Handed out by Climate Action Network in full-on burlesque fashion before an audience of hundreds, the award served to shame the nation judged to have done the “best” job of undermining the negotiations on any given day.
On the last day, Saudi Arabia won for—among other dastardly maneuvers—attempting a last-minute gambit to force out of the treaty a global warming limit of 1.5 degrees, despite the consensus that had coalesced around that target temperature.
Today we deliver the COLOSSAL FOSSIL - for the country that has done the most to do the least at #COP21 and it goes to...Saudi Arabia!!— Fossil of the Day (@Fossil of the Day)1449855367.0
New VIDEO for yesterday's top Fossil of the Day award that went to the EU and the Umbrella Group countries https://t.co/5r5yr0UtKr #COP21— CAN-International (@CAN-International)1449826668.0
There was also the Ray of the Day Award, which acknowledged acts of de-carbonizing courage. Maldives and the Philippines—both island nations and members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum—received a Ray for promoting language that would ensure that nations return to the table in 2018 with more ambitious targets.
The Fossil of the Day award at #COP21 was replaced by a 'Ray of the Day' - find out why in this new GreenTV video: https://t.co/Y3ntOa6bJP— Green.TV (@Green.TV)1449006908.0
Taking place on a dinky, plywood platform in the back of Building 4, the awards ceremony not only made international news but, according to several longtime COP21 observers I spoke with, seemed truly to influence the course of the negotiations.
Appeals to shame are powerful. As is positive reinforcement.
Now that the world has shifted from the urgency of framing, drafting and revising the first global binding contract on climate change to the ongoing challenge of implementing, actualizing and operationalizing it, I suggest we keep the pressure up by continuing on with these awards.
Further, I’d like to propose a third award category: one that would be bestowed upon those who claim to be climate champions but whose actions show otherwise. Which is to say, we need a high-profile trophy that recognizes political figures (or organizations) who self-identify as rays of light but who are actually cleverly disguised chunks of carbon.
A fossil in solar clothing, so to speak.
Let’s call it the Climate Pretender Award, given to those who—for the purposes of attaining admiration, influence, grant money or a political legacy—best mimics the speech of a world climate leader while making precious little effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground, uncombusted.
My candidate for the inaugural Climate Pretender Award is California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Climate change is an opportunity for humans to join for common good: @JerryBrownGov https://t.co/BmGdNJSP7x #COP21 https://t.co/mboi6JEMuL— The Climate Group (@The Climate Group)1449923414.0
While in Paris, Gov. Brown and members of his administration gave one self-congratulatory presentation after another that held up California as a model of climate leadership for the world to emulate—including how the state manages emissions from manure. (Manure and landfills were the topics senior advisor to the governor, Cliff Rechtschaffen, chose to discuss as a member of a COP21 panel on methane).
But not a word was spoken about the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch near Los Angeles, which, since Oct. 23, has been spewing 50,000 kilograms (= 110,000 pounds) of methane per hour into the air from a pipe that no one knows how to fix. The single leak alone is the greenhouse gas equivalent of six coal-burning power plants and nullifies hundreds other state-based efforts in California—including those directed at cows and landfills—to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Indeed, the flow rate of the escaping methane from Aliso Canyon is so extraordinary and the concentrations so astronomical that, out of concern that airplanes could ignite it, the FAA has declared a no-fly zone over the community that will be in place until at least March.
By week two of the climate negotiations in Paris, 1,800 Porter Ranch families had been evacuated, with many demanding that the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility be shut down altogether. But SoCalGas nixed that idea summarily, noting that no fewer than 14 California power plants depend on the gas stored there. No immediate plans to break that dependency exist.
And now we find out, thanks to a Public Accountability Initiative report, that the gas storage well in Porter Ranch is owned by a company where Gov. Brown’s sister is a highly-compensated board member. The report also points out that his sister, Kathleen Brown, plays an environmental, health and safety oversight role at the company.
According to the report:
Brown’s relationships with the oil and gas industry likely play a role in influencing his stances on these issues. This report, to be released in sections in the coming weeks, will detail Brown’s many ties to the industry: through his campaigns and political causes, which have benefited from significant industry funding; through close associates, who play advocacy and leadership roles in the industry; and through appointments to key regulatory roles.
The relationships, some of which have never been reported before, raise new questions about Brown’s handling of oil and gas matters.
This map helps spell out Gov. Brown's family ties to the methane leak and fracking:
Meanwhile, back in Paris, in a high-profile speech at a gathering of governors and mayors from around the world, Governor Brown emphasized the urgent need to “decarbonize in a serious way. ... We have to take courage to make the hard choices—big, fundamental and transformational.”
Not everyone was buying it.
.@JerryBrownGov's #Climate Credentials Questioned At #COP21 Over His Support For Expanded #Fracking in #California https://t.co/rqqguS0o77— DeSmogBlog (@DeSmogBlog)1450118752.0
No sooner had the governor finished talking when a dozen or more people in the audience—many of them members of indigenous communities—leapt to their feet and began chanting, “No more REDD!” and angrily challenging Gov. Brown’s carbon trading scheme. (REDD = Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation).
Under the REDD project, a California polluter—say, an oil refinery that processes tar sands from Canada—can expand operations as long as it purchases credits somewhere else—like in the forests of Mexico or Brazil—so that the photosynthesizing trees that take carbon out of the air offset the carbon added by the refinery.
Protesters argued—loudly—that REDD is “a shell game” that not only allows high-emission industries to pay to pollute but also instigates land grabs that evict indigenous people from their forested communities throughout the developing world. Far from being a model for the nation, California’s REDD, they declared to the governor, is a false solution that should be removed from the draft Paris Accord.
The message from #IndigenousRising at #COP21 is simple: no #REDD, no #falsesolutions, #keepitintheground #d12 https://t.co/E6WdHLnvzJ— IndigenousEnviroNet (@IndigenousEnviroNet)1449915374.0
In an interview with me out in the hotel lobby after the confrontation, Tom Goldtooth, of the Indigenous Environmental Network and one of the protesters, said that any plan that addresses climate change by privatizing forests in the global South to excuse fossil fuel pollution in the global North is, unacceptable, doomed to fail, and means that “Governor Brown needs be very concerned about his legacy."
Tom Goldtooth in Paris at COP21 opposing REDD - YouTube https://t.co/xTL5VpyaiZ— Oscar Rocca (@Oscar Rocca)1449520906.0
Cassandra Smithies, a researcher with No REDD in Africa Network, added that the California model “commodifies photosynthesis” through the creation of offsets while providing no plan to cut extraction and leave fossil fuels in the ground.
Indeed, California, already the nation’s third largest oil-producer, is doubling down on fossil fuel extraction via fracking and other extreme, toxic forms of oil and gas development, including in the Los Angeles area where 1.7 million people live or work within a mile of an active oil or gas well.
Kern County, which serves as a top producer of the nation’s food crops, hosts the highest density of drilling and fracking operations in the state. The recent admission by state regulators that companies had been wrongly allowed, for years, to inject fracking waste directly into California’s freshwater aquifers, has led to the closing of many fracking waste disposal wells. In turn, the lack of disposal options has diverted fracking waste into irrigation canals with unknown impacts on food crops.
For these reasons and more, on one of the final days of the Paris negotiations, a collection of civil society groups—with a hard-won police permit for assembly—staged an anti-fracking rally outside of COP21 headquarters. Chanting “climate leaders don’t frack!” they singled out Gov. Brown for special mention and called on him to ban fracking in California.
US citizens bear witness against #Fracking = #ClimateChange #KeepitintheGround #COP21 #1point5tostayalive @FoEScot https://t.co/hK7F2IeAER— David Somervell (@David Somervell)1449676756.0
This was not a lightly considered decision. Throughout the rally, which the permit had limited to 45 minutes and 50 participants, no fewer than 32 heavily armed military police ringed the demonstrators. In addition, because images of political leaders had been banned at this rally, pictures of Jerry Brown’s face on signs and banners had to be carefully duct-taped over. (The effect, to my mind, was to make the visual message appear more, not less, sinister).
In short, the rally was peaceful; the mood was tense. It took real bravery to bring an anti-fracking message to climate negotiations and call out Gov. Brown for his duplicity.
Fracking crosses the #redline #banfracking now! #COP21 @johnvfenton @fractivist @joshfoxfilm https://t.co/YQv0gA5uYk— lee ziesche (@lee ziesche)1449939175.0
Message to @JerryBrownGov from Paris #BanFrackingNow #keepitintheground w/ @CenterForBioDiv @caagainstfrack #COP21 https://t.co/bnpIfimuUP— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)1449919836.0
The following day, at an official COP21 panel discussion called “Not Just California Dreamin’: Climate Action from the Golden State” and where the speakers were government leaders and renewable energy CEOs, it was as if none of this had happened.
No one on the panel mentioned REDD or fracking.
No one mentioned that, according to this year’s California Air Resources Board’s greenhouse gas inventory, overall emissions have increased in California since Brown took office.
No one on the panel talked about leaving oil and gas in the ground even though another civil society protest, which involved hundreds of people, had just wrapped up in a space not far away and chants of “leave it in the ground!” were still ringing in the air.
Instead, Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, enthused, “The world is looking toward California as a leader. ... NRDC loves California so much that we have two offices there!”
During the Q&A, I asked California Sec. for Environmental Protection, Matthew Rodriquez, about the expansion of fracking in California and how it squares with Gov. Brown’s professed vision for the state. At which point the moderator announced that we had run out of time for further conversation.
But Sec. Rodriguez answered my question anyway. He urged patience. “To the issue of fracking, change doesn’t happen overnight. The goal is to reduce oil by 50 percent by 2050. ... We have the most effective regulations in the world. We understand the implications. We are monitoring. ... We’ve got it under control.”
Which is a different kind of message than Gov. Brown delivered two nights earlier, before his fellow governors, when he warned of the fierce urgency of the climate crisis, saying, “Unless everyone does everything they can, there will be a catastrophic impact.”
.@JerryBrownGov issues statement on global climate pact https://t.co/PNSQdbDKDA #ParisAgreement #COP21 #Under2MOU https://t.co/zW7BXVHdqE— Air Resources Board (@Air Resources Board)1450114332.0
Nor does it align with the message of science, which says that: to have a shot at limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need a 100 percent shift to renewables by 2050, not a goal of 50 percent.
100% Clean Energy is 100% Possible https://t.co/HKnY8VwaDc @elonmusk @MarkRuffalo @LeoDiCaprio @mzjacobson #COP21 https://t.co/IfTbDQZxvJ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1448304433.0
So, let’s keep that awards ceremony going in the days ahead. Bring back the cabaret curtains and the plywood stage. And queue up old Jackson Brown for the opener: “Say a prayer for the Pretender / Who started out so young and strong / Only to surrender.”
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
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Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
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A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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