Big Oil would like you to know: Bill McKibben is evil and your punk friends want you to break up with your coal-fired girlfriend.
With the fossil fuel divestment movement gaining momentum and Global Divestment Day(s) coming up this Friday and Saturday, dirty energy’s devoted spin doctors are throwing desperation punches. This misinformational video, from the conservative Environmental Policy Alliance, wants you to believe that breaking up with the fossil fuel industry this Valentine’s Day will leave you in a cold, dark cave with no clothes or gadgets.
The video does make a good point: Basically everything we do and have relies on fossil fuels. All the more reason to show we don’t support dirty energy companies — because, you know, climate change — by divesting!
The point of the divestment movement is obviously not to quit using fossil fuels cold turkey, as the video suggests. As Naomi Klein explained in a recent interview, it’s about making it clear that the oil and natural gas industry is “a rogue sector, that their business plan is at odds with life on earth.” In short, these companies plan to sell enough fuel to emit five times more carbon than the atmosphere can handle without warming more than 2 degrees C.
This bizarre short isn’t the only frantic move in the fossil fuel industry’s last-ditch offensive against divestment. Just this week, the American Energy Alliance released a report called, “Coal: Bedrock of modern life,” and another study, commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, suggests that U.S. universities could lose money by divesting, based on the really stupid assumption that the future of the stock market will look like the past 50 years.
Damian Carrington writes in his Guardian blog that the leaders of that research have their heads stuck in the tar sands:
The overwhelming majority of the economic evidence I have seen shows the exact opposite. Here are some studies, not funded by the oil industry, which indicate recent divestment would, if anything, have had a positive impact on returns and can reduce investment risk: MSCI, Advisor Partners, Impax, Aperio, S&P Capital IQ and BNEF. I have seen one report, from Mercer, that said “divestment is likely to have up-front and recurring costs.”
The fossil fuel industry is scared. As it should be.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a massive new investment by the company in solar energy: an $850 million installation that will cover 1,300 acres in Monterey County, Calif. Apple is partnering with First Solar — the nation’s biggest utility-scale installer — on the project, which will produce enough power to supply 60,000 California homes, Cook said.
According to a press release from First Solar, Apple will receive 130 megawatts from the project under a 25-year deal, which the release describes as the largest such agreement ever.
Cook called it Apple’s “biggest, boldest and most ambitious” energy project to date, designed to offset the electricity needs of Apple’s new campus, the futuristic circular building designed by Norman Foster, and all of Apple’s California retail stores. “We know at Apple that climate change is real,” he said.
Cook made the announcement during a Goldman Sachs technology conference, and First Solar’s stocks shot up Tuesday afternoon on the news:
Tyler Davis (@TylerAuggieD) February 10, 2015
Apple has already made huge commitments to solar. The Guardian reported last year that the company planned to use solar power to manufacture its new “sapphire” screens for the iPhone 6 at a factory in Arizona. Last year, Climate Desk joined the Guardian during a press visit to the biggest solar field then in Apple’s portfolio. The Maiden, N.C., facility has 55,000 solar panels that track the sun across a nearly 100-acre field, offsetting the electricity sucked up by Apple’s data center across the road:
Apple’s new investment continues the startling growth of solar in America, which my colleague Tim McDonnell has reported on previously: By 2016, solar is projected to be as cheap or cheaper than electricity from the conventional grid in every state except three. Over the past decade, the amount of solar power produced in the United States has grown 139,000 percent.
In another portion of Cook’s appearance, the CEO boasted about the ways Apple’s new iWatch could help improve health by reminding you when you’ve become too sedentary:
Apple Watch can save your life? Tim Cook has his watch tap him if he's sitting too long, says "sitting is the new cancer" $AAPL—
Julia Boorstin (@JBoorstin) February 10, 2015
Creepy, or cool?
Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
The United States road system is knit together like a Forever 21 cardigan: marginally functional, mass-produced, and likely to fall apart shortly after first usage. These days, our roads are wearing out — probably because, much like the pieces of trash fashion rapidly deteriorating at the back of your closet, they’ve been built to break.
Past transportation spending has mostly been directed to construction rather than repairs. But this ends up doing more harm than good because, as we’ve reported before, more roads equal more traffic jams. Economists call the concept “induced demand,” or, when supply of something (i.e. roads, cars, tribal-print jumpsuits) is increased, people will buy it — and then want more.
Vox senior editor Brad Plumer wrote an excellent explanation on why the U.S. needs to redirect transportation dollars to fixing what’s old rather than building something new — which is where, as he reports, more than half of state road funds go. This is because misdirected dollars end up causing “excessive sprawl,” says Plumer, which does “little to alleviate traffic congestion or deterioration.” We couldn’t agree more!
Here’s more from Vox:
If all these new roads were beneficial, [building new ones] might make sense. But, as [Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt] points out, that’s not always the case. One study by the Center for American Progress found that 50 percent of U.S. roads don’t even generate enough traffic to pay for themselves in gas taxes. With driving on the decline and the National Highway System reaching the end of its natural lifespan, there’s a good argument for devoting more scarce resources to repairing the expensive and dilapidated system we already have.
There’s a dollars-and-cents case for allocating more money to repairs, too: Taking care of a damaged road early on is much cheaper than trying to deal with it when it’s near-destroyed. However, an even more economical — and green — solution in the long term could be building improved public transit networks.
We’re living in a nation that’s trying to reduce carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — but that’s going to mean changing our long-held habits, like a transportation system that’s built around personal cars. The fact is, we need more new roads like we need that adorable cat sweater. Really, put the sweater down, and walk away.
Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has suggested that vaccines cause “profound mental disorders.” Paul has also said he’s “not sure anybody exactly knows why” the climate changes. So the likely presidential contender would probably find this fact pretty confusing: According to leading scientists, vaccines are among the “most effective” weapons in our arsenal for combating the threats that global warming poses to human health.
In its landmark report last year, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global warming poses a range of health threats — especially in the developing world. Warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall will reduce crop production, leading to malnutrition. Foodborne and waterborne illnesses will become a bigger problem. And, some scientists argue, diseases like malaria will spread as the insects that carry them migrate to new areas.
So how should humanity adapt to these dangers? The IPCC report lays out a slew of public health interventions, including widespread vaccination:
The most effective measures to reduce vulnerability in the near term are programs that implement and improve basic public health measures such as provision of clean water and sanitation, secure essential healthcare including vaccination and child health services, increase capacity for disaster preparedness and response, and alleviate poverty.
There are a number of reasons that vaccines will play an important role in our efforts to adapt to a warming world. The most obvious is their ability to protect vulnerable populations from diseases that will be made worse by climate change.
A prime example is rotavirus, a vaccine-preventable disease that can cause severe diarrhea. It killed roughly 450,000 children in 2008 — mostly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. “There is evidence that case rates of rotavirus are correlated with warming temperatures and high rainfall,” according to Erin Lipp, an environmental health professor at the University of Georgia and a contributor to the IPCC report. This is particularly true in developing countries with poor sanitation and drinking water sources, Lipp explained in an email.
There are other, less direct, ways in which climate change can exacerbate a wide range of existing public health problems. Take measles, which is currently making a comeback in the United States — thanks in large part to the unscientific claims of the anti-vaccination movement. Measles killed nearly 150,000 people worldwide in 2013; it’s particularly common in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia that have extremely low vaccination rates — areas that will be hit especially hard by the impacts of climate change.
Unlike with rotavirus, there’s no direct relationship between measles and global warming. But Kirk Smith — an environmental health expert at UC Berkeley, and a lead author of the IPCC chapter on health impacts — points out that “a child weakened by measles is more likely to die from the malnutrition caused by climate change.” In other words, anything we can do to reduce the impact of existing health problems will be even more important in a warming world. And vaccinating children, he says, is one of the most cost-effective public health tools we have.
Diseases like measles pose another threat, as well, says Alistair Woodward, who is also a lead author of the IPCC chapter. Woodward, an epidemiologist at the University of Auckland, points out that extreme climate events — crop failures in Africa, flooding in Bangladesh, and even storms like Hurricane Katrina — can displace large numbers of people. “In these circumstances, with crowding and poor living conditions, all the basic public health services are put under great strain,” said Woodward in an email. “The risks of infection go through the roof, for all communicable diseases … So ensuring that people are vaccinated is a logical thing to do as part of managing the risks of a rapidly changing climate.”
Of course, making sure people are inoculated against deadly diseases isn’t easy. In the developing world, vaccination campaigns have to overcome transportation and security issues, as well as poor local healthcare systems. And these challenges, says Woodward, can dwarf the problems caused by the anti-vaxxer movement.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
In the run-up to Global Divestment Day on Feb. 13 and 14, May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, interviewed Naomi Klein, activist and author of the book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (and 350 board member), as part of a web workshop. You can watch the whole thing. Or you can read our three-part edited transcript. Part one was about plummeting oil prices. Part two was about making the climate movement stronger. And here’s part three.
May Boeve: You were instrumental in helping articulate the link between stranded assets, unburnable carbon, climate change, and divestment. The movement to divest has taken off in incredible ways. What has been most significant about divestment, and what is needed to keep that call fresh and alive in this moment?
Naomi Klein: I want to give a little bit of history from my perspective of where all of this came from. When we had the idea for a national, and then international, divestment call on fossil fuels, there were already pockets at certain universities that were pushing their schools to divest from coal, but there wasn’t an overall fossil fuel divestment call that had been made.
That came out of a [phone] call between Bill McKibben and I, that happened after both of us had read the Carbon Tracker research, which blew both of our minds. This is the research that all of this is based on, that shows that the fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon dioxide in their proven reserves than the atmosphere can absorb and leave us with a decent shot of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
Now, the thing that was striking when we were reading that research was that it was not addressed to us. This research was done for the investment community as a warning to them that there is a bubble in the market. This was a couple of years out of the housing bubble bursting, and it was warning, “OK, we see another bubble on the horizon, we don’t want to have another bubble burst.” Obviously, these companies cannot burn five times more carbon than the atmosphere can absorb, so these are going to become stranded assets.
Now, I read that research and I went, “No, that’s not right. We’re the bubble.” They’re planning to burn the carbon, and they have made a political assessment that when our politicians said they were going to keep warming below 2 degrees they were lying, that they didn’t mean it. The commitments made in Copenhagen were unbinding, and Exxon and Shell and everyone else decided that that was not something they had to worry about, that they were going to go ahead and burn it anyway.
So, I didn’t think this was a warning to investors. I thought this was a warning to all of us, and that’s what Bill thought too. So, the question is, OK, if we’re the bubble, how do we flip it? How do we turn them into the bubble that’s going to burst? And that’s where the divestment idea comes from. Those are the stakes, that’s really what that research shows: It’s them or us.
Bill wrote that incredible piece for Rolling Stone that popularized this idea, just laying it out, because people get these numbers. I had just had my kid at this point [in 2012], so I wasn’t able to go on the full fossil-free tour that Bill and 350.org kicked off, but I did go, with my 5-month-old in tow, to New York and Boston, which were a couple of the biggest events. What was amazing was that people were on their feet before we said a word. I’d never seen anything like it. The movement was waiting for someone to admit that there was a war going on.
This comes back to one of the most controversial parts of This Changes Everything, about how so many of the big green groups have partnered with fossil fuel companies, based on the false idea that we’re in this together. No, we’re not. I think people really get this, and young people get this most of all. It all comes back to that research. Every time you explain it to somebody else, you are part of the solution, because these are illegitimate profits.
The other thing that helps is that fossil fuel stocks are not performing very well right now [because of low oil prices]. So your opponents have just lost their best argument. They won’t lose it for long, so that’s another reason to just pound away at this. If this was last year, they could say, “These stocks are performing better than other ones, you want to bankrupt our schools.” But, no, in fact these stocks are underperforming. Not only are institutions destroying the planet, but they are also taking unnecessary risks with their endowments.
Another point I would make, [about] carbon pricing, is that when we make the argument that this is a rogue sector, that their business plan is at odds with life on earth, we are creating an intellectual and political space where it becomes much easier to tax those profits, to increase royalties, and even to nationalize these companies. This is not just about the fact that we want to separate ourselves from these companies, it’s also that we have a right to those profits. If those profits are so illegitimate that Harvard shouldn’t be invested in them, they’re also so illegitimate that taxpayers have a right to them to pay for a transition away from fossil fuels, and to pay the bills for a crisis created by this sector. It’s not just about dissociating ourselves from their profits, but potentially getting a much larger piece of them.
May Boeve: Here’s a question from online: “Where do we put our divested funds? How do we push local economy investment in the transition?”
Naomi Klein: I think the reason why the reinvestment piece is a little bit trickier than the divestment call is because what we need to get out of is really simple, we want to divest from the fossil fuel companies, but what we want to get into will look a little bit different everywhere we live. There isn’t one blanket investment, nor should there be. I don’t think that the response should be, “Goodbye, big carbon. Hello, big wind, big solar.” I think we can do better than that. Which isn’t to say big green companies don’t have a place in the transition. I think they do.
But I think we should also be looking at supporting local solar co-ops, that reinvestment should be very much a tool for climate justice. The answer for what that means is only going to come from building alliances with frontline communities in all of your communities and developing tools and projects that can be supported.
The Our Power campaign in the U.S. is a great example of identifying six climate communities that have great transition plans, some of them already quite far along, that can be supported. We should resist the temptation of just presenting this as flipping the switch from dirty energy to big, clean, green energy that will be controlled by a different set of corporations.
More about Global Divestment Day:
Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics