Fossil fuels to the fore as president signs orders to review clean power plan, lift ban on coal leases and discard expert thinking on true cost of carbon emissions
Update, 12:45 p.m. March 28: Trump signed the executive order that will trigger a review of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's signature policy to address climate change, late this afternoon. This article has been updated to reflect this development.
Donald Trump launched a major assault on Barack Obama’s climate change legacy on Tuesday with a series of orders that undermine America’s commitment to the Paris agreement.
Asked by The Guardian if Trump accepted the science of manmade climate change, a senior White House official replied: “Sure, yes, I guess, I think the president understands the disagreement over the policy response and you’ll see that in the order … We’re taking a different path.”
Alisdare Hickson / Flickr
Trump will sign executive orders and presidential memoranda that suspend, rescind or review several measures that were central to Obama’s effort to combat global warming. They include a review of the clean power plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.
Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” has criticized the power-plant rule and others as placing an unnecessary burden on American workers and the struggling US coal industry.
The official acknowledged the orders’ effects would not be immediate, especially in view of legal challenges. “I would bet a good deal I’m sure there’ll be litigation … Whether that’s three years, two years or one year, I don’t know. It’s going to take some time.”
The US agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels under the Paris agreement. Obama’s clean power plan is the chief policy designed to lower US emissions. In 2015 it was billed as the strongest action ever on climate change by a US president but criticized for targeting coal-fired power plants.
Richard Lazarus, an environmental law expert at Harvard University, said: “It was launched before Paris for a reason. Everyone knew if the United States didn’t make a serious commitment, Paris wouldn’t happen. It’s now an open question how the rest of the world is going to respond if the United States eliminates a linchpin of its commitment.”
Trump will also aim to wipe out Obama’s climate action …more
Conservationists are working to recast perceptions of native pollinators in the wake of controversial culls
Earlier this year I visited Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean famous for its powdery white sand beaches and beautiful seascapes. Lying within the tropical belt, sunsets in Mauritius sneak up quickly and end suddenly. They also coincide with a special event every evening: the ghostly silhouettes of Mauritian fruit bats beginning their nightly forays across the island’s tropical forests. Like shadows, the bats’ twilight migrations are magical and otherworldly. These might also be at risk due to ongoing culls of the vulnerable species. Local conservationists are working hard to ensure the evening spectacle is maintained for decades to come.
photo by Jacque De Speville
With wings that can span two-and-a-half feet, Mauritian fruit bats are huge. Also known as the Mauritian flying fox, these mega-bats are the largest endemic mammal on Mauritius. The bats used to live on the nearby island of Reunion, but became extinct there at the beginning of the nineteenth century due to deforestation and hunting. The remaining population on Mauritius is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.
Mauritian fruit bats forage long distances every night and feed on a variety of fruits, both native and non-native. As they traverse the island, they disperse seeds in their droppings, which in turn help spread and germinate new fruit trees. Additionally, the fruit bats’ nightly travels help pollinate many of the plants they feed on, bolstering fruit production. As Mauritius’s only endemic mammal, the bats play a vital role in the health of the island’s native trees and plants, many of which are threatened and endemic as well.
However, in spite of the multiple ecosystem services the bats provide, many local farmers perceive them as pests and raiders of their fruit trees, particularly mango and litchi crops. (There is little evidence that the bats cause more damage to the island's fruit trees than factors such as weather, over-ripening, or birds.) The Mauritian government has taken a similar position, asserting that fruit bat populations have grown large enough for the species to become a pest, and that action is necessary to maintain ecological balance and protect economically important agricultural operations..
From California to British Columbia, environmentalists are gearing up for an epic fight against fossil fuel infrastructure
Despite a string of victories in the last few years limiting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure on the West Coast, Donald Trump’s presidency shows it was never going to be easy to defeat the oil and gas industry.
In two months, Trump has moved to revive the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline routes that had been blocked by the Obama administration, expedite environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, and reverse fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. He is expected to reverse environmental regulation policies established under President Obama, including the Clean Power Plan, and will not likely adhere to the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Photo courtesy of Backbone Campaign
Republicans in Congress have followed suit, voting to kill two regulations passed in the waning days of the Obama administration: the Stream Buffer Rule, which prohibits coal companies from dumping toxic waste into an estimated 6,100 miles of streams; and a Bureau of Land Management rule that directs energy companies to capture natural gas from drilling operations on public lands rather than allowing them to burn or vent it into the atmosphere, where it’s heat-trapping potential is 84 times that of carbon dioxide.
For now, the situation is “scary,” says Mia Reback, a climate justice organizer with 350 PDX in Portland, Oregon. At the same time, she said, Trump has sparked “a groundswell of people coming into the climate justice movement who are looking to strategically and thoughtfully take action to create political change.” At her organization alone, orientation attendance has increased tenfold since the election.
All along the West Coast, environmentalists are gearing up for an epic fight. Advocates of a clean energy economy talk of building a “thin green line” from California to British Columbia to protect and improve on gains against the spread of fossil fuel infrastructure so that the production, use, and export of oil, coal, and natural gas steadily decline.
The fronts in this war are multiplying—along pipelines and rail lines, in the courts and media, through finance and all levels of government—even as an emboldened fossil fuel industry tries to roll back gains for climate justice and revive …more
Our public lands, now under siege, offer space for quiet reflection, contemplation, and renewed faith in our agency
After three days wandering off trail along the Continental Divide, we reached the beating heart of wild America. Before us: the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, an elk’s bugle from the point farthest from a paved road in the lower-48. Less than halfway into our weeklong, eighty-mile journey through northwest Wyoming, we’d already encountered more wildlife than we had seen in years of backcountry travel.
Photo by Tim Lumley
It was our layover day, time to climb to the sacred source of the Yellowstone and trade our fifty-plus pound packs for something a little lighter. I’d dreamed of this moment. The previous night’s thunderstorm — the type that makes you wonder if you’ll live to see another day — had left me sleepless and on edge.
Blue skies beckoned beyond our frost-covered tent. We struck out with high hopes across wide-open terrain. It wasn’t long before the tables turned. At a saddle before our final push, a brown giant peered down at us, only a hundred yards upslope. Our hearts pounded. Hump distinctly visible, the bear woofed, turned, and ambled out of sight. It was the fourth grizzly of the trip. We scanned for additional critters. Should we continue?
* * *
Many Americans would wonder what my wife and I were doing on that remote mountainside, dozens of miles from pavement, no one to call for help. But here in the West — and everywhere public lands are found — we feel the pull of empty spaces on the map. In the wild, our terror is our joy. Our isolation is our freedom. Refugees from modern civilization, we search for spiritual renewal, exercising our God-given quads in pursuit of our inalienable rights. For some, an experience like this might happen once-in-a-lifetime. For others, it’s a weekly ritual.
Our American birthright is 640-million acres of public land that belong to you and me. On April 15 — tax day — we make a mortgage payment on this land. Every time we fill a glass of water, cast a fly, or bask in alpine splendor, we reap the rewards of ownership.
As Westerners, public lands are where many of us live life to the fullest. Republican or Democrat, if we are lucky enough to enjoy these corners of wild America, our prized memories often harken …more
Report says move to cleaner energy in China and India is discouraging the building of coal-fired units
The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.
The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club, and research network CoalSwarm.
Photo by Coal Power Plant
The report said the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62 percent in 2016 on the year before, and work was frozen at more than a hundred sites in China and India. In January, China’s energy regulator halted work on a further 100 new coal-fired projects, suggesting the trend was not going away.
Researchers for the groups said a record amount of coal power station capacity was also retired globally last year, mostly in the US and EU, including Scotland closing its last one.
One of the reasons for the fall in new plants was that too much capacity had been built in recent years, particularly in China.
Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the IEEFA, a pro-green energy thinktank, said the falling demand for coal power in China and India and plans to curtail new power stations shows that the world has overestimated the need for the fossil fuel.
The report, which tracked power stations through publicly available information, company reports, and satellite imagery, said 65GW of new coal-fired units had started construction between January 2016 and January 2017, down 62 percent on the 170GW the year before. Most coal power stations are around 1GW or greater in capacity.
Lauri Myllyvirta, a Beijing-based energy analyst at Greenpeace and author of the report, said the fall in China was largely down to government policy to clean up air pollution and encourage clean energy. That policy shows no sign of stopping — at the weekend, Beijing ordered its last coal-fired power plant to close in a bid to improve the capital’s air quality.
Myllyvirta said that in India the decline was down to slower-than-expected growth in energy demand, and renewable energy projects being installed rapidly.
Paul Massara, the former chief executive of RWE Npower …more
In a region better known for oil, the Middle Eastern nation is beginning to look for alternatives
Perched over the Strait of Hormuz and above the 17 million oil barrels that sail through it each day, the Sultanate of Oman is something of a regional outlier. Nestled among a cluster of hydrocarbon-producing heavyweights, Oman might appear unlikely as a burgeoning champion of renewable energy. Yet the Middle Eastern nation is embarking on a search for new sources to fuel the country’s future energy needs.
Photo by GlassPoint Solar
For decades, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — have financed ambitious programs for urban development and modernization via enormous oil and gas revenues. Collectively, these states possess roughly a third of proven global oil reserves. They are also six of the thirteen worst per capita CO2 emitters in the world, each producing more carbon dioxide per person than the United Kingdom, Russia, or China.
Oman cannot, however, rely on the same fossil fuel resources as its opulent neighbours. For starters, Oman’s oil stocks pale in comparison to the GCC giants: it would take 50 Oman’s to eclipse Saudi Arabia’s cache of existing crude stocks. Oil reserves in Oman are generally more difficult to access, more expensive to exploit, and are also likely to run dry within 40 years (while emirates like Abu Dhabi are expected to be able to produce for another century).
Oman’s gas policy is also unsustainable. Gas accounts for 97.5 percent of the country’s fuel used for power generation. Despite possessing vast quantities of natural gas, domestic needs regularly outstrip production. As a result, the government is forced to import billions of cubic meters of gas from Qatar each year to cover a national deficit.
Additionally, the country’s growing population, which is both youthful and well educated, is driving demand for new housing developments and increased living standards. This is placing greater strain on the national power grid and leading to widespread blackouts. Indeed, in 2014, the power system in Oman’s second largest city of Salalah — serving roughly 350,000 people — experienced a total system blackout for almost five hours. Similar blackouts occur more regularly in regional areas reliant on diesel generators, which account for the remaining 2.5 percent of fuel used for electricity production. To meet expected demand, the system that …more
Logging reduces potential forest sink by over a third, hampering critical action to curb global warming, says new report
Of the many sources of carbon emissions the United States must reduce in order to thwart climate change, the most surprising may be its forests. According to a new report out today, logging in US forests reduces the potential forest carbon sink by over a third, preventing critical action on climate change.
If the US is serious about solving the climate crisis and providing communities a safety net against extreme weather events, it needs to scale-up its forest protection substantially, says the report, The Great American Stand: US Forests and the Climate Emergency, released by the conservation group Dogwood Alliance on the International Day of Forests.
Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli
Understanding the scope of CO2 emissions from deforestation and forest degradation requires a long view.
The report estimates that 60 percent of the carbon emitted from logging between 1700-1935 has yet to be recovered from the atmosphere. This makes planting trees today to mitigate current emissions from fossil fuels problematic — trees planted today cannot be viewed as offsetting fossil fuel emissions when the US has yet to offset carbon emissions from past logging, the report says.
“We need to reduce emissions from logging in the US and massively scale up the amount of carbon stored in our forests in the next 20 to 30 years,” to reach negative emissions and curb the worst effects of climate change, says Danna Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Dogwood Alliance and co-author of the report.
The US is the largest producer and consumer of wood products in the world. From 2000 to 2012, forests in the Southeastern US experienced four times the rate of disturbance from logging as South American rainforests. And yet, the logging industry still boasts that US forests sequester 11 to 13 percent of US carbon emissions each year. “We hear this all the time… as if this is something to be proud of,” laments Smith. Considering that the global average for carbon sequestration by forests is 25 percent, it is apparent that the US has a lot of catching up to do.
Currently, logging in the US is reducing the capacity of US forests to store carbon by …more