Climate change denial will switch from being a litmus test for major Republican politicians to a liability in the near future.
At least that's the hypothesis that Todd Stern, the United States envoy on climate change, shared with a packed auditorium at Yale Law School in New Haven on Tuesday.
"We have all seen in recent years the abruptness with which hot-button issues can suddenly become the stuff of consensus," Stern told students, faculty and members of the public. "I doubt, even a year from now, whether major political candidates will consider it viable to deny the existence of climate change."
Stern's visit to Yale comes three weeks before a midterm election that has serious implications for U.S. involvement in climate treaty talks taking place in Lima this year and Paris in 2015.
Republicans and Democrats are fighting fiercely for control of the Senate. If the Senate falls into the hands of a Republican majority—as many analysts predict—the body charged with ratifying treaties would be led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who seeks to block EPA climate change regulations.
A high-stakes battle over the nation's ozone pollution rule reached a new milestone last week when the Environmental Protection Agency submitted its latest proposed rule to the White House for review.
For years, EPA science advisers have been urging the administration to tighten the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 60-70 ppb to protect public health. But they were repeatedly rebuffed: first in 2008, when the George W. Bush administration adopted the 75 ppb standard, and again in 2011, when President Obama abruptly halted a push from his own EPA to strengthen the rule.
Obama's move provoked fury from environmental and public health advocates who said he had caved to industry ahead of the 2012 elections. "This was the worst thing a Democratic president had ever done on our issues," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, at the time.
Now the administration is faced with the same decision: Earlier this year EPA scientists again recommended tightening the standard to 60–70 ppb, and on Oct. 8, EPA officials delivered the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The agency is under a court order to reveal the proposed standard to the public by Dec. 1 and finalize it next year.
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.
People in Michigan's Oakland County were ready this time. When a Texas-based company announced plans for a natural gas pipeline that would bisect the county, township boards in Oakland County passed resolutions against it. Rallies stirred locals to action. Federal regulators were bombarded with letters against the project.
With resistance gaining momentum, ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC, a subsidiary of Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners, quietly reversed its plans. Now people in neighboring Genesee and Lapeer counties—the new path of the pipeline—are reeling, and asking the winners for help.
Two months after ET Rover revealed maps showing that its pipeline would cut across pubic land and through backyards in Oakland County—and only a few weeks after the first opposition appeared–ET Rover chose an alternative route north that touches only a tiny slice of Oakland County.
"We weren't going to let this happen again," said Kathy Thurman, the Brandon Township supervisor who heard from community members that they'd had enough of the turmoil caused by earlier pipeline projects. Brandon Township is in Oakland County.
San Diego, known for having one of the most desirable climates in the United States, set a record over the summer that will never be broken: It had zero days that were cooler than normal. None. Four were exactly the climatological norm, and 90 were warmer than average.
For 13 days this year, including three days this month, Lindbergh Field, the city's official weather station near the bay, has hit 90 degrees or hotter. The average number of 90-degree days in an entire year: 1.3.
Those stats are no surprise to Carolyn Ingham, who lives in the city's North Park neighborhood, where few people have—or have ever needed—air conditioning.
"I feel like all I've been doing is overheating and sweating," Ingham said. "It really has just been unbearable."
For Ingham and her husband Scott and hundreds of other coastal San Diego County residents, trying to make the weather bearable proved costly. It also tested the region's energy supplier and could be a harbinger of things to come as coastal areas get hit hard by climate change.
When Mary Rahall discovered that oil and gas waste was being stored in open-air ponds less than a mile from a daycare center outside Fayetteville, W. Va., she started digging for information about the facility's air emissions and protections for a nearby stream.
She wasn't satisfied with the answers she got from state regulators and politicians, so the mother of two set out to find a scientist who could help. Eventually her questions found their way to William Orem, a chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey office in Reston, Va., and he began collecting air and water data at the site last fall.
Orem's small study could have implications far beyond Fayetteville, because it's among the first scientific efforts directed at how air emissions from oil and gas waste could be affecting human health. He suspects waste disposal might turn out to be "the weakest link of all" in the oil and gas extraction and production cycle.
In a world wrestling with climate change and the need to phase out fossil fuels, nothing is more critical than making sure there are reliable and cost-effective clean energy technologies ready to fill the void.
As governments, businesses and investors ponder a future in which the world moves away from fossil fuels to avert a climate crisis, the implications for the global economy are getting high-profile attention.
The issue dominated the agenda at the UN climate summit, and is being reprised in Washington this week at an annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, where this year CEOs will join talks about how to deal with global warming.
The heightened efforts come amid studies describing the costs and benefits of the shift away from carbon-based energy.
The latest come from the Climate Policy Initiative, which on Oct. 9 published two reports indicating there will be significant financial benefits if the world adopts "the right policies" as it transitions to a low-carbon economy consistent with the safe 2-degrees Celsius target.
One report finds that ridding our electricity and transportation systems of carbon could free up trillions of dollars for investment in green energy.
Coal has been an ever-present part of one of the most expensive and high profile midterm elections this year—the Kentucky Senate race between Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes—despite its rapidly declining economic significance.
Kentucky's newspapers and airwaves are full of ads from both candidates pledging to protect the industry and fight the Environmental Protect Agency's attempts to regulate its carbon emissions. Each candidates' statements have become popular political fodder for attack ads by SuperPACs on both sides of the aisle. As one local news channel put it, coal "has become the hot issue in the country's hottest political contest."
But the industry that Grimes and McConnell have spent so much time and money fighting over is a bit of an illusion, several experts said. Coal has been dying for decades within Kentucky.
Backed by results of a recent air-quality study, mounting pressure from local officials, news reports and the simmering discontent of residents, Texas regulators have decided to install an air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will install the air monitor in Karnes County, the epicenter of one of the fastest-growing drilling regions in the nation. More than 10,000 oil and gas wells have been sunk in the region since 2008, and residents have complained of breathing difficulties and other health problems.
In February, an investigation by InsideClimate News, The Center for Public Integrity and the Weather Channel revealed that the TCEQ knows almost nothing about air quality in the area. The series, "Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie," found that from September 1, 2009, through August 31, 2013, there was a 100-percent increase statewide in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production and that companies were rarely fined, even when inspections revealed they were operating equipment improperly.