Things don’t seem to be getting any easier for Big Oil and I am going to venture a guess that 2015 is going to be their toughest year yet.
A bird killed in the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster in April 2010. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Here are a few of the hurdles that are only going to grow for the industry over the coming year:
You can ignore the science, resist the science or support politics that doesn’t believe in science, but you can’t change the science. 2014 captured the title of hottest year on record, marking the 38th consecutive year that global temperatures have been above average. California is still grappling with the impacts of the biggest drought in memory, and “once in a century” storms, floods, fires and droughts have become a joke as they hit with increasing frequency.
Big Oil can’t change the fact that their product is driving dangerous climate change, nor the fact that if the world is going to avoid the worst of it, the majority of fossil fuels that we know exist are going to have to stay underground. The science is definitive and decision makers are running out of ways to avoid taking it seriously.
People get it. More than 400,000 of them came to the biggest climate march in history in New York in September with tens of thousands more joining marches in hundreds of cities around the world. Across North America, people are stopping tar sands pipelines. There is not a single major tar sands pipeline that is not threatened by public opposition on the continent, and these delays are making a dent in pollution and are a material risk to fossil fuel expansion.
Driving and inspiring much of this opposition is resistance from people on the front lines of climate change and fossil fuel extraction: First Nations in Alberta standing up to the tar sands, landowners in Nebraska saying no to the inevitable risks of Keystone XL, and vulnerable and impacted communities globally refusing to let climate impacts go unnoticed. This movement is growing by the minute.
Even before the precipitous fall of oil prices in late 2014, fossil fuel projects were being cancelled in places like the tar sands and the Arctic Ocean. It is quite simply not great economics to bet the farm on high cost, high risk, and high carbon projects. Even with oil prices more than $100 per barrel in early 2014, three major tar sands projects were mothballed due to uncertain economics (driven in large part by public concern and transportation constraints).
Now, with oil prices a shadow of what they were kicking off 2014, analysts say at least $59 billion dollars of capital is on the brink of deferral in the tar sands over the coming 3 years, with the potential of knocking off 650,000 barrels of oil per day. Bad news for big oil, great news for the climate. Countries and regions that made the high risk bet to balance their budgets based on high oil prices are scrambling, and everyone is absorbing the harsh reminder that oil prices are unstable, unpredictable, and uncertain.
The concepts of stranded assets and unburnable carbon gained even more traction over the past year, with the Governor of the Bank of England saying in no uncertain terms that the majority of fossil fuel reserves are unburnable. This echoed messages from the likes of the International Energy Agency and the World Bank—not exactly environmental activists. The mainstream economic chatter is changing.
On top of this are the people-powered movements calling for divestment from fossil fuels. These campaigns are moving billions; not enough to topple the industry, but enough to command attention and prove that this conversation has the moral magnitude of other historic successful divestment campaigns.
Admittedly, this is the slow moving beast. The perpetual challenge is getting politics and politicians to look beyond terms and think about the well being of anything more than 4 or 8 years down the road. Especially when this means turning their backs on the fossil fuel lobby, which has been pouring money into keeping friendly politicians in power for decades.
That said—all hope is not lost. President Obama has made some inspiring and ambitious remarks on climate, and with a final Keystone XL decision sitting on his desk, recent statements suggest he is poised to make the right call, change the status quo, and reject the pipeline. The climate deal between China and the U.S. is also promising and shifted the global political discussions in a meaningful way. Across the continent, politicians are feeling the heat on their inaction on climate change. In Canada, heading into an election year, poll-leading opposition leaders are starting to backtrack on previous support for major tar sands infrastructure.
The message is starting to penetrate: A failure to act on climate change will have political costs.
Renewables are putting a squeeze on fossil fuels. Solar energy had some spectacular breakthroughs in 2014 and the growth in solar capacity in the first three quarters of last year represented 36 percent of new electricity capacity in the U.S. (compared to 9.6 percent in 2012). In Germany, solar generated half of the country’s electricity on one day in June, setting both records and precedent for what we can expect from the rapidly improving and increasingly affordable technology.
Other leaps have been made in the sector, with wind and electrification of transport. Low oil prices are an obvious risk to renewables, especially in a world where fossil fuels continue to receive unnecessary subsidies and renewables are forced to play on an uneven playing field (it is high time to Stop Funding Fossils by the way). However, Bloomberg has done some number crunching that suggests that we should not assume that demand for oil would soar with the price drop and analysts are saying that energy markets today are markedly evolved and renewables will hold their own.
In late 2015, Paris will host the climate talks, the meeting where global leaders are supposed to hammer out the next big deal. While we are not holding our breath for leaders to rise to the occasion in any spectacular way, one thing we are certain about is that they are going to feel the heat.
Let’s make 2015 the year that puts an end once and for all to the myth that fossil fuels are an inevitable centerpiece of our future. The real inevitability is an era where Big Oil is no longer the status quo, and where we build our communities, economies and lives around energy that that is safe, reliable and clean.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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