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Climate change (pt. 2): a world at war

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dana-glacier_350-orgA New Republic article in August from Bill McKibben, environmentalist, author, journalist, and founder of 350.org, put climate change and its challenge in the starkest terms: it’s a world war.

While the national political discourse descends ever further into the gutter, the true crisis that must be addressed—climate change– is getting lost in the sleaze, ignorance and obfuscation.

McKibben puts it succinctly: “It’s not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

10 October, 2016 at 7:00 am

Trump Opting for Big Oil and Climate Change Denial

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Donald Trump_caricatureAnother reason — among many — not to vote for Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president. (Those words still sound absurd and bizarre, the world according to Dali or Pirandello.)

Reuters reported that Trump has chosen Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, one of the country’s most ardent oil and gas drilling advocates and climate change skeptics, to advise him on energy policy. North Dakota of course, has long been in bed with the U.S. shale oil and gas industries.

The Reuters report says Trump’s team asked Cramer, who has endorsed Trump, to prepare some white papers on his energy policy ideas, according to Cramer and sources familiar with the matter. “Cramer said in an interview that his white paper would emphasize the dangers of foreign ownership of U.S. energy assets, as well as what he characterized as burdensome taxes and over-regulation. Trump will have an opportunity to float some of the ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck, North Dakota on May 26, Cramer said,” according to Reuters.

The article also said the congressman is among a group of Trump advisers who recently met with lawmakers from Western energy states, who hope Trump will open more federal land for drilling, a lawmaker who took part in the meeting said.

“Kevin Cramer has consistently backed reckless and dangerous schemes to put the profits of fossil fuel executives before the health of the public, so he and Trump are a match made in polluter heaven,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

“Donald Trump’s choice of outspoken climate (change) denier Kevin Cramer to advise him on energy policy is just the latest piece of evidence that letting him get near the White House would put our children’s health and futures at risk,” said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“Trump might find that Cramer occupies gray spaces on energy and climate policy,” according to a Scientific American article. “The former utility regulator acknowledges that the world is on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he calls himself skeptical of the broadly held view by scientists and Democrats that warming could cause severe economic and physical damage.”

“I’ve been skeptical, but I don’t resist the reality that we’re heading toward or our goal is a more carbon-constrained world,” Cramer was quoted in the SA article. For example, he would tell Trump that the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulatory effort to decrease power plant emissions, should be rolled back. But Cramer seems to acknowledge that something else might have to take its place.

Image: Donald Trump – Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr CC

Written by William DiBenedetto

16 May, 2016 at 8:30 am

Obama’s mixed message on climate change and arctic drilling

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sHell No Nighttime Action _Backbone CampaignPresident Obama is traveling to Arctic Alaska this week to call for urgent action on climate change, but—and there’s always a but these days—his journey also comes in the context of his recent decision permitting offshore oil and gas drilling by Shell Oil in the same region.

As Julie Hirschfield Davis wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, While the Arctic is a fitting backdrop for the president’s call to action, it is also a place where the conflicting threads of his environmental policy collide, and where the bracing public debate over how to address the warming of the planet is particularly animated.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

31 August, 2015 at 5:24 am

EPA takes big step to regulate aircraft GHGs

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Pulpolux_20secondsThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to issue a scientific finding that greenhouse gases from aircraft pose a risk to human health, paving the way for regulating emissions from the U.S. aviation industry.

Touching off what is likely to be a long and contentious regulatory process, the EPA on Wednesday said it is “proposing to find under the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from commercial aircraft contribute to the pollution that causes climate change endangering the health and welfare of Americans.”

At the same time, the agency released information about the international process underway by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for developing carbon dioxide (CO2) standards for aircraft and EPA’s participation in that process. EPA is seeking public input to inform future steps by the agency. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

10 June, 2015 at 11:27 am

International law is quiet on climate change responsibility

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globe_with_flags_4m8p_1hus-235x236If global climate change increasingly affects everything from public health to species extinction to infrastructure and property destruction to migration patterns—and it does—well, who can I sue about this?

No one apparently. If you think the international community’s struggles on what to do about climate change is pretty much a fragmented, inadequate mess, then international law on the subject is even messier and more inadequate.

A recent article in the Guardian notes that international law “stays silent on the responsibility for climate change.” This is not much of a surprise actually, but it’s actually important because if there were serious legal ramifications regarding climate change, faster action to mitigate its effects might occur.

“The global economy is underpinned by law, but you would think it had nothing to do with climate change,” Stephen Humphreys writes. “Climate-related cases have been absent from international courts – even from disputes involving human rights, investment or the environment. While there have been cases heard in some national courts, particularly in the US, they do not progress far.”

This weak legal response and virtually nonexistent regime means that “big polluters are getting off lightly.”

The article continues: “It is clear that 60% of proven oil reserves must be left in the ground if we are to have even a remote chance of limiting global warming to two degrees. Yet oil companies and exporters continue to drill and explore, to enjoy their assets and hedge against future losses, as though climate change were a mere financial risk rather than an existential threat to peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

“The world of international law is behaving as though the problem of climate change does not exist.”Look at one aspect, international trade law. An obvious policy for a country that’s serious about dealing with climate change would be to impose low carbon standards on the production of various everyday goods such as meat, mobile phones and plastics. “Does international trade law allow states to impose low-carbon standards on imported goods? The answer is yes and no,” Humphreys writes. “A low or zero-carbon import policy is almost certain to violate World Trade Organization (WTO) law. There may be viable policies but they will be time consuming and expensive to design, and there is no guarantee the WTO’s principal court won’t slap down any such policy on a technicality. No country has yet tried.“Why has the WTO not taken more proactive steps to tackle climate change? And why has the estimated $600 billion (£382 billion) in annual subsidies to fossil fuels never been challenged, while paltry subsidies to support renewable energy technologies have been stopped?”

These are unanswerable questions; and the questions become just as complex with respect to other international regimes, such as investment law and human rights law. A 2008 paper, “Global Climate Change and the Fragmentation of International Law” addressed this issue in highly academic terms, highlighting the challenges for international lawyers and policymakers “in navigating the relationship between the climate regime and the biodiversity regime, and the relationship between the climate regime and the multilateral trading system.”The authors concluded that a “narrow focus on conflicts misrepresents the multifaceted nature of climate change and precludes an adequate jurisprudential understanding of the relationship between the climate regime and other regimes.” They called for “improved understanding” and a “broadening of the debate.”

Seven years later, the needle has barely moved on any of this, but what is gaining some traction is the notion that it might be wise for international agreements to recognize national laws. Countries around the world are taking actions domestically to help cope with climate change. Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has conveniently collected the relevant laws and policies of various countries into a database.

So is it too much to ask that an international agreement on climate change include legally binding enforcement mechanisms with teeth. Hey, you know the answer.

Image: From the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law website.

With Inhofe in, is climate change out?

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ofam_climatechangeThe short answer is that climate change is no more out than it’s always been in the theater of absurd that’s the Senate, but now maybe more so.

That’s because James Inhofe at the controls of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee over the next two years, climate change will enter into an even more maddening and frighteningly hilarious era. Like whistling past the graveyard. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

9 December, 2014 at 6:05 am

25 years later and

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we’ve learned very little, except that fighting Big Oil and especially ExxonMobil is never-ending.

It’s been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez disaster. It’s a major reason for this blog’s existence; I’ve learned that ExxonMobil is bigger and more powerful than ever, and it’s grip on our lives is unrelenting.

ExxonMobil is an empire with it’s own set of rules; it does nothing that will weaken that empire.

A case in point from Friends of the Earth:

Despite the tragic damage to the ocean, wildlife and people, to say nothing of the score of spills since 24 March 1989, the oil industry and its supporters in Congress are pressuring the Obama administration to rescind a 40-year old ban on the export of U.S. crude oil. Lifting the ban would unleash a flood of oil tankers on our ports, significantly increasing the risk of another disaster.

“The Obama administration is turning a blind eye to the anticipated climate and environmental impacts of exporting fossil fuels like Bakken shale and Powder River Basin coal from the U.S., while at the same time touting a climate plan that claims to reduce our damaging impact here at home,” said Marcie Keever, Friends of the Earth’s Oceans and vessels program director. “On top of that, the administration may actually be considering lifting the ban on U.S. crude oil exports, which would exponentially increase climate change and the risks of more Exxon Valdez and Gulf oil spill disasters.”

An infographic, “Gateway to Extinction,” from Friends of the Earth and Healthy Planet/Healthy People details the potential threats posed by the proposed fossil fuel export terminal and pipeline projects in the Northwest. It also shows how lifting the ban would exponentially increase those threats.


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