Republicans brewing Russian scandal to target greens

Politico Energy

Republicans brewing Russian scandal to target greens

Allegations the Kremlin is bankrolling U.S. anti-fracking activists are ludicrous, groups say. But lawmakers want Treasury to investigate.

By Ben Lefebvre      July 23, 2017

People protest against hydraulic fracking June 30, 2014, in New York City.

People protest against hydraulic fracking June 30, 2014, in New York City. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Republicans are trying to conjure up a Russian scandal they can get behind.

GOP House members and at least one Trump Cabinet member are pushing years-old allegations from conservative activists that Russia has funneled money to U.S. environmental groups to oppose fracking. The story has reappeared in conservative circles in recent weeks — a respite, perhaps, from the steady drip-drip of news reports about dealings between Russians and President Donald Trump’s inner circle.

Allegations have circulated for years that Moscow has sought to discourage European countries from developing their own natural gas supplies as an alternative to Russian fuel. And conservatives have sought to extend those concerns to the U.S. — though there’s little but innuendo to base them on.

But the rumors gained new life in late June, when House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and fellow Texas Republican Rep. Randy Weber asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to investigate whether the Kremlin is bankrolling green campaigns against the fracking technology that helped the U.S. overtake Russia in gas production.

Among other material, Smith and Weber cited articles in conservative news publications and an alleged Hillary Clinton speech published by WikiLeaks — part of a trove of stolen Clinton campaign documents that U.S. intelligence agencies have linked to Russia’s election-meddling efforts.

The reports, the Republican lawmakers wrote in the letter to Mnuchin, suggest “that Russia is also behind the radical statements and vitriol directed at the U.S. fossil fuel sector.”

Green groups dismissed Smith’s allegations as an attempt to divert attention from all the news surrounding Trump and Russia.

“If congressional Republicans are so concerned about Russian influence, they should start seriously investigating that country’s interference in our election, not attacking long-standing environmental organizations,” said Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, one of the groups Smith and conservatives have accused of potentially taking Russian money.

The League of Conservation Voters, another group named in Smith’s letter, also blasted the Science Committee’s allegations.

“This is false,” LCV spokesman David Willett said. “We have no connections to Russia and have been an effective advocate for environmental protection for over 45 years. This seems like nothing more than an attempt at distraction away from the Trump campaign’s well-publicized interactions with Russian interests to influence the election.”

Still, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal op-ed page have both run items about the committee’s letter, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry lent his voice to the effort when a Fox Business anchor asked whether he supported an investigation.

“Absolutely,” Perry said in the July 11 broadcast. “Steve is a very capable and very focused business individual who knows that this type of activity has to be investigated, has to be halted.”

Spokespeople for the Energy Department and Treasury Department did not respond to questions. A White House spokesperson did not reply to questions about whether the allegations had made their way to Trump.

Anti-fracking sentiment in the U.S. started bubbling up among U.S. environmental groups as soon as the oil and gas production method started surging in the late 2000s, with the documentary “Gasland“ appearing in theaters in 2010 after a year and a half in production. Much of that opposition was driven by local activists in new gas hot spots like Pennsylvania who complained about threats to their drinking water, while major national environmental groups like the Sierra Club were slower to take up the cry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who oversees an economy almost totally dependent on oil and gas exports, has also slagged fracking technology. He once said that fracking makes “black stuff” come out of people’s water faucets, according to a New Yorker report.

Still, there is no evidence that Russian money has gone to U.S. green groups, at least on the national level, said Brenda Shaffer, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies. And there is even less evidence that any money would have been well spent, given how hard it would be to push widespread fracking bans through the myriad of local, state and federal governments involved in permitting, she added.

“It would be almost impossible to prevent fracking in the United States,” Shaffer told POLITICO.

The evidence the committee cites includes comments that former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made at a London-based think tank in 2014, when he said he believed Russia was working with environmental groups in Europe to oppose shale gas development.

“Other officials have indicated the same scheme is unfolding in the U.S.,” Smith’s letter goes on to say — though from there the trail becomes murkier.

The letter also cites a speech that Clinton allegedly delivered in Canada in 2014, according to Clinton campaign emails published by WikiLeaks, in which the former secretary of state supposedly said she had encountered “phony environmental groups” that opposed pipelines and fracking. The emails were part of a cache of Democratic documents that U.S. intelligence officials believe were originally pilfered by Kremlin-linked hackers.

“I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by Russians,” Clinton says in the alleged transcript.

But the text does not indicate whether Clinton — who promoted shale gas drilling in Europe — was referring to environmental groups in Europe or the United States. A Clinton campaign aide did not answer questions about the veracity and the context of the speech. The campaign has refused to confirm or deny the content of any of the leaked materials.

Still, the alleged Clinton quotes have taken off in conservative news outlets, with The Daily Caller and Washington Times including them in articles published in the past year. Smith, in turn, cited those articles in the footnotes of his letter to Treasury.

“It’s a theory, but the reasoning behind it makes sense,” said a committee aide, who requested anonymity. “The chairman is saying there’s data points pointing to this theory, and he’s saying the Treasury secretary can shine some light on this. This isn’t out of left field and crazy.”

Science Committee aides also argued that last year’s national intelligence report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election supports the concerns raised in Smith’s letter. However, the intelligence report doesn’t allege any Kremlin outreach to U.S. environmental groups.

The intelligence report’s non-classified, 14-page version makes reference to anti-fracking programming broadcast by Kremlin-controlled news channel RT. “This is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability,” the report says.

Much of the rest of the case that Russia funneled money to U.S. green groups comes from a 2014 report created by the Environmental Policy Alliance, which describes itself as “devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups.”

The group shares a Washington, D.C., address and a phone number with a public relations firm run by Richard Berman, a lawyer and former lobbyist who has also created issue groups such as the Center for Union Facts and Center for Consumer Freedom— prompting liberal critics to nickname him “the astroturf kingpin.” CBS News once called him “Dr. Evil” in a 2011 piece focusing on his lobbying efforts on unpopular issues, including a campaign against Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

A representative of the Environmental Policy Alliance confirmed that Berman’s firm manages the group.

The group’s report and Smith’s letter focus on $23 million that a Bermuda-based philanthropic firm, Klein Ltd., donated in 2010 and 2011 to the San Francisco-based Sea Change Foundation, according to information disclosed in Sea Change’s IRS tax forms.  Sea Change then awarded around $55 million in each of those years to the Sierra Club Foundation, U.S. Climate Action Network, Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups to promote energy efficiency and climate change-related operations, according to its IRS tax filings.

“Although the source of Klein’s capital has not been documented,” the Science Committee’s letter says, the panel alleged that various corporate and personal connections “strongly suggest” that the money originated with “the Russian government and energy sector.”

But a lawyer representing Klein told POLITICO that none of the money came from sources connected to Russia. And a Sea Change spokesperson said none of its donations to environmental groups were earmarked for opposition to fracking.

“The Klein Foundation grants were given as general support and no requirement was made that the funds be used for specific projects, programs, or activities of the Sea Change Foundation,” the spokesperson said.

Berman’s report draws on a court case filed in the British Virgin Islands in the mid-2000s that resulted in a money-laundering conviction against IPOC Group, an entity owned by Leonid Reiman, Russia’s former telecommunications minister and adviser to Putin, according to an outline of the case maintained by the World Bank. Roderick Forrest, a lawyer for Wakefield Quin, a law firm representing Klein Ltd., was one of IPOC’s directors, according to case documents.

The House committee did not contact Klein as part of its fact-finding, a committee aide said. But Forrest railed against the accusations and said the company was considering legal action following the committee’s letter.

“The allegations are completely false and irresponsible,” Forrest told POLITICO. “We can state categorically that at no point did this philanthropic organization receive or expend funds from Russian sources or Russian-connected sources, and Klein has no Russian connection whatsoever.”

The Sierra Club’s Pierce also denied that any of the money it received from Sea Change ultimately came from Moscow.

“We have confirmed that the origin of these funds is a private U.S. donor who cares about climate change and has invested in the work the Sierra Club does to tackle the climate crisis and advance the clean energy economy — not from Russia,” she said.

Why Big Oil Can’t Make the Renewable Energy Transition

The Motley Fool

Why Big Oil Can’t Make the Renewable Energy Transition

Today’s fossil fuel giants can see that wind and solar power will be eating their lunch tomorrow, but knowing the disruption is coming doesn’t mean they can pivot to meet it.

Travis Hoium       July 23, 2017 

Big oil companies are starting to consider what the world will look like after the reign of petroleum is over. For example, Royal Dutch Shell recently announced it will invest $1 billion per year in clean energy — a large number, but still a relatively small investment compared to its $25 billion in annual capital spending. Nonetheless, it was a public admission that clean energy is the future, not oil. Rival Total has, arguably, made the biggest investments in renewable energy, buying two-thirds of solar solutions leader SunPower, battery company Saft, and stakes in a number of solar power plant projects.

Chevron and BP have also been in and out of the renewable energy business over the past decade, though both have taken  steps back recently. ExxonMobil is really the only holdout among the hydrocarbon majors, continuing to focus solely on fossil fuels. What the rest of them are trying to do is create a path to a world beyond oil. But these old-school energy industry giants have a long road ahead to reach powerhouse status in renewable energy.

A solar array with two wind turbines in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Disruption you can see a mile away

Everyone sees the renewable energy revolution coming. Solar and wind are getting cheap — I mean, really cheap — and systems for storing energy with batteries, compressed air, or hydrogen are getting more affordable by the day. Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Total can see the threat coming a mile away. The question is what they can do about it.

Disrupting your own business is hard. When a company is running at full steam and generating cash, and has decades of profitable history to look back on, it’s nearly impossible to admit that disruption is coming, even if it’s staring you in the face. Microsoft could have produced a viable device to compete with the iPhone, but it was making so much money from Windows and Office that it didn’t want to reinvent its business, so it missed out on the smartphone revolution. Sears, JC Penney, Walmart, and nearly every other major retailer are losing sales to Amazon.com, despite the fact that even a decade ago, it was easy to forecast that e-commerce was going to skyrocket. One could tell story after story about steady, profitable, incumbents that were unwilling or unable to make strategic shifts to new business models, despite the fact that they were able to see the changes coming to their industries years in advance.

Oil and renewables don’t mix

The idea of a company making a firm transition from oil to wind or solar energy seems simple enough. Fellow Fool investor Jason Hall recently asked me if I thought Total would buy out the rest of SunPower soon, as part of its path to the energy business of the future. That decision would seem to make sense for Total, on the surface, but I still view it as unlikely, for now.

It’s difficult to make a wholesale shift to a new business model, and Total is a perfect example of that. Sources have told me that when it bought its majority stake in SunPower, it asked the company for a 10-year plan — something that’s standard in the fossil fuel industry, where businesses chart their investments many years in advance. But SunPower had never crafted such a plan, because if they did, it would be obsolete in a matter of months. The solar industry changes so quickly that companies must constantly adjust on the fly. According to GTM Research, in 2007, the solar industry installed 2.5 GW of generating capacity worldwide. In 2017, China alone installs about that much every two weeks! No one could have predicted that a decade ago, let alone devised a plan then that still made sense in the current environment.

It would be almost impossible for SunPower to be as nimble as it needs to be now under Total’s corporate umbrella. The better strategy for Total would be to keep its major stake, support the company financially if that’s needed, and maybe swoop in to buy the company outright in five or 10 years when the solar industry is mature and the oil business is dying.

Why big renewable buyouts aren’t on the horizon… yet

Just because oil companies don’t have the corporate structure, dexterity, or know-how to run renewable energy companies today doesn’t mean they’ll all go down in flames with the decline of oil. Once the world definitively moves past peak oil consumption and energy companies see darker days ahead, they’ll feel compelled to adjust their strategies. That’s when their acquisitions of solar manufacturers and developers will likely begin in earnest. But buying into the still-evolving industry that renewable energy is today is too risky, even for big oil’s balance sheets.

There’s a reason incumbent industries in general have a hard time adapting to upstarts that disrupt their businesses, even if they see the disruption coming. It’s hard to turn away from a profitable model and leap to a new growth opportunity, even if it’s one with a bright future like solar or energy storage. So, while it seems like the big oil companies are starting to take renewable energy seriously, a decade from now, they probably won’t be the big energy players they are today. They’re just not built to thrive in the fast-moving renewable energy industry.

Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Travis Hoium owns shares of Royal Dutch Shell (A Shares), SunPower, and Total and a family member works for Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron and Total.

Bad News for Big Oil: Electric Vehicle Sales to Surpass Gas Guzzlers by 2038

EcoWatch

Bad News for Big Oil: Electric Vehicle Sales to Surpass Gas Guzzlers by 2038

Lorraine Chow    July 14, 2017

Despite the Koch brothers’ best efforts, it looks like gas guzzlers are on the way out. Sales of electric vehicles will surpass those using internal combustion engines by 2038, a new analysis has found.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) projects that “electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries … [displacing] about 8 million barrels a day of oil production—more than the 7 million barrels Saudi Arabia exports today.”

“This is economics, pure and simple economics,” BNEF’s lead advanced-transportation analyst Colin McKerracher said. “Lithium-ion battery prices are going to come down sooner and faster than most other people expect.”

The report’s bold forecast was also bolstered by surging investment in lithium-ion batteries, higher manufacturing capacity at companies like Tesla Inc. and Nissan Motor Co., as well as rising demand for EVs in China and Europe.

BNEF admitted that its report is the “most bullish to date and is more aggressive than projections made by the International Energy Agency.”

Here are other notable projections for the booming category, according to BNEF:

  • In just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040
  • Electricity consumption from EVs will grow to 1,800 terawatt-hours in 2040, or 5 percent of global power demand, from 6 terawatt-hours in 2016
  • There’s around 90 gigawatt hours of EV lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity online now, and this is set to rise to 270 gigawatt hours by 2021.
  • Charging infrastructure will continue to be an issue with bottlenecks capping growth in key Chinese, U.S. and European markets emerging in the mid-2030s

The report is another sign of the shifting energy landscape. Just this month, France joined Norway, Germany and Kenya’s efforts to ban gasoline- and diesel-powered cars. Also, Volvo became the first major carmaker to phase out vehicles powered by fossil fuels. Finally, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his company is building the world’s largest lithium ion battery to solve in South Australia’s energy woes.

Meanwhile, DeSmog reported that conservative oil billionaires Charles and David Koch are funding a campaign called Fueling U.S. Forward to squash the rise of electric vehicles. The group released a video called the Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars., featuring “blatant factual errors, misleading statements, and glaring omissions,” DeSmog writes.

Interestingly, the BNEF points out that the world’s “Electric Car Revolution” could be well underway except for one major factor: Donald Trump.

According to the report:

“In Europe, almost 67 percent of new cars sold will be electrified in 2040, and 58 percent of sales in the U.S. and 51 percent in China, BNEF said. Though there’s uncertainty in the U.S., where President Donald Trump could dramatically disrupt electric vehicle growth by withdrawing support for the technology in the world’s second biggest car market.”

Lorraine Chow    July 14, 2017

Despite the Koch brothers’ best efforts, it looks like gas guzzlers are on the way out. Sales of electric vehicles will surpass those using internal combustion engines by 2038, a new analysis has found.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) projects that “electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries … [displacing] about 8 million barrels a day of oil production—more than the 7 million barrels Saudi Arabia exports today.”

“This is economics, pure and simple economics,” BNEF’s lead advanced-transportation analyst Colin McKerracher said. “Lithium-ion battery prices are going to come down sooner and faster than most other people expect.”

The report’s bold forecast was also bolstered by surging investment in lithium-ion batteries, higher manufacturing capacity at companies like Tesla Inc. and Nissan Motor Co., as well as rising demand for EVs in China and Europe.

BNEF admitted that its report is the “most bullish to date and is more aggressive than projections made by the International Energy Agency.”

Here are other notable projections for the booming category, according to BNEF:

  • In just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040
  • Electricity consumption from EVs will grow to 1,800 terawatt-hours in 2040, or 5 percent of global power demand, from 6 terawatt-hours in 2016
  • There’s around 90 gigawatt hours of EV lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity online now, and this is set to rise to 270 gigawatt hours by 2021.
  • Charging infrastructure will continue to be an issue with bottlenecks capping growth in key Chinese, U.S. and European markets emerging in the mid-2030s

The report is another sign of the shifting energy landscape. Just this month, France joined Norway, Germany and Kenya’s efforts to ban gasoline- and diesel-powered cars. Also, Volvo became the first major carmaker to phase out vehicles powered by fossil fuels. Finally, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his company is building the world’s largest lithium ion battery to solve in South Australia’s energy woes.

Meanwhile, DeSmog reported that conservative oil billionaires Charles and David Koch are funding a campaign called Fueling U.S. Forward to squash the rise of electric vehicles. The group released a video called the Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars., featuring “blatant factual errors, misleading statements, and glaring omissions,” DeSmog writes.

Interestingly, the BNEF points out that the world’s “Electric Car Revolution” could be well underway except for one major factor: Donald Trump.

According to the report:

“In Europe, almost 67 percent of new cars sold will be electrified in 2040, and 58 percent of sales in the U.S. and 51 percent in China, BNEF said. Though there’s uncertainty in the U.S., where President Donald Trump could dramatically disrupt electric vehicle growth by withdrawing support for the technology in the world’s second biggest car market.”

Editorial: Trump names an anti-science blowhard as ‘chief scientist’. Help! Congress….

The Mercury News

Editorial: Trump names an anti-science blowhard as ‘chief scientist’. Help! Congress….

Sam Clovis, a talk radio host, calls climate change “junk science” and “not proven.”

Mercury News Editorial Board    July 23, 2017

President Trump’s disdain for science apparently knows no bounds. He has now nominated climate change skeptic Sam Clovis, a talk radio host, to serve as the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist — a slap in the face of the scientific community and a disservice to those responsible for the integrity of the USDA’s research.

The Senate should should reject the nomination. Naming an anti-science blowhard to a job meant for a scientist would be like Ford picking a CEO who rides a horse to work.

If confirmed as the Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary of research, education and economics, Clovis would be responsible for implementing the department’s mission of providing leadership on agriculture and natural resource issues “based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management.”

The post, created in 1994 by Congress, demands someone who commands the respect of scientists. The 2008 farm bill clarified the requirements, saying the undersecretary “shall be appointed by the president, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”

Clovis has none of these qualifications. His degree is in political science, and his chief claims to fame are as a conservative talk radio host and Trump’s national campaign co-chair.

The most recent undersecretary, Catherine Woteki, had a PhD in human nutrition, a bachelor of science in biology and chemistry and had served as Director of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences.

Woteki, under the direction of the Obama administration, had focused the agency’s research dollars largely on trying to help farmers get a better understanding of how to deal with the impact of climate change — droughts, for example — on their crops.

She was vocal about this:  “We really need to increase the amount of research that we’re doing to face challenges like we’re facing with this variable weather, and how can we increase productivity both in crops as well as in livestock to be able to produce more food on the same amount of land or perhaps less, depending on how climate might change over the next 30 to 40 years.”

It was bad enough that Trump’s choice as USDA Secretary, Sonny Purdue, thinks climate science is “obviously disconnected from reality” and “a running joke among the public.” This even though polls show 70 percent of Americans favor aggressive action to slow global warming.

Clovis calls climate change “junk science” and “not proven.” That goes against the consensus of more than 90 percent of climate scientists.

He’s entitled to his opinion. He’s perfect for today’s talk radio. He is not a scientist, let alone qualified to be a “chief scientist.”  Congress needs to take a stand.

Did you know in rural America, disability benefit rates are twice as high as in urban areas?

Washington Post-Social Issues

Did you know in rural America, disability benefit rates are twice as high as in urban areas?

By Terrence McCoy        July 22, 2017

Between 1996 and 2015, the number of working-age Americans who subsist on federal disability benefits grew rapidly, becoming one of the country’s most hotly debated social benefits. The rise has become another indicator of the divide between urban and rural America, where disability benefit rates are nearly twice as high.

Here are answers to some of the most important questions about this form of public assistance.

Q: What programs serve Americans with disabilities?

A: Two federal programs provide benefits to people with disabilities. One is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which was signed into law in 1956 and serves disabled workers. It is available only to people with enough work experience. The other, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which began paying benefits in 1974, serves the disabled poor and is a means-tested benefit.

Q: If the number of people receiving disability has increased so much, it must be easy to get on the rolls, right?

A: Wrong. Disability benefits, for both SSI and SSDI applicants, are very difficult to secure. In fact, only about four in 10 applications are approved. It can take as long as two years, after several layers of appeals, to win approval.

Q: So what has driven the growth then?

A: This is more controversial. Most experts agree that the primary factor in SSDI’s growth is demographics. Because of the aging of the baby-boom generation, more people are at an age when disability is more likely. More women also are in the workforce. Then there is simple population growth. Some experts think those factors represent nearly all of the increase. But others point to a congressional act that broadened the definition of disability, economic factors such as recessions and approvals they criticize as too lenient as contributing factors.

Q: Is the number of people on disability still rising?

A: No. In 2015, for the first time in decades the number of people on disability decreased slightly as the demographic factors that drove the rise started to subside and older Americans aged into their retirement years.

Q: In that case, what’s the problem?

A: The program for disabled workers, which Congress had to rescue from insolvency in 2015, is estimated to go broke again sometime over the next decade or so. The government this year is expected to spend $192 billion on disability payments — more than the combined total that will be spent on welfare, unemployment benefits, housing subsidies and food stamps.

Q: What sort of income, individually, does this provide for recipients?

A: A meager one. The maximum monthly payment for an SSI beneficiary is $735. The amount of money SSDI beneficiaries receive depends on how much money they made. The average monthly check is less than $1,200. For most beneficiaries, the checks are not taxable.

Q: Do they receive any other services?

A: Beneficiaries receive health insurance through Medicare, for SSDI recipients, and Medicaid, for SSI recipients.

Q: Do beneficiaries ever return to work?

A: Rarely. Some die within a few years of starting benefits. Other disabled workers try to return to work, but don’t keep their jobs for long. Or they continue working, but make less than the income threshold that would put their benefit at risk. Less than 4 percent of disabled workers get off disability within 10 years of their first payment.

Q: Are disability beneficiaries spread evenly nationwide?

A: The majority of disability recipients live in densely populated urban and suburban areas, but they are disproportionately prevalent in rural America — where, on average, 9.1 percent of the working-age population receives disability, compared to the national average of 6.5 percent and an urban rate of 4.9 percent. Beneficiaries are even more over-represented in the Southeast and central Appalachia. These are places economists have called “disability belts.”

Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.

Mom encourages parents to teach their children about differences after son ridiculed at church

ABC Good Morning America

Mom encourages parents to teach their children about differences after son ridiculed at church

Joi-Marie McKenzie, Good Morning America      July 22, 2017

 Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, hat, outdoor and closeup

An Arizona mother has taken to the web to encourage other parents to teach their kids about differences after her son was ridiculed at church.

Stacey Gagnon said she and her husband, along with their six kids — four of whom have special needs and were adopted — attended a new church last Sunday in Camp Verde, Arizona.

As she and her three youngest children walked into the separate children’s church, where she was dropping the kids off, “the room became silent and every child stared or pointed at my son, Joel,” Gagnon wrote in a Facebook post that has gone viral.

Gagnon, 41, adopted Joel when he was 18 months old. He has been diagnosed with Goldenhar syndrome, a congenital birth defect that affects the development of the face and other parts of the body. Joel was born without a right ear and a right rib, his mother said.

Other than that, “he’s just like a normal boy,” Gagnon added.

After the incident, Gagnon went on Facebook, saying, “I know he looks different, but today hurt.”

Although Gagnon, a former school teacher, has usually educated children on the value of differences when similar scenarios occurred in the past, she said that last Sunday she simply tended to her upset son.

“I held him in my arms during church and he drew ‘Joel loves Mom’ on my palm,” she began. “I have always stepped into the role of teacher to educate kids… but today I did not. Today, I did not teach someone else’s kid, because I was too busy holding my broken-hearted son.”

PHOTO: Joel Gannon, 9, who has Goldenhar Syndrome, wrote this on his mother Stacey's hand after she comforted him after being ridiculed at church. (Stacey Gagnon)

Gagnon said she hopes her emotional post, which has been shared more than 20,000 times, will encourage other parents to teach their children about differences.

“These weren’t bad kids,” she said, referring to the children in church that day. “But we have to be intentional about teaching kids about this. Kids fear things that look different, but when you just explain it, it’s not a big deal.”

Gagnon, who taught second and third grade and is now a nurse for special needs children, said one of the most important thing parents can teach their kids is compassion.

“And empathy,” she added. “It doesn’t just happen because they see you do it.”

As for Joel, Gagnon said he recovered quickly and had an enjoyable time when the family went out to lunch after church.

Scientists Found a Second Giant Garbage Patch in the Pacific

Popular Mechanics

Scientists Found a Second Giant Garbage Patch in the Pacific

As if one wasn’t bad enough.

Getty Rosemary Calvert / Contributor

By Avery Thompson        July 21, 2017

Somewhere in the North Pacific, there’s a giant floating patch of garbage thousands of miles wide. It contains millions of tons of plastic and is estimated to take up an area the size of Alaska. We’ve known about it for around 30 years, and scientists have struggled to develop a method to clean it up.

And now, a group of researchers has discovered another one.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating in the North Pacific is the result of ocean currents called gyres. These gyres are circling currents that can trap particles floating in them and push them into a single area. Essentially, all the trash thrown into the North Pacific is brought to a single area off the coast of North America.

But the Pacific Ocean has another gyre in the Southern hemisphere, and it behaves the same way. Recently, scientists exploring a remote island in the South Pacific found almost 20 tons of plastic washed up on a beach, and they began to suspect that the South Pacific had a garbage patch of its own.

A recent expedition to the area appears to confirm that this new garbage patch does exist. The researchers found an area about a million square miles in size, bigger than the state of Texas, containing over a million tons of plastic.

Most of this plastic is tiny, less than a millimeter in size. These “microplastics” are often worn down, broken apart, and eroded by ocean currents until they become microscopic in size. These microplastics can still kill large ocean animals, but they also pose a danger to smaller organisms too.

This second garbage patch appears to be a relatively new phenomenon. An expedition to the area in 2011 picked up little trace of the patch, which means it’s likely only formed in the past few years.

With any luck, we can figure out how to get rid of it as quickly as we created it.

Trump has lost 1 in 8 people who backed him in 2016 – and now say they want a do-over

Daily Mail

Trump has lost 1 in 8 people who backed him in 2016 – and now say they want a do-over

  • Just 88 per cent of Trump voters say they would support him again if the 2016 election were held again today
  • That number is better than the 82 per cent who said the same thing in May
  • ‘If I had to walk around wearing a T-shirt saying who I voted for, I may have voted differently,’ one Trump backer said

By Reuters       Published  July 20, 2017

About one in eight people who voted for President Donald Trump said they would not do so again after witnessing Trump’s tumultuous first six months in office, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll of 2016 voters.

While most of the people who voted for Trump on Nov. 8 said they would back him again, the erosion of support within his winning coalition of older, disaffected, mostly white voters poses a potential challenge for the president.

Trump, who won the White House with the slimmest of margins, needs every last supporter behind him to push his agenda through a divided Congress and potentially win a second term in 2020.

The poll surveyed voters who had told Reuters/Ipsos on Election Day how they had cast their ballots. While other surveys have measured varying levels of disillusionment among Trump supporters, the Reuters/Ipsos poll shows how many would go as far as changing the way they voted. The survey was carried out first in May and then again in July.

President Donald Trump has lost the support of 12 per cent of the Americans who voted for him in November

President Donald Trump has lost the support of 12 per cent of the Americans who voted for him in November

The new Reuters poll shows 12 per cent of Trump voters would abandon him in a do-over

The new Reuters poll shows 12 per cent of Trump voters would abandon him in a do-over

In the July survey, 12 percent of respondents said they would not vote for Trump ‘if the 2016 presidential election were held today’ – 7 percent said they ‘don’t know’ what they would do, and the remaining 5 percent would either support one of the other 2016 presidential candidates or not vote.

Eighty-eight percent said they would vote for Trump again, a slight improvement over the May figure of 82 percent. Taken together, the polls suggest that Trump’s standing with his base has improved slightly over the past few months despite his Republican Party’s repeated failures to overhaul the healthcare system and multiple congressional and federal investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia.

To be sure, most presidents lose support among core supporters the longer they are in the White House. According to the Gallup polling service, former President Barack Obama saw his popularity dip among Democrats and minority voters, though it did not come until later in his first term. But Obama, who won the Electoral College with greater margins than Trump, was not as reliant on retaining his core supporters.

The minority of Trump voters who said they would not vote for him again gave varying reasons in interviews for why they had changed their minds.

Some were tired of his daily trolling of Democrats, the media and the judiciary. Some were disappointed that the Trump administration has not yet swept illegal immigrants out of their communities. Others said the president has not ended the mistrust and hyper-partisanship in Washington as much as they had hoped.

Some of the president’s failures in his first six months have turned die-hard supporters into skeptics

‘If I had to walk around wearing a T-shirt saying who I voted for, I may have voted differently,’ said Beverly Guy, 34, a Trump voter who took the poll in July. If the election were held today, Guy said she would vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

Guy said she picked Trump mostly because she did not support Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. She never cared that much for Trump and now finds herself rationalizing a decision that has angered many of her friends.

‘I care more about my neighbors than I do about politics,’ she said.

Another poll respondent, Brian Barnes, said he was standing by his choice to vote for Trump. He thinks the media is focusing too much on the Russia investigation and not enough on Trump’s accomplishments like his elevation of another conservative justice to the Supreme Court.

‘I think he’s doing all he can,’ Barnes said, ‘even though the Republicans in the House and Senate are creating a lot of problems’ by not passing a healthcare bill.

Experts in American politics said it makes sense that a transformative political figure like Trump would retain a high degree of loyalty from his supporters no matter what negative headlines are swirling around the White House. Political winds do not shift quickly in a strong economy, they said, especially when many of the president’s decisions have yet to take root.

‘People are still invested in the choices they made’ on Election Day, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. ‘They’re not about to admit that they’re wrong, at least not yet.’

Elaine Kamarck, an expert in American electoral politics at the Brookings Institution, said the erosion in Trump’s base could certainly hurt his chances of re-election, though it is too early to say so for sure. The most important question is whether he loses support where it counts – in battleground states that he barely won last year.

‘If these disenchanted Trump voters are in California, it doesn’t matter,’ Kamarck said. ‘If they live in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania, it matters.’

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States and has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of about 5 percentage points.

The July 11-12 poll gathered its sample from 1,296 people, including 541 Trump voters, while the May 10-15 poll gathered its sample from 1,206 people, including 543 Trump voters. In both cases, Ipsos weighted their responses according to voter profiles gathered from the U.S. Census´ voting and registration supplement to the Current Population Survey.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4713832/Do-1-8-people-voted-Trump-want-change-vote-Reuters-Ipsos-poll.html#ixzz4nU6Pmhu4

Climate change will force today’s kids to pay for costly carbon removal technologies, study says

Washington Post Energy and Environment

Climate change will force today’s kids to pay for costly carbon removal technologies, study says

By Chelsea Harvey      July 19, 2017


New research suggests that if immediate and significant emissions reduction efforts are undertaken — amounting to a decline in global carbon output by at least 3 percent annually starting in the next four years — then less carbon extraction will be needed. (Martin Meissner/AP)

The longer humans continue to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the closer we draw to leaving the next generation with an unmanageable climate problem, scientists say. A new study, just out Tuesday in the journal Earth System Dynamics, suggests that merely reducing greenhouse gas emissions may no longer be enough — and that special technology, aimed at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, may also be necessary to keep the Earth’s climate within safe limits for future generations.

The research was largely inspired by a landmark climate change lawsuit brought by 21 children against the federal government, which is scheduled to go on trial in February 2018, and will be used as scientific support in the case. In fact, its lead author, Columbia University climatologist and former NASA scientist James Hansen, is a plaintiff on the case, along with his now 18-year-old granddaughter.

The new paper argues that the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of their preindustrial levels isn’t strong enough. During a previous warm period in the Earth’s history, known as the Eemian, or the last interglacial period, the planet experienced similar levels of warming, the authors note — and the resulting consequences included the disintegration of ice sheets and six to nine meters of sea level rise.

Noting the dramatic changes that occurred during the last interglacial period, the paper calls for a more stringent target of bringing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down from their current concentration of more than 400 parts per million to about 350 parts per million by the end of the century. This would bring global temperature closer to a 1-degree threshold, rather than 1.5 or 2 degrees, the authors say.

But the study has already come in from some criticism from other scientists, such as Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who told The Washington Post that some aspects of the study were “alarmist” and that if changes come slowly enough, society will be able to adapt to them. Trenberth said he disagreed that the 1 degree target is justified and thinks that even 1.5 degrees is “unrealistic.”

Hansen is no stranger to controversy. In 2015, he and more than a dozen colleagues published a highly contested paper in the open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, suggesting that sea level rise may occur more rapidly in this century than previously predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In the new study, the researchers suggest that allowing temperatures to creep into the Eemian range once again could eventually trigger the onset of certain slow-developing climate processes that may ultimately enhance global warming, once again inducing catastrophic ice melt, sea level rise and other harmful climate effects. For instance, continued loss of ice may reduce the Earth’s reflectivity, they suggest, allowing more solar radiation to warm the planet’s surface and melt more ice.

But to keep temperatures lower, the paper finds, would require not only significant emissions reductions efforts, but also the use of “negative emissions” technology, or special methods for pulling carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere.

Using models, the researchers suggest that if immediate and significant emissions reduction efforts are undertaken — amounting to a decline in global carbon output by at least 3 percent annually starting in the next four years — then less carbon extraction will be needed. A majority of it could be accomplished through basic changes in agricultural and forestry practices to promote greater storage of carbon in vegetation and soil.

On the other hand, the longer global greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to remain at high levels, the more carbon extraction will be needed to reach this target, requiring additional, costlier forms of technology. These may include the burning of biomass for energy, accompanied with carbon capture and storage technology, or technology that directly sucks carbon dioxide out of the air.

If humans immediately began reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by a relatively high rate of 6 percent each year, the researchers estimate that the carbon extraction technology needed to get down to 350 parts per million could cost anywhere from $8 trillion to nearly $18.5 trillion. And if no emissions reductions occur, these costs could rise above $500 trillion through the end of the century.

“Some consequences [of climate change] are already becoming inevitable, but as yet it could be moderate if we begin to reduce emissions rapidly,” Hansen said. “So that’s the objective — to try to get the global community to understand the importance of beginning those emissions reductions soon, and keeping the task that we’re leaving for young people one that they can manage.”

But Trenberth said of the paper that while “it is a good point that some slow feed-backs do not kick in until temperatures have been sustained at a certain level,” a great deal of the future human experience with climate change will depend not only on which thresholds we cross, but how quickly we cross them.

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“If we can slow things down then a lot of adaptation can occur,” he said.

Other researchers are a little more cautiously accepting of the paper’s points.

Christian Proistosescu, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington who was not involved with the new research (but who recently led a major study, himself, on the potential future impact of slow-developing climate modes) expressed some skepticism about using the Earth’s ancient history as an analogy for the future.

He noted that some of the conditions that were true during the Eemian — the existence of large ice sheets that have already disappeared, for instance — are not the same now. And because humans have not been around to witness some of the slow-developing climate processes that scientists fear will intensify in the future, there’s uncertainty about how and even whether they will affect future climate change.

“But that would be the wrong way to think about it,” he added in an email to The Post. “The more important point is that we cannot rule out the very real probability that there are slow feed-backs — and risk is probability times cost. … Once you start thinking in terms of risks I would concur with Dr. Hansen that the current trajectory presents some unacceptable risks.”

Chelsea Harvey is a freelance journalist covering science. She specializes in environmental health and policy.

China is crushing the U.S. in renewable energy

CNN Tech

China is crushing the U.S. in renewable energy

by Sherisse Pham and Matt Rivers   July 18, 2017

China may be the planet’s biggest polluter but it’s also powering ahead of other countries on renewable energy.

As the Trump administration yanks the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement, claiming it will hurt the American economy, Beijing is investing hundreds of billions of dollars and creating millions of jobs in clean power.

China has built vast solar and wind farms, helping fuel the growth of major industries that sell their products around the world.

“Even in China where coal is — or was — king, the government still recognizes that the economic opportunities of the future are going to be in clean energy,” said Alvin Lin, Beijing-based climate and energy policy director with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

More than 2.5 million people work in the solar power sector alone in China, compared with 260,000 people in the U.S., according to the most recent annual report from the International Renewable Energy Agency.

While President Trump promises to put American coal miners back to work, China is moving in the opposite direction.

Coal still makes up the largest part of China’s energy consumption, but Beijing has been shutting coal mines and set out plans last year to cut roughly 1.3 million jobs in the industry. The Chinese government has also moved to restrict the construction of new coal power plants.

For the first time ever, China’s National Energy Administration in January established a mandatory target to reduce coal energy consumption. It also set a goal for clean energy to meet 20% of China’s energy needs by 2030.

Analysts expect China to easily meet that target. Greenpeace noted in a report earlier this year that the country’s clean energy consumption rose to 12% at the end of 2015. Renewable energy sources account for about 10% of total U.S. energy consumption, according to official statistics.

To help reach the 2030 goal, China is betting big on renewable energy. It pledged in January to invest 2.5 trillion yuan ($367 billion) in renewable power generation — solar, wind, hydro and nuclear — by 2020.

The investment will create about 10 million jobs in the sector, the National Energy Administration projects. China currently boasts 3.5 million jobs in clean energy, by far the most in the world, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The country has already become a major manufacturer and exporter of renewable energy technology, supplying some two-thirds of the world’s solar panels.

China also has a strong grip on wind power. It produces nearly half of the world’s wind turbines — at a rate of about two every hour.

Inside the U.S. solar jobs boom

Inside the U.S. solar jobs boom

China’s hottest new project is a giant floating solar energy farm located in the eastern province of Anhui.

Covering about 100 square miles, it is the largest floating panel facility in the world. It has the capacity to produce enough energy to power 15,000 homes, according to Sungrow Power Supply, the company behind the farm.

Fittingly, the solar farm floats atop a flooded area once home to a coal mining factory.

The idea to float solar panels is fast catching on in an industry that faces one persistent problem — space.

“The government won’t allow us to just install panels wherever we want,” says Yao Shaohua, the deputy director of the project. “This lake wouldn’t be used otherwise, so it makes sense.”

Initially it is more expensive to build solar farms on water than on the land. But experts say floating solar panels can run more efficiently in the long run, because they are cooled by the water underneath.

“The whole world, including China, is recognizing that we need to fight climate change,” said Yao. “I’m pretty sure this is going to be a trend.”

China’s growing dominance in the sector has had a huge effect on the global market.

Manufacturers dramatically ramped up production of solar panels, driven by an estimated $42 billion in government subsidized loans between 2010 and 2012, according to the GW Solar Institute at George Washington University. The flood of Chinese panels was one of the main reasons why world prices crashed by 80% between 2008 and 2013.

The U.S. accused China of flooding the market and the Commerce Department started imposing steep tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels in 2012 in a bid to protect American producers.

Just last month, the U.S. informed the World Trade Organization that it may impose tariffs on imports of solar panels from other countries as well, alleging that Chinese companies have opened production facilities in third countries to get around import restrictions.