White flags fluttering from ramparts of fossil fuel firms

Climate writing is on the wall for coal

New coal plants are a thing of the past and coal consumption is headed downwards, the head of West Virginia’s largest utility told a state energy conference last week—an announcement akin to a Kentucky agronomist telling farmers to grow something besides tobacco. His acknowledgment came the same week that the bankruptcy of Arch Coal grew more certain and a new Greenpeace report chronicled the decline of the US coal industry, including the challenges facing its export proposals. Opposition to new fossil-fuel supply may be more effective than previously thought in reducing climate impacts, says a new paper from the Stockholm Environment Institute, and is an essential complement to policies aimed at cutting fossil-fuel demand.

Fossil firms’ prospects at odds with global zeitgeist

Oil companies are betting against an emerging global consensus to curb the use of fossil fuels, according to an analysis published last week. Pledges ahead of the Paris summit point to a flattening in fossil fuel use, but BP, Shell, and Exxon still project a 35 to 43 percent increase in petroleum demand over the next couple of decades. Their forecasts clash with reality in the short term, too: Shell cancelled a tar-sands project in Alberta last week, US oil firms reported sharply lower profits for the third quarter, and the CEO of Midwestern utility Xcel said wind power is a better buy than natural gas on purely economic grounds.

The oilman is not your friend

Revelations of Exxon’s decades-long misrepresentations about climate science, even in the face of its own research, reverberated louder last week as a coalition of environmental and social justice groups pressed for a federal investigation of the oil giant under fraud and racketeering laws. Petro-cash recipient Hillary Clinton joined her two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in endorsing an official inquiry, and four US senators called on ExxonMobil to disclose whether it is funding a financial clearinghouse for climate denial. Imagining an alternative history, author Bill McKibben speculated on how much more climate progress humanity might already have made if Exxon had acted on what it knew instead of denying it.

Warming brings flooding, melting, burning

Harbingers of a warming planet appeared across the globe last week, as a tropical cyclone approached the Yemeni coastline—the first hurricane-strength storm to make landfall there in recorded history. Indonesian peatlands smoldered, releasing more CO2 some days than the daily emissions of the entire U.S.  In Wyoming, ancient snowfields have melted away for the first time in human memory, and in Greenland, researchers tracked glacial rivers that carve channels through the island’s ice cap and published dramatic aerial video of the meltwater. The Pacific Ocean sweltered under the influence of complementary warming trends, and climate models predicted Persian Gulf heat waves by 2100 that would be too hot for humans to endure. 

Clean energy booms in the developing world

In Asia, clean energy job growth is offsetting a significant chunk of the layoffs in the oil and gas sector, according to a Reuters report. China installed 9.9 gigawatts of solar power in the first three quarters of 2015, more than two and a half times the figure for the same period last year, and Apple said it will build 2 gigawatts of clean energy in China, mostly in partnership with its suppliers there. India invited 110 nations to join an international solar alliance, and more than $150 million in new investment has recently been announced for enterprises that bring solar power to off-grid users in the developing world. 

Climate heretics emerge in GOP camp

The curious intransigence of mainstream Republicans on climate is most easily observed from a distance—say, from across the Atlantic, which allows the Financial Times to crystallize the situation neatly. But cracks are showing in the bulwark of GOP climate denial. Four Republican senators formed an “Energy and Environment Working Group” last week with nods to innovation and job creation, and Iowa played host to a “Conservative Clean Energy Summit” amid calls to keep clean energy from being a liberal issue. The winds of change have yet to ruffle the presidential race, however; two GOP candidates did advocate for climate action in last week’s debate, but they were long-shot candidates who weren’t on the main stage.

Bill Nye works through his ‘climate meltdown’

“Science Guy” Bill Nye teams up with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a humorous but poignant treatment of climate change in a new episode of National Geographic Explorer. Schwarzenegger plays a cigar-smoking therapist who helps Nye through the stages of climate grief—from denial through anger, bargaining, and depression to acceptance. For his part, Nye travels in search of the places at risk from global warming, detours at one point into existential, bow-tie-shedding angst, and finally emerges with a grip on the solutions to the climate challenge. Trailer here; slideshow here.

Image: Ice, rock, and water at the foot of a Greenland glacier. Photo by Kyle Mortara, via Flickr

Seth Zuckerman's picture

Editor, ClimateCast

, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).