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By Kaamil Ahmed
A pair of "French spies" had infiltrated India by sea to commit a "treasonous conspiracy," an Indian minister claimed in late November. In reality, they were two visiting journalists, and their mission was an investigation into allegations of illegal sand mining in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. They had merely tried and failed to visit the site of a major mining company through legal means.
Their presence set off alarm bells among some connected to the industry, and the fallout has been significant. It's included a police investigation, a politically fueled propaganda campaign and the arrests of two local translators who had been working for them.
The events come nearly two months into the continent's annual rainy season that extends from June to November, according to The Straits Times.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Today is International Snow Leopard Day, a global observance commemorating the signing of the Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of snow leopards in 2013.
The snow leopard has been listed on the IUCN Red List as "Endangered" since 1986, although it recently had its threat status downgraded to "Vulnerable."
Glaciers in Asia could shrink to one-third of their current size by the end of the century even if warming stays below 1.5 degrees C, according to new research. A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature finds that glaciers in the Tibetan plateau experience higher levels of warming than the global average.
By Paul Brown
A solar revolution is transforming the lives of women in the remotest parts of Asia. They no longer have to wait decades to be connected to a power grid but are able today to exploit the huge potential of the abundant sunshine.
In societies where women normally play a subservient role and spend much of their time on menial chores, solar businesses are creating a new breed of female entrepreneur who are bringing electricity to their villages.
In the opening scene of the new documentary RiverBlue, deep magenta wastewater spills into a river in China as the voice of fashion designer and activist Orsola de Castro can be heard saying "there is a joke in China that you can tell the 'it' color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers."
What sort of fabulous new energy systems will the world possess in 2040? Which fuels will supply the bulk of our energy needs? And how will that change the global energy equation, international politics and the planet’s health? If the experts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are right, the startling “new” fuels of 2040 will be oil, coal and natural gas—and we will find ourselves on a baking, painfully uncomfortable planet.
It’s true, of course, that any predictions about the fuel situation almost three decades from now aren’t likely to be reliable. All sorts of unexpected upheavals and disasters in the years ahead make long-range predictions inherently difficult. This has not, however, deterred the DOE from producing a comprehensive portrait of the world’s future energy system. Known as the International Energy Outlook (IEO), the assessment incorporates detailed projections of future energy production and consumption. Although dense with statistical data and filled with technical jargon, the 2013 report provides a unique and disturbing picture of our planetary future.
Many of us would like to believe that, by 2040, the world will be far along the path toward a green industrial future with wind, solar and renewable fuels providing the bulk of our energy supplies. The IEO assumes otherwise. It anticipates a world in which coal—the most carbon-intense of all major fuels—still supplies more of our energy than renewables, nuclear and hydropower combined.
The world it foresees is also one in which oil remains a preeminent source of energy, while hydro-fracking and other drilling techniques for extracting unconventional fossil fuels are far more widely employed than today. Wind and solar energy will also play a bigger role in 2040, but—as the IEO sees it—will still represent only a small fraction of the global energy mix.
Admittedly, International Energy Outlook is a government product of this moment with all the limitations that implies. It envisions the future by extrapolating from current developments. It is not visionary. Its authors can’t imagine energy breakthroughs that have yet to happen, or changes in world attitudes that may affect how energy is dealt with or events like wars, environmental disasters and global economic recessions or depressions that could alter the world’s energy situation. Nonetheless, because it assesses current endeavors that are sure to have long-lasting repercussions, like the present massive worldwide investments in shale oil and shale gas extraction, it provides an extraordinary resource for imagining the energy crisis in our future.
Among its major findings are three fundamental developments:
- Global energy use will continue to rise rapidly, with total world consumption jumping from 524 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs) in 2010 to an estimated 820 quadrillion in 2040, a net increase of 56 percent. (A BTU is the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.)
- An increasing share of world energy demand will be generated by developing countries, especially those in Asia. Of the nearly 300 quadrillion BTUs in added energy needed to meet global requirements between now and 2040, some 250 quadrillion, or 85 percent, will be used to satisfy rising demand in the developing world.
- China, which only recently overtook the U.S. as the world’s leading energy consumer, will account for the largest share—40 percent—of the growth in global consumption over the next 30 years.
These projections may not in themselves be surprising, but if accurate, the consequences for the global economy, world politics and the health and well-being of the planetary environment will be staggering. To meet constantly expanding world requirements, energy producers will be compelled to ramp up production of every kind of fossil fuel at a time of growing concern about the paramount role those fuels play in fostering runaway climate change. Meanwhile, the shift in the center of gravity of energy consumption from the older industrial powers to the developing world will lead to intense competition for access to available supplies.
To fully appreciate the significance of the IEO’s findings, it is necessary to consider four critical trends: the surprising resilience of fossil fuels, the degree to which the world’s energy will be provided by unconventional fossil fuels, the seemingly relentless global increase in emissions of carbon dioxide and significant shifts in the geopolitics of energy.
The Continuing Predominance of Fossil Fuels
Anyone searching for evidence that we are transitioning to a system based on renewable sources of energy will be sorely disappointed by the projections in the 2013 International Energy Outlook. Although the share of world energy provided by fossil fuels is expected to decline from 84 percent in 2010 to 78 percent in 2040, it will still tower over all other forms of energy. In fact, in 2040 the projected share of global energy consumption provided by each of the fossil fuels (28 percent for oil, 27 percent for coal and 23 percent for gas) will exceed that of renewables, nuclear and hydropower combined (21 percent).
Oil and coal continue to dominate the fossil-fuel category despite all the talk of a massive increase in natural gas supplies—the so-called shale gas revolution—made possible by hydro-fracking. Oil’s continued supremacy can be attributed, in part, to the endless growth in demand for cars, vans and trucks in China, India, and other rising states in Asia. The prominence of coal, however, is on the face of it less expectable. Given the degree to which utilities in the U.S. and Western Europe are shunning coal in favor of natural gas, the prominence the IEO gives it in 2040 is startling. But for each reduction in coal use in older industrialized nations, we are seeing a huge increase in the developing world, where the demand for affordable electricity trumps concern about greenhouse gas emissions.
The continuing dominance of fossil fuels in the world’s energy mix will not only ensure the continued dominance of the great fossil-fuel companies—both private and state-owned—in the energy economy, but also bolster their political clout when it comes to decisions about new energy investment and climate policy. Above all, however, soaring fossil-fuel consumption will result in a substantial boost in greenhouse gas emissions, and all the disastrous effects that come with it.
The Rise of the “Unconventionals”
At present, most of our oil, coal and natural gas still comes from “conventional” sources—deposits close to the surface, close to shore and within easy reach of transportation and processing facilities. But these reservoirs are being depleted at a rapid pace and by 2040—or so the DOE’s report tells us—will be unable to supply more than a fraction of our needs. Increasingly, fossil fuel supplies will be of an “unconventional” character—materials hard to refine and/or acquired from deposits deep underground, far from shore or in relatively inaccessible locations. These include Canadian tar sands, Venezuelan extra-heavy crude, shale gas, deep-offshore oil and Arctic energy.
Until recently, unconventional oil and gas constituted only a tiny share of the world’s energy supply, but that is changing fast. Shale gas, for example, provided a negligible share of the U.S. natural gas supply in 2000; by 2010, it had risen to 23 percent; in 2040, it is expected to exceed 50 percent. Comparable increases are expected in Canadian tar sands, Venezuelan extra-heavy crude and U.S. shale oil (also called “tight oil”).
By definition, unconventional fuels are harder to produce, refine and transport than conventional ones. In most cases, this means that more energy is consumed in their extraction than in the exploitation of conventional fuels, with more carbon dioxide being emitted per unit of energy produced. As is especially the case with fracking, the extraction of unconventional fuels normally requires significant infusions of water, raising the possibility of competition and conflict among major water consumers over access to supplies that, by 2040, will be severely threatened by climate change.
Relentless Growth in Carbon Emissions
By 2040, humanity will be burning far more fossil fuels than today: 673 quadrillion BTUs, compared to 440 quadrillion in 2010. The continued dominance of fossil fuels, rising coal demand and a growing reliance on unconventional sources of supply can only have one outcome, as the IEO makes clear: a huge jump in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prominent of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere, and the combustion of fossil fuels is the primary source of that CO2; hence, the IEO’s projections on energy-related carbon emissions constitute an important measure of humankind’s ongoing role in heating the planet.
And here’s the bad news: as a result of the continued reliance on fossil fuels, global carbon emissions from energy are projected to increase by a stunning 46 percent between 2010 and 2040, jumping from 31.2 billion to 45.5 billion metric tons. No more ominous sign could be found of the kind of runaway global warming likely to be experienced in the decades to come than this grim figure.
In the IEO projections, all fossil fuels and all of the major consuming regions contribute to this nightmarish future, but coal is the greatest culprit. Of the extra 14.3 billion metric tons of CO2 to be added to global emissions over the next 30 years, 6.8 billion, or 48 percent, will be generated by the combustion of coal. Because most of the increase in coal consumption is occurring in China and India, these two countries will have a major responsibility for accelerating the pace of global warming. China alone is expected to contribute half of the added CO2 in these decades; India, 11 percent.
New Geopolitical Tensions
Finally, the 2013 edition of International Energy Outlook is rife with hints of possible new geopolitical tensions generated by these developments. Of particular interest to its authors are the international implications of humanity’s growing reliance on unconventional sources of energy. While the know-how to extract conventional energy resources is by now widely available, the specialized technology needed to exploit shale gas, tar sands and other such materials is far less so, giving a clear economic advantage in the IEO’s projected energy future to countries which possess these capabilities.
One consequence, already evident, is the dramatic turnaround in America’s energy status. Just a few years ago, many analysts were bemoaning the growing reliance of the U.S. on energy imports from Africa and the Middle East, with an attendant vulnerability to overseas chaos and conflict. Now, thanks to American leadership in the development of shale and other unconventional resources, the U.S. is becoming less dependent on imported energy and so finds itself in a stronger position to dominate the global energy marketplace.
In one of many celebratory passages on these developments, the IEO affirms that a key to “increasing natural gas production has been advances in the application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, which made it possible to develop the country’s vast shale gas resources and contributed to a near doubling of total U.S. technically recoverable natural gas resource estimates over the past decade.”
At the same time, the report asserts that energy-producing countries that fail to gain mastery over these new technologies will be at a significant disadvantage in the energy marketplace of 2040. Russia is particularly vulnerable in this regard: heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues to finance government operations, it faces a significant decline in output from its conventional reserves and so must turn to unconventional supplies; its ability to acquire the needed technologies will, however, be hindered by its historically poor treatment of foreign companies.
China is also said to face significant challenges in the new energy environment. Simply to meet the country’s growing need for energy is likely to prove an immense challenge for its leaders, given the magnitude of its requirements and the limits to China’s domestic supplies. As the world’s fastest growing consumer of oil and gas, an increasing share of its energy supplies must be imported, posing the same sort of dependency problems that until recently plagued American leaders. The country does possess substantial reserves of shale gas, but lacking the skills needed to exploit them, is unlikely to become a significant producer for years to come.
The IEO does not discuss the political implications of all this. However, top U.S. leaders, from the president on down, have been asserting that America’s mastery of new energy technologies is contributing to the nation’s economic vitality, and so enhancing its overseas influence. “America’s new energy posture allows us to engage from a position of greater strength,” said National Security Advisor Tom Donilon in an April speech at Columbia University. “Increasing U.S. energy supplies act as a cushion that helps reduce our vulnerability to global supply disruptions and price shocks. It also affords us a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals.”
The DOE’s report avoids such explicit language, but no one reading it could doubt that its authors are thinking along similar lines. Indeed, the whole report can be viewed as providing ammunition for the pundits and politicians who argue that the emerging global energy equation is unusually propitious for the U.S. (so long, of course, as everyone ignores the effects of climate change)—an assessment that can only energize advocates of a more assertive U.S. stance abroad.
The World of 2040
The 2013 International Energy Outlook offers us a revealing peek into the thinking of U.S. government experts—and their assessment of the world of 2040 should depress us all. But make no mistake, none of this can be said to constitute a reliable picture of what the world will actually look like at that time.
Many of the projected trends are likely to be altered, possibly unrecognizably, thanks to unforeseen developments of every sort, especially in the climate realm. Nonetheless, the massive investments now being made in conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations will ensure that these fuels play a significant role in the energy mix for a long time to come—and this, in turn, means that international efforts to slow the pace of planetary warming are likely to be frustrated. Similarly, Washington’s determination to maintain U.S. dominance in the exploitation of unconventional fuel resources, combined with the desires of Chinese and Russian leaders to cut into the American lead in this field, is guaranteed to provoke friction and distrust in the decades to come.
If the trends identified in the DOE report prove enduring, then the world of 2040 will be one of ever-rising temperatures and sea levels, ever more catastrophic storms, ever fiercer wildfires, ever more devastating droughts. Can there, in fact, be a sadder conclusion when it comes to our future than the IEO’s insistence that, among all the resource shortages humanity may face in the decades to come, fossil fuels will be spared? Thanks to the exploitation of advanced technologies to extract “tough energy” globally, they will remain relatively abundant for decades to come.
So just how reliable is the IEO assessment? Personally, I suspect that its scenarios will prove a good deal less than accurate for an obvious enough reason. As the severity and destructiveness of climate change becomes increasingly evident in our lives, ever more people will be pressing governments around the world to undertake radical changes in global energy behavior and rein in the power of the giant energy companies. This, in turn, will lead to a substantially greater emphasis on investment in the development of alternative energy systems plus significantly less reliance on fossil fuels than the IEO anticipates.
Make no mistake about it, though: the major fossil fuel producers—the world’s giant oil, gas and coal corporations—are hardly going to acquiesce to this shift without a fight. Given their staggering profits and their determination to perpetuate the fossil-fuel era for as a long as possible, they will employ every means at their command to postpone the age of renewables. Eventually, however, the destructive effects of climate change will prove so severe and inescapable that the pressure to embrace changes in energy behavior will undoubtedly overpower the energy industry’s resistance.
Unfortunately, none of us can actually see into the future and so no one can know when such a shift will take place. But here’s a simple reality: it had better happen before 2040 or, as the saying goes, our goose is cooked.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
The world's consumption of gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil and other petroleum products reached a record high of 88.9 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2012, as declining consumption in North America and Europe was more than outpaced by growth in Asia and other regions.
A previous article examined regional trends in petroleum consumption between 1980 and 2010; today's article extends that analysis through 2012.
Note: Oceania is grouped with Asia; it accounts for 1% of world consumption. U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics
Some recent annual trends in Asia, North America and Europe, the world's top three petroleum-consuming regions, are discussed below:
In 2009, Asia surpassed North America as the world's largest petroleum-consuming region as consumption rebounded from its 2008 decline. Between 2008 and 2012, Asia's consumption increased by 4.4 million bbl/d. The rapidly industrializing economies of China and India fueled much of Asia's demand increase, growing 2.8 million bbl/d and 800,000 bbl/d, respectively. If China's use of petroleum continues to grow as projected, it is expected to replace the U.S. as the world's largest net oil importer this fall.
Petroleum use in North America, which is dominated by consumption in the U.S., has declined since 2005. Declines in petroleum consumption in the U.S. in 2008 and 2009 occurred during the economic downturn. Increased consumption in 2010 reflected improving economic conditions. In 2011 and 2012, higher oil prices and increased fuel efficiency of light-duty vehicles contributed to reduced U.S. consumption. Motor gasoline consumption, which makes up almost half of total U.S. liquids fuel consumption, fell by 290,000 bbl/d between 2010 and 2012 as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards led to improvements in vehicle fuel economy that outpaced highway travel growth.
Petroleum use in Europe has declined in every year since 2006. Part of this decline was related to a reduction in overall energy intensity and government policies that encourage energy efficiency. Europe's weak economic performance has also affected its petroleum use, with declines of 780,000 bbl/d in 2009 and 570,000 bbl/d in 2012 occurring at a time of slow growth and/or recessions in many European countries.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
By Kaisa Kosonen
Unprecedented heatwaves, widespread food shortages, more intense cyclones and shifting rain patterns causing either floods or droughts are just some of the future problems outlined in the World Bank's latest climate report, released yesterday.
Following its groundbreaking report that warned about a four degrees Celsius warmer world, the bank has now looked at what that warming would mean for South Asia, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The picture is dramatic, with climate change threatening the future prosperity of these regions.
Four degrees may not sound like a lot, but it almost compares to the temperature difference between the last ice age and today—and happening during one person’s lifetime.
For the regions in question, two degrees would already cause severe problems, which is why we must limit warming to less than two degrees. The World Bank says this is still feasible and it calls for bold action and countries to adopt aggressive targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
But what about the bank's own actions?
The World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, pledged yesterday that the bank will do everything it can to prevent the bleak future from materializing. Kim pledged the bank will step up its climate work as it increasingly looks at its business through a “climate lens.”
Well, we've done that already, and here’s what we found: the World Bank is still fueling climate change, big time.
Despite efforts to increase its renewable energy lending, in the past five years the World Bank Group still financed fossil fuels by a total of US$18 billion—nearly half of its energy lending. Since 1994, the group has financed a total of 29 coal-fired power plants in Asia alone. But this financing understates the bank’s contribution to dirty coal development, as its loans are usually a small part of the total funding package.
The latest support includes two of the biggest dirty power plants: 4800 megawatts (MW) Medupi in South Africa and 4000 MW Tata Mundra in India—both of these plants will end up high on the list of the biggest carbon dioxide (CO2) sources on earth.
The Kosovo lignite power plant project in Europe will be the first real test for Kim’s climate pledges. The bank is planning to grant guarantees for a low-efficiency coal power plant that has CO2 emissions well exceeding the average of new power plants in China, and air pollution emissions up to twice as high as those allowed under either U.S. or Chinese regulations.
The bank claims that building a new, dirty coal power plant is the only way to provide electricity to Kosovo, while even the bank’s own former renewable energy expert has shown that practical and affordable renewable energy and energy efficiency options are available and can be implemented in time.
We have been truly impressed by the efforts of Kim to bring climate change onto the political agenda again, warning about the severe consequences of the current path we’re on, but action speaks louder than words.
Together, with about 60 development, faith, human rights, community and environmental groups from more than 20 countries, Greenpeace expects the World Bank to lead by example. This means it must end support for all fossil fuel projects unless the projects are solely focused on directly increasing energy access for the poor. In most cases, including Kosovo's, better solutions exist.
It is renewable energy and energy efficiency that truly deliver for the poor—not dirty fossil fuels that are causing our climate to change.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Coal exports from the U.S. in March 2013 totaled 13.6 million short tons, nearly 0.9 million short tons above the previous monthly export peak in June 2012. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) is projecting a third straight year of more than 100 million short tons of coal exports in 2013, following annual exports in 2011 of 107.3 million short tons and record annual exports in 2012 of 125.7 million short tons.
Increased Asian demand for coal contributed to the record level of coal exports from the U.S. in March. Of the record export tonnage, 6.3 million short tons were steam coal and 7.4 million short tons were metallurgical coal, according to EIA.
Five customs districts accounted for 90 percent of the coal exported from the U.S. during March: Norfolk, VA; New Orleans, LA; Baltimore, MD; Mobile, AL; and Houston-Galveston, TX. Each of these customs districts is located on the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, and each has access to world-class coal loading infrastructure. The top five destinations of exported coal during March were China, Netherlands (a large transshipment point), United Kingdom, South Korea and Brazil.
Coal exports come with a host of problems; from extracting and shipping to export and delivery. The effects of coal pollution are wide-reaching and long-lasting. A new report, Silent Killers from Greenpeace estimates that toxic emissions from coal plants—including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and sulphate and nitrate particles—caused 22,000 premature deaths in the European Union (EU) in 2010. The toxic pollutants that fill the air find their way deep into people’s lung tissue and bloodstream and cause strokes, heart attacks, lung cancer and other diseases.
One of the biggest sources of those deadly coal imports was the U.S., whose exports to the EU almost doubled. The U.S. accounted for 65 percent of Europe’s increased coal consumption. Which means, according to Greenpeace modeling results, 65 percent of the 2,000 premature deaths in the EU were caused by U.S. coal exporters.
A Pacific Northwest coal project is threatening the global environment on a scale greater than the Keystone Pipeline, but most people have never heard of it. Momenta, a documentary collaboration between Plus M Productions and Protect Our Winters, shares the story of the people living along the coal export trail and the project’s global environmental implications.
Since American demand for coal is declining, the American coal industry has turned its attention to rapidly expanding Asian markets. The plan is to extract 140 million pounds of coal per year from the Powder River Basin and ship it overseas via deep-water ports in Washington and Oregon.
“The closest way from Montana to Asia is through our backyards and through our ports here in the Northwest,” says Power Past Coal Campaign Director Beth Doglio. “If all of the proposals on the table right now get built, the impacts to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions would actually be significantly more than those of the Keystone Pipeline.”
Each day, more than 50 mile-and-a-half-long trains, laden with Powder River coal, will travel from Wyoming and Montana through hundreds of small towns to ports in the Pacific Northwest, leaving arsenic and mercury laden coal dust in their wake. The near-constant stream of escaping coal dust imposes toxic environmental pollutants and a myriad of health risks to pass-through communities.
And those are the domestic impacts. On a global scale, environmental experts warn that the amount of carbon emissions produced by burning the Powder River coal deposit would result in cataclysmic and irreversible impacts on global climate.
About the Documentary
The outcome of the coal project is uncertain and the documentary follows its progress. Of six ports proposed, three have been defeated. But the fight against three additional ports remains in Washington and Oregon.
“Our documentary has a moving target. New coal ports can be proposed at any time,” says Director Andy Miller. “We truly don’t know what the outcome will be, but we knew we wanted to raise awareness and activate communities to stop proposed coal exports in the Pacific Northwest. There are better ways to produce energy. And now is the time to transition.”
The documentary features interviews with prominent experts and environmental activists, including Bill McKibben, the nation’s leading environmentalist, and Jeremy Jones, professional snowboarder, activist and founder of Protect our Winters.
Through thoughtful interviewing and breathtaking cinematography, the documentary unveils the coal project’s devastating potential.
Plus M Productions and Protect our Winters contributed the initial funding for the Momenta trailer. However, they’re looking to the community to raise the remaining funds for the full-length documentary through their Kickstarter campaign.
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.