When a promising cap-and-trade bill failed in the Senate in 2010, oil and coal companies everywhere must have breathed a sigh of relief, then probably wiped the sheen from their collective brow with a spare Benjamin and got back to work. It now looks like some of that work involved planning for a time when they would actually lose the battle over their climate sins. In a report [PDF] released by the UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), 29 companies -- including the five biggest oil-producers, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP, and Shell (not that we’re keeping track) -- report that they …
Twobills in the Senate would require the country to get at least 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025, but neither has a chance in hell of making it to Obama's desk. Thanks, Republicans! So the president is doing what he can without approval from Congress: requiring the federal government to get more of its power from renewable sources.
Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish provocateur who loves to pick fights with the climate movement, argues in the New York Times this week that what people in developing nations -- or as he called them, “the poor” -- really want is cheap, dirty, fossil fuels to help them reach prosperity. Poor folks, he says, could get rich off of coal if the West would just get out the way. It's part of an ongoing conversation that has stymied international climate talks, about how wealthy countries have gotten rich on fossil fuels, and now want poor countries to help clean up the mess.
Lomborg uses South Africa as his test:
The last time the World Bank agreed to help finance construction of a coal-fired power plant, in South Africa in 2010, the United States abstained from a vote approving the deal. The Obama administration expressed concerns that the project would “produce significant greenhouse gas emissions.” But as South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, explained at the time in The Washington Post, “To sustain the growth rates we need to create jobs, we have no choice but to build new generating capacity — relying on what, for now, remains our most abundant and affordable energy source: coal.”
We’ll put aside the fact that the last time, or rather the first time the Dutch came up with a prosperity scheme for Africa it involved a vicious slave trade that put the continent on a path to poverty it’s yet to fully recover from. Africans, not Lomborg, are the people to determine what Africans need. And while Gordhan, speaking for finance, may have said his country needed coal in 2010, the following year during the COP 17 climate negotiations in Durban, faith leaders came together declaring that [PDF] “South Africa must stand with Africa -- not big polluters."
Today, Appalachian community leaders are in Washington, D.C., to protest a Virginia coal boondoggle that has set its sights on $2 billion of your federal tax dollars. Mountaintop removal coal mining is already a shocking, devastating, and destructive practice on its own - but what happens when you add in coal companies making deals with state and federal transportation agencies in order to seize private land and blow it up for coal? Well then you get the planned Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia. The project is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and coal mining companies, including Alpha …
Q.I always buy organically raised beef, when I do buy beef. I read that ground beef you get is a mixture of beef from different animals. How do I know the beef I am getting is, in fact, organically grown? Could it be mixed with other feedlot beef? Also, when it comes to processing the animal, how are the organically raised cows treated? Any better or different than if they were just regular cows?
Suzy P. Denver, CO
A. Dearest Suzy,
When I got your letter, I imagined you reading it aloud in with a suave accent: “I don’t always eat beef. But when I do, I prefer organic.” And well that you do: There are important differences between the lives -- if not the deaths -- of organically raised cattle and their conventional, feedlot-bound siblings.
ShutterstockAustin, Texas. One of the simplest ways to measure our dependence on cars is to look at the share of commuters in a given city who get to work in a private vehicle. These are the people who rely on automobiles as part of their everyday travel patterns. They're people who live too far from work to walk there, who may prefer not to take transit, or who simply have no other options. They're the commuters for whom communities must widen highways for rush-hour capacity and build out parking garages for downtown businesses. Over the last decade, however, a new …
Too many climate headlines sound alike: “Polar ice cap melting faster than expected,” “Scientific consensus stronger than ever,” “Pacific island soon to be underwater,” etc. But this recent one stood out: "Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions." That's from a Guardian story about new research in the journal Climatic Change, in which Richard Heede calculated the greenhouse gas contributions of major companies since the Industrial Revolution.
The news excited at least one legal scholar. In a blog post for the Center for Progressive Reform, American University law professor David Hunter calls the study “a potential game-changer” because it could make it easier for climate change’s victims to sue its perpetrators. Hunter writes:
Courts need no longer fear that it would be impossible to untangle the private sector’s historical contributions to climate change or unfair to make oil companies, for example, pay for all climate-related damages. A clear formula now exists for allocating at least a significant percentage of the costs of climate change to those companies that benefited most from the public nuisance created by their emissions. Take, for example, the costs of moving the Inuit village of Kivalina, which attempted to sue several of the top polluters for the anticipated costs of relocating their village as a result of climate change. Those costs could now be allocated to the major fossil fuel companies based on their historical contributions to the problem.
From this you might think that if you and your neighbors are harmed by extreme flooding or forest fires, you could band together and sue the companies responsible for climate change. That is unrealistic.
Generally speaking, anthropogenic climate change doesn't come at us like some Pacific Rim Kaiju monster, leaping suddenly into view from the watery depths. It's slow and confusing and hard to observe on a day-to-day basis. But that doesn’t mean that we don't have some nasty -- and sudden -- surprises in store. A new report by the National Research Council looks at the social and ecological dangers that could lie ahead.
The report has a Hollywood-friendly two-part title: "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises." And like Hunger Games: Catching Fire, this new release is also a sequel -- to the NRC's 2002 report of the same name, subtitle: "Inevitable Surprises."
And what kinds of inevitable surprises should we be anticipating?
In the "Worry About It Later" column, we have some cinematic scenarios in which the Arctic belches up methane from the massive stores trapped beneath the ocean floor, or the heat circulation in the Atlantic stutters to a halt, soaking us in polar melt. The latter was the premise of the 2004 climatpocalyptic movie The Day After Tomorrow, but the report suggests these ones may be actually be for a few days after tomorrow -- a more serious risk by 2100 -- so we should probably focus on the problems nearer at hand.
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So Detroit is now allowed to file for bankruptcy. It's the largest city ever to do so in this country, though certainly not the only one. More so than some of our other insolvent municipalities -- like Vacaville, Calif., or Central Falls, R.I. -- it is also a place on which people have pinned a lot of dreams and nightmares.
I grew up just outside Detroit, with its high-quality pierogi and its endless hours spent in the car, feeling the traffic like a salmon trying to work its way upstream. The landmark that most defined my childhood was the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The school tours I took must have involved the rest of the museum at some point, but all I remember is a jumble of naked ladies, Madonna and Childs, and fruit. The court, lined with frescoes based on Diego Rivera’s tours of the River Rouge Ford Plant, felt familiar to me. My dad, like all the dads I knew, worked in a tool and die shop, and I loved visiting that, too. The machinery really did look that impressive, the people who worked there really did look that tired and grimy, and there really were sparks everywhere, fanning out like cartoon rainbows.
The agricultural scenes on the eastern wall were familiar, too. My grandparents were farmworkers who moved to Detroit during World War II, and the time my grandfather spent on the assembly line was just a means to an end that he never could have reached if he had stayed where he was born. He wanted to own land and grow as many vegetables on it as the earth could stand, because to do so was true wealth, at least according to the culture he was raised in.
Diego Rivera finished the frescoes in 1933 -- the same year that Detroit’s Mayor Frank Murphy, who had set up soup kitchens and potato gardens all over the city for unemployed auto workers, shepherded Chapter 9 through Congress. Chapter 9 is the law that made it possible for a city to file for bankruptcy -- the law Detroit is now invoking.