Monday, February 19, 2007

Whaling Ship Fire, Protests & Greenpeace

To hear the full audio report (16 minutes long) click the title above.

This piece begins with clips from radio in Australia and New Zealand. A minister in New Zealand makes clear their objections to continued Japanese whaling in the internationally designated whale sanctuary. So far the Japanese have slaughtered over 18,000 whales from this sanctuary. Neither Australia nor New Zealand have enforced the rules to protect whales - even though New Zealand has sent ships down to protect fish.

We learn this from a recorded interview with Paul Watson, commander of the Sea Shepherd Society. Two of their boats were trying to stop the Japanese whaling, and they claim they were rammed by the main factory boat, the Nissan Miru. That boat caught fire just a day after the Sea Shepherd boats, low on fuel, left for Melbourne. The Nissan Miru had another fire in 1998, but this one is more serious. The 140 plus crew abandoned ship, going to the whale chasing boats. The fire was eventually "contained" and may now be out. The Sea Shepherd boats "Farley Mowat" and the "Robert Hunter" (both named after Canadian environmentalists and authors) limped into Melbourne harbor today, just 24 hours before registration ran out on the Robert Hunter.

The Farley Mowat was deregistered by the Canadian government, in a bureaucratic move last summer, stripping its classification as a "yacht." Doubtless this harassment was due to both Japanese pressure, and Canadian displeasure with Watson's persistent protests of the Canadian seal slaughter. So technically, anyone can seize the Farley Mowat as a "pirate" ship. Watson has said he intended to retire the ship, and now proposes it be made into a whale museum in Melbourne harbor. This story continues.

Meanwhile, the Greenpeace protest ship "Esperanza" has reached the crippled whaler. The Esperanza is a former Russian sea tug, and the only tow capable boat any where near the Nissan Miru. Greenpeace has offer to tow the whaling boat away from the Antarctic shore. The damaged vessel is only 100 nautical miles away from one of the world's greatest Penguin breeding grounds.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand has urged the Japanese to swallow their pride, and their talk of environmental terrorism, and accept a tow from Greenpeace, to avoid the risk of spilling thousands of gallons of oil and toxic chemicals into the sea, and perhaps into the Penguin grounds. So far, the Japanese have refused, leaving the ship without power, sandwiched between two whale chasing ships, which are not capable of towing the big factory ship in rough weather. The Greenpeace ship, on the other hand, is quite capable of such a task.

We hear this in an original Radio Ecoshock interview with Steve Shallhorn, the Executive Director of Greenpeace Australia. He's a long-time campaigner with the International Organization, and a son of Greenpeace Canada. Steve, can you tell us what is going on with the crippled Japanese whaling ship, in the Southern Ocean?

[please listen to the interview]

New Zealand's Prime Minister has warned Japan of being too proud to accept help, even from Greenpeace. He fears an ecological disaster for the Antarctic Coast, and especially the Penguins. Is it really that serious, and would Greenpeace help a whaling ship?


Millions of people around the world will be relieved the slaughter has stopped, at least for now. Perhaps a thousand magnificent whales will live at least another year. Could this be the end of the line for Japanese whaling?

[If the ship is too damaged, and this is its second big fire, Shallhorn cannot believe the Japanese will build a new "research" vessel to exploit more whales from the Sanctuary.]

Greenpeace International has been saying "We love Japan but hate whaling." What is the feeling there in Australia, about killing whales in a designated International Whale Sanctuary?


Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd society brought a lot of publicity to this issue. How do you feel about his latest voyage?


Steve, a minister in New Zealand said a tug may be dispatched from that country, but he wouldn't expect a whaling vessel to come to a New Zealand port, considering the governments opposition, and vocal public opposition, to whaling. How do you see this playing out?


On a personal note, I know you were an anti-nuclear campaigner for years, and have seen American warships much too close up, from a zodiac. Have you been up close and personal with whales as well?


I asked that personal question, because killing whales drives a lot of people to despair - for us humans. Is there an end to this madness? What can we do?


We've been speaking with Steve Shallhorn, Executive Director of Greenpeace Australia. Thanks Steve.

There is no copyright on Steve Shallhorn's interview. Go ahead and pass it on, or rebroadcast it.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock
www.ecoshock.org

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Climate: STERN TESTIMONY TO US SENATE

[Listen to the testimony to the Senate by clicking on the title above. It is 30 important minutes for the planet.]

Sir Nicholas Stern, the UK economist who caught the attention of the business world, when he warned of the huge costs of ignoring climate change, testified before the US Senate Energy Committee on February 13th, 2007.

This hearing would never have been held before the Democratic takeover of the Senate and its committees. It is a sea change in the development of American climate policy. Sir Nicholas advises former heresies, like a cap on total carbon emissions for the United States, a carbon tax, and even a higher tax on gasoline.

Let's go straight to the Senate, for the ten minute testimony of Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Report. Then we'll pick up on a couple of key questions and answers between Senators and Mr. Stern, on contentious problems like the lack of carbon controls in China and India. Here is Nicholas Stern:

[clip of 10 minute presentation; based on his report prepared for the British Government, estimating the costs of continued growth of our greenhouse gas emissions with no global action to contain them - and the resulting damage - compared to the cost of taking action to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The future is difficult to predict, but if the world atmosphere exceeds 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide, as it will by the end of this century at our current rate of pollution growth, then the climate could rush anywhere from 3 degrees to 6 six degrees warmer, as a global average. Some places would increase more than that. And those are degrees Celsius, meaning up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit change.

He finds the cost of inaction will result in so much damage to the world's agricultural and economic systems that a future generation will "pay" or lose, anywhere from 5 percent, up to 20 percent, of the total economic wealth of the world. Yet preventing the worse, and most rapid, climate change would only cost 1 percent of our current annual production. Even in the best case scenario, he says, where only 5 % of the global gross production is lost due to climatic change (storms, droughts, heat waves, insect and disease increase, etc) - it is still far cheaper to spend the 1% and control carbon.

This 1 percent is still trillions of dollars over the next decade or so. Stern explains the application of this study to the American situation, backing his statements with the recent Working Group One report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.]

That was British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, testifying before the Senate Energy Committee on February 13th, 2007.

Stern also warned that adaptation is becoming as important as cutting emissions.

[clip: some climate change is now inevitable, and we must prepare]

Now let's look at China. The America Senators brought up the common excuse for inaction in their country. Why should we regulate carbon, or capture it using expensive new systems, when the Chinese do nothing to control their vast coal burning emissions?

[this clip is fascinating. A Senator asks a question, where there seems to be a code word "productive powers" or the like, for "international corporations". He complains that these "powers" have frustrated other efforts globally by moving their manufacturing operations, and jobs, to places where two factors exist: a low wage work force with lax or no government regulation; and a location with lax or no environmental regulations or enforcement. If carbon is captured and stored, or other expensive technologies are required of industry in America, he asks, what stops American jobs from disappearing yet again to places where dumping carbon in the atmosphere is still free.

He gives the example where multinational corporations over-ruled an effort by the Philippine government to raise the minimum wage there. And says there is no enforcement of carbon or pollution laws in Chinese industry, despite green statements made by officials there, or laws on the books. Why should the U.S. spend all this money on carbon control, when China and India do not?

Sir Nicholas answers that concern. He talks of steps the Chinese are taking - especially since leaders in both India and China are well aware that their civilizations are threatened if the massive glaciers in the Himalayas melt. These are the sources of major river systems of India and China. The glaciers are also a type of stabilization system, preventing some floods, and yet providing a steady flow until harvest time, even without rain. Perhaps a billion people depend on this system.

He says he has spend decades living in both India and China. Sir Nicholas then says it is up to wealthier more developed countries to develop and apply the technology of carbon capture and storage, apply regulations about energy efficiency, put a cap on national carbon emissions, and tax carbon, especially gasoline, heavily. All that is what he advises these legislators of America. In his presentation, he does not mention or recommend either nuclear power or the most benign sources of energy, solar and wind.

Applying carbon control would cost America about 1% of its GDP, Stern says. And that is an affordable cost that would not cripple the economy.

An American Senator points out there has been some progress using carbon capture and storage in his state. Here are several short clips about carbon capture and storage technology, as a way to make sustainable fossil fuels.

[the Senator from North Dakota describes America's only coal-gasification plant, which captures the carbon and pumps it through long pipelines to depleted oil wells in Alberta, Canada. The carbon goes back down into the ground, and stimulates a bit more oil production from the older wells. Nicholas Stern offers his approval of carbon capture and storage, describes its importance, and is echoes by two other American economists present. ]

Finally, Stern is asked what American legislators can learn from the European experience with cap and trade, so far.

[Stern says the first experiment in Europe did poorly because too many pollution permits were sold. So, the price of carbon for trading fell too low. But another round is beginning, and this time the agency is not offering so many permits, and the price is expected to rise. Stern hopes the Americans will design a system that will be able to hook up to the European trading scheme, and any developed in other parts of the world, especially Asia. But no one needs to wait for a new global treaty, he says. The time to act is now, and in the country where you are.]

This compilation of Stern's testimony before the Senate comes from a Senate broadcast site, at:
http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=1605

The video says it is over 2 hours long, but in fact, if you go to view it, the title screen sits there stupidly for about 19 and a half minutes. To view, click on the link, wait for your viewer (Windows Media Player, Real Player, or whatever) to come up, wait a minute or two for more of the broadcast to load, and then pull the slider to 19 minutes and 45 seconds. The show starts after that, and runs for about an hour and 40 minutes.

The point of my audio is to save you some time, and hit the key points in less than 30 minutes. This testimony is important, as a key representative, of European thought and planning for government, arrives in the United States, to a new Democratic Senate and House, and a new awareness in the American media - and public - about the threat of climate change.

Alex.
Radio Ecoshock
www.ecoshock.org

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

CAN FOSSIL FUELS BE SUSTAINABLE?

[Click the title above to hear the full audio file - 27 megabytes in size, and 29 minutes long]

[opening music clips, including a shout protest against Merill Lynch - for financing new mega-coal plants in Texas]

Professor Mark Jaccard predicts a strong future for fossil fuels. He says their use will only rise, despite fears of climate change. We may not be doomed though. The carbon dioxide could be trapped and put back in the ground.

This is Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock - and I don't like what Mark Jaccard is telling us about the continuing future for fossil fuels. But that doesn't mean he isn't right. I don't like what climate scientists are predicting for my kids' futures either - but I listen to them.

We're going to examine why fossil fuels may co-exist with renewables, and how we can survive a world energy system three times its current size.

Mark Jaccard graduated from Simon Fraser University. He is an environmental economist. He was Chair and CEO of the British Columbia Utilities Commission for 5 years in the 1990's. From 1993 to 96, Dr. Jaccard contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has advised the Chinese government and large industry on energy policy. He has coauthored two books on climate policy, including the 2005 book "Sustainable Fossil Fuels."

On February 10th, 2007, Mark Jaccard spoke at the University of British Columbia as part of the Vancouver Institute series. the complete speech is available from the Radio Ecoshock website at www.ecoshock.org. His topic was "Fossil Fuels: Friend or Foe."

So what is the fuss? Contrary to many leading green thinkers, Jaccard doesn't think energy conservation is the place to start. If we are concerned about the environment, he claims we begin with emissions control. After all, he argues, if we didn't use the environment for a free dumping ground for carbon waste, fossil fuels would continue as the best source of condensed solar energy on the planet.

Jaccard also contradicts the Peak Oil movement, saying we aren't going to run out of oil or coal any time soon - and certainly not soon enough to save the climate. He points to existing technologies to retrieve so-called heavy oil from many parts of the world, including Canada's Tar Sands. And there is at least 250 years worth of coal left, if not more.

Finally, he says installing emissions controls to capture and store carbon dioxide is cheaper than re-tooling modern civilization to use alternative energy.

Is this another oil industry stooge? Not really. Jaccard says he doesn't receive a dime from the fossil fuel industry.

In fact, as a young graduate student, he started out with the common assumption we would phase out fossil fuels within a generation. But as an academic, he questioned everything, and ended up with a very different point of view.

[clip "as a graduate student...." - clip 8]

Let's give him a fair hearing. After all, the future may not turn out the way we expect.

First of all, let's look at why fossil fuels may not run out in time to save us from climate change.

[audio interview contains a series of quotes from Mark Jaccard's speech, on how we can capture carbon, and store it. This is already being done by oil companies, who are capturing CO2 along with sulphur, and pumping CO2 through many miles of pipelines, back into oil fields. When oil or gas fields are filled, there is a huge resource in deep underground "saline" (salty) aquifers, more than 900 meters below the surface. His book "Sustainable Fossil Fuels" goes into detail on the costs and risks of doing this.]

Even as oil becomes more difficult to retrieve, fossil fuels may not even become expensive enough to drive a conversion to alternative sources like wind or nuclear. We'll go to tar sands, or even making oil from coal.

Jaccard doesn't rate energy conservation very highly. As head of the BC Utilities Commission in the 1990's, he ordered conservation programs, but found consumer behavior frustrated many of these efforts. For example, the utility offered discounts on new, more energy efficient refrigerators - but didn't reclaim the old ones. Some people just put the old fridge in the basement to cool drinks, and so now they had two.

Similarly, he finds many people have energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs in a drawer - because they don't like the quality of light, which they associate with offices or hospitals. Jaccard also looked into why people buy cars. Personal mobility was just part of the picture. Identification of social status, and even an expression of male sexuality, was also a factor in buying gas guzzlers. So the mere logic of energy efficiency may not be enough to overcome the illogic, and emotions, that drive consumer choice in the real world.

Jaccard believes the free market system is better than the alternatives. He is a fellow of the conservative C.D. Howe Institute, and advises large corporations. And yet, here he is calling for massive government action to regulate carbon emissions, in order to save the climate.

In his speech, it seems to me Jaccard downplays some of the benefits of real energy conservation.

Friends, we don't know what real energy conservation looks like, especially for consumers. People assume it is their right to buy a propane heater for the backyards, essentially to heat the outdoors and throw the carbon up the stack. It is our right to drive wherever we want, even tremendous distances, just because we feel like it. And we can choose to do it in a vehicle that gets 8 mile to the gallon. It is just as legal to put up 100,000 Christmas lights up on the house.

All this craziness would disappear with carbon rationing, which is not part of Jaccard's prescription. Does he prefer to operate as a realist in a consumer-choice system, even if the climate goes to hell?

Not really. Jaccard seems sincere in his concern about our future, even though he doesn't call himself an environmentalist. He just thinks that policy needs to be based on real human behavior. The future may not be radically different from the past. Humans will likely insist on driving around, and using lots of energy. In fact, as more of humanity moves from a rural low-energy lifestyle to cities, Jaccard predicts the total world energy system will at least triple in size.

In this 3-times energy world of 2100, renewable energy may have grown several hundred times its current size, but fossil fuel use may also double or more. That spells disaster, unless we can enforce clean fossil fuel technology.

[there are many clips inserted here, in the audio version]

Jaccard's research, outlined in his book "Sustainable Fossil Fuels," finds that we can still use oil, or coal, to generate electricity, and provide that power for public transportation - provided the carbon dioxide is captured, and returned either to the ground, or to the very deep ocean. He has studied the costs of using existing pipelines, and drilling expertise, as well as building whole new networks of pipelines and underground storage facilities. Jaccard reports even this huge addition to the fossil fuel system is cheaper, and easier to implement, than trying to shut down the whole fossil fuel system, to be replaced by renewables or nuclear. He says we should go with what we know now, and what we are already doing - but just modify the system to capture greenhouse gas emissions.

Again, there is a real worry that Jaccard is giving permission for the oil and coal companies to keep on producing deadly carbon fuels, under the cover of a future solution. At some point, I hope to discuss that problem with him.

Professor Jaccard gives an fascinating if poignant example in his dealings with Bangladesh. That government is only too aware that large parts of this densely populated and poor country may go underwater in the future due to rising seas, driven by burning fossil fuels. Yet Bangladesh needs power urgently, and has discovered gas fields off it's coast in the Bay of Bengal. Can this poor country install the expensive new alternative technologies, such as wind or tidal energy? Should Bangladesh develop and use it's natural gas, thus adding to it's own doom?

Here is what Jaccard says about it: [clip]

[Basically, he advised the government of Banladesh is would be cheaper to develop their offshore gas fields, and burn it, EVEN MANDATING THAT THEY CAPTURE the carbon, to be piped back to the gas fields. The reduced cost of using this resource, without polluting the atmophere, would give the government more money to build schools or hospitals, or dikes to prepare for the coming floods due to climate change. He calculates it is possible to burn the fuel without guilt, using existing technologies to put the carbon back underground or underwater.]

Jaccard says people who care about the climate should all have a 5 year ban on saying the words "Kyoto Protocol." That agreement, he says, could never work for at least two reasons. One, it was unrealistic given consumer preferences and international development. Many countries, like Canada, agreed to targets and came out with high-sounding plans - but then went on to pollute more and more.

Two, Kyoto was never an international agreement. It was really just Europe, Canada and Japan. Countries like China and India only signed on because they didn't have to do anything - they were exempted as developing countries.

Jaccard now thinks Kyoto should be junked, and a whole new, really workable international agreement is necessary. Even while those negotiations go on, he says developed countries need to take a leadership role by implementing one of two solutions. Either legislate a cap and trade system for carbon, or a carbon tax. Both systems will work, he says, given tough national legislation.

He thinks once a carbon tax, or cap and trade, is implemented in the richer countries, the international business community will then pressure other governments, like China, to enact similar rules, just to level the playing field for international trade.

In addition to banning the words "Kyoto Protocol," Jaccard leaves us with three final conclusions:

First, when politicians talk about targets for emissions, forget it. Targets mean nothing without a real cap, a limit, on greenhouse gas emissions.


Second, policies calling for voluntary action by industry or consumers haven't worked, and will not work. That is just a smokescreen for continued pollution of the atmosphere while talking green.

[clip]

Finally, as he has said all along, don't count out fossil fuels as a continuing mainstay of the world energy system. But, if we want to keep on living in the climate known to our ancestors, we must fiercely regulate all emissions into the atmosphere.

[clip]

After the speech, I asked Dr. Jaccard a couple of questions. First, what did he think of Richard Branson's $25 million quest to find technology to remove existing carbon from the air?

[ clip ][We remove carbon when we burn wood in a gasification project, because the trees originally captured carbon, and when we capture it back from the smokestack carbon scrubbers, and stick in the ground, we are removing carbon, while still generating energy. Jaccard also describes an early day experiment in Alberta to grab carbon from the air - but so far the energy cost to do it is too expensive.]

And then, in the end, we did agree that despite our current market system, humans could agree to make big changes, to save the world.

[final clip, in the end we agree that society can re-arrange itself, as it did in World War Two when faced with an ultimate threat. Jaccard says he is not a proponent of fossil fuels, just a realist. He thinks we must use government to organize our energy revolution to save the climate.]

Find out more on the book "Sustainable Fossil Fuels" at the website of the Energy and Materials Research Group, www.emrg.sfu.ca
Clips in this report came from a speech presented by the Vancouver Institute on February 10th, 2007, recorded by David Gold.

This has been Alex Smith reporting for Radio Ecoshock. Find Professor Mark Jaccard's full speech, and further discussion, free, in the Energy section of www.ecoshock.org.
Or download it here (caution, the one hour speech is 55 megabytes, it may take a few minutes to arrive, and should not be attempted by a telephone modem.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

IPCC Future Forecaster: Andrew Weaver

Click the title above to hear an 11 minute interview with Dr. Andrew Weaver, lead author of the "future predictions" section of the IPCC report released in February in Paris.

We discuss the role of scientists, and the reliability of the future predictions in the report.

Dr. Weaver says there is some good news: he was directly involved in wrapping up oceans research which indicates a catastrophic failure of the Atlantic Converyor Belt, (often called the "Gulf Stream") is VERY UNLIKELY to happen this century. There were worries that melting Arctic Ice, and Greenland ice, could reduce salinity in the ocean current that makes the U.S. Northeast, Britain, and Northern Europe habitable. Apparently, despite massive Arctic melts, so far the current research (literally) indicates we shouldn't be worried about this in the near term.

However, Dr. Weaver concludes we are in for very difficult times, even if we reduce carbon quickly, as we must. And if we cannot decarbonize, our legacy to children and grandchildren will be massive flooding, storms, droughts, and heat.

We discuss the role of Canada's Arctic. If the vegetative carbon, billions of tons of it, is unfrozen - that is if the new heat melts the permafrost - then massive amounts of Greenhouse Gases will be released. This may be a critical tipping point. Science does not yet know how much of this vegetative matter will become carbon dioxide, and how much methane.

It all depends how much is under water - the swamps and lakes of the North. The previously frozen plant material would decompose without oxygen, and thus become methane - a Greenhouse gas 12 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Over this huge continental area, a relatively rapid release of methane over a few years, or even a decade, could tip the climate out of control, leading to the ultimate heat described by Sir James Lovelock - the last humans gathered around the Arctic Sea to escape the heat further South.

If the vegetation rots where oxygen if present, then it releases carbon dioxide. Still bad, but not necessarily fatal.

It all depends on how much, how fast, and in what gaseous form this carbon heads into the sky. And science doesn't know.

Dr. Weaver also describes a just-released study which compares previous IPCC estimates, which have been given every 6 years since 1990 - to what actually happened. The earlier predictions were not only realized, they were conservative, below the heat and other ramifications of climate change that hit us.

There is reason to believe the current IPCC estimates are also low. It was a consensus judgement at the last, involving many countries, including those committed to making money from fossil fuels.

These are my impressions, after the interview - you decide.

Alex
www.ecoshock.org

Sunday, February 04, 2007

IPCC Climate News - Set to Music

Just a little audio goodie:

news reports from the February release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including statements from the scientists. Also, coverage of obscene Exxon/Mobil profits, and equally obscene meandering about climate - from President George Bush.

All set to tunes from 2 new Canadian artists.

It's 7 Megabytes (fast download) and 8 minutes short.

Shudder and enjoy.

Alex.
www.ecoshock.org