This week, the Obama administration released a draft of its next five-year plan for offshore drilling—opening up a previously off-limits area along the Southeastern coast, from Virginia down to Georgia, as well as offering many new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. And while it would protect some key areas north of Alaska from drilling, it would open other Arctic areas up. The plan designates 9.8 million acres of Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas off-limits to oil-and-gas leasing, and asks Congress to set aside 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as "wilderness area," affording another level of protection. Daily Caller is outraged that the Alaskan waters are to be off-limits; Grist is outraged that the Southeastern waters are to be opened up; Bloomberg tries to play it objective. However, read the small print last line of the White House memo on the supposedly new polcy: "Nothing in this withdrawal affects the rights under existing leases in the withdrawn areas."
War across large swaths of the Middle East and Africa in the first six months of 2014 forcibly displaced some 5.5 million people, signalling yet another record, the United Nations reported Jan. 7. The UN refugee refugee agency, UNHCR, in its new Mid-Year Trends 2014 Report finds that of the 5.5 million who were newly displaced, 1.4 million fled across international borders, officially becoming refugees. The rest were displaced within their own countries, and are known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). The new data brings the number of people being helped by UNHCR to 46.3 million as of mid-2014—some 3.4 million more than at the end of 2013 and a new record high.
As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?
Lawmakers have slipped a provision into the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would allow a massive copper mine on public lands that are sacred to the Apache. Previous efforts failed to pass HR 687, or the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, which would allow a subsidiary of international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto to acquire 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state. The massive underground copper mining project is fiercely opposed by environmental groups as well as the San Carlos Apache Tribe, which holds the area, near the town of Superior, as a sacred site. Now the land swap has been incorporated into the 1,600-page NDAA. A petition against the provision has been posted to the White House website. (ICTMN, Arizona Republic, Dec. 3)
First nations across British Columbia are celebrating a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada on June 26 that recognizes aboriginal title to their traditional territories outside reserves. The court upheld the Tsilhqot'in Nation's claim to lands in the Nemiah Valley, some 160 miles north of Vancouver, rejecting the provincial government's argument that aboriginal title should be restricted to actual settlement sites and other places frequently occupied by semi-nomadic native peoples. Joe Alphonse, chief of the Tsilhqot'in Nation, said the ruling is a victory in a struggle that had its roots in deadly conflict with a wave of Gold Rush settlers during the 1860s. He said the communities need more control over resources to support more people living on reserves. "We didn't fight in this case to separate from Canada," Alphonse told a news conference in Vancouver. "We fought in this case to get recognized, to be treated as equals in a meaningful way."
For the first time, the US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to limit emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The response has been predictable. Environment News Service notes: "Democrats and public health and environmental groups rejoiced in the proposal of a measure they have advocated for years to fight climate change, but Republicans cried doom, warning that the rule would destroy the American economy." The New York Times writes: "[E]nvironmental advocates praised the proposed rule for its breadth and reach while the coal industry attacked it as a symbol of executive overreach that could wreak economic havoc." The Daily Beast's Jason Mark dubbed the program "Obamacare for the Air" because both plans are "numbingly complex," "based on a market system," "likely to transform a key sector of the economy," and "guaranteed to be intensely polarizing." In other words, a market-based plan is being attacked by the right as green totalitarianism. This would be perverse enough if the plan's goals were anywhere close to sufficient to actually address the climate crisis—which, again predictably, they are not.
The Lubicon Lake Nation of Cree in Alberta, Canada, is appealing a court order prohibiting the indigenous community from blockading gas operations on unceded territory. Calgary-based Penn West Petroleum won the order from an Alberta court last month, barring the blockade set up in December by Lubicon Cree protesters for a period of six months. "The judge denied [us] the opportunity to raise any of the constitutional issues and arguments for the Lubicon," said Garrett Tomlinson, Lubicon Lake Nation communications director. Lubicon Cree leadership argued that Canada has never entered into a treaty with them, which renders permits for oil and gas development on Lubicon land null and void.
The much-hyped "Polar Vortex" that plunged much of North America into dangerously low temperatures is giving the climate change denialist crowd an opportunity to gloat—and, typically, display their ignorance. Bloomberg on Jan. 7 presented a sneering Tweet from Donald Trump dismissing global warming as "bullshit" because the "planet is freezing." But the Bloomberg account, as well as a video on the Greenpeace Blog, quotes Rutgers University climate researcher Jennifer Francis explaining how the Vortex was likely unleashed by—yup, global warming! It seems that the Jet Stream, which normally serves as a boundary separating cold air to the north from warm air to the south, is being destabilized; receding arctic sea ice lessens the temperature difference either side of the Stream, thereby slowing its velocity and causing large loops and meanders to form, and even for it to get "stuck." When this happens, North America and Europe are going either into extreme heat or extreme cold, depending on where the jet gets jammed. Recent record-breaking highs in Chicago and Fairbanks, as well as shriveling heat waves across the Great Plains, may have been caused by the same phenomenon now sending the mercury plunging in the Midwest and Northeast.