HOBO® MX1101 data logger transmits temperature and relative humidity data via Bluetooth Smart technology to monitor glass display case containing historic document being exhibited at Britain’s...
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Earlier this year, a couple of billionaires landed a nearly $770 million contract to run a 143-mile-long natural gas pipeline through Texas’s pristine Big Bend region. As of May 11, rail shipments of pipe had begun to arrive in Big Bend’s Fort Stockton area. This recent progress on the pipeline project is fueling pushback from locals who’ve been concerned about this project since it was announced in November 2014. Big Bend is one of Texas’ last unspoiled wilderness areas and one of few remaining holdouts in a state riddled with energy transmission pipelines and large-scale oil and gas activity. Fearing potential land grabs, increased traffic, and environmental desecration, locals have been mobilizing through town hall meetings and launching activist campaigns to oppose it.A lone pipeline supporter speaks to local officials and citizens at a county commissioners meeting in Marfa, Texas, on Tuesday.Jessica Lutz
What is the Trans-Pecos pipeline? At 42 inches wide and under 1,400 pounds of pressure per square inch, the Trans-Pecos pipeline will carry as much as 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day after its projected completion in early 2017. The gas will originate in Texas’s Permian Basin, travel the length of the pipeline to the border at Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, Mexico, where it will be piped further into Mexico for industrial use and power generation. The project was commissioned by the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) as part of the country’s push to modernize its energy systems.
A consortium that includes two energy companies, Mexico-based Carso and Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, won the contract to construct the pipeline in January. Carso is owned by Carlos Slim, the world’s second-richest man, who made his original fortune by charging Mexico’s phone customers monopoly prices, while levying some of the highest fees disproportionately on the poor.
ETP is led by Republican megadonor and multibillionaire Kelcy Warren of Dallas. In February, the company brought on former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the company’s board of directors to offer “strategic guidance to ETP’s executive management team,” according to a spokeswoman for the company. Even before that, Perry and Warren had ties: Perry has received at least $250,000 in campaign donations from Warren since 2011. ETP is also currently embroiled in a separate controversial pipeline project to transport crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois. The company is also facing claims that a representative from a subsidiary offered the services of a teenage prostitute to a landowner in exchange for letting ETP run the crude oil pipeline through his property. “We take these types of matters very seriously and are investigating further,” an ETP spokeswoman told KCRG of the claims.
What’s controversial about this project? ETP is running construction of the pipeline on the U.S. side of the border, and Big Bend locals are frustrated with what they’re calling a lack of transparency from the company. Among their key complaints is confusion from ETP on which agency will provide regulatory oversight for the pipeline. This question hinges on whether the pipeline is designated as “interstate” or “intrastate.” The former means that the pipeline is crossing an international border, which would require a Presidential Permit, triggering more rigorous federal guidelines for the pipeline’s construction and operation. The latter, “intrastate,” would require a T-4 form from the Railroad Commission of Texas, the standard application for a permit to own and operate a pipeline through Texas.Proposed route for the Trans-Pecos pipeline. ETP
Given current plans to have the gas transported into Mexico, some local activists argue that the pipeline should be designated interstate. But in mid-April, ETP hosted several “open house” meetings for Big Bend locals where they claimed the pipeline would be assigned the intrastate designation, and that the company had already applied for and received a T-4 permit from the Railroad Commission.
But a spokesperson for the Railroad Commission told Big Bend Now that’s not the case:
The Railroad Commission’s pipeline safety jurisdiction applies only to intrastate pipelines that begin and end in Texas. The Energy Transfer flyer you provided me on this pipeline states the pipeline will terminate with an interconnect with a pipeline near Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico, which means this is an interstate and international pipeline under the pipeline safety authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the U.S. Department of State. In short, their flyer is incorrect, and we are contacting the company to make a correction.
The Railroad Commission did not respond to phone calls or emails from Mother Jones. In a recent email, Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, says that only the small section of pipeline that crosses the international border requires a presidential permit, while the remaining 140-plus miles of pipeline across West Texas would fall exclusively under the Texas Railroad Commission’s authority.
How might this project affect the natural habitats? The Big Bend area is a geologically rich, wide-open expanse of mountains, desert, and ranch land; the nearby UNESCO biosphere reserve Big Bend National Park is home to 1,200 species of plants and scores of mammals, birds, reptiles, and other animal species. While the exact route isn’t yet known, the proposed direction shows the pipeline running through private ranch land, close to Big Bend Ranch State Park, and even closer to the Chinati State Natural Area, an undeveloped swath of land known for its diverse flora and fauna. In Texas, pipeline companies are legally allowed to use eminent domain to seize private land if an agreement isn’t reached with individual landowners. ETP’s Granado says that land condemnation is “always an option of last resort.”
But Big Bend is the kind of place where locals take private property seriously and have a distaste for outside interlopers. As local former justice of the peace and rancher Mary Luedeke told San Antonio Express-News, if “you go to talking about condemning something by eminent domain, you’ll get shot in this part of the country.” Anticipating a potential land grab, some locals have already sought legal counsel from San Angelo lawyer Joe Will Ross, who often handles eminent domain cases. (Citing his clients’ interests, Ross declined to comment for this story.)
More than anything, many locals object to what they see as a potential start to wider oil and gas activity in a region that has, up until now, managed to avoid it. “We don’t want the pipeline to impact the sanctity of this region,” says David Keller of Big Bend Conservation Alliance, which is organizing informational meetings on the pipeline for residents in affected counties. “If you go to Midlands just a couple hours north of here, it’s just an industrial wasteland, a sacrifice zone for the oil and gas industry. We see what that does to other communities,” he says, adding: “[Big Bend] is the last frontier of Texas. Wide-open spaces, beautiful open landscapes, antelope, all that, and we don’t want it to start getting industrialized.”
What’s next for the Trans-Pecos pipeline? Despite mounting opposition, ETP is laying the groundwork for construction, which they’ve announced will begin late this year or early 2016, with hopes of having natural gas flowing by 2017. The company has sent out land surveyors, one of whom was caught trespassing on a ranch; according to Granado, the rail shipments of pipe that began arriving in Big Bend this week will continue to do so through early July.
Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
I consider myself to be a radical — and I now believe that the most radical thing I can do is break out of the safety zone of left/liberal environmentalism and actively engage with conservatives.
I have spent two decades in the radical environmental movement, and I believe strongly that the crisis of climate change requires systemic changes. I am utterly convinced, from my reading of history, that these changes will only emerge from strong and outspoken political movements.
But no movement will win unless it has strength of numbers and influence. We should not delude ourselves that a highly motivated minority — what Marxists used to call the vanguard — can ever win this. The issue of climate change is far too large to be addressed without a near total commitment across society.
Yet, throughout the Anglophone world, there is a dangerous political polarization around climate change. In one particularly disturbing U.S. poll, attitudes about climate change were found to be a better predictor of respondents’ political orientation than any other issue — including gun control, abortion, and capital punishment. Denial of climate change is not just an opinion; it has become a dominant mark of people’s political identity.
This is no small problem. People with conservative values (some of whom may also vote for center-left parties) constitute the majority in almost all countries. In U.S. surveys, people who identify strongly with conservative values outnumber those who identify with liberal/left values by a ratio of 2 to 1.
In my book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, I argue that climate change exists for us in the form of socially constructed narratives built upon our values and identity. It is these narratives — not the underlying science or even the evidence before our own eyes — that leads us to accept or reject climate change.
Unfortunately, one of the dominant values in the climate movement is a disregard, if not outright contempt, for the right-leaning mainstream and their concerns. Activists often talk with disgust of the “selfishness,” “greed,” and “stupidity” of conservatives. This is intolerant and unpleasant. This denigration conveniently ignores the diversity of opinion and life experience among conservatives. A struggling rural family, an elderly Christian living on a small pension, a community shopkeeper, and a Wall Street banker are combined into one faceless enemy.
More often, though, conservatives are just ignored by activists. Few people in the climate movement want to deal with them, talk to them, or find out more about them. They simply don’t exist.
Recently I led a communications workshop for one of the largest international environmental networks, one I respect and have worked with for many years. I asked them, “Do you think that the climate change movement has a problem with its diversity?” Absolutely, they replied, it’s too dominated by middle-aged men, too white, too middle class, not enough involvement from minorities or indigenous peoples, not many disabled people. But nobody mentioned the absence of conservatives, and certainly no one in the room admitted to being one.
Diversity is a powerful frame for progressives, but its components have been entirely defined by the struggles of marginalized groups for representation. It makes us blind to our own failure to involve the majority of our fellow citizens.
Last year I was thrilled to attend the People’s Climate March in New York. (I think I can justify the carbon — I was already in the area for a six-state book tour.) An estimated 350,000 people marched with placards declaring “To Change Everything We Need Everyone.” But everyone seemed to mean only the groups that conform to the progressive ideology, which excludes the majority of the population. There was a great deal of progressive diversity at the march: Indigenous peoples headed it up, followed by environmental justice groups of all colors and ethnicities and labor unions. As someone who has campaigned for more than 20 years for indigenous rights, and led large programs with unions, I was thrilled to see such broad representation.Stephen Melkisethian
But as I watched the banners and placards pass by, I imagined how this march would appear to mainstream America. The dominant messages were about banning, stopping, boycotting things. Among them were hard left-wing messages about overthrowing capitalism and destroying Wall Street. A woman with a placard that read “Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Ever Vote Republican” was cheered and whistled at. To balance this, a posse of cigar-chomping Republican frat boys turned up on the sidelines with cutouts of Ronald Reagan to wind up the lefties. But there was nothing, not so much as a word, to hint that mainstream conservatives had a place alongside everyone in the climate struggle. A small pack of Nebraskan ranchers, converted to the cause by their fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, told me freely and proudly that they were lifelong Republicans. They were hidden within the mass of the march when they should have been at its very front as a symbol of an extraordinary unity of purpose and our shared destiny.
Yes, we know that many Republican politicians are disgracefully negligent on this issue and corrupted by corporate interests. We know that the debate, fueled by the poison of shock jocks and Fox News, is offensive and often violent in its language. And we know that climate change deniers and the opponents of environmental laws are invariably right-wing in their politics. But there are also huge swaths of decent, honorable, middle American conservatives who are committed to their communities and prepared to make sacrifices to defend their values and way of life. I fear that for far too long, by refusing to engage with them, we have handed them over to our opponents.
We know how to change this. We’ve got previous experience with building diversity, whether it be economic, gender, or race: Actively hire new people from the underrepresented group who can work through their networks, then enable them to develop communications that speak to others like themselves using their own values.
The process by which we respond to climate change will lay the groundwork for our future adaptation. If we build a narrative around our interconnectedness and shared humanity, then we stand a good chance of pulling through, just as divided communities can settle their differences to pull together after a hurricane. If we build our movement through distrust and division, we create the preconditions for future infighting, blame, and scapegoating. Minority vanguards have only ever won when they’ve gotten their hands on guns and then ruled by them.
So my challenge to all people concerned about climate change is this: Reach across partisan boundaries and build a broad social consensus for action. We do not even have to agree about the details of the solutions — indeed I hope we maintain a strong debate. But we must come together in the recognition that dealing with climate change is the greatest calling of our age.
George Marshall is the cofounder of Climate Outreach, a communications nonprofit based in Oxford, U.K. He is author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change and blogs intermittently at Climatedenial.org.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
Now for the next injustice: If you live in Minneapolis or St. Paul and you’re not white, it takes longer for you to get to work. A new study put together by four Minnesota nonprofits found a pretty astonishing “transit time penalty”: Asian Americans, African Americans, and Latinos living in the Twin Cities spend anywhere from 11 to 46 more hours a year commuting on public transit than whites do.
And if you compare those numbers to white drivers, nonwhite transit riders are spending way more time commuting. Here’s the breakdown, from the study:
Translation: Black and Asian transit users lose the equivalent of 3.5 weeks of work each year because of their long commute-times alone. For Latino transit users, it is nearly 4.5 weeks.
Combine that with the fact that significantly more nonwhites are commuting via public transit – in Minnesota and across the country — and you’ll see that this is just stitched through with all kinds of messed up urban policies and socioeconomic injustices.
In Minnesota, this study finds, 8 percent of Latinos, 10 percent of African Americans, and 29 percent of Native Americans commute to work on public transit, versus just 5 percent of whites and Asian Americans. But thanks in large part to ongoing patterns of development and displacement, low-income communities of color experience not just longer commute times than whites, but shittier service, too:
Infrequent service, indirect routes, delays, overcrowded vehicles, and insufficient shelter at bus stops contribute to the transit time penalty both quantitatively (adding minutes to a trip) and qualitatively (increasing the stress of the experience).
And thanks to a national car-loving ethos that puts roads and freeways above buses and trains, public transportation sucks – across the board! Nationwide, public transit commutes take twice as long as car commutes.
That’s not the only reason just 5.2 percent of U.S. commuters take public transit to work and more than 75 percent drive alone in their cars. But still. As long as there’s a dearth of quick and reliable transit options, it’s going to continue to encourage car ownership. This study points out, for instance, that just 15 percent of jobs in the Twin Cities region have good public transit connections, “resulting in working families in the Twin Cities spending more on transportation than on housing.”
And that is a huge deal when it comes to racial and economic equity. Research shows that access to adequate transportation has an enormous impact on the odds of escaping poverty. Makes sense: an unreliable bus takes a huge toll on your chances of keeping a job. But as one Harvard study suggests, it’s actually commute length that has the biggest impact – beyond crime rates, test scores, or the percentage of two-parent families in a community. According to an article on the study and its implications in the New York Times, “The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.”
So there’s another very good reason to adequately fund public transit, America: Not only will it help the planet, it will seriously improve the lives of lots and lots of low-income Americans.
Filed under: Cities, Living
Keurig Green Mountain — maker of throwaway coffee pods in myriad tempting flavors — is in the middle of a sales crisis. What was once a seemingly unstoppable single-serve coffee trend due to its ease (just pop in the pod!) and its cleanliness (no messy grounds!) is now wavering. And, honestly, we’re pretty stoked.
Sales are down — negative publicity couldn’t have helped — and Keurig’s new chilled drink machine, the Keurig Kold, hasn’t exactly been a hit, delightful alliteration notwithstanding. Now, Quartz reports, company stocks are down 30 percent from last year’s high. Here’s more from Quartz:
The “Keurig Kold” will cost around $300 or $369 dollars, depending on the retailer—more than expected and much pricier than even the highest-end product from its rival Sodastream, which costs $199.99.
Even at that price, Keurig will be subsidizing the product and losing money on every machine, hoping to make it back with pod sales.
The death of an empire is never a pleasant thing to watch — but when that empire’s trash could circle the globe more than 11 times, well, we’re OK with it.
Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food, Living
A record number of Valley students have already received their associate degrees before graduating from high school thanks to the dual enrollment program at Rio Salado College.
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Wildlife trafficking is wreaking havoc on particularly vulnerable animal populations across the globe, and stands as both a critical conservation concern and a threat to global security. The Crime...
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Web SEO Master expands into California with Professional Web Design and Development Services June 2015. These are Turn Key Solutions to assist San Francisco, California & surrounding areas.
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The upgraded recessed light features 3 brighter new LEDs and 25% more lumens per Watt.
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Here’s some The Silence of the Lambs-level horror to ruin your day: One of the most popular cosmetics brands in the world grows human skin, and is actively researching technology to increase its production. Using samples donated by French plastic surgery patients, the cosmetics powerhouse L’Oreal already raises more than 54 square feet of skin per year to test its products, which provides an alternative to animal testing. And now, to help speed up production, the company is turning to 3D printing.
Bloomberg Business has the story:
L’Oreal needs human skin. Lots of it. That’s why the French cosmetics giant earlier this month announced that it’s partnering with bioprinting startup Organovo to figure out how to 3D print living, breathing derma that can be used to test products for toxicity and efficacy. “We’re the first beauty company Organovo has worked with,” says Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oreal’s tech incubator.
This isn’t L’Oreal’s first foray into skin production. Looking to avoid animal testing, the company started farming derma back in the 1980s. In Lyon, France, it runs lab facilities the size of three Olympic swimming pools, dedicated entirely to growing and analyzing human tissues.
Unlike the legendary French women who can chain smoke cigarettes, eat a pound of brie a week, and still not age a day past 25, I occasionally turn to cosmetics for a Bardot-esque complexion. (Best believe this quarter-French mademoiselle is starting to see wrinkles.) So thank you, people of France, for all your breast lifts and tummy tucks that made my flawless complexion possible! Mwah.
Filed under: Business & Technology, Living, Science
I’m moving to London by bicycle. From Seattle. (And by ship, too, when the Atlantic Ocean gets in the way.)
I hope to two-wheel it into upstate New York with my buddy Neil, who’s joining me for the bike trip, sometime in early August. That way, I’ll have enough time to establish “permanent residence” at a friend’s house in Lake Placid and apply for a visa from the Spanish consulate in NYC by the time my cruise leaves for the U.K. on Sept. 4. I’ll spend the fall term in London, auditing some courses and preparing to study Spain’s economic inequality at a university in Barcelona for the following nine months.
Along the way, I’ll seek out the real sharing economy and write about it.
As a Grist fellow last year, I wrote this little series about what I call the “real sharing economy” — as opposed to the bullshit sharing economy, which is embodied by money-for-service, for-profit enterprises like airbnb, Uber, and even Taskrabbit. (Since then, a lot has been written about the idea — and in response to it.) This trip is my chance to really take it for a spin.
I’ve saved a little (Thanks for the rent-free living during my time as a Grist fellow, mom and dad!), but I won’t have any income. The plan is to camp, forage, couch-surf, and adventure, bathing in lakes but also in the bathrooms of hosts we meet via the Warm Showers network for bicycle touring (a superb example of the real sharing economy). We’ll have to ask for directions and advice a lot, too, since Neil is one of now four known millennials who don’t use smartphones.
We’re not setting hard-and-fast “no money” rules for crossing the continent. Legendary folks like Rob Greenfield have proven that it’s entirely possible to bicycle-travel the U.S. for free, subsisting on benevolence, the effluence of affluence, and what’s left of unpolluted wild nature — but it might take us a while to ascend to such awesomeness.
Still, figuring out how to meet some needs without money will be quite important. To make “slow travel” work, I’ll rely a lot on that real sharing economy that’s just people taking care of people. You know, generosity. Real sharing.
Besides, sharing interests me, introduces me to awesome new friends, earns me thanks from the climate. As I get my bike ready to traverse North America, I’m spending plenty of time at my community bike kitchen, the Bikery, trying really hard to learn how the darn thing works. And I’ve been work-partying at the Beacon Food Forest, rather than planting my own garden, because it’s an urban farming project that will live on long after I depart. (Also, it’s really fun.)
It’s troubling that we’re often forced to “play capitalism” with each other, because when we get rid of valuable things or share a spare bed we probably need the money to pay for food and shelter that other people (or “corporate persons”) own. This mindset becomes such a habit that many friends keep track of meals they buy each other, and make sure to pay back or at least even up. There are even scorekeeping apps now to calculate who owes whom how much, down to the penny.
Because of the supposed “equivalence of exchange” in money transactions, a relationship can end the moment cash is traded for stuff or services. That goes for most of the transaction we make in the bullshit sharing economy, too: Try to think of one long-term friend you met selling or buying something on Craigslist, or when you stayed at her place on airbnb.
On the other hand, gifting and sharing begins relationships. Humans tend to be into reciprocity, even when no one’s keeping score.
Or at least I’m hoping that’s true. I realize I’m going to be asking a lot of people to share their stuff and their homes along the way. I’m doing a lot of sharing on the front end, though, like giving away nearly all my possessions to friends and strangers — I mean, old and new friends.
It’s plenty satisfying to see my (former) clothes on others and know that my favorite books will be passed around, instead of pocketing a few extra dollars for calories that I hope I’ll be able to find in dumpsters or friendly strangers’ refrigerators. Hopefully there’s karma for these sorts of things.
Grist will be publishing periodic updates from the road, complete with pretty pictures (Neil is a quasi-professional photographer). Wish me luck finding internets in eastern Montana.
In the meantime, if you see a pair of wayward cyclists pedaling into town some summer evening, offer them some food scraps and a kitchen to work in. You might just end up with a tasty meal.
Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
Around here, we tend to talk a lot about how GMOs may or may not ruin the world. Here is a fresh new piece of information to add to that never-ending conversation, starring GMO yeast!
A paper published today in Nature Chemical Biology details a novel process for replicating poppy’s opiate-producing chemical pathways by genetically modifying good ol’ Saccharomyces cerevisiae. That technology could lay the foundation for low-cost drug discovery, potentially producing anti-cancer therapeutics, antibiotics, and other narcotics. The only hitch: With the right opioid-producing yeast strains, it would also be easier to create morphine, heroin and other drugs at home—no Walter White-level smarts required. Just call it Breaking Bread. No, wait, Brewing Bad.
“Right now, you would need a background in synthetic biology and genetics to overcome the challenges to produce the right kind of yeast,” says John Dueber, a bioengineer at UC Berkeley and lead author on the study. “It is not an imminent threat. But if a strain made for licit purposes got out, then all that would be required is knowledge of brewing beer to ferment it into morphine.”
There are some alarming things in play here, but for once, the GMO debate is not at the top of the list. GMOs may be vaguely ominous entities with implications regarding corporate takeover of agriculture, but opiate addiction can destroy entire communities. That said, there are many steps that would have to take place between this Nature Chemical Biology study and DIY heroin labs popping up in Walmarts across America.
To sign off, please enjoy the only good thing that heroin ever did:
Filed under: Article, Living, Science
“Chickens no doubt can be treated terribly, but that is not what this story is about. This is about chicken farmers,” says John Oliver before launching into a comprehensive takedown of the American poultry industry. Slow clap for a segment that manages to condense the problems of contract farming and corporate consolidation into 18 hilarious minutes.
Filed under: Business & Technology, Food
A man of Ben van Beurden’s power and reputation for blunt speaking is capable of silencing a ballroom packed with his boisterous peers. When the chief executive of Shell rose to address an industry gathering in a London hotel, a respectful hush descended.
Van Beurden, 57, rose from a modest background in the Netherlands to the top of a cut-throat, politically fraught sector that rarely finds itself out of the public firing line. The annual black-tie dinner at International Petroleum Week in February, a typical nexus of senior executives and high-ranking government officials, was expecting a frank assessment of its response to its biggest challenge: global warming. Van Beurden did not disappoint.
Warning the room that the industry had a credibility problem, that it was “aloof” when it came to issues like climate change, he said: “You cannot talk credibly about lowering emissions globally if, for example, you are slow to acknowledge climate change, if you undermine calls for an effective carbon price, and if you always descend into the ‘jobs versus environment’ argument in the public debate.”
That speech was a far cry from the usual backslapping fare at the annual event and it put some noses out of joint. But it was welcomed by those who knew that Van Beurden was no fluffy liberal. “Follow the money,” was his mantra during a stint at Shell’s chemicals division, according to one colleague. Now, his message to the industry was: Follow the overwhelming evidence on greenhouse gas emissions and join the debate on climate change, or risk the fossil fuel industry being sidelined.
But Shell’s own business model, and in particular a career-defining takeover executed by Van Beurden within two months of that industry broadside, points to a different corporate philosophy. The powerful ranks of oil and gas industry executives had not witnessed a Damascene moment. Shell, under Van Beurden, is pursuing a strategy that seems to leave the €130 billion ($147 billion) Anglo-Dutch group firmly among the unconverted when it comes to stopping runaway climate change.
An investigation into the Shell business shows that under its forecasts, the Earth’s temperature will rise nearly twice as much as the 2 degrees C threshold for dangerous climate change, and that the firm’s own greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and will rocket further after the £47 billion (about $74 billion) acquisition of rival BG Group.
Further, Shell’s Canadian tar sands, Brazilian, Nigerian and U.S. Gulf deep-water projects are the most likely to be rendered worthless by a global clampdown on high carbon-emitting exploration projects, analyses find. In addition, the company’s growth is becoming reliant on drilling wells (some deeper than the one that caused BP’s Gulf blowout) and it is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a political organization that has opposed policies to address climate change.
A stark counterpoint to Van Beurden’s speech comes from a 2013 Shell New Lens Scenario planning document which suggests industry talk of lowering global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is just that. Referring to the internationally agreed limit on a global temperature rise of 2 degrees C, the document states: “Both our scenarios and the IEA (International Energy Agency) New Policies scenario (and our base case energy demand and outlook) do not limit emissions to be consistent with the back-calculated 450 parts per million (CO2 in the atmosphere) 2C. We also do not see governments taking the steps now that are consistent with the 2C scenario.”
According to one estimate, that Shell statement is tantamount to acknowledging that the world will disastrously vault over the 2C limit.
Charlie Kronick, climate campaigner at Greenpeace, estimates that the IEA middle New Policies scenario cited by Shell leaves the Earth facing a temperature increase of 3.7 degrees C as fossil fuels continue to be burned.
Work by international scientists has warned that a 4 degrees C rise in the planet’s temperature would bring severe droughts globally and millions of migrants seeking refuge as food supplies collapse. Desertification of parts of the globe would force agriculture on to untouched areas of the planet, while populations would have to adapt to rising sea levels, extreme weather, and increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, according to a collection of papers published by the Royal Society in 2010.
Guardian Environment (@guardianeco) May 18, 2015
Meanwhile, a recent seismic corporate event put even greater distance between Van Beurden’s words and reality. On April 8, Shell’s chief executive shocked the industry by announcing the acquisition of BG Group, the former exploration arm of British Gas, now one of the world’s biggest gas producers. Having warned industry colleagues about the discredited trade-off between jobs and the environment, Van Beurden put growth first in emphatic fashion. The BG deal is the biggest takeover in the company’s history and it clearly propels Shell deeper into fossil fuel extraction.
Putting the two businesses together makes a growing carbon footprint even bigger. Shell’s direct greenhouse gas emissions from facilities were 76 million tonnes on a CO2-equivalent basis in 2014, up 4 percent from 73 million tonnes 12 months earlier. Operations directly under BG’s control in 2014 emitted 7.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, an increase of about 600,000 tonnes, or 9 percent, on 2013. If regulators let the new partnership proceed, Shell will be increasing its oil and gas reserves by 25 percent, raising production by 20 percent and employing almost 100,000 staff. This would be a big boost given that Shell, which in its early incarnation nearly a century ago boasted of producing 11 percent of the world’s oil, has struggled to find its own oil and gas reserves through the drill bit. Fadel Gheit, the highly respected industry analyst, described the transaction as “one of the best deals the industry has ever seen.”
But Pascal Menges, manager of the Lombard Odier Global Energy Fund, which invests in the energy sector, sees failure as the driving motive behind the deal. “This shows that big oil’s growth strategy over the last 10 years is bust,” he argued. “Having bet enormous sums on eye-wateringly expensive oil production from oil sands, ultra-deep water and Arctic fields, the super majors are now ill-placed to cope with a low oil price,” he said, although oil had recently recovered from a perilous low of less than $50 per barrel this year — a price which makes profitable oil and gas exploration very difficult — to around $65.
Menges also highlighted a trend pushing Shell into exploring difficult parts of the world — such as the Canadian tar sands, Nigeria, and deep water off Brazil and the U.S. Gulf (underlined by the U.S. government’s controversial decision on 11 May to allow Shell to restart drilling in the Arctic, off the coast of Alaska).
Shell has either taken most accessible oil and gas fields or had its path blocked by states engaged in resource nationalism — governments giving licences to state-owned companies at the expense of foreign multinationals.
Shell is upfront that its takeover of BG is about profit and capability.
A spokeswoman said: “By combining BG’s portfolio and skills set with Shell’s capabilities, we can deliver a step change in the growth priorities for both of our companies. This means more deep water and more LNG [liquefied natural gas] plays where we have strong profitability and capabilities.”
This retreat to some of the most inaccessible and technically challenging oil and gas fields in the world poses, however, a further threat to Shell: the possibility of these projects being forcibly mothballed if there is global action to head off a rise of more than 2C.
Research from Carbon Tracker, a climate change thinktank, highlights all these areas — the Canadian tar sands, the U.S. Gulf and Alaska — as being at the highest risk from enforced mothballing and becoming “stranded assets” tying up billions of pounds worth of shareholder funds.
This analysis was given further weight by a study for the Norwegian government by the industry consultancy Rystad Energy. It concluded that even if the world managed to remain within the 2C limit the “largest stranded areas are offshore North and South America, west Africa, and in the Arctic”.
The BG Group deal gives Shell a significant stake in one of the most technically challenging — not to mention potentially stranded — deep water projects in the world. In the previous decade, Brazil made a mammoth oil discovery off its Atlantic coast and Shell inherited BG’s investments in those fields. The fields off Brazil are at depths of 2,100 metres (7,000 feet) compared with the 1,500 metres (4,921 feet) that BP was operating in when its Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 during a drilling operation. Deep water is expensive to operate in and, as BP found out, an environment where the consequences of serious accidents are harder to manage.
But Van Beurden rejects the stranded asset argument for Shell. In a speech to Columbia University in New York last September, he said: “In our opinion, the ‘stranded assets’ thesis underestimates the significance of rising energy demand. It underplays the role natural gas will perform in the global energy system, especially in replacing coal power plants. And it ignores the potential of innovations like carbon capture and storage.”
With Shell’s involvement in such controversial areas, there is also scrutiny of its lobbying efforts. The Union of Concerned Scientists in the U.S. has started a campaign against Shell over its continued involvement in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a rightwing nonprofit organization that has been criticized for drafting model legislation that denies any human contribution to climate change.
While companies such as Occidental Petroleum and Google have left ALEC — Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, alleged last year “they’re just literally lying” about climate change — Shell argues that it supports the organization because it promotes job creation and the free market.
In a statement, it said: “We are members of ALEC and several other similar groups across the political spectrum that foster bipartisan exchanges between elected officials. In terms of ALEC, we specifically support their pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda, and generally find commonality on issues important to the oil and gas industry.
“While there are some issues on which we have different views, we look at the totality of the organization not a single issue. This is the case with other organizations as well.”
Some critics say the “responsible image” of Shell moving into a cleaner gas sector via the BG deal masks a fossil fuel company struggling for survival in a world facing climate change.
“This is not an evil guy leading the world to destruction. He is just leading a company that is trying to find a way of maintaining this [fossil fuels] system,” said Ike Teuling, energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth Netherlands.
Fittingly for a pragmatic Dutchman, there is considerable latitude in Van Beurden’s stance on climate change. He argues that global warming is a significant issue that needs tackling but not in a way that distracts attention away from the reality of growing population, increasing prosperity and growing energy demand.
“Today, 3 billion people still lack access to the modern energy many of us take for granted,” he said. “This isn’t just about having a dustbuster or a TV set. Energy access often makes the difference between poverty and prosperity. At the same time, demand is growing. There will be more people on this planet, more people living in cities and more people rising from poverty. They will all need energy if they are to thrive. The issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change.”
This allows Van Beurden to indicate that fossil fuel critics are largely based in the largely prosperous west and are denying prosperity to those developing countries such as China and India that need oil and gas energy to become more prosperous themselves.
Included in Van Beurden’s industry speech in that hotel ballroom there were excerpts that endorsed the status quo. “Yes, climate change is real. And yes, renewables are an indispensable part of the future energy mix. But no, provoking a sudden death of fossil fuels isn’t a plausible plan,” he suggested.
Nothing in Shell’s current strategy suggests Van Beurden is going to present a plausible alternative.
Editor’s note: This story is part of Keep it in the Ground, a campaign launched by the Guardian in March calling on the Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation to shift their investments from fossil fuels. To date more than 200,000 people have signed our petition. Both the Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation say they carefully screen the companies they invest in to ensure they act in line with their goals. This piece, and others to follow this week, are the result of Guardian reporters’ investigations into some of the companies the foundations invest in, revealing how they operate both environmentally and socially – Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor in chief.
Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics, Science
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