Monthly Archives: January 2014

And ships and coal and crude oil transportation

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Extract from: David Suzuki Foundation []


Photo Credit: Dieter Drescher

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too – but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 – almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with – at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products – regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.


Are we too late to learn and act

I am a newbie gardener so I was not surprised by the crop failures last Tuesday threw at me but it was eye opening. Resilience is the only way forward for now.

I have been absorbed on the internet lately and have come across stuff this past month or so that is amazing.

The solutions are out there and Ted talks and the internet are spreading them around. I find some pretty cool stuff. Exciting times.

My fungi guru (meaning, I love his work) even hinted at the fact that mushrooms may have given us the internet in order to alert us to the fact that they are the solutions and to stop destroying the old growth forests before the true bounty of them is known to man.

It was suggested, no stated, that mycelium are sentient forms. They respond to human movement on the earth and react for nutrient mining, or something I didn’t quite grasp the first time around, more than pain or anything.

Pain was my first amateur thought but it was infinitely more detailed than that. How cool? Another scientist. Really a scientist, not a feral hippie, informed me last week via U tube that he also truly believes mushrooms and in particular psilocybin(magic) mushrooms held the great answers.

He proposed that mankind could be truly enlightened as to how interconnected everything is simply by experiencing the wonders it opens up – the weather, the climate, the animals, the humans.

He was proposing that if enough humans had the experience then it would naturally follow that there would be more leadership and widespread programs in place to do the very things that can be done in the time frame we have left to act. Ecologists have known forever that everything on Earth is helplessly and miraculously interconnected and many humans have also known this for a long time. Yogis in particular spring to mind.

So I have learned that is too late for renewable energies to make the difference needed to maintain our lifestyles and that man will not give up the lifestyle and that is easily obvious to everyone. It is also simply too late for that to help. That was big news to me.

We all understand that our old growth forests are worth protecting and that, in so called less developed worlds, they are still being destroyed legally and illegally.

The knowledge in what is left of the world’s old growth forest is not beyond our grasp anymore. We need leadership to act as a matter of urgency to stop the destruction as soon as possible of what is left of the planets old growth forests.

So many reasons for this would make this email ten times as long. The value of them is priceless beyond the many sustainable pharmaceuticals that we will gain. Priceless beyond what most human brains currently understand. The current wealth we enjoy may not come at such a huge cost if we can reverse some of the damage and quickly.

Our future lies somewhat intact in some parts of the planet and maybe our money would better spent protecting and regenerating it as an urgent human action. That is the kicker isn’t it? When is that tipping point? They keep us focused on the carbon tipping point. What about ecology itself? When did the loss of 200 species a day become acceptable? Did it ever? This is a completely different tipping point to the one I have bought into for the better part of two decades. It has always been there, blowing in the wind as Dylan said but are we ready to really understand as a cohesive group?

High tide, low tide …. if in doubt, check the change

January 16, 2014 |

Extract from :

When an old fisherman says, "We used to go out at low tide and gather a bucket of clams, but now there’s no low tide, only high tide and higher tide," it’s compelling. (Credit: Kim Deslandes via Flickr)

Photo: Film underscores need to address climate change

By David Suzuki

Ian Mauro, an environmental and social scientist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, recently toured Atlantic Canada, interviewing fishers, hunters, farmers, businessmen, First Nations and local politicians about climate change. The result is a powerful film, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada, with people from different walks of life sharing observations about what’s happening all around them.


When an old fisherman says, "We used to go out at low tide and gather a bucket of clams, but now there’s no low tide, only high tide and higher tide," it’s compelling. The mayor of a small seaside town tells of repeated storm damage to seawalls that costs more to repair than the community can bear. Coastal towns contemplate raising houses or moving them above anticipated new sea levels. The anecdotes add up to an overwhelming warning that social, economic and ecological costs are rapidly mounting and we must take climate change seriously. As one person says, "If you don’t believe it, just look out the window."
The film is timely. In November, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — created 25 years ago to provide the most authoritative documentation on global climate science — released the first part of its Fifth Assessment. The new report raises the level of scientific certainty about human causes of global warming from 90 per cent in the Fourth Assessment five years ago to more than 95 per cent today, and says action is urgently needed.
Mauro’s film punctuates the IPCC’s findings with a big exclamation mark: we’ve wasted too much time on the phony debate — created, in part, by the fossil fuel industry — about whether global warming is part of a natural cycle. The continuing congruence of rising carbon emissions and global average temperature is undeniable.
The world first heard urgent climate change warnings in 1988, issued by an international meeting of climatologists in Toronto. The evidence then was so compelling that one report declared global warming a threat to human survival second only to nuclear war and called for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 15 years.
If world leaders had taken those scientific pronouncements seriously and worked to achieve the suggested target, it would have been much simpler and less costly — even economically advantageous — to shift to a low-carbon future beyond even Kyoto Protocol objectives. But we didn’t. Now we’ve exacerbated the challenge by escalating total global greenhouse gas emissions. Developing nations have ramped up fossil fuel-based economies, sales of automobiles and energy-consuming products continue to grow, and forests — the most effective carbon sinks — have been cleared.

We’ve elevated the economy above all else and demanded continued growth. Now the chickens have come home to roost, climate change has kicked in and the costs of dealing with more frequent and severe extreme weather-related events like floods, heat waves, fires and storms are swelling.

In 2009, 192 nations gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark, to negotiate our climate fate after the Kyoto Protocol expired. While failing to set concrete targets for greenhouse gas reduction, delegates agreed to limit emissions to keep temperatures from rising above 2 C by the end of the century — an easy promise for politicians whose office tenures will end long before then, leaving no one accountable for failure.
According to the IPCC report, if we take the science seriously and act on those commitments, we know how much more carbon can be emitted to remain within 2 C: 565 gigatonnes! But the known fossil fuel deposits worldwide are already five times that limit. So why are companies looking for more and exploiting extreme sources like tar sands, deep-water deposits and shale? To stay below 2 C, we have to leave 80 per cent of known deposits in the ground! That means no more encouraging fossil fuel development or building pipelines or rail expansion to transport them.

We must also shift to renewable energy sources in direct proportion to the phase-out of fossil fuels. And we must put a stop to deforestation.

Let’s seize the challenge and start the transition now. Experience informs us that many unexpected or even predictable benefits will follow. Delaying further only gets us into deeper trouble.

The environment would pay for ‘free trade’ …. read on with care

By Tom Warne-Smith

Posted Thu 9 Jan 2014, 1:07pm AEDT

Extract from:

Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses could devastating for the environment.

PHOTO: Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses could devastating for the environment. (Simon Cullen: ABC News)

Under the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, Australia could be forced to pay foreign corporations not to dig up or destroy its coastline or native forests, writes Tom Warne-Smith.

What would you do if an international company decided to stick a toxic waste dump next to your house? Lodging an objection with your council is a good start – but what if the company could claim millions of dollars in damages if the council said no?

That’s exactly what happened in Mexico when the municipality of Guadalcazar refused to issue a permit to build a waste dump because of the impact on the 800 surrounding residents and $16.6 million in ‘compensation’ was awarded to the dump’s US owners.

Get ready, because the laws that let this happen are coming to Australia too.

A range of experts have recently highlighted the alarming potential consequences of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). This ‘free trade’ agreement between countries will more than likely contain secretive Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses, allowing foreign companies to sue national governments when changes to domestic laws affect the company’s investments, and so limiting governments in the regulations they can make to protect the public.

A lot has already been said about the disastrous effects of these clauses on public health initiatives, like plain packaging for cigarettes. While the thought of paying Philip Morris so Australia can have a law to protect the health of Australians is bad enough, the effects on our environment could also be devastating.

When Germany’s Hamburg Environmental Authority issued a licence imposing water quality standards on a coal-fired power plant, energy giant Vattenfall commenced investor-state arbitration against the German government, seeking about €1.4 billion, plus arbitration costs and interest. Ultimately Germany and Vattenfall settled the dispute, with Germany agreeing to weaken environmental standards in favour of the corporation. Vattenfall has now started proceedings claiming a reported €3.7 billion in compensation as a result of the German government’s decision to phase out nuclear power.

Under Australian federal environmental law there are a number of provisions which allow our environment minister to vary or revoke approvals for projects like mines in certain circumstances, such as when there is new evidence about the environmental effects. An Australian licence holder has to accept the minister’s decision. But under the new rules, an international investor would be able to seek compensation for any loss of profits from the project.

This opens up a legal nightmare. Imagine that there’s been a bushfire, and an endangered Australian species has suffered a huge loss of habitat. If any Australian government then wanted to change a permit to stop a foreign company from clearing habitat that had become vital to the survival of this species, we would have to pay the company ‘compensation’. Similarly, if our government made a decision to protect a rural community from coal seam gas extraction, a foreign investor could potentially take Australia to court and be compensated for their loss of earnings.

Frighteningly, all of this is happening in secret. We don’t know exactly what the TPP will contain. Around the world, no one knows the full extent of the impact that ISDS clauses have had, because when an investor-state case goes ahead, the arbitration decisions are often kept secret. What we do know is that simply having these clauses in place creates the significant risk of ‘regulatory chill’; a reluctance by governments to act because of the risk of an investor-state dispute. Even in claims when the investor corporations are unsuccessful, governments often end up having to pay half the cost of the arbitration and their own legal expenses.

Worse still, the liability created by ISDS clauses continues even if we decide the treaty is a bad idea after all. While our government could subsequently withdraw from the treaty, as other governments have commenced doing after losing ISDS disputes, the companies that had already invested would continue to be protected by the ISDS for typically another 20 years.

The potential benefits from these clauses to Australians are very limited. Australian businesses have apparently never used the ISDS provisions in Australian treaties. The Productivity Commission, in a 2010 report into ISDS clauses, recommended that our government "avoid the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement provisions in [international agreements] that grant foreign investors in Australia substantive or procedural rights greater than those enjoyed by Australian investors" – advice that the Abbott Government appears to be ignoring in the TPP negotiations.

Do we really want to create an Australia where we have to pay a foreign corporation not to dig up or destroy our coastline or native forests? Our laws should protect Australians and the places we love – not the profits of foreign multinationals.

Tidal turbines at Port Phillip Bay heads …. the next step ?

January 5, 2014 3:44 pm

Atlantis joins latest wave to list on Aim

By Pilita Clark in London

A Singapore company that plants large underwater windmills in the seabed to generate electricity is heading to the London Stock Exchange to raise money in the latest sign of activity in the tidal energy industry.

Atlantis Resources hopes to garner up to £20m from an initial public offering on London’s Aim market, around half of which would fund its flagship MeyGen tidal project on the northern tip of Scotland, one of Europe’s biggest proposed tidal power schemes.

The company initially plans to install four 1.5 megawatt turbines by the second half of 2015, each around 25m in height, to generate power from the rise and fall of the tides between the Scottish mainland and the nearby island of Stroma.

It has approval to put in a total of 86MW of generating capacity in the first phase of the scheme, enough to power 42,000 Scottish homes each year, but hopes to eventually install far more.

The tidal energy industry is still immature compared with the wind and solar power sectors that have boomed in the past decade as countries have started subsidising renewable energy to cut the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.

However, a number of big engineering companies, including Siemens of Germany and France’s Alstom, have started snapping up smaller tidal groups over the past two years, amid forecasts that tidal energy will eventually become a far more popular form of renewable power.

Tides can be accurately predicted years in advance, unlike wind and sunshine, and commercial tidal energy schemes are expected to grow from a handful of small projects today to about 170MW of generating capacity by 2020, mostly in Europe, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance research group.

This is likely to depend on how fast the tidal power industry can reduce its costs, which are far higher than many other forms of low-carbon power.

Atlantis is working on tidal power projects in several countries, including Canada, France and China, but its chief executive, Tim Cornelius, said the financial support offered by the British government had put the UK at the forefront of the industry.

“The UK has led the way and now you see Canada, France and these sorts of places effectively taking all the good bits out of the UK’s policies and applying them in their own domestic environments,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Tidal power companies will get a “strike price” of £305 per megawatt hour under the UK’s latest renewable energy financial support scheme, nearly double the £155 MWh for offshore wind farms and triple the £95 MWh for onshore wind projects.