Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Crude! Is it true?

Shell Oil apologizes for messing up the environment:

Watch and listen

In a parallel but more equitable universe this could be true. Alas, not in this one but the idea behind the hoax is good. Perked me up for a moment or two!
Thanks to the creators!

The World Bank and the Four Horsemen of Climate Change: Apocalypse Now?

Read my article below, ...then tell U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to ensure the U.S. votes against any World Bank loans for dirty coal.

World Bank and the Four Horsemen of Climate Change: Apocalypse Now?

Senator John Kerry described President Obama, Premier Wen, Prime Minister Singh, and President Zuma as “the four horsemen of climate change.” It is, Kerry said, “a powerful signal to see [them] agree on a meeting of the minds.”
As the World Bank prepares to vote April 8 on a $3.75 billion dollar loan to South Africa's parastatal Electricity Supply Commission (Eskom) Kerry's language evokes a powerful vision: the apocalypse of business-as-usual disguised as “clean coal.”

Rocks of ages

The World Bank is positioned better than most to know the true, externalized costs of coal fired energy. Indeed, in 2007 the Bank acquiesced to China's request to excise mortality information from its report, “Cost of Pollution in China”: about 350,000 to 400,000 people die prematurely each year from high air-pollution levels; 300,000 die from exposure to poor air indoors; another 60,000 deaths are attributed to poor water quality.
As a geologist and engineer by profession climate change horseman Premier Wen knows that coal fires have burned for centuries along China's 5000 kilometers mining belt. They contribute up to three percent of annual global carbon emissions, about 360 million metric tons, as much as all the cars and trucks in the US.
China's government intends to extinguish fires to meet its own target of 20 percent reduction of carbon emission over three years. But it takes from months to years to put out one fire. Then, small private mining companies working under cover of dark often fail to replace the soil after extracting coal; spontaneous combustion occurs at 80 degrees Celsius. Yet China seems intent to cut greenhouse gas emissions by putting out fires rather than introduce energy saving measures.

Climate change horseman President Zuma's South African government inherited the decades old coalfield fires at Witbank (renamed Emalahleni).
Two years ago, unemployed mother Thandi Mthlango and her young son scavenged for coal to heat their home on land pocked with subsidence from underground fires and acid mine drainage. He was in a trench when it collapsed and crushed him to death.
There is no one to blame; even assigning responsibility is tough as former owners of Emalahleni's seven abandoned mines are long gone; apparently they cannot be traced.
A German consultancy estimated that it would cost at least R1 billion to rehabilitate the area, way beyond the funding capacity of the city council as it mulls relocating squatters crowded on the toxic land. But where? Town planner Eric Parker says the region is “sterilized”. In the video report UnderMined, he laughs ruefully and says he sees one bright spot: local cattle are acclimated. “But, if you bring a new cow from somewhere else, it dies. We have a super breed of resistant cows!”

Climate change horseman Prime Minister Singh's Ministry of Coal controls Coal India Limited (CIL), the world's largest coal mine. But, in November or December 2010 financial investors anywhere could own a piece when CIL presents an initial public offering (IPO). It intends to invest the proceeds of US $1 billion to $1.5 billion in joint ventures in Australia, Indonesia, US, and South Africa. Chairman Bhattacharya told Economic Times, “Our focus is to invest our funds in acquiring assets that deliver energy to our a viable manner.” This includes relocating 400,000 people from mining town Jharia who suffer breathing disorders, skin disease, and compromised health from the fumes emitted by fires.
Singh's government has been criticized for its attitude. But, India's coal is worth US$12 billion and relocating the poor is cheaper than implementing environmental controls.

The unaffordable luxury of clean earth

South Africa's finance minister Pravin Gordhan knows the externalized costs of coal fired energy and believes they are unavoidable. He wrote recently in a Washington Post op ed:
If there were any other way to meet our power needs as quickly or as affordably as our present circumstances demand, or on the required scale, we would obviously prefer technologies -- wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear -- that leave little or no carbon footprint. But we do not have that luxury if we are to meet our obligations.
South Africa has one of the planet's most energy-intensive economies and Eskom plans a five year, $50 billion dollar expansion to increase capacity. Its Kendal plant is already the largest coal-fired power station in the world. If approved, over $3 billion of the Bank loan will go toward constructing 4800 MW Medupi, the first so-called super-critical clean coal plant in Africa and the fourth largest coal-fired power plant in the world that, as advertised, will use “some of the most efficient, lowest-emission coal-fired technology available.”

Analyst Patrick Bond says Eskom’s bid for the loan comes “at a time of intense controversy surrounding Eskom’s mismanagement. In its last annual reporting period, the company lost R9.7 billion, mainly due to miscalculations associated with hedging aluminium prices and the South African currency. Both the chair and chief executive officer lost their jobs late last year amidst unprecedented acrimony.” Moreover, “Eskom's continuation of inexpensive prices to several large export-oriented metals or mining multinational corporations, headquartered abroad, and offering the world's cheapest electricity, [is] heavily subsidised by all other – mainly poor – users in South Africa.”
He refers to Nersa, National Energy Regulator of South Africa, recently tapping ordinary South Africans for power rate increases of 25 percent for each of the next three years.
Gordhan assures the public that the “rest of the loan, $745 million, will be invested in wind and concentrated solar power projects, each generating 100 megawatts, and in various efficiency improvements.” He avoids the government's 2003 White Paper that states that by 2013 four percent of electricity – 4700 MW based on Eskom's projected electricity consumption – must come from renewable energy. Eskom's three year plan – unveiled after Nersa's country-wide community meetings in January – states that only 400 MW will come from such sources.

Gordhan concedes the loan “faces stiff opposition.” Civil society around the world reminds him that Medupi adds an estimated 25 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year to Eskom’s 40 percent share of South Africa’s overall total greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the real possibility that, if South Africa's currency crashes again – as it has five times since 1996 – repayment in US dollars is more expensive than in South African rands.
The South African government can afford the luxury of R8.4 billion to construct five new stadia and refurbish five others for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. There are further, yet undisclosed, costs to improve public transport, implement special safety measures for tourists' security, and “beautify” (by hiding or removing tens of thousands of shack dwellers). Why can't it afford to clean up environmental degradation that results from generating electricity?

The US is the largest World Bank funder. Send a powerful signal to climate change horseman Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to intervene. Then buckle up for a wild ride along the unexplored path of real energy sustainability. In the long run it affords more security than tripping down the World Bank's yellow brick road of business as usual.