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Is the weather running AMOC in Ireland

Will Ireland be transformed into Iceland?

AMOC refers to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is a large system of ocean currents where warm shallow water is moved north from the topics and then returned south by colder, deeper ocean currents.  Such movement of the ocean currents provides a more mild climate for Ireland than in equivalent territories at the same latitude which are not affected by AMOC.  The Gulf Stream is part of the AMOC.  To the extent the AMOC is disrupted or lessened, the weather in Ireland may turn into that of Iceland.

At a recent gathering to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Energy Agency Mary Robinson spoke of how the celebration was well deserved, but that “Actually, we’re not in as good a place as we need to be at all.”

In outlining many of the “very bad things [that]may happen” because of climate breakdown, she includes the disappearing coral reefs, and the disappearance of arctic ice and the permafrost.  She adds , “And now we have something new that I don’t recall them mentioning, which is the changes to the Gulf Stream,’  referring to the increasing risk from the weakening of the AMOC.  She notes in her as usual direct and most engaging manner: “For Ireland, that really would not be funny.”

Not funny indeed.

If the AMOC is disrupted or weakened, sea levels in the Atlantic will rise by a meter, flooding many coastal cities, and wet and dry seasons in the Amazon could reverse.  Temperatures across the globe would be transformed, with Europe becoming colder with less rainfall.  And the changes could be affected by a slow decline but then lead to a sudden collapse over fewer than 100 years.

Ireland is located at the same latitude as parts of Canada and Siberia and yet its climate is much warmer.  That’s in part because of the AMOC.  If the AMOC does weaken, even disappear, Ireland’s weather would be more artic than tropical. Good bye to palm and cabbage palm trees in southwestern Ireland.

But how likely is that the AMOC will weaken or disappear, and if it does what will Ireland’s weather be like?

When we first came across the AMOC several decades ago, there seemed to be a consensus among scientists, including in IPCC reports, that the weakening, and especially collapse of the AMOC, was a theoretical possibility but unlikely, maybe highly unlikely, in the 21st century.

Even the sixth IPCC report (2015-23) continued to suggest, with “medium confidence,” that the AMOC would not collapse before the end of the century

That position is shifting.

“A 2019 article from the UK Met Office found that while a total  AMOC shutdown this century is very unlikely, it does remain a possibility.”  Borlace, Just Have a think, climate solutions.

Recent research indicates that Greenland’s glaciers and Arctic ice sheets are melting faster than expected, poring freshwater into the sea and promoting decline in the AMOC.  Since 1950 there has been a 15% decline in the AMOC, which is now at its weakest state in more than a millennium.

Other research suggests that the tipping point for any decline or collapse will be reached between 2025 and 2095.

Others estimate a collapse of the AMOC to occur around mid-century under the current scenario of future emissions.

And if the collapse occurs, it will be quick.

If there is further weakening or a collapse of AMOC, what will it look like in Ireland?  One view is reflected  in the 2004 hit movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow,” which used the AMOC for the plot line.  See, Borlace.  The movie wildly exaggerated the effects so it is not worth relying on.  Alternatively we can look at the existing weather conditions in comparable cities at the same latitude and estimate the climate.

What we need is a thorough, detailed assessment of the range of conditions that Ireland could face as a result of the weakening or collapse of the AMOC.  Such a picture would differ from a view of Ireland with no changes in the AMOC.   That’s not a simple proposition, but at least it might suggest some scope of the changes.  For a simplistic example, a harsh cooling or freezing of the climate will demand extensive heating infrastructure while heating of the climate without any further weakening of the AMOC will demand extensive air conditioning.

 

Sources:

Daniel Murray, “Mary Robinson on Eamon Ryan’s international appeal and how to appease Irish farmers,” Business Post Ireland (16 Feb 2024).  bit.ly/3UMXFvw

Just have a think – climate solutions, with Dave Borlace, on “Abrupt global ocean circulations collapse.  Time to start prepping?” (11 Dec 2022)   www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2ETr6X1lOk

Sam Starkey, “An ocean current keeps Ireland warm. What could happen if it collapses?” Green News (11 August 2021).  bit.ly/3wCd1sH

Kevin O’Sullivan, “Collapse of Atlantic ocean current could turn Ireland’s climate into Iceland’s: potential changes to system known as Amoc would transform Ireland’s benign climate, Fianna Fáil senator warns,” The Irish Times (16 Feb 2024).

Doyle Rice, “Melting ice could create chaos in US weather and quickly overwhelm oceans, studies warn,” USA Today (9 Feb 2024). bit.ly/49vcyHp

Peter Ditlevsen and Susanne Ditlevsen, “Warning of a forthcoming collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation,” Nature Communications (25 July 2023).  bit.ly/49ibjLj

 

The Times Beach, Missouri dioxin disaster and how it ended the career of Ronald Reagan’s Head of the US EPA, Anne Gorsuch Burford

Her son is US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who seems dedicated to following his mother in undermining the US EPA.

 

Below is the story of the Times Beach dioxin disaster, including how Anne Gorsuch Burford, and her chief assistant, ignored clear evidence of the risks of the dioxin to the people of Times Beach.

 

TIMES BEACH, MISSOURI

1982

Route 66, a highway running from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, has always been part pavement, part myth. At its birth in the 1920s, the road stretched 2,448 miles (about 4,000 km) across eight states, from the conservative farmlands of the Midwest to the glamorous West Coast. The route was designed to connect the main streets of small and large towns along the way, providing access to markets for farm products and a means for Americans to explore the country with their newly acquired automobiles. It also provided an escape to California when land dried up during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. This journey was depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, where the road acquired the sobriquet of the “the mother road, the road of flight.” Later, traveling along Route 66 was viewed as a journey of discovery and adventure in the popular TV program Route 66, which ran from 1960 to 1964 and depicted the adventures of two friends and their Corvette.

The TV show was cancelled at about the same time that life was ebbing for Route 66. When the interstate superhighway system was designed and constructed, beginning in the 1960s, Route 66 became obsolete and largely disappeared, physically as well as symbolically. A superhighway replaced the last stretch of Route 66 in 1984.

In September 1999, an attempt was made to reconstruct the myth of the road. A Route 66 State Park was opened near Eureka, Missouri, along the Meramec River, twenty miles southwest of St. Louis.  The park lies in the Meramec floodplain and covers 409 acres with hiking, biking, and horse trails, and wetlands that attract a broad range of birds, deer, and other game. A visitor center is included, with a small museum of Route 66 memorabilia. The park is not remarkable, except that near the picnic area is a vast mound covered with grass. The mound seems oddly out of place in this landscape, like some prehistoric burial ground. The mound is, in fact, the grave of the town of Times Beach, Missouri, torn down, bulldozed, and buried. Under the mound can be found the remains of three hundred houses, mobile homes, and thirty businesses, including the Easy Living Laundromat, the Western Lounge bar, City Hall, and the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church.  The remnants of the lives of some two thousand people, including their Christmas decorations, their beds, their swing sets, the roofs over their heads, their past are also buried under the mound.

It was not some mighty natural force that caused such devastation. Instead, it was a small-time waste hauler named Russell Bliss, in league with a company that was trying to save a few dollars on its waste disposal costs.

It all started in the late 1960s near Verona, Missouri. The Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, Inc., or NEPACCO, set up business in a portion of a manufacturing facility near Verona. The former operator and still owner of the site at that time was Hoffman-Taff, a company that made Agent Orange, the now infamous defoliant used by American forces in Vietnam. In the 1970s, Hoffman-Taff was acquired by a company called Syntex.

NEPACCO produced hexachlorophene, an antibacterial agent used in soaps, toothpaste, and hospital cleaners. NEPACCO first made trichlorophenol (TCP), and then further refined it to make the hexachlorophene. At the end of the distillation process, liquid residues, known as still bottoms, accumulated and were stored in a black, 7,500-gallon tank.

At first, NEPACCO paid an experienced waste company to dispose of the still-bottom residues by incineration at a facility in Louisiana. But NEPACCO decided that it could cut disposal costs if it shopped locally. A company called ICP sold solvents to NEPACCO and its sales representative heard that NEPACCO was looking for a solution to its high-cost waste disposal problems. ICP contracted with NEPACCO for disposal of the still bottoms, though ICP knew little about waste disposal. ICP in turn subcontracted the disposal to Russell Bliss.  Bliss operated a waste oil business, mainly collecting used crankcase oil from gas stations and reselling the oil to refineries, recyclers, and anyone else who would pay for it. ICP charged NEPACCO $3,000 per load and paid Bliss $125 per load. IPC knew the material was potentially hazardous but did not know what was in it. IPC sent a sample of the still-bottom residues to Bliss.  He dipped a paper napkin in it, lit the napkin, and concluded that it seemed like a heavy grease.

Bliss or his workers drained the NEPACCO tank into a tanker truck, and drove the tanker to his storage facility near Frontenac, Missouri. There the still bottoms were unloaded into storage tanks, which were also used to store used crankcase oil. Between February and October 1971, Bliss picked up five or six truckloads of still bottoms from NEPACCO, each load containing 3,000-3,500 gallons.

Besides operating a waste oil business, Bliss collected exotic birds and antique cars, and also kept a stable of Appaloosa show horses. To keep the dust down, Bliss drained liquids from his storage tanks in Frontenac and sprayed the material around his horse farm. It worked quite well, and Bliss began to sell his dust-suppressant services.  One of the sites he sprayed was the Shenandoah Stable, near Moscow Mills, Missouri, owned by Judy Piatt and Frank Hampel. Piatt also kept Appaloosas, and she and Hampel knew Bliss from the horse-show circuit. They paid Bliss $150 to spray the floor of their indoor arena in May 1971. Bliss told Piatt that the material would kill all the flies around the horses. It did more than that.

The night after the spraying, a horse got quite ill. Within a few days, five more horses lost their hair, developed sores, and became severely emaciated. At the same time, sparrows, cardinals, and woodpeckers began to drop from the rafters of the barns. It took hours to rake up all the dead birds. Then the horses began to die. Piatt complained to Bliss, blaming the deaths on his spraying. Bliss denied responsibility, and claimed that he was spraying only used motor oil.

Piatt and Hampel removed the top six inches of soil from around the arena to try to stem the flood of deaths, but to no avail. Then they removed another foot of soil, but the horses continued to die. Eventually sixty-two horses died or had to be destroyed.

Both Piatt and Hempel suffered diarrhea, headaches, and aching joints from exposure to the arena. Piatt’s six-year-old and ten-year-old daughters also got sick after playing on the floor of the arena. The younger daughter had to be rushed to the hospital on one occasion, and the two suffered from gastrointestinal pains, and inflamed and bleeding bladders.

A young veterinarian, Dr. Patrick Phillips, who at the time was a graduate student, visited the Piatt stable but could not determine the cause of the illnesses or the deaths of the horses. Because of the unexplained deaths of the horses, and the illnesses of the children, the Missouri Division of Health alerted the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. In August 1971, the CDC inspected Shenandoah Stable and collected human and animal blood samples, as well as samples of the soil. CDC representatives also spoke with Bliss, who assured them that he had sprayed his own stable with the same material and that he had not experienced problems similar to those at Shenandoah Stable.

Piatt and Hempel took action into their own hands. In September 1971, they sued Bliss for the injuries and loss of the horses. Starting in late 1971, they also surreptitiously followed Bliss’s trucks as waste materials were sprayed or dumped around Missouri. Hempel sometimes wore a wig, Piatt wore a large cowboy hat, and they borrowed different cars to disguise themselves, but Bliss’s drivers often recognized them. Piatt kept a record of where Bliss sprayed or disposed of materials, and she and Hempel kept up the surveillance for fifteen months.

While Piatt and Hempel followed Bliss, the CDC attempted to identify what might be in the waste oil that could cause such toxic reactions. By late 1972, they were still unable to identify the chemical culprit. Around this time, Dr. Phillips and Piatt, who had continued to work together on this mystery, learned about another stable, the Timberline Stable, where similar problems occurred, including the loss of twelve horses. The son of the stable owner also contracted a severe skin disorder, chloracne, after playing in the stable. A colleague of Dr. Phillips took samples at Timberline and suffered a burn and then blistering of his face from the soil sample. The CDC was again notified.

In late 1973 and early 1974, the CDC analyzed more tissue and soil samples from Shenandoah Stable, and this time the agency found traces of trichlorophenol (TCP) in the soil samples. TCP was known to be an ingredient in herbicides that causes blistering. When the trace amounts of TCP were administered to the ears of rabbits, they developed the signs of blistering, as expected with TCP. What was not expected was that several of the rabbits died, and autopsies revealed liver damage. This reaction could not be attributed to such small doses of TCP. Something much more deadly was at work.

The CDC ran further, more complicated tests and confirmed their suspicions. The soil contained tetrachlorodibezo-p-dioxin, or 2,3,7,8-TCDD, or, more commonly, dioxin. In fact, the soil samples contained over 30,000 parts per billion of dioxin. At this time, dioxin was known to be deadly to animals, even in small doses, but little was known about its effects on humans, and there was as yet no standard for what constituted safe levels of dioxin.

The CDC immediately notified the Missouri Division of Health. Dr. Phillips found Piatt and Hempel at a restaurant and told them the news. He explained about dioxin, although he himself had only that day learned about it. None of them knew how dangerous dioxin was, and had heard of it only vaguely in connection with Agent Orange and the Vietnam War.

The authorities began to look for the source of the dioxin. The high concentration of the chemical indicated that it came from an industrial source. Bliss stated that he got his oil from various sources in Missouri, none of which were industrial sources of dioxin. Dr. Phillips and CDC physicians examined Defense Department records to identify facilities in Missouri that could have made Agent Orange or TCP. Several facilities were found in Missouri, including the Hoffman-Taff facility, but none seemed to have any connection with Bliss. Then the investigators located a former supervisor at the Verona plant who informed them that Bliss had indeed hauled waste from NEPACCO when that company operated at the Verona site. When they confronted Bliss about the waste hauling he did for NEPACCO, he claimed that he had just remembered the site and was about to call the CDC.

NEPACCO went out of business in 1972, after its main product, hexachlorophene, was banned for most purposes by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The ban followed the deaths of thirty-six infants in France who were exposed to high levels of the chemical in talcum powder. When the CDC inspected the Verona plant site, NEPACCO was gone but the tank used to store still bottoms was there, filled with 4,300 gallons of liquid. The CDC tested the material and found dioxin at 343,000 ppb. One CDC representative suggested that there was enough dioxin in the tank to kill everyone in the United States. State and federal authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), focused their efforts on securing and cleaning the Verona site, working with Syntex, the company that purchased Hoffman-Taff and as a result became responsible for the site. After securing the tank, the most pressing problem was the disposal of the dioxin-contaminated material. One method was to incinerate it, but Missouri did not have any hazardous waste incinerators and neighboring states threatened to block any attempts to transport the dioxin across state lines.  Disposal of the dioxin was delayed until a suitable facility was found.

Dr. Phillips and the CDC investigators also identified another site where dioxin had been sprayed and where several homes were built. Tests showed high levels of dioxin in the soil. While the CDC recommended that the site be excavated and the people moved, its report also indicated that the half-life of dioxin was one year, i.e., half of the dioxin would degrade naturally within a year. Based on the half-life estimate, later found to be erroneous, Missouri officials decided to leave the soil intact and not to move anyone.

In 1979, the investigations took another turn. An anonymous tip reported that NEPACCO buried drums of chemicals on a farm near the Verona plant. Hundreds of drums were uncovered and dioxin was found in the soil samples. As at the Verona plant site, the first priority was to secure the drums and prevent further discharges before determining how to dispose of the dioxin.

Thanks to the aggressive pursuit of the dioxin trail by an EPA field investigator, Daniel Harris, the full scope of Bliss’s spraying operation finally came to light.  After reviewing all of the available records, including Judy Piatt’s record of where Bliss sprayed, Harris identified numerous sites all over Missouri that might be subject to dioxin contamination. A lack of financial and human resources, and insufficient legal authority, hindered authorities in their investigation. The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), designed to regulate the generation and disposal of hazardous waste was passed in 1976, but EPA was slow to enforce the requirements of the new law. Also, RCRA did not address problems associated with old, abandoned hazardous waste sites.

The gap in the law was closed several years after RCRA through the passage of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law. The Superfund law established a government fund for the investigation and clean up of abandoned toxic waste sites, with severe liability provisions that allowed the government to recover the costs of the cleanups from the responsible parties. The law was based on the principle that those who produced the toxic wastes and disposed of them in such a way as to threaten public health and the environment should be made to pay for the cleanup — the polluter pays principle.

As tough as the law was when it passed in December 1980, it immediately ran into headstrong opposition from the Reagan administration, which entered office in January 1981. Reagan was wholly unsympathetic to environmental issues and immediately set out to diminish the effectiveness of the federal EPA by cutting resources, delaying regulatory actions, and reducing enforcement. These efforts to undercut EPA, and the Superfund program in particular, were carried out by the head of EPA, Anne Gorsuch, and the head of the hazardous waste division, Rita Lavelle.  Both Gorsuch and Lavelle joined EPA from jobs in industries that had been regulated by EPA. Gorsuch had a reputation from her days as a Colorado legislator as someone deeply opposed to federal energy and environmental policies. They were viewed by many as foxes sent to guard the chicken coop.

Gorsuch abolished the enforcement office and dispersed the staff into other programs. Soon after Lavelle assumed control of the hazardous waste program, she met privately with industry representatives whose hazardous waste sites were being investigated by EPA.  The meetings led to claims that Lavelle was entering into sweetheart deals with companies to relieve them of the obligation to pay for the multi-million dollar cleanup of these sites. When the Reagan administration refused to surrender EPA documents to Congress, the refusal was seen as an attempt to hide such deals. There were also reports that EPA was attempting to lower the standard for dioxin cleanups. The Reagan administration cut EPA funding by seventeen percent. The reductions in staffing and resources mandated by Reagan, including laboratories needed to analyze samples, contributed to the problems at EPA and deepened the distrust of EPA and the Reagan administration by those trying to deal with the dioxin.

As dioxin contamination was discovered at more and more sites in Missouri in the early 1980s, and people demanded that EPA take action to protect those exposed, Rita Lavelle asserted that not enough was known about dioxin, that more studies were needed before action could be taken, and stated repeatedly that no emergency existed. When asked why some of the sites were not fenced, she infamously retorted that fences merely encouraged children to climb over them. Such arguments were seen as attempts to delay the process, as a denial of the seriousness of the dioxin exposure, and an unwillingness to spend the Superfund money that Congress appropriated.

EPA’s handling of events in Missouri became an embarrassment in the fall of 1982 when an environmental organization, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), published a leaked EPA document that listed fourteen confirmed and forty-one suspected dioxin sites in Missouri, and reported that EPA was going to clean up sites only if the level of dioxin exceeded 100 parts per billion (ppb), whereas the CDC was arguing for cleanups where the dioxin level was only 1ppb. The town of Times Beach was included on the list. Piatt’s records indicated that Bliss’s trucks had sprayed his oil mixture on the dirt roads that ran throughout the town.  Bliss continued to spray the town from 1972 through 1976. Since the town had the largest population of all the newly revealed sites, it received the most attention and sampling began in late 1982. Residents in the town soon had to get used to people in white moon suits taking samples of the dirt on their streets.

Sampling was completed on December 3, 1982. That was fortunate because on December 4, 1982, Times Beach suffered its worst flood in history when the Meramec River overflowed. Residents of the town were evacuated, and it was several days before they could return. Even then, no cars were allowed, and the town was accessible only on foot or by boat. No one under sixteen was permitted to return at that point, and residents were warned to get tetanus shots, not to smoke because of leaking propane tanks, and to obey a curfew.

Many residents attended the town’s annual Christmas party at City Hall, to celebrate the holiday and their safe return after the flood. At the dinner, the residents learned of the results of the samples taken by EPA. They were shocked out of their holiday cheer. Dioxin had been found in the soil along roads and in backyards in the town. The CDC advised that the people who had not yet returned because of the flood should stay away because of the dioxin, and those who had returned should get out. Within days, police established roadblocks to prevent access to the town, and people in moon suits returned to take further samples. Times Beach quickly became Missouri’s Love Canal.

Despite the growing crisis in Times Beach, reaction at EPA headquarters remained dismissive. Lavelle claimed that there was no emergency. Others closer to the Reagan White House saw Lavelle herself as a disaster in the making, and control over events at Times Beach was taken out of her hands in January 1983.

Further tests conducted by the EPA indicated that dioxin was widespread throughout the town. The town was situated in a flood plain, and further flooding could spread the contamination. Moreover, there was uncertainty about the health effects of exposure to low levels of dioxin in soil, and even greater uncertainty about how to dispose of it. Officials decided that buying the town would be more efficient than relocating the residents for an unknown period while the agencies figured out how to clean up the dioxin, and how and where to dispose of it.

The decision to buy out the town was announced at a press conference on February 22, 1983, by EPA’s administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, only recently married. The announcement was made to a room full of reporters, while those directly affected, the residents of Times Beach, had to listen to a loudspeaker outside.

Within a few weeks, Mrs. Burford was pressured into resigning from EPA, and Lavelle left as well, for a variety of reasons, including their handling of Times Beach.  Subsequently, Lavelle was convicted of perjury before Congress, obstructing a Congressional investigation, and submitting a false statement. She spent four months in jail and served five years of probation.

Meanwhile, the people of Times Beach were stranded. They had to decide whether to stay and wait for the buyout, and assume the risks to themselves and, especially, their children, or get out. The authorities already had indicated that staying was not safe, but no one could tell them how dangerous it would be to stay. If they chose to leave their homes, they had to find alternative living accommodations, and pay for both the interim living and the costs of their Times Beach homes. If they left, the children had to adjust to new schools and new friends. Businesses in Times Beach were lost, as were the jobs at those businesses. Parents attended countless meetings with agencies trying to figure what to do, where to go, for how long, and how to get some financial assistance. Every cough, sore, and fever experienced by the children of Times Beach was watched intently by their parents, always fearing that this was just the first symptom of some unknown disease. Pregnant women worried deeply about the consequences for their fetuses. Whenever people did get away from thinking about the risks, they would be reminded by others who shunned them because they were from Times Beach and were perhaps contaminated in some unknown way. For five families, getting away was of no help. The mobile home park they moved to was found to be another site sprayed by Bliss. They had to be temporarily relocated from their new home.

The buyout cost more than $36 million, with EPA paying ninety percent and the State of Missouri paying ten percent of the costs. A legal dispute arose over which agency would assume title to the properties, and the buyouts did not begin until August 1983.

Once the residents were permanently relocated, the governments explored various options for addressing the dioxin problems at Times Beach, as well as throughout Missouri. The experience at Seveso, Italy was helpful to the American authorities. The state recommended that all the dioxin throughout Missouri be collected and stored in temporary facilities, and then incinerated at a new facility to be built in Times Beach. Since Times Beach contained over fifty percent of the dioxin in the state, and no one would be living there, the location was the logical choice. The incinerator burned more than 265,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated material, including over 37,000 tons from Times Beach. Syntex, the successor to Hoffman-Taff, was responsible for most of the cleanup at Times Beach and the other sites in Missouri, including the construction of levees to protect the incinerator and related facilities from flooding, the construction of the incinerator, and the demolition and burying of Times Beach itself. With the settlement of personal injuries, the costs were close to $200,000,000. Judy Piatt and her daughters eventually recovered on their claims against Bliss, IPC, and others. Bliss was prosecuted on a variety of charges, including illegal dumping and tax fraud, and was sentenced to a year in jail on the tax fraud conviction. By 1997, the cleanup was complete, and the State Park was opened in 1999.

When people visit the Route 66 State Park, they can pay homage to the famous national highway that disappeared because it became outdated and replaced by the new system of interstate highways. They also can pay their respects to the deceased town of Times Beach, victim of another form of progress — the production of chemicals and their unwanted byproducts.

 

Originally published in Robert Emmet Hernan, This Borrowed Earth: Lessons from the 15 Worst Environmental Disasters Around the World, published in English in February 2010 by PalgraveMacmillan and in Chinese in December 2011 by China Machine Press.

 

Editorial Afterword:

In her memoir, Anne Gorsuch Burford described how her son, now US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, was upset that his mother agreed to step down from EPA because, in his view, his mother was only doing what President Reagan wanted her to do.  That’s true, in the sense that Regan wanted to dismantle and defund the EPA, and she certainly adopted policies and procedures to do just that.  But her disregard for the safety and health of the people of Times Beach betrayed her, and Reagan.  It seems her son blames EPA for what his mother did, or for what happened to her.

Certainly his career shows “his own brand of defiance and anti-regulatory fervor.”

See Joan Biskupic, “Neil Gorsuch has a grudge against federal agencies.  He holds their fate in his hands,” CNN (17 Jan 2024).   bit.ly/3HCzkjZ  See also, David Helvarg, “At EPA, Ann[e] Gorsuch tried to trash the agency. On SCOTUS, her son Neil Gorsuch is succeeding, “ Red Green and Blue (13 July 2022).   bit.ly/3vZtVkM

 

 

 

 

 

 

COP 28: It was as if Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald appeared

singing a climate change “Indian love’ song

At the recent Conference of the Parties (COP) 28, for the UN IPCC global climate change talks in Abu Dhabi, the parties failed to do much of anything in the way of a commitment to stop the exploration and drilling and use of fossil fuels.  There were no requirements, no demands, no targets, no convincing plans for doing away with fossil fuels.   Instead, at a core moment, the parties were heard calling others to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems.

  1. [the COP] Further… calls on Parties to contribute to the following global efforts, in a nationally determined manner, taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances, pathways and approaches [including]

Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science;

The “call” for “transitioning away” sounds like Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald calling to each other in the Indian Love song and hoping the other will hear their call, like mating birds:

Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo, Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo

When I’m calling you

Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo, Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo

Will you answer too?

Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo, Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo

While such calling may carry some quaint courting notions, it would not appear to be the kind of communication that will generate a robust , concrete course of actions to stop the use of fossil fuels which, unquestionably, are destroying our planet.

One of the comments that captures, inadvertently, the utter lack of substance in this call for transitioning is that by John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.  At the end of the COP, he said that the mere mention of moving away from fossil fuels could be interpreted as a successful outcome for the climate summit.  See Berwyn, below.  Then again, it could not be interpreted as a successful outcome.  When either outcome is likely, the terms don’t carry much, if any meaning.  The participants from the Indigenous communities, those most likely to be devastated by climate breakdown, found the outcome to be “dishonest.”  Berwyn, below.

Having closely followed socio-political affairs in Northern Ireland for over 50 years, there’s always the danger of becoming inured to the ambiguous and sometimes tortuous language that at times is needed to overcome some very entrenched values and attitudes.  The wink and nod, the waffling, the vagueness at times seems to be necessary.

But eventually the words have to mean something real and we’re not near there when it comes to talking about climate actions. In Northern Ireland the blocks to political action were deep and emotional and historic.  With climate breakdown, the blocks to action are, simply, money.  Fossil fuel interests and their financial and political backers are making too much money from the usage of fossil fuels to let go.

It’s time to call a fossil fuel just what it is:  a dirty, toxic, climate-destroying barrel of money.

 

 

 

ExactNewz

 

Sources:

Caroline O’Doherty, “Cop28: Historic climate agreement reached on ‘transitioning away’ from fossil fuels,” Irish Independent (13 Dec 2023). bit.ly/3RBSOet

Damian Carrington, “Good Cop, bad Cop: what the Cop28 agreement says and what it means,” The Guardian (13 Dec 2023).  bit.ly/4agl65E

Bob Berwyn, “COP28 Does Not Deliver Clear Path to Fossil Fuel Phase Out: Small island states that arrived after the document was approved, don’t accept the outcome as a consensus decision,” Inside Climate News (13 Dec 2023).  bit.ly/3vjpbGl

 

 

Yes, in my backyard

winning hearts for renewables

 

For renewable energy expansion, community support is as crucial as faster permitting and streamlined bureaucracy. Renewable projects must act as catalysts for local economic benefits and enhanced social cohesion, transforming “Not in my backyard” into a “Yes, in my backyard” mindset.

Wind and solar power are rapidly displacing fossil fuel technologies and increasingly dominate electricity generation. This growth in renewable generation softened the blow of rising energy costs for many Europeans last winter. Yet the record-breaking heatwaves, droughts and wildfires that wreaked havoc across Europe this summer underline that more needs to be done on renewables – and urgently.

Slow and complex authorisation procedures have been identified as a key obstacle to the expansion of renewable energy sources. The REpowerEU plan, the Emergency Council Regulation on the acceleration of renewables, and the most recent adoption of the revised EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) aim to simplify and accelerate the approval process for new renewable energy projects.

These new EU rules can work. Their success on the ground now lies in the hands of EU member states. It is up to them to implement the rules wisely, ensuring public participation and community involvement, as well as synergies with nature conservation. It is also up to the European Commission to monitor progress and provide support.

Planning makes perfect

Thousands of gigawatts of renewable power generation capacity need to be added to Europe’s energy mix every year for it to limit global warming to 1.5°C, according to the Paris Agreement Compatible energy scenario developed by Climate Action Network Europe and the European Environmental Bureau. An energy transition of this magnitude is not just about technological change; it has several social and environmental implications that need to be taken seriously.

As public authorities and renewable energy developers gear up to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy installations and electricity grids, the first question they should be asking is: how can we plan ahead to maximise benefits to local communities and minimise impacts on biodiversity?

Part of the answer lies in careful mapping and spatial planning to identify the most suitable locations for renewable energy development and guide acceleration accordingly. The recently adopted RED requires countries to map their territory and designate ‘acceleration zones’ for renewable energy developments. Integrating reliable data on land use and environmental sensitivity, together with accurate information on local energy demand, socioeconomic sensitivity, grid access and renewable energy potential, is crucial.

Evidence-based planning will direct the bulk of onshore and offshore renewable energy development where environmental and social impacts are minimised. Collecting reliable data through proper environmental assessments is also key to this. Project-level assessments can help fill existing knowledge gaps and identify appropriate mitigation measures to prevent and reduce impacts on biodiversity in any suitable location, including outside the acceleration zones.

Innovation and upskilling

To ensure that the accelerated renewable energy machine doesn’t grind to a halt, it is essential that administrations are equipped with the right tools and skilled staff.

Geographic information systems (GIS) can be a valuable resource for planners and developers to identify no-regret sites. For example, mapping out brownfield sites (abandoned coal mines or industrial parks, for example) for new renewable energy projects can save valuable planning time. Innovation is also needed in terms of skills, as planners and local authorities need to have the necessary knowledge to use GIS and make it an integral part of planning processes.

On the technology side, governments must work with local authorities to move the planning process fully online. Many examples highlight a pressing need for digital permitting tools to streamline project assessments and approvals. These should help permitting authorities and developers synchronise their workflows and facilitate access to relevant data. Public access to continuously updated project permitting processes should also be facilitated.

An essential part of getting these tools up and running is administrative capacity. Recruiting and training sufficient staff in the relevant departments of planning and permitting authorities is an absolute priority to ensure the quality of environmental screening and assessment, to anticipate and address potential legal challenges, and to reduce permitting times in practice.

Building public support for renewables in Europe

There is undeniable support among civil society and the general public for increasing the uptake of renewable energy across the EU. Yet local opposition is considered one of the biggest barriers to renewable energy deployment. The ‘Not In My Backyard’ (NIMBY) argument is often used to explain this, suggesting that people are in favour of renewable energy as long as it is not near them.

However, this is an oversimplification that fails to capture a more complex reality. In fact, when local people are consulted early and their views taken into account, project approvals become easier and faster. It is essential that developers engage with local communities as early as possible and involve them in the decision-making process in a tangible way. Public consultations on the design and siting of utility-scale projects can dramatically reduce the likelihood of subsequent legal challenges. This could be a game-changer in preventing new solar and wind projects from being held up in court.

What is more, there is growing demand for self-production and collective ownership of renewable energy assets. Democratic energy communities are growing steadily across the EU, allowing residents to invest directly in projects and fully benefit from their financial returns.

With the groundwork in place for a rapid acceleration towards locally produced renewable energy in Europe, now is the time for administrations to convince citizens this is the right revolution. By promoting a participatory, environmentally sound and benefit-sharing energy transition, we can lead Europe towards ‘Yes, in my backyard’.

 

Originally published in European Environmental Bureau (EEB) META magazine, November 28, 2023 at  bit.ly/3QZUEEv   Author is Cosimo Tansini, the Policy Officer for Renewables at EEB.

This article was originally published in the Energy Monitor with Seda Orhan from CAN Europe.

 

The Writing on the Climate Wall: businesses can read it but are they heeding it.

An Update

In November 2021 we published an ieBLOG on “The Writing on the Climate Wall: Businesses and industries can read it.”  We argued that in light of recent developments, including uncontested scientific studies and the shift in public awareness, partly resulting from spreading and intensifying extreme weather events, a certain  consensus had been reached.

 …  businesses and industries increasingly understand what is happening with the climate.  Like it or not the world has changed and will change even more and faster, and there is no going back. If they want to survive and prosper, they have to build and operate for a world run by renewable energy and sustainable practices.  It is in their own best interest.  And ours.

We also noted that:

But we’re not delusional about any fundamental transformation of how business is conducted across the globe.  While we argue that certain changes are inevitable, that only means they are “certain to happen; unavoidable.”   But it is not clear just when they will happen.  And with climate breakdown things can turn deadly quickly.

Things are indeed turning deadly quickly.  Is business heeding what they see clearly written on the wall?

Clearly not some.  Take for instance Exxon Mobil, always the prime suspect in any anti-social behavior that undermines the public good.   While a number of the biggest players in the fossil fuel arena are investing in renewable energy, Exxon is buying one of the largest shale companies in the US, Pioneer Natural Resources, a major player in fracking.  It is Exxon’s largest deal since its merger with Mobil Oil in1998 and represents a bet that fossil fuel production in the US has a bright future, if you consider more CO2 in the atmosphere illuminating.

ExxonMobil was not alone in its embrace of more oil, as Chevron has agreed to buy the American oil and gas producer Hess Corporation.  Both Exxon and Chevron are investing, in part, the huge profits they have enjoyed from the public as result of the recent energy crisis.

In contrast, some of the larger European energy majors, including BP and TotalEnergies, are expanding investment in renewable energy at a faster pace than the US competitors.

At the same time Exxon and Mobil were doubling down on their commitment to more oil and gas, the International Energy Agency (IEA) was projecting a peaking of demand for fossil fuels by 2030.  As the Executive Director, Faith Birol, has stated: “The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us’.”

While the IEA and fossil fuel companies differ, only one has a vested financial interest in the continuing expansion of fossil fuel usage.  So who do you believe?

It might be a bit paranoid but we cannot exclude the possibility that Exxon could be using its $60 billion in the purchase of Pioneer simply to try to persuade the public and policy makers that fossil fuel is here to stay so there’s no use trying to curtail its usage.

Or perhaps Exxon is doing only what it knows best: acquiring assets in order to generate cash flow, and profits.  But here’s the rub to that approach.  The world is changing and there are some cheap widely-adopted alternatives for energy beyond fossil fuels.  Perhaps these recent acquisitions are the last gasp from an aging and outdated business model.  Maybe Exxon and others are having their own deadly Kodak Moment:  refusing to acknowledge that their product (film camera) is outdated and being replaced by a new technology (digital camera).

Kodak, formerly one of the country’s largest companies,  declared bankruptcy in 2012.

 

Sources:

“The Writing on the Climate Wall: Businesses and industries can read it,” ieBLOG in irish environment (1 Nov 2021) at  https://www.irishenvironment.com/blog/the-writing-on-the-climate-wall/

Callum Jones and Dharna Noor, “Exxon reinforces support for fossil fuels with deal to buy shale giant for $60bn:  Deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources shows Exxon’s confidence that fossil fuel output will not be hampered in years to come,” The Guardian (11 Oct 2023). bit.ly/46xjSR4

David Sheppard and Ian Johnston, “Chevron betting on lasting fossil fuel demand with $53bn purchase of US oil producer Hess: All-stock deal comes after ExxonMobil acquired Pioneer Natural Resources earlier this month,” The Irish Times (23 Oct 2023). bit.ly/3MpSiNP

Clifford Krauss, “Chasing Big Mergers, Oil Executives Dismiss Peak Oil Concerns,” New York Times (26 Oct 2023).  bit.ly/47aw1vl

International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook (WEO) (Oct 2023).  See IEA,” The energy world is set to change significantly by 2030, based on today’s policy settings alone” (with link to full WEO-2023 report).  bit.ly/3tZPQaw

Brad Plumer, “Fossil Fuel Use Will Peak by 2030, Energy Agency Says,” The New York Times (25 Oct 2023).  bit.ly/3QGWpaR

See “Kodak Moment” in iePEDIA section of current issue of www.irishenvironment.com (Nov 2023)