By Kieran Cooke
Donald Trump is not afraid of a touch of hyperbole, certainly when he talks about U.S. coal. "We've ended the war on beautiful, clean coal," he said recently.
It is also the fossil fuel that poses the greatest danger to the future of the planet, its burning responsible for vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
The idea of clean coal is based on capturing and storing emissions from power plants and other coal-burning facilities. The technology is still at an early stage of development and is at present installed at only a very few sites around the world.
Trump, who has told his fellow Americans he regards climate change as a hoax and has announced that he intends to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris agreement aimed at limiting the rise in global temperatures, came to office vowing to resuscitate his country's ailing coal industry.
Latest statistics show that a limited revival in the fortunes of U.S. coal is taking place, though energy analysts say this has little to do with the new administration in Washington.
What's cheering U.S. mining concerns—many of whom have declared bankruptcy or have teetered on the edge of financial collapse in recent years—is a big jump in exports over the past 12 months.
Exports in 2017 are likely to have risen by more than 50 percent compared to the previous year, bringing in additional revenues of more than $1 billion. India, China, Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands and Germany have been among the main export markets.
Overall production from U.S. mines increased by nearly 10 percent over the year. Trump pledged at election campaign rallies to "bring back coal" and revive thousands of mining jobs; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the number employed in the sector has increased, but only marginally—from 50,000 at the end of 2016 to 51,000 at present.
Energy analysts point out that any revival in U.S. coal is likely to be temporary and has to be set against a long-term decline in the industry. U.S. coal production is down by a third from five years ago; in 2016 coal burning accounted for 30 percent of U.S. power generation—the lowest percentage on record.
Exports form only a small proportion of the market for U.S. coal. The industry is still overwhelmingly dependent on the domestic sector; in 2016 sales within the U.S. were 730 million tons, while exports were 60 million tons.
Over the last ten years the industry has lost nearly half its workforce. As renewable energy projects focused on wind and solar have grown, investors—whether government-led or private—have shown little appetite for sinking more money into coal projects.
The growth of the shale sector and the expansion of gas supplies, often considerably cheaper than coal and demanding less investment in plant infrastructure, have also deterred investors away from coal.
At present there is little sign of any new coal power plants being built in the U.S., while many older facilities are facing closure.
The market for coal overseas is likely to shrink in the years ahead as more countries seek to tackle problems of air pollution—and meet the challenge of climate change—through limiting the use of coal.
In Europe, the Netherlands, Finland, France, Portugal, Italy and the UK have all said they plan to phase out coal burning by 2030.
China and India, two of the biggest coal users, are investing heavily in renewables, particularly in solar power. In both countries there is growing concern about the serious impact on health of air pollution caused by burning coal.
Before his election to the White House, Trump boasted that by sweeping away various environmental regulations, he would ensure a new age of coal would be born. "We're going to bring the coal industry back 100%," he said.
Regulations have been done away with in many areas—to the detriment of the environment. Exports have given the industry a temporary lifeline. But the future for Old King Coal is still bleak.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.