Three recent reports, each a comprehensive look at the climate crisis and possible paths out of it, provide the latest evidence that the barriers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions are daunting, but not insurmountable.
One report comes from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP); one from the World Bank; and one from a consortium that includes two United States' national laboratories. Together, they illustrate the concerted effort by various schools of climate analysis to promote a global treaty in Paris next year. All echo themes presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report, issued over the past year.
The first of the new studies is UNEP's Emissions Gap Report for 2014, an annual exercise in which the UN agency assesses the pledges of the world's nations, and calculates how short they fall of what's needed to keep warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
The World Bank’s contribution, its third in a series it calls Turn Down the Heat, warns that warming of at least 1.5 degrees Celsius is already "locked in," and that we are approaching "4°C—a frightening world of increased risks and global instability."
Last week, Minnesota regulators quietly issued a major fine of $85,000 against frac sand operator Tiller Corp. for a long list of violations, including emitting unsafe levels of toxic dust.
That's the largest penalty levied against a frac sand company in the state in at least three years. And it's the second largest fine issued to any industry by regulators at the state's Pollution Control Agency this year.
The fine comes at a time when Minnesota is overhauling its rules for the burgeoning frac sand industry. Minnesota is the nation's fourth largest producer of silica sand, a key ingredient used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Its neighbor Wisconsin is the top producer.
The frac sand industry is driving an economic boom across the region, providing thousands of new jobs and injecting millions of dollars in new development. But there's concern about the growing frac sand industry's impact on air, water, noise and light pollution. Minnesota officials are trying to address many of these issues with the current rulemaking effort.
It took more than a decade of worsening climate change projections to get global leaders to promise steeper carbon cuts. Amassing enough money to deal with the problem, it seems, might be even harder.
Developing nations last week fell short of the $10 billion minimum goal for the critically important Green Climate Fund. To make matters worse, a new report shows that overall climate-related investment is lagging, too.
The latest tally of global climate finance found that public and private investment totaled $331 billion in 2013, down nearly 8 percent from 2012. That spending is "far below even the most conservative estimates of investment needs" to reduce the threat of climate change, according to the 2014 Global Landscape of Climate Finance report, released Thursday by the independent Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a San Francisco-based group funded by grants from government and charitable foundations.
"Don't mess with Texas," says the advertising slogan that has grown into a defiant unofficial state motto.
After a recent historic vote to ban fracking in the college town of Denton—and industry's lightning-fast response—the new refrain might read: "Don't Mess With Big Oil and Gas."
That's the bottom line for business and legal experts who surveyed the landscape after 59 percent of Denton's voters approved the ban.
Barely 13 hours after the polls closed on Nov. 4, oil and gas lawyers were in court, suing the town.
So, for that matter, was the state of Texas, where production of oil and gas reached $109 billion last year.
The overwhelming vote made Denton the first city to ban fracking in Texas, a state whose history, economy and culture are inextricably linked to oil.
The industry's swift reaction offers perhaps cautionary national implications for other cities seeking to follow Denton, the home of North Texas State University, just north of Dallas.
For the past decade, Walmart has touted itself as a leader in sustainability, boasting about its efforts to increase renewable energy and reduce energy waste throughout its supply chain.
The global megacorporation's efforts have been applauded by President Obama and sustainability experts, and reported by news outlets. They have also prompted dozens of other corporations to follow suit.
But a new report released Thursday finds that Walmart relies as heavily on fossil fuels now as it did when it launched its sustainability initiative nearly 10 years ago.
Walmart gets 40 percent of the electricity for its U.S. retail and distribution locations from coal—higher than the nation's percentage, says the report, "Walmart's Dirty Energy Secret," by the 40-year-old think tank the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. That doesn't include the coal-powered factories in China and other rising economies that produce most of Walmart's goods.
The amount of energy Walmart gets from renewable sources decreased from 4 percent to 3 percent between 2011 and 2013, the study said. This is despite pledges in 2005 that the company would be powered 100 percent from wind, fuel cells and solar in the near future. Its greenhouse gas emissions haven't declined at all.
Walmart, one of the largest political donors in the country, also directs most of its campaign contributions to pro-fossil fuel industry candidates, the study found.
Update at 6:10 PM on Nov. 21, 2014: The Texas State Board of Education approved nearly 100 new social studies textbooks on Friday, none of which include climate denial.
A five-year battle over the teaching of climate change in Texas classrooms may come to an end Friday when the state Board of Education votes on which social studies textbooks to approve for its more than 1,200 school districts.
Until this week, many of the textbooks under consideration included inaccuracies on climate change—the science behind it and the policies needed to reduce the use of fossil fuels, the main culprit of global warming. Some of them question the scientific consensus that climate change is real, human-caused and threatening. Publishers agreed to fix most of the inaccuracies under pressure from education groups including the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network. But there are still some that distort the issue and many that don't address it at all, experts said.
The 15-member Board of Education refused at a Tuesday hearing to give preliminary approval for the new textbooks until members thoroughly examined all the changes publishers made in recent weeks. The board's 10 conservative Republican members could still force publishers to revert to inaccurate language when the board makes its decision Friday.
"The central problem in the textbook wars in Texas," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, "is that decisions about what students learn in their public schools often come down to a vote by politicians who are more interested in promoting their personal and political beliefs than in listening to teachers, scholars and other experts."
Unlined open-air wastewater pits brimming with the toxic leftovers of fracking and other types of oil and gas development are threatening California's air and water quality, according to a study by two national environmental organizations.
A visit to a series of wastewater pits in California's Central Valley that sickened researchers prompted the study, according to the authors. Oil and gas drilling has been generating vast amounts of waste in the region for decades.
The groups' findings further document the risks of using unlined pits for oil and gas wastewater disposal and challenge whether California's regulatory system adequately addresses the hazards. The report highlights threats to water, air and health; documents regulatory failures; and proposes immediate remedies.
"The discharge of wastewater into unlined pits threatens water resources, including potential sources of drinking and irrigation water, and impacts air quality due to the off-gassing of chemicals from the wastewater," according to the 28-page report, "In the Pits."
After TransCanada proposed its Energy East tar sands pipeline, the energy giant tapped the world's largest public relations firm to help blunt opposition—the kind that upended its Keystone XL project.
More than 50 pages of leaked campaign strategy documents from PR firm Edelman show the energy company desperate to confront and overcome organized resistance to tar sands development mounted by environmentalists and other activists. Energy East would open a massive artery for the flow of tar sands oil to Canada's eastern coast and abroad.
This week Greenpeace provided the documents to InsideClimate News and other media. The documents from May to August 2014 identify "new realities" facing companies looking to develop major pipelines in North America. These includes a "permanent, persuasive, nimble and well-funded" opposition that frames all new development projects in the context of climate change, and that is aiming for a world free of fossil-fuel pollution.
Edelman advised TransCanada to build its own grassroots network of pro-pipeline advocates and to set up a team to react rapidly—within 60 minutes—to negative reports, in a war-like response effort. Efforts would involve more than 60 people.
Senate Democrats held together just enough votes on Tuesday to defeat, at least for now, legislation to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The bill's failure, by 59 yeas to 41 nays, lets President Obama off the hook for a possible veto at the start of this lame-duck session of Congress. Sixty votes were needed to avoid a filibuster and move the legislation along. The House had passed it last week.
Relieved environmentalists celebrated the brief reprieve. So did the Senate Democrats who are about to relinquish their majority.
"I know the fight is far from over, but I'm proud of my colleagues today," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who led her party's forces during six hours of feisty debate.
In the end, 14 Democrats broke party ranks. Nine of them will be back next year—or 10, in the unlikely event that Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, leader of the pro-pipeline Democrats, manages to hold on to her seat in a runoff.
Without question, the Keystone project will be back in 2015 to greet the new Congress.
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is back in full force.
The U.S. House tried for the ninth time Friday to approve the project. It succeeded, though not by enough to override a presidential veto. The Senate's turn is this week.
Here are 23 stories, from an ebook to primers, that will help you navigate the polarized Keystone debate as it heats up—and all the issues on which it touches: our changing energy fortunes, global climate change, pipeline safety, activism and more.
"Keystone and Beyond provides the most definitive account yet of the Keystone XL pipeline saga. It also upends the national debate over the pipeline by tracing its origins to policy decisions made by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the first months of their administration, and to expectations about energy supply and demand that have turned out to be wrong."