Energy & Environment

From Energy Crisis to Leader in Clean Energy

Huffington Post: “Solar farms are blooming across California’s deserts, wind turbines are climbing the Sierra, photovoltaic roofs are shimmering over suburbs, and Teslas are the Silicon Valley elite’s new ride. A clean energy rush is transforming the Golden State so quickly that nearly a quarter of its electricity now comes from renewable sources, and new facilities, especially solar, are coming online at a rapid rate. Last year, California became the first state to get more than 5 percent of its electricity from the sun.”

“With its goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 now within reach, Governor Jerry Brown recently raised California’s bar, ordering the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below the 1990 level within the next 15 years — the most ambitious target in North America. To meet the new directive, planners say Californians will need to step up their energy transition even more: doubling energy efficiency, boosting electric transportation, and getting at least twice as much of their electricity from renewables. Energy experts caution that it will take effort, but they say it’s doable.”

“It’s difficult to remember that just 15 years earlier the state was experiencing an energy meltdown. Electricity prices skyrocketed, supply crashed and blackouts rolled, due mainly to a disastrous deregulation attempt and unscrupulous market manipulation. Fast-forward to 2014, and the state’s renewable capacity grew to an estimated 21,000 megawatts, including more utility-scale solar than all the rest of the states combined.”

Climate Deniers Will be the Big Money Losers

Think Progress: A major new global financial report finds that investors who remain ignorant of or deny climate science will be big money losers compared to those who are climate-savvy.

The report has several key findings. Clearly, “climate change will give rise to investment winners and losers.” Some industries, like coal, will likely see average annual returns over the next decade “eroding between 26% and 138%,” depending on how aggressively the world attempts to fight climate change. Other industries, like renewables, could see average annual returns increase by up to 97 percent over the 10-year period — if the world does seriously move toward a 2°C pathway coming out of the Paris climate talks this December.

The report identifies three phases investors may go through — “Climate-Unaware Future Takers,” “Climate-Aware Future Takers,” and finally “Climate-Aware Future Makers”:

Takes To Makers

A key goal of the report is to get investors to “progress along these phases to the extent they can.”

Barry Ritholz: “In the real world, climate-change deniers are and will be giant money losers.”

Future Climate Uncertainty Necessitates Action

Financial Times: “Climate Shock , a punchy new book by Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund and Martin Weitzman of Harvard University, explains why [climate] action is both so difficult and so important. The challenge is ‘almost uniquely global, uniquely long-term, uniquely irreversible and uniquely uncertain’. The book’s big contribution is on the last point: uncertainty. Climate change is a problem of insurance. For this, it is not median outcomes that matter most, but the outliers — the ‘fat tails’ of the probability distribution of temperature.”

“Climate uncertainty relates to the future. This makes discounting inescapable, to relate costs (and benefits) over time. So what discount rate should be employed? Here Climate Shock makes another crucial point: we do not know. But, it adds, the uncertainty suggests the right rate is likely to be very low.”

“Framing the challenge of climate change as a problem of insurance against disaster is intellectually fruitful. It also provides the right answer to sceptics. The question is not what we know for sure. The question is rather how certain we are (or can be) that nothing bad will happen. Given the science, which is well established, it is impossible to argue that we know the risks are small. This being so, taking action is logical. It is the right way to respond to the nature and scale of possible bad outcomes.”

EPA Climate Rule Would Generate Jobs

The Hill: “The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions at power plants will end up creating more jobs than it cuts, according to a new analysis of the proposed rule.”

“EPA’s Clean Power Plan would require existing power plants to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a cleaner supply of energy. The EPA has previously estimated that the plan would create 120,000 jobs by 2020 but lead to 24,000 job loses as plants move away from fossil fuel energy sources.”

“An Economic Policy Institute report released Tuesday said the jobs both lost and gained would have ‘a substantial ripple effect’ in other industries. The plan would lead to a net increase of 360,000 new jobs by 2020, the report said.”

Secret Conservative Groups Donated Millions to Promote Climate Skepticism

The Guardian: “The secretive funders behind America’s conservative movement directed around $125m over three years to groups spreading disinformation about climate science and committed to wrecking Barack Obama’s climate change plan, according to an analysis of tax records.”

“The amount is close to half of the anonymous funding disbursed to rightwing groups, underlining the importance of the climate issue to US conservatives.”

“The anonymous cash flow came from two secretive organizations – the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund – that have been called the ‘Dark Money ATM‘ of the conservative movement.”

“The funds, which when channeled through the two organizations cannot be traced to individual donors, helped build a network of thinktanks and activist groups. These worked to defeat climate bills in Congress and are mobilizing against Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce carbon pollution from power plants which are due to be finalized this summer. In many cases, the anonymous cash makes up the vast majority of funding received by beneficiaries – more than comes openly from the fossil fuel industry.”

“Organizations funded through the secretive donors operations are also working to roll back measures promoting wind and solar power and block planning for future sea-level rise in state capitals.”

Is Fracking Boom Grinding to a Halt?

Bloomberg: “The shale oil boom that turned the U.S. into the world’s largest fuel exporter and brought $3 gasoline back to America’s pumps is grinding to a halt.”

“Crude output from the prolific tight-rock formations such as North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’s Eagle Ford shale will shrink 1.3 percent to 5.58 million barrels a day this month, based on Energy Information Administration estimates. It’ll drop further in July to 5.49 million, the lowest level since January, the agency said Monday.”

America's Shale Oil Output is Shrinking

“With the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries maintaining its own oil production, U.S. shale is coming under pressure to rebalance a global supply glut. EOG Resources Inc., the country’s biggest shale-oil producer, hedge fund manager Andrew J. Hall and banks including Standard Chartered Plc have forecast declines in U.S. output following last year’s plunge in crude prices. The nation was still pumping the most in four decades in March.”

“The EIA expects production from the shale plays to fall in July by 93,000 barrels a day, the largest drop since the boom began. The steepening decline provides some validation to OPEC members who decided to preserve their market share and let falling prices force others to cut back, said Bill O’Grady, chief market strategist at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis, which oversees $3.4 billion.”

May Was the Wettest Year on Record in the U.S.

Think Progress: “This May was the United States’ wettest month in all 121 years of record-keeping, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”

“A total of 4.36 inches fell across the lower 48 states last month — 1.45 inches more than average, NOAA said Monday. Fifteen states saw precipitation that was ‘much above average’ in May, and Oklahoma and Texas experienced their wettest month on record, with precipitation levels ‘more than twice the long-term average,’ according to NOAA.”

“Along with this increased chance of heavy rainfall, scientists also say that some regions will see longer, more intense periods of drought — periods that then could be followed by heavy, intense rainfall. Warmer air can hold more moisture, which means that moisture can collect in the atmosphere for longer than usual and then fall all at once on a region. This ‘weather whiplash’ exacerbates the risk of flooding, as the heavy rain can simply run off the surface of the dry, hard earth, rather than being absorbed by it.”

How to Fight Climate Change

Inside Climate News investigated 25 years of climate change-related shareholder proposals submitted to Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips … Out of more than 400 resolutions examined by ICN, 113 involved climate change, carbon restrictions and the resulting market shifts that could undermine the companies’ profitability and stock value.”

“More than one-quarter of the climate-related proposals—30 of them—never got to a vote. They were either withdrawn by their sponsors or excluded from ballots because the companies convinced regulators that they had grounds to do so. The remaining 83 were put to a vote: 40 at Exxon, 22 at Chevron and 21 at ConocoPhillips. None got enough votes to pass.”

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Bill McKibben’s answer: Divestment.

“Divestment won’t move Exxon Mobil directly — that’s impossible; the company is dug in, and someone else will simply buy the stock when it’s sold. But divestment will undercut the industry’s political power, just as happened a generation ago when the issue was South Africa and hundreds of colleges, churches, and state and local governments took action. In the words of … Desmond Tutu, … ‘we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state but also serious moral pressure.’ Divestment is one tool to change the zeitgeist, so that the day arrives more quickly when the richest and most powerful can no longer mock renewable energy and play down climate change.”

Does Fracking Contaminate Drinking Water?

Josh Fox in Eco Watch says it does: “In a draft report five years in the making, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that fracking does indeed contaminate drinking water, a fact the oil and gas industry has vehemently denied. But instead of dismantling the industry’s ‘not one single case of groundwater contamination caused by fracking’ refrain, the EPA decided to go with the misleading headline ‘there is no evidence fracking has led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.’”

“It’s a puzzling conclusion since their study was conspicuously narrow (they did no new case studies, dropped three marquee cases that proved water contamination and dropped all air quality studies from the report).”

“If the EPA is looking for proof of ‘widespread’ contamination before declaring fracking unsafe, they may not have to wait long. The industry’s own data shows that 5 percent of fracking wells leak upon drilling and that number only grows over time.”

“What the EPA presented to the public yesterday was PR, not science and proof of the widespread, systemic contamination of our regulatory bodies by the oil and gas industry.”

Inside Climate News: “EPA officials said the study is not meant to provide a comprehensive tally of water contamination incidents … As a result, the report stitches together a piecemeal picture of fracking-related incidents. It relies on several case studies involving a handful of major incidents … that state regulators investigated. It also uses state data for possible contamination events, such as spills of fracking fluid at well pads, which EPA acknowledges provides a limited scope of the problem.”

In the Heart of Coal Country, Many Reject a ‘War on Coal’

Washington Examiner: “Environmental lawyers are split over whether proposed Environmental Protection Agency limits on carbon emissions from power plants are legal, according to a new survey.”

“The poll of 130 practicing environmental professors and lawyers revealed an equal percentage — 45 percent — thought the regulation was legal as did illegal. Ten percent said they weren’t sure.”

Meanwhile, in the heart of coal country, many are considering transitioning away from coal and abandoning the “war on coal.”

Reuters: “Talk of an economic transition remains difficult in eastern Kentucky, where you can still spot bumper stickers that read ‘Mine Every Lump’ and statues honor coal miners. These are the people Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell says are victims of an Obama administration ‘war on coal.'”

“But while such rhetoric still resonates in Washington, many locals say they have accepted that, this time, the boom-bust coal cycle has settled on bust … Citizens groups are joining local politicians and entrepreneurs to map out a future less dependent on coal.”

“While some residents blame environmental regulations for squeezing the industry, much of the decline is attributed to irreversible economic and technological changes. The best, easiest-to-reach Appalachian coal has already been mined. Cheaper, cleaner natural gas has become abundant, while coal jobs became more automated.”

No Slow Down in Global Warming

Jonathan Chait: “Over the last couple of years, the conservative movement, which loves science, has had a completely scientific-based reason for skepticism about climate change. The Earth’s temperature seemed to be rising at a slower rate than scientists had predicted. The global warming ‘pause,’ as it was inaccurately called — it was actually ‘getting warmer at a slower-than-expected rate,’ rather than an actual pause — served as grist for a massive flow of coverage expressing skepticism about scientific models and climate change.”

“But fortunately we now have an answer. A new paper released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that the apparent slowdown in warming was an artifact of mis-measurement. The Earth is not warming at a slower rate. It’s warming at the same fast pace as it did the previous decade.”


Maryland Bans Fracking

The Hill: “Maryland’s ban on hydraulic fracturing became law after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) decided not to veto it. The bill bans fracking for two and a half years, and requires the state to write standards to regulate the practice for when the ban lifts.”

“Maryland is the second state in recent months to ban fracking. New York recently filed the final paperwork to ban fracking, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pledged last year.”