Saturday, February 28, 2015

Harvard-Smithsonian Profited as Much as Willie Soon with Fossil Fuel Funding

Willie Soon Harvard Smithsonianby Kevin Grandia, DeSmogBlog:

Both Harvard and the Smithsonian Institute are trying to shake off the controversy surrounding Willie Soon, but these esteemed organizations should not be let off the hook easily.

Earlier this week, documents revealed by the Guardian and New York Times provide irefutable evidence that climate denier Willie Soon and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophyics received more than $1 million in funding from fossil fuel companies to deliver scientific reports that called into question the scientific conclusion that climate change is the result of burning too much oil, coal and other carbon-emitting fuel sources.

Harvard quickly tried to distance themselves from the Soon scandal, telling the Guardian that “Soon operated outside of the university.” This, despite the fact that Soon “carries a Harvard ID and uses a Harvard email address.”

The Smithsonian Institute also reacted quickly announcing that they have tasked their Inspector General to look into the ethical conduct of Dr. Soon.

“The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon's failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research,” they said in a statement shortly after the scandal broke over the weekend. 

But who is going to probe the ethical conduct of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for  Astrophysics?

After all, many of the documents include the organization's letterhead. Take for example this funding request to oil giant ExxonMobil to produce a paper on the understanding of solar variability and climate change:

harvard smithsonian center for astrophysics

The response email regarding this proposal is not from Willie Soon personally, but from someone working in the Advancement and External Affairs department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Clearly there is more at play here than a rogue scientist.

And the Smithsonian didn't just act as a go-between for Soon and Exxon, they recieved a large chunk of the cash themselves. In a just-released 2012 exclusive interview with Willie Soon by DeSmog UK's editor Brendan Montague, Soon explains how he solicited ExxonMobil funding for his work:
“Every time I applied [to ExxonMobil], every year I try to get something. Mostly what I get was in the range of $50k to $60k a year at the most. It’s a small amount - because a large part of it goes on overheads.”
That “large part” of the ExxonMobil funding went to the Harvard-Smithsonian. In fact, another document is a conversation between Harvard-Smithsonian employees looking to reclassify ExxonMobil funds to “defray any shortfall in development funding.”

Clearly these are funds being directed to the Harvard-Smithsonian's general coffers and not Willie Soon. The Smithsonian's Inspector General confirmed as much in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, saying that:
“… under standard observatory procedures, less than half of that amount was passed through to Mr. Soon as salary. Most was kept by the Smithsonian to cover facility operating costs.”
In that very same Chronicle of Higher Education article, University of Michigan professor Andrew J. Hoffman summed up what I believe to be at the very heart of the Soon scandal. As Dr. Hoffman puts it:
“The roles played by both Harvard and the Smithsonian in burnishing Mr. Soon’s credentials and scientific authority are key to Mr. Soon’s saga. Why is anyone even listening to him?” Mr. Hoffman said of Mr. Soon. “Because he’s got ‘Harvard’ after his name. Once you take that away, who is Willie Soon? He’s nobody.”
In other words, if you don't have a Harvard email address, the liklihood of garnering much attention from decision-makers, media and the like goes down by a factor of somewhere very close to 100%.

Anyone working in politics or public relations knows that the “medium is the message” - it is as much about what is being said, as it is who is saying it. Like it or not, Soon as a Harvard-Smithsonian academic - with a Harvard email address - has outsized weight in the public discourse on the issue of climate change. Soon with a Google email address has no weight at all.

As for the fossil fuel funding at the center of this scandal, Willie Soon without Harvard and the Smithsonian is of no use to fossil fuel companies looking to muddy the scientific realities of climate change to delay action that will affect their profits.

And in turn Willie Soon, without bringing along the big bucks of fossil fuel companies, is likely of
little use to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Guess Who’s Been Secretly Funding a Famous Climate Change-Denying Scientist?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.
In the midst of a climate-change crisis, that’s just what the fossil fuel industry has been doing. And the latest scientist linked to the clandestine practice is Wei-Hock Soon.

According to The New York Times, politicians fighting climate-change legislation often cite the work of the scientist, who is employed by the Smithsonian Institution on a part-time basis. Though he’s often referred to as a “Harvard astrophysicist” on conservative news shows, Soon has never worked for the Ivy League school. His degree is in aerospace engineering.

According to recently released documents, he’s received at least $1.2 million from fossil-fuel companies while omitting that connection in the majority of his scientific papers over the past decade. Since 2008, he failed to disclose conflicts of interest in at least 11 studies - a violation of the guidelines of the journals that released them.

The documents, acquired by Greenpeace through the Freedom of Information Act, also show that Soon referred to his papers as “deliverables” in communication with his funders.

His biggest sponsor: the Atlanta-based Southern Company, which has given him more than $400,000. It’s one of the biggest utility holding corporations in the United States, with major investments in coal-burning power plants.

Soon also received more than $200,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the founder of which amassed wealth in the oil-refinery business.

Politicians who repeatedly cite Soon’s work include Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahama, who in a Senate debate in January pointed to photos of scientists who doubt climate change. One of them was Soon.

“These are scientists that cannot be challenged,” Inhofe said.

Congress continues to delay regulations designed to curb climate change proposed by the Obama administration. On Feb. 11, Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee argued that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan - intended to limit carbon pollution from power plants - doesn’t offer tangible benefits. Inhofe again expressed his doubt about global warming, saying that he wants to hold a climate science hearing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Year the Climate ‘Dam of Denial’ Breaks: Ready for the Flood?

source: pixshark
by , Renew Economy:

This is the year the climate “dam of denial” will break and the momentum for action will become an unstoppable flood.

It will be messy, confusing and endlessly debated but with historical hindsight, 2015 will be the year.

The year the world turned; primarily because the market woke up to the economic threat posed by climate change and the economic opportunity in the inevitable decline of fossil fuels.

That shift will in turn unlock government policy and public opinion because the previous resistance to action argued on economic grounds, will reverse to favour action on economic grounds.

Before I argue for this conclusion, let me explain what I mean by the “dam of denial”, and why the concept is so important to understanding what’s underway.

Anyone who “gets” the urgency of the climate issue and the scale of economic transformation it necessitates, is bewildered by those who don’t.

How can so many otherwise intelligent and logical people - such as company executives, politicians and investment managers - not see the obvious urgency or the equally obvious economic risk? It is so illogical it can only be seen as denial.

This is not climate denial but an example of “implicatory denial”, the rather bizarre ability of humans to accept a risk but then stop processing the implications, just because those implications are so overwhelming. It is well covered in a study by Kari Marie Norgaard, described in her book “Living in Denial”.

Studying history - particularly the history of WWII, while writing my book The Great Disruption - led me to accept this type of denial as largely inevitable. As I wrote there, it is exactly because the implications are so great, that the denial is so strong. And because the implications get more dramatic and costly every year, the longer we delay, the stronger implicatory denial becomes!

It is now so late in the process that the implications of ending denial are truly mind-boggling. For a start to have even an 80% chance (clearly too low) of limiting warming to the agreed 2°C target (clearly too high) requires us to eliminate fossil fuels - one of the world’s largest and most powerful industries - and replace it in less than a few decades.

This scale of change has enormous social and economic implications on any time scale, but to do so within decades is without precedent outside war - not to mention terrifying for the owners and managers of such businesses (and so denial-inducing)!

But despite being mind-boggling and without precedent, unfortunately it doesn’t change the facts. This is what is necessary and so it must be done. That’s why I called one of my book’s chapters “When The Dam of Denial Breaks”; because with the pressure constantly building, at some point it becomes so great the dam bursts.

If you think that’s wrong, you have to accept the alternative - that as the food supply collapses, extreme weather accelerates and military conflict over water scarcity, refugee flow and famine erupts, we will stand by idly and observe it getting steadily worse without response. That idea is so absurd it can be ignored, and that’s why the busting of the dam of denial is inevitable. But when?

This is certainly debatable but my judgement is that this is the year. Why?

Despite our obsession with it, the science on climate change is now largely irrelevant in this process. If the scientific evidence was going to shift the system, it would have done so by now - it is, after all, overwhelmingly clear on the urgency and the risk. What we have to look for instead is evidence of shifts in the human response, not the ecological one.

In this regard I look to politics and economics. In both cases there are confusing and contradictory signals but I think there are grounds to conclude we’re at the edge of something very significant. I think there are six key indicators.

1. The US China Climate deal - how change really occurs

One of the most interesting and least appreciated is the US China climate deal. Not for its practical impact on emissions but as the emergence of what I called in my book a kind of “Coalition of the Cooling”. The historical significance of the two most powerful countries in the world agreeing that climate action is so important it is worthy of such an agreement will be appreciated in hindsight - not least for its likely multi trillion dollar impact on markets. 

2. Collapse in oil prices

The collapse in oil prices, considered by many to be bad news for clean energy, is quite the opposite. It’s probably one of the most powerful market influences for what I see coming. There are a variety of positive impacts from these low prices, well summarised in this article from Assaad Razzouk in the Independent.

But the most important one is the intriguing idea of global energy price deflation driven by renewables, especially solar, undermining investor confidence in fossil fuels. The Economist recently concluded on future investment in fossil fuels that “… the prospect of much cheaper solar power and storage capability may put investors off. The story may be not so much what falling oil prices mean for clean energy than what the prospect of clean energy will mean for the oil price.

3. Solar price falls set to continue

The collapse of renewable energy’s costs, especially solar, will be seen historically as perhaps the single biggest driver of transformational change in energy markets, particularly when paired with the interconnected developments in batteries, storage and electric vehicles. The key is not just how far solar costs have fallen but the likelihood that they’ll keep falling.

Critics point to the very low share of global total energy demand provided by solar. I point to the same thing to make my case.

If solar is competitive on price at less than 1% of global supply, imagine what will happen when it truly scales. That’s why considering the earlier analysis on oil prices, The Economist referred to solar as a “dagger in the heart of the fossil fuel industry”, particularly when combined with clever financing and business models by fast growing disruptive solar companies like Solar City and Sungevity.

Part of this analysis is the idea of the virtuous circle of rapid growth and lowering prices leading to abundant cheap energy. There are those who argue intelligently that this is a techno-optimists pipe dream, such as Richard Heinberg in this well considered sceptism but we will soon find out given the pace at which it is all moving.

4. Market prices reflect economic disruption

Of course given all this, anyone who thinks markets are rational, at least over time, would ask “if this is all so clear, why doesn’t it reflect in prices?” It is, and dramatically so. Consider these examples:
  • Some pure coal companies like Peabody have lost over 75% of their value in the last three years. Their carbon bubble has well and truly burst. And while prices will vary over time, the coal industry is not coming back and we should politely bid farewell. To quote a recent Goldman Sachs analysis: “Just as a worker celebrating their 65th birthday can settle into a more sedate lifestyle while they look back on past achievements, we argue that thermal coal has reached its retirement age.”
  • The European Utility sector lost half a trillion Euros by misreading the influence of renewables and energy efficiency. There were other factors as well, as always, but it was renewables that meant, like coal, this is not cyclical but existential. The Economist again:Renewables have not just put pressure on margins. They have transformed the established business model for utilities.”
  • Tesla, which produced just 30,000 cars in 2013 is valued at nearly half of GM which produced around 9 million cars. And the oil price slide seems to have had no material impact. With Tesla’s likely move into home storage for solar and rumours of an Apple/Tesla tie up, the future is looking very interesting. In response, the market has looked at history and concluded that old companies like GM mostly won’t get it; they’ll just be replaced.
So while many climate activists focus on the political power and influence of the fossil fuel industry, I see an industry scrambling to defend itself against overwhelming forces that will see it destroyed - not in a mighty moral crusade but something far more brutal and fast - the market turning on it. Of course these companies don’t believe that is possible, and nor do many of us. But to quote Mandela, who knew a few things about driving change: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

5. The political power of big business starts to shift sides

A key part of the process of fossil fuels’ decline is the separation of the business community into those who feel threatened by climate action and those threatened by the lack of it. Thus we should note as a major development, the recent call by a group of major global businesses for the world to have zero net CO2 emissions by 2050, thus effectively ending companies like Shell and Exxon, at least in their current form. This separation, on self-interest grounds, within business is of huge significance. Watch that space.

6. Physical impacts accelerating and driving economic and security impact

As I argued above, the science becoming clearer won’t trigger the end of denial. Black and white getting blacker and whiter can’t influence those who don’t want to see. Which is a shame given the evidence is emerging that blacker is getting very black indeed, as argued here by David Spratt. But physical climate changes impacting the economy and public opinion will be very influential. That’s why accelerating physical impacts matter a great deal.

The most powerful symbol of this right now is the largest city in South America, Sao Paulo, Brazil facing the risk of collapse due to a punishing drought worsened by climate change and deforestation as explained here by Tom Friedman in the NYT.

This is not symbolic for the people of Brazil who are facing rolling water and power cuts, businesses shut down, widespread protests and a drought reduced coffee crop driving up global prices by nearly half.

It is not hard to imagine a series of events triggering the effective collapse of the Brazilian economy and the country’s descent into chaos. With 93 cities now affected and key reservoirs in both Sao Paulo and Rio down to 1% - 5% of capacity, they’re praying for rain. I hope they’re prayers are answered, but even with Pope Francis now on board, I think this may require more earthly intervention.

There are countless examples of the economic and related geopolitical significance of climate change impacts. The way climate change helped trigger the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS. How climate is driving food prices, which is driving global conflict. How an Arctic methane burst could pose a multi-trillion dollar risk to the global economy.

So will these six drivers be enough? Will the economic impacts of collapsing fossil fuels and collapsing cities force the invisible hand of the market to do what governments have failed to do? Not by itself, but it could tip a system that is primed and ready.

Changing systems requires many interconnected parts to shift. That’s why in my writing and speaking I try to summarise such complex inter-related drivers - to help us see the whole picture and recognise emerging patterns.

Of course the role of government remains key - let’s not forget that the market and technology marvel that is the accelerating solar industry only arrived because government policy initiated the process, especially in Germany, the US and China. But government is just part of a system that no one is really in charge of.

So, while the Paris climate talks this year will be an important step in a process, they are not as fundamental as many think. Such negotiations tend to follow rather than lead the system-change process. That’s why Paris this year is an indicator, rather than a driver, of system change and we should look at what drives action to understand emerging tipping points.

This is why I attach such importance to the direct economic shifts outlined above, and also to the resulting more aggressive calls for action by sections of the business community. This last point could even be the most important development of 2015 because, for all the complaints about the influence of corporates on policy, that very influence could now tip the debate in favour of action.

Given all these indicators, I think there are enough cracks in the dam of denial to argue it is about to break. That does not mean the problem is fixed. But it does mean we would stop this absurd game of implicatory denial and get to work on driving and managing the massive economic transformation that starts when denial ends.

When we try to understand and forecast change, we tend to look for big symbolic events - the global political deal, the massive economic crash or the extreme weather event that destroys a city.

The reality is that change, especially system change, is just messy. It’s chaotic, confusing and often hard to see when you’re in the middle of it. But many are smelling a big shift, like the International Business Editor of the UK’s conservative broadsheet The Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard who summed it up well: “These historic turning points are hard to call when you are living through them but much of today’s fossil fuel industry has a distinct whiff of the 19th Century canals, a pre-modern relic in a world that is moving on very fast.”

This will be the year it moves a whole lot faster.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Surf’s Up: Can Wave Energy Rise to the Challenge in Australia?

Photo: AAP Image/Carnegie Wave Energy
by Hugh Wolgamot, University of Western Australia

Wednesday’s announcement that a pioneering wave farm off Perth has started generating electricity is an exciting and welcome development.

The project, developed by Fremantle-based Carnegie Wave Energy, features two buoys, 11m in diameter, below the sea surface (with a third to follow).

The buoys are now generating electricity and supplying it to the nearby HMAS Stirling naval base. With this full scale plant now working, is an explosion in wave power imminent?

Australia is undoubtedly blessed with abundant wave energy. But as well as the size of the resource, it is important to consider how wave energy “adds up” in the context of Australia’s total power demand.

Here Australia does extremely well - it is difficult to nominate another country which has so much wave energy relative to its population size. In comparison to other renewables, wave energy is attractive as it is a relatively dense energy source, and easy to predict.

However, there are also substantial challenges. Some estimates put wave energy 15 to 20 years behind wind energy on the development curve - and as yet there has been no convergence on which type of wave energy device(s) is best.

This is indicated by the fact that a recent study identified 147 different devices under development worldwide (including several in Australia) - although only a couple have reached a similar stage of development to Carnegie’s.

This proliferation of devices seems unlikely to be whittled down just yet - the US government is conducting a prize competition this year to encourage the development of new prototypes. Set against this is the difficulty of reaching the stage of full-scale testing and commercialisation. This has been dramatically indicated by the struggles of leading players in the UK wave energy industry, such as Pelamis (bankrupt) and Aquamarine Power (downsized) over the past year.

Challenging seas

What are the challenges that these technologies seek to overcome? Like other renewables, the presence or absence of a carbon price or other measures to level the playing field for cost of power are relevant. However, there are also some problems that are unique to wave energy.

First, wave energy, while predictable, is tricky to convert into electricity. The frequency at which the waves oscillate is critical, and a device must be able to be tuned to operate efficiently at different frequencies. However, at any one time waves with a range of frequencies are present, and this distribution changes over periods of hours or days.

Second, extreme loads in the ocean (due to large waves) are much larger than the loads in normal operating conditions. The energy in stormy seas may easily be 100 times greater than in average conditions. Therefore, the costs may be driven by the need for a device that can withstand extremes, but the revenue is dictated only by the average conditions.

Third, converting the absorbed energy to electricity entails the relatively low-frequency wave oscillations being converted into much higher-frequency oscillations for electricity generation. Each step of the power conversion chain (if there are many) must be as efficient as possible. This is further complicated by the fact that the size of the wave oscillations change from wave to wave and over hours and days.

Finally, maintenance of devices offshore is more difficult and costly than for devices onshore, and is therefore generally minimised to the extent possible.

What progress has been made towards overcoming these challenges? Plenty - the earliest interest in wave energy was in the UK, Norway and Japan, and since the oil crisis of the 1970s great progress has been made in the fundamental understanding of the behaviour of wave energy devices. The first prototype devices appeared in these countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

The interaction of neighbouring devices in arrays is also complex. In wave energy, these interactions happen both “backwards” and “forwards”, unlike in a wind farm where each turbine has a (negative) effect on downwind turbines only. Carnegie’s full-scale array deployment will provide a good opportunity to learn more.

It is encouraging that there are relationships between the company and academic institutions, including Swinburne and the Australian Maritime College, the University of Adelaide and the University of Western Australia. Other wave energy companies in Australia are also involved in such exchanges of ideas.

It is too early to say what a future Australian grid including wave energy would look like. If renewables become a large part of the national power supply, it will undoubtedly be best to have a mix, and wave energy can certainly be part of that. In the meantime, progress depends on more projects like Carnegie’s getting off the ground, or more accurately out to sea.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Doc Shows Canadian Police View Environmentalists, Not Climate Change, as Real Threat

A demonstration in Ottawa in 2011.  (Photo: Ben Powless via tarsandsaction/flickr/cc)
Demo in Ottawa (Photo: B Powless via tarsandsaction/flickr/cc)
Canadian environmental organizations could pose a potential threat to national security and are attempting to make the fossil fuel industry look bad.

Such was the assessment of what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) referred to as the "anti-petroleum movement" in a document dated Jan. 24, 2014, and titled Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Assessment.

The existence of the document, obtained by Greenpeace, was revealed by the Globe and Mail on Tuesday and by French language newspaper LaPresse last week. Common Dreams saw a copy of the document Tuesday.

"There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels," the document states.

It cites fracking protests that took place in New Brunswick in 2013 as "the most violent anti-petroleum actions" the country has seen and "indicative of the growing international opposition to" fossil fuel projects underway or planned, and therefore a sign of what law enforcement "must be prepared to confront."

The revelation comes less than three weeks after the government's tabling of controversial Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act 2015, and has added to concerns that the new legislation will be used to cast a wider net over those who can be surveiled.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association described the legislation as being able to "dramatically expand the powers of Canada’s national security agencies and violate the rights of Canadians without making us demonstrably safer."

The RCMP document says there is a "small but violent-prone faction" of environmental groups, and that criminal actions that target the nation's fossil fuel industry, including the tar sands industry, "represent a credible threat to the health and safety of the workers, the general public, the activists, the natural environment and the facility's operations."

As Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, writes at his organization's blog, "the RCMP document treats climate change as a hoax perpetrated by environmentalists." From the document:
Non-governmental environmental groups such as; Greenpeace, Tides Canada and Sierra Club Canada, to name a few, assert climate change is now the most serious global threat, and that climate change is a direct consequence of elevated anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which, they believe, are directly linked to the continued use of fossil fuels … Research and analysis done in support of ongoing RCMP criminal investigations shows that those involved in the anti-Canadian petroleum movement have an interest in drawing public attention to, and building recognition of, the perceived environmental threat from the continued use of fossil fuels. The publicizing of these concerns has led to significant, and often negative, media coverage surrounding the Canadian petroleum industry. The use of social media, including the use of live-streaming, provides the anti-petroleum movement the ability to by-pass the traditional news networks, to control and craft its message, and to promote a one-sided version of the actual events, leading to broadly based anti-petroleum opposition.
The Globe and Mail described the document as using "highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists."

Steven Guilbeault, co-founder and senior director of the Montreal-based environmental and justice group Équiterre, told LaPresse there was already a "veritable witch hunt" going on for environmentalists and that "by giving security forces expanded powers [with Bill C-51], you open the door to other abuses."

Stewart adds, "What is genuinely alarming about the RCMP document is that, when combined with the proposed terrorism bill, it lays the groundwork for all kinds of state-sanctioned surveillance and 'dirty tricks.'"

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shell Chief Calls for Climate Action, But What Are the Firm's Motives?

Image result for climate action
by Peter Burdon

In a speech last Thursday at International Petroleum Week - one of the biggest events on the industry’s calendar - Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, argued that big energy companies have not been assertive enough in the global warming debate and that they must advocate more strongly for climate action in the lead-up to the Paris Climate conference later this year.

He argued that:
The outcome of the political process is uncertain, but the trends behind it are unmistakable. Even more than the oil price, these trends will shape the future of the industry over the coming decades. For a sustainable energy future, we need a more balanced debate.
The issue, Beurden argued, is “how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change. We still need fossil fuels for a lower carbon, higher energy future.” His comments came as negotiators from more than 190 countries met in Geneva to agree on a draft climate agreement that diplomats will take to the Paris summit in search of a deal.

Beurden has a significant platform from which to speak. His words will be weighed and considered by politicians around the world. But while he seeks to position Shell as a leader on climate advocacy, it is important to consider what motivations underlie his speech.

Is he seeking to build industry momentum to come to terms with climate science? Is his speech a reflection of growing tendency for oil and gas companies publicly to point the finger at coal producers? Or is Shell positioning itself to tap into the lucrative business to be made from the deleterious effects of climate change?

Context is crucial

To answer this question, we need to put Beurden’s speech into context and consider Shell’s record on climate change. In his instructive book, Windfall, US journalist McKenzie Funk notes that Shell was an early proponent of future scenario planning. This involves envisaging multiple versions of what the future could look like, and making plans in preparation for each of those alternatives.

Using this practice, Shell was able to predict and position itself to benefit from the twin OPEC oil shocks, the fall of the Soviet Union, the uprising against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, and the rise of global environmentalism.

Shell has been thinking about climate change since the 1970s. Unlike Exxonmobil, Shell did not plough huge funds into climate denial, and between 1998-1999 it even implemented an in-house version of the Kyoto protocol. According to Funk, this initiative included:
[p]lans to reduce the company’s own greenhouse-gas emissions by 10% by 2002, an internal cap-and-trade scheme, a shadow carbon price and a commitment to evaluate projects on the basis of not only the profit they would make but the carbon they would emit.
Climate change became an even higher priority in 2005 when Beurden was appointed as chief executive. He wanted his futurists to rock the boat and ask questions that would be deeply inconvenient for an oil multinational, like: what does the emerging reality of climate change mean for Shell?

In 2008 Shell published its view of a future under climate change. The report, Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050, describes two different scenarios, called Blueprints and Scramble.

Blueprints represents a future in which grassroots advocacy results in timely action on climate change. Governments legislate a price on carbon, shift energy toward natural gas, and deploy industry-developed technology for carbon capture and storage.

Scramble is the opposite scenario, in which industry becomes embroiled in a race for scarce resource, while an energy crunch prevents governments from coming together on a climate deal. Politically, the United States and its allies point the finger at China, while China continues increasing its greenhouse emissions well into the 21st century.

While neither scenario was a completely accurate forecast of where we are now, we are certainly living in a Scramble world.

The financial imperative

The important thing to understand from this is that for the most part, Shell is not transforming into a “green” company for the sake of it (except perhaps in its PR department). The company itself just wants to make money as best it can in the future, and if there is going to be a future price on carbon, that becomes something to factor into its strategy.

Shell may have wanted the Blueprints scenario to materialise because that made for a less volatile world - and because it has more natural gas than its rivals. But when Blueprints became unrealistic the company switched gears and said “if it’s a Scramble world, we’re going to Scramble too.”

In fact, it was just after the collapse of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks that Shell started to make big moves in search of Arctic oil. Shell plans to drill for oil in the Arctic this year.

In presenting this perspective, I want to make clear that Shell is not maniacally burning the Earth just to find a financial upside. Rather, the reality is that if governments are not going to act with sufficient urgency on climate change, figures like Beurden will attempt to use their influence to achieve certainty and satisfy their imperative for growth.

In the long term, anyone who looks seriously at climate change understands that this is only bad for society as a whole. As Naomi Klein argues in This Changes Everything, “the green billionaires won’t save us”.

We can add Beurden to the long list of chief executives, celebrities and media conglomerates who have promised an enlightened form of “green capitalism” but are also sticking closely to a path that leads to profit.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Deep in the Amazon, a Tiny Tribe Is Beating Big Oil

Nina Gualinga, activist (Photo: Caroline Bennett)
by , Yes! magazine: 

The people of Sarayaku are a leading force in 21st century indigenous resistance, engaging the western world politically, legally, and philosophically.

Patricia Gualinga stands serenely as chaos swirls about her. I find this petite woman with striking black and red face paint at the head of the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014.

She is adorned with earrings made of brilliant bird feathers and a thick necklace of yellow and blue beads.

She has come here from Sarayaku, a community deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.

Behind Gualinga, 400,000 people are in the streets calling for global action to stop climate change. Beside her, celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Sting, and Mark Ruffalo prepare to lead the historic march alongside a group of indigenous leaders. Gualinga stands beneath a sign, “Keep the Oil in the Ground.”

She has traveled across continents and cultures to deliver this message. “Our ancestors and our spiritual leaders have been talking about climate change for a long time,” she tells me in Spanish above the din, flashing a soft smile as photographers crush around the celebrities. She motions to the throngs around her. “We are actually speaking the same language right now.”

A year earlier, I traveled to her village in the Ecuadorian Amazon to research the improbable story of a rainforest community of 1,200 Kichwa people that has successfully fended off oil companies and a government intent on exploiting their land for profit. How, I wondered, has Sarayaku been winning?

This is not the story most people know from Ecuador. Headlines have focused on northern Ecuador, where Chevron is fighting a landmark $9.5 billion judgment for dumping millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and leaving unlined pits of contaminated sludge that poisoned thousands of people.

Sarayaku lies in southern Ecuador, where the government is selling drilling rights to a vast swath of indigenous lands - except for Sarayaku. The community has become a beacon of hope to other indigenous groups and to global climate change activists as it mobilizes to stop a new round of oil exploration.

What I found in Sarayaku was not just a community defending its territory. I encountered a people who believe that their lifestyle, deeply connected to nature, holds promise for humans to save themselves from global warming and extinction.

They are fighting back by advancing a counter-capitalist vision called sumak kawsay - Kichwa for “living well” - living in harmony with the natural world and insisting that nature has rights deserving of protection.

Naively romantic? Think again: In 2008, Ecuador’s constitution became the first in the world to codify the rights of nature and specifically sumak kawsay. Bolivia’s constitution has a similar provision, and rights-of-nature ordinances are now being passed in communities in the United States.

Sarayaku residents describe sumac kawsay as “choosing our responsibility to the seventh generation over quarterly earnings, regeneration over economic growth, and the pursuit of well-being and harmony over wealth and financial success.”

The people of Sarayaku are the face of 21st-century indigenous resistance. Sarayaku may be a remote, pastoral community, but it is engaging the Western world politically, legally, and philosophically.

Patricia Gualinga and other Sarayaku community members have traveled to Europe to meet with foreign leaders and warn energy company executives about their opposition to oil extraction from their lands, produced their own documentary film about their struggle, filed lawsuits, leveraged their message with international groups such as Amazon Watch and Amnesty International, marched thousands of kilometers in public protest, and testified at the United Nations.

Sarayaku’s resistance has angered the pro-development Ecuadorian government - which bizarrely hails sumak kawsay while selling hotly contested oil drilling leases - but has inspired other indigenous communities across the globe.
Sabino Gualinga, traditional healer and community elder. Photo by Caroline Bennett.

Defending life and land

I climb aboard a four-seater Cessna parked at a small airstrip in the town of Shell, a rambling settlement on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in southeastern Ecuador. The town is named for Shell Oil Company, which established operations here a half century ago.

Our plane flies low over the thick green jungle. The dense growth below is broken only by rivers the color of chocolate milk, the sinewy arteries of the rainforest.

The forest canopy parts to reveal a grass airstrip and clusters of thatched huts. This is Sarayaku. Moist jungle air envelops me as I step out of the plane. The villagers escort me and my daughter, Ariel, who has been living in Ecuador and is translating for me, past a large communal hut where a woman tends a small fire.

Gerardo Gualinga, Patricia’s brother and one of the community leaders, arrives dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, and knee-high rubber boots, the signature footwear of the rainforest. He carries a tall, carved wooden staff, a symbol of his authority.

“The community is in the middle of a three-day meeting to plan our political and development work for the next year. Come along - I think you will find it interesting,” he says, motioning for us to follow him down to the edge of the broad Bobonaza River.

We board a motorized canoe and head upstream, passing slender dugouts propelled by men pushing long poles. In 10 minutes, we clamber out on the river bank and hike up to a sandy village square.

Inside an oval building with a thatched roof, we find José Gualinga, another of Patricia’s brothers, who was then president of Sarayaku. He is holding his ceremonial staff and wearing a black headband and a Che Guevara T-shirt.

Gualinga is leading a discussion of how the community should pressure the Ecuadorian government to comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which ruled in 2012 that the Ecuadorian government should have obtained the consent of the native people when it permitted oil drilling on Sarayaku’s territory. Following hearings in Costa Rica, the court ordered the government to apologize and pay Sarayaku $1.25 million, plus attorney’s fees.

The court decision, declared Mario Melo, attorney for Sarayaku from the Quito-based Fundación Pachamama, is “a significant contribution to a more profound safeguard of indigenous peoples’ rights, and it is an example of dignity that will surely inspire many other nations and peoples around the world.”

At a lunch break, Marlon Santi, Sarayaku’s president until 2008, explains the history of the struggle here. In the early 2000s, “The government let oil businesses exploit and explore for oil in this territory. There was no consultation. Many communities sold out to the oil companies. Sarayaku was the only pueblo that didn’t sell the right for oil companies to explore.”

Ecuador’s government ignored the community’s refusal to sell oil-drilling rights and signed a contract in 1996 with the Argentinian oil company C.G.C. to explore for oil in Sarayaku. In 2003, C.G.C. petroleros - oil workers and private security guards - and Ecuadorian soldiers came by helicopter to lay explosives and dig test wells.

Sarayaku mobilized. “We stopped the schools and our own work and dedicated ourselves to the struggle for six months,” says Santi. As the oil workers cleared a large area of forest - which was community farmland - the citizens of Sarayaku retreated deep into the jungle, where they established emergency camps and plotted their resistance.

“In the six months of struggle, there was torture, rape, and strong suffering of our people, especially our mothers and children,” Santi recounts. “We returned with psychological illness. All the military who came …” He pauses to compose himself. “This was a very, very bad time.”

In their jungle camps, the Sarayaku leaders hatched a plan. The women of the community prepared a strong batch of chicha, the traditional Ecuadorian homebrew made from fermented cassava. One night, a group of them traveled stealthily through the jungle, shadowed by men of the village. The women emerged at the main encampment of the petroleros. They offered their chicha and watched as the oil workers happily partied.

As their drinking binge ended, the petroleros fell asleep. When they awoke, what they saw sobered them: They were staring into the muzzles of their own automatic weapons. Wielding the guns were the women and men of Sarayaku.

The Sarayaku residents ordered the petroleros off their ancestral land. The terrified workers called in helicopters and fled, abandoning their weapons. The oil workers never returned. An Ecuadorian general came later and negotiated with community leaders - five of whom had been arrested and beaten - for the return of the weapons.

I ask Santi why Sarayaku has resisted. His tan, weathered face breaks into a gentle smile even as he recounts a difficult story. “Our fathers told us that for future generations not to suffer, we needed to struggle for our territory and our liberty. So we wouldn’t be slaves of the new kind of colonization.

“The waterfall, the insects, the animals, the jungle gives us life,” he tells me. “Because man and the jungle have a relationship. For the Western capitalist world, the jungle is simply for exploiting resources and ending all this. The indigenous pueblos without jungle - we can’t live.”

Sarayaku now wants to help indigenous people around the world resist and defend their way of life. “Our message that we are also taking to Asia, Africa, Brazil, and other countries that are discussing climate change, we propose an alternative development - the development of life. This is our economy for living - sumak kawsay - not just for us but for the Western world. They don’t have to be afraid of global warming if they support the life of the jungle.

“It’s not a big thing,” he says understatedly. “It’s just to continue living.”
“Indigenous lands free of oil: The cry of the living jungle,” a banner hanging on the side of a building in Sarayaku. Photo by Caroline Bennett.

Indigenous climate change warriors

The Sarayaku story is just the latest in a long-running battle over Ecuador’s natural resources. Oil extraction began in northern Ecuador in 1964, when the American oil giant Texaco set up drilling operations in indigenous lands (Chevron later purchased Texaco).

When the oil company exited in 1992, it “left behind the worst oil-related environmental disaster on the planet,” according to Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization that defends indigenous rights. The devastated and poisoned region is known as the “rainforest Chernobyl.”

Despite pursuing Chevron for damages, the Ecuadorian government of President Rafael Correa has embarked on an aggressive new round of oil development in southern Ecuador, opening thousands of acres to exploration.

The government has cracked down on resisters, recently ordering the closure of the Quito headquarters of CONAIE, Ecuador’s national indigenous organization, attempting to stop Ecuadorian activists opposed to oil drilling from attending a U.N. climate summit in Peru, and closing Fundación Pachamama, an NGO supporting indigenous groups.

Most of Sarayaku’s land has been excluded in the new round of oil drilling, though nearby communities, including those of the neighboring Sápara people, are threatened. Sarayaku is joining the protests of its neighbors.

José Gualinga says these struggles have bigger implications. “We are doing this to stop carbon emissions and global warming. This struggle of indigenous pueblos is a doorway to saving Pachamama [Mother Earth].”

Women have been at the center of the indigenous resistance. Patricia Gualinga tells me, “The women have been very steadfast and strong in saying we are not negotiating about this. We are the ones who have mobilized for life.”

She recounts how, in 2013, 100 women from seven different indigenous groups marched 250 kilometers from their jungle communities to Quito, where they addressed the National Assembly. In the 1990s, Patricia’s mother embarked on a similar march with thousands of other indigenous women.

Sarayaku community members travel widely around Ecuador and beyond, but most return to their pastoral village. “We want to continue living a good life within the forest,” Patricia tells me. “We want to be respected, and we want to be a model that could be replicated.”
Patricia Gualinga, a community leader who has traveled the world speaking out in defense of indigenous rights, at her home in Sarayaku, Ecuador. Photo by Caroline Bennett.

The living jungle

I follow Sabino Gualinga, a 70-year-old shaman, as he walks lightly through the dense tangle of growth. He deftly flicks his machete to make a path through the jungle for me and Ariel. He stops and points up toward a tree.

“The bark of that tree helps cure grippe [flu]. This one,” he says, pointing to a weathered, gray tree trunk, “helps to break a fever. That one,” he motions to a fern-like plant, “helps with psychological problems.”

That night, Sabino’s sons, Gerardo and José, join us in front of a flickering fire to talk about Sarayaku’s journey. They are unwinding after a long day of meetings. José wears a white soccer jersey and his long black hair hangs loosely at his shoulders.

José, president of Sarayaku from 2011 to 2014, led his community to take its fight to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. Part of the court judgment required Ecuadorian government leaders to apologize to Sarayaku. I doubted this would occur, but José was insistent that it would.

In October 2014, Ecuador’s Minister of Justice, Ledy Zuniga, stood in Sarayaku’s sandy community square and delivered an extraordinary message: “We offer a public apology for the violation of indigenous property, cultural identity, the right to consultation, having put at serious risk their lives and personal integrity, and for the violation of the right to judicial guarantee and judicial protections,” she declared.

The court decision and official apology appear to have given Sarayaku an extra measure of protection from new oil exploration. The government must now secure at least the appearance of consent, contested though it may be, lest they get dragged back into court.

“We’ve shown that laws can change,” reflects Gerardo. “We’ve won not only for Sarayaku, we’ve won for South America.”

A key element in Sarayaku’s success is telling its story everywhere it can. Sarayaku resident Eriberto Gualinga trained in videography and made a film about his community, Children of the Jaguar, which won best documentary at the 2012 National Geographic All Roads Film Festival.

Sarayaku has also embraced social media. Community members showed me to a thatched hut. Inside, young people were clustered around several computers updating Facebook pages and websites via a satellite Internet connection.

Now, says José, “When the state says, ‘Sarayaku, we are going to destroy you,’ we have international witnesses. We can tell people the truth.”

José draws a distinction between Sarayaku’s struggles and those led by leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara. “They wanted their freedom. We don’t need to win our freedom. Here in Sarayaku, we are free. But we take from the experience of these leaders. It strengthens us.”

A steady rain falls on the thatched roof overhead. The fat raindrops make a hard thwack on the broad leaves of the trees. A guitarist strums softly in another hut. Chickens and children run free.

“We are millionaires,” says Gerardo, motioning to the jungle that embraces us. “Everything we need we have here.” José peers into the fire. “We are a small pueblo, but we are a symbol of life. Everyone must come together to support the life of human beings and Earth.”

David Goodman wrote this article for Together, With Earth, the Spring 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. David is a journalist, a contributing writer for Mother Jones, and author of 10 books. He and his sister Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, have co-authored three New York Times bestsellers; their fourth book is due out next year. He hosts “The Vermont Conversation,” a public affairs radio show.

Friday, February 13, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Burning Answer - A User’s Guide to the Solar Revolution

The Burning Answers
by Elaine Graham-Leigh, Counterfire:

Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade, focusing on issues of climate change and social justice. She speaks and writes widely on green issues and is a member of Counterfire. 

The UN Climate talks in Lima in December 2014 saw an important milestone, a draft negotiating text setting a goal of full decarbonisation for participating countries by 2050 and negative emissions by 2100. 

There is of course many a slip between a draft negotiating text and the final version of the next treaty on climate change, but the fact that the effective demise of the fossil fuel industry is even being considered is an encouraging development.

Leaving aside the point that decarbonisation by 2050, let alone 2100, without significant emissions reductions now would be far too late to avoid the most catastrophic effects of runaway climate change, the most obvious danger is that in the UK at least the fossil fuel industry’s loss will simply be the nuclear industry’s gain.

This is not just because under the EU's energy goals for 2030, the UK is allowed to meet its commitment to generate 27% of its electricity from renewables through nuclear power and fracking (although this was hardly helpful).

Nuclear power also benefits from the widespread belief, even among greens who support renewable energy, that renewables on their own cannot supply all of our power requirements. A recent survey of self-identified greens in the UK summed up the prevailing view:
‘I should say that I’m extremely pro-renewables, but I don’t believe they can do all the heavy lifting. I agree with the vast majority of survey respondents that local opposition may severely limit the potential of renewables in the UK, but I believe that even if they could achieve their potential we’d still be left with a requirement to drastically reduce our energy consumption. Modelling around energy take-back suggests to me that while desirable this is extremely unlikely to happen.’
That this should still be a mainstream green view of renewables is a little surprising, given the number of studies over recent years establishing that renewables are able to supply all our energy requirements without recourse to nuclear or fossil fuels {see for example Mark Z Jacobson and Mark A Delucchi, ‘Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power’, Energy Policy 39, (2010)}.

Part of the problem has perhaps been that these have largely been academic rather than popular studies, so have had little effect on the general consensus. The Burning Answer on the other hand is written explicitly for the lay reader and in this sense it is particularly useful here.

It takes on the seemingly commonsense view that renewables are an inherently limited form of power generation because (as Russia Today simplisically put it) they ‘only function under certain weather conditions, when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.’

Barnham deals succinctly with some of the major myths about using solar power: that there is no power when the sun doesn’t shine; that the peak availability of solar power is not well aligned with the times of peak demand; that you need large amounts of battery storage to make it work, and the perennial old chestnut, that it is just too expensive.

He points out that while it is indeed not sunny all the time, a combination of wind and solar power can give reasonably consistent coverage as they tend to have an inverse relationship. Broadly, cloudy days in the UK are more likely to be windy than sunny ones.

An important German experiment in 2006 established by computer modelling that a combination of wind and solar power, with backup from biogas generators, would have been sufficient to supply the German electricity demand for the entire year. Whatever the weather, at no time would the lights have gone out (pp.154-6). As for solar power being expensive, on 2nd May 2012, solar power in southern Italy achieved an important first: it became too cheap to meter (p.157).

The book goes on to discuss the various options available for renewable power and heating, from windows which generate solar electricity to ground source heat pumps. Moving from the proven technologies to advances currently at the development stage, it ranges from solar fuel cells which could, among other things, increase the range of electric cars to a point where they could be real competition to petrol and diesel fuelled models, to windows which generate solar electricity.

The point of this latter section is however that while renewable technologies can undoubtedly be improved by new developments, we do not need to wait for these improvements for wholesale adoption. We can fulfil our power needs and much of our transport needs with the technology we have right now.

Barnham’s focus in this discussion is on domestic power and the changes that individuals can make to their own energy infrastructure. The advantage in this approach is that it grounds what could otherwise be a rather abstract discussion of possible technological change in the practical and everyday.

The examples throughout the book of how Barnham himself has switched to renewable electricity generation at home also have the effect of clarifying what the quotidian experience of living with these technologies would be, emphasising that this really is a possible and comfortable way to live. This makes for an interesting read and an invaluable primer for anyone considering how they could reduce their own carbon footprint, but there is a problem.

It is inevitable that a concentration on individual action conveys the implication that the UK shift to renewable power under discussion will only be achieved individual by individual, by the actions which the book spends so much time presenting.

The concentration on domestic changes which individuals can make now therefore, whether intentionally nor not, implies a political judgement that people’s time and energy should go into sourcing their own ground source heat pump, rather than, say, campaigning for large-scale renewable generation to provide a significant percentage of the power on the grid.

Given the government’s lack of enthusiasm for renewables, it is easy to see how Barnham could have concluded that the only way we will get renewable energy generation is house by house. However, he does not seem particularly aware of the number of people whose circumstances would exclude them from a solar revolution brought about in this way.

Towards the end of the book, he lists ten things that ‘we can do individually’. Six of these involve fairly significant expenditure which would be out of many people’s reach, from replacing gas appliances and heating with electric equipment, to installing solar hot water and a ground or air source heat pump.

Even leaving aside the cost of such measures, many UK homes, particularly flats, will not have the hot water tanks needed for solar thermal heating, nor the outside space for ground or air source heat pumps. It is also not mentioned here that 35% of people don’t own their own home and are therefore unable to make any such changes to it at all, even if they could afford it.

The point is not that a general switch to solar and other renewable energy generation is impossible, far from it. It is that leaving it to motivated individuals to do and pay for it will mean that switching to renewable energy will remain a largely middle-class and marginal pursuit, with large numbers of people excluded. What is needed is not individual action but a general shift in our national power infrastructure, of the sort which can only really be achieved through central planning.

Of course everyone who can, should switch to renewable energy, but our focus must be on making sure the entire country can do so. Taking on a government who think fracking is environmentally-friendly and that climate change deniers make good environment ministers, may be more challenging than switching electricity suppliers, but if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, there are no alternatives to the struggle.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Our Addiction to Fossil Fuel Is Taking Us on the Road to Nowhere

(Photo: Asian Development Bank/cc/flickr)
by Kumi Naidoo, Common Dreams:

On Saturday I joined a panel at the Munich Security Conference in Germany and talked about global security and energy security.

You might be surprised to see Greenpeace at a security conference. The room was full of members of the "strategic community", people who are not the crowd we normally engage with; they are the crowd we have historically challenged with our peace campaigns.

However, I appreciated having the opportunity to be a dissenting voice and to talk about what I consider is the path towards true energy security.

What often dominates discussions about peace and security are questions about solutions - around how conflicts are to be addressed and solved, economic sanctions, peace missions, diplomatic negotiations - these are all the mechanisms we have become accustomed to which dominate the discourse.

I urge you however to think about this from a different perspective - prevention. How could conflicts have been prevented and even more importantly - how can the next conflicts be prevented, or at least how do we mitigate the risks.

When I look back at 2014 and consider the many conflicts that have plagued our planet, there is one fact that I cannot ignore and that is - our addiction to fossil fuel is taking us on the road to nowhere.

It must be made clear - conflict is always driven by a unique set of circumstances and it would be wrong to try to reduce a conflict to one dimension. However, if you look at some of the conflicts that have dominated our news screens this year, you will see that fossil fuels - coal, oil and natural gas - have often played a role. Sometimes in the background, sometimes taking center stage.

The conflict in the Ukraine, which had partly been triggered by its ongoing energy crisis, has been making headlines. But there were several other conflicts around the world last year, also related to energy issues: in the South China Sea, Iraq and South Sudan, to name just a few.

Energy security was high on the agenda of world leaders in 2014. Governments all over the world are now trying to come up with plans to ensure stable energy supply. I would urge you to consider that our quest for energy security must go hand in hand with the quest for true security. And when embarking on this quest we must insist on finding true solutions. Opt for a system change rather than tweak the existing broken system.

For me, true energy security would mean freedom from the geopolitical instability and conflicts triggered by fossil fuels, from the risks to lives, health and the environment, and from some of the threats of climate change.

The conflict in Ukraine has brought the issue closer to home. Gas imports from Russia through Ukraine represent over 15% of Europe's gas supply and last year's threat by Russia to cut off this supply has caused EU leaders to urgently scramble for solutions.

Let me be clear - replacing energy supplies from Russia with nuclear energy and fossil fuels from elsewhere, as has been suggested, such as the Middle East or North Africa, is not the answer. We should not be thinking about changing the dealer but instead kick the dirty energy addiction. We must recognize that Ukraine is only part of the problem.

The EU spends about €400 billion a year buying over half of its energy (53%) from abroad. That means Europe spends more than 1 billion euro every day importing more than half of its energy. The only way forward is choosing energy efficiency and renewables.

EU leaders should put greater emphasis on energy saving and renewable energy in order to reduce Europe's dependence on fossil fuel imports and to enhance its energy security. Greenpeace's 'Road Map for Europe' explains exactly how this could be done.

The citizens of the EU have already made up their mind. According to polls, Europeans overwhelmingly support national targets for renewable energy and strong policies for energy efficiency This is the only way the EU can set its own course now and forever.

Back in October. EU leaders agreed on its 2030 targets for emission cuts, energy saving and clean energy. The bad news - the agreed targets are significantly weaker than those proposed by the European Parliament. And they will slow down clean energy investments. The result - the EU will still have to rely heavily on imported energy.

EU leaders have failed to enter this road towards true energy security. The choice is not between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The choice is between dirty and clean energy providers and between climate chaos and more sustainable living, it's a choice between the past and the future.

Fundamentally it is a choice between peace and ongoing and intensifying conflicts. We can choose for a win-win-win for the climate, the economy and people.

Germany is an example: 15 years ago only 6% of Germany's electricity was generated by Renewable Energies. Today, 27% of Germany's electricity comes from renewables. In another 15 years according to the Government's projections it will be at least 50%. German Energiewende (energy transition) is the model for how an industrial country can move towards true energy security.

A report launched at the conference presented a poll according to which more than 80% of those asked, and more than 90% in some regions, thought there was a leadership crisis in the world today. As long as elected leaders hesitate to take those decisions they were elected for, this will remain the case. Masses of people want change for a just world, fuelled by clean energy sources.

The year 2015 might be remembered as the year in which this leadership crisis was tackled, in which world leaders turned towards a global Energiewende. Four months from now, Chancellor Angela Merkel will welcome Barack Obama and the other Heads of G7 Governments to Germany to discuss future climate and energy policy. I call on Mrs. Merkel to use this unique opportunity.

The G7 summit must give the world a vision for a future energy system without nuclear power, without coal power, based 100% on Renewable Energies.

© 2014 Greenpeace

Kumi Naidoo is Executive Director of Greenpeace International

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Overcoming the Social Barriers to Climate Consensus

English: Graphic illustrating the percentages ...
English: Graphic illustrating the percentages of public opinions on the likelihood of some scientists falsifying global warming research. Based on Rasmussen polling of 1,000 American adults conducted July 29-30, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Ana-Maria Bliuc, Monash University and Craig McGarty, University of Western Sydney

It can be tempting to think that people who disagree with you are mad, bad or simply stupid.

However, not only are such judgements usually wrong, but telling people that they are stupid is unlikely to convince them of the merit of your own view.

Yet this is often what happens when it comes to debates about climate change and what we ought to
do about it.

Despite there being a near consensus in the scientific community that the primary driver of climate change is anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, and that we need to cut those emissions if we’re to keep global warming to a minimum, the public remains divided on the issue.

This division seems to run deeper in certain countries, such as US and Australia, where there are many vocal sceptics of the notion that climate change is caused by human activity.

Two views

It is common to think that believers and sceptics about anthropogenic climate change are simply people who hold different views. But we think it is more accurate to think of them as belonging to social groups that are working to achieve opposed policy objectives.

This latter view is often used to understand the division between pro-Life and pro-Choice stances in the abortion debate, for example. These are not just positions where people may “agree to disagree”, but rather they seek to promote their position in public opinion and in government policy.

In a paper published today, we took a similar perspective on the climate change debate in the US. What we found is that people’s attitudes in favour of action against climate change, or attitudes to the contrary, are predicted by three inter-related dimensions.

The first is a sense of identification with their own group. Secondly there is a perception that their group is likely to succeed in its collective efforts - what we call “group efficacy”. And finally, they tend to have feelings of anger towards their perceived opposition.

These dimensions work together to create a collective sense of “us” in opposition to “them”; a “group consciousness” that is present for both sceptic and believer groups.

This finding is important because it suggests that these groups do not co-exist in a social vacuum. They are not just indicative of differences of opinion, but rather are two social movements in conflict.

Beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’

In light of this, we propose that strategies for building support for climate change mitigation policies should go beyond attempts to simply persuade, educate or improve the public’s understanding of science. Instead, they should incorporate strategies aimed at improving intergroup relations.

We suggest that rather than concentrating solely on the sceptic movement, attempts to build consensus need to include both groups. They should also take into consideration the dynamics between them.

For example, communication from the scientific community and its supporters that ridicules sceptics’ concerns is likely to drive the groups further apart.

This is particularly problematic as we know from previous research on the politicisation of climate change. Ridicule is only likely to strengthen scepticism and therefore increase sceptics’ determination to act in support of their groups’ cause.

As Tom Postmes, of the University of Groningen, notes in an article in Nature Climate Change:
[…] to convince a sceptical public, believers need to harness knowledge about social movements and intergroup conflict reduction […] as with any conflict between two groups, efforts should be directed to prevent escalation, improve the relationships, and focus on the dynamics within groups that prevent progress.

Getting social

One way forward is to use what we know from the history of other social movements along with techniques of conflict resolution. From a theoretical standpoint, the conflict between sceptics and believers is similar to other conflicts in history that pushed forward our society. For example, the civil rights movement in the US, created a sharp division in American society, but in the long term has led to major advances.

Another path that could lead to increased consensus is to harness intergroup communication that promotes conflict reduction by maintaining dialogue between the sides in conflict, along with being open to engagement and collaboration.

Conflict between groups can also be diffused by shifting the focus from differences to focusing on similarities between the members of the two groups. And, more importantly, on broader goals that both groups share.

As this cartoon from USA Today shows, clean air, low power consumption, improved public transport, better waste management, efficient agriculture, reforestation and low cost renewable energy are all in the public interest whatever one’s position on climate change is.

So if you want to promote climate change action to people who don’t believe in climate change, then you need be mindful of the social dimension of people’s beliefs. That, and work to convince sceptics that that action is worth doing anyway.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Market No Solution to Climate Catastrophe

by James Plested, RedFlag:

Amid the past month’s new round of terrorism hype, the release of a major scientific study into earth’s “life support systems” - a study that extrapolates from current trends to conclude we’re on a path to environmental and social catastrophe - barely rated a mention.

The report, authored by an international team of researchers led by Professor Will Steffen from the Australian National University, identifies and analyses nine key ecological systems that make earth inhabitable for human beings.

They conclude that there are four areas in which these systems have already been pushed to breaking point: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land system change and the pollution of the world’s oceans with phosphorus and nitrogen used in fertilisers.

Asked about the implications of the report, Steffen said: “It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive … History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.”

The latest trends in global warming are alarming. After analysing data going back to 1880, the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded that 2014 was the warmest year on record.

Globally, average land and sea-surface temperatures were 0.69 degrees above the 20th century average. Last year was the 38th year in a row that global temperatures were above the long term average. All of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.

What can be done about it?

There is a seemingly endless line of global summits and negotiations about the problem that lead nowhere. Intricately designed market-based solutions, such as the EU’s much-vaunted emissions trading scheme, have achieved nothing.

But, as Naomi Klein cogently argues in her recent book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, if we cast aside the idea that solutions must be tailored not to offend the oh-so-sensitive deities of the capitalist market, the whole thing is actually quite simple.

This much was made clear, incidentally, by the recent release of another report, Oxfam’s investigation into global inequality, which estimates that by next year the richest 1 percent of people will own more than the wealth of the other 99 percent combined.

The world’s richest 85 people alone account for $2.1 trillion – equivalent to the combined wealth of the poorest half of the population. The top 1 percent is worth a whopping $134 trillion.

It would only take a small fraction of this amount to drive the kind of large-scale rapid shift towards sustainability that we need. The technology and resources to do so are available. The money is there.

But the rich show no sign of giving up even a fraction of the tax-havens, super-yachts, private jets, multi-million dollar property portfolios, or anything else that helps constitute the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. They’d rather sacrifice the future of the planet on the altar of their own short term gain.

So-called market solutions will get us nowhere. We need to confront the interests of the rich and powerful head on.