Tag Archives: clean energy

Climate Sense: Sea ice, economics, legal issues and the orca task force

The shift to “clean fuels,” such as solar and wind power, is tied up in economics, and it appears that change is coming — with or without a push from government. This week, I read three different and somewhat contradictory reports about this dynamic competition between fossil fuels and renewable energy.

I also took a look at the hard data surrounding Arctic sea ice and reviewed videos of the governor’s orca task force meeting on Monday.

Item 1: Sea ice has stopped growing for the year

Spring has come to the Arctic, as the extent of the sea ice appears to have stopped growing this year and has begun its annual decline.

Arctic sea ice extent for March 13. The orange line shows the average extent for that day from 1981 to 2010. Click twice to enlarge.
Graphic: National Snow and Ice Data Center

The maximum extent of sea ice was probably reached on March 13, when it reached 5.71 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That would tie it with the year 2007 for the seventh lowest extent in the 40-year record of satellite data. It is also the highest extent of ice since 2014, as one can see in the chart on the NSIDC News and Analysis page.

“While this is not a record-low year for the Arctic sea ice maximum extent, the last four years have been the lowest in our record, reflecting a downward trend in winter sea ice extent,” said NSIDC senior research scientist Walt Meier. “This is just another indicator of the rapid changes that are occurring in the Arctic due to climate change.”

NSIDC, supported by government agencies, says the analysis is preliminary, since it is possible that more ice could accumulate with shifts in the weather.

Item 2: Court blocks oil drilling for climate considerations

Oil-drilling projects in Wyoming have been blocked by a federal judge, who says the Bureau of Land Management needs to first consider the cumulative effects of climate change from those projects.

Map of recent oil and gas leases in three Western states. Click on map for zoom-in video.
Map: Western Environmental Law Center

“BLM summarized the potential on-the-ground impacts of climate change in the state, the region, and across the country,” said U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras in a written opinion (PDF 448 kb). “It failed, however, to provide the information necessary for the public and agency decision makers to understand the degree to which the leasing decisions at issue would contribute to those impacts. In short, BLM did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing.”

The lawsuit, brought by WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, alleges that 473 oil and gas leases covering 460,000 acres in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado were in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act for failing to discuss the full impacts on climate change. The judge agreed, applying his specific ruling to 282 leases.

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, managing attorney for WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release: “It’s high time the federal government was held accountable for the costs of sacrificing our public lands for dirty oil and gas. This win demonstrates the Trump administration can’t legally turn its back on climate change.”

Leasing of federal lands for oil development is the “irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources” that triggers a review of the overall environmental impacts, the judge said. While the BLM could not predict the specific impacts of each drilling project at the leasing stage, “it could reasonably foresee and forecast the impacts of oil and gas drilling across the leased parcels as a whole.”

Reporter Nichola Groom covered the story for Reuters.

Item 3: Climate change at orca task force

Monday’s meeting of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force included an afternoon session with presentations on the effects of climate change, with a special focus on the effects of salmon and orcas. It also includes a talk by Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish, who describes how shellfish growers are working to overcome the damaging effects of ocean acidification on their industry.

The presentations on climate change were followed by discussions by task force members about how they should address the issue of climate change. The climate change discussion can be heard in the video below.

For those interested, I blogged about the morning sessions yesterday in Water Ways, which involved legislative progress, also recorded by TVW.

Item 4: Economics to end fossil fuels, but when?

Author Bill McKibbon in The New York Review of Books uses two economic reports about fossil fuels and geopolitics as a springboard for writing an engaging piece that describes the dynamic competition between fossil fuels and clean energy.

“(Author Kingsmill) Bond writes that in the 2020s — probably the early 2020s — the demand for fossil fuels will stop growing,” says McKibbon. “The turning point in such transitions ‘is typically the moment when the impact is felt in financial markets’ — when stock prices tumble and never recover … Precisely how long it will take is impossible to predict, but the outcome seems clear….

“A far more important question, of course, is whether the changes now underway will happen fast enough to alter our grim climatic future,” he continues. “Here, the answers are less positive.

“Scientists, conservative by nature, have routinely underestimated the pace of planetary disruption: The enormous melt now observed at the poles was not supposed to happen until late in the century, for instance, and the galloping pace of ocean acidification wasn’t even recognized as a threat two decades ago.”

Item 5: Financial returns on fracking in doubt

While the federal government moves ahead with plans for extensive oil and gas leasing, a new analysis by Sightline Institute raises questions about whether the process of fracking is really paying off.

“By some measures,” the authors wrote, “America’s fracking industry had a banner year in 2018. Shale companies produced more oil and gas than ever, lifting total U.S. output to all-time highs … (But) a cross section of 29 publicly traded, fracking-focused oil and gas companies spent $6.7 billion more on drilling than they realized from selling oil and gas….

“These disappointing results come on the heels of a decade of bleak financial performance. Since its inception, the fracking sector has consistently failed to produce enough cash to satisfy its voracious appetite for capital. From 2010 through 2018, the companies in our sample had an aggregate negative cash flow of $181 billion.”

Authors of the report are Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry, Kathy Hipple and Tom Sanzillo.

Item 6: U.S. banks pour money into fossil fuels

A new report funded by a coalition of environmental groups has found that 33 global banks have provided $1.9 trillion to companies expanding their development of oil, natural gas and coal since adoption of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Such financing has risen in each of the past two years, the report says.

The report, “Banking on Climate Change 2019” says the four largest bankers of fossil fuels are all U.S. banks — JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America.

“At a time when science tells us we need to rapidly transition to clean energy, major American banks are placing themselves on the wrong side of history by continuing to offer a blank check to the fossil fuel industry,” Ben Cushing of the Sierra Club said in a press release. “The global outcry for financial institutions to stop financing climate destruction will only grow louder and more powerful until these banks get the message and pull their support for dirty fossil fuels once and for all.”

Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year

In October, I was grabbed by a headline on a column by Margaret Sullivan, who writes about media issues for the Washington Post: “The planet is on a fast path to destruction. The media must cover this like it’s the only story that matters.” See Water Ways, Oct. 23.

Margaret Sullivan
Photo: Michael Benabib

As I wrote in my blog post, “Climate change is not a subject that generates happy news. It is not a subject that most politicians wish to address in any form, but it is one subject that separates those who care about the future of the planet from those who care only about short-term economic benefits or political gains.”

Nearly every time I write about climate change, someone reaches out to me to ask that I keep telling the climate story in my blog. I do a lot of reading about water-related issues, of course, and I am constantly learning about climate change — from detailed studies by scientists to government plans to address a future with greater floods, larger forest fires and extensive loss of marine life.

I have decided this year to share some of the more fascinating, ground-breaking or inspiring reports that I come across during my reading. I may provide just a link to an article or scientific report with a brief commentary, as opposed to a full-blown discussion. I’m going to label these brief references “Climate Sense” — as in the headline on this blog post. I hope we can all become better informed about this issue so vital to the future of humanity. (As always, one can subscribe to this blog in the column to the right.)

On Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press devoted its entire program to Climate Change — the science, the damage, the cost and the politics. Watch the entire show at Meet the Press online, or check out the individual segments on YouTube.

It is difficult for a Sunday-morning program to tackle a singular topic, especially in this era of Donald Trump, said anchor Chuck Todd at the beginning of the news show. Climate change, he noted, is an “Earth-changing subject that doesn’t get talked about this thoroughly, on television news at least.”

I was impressed when Chuck Todd threw down the gauntlet by emphasizing that his hour-long program would not devote any time to a debate over the existence of climate change.

“The Earth is getting hotter, and human activity is a major cause — period,” he said. “We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”

What Americans think about climate change from a political perspective was covered in a segment called “Digital Download,” the first video on this page. I also found it interesting to hear how some experts thought they could better engage the public in climate change, as shown in the second video.

Whether Congress will seriously address climate change in the next two years is yet to be seen, but we know that the debate is coming to the Washington Legislature, with Gov. Jay Inslee leading the charge. Check out the governor’s announcement or read my interview with state Sen. Christine Rolfes, which I wrote after Washington voters rejected a carbon-tax proposal on November’s ballot.

I would like us to always remember the words about climate change from Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan:

“There is a lot happening in the nation and the world, a constant rush of news. Much of it deserves our attention as journalists and news consumers. But we need to figure out how to make the main thing matter.

“In short, when it comes to climate change, we — the media, the public, the world — need radical transformation, and we need it now. Just as the smartest minds in earth science have issued their warning, the best minds in media should be giving sustained attention to how to tell this most important story in a way that will create change.

“We may be doomed even if that happens,” she concludes. “But we’re surely doomed if it doesn’t.”

Should Gore lead the charge for clean energy?

Is former vice president Al Gore too controversial to carry the torch for the clean-energy movement?

Let’s be right up front about this. While Gore is a hero to many environmentalists, he is a toxic figure to many people of the conservative persuasion.

Last week, Gore received a lot of attention when he proposed a crash program to shift from carbon-based fuels to renewable supplies, such as solar and wind. (See Associated Press story by Dina Cappiello.) I was surprised that Gore said nothing about what has gone on before with the help of U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and his New Apollo Energy Project and others involved in the Apollo Alliance.

Yes, Gore has managed to raise the profile on this issue like nobody before him. But as Michael Gerson says in an opinion column in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun:

Some Republicans and conservatives are prone to an ideologically motivated skepticism. On AM talk radio, where scientific standards are not particularly high, the attitude seems to be: “If Al Gore is upset about carbon, we must need more of it.” Gore’s partisan, conspiratorial anger is annoying, yet not particularly relevant to the science of this issue.

This points, however, to a broader problem. Any legislation ambitious enough to cut carbon emissions significantly and encourage new energy technologies will require a broad political and social consensus. Nothing this complex and expensive gets done on a party-line vote.

Yet many environmental leaders seem unpracticed at coalition building. They tend to be conventionally, if not radically, liberal. They sometimes express a deep distrust for capitalism and hostility to the extractive industries. Their political strategy consists mainly of the election of Democrats. Most Republican environmental efforts are quickly pronounced “too little, too late.”

Gore is well known for his concerns about climate change, which he revealed in his book and later the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Now, he has hitched his ambitions to a crash program of energy conversion, something that Inslee has written about in his own book, “Apollo’s Fire.”

In interviews I’ve seen and heard, Gore gives barely a nod to legislation that others have been pushing. He exhibits more than his usual arrogance in acting like this was his idea alone.

Now, T. Boone Pickens, the multi-billionaire oil man, is muscling in with his own clean-energy initiative, including a potential $53 million ad campaign to promote wind energy and break America from its oil addiction.

Maybe all sides of the energy issue should come together and decide what can be reasonably accomplished with a bipartisan effort. While Al Gore could bring something to the table, I’m not sure whether everyone would welcome him there. And the notion that he should become some kind of “energy czar” for the country might just turn the table upside down.

Hear Gore in his own words on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”