Has Europe Been Right All Along to Renounce GE Crops?
By Reynard Loki
Editor's note: The terms GE (genetic engineering) and GMO (genetically modified organism) are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are different. GMOs, which are produced when plant breeders select genetic traits that may also occur naturally, have been around for centuries. Common examples are seedless watermelons and modern broccoli. The subject of much recent debate are GE foods, which have only been around in recent decades and are produced by transferring genes between organisms. The resulting GE organisms—either plant- or in the case of GE salmon, animal-based—would not otherwise occur in nature. This article is about GE foods.
In 1994, a tomato known as Flavr Savr became the first commercially grown genetically engineered food to be granted a license for human consumption. Scientists at the California-based company Calgene (which was scooped up by Monsanto a few years later) added a specific gene to a conventional tomato that interfered with the plant's production of a particular enzyme, making it more resistant to rotting. The tomato was given the all-clear by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Since then, both the U.S. and Canada have embraced the genetic engineering of food crops, while Europe has broadly rejected the use of such technology. Only five EU nations—the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain—grow GE crops and in such minor amounts that all five countries make up less than 0.1 percent of GE cultivation worldwide.
It appears Europe has been right all along to renounce GE crops. An in-depth examination recently published by the New York Times found that GE crops have largely failed to achieve two of the technology's primary objectives: to increase crop yields and decrease pesticide use.
Pesticides in particular have come under increasing fire in recent years, not only for their negative impact on human health and wildlife, but for decimating populations of key food crop pollinators; specifically bees, which we rely on to pollinate a third of food crops.
While consumer awareness of the effects of pesticides has grown, the ongoing battle over GE crops has largely zeroed in on whether or not such foods are safe to consume. But as the New York Times investigative reporter Danny Hakim points out in his article about the paper's analysis, "the debate has missed a more basic problem"—that GE crops have "not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides."
Analyzing academic and industry research, as well as independent data, the New York Times compared results on the two continents and found that the "U.S. and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields—food per acre—when measured against Western Europe." The paper also cited a recent National Academy of Sciences report that found "little evidence that the introduction of GE crops were resulting in more rapid yearly increases in on-farm crop yields in the U.S. than had been seen prior to the use of GE crops."
New York Times: Behind the Times?
For many farmers, researchers and activists, the New York Times' conclusion was not news. Ronnie Cummins, co-founder of Organic Consumers Association, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Minnesota, told AlterNet that the paper's analysis simply "confirms what many of the world's best scientists have said for years: GE crops have benefitted no one except the corporations selling the chemicals required to grow them."
"I'm glad that the New York Times has now discovered what those of us in agriculture have known for 20 years, that the old and exaggerated claims of genetic engineering by Monsanto and their allies are bogus," Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer, told AlterNet. "They have not panned out and I'm glad that now the newspaper of record has made this clear to a lot of people." Gerritsen and his wife Megan have owned and run Wood Prairie Family Farm in northern Maine for 40 years. "A lot of us have been saying this for a long time," he said.
While it may not be news for those working toward a more sustainable food system, the New York Times story was unexpected. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, an environmental nonprofit based in Washington, DC, told AlterNet that the New York Times piece is "a surprising ray of light illuminating the longstanding GE crops debate." He said that the paper "for so many years had ignored the science about genetic engineering and bought the Big Lie" that Monsanto and its cohorts have been telling the public for so long: "that GE crops 'reduce pesticide use, increase yield and are key to feeding the world.'"
Seeing Through Monsanto's Propaganda
These recent findings fly in the face of Monsanto's stated claim that "the introduction of GM traits through biotechnology has led to increased yields." But the company is sticking to its guns. When shown the New York Times' findings, Robert T. Fraley, the company's chief technology officer, claimed the paper had selectively chosen the data in its analysis to put the industry in a bad light. "Every farmer is a smart businessperson and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don't think it provides a major benefit," said Fraley. "Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously."
On its website, Monsanto backs its claim by citing statistics reported by PG Economics, a UK-based agricultural industry consultancy. However, that firm that has been exposed as a corporate shill by Lobbywatch.org, a UK-based nonprofit that tracks deceptive PR practices. PG Economics has been commissioned to write reports on behalf of industry lobby groups whose members include the Big Six agrichemical giants: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Syngenta.
"Most of the yield advancement since GE crops were first commercialized is attributable to traditional breeding techniques, not the GE traits," Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Wisconsin, told AlterNet. Kastel, who worked for several agribusiness giants including International Harvester, J.I. Case and FMC before making what he calls the "paradigm shift to sustainable farming," said that since GE crops were introduced in the U.S., farmers have experienced boom-and-bust cycles and today are "generally hurting," regardless of the scale of their farming operations. "GE crops have not been a panacea for economic sustainability," he said.
Instead, GE crops have been a source of financial growth for the agrichemical industry. Kimbrell said that the Big Six "make tens of billions of dollars in profits by selling ever more pesticides, especially herbicides. Why would they spend hundreds of millions of research dollars and then billions in advertising and lobbying to promote crops that actually 'reduce pesticides' and thereby destroy their bottom line? Are these companies committing economic suicide in an altruistic attempt to feed the world? Obviously not. You can accuse Monsanto of many things, including myriad corporate crimes over many decades, but altruism is not one of them. The vast majority of [genetically engineered crops] are not designed to decrease herbicide use, but to massively increase it."
A Toxic Plague
The New York Times' Hakim notes that, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, while insecticide use has actually fallen by a third since GE crops were introduced in the U.S. in the mid-'90s, herbicide use has exploded, growing by more than a fifth over that same period. French farmers, by contrast, have been able to reduce insecticide use by a far greater margin—65 percent—while decreasing herbicide use by more than a third. "Although some insecticide use has been reduced, overall agrochemical applications have grown exponentially," said Kastel.
American tomatoes may take longer to rot than their conventionally grown European counterparts. But with GE tomatoes being one of the most pesticide-contaminated foods in the U.S. food supply—not to mention the fact they won't feed more people (there'll be a staggering 8.5 billion of us by 2030, 11.2 billion by 2100)—the Flavr Savr is just a trick and perhaps ultimately a dangerous one. While the real toll of industrialized GE agriculture on human and environmental health is hard to calculate, its track record is dismal. By some estimates, pesticides have killed an estimated 250 million bees in a just a few years. The New York Times reported that some commercial beekeepers have lost more than a third of their bees in 2013. Pesticides have also impacted populations of fish, amphibians and songbirds.
But it's not just wildlife that suffers. The general public is ingesting pesticides on a regular basis. Kastel notes that "eaters are consuming copious amounts of biological insecticides built into the genome of corn," adding that "the cumulative health impacts are unknown." People who live near GE crops have to contend with an additional health impact: pesticide drift, agrichemicals blown into their communities by the wind.
The heavy reliance on pesticides has started a vicious cycle, leading to the rise of pesticide-resistant superweeds. "Weeds and insects are becoming resistant to the herbicides and genetic insecticides that are spliced into the plants," said Gerritsen. "To combat resistance, some farmers are using a chemical cocktail of multiple herbicides while biotech companies are introducing resistance to even more powerful and toxic chemicals." He estimates there may be 60 to 80 million acres of farmland in the U.S. with "superweeds" that have built up a resistance to Roundup. Cummins said superweed resistance has forced farmers to "use higher and higher amounts of increasingly dangerous poisons" so that "soils are eroded and degraded. Water is polluted. Foods are contaminated. And to what end?"
It may take years, even decades to fully understand the unintended consequences of industrialized agriculture. "These chemicals are largely unknown," David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, told the New York Times. His research has linked the loss of millions of IQ points among children 5 years old and younger in the U.S. to a single class of insecticides. "We do natural experiments on a population," he said, referring to human exposure to agrichemicals, "and wait until it shows up as bad."
Activists of the World, Unite
Hakim also points out that "profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades," noting that anti-GE sentiment across the pond has been much more active, with Monsanto drawing the ire of thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, as GE opposition is firmly established as a primary plank of Europe's Green political movement.
The prospect of a Monsanto-Bayer merger has only galvanized the opposition in Europe, even as activists recognize new and different kinds of challenges ahead. Jan Perhke of the Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers, a German NGO, says that Bayer's diversification has made it a more difficult target than Monsanto, whose business is simple: GE seeds and pesticides. Monsanto, which has emerged as the primary worldwide target of the anti-GE movement, has been steeped in controversy recently, particularly since Roundup's main ingredient glyphosate was deemed a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization in 2015.
"We have tried to put the focus not only on Monsanto and to let people know that behind Monsanto there are many agrochemical multinationals which are very big and also have very dangerous products," Perhke told DW. There has been speculation that, if the merger goes through, Bayer will drop the Monsanto name, which would force activists to rebrand their campaigns.
Many anti-GE activists can be found in Vermont, the first state to pass GMO-labeling legislation. In its 2016 report Vermont's GMO Addiction: Pesticides, Polluted Water, and Climate Destruction, the nonprofit group Regeneration Vermont describes the terrible impact chemical-based industrial agriculture has had on the state's economy and environment:
The true nature of GMO agriculture in Vermont today is a stark and dangerous difference from the promises of its corporate advocates. According to data collected by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, pesticide use is up 39% and increasing rapidly while, at the same time, new pesticides are being added to the arsenal. Climate-threatening nitrogen fertilizers have been up about 17% per year in the decade of GMO's rise to dominance (2002-2012) and climbing as our denuded soils require more and more inputs for high production. And the pollution to our climate, water and soil from these increases continues to rise, keeping us on a steady degenerative decline, environmentally, economically and culturally.
Lining Corporate Coffers
"The great economic promise of genetically engineered crops has flowed primarily to bankers, suppliers and the biotechnology industry," said Kastel. "Rather than improving the bottom line, it enabled farmers to grow larger and automate crop production with fewer people involved."
The agrichemical industry is the chief beneficiary of those economic benefits. Over the past 15 years, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto and Syngenta have grown more than sixfold. And these companies are profiting on both ends. "They sell the seeds and the poisons sprayed on those seeds. Great for their bottom line, terrible for the rest of us and the planet," said Kimbrell. "For Monsanto and the other chemical companies, genetically engineering crops is just another way to significantly increase profits." If the mergers of Monsanto and Bayer on one side, and Syngenta and ChemChina, a Chinese state-owned agrichemical company, on the other, were to go through, the two newly created behemoths would each have combined values in excess of $100 billion.
Meanwhile, bees are dying in worrisome numbers, in part due to the increased use of neonicotinoids, a dangerous class of pesticides produced by Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical and commonly used on GE corn, soybean, canola and cereal, as well as many fruits and vegetables. But because bees work for free, the estimated $15 billion in ecosystem services they provide to society each year is not included in economic calculations.
Is It Too Late?
Even as crop yields have shown no improvement versus conventional methods, U.S. growers have increased their use of herbicides as they have converted key crops—including cotton, corn and soybean—to modified varieties. Meanwhile, American farmers have been overtaken by their counterparts in France, Europe's biggest agricultural producer, in the overall reduction of pesticides.
Is it too late for the U.S. and Canada to get off this ruinous track of industrialized agriculture? For advocates of sustainable agriculture, regenerative agriculture and agroecology—who seek to place farming within the context of natural ecosystems as opposed to objects of chemical-based production—the answer is a resounding no.
"Research has shown that agroecologically based methods—such as organic fertilizers, crop rotation and cover crops—can succeed in meeting our food needs while avoiding the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture," argues the Union for Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "As farmers incorporate these practices into their work, many benefits emerge: Less pollution. Healthier, more fertile soil that is less vulnerable to drought and flooding. A lighter impact on surrounding ecosystems, resulting in greater biodiversity. Reduced global warming impact. Less antibiotic and pesticide resistance."
In fact, a 2015 global study conducted by researchers at Washington State University and published in the peer-reviewed Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences found that despite lower yields, the profit margins for organic agriculture are significantly greater than conventional agriculture. Part of that increased profit margin may come from not having to pay a premium for Big Ag's seeds and pesticides.
"Why would a farmer want to pay a premium for Roundup Ready soybeans if the Roundup is no longer working?" Gerritsen said. "What has been happening, widespread, is that farmers are going back to non-GE soybeans and growing them as they did before the Roundup Ready soybeans came in 20 years ago. Then, the best among them have figured out that there is a growing market worldwide for a non-GMO soybeans."
He notes that some U.S. farmers raising conventionally grown, non-GMO soybeans have found competitive markets in Asia, where they receive a premium for their produce. An added benefit for these farmers is that they can save their seeds instead of having to buy them each season from Monsanto, which actually leases its seeds and regulates them as intellectual property. For thousands of years prior, seeds were considered a part of the wealth of the commons, free and available to anyone who planted and grew crops.
But moving from industrial agriculture to organic farming isn't easy, especially when the transition period to get organic certification exposes growers to financial risk. The authors of the Washington State University study say that the impetus for change must come from policymakers, who should "develop government policies that support conventional farmers converting to organic and other sustainable systems, especially during the transition period," a 36-month withdrawal period from the time a farmer last used an unapproved material, like a pesticide.
But considering the powerful Big Ag lobby, getting policymakers to help farmers move to organic is a daunting task. Gerritsen acknowledges that "it's hard to out-gun the tremendous resources of Monsanto and what basically amounts to a calculated propaganda effort to misrepresent reality, to gain position and dominance." He said the deck is stacked against farmers. "Sadly, this is nothing new to agriculture. The history of agriculture is one where farmers who were spread out and independent by nature and by geography have a hard time competing with the concentrated power structures within agriculture. This has gone on for 150 years. Only now, the accelerated rates of concentration is no more stark than in the seed industry. Just a small handful of companies now control the vast majority of world seed resources. Monsanto is chief among them."
If regulators approve the $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger, the resulting corporation would have control of nearly a third of the world's seed market and nearly a fourth of the pesticide market.
"In all probability, one story, albeit a major one, is probably not enough to finally debunk Monsanto and friends' Big Lie about GE crop technology," Andrew Kimbrell said about the New York Times' analysis. "You will probably continue to see the common sense-defying claims for a while yet. But if as the ancients said, the truth is like a lion; just let it loose. Then maybe we can finally go past the already failed but still dangerous GE experiment and move to an ecological agriculture that really will reduce and eventually eliminate pesticides and provide a secure sustainable food future for us all."
Whether or not the U.S. and Canada will move toward a more sustainable agricultural model remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: The 20-year-old experiment with genetically engineered crops has proven to be a false promise, suggesting that the creation of completely new organisms is better left in the hands of Mother Nature, not scientists in laboratories.
"When you begin to genetically engineer organisms by mixing plant and animal genes, you now have the ability to alter ecosystems, which can have unintended consequences," Robert Colangelo, founding farmer and CEO of Green Sense Farms, America's largest network of commercial and sustainable indoor vertical farms, told AlterNet. "Mankind does not have a good track record when it tries to alter nature."
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
A new briefing paper details how Dominion Energy's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.
The planned 600-mile interstate
pipeline will carry 1.44 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, cutting through forests, critical animal habitats and pristine mountains that Dominion would be required to "reduce" between 10 to 60 feet, according to the paper released Thursday by the non-profit Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
The paper cites data from the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Council (FERC) as well as information supplied to FERC by Dominion. It also compiles information from Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and independent reports prepared by engineers and soil scientists.
"In light of the discovery that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cause 10 to 60 feet of mountaintops to be removed from 38 miles of Appalachian ridges, there is nothing left to debate," said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
"Dominion's pipeline will cause irrevocable harm to the region's environmental resources. With Clean Water Act certifications pending in both Virginia and West Virginia, we call on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to reject this destructive pipeline."
Dominion, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the nation's largest producers and transporters of energy. The developer promises that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will have "minimal environmental impact" and that "best-in-class restoration and mitigation techniques will be used to protect native species, preserve wetland and water resources, control erosion and minimize emissions." Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas also have a stake in the project.
Environmentalists and other opponents argue that the pipeline will have adverse effects on sensitive habitats, reduce property values and introduce dangerous precedents for the seizure of private property through eminent domain.
Joyce Burton, a board member of Friends of Nelson County, expressed fears that Dominion's plan to build the pipeline on steep and landslide-prone Appalachian slopes could be catastrophic.
"Many of the slopes along the right of way are significantly steeper than a black diamond ski slope," Burton said.
"Both FERC and Dominion concede that constructing pipelines on these steep slopes can increase the potential for landslides, yet they still have not demonstrated how they propose to protect us from this risk. With all of this, it is clear that this pipeline is a recipe for disaster."
Opponents of the pipeline are demanding more transparency from the company.
Ben Luckett, a staff attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said it was "astounding" that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess rock and soil that will result from cutting down the 38 miles of ridgetop for the pipeline.
"We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes," Luckett added.
"FERC and Dominion's complete failure to address this issue creates a significant risk that the excess material will ultimately end up in our waterways, smothering aquatic life and otherwise degrading water quality. Without an in-depth analysis of exactly how much spoil will be created and how it can be safely disposed of, the states cannot possibly certify that this pipeline project will comply with the Clean Water Act."
Dan Shaffer, a spatial analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, said there are too many risks involved with the project.
"Even with Dominion's refusal to provide the public with adequate information, the situation is clear: The proposed construction plan will have massive impacts to scenic vistas, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and potentially to worker and resident safety," Shaffer said.
"There is no way around it. It's a bad route, a bad plan and should never have been seriously considered."
Here are some of the new paper's key findings:
• Approximately 38 miles of mountains in West Virginia and Virginia will see 10 feet or more of their ridgetops removed in order to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
• This figure includes 19 miles in West Virginia and 19 miles in Virginia.
• The majority of these mountains would be flattened by 10 to 20 feet, with some places along the route requiring the removal of 60 feet or more of ridgetop.
• Building the ACP on top of these mountains will result in a tremendous quantity of excess material, known to those familiar with mountaintop removal as "overburden."
• Dominion would likely need to dispose of 2.47 million cubic yards of overburden, from just these 38 miles alone.
• Standard-size, fully loaded dump trucks would need to take at least 247,000 trips to haul this material away from the construction site.
The new EO will direct U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke to review the current offshore drilling plans, which limits most drilling to parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Cook Inlet, and reexamine opening parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to drilling. The EO will also roll back President Obama's permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic, issued in the last full month of his presidency. Zinke cautioned reporters that implementation of the EO will be "a multi-year effort," and several groups have pledged lawsuits to further slow down the process.
"Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is dead wrong," said Greenpeace USA senior climate and energy campaigner Diana Best.
"Renewable energy already has us on the right track to energy independence, and opening new areas to offshore oil and gas drilling will lock us into decades of harmful pollution, devastating spills like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and a fossil fuel economy with no future. Scientific consensus is that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves—including the oil and gas off U.S. coasts—must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change."
Best added that Trump's latest executive order does not have popular support, and instead caters to "Trump's inner circle of desperate fossil fuel executives."
"Holing up at Mar-a-lago may protect Trump from an oil spill," she said, "but it will not protect him and his cabinet of one percenters from the millions of people in this country—from California to North Carolina—who will resist his disastrous policies."
Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi agrees. "This attempt to greatly expand offshore drilling into the Arctic and Atlantic is a blatant prioritization of fossil fuel profits over the health of our climate and coastal communities," he said. "President Trump is ignoring the cries of citizens who have said offshore drilling poses too great a threat to their economies and ways of life."
For a deeper dive:
A total of 41 humpback whales died in the waters off Maine to North Carolina since January 2016, including 15 that washed up dead this year. That's about three times more than the region's annual average of just 14 humpback deaths.
"The increased numbers of mortalities have triggered the declaration of an unusual mortality event, or UME, for humpback whales along the Atlantic Coast," said Mendy Garron, stranding coordinator at the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, on Thursday.
A UME is issued whenever there is an "unexpected, involves a significant dieoff of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response," she added.
So far, NOAA has examined 20 of the whales that died last year and determined that 10 of the mammals "had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds" likely from marine vessels, the agency said.
The whales may be moving around in search of prey, exposing themselves to shipping traffic, researchers suggested.
"It's probably linked to resources," Greg Silber, the large-whale recovery coordinator for NOAA fisheries, told reporters. "Humpback whales follow where the prey is."
The other half of the whales that were examined had no obvious signs of what caused their demise.
"Whales tested to date have had no evidence of infectious disease," Garron said.
The scientists stressed that they are unsure about what is causing the spike in humpback deaths.
"The answer is really unknown," Silber said.
By Dave Anderson
Perry's remarks came during an on-stage interview at the 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit.
During an on-stage interview, Perry was asked if the administration would interfere with state policies requiring utilities to get power from renewable sources. Such a move would potentially destroy efforts by California, New York and other states to fight climate change by encouraging the growth of clean power.
Perry didn't rule it out, saying the reliability of the grid was a matter of national security.
"That's a conversation that will occur over the next few years," Perry said. "There may be issues that are so important that the federal government can intervene."
And according to Time's Justin Worland:
During a question and answer period, Perry also suggested that increased reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar might make the grid unreliable given they only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, creating national security concerns. The Trump administration might try to preempt state and local governments that use policy to encourage clean energy to address those concerns, Perry said.
"There's a discussion, some of it very classified that will be occurring as we go further," Perry said. "The conversation needs to happen so the local governors and legislators, mayors and city council understand what's at stake here in making sure that our energy security is substantial."
Saqib Rahim of E&E News provided a slightly different quote from Perry:
"There's a conversation, there's a discussion, some of it obviously very classified, that will be occurring as we go forward, to make sure that we have the decisions made by Congress, in a lot of these cases, to protect the security interests of America," he said at BNEF's The Future of Energy Summit, "and that states and local entities do in fact get preempted with some of those decisions."
Perry's remarks re-sparked earlier concerns that the Trump administration could seek to preempt renewable energy standard policies that are now in place in 29 states, as well as renewable energy goals adopted by another nine states. The growing number of local communities that have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy could also come under fire from the Trump administration.
Renewable Energy Is Reliable and Makes America Safer—Just Ask the Department of Energy
Rick Perry is also facing scrutiny for ordering a study examining "electricity markets and reliability" that was tasked to his Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, who previously played a central role in attacks against rooftop solar for the Edison Electric Institute. Also named to lead work on the study is political appointee Travis Fisher. Fisher previously worked for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), which have received ample funding from the Koch brothers and coal industry. IER and AEA have long sought to undermine renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina, a national leader in solar energy.
Christian Roselund of PV Magazine responded to Perry's study order by pointing out that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—one of the Dept. of Energy's 17 National Laboratories—has already written studies that show we can rely on renewable energy to provide much more of our electricity than it does today. In fact, one 2012 NREL study found that we could get 80 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2050 using existing technologies. Other studies by states and grid operators confirm that renewable energy is reliable.
Another NREL study documented the significant health and environmental benefits generated by the state renewable energy standards that the Trump administration could try to preempt. In short, these policies make Americans safer by reducing harmful pollution emitted when we burn fossil fuels—especially coal—to produce electricity.
Other reports by clean energy experts have documented the economic security benefits of these state renewable energy standards, which have supported the growth of jobs in the booming solar and wind power industries.
Real world experience also shows that renewable energy is working just fine. Texas, the state where Rick Perry was governor, actually leads the nation in wind energy generation. In fact, nearly a quarter of the electricity generated in Texas during the first quarter of 2017 came from wind.
Ask the Department of Defense, Too
The Dept. of Defense does not appear to share the Trump administration's concerns about renewable energy. In fact, the military has made significant investments in renewable energy in order to enhance national security—an investment that continues with Trump in the White House. The U.S. Navy just recently refuted misleading claims that a new wind farm could interfere with a radar system made by some Republican lawmakers in North Carolina who wrote a letter to the Trump administration.
Climate Change Is a Real Threat to Energy and National Security
In 2015, the Dept. of Energy released a report that documented the threat climate change poses to energy security—and by extension national security—in every region of the U.S.
Trump's efforts to rollback limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and his embrace of the so-called "clean coal" put the nation's energy and national security at further risk from climate change. Preempting state and local support for renewables would only increase those risks.
Rick Perry Could Support Renewable Energy by Working for a Smart Grid
Greentech Media reported that Perry made only "sparse" mention of renewable energy at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit, but did say he wants to "help renewable energy make its way to the grid … "
Preempting local and state support for renewable energy would only ensure that less renewable energy makes its way to the grid. Perry could instead take positive steps to support integration of renewable energy by working to build a smart grid, the topic of a Dept. of Energy website. He could also support the energy storage revolution that is now underway, thanks in part to earlier investments by the Dept. of Energy.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's energy policy seems to more squarely align with fossil fuel and utility interests who seek to undermine state and local support for renewable energy.
The Trump Team Is Full of Opponents of State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
Travis Fisher is not the only political pick by the Trump administration that comes with a history of attacking state and local policies that have fueled the growth of renewable energy to benefit funders in the fossil fuel or utility industry.
Trump tapped Thomas Pyle, also of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), to run his Dept. of Energy transition team. IER and AEA have targeted state renewable energy standard policies with misleading attacks for years. During the 2016 election, Trump responded to an AEA questionnaire with pledges to "review" key U.S. clean energy and climate change policies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan and science-based endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has already fulfilled part of that pledge by beginning the process of rolling back the Clean Power Plan.
Trump similarly chose climate denier Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Like Fisher and Pyle, Ebell has attacked renewable energy standards in states like Ohio. Greentech Media recently took a rather revealing look at the backgrounds of some other members of Trump's energy beachhead team.
No Uncertainty About State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
At this point, it remains unclear how exactly the Trump administration would use the pretense of reliability concerns to preempt state and local support for renewable energy. If it does seek to preempt state and local control, it will certainly face significant opposition from states and local communities—including those led by Republicans—that are already leading the way on renewable energy.
The ruling against Exxon in a suit brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club found that the oil giant failed to update emissions-reductions technology at its Baytown, Texas refining and chemical plant.
In their suit, the groups alleged the plant illegally released more than 10 million pounds of pollutants between 2005 and 2013, while Exxon gained more than $14 million in economic benefits.
"Today's decision sends a resounding message that it will not pay to pollute Texas," Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, said in a statement. "We will not stand idly by when polluters put our health and safety at risk."
For a deeper dive:
Ahead of the People's Climate March, Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey stood beside movement leaders to introduce legislation that will completely phase out fossil fuel use by 2050. The "100 by '50 Act" outlines a bold plan to support workers and to prioritize low-income communities while replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy sources like wind and solar.
"100 is an important number," said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. "Instead of making changes around the margins, this bill would finally commit America to the wholesale energy transformation that technology has made possible and affordable, and that an eroding climate makes utterly essential. This bill won't pass Congress immediately—the fossil fuel industry will see to that—but it will change the debate in fundamental ways."
The "100 by '50 Act" would put a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure projects like Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipeline, and fracked gas pipelines facing opposition from tribes and landowners. Instead of new fossil fuel infrastructure, the bill invests hundreds of billions of dollars per year in clean energy—enough to create four million jobs. These large-scale clean energy investments prioritize black, brown and low-income communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
"While fossil fuel billionaires supporting Trump's administration put profits before people, we now have a legislative roadmap to phase out this dirty industry once and for all," said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. "This bill deploys clean energy in communities that need it most and keeps fossil fuels in the ground. From Standing Rock to the Peoples Climate March, movement leaders have been calling for these solutions for years. This bill is proof that organizing works, and it's the beginning of an important conversation."
The issues covered by the bill reflect the demands of the climate movement, from Standing Rock to the fossil fuel divestment campaign, to the fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The content stands in bright contrast to Trump's vision of a more polluted America where fossil fuel billionaires profit at the public's expense. While this precedent setting bill is unlikely to pass during the Trump administration, similar bills are being considered at the state and local level in California, Massachusetts, New York and elsewhere across the country.
At a press conference held by Senators Merkley and Sanders, speakers included representatives from climate and environmental justice groups, progressive organizations and more. A crowd of supporters carried banners and signs reading "100% Clean Energy For All," and, "Keep Fossil Fuels In The Ground." The event was part of an ongoing week of action leading up to the People's Climate March on April 29, when thousands of people are converging in DC and around the country to march for jobs, justice and the climate.
By Kelly Levin
Thousands of people are expected to attend the People's Climate Movement march in Washington, DC and sister cities around the world this coming weekend. They are marching because actions taken to date by governments and others are not commensurate with the scale of climate impacts—both those already borne and those projected in the years to come.
It's a good moment to reflect on the facts. What do we know about global climate change and what impacts can we expect in the future? The following graphics speak volumes.
1. What is Climate Change?
Climate change is a long-term change in Earth's weather patterns or average climate, including temperature and precipitation. While the climate has changed in the past, we are now seeing it change at an unprecedented rate. As a result of the build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—due to our burning of fossil fuels, cutting down trees and other activities—global average temperature is now changing at a faster rate than at least over the past 1,000 years.
2. What's Causing Climate Change?
When models only include natural drivers of climate change, such as natural variability and volcanic eruptions, they cannot reproduce the recent increase in temperature. Only when models include the increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities can they replicate the observed changes.
U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency, adapted from Huber and Knutti, 2012
3. How Have Global Emissions Changed?
Emissions have been climbing since the Industrial Revolution, but the rate of annual emissions increase during the first 10 years of this century was almost double the rate between 1970 and 2000.
Global Carbon Project
Emissions from fossil fuels and industry have seen a staggering increase in recent years—63 percent since 1990.
4. Who Are the Biggest Emitters?
From 1850 to 2011, the five major emitters—the U.S., European Union, China, Russian Federation and Japan— together contributed two-thirds of the world's CO2 emissions.
Now, China has emerged as the top emitter and China, the EU and the U.S. are the world's top three emitters. Together they emit more than half of total global greenhouse gases. In contrast, the 100 smallest-emitting countries collectively add up to only 3.5 percent of global emissions. Almost three-quarters of global emissions come from only 10 countries.
5. How Much Should We Limit Global Warming?
The Paris agreement on climate change sets a target for countries to collectively limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), with a goal of sticking to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) in order to prevent some of the worst effects of climate change. The amount of carbon emissions we can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees is known as the "carbon budget." As of 2011, the world had already blown through nearly two-thirds of the carbon budget and is on track to exceed it by 2033 if emissions continue unabated.
6. Where is the Temperature Headed?
In the absence of countries' recent emissions-reduction commitments, known as intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs, we would see 4-5 degrees C of warming. Even if these INDCs are fully implemented, the average global temperature is still on track to increase 2.7-3.7 degrees C by 2100, according to a range of studies. That's far short of the global goal to limit warming to 1.5- 2 degrees C.
7. What Have Been Some of the Impacts of Climate Change to Date?
The impacts of climate change are already occurring and occurring everywhere. For example, climate change has already led to: more negative than positive impacts to crops, such as wheat and maize; coral bleaching and species range shifts; more frequent heat waves; coastal flooding; increased tree die-off in various regions; and a significant loss of ice mass in places like Greenland and Antarctica.
For example, as a result of ice melting on land, such as from glaciers and ice sheets, as well as thermal expansion of the ocean, we have seen sea level rise 3.4 millimeters per year from 1993-2015, which puts coastal communities at risk of flooding and infrastructure damage.
8. What Impacts Do We Expect in the Future?
The impacts we see in the future will be determined by our emissions pathway and resultant level of temperature increase. The warmer it gets, the greater the impacts—and the lower our ability to adapt.
9. Are There Signs of Progress?
Recently, we've seen signs of "decoupling." According to the International Energy Agency, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stayed flat for three years in a row even as the global economy grew. This flattening of emissions was due to the growth of renewable power generation, fuel switching from coal to natural gas and energy efficiency gains, among other changes.
This decoupling can also be seen at the country level in 21 nations from 2000-2014. Whether these are indicative of long-term shifts remains to be seen. We will need to see a deep decline if we are to limit dangerous climate change and even with existing emissions-reduction commitments, global emissions are not expected to decline until at least after 2030.
20. Are We Investing in Solutions?
Global investments in renewable energy have been growing in recent years to an all-time high of $285.9 billion in 2015, a 5 percent rise compared to the previous year. In 2015, renewable energy (excluding large hydro) made up the bulk (54.6 percent) of new installed generating capacity for the first time.
REN21 Renewables 2016 Global Status Report
That being said, we need to shift away from fossil fuels much more quickly if we are to have a fighting chance of limiting warming to 1.5-2 degrees C.
Marching for Action
Let's hope that as people take to the streets, it will wake leaders up to the scale of the climate change challenge and the task ahead. Avoiding the most dangerous of climate change impacts—which necessitates phasing out emissions in the second half of the century—will require sustained action well beyond this weekend's activities.
Anadarko Petroleum Corporation is temporarily closing all its vertical wells across northeast Colorado following a massive house explosion and fire in the town of Firestone last week that killed two people.
The Woodlands, Texas-based oil and gas giant said in press release it was shutting more than 3,000 producing vertical wells, which produce about 13,000 barrels of oil per day, "in an abundance of caution."
Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joseph William Irwin III, both 42, were killed in the April 17 explosion. Mark's wife, Erin Martinez, was injured as well her 11-year-old son. A GoFundMe page is currently raising funds for the family.
In its statement, Anadarko acknowledged that the blast occurred approximately 200 feet from the family's recently built two-story home on Twilight Ave., where the company operates an older vertical well drilled by a previous operator.
The tragedy has sparked concerns from local anti-fracking activists over the risks of oil and gas production in Colorado and are calling for a statewide emergency moratorium as officials and regulators investigate the cause of the explosion.
The Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) are involved with the investigation.
"While the well in the vicinity is one aspect of the investigation, this is a complex investigation and the origin and cause of the fire have not been determined," Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District Chief Theodore Poszywak said.
The Colorado Independent reported on the possible link between the Anadarko-operated gas well and the Firestone house explosion:
A source has told The Independent that personnel and trucks bearing Anadarko's logo responded soon after the explosion, and that company personnel at and near the scene over the following days came in unmarked vehicles and clothes. They were apparently paying special attention to a feeder line that may have been severed near the home.
News stories after the explosion reported that Irwin, a master plumber, was helping Mark Martinez install a hot water heater, apparently at or near the time of the explosion. The insinuation was that their work may have led to their deaths.
But that narrative sounded immediately curious to those who knew Irwin and his work, and became less plausible when Colorado's Public Utilities Commission passed the investigation on to the COGCC, which regulates the oil and gas industry.
Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen would not respond to the Independent's report or questions about the company's possible involvement.
Anadarko is one of the world's largest private oil and natural gas exploration and production companies and the largest oil and gas producer in Colorado. The state is the seventh-largest oil and gas producing state in the country.
"Our teams will remain actively engaged with residents in the Firestone community," said Brad Holly, Anadarko senior vice president of U.S. Onshore Exploration and Production.
"Colorado residents must feel safe in their own homes, and I want to be clear that we are committed to understanding all that we can about this tragedy as we work with each investigating agency until causes can be determined."
In response to the incident, Boulder, Colorado-based climate change activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is calling for immediate halt on drilling activity.
"Our thoughts and best wishes go to Martinez and Irwin families, no one should have to lose a family member before their time," Martinez, who is the youth director of Earth Guardians, told EcoWatch. "We must fight to make sure that Anadarko is held accountable, if its shown their reckless behavior played a part in their deaths, so we can ensure this is the last time a tragedy like this occurs."
"Unfortunately this is likely the result of a state that has completely failed to protect it's citizens from the impacts of fracking," Martinez added. "Based on the explosive danger coming from this industry and the proximity to homes, schools and hospitals we are calling for a statewide emergency moratorium, until it can be demonstrated that fracking can be done safely."
In March, the Colorado Court of Appeals sided with Martinez and other youth plaintiffs that the Oil and Gas Conservation Act required it to strike a balance between the regulation of oil and gas operations and protecting public health, the environment and wildlife resources.
Martinez said that the appellate court's decision "clearly states that health and safety must be prioritized with regards to oil and gas industry in the state."
"Based on that decision and [the Firestone house explosion] it's clear that all drilling activity should be halted immediately and the danger of fracking should be investigated in full," Martinez said.
A source pointed out to EcoWatch that "Fractivist" Shane Davis, a biologist who started the fracking resistance in Colorado several years ago, happened to live in Firestone and "literally moved out of the town for this very reason."
Incidentally, Davis detailed in a January blog post about the dangers of living nearby drilling operations.
One landowner's decision to lease their minerals to the fracking industry "can place hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people at risk from the dangers of the fracking industry's toxic air, groundwater contamination, fugitive emissions, failed equipment, human error, and even a blowout which is the most dangerous to communities that are close by," Davis wrote on Fractivist.org.
Anadarko said the wells will remain shut in until the company's field personnel can conduct additional inspections and testing of the associated equipment, such as facilities and underground lines associated with each wellhead. The wells will not be restarted until each has undergone and passed these additional inspections. Anadarko currently anticipates the process will take two to four weeks.