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A roundup of news, views and ideas from the main stream press and the blogosphere.  Click on the headline link to see the full article.

State of the Union: How climate and energy have featured since 1989

Multiple authors, Carbon Brief
Carbon Brief has created a timeline summarising how climate and energy feature in all of the State of the Union addresses since 1989. This encompasses the entire presidencies of George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama.

We have also included key events that have shaped how the world, and in particular the US, sees the topics of climate change and energy…

Fracking shakes the American west: ‘a millennium’s worth of earthquakes’

Joanna Walters, The Guardian
Oklahomans don’t blink when they hear warnings about tornadoes, drought or ice-storms. Earthquakes, however, catch their attention.

Increasingly tied to tremors shaking the west, fracking for natural gas is creating alarm and division around western states that until recently enjoyed a boom in jobs and revenue.

In Oklahoma, seismologists have warned that significant temblors last week could signal a larger, more dangerous earthquake to come in a state where drilling is destabilizing the bedrock.

Last Wednesday night two earthquakes, measuring 4.7 and 4.8 on the Richter scale, struck rural northern Oklahoma, beneath a major oil and gas producing area. The state historically experiences two shakes a year registering above level three…

TransCanada Just Gave Environmentalists A Huge Boost

Samantha Page, Think Progress
For many, the Keystone XL pipeline was a catalyst for environmental action, and when the State Department denied developer TransCanada’s permit application in November, it was a signal that the environmental movement had triumphed over corporate and fossil fuel interests. So when the tar sands company announced this week that it was filing a claim against the United States for $15 billion, under provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), many were outraged.

But TransCanada’s heavy-handed use of the Clinton-era agreement might be the rallying point activists need to stop another, perhaps even more far-reaching, federal action: the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a massive, Pacific Rim trade agreement that would apply NAFTA-like provisions — including prohibitions on interfering with private investment — to the relationships between the United States and 11 other countries, including Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam…

The quest for CCS

Andy Skuce, Corporate Knights
…many of the economists and experts who have developed scenarios for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believe that the only way to achieve the two-degree goal in a growing world economy is to invest in large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. These technologies capture carbon dioxide from the exhausts of power stations and industrial plants and then permanently store it, usually by injecting it into underground rock layers.

Even with massive deployment of CCS over coming decades, most scenarios modelled by the IPCC overshoot the carbon budget and require that in the latter part of the century, we actually take more carbon out of the atmosphere than we put into it. Climate expert Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester recently reported in Nature Geoscience that, of the 400 IPCC emissions scenarios used in the 2014 Working Group report to keep warming below two degrees, some 344 require the deployment of negative emissions technologies after 2050. The other 56 models assumed that we would start rapidly reducing emissions in 2010 (which, of course, did not happen). In other words, negative emissions are required in all of the IPCC scenarios that are still current.

One favoured negative emissions technology is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This involves burning biomass – such as wood pellets – in power stations, then capturing the carbon dioxide and burying it deep in the earth. The technology has not yet been demonstrated at an industrial scale. Using the large amounts of bioenergy envisioned in such scenarios will place huge demands on land use and will conflict with agriculture and biodiversity needs…

Comment: Why China’s new coal mine moratorium matters

Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace Energydesk
Right at the end of 2015, the head of China’s National Energy Agency made a hugely significant announcement: China will not approve any new coal mine projects for the next three years and will close down a thousand small mines.

Rewind back to 2013 and China’s coal industry, along with many very serious foreign experts, was projecting an increase in coal-burning of more than a billion tonnes by 2020, to 4.8 billion tonnes. With China’s coal consumption in decline for at least 18 months now, these kinds of projections should be consigned to the dustbin of history…

Oil Prices Slide Again, and the Bottom Is Not Yet in Sight

Jad Mouawad, New York Times
The continuing collapse in commodity prices pushed oil futures still lower Monday, and analysts predicted that the slide was far from over.

Oil prices fell to their lowest level in 12 years, with futures of West Texas intermediate crude for February delivery settling at $31.41 a barrel, down 5.3 percent. Oil futures, which lost 30 percent last year, have declined every day of 2016. Brent oil, the main international benchmark, lost 6.5 percent and closed at $31.55 a barrel…

Saudi Life With $30 Oil

Donna Abu-Nasr, Bloomberg
Times are getting tougher in the Hathut household, so father Mohammad is looking for extra work and the three kids are being told to switch off the lights to cut his electricity bill.

This is Saudi Arabia in 2016. It may be a familiar story to austerity-hit Europeans and Americans, but in a nation synonymous with conspicuous consumption, the belt-tightening has been unsettling. Unprecedented cuts to fuel and energy subsidies are forcing the kind of rigor never seen during the era of petrodollar-fueled wealth that quadrupled per-capita income since the late 1980s.

“A lot of things will change,” said Hathut, 30, who plans to supplement his income as a business-administration teacher at a Riyadh university with private training sessions. “But many youths are still in a state of shock. They haven’t processed the news and what to do.”…

Picnic for the bears

Buttonwood, The Economist
GLOOM seems to have descended at the start of 2016. Equity markets have had the worst start to the year in at least two decades. The great and the good have queued up to warn of the dangers ahead.

George Soros, a fund manager, said the Chinese financial environment reminded him of 2008, when the financial crisis was at its height. Larry Summers, a former American treasury secretary, declared in the Financial Times: “The global risk to domestic economic performance in the US, Europe and many emerging markets is as great as any time I can remember.” George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor, spoke of a “cocktail of threats” facing the global economy…


James Kunstler,
It looks like 2016 will be the year that humanfolk learn that the stuff they value was not worth as much as they thought it was. It will be a harrowing process because a great many humans are abandoning ownership of things that are rapidly losing value — e.g. stocks on the Shanghai exchange — and stuffing whatever “money” they can recover into the US dollar, the assets and usufructs of which are also going through a very painful reality value adjustment…

Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009

Sho Chandra, Bloomberg
Sales at U.S. retailers declined in December to wrap the weakest year since 2009, raising concern about the momentum in consumer spending heading into 2016.

The 0.1 percent drop matched the median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg and followed a 0.4 percent gain in November, Commerce Department figures showed Friday in Washington. For all of 2015, purchases climbed 2.1 percent, the smallest advance of the current economic expansion…

The gloomy Arctic seed bank that’s key to future crops

David Shukman, BBC
What happens if war or global warming threaten the key plants that the world depends on for food? A consortium of scientists is running what it believes is an answer: a deep-freeze for thousands of seed samples that is meant to serve as a back-up to cope with the worst-case scenarios. The Global Seed Vault is buried inside a mountain on the Arctic islands of Svalbard and science editor David Shukman was allowed inside.

It’s an eerie feeling approaching what’s meant to be the safest place on the planet.

High on a wind-blasted Arctic mountain, a stark concrete doorway leads to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a store to ensure the survival of the world’s most precious plants… The vault is gloomy, and you need a dark imagination to come up with motivations for it, but the sheer number of countries and institutions using it is its own justification.

And earlier this month – far earlier than anyone expected – came the first example of the vault really doing its job.

Some of the Syrian seeds – including ancient and potentially sturdy varieties of wheat, barley and chickpeas – were extracted from the deep-frozen shelves because they were needed back in the Middle East…

Thousands of farmer suicides prompt India to set up $1.3bn crop insurance scheme

AFP, The Guardian
India’s government has approved a $1.3bn insurance scheme for farmers to protect against crop failures, saying it was intended to put a halt to a spate of suicides.

Two successive years of drought have battered the country’s already struggling rural heartland, with farmer suicides in rural areas regularly hitting the headlines.

More than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in India since 1995…

Weather extremes slash cereal yields

Tim Radford, Climate News Network
Climate change may have already begun to take its toll of agriculture. New research suggests that drought and extreme heat in the last 50 years have reduced cereal production by up to 10%. And, for once, developed nations may have sustained greater losses than developing nations.

Researchers have been warning for years that global warming as a consequence of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – in turn, a pay-off from increased fossil fuel combustion – will result in a greater frequency or intensity in extremes of weather.

They have also warned more recently that weather-related extremes could damage food security in Europe, Africa and India…

Permaculture and the Myth of Overpoulation

Lisa Depiano, Permaculture News
When teaching permaculture I often start out by doing a giant problems mind map. I ask students to brainstorm all of the major “problems” they see in the world to reflect on what brought them to study permaculture. Nine times out of ten the idea of overpopulation as a root “problem” in the world comes up.

Overpopulation describes a situation where there are too many people for the amount of resources available. It puts the blame of the environmental crisis on the sheer number of people on the planet…

An Attack on Democracy? Worries over Poland Mount in Brussels and Berlin

Spiegel Staff, Der Spiegel
From the courts to the media, Poland’s new government has passed a number of new reforms that have the EU concerned about creeping autocracy. Complaints thus far have fallen on deaf ears in Warsaw, triggering calls for firmer action from Brussels…


News clippings image via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.