Thursday, April 02, 2020


NOTE

The huge attention that the coronavirus outbreak is getting has tended to stifle all commentary on other issues, including the environment.  So I am coming across very few interesting articles on Greenie issues lately.  I will now therefore be putting up fewer articles here as part of my usual surveys of Greenie ideas





Outbreak reveals radical climate idea: Economic 'degrowth'

Some climate-focused economists see the COVID-19 pandemic as an unwitting experiment for a radical strategy to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

The concept is called "degrowth." It involves a planned slowdown of economic sectors that emit large amounts of global carbon dioxide. Those sectors would scale down until the broader economy meets "sustainable emissions levels," advancing long-term health and environmental goals.

"Stopping the spread of coronavirus is paramount, but climate action must also continue. And we can draw many lessons and opportunities from the current health crisis when tackling planetary warming," Natasha Chassagne of the University of Tasmania wrote in The Conversation, a publishing portal for academics.

"The global response to the coronavirus crisis shows that governments can take immediate, radical emergency measures, which go beyond purely economic concerns to protect the well-being of all," Chassagne wrote, adding that there are "practical lessons and opportunities we can take away from the coronavirus emergency."

Proponents of the controversial idea, which has found traction mostly outside the United States, stress that "degrowth" involves a purposeful contraction of high-emitting sectors while growing other sectors that produce low or zero emissions. The COVID-19 pandemic, by contrast, is an unplanned crisis that has sent the entire global economy into a tailspin.

"Nobody advocates for such unplanned economic contraction because that has all sorts of negative social effects, including rising unemployment, stress, and poverty. So we must never confuse degrowth with recession," Samuel Alexander, co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a lecturer at the University of Melbourne's Office for Environmental Programs, wrote in a column published by Resilience.org.

The current coronavirus outbreak, which by some estimates threatens to shrink the U.S. economy by 25% in the second quarter of 2020, has already resulted in a massive contraction of the energy, transportation and industrial sectors. Steeply falling oil demand has cut U.S. refining by its largest margins since 1986.

U.S. experts, while not promoting "degrowth," acknowledge that one outcome of the coronavirus pandemic is a steep decline in emissions associated with industry and travel.

"It's important not to trivialize all the human suffering associated with this virus, but there are key lessons in the observed drop in pollution levels," said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and a dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

"First and foremost is the fact that climate change action will by definition eliminate most of the pollution-causing fossil fuel burning. This co-benefit of climate action will thus greatly reduce the significant health hazards associated with our worst source of air pollution," he said in a statement.

Other experts were skeptical that the COVID-19 pandemic would inspire greater action on climate change.

While both problems are global in nature and threaten billions of people, the coronavirus' rapid spread and its deadly impacts compel individuals to act in their personal interest and follow government instruction with little resistance.

That's not necessarily the case with climate change; most countries view the problem as one of "risk mitigation" rather than an immediate crisis. Political support for climate action may also be stunted by Americans' deep concern about a post-pandemic recession and the traditional relationship between economic growth and rising emissions.

"COVID-19 may deliver some short-term climate benefits by curbing energy use, or even longer-term benefits if economic stimulus is linked to climate goals — or if people get used to telecommuting and thus use less oil in the future," Jason Bordoff, a former climate adviser in the Obama administration and the founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, wrote in Foreign Policy last week.

"Yet any climate benefits from the COVID-19 crisis are likely to be fleeting and negligible," he added. "Rather, the pandemic is a reminder of just how wicked a problem climate change is because it requires collective action, public understanding and buy-in, and decarbonizing the energy mix while supporting economic growth and energy use around the world."

SOURCE 





Russia continues to influence America’s energy sources

America has known for years that Vladimir Putin of Russia has been influencing the source of America’s energy consumption through his efforts to halt fracking in America. Now, with the price of oil tanking, a price war led by Saudi Arabia and Russia is crushing the price per barrel just as the CoronaVirus is hurting demand, putting further financial pressures on the fracking industry that has elevated America to be a net oil exporter.

To control America’s oil production, Russia has been very supportive of environmentalist groups and wealthy individual’s efforts to slow or stop crude oil. As well as natural gas exploration and production within the U.S. and European borders.

As reported by the Washington Examiner in 2018 a Russian funded environmental group gave millions to anti-fracking groups. This to stop, curtail or severely weaken US fracking of crude oil and natural gas in states like Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.

Again, in 2018 the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology issued a 21-page report on Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media:  2018 report by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

From their own report, our elected officials in Washington have known, that Vladimir Putin of Russia has been adamantly against fracking in America. Fracking’s success has upended global geopolitics and oil markets since the U.S. fracking boom began under the former U.S. administration. America has gone from being a net oil importer to a net oil exporter.

The U.S. as a net exporter is no longer dependent on oil from foreign countries and insulted from the periodic eruptions in the Middle East that threatened America’s energy security for decades.

The low oil prices, that will most likely go lower before they recover, are a major financial hit to the U.S. fracking industry. They are financially more impactful than the anti-fracking movements. Plummeting oil prices could force a reckoning for the American fracking boom. Russia may be able to live with $30-per-barrel oil for an extended period, but America’s oil patch will endure financial pain for a while.

Starting a price war during a global pandemic is in Russia’s best interest to thwart American dominance in the energy sector to put an end to the growth of the American shale production and at the same time to balance Russia’s budget.

Putin is a historian of World Wars I & II and believes the country that controls oil and natural gas, controls the world. Putin knows that was Allied ingenuity and taking control of the ability to run their ships, planes and land vehicles were significant factors in winning WWII.

The world is now accustomed to post WWII prosperity from American fracking. To stabilize his budget, constrain U.S. shale growth, and extend his influence from Venezuela to the Middle East then the U.S. oil and natural gas industry needs to be brought to its knees. This oil war between Russia, Saudi Arabia, and OPEC+ is just the vehicle to accomplish his geopolitical aims.

Under his leadership, Russia has pushed the power dynamic toward controlling crude oil. This because it is well aware that electricity alone, especially intermittent electricity from industrial wind and industrial solar, are unable to support the energy demands of the military. We can add the  airlines, cruise ships, supertankers, container shipping, trucking infrastructures, and almost every other faction of the global economy. More importantly, Russia is ramping up coal production to meet domestic electrical needs, and its growing military commitments from Syria to Crimea.

The world, inclusive of Russia, can easily see the published March 2019 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that shows the USA’s Primary Energy Consumption by Source for the recent years of 2017 thru 2018. Energy consumption rose over that 2-year period with most of the increase coming from fossil fuels, to the amazement of Russia and the world.

Total Renewables INCREASED slightly from 11.2% to 11.4% even though most cities have implemented plans to go green, with no impact on fossil fuel energy consumption.

Total Nuclear REMAINED THE SAME at 8.4%.

Total Fossil Fuels INCREASED from 77.9% to 81.2% to meet society’s’ demands for the products from petroleum derivatives and the numerous energy consuming infrastructures.

Over 6,000 petroleum products are so intertwined with our everyday lifestyles, controlling them and their availability would control us. Putin understands the unintended consequences of getting off fossil fuels and is willing to put his rubles behind efforts to curtail fracking’s successes. He remains supportive of the deception of intermittent electricity from industrial wind and solar being the way to save the world from itself.

SOURCE 





Europe’s Carmakers Seek Delay In EU’s Costly CO2 Rules

The European auto industry has asked the European Union (EU) to delay the implementation of its CO2 emissions rules because the impact of the coronavirus is causing short-term mayhem in the industry.

The rules start this year, get harsher in 2025, and demand an effective average fuel economy of 92 miles per U.S. gallon by 2030.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association, plus the tire makers, suppliers and dealers associations made the plea in a letter (see www.acea.be) to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission dated March 25.

“No production, development, testing or homologation work occurs for the time being (because of the impact of the coronavirus). This upsets the plans we had made to prepare ourselves for complying with existing and future EU laws and regulations within the applicable deadlines set in these regulations. We believe therefore that some adjustment would need to be made to the timing of these laws,” the letter said.

“Please be assured, however, that it is not our intention to question the laws as such nor the underlying objectives of road safety, climate change mitigation and protection of the environment.  Looking into the future, industry, and policymakers must together, and in a timely manner, start planning for the period beyond the immediate health crisis,” the letter said.

The EU Commission hasn’t replied to a question seeking its reaction to this plea.

Brussels-based environmental lobby group Transport & Environment wasn’t happy, saying that such a plea is unfounded and potentially damaging for the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the car industry in Europe.

Asked to comment on the joint letter, the European Auto Manufacturers Association, known by its French acronym ACEA, said the industry has been halted by the virus in this statement.

“The primary concern of ACEA and all its members right now is to manage the immediate crisis facing the auto industry, which has essentially come to an abrupt halt – something the sector has never experienced before,” Director General, Eric-Mark Huitema said.

“Our first priority is to protect the health and jobs of the almost 14 million Europeans who work directly or indirectly in this sector. In parallel, we are active in directing resources to help fight the ongoing health crisis, for instance by providing vehicles and where possible medical equipment and protective gear.”

“In this emergency context, it has not yet been possible to undertake a detailed analysis of the implications of this crisis on legislation affecting our industry. Nonetheless, ACEA has already drawn the European Commission’s attention to the fact that there will inevitably be consequences in this domain, given that no production, development, testing or homologation work is able to happen now or in the foreseeable future due to company shutdowns and other measures to contain the virus.”

“This will require discussions between the industry and policymakers in due course. In the meantime, ACEA will work with its members to examine what the practical implications are for the most critical legislative issues. As a general principle, it should be stressed that it is not the industry’s intention to question any laws as such nor the underlying objectives of road safety, climate change mitigation and protection of the environment for example,” Huitema said.

The industry has been alarmed about the impact of the CO2 rules, even before the coronavirus struck, not least because the EU Commission had been talking about making the rules even tougher.

According to a report from investment researcher Jefferies last year, if the auto industry makes no progress in curbing CO2 from 2018 towards meeting the EU’s 2020/21 regulations, it faces fines totaling the equivalent of $36 billion, twice its estimated profits, and could be forced to raise prices up to 10%.

The latest data suggests in 2019, the industry went backward not forwards in production of CO2 thanks to the popularity of SUVs and the demise of diesel.

SOURCE 





Global warming will not spare Denmark
 
The current Danish government has been praised for being proactive in reducing carbon emissions. But the neoliberal methods it has embraced for this task are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The enthusiasm was sky-high. The broad agreement between the newly elected Social-democrat government and all other political parties in the Danish Parliament on the 70 percent reduction of the greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to 1990 was described as no less than a great triumph.

The PR apparatus of the government even prepared a promotional video, in which the Danish Minister for Energy and Climate was creatively prepared to send the message through: “a turning point in the fight for the climate.” The real triumph was still in the waiting, but in a sense the agreement was a kind of a victory. A victory for the climate activists, who also in Denmark had made it clear that they had been fed up with empty promises by their politicians.

Despite this proclaimed ‘great triumph’, a few weeks earlier, the Social-democrat Prime Minister had declared to the industry lobby that a new climate agreement should not come at the cost of wealth, jobs and loss of the competition by Danish firms. Putting aside the embarrassingly obvious fact that if our civilisation collapses due to global warming, there will be no wealth to enjoy (or most probably no humans either), we still have to see concrete steps to reach the proclaimed reduction in CO2 emissions.

The devil is in the details

There are of course a few positive aspects in the climate agreement. The first is that it is binding, which means that it applies to all coming Danish governments in the future. Second, a climate expert panel (Klimar├ądet) will act as an independent watchdog for its climate aims, advising the government and expressing its opinion regarding whether it is on the right path to achieve the climate goal. Third, the Parliament will judge the government’s climate achievements at the end of each year.

While this is all good in theory, we are still expecting to see some teeth put into the climate agreement. This process was due this spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic has postponed it to the near future. Nevertheless, a few interesting aspects of the climate agreement are worth mentioning.

The first is that it is not entirely true that there is a lack of concrete steps for the green transformation in Denmark. The first few are found in the government’s budget law for 2020. What is on offer in the budget? Well, the build up of a “Danish Green Future Fund” with an impressive budget of 25 billion kroner (3,35 billion Euros) for the purpose of “development and distribution of renewable energy and stimulation of green technology export.”

The budget report goes on to explain how this sum of money is distributed. Of the 3,35 billion Euros, almost 1,9 billions go to the Export Credit Fund. A couple of clicks in the website of the Fund and it is clear that the Fund is nothing else but a state subsidy for the Danish export firms.

As the website proudly announces, the Fund is going to “cover 90% of the losses of the export firm, in case the international buyer withdraws from the import agreement without paying “ or if the losses are due to a shift in the international affairs. In other words, the Danish export firms have their private profits from the export guaranteed, because the public will cover 90% of the losses anyway, in case the investment goes awry.

Another 134 million Euros will go to the Investment Fund for the Development Countries, which activists from the Global Action have uncovered as another scheme of state subsidy of the large corporations. In short, sixty percent of the Green Fund respects the neoliberal principle: the costs are socialised, the profits are privatised. As far as the rest of the rest of the green transformation is concerned, we are still waiting.

When push comes to shove

On the 9th of March, the Expert Panel (Klimar├ądet) came with its analysis and advice on how best to achieve a 70 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030. Their conclusions were interesting, but the most interesting was that the planned green transformation will cost up to one percent of the Danish GDP.

As they put it: “One percent of the GDP is a large sum, (…) but not a sum that threatens our country’s wealth”. Therefore, gone was the concern for the “loss of our wealth” (in comparison the US had used 37 percent of their GDP for war purposes during WWII).

Even more interesting were reactions to its conclusions. Among all the suggestions, the various industry and agricultural lobbies had decided to concentrate on the one — on which the economists agree as the method to reach “the environmental goal – of reduced emissions – in the most flexible and least-cost way to society”, namely carbon pricing.

Words like “devastating”, “a desk exercise”, and “it will have the opposite effect” were used to describe the conclusions. The same minister, who had adulated the new climate law a few months ago, now had his own reservations on the advice of the Expert Panel. By the way, this is the very same Panel which was supposed to act as a watchdog for the minister, according to the law.

COVID-19 and the future after it

Why these reactions? Well, what the Expert Panel conclusions called for was that the polluters pay their fair share through CO2 taxation and a reduction of their state subsidies. That was a mistake. Maybe the experts are naive enough to think that we live in a free competition economy, but that is for the economics books. In the real world, corporations need state protection. Those who do not understand this can do as much “desk exercise” as they like. In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic has put off the discussion indefinitely.

What will happen now, and how much teeth the new law will have, no one knows. One thing is for sure: the powerful institutions do not like the idea. But what is also certain is that climate activists are not thinking about giving up the fight.

SOURCE 

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