Unprecedented Oil Spill in the East China Sea

Another dangerous risk of the continued usage of fossil fuels.

Over the last two weeks, the maritime world has watched with horror as a tragedy has unfolded in the East China Sea. A massive Iranian tanker, the Sanchi, collided with a Chinese freighter carrying grain. Damaged and adrift, the tanker caught on fire, burned for more than a week, and sank. All 32 crew members are presumed dead.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities and environmental groups have been trying to understand the environmental threat posed by the million barrels of hydrocarbons that the tanker was carrying. Because the Sanchi was not carrying crude oil, but rather condensate, a liquid by-product of natural gas and some kinds of oil production. According to Alex Hunt, a technical manager at the London-based International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, which assists with oil spills across the world, there has never been a condensate spill like this.

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While studies of condensate’s environmental effects are limited, one lab study found that its toxicity to corals, for example, was greater than expected based on its molecular components.

In the best-case scenario, the fuel will come to the surface in a slick that is massive but thousandths-of-millimeters thin. From there, it would evaporate into the atmosphere. However, as Richard Steiner, an Alaska-based environmental consultant, told BuzzFeed News, “there’s a lot we don’t know about a major condensate spill since we’ve never seen one.” He described a scenario where there was an “invisible, subsurface toxic plume that is spreading outward from the site.”

Renewables Set to Strongly Outcompete Fossil Fuels in the Years Ahead

By several important metrics, renewables are already much less costly than fossil fuels. Fossil fuels contribute to an estimated $4.6 trillion in annual pollution costs and another report states that $5 trillion — 6.5 percent of world GDP — is spent on annual fossil fuel subsidies. Also, if the world keeps burning high levels of fossil fuels for decades, there probably won’t be much of a civilization remaining, and that’s the biggest, priciest cost of all.

A new report showing that renewable prices may soon out-compete fossil fuels offers just the latest evidence to bolster demands that oil, gas, and coal to be left “in the ground.”

The cost analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) for delivering electricity was presented Saturday at the opening of the organization’s Eighth Assembly in Abu Dhabi.

Prices are already falling for renewable power generation, the publication notes, and says that wind and solar power will be on par with—or even cheaper than—the cost of fossil fuel-generated electricity by 2020.

Among the “remarkable” price reductions has been for utility-scale solar PV which have dropped 73 percent since 2010, the report says.

New York City is Suing Oil Companies and Divesting $5 Billion from Fossil Fuels

It’s major news for the financial capital of the world to be suing a large part of one of the richest, most toxic industries in history. Climate change is truly among the defining issues of these times. With all that being said, the New York Times had this story on page 23 of their paper today, disappointingly enough. The valuable parts of the alternative media have thankfully been covering this story though.

New York City is seeking to lead the assault on both climate change and the Trump administration with a plan to divest $5bn from fossil fuels and sue the world’s most powerful oil companies over their contribution to dangerous global warming.

City officials have set a goal of divesting New York’s $189bn pension funds from fossil fuel companies within five years in what they say would be “among the most significant divestment efforts in the world to date”. Currently, New York City’s five pension funds have about $5bn in fossil fuel investments. New York state has already announced it is exploring how to divest from fossil fuels.

“New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” said Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor.

“At the same time, we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits. As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”

De Blasio said that the city is taking the five fossil fuel firms – BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell – to federal court due to their contribution to climate change.

Court documents state that New York has suffered from flooding and erosion due to climate change and because of looming future threats it is seeking to “shift the costs of protecting the city from climate change impacts back on to the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat”.

The court filing claims that just 100 fossil fuel producers are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution, with the five targeted companies the largest contributors.

The case will also point to evidence that firms such as Exxon knew of the impact of climate change for decades, only to downplay and even deny this in public. New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is investigating Exxon over this alleged deception.

New York was badly rattled by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and faces costs escalating into the tens of billions of dollars in order to protect low-lying areas such as lower Manhattan and the area around JFK airport from being inundated by further severe storms fueled by rising sea levels and atmospheric warming. De Blasio’s office said climate change is “perhaps the toughest challenge New York City will face in the coming decades”.

The legal action and the divestment draw perhaps the starkest dividing line yet between New York and the Trump administration on climate change. Under Trump, the federal government has attempted the withdraw the US from the Paris climate accords, tear up Barack Obama’s signature climate policies and open up vast areas of America’s land and waters to coal, oil and gas interests.

De Blasio and the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, have come under pressure for several years from activists to rid New York’s pension funds of any link to fossil fuels, with some environmentalists claiming the city has been too slow to use its clout to tackle climate change.

Oil Giants Investing $180 Billion in Plastics

There may actually be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 if some current pollution trends continue, unfortunately. Plastic can also be a problem for humans because of how much tap water (83% worldwide, according to one study) is contaminated with tiny plastic fibers that can absorb nearby toxins.

Scientists and environmental protection advocates are warning that a coming plastics boom could lead to a permanent state of pollution on the planet—and denouncing the fossil fuel industry for driving an increase in plastics production amid all that’s known about the material polluting the world’s oceans.

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL), told the Guardian. The CEIL has compiled several reports about the plastics industry since September.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade organization, has acknowledged that fossil fuel companies including Exxon and Shell Chemical have poured more than $180 billion into the creation of plastics facilities that are expected to create a 40 percent rise in production of the material over the next decade.

The rise in shale gas exploration in recent years has caused the price of natural gas liquids, used to make plastic, to drop significantly, causing companies to begin more than 300 plastics production projects since 2010.

“Around 99 percent of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies…that have helped create the climate crisis,” said Muffett. “There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.”

The report follows the CEIL’s recent study, released earlier this month, which showed that the plastics industry has known its products were polluting the world’s oceans since the 1970s and has spent decades fighting regulations that aim to keep the crisis from getting worse.

“We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tons of it are ending up in our oceans,” Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian.

World Bank Plans to Drastically Cut Funding of Fossil Fuels

This follows various divestments that have happened recently, but there’s still much more that needs to be done to prevent an environmental catastrophe via climate change.

As world leaders convene at the One Planet Summit on the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, environmental advocates are cautiously celebrating the “historic announcement” by the World Bank on Tuesday that it will stop funding oil and gas exploration and production projects after 2019.

Though 350.org responded to the news by saying “more still needs to be done” to curb funding for fossil fuel projects, Oil Change International (OCI) executive director Stephen Kretzmann said, “It is hard to overstate the significance of this historic announcement.”

“Environmental, human rights, and development campaigners have been amplifying the voices of frontline communities for decades in calling for an end to World Bank financing of upstream oil and gas projects,” Kretzmann explained. “Today the World Bank has raised the bar for climate leadership.”

Global Fossil Fuel Burning to Set Record Highs in 2017

Yet another important warning sign that civilization needs to convert to clean, renewable energy sources, such as those from solar and wind. Pollution is also a leading cause of death anyway, much of it from fossil fuels. And a lot more people should actively understand that what’s profitable to the fossil fuel industry is harmful to the world’s general human populations.

The burning of fossil fuels around the world is set to hit a record high in 2017, climate scientists have warned, following three years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached.

The expected jump in the carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to some scientists. However, other experts said they were not alarmed, saying fluctuations in emissions are to be expected and that big polluters such as China are acting to cut emissions.

Global emissions need to reach their peak by 2020 and then start falling quickly in order to have a realistic chance of keeping global warming below the 2C danger limit, according to leading scientists. Whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.

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The new analysis is based on the available energy use data for 2017 and projections for the latter part of the year. It estimates that 37bn tonnes of CO2 will be emitted from burning fossil fuels, the highest total ever.

The main reason for the rise is an expected 3.5% increase in emissions in China, the world’s biggest polluter, where low rains have reduced low-carbon hydroelectric output and industrial activity has increased. India’s rise in emissions was modest compared to previous years at 2%, while the US and EU are both on track for small falls.

2017 is likely to be the hottest year ever recorded in which there was no El Niño event, a natural global cycle that temporarily nudges up global temperature. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere also saw a record jump in 2016, and other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture and industry are also rising.