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4 Must-See Climate Films in 2017
2. To the Ends of the Earth (David Lavallee, Canada, 2016)
Emma Thompson guides the audience through a journey that chronicles the rise of extreme energy, detailing the economic costs of more intensive energy production and the people and wildlife caught in the crossfire.
To set the stage, the film begins with a reminder of the many ways energy is embedded in our daily lives—far beyond the food we eat and vehicles we drive. Thus begins the film's crash course in energy and economics 101, with background on how conventional crude oil petroleum was once relatively cheap in economic terms—until the first few years of the 21st century. That's when the industry turned to "extreme" sources, like tar sands, tight oil, shale gas and shale oil, which are all far more expensive to find, extract and process than old wells.
In other words, "this is not your grandfather's oil industry." Extreme energy extraction, as the film describes, represents a giant step down in terms of energy return versus energy invested (EROI). That's because once upon a time, investing one barrel of oil in oil development could yield an average of 100 barrels of oil (100:1 EROI).
But that was back in the 1930s, when oil seemed to bubble out of the ground faster than people could find it. Fast forward to today, when "affordable," easy-to-tap sources are running out. With the intense processes required to extract shale gas, for example, the EROI drops to 10:1—and much lower after three years.
More than simply being an economic argument, however, the film forces its audience to also consider environmental and human costs. For example, are we adequately accounting for fracking's being a major source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide? What about its impact on humans and wildlife? For example, around Canada's high Arctic region—the epicenter of unconventional oil and gas exploration—massive ships are conducting seismic testing, which happens around the clock and can be heard half the Atlantic away. An Inuit village mayor shares his concerns that this noise is devastating animal populations that the Inuit hunt to survive.
There's also the Canadian farmer who stands to lose his land to shale gas development, the river conservationist in Utah fighting to protect the Colorado River and the Simon Fraser University professor engaging in civil disobedience to protect public land from exploration. Together, these individuals help the film make its case that many people are already being affected by the energy industry's impact on climate—and they're taking action.
What now? Watch the trailer and read The Perfect Storm: Energy, Finance and the End of Growth, which drills into the EROI theory.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.