No end of bad news

by Milan on October 8, 2018

in Climate change, Updates

The IPCC has issued a new warning about how we have a stark and immediate choice between abandoning fossil fuels or dangerously destabilizing the Earth’s climate.

If anything, we seem less well prepared than ever to respond. Instead of a brave experiment in cooperation and moving beyond narrow notions of national sovereignty, the EU is fracturing into bickering sub units. The United States is run by incompetents. Canada’s government is scrupulously committed to fighting climate change, just as long as that doesn’t actually require reducing domestic or global GHG pollution. And meanwhile Indian and Chinese fossil fuel demand keeps galloping upward.

There’s the increasingly abstract hope that as global conditions continue to worsen somehow governments will get seriously, and then there is the sealed envelope hope/fear that we will contain the worst via geoengineering.

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A Finnish government representative is saying they will introduce legislation to phase out coal and bring in a carbon tax in 2018.

Their efforts to build new nuclear reactors are less promising.

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The Pembina Institute’s Binnu Jeyakumar recently wrote an op-ed about the future of coal:

In the midst of all the recent colourful political events south of the border, you might have easily missed an irony that Alberta would be wise to pay attention to. Even as the U.S. administration promised to roll back environmental regulations and climate commitments, U.S. coal plants continued to shut down. In fact, on the same day the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement, three coal-fired plants were shut down. In 2016 alone, U.S. utilities retired more than twice the total coal capacity of Alberta.

Coal plants are shutting down across the globe because of their negative health impacts and low profitability. Coal has a hard time competing with cheap gas generation and increasingly cheap renewable energy. It is why financiers and utilities are stepping away from coal in all OECD countries. In growing economies, the investment in renewables is far exceeding that in coal power; and coal usage has peaked in countries such as China. As the full cost of electricity production (including the impacts of emissions) is accounted for, coal plants will only become more expensive.

The weight of the evidence is against those, such as Robin Campbell, who blame regulations and government policy for coal shut downs. However, Mr. Campbell is right in pointing out the need for a rhetoric-free transition plan that is sensitive to the needs of the workers and the communities. But such a plan must also be free of rhetoric about the future of coal; the phase-out is inevitable.

It’s an encouraging perspective, though it doesn’t seem to fully factor in China’s frightening enthusiasm for building new coal plants abroad.

Jeyakumar goes on to stress the importance of retraining, which I agree is crucial both ethically and pragmatically. It’s a hard sell to tell a community that the good of the world requires them to rapidly transition away from an industry which has been an important economic driver. It’s callous and counterproductive not to offer material assistance for doing so.

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First — any expectation that ‘business as usual’ in the sense of rapid growth in production will return is ill-founded. Most importantly, this is because an effective global transition to low-carbon energy requires countries like Canada to stop investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure as well as to develop serious plans to phase out fossil fuel production that already exists. Combined with volatile fossil fuel prices, the very high per-barrel cost of production in the bitumen sands, and the heavy environmental impact there is no reason to expect a return to the rapid growth projections which were once do dominant in Canada.

Second — the fact that any political jurisdiction happens to own coal, oil, and gas doesn’t grant a right to exploit these resources regardless of the impact on others. Based on what we have learned about the harm caused by climate change, it’s ethically and politically imperative that the arbitrary use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground for carbon pollution comes to an end.

By all means we should be providing support to individuals and communities that want to transition away from the fossil fuel industry. What we need to collectively reject is the idea that any jurisdiction has the right to impose climate change on the rest of the world and future generations. People deserve support in transitioning away from fossil fuel dependence, but there is every reason for Canada as a whole to reject new fossil fuel export infrastructure, particularly bitumen sands pipelines and coal ports.

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Why divest from fossil fuels?

April 16, 2015

Campaigns at universities especially can benefit from this document, prepared for the University of Toronto: The Fossil Fuel Industry and the Case for Divestment: Update, by Toronto350.org Contributors to original brief: Milan Ilnyckyj, Emily Barrette, Stuart Basden, Tim Berk, Tamara Brown- stone, Mie Inouye, Neal Lantela, Amy Luo, Monica Resendes, Jessica Vogt, Miriam Wilson, Cameron […]

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Germany and Japan reverting to coal

May 3, 2014

Disheartening news: America’s gas boom has prompted its coal miners to seek new export markets, sending prices plunging on world markets. So long as consumers do not pay for coal’s horrible side-effects, that makes it irresistibly cheap. In Germany power from coal now costs half the price of watts from a gas-fired power station. It […]

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IPCC AR5, Working Group I summary video

December 28, 2013

Working Group I of the IPCC has released a nine-minute video summarizing the science in the first part of the latest assessment report:

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Democracy Now! “Will 350.org Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign Be Key Tactic in 2013 Battle over Climate Change?”

January 3, 2013

Today, the radio program Democracy Now! featured Bill McKibben, talking about the 350.org divestment campaign. There is information about it on their website.

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Bad news on coal

November 25, 2012

BBC: Coal resurgence calls undermine clean energy commitments Related: The World Falls Back In Love With Coal

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Mark Jacobson’s bold plan for renewables

November 5, 2012

This is a talk given by Mark Jacobson from Stanford, entitled: “A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables” His slides are also available.

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