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Resilience Roundup - July 17

 

A roundup of the news, views and ideas from the main stream press and the blogosphere. 

Click on the headline link to see the full article.


Fossil industry is the subprime danger of this cycle

Ambrose Evans Pritchard, The Daily Telegrpah
The epicentre of irrational behaviour across global markets has moved to the fossil fuel complex of oil, gas and coal. This is where investors have been throwing the most good money after bad.

They are likely to be left holding a clutch of worthless projects as renewable technology sweeps in below radar, and the Washington-Beijing axis embraces a greener agenda.

Data from Bank of America show that oil and gas investment in the US has soared to $200bn a year. It has reached 20pc of total US private fixed investment, the same share as home building. This has never happened before in US history, even during the Second World War when oil production was a strategic imperative...

"What is shocking is that upstream costs in the oil industry have risen threefold since 2000 but output is up just 14pc," said Mark Lewis, from Kepler Cheuvreux. The damage has been masked so far as big oil companies draw down on their cheap legacy reserves.


Russian oil production expected to drop

Daniel J. Graeber, UPI
An anticipated drop in oil production by 2016 is expected to hurt the Russian economy, the Russian Finance Ministry said Monday.

The ministry said Monday it expects a $4.5 billion decline in oil export revenue because of an anticipated 6.3 percent drop in oil production from 2014 figures...


Total CEO keeps costly drilling strategy to end: 2014

Michel Rose, Reuters
The chief executive of French oil major Total (TOTF.PA) is giving himself until the end of the year to strike oil at a big new field somewhere in the world before considering whether to change direction and cut the exploration budget.

The Paris-based oil major, which launched a drilling strategy that it termed "high-risk, high-reward" two years ago, has had disappointing explorations results so far...


The future of coal in China, India, Australia, the US, EU, and UK

Mat Hope, Carbon Brief
Have reports of coal's demise been greatly exaggerated? It depends which part of the world you look at.

Global coal use has grown significantly over the last decade, with global demand increasing 60 per cent between 1990 and 2011, according to research body the International Energy Agency (IEA). With some countries implementing climate policies to limit the use of polluting fuels, some commentators are predicting coal's imminent demise.

That's probably premature. While some European countries are ramping up renewables, shutting coal plants and closing mines, other parts of the world are planning an extraction frenzy to feed emerging economies' seemingly insatiable energy demand.

Here's a quick guide to coal's prospects around the world...


The German Coal Conundrum
Arne Jungjohann and Craig Morris, Energy Transition Blog
Germany has drawn international attention for its energy policies in recent years. The term Energiewende – the country’s transition away from nuclear power to renewables with lower energy consumption – is now commonly used in English...

But an in-depth look reveals that coal is not making a comeback in Germany. The current addition of new coal projects in Germany is a one-off phenomenon. Recent projects started in 2005-2007 as part of an overall trend in Europe caused by low carbon prices and upcoming stricter pollution standards for coal plants. New coal plants in Germany are unrelated to the nuclear phaseout of 2011 after the Fukushima accident...


Tar Sands Threaten World’s Largest Boreal Forest

Rachael Petersen, Nigel Sizer and Peter Lee, World Resources Institute
Canada’s boreal forest is one of Earth’s major ecological treasures.

Yet the region’s forests are under threat from logging, hydrodams and mining. Satellite data reveals a major new threat to Canada’s boreal forests—tar sands development.

According to data from Global Forest Watch, an online mapping platform that tracks deforestation in near-real time, industrial development and forest fires in Canada’s tar sands region has cleared or degraded 775,500 hectares (almost two million acres) of boreal forest since the year 2000 (Map A). That’s an area more than six times the size of New York City. If the tar sands extraction boom continues, as many predict, we can expect forest loss to increase...

 

 

The gas company that says it can take your backyard
Evan Hill, AlJazeera
For more than a decade, the country around Ronald and Sallie Cox’s home, 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, has been an unchanging landscape of rolling green foothills. Sitting atop a modest promontory, their property is ringed on three sides by a border of woodland, and to the east, the ground slopes down into a neighbor’s horse paddocks...

But in late 2012, someone bothered the Coxes. A representative of oil and gas transporter Sunoco Logistics Partners — a “landsman” sent by the company to scout and buy access to their property — came to their front door and told them that Sunoco was going to dig a pipeline under their woods...

The Coxes didn’t know it then, but their dream home lay in the path of a metastasizing controversy that involves not only Sunoco’s bid for eminent domain but an attempt by the company to circumvent local zoning laws, all aimed at swiftly completing a sprawling, multi-year project to exploit a boom in the byproducts of the Marcellus Shale...


In Iowa, solar is fighting back against utilities and winning

Heather Smith, Grist
Last week, I wrote about the pushback that solar is getting from utility companies, who fear it will cut into their profits and break their monopolies. (The predictions in certain corners of the business world that solar is coming to “take their lunch” isn’t helping either.)

But there’s another story – which is that solar is fighting back and winning. The most recent evidence is a decision last week in Iowa’s Supreme Court, that has big implications for solar, both in the Midwest and elsewhere...


ISIL has added a lucrative new business line in Iraq: oil smuggling

Steve LeVine, Quartz
ISIL, the business-minded Islamic army threatening Baghdad, has established a new flow of revenue since seizing a large swath of Iraq—an estimated $1 million-a-day oil smuggling business.

According to an investigation by Iraq Oil Report (paywall), ISIL rapidly captured one and possibly two oilfields south of Kirkuk soon after storming Iraq a month ago. The fields, in the Hamrin mountains, produce relatively small volumes—just 16,000-20,000 barrels a day. But that earns a tidy income even at the knock-down local black market rate of about $55 a barrel, according to the report...


Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

Patrick Cockburn, The Independent
How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."...

Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein's monster over which it is rapidly losing control. The same is true of its allies such as Turkey which has been a vital back-base for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra by keeping the 510-mile-long Turkish-Syrian border open. As Kurdish-held border crossings fall to Isis, Turkey will find it has a new neighbour of extraordinary violence, and one deeply ungrateful for past favours from the Turkish intelligence service.

As for Saudi Arabia, it may come to regret its support for the Sunni revolts in Syria and Iraq as jihadi social media begins to speak of the House of Saud as its next target...


U.S. hits oil giant Rosneft, other firms with toughest Russia sanctions

Anna Yukhananov and Steve Holland, Reuters
President Barack Obama imposed the biggest package of U.S. economic sanctions yet on Russia on Wednesday, hitting Russia's largest oil producer Rosneft and other energy, financial and defense firms, with what he called significant but targeted penalties...

The extent of the sanctions against key parts of the Russian energy and financial industry, including Gazprombank, was intended to serve notice to Moscow that its refusal to curb violence in eastern Ukraine has consequences...

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in Brasilia, said the sanctions would damage U.S. energy companies, and bring relations with Russia to a "dead end."..


How fissile material falls through the cracks

Pavel Podvig, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
Earlier this year, Masafumi Takubo, a Japanese researcher (and member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials), was putting together a report on the use of plutonium-containing MOX fuel in Japan’s nuclear reactors. What he discovered in the process was that the public record of Japan’s plutonium holdings failed to account for about 640 kilograms of the material... No plutonium was actually lost, and the IAEA was quick to confirm that its own safeguards, which are there to ensure that no nuclear material is diverted, were applied at all times. The fuel had been loaded into a reactor at the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant just before the March 11, 2011 tsunami that caused the catastrophic failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station...

This episode may have been a simple clerical error, but it was yet another reminder of the troubling fact that we know very little about the amounts of fissile material that are circulating around the globe. The only reason the discrepancy was discovered in this case was the fact that Japan has been unusually transparent about its plutonium stocks. As the only non-nuclear weapon state that possesses reprocessing capability, it publishes fairly detailed annual accounts of its plutonium holdings. No other country does this, although eight others—Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China —join Japan in submitting annual INFCIRC/549 civilian plutonium reports to the IAEA...


Brics to open alternatives to World Bank, IMF

Valentina Pop, EU Observer
Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (the so-called Brics) are to establish alternatives to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which they find too biased towards Europe and the US.

The "New Development Bank" to rival the World Bank will be launched at a Brics summit in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza next week, with all agreed except where to put the main headquarters, Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov said Wednesday (9 July)...


Paris's return to public water supplies makes waves beyond France

Geert De Clercq, Reuters
Nearly five years after Paris took the management of its water supply back into its own hands, the move is inspiring other cities at home and abroad and hurting profits at private water firms Veolia and Suez Environnement...

Italians rejected further water privatisation in a 2011 referendum, while Berlin retook public control of its water late 2013, buying back stakes in Berlinwasser from Veolia and utility RWE. In May, a court blocked plans to privatise Athens Water on health grounds...


A world without water

Pilita Clark, Financial Times
The first instalment of a series on the threat of water scarcity discloses how companies are bearing large costs for a resource long considered to be free...


California Farms Are Sucking Up Enough Groundwater to Put Rhode Island 17 Feet Under

Julie Lurie, Mother Jones
[In] a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis...the authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

Here are four key takeaways... [4.] ...California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it's all yours...


Finland's plan to make cars in cities 'pointless'

A.K.Streeter, Treehugger
...Finns have set a goal to have zero personally-owned cars in capital city Helsinki by the year 2025. Now that's a laudable goal. How will they do it?

Well, planners are implementing a combination of Big Data, big public transport, many smart phone apps, and universal access to smart phones. Helsinki plans to use these tools to transform its existing public transport network into a point-to-point “mobility on demand” system by 2025. By doing this they hope to make the need for a private car obsolete...

What does that really mean in practice? Well, Finland already has a fairly comprehensive public transport system of buses and trams and a good bike path network, and has added one on-demand component, called Kutsuplus. Kutsuplus picks you up where you want and takes you where you want to go in small mini buses, and costs more than the regular bus but less than a taxi...


The Rube Goldberg of Rice

Nicola Twilley, The New Yorker
In the unlikely event that you successfully grow and harvest rice in New York City, a much larger challenge awaits: How do you remove the hard shell, called a hull or husk, that surrounds each grain?...

Earlier this year, Randall’s Island Urban Farm ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise seven hundred and fifty dollars to acquire one of Brill’s bicycle-powered hullers. On a sunny Saturday a few weeks ago, I biked out to Randall’s Island to witness its delivery...


Landmark Study Underscores Wide-Ranging Benefits of Pesticide-Free Farming

Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams
A meta-analysis of 343 previously peer-reviewed studies from all over the world has found that organic crops contain more antioxidants and fewer pesticides than their non-organic counterparts, according to reporting in the Guardian.

The research, conducted by an international team of scientists led by UK professor of ecological agriculture Carlo Leifert, is published in the British Journal of Nutrition. It shows that the increased levels of antioxidants (between 18-69 percent) could have significant impact on human nutrition...


Wild honey bees: Does their disappearance matter?

Zoe Gough, BBC
Despite the current international concern at the health of managed honey bee stocks, the existence - and potential benefits - of wild native honey bees is often overlooked.

Wild colonies would be of the UK's native honey bee subspecies Apis mellifera mellifera, also known as the European dark bee, surviving on their own in remote areas or in a range of cavities...

Dr Catherine Thompson, from the University of Leeds, set out to investigate the persistence, genetic diversity and disease burden of wild honey bees in England and Wales.


Local Food: Values, Politics and Business

Erica Morrell, Erb Perspective Blog, University of Michigan
...In an attempt to promote local foods’ benefits and mitigate its drawbacks, cities across the country have created new arenas of governance concerned solely with local food. These arenas frequently include legislation around issues such as the production and sale of local produce and cottage foods, the creation of grants and other aid to facilitate local food efforts, and the establishment of food policy councils (over 200 such councils now exist across the U.S.), among many other features.

While different cities’ local food policies and programs might seem similar on the surface, they often embody quite different guiding values. Take Detroit and Cleveland, for example. Based on citizen demands, Detroit’s government has committed particularly to promoting justice through activities around local food...


Obituary: Australia’s carbon price

Paul Twomey, The Conversation
The Carbon Pricing Mechanism, known to its friends as the carbon price and its critics as the carbon tax, passed away today in Canberra, aged two, after a long battle with slogans.

While it won praise from most academic and business economists at home and abroad, it will perhaps be best remembered for its controversial relationship with Australian voters, the stinging criticism it endured from certain politicians, and comparisons with its nemesis, Direct Action.

While no-one thought it was perfect, the carbon price was achieving the task that was asked of it, and won expert recognition as an important pillar of any sensible climate policy portfolio...


Biodiversity Hotspots Get Hotter (and That’s Not Good)

Mark Fischetti, Scientific American
Last year a team of scientists led by Camilo Mora at the University of Hawaii published a map showing in incredible detail the year in which mean annual air temperature will rise completely out of the normal range established from 1860 to 2005. Even a cool year, then, will be hotter than a hot year from the past. That extreme will be reached by 2047 in many regions if nations continue to emit carbon dioxide at current rates. But the “new abnormal” will arise even sooner in the tropics. Unfortunately, that’s where many hotspots exist. And that’s where animals are least able to adapt to a change in temperature, because they have existed for so long in a climate that has been extremely stable.

The group created eight maps that show the global hotpots for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes, on land and at sea—and laid those maps on top of the map that shows future temperature change. The darker reds in the map below show the regions where temperatures will reach abnormal levels earliest, and the red outlines show the hotspots for terrestrial mammals. The overlap is alarming...

View maps at source.


World Council of Churches divests from fossil fuels

Sophie Yeo, RTCC
A decision by a global coalition of 345 churches to stop investing in fossil fuels has been hailed by divestment campaigners as the most important commitment yet.

The World Council of Churches, which represents over half a billion Christians from 150 countries, said that they would no longer fund oil, coal and gas, and recommended that their members follow suit.

Churches represented by the WCC include the Church of England, which has 25 million members, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church with 48 million members...


Local Color

Peter Brewitt, Orion Magazine
Street art takes back the asphalt.


 

News clippings image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

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