In a recent report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) lamented:
The picture is as clear as it is disturbing: the carbon intensity of the global energy supply has barely changed in 20 years, despite successful efforts in deploying renewable energy.
Another fact, noted in the IEA’s report, will disturb anyone concerned about climate change:
The unremitting rise in global coal demand for power generation continued in 2012. Global coal-fired power generation is estimated to have increased by around 6% between 2010 and 2012, building on strong growth over the past few years…China and, to a lesser extent, India continue to play a key role in driving demand growth. China’s coal consumption represented 46.2% of global coal demand in 2011; India’s share was 10.8%, up 7% and 9% respectively on 2010 levels.
Worldwide, coal accounts for 43% of CO2 emissions. Reducing that number is key to reducing the severity of global warming. Yet global demand for coal shows no sign of slowing in the near-term future, as this IEA graph makes clear. Read More
Senator John Kerry’s confirmation as Secretary of State has generated positive vibes in the environmental community and given climate campaigners a little hope. (Incidentally, does anybody else find it odd that Kerry, despite “his long record as one of the Senate’s strongest advocates for climate action,” as the Guardian noted, is just now divesting from oil stocks? What took him so long?)
Anyway, Kerry will certainly be an important player in the Obama Administration’s renewed effort to tackle climate change. But greens need to keep their expectations in check, because global warming, to restate the obvious, is a global problem. Over at Time magazine, Bryan Walsh highlights a part of the climate equation that the United States has little power to influence: Read More
Do you remember BP’s Beyond Petroleum ad campaign in the 2000s? As a writer at Adweek noted in 2010 (in the wake of BP’s disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill), the campaign “has always been borderline ludicrous, positioning the oil company as essentially anti-oil (or post-oil).”
Well, if that was ludicrous, what do we call the idea of clean coal, which the coal lobby has successfully propagated in recent years?
Over at Slate, I have a new piece that argues, “Clean coal is no joke.”
Two bits of climate news caught my attention today. One comes from Grist’s David Roberts, who says:
Yikes: Avoiding dangerous climate change is still possible, but just barely.
Whew. Good to hear us humans are still mathematically in the race to avert climate doom.
But then I saw this article from ClimateWire, reporting:
India is poised to contend with China as the globe’s top consumer of coal, with 455 power plants preparing to come online, a prominent environmental research group has concluded.
The coal plants in India’s pipeline — almost 100 more than China is preparing to build — would deliver 519,396 megawatts of installed generating capacity. That is only slightly less than pending new capacity in China, which remains the undisputed king of coal consumption.
So is it game over, or what? Either way, can we at least agree with R.L. Burnside:
Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s billionaire mayor for the last decade, can be a force for good when he’s not strong-arming local pols to alter NYC election laws (so he can run for a third term) or installing cronies to important positions they are eminently unqualified for.
For example, I can now have a drink in a bar without my lungs filling up with a roomful of second-hand smoke. That’s huge. Bloomberg has put forward a bold vision for the city’s future, which is also huge.
So one day he can be a brass knuckles power player and the next day a civic-minded crusader. Yesterday, with news of his $50 million-dollar donation to the Sierra Club, we saw an example of the latter, playing out on a national stage. Suzanne Goldenberg of the Guardian also notes a telling detail about Bloomberg’s anti-coal messaging:
He got New Yorkers to stop smoking and give up trans fats. Now maybe he can convince Americans to see coal as a danger to public health ““ at least Michael Bloomberg says that is the idea behind his $50m (£31m) gift to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
What it’s not about is making an argument based on climate change.
“If you don’t survive today, you are not going to be around for tomorrow,” he told me on Thursday, soon after announcing the gift from his philanthropic foundation.
“I don’t think there is any question that we are doing damage to the global environment but that gets you into an argument that is not necessary, and that the public has trouble thinking about,” he said.
UPDATE: In his official statement, Bloomberg also said this:
Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption.
So perhaps it’s not accurate for me to say that he’s ignoring climate change altogether, but rather that he’s chosen not to emphasize it.
UPDATE: Whoops! No sooner did I hit the publish button did I discover that the Coal Cares campaign is an elaborate parody. But it seems real if you know the history of various industry campaigns, which is what the rest of my post is about.
Lots of people are shaking their heads over this Coal Cares campaign. You have to wonder which marketing genius dreamed it up, and what Peabody was thinking when they bought it.
What’s next? Marlboro rolling out an ad campaign called, Tobacco Cares, with cartoons making oxygen tanks sexy for people who have emphysema?
Still, there’s something retro about this new Coal Cares gimmick that recall some industry classics from the Mad Men era (and some that predate it).
Let’s take a trip down memory lane…
When it was fun to be sprayed with DDT:
When Big Tobacco wooed the playground set.
And in case little junior wanted to enjoy a brewski with his ciggy:
But if the Flintstone crowd didn’t catch on, a few years later this commercial might have gone over like a nice, cool breeze:
And if you managed to make it this far without getting hooked, surely the good doctor would convince you.
The good old days. When product poison could be sold with a straight face.
It wasn’t that long ago that George Monbiot was accusing Stewart Brand of
running the most insidious and subtle exercise in corporate propaganda I have yet encountered.
I thought it was a tad hyperbolic. But that was then.
It turns out that both of these environmentalist icons share remarkably similar views on nuclear power, coal, and renewable energy.
For example, in a current interview with Foreign Policy, Brand says,
The main event, the century-size problem we’re looking at, is climate change. But frankly, if climate were not an issue by now, I would still be saying we need to go nuclear because it is the alternative to coal — and coal is all by itself such very large-scale, long-term bad news.
Here’s Monbiot in this week’s column for the Guardian:
the energy source to which most economies will revert if they shut down their nuclear plants is not wood, water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel. On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power.
Ah, the bonds that tie. Both Monbiot and Brand are now members of the Lonely Hearts nuclear fan club for greens.
In a reality-based world, stories like this (and it seems there are a few each week) should act like smelling salts to those who blame climate “deniers” and the media for lack of action on global warming. Here’s The Guardian’s lede:
Vast reserves of coal in the far west of China mean it is set to become the “new Middle East”, a leading figure in the global coal industry has claimed. Fred Palmer, the chairman of the London-based World Coal Association and a key executive at Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately owned coal company, also said that China is leading the US in efforts to develop technology to “clean” coal of its carbon emissions by burying them underground.
Given China’s voracious energy needs, it seems a foregone conclusion that those “vast reserves” will be tapped. No need to harp on the implications for global warming. Perhaps greens and climate activists ought to take the “clean coal” initiatives outlined in this recent James Fallows article in The Atlantic more seriously.
I’m a little late to this Wired profile on Energy Secretary Steven Chu, since I just started reading the May issue last night. For hardcore Chu watchers, probably not much is new, but the piece by Daniel Roth is still worth a read, if only to be reminded that the battle against global warming is being fought on many levels, some of which are not openly discussed much.
For example, the theme of the profile is Chu’s pragmatism, so here’s a meaty, revealing passage on his approach to both China and coal:
Chu’s philosophy can, of course, irritate environmentalists. One of the topics they clash over most is coal: a dark, nasty substance that is utterly crucial to the energy supplies of both the US and China but that, per unit of energy, releases roughly 40 percent more carbon dioxide than gasoline does.
Chu has called coal his “worst nightmare.” But the energy secretary also knows the big countries won’t abandon it. So he has turned his attention to what’s called clean coal. The theory: After the rocks are heated, the CO2 would be pumped deep underground instead of into the atmosphere.
For now, clean coal is hypothetical. But because Chu wants us to figure out a way to make it happen, he announced in spring 2009 that the DOE would channel $1 billion into FutureGen, a carbon-capturing power plant planned for Illinois. And not surprisingly, one of his next priorities has been getting China and the US to commit to clean coal projects together.
But even thinking about clean coal infuriates environmental hard-liners. Jeff Biggers is a prominent author who writes about Appalachia, a region ravaged by coal mining. “This is where Chu is a failure,” Biggers says. “He can’t look anyone straight in the face and say that within 10 years we’ll be able to capture carbon emissions.”
Chu can, however, say that he has no time for chasing all-or-nothing proposals, or ones that nobody is going to buy into. He sees the need to act now and to act fast. And most important, to act in a way that will bring China along. According to Chu, the old way to solve environmental problems was to say “Eat your peas, they’re good for you.” The new way is to invent clean energy technology and say “If you do this, you’re going to be richer, you’re going to be happier. And it turns out that it creates jobs, and oh, by the way, you have to do it anyway.”
a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact””human, environmental, economic, political””of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS’s new public-affairs show Need To Know.
It’s a great idea, and I’m rooting for it to have a big journalistic impact. But why, oh why, did they launch this thing without an accompanying blog to trumpet the stories? This is what I don’t get about my print magazine colleagues: they produce excellent content and yet all too often let it disappear into a black hole. For pete’s sake, put up a blog at Climate Desk, so these pieces have a forum where they can be chewed on and discussed (and distributed) more widely than they will be on a static website.
If you read this post in Grist, and David Biello’s piece in Scientific American, you’re likely to walk away feeling encouraged by the recent China-U.S. joint statement, which lays out the common ground between the two countries on a host of issues, including “climate change, energy, and the environment.”
But if you want a more nuanced perspective, check out this post from Simon Donner, who also advises,
Read through the statement, and it is appears that both countries expect coal to remain king, and that emissions reductions will depend on the development and widespread implementation of CCS [carbon capture & sequestration] technology at coal-fired power plants.
So climate advocates applauding this “progress” between China and the U.S. must be feeling pretty good about that clean coal technology on the horizon.