World's Richest Governments Aid Big Carbon's Efforts to Delay Climate Reckoning
One of President Obama's main climate policy thrusts was to persuade the world that since you often get what you pay for, the world should stop paying for more extreme climate disruption by subsidizing fossil fuels. Both the G7 and the G20 accepted Obama's lead—at least nominally.
Some countries did something. Revealingly, both rich and poor countries which were helping energy consumers get cheaper fuel reformed. The United Arab Emirates has dismantled its subsidy regime for gasoline. Indonesia eliminated its gasoline subsidies and capped diesel supports. India has moved very aggressively, first eliminating diesel supports, and now phasing out even the subsidized kerosene intended to help the off-grid poor pay for lighting their homes. (Dealing with electricity subsidies has proven a heavier lift).
But most richer countries, including the U.S. and China, the nations who started the clamor to get prices right haven't done so well. Their subsidies are mostly aimed at well-connected fossil fuel producers. Recent analysis shows that $60 billion a year is still flowing from 12 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development members to oil, gas and coal producers, in a variety of forms, particularly export credits to encourage emerging markets to purchase oil, gas and coal technologies and equipment. This is four times as much subsidy as those same countries provide to clean energy.
So the world's strongest economies are handing out more than $60 billion in public funds to the world's biggest polluters, including some of the world's richest companies, aiding and abetting Big Carbon's effort to postpone the climate reckoning. At the same time they are pleading that their Treasuries are so depleted that they cannot keep their much less expensive long-standing promises to help finance the clean energy transition in developing countries.
Australia, for example, which was just chosen to lead the primary vehicle for climate aid, the Green Climate Fund, has provided $200 million for that agency. But Australia's Queensland State is proposing to spend $1 billion—five times as much—helping to build a single new railroad to enable an Indian mining company, Adani, to develop its Carmichael mine, a decision which caused one of Adani's competitors, Glencore, to snipe at "risky ventures that rely on taxpayer subsidies to get across the line and which will bring on massive volumes of additional coal supply into the market, which could undermine existing operations." (The Carmichael coal project is also expected to receive significant financial concessions on royalty payments).
The U.S., under President Trump, has become something of a caricature of what this fossil subsidy end game might look like. Trump campaigned with strong support from coal, oil and natural gas nationally—but messaged around his promise to bring back coal mining jobs in Appalachian states like Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Elected, he moved promptly to reverse a series of Obama administration regulations which would have improved environmental standards for oil, gas and coal extraction. Coal industry executive and even Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell conceded that these roll-backs, while good for coal company pocket books, would do nothing to bring back Appalachian jobs, which were being lost because of competition from cheaper strip-mined western coal, natural gas and renewables.
Trump next reversed a series of Obama reforms designed to ensure that companies mining fossil fuels from public lands paid fair royalties, and that leases were bid competitively. The roll-back added another billion dollars a year to the taxpayer give-away to public lands producers, but also made it even more difficult for labor intensive Appalachian coal miners to compete—speeding the loss of jobs. (The new administration's moves to lower environmental standards for gas drilling also hampered eastern coal).
How did Appalachian coal interests respond to the Trump administration giveaways to its competitors, western coal and natural gas? Predictably, they pled for even bigger subsidies for themselves. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who just bolted the Democratic Party to join the GOP, asked Trump for a $15 federal subsidy for each ton of Appalachian coal, and claimed Trump had expressed support for the idea. If Congress were to appropriate these funds, it would add another $4.5 billion to the total U.S. government pay-off to fossil fuel producers.
But while these outrageous political payoffs waste taxpayer money and keep uncompetitive coal projects alive for a few more years, they don't change the underlying market realities. Last month the CEO of CSX railroad, founded to haul coal, and still getting a fifth of its revenue from the fuel, told analysts "Fossil fuels are dead….That's a long-term view. It's not going to happen overnight. It's not going to be in two or three years. But it's going away, in my view." And he backed up that prediction by revealing that his company would no longer make capital investments in its coal hauling business—no more locomotives designed to haul coal, no more investments in additional trackage—CSX is just going to let its coal business gradually wither. This week a Houston based energy trader told Bloomberg, "All the power market people that I know, we all think coal is going to zero."
So when you read claims that renewable energy isn't competitive yet with fossil fuels, or that it is economics that is slowing down the transition to clean energy, remember—the world's richest governments are throwing taxpayer money at well connected oil, gas and coal companies, cosseting these giants from the grim realities of true market costs—they represent a no-longer competitive past, and our health, our security, our climate and our economy will be better off the faster we move to the future of clean, low-carbon and cheaper energy sources.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Tuesday saying that the Federal Environmental Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the fracked gas Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
As ocean waters warm and acidify, corals across the globe are disappearing. Desperate to prevent the demise of these vital ecosystems, researchers have developed ways to "garden" corals, buying the oceans some much-needed time. University of Miami Rosenstiel School marine biologist Diego Lirman sat down with Josh Chamot of Nexus Media to describe the process and explain what's at stake. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
Through recent advances in coral aquaculture, we're now also able to grow massive species, the ones that grow very slowly. Mote Marine Lab has developed microfragmentation techniques where they can cut coral colonies very, very small and make them grow very, very fast. Although we focused on branching corals initially, now most of the programs, especially here in Florida, are expanding onto other threatened species.
Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
We've dealt with that now, over the past 10 years we've expanded to the point where we're growing thousands and thousands of corals—we're planting thousands and thousands of corals—so that issue of scale is no longer a valid criticism.
The other major criticism is that, even though we're planting a lot of corals, we're planting them onto environments where the same stressors that caused their initial mortality are in place. Now there is ocean acidification and increased temperatures, so things have gotten, in some cases, progressively worse.
Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Karen Perry Stillerman
This job has responsibility for scientific integrity at the USDA, as well as oversight of the department's various research arms and multi-billion dollar annual investments in agricultural research and education that are essential to farmers and eaters alike.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club lodged formal comments with the federal government Monday opposing a massive gas fracking project that spans 220 square miles of public land in Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park.
The Normally Pressured Lance gas field would destroy wildlife habitat and worsen ozone pollution, a major cause of childhood asthma, in areas already suffering from extreme air pollution.
Sierra received complete surveys from a record-breaking 227 schools—in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and for the first time ever, Canada.
By Andy Rowell
The decades-long struggle for social and environmental justice in the Niger Delta continues, largely unseen by the wider world.
On Aug. 11, hundreds of people from the Niger Delta stormed the Belema flow station gas plant owned by Shell in the Rivers State region of the Delta. The plant transports crude oil to the Bonny Light export terminal, from where it is shipped overseas.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a statement the Interior Department has directed it to cease its study on the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mines in Central Appalachia.
The Interior Department, which committed more than $1 million to the study last year, has begun an agency-wide review of grants over $100,000 because of the "Department's changing budget situation."