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  1. From the vantage point of a few days out, the Paris climate summit looks set for success - at least by the metrics we've learned to use for these types of meetings. The main target for COP21, which is set to open on November 30, is to garner solid commitments aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and setting a strict bar to keep global warming from passing the 2°C mark. At first glance, this sounds a lot like the goals of previous climate meetings that ended up going nowhere. The 2009 Copenhagen meeting of 115 world leaders, for instance, was at first seen as a big opportunity to reverse climate change. Even before it ended though, the summit was widely panned as a failure. Most of its major goals for reducing CO2 emissions had to be dropped before a final communiqué could even be signed. But Paris could be different. For the first time, leaders from the advanced capitalist countries and those of the emerging economies seem to be on the same page when it comes to the urgency of slowing climate change. Governments are declaring - in advance - their commitment to legally-binding targets and timelines for emissions reduction. That's a real advance compared to previous climate talks where there were only vague recognitions of climate change and pledges to do more. If governments stick to their commitments and follow through with real reductions, then Paris will be worth marking down as progress. Reasons for optimism So why are things shaping up so differently for COP21? A number of major political and economic developments portend a significant shift from what happened at Copenhagen. After several years of wavering, President Obama forcefully rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in early November. By shutting down the plan to build a 1,700 mile pipeline to pump Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta down to Texas Gulf coast refineries, Obama helped set the stage for the discussions that will take place at COP21. On the day of his decision, Obama declared, "If we're going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground." He continued, "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action on climate change...approving that project would have undercut that global leadership, and that is the biggest risk we face: not acting." Secretary of State John Kerry's comments at the time made it even clearer that the Administration had the upcoming Paris summit on its mind when making the decision. "The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves," he said. "Denying the Keystone XL pipeline is one of those tough choices." The symbolic importance of Keystone should not be underestimated. Stopping the pipeline was the biggest victory that the environmental movement has achieved in the U.S. in many years. It was proof that organized action could have an impact on policy debates. But even more than that, it has sent the most powerful signal possible to other governments that America takes climate change seriously and is prepared to act. By pulling the plug on a pipeline that would have carried some of the world's dirtiest oil to market, Obama demonstrated that the U.S. is willing to be a serious partner in international efforts to tackle global warming. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both praised the President's decision. Political developments in Canada have also contributed to a changed atmosphere for the Paris talks. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was sworn in just days before Obama announced his decision. Though ostensibly a supporter of the Keystone pipeline, Trudeau was publicly against his predecessor Stephen Harper's aggressive lobbying on behalf of the TransCanada Corporation that planned to build it. Trudeau put up no real resistance to Obama's decision. After Harper's loss, the changing of the guard in Canada has been swift. Trudeau moved the environment portfolio out of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which under Harper had prioritized tar sands exploration. Instead, he created a new Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The new foreign minister, Stephane Dion, previously led the Liberal Party on a "Green Shift" platform in 2008 and recently declared that climate change is the "worst threat we are facing this century." The scuttling of Keystone has also gone a long way, especially among developing countries, to begin reversing the image of the U.S. as one who preaches but does not practice. It was preceded by the historic U.S.-China clean energy agreement last year, in which both countries agreed to move toward more renewables. The fact that the world's two biggest polluters have already hammered out an understanding before they arrive in Paris bodes well for a positive outcome. China has long argued that the U.S. had its industrialization heyday and yet continues to produce more emissions per capita than any other nation. The new trend of cooperation between Obama and President Xi signals that the U.S. may be recognizing Chinese criticisms. Taking on the role of leader among developing economies, China has set a target of 20percent clean energy by 2030 and announced a few weeks back that it was implementing a national cap and trade carbon market beginning in 2017. In Britain, meanwhile, the Conservative government of David Cameron has declared its intention to shut down its last coal-fired power plants by 2025. The country which pioneered the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution of early capitalism is now on board with the changing international climate discussion. The divisions in big oil Where is the credit due for the major turnarounds on the climate issue by these leading governments? Recognition first of all goes out to the environmental and labor movements who have come together to push for stronger climate policies, as well as to the activists and governments of poor and developing countries who are already feeling the effects of climate change. It is also necessary, however, to look at how divisions among the major energy companies are producing cracks in the coalition opposed to climate action. At a gathering of the world's top oil executives - the OPEC International Energy Seminar - in Vienna earlier this summer, major divisions over how to respond to COP21 and the growing commitment to environmental action were revealed. While world oil prices are down over the last several months, no one believes that oil and coal will not continue to be major parts of the world's energy mix. This means that although the market outlook for producers of the dirtiest oil, like TransCanada, may be dimming, all the companies agreed that they will of course continue to invest heavily in their respective sectors. Where the façade of unity begins to break down, however, is on the issue of long-term prospects. The major European oil companies - Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total, Eni, BG Group, and Statoil - released a joint statement at the meeting calling for the development of a global carbon pricing system. The CEO of Shell, Ben van Beurden, told the meeting that the global energy system is experiencing "a transition from the traditional model based on oil and coal to a progressively cleaner, less carbon-intensive model." With an eye toward long-term profitability and market opportunity, these companies are already beginning to think about a post-fossil fuel future. The head of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, took a completely opposite stance. In a strongly-worded warning to his fellow executives, Tillerson said that carbon pricing would destroy economic growth. He declared, "It is very important for governments that make those choices to live with the economic consequences." The imperatives of the short-term thinking inherent to the obsession with quarterly reports and shareholder returns seem to be motivating Exxon Mobil's perspective. The model of a carbon pricing market being debated by these oil executives is a complicated one that has all kinds of shortcomings of its own, not least of which is its in-built inequalities for developing and developed economies. This is not the most important thing to take note of at the OPEC Executives conference though. The most important thing to pay attention to is the fact that big oil is divided and this leaves an opening for progressives to pressure their governments. It has been said that powerful enemies can be vanquished, but only by the most "thorough, careful, attentive, skillful, and obligatory use" of any, even the smallest, of rifts among that enemy. These divisions among big oil are ones that need further attention and study. Stumbling blocks remain While there is reason to be optimistic about the Paris summit, it will not be smooth sailing. The recent terrorist attacks in the French capital have greatly altered the terrain in which the talks will take place. The recent downing of a Russian military plane by Turkish forces further threatens to overshadow the environmental focus that governments had earlier put so much of their efforts into. The heavy focus on security also means that the atmosphere surrounding the conference will probably be very different than anticipated. The dynamics of debate outside of the meeting hall look to be radically changed as French President Francois Hollande has banned demonstrations and public protests by environmental groups. How this will affect the wide range of civil society parallel conferences and events that were planned to take place alongside COP21 is uncertain. It could mean that only the voices of governments and the most well-funded green groups will be heard. That is why it's all the more important to have progressive news coverage and analysis from on the ground in Paris. Back here in the U.S., meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are doing all they can to sabotage the Paris talks before they even begin. On November 24, they passed two resolutions aimed at blocking EPA regulations that would impose stricter emissions targets on power plants. The President will certainly veto the resolutions, but the main political goal is to undermine Obama at the Paris talks. The Republican plan is to make it look like Obama will be unable to carry through his pledges. West Virginia GOP Senator Shelly Moore Capito admitted as much when she said foreign diplomats "will take away a message from this vote...the general support for the direction he's going is weak at best." Many of the major oil companies, like Exxon Mobil and TransCanada, will also certainly be on the job the morning after the summit concludes to try to water down and derail any commitments that threaten their profits and investment plans. Lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa, and many other capitals will be hard at work to put a check on the drive to halt climate change. COP21 has the potential to be big. Just like the lobbyists of big oil will be doing though, progressive activists and the climate justice movement will have to roll up their sleeves and get down to work if they want to make the pledges of Paris a reality.
  2. The Keystone XL pipeline is down, but not out

    After receiving a total of 59 votes in the Senate - 45 Republican, 14 Democratic - a bill that would approve Keystone XL came one vote shy of its needed support on Nov. 19, putting a stopper on the troubling project for now. The victory settled the nerves of environmentalists and spared President Obama the task of vetoing the legislation, as he was likely to have done. Though the GOP has vowed to renew the fight to push the project through, those who value the safety of nature and people, including indigenous groups throughout the U.S., can now celebrate a moment of triumph. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., staked her hopes of winning a fourth Senate term on the Keystone measure, engaging in frantic last-minute lobbying, especially trying to acquire the needed votes from her fellow Democrats - the majority of whom, alongside Obama, wholly oppose the bill. "I'm going to fight for the people of my state until the day that I leave," Landrieu claimed. Her efforts were seen by many as unwise, especially as her state - a long-embattled victim of Big Oil in its own right - had nothing to gain from the project's approval, as the pipeline would not go through Louisiana, and would thus create no jobs there. This is a particularly important point, as it rendered her statement rather hollow. For the Republican Party's part, they will gain an additional eight or more Senate seats in 2015, and are expected to seize that opportunity next year to try and ram the legislation through once more. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will become Senate Majority Leader in January, said, "I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone 'jobs bill' early in the New Year." The GOP's language surrounding the bill, which emphasizes job creation and support for working families, is alarmingly misleading, as several labor unions pointed out yesterday. This is because it will not generate the job numbers that Republicans suggest, and moreover, will pose a risk to the environment that most Democrats, and the President, agree is not worth taking. Nevertheless, the GOP will likely try again in January or February, and might even try and integrate the measure into a broader bill that Obama would find harder to veto. Landrieu asked, "What is everybody upset about?" from the Senate floor on Nov. 18, adding, "We already have 2.6 million miles of pipe in America." But environmental activists and those affected by the oil industry have been answering that question since the project's inception back in 2008. "If she wants this pipeline so badly, it can go through her front yard and not any one of ours," said Karthik Ganapathy, communications manager for environmental advocacy group 350 Action. "For somebody that had the Gulf oil spill and the devastation it brought to her state, she should understand how important it is that we don't have these types of environmental disasters," added Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer and member of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, a group uniting workers and Native Americans against the pipeline. Environmental groups are excited about this temporary victory, but it is tempered by an ongoing sense of uncertainty. Still, many believe the President will make the right decision, despite Republican efforts to fight him tooth and nail on this issue. "Since day one, the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline has belonged to President Obama," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "And he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he'll do."
  3. The Keystone XL pipeline is an extremely controversial project. If constructed, the pipeline will transport dirty oil from the tar sands in Western Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands is considered to be the world’s most polluting fuel and its production process is highly energy-intensive and causes widespread environmental damage. Besides wrecking the climate, environmentalists also claim that the pipeline would be a danger to local ecosystems and pollute water sources along the way it’s built. NASA climate scientist, James Hansen has said that the pipeline will be “game over for the planet.” Proponents of the bill has said that the pipeline will generate thousands of jobs and secure U.S. energy independence. But critics say these claims are overstated and that the pipeline would bring no energy independence, no cheap gas and no lasting jobs. Environmental organisations are now calling for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL project once and for all. “The bill would have turned Congress into a permitting authority, overriding environmental law, and giving a green light to a pipeline project that would worsen climate change and threaten water quality,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “The Senate did the right thing to reject the misguided bill, and now the president should do the right thing and reject the pipeline.” “Since Keystone XL has always been President Obama’s decision, this vote was never anything more than an empty gesture of political theatre,” 350.org Executive Director May Boeve said. “Rather than letting Congress continue to pantomime for Big Oil, President Obama should step up and reject this dirty tar sands pipeline once and for all.“ This vote does not mean the end for the Keystone XL project. Republicans, who will control both chambers of the new Congress from January, has promised to re-examine the project and put it up for a vote once more.
  4. British Columbia's controversial annual spring grizzly bear hunt began on Apr. 1, with an estimated 1,800 hunting authorizations being issued - one of the highest numbers in recent years. Grizzlies, which are considered "threatened" by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, do not have the population numbers that black bears do, and activists including conservation groups, animal rights supporters, and First Nation tribe members have serious qualms about the hunting of these bears for pure sport. This year's grizzly hunt lasts until the end of May, and is followed by an autumn hunt that takes place Oct. 1 through mid-November. On average, about 300 of these bears are killed by hunters per year, but that number might increase from an uptick in hunting authorizations. The Canadian province where the activity will take place is home to about a quarter of the remaining North American grizzly population. Robert Johnson and Jason Moody, two brothers from the Heiltsuk First Nation, recalled commonly seeing a grizzly bear while working as field technicians in a coastal estuary, flanked by what was known as the Great Bear Rainforest. The young male bear, whom they nicknamed "Cheeky," would follow them around from a distance, often poking his head out at them and sticking out his tongue. The brothers were also there on the day that Cheeky was shot to death by a big-game trophy hunter. The bear's killer, Clayton Stoner, skinned Cheeky and took his hide. He chopped off Cheeky's head and paws. Though the brothers arrived too late to stop the hunt, they did find Cheeky's mangled remains, which had been left there to rot. "I was devastated," said Moody. "I had hoped to save his life." He and his brother, he said, had developed quite a bond with the bear, who had a playful curiosity and friendliness. Johnson remarked that during their time there, "We started talking with Cheeky, telling him what we were doing there. We got to know him quite well, to the point we could go in our boat and get off and walk around in the area without having to worry about him." Stoner kept the bear as a trophy, even balancing the animal's severed head on his knee and posing for a photo. Brothers Johnson and Moody, meanwhile, returned to their research camp near the estuary and wept for the loss of their friend. This is merely a single example of what is increasingly being viewed across Canada as a moral atrocity, and British Columbia is now seriously debating the continuation of grizzly trophy hunts. Thirteen years ago in April, a moratorium on the hunt was enacted, but quickly overturned within months. On Feb. 15, protesters gathered at the B.C. legislature buildings in the provincial capital of Victoria, demanding a permanent province wide ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting. And they posed their argument not merely in moral terms, but in economic terms as well, noting that over 11,000 tourists came to Canada to visit the bears in 2012, and contributed $9.54 million to the GDP. Trophy hunting, on the other hand, only generated $0.7 million that year. Chelsea Turner, daughter of British Columbian wildlife filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner, spoke at the demonstration, remarking, "I realized that when we go out on location to film this spring, it will be the same time the spring trophy hunt begins. It's just appalling to me. It breaks my heart to think that one day we're working with these bears and shooting them with our cameras, and the next day trophy hunters can show up and shoot them with their high-powered rifles. This is completely the wrong direction that we're moving in." Biologist Paul Paquet of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation said grizzlies could be too few in numbers to risk a trophy hunt at this time. "The real numbers could be somewhere as low as 6,000 or as high as 18,000," he said. "We just don't know." But the real question he said, is, "is this ethical, to be hunting bears? That's really what's at issue. This is a trophy hunt, as opposed to a hunt for food." And according to First Nation members, these big game hunters are not doing anything particularly brave, difficult, or admirable. The bears in the area are accustomed to seeing people, due to tourism, and thus do not fear guns - until it's too late. Doug Neasloss of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais Nation suggested it isn't so much a hunt as it is senseless slaughter. When asked whether a grizzly is hard to catch, Neasloss replied, "No. My grandmother could shoot a grizzly." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  5. Energy companies in Calgary, Alberta, are attempting to make their first network of natural-gas export terminals as lucrative a business as their counterparts in Texas. The first step, however, is finding almost 50,000 workers willing to make the move to Alberta. Over the next decade, the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada estimate that as many as 47,900 oil and gas jobs will need filling over the next decade, and if British Columbia’s efforts are included, more than 100,000 jobs could be created. In order to tempt workers to make the trip, housing complexes with significant amenities are in the process of being constructed. Workers will find their homes boast indoor golf driving ranges, two-story gymnasiums and even private movie theaters. Calgary-based company, Atco, has even added squash courts, a running tack, and recreation rooms with Ping-Pong and foosball tables.The atmosphere and entertainment options are a not-so-hidden attempt to mitigate the isolation workers from across the globe may feel if they do decide to join one of the many future projects. It’s difficult to tell if any perk will overshadow the isolated West Coast, but perhaps the wage inflation might. Remoteness may become more bearable when considering that labor shortages in Canada have already resulted in many oil and gas workers’ wages skyrocketing as much as 60 percent higher than the same job pays in the United States, according to both U.S. and Canadian labor data. Workers in Texas, often envied for their high wages, make approximately $29.50 an hour. Those same positions in Canada can earn up to C$44.80 ($42.01) an hour, according to the numbers from Nabors Industries. The main instigator for Canada’s sudden wave of gas export construction is the country’s desire to meet rising demand in Asia. Last year, Japan alone imported $58 billion of liquefied natural gas last year. Chevron, which is among the Alberta Natural Gas companies looking to profit from this venture, is aiming to build a pipeline across Canada’s western mountains as well as a plant on the country’s freezing Pacific Coast to allow shipping to Asia. That project alone will require as many as 5,500 workers. Other companies looking to benefit from Asia’s need are Royal Dutch Shell, and Petroliam Nasional. The project leaders, which include Chevron, intend to secure financial partners and long-term contacts with suppliers before proceeding with the proposed ten export LNG terminals already looking to receive building permits. If even five of the projects are built by 2021, then at a minimum, 21,600 workers will be needed, and an estimated C$47.8 billion will be spent. The housing alone will cost Canadian energy companies an average of $200 a day per person, since competition to acquire workers has resulted in work camps that function more similarly to a hotel than the previous dorm style living standard. Now, labor costs can make up to as much of half the construction budget of a typical LNG plant, and Canadians can expect the living price to continue to rise. In Australia, similar competition resulted in resort-style living. In addition, due to the demand for skilled workers, such as those who could weld cryogenic equipment, some workers earn as much as $500,000 a year. B.C. Premier Christy Clark is hoping for British Columbia to make a similar, if not bigger contribution to the natural gas energy market as Alberta. Clark says that as much as 150 years worth of natural gas reserves can be found in B.C. fields, as much as Alberta has in their oilsands. Clark believes that B.C. and Alberta will be doing the “biggest favor for the environment” by helping China and the rest of Asia reduce dependence on coal. As she says: “[Canada] would be doing a huge favor to the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions because we all share that air.”