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Map: Tracking Academia's Fossil Fuel Divestment

More than $50B in divestment pledges have come from 28 universities, 41 cities, 72 religious institutions, 30 foundations and hundreds of individuals.

By Zahra Hirji and Elizabeth Douglass

Mar 20, 2015

As the fossil fuel divestment movement enters its fourth year, nearly a third of the 28 schools that signed on have completely purged oil, natural gas and coal investments from their endowment portfolios.

Many of the nine schools that have fulfilled their divestment pledges joined the fast-growing campaign as early as 2011; this group mostly involves small New England and California colleges that are overseeing relatively modest endowments.

Unity College, a small private school in Maine, is one of them. In 2012, the college pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies––then 3 percent of its total exposure­––over the next five years. But it finished the task in 2014, three years ahead of schedule. And so far, the school's portfolio "is performing past our expectations," said Bob Mentzinger, a Unity College spokesman.

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U. of Delaware Refuses to Disclose Funding Sources of Its Climate Contrarian

Citing academic freedom, the president and provost decline a congressional request for funding disclosures surrounding the work of Professor David Legates.

Mar 19, 2015

The University of Delaware has declined a congressional request for documents related to the external funding of one of its professors—a known climate contrarian—saying it was an intrusion into academic freedom.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, had requested documentation related to the funding sources of Professor David Legates and six other skeptic climate researchers. He did this after it was reported that Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon had failed to disclose funding from fossil fuel companies for his published work, studies that advanced discredited theories about the causes of climate change.

Legates is a professor of Climatology at the University of Delaware, and has co-authored several academic studies with Soon, including four of the papers for which Soon accepted funding from major utility company Southern Company. Soon reported the papers as "deliverables" without having disclosed his funding source.

Legates previously served as Delaware's state climatologist, a role he said he was fired from in 2011 after refusing to resign. Three years earlier he was asked by then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to stop using his official title while espousing climate denial.

Obama Orders 40 Percent Cut in Government Emissions

The executive order is the latest in a string of decisions the president has made to solidify his climate legacy in the face of Congressional gridlock.

Mar 19, 2015

President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 2008 levels by 2025, and mandated that at least 30 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy sources.

The executive order, which Obama signed Thursday morning, is the latest in a string of climate-related decisions the president has made in recent months to solidify his legacy on global warming in the face of Congressional gridlock. It also comes ahead of international climate treaty talks in Paris later this year, when all eyes will be on the United States, historically the world's top carbon emitter.

Obama's recent actions include vetoing a bill that would have fast-tracked a verdict on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline; banning drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay; rolling out the Clean Power Plan to curb carbon emissions from coal plants; and in a joint announcement with China, pledging to cut U.S. emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

"We're encouraged to see this administration take a more aggressive stance in fighting climate change," said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for the environmental group 350.org. "But in 2017, President Obama's decision on Keystone XL and the success or failure of COP 21 in Paris are what will really define his legacy on the issue. We're going to continue urging the White House to heed the science, and do what's necessary to prevent climate catastrophe."

FEMA to States: No Climate Planning, No Money

Governors seeking billions of dollars in U.S. preparedness funds will have to sign off on plans to mitigate effects of climate change.

Mar 18, 2015

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is making it tougher for governors to deny man-made climate change. Starting next year, the agency will approve disaster preparedness funds only for states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that address climate change.

This may put several Republican governors who maintain the earth isn't warming due to human activities, or prefer to do nothing about it, into a political bind. Their position may block their states' access to hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA funds. Over the past five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories for taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters.

"If a state has a climate denier governor that doesn't want to accept a plan, that would risk mitigation work not getting done because of politics," said Becky Hammer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's water program. "The governor would be increasing the risk to citizens in that state" because of his climate beliefs.

InsideClimate News Announces Staff Additions, Changes

Two senior hires strengthen newsroom team and digital prowess of expanding nonprofit operation.

By ICN Staff

Mar 18, 2015

InsideClimate News is pleased to announce additions and changes to its growing editorial team in its continuing dedication to elevating the reporting of climate, energy and environmental issues.

Lynn Zinser joined the staff this week as audience engagement editor, soon after Neela Banerjee joined ICN in January as Washington-based energy and environment reporter.

Ms. Banerjee spent the prior four years as the energy and environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times' Washington bureau. She also previously worked for The New York Times, covering global energy, the Iraq War and other issues, and for the Wall Street Journal, as a foreign correspondent in Moscow. Ms. Banerjee graduated from Yale and grew up mostly in south Louisiana.

Ms. Zinser comes to ICN from The New York Times, where she spent 11 years as an editor, reporter and producer, deeply involved in the evolution to a digital-first newsroom as a part of the website's editorial team. She has also worked as a reporter for several newspapers, including The Star-Ledger in Newark, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Charlotte Observer and Memphis Commercial Appeal. A graduate of Syracuse University, Ms. Zinser grew up in Rochester, N.Y.

The Melting Arctic: A Fragile Frontier of Riches and Risk Opens for Business

'The burning of fossil fuels is creating opportunity to find more fossil fuels to burn' is how Sen. Al Franken framed the painful paradox.

Mar 17, 2015

In the summer of 2014, Crystal Cruises announced the latest in its opulent adventures: a 32-day voyage from Alaska to New York, via the Northwest Passage––the world's first luxury-liner cruise through the icy North.

Never mind that the passage across the top of the Earth is encased in ice much of the year, and that the 1,070-passenger cruise wouldn’t take place until 2016. And never mind that the least expensive ticket would cost $21,000 a person.

It sold out in three weeks.

With the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, its disappearing sea ice is opening up more than cruise ship lanes. The melt is igniting a debate over how much development and commercial shipping should be allowed, what it means for the ecosystems involved, and whether the huge stores of oil and natural gas once locked underneath that ice should be extracted or left alone.

These are big questions, along with the biggest one: What does this all mean for the future climate?

The Arctic is estimated to have nearly one-quarter of the world's remaining untapped oil-and-gas reserves; while Russia and Norway are the only countries making significant strides in developing their resources so far, everyone wants a piece. The shipping routes that are becoming accessible—the Northwest Passage, where the Crystal Serenity will cruise, and the Northern Sea Route—offer unprecedented access for China and other eastern nations to bring their goods to the rest of the world. Those routes also provide a seasonal supplement to the Panama and Suez canals, which require ships to travel farther.

But the potential development in the Arctic is possible only because of global climate change; if those resources are developed, the further impact on the climate could be devastating. It's not just about the polar bears, the iconic kings of the Arctic, whose threats from climate change are well documented. A recent study in the journal Nature found that to keep global warming within the 2-degrees Celsius safe limit for all species, the Arctic's estimated 100 billion barrels of oil and 35 trillion cubic meters of gas "should be classified as unburnable." In other words, off limits.

Speaking From the Heart, Climate Scientists Launch Personal Campaign

'We need to not accept silence on the issue of climate change anymore,' says one MIT climate scientist in a new video campaign.

Mar 17, 2015

When Hurricane Floyd hit New Jersey in September 1999, 12-year-old Erika Navarro dashed out to her driveway to experience the storm firsthand. For at least 10 minutes she stood in the wind and pelting rain, watching the lake across the street flood its banks.

"It was just completely incredible," she recalled. "I had never seen that much rain falling from the sky, and never seen that much destruction from one event."

The hurricane cemented a lifelong fascination with natural disasters, and led Navarro into her current career as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, where she studies hurricane forecasting and how solar radiation affects the strength of hurricanes. 

When a professor in her department recently asked Navarro to add her voice to More Than Scientists, a climate change public outreach project, Navarro leaped at the chance.

"I've always accepted [that] as a scientist…I have an obligation to reach out to the public," she said.

SLIDESHOW: 9 climate scientists on what motivates them, and what's needed to solve the climate crisis

Could Absolute Consensus on Global Warming Come in a Suitcase?

Emily Wilson has big plans for her portable instrument that measures carbon dioxide and methane from the ground to four miles into the sky.

Mar 16, 2015

NASA scientist Emily Wilson has big plans for a little gadget.

She has developed a suitcase-sized instrument that measures carbon dioxide and methane wafting into the atmosphere from ground level to four miles into the sky.

"I have a pretty big vision," Wilson said.

She wants to create a worldwide network of these portable monitors to track the two potent greenhouse gases that have been identified as major contributors to global warming.

One day, she said, she hopes these instruments will be used to establish a comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions around the world.

Yes, it's easier said than done, she acknowledged. But the 43-year-old optical physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is determined––if not yet completely sure how––to make it happen.

"In order for there to be an absolute consensus on global warming there have to be global measurements that leave no opening for debate about what is happening," Wilson said.

NASA scientist Emily Wilson has big plans for this suitcase-sized instrument she hopes will someday be deployed around the world to track greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: NASA

Shareholders Flood Fossil Fuel Companies With Climate Resolutions Again

Proposals demand action or disclosure on low-carbon strategies, political spending, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate-change risks.

Mar 13, 2015

U.S. oil and energy companies are facing a barrage of climate-related shareholder proposals this year, many of them demanding action or disclosures on low-carbon strategies, political spending and lobbying, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate-change risks.

Other resolutions address hot-button energy issues such as the dangers of transporting crude oil in mile-long trains, concerns over hydraulic fracturing, and returning money to shareholders instead of spending it on expensive new oil projects.

The flood of environmental and social-issues resolutions is part of a trend. Over the past five years, more than 180 of those kinds of shareholder resolutions have gone to a vote at energy companies—far more than for any other industry, according to Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute. At corporate annual meetings, shareholders can propose advisory resolutions calling on management to adopt or change a wide range of policies.

Without management support, almost all of these resolutions are soundly voted down, but proposals that gather more than a few percentage points of support often get management's attention. The recent rush of energy company resolutions has won more than 25 percent of shareholder votes on average, an unusually high level of backing, Welsh said. She is co-author of the newly released 2015 Proxy Preview, a yearly report that includes tallies and analysis of a wide range of socially responsible shareholder proposals.

Math and Myth Clash in Senate Hearing on Clean Power Plan

State officials' testimony ranges from Indiana's ancient ice age to Wyoming's coal-fired future.

Mar 12, 2015

Officials from five states weighed in Wednesday at a Senate hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Their characterizations of the plan ran the gamut from "misguided" and "problematic" to "workable and practical."

The perspectives threw into sharp relief the vastly different viewpoints of states on the Clean Power Plan, which is a part of the Obama administration's broader strategy to head off climate change.

The arguments ran mainly along party lines. New York and California, strongholds of Democratic power, supported the proposal, while the other three states lambasted the EPA for forcing them to comply with a plan they see as unfeasible and unnecessary.