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Guest Writer's articles

Germans Line Up Against Fracking, Spurred by Fears of a U.S.-Style Boom

To try to distance itself from U.S. fracking policies, the German government has proposed a ban on fracking for shale gas, but not fracking for tight gas.

By Catherine Stupp

Oct 14, 2014

BERLIN—In Germany debate is raging over whether to allow fracking, and America's example is serving as the cautionary tale for both supporters and critics.

Germany's biggest energy companies and some politicians are using the U.S. drilling boom to argue the country would benefit from tapping shale gas buried under two of its 16 states. Supporters say Germany must greenlight fracking—especially as calls intensify to end dependency on Russia, which supplies a third of Germany's oil and gas. 

Meanwhile, environmentalists and others see the United States as a warning of what may be in store if Germany embraces fracking—but for them the lessons from America involve air, water and climate change pollution. The "negative effects connected" to U.S. fracking are "worth gold" to German activists, said Andy Gheorghiu, a member of the citizens' protest group Fracking Free Hesse.

Critics worry mainly that developing natural gas production would undercut the Energiewende, Germany's shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewable energy. Environmentalism is deeply ingrained in German society and public protests helped prompt the law. Today solar panels and windmills form a distinctive part of the country's landscape. But this transformation came at a cost: In 2013, Germany's household electricity prices became the second highest in the European Union due to clean energy subsidies and high taxes. Despite that, the Energiewende remains widely popular.

VIDEO - In Fracking's Wake: Vast Open Pits of Chemical Sludge

'A lot of people are worried about the water, and about the smell, and of course what's going up into the air.'

By Eleanor Bell, Center for Public Integrity

Oct 2, 2014

As oil and gas drilling spreads across the United States, scant attention has been paid to air emissions from the waste the boom has created.

We Marched for Climate Action, Now We Must Vote

OP-ED: 'TransCanada likes to pretend that this pipeline is carrying rainbows with pots of gold.'

By Jane Kleeb

Sep 25, 2014
Jane Kleeb at the People's Climate March on Sept 21, 2014.

Jane Kleeb is the founder of Bold Nebraska, a grassroots group that opposes the Keystone XL pipeline.

Before I left for Climate Week in New York, I was with a room full of volunteers in Nebraska, painting buffalo hides. Our painting was part of an honoring that will take place with Willie Nelson and Neil Young at the Harvest the Hope concert Sept. 27.  The ceremony and the concert will be held near Neligh, Neb., directly on the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The next day, I stood with the Cowboy and Indian Alliance—a group of farmers, ranchers and tribes opposing Keystone XL—in New York to ask for permission to be on the land of the Shinnecock Nation, through a water ceremony and exchange of gifts.

We marched proudly in the streets, holding flags, banners and signs from pipeline fighters back home. I marched with a flag displaying my husband’s family cattle brand, to make it clear I was there standing with folks who have deep roots to the land and will not let TransCanada or anyone else think they can walk all over our families.

As I marched in the street, instead of looking up at the massive buildings in New York, I was looking down to see the shoes of all those people marching against climate change and tar sands. Cowboy boots, moccasins, sneakers, work boots and, yes, Birkenstocks. It will take all of us marching together, not only in the streets, but also straight to the voting booth on Nov. 4.

Can Humanity Rise to the Climate Challenge?

OP-ED: 'Despite the gargantuan challenge, climate change offers the human family…the rare but golden opportunity to achieve transformative change.'

By Naderev M. "Yeb" Saño

Sep 23, 2014

Yeb Saño is commissioner of the Philippines Climate Change Commission.

No one who was there–and survived–will ever forget Nov. 8, 2013. The strongest storm in the history of humanity devastated Tacloban and many other cities and towns in the Philippines. Three days after Super Typhoon Yolanda hit, I stood on behalf of the Philippines at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw. I appealed to the whole world to take urgent action to address climate change.

Yolanda devastated communities and claimed thousands of lives. My own brother A.G. Saño, whose environmental and peace murals have adorned many walls around the country, was in downtown Tacloban when the storm hit. He bravely helped gather the bodies of the dead for several days. He is truly my hero. Every single person who works tirelessly on the ground to make people’s lives better joins the true heroes of our times.

When we talk about heroes and about saving humanity, it means humanity needs saving.

Climate Advocates Need to Embrace Carbon Tax

OP-ED: “Forget cap-and-trade. It’s too complicated to resonate with the public, and too prone to manipulation and gaming.”

By Charles Komanoff

Sep 22, 2014

Charles Komanoff directs the Carbon Tax Center in New York.

This story was updated at 1:15 PM EDT.

Which is mightier—the obstacles to enacting a U.S. carbon tax, or the tax’s unique capacity to drive down global-warming emissions quickly, massively and equitably?

At the Carbon Tax Center we’ve bet on the latter. And our bet will only get better if the climate movement coalesces its advocacy and organizing around a carbon tax.

Making polluters pay to emit carbon isn’t just textbook economics and basic fairness—though it is those things. A carbon tax is the only way for the climate damage caused by burning fossil fuels to be brought inside the arc of individual and societal decision-making that determines how much of those fuels society uses and, thus, how much carbon it emits.

These decisions range from the immediate and quotidian:  take transit vs. car, refill at the tap vs. buy bottled water; to institutional and far-reaching: build airplane frames with ultralight composites vs. aluminum, locate in town vs. on the outskirts, contract with a wind farm vs. a coal generator.

Without a tax on carbon emissions, every choice like these―and billions are made daily―will remain so rigged that fossil fuels will never yield their central position in world energy supply—or at least not fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control. But a tax gives us a fighting chance to keep climate tipping points at bay and stave off global warming’s most dire effects.

Making the Great Climate March Last More Than Just One Day

OP-ED: For most Americans who care about climate, "the paralysis stems from a combination of hopelessness and deep-rooted cynicism about our government..."

By Mark Reynolds

Sep 19, 2014

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots organization campaign that favors a federal tax on carbon. 

On Sept. 21, two days before the UN Climate Summit, what's being billed as a historic demonstration of support for action on global warming will take place in the streets of New York. Organizers expect over 100,000 participants to turn out for the People's Climate March, elevating it to the level of events surrounding the civil rights and anti-war movements of an earlier era.

But will the "arc of the moral universe"–where climate change is concerned–eventually bend towards justice?

That depends on what happens after the march.

Climate Week NYC: The Top 10 Places to Be

Don't know what's happening or where to go during this year's Climate Week NYC? Let ICN guide you with this infographic.

By Paul Horn and Katherine Bagley

Sep 8, 2014

On Sunday, Sept. 21, demonstrators from more than 1,000 organizations representing millions of people plan to demand that world leaders take action against global warming. The People's Climate March through midtown Manhattan will be the "largest climate march in history," according to its organizers. And it will kick off the sixth annual Climate Week NYC—with about 80 events focused on climate change such as high-level meetings, conferences, lectures and debates.

A United Nations summit in New York City will also take place during Climate Week, which will help lay the groundwork for climate-change treaty talks next year in Paris.

Here's a look at 10 top places to be during Climate Week (some open to the public, some not) and their locations, including the People's Climate March route:

In 'After Water' Project, 12 Writers Imagine Life in Climate Change-Altered Chicago

Ecoterrorists, saboteurs, orphans, activists muck through their separate realities. 'This project is terrifying—the idea of what the world would become.'

By Hannah Robbins

Aug 19, 2014

Four emaciated boys share a canteen of fresh water. They pass the stolen treasure around as they huddle on a raft made of broken furniture, drifting on toxic flood waters. The future has come to Chicago—or at least one future imagined by Abby Geni, a fiction writer in Illinois. 

Geni's story, "World After Water," follows four brothers growing up in a world irrevocably altered by climate change. Drinkable water is scarce, the Great Lakes are polluted, and only the rich can afford purified water.

"World After Water" is one story in a series of podcasts produced by WBEZ, a public radio station in Chicago. The series, called After Water, seeks to blend science and storytelling to create new shades of understanding about what the Great Lakes region could look like in the future. To do this, WBEZ reporter and project producer Shannon Heffernan approached fiction writers in Chicago and across the country. She gave them research papers and connected them with scientists, advocates and policymakers who could answer their questions. She then issued the 12 writers one challenge: to take what they had learned and create a story that reflects the difficulties Chicago and the Great Lakes region may face in the decades to come.

"This project is terrifying—the idea of what the world would become," Geni (pronounced GEE-nie) told Heffernan. (Geni usually writes fiction about the connection between humans and the natural world and stages her work in the present.)

How a Sudden Flood of Oil Money Has Transformed North Dakota

The clout and swagger of the oil companies in politics has unsettled this traditionally amicable and moderate state of just 725,000 people.

By Nicholas Kusnetz

Jul 21, 2014

This report is part of a joint project by the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News.

BISMARCK, N.D.— North Dakota's Heritage Center makes for a jarring sight in this Midwestern prairie capital. The newly-expanded museum consists of four interlocking cubes of stone, steel and glass, a gleaming architectural statement poking out of the otherwise drab Capitol grounds. Each cube features a gallery devoted to an era of North Dakota’s history, but the state’s present is everywhere.

The legislature approved the dramatic $52 million expansion in 2009, but required the museum to come up with $12 million of that to supplement state money, and more than half has come from energy companies—including a $1.8 million gift from Continental Resources Inc. that put its name on one of the galleries. The gifts have "given us a chance to do some things that we've never really had a chance to do," said Merl Paaverud, director of the State Historical Society.

Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it's hard to find a place or person that hasn't been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota's rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state's oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.

In addition to the tax revenue they've brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money—new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They've also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.

"I don't think most people know how pervasive the influence of the oil industry is in the Capitol," said Jim Fuglie, a former state tourism director and former head of the state Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. "Nothing this big has happened since homestead days. This is a game changer for North Dakota."

Texas Judge Gives No Restitution to Citgo's Victims in Pollution Case With Wide Implications

Restitution would have included screenings for cancer and other diseases for victims exposed to chemicals from Citgo's illegally operated refinery.

By Priscila Mosqueda

May 14, 2014

A foreign oil company convicted of polluting a Texas community's air with dangerous chemicals has gotten off easy in a criminal case that could undercut the prosecution of environmental crimes in the United States. The case revolves around Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum's decade-long violation of the federal Clean Air Act at its refinery in Corpus Christi.

In 2007, the Citgo refinery became the first to be criminally convicted of violating the Clean Air Act by a U.S. jury. The refinery had spent a decade illegally operating two giant oil-water separator tanks without any emission controls. Every day for 10 years, nearby residents breathed noxious fumes emitted from the roofless tanks, including the carcinogen benzene.

It took another seven years, until February, before the judge in the case finally sentenced the company. U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey fined Citgo a little more than $2 million—a penalty prosecutors said would not deter Citgo from committing future crimes since, they argued, the company made $1 billion in profit as a result of its illegal operation. Corpus Christi residents were disappointed with the fine, but disappointment quickly turned into fear and confusion when the judge refused to announce in court his ruling on how much restitution must be paid to the refinery's neighbors.

On April 30, people who had been awaiting a decision for years finally found out what they would receive from Citgo: absolutely nothing.

"When I walked out of [the courtroom] I knew what it was gonna be: he was going in Citgo's favor," says Thelma Morgan, who lived two blocks away from Citgo for more than 35 years and whose husband and son were also exposed to toxic chemicals. "When he said 'I'll notify you all by letter' I said then, 'You're against us, so we can forget it.'"