Advertisements

Rex Tillerson Named as Secretary of State Amidst CIA Report of Russian Attack on U.S. Election

For those saying that this is the first time they’ve heard of Russia’s attack on the US election or of the serious and harmful conflict of interest that occurs when a billionaire demagogue who’s aligned with fossil fuel special interests, couldn’t care less about the integrity of American democracy, and denies human-caused climate change takes office, then I have ‘news’ for you. We were writing about this back in July.

*****

Some have said that President-Elect Donald Trump’s stated support of Russian hacking and conduct of espionage operations against the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election while subsequently attacking the CIA is ‘on the verge of treason.’ Mind you, these charges come from a member the Tea Party — the musket-toting Joe Walsh — and not from the democrats or journalists who’ve been warning the U.S. electorate about Russian interference apparently aimed at placing Trump as President since the summer. A fact that has come into harsh focus now that a CIA report on Russian espionage has been brought to the attention of the press. A report that would have been discussed publicly prior to the election, and not after, if republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hadn’t voiced doubts or threatened to politicize the matter.

(Former CIA Counter-Terrorism official Phil Mudd expresses outrage at Trump’s attacks on one of the US’s top intelligence agencies.)

This week, notably after an election in which Russia, urged on or enabled by some republican party leaders, dug up emails in what for any rational observer was an obvious effort to smear the political opponents of republicans and in which republicans were largely found technically if not popularly victorious, Mitch McConnell is now singing a different tune. The Senate Leader strongly condemned any foreign breach of U.S. cyber-security and noted that “the Russians are not our friends.”

Bravo Mitch. But one has to ask the entirely pertinent question — where was your sense of patriotic concern three months ago??? 

Former CIA Director Michael Morell was pretty clear in his expert opinion on the matter:

“A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11.”

Sadly, this political firestorm likely won’t end with the CIA report or with the Congressional inquiry. Trump will claim the FBI’s non-attribution of intent in Russia’s obvious espionage efforts as cover for his own harmful actions. Actions that first cheered-on Russian espionage and have, over the past week, produced an adversarial relationship between a President-elect and an agency — the CIA — whose chief mission it is to keep Americans safe from the kind foreign aggression we’ve apparently just experienced.

Oil CEO Friend of Russia as U.S. Secretary of State

Meanwhile, on Monday, the man who benefited the most from this CIA-reported Russian interference in the U.S. election — Donald Trump — was busily promoting ‘Friend of Russia’ Rex Tillerson into the office of the Secretary of State. In this case, the phrase — elections have consequences — has just produced a gigantic payoff for all those CIA-identified Russian email hacking and fake news dissemination efforts in the form of the man Russia lauded for helping its petroleum industry open new fossil fuel extraction and burning efforts in the Arctic.

Rex will come to head an agency whose stated goals include the promotion of human rights and the advancement of U.S. policy aimed at mitigating and reducing the harms produced by human-caused climate change. But what Rex has done — for his entire 41 year career at Exxon — is promote the kind of oil extraction efforts in Russia that will saddle the Earth with yet one more gigantic carbon bomb and broker business deals with some of the worst human rights abusers in modern history.

russia-oill-production

(Russian efforts to increase oil and gas production focus on Arctic regions of East and West Siberia. Exxon Mobile under Tillerson was slated to provide Russia with extraction assistance when plans were shut down by U.S. sanctions against Russia following its invasion of the Ukraine. Tillerson opposes sanctions and has, in the past, looked the other way when Russia has acted in an abusive fashion. Image source: EIA.)

For Rex and Exxon, in an admittedly risky courting of a Russian dictator well known for cynically turning against his ‘friends,’ a big deal with Russia promised to produce billions in profits by opening up Arctic oil exploration. Back in 2013, an arrangement was moving along in which Exxon would provide technical expertise for extracting a massive pile of hard to reach oil and gas reserves. Exxon didn’t seem concerned by the fact that Russia had betrayed a similar contract with British Petroleum, thrown one of the competitors to state-run Rosneft in jail, or forced a Total Oil CEO to flee Russia due to ‘sustained harassment.’

In 2014, the high-risk game that Exxon was playing with Russia went sour after Russia invaded the Ukraine. The U.S. under President Obama, decided to apply sanctions against Russia for its military occupation of Ukraine. And in subsequent years, Exxon lost at least 1 billion due to the combined sanctions and Russian military aggression. Russia, meanwhile, saw its Arctic oil extraction efforts slow due to lack of access to western technical expertise. Tillerson, at the time, used his position as Exxon CEO to put pressure on the U.S. to lift sanctions. Such efforts were arguably against the national interest — which focuses on containing and preventing aggression by foreign powers — and aimed at simply fattening Exxon’s and, by extension, Rex’s bottom line. In critiquing an Exxon CEO, we might lable these actions as amoral profit-seeking that runs counter to the national interest. But place Tillerson as Secretary of State and we end up with moral hazard writ large. For Tillerson, if he promotes similar goals while in office, would be wrongfully using a public appointment to pursue a personal monetary interest — in other words opening up the U.S. to corruption and enabling Tillerson to perpetrate graft.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Exxon was facing its own troubles due to its promotion of climate change denial after Exxon scientists warned the company that climate change would produce serious and wide-ranging impacts. Various attorney generals across the U.S. investigated the oil giant for misleading the U.S. public in its numerous climate change related communications and through political activities that supported climate change skeptics and deniers. Meanwhile, Exxon shareholders filed their own suit against the company claiming that the corporation’s stated oil reserves did not take into account planned responses to climate change. Overall, these wide-ranging legal entanglements paint a broad picture in which Exxon is consistently charged with misleading both the public and its shareholders on the critical emerging issue of climate change. And all of this happening while Rex Tillerson, the newly appointed Secretary of State, was at the helm.

In the end, it’s pretty obvious what will result from Tillerson’s appointment as Secretary of State. First, U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change by working with foreign powers will be stymied and/or sabotaged. Trump has stated that he wants to withdraw from the Paris Climate Summit — and who better to lead those efforts than climate change denial promoter Rex Tillerson? But more to the point, U.S. foreign policy under Tillerson is even more likely to roll back sanctions against Russia for its attack against the Ukraine. And not only would this embolden Russia to future aggression while opening up another major source of global carbon emissions, it may also produce personal profits for Rex Tillerson and short term corporate profits for Exxon — if Russia doesn’t screw him and the U.S. over. And after directly attacking the U.S. election to get what it wants in an act of international cyber-warfare aggression the likes of which has never been perpetrated against this country, it appears that Russia has all the worst of intentions at heart.

Advertisements

New Weapon Emerges in Fight Against Fossil Fuel Dominance and Escalating Climate Change: A Wind Turbine That Achieves Grid Parity While Eliminating Intermittency

Last year, Republicans fought tooth and nail to block and delay the only federal funding program for wind energy — the Production Tax Credit. Their energy brinksmanship and political hostage taking forced a delay of a critical renewable energy investment decision until the last minute even as US wind capacity surged to 60 gigawatts and is attributed to increasing US economic growth by .25% in the 4th quarter while adding over 80,000 new jobs. This cynical political action, on the part of republicans and other opponents to renewable energy, resulted in an unconscionable stalling of new installations in early 2013 even as extreme weather and climate change continued to batter countries around the globe.

By comparison, US fossil fuel companies still enjoyed billions of dollars in subsidy, tax incentive, land use donations, and direct investment support from the federal government, risk free. To this point, it is worth considering the following info-graphic provided by the Environmental Law Institute:

energy subsidies -- black, not green

They were the true beneficiaries of a government funded welfare system for energy sources, that year after year, continue to worsen our weather and climate — resulting in escalating physical and financial harm in the US and around the globe.

But even as new wind installations lag due to a toxic brew of investment uncertainty conjured up by republicans, new alternative energy technology continues to undercut prospects for long-term fossil fuel market dominance. In particular, a new wind turbine, this one produced by GE, breaks a number of key market barriers to wind energy adoption in both the US and around the world.

GE achieves grid parity and energy storage with new turbine.

GE achieves grid parity and energy storage with new turbine.

The systems, pictured above, include GE’s 1.6-100 and 1.7-100 wind turbines.

These turbines include two revolutionary advancements that put it toe-to-toe with traditional fossil fuel and nuclear generation sources in both capability and cost. First, the new turbines achieve a staggering 20-24% efficiency gain. This puts prices for these turbines at less than coal for new generation construction.

Other alternative energy systems have recently made similar gains, with solar and wind plants increasingly available that provide energy at, near, or lower than the cost of new coal. But the crowning blow of this new system to fossil fuel dominance lies not just in its staggering efficiency gains. The system also includes distributed storage.

Each turbine is equipped with a battery system that stores excess energy generated during times when the wind is blowing. This new capacity levelizes transmission to the grid during times of high energy production. It also enables the wind turbine to store the excess energy for later use. As a result, the capacity factor of an individual turbine jumps from around 30% to 54%. It also allows wind producers with the new turbine to directly compete with fossil fuel based energy sources in the highly lucrative frequency regulation business.

Fossil fuel cheerleaders have often derided the intermittency and lack of storage potential in renewable energy sources, claiming this was an impenetrable barrier to broader adoption. Now, these new turbines render that argument mostly moot. Higher net capacity factor for advanced wind and lower costs than traditional fuels results in an increasingly serious market challenge to dirty energy sources. Now, if we can just get a few friends in the US government to provide the funding these systems merit, then we might begin to make some serious gains in both net carbon emissions and a more permanent US energy independence.

As noted above, republicans are doing their best to block such critical advancements. And, it seems, they and their fossil fuel allies are seriously threatened by continuously advancing renewable energy technology. As of June, republicans and their oil company backers pushed to de-fund the US ARPA-E renewable energy research program providing critical funding for advancements such as the one produced by GE. Apparently, republicans are bound and determined to prove their theory of dysfunctional government by creating the level of dysfunction they so often criticize while at the same time support fuels that ruin humanity’s future prospects.

Links:

Next Generation Wind Turbines are Cheap, Reliable and Brilliant

Virtually all Federal Incentive for Wind Energy Comes From a Single Program

Republicans in the House of Representatives have pushed to increase US coal burning, approve the Tar Sands Keyston XL Pipeline, remove energy efficiency standards, and to slash US government (ARPA -E) R&D funding for new renewable energy technology by 80 percent. Fully 55% of all Republicans in the US Congress deny that human caused warming even exists.

The Price of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

World CO2 Emissions Set New Record in 2012 at 31.6 Gigatons; On Current Path, World Locks in Dangerous, 2 Degree + Warming Before 2029

According to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), world CO2 emissions hit an all-time high last year at 31.6 gigatons. This means that only a 532 gigaton cushion now remains between pushing the world above the dangerous 2 degree Celsius Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity threshold. At the current rate of emissions, we will run headlong into this threshold within a little more than 16 years. So before 2029, without major changes in the world’s energy structure, a civilization-endangering global warming of at least 2 degrees Celsius will be locked in.

In order to attempt to buy time to respond to this growing crisis, the International Energy Agency has published a policy paper containing recommendations for a path forward that is less damaging than the current one. The agency paper noted that the current emission path brings us to 3.6 to 5.3 degrees warming by the end of this century under Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (Which measures about half of long-term warming). This pace of emissions is well above that needed to reach the safer goal of 2 degrees Celsius equilibrium warming or less by the end of this century. A level that climate scientists say human civilizations are better able to adapt to.

Pace of Emissions Increase Slowed

Pace of emissions increase did, however, back off from 2011’s rapid growth, slowing to 1.4 percent. IEA noted that US switching from coal to natural gas and a Chinese energy policy that included greater focus on renewables were major contributors to this slower pace of emissions growth. US emissions fell by a total of 200 megatons, reaching a level last seen in the 1990s. Europe also saw significant reductions — cutting emissions by 50 megatons. Unfortunately, despite a stronger renewables policy, the Chinese still emitted 300 megatons more carbon than in the previous year, while Japanese carbon emissions also advanced by a total of 70 megatons. The loss of ground in Japan was primarily due to its switching away from nuclear power as a primary energy source and returning to more traditional fossil fuels — natural gas and coal.

The hiatus in US carbon emissions may also be somewhat temporary. Natural gas prices are rising and, traditionally, this has resulted in a whip-lash effect driving utilities back to coal generation. It is worth noting, however, that wind energy is now competitive with coal power, while long-term coal prices are increasing. Solar energy prices are also falling rapidly. So let us hope that the natural gas whip-lash effect is somewhat muted by more adoption of renewable energy sources.

IEA Policy Recommendations Both Modest and Ambitious

Despite a greater overall adoption of renewables and lower carbon energy sources, CO2 dumping into the atmosphere is still tracking along the worst case scenario for climate change projected by the IPCC. In order to meet this challenge of rising emissions, IEA urges a number of policy changes to be put in place immediately.

These policies include:

  • A partial phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies
  • Limiting construction of the least efficient coal-fired power plants
  • Increasing renewable energy’s percentage of total energy generation from 20% to 27%
  • Targeting energy efficiency measures for new buildings
  • Reduce methane releases from oil and gas industry activities by half

The IEA claims that these policies would reduce projected 2020 emissions by as much as 8%, preventing about 3.1 gigatons of additional carbon from entering the atmosphere. IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author notes:

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost. Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

This IEA report can be viewed as a plea to slow the damage even as it provides a compromise plan that could be put in place. The plan is both modest and ambitious. Modest, because the initial changes are easy to incorporate into the current energy structure. Ambitious because long-term goals involve a phase-out of the use of fossil fuel assets.

This call for comprehensive policy-based fossil fuel stranding and phase-out is the first of its kind from a major world policy body. In total, about 5-6 percent of undeveloped oil and gas reserves are projected not to be used. Also implicit in the the report is a stranding of a large portion of the world’s coal reserves as a larger transition to renewable energy is constructed through 2035. The IEA recommends that oil, gas and coal companies can shift to carbon capture and storage if they wish to protect their assets.

In the end, though, the numbers provided by the IEA will require more clarity in order to add up. More than 2,800 gigatons of fossil fuel are on the books of the world’s fossil fuel companies and none of those assets are yet slated to be captured in order to prevent atmospheric release. Even worse, millions of tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere every year via the process of oil and natural gas extraction. These emissions are not listed as assets, but they still end up in the atmosphere. Cutting them in half, as the IEA recommends, will still leave half of this addition active.

Costs of Damage to Leap Higher If Action is Delayed Until 2020

The IEA’s recommended plan would, at best, keep world carbon emissions about stable through 2020. The result would be that 256 gigatons of carbon will be emitted by 2020 through fossil fuel burning, putting us about half-way on the path to 2 degrees Celsius (equilibrium warming) by that time. Such a plan would leave the world with only about 276 gigatons of carbon wiggle room, requiring a very rapid draw-down of carbon emissions post 2020.

That said, starting implementation now would reduce the costs of a long-term transition away from fossil fuels by $3.5 trillion dollars, according to IEA estimates. So beginning changes now would lay the ground-work for a smoother, more rapid transition post 2020. Also, failure to implement these policies through 2020 puts the world on a path for 2 degree Celsius warming to be locked in sometime around 2025. So it is doubtful the goal of preventing a 2 degree Celsius warming (equilibrium) could be achieved without taking on the modest policy changes recommended by the IEA now.

For these reasons, the IEA plan should be both applauded and looked at with caution. Applauded, because it begins to put in place the necessary framework for long-term emissions reductions world-wide. Applauded, because it barely keeps alive the goal of meeting a less than 2 degree (equilibrium) temperature increase by the end of this century. And looked at with caution because it sails very close to a dangerous climate change wind.

For more comfort, we should ask for a more ambitious set of policies. But given a major dearth of such, the IEA measures are among the most prudent yet advanced. Not really much cause for comfort during this late hour.

Links:

Four Energy Policies to Keep the 2 Degrees Celsius Goal Alive

Delaying Action Until 2020 Costs the World 3.5 Trillion

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: