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Canada Risks Billions in a 'Carbon Bubble' as Kinder Morgan Execs Get Big Bonuses

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Canada Risks Billions in a 'Carbon Bubble' as Kinder Morgan Execs Get Big Bonuses
Oil sands, Fort McMurray, Alberta on Nov. 11, 2010. eryn.rickard / CC BY 2.0

By Andy Rowell

Days after Justin Trudeau blew an estimated $15 billion of hard-earned Canadian taxpayer money on Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, scientists are warning just how financially and ecologically stupid and short-sighted the investment was.

In a peer reviewed scientific paper published Monday, the scientists warn of the existence of a "carbon bubble," due to the plunging price of renewables and improved energy efficiency measures, which will make many fossil fuel projects "stranded assets."


The abstract in the prestigious journal Nature could make Trudeau choke on his morning coffee: "Several major economies rely heavily on fossil fuel production and exports, yet current low-carbon technology diffusion, energy efficiency and climate policy may be substantially reducing global demand for fossil fuels."

It continues: "This trend is inconsistent with observed investment in new fossil fuel ventures, which could become stranded as a result."

Crucially, the scientists argue that many fossil fuel projects will become stranded due to changing market conditions, especially with the cost of renewables rapidly decreasing.

But this economic loss of "stranded fossil fuel assets" will be exemplified if "new climate policies to reach the 2°C target of the Paris Agreement are adopted and/or if low-cost producers (some OPEC countries) maintain their level of production ('sell out') despite declining demand."

If this happens there will be winners and losers, with "winners (for example, net importers such as China or the EU) and losers (for example, Russia, the United States or Canada, which could see their fossil fuel industries nearly shut down)."

So Canada will be a net loser. And the reason will be the tar sands. And if the tar sands are "shut down," Kinder Morgan is a pipeline to nowhere.

Professor Jorge Viñuales, co-author, told The Guardian: "Contrary to investor expectations, the stranding of fossil fuel assets may happen even without new climate policies. Individual nations cannot avoid the situation by ignoring the Paris agreement or burying their heads in coal and tar sands."

Dr. Jean-François Mercure, the lead author, from Radboud and Cambridge universities, also told the newspaper: "If people stop putting funds now in fossil fuels, they may at least limit their losses."

Trudeau has just done the opposite. As the prime minister buries his political future in the tar sands, others have criticized last week's bail-out as a clear "subsidy" to the oil industry, which goes against a G7 pledge to phase out "inefficient" support for polluting sectors by 2025.

"The decision by the Canadian government to acquire the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan has essentially been taken because, given the risk, no other private investor would step in," argues Mark Campanale, the executive director of Carbon Tracker. "It is government subsidizing a market failure."

But it gets worse: As Trudeau invests in "carbon bubbles" and "market failures," two Kinder Morgan bosses are literally laughing all the way to the bank. Two senior executives have each been awarded $1.5-million "retention bonuses" in connection with the $4.5 billion sale of the pipeline.

Opposition MPs were outraged at the news: One, the B.C. New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, said in the House of Commons: "Adding insult to injury to this public bailout, it includes a $3 million bonus to Kinder Morgan executives."

Canadian economist Robyn Allan, who has spent the past few years analyzing the dodgy finances behind the Trans Mountain project, also criticized the payouts: "It's a large amount of money and it's something that most people are going to be shocked about."

They are right to be shocked about another example of rewarding big oil executives for climate failure.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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