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The Bosses at TransCanada May Not be Enjoying Their Turkey

Bad news piles up for company over Keystone XL pipeline

As millions celebrate Thanksgiving, the bosses at TransCanada will not be in a cheerful, festive mood.

They will be wondering what went wrong over the last week, after they seem to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

protest sign-windmills not oil spillsPhoto by maisa_nyc/Flickr Every day the pipeline is delayed, investors will get more and more nervous about investing in an increasingly obsolete pipeline.

This time last week, the company was seen to be one regulatory announcement away from completing its highly controversial Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, which will transport the dirty tar sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries in the US.

But everything started to go wrong last Thursday, when the company suffered its first mishap by spilling some 210,000 gallons of crude across farmland in Dakota. It was the third major spill along the KXL route in ten years.

Estimates of the exact size of the spill vary, but Vice News later reported local landowners saying the spill could be as large as 600,000 gallons. Kent Moeckly, a landowner and member of the Dakota Rural Action Group, told VICE News that TransCanada thought it was 200,000 gallons. What we found out working with TransCanada, it could very well be 600,000 gallons.”

So that was mishap one for the company.

The spill came days before a crucial meeting of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which was voting on whether to allow a 275-mile section of the pipeline to be built through the state. It was seen as the last significant regulatory hurdle for the pipeline.

The one thing working in the company’s favor is that, as the New York Times reported before the decision, “under Nebraska law, the state Public Service Commission is not allowed to consider pipeline safety and spill risks when deciding on a permit.”

So crucially for the company the Commission could not take the spill into consideration. And although on Monday they voted 3-2 in favor of allowing the pipeline to be built, they also voted for what is known officially as the Mainline Alternative Route. This is not what the company wanted.

As I blogged on Tuesday: “It would be wrong to see this as a victory for TransCanada. You could actually see it as a defeat … Instead of getting their preferred route, the company now has to go and persuade dozens of …more

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Of Climate Change, Greenland, and the Kalaallit People

In Conversation with Yatri Niehaus, director of new documentary Stella Polaris Ulloriarsuaq

photo of directorPhoto courtesy of Stella Polaris Ulloriarsuaq

Stella Polaris Ulloriarsuaq had its world premiere at the 2017 LA Film Festival. In addition to stunning cinematography of Greenland, the documentary also explores how global warming affects the island’s Native people. By focusing on how climate change impacts human beings and their culture, Stella is distinct from other nonfiction eco-docs that zoom in more on the environment and wildlife, such as 2017’s The Penguin Counters, which concentrated on how a heating planet changes the lives of chinstrap penguins in Antarctica. 

Director Yatri Niehaus grew up in the Canary Islands, an autonomous region of Spain located off of the coast of Africa. His father was from Ghana, his mother from Germany. Previously, Niehaus wrote and helmed shorts, such as the 2012 Karim. Stella Polaris Ulloriarsuaq is his breakthrough directorial debut of a feature-length film. Niehaus discusses Stella Polaris Ulloriarsuaq and more in this exclusive interview.

Tell us a bit about your background. Where were you born and raised? Where did you study cinema? What other films have you've worked on?

I was born in Berlin, Germany, but grew up on small and beautiful island in the Atlantic, called La Gomera. It’s a great place to be as a kid, but as I grew older, it had its limitations. I studied directing at the University for Television and Film in Munich, Germany, and I'm now working on my thesis film. I live in Berlin, though. I’ve made a couple of short films at my school, but Stella Polaris is really my first film that I'm not keeping in the proverbial poison cabinet.

How did Stella Polaris Ulloriarsuaq come about?

Nomi Baumgartl, Sven Nieder, and Laali Lyberth had worked on Stella Polaris for a while before I came on board. Nomi had, after having worked on another Greenland-themed photo art project called Arctic Message, envisioned a photo art and film project for Stella Polaris. She was a long-time friend of the late Gerhard Pilz, who was a professor at my school and they had planned to involve students from the documentary class. Unfortunately he passed away before that could happen, and so they ended up asking students directly if someone would like to participate.

I didn’t know too much about the photo art project itself when I first heard about it. But the prospect of going on an adventure to Greenland intrigued me, so I applied. And since there was hardly any funding, it was unclear what would …more

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Clowning Around for Climate Action

Can an army of pranksters spur interest in the climate fight?

“Laughter is the best medicine.” Like every cliché, this old adage springs from a kernel of truth. And in these distressing political times, a good dose of laughter may be just what the doctor ordered, particularly when it comes to the challenging task of addressing climate chaos.

photo of clownsPhoto courtesy of Stepping Up PodcastClimate change is serious business, but some climate clowns are donning red noses to turn the public's attention to global warming.

The Stepping Up podcast is taking laughter very seriously in its third episode, “Clowning Around.”

“I like to think of it as a lifestyle. Being a prankster activist is a lifestyle choice,” says Larry Bogad, the star of the “Clowning Around” story and a veteran political prankster. He has spent a lifetime creating spectacles on the street, in the halls of government, and in corporate board rooms. Bogad always shows up with his First Amendment tote bag, packed with the costumes and paraphernalia he might need to create a scene.

And a lot of his foolishness is laser focused on the climate conundrum. His Clown Army, dressed in classic red noses and rainbow wigs, shows up at a climate protest to shower the police with flowers and kisses. In a black cassock, Bogad plays the priest, leading a funeral procession for the last ice on Earth. Posing as an officer of the fictitious Oil Enforcement Agency, he slips into an auto trade show to wrap gas guzzling SUVs in police tape. A thrift store suit and a business card serve as entrée into a meeting of oil execs, or a press conference, or a TV talk show where Bogad and his pals have slipped in under the guise of legitimate company VPs to denounce drilling and pronounce the end of oil. 

Clowning around, creative pranksterism, collective buffoonery, beautiful trouble, serious play; these are various ways in which Bogad characterizes what he is doing. On the surface, it all looks like fun and games. But the underlying goal is to get our attention and get us to take action. People turn away from a flier proffered on the street and doze off during a power point presentation. But Bogad’s wild and crazy antics, which point to the contradictions and lies embedded in American climate policy, may just get us to stop, laugh, and join the conversation.

These pranks occur in a specific time and place. But their effect is magnified by what Bogad calls “earned media coverage.” …more

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Nebraska Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Despite Opposition

Pipeline opponents have 30 days to appeal the decision

Less than five minutes into this morning’s meeting of the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC), regulators voted three to two to approve the “mainline alternative route” of the Keystone XL pipeline. And with that, the last hurdle facing Canadian company TransCanada was cleared leaving, paving the way for construction of the controversial pipeline. Nebraska was the last state reviewing the pipeline – the other states through which KXL will pass have already approved the project.

 SOLAR XL #2Photo by Alex Matzke / Bold NebraskaIn September, Bold Nebraska and Pipeline Fighters installed solar panels in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, on Diana and "Stix" Steskal's Prairierose Farm near Atkinson, NE.

Before the vote, Nebraska District 2 Commissioner Crystal Rhoades spoke for two minutes against the pipeline route citing six main areas of concern including the fragile ecosystem through which the pipeline would travel, the lack of positive economic impact for the state, and the lack of consultation with the Native American tribes in the region.

TransCanada submitted three routes for approval including the company’s preferred route as well as a mainline alternative route and a Sandhills route. Commissioners Frank E. Landis Jr., Tim Schram, and Rod Johnson voted to approve the mainline alternative route, while Rhoades and Mary Ridder voted against. 

The 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline will transport more than 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska where it will be connected to the Keystone pipeline system and run to refineries and export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama blocked the project in 2015 citing its impacts on climate change, but President Trump reversed his decision earlier this year.

Approval of the $8-billion project came despite a section of the Keystone pipeline leaking almost 800,000 liters of oil in nearby South Dakota just last week before being shut down by TransCanada on November 16.

Opponents have vigorously fought the pipeline, including through the construction of solar panels in Nebraska along its proposed route. Despite the loss, environmental and Indigenous groups vowed to continue the fight against the Keystone XL.

“Today’s decision is no guarantee that this pipeline will ever be built. Nebraska opted not to give TransCanada its preferred route through the state, so the company now has more hurdles in front of its beleaguered pipeline,” said Greenpeace Canada Climate and Energy Campaigner Mike Hudema. “Given last week's reminder of the dangers pipelines …more

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Bonn Climate Summit Makes Progress But Leaves Much To Do

UN negotiations lay the groundwork for implementing the landmark Paris deal, though difficult decisions lay ahead

The world’s nations were confident they were making important progress in turning continued political commitment into real world action, as the global climate change summit in Bonn was drawing to a close on Friday.

The UN talks were tasked with the vital, if unglamorous, task of converting the unprecedented global agreement sealed in Paris in 2015 from a symbolic moment into a set of rules by which nations can combine to defeat global warming. Currently, the world is on track for at least 3C of global warming — a catastrophic outcome that would lead to severe impacts around the world.

photo of COP23 climate action now signphoto by Takver, FlickrActivists outside the conference center in Bonn push for strong climate action. As the summit came to an end on Friday, delegates were confident they were making progress.

The importance of the task was emphasized by Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister and president of the summit: “We are not simply negotiating words on a page, but we are representing all our people and the places they call home.”

The Paris rulebook, which must be finalized by the end of 2018, now has a skeleton: a set of headings relating to how action on emissions is reported and monitored. Nations have also fleshed this out with suggested detailed texts, but these are often contradictory and will need to be resolved next year. “The worst outcome would have been to end up with empty pages, but that is not going to happen,” said a German negotiator.

One issue that did flare up during talks was the action being taken by rich nations before the Paris deal kicks in in 2020. Developing nations argued not enough is being done and, with the UN climate negotiations running largely on trust, the issue became unexpectedly serious before being defused by commitments to a “stocktake” of action in 2018 and 2019.

The final hours of the negotiations were held up by a technical row over climate funding from rich nations, always a sensitive topic. Poorer and vulnerable nations want donor countries to set out in advance how much they will provide and when, so recipient nations can plan their climate action. Rich nations claim they are not unwilling, but that making promises on behalf of future governments is legally complex.

Progress in raising the importance of gender, Indigenous …more

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Trump Administration Reverses Ban on Elephant Trophy Imports

Campaigners condemn reversal, fear it will set back global efforts to stem the ivory trade

The Trump administration has agreed to allow the remains of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back to the US, a reversal of an Obama-era ban.

photo of elephants in zimbabwephoto by Steven dosRemediosElephants in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. The Trump administration has reversed a ban elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

In 2014, the President Obama's administration banned the imports of elephant trophies to protect the species. "Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species," they said at the time.

African elephant populations had once numbered between three to five million in the last century, but have been severely reduced to its current levels of 415,000 animals due to hunting and the illegal ivory trade, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

But the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the Department of Interior, said Tuesday that reversing the ban would help preserve the species.

“The hunting and management programs for African elephants will enhance the survival of the species in the wild," a FWS spokesperson said.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation."

Under the new change, hunters who legally hunt or hunted an elephant in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018, or in Zambia between 2016 to 2018 can apply for a permit to import their trophy into the US.

Incidentally, the policy switch was first announced by Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group that teamed up with the National Rifle Association to sue to block the 2014 ban.

“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the FWS recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations," said Safari Club International President Paul Babaz.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife."

But Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection US Wildlife Campaign Manager, said she was “appalled" at the decision by the Department of the Interior and is urging the Trump administration to reconsider.

“Trophy hunting causes prolonged, immense suffering for elephants and fuels demand for wild animal products, opening …more

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From the War in Iraq to the War against Poaching

Damien Mander’s fight to protect African wildlife

Eight years ago, Damien Mander was trekking through the bush in Zimbabwe when he saw something harrowing — a half-dead buffalo floundering on the ground, trying to free herself from a wire snare gripping her legs. The ranger accompanying Mander said the buffalo must have been there for three days. 

photo of Damien manderPhoto by Erico HillerConservation wasn't always at the forefront of Damien Mander's life, but he found new purpose in the fight to protect wildlife in Southern Africa.

“She’d ripped her pelvis in half,” Mander, a 38-year-old Australian conservationist, told me when we met in Washington DC. “Up close, you could hear the bones grinding against each other. She wanted to be put out of her misery, so we did it.”

The ranger raised his rifle and shot the buffalo, and as the life went out of her, she gave birth to a stillborn calf. Mander often refers to this moment — as well as the time he came across a dead elephant with its tusks hacked from its face — as what spurred him to action. In 2009, he founded the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), an organization dedicated to protecting African wildlife. “I saw a problem and I wanted to do something about it,” Mander said. “So this was my solution.”

Conservation wasn’t always at the forefront of Mander’s life. Prior to founding the IAPF, he spent ten years in the military. Mander, who hails from Mornington, Victoria, joined the Royal Australian navy as a clearance diver when he was 19; then he trained to become a sniper for a special operations unit. In 2005, he left for Iraq, where he worked as part of a management team that trained Iraqi special police for war. Each of these training sessions lasted only six weeks.

“Six weeks is not enough time [for those] who have an almost-zero background in what we’re about to ask them to do — to go into a war zone,” Mander said. “So three things happened to those people — they either deserted, joined the militia and fought back against us, or they got killed.”

By 2008, Mander had completed 12 tours of Iraq, and the nature of the work had taken a toll on him. “I ended up in South America,” Mander said. “I went off the rails. Lots of drugs and alcohol.” But Mander eventually pulled his life back together, and found new purpose with his mission to protect African wildlife. 


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