November announced a $3.8 billion expansion of existing nitrogen fertilizer plants in Louisiana and Iowa, a move designed to "take advantage of low natural gas costs and high grain prices," MarketWatch reported.
Now, it should be noted that it isn't just the promise of windfall profits that are driving these investments. Energy prices are highly volatile, and the industry is wary of the risk involved with plunking down billions in hopes of future gain. Enter the taxpayer: These projects are being underwritten by public money at the national, state, and local levels. As a reward for expanding its Iowa plant, CF Industries won more than $70 million in tax incentives from the the state, and $161 million in property taxes over 20 years from Woodbury County, which houses the plant, the Sioux City Journal reports. Louisiana will chip in several million dollars in tax breaks for the company's expansion there, too.
As for Orascom Construction's Iowa plant, it's being financed through a federal loan program designed to help states recover economically from disasters—in this case, Iowa's 2008 floods. The loan program, which gives Orascom access to an interest rate much lower than it would find in the commercial market, is a de facto subsidy—it will likely save the company $360 million in interest payments on the construction, the Des Moines Register reported. And that's on top of $100 million in tax breaks the state of Iowa has committed to the project.
What are taxpayers getting in exchange for these goodies? In my view, not much. Industrial agriculture's reliance on plentiful synthetic nitrogen brings with it a whole bevy of environmental liabilities: excess nitrogen that seeps into streams and eventually into the Mississippi River, feeding a massive annual algae bloom that blots out sea lifeemissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon; and the destruction of organic matter in soil.
By adding a "small grain" (oats or wheat) plus nitrogen-fixing cover crops, farmers can reduce their nitrogen needs by upwards of 80%.
Rather than prop up nitrogen use by subsidizing new megaprojects, public policy could be seeking encouraging farming practices that demand less nitrogen. One obvious strategy is diversification. The most prolific US crop, corn, is also the most nitrogen-intensive among major field crops. In a 2012 paper, researchers from Iowa State University's Leopold Center showed that by extending the typical Midwestern corn-soy crop rotation by adding a "small grain" (e.g., oats or wheat) plus nitrogen-fixing cover crops, farmers can reduce their nitrogen needs by upwards of 80%. Investing in policies that encourage such changes would likely, in the long run, be much smarter than subsidizing the fertilizer industry's move toward relying on fracked gas.
As they fight the expansion of fracking and push for tighter regulations on it, concerned citizens can count on an opponent nearly as powerful and monied as Big Oil: Big Ag. Already, the American Farm Bureau Federation, which essentially acts as a lobbyist for Big Ag firms, supports the controversial energy source: "Farm Bureau supports additional access for exploration and production of oil and natural gas, including the use of hydraulic fracturing," the group declared in an October 2012 policy statement (PDF). But the Farm Bureau and its agribiz allies haven't played much of a role in the fight over regulating fracking, yet. As the fertilizer industry becomes reliant on cheap US natural gas, that will likely change.

Fox Faux News promotes debunked claim that scientists exaggerated climate change

by MAX GREENBERG, Media Matters, January 29, 2013

Fox News seized on a leaked draft of a U.N. climate report to suggest that climate change has been "overstated for the last 20 years." But the draft itself clarifies that observed temperatures over the last 20 years have fallen within the range of past projections despite natural short-term variation.

Fox & Friends First claimed "scientists say" that "global warming been overstated for the last 20 years," based on a draft of the fifth assessment report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report, which was leaked in December 2012 to a blog called "stopgreensuicide," contains a graph that conservative blogs claimed showed observed temperatures were lower than the projections of IPCC's first assessment report in 1990.


But scientists debunked this claim when the IPCC draft was first leaked in December. The draft itself notes that "Even though the 16 projections from the [previous temperature] models were never intended to be predictions over such a short time scale [1999-2010], the 17 observations through 2010 generally fall well within the projections made in all of the past assessments." Indeed, as climatologist James Annan told Media Matters in December, "The grey bounds [...] indicate the range of uncertainty including natural variability, and the observations are well within that range":
Source: IPCC
And as this graph from the climate science website Skeptical Science shows, the "best" projection from the IPCC's 1990 report is consistent with observed global temperature changes since 1990:
Source: Skeptical Science
Furthermore, as the Union of Concerned Scientists' Aaron Huertas explained to, some gaps between IPCC projections and observed temperatures are to be expected:
"It's important to keep in mind that there are natural short-term variations in global temperature that happen right alongside human-induced warming," Aaron Huertas, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told
"For instance, it would have been impossible for the IPCC to predict if a volcanic eruption might temporarily cool the Earth, as the Mount Pinatubo eruption did in 1991."
University of Hawaii researchers have concluded that "large parts of the planet cooled as much as 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit" from 1992-1993 as a result of sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere from the eruption of Pinatubo. A study that adjusted for natural fluctuations such as this volcanic eruption found that the IPCC's report successfully predicted warming over the last 20 years.

Despite conservative media attempts to spin the leaked IPCC report, it actually solidified the case to act on climate change. As the New York Times reported, the "single most important conclusion" of the draft report was that "It is extremely likely that human activities have caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature since the 1950s."

Major climate changes looming

by Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco ChronicleJanuary 27, 2013

Greenhouse gases rise from a coal-burning plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, contributing to warming. Photo: Martin Meissner, Associated Press
Greenhouse gases rise from a coal-burning plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, contributing to warming. Photo: Martin Meissner, Associated Press


Washington -- In his inaugural address last Monday, President Obama made climate change a priority of his second term. It might be too late.
Within the lifetimes of today's children, scientists say, the climate could reach a state unknown in civilization.

In that time, global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are on track to exceed the limits that scientists believe could prevent catastrophic warming. CO2 levels are higher than they have been in 15 million years.

The Arctic, melting rapidly and probably irreversibly, has reached a state that the Vikings would not recognize.

"We are poised right at the edge of some very major changes on Earth," said Anthony Barnosky, a UC Berkeley professor of biology who studies the interaction of climate change with population growth and land use. "We really are a geological force that's changing the planet."

Wholesale shift needed

The Arctic melt is occurring as the planet is just 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) warmer than it was in preindustrial times.

At current trends, the Earth could warm by 4 degrees Celsius in 50 years, according to a November World Bank report.

The coolest summer months would be much warmer than today's hottest summer months, the report said. "The last time Earth was 4 degrees warmer than it is now was about 14 million years ago," Barnosky said.

Experts said it is technically feasible to halt such changes by nearly ending the use of fossil fuels. It would require a wholesale shift to renewable fuels that the United States, let alone China and other developing countries, appears unlikely to make, given that many Americans do not believe humans are changing the climate.

"Science is not opinion, it's not what we want it to be," said Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and climatologist at Texas Tech University who was lead author of a draft report on U.S. climate change issued this month by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, which was created by the federal government.

"You can't make a thermometer tell you it's hotter than it is," said Hayhoe, who with her husband, a linguist and West Texas pastor, has written a book on climate change addressed to evangelicals.

"And it's not just about thermometers or satellite instruments," she said. "It's about looking in our own backyards, when the trees are flowering now compared to 30 years ago, what types of birds and butterflies and bugs that ... used to be further south."

Robins are arriving two weeks early in Colorado. Frogs are calling sooner in Ithaca, NY. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting earlier. Cold snaps, like the one gripping the East, still happen, but less often. The frost-free season has lengthened 21 days in California, 9 days in Texas and 10 in Connecticut, according to the draft climate report.

Extreme weather

Scientists are loath to pin a specific event, such as Hurricane Sandy, to global warming.

But "the risk of certain extreme events, such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave and fires, and the 2011 Texas heat wave and drought has ... doubled or more," said Michael Wehner, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the climate report.

"Some of the changes that have occurred are permanent on human time scales."

Last year, the continental United States was the hottest it has ever been in the 118 years that records have been kept. Globally, each of the first 12 years of the 21st century were among the 14 warmest ever.

Connecticut was 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. At current rates of CO2 emissions, scientists expect New England to have summers resembling the Deep South within decades.

The pine bark beetle, held in check by winter freezes, is epidemic over millions of acres of forests from California to South Dakota.

Oceans, which absorb CO2, have increased in acidity, damaging coral reefs, shellfish and organisms at the bottom of the food chain. Washington state shellfish growers have seen major failures in oyster hatcheries because the larvae don't form shells.

A report this month by the National Research Council, a public policy branch of the National Academies, said such changes in ocean chemistry in the geologic past were accompanied by "mass extinctions of ocean or terrestrial life or both."

Tipping point

A key question is when greenhouse gas emissions might reach a point where changes become self-reinforcing and out of human control.

Arctic sea ice reflects the sun. As it melts, the dark ocean absorbs more solar heat, raising temperatures. Similarly, the Greenland ice sheet is melting rapidly, reducing reflectivity and heating the Earth faster, possibly speeding up the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

The northern permafrost is thawing, with the potential to release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and CO2 stored in soils. These can produce sudden changes that are hard to predict.

"We could be at a tipping point where the climate just abruptly warms," said Mark Z. Jacobson, director of Stanford University's atmosphere/energy program.

Changes over time

UC Berkeley's Barnosky said tipping points could come earlier than anticipated when factoring in population growth and land use. More than 40% of the Earth's land surface has been covered by farms and cities. Much of the rest is cut by roads. By 2025, that footprint could reach 50 percent, a level that on smaller scales has led to ecological crashes, such as a fisheries collapse or an ocean dead zone.

"It's just sort of simple math: The more people, the more footprint," Barnosky said. "If we're still on a fossil fuel economy in 50 years, there is no hope for doing anything about climate change. It will be here in such a dramatic way that we won't recognize the planet we're on."

Not all climate scientists are so gloomy. Ashley Ballantyne, a bioclimatologist at the University of Montana who studies paleoclimate records, said the climate has always changed, with ice ages, warmings and mass extinctions. At current CO2 concentrations, the Arctic and Greenland are likely to become ice free, as they were 4 million years ago, he said.

Polar bears are poorly adapted to such conditions, he said, "but it wasn't bad for boreal trees. They were quite happy."

An international political consensus set as a danger zone a global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), which is expected in 25 years based on current trends and when atmospheric concentration of CO2 reaches 450 parts per million. It is now almost 400 parts per million.  [CO2 equivalents are much higher than 400.]

Two degrees Celsius is "an arbitrary number," said Alan Robock, director of the Center for Environmental Prediction at Rutgers University. "On our current path, we will go zooming way past that."

Climatologist James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and activist Bill McKibben, founder of, believe the only way to preserve the Holocene climate humans are used to is to cut CO2 concentrations to 350 parts per million, last seen around 1988. [Actually, 350 ppm is not considered safe anymore -- better to get lower than 300 ppm.]

Ballantyne dismissed the 350 goal: "That's like a 70-year-old alcoholic saying, 'I'm going quit drinking when I'm 60 years old.' "

McKibben and Hansen propose a tax on fossil fuels at their source, to be reimbursed to all U.S. residents, as Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent-Vt., plans to propose in a "fee and dividend" scheme modeled on Alaska's oil royalty rebates to state residents.

Carbon tax unlikely

White House press secretary Jay Carney, asked Wednesday about the Sanders bill, said: "We have not proposed and have no intention of proposing a carbon tax."

It would have to be a big tax, McKibben said, "that drives up the price quickly. Maybe you go to the pump someday and you're paying what people in Europe pay for gasoline, which is good, because then it reminds you every time you go to the pump that you don't really need a semi-military vehicle to go to the grocery store."

Stanford's Jacobson maintains that wind and solar could power the world many times over. He calculated that the world would need to install 1.7 billion solar rooftops and 4 million wind turbines.

Jane Long, chair of the California Council on Science and Technology, said any such conversion would be costly and difficult at best. Still, she said, "one way to get out of the hole is to stop digging."

Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle's Washington correspondent. E-mail: