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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #19B

Posted on 10 May 2014 by John Hartz

Alberta Oilsands as highest cost, highest risk investment in oil sector

A total of $1.1 trillion USD earmarked for risky carbon-intensive oil sector investments need to be challenged by investors, according to a new report released today by the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

The research identifies oil reserves in the Arctic, oilsands and in deepwater deposits at the high end of the carbon/capital cost curve. Projects in this category “make neither economic nor climate sense” and won’t fit into a carbon-constrained world looking to limit oil-related emissions, Carbon Tracker states in a press release.

The report highlights the high risk of Alberta oilsands investment, noting the reserves “remain the prime candidate for avoiding high cost projects” due to the region’s landlocked position and limited access to market.

The isolated nature of the [oilsands] market with uncertainty over export routes and cost inflation brings risk.”

New Report Names Alberta Oilsands as Highest Cost, Highest Risk Investment in Oil Sector by Carol Linnitt, DeSmog Canada, May 8, 2014

Cleanest fossil fuel is Wall Street bet on climate change

Wall Street’s idea of investing in climate change means investors are piling into natural gas, the least polluting fossil fuel.

Energy accounted for almost two-thirds of the $8 billion of inflows into sector-based exchange-traded funds this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In the absence of federal mandates for renewables such as wind and solar, much of that money is going into funds that invest in natural gas drillers.

The fuel that produces less pollution than coal and oil is the most obvious beneficiary of global warming, which a White House advisory panel said on May 6 is already blighting the U.S. with coastal flooding, heavier rainstorms and more intense wildfires. The potential for hotter summers and colder winters will raise energy demand, and that suggests higher gas prices.

Cleanest Fossil Fuel is Wall Street Bet on Climate Change by Jim Polson, Bloomberg News, May 9, 2014

Climate change making food crops less nutritious, research finds

Rising carbon dioxide emissions are set to make the world's staple foodcrops less nutritious, according to new scientific research, worsening the serious ill health already suffered by billions of malnourished people.

The surprise consequence of fossil fuel burning is linked directly to the rise in CO2 levels which, unlike some of the predicted impacts of climate change, are undisputed. The field trials of wheat, rice, maize and soybeans showed that higher CO2 levels significantly reduced the levels of the essential nutrients iron and zinc, as well as cutting protein levels.

"We found rising levels of CO2 are affecting human nutrition by reducing levels of very important nutrients in very important food crops," said Prof Samuel Myers, an environmental health expert at Harvard University, Boston, and lead author of the study. "From a health viewpoint, iron and zinc are hugely important." 

Climate change making food crops less nutritious, research finds by Damian Carrington, The Gaurdian, May 7, 2014

Climate change will strengthen pests, weaken crops 

Count weeds and insect pests among the beneficiaries of climate change. Meanwhile, the crops we need will have fewer nutrients that make them beneficial, scientists revealed this week.

At the root of the problem: Rising carbon dioxide levels, warming temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events do not treat all plants, insects and soil nutrients equally, according to a new federal climate report and a Harvard University study.

"Weeds are going to be winners under any climate change scenario that we anticipate," said Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's crop systems and global change program, and co-author of the National Climate Assessment released Tuesday.

Crop-devouring insects, too, are predicted to win. Ultimately, the biggest losers may be us.

Climate Change Will Strengthen Pests, Weaken Crops, Studies Say by Lynne Peeples, The Huffington Post, May 8, 2014

Green groups banned from hearings on Alberta tar sands

The Canadian province that is ground zero for tar sands oil extraction has prohibited a coalition of environmental organizations from participating in regulatory hearings on a controversial new oil industry development, claiming that the green groups are not directly impacted by the project.

The decision infuriated environmental campaigners who say Alberta's regulatory system is rigged to favor an oil industry that is wreaking havoc on the environment.

"Instead of addressing concerns about unchecked tar sands development, they are excluding concerned groups that are science-based and principled," said Carolyn Campbell, conservation specialist for the Alberta Wilderness Association, in an interview with Common Dreams.

Oilsands Environmental Coalition—comprised of several green groups—is seeking a voice in a proposed new Alberta development by Southern Pacific Resource Corporation.

Green Groups Banned From Hearings on Alberta Tar Sands by Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams, May 7, 2014

Heavy rains in Kerala (India) caused by global warming

Global warming could be responsible for unprecendent heavy rains that is being witnessed this summer in Kerala and wreaked havoc there, a top scientist said on Thursday.

Expressing fears that heavy rains during this season could weaken the southwest Monsoon, Kerala State Disaster Management Authority member Shekhar Lukose Kuriakose said that last month's prediction of below normal monsoon this year by India Meteorological Department could turn out to be true.

Kerala, the gateway of the monsoon into the mainland of the country, has experienced heavy rains over the last few days, three weeks ahead of the arrival of South Asia's southwesterly monsoon. 

Heavy rains in Kerala caused by global warming: Scientist, Times of India, May 8, 2014 

Nigel Lawson's climate sceptic thinktank to launch campaigning arm

The climate sceptic organisation founded by former chancellor Nigel Lawson is to set up a new campaigning arm, which would be free from charity regulations.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is classified as an educational charity and thus covered by strict Charity Commission rules that restrict its ability to conduct political campaigns, said that the new non-charitable company would undertake "activities which do not fall squarely within the educational remit of the charity".

Similar structures are also used by some other non-profit organisations, because it gives them greater freedom in lobbying and in some commercial activities.

The new arm, to be called the Global Warming Policy Forum, will share the same website and initials and publish reports and research papers, as well as organising lectures and debates on science and policy. In particular, it will put out news articles and opinion columns through a section of its website.

If the Charity Commission agrees with the restructuring, the new organisation will start operating by the end of July. 

Nigel Lawson's climate sceptic thinktank to launch campaigning arm by Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, May 9, 2014

Researchers slam claim that CFCs responsible for global warming

University of Waterloo professor Qing-Bin Lu's discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and not carbon dioxide, is the main cause of global warming drew worldwide attention, as it contradicted decades of climate change research.

But in a paper to be released later this month, a team of climate researchers slammed his research, saying he "experimentally falsified" his conclusions.

"Personally, I don't think their comments satisfy the criteria for scientific publication," Lu, a professor specializing in ozone depletion science, biophysics and biochemistry, said of the criticism.

His paper, published in the International Journal of Modern Physics B on May 30, 2013, argued that the growth in the use of CFCs — until the 1980s — correlated strongly with rising temperatures across the globe.

In an article commenting on Lu's findings in the same journal, Dana Nuccitelli and a team of seven other researchers from Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom argue that Lu's findings were "based on unphysical and fundamentally flawed premises."

Researchers slam UW prof’s claim that CFCs responsible for global warming by Chris Herhalt, The (Waterloo, Canada), May 6, 2014

Russian wildfires blaze on an area larger than Los Angeles

With geopolitical fires continuing to smolder between Russia and Ukraine, actual wildfires have erupted across a vast swath of territory to the east.

You can spot the Russian wildfires in the mosaic of satellite images above showing a large portion of the country as it looks from space today. Each red dot marks a spot on the ground where a sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite has detected fire.

More than 100 fires are burning today on 140,471 hectares, which is equal to 542 square miles, according to The Voice of Russia Radio. That’s half again as large as the City of Los Angeles.

Fires are burning in the Irkutsk region, the Omsk region, near Lake Baikal, and other areas. 

Russian Wildfires Blaze on an Area Larger than Los Angeles by Tony Yulsman, Discover, May 6, 2014

So what's stopping us joining forces to act on it?

Three decades from now the world is going to be a very different place. How it looks will depend on actions we take today. We have big decisions to make and little time to make them if we are to provide stability and greater prosperity to the world's growing population. Top of the priority list is climate change.

All around the world it is plain that climate change is happening and that human activities are the principal cause. Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that the effects of climate change are already widespread, costly and consequential – from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the poorest countries to the wealthiest. The world's top scientists are clear. Climate change is affecting agriculture, water resources, human health, and ecosystems on land and in the oceans. It poses sweeping risks for economic stability and the security of nations.

Climate change affects us all. So what's stopping us joining forces to act on it?, Op-ed by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, The Guardian, May 6, 2014

Stanford to purge $18 billion endowment of coal stock

Stanford University announced Tuesday that it would divest its $18.7 billion endowment of stock in coal-mining companies, becoming the first major university to lend support to a nationwide campaign to purge endowments and pension funds of fossil fuel investments.

The university said it acted in accordance with internal guidelines that allow its trustees to consider whether “corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury” when choosing investments. Coal’s status as a major source of carbon pollution linked to climate change persuaded the trustees to remove companies “whose principal business is coal” from their investment portfolio, the university said. 

Stanford to Purge $18 Billion Endowment of Coal Stock by Michael Wines, New York Times, May 6, 2014

World is unprepared for major El Niño later this year

The weather is preparing to go wild, and will wreak havoc and death around the globe later this year. An El Niño, a splurge of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, is coming. It will unleash floods in the Americas, while South-East Asia and Australia face drought. Yet little is being done to address these consequences.

"The tropical climate system is primed for a big El Niño," says Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu (see diagram).

An El Niño begins when warm water near Indonesia spreads eastwards and rises to the surface of the Pacific. The warm water carries rain with it, so El Niño takes rain from Asia and Australia and dumps it on the Americas (see "Rising waters").

The effects can be deadly. A big El Niño in 1997-98 killed 20,000 people and caused almost $97 billion of damage.

World is unprepared for major El Niño later this year by Michael Slezak, New Scientist, May 7, 2014

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. Re: Oil Sands risky investment

    This is not true in the geopolitical sense. Consider the belligerence of Russia, the nuclearization of Iran, and the volatile nature of middle east politics as evidenced by the events in Egypt, Libya and Syria. Or for that matter, the disintegration of the social structure in Venezuela.

    Investment in the Canadian oil sands is by comparison very low risk. And the Keystone Pipeline will be built, if not under Obama, then the next president.

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  2. Klapper,

    I agree that investors may be able to get away with profiting from Alberta Oil Sands. However, their ability to do so is simply and clearly not acceptable.

    The Alberta Oil Sands are probably the most damaging fossil fuel source on the planet. They probably have the highest total impacts per unit of usable energy obtained (Venesuela's oil sands are far less degraded). And their extraction, transportation and processing involve major risks of harm.

    Since so much of the already known fossil fuels need to be left unburned, the Alberta Oil Sands really should be left in the ground. Maybe some future generation will have a legitimate emergency need for the resource.

    And given the need to limit the impacts of fossil fuel burning it also makes no sense for so much natural gas to be burned up to make heat and electricity for extracting Oil Sands transporting it, and processing it into a useable fuel. If the Oil Sands ever are developed it needs to be done with burning up better fossil fuels.

    The fact that the current global socio-economic system encourage things like investing in burning up Oil Sands is clear proof that the current global socio-economic system is fatally flawed. It is not encouraging development toward a sustainable better future for all. It has only ever encouraged the development of ways of getting away with unsustainable and damaging actions because those will always be more profitable if they can be gotten away with.

    The facts of the matter are clear. The best understanding of what is going on leads to the conclusion that the global socioeconomic system must be changed.

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  3. Correction in my Comment @2, "If the Oil Sands ever are developed it needs to be done without burning up better fossil fuels".

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