soot on the water

Sierra Club Canada fundraising pitch:

Sierra Club Canada Foundation has been a leading voice on climate change from the beginning. We aren’t letting up. And we’re getting results.

“We will be hated and vilified, in the same way that slave traders were once hated and vilified.” That’s how Brian Ricketts, head of the European Association for Coal and Lignite, summed up the Paris deal. “You might be relieved that the agreement is weak,” he told his members. “Don’t be. The words and legal basis no longer matter. Fossil fuels are portrayed by the UN as public enemy number one.

Namecalling notwithstanding,  the fossil-fuel phaseout measures in the Paris Agreement are neither binding nor inclusive.  The 196 signatories left feeling good, but the truth is they didn’t commit to much. A good example: aviation and shipping, both significant GHG emitters, were left out even though they represent an estimated 8% of global CO2 emissions. More than 90% of the world’s trade is transported by sea and the International Maritime Organization,  representing the shipping industry and member nations, is trying to impose a 50% cut in 2007-level CO2 emissions per tonne/kilometre by 2050 but it needs member-state muscle to back it up. I find it ironic that the Marshall Islands, a popular flag of convenience among shipowners, will be inundated if/when a two-degree rise in the planet’s ambient temperature triggers a hypothetical cascade of icecap melts and extreme weather.

As with every fossil-fuel-consuming industry, there are the believers and the scofflaws. The Maersk Group, owner of the world’s largest fleet of containerships, expressed disappointment at shipping’s exclusion from the Paris pact. (Maersk has committed to a 60% reduction per container by 20120.) With an estimated 100,000 cargo vessels operating worldwide, good corporate scouts like Maersk know half those freighters, tankers and bulk carriers will continue to emit their way around the planet. These dodgy vessels, registered in flag-of-convenience ports like La Paz, Monrovia and Limassol will continue to pollute because,  with scrap prices at an all-time low, there’s no financial incentive to pull these soot-spewing relics out of service.  The U.S. reaction: Congress passed an amendment allowing U.S. crude exporters to export.

(This has me stumped. With North Sea, West African and Middle Eastern crude priced below WTI priced in skyrocketing greenbacks, what market is there for American shale oil when its producers can’t afford a fractional interest rate hike?)

Commercial aviation is pulling windfall profits thanks to the bogus fuel surcharge jacked onto tickets over the past three years. Jet fuel now sells for 35% less than it did a year ago, an $89.2 billion gift to the world’s carriers and their stakeholders. Collusion, price-fixing, racketeering — call it what you will. The commercial aviation industry will continue to pump GHGs into the stratosphere where it does the most harm without accountability or apology.

Climate change is an excuse for scapegoating. Coal is bad. Nigerian, Iranian, Iraqi, Saudi oil is good. Canadian and U.S. pipelines are good if they’re moving imported oil, bad if they’re pumping North American crude. I get Quebec’s position, which wonders why we should incur environmental risk allowing crude to be shipped through the province without economic benefits. What’s in it for us?

There it is. Almost nothing discussed in Paris will have the slightest bearing on the lives of most of humanity. The only difference I can see is that now we’ll be keeping better tabs on who’s in and who’s out in the fossil fuel sweepstakes.






2 thoughts on “soot on the water

  1. Hi Jim , while fossil fuels still rule water , land ,and sea maybe , at last, if Tesla cars are any indication we might be starting to turn the corner on dialing back oil and gas guzzling. Elon Musk’s Tesla now has a range of 500 km. and can charge up in 1/2 hour. Battery technology and research is probably the key. It does bring up the point that our electrical needs have to come from somewhere and as long as electricity is generated by fossil fuels or coal we’re back at the beginning. Solar and wind ? Maybe . Ethanol just leads to agri-monoculture, unbalanced ecosystems and gummy carburetors. Nuclear energy is being dismantled and I think abandoning it is premature but then there’s those meltdowns and those pesky bombs.


    1. We’re not really committed to solving these issues. Politicians are committed to negotiating non-binding agreements that appear to make real change, perhaps Paris 2015 will become the exception. Ethanol probably did more damage than good.

      The Tesla is a great, if expensive, start. But in most parts of the US, the coal or other dirty generated electricity generated to drive a distance is far dirtier than burning fuel in a normal car to drive that distance. And the Tesla has some high performance modes that are counter to efficiency. If every Tesla came standard with a solar panel and Tesla Battery installation at the home and work of the owner to store energy for a fast charge, I’d have a better opinion.

      More interest is Tesla’s home battery, again expensive but it allows solar or wind energy capture and storage. It also allows charging at low rate times and selling back to the grid at high rate times. If enough of these things get installed the price will come down, that will be Tesla’s biggest impact.

      Nearly every car maker has a 600+ horsepower model, which frankly should be illegal by now. We should have weight, size, horsepower and top speed limits on cars if we’re serious about the environment.

      I once wrote a column suggesting that we have all cars with GPS and computer limited speed to the local speed limit, certainly within the limits of today’s automotive technology. I was surprised at the very negative response from readers to a suggestion that was good for road safety and the environment.

      If we put the real environmental cost of transport into every product, we would have far more local production of goods and more local agriculture with less pollution. So on that basis, I think we really do need some sort of universally applied worldwide cost of carbon with those tax revenues flowing back into green technologies.

      Try driving the speed limit for a week and ease away from stops, let everyone zoom by you, and you’ll probably see a 20-30% reduction in your fuel consumption and therefore carbon emissions. If you’re serious about the environment, keep that up. Only a very few will ever make that commitment.

      Liked by 1 person

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