By Steve Horn and Itai Vardi
Believe it or not, there's a key connection to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, in the fight over North America's controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
One of President Donald Trump's first actions in office was to sign an executive order on Jan. 24 expediting the approval of the Keystone XL. Owned by TransCanada, this tar sands oil pipeline was halted by former President Barack Obama in November 2015. Trump signed another order on Jan. 24, calling for steel for U.S. pipelines to be made in the U.S. to the "maximum extent possible" and two days later TransCanada filed a new presidential permit application for Keystone XL with the U.S. Department of State.
Trump to Sign Two Executive Actions to Advance Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines https://t.co/RSzVormaWR @EARTHWORKS @earthisland— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485296112.0
Critics, such as John Kemp of Reuters, pounced on the caveat language in Trump's steel order and noted that it appears "designed to preserve lots of wiggle-room." In fact, a DeSmog investigation reveals that much of the steel for Keystone XL has already been manufactured and is sitting in a field in rural North Dakota.
DeSmog has uncovered that 40 percent of the steel created so far was manufactured in Canada by a subsidiary of Evraz, a company partly owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is a close ally of Putin and a Trump family friend. Evraz has also actively lobbied against provisions which would mandate that Keystone XL's steel be made in the U.S.
Abramovich is described in the 2004 book Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere by British journalists Dominic Midgley and Chris Hutchins as "one of the prime movers behind the establishment of the only political party that was prepared to offer its undiluted support to Putin when he fought his first presidential election in late 1999. When Putin needed a shadowy force to act against his enemies behind the scenes, it was Abramovich whom he could rely on to prove a willing co-conspirator."
Evraz describes itself as "among the top steel producers in the world based on crude steel production of 14.3 million tonnes in 2015."
DeSmog's findings comes as Trump is under scrutiny from Congress, U.S. intelligence agencies and others for his personal and presidential campaign team's ties to Russia. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded in January that Russian state-sponsored actors had hacked into the email databases of both the Democratic National Committee and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign in order to influence the election in favor of Trump.
Meet Roman Abramovich
After helping launch Putin's presidency in Russia, Abramovich also was instrumental in the vetting and picking of Putin's cabinet, according to Midgley and Hutchins in their book. They also reveal that Abramovich was instrumental in the creation of Putin's political party, Unity.
Abramovich bought a 41 percent stake in the steel producer Evraz in 2006. Prior to that, he owned a 72 percent stake in the Russian state-owned oil company Sibneft, which was eventually purchased for $13 billion by the state-owned company Gazprom and became known as Gazprom Neft.
Before this, however, Sibneft merged in 2003 with the company Yukos, then owned by Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in an attempt to create what was envisioned as a competitor to the likes of ExxonMobil. Had it materialized, the resulting company, called Yukos-Sibneft, would have been at that point the fourth largest oil producer in the world.
Under pressure from Putin, however, and with what was reported as the helping hand of Abramovich, the deal was called off and Khodorkovsky ended up arrested and then jailed for eight years for alleged tax evasion and fraud. Abramovich's personal wealth doubled as a result of the later Sibneft-Gazprom merger.
The Telegraph reported that Abramovich met with Putin before the Yukos-Sibneft deal was tossed to the curb.
"The revelation of the meeting will fuel suggestions that the Kremlin is closely involved with the fate of the two companies," The Telegraph wrote at the time. "Many industry commentators saw [the] decision to halt the merger as a government-backed effort to further weaken Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos and its largest shareholder."
Abramovich's influence would continue in the years ahead. The 2010 book The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession, written by Richard Sakwa, further describes Abramovich as someone "whose wealth in the Putin years increased at least tenfold and he remained one of Putin's closest confidants" while Putin carried out his first term as president.
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By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
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