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Monday, September 28, 2015

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions hasn't slowed global economic growth

New report from green think tank Heinrich Boll shows OECD countries grew their economies 16% in last decade – and cut greenhouse gas emissions 6.4%

Increased use of low-carbon energy sources instead of fossil energy sources is making it easier for countries to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report.

 Increased use of low-carbon energy sources instead of fossil energy sources is making it easier for countries to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/Reuter
by Bruce Watson, The Guardian, September 28, 2015

As the world works out how to avoid catastrophic climate change, one of the biggest questions remaining is whether we can continue to grow economically without also increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
New research released this week at Climate Week NYC offers more hope that the answer might be yes. Prepared for green thinktank Heinrich Böll by DIW Econ, a German institute for economic research, the study found that, as a whole, countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have already decoupled their economic growth from emissions.
From 2004 to 2014, OECD countries grew their economies by 16% all together, while cutting fossil fuel consumption by 6% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6.4%, according to the report. The findings echo the results of an International Energy Association study earlier this year, which found that global emissions remained flat in 2014 while global GDP rose, marking a historical milestone.
Four major factors have contributed to this decoupling, according to the Heinrich Böll study: increased use of low-carbon energy sources instead of fossil energy sources; increased efficiency in energy generation; increased energy efficiency on the consumer side; and a move away from energy-intensive manufacturing towards less energy-intensive service sector work.
The biggest driver has been the reduced cost of renewable energy, particularly solar power, says Bastian Hermisson, executive director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s North America office.
“Renewables are the only source of energy that is continually getting cheaper,” Hermisson says. “In many parts of the world, solar and wind power have become cost competitive with coal. Renewables are, increasingly, offering the best return for your money, in terms of new investments.”
In Germany, for example, which has been a world leader in renewable energy policy, renewable energy costs have dropped 74% since 2006. Since 2004, Germany’s GDP has grown by 13% and its emissions have dropped by 11%. Conventional energy usage, including nuclear power, has dropped by 15% over the same period, while renewable energy usage has grown by 185%, and now represents 12% of the country’s total energy consumption.
In the US, GDP grew 17% between 2004 and 2007, while energy consumption dropped 2%; conventional energy usage dropped 4% and emissions related to fossil fuel combustion dropped 7.4%.
But the question of whether the world can continue to decouple economic growth and emissions depends largely on developing countries, which have taken on an increasing share of manufacturing. For the most part, developing countries’ economies are more dependent on fossil fuels, and they are growing to make up an increasing proportion of the total world economy.
Here, again, the Heinrich Böll study offers a glimmer of hope: it found that China, a major manufacturing economy, has also used renewables to begin decoupling its economy and emissions. The report stated that a stronger decoupling “seems possible in the near future”.
In 2004, China accounted for 9% of world GDP and 13% of energy consumption. Ten years later, those numbers had risen to 16% of GDP and 23% of energy consumption. This growth was, to a great extent, fueled by coal: in the same 10 years, China’s coal consumption grew by 74%.
But in the last two years, a major shift has occurred, according to the report: China has increased its use of renewables by 27%, and its use of natural gas by 22%, while its coal usage has remained flat. In other words, China’s rapid industrial growth, which previously depended mainly on fossil fuels, now appears to be taking a more renewable path.
This contrasts starkly with the energy picture in India, which is developing rapidly with a focus on coal. Since 2004, India’s coal consumption has more than doubled to account for over 57% of the country’s energy generation, according to the study. This has steeply raised emissions and has more than canceled out the benefits of its renewable energy growth.
Hermisson emphasizes the importance of helping developing countries to move toward more sustainable models. “If we do not find a way to combine sustainability with the developmental ambitions of billions of people in the world, the future looks bleak,” he says.
The secret may lie in exporting energy efficiency, along with manufacturing.
“The goal is to make sure that, when heavy manufacturing moves to developing countries, the old way of doing things doesn’t follow it,” Hermisson says. “We don’t want to repeat the developmental model of the OECD countries.”

News on fossil fuels, VW diesel emission and the environment compiled by rjs, week of September 27, 2015

More leukemias in children living close to heavily used roads -- Inserm researchers from CRESS (Epidemiology and Biostatistics Sorbonne Paris Cité Research Centre, Inserm - Paris Descartes University - University of Paris 13 - Paris Diderot University - INRA) studied the risk of acute leukaemia in children living close to heavily used roads. To address this question, the research team considered all 2,760 cases of leukaemia diagnosed in children under 15 years of age in metropolitan France over the 2002-2007 period. The results show that the incidence of new cases of myeloblastic leukaemia (418 of 2,760 cases of leukaemia) was 30% higher in children in the population whose residence was located within 150 m of heavily used roads, and had a combined length of over 260 m within this radius. In contrast, this association was not observed for the more common, lymphoblastic type of leukaemia (2,275 cases). The researchers particularly studied the case of the Île-de-France region of Paris with the help of data modelled by Airparif, which is responsible for the monitoring of air quality in Ile-de-France. These results are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Hospital Warning Thousands To Get Children Tested For HIV, Hepatitis After Surgical Equipment Not Sterilized: – Seattle Children’s Hospital is offering free blood tests to 12,000 families after discovering surgical equipment at its Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center had not been properly cleaned and sterilized, reports KIRO-TV.“As a result, some patients who had a surgical procedure at Bellevue Clinic may need to be tested for hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV,” said a statement from the hospital. “The risk to patients is extremely low; however, we don’t know the exact risk to each patient.”The hospital says required procedures for sterilizing surgical instruments were not always followed.The notification went out to the families of all 12,000 patients treated at the Bellvue surgery center through the entire five-year history of the facility.“What you’re hearing this is an extreme level of caution,” said Seattle Children’s CEO Jeff Sperring at a news conference. “We’re not aware of any patients (infected) but we’re not going to take chances. ”Yvonne McPherson told KIRO-TV she’s anxious to get her son Hayden tested.“It’s very scary. I mean, these are our kids,” she said. “This is not something to mess around with.”

From Peanut Butter and Jelly to Peanut Butter and Jail Food -- Under section 402(a)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), a food product is deemed “adulterated” if the food was “prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.” A food product is also considered “adulterated” if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance, which may render it injurious to health. Chapter III of the Act addresses prohibited acts, subjecting violators to both civil and criminal liability. Felony violations include adulterating or misbranding a food, drug, or device, and putting an adulterated or misbranded food, drug, or device into interstate commerce.  Any person who commits a prohibited act violates the FDCA.  A person committing a prohibited act “with the intent to defraud or mislead” is guilty of a felony punishable by years in jail and millions in fines or both. The key here is an intentional act.  A misdemeanor conviction under the FDCA, unlike a felony conviction, does not require proof of fraudulent intent, or even of knowing or willful conduct.  Rather, a person may be convicted if he or she held a position of responsibility or authority in a firm such that the person could have prevented the violation.  Convictions under the misdemeanor provisions are punishable by not more than one year or fined not more than $250,000, or both.  Here are five cases involving foodborne illness outbreaks where prosecutors have brought criminal charges:

Taiwan Faces Worst Dengue Outbreak In A Decade - Taiwan is facing one of its worst dengue outbreaks in a decade this summer. At of the time of this report, there have been more than 10,000 cases and 30 deaths reported in Taiwan according to Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), with more than 98 percent of the cases coming from Tainan.  Dengue outbreaks are not foreign for the southern part of Taiwan. Just last year, after an underground gas pipe explosion in Kaohsiung and a series of heavy rain, there was an outbreak of dengue fever in the region. According to a letter published in Emerging Microbes and Infection, the hot, humid summer combined with rain water gathered at the site of the pipe damage contributed to the dengue spike.  Taiwan has faced periodic outbreaks of dengue, particularly in the southern parts of the island. This year’s outbreak, which started in May and has continued to increase steadily as the summer progressed, is particularly serious. Dengue fever is spread through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. To date, there is no treatment or vaccination for dengue fever (although there have been new developments in our understanding of the mechanism to which dengue virus affects the immune system). Symptoms of the disease include fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion and severe joint and muscle pains. In severe cases, like dengue hemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome, there might even be widespread internal bleeding and may be fatal.

Northern Ireland Bans GMO Crops -- The politics of genetically engineered foods (GMOs) are being redrawn in Europe, where a near complete disapproval persisted until earlier this year. Now, it’s up to individual nations to say whether or not they want GMO crops grown on their soil.  So far, it hasn’t been the leading farming countries that are saying no to the controversial technology. On Monday, Northern Ireland became the second European Union member state to pass a national GMO ban. In August, Scotland announced its own such measure, the first country to do so following the change in EU rules that allows individual members to ban crops from being grown within their sovereign borders even if they’re approved for production within the wider union. All told, the UK produces less than 8 percent of the EU’s agriculture output, compared to nearly 18 percent from France, an industry leader in the 28 nation bloc.  Ministers in both Scotland and Northern Ireland couched the bans in terms of marketing.  “We are perceived internationally to have a clean and green image,” Mark H. Durkan, Northern Ireland’s environment minister, told the BBC. “I am concerned that the growing of GM crops, which I acknowledge is controversial, could potentially damage that image.” Activists have argued that the island of Ireland—including the Republic of Ireland—is too small to safely grow GMO crops without them cross-pollinating with non-GMO ones—a point that Durkan echoed in his interview with the BBC.

Syrian war spurs first withdrawal from doomsday Arctic seed vault | Reuters: Syria's civil war has prompted the first withdrawal of seeds from a "doomsday" vault built in an Arctic mountainside to safeguard global food supplies, officials said on Monday. The seeds, including samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions, have been requested by researchers elsewhere in the Middle East to replace seeds in a gene bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo that has been damaged by the war. "Protecting the world's biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault," said Brian Lainoff, a spokesman for the Crop Trust, which runs the underground storage on a Norwegian island 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole. The vault, which opened on the Svalbard archipelago in 2008, is designed to protect crop seeds - such as beans, rice and wheat - against the worst cataclysms of nuclear war or disease. It has more than 860,000 samples, from almost all nations. Even if the power were to fail, the vault would stay frozen and sealed for at least 200 years. The Aleppo seed bank has kept partly functioning, including a cold storage, despite the conflict. But it was no longer able to maintain its role as a hub to grow seeds and distribute them to other nations, mainly in the Middle East.

Tourists Thwart Turtles from Nesting in Costa Rica — The day-trippers swarmed onto the beach to watch one of nature’s most extraordinary sights, hundreds of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles crawling out of the ocean to lay their eggs in the sand. The turtles did not want the company. Scared off by the thousands of tourists massed along Ostional Beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, snapping selfies and perching their children on the turtles’ backs, the ancient reptiles simply turned around and retreated into the sea. “It was a mess,” said Yamileth Baltodano, a tour guide who was at the scene when the turtles were scared away two weeks ago. What happened during the first weekend in September was a one-time event, when a confluence of factors allowed the utterly unexpected to take place. But it was a cautionary tale for the conservationists charged with protecting the turtles, which are classified as vulnerable, not to mention a social media sensation. Now Costa Rican officials are scrambling to make sure it does not happen again. The olive ridley nesting season, from August through October, coincides with Costa Rica’s rainy season, which ordinarily provides a natural barrier that protects the turtles. During that time, the beach is all but cut off by the flood tide of the swollen Nosara River, which blocks access on bridges. Even in the dry season, the beach is accessible only by a four-wheel-drive vehicle driven by a local guide. But this year, low rainfall caused by El Niño left the river all but dry, making passage to the beach easy.

Despite All-Clear From EPA, New Studies Show Lingering Contamination After Animas River Spill -- On September 2, the EPA released data showing that water and sediment samples taken from the San Juan River — whose largest tributary, the Animas River, was tainted with three million gallons of toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine spill earlier this summer — had returned to pre-spill levels. On September 16, during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy reiterated those findings. But a spate of recently released studies paint a less positive picture of the river’s return to health. According to Al Jazeera, a new report conducted by the nonprofit Water Defense shows elevated levels of nearly a dozen metals and chemicals still present in the San Juan River. Another study recently conducted along a 60-mile stretch of the Animas River itself by researches at Texas Tech University and New Mexico State University also found elevated levels of heavy metals in the river sediment. “I would say at this point the water is unsafe to use until we have more testing completed,” Scott Smith, the chief scientist with Water Defense, told Al Jazeera. “We are dealing with known chemicals that are toxic and cancer causing, and we don’t know what’s happening to those chemicals and what’s going on in the crops.”  Water Defense’s tests showed levels of chromium at 4.7 parts per million in sediments affected by the spill, compared to levels of 3.7 parts per million in baseline sediments. According to EPA standards, levels at or below 0.01 parts per million are considered safe for drinking. The Water Defense tests also found concentrations of lead in the San Juan River had increased from 7.8 parts per million to 9.9 parts per million.

Investors Are Mining for Water, the Next Hot Commodity - Mr. Slater admits, his company, Cadiz, has never earned a dime from water. And he freely concedes it will take at least another $200 million to dig dozens of wells, filter the water and then move it 43 miles across the desert through a new pipeline before thirsty Southern Californians can drink a drop.But tapping cash, as opposed to actual water, has never been a problem for Cadiz. “I think there’s plenty of money out there,” Mr. Slater said.Real profits may be nearly as scarce as snow in the High Sierra, but Wall Street, as it is wont to do, smells profit as California endures its worst drought in decades.  “Investing in the water industry is one of the great opportunities for the coming decades,” said Matthew J. Diserio of Water Asset Management, a New York firm that is a major backer of Cadiz. “Water is the scarce resource that will define the 21st century, much like plentiful oil defined the last century.”“Cadiz has promoted the dream and for years Wall Street has pumped optimistic paper water for Cadiz,”  Other water ventures have also promised more than they have been able to deliver, at least so far. Obstacles abound in the forms of skeptical regulators, wary customers and implacably opposed environmental groups.But some projects are finally nearing fruition. Near San Diego, the privately held Poseidon Water is getting ready to flip the switch on a new desalination plant that it built after 15 years of battling lawsuits filed by environmental groups and waiting for go-aheads from cautious regulators. The drought, however, hasn’t softened local opposition to private players like Cadiz or Poseidon entering California’s water market. A main reason is money.

California Lake Mysteriously Runs Dry Overnight, Thousands Of Fish Dead -- Perhaps it is because the world has grown habituated to its unique set of "liquidity" problems, but California's record, and ongoing, drought has not been receiving much media coverage in recent weeks. Perhaps it should be, because according to a report by CBS Sacramento, the mystery that recently surrounded the water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, has spilled over to a water reservoir in Northern California. As CBS reports, the Mountain Meadows reservoir also known as Walker Lake, a popular fishing hole just west of Susanville, ran dry literally overnight, killing thousands of fish and leaving residents looking for answers. The unprecedented emptying of the lake has stunned locals: residents say people were fishing on the lake last Saturday, but it drained like a bathtub overnight.  "Everywhere that you see that’s wet, there was water," said resident Eddie Bauer. Bauer has lived near this lake his entire life. This is the first time he’s ever seen it run dry. He and other residents want answers. Pacific Gas & Electric Company owns the rights to the water and uses it for hydroelectric power. What little water remained on the morning of Sept. 13 is gone. Along with leaving large-mouth bass and other non-native fish belly up, a swift drawdown dumped silt and rotting fish into Hamilton Branch, a stream that connects Mountain Meadows reservoir with Lake Almanor. “Something went haywire,” said Aaron Seandel, chairman of a water quality committee that has been monitoring the water levels in Lake Almanor for 25 years.

What California can learn from Saudi Arabia’s water mystery - A decade ago, reports began emerging of a strange occurrence in the Saudi Arabian desert. Ancient desert springs were drying up. The springs fed the lush oases depicted in the Bible and Quran, and as the water disappeared, these verdant gardens of life were returning to sand.  “I remember flowing springs when I was a boy in the Eastern Province. Now all of these have dried up,” the head of the country’s Ministry of Water told The New York Times in 2003. The springs had bubbled up for thousands of years from a massive aquifer system that lay underneath Saudi Arabia. Hydrologists calculated it was one of the world’s largest underground systems, holding as much groundwater as Lake Erie. So farmers were puzzled as their wells dried, forcing them to drill ever deeper. They soon were drilling a mile down to continue tapping the water reserves that had transformed barren desert into rich irrigated fields, making Saudi Arabia the world’s sixth-largest exporter of wheat. But the bounty didn’t last. Today, Saudi Arabia’s agriculture is collapsing. It’s almost out of water. And the underlying cause doesn’t bode well for farmers in places like California’s Central Valley, where desert lands also are irrigated with groundwater that is increasingly in short supply. Here’s a look at what happened, and what the United States, China and the rest of the world can learn from Saudi Arabia.

Key differences between the 1997 and 2015 El Niños, and their impact on our hurricane season -- The 1997 and 2015 El Niño events are very similar in many ways — mainly in their stark intensity. But over the North Atlantic ocean, interesting differences emerge between the 1997 record-strong El Niño and its potential usurper. Just past the halfway point, this Atlantic hurricane season has been relatively quiet. Hurricane activity is just 40 percent of normal for this time of year.  Research has shown that the location of the warmest Pacific ocean waters can possibly lead to different effects on weather across the globe. During the 1997 El Niño, the warmest ocean temperatures were located in the far eastern Pacific and peaked in mid-September. During this El Niño, on the other hand, the warmest waters have been concentrated west of that, in the central tropical Pacific, with warmer waters than 1997 in the central tropical Pacific. Another interesting difference is the emergence of very warm water in the northeast Pacific and around Hawaii — a feature often referred to as “the blob.”Perhaps the most interesting difference between the 1997 and 2015 El Niños has been the pattern of wind shear across the Atlantic Ocean. Wind shear, which is the change in wind direction and speed as you go up in the atmosphere, is harmful to blossoming hurricanes. El Niño typically brings strong upper-level westerly winds across the Caribbean, extending into the tropical Atlantic, which rips apart storms as they travel from east to west in the deep tropics.The 2015 season has been characterized by the strongest levels of vertical wind shear on record for the Caribbean, which is a primary reason why we’ve seen no tropical cyclones develop in the Caribbean this year. However, farther east in the tropical Atlantic, vertical wind shear is actually below-normal, which is another reason why tropical cyclones have been able to form there.

Climate change set to fuel more "monster" El Niños, scientists warn -- The much-anticipated El Niño gaining strength in the Pacific is shaping up to be one of the biggest on record, scientists say. With a few months still to go before it reaches peak strength, many are speculating it could rival the record-breaking El Niño in 1997/8.Today, a new review paper in Nature Climate Change suggests we can expect more of the same in future, with rising temperatures set to almost double the frequency of extreme El Niño events. Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean - known as El Niño.  Together with its cooler counterpart, La Niña, this is known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is responsible for most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next. Last week, US scientists confirmed they expect "a strong El Niño" to peak in the next few months. The event brewing in the Pacific is already "significant and strengthening", said the statement from NOAA's Climate Prediction Centre. The latest temperature maps, released today, confirm parts of the tropical Pacific are up to 3C warmer than the long term average (dark red in the map below).  Because of their potentially serious impacts, there is a huge societal pressure to better predict when an El Niño or La Niña event will occur and how strong it will be. The new research, which McPhaden was not involved in, reviews all the available scientific evidence on ENSO and climate change, concluding that extreme El Niño events will happen more often as the climate warms. If emissions stay very high, the authors expect extreme El Niño events with impacts similar to the one in 1997/8 will almost double in frequency by the end of the century, from about once every 28 years today to once every 16 years.

Why some scientists are worried about a surprisingly cold ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean - It is, for our home planet, an extremely warm year.  Indeed, last week we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going to 1880. It’s just the latest evidence that we are, indeed, on course for a record-breaking warm year in 2015.  Yet, if you look closely, there’s one part of the planet that is bucking the trend. In the North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland, the ocean surface has seen very cold temperatures for the past eight months. What’s up with that?  I checked with Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, who confirmed what the map above suggests — some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean saw record cold in the past eight months. As Arndt put it by email: For the grid boxes in darkest blue, they had their coldest Jan-Aug on record, and in order for a grid box to be “eligible” for that map, it needs at least 80 years of Jan-Aug values on the record. Those grid boxes encompass the region from “20W to 40W and from 55N to 60N,” Arndt explained.  “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said. “So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.”  At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation.

Hot air melting the Arctic - Around 700 new ‘methane holes’ found in the Arctic shelf by Russian scientists show how fast these emissions are heating up the region. Given the scale of hot air emissions, it is likely the permafrost has been severely degraded, and the thaw irreversible. Carbon and hot gaseous emissions from small water bodies in the Arctic continental shelf have emerged as a major cause of concern, more worrying than the speed of thawing Arctic glaciers. Having spent 20 years studying water bodies formed when permafrost thaws, a team of Russian scientists have found that these thermokarst lakes are sources of carbon dioxide and hot methane gas. More recently, they have begun to grow rapidly, making it difficult to recognize them on satellite images compared to a couple of years ago. The coastline, in some areas, has shifted as much as 70 metres in a few years. For decades, researchers at Tomsk State University (TSU) have studied the West Siberian subarctic, an important natural zone of the Northern Hemisphere. The size of these local wetlands surpasses the area of the Scandinavian, Canadian and Alaskan wetlands several times over. “The soil organic carbon, also known as peat, transforms into carbon dioxide the fastest while in water,” said Sergei Kirpotin, head of TSU’s BioKlim Land research centre. “Over 80 percent of subarctic Siberia is covered by thermokarst lakes, but the scale of the carbon dioxide flow still has not been evaluated by anyone, and neither has the chemical composition of the water. We are currently working on it together with our colleagues from Sweden and France as part of the Siberian Inland Waters international initiative.”

Searching for Leads in the Opening Arctic -- The Arctic is melting. Summer sea ice that used to cover the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Strait isn’t there, where it used to be. Summer ice coverage in the Arctic hit a record low in 2012; this past March, it registered an all-time winter low. As the ice recedes, something new is popping up in its place: oil rigs and commercial ships. Whatever the debate about climate change looks like in Washington, it’s sadly clear up here. At least for part of the year, thanks to rising temperatures, a once-closed ocean is now open for business. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy sailing. Less ice is more ice, the Alaskan natives say: As ice melts, it opens things up just enough to get you into trouble. That’s as true for native whalers and seal hunters as it is for specialized drilling rigs that are starting to head north for a few months each year. As the Arctic melts, it is birthing a new global battleground, with huge economic, environmental, and geopolitical implications for the United States. Oil companies are moving north, even though cheap crude makes pricey Arctic drilling a tough sell for now. Shipping companies are eagerly eying a fresh northern route that can trim thousands of miles off voyages between Asia and Europe. Russia, which has a fleet of six nuclear-powered heavy icebreakers, with 11 more planned or under construction, is revamping scores of Cold War-era military bases inside the Arctic Circle. Moscow, eight years after planting a symbolic flag on the seabed at the North Pole, just handed the United Nations an expansive claim to almost half a million square miles of Arctic seabed potentially rich in oil, natural gas, and minerals. The United States would be hard-pressed to make a similar claim, since it has never ratified the Law of the Sea treaty, which codifies international maritime law. And China, which isn’t even an Arctic nation, is busy dipping its toe into the icy waters — launching its very own icebreaker, currently building a second, and for the first time sending navy ships into Alaskan waters.

$43 Trillion: What Scientists Calculate a Warming Arctic Will Cost - The melting permafrost in the Arctic could cost the world dearly. New research calculates that the economic damage that would flow from loss of permafrost and the increased emissions of greenhouse gases would add up to $43 trillion.  This is very nearly the estimated combined gross domestic product last year of the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, UK, France and Brazil.  The attempt to put a cumulative economic value on natural changes in climate that have yet to happen is part of the bid to get governments to take climate change seriously. In the latest attempt to cost the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and the continuous rise in global average temperatures, all as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion and other human action, the economist Chris Hope of the University of Cambridge and the polar expert Kevin Schaefer of the University of Colorado have turned their sights on the Arctic. The Arctic is the fastest-warming region of the planet. It was once much warmer and its now-frozen soils are home to huge quantities of vegetation that never had a chance to decompose. The two scientistsreport in Nature Climate Change that if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise as they are doing now, the thaw of the permafrost and the loss of the ice caps could release 1,700 billion metric tons of carbon now locked in as frozen organic matter. What would follow would include a higher chance of catastrophic floods, wind storms, heat waves and drought, the accelerated melting of the Greenland (and West Antarctic) ice sheets, rising sea levels, the loss of agricultural land and rising energy demand as more and more people began to depend on air conditioning. So the total cost of permafrost thaw would be $43 trillion, which is about half the annual global domestic product of the planet right now. The predicted total cost of climate change by 2200 could reach $369 trillion, an increase of 13 percent on all calculations so far.

Arctic thaw would cost half of world's annual earnings - The melting permafrost in the Arctic could cost the world dearly. New research calculates that the economic damage that would flow from loss of permafrost and the increased emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) would add up to US$43 trillion.  This is very nearly the estimated combined gross domestic product last year of the US, China, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, and Brazil. And, British and US scientists say, this would be in addition to at least $300 tn of economic damage linked to other consequences of climate change. The attempt to put a cumulative economic value on natural changes in climate that have yet to happen is part of the bid to get governments to take climate change seriously. In the latest attempt to cost the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and the continuous rise in global average temperatures, all as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion and other human action, the economist Chris Hope of the University of Cambridge and the polar expert Kevin Schaefer of the University of Colorado have turned their sights on the Arctic. The Arctic is the fastest-warming region of the planet. It was once much warmer, and its now-frozen soils are home to huge quantities of vegetation that never had a chance to decompose.

In First U.S. Address, Pope Francis Spends Most Of His Time Talking About Climate Change -- In his first public address during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis spent the majority of his time harping on one issue: Climate change. Speaking  Pope Francis began his talk by referencing his immigrant heritage, But just three paragraphs into his prepared remarks, Francis pivoted sharply to the another issue near to his heart — the environment. It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. “Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” Francis said. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” Francis twice quoted his own encyclical on the environment, a papal document released earlier this year that made headlines because of its bold call for global action on climate change.“When it comes to the care of our ‘common home’, we are living at a critical moment of history,” he said. “We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.’ Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies.”

Why Big Business Is Taking Climate Change Seriously -- Politicians and policymakers have long explained their opposition to action on climate change as an effort to protect the economy and jobs. Reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions would require devastating economic losses, their argument goes.But in recent years large corporations have changed their tune, slowly eroding the economic argument for inaction. On Wednesday, nine Fortune 500 companies announced plans to switch to sourcing 100% renewable energy, joining a growing group of corporations recognizing the risks of climate change.“In the early 90s there was a sense that business was holding us back and governments were trying to push forward,” says David Levy, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “Now, companies are coming forward to say, ‘This is important.'”Companies have been aware of the risks climate change poses to their businesses for years—even decades—but developments this year may leading to a tipping point, experts say. Last month, the White House announced a series of landmark regulations to address global warming, and negotiators from around the world are expected to reach a historic agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions in United Nations negotiations in Paris later this year.Companies taking part in Wednesday’s announcement, a list that includes household names like Walmart, Goldman Sachs and Starbucks, have set individual time frames to go 100% renewable, from a 2015 deadline set by Voya Financial to a 2050 deadline set by Johnson & Johnson.“Companies have looked at climate change and said, ’It’s not if we have to address it, but when,'”

Oil industry is to blame for losing climate debate, says Shell boss - SHELL chief executive Ben van Beurden believes the oil industry is partly to blame for allowing environmentalists to edge ahead in the debate over climate change. In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, he insists that oil and gas will remain a crucial part of the world economy for decades — and both will be vital to the development of the poorest countries. The boss of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant does not dispute that global warming is a reality, but he says campaigners against fossil fuels have been boosted by his industry’s reluctance to engage with critics. Van Beurden said: ‘We as an industry have not spent a lot of time explaining ourselves very well because we felt that whatever happens there would only be reputational downside and whatever we said would be misinterpreted or seen as self-serving. ‘By ignoring the debate it has gone to a place where the voices that have a simplistic remedy for this are the ones heard most. ‘The strongest advocates, in my mind, do a public disservice by delaying meaningful policy action by suggesting that there is actually a simple solution.’

Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO –   The following is the text of a letter written by a number of scientists asking for a federal investigation of climate science denial under the RICO statute.  Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren: The methods of these organizations are quite similar to those used earlier by the tobacco industry. A RICO investigation (1999 to 2006) played an important role in stopping the tobacco industry from continuing to deceive the American people about the dangers of smoking. If corporations in the fossil fuel industry and their supporters are guilty of the misdeeds that have been documented in books and journal articles, it is imperative that these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth’s climate, before even more lasting damage is done.

The Wealthiest Households Claim 90% of Tax Credits for Buying Electric Cars -  The federal government offers up to $7,500 in tax credits to purchase an electric vehicle, part of a broader national policy to encourage efficient use of energy and curb carbon emissions.  Almost all of those benefits are going to the wealthiest U.S. households, according to an analysis by University of California, Berkeley, . “We find that the top income quintile has received about 90% of all credits,” . The pattern is similar, though not as extreme, for other so-called clean-energy tax incentives. The authors dig through tax records to determine who’s claiming credits for residential energy-efficiency improvements, solar panel installation and purchase of alternative-fuel or electric vehicles. From 2006 to 2012, the most recent data available, tax credits totaled $18.1 billion, the authors find. In that time, taxpayers with an adjusted gross income greater than $75,000 received about 60% of those credit dollars for energy efficiency, residential solar and hybrid vehicles, and about 90% for electric cars. In other words, it’s a fairly regressive portion of the tax code. A more progressive tax–the authors suggest a carbon tax–would place more of the burden on the wealthy. “There may well be political considerations that continue to favor tax credits, but this approach comes at real cost, both in terms of efficiency and equity,”

Volkswagen could face $18 billion penalties from EPA = Volkswagen faces penalties up to $18 billion after being accused of designing software for diesel cars that deceives regulators measuring toxic emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday. "Put simply, these cars contained software that turns off emissions controls when driving normally and turns them on when the car is undergoing an emissions test," Cynthia Giles, an enforcement officer at the EPA, told reporters in a teleconference. Volkswagen can face civil penalties of $37,500 for each vehicle not in compliance with federal clean air rules. There are 482,000 four-cylinder VW and Audi diesel cars sold since 2008 involved in the allegations. If each car involved is found to be in noncompliance, the penalty could be $18 billion, an EPA official confirmed on the teleconference. A U.S. Volkswagen spokesman said the company "is cooperating with the investigation; we are unable to comment further at this time." The feature in question, which the EPA called a "defeat device," masks the true emissions only during testing and therefore when the cars are on the road they emit as much as 40 times the level of pollutants allowed under clean air rules meant to ensure public health is protected, Giles said. The EPA accused Volkswagen of using software in four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009 to 2015 made to circumvent emissions testing of certain air pollutants.

Volkswagen says 11 million cars hit by scandal, probes multiply | Reuters: Volkswagen said a scandal over falsified U.S. vehicle emission tests could affect 11 million of its cars around the globe as investigations of its diesel models multiplied, heaping fresh pressure on CEO Martin Winterkorn. The world's largest automaker said it would set aside 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in its third-quarter accounts to help cover the costs of the biggest scandal in its 78-year-history, blowing a hole in analysts' profit forecasts. It also warned that amount could rise, saying diesel cars with so-called Type EA 189 engines built into Volkswagen models worldwide had shown a "noticeable deviation" in emission levels between testing and road use. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Friday Volkswagen could face penalties of up to $18 billion for cheating emissions tests. In addition, the U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal probe of Volkswagen, a source familiar with the matter said. The investigation is likely to examine not only possible violations of the Clean Air Act but also of broader statutes against wire fraud, false statements to regulators and other crimes, former prosecutors not involved with the investigation said.

VW Scandal Bad News For Diesel - naked capitalism - Yves here. As John Gapper describes in today’s Financial Times, diesel engine manufacturers routinely gamed emissions tests, but Volkswagen was apparently the most extreme. From his articleIt has become so common to game European fuel efficiency tests with tricks such as taping up doors and overinflating tyres to curb drag that most diesel cars are less fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly than claimed. In the US, Ford was found to have fitted an illegal “defeat device” — the charge facing VW — to vans in 1997, and Hyundai and Kia were fined $100m last year for fixing their tests. From OilPrice: The outlook for diesel looks grim after U.S regulators found that the world’s second biggest car manufacturer cheated on its emission tests. Last Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that Volkswagen violated the U.S Clean Air Act. The German auto maker deliberately rigged the so called emission control systems in several models of their cars in order to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions when tested in the lab. However, when tested on the road, the size of the ‘diesel deception’ proved to be bigger than many could have imagined.Bloomberg reported on September 22 that on an open road test both the ‘Jetta’ and ‘Passat’ models exceeded U.S nitrogen-oxide emissions standards by up to 35 times. The company has already announced it will allocate $7.3 billion to deal with the costs of the emissions scandal. The Volkswagen scandal is not just likely to cause damage upon the company itself, it might also cause damage to the rest of the industry, including parts manufacturers, and other car makers. There is also the possibility that other car builders may have also manipulated tests. Maybe even more important is the damage done to the image of diesel as a ‘cleaner’ fuel.

Volkswagen Emissions Investigations Should Widen to Entire Auto Industry, Officials Say - WSJ: Investigations into Volkswagen’s alleged manipulation of U.S. emissions tests should be widened, officials from German, France and the U.K. said Tuesday, as regulators begin to ponder whether such deception is widespread. Calls for a broader probe came as Italy opened an investigation into the issue and a spokesman for the European Union said its regulators would soon meet with national authorities to discuss how to address the Volkswagen crisis. Concerns that the scandal could lead to broader damage for the industry hit the shares of car companies across Europe on Tuesday and those losses accelerated after Volkswagen warned that 11 million vehicles could be affected.  The state of Lower Saxony, a major Volkswagen shareholder with 20% of the car maker’s voting stock, said the emissions allegations raised doubts about tailpipe data published by all car makers. The French government also called for a broader probe, suggesting a European-wide examination of the auto industry. “We need to do it at the European level,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Tuesday. The call was echoed by the U.K. government, which has pushing for more accurate tests at the European level for some time. “It’s vital that the public has confidence in vehicle emissions tests and I am calling for the European Commission to investigate this issue as a matter of urgency,” U.K. Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin said in a statement.

Your Guide To Dieselgate: Volkswagen’s Diesel Cheating Catastrophe -- Yes, it’s a catastrophe. There’s no other way to describe the allegations from the Environmental Protection Agency that Volkswagen cheated on their emissions tests with nearly half a million TDI diesel cars. What’s at stake here? Potentially billions in fines, criminal prosecutions, VW’s reputation, and maybe even the future of diesel in the U.S. (The scandal has also gone worldwide; see update below.) On Friday the EPA said VW found a way to circumvent emissions requirements during testing with a “defeat device” that lets the TDI cars detect when they are being tested and then emit far less than normal. When the device is not working, and the cars are operating in regular driving, they emit 10 to 40 times more than the allowable legal levels of certain pollutants.  Make no mistake that this scandal is a huge deal. If the EPA’s allegations are true, VW knowingly broke the law with some of their most important products and could face severe financial and criminal penalties. And even in an era of recall after recall, Automotive News puts this well: “Compared with other run-ins between the EPA and automakers, VW’s alleged violation stands out in its brazenness.” More than that, this could be a landmark moment for emissions enforcement the same way the General Motors ignition switch crisis and its aftermath was for safety. And it’s already sent VW’s stock prices tumbling.

"VW’s Deepwater Horizon?": Last week one of the biggest environmental scandals since the Deepwater Horizon disaster made its way to somewhere near the bottom of page 11 of most major newspapers. VW admitted to systematically cheating on emissions tests of its Diesel vehicles. This might sound snoozy, until you read up on the details. ... In a Lance Armstrongian feat of deception, VW has now admitted to having installed a piece of software called a “defeat device” that turns on the full suite of pollution control gadgets when cars are being smog tested. As soon as you leave the testing station and head out for your Yosemite adventure with Fluffy barking in the back, your car emits 10-40 times (!!!!!!!!!!!) the amount of NOx you just reported on your smog check card. ... The EPA will almost certainly sue VW. The penalties involved here are significant. The EPA can ask for $37,500 per incident, which amounts to roughly $18 billion in fines. Plus there will likely be criminal charges filed against VW executives. ... But, there is a large law and economics literature on determining the fines to achieve the optimal and efficient amount of deterrence. The problem with just passing on the external damages is that VW was not going to be caught with certainty. If the executives thought there was a 1% chance of getting caught, it might have been more worthwhile to cheat than if they thought that they were going to get caught with certainty. In this case, the penalty should be approximated by the external costs divided by the probability of getting caught. This, of course, would be significantly larger than the external costs alone. ...

WTF, Volkswagen? -- It wasn't until yesterday that I actually read a couple of the stories and realized what Volkswagen had actually done. Once I did, words failed me. So let's just hand the mike to Mark Kleiman: In the VW case, code was written into the engine-control software to detect the pattern of pedal and steering operations characteristic of an emissions test. Then, and only then, the car’s emissions-control machinery would kick in. Once the test was over, the software noticed that, too, and returned to normal — that is to say, illegally and dangerously dirty — operations, at about 40x the permitted — and advertised — level of nitrous oxide emissions.Now just think about the depth of corporate depravity involved. This wasn’t one rogue engineer or engineering group at work. People up and down the chain had to be party to the crime. And note that the conspiracy held together for six years, and was finally broken not by an internal leak but by the work of outside scientists at the University of West Virginia. In a nutshell: a whole range of VW and Audi "clean diesel" models were spewing immense amounts of nitrous oxide—a precursor to ozone formation—into the air we breathe. But if you took one of these cars in for a smog check, its engine-control software temporarily put it into a special mode that would pass the test. As soon as the test was over, the engine returned to its smog-spewing ways. This goes far beyond most safety issues with cars. There was no cost involved. In fact, writing the code to do this cost Volkswagen money. Nor was it something that took place just among a small group of product managers with bad incentives. This was coldly premeditated. It required substantial testing to make it work right. It happened across not just different models, but across two different nameplates. It lasted for six years until it was discovered. How far up does this go? It's hard to believe it doesn't go up pretty far. And it must have left behind a significant paper trail. So what's next? Given the calculated nature of the crime, and the fact that it almost certainly killed people, Kleiman doesn't think civil fines are enough: When people conspire to commit a crime that harms the health of untold numbers of people, shouldn’t criminal charges at least be considered? And not only against the company, but against every official in it who can be shown to have known about the conspiracy....

Volkswagen Case Spotlights Lawmakers From Competing Auto Manufacturing States -After Volkswagen admitted it had installed software in its cars to evade government emissions tests, federal lawmakers quickly announced they were launching a congressional probe into the matter. The hearings will be led by Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee and who has been a high-profile opponent of stricter limits on pollution spewing from cars. Yet Tuesday, as he announced the impending hearings about Volkswagen’s scheme, Upton declared that “strong emissions standards are in place for the benefit of public health.” The outspoken foe of the Environmental Protection Agency suddenly backing tough emissions standards appeared to reflect the interests of his constituents in Michigan, home to some of Volkswagen’s major U.S. competitors.  Upton is among the House’s top career recipients of campaign donations from automobile manufacturers; Upton already had reason to be down on Volkswagen. In 2007, Volkswagen America announced it was uprooting its headquarters from Auburn Hills, Michigan, and moving to Virginia. The following year, the firmrejected Michigan when deciding where to site a new manufacturing facility. Volkswagen instead chose Tennessee, after state and local political leaders there devoted more than $500 million of taxpayer money to persuade the firm to build a massive manufacturing plant in Chattanooga. They are represented on Capitol Hill by Lamar Alexander, who serves on the powerful appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget of the Department of Justice. That role could provide him with opportunities to try to use the power of the purse to influence the department’s decisions about whether or how to prosecute Volkswagen. Alexander has been a booster of the company. Only a few months ago he lauded the fact that with the company investing in the state, "one-third of Tennessee manufacturing jobs are auto related.”

The Potential Criminal Consequences for Volkswagen -- It appears automakers have become the latest source of corporate misconduct after Volkswagen admitted installing software to fool emissions tests.  It comes after the General Motors settlement of a criminal investigation into how it handled defective ignition switches that caused at least 124 deaths. And when there is a video in which the head of Volkswagen’s American operations tells an audience in Brooklyn that the company was “dishonest” and “totally screwed up,” then it is only a matter of time before the company has to deal with multiple civil and criminal penalties. The question is what types of proceedings Volkswagen is likely to face and how far up the corporate ladder prosecutors can go in seeking to hold individuals accountable. According to a notice of violation filed by the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 18, Volkswagen installed what is known as a “defeat device” in vehicles equipped with 2-liter diesel engines that made it appear to meet emissions standards. The software installed in the cars very likely resulted in a violation of the Clean Air Act by avoiding applicable testing requirements for automobiles and providing false information to obtain a “certificate of conformity” required to sell cars in the United States. The E.P.A. can impose only a civil penalty, but the Justice Department can seek criminal punishment based on the same conduct. The Supreme Court held in Hudson v. United States that the protection against double jeopardy does not bar prosecutors from pursuing criminal charges even if a substantial monetary penalty was already imposed by a regulatory agency. The Clean Air Act authorizes a criminal prosecution for knowingly making a false statement in an application to the E.P.A. and for tampering with “any monitoring device or method” required for tracking emissions. That Volkswagen apparently designed the software to make its emission controls work in a testing lab but not on the road would seem to rule out any defense based on a lack of knowledge or mistake.

Progress on cutting fossil fuel subsidies “alarmingly slow” – OECD -- Major nations are “alarmingly slow” in keeping pledges to cut fossil fuel subsidies despite signs of a decline in support worth up to $200 billion a year, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Monday. Reductions in damaging subsidies for oil, coal and natural gas would reduce air pollution, save cash and help a shift to greener energies before a Nov. 30-Dec. 11 U.N. summit in Paris on limiting climate change, it said. “We are totally schizophrenic,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria told an online news conference. “We are trying to reduce emissions and we subsidize the consumption of fossil fuels” blamed for stoking global warming. “Support for fossil fuels seems to have peaked, but global progress remains alarmingly slow,” he said of an updated inventory of subsidies. The OECD estimated the annual value of subsidies for 2010-14 at between $160 billion and $200 billion, mostly for petroleum products, in the 34 OECD nations and China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and South Africa. The Group of 20 leading economies agreed as long ago as 2009 to phase out inefficient.

[Blogger's note:  This diatribe by noted climate change denier S. Fred Singer (who has been around since the "tobacco doesn't cause cancer" days) is a prime example of the lies the deniers continue to pump out, in spite of being debunked multiple times -- they use them over and over because it works to confuse the public. Read and beware.] Methane Madness: Science Does Not Support White House Policy - The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 18 August 2015 proposed regulations to reduce emissions of methane.  These regulations would be the first to directly restrict methane emissions by the oil and gas industry; they build on a 2012 rule that sought to curb volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract natural gas. The proposed EPA regs are part of a larger effort by the White House to reduce national methane emissions by 40–45% by 2025. [See for more detail.]  But methane has only negligible influence on climate -- contrary to popular belief and contrary to the claims of the IPCC, the UN’s climate science panel.  Basic physics does not support White House policies to control methane emissions.  In contrast to CH4, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is hundreds of times greater, about 400 ppm (400,000 ppb); water vapor is quite variable and often reaches 1 -2 % (10,000 – 20,000 ppm).  Methane’s lack of importance for climate change is partly due to its low abundance, but mostly because of spectroscopic reasons. The IPCC claim that methane is roughly 30 times more important per molecule than CO2 is largely irrelevant.  My colleague Thomas Sheahen (PhD in physics, MIT) has pointed out that the much more abundant atmospheric water vapor absorbs radiation in many of the same parts of the infrared spectrum.  As a result, the global warming effectiveness of CH4 is much reduced, since the Earth’s radiation can only be absorbed once.  A further reduction in its effectiveness comes from the fact that there’s just very little radiation energy in the part of the infrared spectrum where methane absorbs.   The EPA’s proposed new regulations to reduce anthropogenic methane emissions into the atmosphere will raise greatly the cost of oil and gas production.  Perhaps that is the real purpose of the EPA regs.  But since the climate effects of methane are insignificant, EPA regs lack a science base and may simply be part of a scheme to phase out all fossil fuels, including natural gas.

University of Kansas Case Exposes Koch Campus Strategy - Documents released last month in the settlement of a lawsuit at the University of Kansas offer a revealing window into an underreported Koch brothers' strategy: targeted, politicized funding on college campuses. Consider the details of the case: When, in March, 2014, economist Art Hall testified before the Kansas state senate urging repeal of the state's renewable energy standard, he identified himself -- accurately -- as the executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas School of Business. As preferred by the university, Hall also noted that he did not speak for the school or the Kansas Board of Regents, claiming the views he expressed were "his alone." But, as the documents recently released by the university show, Hall left out some pertinent information: The funding for the research on which his testimony was based came from a grant from a foundation controlled by Charles and David Koch; his academic center was founded and endowed by the Kochs; the foundation paid a portion of his salary, and Hall took the position as the Center's first executive director directly after having spent seven years working for a Koch subsidiary as an economist and lobbyist.  Of course, considering that Koch Industries, the second largest privately-held company in the United States, has significant holdings in oil refining, pipelines, gas production, and coal, Hall's testimony disparaging renewable energy standards would likely have been perceived differently had he disclosed his close ties to the Kochs rather than portraying himself as an independent, unaffiliated researcher at a state university.

Bipartisan Bill Seeks To Reduce Greenhouse Gases That Make Up 40 Percent Of Global Warming  - Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) reintroduced their bipartisan Super Pollutants Act on Wednesday. The bill is targeted at reducing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), which include refrigerants, methane, and so-called black carbon, which comes largely from diesel engines, cook stoves, and open fires. These compounds break down significantly faster than CO2, on the order of days for black carbon and up to 12 years for methane. But they can also be hundreds or thousands of times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.  SLCPs are responsible for 40 percent of global warming to date, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. The legislation takes a business approach to reducing SLCPs, by allowing government agencies to work with the private sector on the development and adoptions of policies and technologies that would reduce SLCP emissions. “Studies show that fast action to reduce SLCPs in the atmosphere could cut the rate of sea level rise by 25 percent, almost halve the rate of temperature rise, prevent two million premature deaths each year, and avoid crop losses of over 30 million tons annually,” the senators said in a statement.

Senate Democrats’ Bill Would Overhaul the Treatment of Energy in the Tax Code -- Earlier this week, Democrats on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources released the American Energy Innovation Act, a 437-page bill aimed at promoting clean energy and improving the country’s energy infrastructure. About 100 pages of the bill are devoted to rewriting several sections of the tax code that deal with energy. Here are a few takeaways about the tax-related portions of the bill:
  • 1. The bill would simplify the treatment of energy in the tax code. There are currently over two dozen tax provisions relating to energy. The majority of these are incentives and subsidies for consumers and producers of clean energy. The Senate bill would repeal or phase out 16 of these provisions, replacing them with 10 new clean energy credits (listed below.)
  • 2. The new clean energy credits are technology-neutral. One of the ways in which the Senate bill simplifies the system of clean energy credits is by not making reference to any specific energy technologies. In theory, this means that if a company discovers an entirely new energy technology, it would be able to receive federal clean energy credits for it immediately. Currently, the company would likely have to lobby Congress to amend the tax code to include the new technology.
  • 3. The bill uses performance-based standards to compute tax credits.Under current law, different energy sources receive different levels of federal tax subsidies, with little rhyme or reason. For instance, wind power receives a production tax credit twice as large as hydropower.
If An Energy Bill Drops In The Senate But Everyone Knows It Won’t Pass, Does It Make A Sound? -- This week, Senate Democrats unveiled an energy billthat would attempt to move America to a low-carbon future. But if the bill has zero chance of being passed in a chamber controlled by Republicans, does it matter? “Today’s announcement should send a clear signal that it is a top priority for Senate Democrats to invest in our nation’s energy future and address climate change before it’s too late,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) at a Tuesday press conference. The legislation “is a technology driven pathway to a clean energy future,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) who sponsored the bill, dubbed the “American Energy Innovation Act of 2015.” Though it would not set a price on carbon emissions, like the failed cap-and-trade bill from five years ago, her bill does contain many provisions intended to accelerate the shift to a low-carbon economy, and sets a more ambitious carbon target than the White House.  It would implement a “carbon savings goal” making it the policy of the United States “to use appropriate authorities and available technologies to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the United States by not less than 2 percent per year on average through 2025.” It would repeal some fossil fuel subsidies and invest in clean energy technology through tax incentives and grant programs. It would, as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) explained at the press conference, provide incentives, but no penalties.

Hillary Clinton Releases A Plan To Modernize America’s Energy Infrastructure --Less than 24 hours after officially coming out against the Keystone XL pipeline, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released her plan for modernizing America’s energy infrastructure and combatting climate change across North America. Clinton had long refused to take a public stance on Keystone, a project that was first filed with the State Department during her tenure as Secretary of State. But the increasingly-visible threat of climate change, Clinton wrote in an essay published today on Medium, caused her to finally release an official position on the proposed pipeline, which would bring tar sands crude from Canada to Nebraska.  “We shouldn’t be building a pipeline dedicated to moving North America’s dirtiest fuel through our communities — we should be focused on what it will take to make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century,” Clinton said in the essay. “Building a clean, secure, and affordable North American energy future is bigger than Keystone XL or any other single project. That’s what I will focus on as president.”  Clinton announced that she would immediately begin negotiations for a North American Climate Compact between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, intended to create strong national targets and accountability mechanisms for emissions reductions in each country. A climate pact between the three countries, Clinton said, would “[create] certainty for investors and confidence in the future of our climate, so we can all marshal resources equal to the challenges we face.” In addition to setting ambitious emissions reduction targets, the proposed climate compact would develop common infrastructure standards across the continent, expand existing regional emissions trading markets, invest in low-carbon transportation, and work to set continent-wide reduction standards for methane.

Millions of UK public sector pensions 'exposed to risky fossil fuel investments' -- Millions of social workers, teaching assistants and other council employees have over £3,000 each in coal, oil and gas investments as part of their pension pots - assets that are at risk of falling in value as the world tackles climate change. The first analysis of the £231bn in assets held by 4.6m local government workers through their pensions schemes has revealed a total of £14bn in fossil fuel investments, with the Greater Manchester and Strathclyde schemes having the largest holdings.  Most existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic global warming and institutions including the Bank of England, the World Bank, the G20 and city analysts are concerned about the risk of huge financial losses if the world’s nations act to slash carbon emissions.  Many institutions, including two of the world’s largest pension funds in California, have committed to sell fossil fuel investments with the aim of limiting the impact of climate change on both the world and the value of their portfolios. The value of the funds divesting from fossil fuels has soared 50-fold in a year to $2.6tn. “We don’t want fossil fuels to destroy our pensions, and we don’t want our pensions to destroy everyone’s future,” “Public investments in fossil fuels are fuelling dangerous climate change, and present a threat to the pensions of public sector workers. There’s a strong ethical and financial case for local councils to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest into infrastructure fit for the 21st century,”

‘I’m beginning to struggle with why we even do plans’: New towers will block $400K solar panels in Edmonton -- Edmonton city council received an earful Monday when they ignored a five-year-old downtown plan when they approved a trio of 40-storey-plus towers. “We thought the zoning bylaw had some teeth in it,” said architect Gene Dub, frustrated the additional height will shade the $400,000 solar panels he bought for a site northwest of the project, reducing their energy output by 40 per cent. The downtown plan approved in 2010 called for buildings of up to 20 stories in the Warehouse District. Instead, towers at the old Massey Ferguson building that housed the Healy Ford dealership on 106th Street between 104th and 103rd avenues will soar to 48, 42 and 45 stories. “I’m beginning to struggle with why we even do plans,” said Coun. Ben Henderson, the only one to vote against rezoning. He said council spent a lot of money on a 35-year market forecast before it set maximum heights for each zone. Planners wanted to make sure they didn’t concentrate all the development on just a couple of lots and get stuck with vacant properties elsewhere. On Monday, council supported a rezoning that dramatically changes those numbers without any updated market estimates. “We spend so much time and effort on these plans just to walk away from them the first time someone says ‘Boo’,” said Henderson. “Mr. Dub’s situation is a really good example of why us playing fast and loose with our long-term planning is problematic. We make a set of promises and we’re not prepared to follow them.”

Will Washington state have the first carbon tax in the nation? -  If voters approve the measure, dubbed Initiative 732, it would implement the first carbon tax in the nation. The purpose would be to motivate households and businesses to cut down on the burning of fossil fuels, the major source of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. By raising the price of fossil fuels it would encourage conservation and efficiency and the substitution of low-carbon and carbon-free sources of energy by making these energy sources more cost-competitive.  The principle behind the proposal is simple: Raise taxes on what you want less of and lower taxes on what you want more of. In this case, the proposal taxes carbon emissions at a rate of $25 per metric ton. It lowers the state's sales tax by one full percentage point (from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent), provides a rebate to poor families of up to $1,500 to lessen the burden of the carbon tax on their limited incomes, and virtually wipes out the so-called business and occupation tax in the state. That tax falls from 0.44 percent of gross business receipts to 0.001 percent. The effect is to hold state revenues steady. The proposal's tax reductions and rebates give back to Washington state residents and businesses as much as the carbon tax collects, about $1.7 billion annually. The purpose of the tax then is strictly to change behavior and buying habits in order to lower carbon emissions rather than to raise revenue for the state. In bureaucratese the tax is "revenue neutral."

China to Announce Cap-and-Trade Program to Limit Emissions - — President Xi Jinping of China will make a landmark commitment on Friday to start a national program in 2017 that will limit and put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, Obama administration officials said Thursday.The move to create a so-called cap-and-trade system would be a substantial step by the world’s largest polluter to reduce emissions from major industries, including steel, cement, paper and electric power.The announcement, to come during a White House summit meeting with President Obama, is part of an ambitious effort by China and the United States to use their leverage internationally to tackle climate change and to pressure other nations to do the same. Joining forces on the issue even as they are bitterly divided on others, Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi will spotlight the shared determination of the leaders of the world’s two largest economies to forge a climate change accord in Paris in December that commits every country to curbing its emissions. Mr. Xi’s pledge underscores China’s intention to act quickly and upends what has long been a potent argument among Republicans against acting on climate change: that the United States’ most powerful economic competitor has not done so. But it is not clear whether China will be able to enact and enforce a program that substantially limits emissions.

Can Climate Policy Actually Benefit Coal? - Adam Ozimek -- I remain a big proponent of carbon taxes, but for reasons I’ve discussed before I worry they wouldn’t be enough. What’s more, it appears to be pretty politically hard to achieve in this country so far. Whether we think we’ll get a carbon tax or not, it’s worth considering simple plan that has a lot going for it: let’s keep it in the ground. This idea comes from Matt Frost, who has a lot more to say about it here. The basic idea is that one of the best ways to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is to simply lock up a lot of coal and never use it. The specific policy he proposes changing is creating a perpetual easement so that buyers can be guaranteed coal they purchase will never be used. Here is how Matt puts it: The U.S. government should modify the legal infrastructure for mineral resources such that the carbon in undeveloped fossil fuels can be purchased and reserved in perpetual easements. Private activists and even coal-competing energy developers could buy in-situ coal with the assurance that its carbon would never be released through combustion. There are a lot of desirable features of this plan. First, the U.S. exports coal and while a tax on dirty energy demand in the U.S. could lower dirty energy costs around the world, reducing U.S. supply can only drive prices up. Second, it’s actually pretty simple and easy to understand. I think this lends to the marketing power of the plan, and if we are going to get individuals to donate to this then marketing clarity is key. This transparency and ease of marketing could also be a help in crowd-funding donations. And yes, another benefit is that rather than a big technocratic policy change, this policy will ultimately involve the decentralized decisions of individuals and organizations deciding which coal to buy with their own money. It’s also pretty cheap. Finally, unlike carbon taxes, this policy doesn’t require passing a tax on any parties. Current owners of coal, in fact, only benefit from this policy because it creates more potential buyers for their assets. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a powerful political lobby that would actually have an interest in opposing this plan.

There Are 800 Fossil Fuel Subsidies Around The World - There are 800 different programs around the world that subsidize fossil fuels, according to a new report from the OECD. The OECD released the report ahead of the international climate change negotiations set to take place in Paris in December, where the world has a “moral imperative to reach an ambitious and actionable agreement.” Tackling climate change will be a monumental task, but key to the effort will be scrapping “lose-lose” fossil fuel subsidies, as the OECD calls them. Subsidizing oil, natural gas, and coal leads to distortions in prices, contributes to overconsumption of energy, and saps developing countries of revenues that could be used for much better investments in education and infrastructure. They also lead to environmental fallout, with capital flowing to pollution-heavy industry and energy extraction. These investments, once made, can last for decades, essentially “locking-in” pollution for a long time to come. That is one of the glaring downsides to subsidizing fossil fuels. “Because they change the stream of income investors expect to receive for holding a particular asset, those subsidies influence investment choices and change the allocation of capital across sectors. In the case of certain fossil-fuel subsidies, there is therefore the risk that investors end up favouring sectors that produce fossil fuels or use them intensively, at the expense of cleaner forms of energy and other economic activities more generally,” the OECD wrote.