Posts Tagged ‘fossil fuels’

The Forbidden Colony

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This Al Jazeera documentary examines the undemocratic nature of the European Union and it’s role in allowing banks and multinational corporations to colonize Europe. It begins by focusing on the EU Parliament, which meets in secret and bans public observation of its proceedings. Elected members of the EU Parliament lack the authority to initiate legislation. They can only rubber stamp laws proposed by the non-elected European Commission.

Croatian philosopher Srecko Horbat examines the right and left wing movements that have arisen in reaction in response to the massive economic dislocation (job loss, low wages, high housing costs) people have experienced following the creation of the EU.

The far right tends to campaign against the massive influx of migrants, which they blame for their declining standard of living. The left, in contrast, is more focused on rebuilding European democracy from the ground up.

For me, the most interesting part of the film was its examination of various European experiments in direct democracy. Examples include

  • The grassroots movements in Hamburg and 170 other German cities and towns that have bought back electric power companies from private companies to hasten their transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
  • Ada Colau, the radical mayor of Barcelona,* who is working to transform squats into cooperatives and forcing banks to make vacant buildings available for social housing.
  • Greece’s parallel economy, which operatives massive “no middlemen” food markets in reaction to price gouging by corporate supermarket chains.

*The capitol of Catalonia, which is organizing a popular referendum to declare independence from Spain – see Showdown in Spain

Did your power prices go up again this month? Mine have been going up two or three times a year for as long as I can remember.

According to the Australian Green Left Weekly, there is absolutely no reason Australia can’t have 100% renewable energy in less than a decade at sharply reduced prices.

The article refers to a May comment by the vice-president of Sempra Energy, one of the largest utility firms in the US – that there was no longer any technical obstacle to powering California with 100% renewables.  “We now have the ability to control the grid twenty times faster than you can blink your eye. The technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get to 100%? That can be done today.”

The author Renfrey Clarke goes on to point out that most of Australia’s fossil-fueled generating infrastructure is past its design life. Prone to costly breakdowns, it’s extremely expensive to maintain and should be replaced.

According to a recent Australian National University study, it’s far cheaper to replace it with renewables.

Positing the future cost of solar photovoltaic and wind energy at $50 per megawatt-hour (MWh), the team concluded that the “levelised cost of energy” (LCOE) over the lifetime of a balanced, 100% renewable energy system (including storage) would be around $75/MWh. For comparison, the LCOE of electricity from new supercritical black coal plants was estimated last year at $80/MWh.

Clarke maintains the energy market is already outstripping these prediction. Recent unsubsidized price contracts for delivered renewable energy include $40/MWh for a wind farm in Morocco and $33.90/MWh for solar photovoltaic in Dubai.

For energy storage, the ANU study proposes the well-tested technology of “pumped hydro”. This is impressively cheap and its virtues are listed as including excellent inertial energy, spinning reserve, rapid start, black start capability, voltage regulation and frequency control. Australia has numerous good sites for off-river and seawater pumped hydro.

Still greater system security is provided by a combination of pumped hydro with battery storage. Using modern software, utility-scale batteries can be switched into the grid in milliseconds. A recent Bloomberg report states that lithium-ion batteries are expected to fall in price by more than 70% by 2030.

 

Source: Green Left Weekly

Our Renewable Future

Richard Heinberg (2016)

In this 2016 presentation, Richard Heinberg talks about his new book (with David Fridley) Our Renewable Future. Both the book and talk focus mainly on the ease with which renewable energy can replace fossil fuels in our current industrial economy. He argues the transition is essential, not only to reduce the impact of catastrophic climate change and ocean acidification, but to address growing global economic and political instability (ie resource wars in the Middle East over dwindling oil and natural gas reserves).

  • Electric power generation – coal and gas-fired power plants are fairly easy to replace with wind and/or solar generation. However Heinberg also argues that homes need to be made more efficient (in terms of heating and cooling) to reduce peak load demand. Renewable technologies are not good at ramping up at short notice. We have had the technical know-how for decades to produce buildings requiring 1/20th of the energy we presently use to heat them. Up until now, we have lacked the political will to change local building codes accordingly.
  • Personal transportation – Heinberg argues that electric cars aren’t a panacea. Because they are so energy intensive to produce, only fairly wealthy people will be able to afford them. He feels there needs to be more focus on increasing public transport and adapting our communities to facilitate active transport, such as walking and cycling.
  • Mass transit – he strongly advocates increased use of rail, by far the most efficient form of transit for both people and freight. For transcontinental travel, high speed trains are much more energy efficient than air travel and are easily electrified.
  • Shipping – ocean freighters are already quite energy efficient compared to air transport. Using kite sails to propel them can reduce their energy consumption by 60%
  • Food production – at present we expend 12 fossil fuel calories for every calorie of food produce. In additions to our chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (all derived from fossil fuels), we also use fossil fuels in food processing and packaging, to run farm machinery and to transport food halfway around the world. The transition in food production has already begun, with strong organic and buy local movements worldwide. Heinberg also supports the growing movement to use sustainable agriculture to sequester carbon ((carbon farming, aka the 4 per 1,000 initiative – see The Soil Solution to Climate Change).
  • Construction – most of our commercial buildings are made of concrete and steel, which both require intensive fossil fuel input in production. Here he recommends a transition to recycled and more natural building materials and a conscious effort to design buildings to human scale. The splurge in high rise construction of the 20th century was only possible due to a glut of cheap fossil fuel.
  • Manufacturing – most manufacturing has already been electrified.
  • Consumer electronics – Heinberg argues we need to make Smartphones more easily upgradable – enabling each of us to purchase one per lifetime. The pressure to replace Smartphones every year is deliberate “planned obsolescence” to increase profits.
  • Plastics, paint, synthetics – natural ingredients (hemp can be used for all three) tends to be cheaper, more durable and less harmful to the environment.

The Cross of the Moment

By Jacob Freydont-Attie (2015)

Film Review

Can climate change be addressed without dismantling capitalism? The current track record of world leaders suggests not – especially with the election of the world’s most prominent climate denier to the US presidency.

The Cross of the Moment is a documentary exploring the climate change dilemma and various options for limiting global warming and mitigating the effects of catastrophic climate change. It’s produced in a panel discussion format, with the filmmaker posing specific questions to prominent astrophysicists, climate scientists, political economists and climate activists (including Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder, Derrick Jensen, Peter D. Ward, Jill Stein, Bill Patzert, and Guy McPherson). I’m not normally a big fan of talking heads, but the optimism conveyed by this film – in stark contrast to the usual alarmist arguments – definitely held my attention.

I was especially impressed with Bill McKibbon’s elegant explanation of why changing light bulbs and other market-based behavioral changes aren’t going to end global warming. The climate activist lays out an elegant argument why systemic structural changes is needed to wean humanity off of fossil fuels and why fossil fuel companies aren’t going to allow this without a major global movement to counter their power and greed.

The other panelists present a range of views on the specific structural/systemic changes that are necessary to prevent climate changes from wiping out our ability to produce food. Most seem to agree that fossil fuels could be totally phased out – and replaced by renewable energy – by 2050. They estimate this could be done for a total capital cost of $15 trillion (which according to the IMF is less than we currently spend annually to subsidize the fossil fuel industry*).

The film offers a number of viewpoints on how to bring this about. One economist favors a carbon tax; another would totally ban wasteful industries such as packaging (the third largest global industry after energy and food) and junk mail (which produces 51 millions tons CO2 annually in the US alone). Two activists express the view that the political corruption exerted by the fossil fuel industry couldn’t be overcome without dismantling capitalism altogether.


* According to the IMF, fossil fuel companies benefit from $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies.

 

The following is a presentation by climate activist Bill McKibben about the global Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement. This is a global civil disobedience campaign directed at fossil fuel companies rather than government policy. Its aim is to pressure these companies to leave untapped coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground.

It’s a bad news/good news presentation. First McKibben gives us the bad news: despite all the hype, the outcome of the Paris climate change conference in 2015 was pure rhetoric. The treaty signed at the conference won’t lower carbon emissions sufficiently to prevent catastrophic climate change. See Global Civil Disobedience

However there is good news on two fronts: the speed at which many countries are transitioning to renewable energy and the remarkable success of the global Break Free campaign.

Among the successful actions McKibben describes: the 2015 Keystone civil disobedience at the White House that persuaded Obama to cancel the pipeline; the Australian campaign that blocked construction of the largest coal mine in the world; the Washington State campaign blocking construction of coal terminals in Longview and Cherry Point; the Seattle blockade of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig; and the global anti-fracking movement, which has led to a ban on fracking in New York, Quebec, Wales, Scotland and France.

The best part of the presentation concerns the recent Columbia School of Journalism expose revealing Exxon knew about climate change in 1977 and funded a massive public relations scam to convince the public it was a hoax. According to McKibben, the attorney generals of New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands are investigating Exxon for fraud over their role in the climate denial movement.

Q&A’s start at 46:00.

Disobedience: the Courage to Break Free

By Kelly Nykes (2016)

Film Review

Disobedience is about the global movement (on six continents) to shut down the fossil fuel industry. The primary aim of the Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement is to end fossil fuel mining and shut down gas-fired power plants.

A major premise of the documentary is that the COP21 climate conference in December 2015 was a public relations stunt. Climate activists believe it accomplished virtually nothing towards preventing catastrophic climate change for two main reasons: 1) the national emissions targets agreed are purely voluntary and unenforceable and 2) despite agreeing to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the treaty’s carbon budget will result in 3.5 degrees warming.

President Lyndon Johnson was the first to warn the world, in 1965, of the link between heavy fossil fuel combustion, CO2 emissions and global warming. Ten years later, Exxon began planning for global warming by making their drilling rigs “climate proof.” In 1989, they switched tactics by co-founding the Climate Coalition and hiring a public relations firm (the same one that promoted the health benefits of smoking) to launch the climate denial movement.

Filmmakers include coverage from mass civil disobedience actions to shut down coal fired power plants in the Philippines and Turkey, tar sands production and export in Alberta and British Columbia and an open pit coal mine in Germany. Given that Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy production,* I was extremely surprised to learn they burn more lignite* *coal than any other country, including China and India.

The film also features footage from the Seattle blockade of a Shell Arctic oil exploration rig – which helped persuade Shell to abandon their plans to drill the Arctic for oil.

For the most part, these actions succeed by increasing the cost of doing business – especially now when low oil and gas prices are already denting profits.


*On  May 16 Germany got nearly all its power from renewable energy.

**Lignite is often referred to as brown or “dirty” coal due to the high level of particulate and heavy metal pollution it produces.

 

 

Corridors of Resistance: Stopping Oil and Gas Pipelines

By Leah Temper

Film Review

Corridors of Resistance is about the inspiring Unisto’ot’en campaign in northwest British Columbia to block the intrusion of oil and gas companies on their territory. This has to be the most effective grassroots challenge I’ve seen to the supposedly unchallengeable oil and gas industry.

Although the Unisto’ot’en never ceded their territory by treaty, British Columbia and the former Harper government illegally granted seven oil and gas companies concessions for ten pipelines. The purpose of the pipelines is to carry tar sands condensate, fracked natural gas and liquefied natural gas to Pacific seaports.

The right of Unisto’ot’en to occupy their unceded traditional lands was recognized by the Canadian high court in 1997.

The Canadian indigenous group isn’t merely protecting their land rights. They also have major concerns about the health and environmental effects of fracking and tar sands mining. Studies show people living adjacent to these activities are dying of cancer and losing livestock owing to air and water contamination. Likewise a pipeline spill or leak could wipe out the salmon and animals they hunt, which would be catastrophic to their survival.

The Unisto’ot’en also worry about Canada’s excessive reliance on fossil fuels and the threat it poses to climate stability.

Many “colonized” (ie city dwelling) Unisto’ot’en, as well as European supporters, are moving back to their traditional land to help maintain the blockade.

My favorite part is the scenes in which Unist’ot’en women confront oil and gas workers who attempt to enter their territory and turn them away.