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.

Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis

Margareta Pagano, The Independent
Germany and Russia have been working on a secret plan to broker a peaceful solution to end international tensions over the Ukraine.

The Independent can reveal that the peace plan, being worked on by both Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, hinges on two main ambitions: stabilising the borders of Ukraine and providing the financially troubled country with a strong economic boost, particularly a new energy agreement ensuring security of gas supplies.

More controversially, if Ms Merkel’s deal were to be acceptable to the Russians, the international community would need to recognise Crimea’s independence and its annexation by Russia, a move that some members of the United Nations might find difficult to stomach…

Which Western energy giants are most exposed to risk by their investments in Russia?

Christine Ottery, Greenpeace
As Europe continues to debate how to get off Russian energy US and European oil and gas majors are building up increasing stakes in Russian fossil fuel extraction projects and energy firms.

Based on a detailed spreadsheet and research by Greenpeace Energydesk has developed an interactive – and evolving – map of all the current and planned ventures in the former soviet power. Click here to see it in full screen

Arctic oil spills likely to spread across borders: study

Staff, CBC
A major oil spill in Canada’s western Arctic would likely spread quickly and foul oceans around Alaska, and possibly as far west as Russia.

The research, funded by the World Wildlife Fund, comes as the National Energy Board prepares to consider blowout prevention plans in two separate proposals for offshore energy drilling.

Dan Slavik, who works with the WWF in Inuvik, says oil is much harder to clean up when it’s trapped in sea ice.

Link to report
Link to graphic models

German Utilities Bail Out Electric Grid at Wind’s Mercy

Julia Mengewein, Bloomberg
Germany’s push toward renewable energy is causing so many drops and surges from wind and solar power that more utilities than ever are receiving money from the grids to help stabilize the country’s electricity network.

Twenty power companies including Germany’s biggest utilities, EON SE and RWE AG, now get fees for pledging to add or cut electricity within seconds to keep the power system stable, double the number in September, according to data from the nation’s four grid operators. Utilities that sign up to the 800 million-euro ($1.1 billion) balancing market can be paid as much as 400 times wholesale electricity prices, the data show…

Utilities Decoupling to Cover Their… Assets

Zane Selvans, Clean Energy Action
Last month, Xcel Energy subsidiary Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo) filed a rate case at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (Docket: 14AL-0660E). A lot of the case — the part that’s gotten most of the press — is about PSCo recovering the costs of retiring and retrofitting coal plants as agreed to under the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act (CACJA) of 2010. However, there’s a piece of the case that could have much wider implications. Way down deep in the last listed piece of direct testimony, PSCo witness Scott B. Brockett:

…provides support and recommendations regarding the initiation of a decoupling mechanism for residential and small commercial customers.

This recommendation has captivated all of us here at CEA because it could open the door to Xcel adopting a radically different business model, and becoming much more of an energy services utility (PDF), fit for the 21st century.

To explain why, we’re going to have to delve a ways into the weeds of the energy wonkosphere…

NSW pushes to create Australia’s first “zero net energy” town

Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy Web
A consortium of energy groups look to create “mini electricity” system relying on local renewable energy production and storage.

The search has begun for a suitable town to become Australia’s first “zero net energy town” – where electricity is generated locally from renewable sources, and stored and distributed on a localised mini grid.

The concept of zero net energy towns (ZNET) – where local communities generator enough of their electricity needs – and sometimes much more – is becoming common in Europe and elsewhere…

EPA Should Address Emerging Risks From Fracking: GAO

at Ware, Bloomberg
The Environmental Protection Agency should review emerging risks related to safeguards for hydraulic fracturing wells used for oil and gas production, according to a report released July 28 by the Government Accountability Office.

Overall, safeguards in place at the wells—known as class II wells—are effective in preventing contamination of underground water sources and very little has occurred, EPA and state officials told the GAO…

However, such safeguards don’t address emerging underground risks, such as seismic activity and overly high pressure in geologic formations that lead to surface outbreaks of fluids, the report said…

Government pushes ahead with fracking plan despite wide opposition

Damian Carrington, The Guardian
Overwhelming opposition to the government’s plans to expanding fracking across Britain was expressed by interest groups during an official consultation, whose results were released a day after ministers signalled a go-ahead for shale gas drilling around the country.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s report on the government’s Strategic Environmental Assessment of its nationwide fracking plan recorded a wide range of objections, including from bodies such as Public Health England and the Natural England.

In conclusion, the document stated: "An analysis of the responses indicated that a substantial majority were against the licensing plan being adopted because of concerns over environmental effects."…

BP Oil Spill Is Much Worse Than People Think, Scientists Say

Emily Atkin, Think Progress
Scientists at Penn State University have discovered two new coral reefs near the site of BP’s historic 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the impacts to those reefs from the spill have been greater than expected, according to research released Monday.

The two additional reefs found by the PSU team were both farther away and deeper than the one coral reef that had previously been found to have been impacted by the spill. That indicates not only that marine ecosystems may be more greatly affected, but that some of the 210 million gallons of oil that BP spilled into the Gulf is making its mark in the deep sea…

Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?

Benjamin Ryan, Planners Web
According to a new government report, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf has been steadily declining for the last decade. The report looked at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico on federal lands only, not any privately-held lands where production is taking place. Since 2010, according to the report, the annual yield of oil from the Gulf has fallen by almost 140 million barrels.

While the Gulf region still accounts for 69% of U.S. oil produced on federal lands, the dramatic decline in production tells a story that the oil industry doesn’t want us to hear. Peak oil is clearly beginning to play a role in U.S. exploration…

China needs to import more food to ease water, energy shortages: official

David Stanway, Reuters
China should boost imports of food so it can dedicate more of its scarce water supplies to energy production, especially in arid but coal-rich regions like Xinjiang and Ningxia, a senior environmental official said on Monday.

Mu Guangfeng, the head of the environment impact assessment office at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told a conference China should open up further to overseas food supplies and put stricter limits on the consumption of water for agriculture in areas like Xinjiang…

Greenpeace Report: Obama Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal

Steven Horn, Huffington Post
Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

"Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan" tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large…

Link to report

Threat to future global food security from climate change and ozone air pollution

Amos P. K. Tai, Maria Val Martin & Colette L. Heald, Nature Journal
Future food production is highly vulnerable to both climate change and air pollution with implications for global food security1, 2, 3, 4. Climate change adaptation and ozone regulation have been identified as important strategies to safeguard food production5, 6, but little is known about how climate and ozone pollution interact to affect agriculture, nor the relative effectiveness of these two strategies for different crops and regions. Here we present an integrated analysis of the individual and combined effects of 2000–2050 climate change and ozone trends on the production of four major crops (wheat, rice, maize and soybean) worldwide based on historical observations and model projections, specifically accounting for ozone–temperature co-variation. The projections exclude the effect of rising CO2, which has complex and potentially offsetting impacts on global food supply7, 8, 9, 10. We show that warming reduces global crop production by >10% by 2050 with a potential to substantially worsen global malnutrition in all scenarios considered. Ozone trends either exacerbate or offset a substantial fraction of climate impacts depending on the scenario, suggesting the importance of air quality management in agricultural planning. Furthermore, we find that depending on region some crops are primarily sensitive to either ozone (for example, wheat) or heat (for example, maize) alone, providing a measure of relative benefits of climate adaptation versus ozone regulation for food security in different regions.

Full report behind paywall

Farmers Say GMO Corn No Longer Resistant to Pests

Caroline Stauffer, Reuters via Scientific American
Genetically modified corn seeds are no longer protecting Brazilian farmers from voracious tropical bugs, increasing costs as producers turn to pesticides, a farm group said on Monday.

Producers want four major manufacturers of so-called BT corn seeds to reimburse them for the cost of spraying up to three coats of pesticides this year, said Ricardo Tomczyk, president of Aprosoja farm lobby in Mato Grosso state…

Pumping Groundwater in a Drought Is Great, As Long As You Have Groundwater

Eric Roston, Bloomberg
Water is becoming so precious in the drought-stricken U.S. West that — why not — states are even taking steps to figure out how much of it they have.

California governor Jerry Brown in January challenged towns and state agencies to cut their water use by 20 percent. Now they’re trying to measure what 20 percent means. It’s hard. Cities and the state in some cases are coming up with estimates that differ by up to 10 times…

Report: World faces ‘insurmountable’ water crises by 2040

Renee Lewis, AlJazeera
The world will face “insurmountable” water crises in less than three decades, researchers said Tuesday, if it does not move away from water-intensive power production.

A clash of competing necessities — drinking water and energy demand — will cause widespread drought unless action is taken soon, researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and the U.S.-funded Center for Naval Analyses Corporation said in the reports.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today,” researcher Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University said in a press release on two new reports released Tuesday…

In most countries, including the United States, energy production is the biggest source of water consumption — even larger than agriculture, researchers said. In 2005, 41 percent of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. was for thermoelectric cooling, according to the study.

Link to the reports

Waiting to Slash CO2 Emissions? It Could Cost You

Bobby Magill, Climate Central
The cost of the U.S. delaying action on climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions could increase 40 percent each decade if no action is taken, according to a Council of Economic Advisers report released by the White House on Tuesday.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later helps to offset the threat of sea level rise, higher temperatures and melting ice sheets, which could cause costly and widespread damage in the future if nothing is done to slash CO2, according to the report…

Link to report

Strategies for energy security and climate protection are one and the same

Paul Hockenos, AlJazeera
Not so long ago, the consensus in Europe — and across the Atlantic, too — was that hard-boiled energy security didn’t have time for extravagant clean-energy agendas. Every time Russia shut off Eastern Europe’s gas, some spooked nations questioned the logic of trying to meet EU climate goals while simultaneously wrangling energy independence from Putin’s petro-state. Even earlier this year — with Moscow’s springtime annexation of Crimea — some politicians panicked: Suddenly fracking was back on the agenda and Europe was once again grasping for new, short-term fossil-fuel sources and routes.

But Europe’s energy security and climate protection strategies aren’t mutually exclusive. On the contrary, it’s by embracing a far-reaching green-energy transition that it will most effectively — and enduringly — be able to slash energy imports, with their accompanying exorbitant costs. Fortunately, there finally appears to be a shift toward this mentality in Europe, which until now has always seen energy security and climate-related energy concerns as separate issues…

This Stunning Carbon Map Could Unlock A New Way To Fight Climate Change

Justin Catanoso, Business Insider
Stanford University scientists have produced the first-ever high-resolution carbon geography of Peru, a country whose tropical forests are among the world’s most vital in terms of mitigating the global impact of climate change.

Released July 29, the 69-page report to Peru’s Ministry of the Environment could become a tool itself to battle rising temperatures, offering unprecedented data for the creation of carbon offset programs. It is complete with vivid 3-D maps that pinpoint with a high degree of certainty the carbon density of Peru’s vast and varied landscape, from its western deserts and savannas, to its lowland forests, to its soaring Andean peaks, to its lush eastern Amazon rainforests.

The maps also reveal in sharp detail what’s missing: large swaths of once carbon-laden jungles now stripped bare by the extraction industry. Many of Peru’s gold, copper and silver mines operate legally; many of them do not. Environmental devastation is often the result…

Source: Carnegie Peru carbon mapping project

Warming Threatens Roads, Ports and Planes, Report Says

Bobby Magill, Climate Central
The transportation sector is a major contributor to climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions, and, worldwide, it’s also one of the most vulnerable sectors to the effects of climate change, according to a new report…

Those are the findings of a new report, “Climate Change: Implications for Transport,” released Monday by Cambridge University and sustainable business advocacy group Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) outlining what the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report mean for global transportation…

Link to report

Credit: BSR

The Most Persuasive Evidence Yet that Bike-Share Serves as Public Transit

Eric Jaffe, City Lab
Over the past few days, several New York media outlets have reported that Citi Bike, the city’s popular but financially struggling bike-share system, will soon get a much-needed influx of cash. The new money would likely go toward improving docking stations and expanding the network to other parts of the city. A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Wall Street Journal that bike-share "has become part of our public transportation system, and there is a lot riding on its success."

Those words come at the same time as a new research study—first referenced here by former D.C. and Chicago transportation chief Gabe Klein—offers the most persuasive evidence yet that bike-share serves as a genuine form of public transportation…

Report behnd paywall

Kyrgyzstan revives pre-Soviet traditions for climate adaptation

Sophie Yeo, RTCC
Efforts to revive traditional knowledge in Kyrgyzstan are safeguarding its wild walnut forests for future generations…

There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Rebecca Solnit

Alan Durning, Sightline Daily
“It’s always too soon to calculate effect,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her book Hope in the Dark, a poetic call for action in the face of dark odds. Here’s an early passage that captures her essential point:

A woman from [Women’s Strike for Peace, an American organization protesting atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons] told of how foolish and futile she had felt standing in the rain one morning protesting at the Kennedy White House. Years later she heard Dr. Benjamin Spock—who had become one of the most high-profile activists on the issue—say that the turning point for him was spotting a small group of women standing in the rain, protesting at the White House. If they were so passionately committed, he thought, he should give the issue more consideration himself.

Solnit’s book is one long argument that the spark of change skips and jumps through us to others we may never meet, and it is argued with Solnit’s usual lucidity and eloquence…

Do You Know What Permaculture Is?

Benjamin Ryan, Planners Web
Not many planners and planning commissioners are familiar with the term “permaculture” — but it’s starting to come up more frequently in discussions about planning, climate change, and local resilience.

That was the case at last month’s “Local Solutions” conference, sponsored by Antioch University New England and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Steve Whitman, AICP, is a planning consultant with New Hampshire-based Resilience Planning and Design LLC. He’s also taken on the role of an educator on permaculture and ecological design as he led conference attendees through the basics of what permaculture involves and how it relates to planning.

So … just what does a permaculture approach involve?…    

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