Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Greens are the new hope for Europe's center

Sounds like European Greens are becoming much more moderate in an attempt to broaden their appeal

When protesters in reflective yellow vests took to the barricades in France, rebelling against a gas tax that would hit hardest those who could least afford it, Annalena Baerbock was watching closely from across the border.

A leader of Germany's Greens, Baerbock has seen her party steadily strengthen over the last year. But she knows if the Greens are to become a bigger force, they will have to convince voters that climate policy is not an elitist but common cause, while also addressing their economic concerns.

"The lesson from France is that we cannot save the climate at the expense of social justice," Baerbock, who at 38 is roughly the same age as her party. "The two things need to go hand in hand."

The Greens now routinely beat Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in the polls and are widely expected to be part of the next German government. In recent European elections, Green parties gained significantly in other corners of the Continent, too, winning 63 of 751 seats in the European Parliament, an increase of about 47 percent.

A crop of once-radical, single-issue environmental protest parties have emerged as the unlikely beneficiaries of the seismic disruptions to Europe's politics of recent years.

Climate change has vaulted to near the top of voters' concerns in a Europe beset by record-high temperatures. The collapse of traditional social democratic parties has opened acres of space on the center left. A generation of younger voters is casting about for new allegiances, and others, for an antidote to the nationalist, populist far right.

If nothing else, the Greens now sit astride Europe's latest culture war.

With migration receding in the news, climate change has become a potent new front in the battle between green-minded liberals and populists.

As the Greens emerge as the new hope for Europe's political center, they have become enemy No. 1 for far-right populists and others who cast their policies as part of an elite agenda that hurts ordinary people. (Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Rally, formerly known as the National Front, rages against "climate psychosis.")

In Germany, where the Greens surged to more than 20 percent in the recent European Parliament elections, their campaign posters explicitly lashed out at the far right: "Hatred is no alternative for Germany."

Britain's Greens won a striking 12 percent of the vote, finishing fourth ahead of the governing Conservatives, not only by promoting the environment - but also by opposing Brexit.

Even in France, rocked for months by yellow vest protests against a higher fuel tax that was ultimately scrapped, the Greens won 13.5 percent and became the most popular party among voters under 35.

With their number of lawmakers rising in the European Parliament, the Greens will have roughly the same influence in the 751-seat assembly as the far-right populists led by Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini. And like the populists, Green parties are networking across the Continent, trying to coordinate campaigns and holding joint party conferences.

"The Green idea has been European from the outset, because you can't solve environmental problems within national borders," said Baerbock, pointing out that the very first election her party participated in was for the European Parliament in 1979.

The battle is playing out not only inside nations but also between them, pitting cities against rural areas, and richer, more liberal northern and western European countries against their poorer counterparts in the south and former communist east.

In southern Europe, with swelling debt and high youth unemployment, Green parties remain marginal. In Italy, the Greens have never won more than 4 percent of the vote in a national election. In Spain, Equo, an environmental party, has a single seat in Parliament.

The same is true in Eastern Europe. Poland did not send a single Green lawmaker to Brussels. Joined by the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Hungary, it recently blocked the latest attempt by the European Union to set a target for carbon neutrality by 2050, by appealing to national grievance and historical memory.

"Poland could not develop during the 50 years following the Second World War, like France, Austria, or the Netherlands did," said Mateusz Morawiecki, the nationalist prime minister. The proposed deal, he said, was simply "not fair."

Even in Germany, Europe's biggest and richest country, where the Greens have been the most successful, the Alternative for Germany, commonly known as AfD, accuses Baerbock's party of being elitist - and hypocritical.

"The people who vote for the Greens can afford it," said Karsten Hilse, a lawmaker for AfD and the party's environmental spokesman. "They buy themselves a good conscience, because they are the ones who hurt the environment most, they are the ones with the air miles."

"But ordinary people are being told that they are responsible for the impending climate apocalypse because they drive a car," Hilse said.

These accusations play well among far-right voters, not least because for a long time it was true that Green voters were among the wealthiest in the country.

But the Greens have been expanding their support. The party won 1 in 5 votes in the European elections. They were not only the most popular among all voters under the age of 60 but for the first time among unemployed voters, too.

Still, the accusation of privilege sticks, Baerbock said.

The protests in France were a crucial learning moment, she said. The fuel tax, sold as a climate-saving measure, had been perceived as deeply unfair.

To those who could least afford it, the tax was seen as a way for them to offset the environmental damage caused primarily by big businesses and the jet-setting urban elites, who increasingly vote Green but whose lifestyles also have the biggest carbon footprint.

"There, in a nutshell, lies our challenge," Baerbock said. "We looked at the yellow vests very carefully so we don't walk into the same trap."

One German Green lawmaker, Franziska Brantner, who had studied in France, met in February with one of the leaders of the yellow vests, Ingrid Levavasseur. Like Brantner, Levavasseur is a single mother who grew up in a rural area with poor public transport. "We discovered that we had a lot in common," Brantner said.

But she also said that she was humbled by Levavasseur's experience as a nurse who until recently worked in palliative care but could rarely afford new clothes for her two children, let alone a holiday.

"We have to make sure that the ecological question does not fire up the social question but that it helps to solve it," Brantner said.

Germany's Greens recently learned from a study of voter concerns in Europe that the second-most-popular statement among far-right voters, after one on limiting migration, was: "We need to act on climate change because it's hitting the poorest first, and it's caused by the rich."

The second part of that statement in particular resonates, Brantner said. "We need to speak more loudly about this," she said.

Across the French traffic circles where the yellow vests gathered and in the streets where they marched, many protesters emphasized that they cared about climate change and "the end of the world" as much as making ends meet at "the end of the month."

"Environmental policies are punitive when they are poorly implemented," said Damien Carˆme, the former Green mayor of Grande-Synthe, a struggling industrial area in northern France. "Of course people will shout when gas taxes increase."

"But if we reallocate this money to help people better insulate their homes and reduce their energy bills, everything is fine," added Carˆme, who has now been elected to the European Parliament as a Green lawmaker.

That is what Germany's labor unions are preaching, too.

For now, the jobs in polluting industries like cars and coal are among the most unionized and best-protected. In the renewables sector, however, unions are still rare and companies often pay little more than minimum wage.

"This is a real issue," said Ralph Obermauer, a longtime Green member who used to work for the party and now works for IG Metall, one of Germany's most important labor unions.

"If you want to achieve an ecological society, you have to take working people with you. That new society," he said, "has to be fair."

Workers are facing the prospect of job losses and transformation on two fronts: automation and climate policy. Already, automotive parts-makers are cutting jobs as the prospect of transitioning to electric cars looms.

"If we don't take this seriously, we will lose the support of workers," Obermauer said. And then, union representatives warn, Germany might have its own yellow vest revolt.


Finnish study finds ‘practically no’ evidence for man-made climate change

A new study conducted by a Finnish research team has found little evidence to support the idea of man-made climate change. The results of the study were soon corroborated by researchers in Japan.

In a paper published late last month, entitled ‘No experimental evidence for the significant anthropogenic climate change’, a team of scientists at Turku University in Finland determined that current climate models fail to take into account the effects of cloud coverage on global temperatures, causing them to overestimate the impact of human-generated greenhouse gasses.

Models used by official bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “cannot compute correctly the natural component included in the observed global temperature,” the study said, adding that “a strong negative feedback of the clouds is missing” in the models.

Adjusting for the cloud coverage factor and accounting for greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers found that mankind is simply not having much of an effect on the Earth’s temperature.

If we pay attention to the fact that only a small part of the increased CO2 concentration is anthropogenic, we have to recognize that the anthropogenic climate change does not exist in practice.

The study’s authors make a hard distinction between the type of model favored by climate scientists at the IPCC and genuine evidence, stating “We do not consider computational results as experimental evidence,” noting that the models often yield contradictory conclusions.

The results sharply cut against claims put forward by many environmentalists, including US lawmakers, who argue not only that climate change is an immediate threat to the planet, but that it is largely a man-made phenomenon. Given the evidence presented in the study, the Finnish team rounded out the paper by concluding “we have practically no anthropogenic climate change,” adding that “the low clouds control mainly the global temperature.”


Modern societies require minerals, and mining

Congressional bills would end US mining and leave USA dependent on foreign critical materials

Paul Driessen and Ned Mamula

When OPEC imposed its 1973 embargo, the United States was just over 40% dependent on foreign sources for its oil. But sudden price hikes and shortages severely disrupted families and businesses.

Today the USA relies on foreign sources for 100% of 14 minerals considered to be “critical” for modern technologies and societies, and 50-96% for 19 other “critical” minerals; only two are in the 14-25% dependency range, an updated report from the US Department of the Interior (DOI) cautions.

A Navy SEAL’s gear contains at least 23 of these minerals. Your mobile phone has over a dozen. So do wind turbines and solar panels. In fact, nearly all modern defense, aerospace, medical, transportation, communication, computer, energy and long-life battery technologies require several of these 35 critical minerals. Manufacturing and high-tech industries would grind to a halt without them. China is a dominant supplier for many of them, but other sources are also problematical, for different reasons.

A major reason for this heavy reliance is that, over the past several decades, America’s hardrock mining industry has dwindled and slowed to a crawl, been put almost on life support, just as the need for more critical minerals began to explode – in response to amazing 21st century technology-driven applications for metals and other materials that had never before been needed, looked for or mined in the USA.

This is in large part because some of the most highly mineralized ore bodies in North America (or the world) are found in western US and Alaskan areas that have been deemed off limits to mineral exploration and development, under multiple land use and environmental restrictions. World-class deposits of cobalt, copper, iron, lead, nickel, rare earths, tin, titanium, uranium, zinc and other minerals vital to the American economy and national defense are almost certainly located on those and other US lands.

However, exploration and mining are banned or heavily restricted on the vast majority of those lands. In fact, when the last detailed analysis was conducted (see pages 12-15), 427 million acres were closed to mineral exploration and development. That’s 59% of all federally owned or managed lands in the United States – an area equal to Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Montana and Wyoming combined!

The situation is far worse today, 25 years later. And even when areas are technically or officially “available” for evaluation, exploration and mining, state and federal agencies often refuse to issue permits, while environmental groups routinely file lawsuits to delay, block or bankrupt activities.

There is no valid reason mining should be impeded at this scale, especially since it so affects our national security. Of course, some of these areas truly are so special and spectacular that they should remain closed. However, it is absurd to suggest that a single mine (or core drilling site) in a wilderness or wilderness study area the size of Rhode Island, Delaware or Connecticut would permanently destroy its “pristine” qualities – even though it may have been mined or timbered a century ago, when there were no environmental laws.

Mother Nature restored those areas to their current “pristine” state. Modern laws, regulations, technologies, procedures and practices ensure that areas will be explored, mined and restored properly today.

Accommodation and compromise are clearly needed. But with most anti-mining factions that is never an option. They are not content merely to keep US coal, oil and natural gas off limits. They want nearly all lands permanently closed to mining – and “keep it in the ground” policies applied even to minerals essential for national defense, entire industries, millions of jobs, medical and Silicon Valley technologies, iPhones, and even the “next-era, clean, green, renewable” energy future they insist we can and must have.

Compounding these problems, some of the critical minerals we are forced to import are mined in countries where child labor, fair wages, workplace health and safety, environmental and other standards are unenforced or nonexistent. Vast areas are ripped open to get at minerals; tailings and muck are dumped wherever it’s convenient; parents and even children are threatened daily by cave-ins and exposed constantly to toxic chemicals; injury and death are common; and land and habitat restoration is neither required nor contemplated. Any US or other Western company operating like this would be closed down, and its executives jailed.

Of course, those odious regimes make critical minerals far easier and cheaper to produce in Congo, Baotou, China or other easily ignored places than would be the case in the USA, where modern health, safety, ethical and environmental standards properly prevail. China’s rare earths industry produces well over 20 million tons of toxic wastes per year – dumping them in a massive contaminated lake.

One has to wonder: Where are those Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Sierra Club, news media and congressional “social justice” champions who work themselves into a lather over “blood diamonds,” clothing “sweatshops” and US mining? Are environmental and human rights travesties irrelevant in their eyes, when iPhones, wind turbines, solar panels and Tesla cars are involved?

A war, trade restriction or embargo could easily and disastrously disrupt nearly every segment of US industry and society to a far greater extent and for far longer than the 1973 oil embargo did. However, globalist pundits and “experts” assure us, if that were to happen, the USA and world would certainly “adapt in the long run.” Well, yes.

But exactly how long would that “long run” continue? What would happen to our defense and other technologies in the meantime? To our living standards, healthcare system and millions of jobs? Would all those anti-mining factions suddenly just go silent – and let America launch a new Manhattan Project to find and develop new deposits at breakneck speed, without regard for environmental impacts?

America’s sole existing light rare earth elements mine is in Mountain Pass, California. Closed because compliance with US laws and regulations made it too expensive to compete on the world stage, it is now partly owned by a China-affiliated company, which sends the ores to China for processing!

In the event of a crisis, would our government seize the mine and start processing its ores without regard to costs, acid leachate contamination or pollution from mine tailings and processing wastes, since we’d have no time to develop or implement environmentally acceptable processes? Would courts even allow it?

Immediate corrective actions are needed. Thankfully, DOI officials are doing exactly that – taking small but vital steps toward a Declaration of Minerals Independence. They are working with other federal agencies and their state and local counterparts, and investigating ways the USA can produce more critical minerals sooner and in necessary quantities. Ideas include streamlining permit processes and extracting minerals from secondary and unconventional sources, such as co-products of primary mineral mining; reprocessing coal ash and abandoned mine tailings; and recycling minerals from discarded equipment.

But now, certain members of Congress, who have shunned mining and ignored critical mineral import dependency, have introduced House bill H.R. 2975 and Senate bill S.1386 to “reform” the 1872 Mining Law. They claim the law “gives away” federal minerals and seek to impose hefty royalties on mineral extraction. In reality, they would just make mining even more costly and globally uncompetitive.

Mining companies already pay billions in taxes and wages, and 10-15% of zero minerals extraction is zero. The bills would just lock up more minerals and give away US jobs, security and technologies.

Mining Law “reform” proponents also claim the 1872 statute is antiquated, has never been amended and allows unfettered access to sensitive lands with no environmental rules. That too is a deliberate falsehood. Every new environmental review, water, air and reclamation law amended the 1872 law and applies to all US mining operations. The bills are just a clever way to eviscerate the 1872 law and ban hardrock mining.

America needs incentives, streamlined permitting and tax certainty to explore for and mine our abundant critical mineral endowment, to benefit our high-tech economy, national defense, employment and living standards. Congress must help in this effort – not create new roadblocks.

It is time to recognize that environmental responsibility is woven into the fabric of today’s laws, regulations and minerals industry. There is no legitimate reason for draconian Mining Law reformation, especially if those changes would ensure that we import more critical minerals from Congo and China.

Via email

Trump administration freezing fuel efficiency penalties

Congress in 2015 ordered federal agencies to adjust a wide range of civil penalties to account for inflation and, in response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) under President Barack Obama issued rules to eventually raise fines to $14 from $5.50 for every 0.1 mile per gallon of fuel that new cars and trucks consume in excess of the required standards.

Automakers protested the hike, saying it could increase industry compliance costs by $1 billion annually.

After a group of states and environmental groups filed suit, the Trump administration began the process of formally undoing the Obama regulation and first proposed the freeze in 2018.

In a statement late on Friday, NHTSA said it was faithfully following the intent of Congress to ensure the penalty rate was set at the level required by statute.

It expected this final rule to significantly cut the future burden on industry and consumers by up to $1 billion a year, it added.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing General Motors Co (GM.N), Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE), Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI) and others, had said it could increase industry compliance costs by $1 billion annually.

Late on Friday, Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the group, praised the decision, saying NHTSA’s “own model clearly shows the significant economic harm that such a dramatic and unjustified increase in penalties would have on auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers.”

The prior administration had “failed to take into account the significant economic harm that would result,” she added.

Automakers argued the increases would dramatically raise costs, since they would also boost the value of fuel economy credits that are used to meet requirements.

In September 2017, three environmental groups and some U.S. states including New York and California sued NHTSA for putting the Obama rules on hold.

Last year, the states said, “If the penalty is not sufficiently high, automakers lack a vital incentive to manufacture fuel-efficient vehicles.”

Some automakers historically have paid fines instead of meeting fuel efficiency requirements - including some luxury automakers like Jaguar Land Rover, owned by India’s Tata Motors (TAMO.NS), and Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE).

In February, Fiat Chrysler told Reuters it paid $77 million in U.S. civil penalties in 2018 for failing to meet 2016 model year fuel economy requirements.

Fiat Chrysler welcomed the decision.

It “enables us to continue our significant investment plans in both our U.S. manufacturing footprint and new technologies required to maintain our trajectory of improved fuel-efficiency,” the carmaker said in a statement late on Friday.

Environmental groups urge the administration to retain the increase, noting U.S. fuel economy fines have lost nearly 75% of their original value because the fines have only been increased once — from $5 to $5.50 in 1997 — in more than four decades.

The move comes as NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency are working to finalize a rewrite of the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency requirements through 2026 in the coming months.

In August 2018, the administration proposed freezing fuel efficiency requirements and stripping California of the right to set its own vehicle-emissions rules.

The final regulation faces a multi-year legal battle that could leave automakers in limbo about future emissions and fuel-efficiency requirements.

The Obama-era rules called for a fleetwide fuel-efficiency average of 46.7 miles per gallon by 2026, compared with 37 mpg under the Trump administration’s preferred option.

Last month, 17 major automakers urged a compromise “midway” between the Obama-era standards that require annual decreases of about 5% in emissions and the Trump administration’s proposal.

Reuters reported in April that officials expect the final rule will include a small increase in yearly fuel-efficiency requirements.


Australian Greens exposed as Greenie hero baulks at turbines in his backyard

Environmental crusader Bob Brown has exposed a conspiracy of silence by the Greens and their supporters on the true cost and ­unintended consequences of ­renewable power.

Dr Brown yesterday stood by his comments slamming a proposed $1.6 billion Robbins Island wind farm in Tasmania’s northwest. The response from the Greens party and environment groups to Dr Brown’s outburst was as quiet as a wind rotor on a dead-calm day.

The Greens and Australian Conservation Foundation refused to criticise either Dr Brown or the project, slated to be one of the ­biggest wind farms in the world if it goes ahead.

In the past, federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale has likened investigating complaints about wind farms and noise to taking ­seriously alien abductions.

He refused to support the appointment of a wind farm commissioner to handle public com­plaints. His staff yesterday said he did not wish to comment on his former leader’s protest.

A spokesman for the ACF said “we don’t have a view” when asked about Dr Brown’s objections to the project. “We don’t know enough about it,” he said.

The ACF “can’t say definitely either way” if it had ever objected to a wind farm development.

Political adversaries criticised Dr Brown for displaying not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) hypocrisy in warning against the Robbins ­Island plan, but bird lovers who have been fighting wind farm ­developments across Australia for a decade would like the anti-­development, anti-coal powerhouse to extend his concerns beyond Tasmania. When Hamish Cumming tried to interest Dr Brown’s foundation in the plight of Victoria’s endangered brolgas, which he says are threatened by wind farms, he was ignored.

By publicly opposing the Robbins Island development, Dr Brown has unleashed a decade of pent-up frustrations of nature lovers who fear industrial-scale projects are transforming rural Australia for the worse.

Dr Brown yesterday defended his fight against the wind farm proposal, which he compared to the Franklin Dam. The Hong Kong-based UPC Renewables Robbins Island and Jim’s Plain Renewable Energy Parks project will be one of the world’s biggest renewable ­energy developments.

It will include up to 200 wind towers, each stretching 270m from the ground to rotor tip.

Electricity generated from the project will be exported to the mainland via a new interconnector as part of the “battery for the ­nation” project supported by the federal government.

To get to the interconnector, electricity from the wind and associated solar farms must travel through some of the most spectacular scenery in the region.

The project is also located in a significant area for raptors and ­migratory birds. UPC said it had been conducting eagle surveys, with white-bellied sea eagles and Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles nesting on Robbins Island.

The company said there would be a 1km exclusion zone around each nest

Dr Brown shocked many with his public protests against the ­development because of its visual impacts and the threat the massive windmills pose to birdlife. “I’m a big supporter of renewable energy and energy efficiency but this massive wind farm goes too far,” he said. “It’s comparable to the Franklin Dam for hydro-energy … you have to look to the environmental, economic and social consequences of this wind farm.”

Dr Brown said as well as the environmental impacts, he was concerned profits from the project “will not go to Tasmanians, but to the multinational building it”.

Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor yesterday said: “This is a classic case of Greens’ hypocrisy. The Greens love nothing more than to lecture Australians about their preferred source of energy generation, but when it’s in Bob Brown’s backyard, wind farms are suddenly a bad idea.”

Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz ridiculed Dr Brown’s protests. “Consistency, integrity and facts are the three ingredients regularly missing from Bob Brown’s advocacy,” Senator Abetz said.

“And if he still believes in his slogan of ‘think globally, act locally’, the fact that the energy produced from the Robbins Island wind farm would be exported from Tasmania is irrelevant.”



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