BROOKLYN, N.Y.—InsideClimate News this week launched a campaign to raise funds for an innovative national-local reporting collaboration with the Arkansas Times that will investigate the causes and consequences of the Exxon pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark. on Mar. 29. The campaign is being run on ioby.org, an innovative, non-profit crowdfunding platform.
"We are appealing to our readers to help crowdfund this effort and show that modest donations can have a cumulative impact to improve the public interest," said David Sassoon, publisher of InsideClimate News. "When legacy big media can’t cover an important story like this one and give it the attention it deserves, citizens can still take ownership of the first amendment and make sure democracy's job gets done."
WASHINGTON—A new report from the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses and the London-based Royal United Services Institute, two of the NATO alliance's front-line strategy centers, recommends putting more effort into fighting global warming than securing reliable supplies of fossil fuels.
The authors call the habitual American fixation on winning energy independence through expanded North American production of oil and natural gas "misguided." They say the "only sustainable solution" to the problem of energy insecurity is not through more drilling, but through energy efficiency and renewable fuels, like biofuels to replace oil.
Despite the steady supplies provided by the current U.S. drilling boom, "the increased domestic production of oil and natural gas is not a panacea for the country's energy security dilemma," they say.
And in blunt language, they criticize American policymakers and legislators for refusing to accept the "robust" scientific evidence that emissions of carbon dioxide are already causing harmful global warming, and for refusing to take actions that, if taken swiftly, could ward off its worst effects.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to protect New York City from future superstorm Sandys and other climate-related threats is the most ambitious and scientifically accurate plan of its kind in the world. But as global warming intensifies and sea levels rise, even this strategy may not be enough to flood-proof the city for very long, experts say.
The climate adaptation plan, unveiled last week, would funnel $19.5 billion into more than 250 initiatives to reduce the city's vulnerability to coastal flooding and storm surge. It comes eight months after Sandy engulfed 1,000 miles of the Atlantic coastline—delivering a 14-foot storm surge to New York and crippling the nation's financial capital. The storm showed just how unprepared New York and other coastal cities are to handle flooding from weather disasters.
New York City's $19.5 billion plan to adapt to climate change may be the world's most ambitious. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg is hardly alone in trying to find ways to prepare his city for rising seas and extreme weather as the global fight to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius fades.
Roughly 20 percent of cities around the globe have developed adaptation strategies, according to a 2011 estimate by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the United States, city, county and state governments have developed more than 100 adaptation plans, a separate count by the Georgetown Climate Center found. And through a UN-financing initiative, wealthy nations have poured $11 billion into developing countries to help on adaptation in the past few years.
Experts interviewed by InsideClimate News said that unlike Bloomberg's plan—which detailed 250 climate adaptation strategies and put a price tag on most of them—few other cities have outlined specific actions or provided concrete details on how government agencies should implement initiatives or pay for them.
The lawsuit that state and federal officials in Arkansas filed last week against ExxonMobil is unusual, pipeline experts say, because government agencies usually wait much longer—sometimes even years—before filing lawsuits against companies involved in pipeline accidents.
Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured on March 29, spilling at least 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into Mayflower, Ark. about 25 miles northwest of Little Rock.
"And this [the lawsuit] comes along three months after?" said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Wash. "There's something at work here we simply don't know about."
Philadelphia attorney Andy Levine, a former senior assistant regional counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, described the legal strategy being pursued in Arkansas as "a head scratcher."
Since 2010, at least three ruptured pipelines have spilled oil into U.S. neighborhoods, forcing officials to decide quickly whether local residents would be harmed if they breathed the foul air. But because there are no clear federal guidelines saying if or when the public should be evacuated during an oil spill, health officials had to use a patchwork of scientific and regulatory data designed for other situations.
As a result, residents of the three communities received different levels of protection.
No houses were evacuated in Salt Lake City, Utah, where a ruptured pipeline leaked 33,000 gallons of medium grade crude oil before it was discovered on the morning of June 12, 2010. The oil ran down Red Butte Creek, past neighborhoods where windows were left open in the summer heat. The fumes, which are known to cause drowsiness, left some people so lethargic that they didn't wake up until after noon.
In Marshall, Mich. officials called for a voluntary evacuation after more than a million gallons of heavy Canadian crude spilled into the Kalamazoo River on July 25, 2010. But they agonized over the decision for four days before making that recommendation.
In Mayflower, Ark. authorities quickly evacuated 22 families after a broken pipeline leaked about 200,000 gallons of heavy crude on March 29, 2013. But people living in the same subdivision, just a few blocks away, were not asked to leave. Neither were the residents of the lakeside community where the oil eventually pooled and where the cleanup continues today.
Mainstream environmental groups in Illinois celebrated last month after state lawmakers approved a bill regulating fracking—a bill the environmental groups themselves had helped write in a unique collaboration with the fossil fuel industry and politicians.
Local grassroots groups, however, want fracking in Illinois stopped altogether, not simply regulated with legislation. They are not only protesting the law, but also their one-time allies.
"A lot of people feel betrayed and sold out," said Sandra Steingraber, an environmental health expert and Illinois native who has joined the anti-fracking grassroots campaign. For years, the grassroots groups had worked with mainstream organizations to persuade legislators to institute a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, she said. "Without consulting the grassroots, these compromise-oriented [mainstream] groups seemingly dropped the joint fight for a moratorium in favor of regulation written behind closed doors ... They were negotiating on our behalf without our permission."
BERLIN—The grand old building in downtown Berlin has seen some of the worst of German history: aerial bombing in World War II, a close-up view of the Berlin Wall, service as communist East Germany's highest court. But on May 24 an ornate conference room in the Ministry of Economics and Technology served as the setting for the delivery of a report card on a new and more hopeful chapter in Germany history: the country's ambitious effort to run its economy on non-polluting energy.
Germany has gone farther than any other large industrial economy in decarbonizing its power sector. Already it derives more than 20 percent of its electricity from clean sources, and it's aiming to reach 80 percent by 2050. But the sheer scale of its Energiewende, or "energy transition," has caused skeptics here and abroad to question whether those goals are really attainable.
In 2008, Virginia resident Ruth McElroy Amundsen took her first stab at using shareholder activism to spur action on climate change—she introduced a resolution that challenged Dominion Resources Inc., Virginia's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to get more of its electricity from renewables.
Since then the 51-year-old NASA engineer and mother of two has helped spark a growing movement to pressure Dominion to respond to global warming concerns. Last month, the informal network of 20 activists achieved its biggest success yet: Shareholders representing nearly a quarter of Dominion's shares voted "yes" on a proposal to require the utility to report to investors on the financial risks that climate change poses to its business.
That wasn't enough to pass the resolution, but it was by far the highest number of "yes" votes ever cast for a climate resolution to Dominion. It was a surprising result, the activists say, because the company has been particularly resistant to climate and renewable energy policies.
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration has sharply increased its cost estimates for the global-warming damage caused by carbon dioxide emissions, a calculation that could significantly affect government policies about fossil fuel projects, including the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The new estimates could influence many other government actions, such as setting efficiency standards for appliances and industrial equipment and establishing emissions standards for new and existing power plants. It will also factor into the running debate on whether to impose a carbon tax or find some other way to put a price on carbon emissions.
At issue is what economists call "the social cost of carbon," a measurement of the price society ultimately pays for the damages caused by each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The higher the social cost, the more economic sense it makes to impose strict but expensive emission controls.
A central estimate in the range of possibilities presented in the administration's new calculations is that each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the year 2020 will cost society $43—a number that rises in subsequent years, as the mounting pollution exacerbates the problem of global warming. That estimate is about 66 percent higher than the $26 per ton cost calculated back in 2010, when the administration issued its first set of estimates.