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Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas

Steve Connor, The Independent
Russian research team astonished after finding ‘fountains’ of methane bubbling to surface

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

… Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change
(13 December 2011)
Suggested by EB contributor Christine Robins, who writes: “Extremely important article.” -BA

Lundberg to McKibben: Combatting the “jobs” argument for the XL pipeline
Jan Lundberg, personal correspondence with EB
I’m wondering what journalistic-activist response there will be right away to the tar sands pipeline gambit that the Republican House has sprung as part of the jobs and benefits legislation hitting Obama.

From AP, tonight:

“Boehner also left open the possibility of a compromise on another key sticking point — a House-passed provision that all but requires construction of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.”

I know Bill McKibben’s working on something, as he and I talked today about the “jobs” and “foreign oil” issues that the Republicans are trying to seize on.

Below is the gist of what I gave McKibben, as I told him “in no particular order.” He liked all the points I gave. You’re welcome to use my points as a sidebar for an article.


Hi Bill,

Good to chat. Thanks for taking up the charge against oil madness in DC.

If the usual job creation schemes — really for more expansion of the oil-intensive infrastructure and generating profits off what I call “the tanking oil economy” — were instead about long term jobs, the jobs would be oriented toward getting off oil. To summarize what I mentioned today:

  • If the automobile factories massively retooled for bicycle production, that would help workers because the jobs would be sustainable. And carbon emissions would dive, as would oil dependence.
  • If sail power were applied to cargo and passenger service on the seas, rivers and lakes, oil use would go down, as would carbon emissions, and jobs would be generated where ship building has almost died. Young people needing jobs and adventure can go sailing. The land connection for sail based trade & transport would be in part bikes and bike trailers.
  • foreign oil and domestic oil are fungible, and the entire oil industry, from a New York trader to an OPEC gov’t, are in one fraternity of trade on a daily basis.
  • to maximize oil through tar sands is to illustrate the fact that conventional, easy to produce cheap oil has peaked.
  • the fossil fuels-based economic establishment is beginning to die, so tar sands are a desperate attempt to maintain a strategic hold on the world. Boehner and others figure that if the Keystone doesn’t run into the U.S. then a pipeline will get the stuff to BC and then to China. And the National Security State needs another bogeyman for the public to fear: China.
  • we need to question the need for jobs, when good ones are rare, and instead replace the need for jobs by strengthening local economies through barter, boycotting corporate products, and caring for one another in families and neighborhoods. Energy saving brings people together, as in Victory Gardens for local food production via depaving and food-not-lawns.
  • debt for nature swap between China and the U.S.: China owns massive U.S. debt, and can “collect” on it harmlessly while transforming the American lifestyle of energy waste: The U.S. would implement energy conservation and renewable energy measures that involve everything from policy change to individual incentives. (A local, city-council resolution campaign is being designed.) The carbon credit is given by the U.S. to China, in exchange for debt reduction, and China gets carbon-emissions reduction credit for the next Kyoto agreement. The U.S.-China treaty thus defuses saber rattling in the Pacific. Please see How China and America can work together to solve climate crisis.
  • More about slashing carbon emissions and moving away from bunker fuel for shipping: People don’t realize that only 16 of the biggest cargo ships today (sixteen) spew out as much air pollution [sulfur, etc.] as all the world’s cars. I didn’t crunch the numbers, but they come from a British study:
    How 16 ships create as much pollution as all the cars in the world
    Container ships slow down to speed of old clipper sailing ships

    One hope I have is that in future when Congress or NPR hear from some “oil analyst,” such a person is not always in the pay of Big Oil or so aligned. I met some more Congressmen in November so maybe I can someday testify and open up other issues than the usual consumer-economy ones. !
    (15 December 2011)

    Climate change: ambition gap

    Editorial, Guardian
    What was nearly a complete failure to agree even to go on trying to agree became instead a plan about a plan

    There are times when inching forward can look like progress. The slender eight-clause protocol finally agreed at the climate change talks in Durban early on Sunday morning after two weeks and a final 60-hour head-banging haggle is probably one of those occasions, a moment when it is cheerier to think of how bad things might have been than to rate the success of the final outcome. What was nearly a complete failure to agree even to go on trying to agree became instead a plan about a plan.

    There is an unvarying conflict of interest in the fight against climate change between developed and developing economies. The question is who pays for the past, and how to pay for the future without the heaviest burden falling on those most vulnerable to climate change – the least developed countries and small island states. The Kyoto treaty rightly weighted the scales against the developed world. Ever since, the developed world has been trying to get a new deal, reflecting the rapid growth of some emerging economies, which now account for more than half of carbon emissions. Overcoming bitter opposition, especially from India, whose headline growth figures disguise a poverty level still running above 40%, was Durban’s big success. In return, the Kyoto terms have been extended: that means the emerging economies get up to nine more years of penalty-free polluting. But with the ground cleared for a future deal covering all emissions whatever their source (and that means China too), the US has been deprived of one of its main arguments against signing up.

    There is little else to cheer from Durban. There is to be a “legal framework”, and some argue that the case for investing in the low-carbon economy has been improved. But quite how legal is undefined. The green fund to support mitigation efforts in the least developed countries is still alive, but no plan for a sustainable income stream has been agreed. There is still no certainty on whether the extension of the Kyoto terms will last for four years or five. There is a route map for negotiations for new emission levels that are both effective and acceptable, to be enforced from 2020.

    The race to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2C is still winnable if there is a big change in the pace, but a 3-4C rise looks the most likely outcome.
    (12 December 2011)

    It gets boring running around being a Cassandra

    Ugo Bardi, Cassandra’s legacy

    Being a Cassandra is often boring in the sense that it is so predictable. You know from the start that whatever you say will be ignored and, when it is not ignored, it will generate all sorts of insults as a response. On the other hand, some of us seem to have taken this role and, just as the Cassandra of the Iliad, we keep trying to alert everyone of what is going on with climate change and resource depletion. Who knows, maybe not all Cassandras will always be ignored – after all, she was right! Here are some thoughts on climate change from Bruce Sterling’s talk at the 2011 Art and Environment conference. The wolf is in the living room, he says. A true Cassandra; and perfectly right.
    – Ugo Bardi

    Climate change has lost all its sci-fi tinge in my lifetime and is now a melancholy and tiresome reality

    There hasn’t been a year when I haven’t written about climate change. It’s one of the most obvious things to predict.

    It’s just kind of a blunt reality that the fossil-fuel enterprise has done a regulatory capture of the entire planet, and we’re involved in a war for oil, and it’s the curse of oil, and it’s a war for a curse that’s endless and happening. You know, it gets boring running around being a Cassandra. Starting Earth Day in 1970 was a pretty late start considering the multicentury scope of this problem.

    I will pass the rest of my lifetime in the shadow of climate change. It’s not about warning people in 2011, or trying to avert or defuse a misfortune. The wolf is beyond the door. The wolf is in the living room. This is the anthropocenic condition. This is how we live. This is force majeure. It’s here. It’s very obvious.

    There are no national forests. You cannot protect a forest with a nation. There are forests that protect nations.

    The global climate crisis is the climate crisis and it’s global because the globe is an externality. “Don’t pollute you, don’t pollute me, pollute that fellow behind me.” Just throw that into the atmosphere because the atmosphere is somebody else’s problem.”

    The thing that encourages me or sort of offers daylight is there’s no pro-climate crisis party. There’s no government that actually likes the idea of wrecking the climate. It doesn’t really benefit anybody. It really is an externality. It’s just something that’s entropic.
    (14 December 2011)