Peak Oil & Consequences

Donald Pols, director of the environmental group Milieudefensie, celebrates on May 26 after a court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its emissions. REMKO DE WAAL / ANP / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The hug says all you need to know. Our kids, our grandchildren, and generations to follow will all be wondering why we we fiddled so long while carbon burned. The consequences of choices we make now related to the future of fossil fuel use are epic:

Amid Troubles for Fossil Fuels, Has the Era of ‘Peak Oil’ Arrived?

For years, analysts have predicted that rising world oil consumption would peak and start declining in the coming decades. But with a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of electric vehicles, some now say that “peak oil” is already here.

An oil platform facility operated by French oil giant Total in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Angola in 2018. RODGER BOSCH / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

May was arguably the worst month ever for big oil — and the best for its opponents — as courts and corporate shareholders sided with environmental activists to humble the biggest of the fossil-fuel giants, culminating in “Black Wednesday.”

Electric taxis line up at a train station in Shenzhen, China in October, 2019. NIKADA VIA GETTY IMAGES

On that day, May 26, three events occurred that would have seemed nearly impossible not long ago: activists angry at ExxonMobil’s climate policies won three seats on its board of directors; Chevron shareholders voted to force the company to start cutting emissions; and a judge in the Netherlands ruled that Shell must slash its emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

So what’s next for big oil? Is the game up? Have we reached peak oil? Continue reading

Humpback Whale Rebound

A humpback whale off the shore of the Gold Coast in Australia. (Photo: Steve Austin, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Just absorb this (thanks to the Living on Earth podcast for this short segment):

…Experts estimate there are about 40,000 humpbacks that migrate each year between the southern oceans around Antarctica and the oceans around Australia. And there used to be 1500 a half century ago, mostly wiped out due to wailing. Continue reading

Crazy Yellow Ants, Be Gone From This Island

Hundreds of frigate birds and boobies fly over a Crazy Ant Strike Team crew of volunteers at Johnston Atoll NWR.
USFWS

In common language, they are called crazy. They terrorize birds on an island where they did not belong. On this platform we are always going to side with the birds. Full stop. But, even these lousy things ants do are impressive. They remind us that one day ants will rule the planet.

Yellow Crazy Ants, An Enemy To Seabirds, Have Been Wiped Out On A Remote Atoll

The yellow crazy ant was last spotted by Crazy Ant Strike Teams on the vital seabird nesting grounds in December 2017, but it was too soon to tell if they’d been fully extinguished because their colonies are found underground. Robert Peck/HCSU/USGS

After more than a decade, the terrorizing reign of the yellow crazy ant is over on the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

The nonnative invasive insect had been threatening ground-nesting seabirds on the atoll since at least 2010, nearly wiping out the island’s red-tailed tropicbird colony in just a few years and wreaking havoc on other seabirds. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that its campaign to eradicate the insects has been a success. Continue reading

Heat & Humanity

Last week, researchers at nasa and noaa found that “the earth is warming faster than expected.” Photograph by Kyle Grillot / Bloomberg / Getty

This week’s newsletter ponders how adaptable we are and serves as a reminder that we cannot take for granted that we are sufficiently so for the changes upon us:

It’s Not the Heat—It’s the Humanity

Rising air temperatures remind us that our bodies have real limits.

By Bill McKibben

It’s hard to change the outcome of the climate crisis by individual action: we’re past the point where we can alter the carbon math one electric vehicle at a time, and so activists rightly concentrate on building movements large enough to alter our politics and our economics. But ultimately the climate crisis still affects people as individuals—it comes down, eventually, to bodies. Which is worth remembering. In the end, we’re not collections of constructs or ideas or images or demographics but collections of arteries and organs and muscles, and those are designed to operate within a finite range of temperatures. Continue reading

When Renewables Are Less Expensive Than Coal…

A solar power plant in Gujarat, India. Renewable energy in the country would be cheaper than between 87% and 91% of new coal plants, the report says. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Looks like we are almost there:

Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds

Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs

Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Continue reading

Methane Leaks Plugged With Help From Above

Thanks to Public Broadcasting Service (USA) for this:

Satellites seek out methane leaks from pipelines, oil fields, landfills and farms

Satellite imagery shows a Russian gas pipeline (left) and highlights huge amounts of methane (right) being emitted from the pipeline on September 6, 2019. Kayrros and Modified Copernicus Data, 2019

The threat was invisible to the eye: tons of methane billowing skyward, blown out by natural gas pipelines snaking across Siberia. In the past, those plumes of potent greenhouse gas released by Russian petroleum operations last year might have gone unnoticed. But armed with powerful new imaging technology, a methane-hunting satellite sniffed out the emissions and tracked them to their sources.

Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, a growing fleet of satellites is now aiming to help close the valve on methane by identifying such leaks from space. The mission is critical, with a series of recent reports sounding an increasingly urgent call to cut methane emissions. Continue reading

Finnish Food Future

Solar Foods, a Finnish company, makes a weird promise on the landing page of its website; but still, thanks to the Guardian for this story behind the story:

A soya bean field in Argentina. The study found a hectare of soya beans could feed 40 people, the solar-microbial process 520 per hectare. Photograph: Ivan Pisarenko/AFP/Getty Images

Microbes and solar power ‘could produce 10 times more food than plants’

The system would also have very little impact on the environment, in contrast to livestock farming, scientists say

Combining solar power and microbes could produce 10 times more protein than crops such as soya beans, according to a new study. Continue reading

The Gulf Stream’s Weakening Arm

Again, exceptional infographics tell an important environmental story–it is worth opening if only for the quality of the interactive illustrations:

In the Atlantic Ocean, Subtle Shifts Hint at Dramatic Dangers

The warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the powerful Gulf Stream to weaken, some scientists fear.

By MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFF
and JEREMY WHITE

IT’S ONE OF THE MIGHTIEST RIVERS you will never see, carrying some 30 times more water than all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. In the North Atlantic, one arm of the Gulf Stream breaks toward Iceland, transporting vast amounts of warmth far northward, by one estimate supplying Scandinavia with heat equivalent to 78,000 times its current energy use. Without this current — a heat pump on a planetary scale — scientists believe that great swaths of the world might look quite different. Continue reading

One Of The Most Mind-blowing Discoveries In The History Of 20th- And 21st-Century Ornithology

Whimbrel returning to Deveaux Bank for their night roost. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

We have not featured Deborah Cramer in our pages previously, but this seems like a fine time to start. She is a visiting scholar at M.I.T.’s Environmental Solutions Initiative and the author of the book to the right.  Accompanied by excellent photographs from Damon Winter as well as exceptionally lucid infographics, her interactive essay in the New York Times is a forceful plea for conservation of a sensitive bird habitat:

An Oystercatcher on the bank. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

Leave This Wondrous Island to the Birds

An ever-changing spit of sand on the Carolina coast is a haven for multitudes of shorebirds. But nature and humans threaten it.

ABOUT 20 MILES south of Charleston, S.C., at the mouth of the North Edisto River, a small, horseshoe-shaped sandbar rises above the water. The claim of land is tenuous on Deveaux Bank, about a half-mile offshore. At high tide, it’s three-quarters submerged. Deveaux’s sand is continually shifting as swirling currents build it up and wash it away. In some years, the island disappears altogether. Continue reading

Botanical Migration

Ponderosa pine, now widely distributed in North America, were exceedingly rare during the last ice age. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Zach St. George for this:

As Climate Warms, a Rearrangement of World’s Plant Life Looms

Previous periods of rapid warming millions of years ago drastically altered plants and forests on Earth. Now, scientists see the beginnings of a more sudden, disruptive rearrangement of the world’s flora — a trend that will intensify if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in. Continue reading

Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 Pipeline, The Keystone Sequel, Must Not Happen

A section of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Superior, Wis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Associated Press

McKibben, always ahead of the curve, has this proposal for us all to consider:

The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Dead. Next Target: Line 3.

Michael Siluk/Education Images — Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The announcement this week from the Canadian company TC Energy that it was pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted with jubilation by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climate scientists and other activists who have spent the last decade fighting its construction.

The question now is whether it will be a one-off victory or a template for action going forward — as it must, if we’re serious about either climate change or human rights. Continue reading

About That Convenience

Guardian graphic | Source: Morales-Caselles et al, Nature Sustainability, 2021

Thanks, Damian Carrington, for getting us the data that Morales-Caselles et al compiled making us wonder whether convenience is worth this cost:

Takeaway food and drink litter dominates ocean plastic, study shows

Just 10 plastic products make up 75% of all items and scientists say the pollution must be stopped at source

Plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to the most comprehensive study to date. Continue reading

Alan Taylor’s Photo Selections

Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone. China Daily via REUTERS

It has been awhile, too long, since we nodded to Alan Taylor’s photo selections, so here is to closing out the week with images:

An optical illusion at the Eiffel Tower, scenes from the French Open, a surfing competition in El Salvador, a presidential election in Peru, Olympic qualifying skateboarding trials in Italy, a giant sinkhole in Mexico, a sunrise annular eclipse seen in New York City, a platypus health check in Australia, and much more

A Lupine field in full bloom is pictured near Sollested on Lolland island in Denmark on June 8, 2021. – Denmark OUT (Photo by Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

Continue reading

Indigenous Peoples & Nature Conservation

The National Bison Range in Montana, now managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. DAVE FITZPATRICK / U.S.FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Thanks to Jim Robbins, as always, for this look into How Returning Lands to Native Tribes Is Helping Protect Nature:

From California to Maine, land is being given back to Native American tribes who are committing to managing it for conservation. Some tribes are using traditional knowledge, from how to support wildlife to the use of prescribed fires, to protect their ancestral grounds.

In 1908 the U.S. government seized some 18,000 acres of land from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to create the National Bison Range in the heart of their reservation in the mountain-ringed Mission Valley of western Montana.

While the goal of protecting the remnants of America’s once-plentiful bison was worthy, for the last century the federal facility has been a symbol to the tribes here of the injustices forced upon them by the government, and they have long fought to get the bison range returned. Continue reading

The Very Definition Of Drought

Houseboats on the shrinking Lake Oroville reservoir in California last month. Many have now been removed from the lake. Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

We knew a bit about almonds being very thirsty trees, but when you see the trees being uprooted, it becomes even more real. The questions surrounding drought are too much for a short article, so thanks to one of our favored science writers, Henry Fountain, for keeping this focused:

The Western Drought Is Bad. Here’s What You Should Know About It.

Answers to questions about the current situation in California and the Western half of the United States.

Almond trees are removed from an orchard in Snelling, Calif. Farmers are making plans to plant less water-intensive crops because of the drought. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Much of the Western half of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions. Conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest, but the drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and even the Northern Plains.

Drought emergencies have been declared. Farmers and ranchers are suffering. States are facing water cutbacks. Large wildfires are burning earlier than usual. And there appears to be little relief in sight.

There are no precise parameters that define a drought, but it is generally understood to mean a period of abnormally dry weather that goes on for long enough to have an impact on water supplies, farming, livestock operations, energy production and other activities. Continue reading

Gustatory Floral Pleasure

Nelson, picking burdock.

Most of us, top of mind, would mention visual and olfactory pleasures as the primary sensation that flowers wow us with. Thanks to Helen Rosner for reminding us, and to Alexis Nikole Nelson for demonstrating to us, the other sensory pleasures of (some) flowers:

The social-media star Alexis Nikole Nelson, a.k.a. BlackForager, is building an army of florivores.

Nothing takes me back to the Midwestern pastoral of my youth quite like the smells of springtime: freshly cut grass with an edge of lawnmower fuel, the sweet ozone of an imminent thunderstorm. Most of all, it’s lilac bushes, which grow stately and ragged in the hard soil of Chicago’s front yards, or peek over back fences to wave down the alleyways. In May, the tiny purple flowers would open; by June, their thick perfume hung in a haze around each bush, the barest breeze sending out intoxicating eddies of rich scent. When I left home and moved to the East Coast, I sometimes bought cheap lilac colognes—there are plenty of lilacs out here, too, but sometimes a person is a little homesick and needs a whiff on demand. Scent, so neurologically intertwined with memory, is an emotional catapult, and I found that even the clumsiest molecular facsimile of lilac would get the job done. Continue reading

Not Everyone Believes In Magic

Thanks to Veronique Greenwood for this:

Magic Tricks May Fool You, but These Birds Can See Through Them

A small experiment using sleights of hand and illusions offers insights into how birds and people perceive the world.

The coin is in the illusionist’s left hand, now it’s in the right — or is it? Sleight of hand tricks are old standbys for magicians, street performers and people who’ve had a little too much to drink at parties. Continue reading

Exxon’s Emerging Reckoning

The pressure has been mounting for some time, but it is finally causing needed changes. There were plenty of headlines late last week, but only today do we feel this news means something potentially lasting:

ExxonMobil loses a proxy fight with green investors

An activist hedge fund succeeds in nominating at least two climate-friendly directors to the energy giant’s board

“The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of petroleum.” That battle cry animates critics of Big Oil, who dream of phasing out hydrocarbons in favour of cleaner fuels and technologies. Continue reading