Calls coming from inside the House

May 26 – already an annual celebration chez Green – got another star on its sidewalk this year when a Dutch court case and corporate board meeting became a dessert topping that’s also a floor polish:

It started in the morning, when news came in from the Netherlands that a Dutch court ruled in a case against Shell, ordering the oil giant to cut emissions 45% by 2030 in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The case had been brought by activists, led by Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth. Organizers ultimately signed up 17,000 co-plaintiffs to the case and mobilized hundreds of thousands more to support the effort.

While the ruling will surely be appealed, and doesn’t go nearly far enough to address Shell’s decades of human rights and climate abuses, it’s a monumental win. It will also help validate what many have dismissed as a long shot legal strategy to hold polluters accountable for their climate crimes. I remember back in Paris in 2015 when we hosted a mock tribunal for ExxonMobil in a warehouse far from the official UN Climate Talks. To see an actual court hold Shell accountable today felt like watching our fantasies play out in real time.

The same could be said for what happened this afternoon at the ExxonMobil shareholder meeting, where an outside effort succeeded in replacing at least two of Exxon’s board of directors with candidates dedicated to decarbonizing the company. I’m honestly skeptical that a few new board members can radically reform a corporation that has long been one of the greatest barriers to climate action, but it’s still a stunning rebuke. The vote was effectively a referendum on Exxon’s business model of “drill, baby, drill,” to which investors said, “thanks, but no thanks.”

A similar thing happened (same day) with a shareholder revolt at Chevron – not overturning any policies just yet but worried about the optics of the dirty work. Some media, cough NPR cough, puzzle over this with a ‘what does it mean?’ contrariness, looking for a way to defend even the energy companies’ rights and status quo. And not to get too Cassandra about this but the dust is settling a bit differently. When the most intractable, no one to blame, just-business energy providers can be re-directed from inside, a lot more becomes possible. Money does have uses. Keep up the pressure.

Engineering Catastrophe

I don’t know – you pick whether it’s a noun or verb. The effects are horrible either way:

Tar-MatMillions of gallons of oil flooded the Gulf of Mexico every day — for 87 days. The biggest accidental oil spill ever. Five years later the effects of the Deepwater Horizon blowout still endure

A new study confirms a massive undersea oil mat near the unlucky oil well — Macondo 252 — that blew on April 20th, 2010. Considering this tar mat is the size of Rhode Island, the Gulf is clearly still feeling the af

fects of the catastrophe five years on. Gulf sea turtles stranding more frequently, dolphins killed, observed oil slicks hundreds of kilometers in length after the well was “capped” — a depressing list of unknown length.

Will it ever be possible to safely drill oil wells 35,000 feet into the seafloor through 4,000 feet of water from a unanchored floating 32,000 ton oil rig? You’ve got to hand it to the oil companies, the engineering is ambitious. But given the demonstrated risks to our greater resources, will it ever make sense?

Rhode Island. A tar mat the size of Rhode Island. Should there be drilling of more wells, as described above? Is further evidence needed? If you were attempt, for whatever reasons, to remain unemotional about this and look only at the evidence and reach a decision – including evidence of how you arrived at work this morning – what would the decision be? Asking for a friend.

Renewable You

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AFP – Getty Images

The whole idea of renewable energy sources – wind, solar, tidal, pedal – has only been in our viewfinder for a short while. This is because fossil fuels have become increasing problematic – not only in terms of long-term ecological catastrophe, but also human error-plagued bottom line-oriented short cutting and, not to be left out, geopolitical events that compromise our ability to secure said fuels. On top of this and not unrelated to the last point, the physical infrastructure, economy and energy policy of the United States were all developed when the country was a net exporter of fossil fuels.

Needless to say, nothing has changed and we continue to do things the same way, perhaps not even yet expecting different results, as one way of hanging to the last vestiges of any semblance of sanity.

And yet an expectation of different results is very much needed. As the above plus the nuclear meltdowns as a result of the devastating earthquakes in Japan attest, the need to pick up the pace in advancing toward a renewable energy present will not wait. The low-info dead-enders rising political stars waste capital and human resources debating settled issues at our collective peril and should be considered armed clueless and dangerous.

To repeat an unpopular refrain: these things are connected.

Cranking Up The Wurlitzer

Does a noise machine run on renewable energy?

Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak today released information from BP regarding its spending on corporate advertising and marketing following the April 20, 2010, explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

At the suggestion of Representative Kathy Castor, on August 16, 2010, the Chairmen sent a letter to BP requesting details on the company’s spending on corporate advertising and marketing relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and relief, recovery, and restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today the Chairmen sent a letter to Representative Castor, summarizing BP’s response and acknowledging her leadership on this issue.  According to BP, the company spent over $93 million on advertising between April 2010 and the end of July 2010—more than three times the amount the company spent on advertising during the same period in 2009.

This really can’t count toward their expenditures for repair and recovery in the Gulf… can… it? Yikes. Within the single bottom line format, that question is self-answering and probably tax-deductible. I guess there is no difference between advertising and dispersants, between messaging and (lowering the)oil booms, between, well you get the picture. Let’s just re-inforce the frame.

via TPM.

Drilling It into Your Head

NPR has apparently found a very sturdy drum and they’ve been beating it night & day. This Morning’s Edition:

President Obama’s approach to domestic oil drilling has shifted over this year. Taken together, those shifts have managed to anger just about everyone in the oil drilling debate at one time or another.

Great. 100% chance of this, right? What an excellent, safe, can’t miss, no interest news story. Dog bites dog. We’ll trot out an oil industry shill and an officer of the Sierra Club and they’ll light up the night with worry. Think I’m kidding?

“It’s risky, it’s dangerous, and there’s a better way to meet America’s energy needs than to engage in a set of activities that are proven to be unsafe,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“Why six months? What does that mean?” asks Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute.

Well, Rayola, part of what it means, if you must know, is that we’ll call off all drilling for six months and try to find out WTF happened to make all the shellfish have a sad when all they were doing was preparing to become food. It (the story) trudges on and on.

But then, this evening, they were striking up the band again. I mean, I only have a ten-minute drive both ways. This time it was workers from the oil industry, including medical personnel living along the Gulf who treat injured workers. It seems that they are all for not having another accident in the Gulf, and even understand some the malformations the industry itself has performed on the wetlands guarding the land and sea from each other. But

The uncertainty has rippled through the oil services industry, and puts some workers in a difficult position as they consider what the moratorium can achieve.

Lavonne Martin of Baton Rouge works for a company that provides offshore medical care.

“As an environmentalist, as a fisherman, as someone who loves our Louisiana coast, I understand it. … However, as somebody who, you know, makes a living working in the oil industry, I’m very concerned about it and what the future … economic impact may be,” Martin says.

The environment and all that… becomes a blur when connected to livelihoods through the paycheck, especially for those so close to the action. There is truth to this and it is painful and complex – the withering of a way of life, and specifically the means for powering it but not just that, is very difficult to separate from the idea that life will continue. Much less how it will. There are no poetic terms for this, not at first. These are only the first hard questions. But the reporting seems to still hold the outcome in the balance, to still pull for business and people who depend on a paycheck (!) to prevail, as if we can sustain a way of life that is being destroyed by our efforts to sustain a way of life. It’s that or nothing so that it must be.

And the preoccupation with uncertainty is… certainly curious. We’ve come to absolutely depend upon some outlandish by its very premise level of confidence in what to expect – or else panic sets in. This type of caution, need for guarantees, this quest for certainty, especially with regard to large scale endeavors, leads eventually in all the wrong directions.

Maybe we should actually embrace uncertainty for a while. Maybe it could mean many of these same people would be as loyal to and hardworking for schemes that weren’t concentrated on a dwindling resource. Who can be sure?

Live from Hopedale

Best op-ed in the Times this week is again by Bob Herbert.

The risks unleashed by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are profound — the latest to be set in motion by the scandalous, rapacious greed of the oil industry and its powerful allies and enablers in government. America is selling its soul for oil.

Uh-huh. The double-bite of the green metaphor just gets more twisted and foul.

Disentangle

So there’s this major, slow-motion environmental catastrophe underway, and we’re three weeks in. My parents are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary – the family all pulled together and chipped in on a Caribbean cruise, for which they leave on Thursday. Now I wonder if they were going to see any evidence of the sheen getting into the loop current when they slip past the Keys. So there’s that.

It’s difficult to think of much else when something like this going on and, by all evidence, worsening by the day. But in terms of dismantling the system that got us here there’s actually plenty to talk about, think about and prepare for. But just thinking about it, how would we begin to lessen our dependence on deep-sea oil drilling? Maybe we think about pricing gasoline to reflect the true cost of taking it out of the ground, much less burning it. Maybe we try to discover how to use less oil on a per capita, per day basis. Well, how do you start down that road do that? Build more highways?

The umbrella group for America’s state DOTs, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has started a major new push for, you guessed it, more highways. The new campaign argues for highway expansion in urban areas as if fifty years of similar policies hadn’t led to a dead end of sprawl, pollution, and oil dependence.

As described in an important post onMobilizing the Region by Ya-Ting Liu of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, AASHTO has released a series of reports and a new website making “the case for capacity.” The website is filled with friendly explanations of “what’s so great about an interstate” and promises that “urban interstates are the new ‘Main Street.'” As unbelievable as those claims must be to anyone living next door to the Bruckner Expressway or parked in traffic on the Cross-Bronx, AASHTO’s stated intention to massively expand the urban highway system is all too real.

Does this make sense? In a certain kind of way it would, if we were looking for further rationales to continue drilling for oil anywhere we could find it – because we need all we can find – and we need to fulfill the other side of this feedback loop. But we’re not. In fact, that’s not actually our problem at all. At the moment, our problem is finding a way to cap an out-of-control oil well a mile below the surface fifty miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, the result of an exploded rig that was built without the proper safety precautions envisioned for just such an incident. So you could say our problems are a little more acute than merely finding the budget to dispassionately build more highways, to grow, as it were. Oh the once-upon-a-time whimsy of such a luxury, right now.

This disaster is testing our resolve and ability to ignore it, and I truly hope our indifference carries the day. But after just a short while now, and it hasn’t really been that long, it seems like we’re beginning to fight something else, something taking the shape of an ocean-borne oil slick you might see during a once-in-a-lifetime vacation on a twelve-story cruise ship. At first it may appear to be out of place; but in the end, it has as much right to be there as you do.

Ask Anybody

Or everybody. Last week, BP started asking for suggestions on ways to clean up the oil in the Gulf. Innocentive, indeed.

Challenge Overview
Recently, an explosion on an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico caused both loss of life and a sizable and ongoing oil spill. We are asking Solvers worldwide to respond quickly with ideas and approaches to react to this very serious environmental threat.

This is an Emergency Situation Challenge and will be quite different than any other Challenge we have run on the InnoCentive website. No one has requested us to do this and InnoCentive is not getting paid to run this Challenge. We are doing it because we believe our Solver base can and will help and we will do everything we can to get solutions into the hands of the appropriate responders. This is an experiment and we believe our Solvers will answer this call for help. We believe trying to mitigate this international disaster is the right thing to do.

  • Your submission will identify and describe a solution that can help prevent further damage caused by the explosion and ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. You are required to give InnoCentive and any emergency respondents a free, perpetual, and non-exclusive license to use any information submitted for this Challenge specifically to be used for this oil spill crisis. You will still retain ownership of any idea submitted.

Look for many new exciting Emergency Situation Challenge(tm) branded products on store shelves soon. Toothpaste. barbecue sauce, charcoal…

Adultery and Green Tractors

A red future or a green mist, the language of color is local.

The Duluth, Georgia-based company has an as-yet small presence in China, but Richenhagen believes the world’s No. 3 maker of tractors, combines and other farm equipment has one big advantage versus world No. 1 Deere & Co (DE.N) when it comes to cracking open that market. Around the world, Deere’s wide range of farm machines stand out for their bright green hoods.

“We have a competitive advantage compared to some of our colleagues,” Richenhagen said at the Reuters Manufacturing and Transportation Summit in Chicago. “Green is a very bad color in China.”

Specifically, green is associated with adultery — wearing a green hat is a way a man could signal that his wife had cheated on him.

“Red is the color of luck. And therefore we will go there with Massey-Ferguson,” which uses red hoods on its tractors, said Richenhagen, who comes from Germany.

Good to know. Just goes to show how much you can over-estimate and choose poorly, well or with luck. But not usually so awesome. Ly.

And speaking of business-as-usually, we turn to Russia Today (doesn’t everybody?) to see what’s going on in the Golfo de México.

Where’s It Going to Come From?

Moratoriums, schmoritoriums… the oil has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?

The T-Ridge project is somewhat complicated – a few environmentalists in the Santa Barbara area actually support it – but when asked if an oil spill the likes of what is happening in the Gulf could take place in California, Schwarzenegger said “That will not happen”. Asked why he is withdrawing his support of the project, he said simply, “why would we want to take that risk?”

Why, indeed. The storm continues to build, but do we do, or plan to do, anything differently? Is this massive oil dump just one of those things that happens in the background and meanwhile, we just keep on doing the same things in the same ways? It’s a full-blown catastrophe in just its sixth day and already the States’ Rights Brigade is calling for the Federal government to do something(!). While not exactly hopeful for their redemption, I’m always open to it. But they’ll have to take a moment and reload something other than their fancy store-bought weaponry.

Our energy conundrum is made up of exactly the sort of complexity that the right wing conveniently dismisses. Maybe this is one thing that happens when you ignore implications and complex systems. But still, will they get it? How does it get played on Fox?

This will be more difficult than you might think, especially considering the awful power of an oily coastline to focus the mind. There is a mountain of cognitive dissonance intellectual and ethical incoherence that’s actually a volcano. And it’s rumbling.

Krugman’s column today is a reminder of what it took to bring about the first wave of environmentalism. And this, sadly, might be reminiscent. It’s pathetic that it takes this kind of disaster to allow people to visualize the effects of our crazy, laissez-faire rhetoric. It abets nothing so much as poisoned wells, tainted toys, contaminated foods, financial crises and this is no different.

And if you haven’t read Juan Cole on BP… well, you might want to pour yourself a scotch first.