Scotland restores its peatlands to keep carbon in the ground

Often overlooked as critical carbon sinks, peatlands store at least twice as much carbon as forests. After years of degredation, Scotland has increased its ambition in restoring these important areas.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)

The burning Amazon rainforests, with their jaguars, monkeys and colourful birds, have grabbed global attention in a way the destruction of the world’s mossy peatlands never has.

Yet protecting the world’s peatlands, which store at least twice as much carbon as forests, is critical in the fight against climate change.

Peatlands, also known as bogs, are created when the remains of plants are submerged in waterlogged lands, turning them over time into peat with the plants’ carbon still stored inside. They cover around 3% of the world’s land and are found in 175 countries, mostly in northern Europe, North America and Southeast Asia.

Scotland has a particularly high coverage, with bogs amounting to 20% of it’s of land (roughly 1.7 million hectares) mainly in its lesser-populated north and western islands.

Decades of degradation

However the Scottish governmentestimates that roughly a third of the country’s total —  roughly 600,000 hectares —  have been degraded. Scotland’s peatlands, created mostly in areas left water-logged from the melting of Ice Age glaciers, lay untouched for thousands of years until farmers began to drain the land, building ditches so the water would run downhill into rivers.

While such ditches date back to Roman times in parts of Britain, their building intensified in Scotland in the 1950s with the advent of new machinery and government grants aimed at improving grazing.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)Peatlands in Scotland cover roughly 20% of its land

Without the bogs’ acidic water there to preserve them, the dead plants in the peat start to degrade, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The degradation is sped up by the sun and wind they are exposed to without their water coverage.

Restoration plans

To correct past mistakes, landowners are being offered grants by the Scottish government to block the drainage ditches their predecessors were encouraged to dig. A total of €16.3 million ($18 million) has been madeavailable this year. The hope is that 50,000 hectares will have been restored by the end of 2020, and 250,000 hectares by 2030.

The restoration happens in two ways according to Andrew McBride, who works for Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency responsible for handing out grants. It can either involve a ditch being filled in with peat from nearby, or a wooden dam being built inside the ditch to slow down the loss of water and spread it across the bog.

When the ditches are blocked, rainwater increases the water level, erosion stops and within two years, plants such as moss return. Within five to fifteen years, the bogs are back to fully functioning, McBride said.

Speed is key

“We want to do things as quickly as possible,” he told DW, “because obviously there’s a climate emergency.”

McBride says that landowners are often keen for restoration on their property as the farming benefits of drainage were not as great as previously thought. It only really improved the land right next to the bog, he says, adding that the drainage of ditches cause its own problems. On large estates, wandering sheep often fall into the ditches and can’t get out.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)Peatlands can store up to twice as much carbon as forests.

Scotland is also trying to restore bogs by cutting down trees. In the 1980s, the UK government introduced tax incentives encouraging landowners to drain bogs to plant trees. This was a double hit —  first drainage dried the land and then the trees sucked out even more of the moisture.

Although the trees absorbed carbon as they grew, that didn’t cancel out the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by the peatlands’ destruction.

Protests from conservationists eventually ended the tax incentives and now even the Scottish government agency Forestry and Land Scotland is aiming to transform2,500 hectares of forest back into peatland over five years.

The restoration happens in two ways according to Andrew McBride, who works for Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency responsible for handing out grants. It can either involve a ditch being filled in with peat from nearby, or a wooden dam being built inside the ditch to slow down the loss of water and spread it across the bog.

When the ditches are blocked, rainwater increases the water level, erosion stops and within two years, plants such as moss return. Within five to fifteen years, the bogs are back to fully functioning, McBride said. MORE

We may have to abandon concrete to fight climate change, architectural experts say

The building material seems so ubiquitous — what can we use in its place?

Image result for big think: We may have to abandon concrete to fight climate change, architectural experts say
Photo credit: Victor on Unsplash

    • Concrete is a surprisingly dangerous contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
    • For years, architects haven’t been concerned with these emissions since concrete buildings last for so long; their carbon footprint is spread out over their entire lifespan.
    • However, as we approach climate “tipping points,” the front-loaded cost of concrete construction may be too high.

A group of experts at the Architecture of Emergency climate summit in London have identified an unlikely source of greenhouse gas emissions: concrete.

“If we invented concrete today, nobody would think it was a good idea,” said architectural engineer and panel member Michael Ramage. “We’ve got this liquid and you need special trucks, and it takes two weeks to get hard. And it doesn’t even work if you don’t put steel in it.”

The four billion tons of concrete produced for construction each year accounts for 8 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, mainly through the production of clinker. Clinker serves as a crucial binding element in cement, the primary ingredient of concrete, and is produced by heating limestone and clay to around 1,400°C (about 2,500°F). Heating limestone (CaCO3) to these temperatures, however, causes a chemical reaction called calcination that results in lime (CaO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) as a waste product. Roughly half of concrete’s carbon dioxide emissions is due to calcination, while another 40 percent comes from burning fossil fuels to heat up limestone to the point where this chemical reaction can occur. The last 10 percent comes from the fuel used in the mining and transportation process.

Eight percent might seem like a large slice of the world’s carbon dioxide pie, but architectural experts haven’t been particularly concerned about this figure until recently. The reason why has to do with concrete’s longevity. Normally when calculating a building’s total carbon emissions, said Phineas Harper of Dezeen magazine, architects take the amount of carbon needed to construct a building and divide it over the building’s total lifespan. “That gives you your per-year carbon emissions,” said Harper. However, in our current climate situation, this kind of thinking is “dead wrong.”

Had we taken climate change more seriously a hundred years ago, this would probably be fine. But as it stands today, we have only a few short years before we reach climate “tipping points,” events that create negative feedback loops in the climate that are very difficult to reverse. The melting of polar ice, which reflects sunlight and contains locked-away greenhouse gases, is a well-known example of such a tipping point. So too is deforestation in rainforests, which increases the likelihood of local droughts, killing even more trees.

As a result, the front-heavy carbon load of concrete buildings inadvertently contribute more to climate change than any straightforward calculation may suggest.

Looking for alternatives

So, if we can’t build sustainably with concrete, what other materials can we build with? Ken de Cooman, founder of BC Architects & Studies, discussed how his firm is using materials primarily formed from the earth, like compressed-earth bricks. There are also biocomposite materials, which are formed out of natural fibers embedded in a matrix. Hempcrete, for instance, is a biocomposite of hemp and lime that is actually carbon negative since hemp absorbs CO2 as it grows.

Interestingly, one of the best candidates for replacing concrete in construction projects is something of an old-fashioned solution — timber. One might wonder if using timber is all that wise given the importance of forests in maintaining the health of our environment, this might seem counterintuitive. Ramage acknowledged that building out of timber would require sustainable practices. In order to make construction using timber sustainable, a number of trees would have to be planted for every tree that is cut down. And, added Ramage,”It’s important to remember that every kilogram of timber we build with holds the equivalent of 1.8 kilograms of carbon dioxide.” Unlike concrete, timber stores carbon dioxide, lowering a building’s overall carbon footprint.

As an example of this, architect Andrew Waugh described a building his firm built in North London.

“We built the entire building from solid timber from the first floor up. So all the internal walls, external walls, lift shafts, staircases, all in timber. … It’s about 2.8 trees per person that live in that building and for every one of those trees that was cut down to build that building five more were planted in its place.”

Timber is growing in popularity as a construction material, both because of its greater sustainability and because of advances that have enabled it to be used in taller buildings, like cross-laminated timber. These developments have not left the concrete industry too happy, which has taken out advertisements emphasizing the flammability of timber buildings and the environmental impacts of cutting down trees.

“We must be doing something right,” said Waugh, “because, much like the tobacco industry in the 1980s and 1990s, Big Concrete is beginning to fight back.”

Many of the methods we can employ to address climate change can seem radical. After all, many climate change activists ask that we stop engaging in many activities that have been a part of our lives for decades. But the climate crisis didn’t suddenly arise out of nowhere — it’s these activities that have, bit by bit, added momentum to this phenomenon.

Reversing that momentum will mean cutting back on fossil fuels, eating meat, building in concrete, and many more activities that we have taken for granted. SOURCE

RELATED:

What is the Future of Concrete in Architecture?

Norway public pension fund severs final link with Canada’s oilsands


Steam generators at Cenovus Energy’s Foster Creek site in northeastern Alberta. Photo by company

Norway’s municipal employees pension fund, the country’s largest, has sold its last remaining stakes in companies with operations in Canada’s oilsands, saying holding them does not align with efforts to keep global heating below internationally agreed-upon targets.

The fund, Kommunal Landspensjonskasse (KLP), last year dumped stocks that drew more than 30 per cent of their revenue from oilsands operations, but on Monday said they can no longer tolerate even those that have five per cent exposure.

KLP, which manages the pensions of Norway’s 900,000 nurses, firefighters and other employees of local governments and state-owned enterprises, said in a statement that it had jettisoned US$33 million worth of equity holdings and US$25 million in bonds from Canada’s Cenovus Energy, Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil (majority owned by ExxonMobil) and Husky Energy, as well as Russia’s Tatneft PAO.

Jeanett Bergan, head of responsible investments at KLP, said in a phone interview that “the message we really would like to get across is that companies and fund managers and investors all need to start managing this risk and making sure that they’re doing everything they can to be part of the transition that all societies need to do.”

Norway, much like Canada, has a sizable oil and gas industry that creates economic activity but also contributes to unsustainable levels of global carbon emissions. The oil and gas sector in Canada is the largest contributor to the country’s carbon pollution profile, contributing over a quarter of all emissions, or 27 per cent according to federal estimates.

“From the emission numbers and everything that is happening around the world, nothing is moving fast enough,” Bergan said. “We’re not close to the 1.5 degree (Celsius) target, we’re not close to the 2 degree target. We’re far from it,” she said, referring to commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement, signed in 2016, to keep global warming from rising more than 1.5 or 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

“Companies and fund managers and investors all need to start managing this risk,” says @JeanettBergan of @KLPkvitrer. “And making sure that they’re doing everything they can to be part of the transition that all societies need to do.”

A centrifugal plant under construction at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake facility. Suncor Energy and Imperial Oil are the two biggest stakeholders in the joint venture near Fort McMurray in Alberta. Photo courtesy of Syncrude Canada Ltd

Canada Pension Plan board looking at fund’s pollution

Global temperatures have so far risen roughly 1 C since humans began building factories and using mechanized manufacturing techniques more than 200 years ago. Human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels has caused all planetary heating since midcentury.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), a Crown corporation, manages over $400 billion including hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil and gas companies such as Enbridge ($385 million), Suncor ($240 million) and Pembina Pipeline ($95 million).

The corporation could not say whether it was considering axing its fossil fuel holdings when contacted by National Observer. It also does not have a stated, specific plan to cut exposure to companies of a certain emissions intensity.

In fact, the fund has just started to ask the question of how much carbon pollution its holdings emit at all.

CPPIB’s 2018 sustainability report looked at 34 per cent of total holdings, the fund’s stake in each emitting company, and determined it emitted 15.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (125 tonnes of CO2e per C$1 million invested and 220 tonnes of CO2e per C$1 million of revenue).  MORE

Oil and gas lobby’s wish list would increase Canadian greenhouse gas emissions by 116 million tonnes, according to study

Environmental Defence Canada's executive director Tim Gray at a recent panel in Edmonton. Image: David J. Climenhaga
Image: David J. Climenhaga

Research published this morning by Environmental Defence Canada concludes that adoption of the powerful Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers lobby group’s election wish list would increase Canadian greenhouse gas emissions by 116 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.

“In that scenario, Canada’s oil and gas sector would be emitting 311 million tonnes, making emissions from that one industry representing one-fourteenth of the Canadian economy greater than the emissions of 170 countries in the world,” the report stated.

This goes to the respected Toronto-based environmental group’s assertion well-funded fossil fuel industry lobbying is the single biggest barrier to effective climate action being taken by Canada.

“Oil and gas companies haven’t just played an outsized role in emitting GHGs and accelerating climate change,” said the report, which was put together for Environmental Defence Canada by the EnviroEconomics research organization. “Their lobbying efforts have also contributed to weakening existing environmental policies and killing or delaying proposed climate policies.”

The report noted that academic research shows corporate fossil fuel lobbyists met with Canadian government officials about 11,000 times between 2011 and 2017. That’s eleven thousand times — not a typo.

Fossil fuel industry lobbying sought to weaken or kill six important areas of environmental protection, the report said: environmental assessment rules, water protection, carbon-pricing policies, methane controls, impact assessment and clean fuel standards.

The report also accuses some of Canada’s major fossil fuel companies of using subsidiaries in foreign tax havens to avoid taxes, although the researchers said they were unable to estimate the amount of money that may have been squirrelled away abroad.

If CAPP’s wish list were granted after the October 21 federal election, Environmental Defence Canada said, GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector “would use 60 per cent of Canada’s 2030 carbon budget under the Paris Agreement.” It noted that the sector, despite its power and influence, represents 7 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product and 1.3 per cent of Canada’s employment. MORE

WHAT IS THE CARBON ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

Image result for elephant in the room
GETTY IMAGES

I ran into the “carbon elephant in the room” while researching the book Making Better Buildings. In the book, I was attaching “embodied carbon” figures to a wide range of building materials as one means of comparing environmental impacts.

Picture

Embodied carbon is the total greenhouse gas emissions from harvesting, transporting and manufacturing building materials.

As I learned when I began to use embodied carbon factors for materials, these emissions can be very significant. In fact, by some estimates, as much as 11% of global emissions come from manufacturing building materials! And on a per-building basis, it’s not unusual to have over 500 kg of emissions per square meter of building!

I called this the carbon elephant in the room because in 2013, hardly anybody was accounting for this significant amount of emissions. Instead, all the focus was on making buildings more energy efficient.

While efficiency is important, reductions in material emissions are immediate and therefore more impactful in reducing atmospheric carbon concentration now, rather than in the future.

BUILDING MATERIALS AS CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

My research also led me to realize that building materials made from plant material (and especially waste or residue plant material) typically has extremely low embodied carbon AND is made from 30-60% carbon that the plants drew out of the atmosphere while they were growing.

By putting those materials into long-term storage in buildings, it is possible to create a building with zero net embodied carbon or even a carbon-storing building… drawdown buildings!

I am a passionate advocate for using building materials as carbon capture and storage mediums… we can turn buildings from a major climate change problem into a climate drawdown solution!

You can download my Master’s thesis, Opportunities for CO2 Capture and Storage in Building Materials, by clicking on the link below…

DOWNLOAD FILE

SOURCE

 

SAUDI ARABIA DENIES ITS KEY ROLE IN CLIMATE CHANGE EVEN AS IT PREPARES FOR THE WORST

Smoke billows from an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq about 60km (37 miles) southwest of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia's eastern province on September 14, 2019. - Drone attacks sparked fires at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities early today, the interior ministry said, in the latest assault on the state-owned energy giant as it prepares for a much-anticipated stock listing. Yemen's Iran-aligned Huthi rebels claimed the drone attacks, according to the group's Al-Masirah television. (Photo by - / AFP)        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke billows after drone attacks sparked fires at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province on Sept. 14, 2019. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

ANYONE WHO WAS still questioning whether climate change can exacerbate violent international conflicts has only to look at Saudi Arabia, where drones struck oil installations in the eastern part of the country on September 14. While the Trump administration is blaming Iran, Houthis in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, which is both the source of the kingdom’s vast wealth and, as the world’s largest corporate emitter of greenhouse gases, one of the primary drivers of the climate emergency making life increasingly difficult throughout the region.

Rising temperatures have exacerbated water shortages in Yemen, where some 19 million people already lacked access to clean water and sanitation due to mismanagement and drought. Saudis have weaponized this water scarcity in their war in Yemen, targeting areas for their proximity to fertile land and destroying water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is also facing some of the worst risks from soaring temperatures. This summer, the temperature in Al Majmaah, a city in central Saudi Arabia, reached 131 degrees Fahrenheit, while rapid desertification was reported throughout the Arabian peninsula.

Saudi Aramco, the most profitable corporation in the world, released more than 40 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases between 1992 and 2017, the equivalent of almost 5 percent of industrial carbon dioxide and methane. The company, closely held by the Saudi royal family, is now confronting the challenges of climate change in ways that mirror many western fossil fuel giants: by launching a rebranding effort that positions the firm as an environmental leader. MORE

Adaptation isn’t enough. We’ve got to throw everything at the climate crisis

Jonathan Franzen is the latest figure to preach the gospel of adaptation. But without cutting emissions, it won’t work


Illustration: Eva Bee/The Guardian

When we’re faced with threats of inundation, our reaction has traditionally been to build walls. Sea-level rises, storms and floods have been held back with solid barriers, seawalls and dykes. We have used walls to keep out people, too: the fact that this has failed throughout the ages has not stopped its recent revival in the United States.

The climate crisis threatens global sea-level rises of well over half a metre if we fail to act, while tidal storm surges will reach many times that height. Fiercer and more frequent hurricanes will batter us, and millions of people who live in areas where crops have failed and wells run dry will be forced to flee their homes. But walls will not work with the climate crisis, even if the temptation to try to keep out the consequences, rather than dealing with the causes, is as strong as ever.

The prospect of a “climate apartheid”, in which the rich insulate themselves from the impacts of the climate emergency while the poor and vulnerable are abandoned to their fate, is now real. According to the UN, climate-related disasters are already taking place at the rate of one a week, though only a few of them – such as Hurricane Dorian – get reported.

Nowhere on Earth will be untouched, with the number of people facing water shortages set to leap from 3.6 billion today to 5 billion by 2050. At least 100 million people will be plunged into poverty in the next decade, and in the decades following that, rising sea levels will swamp coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai, wiping $1tn a year from the global economy. Agriculture will become increasingly difficult, with more people displaced as a result, searching for liveable conditions elsewhere.

The Global Commission on Adaptation, headed by Bill Gates and Ban Ki-moon, warned this week that we have failed to plan adequately for a crisis that is now upon us. At a series of high-level meetings beginning in the next few weeks, and continuing into next year, world leaders and representatives of civil society and businesses will try to devise a better response. Among the questions they face will be how to set new targets, secure new funding and take more effective action to help the world not just prevent further warming, but to adapt to the impacts already being felt.

Currently, 20 times more is being spent on reducing emissions than building resilience to the effects of rising temperatures and extreme weather, according to the Commission on Adaptation. That seems patently unbalanced, and neglecting adaptation is putting millions of people and their livelihoods in danger now, as well as storing up problems for the future.

What’s more, money invested today will pay dividends in the near future. Spending less than $2tn by 2030 would result in more than $7tn saved in damage avoided and better economic growth. These sums sound huge, but are a fraction of the amount the world will spend on infrastructure in the next decade.

And modern adaptation means more than building seawalls. Restoring natural features, such as mangrove swamps and wetlands, can do far more to protect coastal regions, as well as nurturing biodiversity and tourism. New technology will play a key role, as early warnings of extreme weather give people time to take shelter or protect their property. Engineering climate-ready infrastructure encompasses everything from porous pavements to urban trees to provide shade.

What’s clear is that we need to adapt and build resilience now, because climate change is no longer a comfortably faraway problem. The predicted ravages have come sooner than expected: heatwaves over much of the northern hemisphere last year, floods and extreme weather in south-east Asia, Arctic ice melting at unprecedented levels this summer, and Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest ever recorded. Worse still, some of these effects are likely themselves to increase temperatures further, in a series of feedback loops. The fires in the Amazon are destroying a vital “carbon sink”. Shrinking ice reveals darker water that absorbs more heat than highly reflective snow. Melting permafrost releases methane, a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

It is tempting, in the face of these events, to suggest that the game is up for trying to prevent climate change. The emissions reductions needed to stop it are so vast, and the changes to our way of life so total, that it may seem like all we can do is adapt to the consequences. The hastening prospect of a “climate apartheid” is morally revolting as well as politically alarming, and could lead to a kind of paralysis.

The view that adapting to inevitable climate change should be our priority, over futile and ruinously expensive attempts to cut emissions, has been spread by those who want to continue to emit CO2, come what may. Fossil fuel companies saw adaptation, along with the idea that we could geo-engineer our way out of trouble, as a way to keep selling oil while paying lip service to the climate science. Now it is gaining traction among more respectable thinkers. Jonathan Franzen, the American novelist and nature lover, whipped up a storm when he suggested in the New Yorker that: “In the long run, it probably makes no difference how badly we overshoot 2C … Every billion dollars spent on high-speed trains … is a billion not banked for disaster preparedness, reparations to inundated countries, or future humanitarian relief.”

It’s true that spending on adaptation is a good deal. It saves lives, and if used wisely could stave off the climate apartheid that experts foresee. But setting up adaptation versus emissions-cutting as an either-or choice is a grave mistake. Trying to adapt to the consequences of climate change while continuing to burn fossil fuels is like trying to mop up an overflowing sink while the taps are still running. As long as we continue to pump CO2 into the air, we are fuelling rises in temperature. We cannot outrun global heating any more than we can hold back the rising sea with dykes. And the fires blazing through the Amazon show that without action, things could easily get much worse.

It can seem that in a world of finite resources, we need to make a binary decision about where to put our efforts. That is an illusion. The truth is that dealing with the climate emergency requires an across-the-board approach, for the simple reason that all of our resources – economic, physical, social – are at stake. If we do not throw everything we can at the problem, there won’t be much left anyway. In short, there is no wall high enough to keep out the consequences of inaction on emissions. SOURCE

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Scientific American: Shut Up, Franzen

Elizabeth May: We have had decades to stop the climate crisis. The era of procrastination must end

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May meets with the Toronto Star editorial board on Tuesday.
Elizabeth May is the leader of Canada’s federal Green Party

For all my life I have had a deep connection to the natural world. And I do mean all my life.

My mother used to tell me that when I was about 2 I told her I hated airplanes. As I had never been in one, she asked why. “Because they scratch the sky.”

When I was 13, I set my course to become an environmental lawyer. This path was interrupted by my parents’ somewhat impetuous decision to move the family from Hartford, Conn., where my father was a senior insurance executive, to a tiny village on Cape Breton Island. Almost as an afterthought, my parents made a financially disastrous decision to buy a restaurant and gift shop. Instead of pre-law university in my late teens to late 20s, I worked as a waitress and cook in the family business. And every winter I ended up fighting the local pulp mill over its plans to spray pesticides over our island.

My life got back on track when I discovered I could go to law school without an undergraduate degree. I was known as an activist, described by CBC’s The Fifth Estate as “the 23-year-old waitress who stopped the pulp company dead in its tracks.” Without knowing it was even possible, my activism helped me gain admission to Dalhousie University law school.

Which brings me to why climate change is personal: In 1986, the minister of the environment decided he needed someone in his office with a reputation for environmental activism. I was practising law with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa when he asked me to join his staff. I was an unlikely choice — not a supporter of his party and, as I warned him against hiring me, “I am the kind of person who would quit on principle.”

I will be forever grateful for that chance to be the minister’s senior policy adviser. Even though, sadly, I did end up quitting on principle, I learned the workings of government — when it works — and I learned the science of climate change.

Those were heady times for anyone wanting to see government act on the side of the planet. I was part of Environment Canada’s work to stop acid rain, create national parks, clean up the Great Lakes, develop new environmental legislation and negotiate the treaty that saved the ozone layer.

I was also educated about climate change by Environment Canada scientists. In the last week of June 1988, Toronto hosted the world’s first publicly accessible international climate science conference. I was one of the organizers.

It ended with a call to reduce our emissions by 20 per cent below 1988 levels by 2005.

This is the point in this little story when I want to weep. We knew. We promised. In 1992, I was at the Rio Earth Summit, holding my infant daughter in my arms, watching our prime minister sign the treaty to save the climate.

The horrible reality is that since making the promises to curb greenhouse gases, emissions have grown. We have emitted more greenhouse gases since 1992 than between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until 1992. MORE

Fossil Rebellion

In the midst of climate breakdown, governments around the world are funding and protecting the fossil fuel industry

Climate activists from the Extinction Rebellion group demonstrate during protests outside the Bank of England in London last week © Bloomberg

The tragedy of our times is that the gathering collapse of our life support systems coincides with the age of public disservice. Just as we need to rise above self-interest and short termism, governments around the world now represent the meanest and dirtiest of special interests. In the United Kingdom, the US, Brazil, Australia and many other nations, pollutocrats rule.

The Earth’s systems are breaking down at astonishing speed. Wild fires roar across Siberia and Alaska, biting, in many places, deep into peat soils, releasing plumes of carbon dioxide and methane that cause more global heating. In July alone, Arctic wildfires are reckoned to have released as much carbon into the atmosphere as Austria does in a year: already the vicious twister of climate feedbacks has begun to turn. Torrents of meltwater pour from the Greenland ice cap, sweltering under a 15°C temperature anomaly. Daily ice losses on this scale are 50 years ahead of schedule: they were forecast by the climate models for 2070. A paper in Geophysical Research Letters reveals that the thawing of permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic now exceeds the depths of melting projected by scientists for 2090.

While record temperatures in Europe last month caused discomfort and disruption, in Southwest Asia they are already starting to reach the point at which the human body hits its thermal limits. Ever wider tracts of the world will come to rely on air-conditioning not only for basic comfort but also for human survival: another feedback spiral, as air-conditioning requires massive energy use. Those who cannot afford it will either move or die. Already, climate breakdown is driving more people from their homes than either poverty or conflict, while contributing to both these other factors.

recent paper in Nature shows that we have little hope of preventing more than 1.5° of global heating unless we retire existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Even if no new gas or coal power plants, roads and airports are built, the carbon emissions from current installations are likely to push us past this threshold. Only by retiring some of this infrastructure before the end of its natural life could we secure a 50% chance of remaining within the temperature limit agreed in Paris in 2015. Yet, far from decommissioning this Earth-killing machine, almost everywhere governments and industry stoke its fires.

The oil and gas industry intends to spend $4.9 trillion over the next 10 years, exploring and developing new reserves, none of which we can afford to burn. According to the IMF, every year governments subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of $5 trillion: many times more than they spend on addressing our existential predicament. The US spends 10 times more on these mad subsidies than on its federal education budget. Last year, the world burnt more fossil fuels than ever before.

An analysis by Barry Saxifrage in Canada’s National Observer shows that half the fossil fuels ever used by humans have been burnt since 1990. While renewable and nuclear power supplies have also risen in this period, the gap between the production of fossil fuels and low carbon energy has not been narrowing, but steadily widening. What counts, in seeking to prevent runaway global heating, is not the good things we start to do, but the bad things we cease to do. Shutting down fossil infrastructure requires government intervention.

But in many nations, governments intervene not to protect humanity from the existential threat of fossil fuels, but to protect the fossil fuel industry from the existential threat of public protest.

In the US, legislators in 18 states have put forward bills criminalising protests against pipelines, seeking to crush democratic dissent on behalf of the oil industry. In June, Donald Trump’s government proposed federal legislation that would jail people for up to 20 years for disrupting pipeline construction. MORE

 

BC Government Frets Over Climate Change While Heavily Subsidizing Fracking Companies

Worse, the giveaway probably isn’t needed, with the global industry desperate for new gas fields.

Fracking-Pipes.jpg
Fracking does not need subsidies to be profitable. But we still hand ’em out. Photo via Shutterstock.

We’re in a climate crisis. So why did the B.C. government give oil and gas companies $663 million in subsidies last year so they would produce more fracked natural gas?

The NDP government hasn’t declared a climate emergency. But it commissioned a report that warns of more severe wildfire seasons, water shortages, heat waves, landslides and more.

Despite that, the government handed almost two-thirds of a billion dollars to fossil fuel companies — $130 per person in the province — so they’ll extract more methane, more quickly. (The numbers are all from the always-interesting Public Accounts released last month by the province’s auditor general.)

Which is perverse in a time when we’re warned of climate disaster.

British Columbians own the oil and gas under the ground. Companies pay royalties to the government for the right to extract and sell it.

Since 2003, the B.C. government has been putting natural gas on sale. It has cut royalties to subsidize the industry’s road construction and reward any operators who drilled in the summer.

And most significantly, it started offering the gas at a deep discount for companies that drilled “deep wells.” The industry argument was that they were riskier and more expensive; the government had to sell the gas more cheaply to encourage companies to drill. It increased the discounts in 2009 and 2014, giving even bigger breaks to the fossil fuel companies. (Who were also big BC Liberal donors.)

The discounts — subsidies from taxpayers who have to pay more to make up for the lost revenue — have enriched fossil fuel companies for more than a decade. MORE