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New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

Salient| The Play’s the Thing

Salient.

February 2, 2014

 

 

We did get something – a gift – after the election. … It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate. … And our little girl – Tricia, the 6-year old – named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.
– Richard Nixon, “Checkers” speech after accepting illegal campaign contributions

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit. My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy.
– Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union address

You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
– William Jennings Bryan, the Boy Orator of the Platte, 1896 Democratic nomination speech

Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.
– Huey Long, the Kingfish, slogan from 1928 Louisiana gubernatorial campaign

You didn’t build that.
– Elizabeth Warren, slogan from 2012 Massachusetts campaign for US Senate

The play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll capture the conscience of the king.
– Shakespeare, “Hamlet”

As usual, I was struck by the pageantry and sheer theatricality of this Tuesday’s State of the Union address. As usual, you had the props – human and otherwise – on full display. As usual, you had the rhetorical flourishes, the ritualized audience behavior, the talking head performances before and after. Unusual for me, though, was the professionally scripted and rehearsed television broadcast production, such that the cameras were trained on the human props before the President referred to them in his speech. A bravura technical performance, to be sure.

Last week’s note focused on the primal human behavior of dance. This week it’s the primal human behavior of theatre, of the representation of stories, particularly the play-within-a-play…a fundamental trope of human story-telling from Hamlet to The Simpsons.

Daniel Maclise, “The Play Scene” (1842)

Matt Groening, “The Simpsons”

There’s the ostensible meaning of the spoken words and the performance, and there’s the ostensible audience to whom the words and performance are addressed. But then there’s the real meaning of the words, and the real audience to whom the words are addressed. And then maybe there’s a meaning and an audience beyond that. This is the recursive, strategic nature of public communications. These multi-level games are the beating hearts of both politics and economics, and looking at these behaviors through the lens of game theory can help us both see the social world more clearly and call more things by their proper names.

We expect this sort of linguistic game-playing in politics. It’s what politicians DO, whether it’s Elizabeth Warren’s “You didn’t build that” speeches putting a modern slant on the same language and imagery of populism and class warfare used by William Jennings Bryan in the 1890’s and Huey “Kingfish” Long in the 1920’s, or whether it’s the entire Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” of coded language to maintain racist voting blocs post the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you’ve never read political operative extraordinaire Lee Atwater’s infamous interview on the subject, you really should. And yes, I know that Atwater’s point was that overt racist appeals were diminishing in the South as the language changed, but does anyone doubt that Atwater would use language straight from the KKK handbook if he thought it were still an effective campaign tool? It’s not that he thinks racism is wrong or even distasteful in the context of a political campaign, any more than Elizabeth Warren would be opposed to burning Jamie Dimon in effigy (or maybe in person) at her next campaign rally … it’s just an unpopular tactic today, at least in its unvarnished form. But if it works tomorrow? Sure, why not? In the immortal words of Al Davis, “Just win, baby.”

This sort of linguistic game-playing is not a modern phenomenon. It is a quintessential human phenomenon, played just as effectively by Pericles 2,500 years ago as it is by politicians today. My favorite example of a linguistic play-within-a-play was staged 150 years ago by an undisputed American political genius: Abraham Lincoln. We’re all familiar with the Lincoln-Douglas debates as some sort of shining example of civic participation and civil discourse, but few know the politics behind those debates. Lincoln lost that 1858 election to Stephen Douglas for the US Senate (well, he won the aggregate popular vote by a slim margin, but US Senators were still chosen by state legislatures back then, and the allocation of votes within the Illinois legislature gave Douglas a clear victory). But the way he lost that Senate race … the way Lincoln played the game … won him the Presidency in 1860.

Here was the central question of those debates, the way in which Lincoln framed the language of the debate to give himself the best chance of winning the larger political game: should the citizens of a Territory have the right to decide whether or not to allow slavery in that Territory? Every time Douglas tried to move the debate to some other topic (and seeing as how Illinois was, of course, a state rather than a Territory, you can understand why other topics might be of interest), Lincoln moved it right back. Every time the crowd’s attention seemed to wane in the subject, Lincoln would say something certain to inflame his opponents in the crowd, drawing Douglas back into the fight. Lincoln’s position on this question may surprise you. He was adamantly opposed to popular sovereignty in the Territories, even when the majority opposed slavery (like Kansas). Lincoln’s position was not only anti-slavery, but also (and perhaps more importantly to Lincoln from a political game perspective) anti-states’ rights and local sovereignty.

Why? Lincoln’s question was not really directed at Douglas, the immediate audience. Nor was it really directed at the crowds of voters in the various Illinois towns where they debated. Nor was it really directed at the Illinois newspaper reporters who carried the debates across the entire state of Illinois. It was really directed at a national audience of Republican voters, because Lincoln knew that the Illinois Senate race in 1858 was just a warm-up for the Presidential election of 1860. If Douglas agreed with Lincoln on the Territorial sovereignty question, then he would lose the only issue where he was more popular than Lincoln within Illinois … Douglas would lose the Senate race and fatally damage his chances in the national Democratic primary. If Douglas disagreed with Lincoln, then he would probably win the Illinois Senate race and put himself in a reasonable position to win the national Democratic primary, but not without splitting his own party (Southern Democrats wanted slavery legalized in Territories even if the majority voted it down). Lincoln was playing a game four layers deep! He didn’t care about “winning” the debate. He didn’t care about winning the crowd. He didn’t really care about winning the Illinois Senate election. All of those things would be nice, but it was the fourth level – winning the national Republican primary and the national Presidential election of 1860 – where Lincoln was focused.

Lincoln’s multi-level game strategy worked perfectly. The Democratic party split into Northern and Southern factions (really into three factions if you count the Constitutional Union, which drew principally from former Southern Whigs), giving the Republicans a clean sweep of the Northern states and Electoral College domination even though Lincoln received less than 40% of the popular vote nation-wide. Douglas – the candidate of the (Northern) Democratic Party – finished second in the popular vote with 30% of the vote, but carried only one state (Missouri) and ended up with a mere 12 Electoral College votes, compared to Lincoln’s 180. Not bad for a former Congressman from a frontier state who couldn’t even win a Senate seat.

I’m always surprised when people who are quite aware of the linguistic game-playing that creates the fabric of politics are somehow blind to the same linguistic shaping of the fabric of economics and market behavior. I shouldn’t be surprised – as Upton Sinclair said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” – but still. We don’t expect our politics to be “scientific” or our politicians to be anything less than fallible humans, but somehow we expect Truth with a capital T when it comes to economics. There’s a tendency to treat economic communications and signals – whether it’s from a Famous CEO, a Famous Investor, a Famous Economist, a Famous TV Personality, or a Central Banker – as somehow less theatrical or less staged for a larger purpose than political speech. But this is a mistake. When Ben Bernanke said that the Fed would increasingly use its communications as a policy tool, he was declaring his intention to start playing a linguistic game. Or rather, his intention to play the game even harder than it had been played in the past. When Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourg Prime Minister and head of the Eurogroup Council, said of European monetary policy “when it becomes serious you have to lie,” he was simply saying what every successful game-player knows: sometimes you have to bluff. Some Central Bankers are pretty good poker players (Draghi, for example); others … not so much. But they are all playing the Common Knowledge Game as hard as they can, they’re getting better at it, and they’re not going to stop. If you don’t understand the rules of this game, if you don’t listen to what is being said in the context of game-playing, then you are placed at a disadvantage versus those who do. You will not understand the WHY that exists behind the public statements.

There’s a slightly different linguistic game going on in the financial media, but no less important for understanding market outcomes. I’ll take CNBC as an example, but it’s just an example…you could make the same observations about any other media outlet. Within CNBC, Jim Cramer is everyone’s favorite whipping boy when it comes to complaints about media theatrics, but this is missing the forest for the trees. At least Cramer lets us in on the play-within-a-play conceit without constantly pretending that a daily price chart or a market “heat map” is anything other than a theatrical prop. If anything, Cramer’s performance is a paragon of honesty compared to the performances of the “news” hosts or the interchangeable “traders” on shows like “Fast Money.” XKCD published this cartoon in reference to ESPN and the like, but it’s even more applicable to CNBC and its ilk. Just to be clear, I’m not slamming these hosts and traders. I’m sure that they are overwhelmingly smart, honest people who believe that what they say are useful truths from their own perspectives. They are not hypocrites. But they are performers. And like any performer, there is a larger game being played with their words.

XKCD.com/904/

The larger meaning of the statements made on CNBC has absolutely nothing to do with specific investment advice or news. CNBC really could not care less about the actual content of what is being said. The purpose of CNBC’s game is not to tell you WHAT to think, but HOW to think, that thinking about investing in terms of some sell-side analyst’s anodyne story about fundamentals or some trader’s breathless story about open option interest is smart or wise or what all the cool kids are doing. Why? Because CNBC can create inexpensive content essentially at will to fill this demand, allowing them to sell advertisements and take cable carriage fees. Nothing evil or wrong about this. It’s what for-profit media companies DO. But the content they are producing is no less of a theatrical production than the State of the Union address, no less of a multi-level game, and it needs to be understood as such.

Jacob Jordaens, “Diogenes Searching for an Honest Man”, c. 1642

So what’s to be done if all of our leaders and all of our institutions are speaking past us, playing a larger game for power or money or whatever? Do we rage against the machine? Do we wander around like Diogenes, the founder of Cynic philosophy, holding to some absolutist standards of Honesty with a capital H and Truth with a capital T, living in rags and sleeping in a large clay jar? If that’s the price of being a Cynic and constantly fighting the innate fallibility of Man and his works…no thanks. There has to be a middle ground between being a Cynic and a Fool, some way of playing the game without losing one’s soul. Recognizing that all of us human animals, including me and including you, are playing multiple multi-level games … well, that seems like a good start to me. The Truths in life are still death and taxes (and maybe compounding returns). Everything else is theatre, where honesty (with a small h) and truth (with a small t) are probably the best we can achieve. And that’s not so bad.

 

Mixed Messages: Clearing the Air on the Keystone XL environmental report | – Environmental Defence

Mixed Messages: Clearing the Air on the Keystone XL environmental report | – Environmental Defence.

Reaction was fast and furious to the State Department’s final report on the environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday

Reaction was fast and furious to the State Department’s final report on the environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, and you couldn’t be blamed if you wondered if environmental groups, the oil and industry and government were responding to completely different reports.

While many headlines trumpeted the report as good news for Keystone XL backers, we believe it swung the pendulum towards a rejection of the pipeline by President Obama.

Why? Because President Obama says that he is committed to climate action, and the report is clear that in a world where climate change is taken seriously, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would undoubtedly have a significant impact on climate change.

It is the President who will make the final decision to approve or reject the pipeline, and if he is serious about his commitment to climate action, this report gives him everything he needs to reject the pipeline.

The report looks at a series of scenarios and the climate impact of the pipeline in each one. In one of these scenarios, we are tackling climate change; demand for oil continues to drop in North America and the tar sands continue to face transportation constraints – not unlike the constraints they are facing today.

While the report still downplays the climate pollution, it is in this scenario that the pipeline would contribute most significantly to global carbon pollution, up to 5.7 million news cars or 7 coal-fired power plants worth of emissions per year.  The other scenarios are ones in which the global demand for oil is aligned with carbon emissions that would lead to dangerous global warming. The other scenarios are ones where we are not meaningfully tackling climate change.

If the President is committed to a safe climate future – it is one that does not include the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The tar sands exist because of a perfect storm of conditions: a high oil price, no meaningful regulatory costs, and a world with little action on climate change. This is a set of conditions that is crumbling despite increasingly desperate efforts to keep this expensive and carbon intensive operation profitable. Industry and government know very well that pipelines, and especially Keystone XL, are the key to being able to lock in more expansion and more production.

While some who support the pipeline argue that tar sands oil will still be brought to market regardless of whether the pipeline is approved – namely by rail – the cost, lack of policy, public concern and logistics are enough for experts and industry alike to know that rail cannot replace pipelines. In fact, industry projections depend on approval of every pipeline on the table plus some rail to be able to triple tar sands product as planned by 2030.

Notably, the State Department itself threw cold water on the chances of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline being built, stating that“…this project has been so derailed via political opposition, state determines ‘it remains uncertain at this time if the project would receive permits and be constructed and therefore… was eliminated from detailed analysis.”

Industry’s hopes for tar sands expansion are far from inevitable. Regardless of the Keystone outcome, it will never be easy to build another giant tar sands pipeline on this continent again.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and the President has committed to doing everything he can to avoid the worst of it. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is the test of his sincerity. It is the single biggest thing he could do as President to make it clear to Canada and the world that the era of reckless fossil fuel development is over. That a country – like Canada – can’t get away with leaving its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution completely unregulated. That now is the time to be investing in smarter, cleaner energy, not locking ourselves into decade’s worth of some of the world’ most carbon intensive fuels with a new giant pipeline.

Last week in his State of the Union speech the President said, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

The reason we can be so optimistic about this report is that it gives the President the evidence he needs – if he is serious about the climate crises – to reject this pipeline, and leave a legacy of a clean energy future.

Natural Gas isn’t a Bridge Fuel, it’s a Gateway Drug  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

Natural Gas isn’t a Bridge Fuel, it’s a Gateway Drug  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

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In his State of the Union, President Obama added to the conventional wisdom that supplanting coal with natural gas will act as a bridge toward a climate solution. Unfortunately, gas is more of a gateway drug than a bridge to a clean energy future.

1) It’s still a major greenhouse gas.  Sure, natural gas is cleaner than coal, but that’s setting a pretty low bar.  Even if my shit smells sweeter than most, it’s still shit.

Natural gas powered electricity still pours 1.22 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of electricity it produces. That’s 6 tons of CO2 per year from every household in America if its electricity were completely generated with natural gas.

And that’s the emissions from the stuff that actually gets to the power plant. The EPA has collected industry-reported data suggested that leakage from the drilling, production, and pipeline process runs close to 1.5%.  Other studies show much higher leakage rates.  At a 2.7% leakage rate, gas is no better than coal for the climate.

2) Gas for electricity competes with gas for heating (and gas for transportation).  The recent “polar vortex” events have meant spikes in home heating costs.  As Forbes notes, “The cold affected electricity generation systems, particularly natural gas, in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast such that supply weakened and prices skyrocketed. In New England, natural gas faltered so much that regional grid administrator ISO-New England had to bring up dirtier coal and oil plants to try to make up the difference.”

With gas prices as volatile as history shows (data below from EIA), increasing gas reliance in sectors other than home heating (e.g. electricity, transportation) is just asking for Oil Crisis v2.

henry-hub-gas-prices-1997-2014-EIA

3) In electricity and transportation, we have much cleaner options. If you want a cleaner way to heat your home than natural gas, you’re going to have to pay a lot more.  Solar hot water, geothermal, and other renewable options are not yet cost competitive.

But in the electricity market, renewables are more cost-effective than natural gas.  Wind power is routinely the lowest cost wholesale power, as the following cost comparison from investment bank Lazard (from 2011) illustrates.

Screenshot-2014-01-30-13.57.06

Solar power plants are competitive in a different way. They tend to deliver power right when natural gas power plants operate, at periods of peak demand (which is, in part, why a judge recently told a Minnesota utility to buy solar instead of building new natural gas power plants).  Even back in 2011, California utilities were buying energy from solar on long-term contracts for less than the cost of energy from natural gas power plants.

Furthermore, because they have zero fuel cost, wind and other renewables tend to exert downward pressure on wholesale electricity costs, as shown in the following graphic.

PTCpower_art-1

In transportation, natural gas loses to electric vehicles. Natural gas vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20-30% over gasoline vehicles, but electric vehicles would lower emissions by 50-75% in most regions of the country, and they get better as grid electricity gets cleaner.   And electric vehicles cost less per mile driven (5¢ compared to 6.7¢ for natural gas). Additionally, why build an entirely new refueling network for natural gas vehicles when every gas station and home in America already has a power outlet?

4) Building natural gas infrastructure chains us to a carbon-based energy future for 50 years. Electric utilities build power plants with 50 year life expectancies, same for gas companies and pipelines.  Every dollar invested in dirty gas infrastructure is a dollar not spent building solar and wind farms, not spent researching battery technologies, and not spent helping communities capture the most of their local energy dollar. And it’s committing us to burn more natural gas for decades, during a time which greenhouse gas emissions must fall precipitously to avoid the major consequences of climate chaos.

A Relapse

Expanding natural gas use in electricity and transportation is risky, it’s dirty, and – most of all – it’s unnecessary.

The electricity sector is already undergoing a rapid transformation to a carbon-free system, driven by renewable energy standards and rapidly falling costs for wind and solar power. Converting coal plants to natural gas makes short-term sense, but building new fossil fuel infrastructure when we have free-fuel renewables is inane.

The transportation sector has already identified a low-carbon alternative to gasoline vehicles with an in-place fuel network. Electric vehicles will only get more efficient and cleaner as they grow in numbers and as the grid gets greener.

Americans are finally on a course to wean ourselves from an unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels in two major sectors of our economy.  Natural gas isn’t a bridge, it’s a relapse.  And it’s time we admit it.

Grist

Elected Despotism | Judicial Watch

Elected Despotism | Judicial Watch.

On Tuesday night, January 28, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. After experiencing the shenanigans over the last five years, nothing said in the speech surprised me. I saw the same defiance and arrogance – the same disregard for the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution – that have characterized the Obama years from day one.

But when I read through the media’s post-game analysis, I could not help but think: What speech were they watching!?

Consider The Hill newspaper, which commended the president for his “genial tone” and for “praising” some of his “long-time foes.” The speech was “less partisan and pointed than many expected,” The Hill reported.

Yes, Obama tossed out a few bones to the Republican leadership. But does this indicate a policy shift toward reason and respect for the rule of law? No, it does not.

And does it really matter if the president uses his polite words when he describes how he is going to continue to completely undermine the U.S. Constitution? Not to most Americans.

As The Hill described: “Obama promised to unleash a torrent of new executive actions.” In the president’s own words [Emphasis added]:

“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.”

“But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”

All this follows President Obama’s thinly veiled threat issued earlier this month prior to a cabinet meeting: “I have a pen and I have a phone,” the president said, noting that he would not wait for Congress to act.

(By the way, that “year of action” sounds like a Marxist revolutionary dog whistle to me.)

Perhaps the best spin on the president’s imperialistic speech came from Politico:  “Obama didn’t entirely ignore Congress.” [Emphasis added.]

Oh, well that’s a comfort.

Folks, do you see the emptiness in President Obama’s expressed willingness to “work with Congress?” What kind of negotiation can there be when the president has stated that he will act unilaterally if he doesn’t get his way?

And “genial tone” notwithstanding, we don’t have to pay much attention to what Barack Obama says anymore, except to ascertain threats to the Constitution and the rule of law. After an endless stream of broken promises, he has no credibility left. We simply must look at what Barack Obama has done.

Let’s take just one example: Congress, with the full support of the American people, rebuffed the president’s illegal alien amnesty legislative initiatives. After attempts to “work with Congress” failed, Obama implemented amnesty via executive fiat.  Sure, he dressed it up in bureaucratic-speak, “selective deportation,” “deferred action,” etc., but at the end of the day, illegal aliens were allowed to stay in the country despite living here in defiance of the law, some of them dangerous criminals.

Then stealth amnesty became official Obama policy. And now it might just become the law of the land, if press reports about the Republican Party’s plans to cave on the issue are to be believed.

Here’s another example:  On January 16 alone, President Obama signed 23 executive orders designed, as Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), stated to “poke holes in the Second Amendment.”  Reuter’s called it the “biggest gun control push in generations.” And Congress had no say in the matter.

This is the “Chicago Way.” And we are about to see it run rampant in Washington over the next three years on every issue under the sun. That’s the message I get from the president’s speech and the president’s “executive actions.”

When it comes to encapsulating the danger Barack Obama and the Chicago Way represents to our country and our way of life, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) put it best in an opinion column he penned for The Wall Street Journal:  “Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president’s persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat.”  (This is a worthwhile read, so take a look if you have the time.)

Let me close with this. The president has called for a “year of action.” So let’s give him what he’s asking for.  Let’s not simply complain about the corruption and lawlessness. Let’s take every single action we can to confront the Obama threat to our Constitution. You see, this is what I love so much about the work we do at Judicial Watch.  We refuse to serve as spectators to the country’s demise under this president, or any president. We take action.  We file lawsuits. We investigate. We publicize the results of our work. In a word, we are relentless.

Will you join us in our pursuit of justice against Obama corruption?  Please click here if that’s a yes!

Judicial Watch Challenges Obama Administration’s Attack on Religious Freedom with High Court Brief

The monstrosity that is Obamacare is offensive for too many reasons to count. I’ve detailed many of them in this space. From the mandate to purchase insurance, to the taxpayer dollars used to fund Obamacare propaganda, to the numerous times the president has rewritten his own law in furtherance of his political interests – and in defiance, I might add, of the limits to his power as articulated in the U.S. Constitution.

But among all of these offenses, one that many Americans find most objectionable is the provision of the law that requires employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient services for women – a provision that is now under consideration by the nation’s High Court. Judicial Watch jumped into the legal fray this week by filing a Supreme Court amicus curiae brief.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled just days ago that a group of Colorado nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, could have a temporary reprieve from the contraception mandate while they fight the law in court. But what if you are a for-profit company that also objects to contraception due to religious beliefs? No such luck. This administration thinks business owners aren’t protected by the First Amendment.

And that’s what happened to Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain with 588 stores nationwide as well as an online presence. The beliefs of this company are clear: life begins at conception. And yet, under Obamacare, this company would be forced to provide contraception and abortifacients in violation of these religious beliefs.

This flagrant violation of religious freedom is the reason the company is fighting the law in court, reaching all the way to the Supreme Court. (Fox News reports that there are at least 40 other lawsuits from other companies challenging the law.)

And it’s the reason why we are right there with them.

As JW makes clear in its Supreme Court brief, the Obama administration is in clear violation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which, in accordance with the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion, prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religious exercise without compelling justification.

Terming the Department of Health & Human Service’s (HHS) mandate an “unprecedented grab for power,” the Judicial Watch’s amicusbrief argues:

The challenged regulation … is not simply the consequence of poor political choices; it is the product of a dangerous entanglement of Congress and an Executive agency that ultimately tramples on religious liberties.

In an unprecedented grab for power, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has not only unilaterally authored, enacted, and changed the contraceptive mandate, but it now seeks to redefine a separate act of Congress – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – to preserve its power grab. This simply cannot stand.

We also argue that the owners of Hobby Lobby and other businesses should not have to choose between “fidelity to [their] faith or the imposition of unimaginable fines.” The brief also reminds the Court of James Madison’s words in the Federalist Papers:  “an elective despotism was not the government we fought for.”

JW hopes the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling in this case. In June 2013, Hobby Lobby won a victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, resulting in the Obama administration petitioning the Supreme Court to review the case. The Supreme Court agreed to review the Hobby Lobby case in November, and is expected to begin hearing oral arguments in March with a ruling by late June.

Here’s a statement I offered to the press in connection with the filing of our brief:

What is at stake in this case is the First Amendment right to religious freedom. It is a pivotal battle in the Obama administration’s War on Religion. This Obama assault, through Obamacare, on the Christian Church is without modern precedent. To force Americans to violate their consciences or lose their livelihoods must be met with strenuous resistance by the Supreme Court. James Madison’s warning against “elective despotism” could not be more apt in describing the crisis caused by this Obama administration anti-Christian policy.

Now as this case works towards ultimate resolution in June, members of Congress are also weighing in with dueling briefs.  This week 19 Democratic Senators filed a brief “arguing that ‘secular’ businesses should not be exempt from the mandate,” reports Fox News. (We’ve already countered that argument.)

Some Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have a different view: “The ability to practice the faith we choose is one of our great constitutional rights. The Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate stomps on that right,” Sen. David Vitter said in a statement as he joined Ted Cruz, R-Texas; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Mike Lee, R-Utah in filing a brief of their own.

Folks, this threat to our God-given liberties is happening because lawless leftists in the Obama administration have seized control of our healthcare, leaving personal health decisions in the hands of Washington politicians and bureaucratic committees.

The Supreme Court should rule by June.

Judicial Watch Fights Cover-Up of “Air Obama” Taxpayer-Funded Vacations

I close this week with more news from Judicial Watch’s investigation of “Air Obama.”

Many Americans have been forced to put their own vacation plans on hold due to a sputtering economy.  A recent Harris poll indicated that 34% of Americans have held back on travel because they are worried about the bleak economic outlook.

But the sacrifices of the American people notwithstanding, the First Family seems to have no trouble asking taxpayers to foot the bill for their lavish vacations. I’ve documented some of these trips in previous Weekly Updates, most recently just last week, when I reported that a JW investigation showed that Obama/Biden President’s Day vacations cost taxpayers $295,437.

This week, I report to you that JW has amped up its investigations of “Air Obama,” filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Defense to obtain records detailing the amount of government funds spent on seven separate lavish trips taken by Barack Obama and the Obama family throughout 2013.

The Secret Service Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, pursuant to a series of FOIA requests from June to August 2013, seeksinformation from the Secret Service about “the use of U.S. Government funds to provide security and other services” to:

  • “First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and any companions on a June 2013 trip to Ireland.”
  • “President Barack Obama and any companions on a June – July 2013 trip to Africa.”
  • “First Lady Michelle Obama and any companions on a Summer 2012 trip to London, England for the Olympics.”
  • “President Barack Obama and any companions on a December 2012 trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.”
  • “President Barack Obama and any companions on an August 2013 trip to California.”
  • “President Barack Obama and any companions on an August 2013 trip to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.”

The Secret Service failed to substantively respond to these FOIA requests, and has effectively shut down Judicial Watch’s inquiries about First Family travel.

On January 13, Judicial Watch filed a separate FOIA lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense seeking further “records concerningFirst Lady Michelle Obama’s June 2013 trip to Ireland.”

Let’s take these trips one by one to cover what we know so far according to press reports.

  • With the Ireland trip, after a brief stop in Belfast, where the President was taking part in a G-8 summit, the First Lady departed on her own, apparently aboard Air Force Two, for her side trip to Dublin. According to WashingtonDossier.comthough the White House claimed the trip was for diplomatic purposes the itinerary showed, “She and her daughters will visit the Trinity College library to explore President Obama’s Irish family roots, attend a performance by the world-famous Riverdance troupe, and visit the Wicklow Mountains national forest.”
  • In a June, 2013, article, on Michelle Obama’s trip to Ireland, the Washington Times reported, “The cost of the two-day trip in Ireland and Northern Ireland has been estimated at around $5 million. U.S. taxpayers pay the cost of the first family’s travel.” The Times reported that the First Lady stayed at a $3,300-per-night hotel suite in Dublin and enjoyed a “typical Irish lunch” with U2 frontman Bono.”
  • In June, 2013 Fox News reported that the President Obama’s July trip to Africa “with the first family tagging along,” was projected to cost taxpayers an estimated $100 million. According to a confidential planning document obtained by the Washington Post, “Military cargo planes will airlift in 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with sheets of bullet­proof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will stay. Fighter jets will fly in shifts, giving 24-hour coverage over the president’s airspace, so they can intervene quickly if an errant plane gets too close.”
  • According to Examiner.com , on First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2012 trip to the London Olympics, she “was seen taking shopping sprees through London and sporting a $6,800 jacket to a reception, on a trip paid with taxpayer funds.” In January, 2012, Judicial Watch obtained records from the Department of Defense revealing that the Obama’s 2009 trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, in a failed effort to secure the 2016 Olympics for the city of Chicago, cost in excess of $467,175.
  • Barack Obama’s vacations to Honolulu, Hawaii, have been estimated by the Hawaii Reporterto cost the taxpayers an annual average of $4 million. But, according to WashingtonDossier.com, the 2012 Hawaii vacation may have cost even more: “This year, Obama returned from Hawaii to complete a deal on the Fiscal Cliff and then jetted back to Honolulu, where he is now engaged in Part 2 of his vacation. The second roundtrip flight added about $3.24 million to the tab this time, bringing the cost of the 2012-1013 vacation to well over $7 million.” The White House has failed to provide exact figures.
  • While the total cost of Barack Obama’s August, 2013 trip to California, where he appeared on The Tonight Show, is still being withheld, the Washington Timesreported, “At $180,000 per flight hour to operate the presidential aircraft, the trip cost taxpayers more than $1.8 million just for the flying time to California and back. That doesn’t include two 50-minute flights in California on Marine One, the presidential helicopter; or the cost of lodging dozens of White House staffers and Secret Service agents overnight, or the cost of 20-vehicle motorcades at the various stops.”
  • In August, 2013, the Obama family vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where, according to U.S. News & World Report, “At a time when many more cash-strapped Americans are stuck at home instead of vacationing at the beach, President Obama next week will lead an entourage of several dozens to exclusive Martha’s Vineyard island at a cost of millions to taxpayers.”

No wonder these records have been so difficult to come by! These trips are an utter embarrassment for certain, but this is no reason to withhold information from the American people. Quite the contrary. The more shameful the behavior the greater the need for transparency. But that’s not what we’re seeing out of this administration.

The Obama administration is in cover-up mode on the costs of the Obamas’ travel. The Secret Service has, in contemptuous violation of law, simply stopped answering our FOIA inquiries. It seems that our “king” does not want taxpayers to know how much he’s spending on his unnecessary travel.

It’s been this way from the very beginning. JW began investigating these Obama trips dating back to the newly minted First Couple’s “date night” in New York. We’ve had to scratch and claw to get the records. And thanks to the diligence of our investigation and legal teams, we’ve been more successful than anyone else exposing these trip costs.

Click here to see for yourself all that we’ve uncovered.

But now the Obama administration, evidently tired of being called out on the Obamas’ excesses, is trying to shut down our inquiries by violating the Freedom of Information Act.

Now the Obama gang is going to have to answer to the courts.

Until next week…

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : Ron Paul Goes Off The Grid…With Jesse Ventura!

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : Ron Paul Goes Off The Grid…With Jesse Ventura!.

written by rpi staff
friday january 31, 2014
RP Jesse VenturaRPI Chairman Ron Paul joins Jesse Ventura for a segment of Ventura’s edgy “Off the Grid” broadcast. Dr. Paul discusses President Obama’s State of the Union speech — and particularly the president’s threat to expand his use of executive orders if Congress does not back the president’s agenda.

“What will Congress do about it,” asks Dr. Paul of the president’s threat. “Do you think the Republican leadership, the John Boehners of the world will stand up to him?”

Ron Paul explains that his mission is not as a politician, but as an educator. And thanks to Gov. Ventura fo mentioning Dr. Paul’s educational arm, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity!

Watch the whole interview:

Our take on the State of the Union address: It’s time for climate action | – Environmental Defence

Our take on the State of the Union address: It’s time for climate action | – Environmental Defence.

photo credit: 350.org

President Obama delivered the annualState of the Union address last night. And while we usually keep our attention north of the border, there are a few key reasons that we tuned in. As climate impacts hit harder and closer to home with floods, forest fires, heat waves and cold snaps, the time for ambitious climate action has never been clearer.

Last night the President reaffirmed his commitment to climate action through emissions reductions, clean energy, cuts to fossil fuel subsidies, and efficiency. But a ramping up of the ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, with increased natural gas and oil, threatens to hold the U.S. back as a climate leader. Nonetheless, the President’s determination to protect future generations from climate change stands in sharp contrast to what’s happening here in Canada, where the reckless expansion of the tar sands is making it impossible to do our share to prevent the worst of climate change.

Here are the key reasons we watched the speech:

  1. A tale of two countries and climate changeThe Canadian government claims, when it comes to action on climate change, we are harmonizing with the U.S., our largest trading partner. So when President Obama stepped up earlier this year (in the President’s June climate speech) by committing to tackle the U.S.’s biggest source of pollution (coal), it put pressure on Canada to finally take action to regulate the tar sands, our fastest growing source of climate change pollution.Rather than being harmonized, it seems our leaders are singing different tunes. Recently, Prime Minister Harper suggested that any rules to deal with tar sands emissions are still a couple of years away. In contrast, as we heard last night, the President remains dedicated to working to tackle carbon pollution and invest in clean energy and efficiency – commitments that are lacking in Canada.

    We’d welcome real cross-border collaboration on climate action, clean energy and efficiency. The U.S. is committed to taking advantage of the growing clean energy economy (solar got a shout out last night). If we don’t get on board soon with clean energy, Canada will miss out on the jobs and benefits of this growing sector.

  2. The Keystone XL tar sands pipelinePresident Obama holds the key to significant tar sands expansion (and climate pollution) through the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. While he wasn’t expected to – and didn’t – mention the pipeline in last night’s speech, the heat was still on the President with over 100 people gathered in the cold outside of the White House,demanding a rejection of this massive pipeline that would enable major industry expansion and significant climate pollution.The pipeline is in the midst of a final environmental impact assessment, which the State Department is expected to release in the coming weeks or months. The impact assessment follows the President’s June climate speech, where he was clear that the pipeline would not be approved if it significantly exacerbatesclimate pollution. Industry and governments have been lobbying heavily for the Keystone pipeline, precisely because it would open up export routes and allow for tar sands expansion.

    After the assessment is presented, the pipeline will go through a National Interest Determination process where the public can weigh in. But the final decision rests with the President. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is an example of the infrastructure we should not build if we’re serious about stabilizing our climate, which requires us to move away from polluting fossil fuels. Rejecting the pipeline would be yet another signal for investors who are coming to terms with the risks of investing in dirty fuels. And it would be very good news for the climate, which would be saved tens of millions of tonnes of carbon pollution.

  3. Our shared atmosphereBecause we share an atmosphere with the U.S, we care about what our southern neighbour does on climate change, pipelines, fracking, clean energy and energy efficiency. While we work hard every day to push for climate and clean energy policy in Canada, it isn’t just our pollution that matters. The U.S. is one of the world’s largest polluters and what it does or doesn’t do to tackle global warming pollution will impact us in Canada.Every country must try to do its fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here at home we will work even harder, because we have further to go. Some important change is happening in Canada, led by cities and provinces. Look at Ontario’s move to shut its last coal plant down for good or Nova Scotia’s impressive success at cutting energy waste. But as a country we need to grapple with the fact that expanding fossil fuel production is incompatible with action on climate change. If the tar sands are allowed to expand, pollution from them will cancel out every other effort in the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    The good news is that on both sides of the border there a diverse, powerful and growing  movement of committed individuals, organizations and communities standing up for a safer future for our shared environment and climate. This movement has made the tar sands the defining energy conversation on the continent, with many voices calling for an end to expanding the tar sands. As the impacts of climate change continue to hit close to home, this movement is only going to get stronger.

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: The Real State of the Union: The Erosion of Community

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: The Real State of the Union: The Erosion of Community.

The Central State and its core directives, central planning and ever-widening control of every aspect of life, is eroding the human essential: community.

Rather than the rah-rah phoniness of the President’s State of the Union speech,which was predictably filled with Soaring Rhetoric ™ and promises of more central planning and state expansion, let’s consider the real state of the union.

Two related truths are self-evident: that community is essential to human progress, communication, development and well-being, and that the current global systems of the central state (socialism) and cartel-state capitalism (capitalism) actively dismantle community.

These basics inform the view that the only way forward is a community-based economy that recognizes and restores community as the foundation of human life.
On the most fundamental survival level, if humans were isolated, solitary hunter-gatherers, humans would likely have gone extinct long ago, as we simply aren’t as capable as our competitors. If the species did endure, it would be equivalent to other solitary Great Apes–small in number and isolated to small pockets where it could survive.

Our dominance (“success” if you prefer) as a species flows directly from our social nature and the development of ways to spread better techniques, i.e. knowledge and cooperation, via spoken and eventually written language.

Yes, opposable thumbs boosted our toolmaking abilities and year-round fertility boosted our reproduction rates, but these advantages would be marginal were we a species of isolated individuals. Indeed, the fundamentals of sociobiology support the notion that human longevity results partly from the genetic advantages
bestowed by grandparents, i.e. a generation of elders who can aid in child-rearing and serve as a repository for experiential knowledge/wisdom that would be lost to short-lived species.

In our current system, the impersonal state replaces the core value created by participating in community with welfare checks; there is no need to bother cooperating and working with others once the state provides the basics of life.

A similiar dynamic is implicit in corporate capitalism, which assumes that large corporations dedicated to pursuing profit wherever such profits might be greatest can successfully replace communities with corporate “communities” of workers and supervisors.

In The Strange Disappearance of Cooperation in America (submitted by correspondent Cheryl A.), The author proposes that social cooperation waxes and wanes with wealth inequality: as inequality rises, so too does polarization. People become less cooperative and socially engaged as polarization increases.

The correlation between loss of community and wealth inequality is only the first step. This sociological perspective misses the political point, which is the structure of our centralized state-dominated economy leads to both wealth inequality and the loss of community from the same dynamic: the substitution of the state/corporation as the organizing/controlling structure for society, displacing community.

Want to Reduce Income/Wealth Inequality? Abolish the Engine of Inequality, the Federal Reserve (January 28, 2014)

Our state-cartel system creates aimless armies of unemployed people who receive just enough from the state that the incentive to rebel is eroded, but this does not fill the gap left by the destruction of community with anything positive or fulfilling: it simply maintains the void via bribery.

The entire notion that corporations pursuing maximization of profit for their shareholders can organize society to benefit everyone is nonsensical; how could organizations dedicated to reaping profits replace multi-layered communities that meet needs that cannot necessarily be commoditized for a profit?

Longtime correspondent Bart D. cogently summed up these issues:

“When boiled down to real world conditions, for a society and economy to operate sustainably and successfully, people have to do things for and with each other, and BE SEEN to be doing it.

From an evolutionary perspective a community would form the basis of the economy in which individuals lived their lives. Each participant would have known, in social terms, every other participant to some degree.
In such a ‘traditional’ system, individual participants were heavily incentivised to be valued by others. Being valued for your good works and deeds increased your chances of having other individuals help you out when you were individually unable to support yourself for some reason (sickness, old age, personal disaster).

In economies of small and local scale you really strived to have others feel they owed you something based purely on their sense of fairness and conscience, because people interacted economically and socially with the same people. This creates a pool of good will that functions as ‘social security’ (This has since been transmuted into the Frankenstein of ‘debt’ and ‘taxes’ both of which are grudging rather than volunteered.)

That type of interaction has been and is continuing to be eroded away in the modern economic system that seeks desperately to separate social relationships from economic relationships.

Thus we have the disconnect between small business taxpayers and welfare recipients that sets up the perfect conditions for corporatocracy and the bizarre ever-expanding debt economic models of the west.

What the architects of these current systems have lost sight of is that the illusion they created by pumping free credit into the system only works on some parts of the economic system and at the cost of GREATLY undermining the social component of the system.”

Richard Dawkins makes much the same point in this interview published in The New Republic:

“Now, there is another kind of altruism that seems to go beyond that, a kind of super-altruism, which humans appear to have. And I think that does need a Darwinian explanation. I would offer something like this: We, in our ancestral past, lived in small bands or clans, which fostered kin altruism and reciprocal altruism, because in these small bands, each individual was most likely to be surrounded by relatives and individuals who he was going to meet again and again in his life. And so the rule of thumb based into the brain by natural selection would not have been, Be nice to your kin and be nice to potential reciprocators. It would have been, Be nice to everybody, because everybody would have been included.”

This is not to suggest there isn’t a role for the state and profit-seeking organizations in society or the economy; it is simply to state the obvious that the wholesale replacement of community by the state has eroded an essential of human life that cannot be filled by impersonal states and corporations. States and corporations cannot “fix” what’s broken with the model of state-cartel capitalism/socialism because the model itself is the problem.

This essay was drawn from Musings Report 46 (2013), one of the weekly reports sent exclusively to subscribers and major contributors (i.e. those who contribute $50 or more annually).

What Constitution? Obama To Emphasize Intention To Use Unilateral Presidential Authority | Zero Hedge

What Constitution? Obama To Emphasize Intention To Use Unilateral Presidential Authority | Zero Hedge.

While the stats of the union remain unremarkable at best, it would appear that despite the rancor in Washington, President Obama will get his way “whatever it takes.” As the WSJ reports, the State of the Union address Tuesday night will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority — bypassing Congress when necessary — to an extent not seen in his previous State of the Union speeches. “We need to show the American people that we can get something done,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, told CNN; it seems no matter how totalitarian and unconstitutional it would appear to be

Via WSJ,

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will seek to shift the public’s souring view of his leadership, a challenge the White House sees as critical to shaping the nation’s policy direction over the next three years.

Mr. Obama will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority—bypassing Congress when necessary—to an extent not seen in his previous State of the Union speeches, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama will stress that he intends to take unilateral action on a host of other issues: infrastructure development, job training, climate change and education. Administration officials hinted broadly at the assertive new direction Sunday.

We need to show the American people that we can get something done,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, told CNN as part of a round of interviews previewing the speech.

The more aggressive, executive-led approach marks a recalibration by the White House after seeing how congressional Republicans responded in 2013 to the president’s re-election, a senior administration official said. Several key White House initiatives stalled in Congress last year, including an immigration revamp, an increase in the minimum wage, gun-control legislation and economic proposals.

“He says, ‘Oh well, it’s hard to get Congress to do anything.’ Well, yeah, welcome to the real world. It’s hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.). “But that’s what he needs to be doing is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in an interview that Mr. Obama’s speech wouldn’t present “a grandiose agenda. It’s going to be a very practical agenda aimed at middle-class people.”

One big agenda item is apparently a “pledge” to hire more by US companies…

He also is expected to announce that some of the nation’s largest employers, have signed a White House pledge agreeing not to discriminate against the long-term unemployedwhen making hiring decisions, according to a draft of the policy and interviews with several people familiar with the matter.

But the corporate hiring pledge also shows the limits of executive power. Under the nonbinding agreement, companies won’t be obligated to hire the long-term unemployed, and it is unclear how the administration will monitor progress.

More lip-service, more class-warfare, more totalitarianism… just what we need for ‘growth’… It does make one wonder if the surge in t-bill yields around the debt-ceiling dates are indicative of some reaction by the Republicans to this aggression?

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