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Our protest must shortcircuit the fossil fuel interests blocking Barack Obama | Bill McKibben

Category : Business

The pace of climate change action promised by this pragmatic president is just too slow to tackle the physics of global warming

Change usually happens very slowly, even once all the serious people have decided there’s a problem. That’s because, in a country as big as the United States, public opinion moves in slow currents. Since change by definition requires going up against powerful established interests, it can take decades for those currents to erode the foundations of our special-interest fortresses.

Take, for instance, “the problem of our schools”. Don’t worry about whether there actually was a problem, or whether making every student devote her school years to filling out standardized tests would solve it. Just think about the timeline. In 1983, after some years of pundit throat clearing, the Carnegie Commission published “A Nation at Risk”, insisting that a “rising tide of mediocrity” threatened our schools. The nation’s biggest foundations and richest people slowly roused themselves to action, and for three decades we haltingly applied a series of fixes and reforms. We’ve had Race to the Top, and Teach for America, and charters, and vouchers, and … we’re still in the midst of “fixing” education, many generations of students later.

Even facing undeniably real problems – say, discrimination against gay people – one can make the case that gradual change has actually been the best option. Had some mythical liberal supreme court declared, in 1990, that gay marriage was now the law of the land, the backlash might have been swift and severe. There’s certainly an argument to be made that moving state by state (starting in nimbler, smaller states like Vermont) ultimately made the happy outcome more solid as the culture changed and new generations came of age.

Which is not to say that there weren’t millions of people who suffered as a result. There were. But our societies are built to move slowly. Human institutions tend to work better when they have years or even decades to make gradual course corrections, when time smooths out the conflicts between people.

And that’s always been the difficulty with climate change – the greatest problem we’ve ever faced. It’s not a fight, like education reform or abortion or gay marriage, between conflicting groups with conflicting opinions. It couldn’t be more different at a fundamental level.

We’re talking about a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn’t care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less profitable.

Physics doesn’t understand that rapid action on climate change threatens the most lucrative business on Earth, the fossil fuel industry. It’s implacable. It takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets. Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands.

We could postpone healthcare reform a decade, and the cost would be terrible – all the suffering not responded to over those 10 years. But when we returned to it, the problem would be about the same size. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.

Unless you understand these distinctions you don’t understand climate change – and it’s not at all clear that President Obama understands them.

That’s why his administration is sometimes peeved when they don’t get the credit they think they deserve for tackling the issue in his first term in office. The measure they point to most often is the increase in average mileage for automobiles, which will slowly go into effect over the next decade.

It’s precisely the kind of gradual transformation that people – and politicians – like. We should have adopted it long ago (and would have, except that it challenged the power of Detroit and its unions, and so both Republicans and Democrats kept it at bay). But here’s the terrible thing: it’s no longer a measure that impresses physics. After all, physics isn’t kidding around or negotiating. While we were discussing whether climate change was even a permissible subject to bring up in the last presidential campaign, it was melting the Arctic. If we’re to slow it down, we need to be cutting emissions globally at a sensational rate, by something like 5% a year to make a real difference.

It’s not Obama’s fault that that’s not happening. He can’t force it to happen. Consider the moment when the great president of the last century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was confronted with an implacable enemy, Adolf Hitler (the closest analogue to physics we’re going to get, in that he was insanely solipsistic, though in his case also evil). Even as the German armies started to roll through Europe, however, FDR couldn’t muster America to get off the couch and fight.

There were even the equivalent of climate deniers at that time, happy to make the case that Hitler presented no threat to America. Indeed, some of them were the same institutions. The US Chamber of Commerce, for instance, vociferously opposed Lend-Lease.

So Roosevelt did all he could on his own authority, and then when Pearl Harbor offered him his moment, he pushed as hard as he possibly could. Hard, in this case, meant, for instance, telling the car companies that they were out of the car business for a while and, instead, in the tank and fighter-plane business.

For Obama, faced with a Congress bought off by the fossil fuel industry, a realistic approach would be to do absolutely everything he could on his own authority – new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, for example; and of course, he should refuse to grant the permit for the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, something that requires no permission from John Boehner or the rest of Congress.

So far, however, he’s been half-hearted at best when it comes to such measures. The White House, for instance, overruled the EPA on its proposed stronger ozone and smog regulations in 2011, and last year opened up the Arctic for oil drilling, while selling off vast swaths of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin at bargain-basement prices to coal miners.

His State Department flubbed the global climate change negotiations. (It’s hard to remember a higher profile diplomatic failure than the Copenhagen summit.) And now, Washington rings with rumors that he’ll approve the Keystone pipeline, which would deliver 900,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest crude oil on Earth. Almost to the drop, that’s the amount his new auto mileage regulations would save.

If he were serious, Obama would be doing more than just the obvious and easy. He’d also be looking for that Pearl Harbor moment. God knows he had his chances in 2012: the hottest year in the history of the continental United States, the deepest drought of his lifetime, and a melt of the Arctic so severe that the federal government’s premier climate scientist declared it a “planetary emergency”.

In fact, he didn’t even appear to notice those phenomena, campaigning for a second term as if from an air-conditioned bubble, even as people in the crowds greeting him were fainting en masse from the heat. Throughout campaign 2012, he kept declaring his love for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, where apparently oil and natural gas were exactly as virtuous as sun and wind.

Only at the very end of the campaign, when Hurricane Sandy seemed to present a political opening, did he even hint at seizing it – his people letting reporters know on background that climate change would now be one of his top three priorities (or maybe, post-Newtown, top four) for a second term. That’s a start, I suppose, but it’s a long way from telling the car companies they better retool to start churning out wind turbines.

And anyway, he took it back at the first opportunity. At his post election press conference, he announced that climate change was “real”, thus marking his agreement with, say, President George HW Bush in 1988. In deference to “future generations”, he also agreed that we should “do more”. But addressing climate change, he added, would involve “tough political choices”. Indeed, too tough, it seems, for here were his key lines:

“I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

It’s as if second world war British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had declared:

“I have nothing to offer except blood, toil, tears, and sweat. And God knows that polls badly, so just forget about it.”

The president must be pressed to do all he can – and more. That’s why thousands of us will descend on Washington, DC on President’s Day weekend, in what will be the largest environmental demonstration in years. But there’s another possibility we need to consider: that perhaps he’s simply not up to this task, and that we’re going to have to do it for him, as best we can.

If he won’t take on the fossil fuel industry, we will. That’s why on 192 campuses nationwide active divestment movements are now doing their best to highlight the fact that the fossil fuel industry threatens their futures. If he won’t use our position as a superpower to drive international climate change negotiations out of their rut, we’ll try. That’s why young people from 190 nations are gathering in Istanbul in June in an effort to shame the UN into action. If he won’t listen to scientists – like the 20 top climatologists who told him that the Keystone pipeline was a mistake – then top scientists are increasingly clear that they’ll need to get arrested to make their point.

Those of us in the growing grassroots climate movement are going as fast and hard as we know how (though not, I fear, as fast as physics demands). Maybe if we go fast enough, even this all-too-patient president will get caught up in the draft. But we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.

Coal resurgence threatens climate change targets

Category : Business

Biggest increase in coal usage for 50 years could throw the UK’s green ambitions off course

Coal is enjoying a renaissance, with the highest consumption of the fuel since the late 1960s. The unexpected development threatens to put climate change targets out of reach – and much of the reason is the rise of a supposedly “green” fuel, natural gas.

The controversial use of shale gas in the US, where it now makes up a quarter of electricity generation, has brought down carbon emissions there – but the greenhouse gases have simply been exported elsewhere, meaning no net gain for the planet, research by the Guardian and other sources has found.

As gas power has replaced coal in the US, the excess coal has pushed down prices on world markets, sparking a bonanza for the high-carbon fuel. Last year, coal had its best year in more than four decades, according to the World Coal Association.

Its global share of primary energy consumption rose from about 25%, where it has been for years, to 30% – the highest level since 1969, long before governments made any efforts to tackle climate change.

Green campaigners are concerned by the findings. Guy Shrubsole, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “This shows that if we want to avoid devastating climate change, we have to leave the fossil fuels in the ground, and go instead for clean energy sources.” And Vinuta Gopal from Greenpeace said: ” Coal is the fuel of the past not the future.”

In the UK, between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, coal consumption rose by nearly a quarter. Europe overall has burned more coal in the past year than any time since it pledged steep emissions cuts, and China and India have also been burning more. Cheap coal, caused by weakening demand in the US where power stations have switched fuels to use gas, has been the biggest factor.

The role of shale gas in this bonanza has been overlooked by supporters of the controversial fuel. In the US, which has pioneered the technology of fracking – whereby rocks are blasted apart under huge pressure to release natural gas – the resulting gas has been championed as a green fuel because it emits half the carbon of coal when burned.

Fracking has cut the US’s greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since 1992, as power stations across the country have switched to gas from coal. That switch may even enable the US to meet its international climate change target of cutting emissions by 17% compared with 2005 levels, as agreed at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

But if the use of gas in the US is bringing down emissions there, the opposite is the case elsewhere. Cheap coal has flooded Europe, driving up consumption.

A report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, at the University of Manchester, published on Monday, found carbon dioxide emissions from domestic energy in the US fell by 8.6% from 2005, the equivalent of 1.4% per year. But more than half of the power sector emissions were displaced overseas by the trade in coal.

John Broderick, lead author on the Tyndall Centre report, said predictions of a golden age of gas created by fracking technology were misplaced. He warned: “We must seriously consider whether a so-called golden age would be little more than a gilded cage, locking us into a high-carbon future.”

Chris Shearlock, sustainable development manager at the Co-operative, which commissioned the Tyndall Centre report, said: “The proponents of shale gas have always claimed that it is a lower carbon alternative to coal. However, this is only true if the coal it displaces remains in the ground and isn’t just burnt elsewhere. Without a cap on global carbon emissions, shale gas is burnt in addition to other fossil fuels, increasing total emissions.”

Another reason for the resurgence of coal in Europe has been the failure of the Europan Union’s main climate change mechanism, the, to stop the rise in coal use. The price of carbon permits is extraordinarily low under the scheme, which was intended to penalise the burning of high-carbon fuels, forcing companies to use modern technologies and become more efficient. Low permit prices take away that incentive.

Paul Newman, managing director of ICAP Energy, a London brokerage, said: “With prices at 18-month lows, everyone feels a bit more inclined to use coal at the moment. [The low permit price] is encouraging people to shoulder shrug, and say “We’ll just go ahead and use coal”. That is the signal that the emissions market is giving off.”

Coal is the highest carbon emitter of the major fossil fuels, and had been in long-term decline until last year, as governments around the world put in place goals to cut emissions and stave off the worst effects of global warming. Its return to favour – in Europe, in particular, which has some of the world’s strongest regulations on greenhouse gases – could spell the end for any hopes of avoiding dangerous climate change. Scientists say emissions must peak within the next five years if the worst effects of global warming are to be avoided.

Consumption of coal has risen by 8.4% in developing countries, according to the International Energy Agency. Newman said: “Coal is the commodity of choice for those who want exposure to the electrification of the developing world.”

Milton Catelin, chief executive of the World Coal Association, said coal use was likely to continue to increase, and could help to lift people out of poverty. He said the way to tackle climate change was to capture the carbon dioxide from power stations and store it permanently underground. But he pointed out that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology was receiving less investment than other low-carbon technologies – the Global Subsidies Initiative has found that nuclear and renewable energy projects (excluding hydro-electricity) receive $45bn (£28bn) and $27bn in subsidies respectively each year. In comparison, since 2005, only $12.2bn had been made available in total to fund CCS demonstration. “That is serious underfunding,” Catelin said.

Oil rush in the Arctic gambles with nature and diplomacy

Category : Business

In Svalbard politicians and scientists talk of global warming and a low carbon economy. Outside, the drilling rigs are moving in

The small group of international scientists, politicians and business leaders are using the Arctic research station as a makeshift conference centre for urgent talks on how to fast-forward a low carbon economy. They have come to the snowy archipelago of Svalbard, a

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Leaked documents reveal UK fight to dilute EU green energy targets

Category : Business

Allegations of coalition hypocrisy over green issues as critics say documents show UK has caved in to fossil fuel lobbyists

The government has been trying to water down key environmental regulations in Brussels despite trumpeting its commitment to green issues at home, leaked documents show.

The papers, seen by the Guardian, reveal British officials repeatedly trying to prevent the adoption of European Union rules on energy efficiency, curtailing the proposals and making them voluntary rather than mandatory in many cases. In addition, the UK has tried repeatedly to ensure that the EU does not adopt a new target for renewable energy generation.

They are significant because they indicate that Ed Davey, the energy secretary since February, has given his blessing to lobbying begun under his predecessor Chris Huhne. These government efforts have the backing of the UK’s big six energy firms, according to other documents obtained under freedom of information rules.

Both issues remain key to plans to reduce European greenhouse gas emissions – putting the government’s position in Europe at odds with its fanfare over the last few weeks for the proposed “green” energy bill. Ministers have described the bill, the centrepiece of claims to be “the greenest government ever“, as likely to generate £110bn in investment in low-carbon and efficient energy infrastructure in the UK in the biggest shakeup of the market since privatisation in the 1980s.

The current EU target for renewables – to generate 20% of energy from sources such as solar and wind – runs out in 2020 and as yet there is nothing to replace it. But having a fixed target is regarded as crucial to create the certainty needed for investors to back technologies such as sun, wind and tide; the current target is credited with spurring a huge rise in renewable generation.

Renewable energy developers and green campaigners fear that without a similar target for 2030, the impetus to invest in renewables will be lost to fossil fuels such as gas.

Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency, told the Guardian: “It would threaten investment in renewables if there is an over-reliance on gas.”

In one leaked document, from the Council of the EU on the draft 2050 proposals on energy, the UK has attempted to excise a reference to a potential 30% target for renewables by 2030, replacing it with the far more vague wording of “a significantly increased share for renewable in the energy mix”. At another point in the document, which is dated 23 April 2012, the UK has tried to remove the word “urgent”.

The document shows that Davey, a Liberal Democrat, has opposed a new EU target on renewable energy since taking office in early February. A previous document showing attempts by the government to water down the EU renewable energy target – revealed by the Guardian in March – was largely prepared under his predecessor, Chris Huhne.

Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency, told the Guardian that a renewed focus on gas was bad news for renewables. “It would threaten investment in renewables, if there is an over-reliance on gas,” he said.

The UK wants Europe to toughen its commitment on cutting carbon, from a goal of reductions of 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, to a far stiffer cut of 30% by the same date. But that position has been undermined by a rebellion by Tory MEPs, many of whom have rejected the tougher target.

On energy efficiency – for which the European Commission is trying to draw up a new directive – the UK is proposing measures that would water down the obligations of businesses and the public sector to cut the amount of wasted energy.

According to the leaked documents, the UK is trying to prevent the EU’s target of improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2020 from being made legally binding. British officials are also saying no to mandatory audits of efficiency, which the European Commission argues are needed to ensure the targets are being met. The UK also opposes some renovations of public buildings on the basis that they could compromise public safety, although this argument is widely disputed. The key document is from the Council of the EU dated 30 May.

Dave Timms, of Friends of the Earth, said: “[Energy and climate change secretary] Ed Davey came into office loudly broadcasting his personal commitment to energy efficiency and its many benefits, but so far he has been unwilling or unable to back tough action to save energy. A strong directive including a binding energy-saving target would be a big boost to economic growth but [if the changes are made] it will be weak, unambitious and full of holes. The UK has played a significant role in this disappointing situation.”

The UK’s proposed changes, which green campaigners say would fatally weaken the energy efficiency plans, chime with the opinions of the big six suppliers, as recorded in their responses to an informal consultation held by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act.

For instance, Eon opposed “an obligation-based approach”, in favour of incentives to consumers to improve their efficiency, and rejected a proposal to make power generation more efficient by stipulating that the waste heat from new plants should be recycled to heat buildings. Other companies, including SSE, RWE npower, Centrica and EDF, were equally opposed to rules on reusing heat, although Scottish Power suggested the proposal could be adapted so as to exclude sites where it would be ineffective or unviable. Most companies were also unwilling to countenance mandatory obligations to cut energy wastage.

According to an analysis by the European Commission, such sweeping changes will render the directive ineffective and it will not achieve the energy reductions needed – even though these reductions would save Europe tens of billions or more from its annual €500bn (£404bn) bill for importing energy.

Joss Garman, senior energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “These documents are proof that [Davey] has caved in to fossil fuel industry lobbyists fighting to increase our dependence on burning imported and polluting gas to generate power.”

“With rocketing gas prices hitting families’ energy bills and the wider economy, now is exactly the time ministers should be backing clean energy to provide secure power at stable prices. This is a government that has a too cosy relationship with powerful special interests – and Britain’s bill payers will pick up the tab.”

On the 2030 renewables target, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We are clear that long-term carbon reduction targets are more likely to be met cost-effectively if the exact mix of technologies is left for each member state to determine for itself. He added: “The UK has been taking a lead role in trying to get agreement on the energy efficiency directive. We want it to be ambitious but it needs to be something that will be deliverable here in the UK and across the rest of the EU.”

Fossil sinks 40%, blames Europe for weakness

Category : Business

Fossil’s stock plunged 40% Tuesday after the watch and accessories maker blamed weak sales in Europe for its disappointing first-quarter sales, and slashed its outlook for the rest of the year.

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Fossil (FOSL) will be added to the S&P 500. The company will replace Medco Health (MHS), which will soon be acquired by Express Scripts (ESRX), provided regulators don’t get in the way. [[FOSL]] +2.3% AH.

Category : Stocks

Fossil (FOSL) will be added to the S&P 500. The company will replace Medco Health (MHS), which will soon be acquired by Express Scripts (ESRX), provided regulators don’t get in the way. FOSL +2.3% AH. Post your comment!

The rest is here: Fossil (FOSL) will be added to the S&P 500. The company will replace Medco Health (MHS), which will soon be acquired by Express Scripts (ESRX), provided regulators don’t get in the way. [[FOSL]] +2.3% AH.

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The Feds Love Green Cars, but Run Their Fleets on Gas

Category : Business

The government preaches green while burning fossil fuel

Here is the original post: The Feds Love Green Cars, but Run Their Fleets on Gas

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"We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices when we consume 20% of the world’s oil," President Obama says during his weekly address. Obama took the opportunity to advocate for his "all of the above" strategy, that relies less…

Category : Stocks

“We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices when we consume 20% of the world’s oil,” President Obama says during his weekly address. Obama took the opportunity to advocate for his “all of the above” strategy, that relies less on foreign fossil fuels, and more on: “solar, wind, natural gas, biofuels, and more.” Post your comment!

Read the original: "We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices when we consume 20% of the world’s oil," President Obama says during his weekly address. Obama took the opportunity to advocate for his "all of the above" strategy, that relies less…

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"We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices when we consume 20% of the world’s oil," President Obama says during his weekly address. Obama took the opportunity to advocate for his "all of the above" strategy, that relies less…

Category : World News

“We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices when we consume 20% of the world’s oil,” President Obama says during his weekly address. Obama took the opportunity to advocate for his “all of the above” strategy, that relies less on foreign fossil fuels, and more on: “solar, wind, natural gas, biofuels, and more.” Post your comment!

Continue reading here: "We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices when we consume 20% of the world’s oil," President Obama says during his weekly address. Obama took the opportunity to advocate for his "all of the above" strategy, that relies less…

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