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It's hard to imagine a more powerful figure to want on your side than retired Army Lt. General Russel Honoré. The former head of the Hurricane Katrina Joint Task Force Hurricane Katrina who commanded the military response to the devastating 2005 hurricane is now a major environmental activist in Louisiana - and those who love clean air and water are happy to have him.
"He came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and was called that 'John Wayne dude' for his take charge style and his reminding his solders that they were he to help fellow Americans recovery from a massive disaster called Hurricane Katrina in metro New Orleans," says Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley, who works with General Honoré as part of the GreenARMY.
General Honoré now heads the GreenARMY, "an alliance of civic, community, and environmental groups and concerned citizens from around the state ready to effect meaningful social, political, and environmental change in Louisiana." Their latest battle? Fracking in St. Tammany Parish.
Anti-fracking crowds from the GreenARMY (including Sierra Club activists) have packed recent public hearings on a proposed permit to frack in a wetlands area of St. Tammany Parish - with the next major public hearing coming on June 2.
Residents are worried about the proposed fracking poisoning the water in the Southern Hills aquifer - and that the local politicians have been bought off by the oil and gas industry. Check out General Honoré's take on it.
Malek-Wiley and Delta Sierra Club staffer Andy Zellinger are working closely with Honoré and the GreenARMY on this issue and helping to turn out crowds at the hearings.
"Anyone who has a chance to drink (local St. Tammany Parish's) Abita Beer knows of the current quality of the water in the Southern Hills Aquifer - it's phenomenal," said Malek-Wiley with a laugh. "But this is a serious water quality issue. Fracking, be it in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, or Louisiana is a bad news. It means pollution, health problems, truck traffic, and more. It is the wrong energy choice."
Malek-Wiley's also thrilled to be working with the environmental powerhouse that is General Honore, too.
"As a long time Environmental & Environmental Justice activist it has been very interesting working with General Honoré," he says. "After his retirement General Honoré found that there are environmental damages being caused in America and that our democracy and way of life that he fought for is being taken over by huge oil and gas companies. What's more - these industries give large amounts of money to politicians and run green-washing TV campaigns all the time."
And that's part of General Honoré's speech in the video above - who is St. Tammany has been bought off to support the proposed fracking project.
If you're in the St. Tammany area, you can help by joining the Louisiana GreenARMY and the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club and attending the June 2 public hearing.
And if you're not, Malek-Wiley encourages everyone to write your elected officials about investing more in clean energy like wind and solar instead of more drilling and fracking.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Senior Content Producer
Many city dwellers don't have cars. Ideally, they rely on their bikes, their feet, and public transit to get around. Certainly that's the best environmental choice.
But what about when they need to go farther, or biking or transit aren't viable options? Some cities and their residents are getting creative about electric cars.
This week in Indianapolis, where the Electric Drive Transportation Association held its annual conference, Mayor Greg Ballard announced a major new electric car sharing program. Other companies, such as Car2Go and Zipcar, have been experimenting with electric car-sharing, but BlueIndy will be the biggest one yet. Set to open within eight months, the program will include up to 500 electric vehicles, 200 service locations, and 1,000 charging stations. It will be run by the Bolloré Group, which currently operates EV car-sharing programs in a number of French cities.
It does matter how the electricity is generated. In Indiana, which relies heavily on coal for its electricity, full battery electric vehicles are at least 37 percent lower in carbon emissions than the average comparable conventional car -- but a bit higher than today's hybrid vehicles. See the Sierra Club's EV Guide and calculate emission comparisons for your own region. As the Midwest shifts away from fossil fuels and toward more renewable sources of power, as it must, EVs in Indianapolis are expected to get even cleaner over time.
For those city dwellers who want to buy an electric car for themselves but don't have access to a charging station at work or in their apartment or condo complex, the installation of EV charging stations may soon get easier in California. AB 2565, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi would ensure that a lease cannot unfairly restrict a tenant - a business or apartment dweller - from installing an EV charging station so long as the tenant pays for the station, installation, and upkeep. This kind of policy would allow more people eager to drive EVs to install the charging stations at home or access them at work or in public locations.
In fact, if you live in California, you could help by signing this petition urging state leadership to support this new policy.
Whether it be car-sharing or ownership, electric cars are becoming more viable for urban Americans - but for many not fast enough. Tell us what you think of these programs or ones you’d like introduced in your own community.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.
An exciting new book, Pico-solar Electric Systems: The Earthscan Expert Guide to the Technology and Emerging Market, was recently released by John Keane, the managing director and founding member of SunnyMoney, the social enterprise of SolarAid.
These revolutionary pico-solar systems, which can power appliances such as mobile phones and LED lights, are an important component of a global strategy to alleviate the energy poverty that affects 1.2 billion people worldwide. The user-friendly designs employ a small solar panel to power a battery, which in turn can operate a variety of appliances. For many people living off the grid in places like India, Kenya, and Malawi, the only power options are dangerous, outdated, and expensive fuels like kerosene, but the introduction of pico-solar systems has been changing that.
Keane is particularly familiar with the issue of energy poverty because his enterprise, SunnyMoney, has sold more than one million solar units in just the past few years. In his book, he reinforces that the pico-solar sector has arrived, and is growing rapidly. In the past four months alone, the solar energy sector has seen $45 million in investments from high-profile investors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and SolarCity. This solar boom is also a huge source for green jobs in countries like Bangladesh where 80,000 solar home systems are being installed every single month.
In his book, Keane not only explains the technology involved in solar energy production and provides tips on choosing quality products, but he highlights the work of different practitioners in the growing pico-solar sector -- including Greenlight Planet, Orb, Fosera, and SunnyMoney. The case studies he includes from around the world clearly demonstrate that small pico-solar solutions are the key to the next big energy revolution -- similar to the global mobile phone boom.
Keane’s comprehensive book takes a look at how solar power has potential to transform the lives of billions of people living off the grid. If you are an aspiring social entrepreneur, development practitioner, or just simply interested in business and technology, its worth a read. You can check it out here.
-- Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
If you watched this week's episode of Showtime's climate series Years of Living Dangerously, you saw a fantastic piece by America Ferrera called "Against the Wind" that pierced the veil of the fossil fuel industry's well-funded operation to try and dismantle state clean energy standards. The episode could not have been more timely, as that same relentless attack continues unfolding in real time this spring in statehouses around the U.S. One of the most pitched battles is taking place right now in Ohio.
As the Years episode explained, many states require utilities to provide a certain amount of power from clean energy sources that don't pollute our air and water or disrupt our climate. These state standards (which have wonky names like "renewable portfolio standards" and "energy efficiency resource standards") have been important building blocks in getting clean energy to scale. Because these policies work, they pose a real threat to dirty energy - once people realize they get cheap, clean energy from the sun and wind, while also creating jobs and benefiting the local economy, they aren't turning back to the dirty energy sources of the past.
That's why fossil fuel interests are fighting relentlessly to roll back these state clean energy standards. As the Years episode revealed, much of this work is carried out under the auspices a right-wing outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, with backing from the fossil fuel baron Koch brothers. So far, we've stopped them - in 2013 we defeated every single attempt to gut a state clean energy standard, and even strengthened a couple. But the dirty fuel industry isn't giving up just yet.
Ohio clean energy advocates are currently fighting a push to destroy the state's energy efficiency and clean energy standards. These standards support well over 25,000 Ohio jobs and the energy efficiency standard has generated $1.3 billion in energy savings for consumers so far! The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported that the clean energy standard has brought more than $1 billion in private capital investment to the Buckeye State over five years -- and has created thousands of jobs.
And Ohioans love the standards as well: A recent poll by the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy showed that 86 percent of Ohio voters support the state's current energy efficiency law. The same poll showed that 72 percent of Ohio voters said "we should continue to replace traditional sources of energy like coal with wind and solar power." (Ohioans - take action here to defend the standards!)
The good news in all these dirty fuels attacks on clean energy is this: We can win. The MSNBC show All In with Chris Hayes just aired this excellent piece on how the Koch Brothers keep losing in their own home state of Kansas, where they have tried and failed multiple times to roll back that state's wildly successful clean energy standard. They're failing in part because the people of Kansas are realizing the benefits of clean energy, and have no interest in turning back the clock. As rancher and wind farmer Pete Farrell puts it, as a drought linked to climate disruption threatens his ranch and his livelihood, "Wind is my most drought resilient crop."
If we are going to keep winning these fights in Ohio and around the country, we need your help. Join us!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
As the ‘airpocalypse’ news out of China continues to grow, what we predicted more than a year ago is now increasingly obvious - China’s seemingly endless coal demand is a myth, and the Chinese coal boom is over.
What we often hear about a never-ending demand for coal in China has turned out to be just a desperate attempt by a flailing industry seeking to convince investors and politicians that they have a future in a cleaner, greener 21st century. But as frustration with deadly coal pollution grows along with China’s booming clean energy industry, this looks increasingly doubtful.
Since news of the airpocalypse first broke, the Chinese public has become increasingly adamant that dangerous air pollution from coal-burning power plants be curbed. In response, China’s State Council announced a detailed plan -- The Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan -- that aimed to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants in September of last year. This was the historic first step towards curbing China’s air pollution crisis - but its only the beginning.
Responding to the growing outrage over air pollution just two months ago, the Chinese Premier declared a “war on pollution.” His announcement put clean air at the top of the policy making agenda, including new efforts to reduce toxic emissions from China’s largest source of air pollution - coal-burning plants.
In doing so, the government will be directly improving the air quality in two of China’s major cities -- Hebei and Shanxi. Hebei produces 12 percent of the world’s crude steel and is inextricably blanketed in smog as a result. Similarly, Shanxi produces 12 percent of the world’s coal. Both regions surrounding the city will benefit from less pollution from coal-fired power plants, meaning cleaner, healthier lives for their citizens.
The dangers of burning coal have become increasingly clear to the Chinese public - and the country has already seen an astonishing reduction in the growth of coal consumption and total coal demand. Several high profile banks have predicted China will hit peak coal demand before 2020, and a decline in coal burning and coal pollution would be just around the corner. At the same time, China’s clean energy industry is booming, with solar production skyrocketing.
All that reinforces our main point - China’s coal boom is over, with demand falling faster than expected. And that means we finally can see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. The latest data from China’s National Coal Association suggests that while China burned 940 million tonnes of coal in the first quarter of 2014, that’s only a 0.9 percent increase from last year, down from a 9.8 percent increase in 2011.
As this trend continues, China’s peak coal consumption is looming ever closer, and the decline of coal consumption is just around the corner.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace East Asia
Last week, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona took to the Senate floor to make the claim that the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a “zombie” provision that we should eradicate, arguing that would somehow bring purity to energy markets. The Koch Brothers’ front organization Americans for Prosperity echoed this theme in a release shortly thereafter.
While the oil-rich Koch Brothers and their big polluting allies have funded and waged a war on what they say are zombies, they always fail to mention the vampires that roam their own halls at night --and only at night.
Those vampires are the oil and gas tax breaks that have been in the tax code for decades upon decades, hiding under the cover of permanence, never having to stare into the light of day – or an expiration. And they have been there for generations longer than the PTC (birthed just in 1992), biting into and sucking the fresh blood of taxpayer dollars, trying to make themselves appear young and robust. Intangible drilling costs (circa 1913), percentage depletion allowances (1926), master limited partnerships and passive loss exemption (1986) -- the names of these oil and gas giveaways haunt with Transylvanian overtones. And they rarely have to surface to face scrutiny or beg to be extended -- because they are written into the tax code in perpetuity!
I gather from Sen. Flake’s statement that the thing that makes the PTC a zombie is the fact that it keeps being extended. The PTC was enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and it has been extended 8 times. It has also expired 3 different times, in 2000, 2002, and 2004. It expired again this past December 31. He characterizes the wind industry as mature, and thus no longer requiring federal help. But wind energy is booming and growing across the country, meaning its still in its adolescence. At the end of 2013, more wind capacity was being manufactured than at any time in history.
On the other hand, the oil and gas industry would qualify for Medicare. No -- They would be more like centuries old; like vampires! Yet, there is no hue and cry from the Kochs and their allies that these cash producing, big polluting Count Draculas should somehow cease to wander the centuries delivering billions to the oil and gas industry.
We recently all got the stiff one-two punch of the National Climate Assessment and the frightening news about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet being on a one-way ride to more than 10 feet of global sea level rise. That means more communities, more families, and more businesess in the crosshairs of some of the worst effects of climate disruption.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel producers whose carbon emissions are helping fuel this crisis are fighting any and every effort necessary to address them, like the first-ever safeguards on carbon pollution. Its no surprise that the fossil fuel industry and its allies will do everything it can to protect its massive profits and pump out limitless pollution. And that means polluter allies in Congress will continue to target the PTC simply because they want to crush the wind industry in its youth – as it is beginning to finally offer real competition to the oil, gas, and coal industries. All the while, these same polluters are as silent as midnight in a graveyard about the vampire subsidies that have nurtured the fossil industries much more handsomely for much, much longer.
--Dave Hamilton, Director for Clean Energy, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club
One year ago, the Sierra Club submitted comments to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative about a newly proposed trade deal with the European Union, warning that it could have irreversible effects on communities and the climate crisis we all face. Today, a leaked text of the proposed deal reveals that those comments were more than foreshadowing -- the health of our families, our communities, and our climate are indeed in danger.
"A trade alliance between the U.S. and the European Union could offer an opportunity to improve safeguards across the Atlantic that protect our air, water and other natural resources," I said in a press release just about a year ago. "However, a transatlantic trade and investment agreement would have devastating consequences if free trade is pursued at the expense of environmental protection and consumer and worker rights."
The Sierra Club worked with our European partner, PowerShift, a German non-profit organization working at the intersection of trade and energy, to analyze the draft of the European Union's proposal for trading raw materials and energy. Our partners at Earthjustice also published a detailed analysis of the text. Unfortunately, the text reveals a dangerous proposal that threatens our climate and hinders the ability of governments and communities to tackle the crisis.
Despite the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) warning that roughly two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground and that countries must urgently scale up renewable energy development and deployment to avoid climate catastrophe, this proposal would actually:
- Expand fossil fuel exports from the U.S. to the EU, and therefore increase fracking and mining in the U.S.;
- Limit the ability of governments to set the terms of their energy policy; and
- Restrict the development of local renewable energy programs.
Let's dig inside the text to understand how it would put our climate at risk.
First, the proposal would increase trade in fossil fuels between the United States and the EU by abolishing trade restrictions on energy, which in the U.S. only exist for natural gas and crude oil. In particular, the proposal seems aimed at facilitating exports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. to the EU.
Here’s what that means, concretely.
Right now, in order to export natural gas to the European Union, the U.S. Department of Energy must conduct a public analysis to determine whether exports are in the interest of the public. It’s a pretty simple policy: look before you leap. However, under the U.S. Natural Gas Act, the United States must simply deem exports in the public interest - with no review analysis - and automatically approve exports of natural gas to countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement that includes something called "national treatment for trade in gas." Apparently, the EU doesn’t believe that this flawed provision in U.S. law is sufficient. In its proposal, the EU has essentially enshrined this risky provision into the trade agreement.
Liquefied natural gas exports from the U.S. to the EU would lead to more dangerous fracking in the U.S. to feed foreign demand, increased reliance on dirty fossil fuels in the EU, and more climate-disrupting pollution. In addition, U.S. exports of natural gas would raise demand for U.S. natural gas, causing an increase in domestic gas prices and, therefore, a reduction in domestic consumption in the U.S. Don’t get too excited about decreased domestic consumption of natural gas: a decrease in gas consumption would shift the energy market back toward coal, not clean energy, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Association.
Second, the EU proposal would also limit governments from setting the terms of their own energy policy and handcuff their ability to protect their own air and water. The section on "transit" expands an existing trade rule guaranteeing so-called "freedom of transit" via the routes most convenient for international transit -- not for safety. That means that if, for example, tar sands are being pushed by pipeline from Country A to Country C, but have to travel through Country B, Country B could do nothing to alter the pipeline’s route away from key drinking water sources, valuable farmland, or highly-populated areas that could be devastated by leaks or spills. While a pipeline between the U.S. and the EU isn’t likely, the dangerous precedent set by this policy threatens communities around the globe.
Finally, it’s important to note that the only section of the draft text to deal specifically with renewable energy actually would restrict the ability of governments to create their own clean energy economies and build domestic renewable energy technologies at home. That is because the EU proposal prohibits governments from using "local content requirements" in renewable energy programs.
Local content rules, also known as buy-local rules, require that companies purchase or use goods of local origin. They have been a standard policy tool used by governments to nurture and grow new industries - like the wind and solar sectors. Governments must be able to adopt local content rules supporting their own local producers and suppliers in order to create clean energy jobs, localize production, and ramp up the number of homes and businesses they power - all which are tools for tackling climate disruption. Governments must have every tool at their disposal to be able to develop, grow, and support clean energy -- and the TTIP must not close the door on these programs.
In the words of EU Commission President Manuel Barroso, "Climate change is a defining challenge of our time." And in the words of President Obama, "Someday, our children, and our children's children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did."
These policy makers are right. Climate disruption is the defining challenge of our time, and we must do all we can to deal with this crisis. Sadly, this trade proposal takes us in the exact wrong direction. It would hinder us from acting on climate at a time when decisive action has never been more necessary. Dirty fossil fuels must stay buried in the ground if we’re going to avoid climate catastrophe. This proposal should be buried with it.
-- Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program
Today is bike to work day, and across the country, people will be hopping on their bicycles to get to work, school, and play.
Not just today, but every day, growing numbers of people are biking as an everyday means of transportation. Cities are taking notice and starting to make themselves more bike-friendly places to ride, with protected bike lanes, bike share systems, and other bike-focused infrastructure popping up across the country, and not a moment too soon.
How people get around is one of those chicken-or-egg kind of things, and this is proven over and over again in scientific research-- with transportation infrastructure, as they say, if you build it, they will come. The term for this phenomenon is "induced demand."
To illustrate this point in a very non-scientific way, let's go on a little thought adventure. For example, let's imagine that there are no highways. This means that no one is going to drive long distances between cities, because they can't. There's no road! Now let's imagine that there are highways, but there are no parking spots at the end of the journey. People would be circling the block forever...! Or they just wouldn't take a car in the first place because there's nowhere to put it at the end. You see how this works.
So let's imagine that there is a highway, but it ends in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a cattle stampede, and then maybe starts up again on the other side of the stampede, where there may or may not be any parking spaces. Ah, transportation infrastructure!
This may seem ridiculous, but this is actually how too many cities have done their bike infrastructure for way too long. Bike lanes can disappear or don't exist in the first place, only sometimes is there bike parking, and sometimes, without the right kind of streets and protections, biking in traffic can feel like being in the middle of a stampede.
Luckily, and with no small part played by bike activists and safe transportation advocates everywhere, this is beginning to change. Cities are beginning to figure out that bicyclists are an economic engine for neighborhoods, and by making safe, welcoming spaces for people to get out and ride, everyone wins. Of course, we also know that biking is good for the climate, for decreasing air pollution (fewer cars!), for public health, and just generally fun.
So, if your trusty steed has been collecting dust, Bike to Work Day is a great opportunity to pump up the tires and give it a spin in an encouraging group, and perhaps even discover some new safe cycling infrastructure in your city. And let's face it, riding along in a stampede of bicycles on Bike to Work Day is just plain fun.
And if you can't get enough of the group riding fun on Bike to Work Day, check around to see if your city has organizations, social groups, or bike shops that host group rides and events-- and sometimes they're even in costume. Happy cycling!
-- Rachel Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign. Graphic courtesy of Point6.
Guess what - you might be living near a toxic coal ash dump that threatens your local water supply, without even knowing it. Today, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice are releasing a new report called "Dangerous Waters: America's Coal Ash Crisis" that highlights some of the most unsafe coal ash sites in the nation.
Imagine living next to an unlined waste pit that leaked arsenic, lead, mercury, and scads of other toxins into your local groundwater, streams and rivers. What's more, imagine that those millions of gallons of this toxic sludge burst through its aging impoundment and fouled your drinking water, wrecked your local economy, or even inundated your community, destroying homes and endangering the lives of your family or your neighbors?
These are the realities and threats that millions of Americans face every day living near coal ash impoundments. Coal ash is what's left behind when power plants burn coal for electricity - and it contains a toxic mixture of dangerous chemicals. Shockingly, despite decades of advocacy, there are still NO national standards in place for the safe disposal of coal ash.
This year has been marked by tragic coal pollution spills into our waterways, including the third-largest spill of toxic coal ash in U.S. history, which devastated over 70 miles of the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia. The Dan River spill was a grim reminder of the sorry state of coal ash regulation in this country. Because we lack federal standards for safely disposing of coal ash, it has been left to the states, and most of them lack either the resources or the will to address the problem.
Every year, the nation's coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution, the second biggest waste stream in the country, after household garbage. All that ash has to go somewhere, so much of it is dumped in the backyards of power plants across the nation, into open-air pits and precarious surface waste ponds. Coal ash waste is stored in more than 1,400 sites in 45 states.
Today's report from the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, makes a powerful case for strong, federally enforceable safeguards to end rampant toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants across the nation. The report highlights dangerous coal ash sites in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia, and it illustrates the ongoing damage and risks to public health from this toxic, largely unregulated solid waste.
Most of the 1,400 coal ash storage sites across the U.S. lack adequate safeguards, leaving nearby communities at risk from potential large-scale disasters like the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008 or the Duke Energy coal ash breach into the Dan River earlier this year. If that's not enough, communities are also at risk from slow-motion disasters as coal ash toxins seep into drinking water sources or are blown into nearby communities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that people who live near certain types of unlined coal ash pond and whose drinking water source is groundwater have a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from water contaminated by arsenic-- a risk 2,000 times greater than the EPA's goal for reducing cancer risk and significantly higher than the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. According to the EPA, 1.54 million American children live near coal ash storage sites.
Another harrowing statistic from the EPA: coal ash has contaminated waters at 200 sites in 37 states across the country!
As communities face toxic water contamination or coal ash blowing from nearby coal ash landfills coating their homes and yards with toxic dust, they're saying enough is enough - and the Sierra Club is standing with them. We're there as communities demand action from the EPA, and we're there as they demand action from utilities and coal companies who are risking the health of our families and the vitality of our waterways.
The EPA is under a court order to finalize national coal ash protections this December, but whether or not those protections will be strong and enforceable is an open question. We need your help - join us in calling for strong coal ash safeguards from the EPA.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign
In what’s being deemed the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history, more than 240 miners have been killed and countless more are still missing following a power transformer explosion that triggered a blazing underground fire at a Soma Komur Isletmeleri mine in Western Turkey.
In the hours following the devastating accident, families of the missing, injured, and killed miners have been anxiously awaiting any news about their missing loved ones. But Energy Minister Taner Yildiz recently declared, “Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing.”
Its an anguishing time for those touched by this tragedy in Turkey and across the globe. Unfortunately, this most recent disaster is also the latest in a long line of incidents reflecting a painful reality – coal is a deadly fuel source that has no place in the 21st century. That’s a big part of the reason why many international financial institutions (IFIs) have moved quickly and decisively away from financing new coal plant expansions around the world over the past few weeks. From the World Bank to the European Investment Bank to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, public financial institutions have overwhelmingly decided that dangerous coal investments should no longer receive public support.
One of these institutions, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), has made the transition beyond coal a cornerstone of their work in Turkey - and the importance of that step forward is only amplified by this week’s coal mining tragedy.
Straddling the Eastern and Western worlds, Turkey is home to dynamic economic growth that is driving a wave of new energy investment second only to China’s power sector. While currently dependent on fossil fuels -- mainly natural gas -- and home to the fourth largest pipeline of new coal plants in the world, Turkey is also home to fast growing efficiency, wind, and solar markets.
At the same time, the struggle to transition from fossil fuels has run head on into the struggle against an increasingly repressive and authoritarian government led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that has clamped down on environmental protests and free speech of all kinds time and time again. The historic - and violently repressed - wave of public demonstrations that spread across the country in May of 2013 was initially sparked by Turkish citizens speaking out against the removal of green space in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Now, in the aftermath of this tragedy, protesters demanding safe workplaces have been met with tear gas and water cannons.
The situation underscores a dramatic choice. Which of these divergent paths -- either a continued reliance on dirty and deadly 19th century fossil fuels or a new clean energy future -- Turkey heads down will reflect investment priorities, the chance for a healthy future for its citizens and workers, and, in many ways, the global energy transition. This is an important decision that will not only affect Turkey’s energy industry but also its environment and the people of this vibrant country. The choice should be clear: by transitioning away from fossil fuels, the people of Turkey will have cleaner air and water and will no longer be at risk of tragic accidents like Tuesday’s mine disaster.
Prior to this tragedy, I sat down with EBRD’s Director for Turkey, Michael Davey, to learn more about one of the international finance world’s most surprising transitions beyond coal to becoming a potential clean energy leader and the dynamics of this change on the ground. For this conversation, we were also joined by energy expert, Hasan Pehlivan, the principal advisor for the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT).
Justin Guay (JG): EBRD recently made headlines with its new coal finance restrictions -- restrictions that were applauded by organizations around the world. What’s the future for EBRD energy investments in Turkey now that coal is off the table?
Michael Davey (MD): Energy was a high priority from day one, but the focus was on sustainable energy. There have been a number of requests for coal, particularly in northern parts of Turkey, who have a desire to privatize and rehabilitate lignite plants. That meant a number of requests to be involved in coal. But we turned them down. There is simply so much we could do with gas, efficiency or renewables in Turkey. So in reality, this recent change in policy has made no difference to the operations in Turkey.
JG: Many IFIs claim to be demand-driven when justifying new dirty coal investments yet fail to support clean energy. Why are you so bull-ish on renewable energy and energy efficiency?
“We’re demand-driven, and the demand for clean energy is there.” – Michael Davey
MD: It’s not just our energy investment portfolio either. We’ve had deep engagement on sustainable energy policy development in the country – thanks to strong demand from the Turkish government. We’ve provided a number of background studies and technical assistance and helped with the regulatory reforms required for promoting sustainable energy. For example, we undertook a review of geothermal potential in Turkey as well as a review of potential for WTE (waste to energy), and pioneering climate change studies. Much of this is driven by the EU accession process and requirements to bring the country in line with EU norms on energy.
Shortly after we started working in Turkey, we worked on regulations to finalize feed-in tariffs and the environment for investing in renewable energy. We also created another initiative: mid-size sustainable energy and financing facility that has deployed about a billion euros of long-term money, under a securitization structure, at fairly good interest rate. We’ve also created finance facilities through local banks that have helped them develop lending for sustainable energy to SMEs and businesses. Although they’re relatively complex facilities, banks have come back after second and third rounds.
On the energy efficiency side, there’s been quite a lot. We built a framework (300-400 million euros) to get banks to engage in lending. It’s taken work to get investments moving but it’s now starting to bite. We’ve also been going around in a systematic way, offering free energy audits and using that as a basis for loan intervention to support EE investments at enterprise level.
JG: What role do you see for shale gas?
“In Turkey, we do not expect a shale gas boom like in USA” -- Hasan Pehlivan
Hasan Pehlivan (HP): Not in Turkey, no. But further potential shall be explored. There has been drilling for shale – a couple of holes to take a look at the availability of shale gas. In a country where there is no oil, likelihood of having shale gas will be a question. We won’t see a shale gas boom in Turkey. We do not expect a shale gas boom like in USA.
JG: Back to the EBRD portfolio -- Turkey has a big pipeline of wind projects, but solar is just getting off the ground. What’s next for the Turkish solar market? Do you have any projections for the size of the market? Do you see distributed gen or utility scale driving investment?
“You have to remember that in Turkey, people love solar.” -- Hasan Pehlivan
MD: The solar market is starting to emerge. We’ve been sitting back and waiting. But we do expect to see a lot of solar in the future.
From the government’s perspective solar is being supported carefully. They monitor Europe and what happens in Europe, including recent experience with feed-in tariffs. There were issues when solar companies have had difficulties when government cuts feed-tariffs so they want to be careful. The relatively modest feed-in tariffs reduce the prospect of any negative regulatory change.
HP: For instance, the government started with 600-megawatts of solar in June, and there were 500 applications – a huge demand. Since then, we finalized new policies for distributed solar that eliminates the requirement for a license for new plants up to one-megawatt. That means people can install their homes, industrial zones much faster and easier so long as they’re not selling back to the grid. This has proven very popular. Since this was put in place in October, 20-megawatts have already applied.
HP: You have to remember that in Turkey, people love solar. On top of every house, solar water-heating systems exist. Culture is there. Turkey has the highest solar energy potential within Europe. In next 10 years, we expect to see 3,000-megawatts with an additional capacity of 2,000-3,000-megawatts just from distributed generation.
JG: So does that mean they don’t need government approvals for establishing distributed solar systems? What about net metering?
HP: If they don’t have any ambition to sell to the grid, they can install on top of the roof. No permission needed. If they need to connect to the grid, they need to apply to their distribution company. They must agree to sell to, to provide it to the grid. In organized industrial zones, there are usually large transformer stations.
Connection to the grid is usually not an issue. For the residences, there needs to be work done (technology-wise). Metering needs to be replaced by a distribution company. There is time for the residences to sell to the grid, but if you’re not interested in selling to the grid, no worries.
Some companies want to develop large solar farms, but there is a limited availability of licenses. So companies are applying for the one-megawatt licenses –individually as separate entities, but also in aggregate, forming solar arrays as big as five to 10-megawatts. They connect to the grid, and it’s an interesting development. It is a market solution that is fine and not beating any rules.
JG: Any Final thoughts?
HP: We expect investment to double the capacity over 10 years. That’ll create a huge economy. Turkey has already received a lot of foreign direct investment – 30 percent coming from energy. Many of these sustainable energy projects are now becoming feasible, and even better things are clear on the ground.
MD: In Turkey, the underlying demand dynamics are strongly supportive of long-term healthy demand for clean energy, and its climatic and geographic elements also provide significant opportunity for substantial on-going investment into wind, solar, and geothermal.
We’re also impressed with extent and depth of engagement with the Ministry of Environment on sustainable energy issues. That combined with a very strong banking system and appetite for working on complex products like mid-sized sustainable energy is positive. All told, we have to be fairly pleased at what we’ve done in Turkey.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program
When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld limits last month on dangerous emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants, it was a big victory for clean air, clean water, and the health of our families. The court decision keeps in place the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) standard, which is on track to eliminate as much as 90 percent of the mercury and air toxics currently released into our air by coal-fired power plants.
As the mom of a young daughter, I know that mercury pollution is of special concern to families, because babies exposed to high levels of mercury in the womb are at higher risk of lifelong developmental problems including lowered IQ, learning disabilities, and delays in walking and talking. Mercury exposure is so widespread that, according to EPA studies, at least 1.4 million American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put a fetus at developmental risk.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of these toxic air pollutants and account for almost half of the nation's mercury emissions. Back in 1990, Congress updated the Clean Air Act and directed the EPA to set limits by 2002 for mercury, arsenic, lead, and the many other hazardous air pollutants that power plants emit. But big polluters stood in the way, so health and environmental advocates had to fight to put the standards in place. After a decade of delay, the agency finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics rule in 2012. A group of polluting corporations and a handful of states immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the rule, and in April they lost that challenge -- a big win for our health and our environment.
Along with mercury and arsenic, power plants discharge numerous other toxins and acidic gases into the air that threaten public health and child development. Exposure to even low levels of these powerful air pollutants are linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and even premature death.
When the EPA proposed these life-saving mercury protections, Americans demonstrated their overwhelming support, turning out to public hearings and submitting more than 800,000 comments supporting the MATS rule. I was part of that long push to finalize the standards, and I know how many people poured their time, energy, and passion into winning these mercury safeguards. By upholding these protections, the court has cleared the way for this nation to keep making progress in protecting the health of our kids, and powering our nation with clean, safe energy.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
Entrepreneurs are going green to support global development.
The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) is a non-profit network of entrepreneurs and professionals headquartered in Silicon Valley. With interests in technology, innovation, and enterprise, a focus on supporting clean energy entrepreneurs and endeavors is a natural fit for these progressive leaders.
Harnessing this potential for clean energy development in order to drive clean solutions for energy poverty is an opportunity we at the Sierra Club are most excited about. After partnering with TiE in 2013 to bring Jigar Shah to Silicon Valley to discuss the tremendous leapfrog opportunities for clean energy in India, the Club is excited for TiE’s upcoming conference, TiEcon, as an opportunity to increase entrepreneurial interest in clean energy solutions for global energy poverty.
TiEcon includes an impressive lineup of speakers -- including high-profile CEOs and startup founders -- that will deliver key insights on trends in business and technology. It will be an exciting opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest minds in business and innovation and catalyze more solutions and resources going forward. Bright minds like that of Lesley Marincola -- founder and CEO of Angaza Design -- who will be moderating a panel focused on obtaining seed funding for startup companies.
TiEcon -- which has been included in Worth magazine’s list of “10 Best Conferences For Ideas and Entrepreneurship” -- is the world’s largest entrepreneurship conference. Last year’s event drew a crowd of 3,600 of the most prevalent stars of the tech, business, and enterprise worlds. In fact, the Forbes Style File column just featured the event.
This year, TiEcon’s clean energy focus will be featured with an entire track of the conference that is dedicated to impact investing, including a panel -- Leveraging the Power of Diaspora -- featuring speakers from the Aspen Institute and Skoll Foundation. The main focus of the panel will be leveraging the financial power of the Indian diaspora to focus on issues within India -- particularly off-grid, clean energy services. With $45 million flowing into up-and-coming solar companies in the past four months alone, the market is heating up, and TiE’s network of entrepreneurs and investors want to know all about it.
Access to financing is a significant barrier facing progressive cleantech companies seeking to serve the energy poor. It is only with financial support that they will be able to help power the lives of the 400 million Indians living off the grid. Given TiE’s focus on entrepreneurship and the new TiE Angels investment network, it is exciting to see an expanding focus on the diaspora’s potential to support clean energy projects.
Ultimately, the tremendous potential to distribute clean energy to places with unprecedented energy poverty -- like India -- speaks for itself. But panels like these at TiEcon are essential to inspire the resources and entrepreneurial talent in places like the Bay Area and all across the country. Already, clean energy technology and payment innovations -- like pay-as-you-go mobile payment schemes -- are spreading like wildfire, and this is only the beginning.
Registration for TiEcon 2014 ends this Thursday, May 15, so check it out here. If you register by May 14, you can use the Promo Code “TIEVALUE” for discounted registration.
To receive updates about TiEcon 2014, follow them on Twitter: @tiesv and @TiEcon.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
As two community leaders fighting the Batang coal plant in Indonesia begin their seven month prison sentence this week in Indonesia, thousands of coal activists activists are protesting in solidarity.
In what is viewed as punishment for refusing to sell their land to make way for the $4 billion Central Java coal-burning power plant in Batang, Indonesia, Cayadi bin Rabu and Carman bin Tuyah were accused of mistreating pro-coal activists in April 2012 and thrown in jail. Fortunately, judges in the district and high courts found them not guilty.
But, more than two years later, the Supreme Court in Indonesia has reversed that decision and sentenced Cayadi and Carman to seven months in prison.
Now, local residents are protesting in front of the District Attorney’s office in Central Java as part of their continued opposition to the Batang coal project. By banding together and refusing to sell their land, five local communities have done the unthinkable and already forced the delay of this multi-billion dollar project by more than two years.
But the deep-pocketed dirty coal industry is doing it all it can to drown these community voices out. Despite fierce resistance, the coal industry and its backers are working to acquire land for the Central Java coal project as quickly as possible, while the communities continue to refuse their demands. And big coal has big money to back them up from both Japanese corporations and the World Bank.
Unfortunately, this is just one of the more recent abuses surrounding global coal-burning power plants. Just yesterday, coal activists in India were arrested following a peaceful protest of coal mining in the forests of Mahan, India. This is unfortunately the reality for those brave enough to stand up to this reckless and devastating industry and protect their communities and their environment.
But it’s not too late to change course.
It's time for major financing corporations -- like the World Bank -- to live up to their promises to stop funding overseas coal projects. With major U.S. institutions like Stanford University now divesting from coal, the dirty fuel industry is on the run, and will hopefully take its violence and intimidation with it.
But this will only happen if we hold the feet of these institutions to the fire. The World Bank must immediately withdraw financing from those pushing the Batang coal project. Until then, activists like Cayadi and Carman, who stand up to coal interests, will continue to be harassed and wrongfully arrested.
--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program
What started out as a peaceful protest ended in arrest.
That’s the scene that played out in the early morning hours of May 8, stunning the activists and supporters of Greenpeace India and Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) worldwide. Four activists -- Akshay Gupta, Vinit Gupta, Bechan Lal, and Vijay Shankar Singh -- were arrested just after midnight following a peaceful protest against coal mining activities in the forests of Mahan, India.
The activists had been protesting mining by the Essar and Hindalco corporations in an effort to protect over five million trees and the local people at risk of displacement. Over 14,000 people currently rely on the forest for their homes and livelihoods, and the mining operations threaten to completely destroy their way of life.
But following weeks of peaceful protests, the police intervened and arrested the four activists -- two from Greenpeace and two from MSS -- without explanation, according to the account of one protester at the scene, Vivek Goyal.
Following their arrest, all four activists were detained for over 40 hours, and three have currently been granted bail. According to Greenpeace India, the activists face charges of “assault or criminal force to deter public servants from doing their duty,” “obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions,” “punishment for robbery,” and “refusing to sign a confession.”
Greenpeace India plans to appeal the charges in the Indian High Court, but this won’t deter the activists from continuing their fight in Mahan.
“None of us, including those who are in jail right now, want the company to prevail over people in Mahan,” Goyal wrote in his account of the incident. “The stakes are too high for us to give-up now or ever. So we stand together growing stronger everyday, determined to protect forests, people, rights and ultimately this planet.”
Sadly, this is not a unique circumstance for anti-coal activists in India. One of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize winners, Ramesh Agrawal, was shot and left for dead after actively opposing mine expansion that was devastating local communities in Chhattishgarh, India.
Luckily, Ramesh survived and has continued to work toward making a coal-free world for our future generations. But others have not been quite so lucky. It's time the Indian government ended these attacks on peaceful activists or risk leaving a dark stain on the shining image it seeks to portray on the international stage.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program
By Michael Marx & Kristi Chester Vance
This morning, at a PepsiCo shareholder meeting in New Bern, North Carolina, representatives of the Sierra Club and ForestEthics delivered more than 64,000 petition signatures to CEO Indra Noyi, asking the company to stop buying fuel from tar sands refineries for its cars and delivery trucks. The petition delivery caps off nine months of campaigning that has mobilized activists nationwide to hold corporate consumers of oil accountable for the sources of their fuel.
At the meeting, the Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign director Gina Coplon-Newfield, below at right with community activist Tamhas Griffith, addressed PepsiCo’s top executives and board members.
"PepsiCo operates one of the largest vehicle fleets in North America, and the fuel in those cars and trucks should not come from the worst of the worst sources of oil," she said. "Companies have the power to avoid tar sands fuel, which is 22 percent more carbon intensive, more toxic, and more dangerous to mine, transport, and refine than conventional crude oil. This is a no-brainer for a company like PepsiCo that is looking to reduce its carbon pollution and demonstrate its commitment to sustainability."
Tamhas Griffith, above at left, a community activist from Martinez, California, traveled across the country to attend the PepsiCo shareholder meeting. Martinez is home to two large oil refineries, and Griffith was at the meeting representing community members who face long-term health threats from air and water pollution and the ever-present risk of refinery accidents and crude-oil-train explosions. As refineries across the country process more tar sands, communities like Martinez are exposed to even greater levels of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, lead, carbon dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.
"People in our communities have had enough of paying for oil industry record profits with the health of our families," said Griffith, founder of the Martinez Environmental Group. "We are organizing to hold oil companies and their corporate consumers accountable for their impact on our lives.”
Griffith also cited the impact of tar sands development on communities in Alberta. “We stand in solidarity with those First Nations people in Alberta, where the boreal forest is being strip-mined and the waters poisoned. These communities have been experiencing higher levels of cancers like leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma over the past ten years, paying for corporate profits with their lives."
In response to their remarks, PepsiCo CEO Nooyi said, "we look forward to working with you to address this issue."
We will continue to send the message to America’s biggest companies that tar sands is toxic for our communities and our environment -- and therefore toxic for their brands. We will keep up the pressure until demand for tar sands fuel is squashed, and Alberta’s bitumen is kept safely in the ground.
Michael Marx is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil Campaign. Kristi Chester Vance is the Director of ForestEthics. Learn more about the Sierra Club and ForestEthics’ tar sands campaign at www.tastesliketarsands.org
It started off innocently enough. After months upon months of delays, the U.S. Senate was finally prepared to bring Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman’s (R-OH) bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act to the floor for a vote this week.
But, an actual vote in the U.S. Senate on a substantive bill is a rare thing during this era of unprecedented obstruction and gridlock. And instead of giving the bill a fair shake on the floor, big polluters and some in the Senate are waiting in the wings to hijack the bill with a cadre of toxic amendments. Now, if they succeed, they won’t just derail this energy efficiency bill - they will deliver a series of body blows to our air, water, and climate.
Remember - the underlying goals of this bipartisan bill are to create jobs, conserve energy, and save consumers money. But, if passed, the toxic amendments being proposed would wipe all of those benefits off the table. Take a look at what’s being considered:
An amendment to block the first-ever protections from climate-disrupting carbon pollution from new and existing coal-fired power plants.
An amendment to approve the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline;
An amendment to prevent any government agency from accounting for the costs of the extreme weather and health risks caused by the climate crisis;
An amendment to expand fracking and expedite the shipment of gas drilled in America overseas
Energy efficiency? Forget about it. This dirty fuels wishlist buries the best parts of the underlying legislation under a heap of coal ash, fracking chemicals, and petroleum coke. Consider how each of these amendments would affect our families and our nation.
Scrapping the Environmental Protection Agency’s common-sense carbon pollution safeguards is a giveaway to the coal industry that will lock us into to a dirty energy future our families and our climate cannot afford. Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of climate-disrupting carbon pollution in the nation, and these safeguards are our chance to start curbing these greenhouse gases and protecting the health of our families now.
Fast-forwarding the shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) fracked out of our backyards to markets overseas means American families will pay the costs while massive corporations rake in the profits. Our communities get astronomical amounts of fresh water contaminated with undisclosed toxic chemicals, unsafe air, and dangerous methane emissions while gas companies make sales in Europe and Asia. The more LNG that’s exported, the more fracking there will be -- and the worse the effects will be on Americans.
Extreme weather cost Americans $140 billion in 2012. The costs of healthcare related to asthma spurred by carbon pollution and smog are skyrocketing, currently at more than $50 billion a year and rising. Government spending related to climate disasters amounted to $100 billion in costs - about $1,100 coming out of the pockets of every taxpayer. That’s real money coming out of our econom. Even ExxonMobil is trying to account for the costs of climate disruption in its economic projections - but the amendment under consideration in the Senate would ensure our government could not.
And, of course, the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL is a pipeline into world’s dirtiest and most carbon intensive fuel: tar sands. Tar sands are more corrosive than conventional crude, more dangerous to transport, and nearly impossible to clean up in the event of a spill. Yet this amendment would bypass executive authority, injecting Congress into the decision-making process that is already underway at the State Department and force all of the risks of this tar sands pipeline onto the American people just to help Canadian companies ship oil overseas.
What’s worse? All these new attacks on healthy communities and a stable climate come just as the historic, comprehensive, peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment indicates every region of our nation will face disastrous outcomes if we don’t act to curb the climate crisis now.
These toxic attacks in the Senate would only move us in the opposite direction, toward more fracking, more dirty fossil fuels, more threats to our health and our communities, and less stability for American families. That’s why it’s vitally important that each of these amendments are turned back and defeated.
-- Radha Adhar, Washington Representative, Sierra Club
What's next? What can I do? Those are questions you might be pondering if you tuned into Years of Living Dangerously on Showtime this weekend, or if you've been watching online clips from the "Preacher's Daughter" story that was featured on Sunday night. In the episode, actor Ian Somerhalder follows Anna Jane Joyner, a young woman trying to persuade her evangelical pastor father that climate disruption is real, while she is also a full-time climate activist and one of the real-life heroes working with me and thousands more to move beyond coal.
I watched the episode with my family, and the next evening we sat around the dining room table talking about how to translate the urgency of the climate crisis to evangelicals skeptical of science. My mother-in-law is a retired minister and my husband is a scientist, so it was a great discussion, and I imagine Anna Jane's story sparked many conversations just like it at kitchen tables around the country.
For everyone out there who has been having those conversations, let me bring you up to speed on what's happened since the episode was filmed, and how you can help me, Ian, Anna Jane, and thousands more move America beyond coal. Around the nation, we keep on winning. Just last week, we announced coal plant retirement #165, when we won our campaign to retire the Reid Gardner plant in Nevada. Even better, the utility announced it will replace much of the power from the plant with a massive solar project.
In Asheville, the campaign featured in the Years episode, Duke Energy has announced for the first time that they're considering retiring the Asheville coal plant. The announcement comes in the wake of a horrific spill of toxic coal ash from a retired power plant that devastated over 70 miles of the Dan River flowing through North Carolina and Virginia. The public outcry that followed has sent shockwaves all the way to the governor's mansion. I helped lead a protest outside Duke headquarters a few weeks ago, and last week activists rallied at Duke's annual shareholder meeting, calling for the retirement of the Asheville plant and the cleanup of not only the Dan River spill, but all of Duke's coal ash sites in the state.
Meanwhile, Ian Somerhalder and his Ian Somerhalder Foundation have rallied people around the world through their #coalsucks social media campaign. The intentionally edgy and provocative hashtag is opening the eyes of millions to the threat of coal pollution and the urgency of moving to clean energy.
All this momentum comes just as more climate alarm bells are ringing. Today, a national committee of experts in agriculture, climate science, commerce, and disaster relief released the National Climate Assessment. The report is the nation's foremost comprehensive, peer-reviewed analysis of the impacts of climate disruption, showing us the effects of climate disruption across the country.
The headline - the U.S. is already being seriously affected by climate change. As you might guess, the assessment shows the significant toll on our health and wallets that extreme weather is already exacting across the U.S. Here are just a few findings from the report that stood out to me:
- The most recent decade was the nation's and the world's hottest on record, and 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States.
- U.S. average temperature has increased by 1.3°F to 1.9°F since 1895, and most of this increase has occurred since 1970. Temperatures are projected to rise another 2°F to 4°F in most areas of the United States over the next few decades.
- Evidence indicates that the human influence on climate has already roughly doubled the probability of extreme heat events such as the record-breaking summer heat experienced in 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma. The incidence of record-breaking high temperatures is projected to rise.
- The stakes are high, as nearly five million Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars of property are located in areas that are less than four feet above the local high-tide level.
- Climate change affects human health in many ways. For example, increasingly frequent and intense heat events lead to more heat-related illnesses and deaths and, over time, worsen drought and wildfire risks, and intensify air pollution.
- Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to the range of climate change related health impacts, including the elderly, children, the poor, and the sick.
More than 240 authors from across the country with diverse expertise helped create the National Climate Assessment, and this is especially disturbing - the findings are considered conservative estimates of the effects of climate disruption.
The report is also very clear about this - the effects will only grow worse if we fail to curb carbon pollution, the main culprit behind climate disruption. The assessment lets us know that it's not too late to act, but we must do it now if we want to stop the worst of the expected climate disruption. You can weigh in right now and support EPA's efforts to tackle our biggest source of climate pollution – coal-fired power plants. Just click here to take action.
We can choose to stop living dangerously by moving beyond coal, doubling down on clean energy, and holding our leaders accountable. We need your help. Join us.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
The fight against big coal in India has gone bicoastal.
On the heels of the clash over Tata Mundra in the west, local fishing communities on the east coast are fighting back against a proposed 4,000-megawatt “Ultra Mega” coal-burning power plant near Cheyyur.
The Cheyyur project is slated to be built in Tamil Nadu on the very spot these local fishworkers have lived and fostered their livelihoods for decades.Their struggle and the increasing resistance to the proposed project has been highlighted in a recently released documentary from u-ra-mi-li that can be seen below.
From this unique perspective, the plight of the fishworkers has been contrasted against the background of their beautiful land.
The fishing communities, located between Chennai and Pondicherry, source most of their livelihoods from a combination of fishing and agriculture. Residents here rely heavily on the varied fish species in the area to supply fish for thousands of people in the cities of Cheyyur, Maduranthankam, Chengalpet, and Panaiyur.
The natural resources in the area -- including seagrass, mangroves, sand dunes, and estuaries -- provide an idyllic location for thousands of birds and millions of fish. The combination of these resources and the skills acquired over generations for fishing and farming have allowed the local people to thrive in this area for decades.
But the Indian government is seeking to disrupt their way of life with big coal.
The planned Cheyyur project, first proposed by a subsidy of the government-owned Power Finance Corporation -- Coastal Tamil Nadu Power -- would burn an estimated 45,000 tonnes of coal and generate 5,000 tonnes of toxic coal ash waste each day.
In addition to building the Cheyyur project, Coastal Tamil Nadu Power also plans to use over 1,000 acres to build a massive port to receive the coal, a 6.5 km conveyor belt, multiple pipelines, railroads, and an enormous coal ash pond. The port alone will introduce an estimated 310,000 tonnes of coal from around the world.
In an area heavily dependent on fishing and agriculture, the local people are justly worried.
“If this project materializes, it will affect the soil, environment, and agriculture,” one man said in the documentary. “The plants won’t grow buds. Flowering trees will not give proper fruit.”
“We don’t know how they will consume water,” another man added. “I worry that they will ruin our water resources and therefore our agriculture and our livelihood.”
The local people from the fishing villages were given no warning and no input as to whether the Cheyyur power plant will be built or not. In fact, the documentary reveals that the local people only heard of the project recently, nearly two years after the Ministry of Environment and Forests approved Coastal Tamil Nadu Power’s plan.
On top of that, it was not the government that notified the fishworkers but non-governmental organizations in the area who spread the word. When the government did eventually hold a public hearing about the coal project, they failed to advertise and ultimately prevented the few fishworkers who attended from voicing their concerns.
“There is no information at all,” one resident told the filmmakers. “No notice was given.”
“They just come, do what they have to do and go away,” another added. “They haven’t respected our village by letting us know about the construction.”
Though the government offered to pay the local residents a sum of money for their land, the people realize the natural resources they use every day are priceless.
“Whether [the money offered] is enough [...] doesn’t matter,” one local man exclaimed in the documentary. “There is no way we can leave this land and find another place. [...] No matter how much money you give us it will not be enough.”
“Electricity is extremely important for the growth of a country, of a state, and even for us,” one man commented. “But if it’s going to come at the cost of nature, then we will say no to it.”
Similarly to other coal projects in India -- like Tata Mundra -- the local people have begun to fight back. When a government-funded environmental impact assessment (EIA) was released in 2013 by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), it claimed that the area around Cheyyur consisted of flat, barren land and had no estuaries, surface or groundwater, little to no fishing, and no fish breeding grounds.
The local fishworkers quickly responded. In conjunction with the Community Environmental Monitoring group (CEM) -- a local environmental organization from Chennai -- the fishworkers publicly disputed the report, calling out the “blatant lies” they say the EIA purported.
And while they may still have a long road ahead of them, ultimately the fishworkers and CEM hope to hold the EAC accountable for their false information and stop the development of the Cheyyur coal project. They’ve dedicated themselves to fight for their way of life, and want to provide a clean, viable future for the generations to come.
“We need this land to survive,” one man said.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Program
Imagine there is a blaze rapidly burning in a field next to your neighborhood, threatening to incinerate your home and everything around it. You decide you’ve got to do something to protect your family and your livelihood, so you pick up the phone, and dial 911. But instead of connecting you with the fire department, the operator laughs and tells you that they won’t do anything. In fact, they tell you they don’t even believe the fire exists -- all while the smoke fills your windows and the flames nip your doorstep.
Sounds ridiculous, right? Not so much, in North Carolina.
North Carolina is home to a Republican U.S. Senate field that completely fails to recognize one of the most pressing crises facing the state. Thom Tillis, Greg Bannon, Heather Grant, and Mark Harris -- each and every one of the four candidates going before voters in the GOP primary today -- deny that the climate crisis even exists.
One local paper said “few places in the United States stand to be more transformed” by climate disruption than North Carolina. The sea level of the ocean adjacent to the state is expected to rise by more than three feet in the decades to come -- threatening a coastal area four times larger than the state’s largest county. That puts more than 30,000 homes and buildings in danger -- more than $6.9 billion in property in just four counties.
You’d think someone like Thom Tillis would be screaming for action at every chance he could get, agreeing with the 97 percent of climate scientists recognizing that the climate crisis is very real and very dangerous. ButTillis, Bannon, Grant, and Harris all have their heads in the sand while the sea is rising.
It’s a bad situation for any Republican voter in North Carolina who actually wants to protect their home or business from extreme weather fuelled by the climate crisis. And it’ll be much worse when one of them moves on to the November general election, with an eye on heading to the U.S. Senate.
These four peas in a reality-denying pod have already shown they can’t be trusted in a crisis.
The Sierra Club Voter Education Fund seeks to educate voters about issues important to our members by responding to statements and positions made in an electoral context, with the goal to encourage the public to find out more about the candidates and their positions on these issues.
Did you know the average tractor-trailer on the road today gets roughly six miles per gallon? Thankfully, the Obama administration is taking action to make our trucks more efficient. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are beginning the process of setting the next round of standards to reduce carbon pollution and fuel use from medium and heavy-duty vehicles (everything from delivery trucks to 18-wheelers).
Building on previous standards, we can reduce fuel consumption in new trucks 40 percent by 2025, when compared to 2010 trucks, with even greater reductions possible in future years.
Setting strong standards for delivery trucks and tractor-trailers is crucial if we are to cut carbon pollution and reduce oil use. Analysis from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that strong standards that reduce truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025 would save 1.4 million barrels of oil per day in 2030 - roughly equivalent to our oil imports from Venezuela and Iraq combined in 2011. Such standards would also keep 270 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere annually by 2030, all while providing tractor-trailer drivers $30,000 in annual fuel savings.
These strong standards are technically feasible. Using technologies such as advanced transmissions, low-rolling resistance tires and aerodynamic trailers, we can significantly reduce the amount of oil used by trucks. Many of these technologies are already being showcased, notably in the prototype Cummins-Peterbilt SuperTruck. Today tractor trailers account for roughly 66 percent of the oil consumption in the truck sector. Using advanced technologies, we can reduce the fuel consumption of new tractor-trailers 46 percent. Similarly, we can improve the efficiency of vocational vehicles (buses, delivery vehicles, garbage trucks) and heavy-duty pickup trucks and large vans.
Right now EPA and DOT are expected to propose the next round of truck fuel efficiency and emissions standards in March of 2014. This is a critical opportunity to reduce oil consumption and cut carbon pollution. The Obama administration should seize this opportunity and set strong standards that reduce new truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025.
Check out the great infographic below for more information!
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club