Climate fight: Germany sets 2038 deadline to end coal use
By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER
Monday, January 28
BERLIN (AP) — In a pioneering move, a German government-appointed panel has recommended that Germany stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2038 at the latest, as part of efforts to curb climate change.
The Coal Commission reached a deal early Saturday following months of wrangling that were closely watched by other coal-dependent countries.
“We made it,” Ronald Pofalla, the head of the commission, told reporters in Berlin. “This is a historic effort.”
Germany gets more than a third of its electricity from burning coal, generating large amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The 28-member panel, representing mining regions, utility companies, scientists and environmentalists, suggests a review in 2032 could bring forward the coal deadline to 2035.
The plan foresees billions in federal funding to help affected regions cope with the economic impact, and to shield industry and consumers from higher electricity prices. The energy transition will also need a huge overhaul and modernization of the country’s power grid, the commission’s members said.
The decision still needs government approval.
“The whole world is watching how Germany — a nation based on industry and engineering, the fourth largest economy on our planet — is taking the historic decision of phasing out coal,” said Johan Rockstroem, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. “This could cascade globally, locking in the fastest energy transition in history.”
The plan foresees that Germany’s coal plants will be phased out step-by-step to reduce the output of greenhouse gases. Currently, Germany’s coal plants produce the largest amount of carbon dioxide of any country in Europe.
The commission’s plan leaves open which plants should be shut down first, saying it’s a decision the government needs to negotiate with the plants’ operators, the German news agency dpa reported.
The commission suggests that in the next ten years, the government should help create up to 5,000 new jobs in the affected regions when coal mining will be phased out. These regions — in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony — should also get federal subsidies totaling 40 billion euros (45.6 billion dollars) in the next twenty years.
“New jobs will be created through structural measures in the coal mining regions,” Pofalla said. “We will keep up secure and affordable energy supply and the agreement will lead to sustainable climate protection in Germany.”
Germany is committed to an “energy transition” that involves replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources such as solar and wind power. While the country has made great strides in that direction — renewables beat coal for the first time last year — removing coal from the power equation entirely is a major challenge.
The reduction in coal will have to be compensated by an increase in renewable power sources and — at least in the interim — from burning more natural gas, which emits about half the amount of greenhouse gases as coal.
Greenpeace, which wants all coal plants shut down by 2030, welcomed that “Germany finally has a timetable how the country can become coal-free” but said the measures were not ambitious and fast enough.
“The speed is wrong,” said Martin Kaiser, the head of Greenpeace. “Exiting coal by the year 2038 only is inacceptable.”
The country’s environmental groups welcomed the commission’s recommendation that Hambach Forest in western Germany, an ancient woodland that became a flashpoint of anti-coal protests last year, should be saved.
Energy company RWE’s plans to cut down half of the Hambach Forest to expand a lignite strip mine had seen protesters camping out in the trees for months to block workers from cutting them.
An opinion poll released by public broadcaster ZDF found that 73 percent of Germans agree a quick exit from coal is very important. The telephone poll of 1,285 people, conducted Jan. 22-24, had a margin of error of about three percentage points.
This version corrects the commission’s suggested subsidy for affected regions to 40 billion euros, not 40 million euros.
Frank Jordans contributed reporting.
Trump’s push for new offshore drilling is likely to run aground in California
Updated January 27, 2019
Author: Charles Lester, Researcher, Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz
Disclosure statement: Charles Lester served as the executive director of the California Coastal Commission from 2011 to 2016.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Fifty years ago, on January 28, 1969, a blowout from Union Oil’s Platform A spilled more than 3.2 million gallons of oil into the Santa Barbara Channel. The disaster was a seminal event that helped create the modern environmental movement, and it forever changed the political and legal landscape for offshore oil development in California. No new oil leases have been approved off the California coast since 1984.
Today a large majority of Californians believe that offshore oil development is not worth the risk. Opposition stands at 69 percent, including a majority of coastal Republicans.
The Trump administration is pushing to dramatically expand federal offshore oil and gas production, reigniting a battle 50-year battle with California over this issue. But based on my research and years of experience working with passionate Californians as the executive director of the California Coastal Commission, I expect that there will be a long and protracted fight before any new oil development is authorized here.
Before the blowout
The first offshore oil wells were drilled in 1896 from wooden piers in Summerland, California. By 1906, some 400 wells had been drilled. The first true open-water well was drilled in 1938 in the Gulf of Mexico. In that same year, California created the State Lands Commission to better regulate leasing and production of offshore oil. As new technology enabled drilling in deeper waters, the commission began leasing tidelands near Huntington Beach and off of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Early on, ownership of tidelands was unclear. In 1953 Congress gave states control over tidelands within 3 miles of shore and placed the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) – submerged lands beyond 3 miles – in federal hands.
These laws provided new certainty for offshore leasing. Starting in 1957, California approved construction of nearly a dozen platforms and six offshore islands (designed to camouflage drilling rigs) from Huntington Beach to Goleta. The federal government held five OCS lease sales between 1961 and 1968, leading to hundreds of exploratory wells and four production platforms off Carpinteria and Santa Barbara.
After the spill: Protests and reform
The Santa Barbara blowout lasted for days, spreading oil over hundreds of square miles and tarring more than 30 miles of beach. Thousands of birds, marine mammals and other seas creatures were killed. As the spill unfolded on national television, the State Lands Commission imposed a moratorium on offshore drilling.
The Interior Department also suspended federal activities, but following a regulatory review the Nixon administration tried to accelerate OCS oil development, especially when the 1973 OPEC oil embargo highlighted U.S. dependence on Middle East oil.
Congress, meanwhile, was passing keystone environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act; major amendments to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act; the Coastal Zone Management Act; the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the Ocean Dumping Act; and the Endangered Species Act. Californians passed the coastal protection initiative in 1972, and the legislature enacted the Coastal Act in 1976, creating a commission to regulate development in the coastal zone.
Nascent environmental groups now had new legal tools to take on polluting industries, including oil companies. Between 1972 and 1978, six lawsuits were filed against OCS lease sales, stymying federal efforts to increase offshore production.
Legal challenges to OCS leasing motivated Congress to reform the offshore oil program. In 1978 Congress amended the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, calling for “expeditious” development but also creating a phased decision process for planning, leasing, exploration and production. The law required comprehensive social, economic and environmental analysis, and provided opportunities for states to participate. Its supporters hoped that the new “rational” process would lead to accelerated, yet environmentally sound OCS oil development.
The new law didn’t work. Beyond the Gulf of Mexico, where thousands of oil platforms were already operating, conflicts only worsened. Between 1978 and 1990 the Coastal Commission, other coastal states and environmental groups filed 19 lawsuits challenging the OCS leasing program. Californians were particularly incensed in 1981, when the new Interior Secretary James Watt reversed a prior decision against leasing offshore of central and northern California.
This decision triggered an explosion of litigation and protests. In one lawsuit the Coastal Commission argued that OCS leases directly affected the state’s coastal zone, and therefore should be reviewed by the commission. The Supreme Court disagreed in 1984, but eventually Congress changed the law to agree with the commission. Thousands of citizens protested at another lease sale hearing in Fort Bragg. Fifteen cities and counties from San Diego to Humboldt adopted ordinances that restricted siting of any onshore infrastructure for offshore oil.
Ultimately, 19 more platforms were approved off the California coast, mostly in the Santa Barbara Channel. But progress was slow, and the OCS leasing program began to unravel. Spurred by Watt’s aggressive approach, Congress started attaching leasing moratoria to appropriations bills. Between 1981 and 1994, these provisions expanded from protecting 0.7 million acres off California to 460 million acres off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Bering Sea.
In 1990, perhaps in an effort to get Congress to release other waters for exploration, President George H. W. Bush removed most federal waters off the Pacific coast, Florida and New England from the leasing program through 2000. President Bill Clinton later extended these moratoria through 2012, and in late 2016 President Barack Obama removed California from the federal leasing program until 2022. Environmental groups and the state had seemingly prevailed.
A permanent ban?
The Trump administration’s reversal of past policy has already sparked tremendous opposition in California. Nearly all other coastal states also are objecting.
In my view, offshore oil production in California now makes little sense. The U.S. no longer faces an oil crisis. Domestic production is at record levels, and California is actively working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change, including through renewable energy development. Though California is still the nation’s third-highest oil producer, there is strong political and public support for a forward-looking energy portfolio, rather than expanding offshore oil development – especially given its threat to the coast.
For Californians who want to pursue a progressive energy policy, more can be done at the state level. In September 2018 Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills blocking construction of new offshore drilling infrastructure, such as wharves and pipelines, anywhere in state waters, which extend three miles offshore from the coast. The Coastal Act also could be amended to replace its outdated 1970s-era policy, which makes allowances for offshore production, with a policy stating that offshore oil and gas development is no longer in the state interest – except, perhaps, in a national security emergency. Renewable sources such as wind and wave energy could be supported instead.
Such actions would be symbolically important now, and could help California make headway towards what many protesters here are calling for: a permanent ban on offshore oil development.
Scott L. Montgomery is a Friend of The Conversation, Lecturer, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington: Thanks for this well-informed article, with its fairly detailed historical context. The only things you might have added were the extensive pier drilling in Santa Barbara itself (the place was something of an “oil town” for a few decades) and the fact that the 1969 Channel Spill was a national event of great significance, given when it occurred and the tremendous media coverage it received. It was very powerful in the politics of environmentalism and gave the movement much force.
I entirely agree with your opinion that there is no need to open the offshore. The US is in the midst of an oil/gas boom that is already a decade old and will last for perhaps another decade or even two. The move by the Trump Administration to open the entire US federal offshore has little to do with energy, really, and is more accurately viewed as a political move or gesture against environmental sensibilities and in favor of fossil fuel companies.
At the same time, CA is probably the most prospective area for oil offshore. Companies might not wish to trek to Alaska or explore for gas in the Eastern Gulf given low prices at present, but they might be attracted to the channel islands area and areas just north, which are quite accessible. This to say that state and public opposition has real purpose. Such would be my guess at any rate.
California is one of the three most prospective offshore areas in the U.S., the other two being the Eastern Gulf (offshore Florida; mostly gas) and Alaska (oil and gas).
William Blount: Read Trumps book. I will summarize. Demand everything. Identify the problem complaining children. Discredit them. Do the deal with the noncomplainers. go home & enjoy success
Auschwitz survivors pay homage as world remembers Holocaust
By VANESSA GERA
Monday, January 28
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday amid a revival of hate-inspired violence and signs that younger generations know less and less about the genocide of Jews, Roma and others by Nazi Germany during World War II.
As survivors of Auschwitz marked the 74th anniversary of the notorious death camp’s liberation, a far-right activist who served time in prison for burning an effigy of a Jew placed a wreath there with about 50 other Polish nationalists to protest the official observances.
Piotr Rybak said the group opposes the annual ceremony at Auschwitz to mark the camp’s liberation by the Soviet army, the event that gave rise to the international Jan. 27 remembrance. Rybak claimed it glorifies the 1 million Jewish victims killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death complex and discounts the 70,000 Poles killed there.
“It’s time to fight against Jewry and free Poland from them!” Rybak said as he marched to the site, according to a report by Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on its website.
Rybak’s claim is incorrect. The ceremony at the state-run memorial site paid homage Sunday, as it does every year, to all of the camp’s victims, both Jews and gentiles, while Christian and Jewish religious leaders recited a prayer in unison together. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also stressed that the Third Reich targeted Poles as well as Jews.
Since last year’s observances, an 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, was fatally stabbed in Paris and 11 Jews were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat services, the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Human Rights First, a U.S. organization, recalled those killings and warned that “today’s threats do not come solely from the fringe.”
“In places such as Hungary and Poland, once proudly democratic nations, government leaders are traveling the road to authoritarianism,” said Ira Forman, the group’s senior adviser for combating anti-Semitism. “As they do so, they are distorting history to spin a fable about their nations and the Holocaust.”
Former Auschwitz prisoners placed flowers early Sunday at an execution wall at Auschwitz, paying homage before the arrival of the nationalists at the same spot. They wore striped scarves that recalled their uniforms, some with the red letter “P,” the symbol the Germans used to mark them as Poles.
Early in World War II, most prisoners were Poles, rounded up by the occupying German forces. Later, Auschwitz was transformed into a mass killing site for Jews, Roma and others, operating until the liberation by Soviet forces on Jan. 27, 1945.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned in an op-ed in the weekly Welt am Sonntag that across Europe populists are propagating nationalism and “far-right provocateurs are trying to downplay the Holocaust.”
“We shall never forget. We shall never be indifferent. We must stand up for our liberal democracy,” Maas wrote.
Over the past year, Germany has seen a rising number of often violent attacks against Jews carried out by neo-Nazis and Muslims, prompting the government to appoint a commissioner against anti-Semitism and to start funding a national registration office for anti-Semitic hate crimes.
The appearance by nationalists at Auschwitz comes amid a surge of right-wing extremism in Poland and elsewhere in the West. It is fed by a broader grievance many Poles have that their suffering during the war at German hands is little known abroad while there is greater knowledge of the Jewish tragedy.
However recent surveys show that knowledge of the atrocities during World War II is declining generally.
A new study released in recent days by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Azrieli Foundation found that 52 percent of millennials in Canada cannot name even one concentration camp or ghetto and 62 percent of millennials did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Its findings were similar to a similar study carried out a year before in the United States.
In Britain, a new poll by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found that one in 20 adults in Britain do not believe the Holocaust took place.
The poll of more than 2,000 people released Sunday also found that nearly two-thirds of those polled either did not know how many Jews had been murdered or greatly underestimated the number killed during the Holocaust.
“Such widespread ignorance and even denial is shocking,” chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman said.
Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs said in its Global Antisemitism Report released Sunday that 13 Jews were murdered in fatal attacks in 2018, marking the highest number of Jews murdered since a wave of attacks on Argentinian Jews in the 1990s.
The report found that around 70 percent of anti-Jewish attacks were anti-Israel in nature and that most of the attacks were led by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
The United Nations recognized Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.
Czarek Sokolowski in Oswiecim, Poland, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Gregory Katz in London and Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed reporting.
How will generations that didn’t experience the Holocaust remember it?
January 26, 2019
Author: Timothy Langille, Lecturer, Arizona State University
Disclosure statement: Timothy Langille does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The Soviet Red Army liberated the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, on Jan. 27, 1945.
This year, the United Nations and 39 countries will commemorate that date with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This date acknowledges the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. But, as a Jewish studies scholar, I have found it also reveals how traumatic memory works in the present and can serve as a reminder about the need for collective action.
Remembering past crimes
The United Nations memorial day connects Holocaust memory to issues in the present.
Since 2010, the United Nations has set specific themes to not only remember past crimes, but prevent future ones. For example, the central theme of 2010 was about Holocaust survivors and what future generations can learn from them.
As the world confronts more crimes against humanity, growing nationalism and global refugee crises, keeping the memory of the Holocaust has become increasingly important because it can bring awareness to contemporary atrocities.
In recent years, the focus of the United Nations has ranged from issues such as violence against women and children to increasing tolerance. Last year, the day specifically explored the theme of shared responsibility. The day has also been used to speak about the unprecedented refugee crises in other parts of the world, such as the attacks on civilians in Syria.
Sociologist Jeffrey Alexander says the memory of these events provides lessons for the future. The very act of remembering brings these events into the present and makes them relevant to our own times.
My research looks at how traumatic memory is transmitted down through the generations.
Scholar Marianne Hirsch shows in her “postmemory” work how trauma is transmitted to the children of survivors. These memories are transmitted so deeply that they become the memories of the second generation themselves.
According to Hirsch, descendants of survivors may “remember” past trauma though stories, mannerisms and images. She looks at traumatic memories being transferred through fiction, art, memoir and testimony. An example of this postmemory art is American novelist Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.”
In this graphic novel, Spiegelman represents his father’s memories of the Holocaust. He does this by capturing both his and his father’s stories. Spiegelman’s present is dominated by events that preceded his birth. This deep personal connection explains how postmemory works.
As Holocaust survivors age, the challenge will be to keep this intergenerational memory. Once the survivors of Holocaust pass on, who will tell their stories?
To prevent the loss of survivors’ testimony, it has been documented and cataloged by several museums and foundations such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the USC Shoah Foundation, Yale University’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies and others.
The act of remembering matters for what it tells us about the past – and about the present.
Science Says: Get used to polar vortex outbreaks
By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — It might seem counterintuitive, but the dreaded polar vortex is bringing its icy grip to parts of the U.S. thanks to a sudden blast of warm air in the Arctic.
Get used to it. The polar vortex has been wandering more often in recent years.
It all started with misplaced Moroccan heat. Last month, the normally super chilly air temperatures 20 miles above the North Pole rapidly rose by about 125 degrees (70 degrees Celsius), thanks to air flowing in from the south. It’s called “sudden stratospheric warming.”
That warmth split the polar vortex, leaving the pieces to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside Boston.
“Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air,” Cohen said.
By Wednesday morning, one of those pieces will be over the Lower 48 states for the first time in years. The forecast calls for a low of minus 21 degrees (minus 29 Celsius) in Chicago and wind chills flirting with minus 65 degrees (minus 54 Celsius) in parts of Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service.
The unusual cold could stick around another eight weeks, Cohen said.
“The impacts from this split, we have a ways to go. It’s not the end of the movie yet,” Cohen said. “I think at a minimum, we’re looking at mid-February, possibly through mid-March.”
Americans were introduced to the polar vortex five years ago. It was in early January 2014 when temperatures dropped to minus 16 degrees (minus 27 Celsius) in Chicago and meteorologists, who used the term for decades, started talking about it on social media.
This outbreak may snap some daily records for cold and is likely to be even more brutal than five years ago, especially with added wind chill, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private weather firm Weather Underground.
When warm air invades the polar region, it can split the vortex or displace it, usually toward Siberia, Cohen said. Recently, there have been more splits, which increase the odds of other places getting ultra-cold, he said. Pieces of the polar vortex have chilled Europe, Siberia and North America this time. (It’s not right to call the frigid center of cold air the polar vortex because it is just a piece or a lobe, not the entire vortex, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.)
When the forces penning the polar vortex in the Arctic are weak, it wanders, more often to Siberia than Michigan. And it’s happening more frequently in the last couple decades, Furtado said. A study a year ago in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society looked at decades of the Arctic system and found the polar vortex has shifted “toward more frequent weak states.”
When the polar vortex pieces wander, warmth invades the Arctic, Alaska, Greenland and Canada, Masters said. While the Midwest chills, Australia has been broiling to record-breaking heat. The world as a whole on Monday was 0.7 degrees (0.4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1979-2000 average, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.
Some scientists — but by no means most — see a connection between human-caused climate change and difference in atmospheric pressure that causes slower moving waves in the air.
“It’s a complicated story that involves a hefty dose of chaos and an interplay among multiple influences, so extracting a clear signal of the Arctic’s role is challenging,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. Several recent papers have made the case for the connection, she noted.
“This symptom of global warming is counterintuitive for those in the cross-hairs of these extreme cold spells,” Francis said in an email. “But these events provide an excellent opportunity to help the public understand some of the ‘interesting’ ways that climate change will unfold.”
Others, like Furtado, aren’t sold yet on the climate change connection.
Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini, who has already felt temperatures that seem like 25 degrees below zero, said there’s “a growing body of literature” to support the climate connection. But he says more evidence is needed.
“Either way,” Gensini said, “it’s going to be interesting being in the bullseye of the Midwest cold.”
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at borenbears .
This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.