Vast subsidies keeping the fossil fuel industry afloat should be put to better use

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(MENAFN – The Conversation) Capitalism has often been identified as the underlying cause of theclimate crisis . A leading voice on the subject is Naomi Klein, one of the climate movements most influential thinkers, whose seminal book onclimate changewas subtitled Capitalism vs. the Climate. She is one of many voices identifying capitalism as the cause of climate change.

Often central within the capitalism versus the climate framing is the idea that the heart of capitalist ideology – free market fundamentalism – has fuelled the climate crisis. But this line of argument often glosses over the fact that energy markets are not free from government intervention. In fact, the fossil fuel industry is deeply and increasingly reliant on government support to survive.

Ina forthcoming book chapter , I detail case studies from the world’s worst climate polluting countries. I show that the fossil fuel industry depends on an egregious amount of government support, which makes the public foot the bill for a harmful – and increasingly uncompetitive – industry.

Polluters market

In my chapter, I show that governments the world over favour fossil fuel interests throughpublic financing ,financial subsidies , andbailouts . In addition, the fossil fuel industry is helped bycorrupt governance systems . Together this forms what I call a system of fossil fuel welfare and protectionism.

To hide this reality, the fossil fuel industry has invested ina massive public relationsscheme (read: propaganda campaign) to paint itself as the defender of the free market. In the US, the fossil fuel industry has even,quite successfully , duped Evangelicals into associating the fossil fuel industry with free markets, and free markets with God’s will. Thus, attacks on the fossil fuel industry become attacks on God’s will. But if God’s will was really aligned with the free market, then the fossil fuel industry would be doing the devil’s work.

Take South Africa, for example, the biggest carbon polluter on the African continent. It used to be home to the world’sfastest growing renewable energy sector , but government intervention to protect polluting coal interests set back these advances. Under President Cyril Ramaphosa the government is now taking steps to allowsmall amountsof new renewable energy into the market. But government actions continue to slowthe immense potentialSouth Africa has for a low-cost, renewable energy revolution.

Arecent studyreported that South Africa subsidises coal by R56,6 billion per year – propping up a polluting industry with taxpayer money. South Africa continues to subsidise coal despite studies showing that renewable energy was helpingto prevent energy blackouts , wassaving South Africa billions on energyand that a renewable energy future is the country’slowest costenergy pathway.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) study showed that the US, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas emitter, givesten times more to fossil fuel subsidies than it does to education . Without such subsidies half of future oil production in the USwould be unprofitable .

As for coal, even the Wall Street Journal admits that US coalsimply can’t compete on a level playing field , and is losing out despite its major subsidies.Studies revealthat without regulation to shield them from market forces, about half of the coal plants in the US would be going bankrupt.

The fossil fuel industry is increasingly relying on the heavy hand of the government to protect fossil fuels from competition. Subsidies and protective policies shield fossil fuels from the reality that renewable energy has become the cheapest energy sourceworldwide.

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Shine On: Solar power is eclipsing coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy with rapid growth and cost reductions

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A heatwave across Europe was a reminder of the dangers of climate breakdown, but also of the enormous opportunities for tapping into the clean renewable energy that can replace the fossil fuels that drive global warming.

Ever since 2013, the installation of new renewable energy capacity has outstripped all other major energy generating sources combined, coal, oil, gas and nuclear. There are impressive figures for all renewables but the growth and fall in costs of solar power has stunned even seasoned industry observers.

Since its invention in 1954 in the United States, the photovoltaic (PV) cell has offered access to the sun’s energy for free. But it is only in the last decade that the cost of manufacturing solar panels has plummeted dramatically, making them not only affordable but sometimes even the cheapest form of electricity, outcompeting fossil fuels. The City of Los Angeles is negotiating a 25 year power purchase agreement that would deliver solar PV generated electricity at 2¢/kWh and battery storage at 1.3¢/kWh. In the response, the leading authority on renewable energy, Prof of civil and environmental engineering, Mark Z Jacobson, commented, “Goodnight natural gas, goodnight coal, goodnight nuclear.” According to Forbes magazine, this is half the cost of electricity generated from a new natural gas plant, often touted as the efficient, acceptable face of fossil fuels. MORE

Lessons for a rapid transition

  1. Governments play a vital part in stimulating industries that advance zero carbon technologies with tax incentives and other forms of financial support to encourage early uptake.
  2. Bringing down costs is vital for the widespread adoption of any technology, and once scaled up the fall in costs can be dramatic.
  3. Solar power offers unique opportunities to poorer energy consumers in the global South, with its high levels of sunshine and often patchy energy networks.

Is Planting Trees The New Carbon Fighting Technology?

One has to wonder why it has taken so long to discover that tree-planting done on a massive global scale is likely to become one of the most effective tools in the carbon-fighting toolbox. A new study just out in Science journal claims that reforestation is “our most effective climate change solution to date.” This is mind-boggling. We are spending precious time and billions on technologies to suck carbon dioxide out the air we breathe. And trees can do this—for nothing. The following article by Stephen Leahy was first published in National Geographic. (Editor’s intro)

Planting Lots of Trees

An area the size of the United States could be restored as forests with the potential of erasing nearly 100 years of carbon emissions, according to the first ever study to determine how many trees the Earth could support.

Published [recently] in Science, “The global tree restoration potential” report found that there is enough suitable land to increase the world’s forest cover by one-third without affecting existing cities or agriculture. However, the amount of suitable land area diminishes as global temperatures rise. Even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the area available for forest restoration could be reduced by a fifth by 2050 because it would be too warm for some tropical forests.

“Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today,” said Tom Crowther, a researcher at ETH Zürich, and senior author of the study.

Not a substitute for phasing out fossils

That does not alter the vital importance of protecting existing forests and phasing out fossil fuels since new forests would take decades to mature, Crowther said in a statement.

“If we act now, this could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 25 percent, to levels last seen almost a century ago,” he says.

It could take more than a hundred years to add enough mature forest to get sufficient levels of carbon reduction. Meanwhile 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels are being added to the atmosphere every year, said Glen Peters, research director at Norway’s Center for International Climate Research. MORE

Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees

Forests are one of the world’s most significant sources of food, new medicines and oxygen. Scientist and author Diana Beresford-Kroeger explores our profound biological and spiritual connection with trees, and meets people who are taking the lead to replant, restore and protect the last of the planet’s great ancient forests. WATCH THE VIDEO  (52:07)

Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement on Climate Justice, the Green New Deal, and Revolution

“We didn’t ask to have the responsibility of protecting human civilization on our shoulders. But we’re stepping up to the plate.”

Varshini Prakash
Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash addresses The Road to the Green New Deal Tour final event at Howard University on May 13, 2019. (AP Photo / Cliff Owen)

It was on a Sunday in March 2014 when I first heard Varshini Prakash fire up a crowd. Several hundred young people were crammed into a quadrangle on the Georgetown University campus, ready to march to the White House—where nearly 400 of them would be arrested protesting the Keystone XL and other tar-sands pipelines. A junior at UMass-Amherst at the time, organizing the (successful) fossil-fuel divestment campaign, Prakash, bullhorn in hand, had an emphatic message for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

“We don’t want half-baked solutions!” she declared with attention-getting intensity. “We can’t gamble with false promises! We won’t settle for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy when what this looming crisis demands is a none-of-the-above approach to fossil fuels!”

By the fall of 2015, Prakash and a small group of experienced young climate-justice activists had reached the conclusion, correctly, that what they and most of the climate movement were doing wasn’t enough. They realized, as she told me when we sat down for a conversation at a Boston coffee shop in May, “We need a new movement in America for young people.”

What Prakash and her 11 co-founders went on to build is now known to the world as the Sunrise Movement. Last November, with a media-savvy, hundreds-strong sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill, they famously launched the fight for the game-changing Green New Deal—and reshaped the landscape of the 2020 election campaign. Thanks to their resilience and steely resolve, a carefully considered organizing strategy focused on electoral politics, some fortuitous timing, and the help of—among many other people—a rock-star rookie congresswoman named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they have injected an unprecedented urgency and seriousness into the climate debate in this country. MORE

Jagmeet Singh’s call for fossil fuels ban leapfrogs the Leap Manifesto

“The NDP is coming late to the issue of dealing comprehensively with climate change. Can it compete effectively with Elizabeth May’s Greens on this front? We shall see.” – Thomas Walkom

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on May 7 in Ottawa. “The NDP is coming late to the issue of dealing comprehensively with climate change. Can it compete effectively with Elizabeth May’s Greens on this front?” asks Thomas Walkom.
Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats have discovered climate change. 

The party had been reluctant to take too uncompromising a stand on global warming for fear of alienating potential voters. That reluctance has gone.

Now the NDP is calling for an end to the entire fossil-fuel industry in Canada.

“The future of our country cannot involve fracking,” Singh said Monday in Ottawa, referring to a controversial method of drilling for oil and natural gas. “It cannot involve the burning of any fossil fuel.”

He said Canada must adhere to carbon reduction targets that are much stricter than those proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government if it to seriously fight climate change.

And he declared that he now opposes ambitious plans by British Columbia’s NDP government to build a massive liquefied natural gas project in the province’s north.

[In the past] the Leap Manifesto’s call to ban any new fossil-fuel energy projects, from pipelines to fracking, was seen as too radical. No more. Now, with his call for a Canada free of fossil fuels, Singh has outleapt the Leapers. MORE

 

Evidence for man-made global warming hits ‘gold standard’: scientists

Scientists say humanity cannot afford to ignore these clear signals. However Canada’s entrenched neoliberal politicians seem to be tone deaf: massively subsidizing fossil fuel production and refusing to leave fossil fuels in the ground. The NDP and Greens are the only ones listening.

Illustration of earth melting because of global warming.

There’s a 99.9999 percent chance that humans are the cause of global warming, a new study reported Monday. Getty Images

OSLO (Reuters) – Evidence for man-made global warming has reached a “gold standard” level of certainty, adding pressure for cuts in greenhouse gases to limit rising temperatures, scientists said on Monday.

“Humanity cannot afford to ignore such clear signals,” the U.S.-led team wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change of satellite measurements of rising temperatures over the past 40 years.

They said confidence that human activities were raising the heat at the Earth’s surface had reached a “five-sigma” level, a statistical gauge meaning there is only a one-in-a-million chance that the signal would appear if there was no warming.

Such a “gold standard” was applied in 2012, for instance, to confirm the discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe.

“The narrative out there that scientists don’t know the cause of climate change is wrong,” he told Reuters. “We do.”

Mainstream scientists say the burning of fossil fuels is causing more floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels. MORE

 

Energy democracy: taking back power

Energy democracy: Coal to wind

Executive summary

Electric utility (re)municipalization is gaining popularity as a strategy to shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel extraction in the context of combating climate change. Across the world—from Berlin to Boulder—communities have initiated campaigns to take back their power from investor-owned (private) utilities and create publicly owned and operated utilities. Moreover, such efforts are increasingly taking on the perspective and language of energy democracy.

Energy democracy seeks not only to solve climate change, but to also address entrenched systemic inequalities. It is a vision to restructure the energy future based on inclusive engagement, where genuine participation in democratic processes provides community control and renewable energy generates local, equitably distributed wealth (Angel, 2016; Giancatarino, 2013a; Yenneti & Day, 2015). By transitioning from a privately- to a publicly owned utility, proponents of energy democracy hope to democratize the decision-making process, eliminate the overriding goal of profit maximization, and quickly transition away from fossil fuels.

Utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on a paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object to the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents living within three miles of a coal plant, for instance, are more likely to earn a below-average annual income and be a person of color (Patterson et al., 2011); similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure (Bienkowski, 2015).

These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets, as political leaders and investors realize that eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix is paramount to creating healthy communities and stemming climate change. MORE

It’s time to stop calling climate activists hypocrites

The talking point is based on a logical fallacy, and those who employ it should stop

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Ever heard the argument that climate protesters are hypocrites because they drive cars, use petroleum products and otherwise don’t practice what they preach? It’s a PR line designed to shut down criticism without addressing its substance, and, what’s worse, it’s a logical fallacy.

This isn’t about politics. Everyone has the right to their opinion, and if yours is that climate change isn’t real, or isn’t a threat, or that it is but we should keep burning fossil fuels anyway, you’re welcome to it. But if your argument rests on a non-sequitur, then don’t be surprised when the rest of us point and laugh when you trot it out.

The central fallacy is this: one doesn’t need to abstain from using the oil that powers society today in order to argue for change tomorrow.

Whether you agree with them or not, climate activists are participating in a social debate over how we respond to climate change. They’re advocating for a broad shift away from fossil fuels and a corresponding investment in renewable energy. In many cases they’re just arguing that government subsidies currently going to oil companies should be redirected to the development of alternative energy sources.

“We must fight in the world we have, not the world we want.”

They aren’t denying they use petroleum products; we all do. They’re arguing that this fact itself is a problem and advocating for societal change. MORE

 

Will there be a market for the coming explosion of electric cars?

EVs will become as cheap to own as gas-powered vehicles in 2022, even with no tax breaks or subsidies. But can we count on car buyers make the rational choice?

[Source Image: Volkswagen]

Electric vehicles still make up only a tiny fraction of total car sales. But in 2017, the industry reached a new milestone, selling more than 1 million cars. In 2018, sales may have more than doubled. By 2022, according to a recent report from Deloitte, electric cars will reach a tipping point: owning an electric vehicle will be as cheap as owning one that runs on fossil fuels, and sales will grow much more quickly.

“By 2022, we believe EVs will reach cost parity with gasoline or diesel vehicles regardless of subsidies,” says Jamie Hamilton, the U.K. automotive strategy lead at Deloitte. In some markets, because of subsidies, electric cars have already reached that point. The numbers consider the total cost of ownership–that is, not just the sticker price, but how much less it costs to charge an electric car each year instead of buying gas or diesel, and how much less the vehicles cost to maintain.

If you live in the U.K., Germany, France, the Netherlands, or Norway, an electric car is already a better deal, according to another recent report from the International Council for Clean Transportation. MORE

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What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society?

This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, along with dozens of co-sponsors, have introduced a vision for the Green New Deal. One Republican called it a “socialist manifesto”. Many environmental advocacy groups have hailed it, but some say it doesn’t go far enough. Others warn that its broad scope and the long list of progressive social programs it endorses could hinder its climate efforts.

So what is the Green New Deal?

The proposal outlines the broad principles of a plan simultaneously to fight inequity and tackle climate change. It does not contain policy details or advocate for specific ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But with a broad brush it aims to make the US carbon-neutral – net zero carbon emissions – in 10 years.

The Green New Deal recognizes that transition would require massive change. It endorses ways of ensuring that vulnerable populations – including the poor, people of color, indigenous populations and communities already facing environmental degradation – take part in the planning process and benefit from the green economy.

Would it end the use of coal, oil and natural gas?

No. But it would aim to offset any remaining greenhouse gas pollution with forests that absorb carbon dioxide, for example. It does not specifically address what role nuclear power or fossil fuels with carbon capture technologies would play. Nuclear power represents half of the carbon-free energy in the US, but it runs on mined uranium. Fossil fuels with carbon capture would still require drilling and cause pollution.

How ambitious is the Green New Deal?

Incredibly ambitious, both on climate change and with its reimagining of society.

Fossil fuels are deeply embedded in the US economy. Of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2016, 28% were from electricity, 28% were from transportation, 22% were from industry, 11% were commercial and residential and 9% were from agriculture. MORE