Pope Francis Calls Attention to Climate Change as Moral Issue of Our Time

Pope Francis

In the encyclical Pope Francis released on June 18, he called on the world to create “a new and universal solidarity” in response to climate change and stressed the need for the world to immediately act.

“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” Francis stated. “There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

Francis highlighted problems that will happen—and already are happening—because of climate change. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he declared.

The encyclical, found here, is a letter usually written to members of the Catholic Church by the pope. Famous encyclicals in history include Rerum novarum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 supporting both unions and private property, and Humanae vitae, written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 to denounce birth control and affirm the sanctity of life.

Daniel Blackman is a managing partner at Social Karma and worked with the interfaith community for the past decade on the issue of climate change. The Vatican invited him, along with other leaders, to Rome later this month for a series of events for the world to act on global warming. He told Firedoglake he agreed with the intentions of the encyclical as climate change is “the moral issue of our time.”

“The reality is climate change is real and it’s getting worse.” Blackman said. “There are vast arrays of environmental, social, economic and political challenges facing humanity. One fact that must be addressed is the disproportionate effects of global warming on the poor. Climate change’s worst impact, as Pope Francis says, ‘will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.'”

 

Blackman noted how he hoped people, not just Catholics, would take a “shared moral responsibility to address climate change.”

“I believe the protection of our planet, our home, is essential and not an option. Living harmoniously on the planet is our sacred right; protecting it is our moral obligation,” Blackman said.

The release of the encyclical, noted Blackman, would help in ensuring a strong deal at the U.N. conference in Paris later this year featuring nearly 200 nations coming together and creating an agreement.

“Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment will have a major impact in encouraging U.N. negotiations on global warming. In my lifetime, Pope Francis’ personal commitment to this issue is like no other pope before him and other faith leaders around the world should follow his lead. The biggest effect on the Paris negotiations will be the addition of a ‘moral element,’ a moral responsibility to climate change for many believers, and activists to hold on to,” Blackman said.

Blackman emphasized the importance of mobilizing to prevent global warming’s worst effects.

“As my colleague, the Reverend Gerald Durley, puts it, if we can’t breathe, if we have no planet, there are no human rights or environmental issues to resolve.  The organizing must begin with leaders with massive audiences and effective means of communication—the pope, President Barack Obama, interfaith leaders, heads of state and especially non-governmental organizations with active memberships,” Blackman said.

Reverend Durley recommended Blackman to be a part of a cohort to Rome. (more…)

Senate Report Calls for President Obama to Lift Crude Oil Export Ban

Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., released a report on June 9 advocating for the end of the crude oil export ban. She is the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The report—titled “Rendering Vital Assistance: Allowing Oil Shipments to U.S. Allies“—called for President Barack Obama to end the ban as well as provide oil for allies, such as South Korea, Poland and Japan. As a result, these countries would not depend oil coming from Russia or Iran:

Many U.S. allies and trading partners are interested in purchasing American oil to diversify away from Russia, Iran and other problematic sources. Allowing such shipments would send a powerful signal of support and reliability at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions in much of the world. The mere option to purchase U.S. oil would enhance the energy security of countries such as Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, India, Japan, and South Korea, even if physical shipments did not occur.

The crude oil export ban was first implemented on Dec. 22, 1975, through the Energy Policy and Conservation Act in response to the 1973 OPEC oil shock. Then-President Gerald Ford signed the legislation into law and said “the long debate over national energy policy” was over.

Currently, the U.S. provides an exemption to Canada over crude oil exports and operates an exchange program with Mexico. It additionally exports crude oil to Israel, as part of an agreement, in case the latter suffers from a shortage.

As noted in the report, “the Obama administration renewed the agreement following a bipartisan letter led by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Warner, D-Va., sent in April 2015, encouraging the Department of State to expedite its renewal.”

Murkowski, after taking over as leader of the Senate energy committee, immediately vowed to lift the crude oil export ban. She introduced, on May 12, S.1312 in the Senate energy committee, which intends to end the ban.

At the CERAWeek conference this year, which brings together oil and gas industry leaders and government officials in Houston, Murkowski told an audience it was “time to lift America’s ban on domestic oil exports.” She referred to the P5+1-Iran negotiations as a reason why the ban would need to be repealed.

“We should not lift sanctions on Iranian oil while keeping sanctions on American oil. It makes no sense,” Murkowski said.

Moreover, Murkowski co-authored a piece with Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for Foreign Policy where they argued allies of the U.S. need crude oil for security:

The benefits to global security of allowing oil shipments to our trading partners are obvious and indisputable. Our friends in Asia, eager to comply with Western sanctions against Iran, would have a new alternative source for their energy needs.

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who also sits on the energy committee, was cautious about an end to the ban. Cantwell wanted to know what impact such a change would have for U.S. consumers:

The information we have thus far is inconclusive to how lifting the ban on oil exports may impact consumers – especially those in the Pacific Northwest, who experience some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation,

Jesse Coleman, a researcher for Greenpeace, told Firedoglake the recent oversupply was a reason why such calls to lift the crude oil export ban are happening.

“These oil companies are being caught, as the industry have been caught many times in the past, with a massive oversupply. So they want to overturn the oil export ban,” Coleman said.

Coleman additionally criticized the rhetoric used against Russia despite firms working with the country.

“They say it will stop Vladimir Putin and these companies are working with Russian companies,” Coleman said.

In early 2014, the President Obama signed a series of executive orders barring companies from working with Russia including oil. Although, ExxonMobil, in the same year, was able to work with the Russian government to drill in the Arctic. Still, most companies are unable to work with the Russian government due to sanctions.

The call to end the crude oil export ban is not new. The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing more than 600 U.S. oil and gas companies, advocates an end to the ban.

John Felmy, API’s chief economist, cited restrictions to fossil fuel growth as stopping the U.S. from growing as an “energy leader:

Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how much we can grow as an energy superpower if U.S. oil and natural gas producers aren’t able to access the global market. We have every reason to protect and accelerate America’s growth by lifting outdated export restrictions,

Even Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said, in December 2013, there were issues “that deserve some new analysis and examination in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s.”

Recently, a report by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Global Research found a “surprising amount of support” from Congress to remove the export ban. In fact, the authors of the report believe there is a 50 percent chance the ban will be repealed in the next two years.

Jared Margolis, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Firedoglake, if such a law was passed, calls for more trains and pipelines to carry the crude oil would increase.

“There’s going to be a push for more crude oil trains, certainly. There’s going to be a push for more pipelines,” Margolis said.

A major concern, in regards to trains, is use of “bomb trains,” which can explode because of numerous factors including the volatility of the crude oil.

While crude oil is transported mostly through pipelines, trains are becoming a more cheaper, popular option. The New York Times highlighted last year how such “a business was nearly nonexistent” six years ago.

In recent years, there have been more accidents involving such trains and Margolis said it will grow if the crude oil export ban is lifted.

“[You’ll have] increased rail traffic and, as a result of that, you’ll have more rail accidents,” Margolis said.

Murkowski, in all of her speeches, reports and writings on crude oil, does not address the impacts of oil-by-trains. Although, in the Foreign Policy article, she noted, along with McCain and Corker, “any environmental impact [because of crude oil production] would also be negligible, as American oil is produced under some of the strictest safeguards on the planet.”

Coleman said to Firedoglake the amount of land sacrificed for crude oil was “mind-blowing.”

“You don’t have to look after 2010 with the BP oil spill to be aware of crude oil spills. That’s just one instance,” Coleman said.

BP released a report last week showing how the U.S. replacing Russia as the world leader in oil and gas exploration. Most of this is light, sweet crude oil.

Margolis authored a report in early February on the environmental consequences of oil trains and the lack of serious government effort to regulate “bomb trains.”

“Economics drives regulations a lot of time. The concern is that these agencies tend to be captured a lot of times,” Margolis said.

The report by Margolis also cites risks associated with light crude oil produced in Bakken region of North Dakota, where it is “generally more explosive, more toxic and can penetrate soils more quickly and deeply than traditional crude.”

As Margolis stressed, all fossil fuels like crude oil are best left alone because of climate change.

“From top of the bottom, these are what we call extreme fossil fuels. If we want to prevent climate change, we need to keep this stuff in the ground,” Margolis said.

Image from United States Congress and as such is in the public domain.

John McCain Cites Islamic State As Bigger Threat Than Climate Change

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told host Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation, the Sunday political talk show on CBS, that President Barack Obama needs to focus on the Islamic State rather than climate change.

McCain responded to a question by Schieffer on what the Obama administration could do after the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria to ISIS. He advocated for a “robust strategy” as the current one was not working:

We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is, I would like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn`t apparent now, and right now we are seeing these horrible — reports are now in Palmyra they`re executing people and leaving their bodies in the streets.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States is saying that the biggest enemy we have is climate change.

McCain’s reference to climate change stems from what President Obama told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on May 20 when it came to the America’s security:

Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.

Criticism of the Obama administration on facing ISIS by McCain is not new as, on May 21, he called the loss of Ramadi “a significant defeat” when speaking on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain is the chairman of the committee.

The White House admitted the fall of Ramadi was a “setback.” Yet White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the loss of the city is a part of the “back-and-forth” military campaign.
(more…)

Obama Defends Decision Allowing Shell to Drill for Oil in the Arctic

Arctic Destroyer Arrives in Port Angeles

President Barack Obama defended his recent decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean by saying he was reassured there were “strong safeguards” in place.

Josh Earnest, press secretary of the White House, elaborated more on the Obama administration’s decision as part of the “all-of-the-above approach” at a press briefing on May 12th.

Earnest additionally noted President Obama previously protected the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and even increased investments into renewable energy, all a part of the “all-of-the-above approach.” Thus, he said, allowing Shell to drill was just a part of this strategy:

[W]hat’s also true is the President is committed to ensuring that we are doing as much as we can to protect our energy security, and that means looking for opportunities to safely develop sources of energy on American soil. And I think this—again, this decision reflects the effort to pursue that all-of-the-above approach

Interestingly, however, Shell experienced technical problems last month with its oil rig, which questions why Obama felt confident in Shell’s ability to drill without any doubts.

Moreover, Obama believed, in spite of the problems with fossil fuels, oil and natural gas would need to be used and preferred obtaining it domestically than going overseas.

The decision to allow Shell is very controversial, especially among environmentalists.

In Seattle, for example, the “Shell No!” movement is growing against drilling in the Arctic. Indeed, the Port of Seattle, in a 3-1 decision, voted to ask Shell to delay drilling to begin after public pressure. (more…)

White House Approves Arctic Drilling

Despite constant complaints of inaction on climate change by Congress, the Obama Administration has now approved drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The approval opens the way not just for more carbon emissions but possible dangers of oil spills and other despoilment of a new section of the planet.

The concession was given to Royal Dutch Shell and the approval came from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) with a five page stipulation regarding protecting wildlife, the ocean, and human inhabitants of the area.

Green groups have been working on various fronts to block Shell’s drilling plan, saying the unique, treacherous conditions of the Arctic make drilling too risky. They also argue that Shell has a poor track record in the area “Once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth,” Susan Murray, deputy vice president for the Pacific at the group Oceana, said in a statement.

“Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal,” she added. “We can’t trust Shell with America’s Arctic,” added Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

The remoteness of the location also means if Shell runs into any problems – say an oil spill or emergency malfunction – it will take considerable time for adequate resources to arrive in the area. It is not an accident that it has taken this long to open up drilling in the Arctic, the terrain is exceedingly difficult and hard to navigate.

Shell could just be the first company to start drilling – ConocoPhillips, Statoil, and Chevron also have leases that have so far gone unused. But now that the Arctic is open for drilling it seems unlikely they will stay away for long.

What could go wrong?