Despicable corporate crime by Volkswagen

Volkswagen created a software program that turned on pollution controls only when the car was being tested for pollution controls; as a result, millions of VWs have been polluting up to 40 times the legal limit for the past seven years. And although they have stopped selling them this way, Volkswagen has not announced a recall. This can only be described as disgusting corporate criminal activity.

They are the worst kind of cheaters, arrogant, hypocritical and misleading in their advertising. What kind of a sick mind could even conceive such a trick? How stupid is the management that it let this go on for seven years? Heads must roll throughout the management ranks, hefty fines and imprisonment must be meted out. No deals from the EPA. Everyone, please sell your shares. Everyone else, please sue Volkswagen for damages.

They have cheated their shareholders by destroying the brand, chiselled their competitors by avoiding the product development investments others made, ripped off their customers, selling them something that’s now nearly worthless, wreaked untold damage on Germany’s previously stellar reputation for clean tech, engineering excellence and integrity, and they owe the rest of us any money they have left for the damage they have done to our only home, the planet Earth. I have absolutely no sympathy for the Volkswagen management team. The more brutal the punishments the better. I expect it will destroy the company; and it should. There are undoubtedly good people who work there who have also been betrayed. Sadly, they should get their resumés in order now.

Unfortunately this is the ugliest example of green washing I’ve seen and it serves as a reminder that sometimes the market cannot be trusted to do anything but think about short term profits and bonuses. That’s why governments must make interventions into the market relating to issues like climate change. We must have strong regulations, a price on carbon and unmitigated punishment for despicable corporate crimes, like those committed by Volkswagen.

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When will petitions become class action lawsuits?

pen_1CLIMATE CHANGE WILL SOON COST POLLUTERS & THEIR PROTECTORS

This year environmental groups all over the world are collecting millions of signatures on petitions to bring to the Paris climate talks in December. The intention is to prove that ordinary people want their governments to act quickly and seriously. We expect, perhaps naively, that government people who want to be re-elected will see the writing on the wall and will get serious with climate change.

What if those signatures were on class action lawsuits instead? Environmental lawyers are now finding numerous ways to punish governments and polluters who together seem to collude to destroy the only home we have without repercussions. An example is another recent landmark ruling in The Hague, that found that the Dutch government has a duty to protect its citizens from climate change. The old argument that a government can blame neighbouring governments and thus shirk its responsibilities was thrown out.

While we bring our petitions, governments will use the Paris photo op to make great pronouncements about their intentions, then return home and try to implement a plan. Some will intervene in their domestic economy and build strength, creating jobs through the clean tech bonanza. Others will continue to be manipulated by the big fossil fuel companies and drag their feet, being left behind by the rest of the world both environmentally and economically. Someone needs to pay for this environmental and economic neglect of citizens. It might be time for environment groups to create a different kind of carbon bubble, based on class action lawsuits as a first step toward ever more severe punishment.

Here’s the link to the Dutch story.

Momentum Toward a New Energy Age – Nails in the Carbon Coffin

Warren Buffett & Al GoreI recently got promoted with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project organization and finally got to meet him. It was a special day as he is, of course, an idol of mine. This happened at a big training session for 600 more Canadian Climate Leaders (8000+ in the world) held last week in Toronto.

My personal agenda aside, the hope is that this group becomes obsolete soon. We work on educating the public and creating momentum, as the world shifts into the new energy age. We’re still probably decades from a full shift, but momentum is definitely ramping up. A few recent developments in the news may have more impact than we will (but we’re working as hard as ever on educating our world).

WARREN BUFFET BETS ON SOLAR

Warren Buffet, iconic American billionaire investor recently pulled his money out of oil and invested about a billion dollars in solar. This is really important for momentum because although the investment trends have been going this way, Buffet is more than a person. He’s a larger-than-life icon for the investment world. His move is a signal to investors everywhere, that the time to make the shift to new energy technology is now. A good analysis of why he did this can be found here.

Similarly but negatively, a few years ago, T. Boone Pickens, another iconic billionaire, started backing natural gas fracking in a big way, causing a huge investment shift into that business. This was very unfotunate. Not only did it do nothing for greenhouse gas emissions and wreck a lot of landscapes, but it was a myth built on weak profit numbers, created for political reasons (expensive mid-east wars, energy independence etc.) We now know that fracking wells peak in a few years and that fracking cannot make money when the oil price drops below $80. And we still don’t know completely what vile chemicals they are pumpiing at very high pressure down towards our fresh water aquifers.

SOLAR AT 4 CENTS PER KWH

In its own way the fracking debacle may end up doing some good. Buffet and others are finally seeing that coal, gas and oil either have no future, or are just too political and volatile for investment gambits. Renewables, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly positive. The technology is proven, you can build it fast, and now the economics are fabulous. For example, solar just hit 4 cents per kilowatt in an important utility bid in Austin, Texas. Nothing can touch this, not natural gas, not even cheap old coal.

It’s time for everyone, investors, homeowners, business owners, corporate executives, urban planners, government policy people, developers, etc. to get on the clean tech bandwagon and slam the last few nails into the carbon coffin.

The Economist reports scientific proof that severe weather is going to rise exponentially

The cautious skeptics at the Economist Newspaper continue to move their general position away from default conservative approaches. Last week the publication reported that “scientists are now able to say that climate change increases the risk of a particular weather pattern by a measurable amount and, in some cases, that a particular episode is almost impossible to imagine without global warming.” Green blog re economist pic It quotes credible scientists at Oxford University, University of Melbourne, the Natioanal Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the USA and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. It notes that it is still difficult to connect individual weather events to climate change, but the science is growing quickly linking man-made climate change to patterns of dramatically increasing severe weather occurrances. The Economist: “In an attempt to give the overall picture, a new study in Nature Climate Change by Erich Fischer and Reto Knutti, both of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, moved away from individual events to consider heatwaves and rain storms in general. They took all the heat and precipitation extremes between 1901 and 2005, defining extremes as events likely to occur once every 1,000 days. By running the climate models with and without climate change, they found that 0.85°C of warming (the rise since the industrial era began) has made such heat extremes four or five times more likely, roughly the same as in the Australian study. The authors attribute 75% of the heat extremes, and 18% of the precipitation extremes, to observed global warming. Worryingly, the risk of an extreme event seems to rise exponentially as mean temperatures creep up. The probability of a heat extreme is twice as great at 2°C of warming than at 1.5°C…That is a useful addition to climate science. People are routinely told about—and routinely ignore—the bad things they are doing to the climate. The attribution studies show that the climate is doing bad things back.”

It’s important when cautious, skeptical and credible publications like the Economist acknowledge truths that they know are especially bad news for carbon-based players in the global economy. The worm is definitely turning. Here’s the link: The Economist

Everyone should watch this

Professionally, I’m a commercial writer and videographer, so although I wish everyone on earth would  click on the picture below and watch the whole video, I know most people won’t; because its 18 minutes long.Elon Musk Powerwall

So I’ll try to tell you about it in a few sentences. It’s a presentation by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, the electric car people. He’s unveiling two products: A home battery system that you hang on your wall and an industrial battery system, that big organizations can use for more demanding needs than a residential home.

The home battery can be ordered today for $3500. A big enough home solar panel system is still a bit expensive to install, but as many people know, these costs have dropped by more than 80% in the past 5 years and will continue dropping. It’s similar with electric cars, they still cost more than most of us can afford, but that is changing really quickly too. Tesla is right now building a massive battery factory in Nevada, which Musk says is the first of many that will be built by his company and others, all over the world. So batteries for solar-panel-homes and home charging of electric cars will soon be accessible to a lot more people in ordinary income brackets. Electric vehicle makers are right now quickly eliminating long distance concerns and the other worries we have about them.

This home battery announcement is further proof that the world is going to change big time, despite all the BS that status quo industries pay lobbyists to shovel at us. So in addition to making our planet healthier, it is now really starting to make economic sense for ordinary people to shift more to electricity and away from fossil fuels.

Energy politics & economics update

My last post suggested oil prices would rebound, but obviously I underestimated how determined certain countries are to use the oil price as a weapon. There is all kinds of speculation, including the suggestion that the once powerful OPEC group wants to hurt the USA natural gas industry and the Russians at the same time. They have loads of cash, so they don’t care how long it takes to inflict the damage they are seeking. It’s all a little complicated and in a few decades will be irrelevant.

The good news is that the growth in investment in our renewables future APPEARS to continue unabated by the availability of cheap oil and gas. According to Bloomberg total clean energy investment jumped 16%  in 2014, to $310bn (£205bn). China led the trend with growth of 32%. Of course most of this was before the oil price collapse; however it also took place during a period when a lot of government subsidies for renewables disappeared, or were reduced. In addition, China and the US reached an agreement this past November that says China will increase its non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 20% within 15 years; and the USA will reduce emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level by 2025. Republicans in the USA will try to prevent this in the short term, but unfortunately for them, China and the rest of the world will ignore them, creating a global competitive imperative within 10 years or so.

I’m trying to paint a rosy picture here but the realist in the dark corner of my brain is screaming out that we should expect some difficulty for clean tech investment during 2015 and perhaps 2016.  Governments will continue to move into renewables for centralized power. I think distributed solar will continue to grow in places where it is already growing quickly. But inroads into new market regions will be delayed, while cheap natural gas remains abundant. Everything is exaggerated. Low oil prices will hurt but not cripple the fracking business. On the other hand the fracking business probably is making more of its productivity gains than it should.

In the long run coal and uranium-based nuclear are more or less certain to expire, but in both cases it will take a long long time to reach their end. Oil and gas will likely live on forever, but their global dominance will dissipate within a few decades. I still believe that the march toward a green future is unstoppable, but it will march more quickly when oil and gas are expensive again.

Let’s not panic about oil prices

Every time the price of oil drops dramatically people get into a tizzy. They think it will hurt the economy. They shouldn’t. Environmentalists think it will threaten the growth of alternative energy. They shouldn’t worry either.

crude price hist 5 yrs 333

First, for my fellow oil-loving Canadians who think they have all kinds of problems; well you do, but the oil price drop isn’t really serious. If you look at this chart you can see that the price of oil has grown steadily over the past 5 years. Sure it’s had its ups and downs -like in 2011- when it went for a big swing. That’s probably all that’s happening right now.

Second for my fellow environmentalists, we worry when the oil price goes up because it makes it more profitable for oil people, who seem to care more about profits than public safety and environmental damage. We also worry when the oil price goes down because we think it threatens the current march to cost parity (see map) that is taking place worldwide for solar.

WORLDWIDEPRICE PARITY 444

Similar maps can be drawn now for wind, geothermal and other clean technologies by the way; so quit worrying. The game is basically ending for oil. It’s like participating in a game of monopoly and knowing you just don’t have a way to win, but it would be rude to stop playing.

So the oil people are quietly investing in wind power in Texas, trying to figure a way out of unprofitable fracking, and hiring fewer lobbyists to try to attack climate science. The USA, UK, Canada and Australia are the only four countries left in the world where the media is gullible enough to take these lobbyists seriously anyway. That will completely end soon.

Environmentalists should look at the big picture. When oil goes way up or way down it demonstrates to homeowners and businesses how volatile and unpredictable oil is and how conservation technologies and clean energy technologies are starting to look pretty good by comparison.

This whole mythology about wind and solar being somehow less reliable because they are a little intermittent is now being reviewed by serious players in less inflamed tones, with new smart grid technologies and new electricity storage solutions now helping to dispel one of the few arguments oil and coal people have left.

Nonetheless, having said all of this about the arguments for clean tech, the transformation challenge is huge. Clean tech investment is easily kicking butt everywhere and growth of solar and other renewables is staggering compared with past growth; but it is not staggering when measured against the world scenario. Non-hydro renewables are well under 10% of the worldwide energy scene. So we have a long way to go. But at least the argument is over.

All that’s left to do is to worry about the volatility of oil and start changing all our systems to clean, reliable renewables.