Tag Archives: Climate

Colombia, Venezuela get opportunity to overcome oil addiction. You’ll believe what happens next.

Venezuela and Colombia, where I’ve been hanging out for the last couple weeks, are terminal oil junkies. Both countries have built economies so oil dependent that with the current low price of crude, people are freaking out.

Of course crisis=opportunity and all that, so what better way to stimulate the local economy and set the countries up for the next cycle than invest in renewable energy? Good time to build some wind farms and microhydro projects, you might think. Good time to lay some solar panels onto reservoirs, you might think. Well, that’s not what’s happening.

In Venezuela, the government is bragging that it’s reactivating mature oil wells. And as the government faces the country’s worst financial crisis since at least the 1990s, it continues to give away gasoline to anyone who can take it. Free. Seriously. Younger people with dollar signs in their eyes are now investing their cash into oil, too. The folks behind Derwick Associates, led by Alejandro Betancourt, have spent about $250 million on shares of Bogota-based oil company Pacific E & P (formerly known as Pacific Rubiales), while their pal Francisco D’Agostino is part of a group that is putting more than $30 million into Harvest Natural Resources, a Texas oil company. Everybody’s betting on oil.

Here in Colombia, I heard Finance Minister Mauricio Cárdenas address an oil conference. He told the crowd that his country is committed to maintaining oil output at 1 million barrels a day or more, despite the fall in oil prices. “That’s why it’s important for the hydrocarbons sector to have all the stimuli, all the incentives, so that in this low-price scenario, it can invest, it can explore, and most of all, increase production. This is fundamental for the national economy, and indispensable for the public finance of the country.” (Link to story about his speech here, but the quote is from my own recording.)

The same day that he spoke, August 26, this report came out:

The consequences of global sea level rise could be even scarier than the worst-case scenarios predicted by the dominant climate models, which don’t fully account for the fast breakup of ice sheets and glaciers, NASA scientists said today (Aug. 26) at a press briefing.

What’s more, sea level rise is already occurring. The open question, NASA scientists say, is just how quickly the seas will rise in the future.

So you have these two tropical, coastal countries, facing the loss of their coral reefs and atolls, not to mention their glaciers and the unique alpine moors called páramos. Two countries that depend on a robust, constant hydrologic cycle for their energy supply and their basic survival. And their reaction to a crisis in the oil industry is to keep investing in oil.

Humanity! Never change.

50 years

Tractor spreads salt on Rachel Street, Montreal, 2 February 2015

The current situation

In case your Monday is just a bit too cheery, here is something to think about.

I am in Montreal, cherishing something that has become scarcer every decade: a day with wind-chills of -30°C, blasting snow crystals that sting the eyes, parents pulling their kids to school on little sleds, bundled up like blue burritos in their puffy snowsuits. Winter days like this were once routine across much of continental North America and Asia; today they are often newsworthy. (And the news is always full of people remarking about how this disproves climate change. Argh.)

This week is also an important anniversary. It’s been 50 years since the first US presidential address on the climate change consequences of excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

50 years!

I had no idea. (This is one more reason to subscribe to the daily “Above the Fold” e-mail from Environmental Health News. Good stuff in there.)

“Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places,” said Johnson less than three weeks after his 1965 inauguration. “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”


I like fossil fuels. We can burn rocks! We can turn underground gases into phones, chairs, keyboards, eyeglasses, false teeth, blue snow suits and nerf footballs. We are amazing. The problem, of course, is we do it too much. It’s a shame to see one species among millions changing the lived experience of every square centimeter of our planet. But hey. At least we are doing something useful with all that fuel.


Venezuela sabotaging UN climate treaty process, again

I went to the 1992 Earth Summit. I was there amidst a bunch of tents, wandering through a swarm of NGO brainiacs, walking my bicycle around, my purple dance tights making me an obvious outlier in the field of khaki pants. It was a depressing spectacle, an exercise designed to fail. Sure, there was hope for a treaty — the Montreal Protocol was entering full effect and the oil companies feared they would face the same fate as the makers of Freon. They needed someone, anyone, to stop any treaty that really reduced the consumption of fossil fuels. And it quickly became clear that there were plenty of volunteers for that dirty role.

The US, under George HW Bush, was the obvious saboteur. Bush said the US way of life was not up for negotiation. But when, for just a moment, it looked like the US would go along with the treaty, Japan popped up to say it would block the efforts. That put the US, and (briefly) Japan on the side of OPEC, that group of oil companies with UN seats. This is how things work: people think big oil has to try and pay people off to be heard. The fact is, there is a queue of leaders eager to do the bidding of big oil, just waiting for big-oil’s current favourite to screw up and do something environmental.

Now, the big oil companies and OPEC states have spent years slowing any progress on climate change. They have thrown smoke for literally a generation. But if you want creativity in the anti-climate-treaty game, you need to look to PDVSA and Venezuela. Continue reading

In the climate change con, we are the victims

Here is a very nice wrap-up of the state of the debate over climate change in US Congress.

As this guy notes, the big climate marches Sunday were only needed because people are wilfully ignorant. I just went through my old papers and I turned up a copy of the newsletter No Sweat News from fall 1993. Here are pages 14-17, scanned for your pleasure.

No Sweat News Fall 1993 No Sweat News Fall 1993 page 16Yes, 1993. It is, here in the northern hemisphere, now fall 2014. This newsletter is now old enough to drink legally in the Puritan States of America. And it is still on point. The debate has barely moved.

That despite the cover article of the Summer 1995 issue, “Climate Change, Insects and Plague,” which explains why insects are among the quickest adaptors to climate change, happily moving upslope or up-latitude as conditions permit. Even 19 years ago, they were noting that malaria-bearing mosquitos had increased their range in response to climate change. And now here we are, in the middle of a host of outbreaks, from Ebola to Chikungunya to measles to mysterious weirdness, and people for the most part know not to mention climate change because it’s just going to break down into a stupid screamfest when we all need to just get together and fix these symptoms asap.

This blog is about scandals in the energy industry. The biggest scandal of all has nothing to do with Spanish con men or Nigerian governors or Venezuelan get-rich-quick schemes. The biggest and worst scam out there is that we continue to burn so many fossil fuels. We are all suckers in a huge con by the energy industry. Man-made climate change is now well underway, matching the form but exceeding the scale of predictions from 20 years ago, and we, like the victims of any con, continue to deny that we’ve been had, believing the con man’s promise that the payment will come next week, that it wasn’t his fault. Like the victims of any con, we blame ourselves. Like most victims, we refuse to react with righteous rage, instead slinking back home to have a drink and lament our fate. It’s a bad way to go.

How climate change will kill us: Two things you might not realize

Lives close to the edge. Dying.

Lives close to the edge. Dying.pte

Climate is changing. I think we all get that it’s bad, but a lot of people don’t understand the statistical mechanics of just how it’s going to do us in. Fear not! I explain things very simply.

Climate change shifts the margins. A hotter climate doesn’t affect everything or everyone equally. It hits things, species, and places that live close to the edge.

Species that live in little mountaintops will suffer as their favored temperatures move up to ever smaller zones at the summits and eventually disappear. Sea creatures with shells are already suffering, from ocean acidification. Turns out they had gotten a bit too comfy with the slow-changing acidity levels of the last 300 million years. Little did they know that things could change more quickly, outstripping their ability to adapt. (As they say in South America, chau pescau!) Continue reading

El Niño: A destabilizing force in N. South America

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.17.53 PMEl Niño causes droughts in northern South America, killing cattle, harming water-dependent wildlife and forests, and slashing hydroelectricity output. It is often followed by La Niña. That’s not to say that floods only happen in La Niña years or droughts only happen with El Niño, but rather that the converse is true: La Niña years almost always bring floods and El Niño almost always brings drought to northern South America, and other disruptive effects elsewhere.

1988 La Niña Hurricanes Joan and Gilbert both affected northern South America, as did August flooding from the Magdalena river in Colombia to Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela.

1997-98 El Niño drought throughout northern Andes, cutting Peru’s growth by 2.8 percentage points and causing damages in Ecuador equal to 15 percent of GDP. Foreknowledge helped little.

1999 La Niña Caused the Vargas Tragedy, which may have killed 20,000 people in Venezuela, in December 1999.

2007-10 El Niño  drought that slashed power production in Venezuela, forcing the country to import fuel oil and food, slow output from the steel and aluminum industries, and start water and power rationing that never went away. Caracas reservoirs almost dried up.

2011 La Niña Catastrophic flooding in Colombia.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.19.36 PM

Click for interactive chart

El Niño may well break the lengthy drought in Chile which would be mostly a good thing for humans, cattle, sheep, lettuce, glaciers and mining projects. (Click that link if you want to learn some good Chilean Spanish.) But further north, it could start another 2- or 3-year cycle of climatic instability. I hope the region is better-prepared now than it was a few years ago for this predictable chaos.

======UPDATE April 28=====

Thomas O’Donnell writes in with the following, which is so substantive that I am just going to put it here in the post as I don’t want it to be missed.

Colombia announced they are shutting off the gas pipeline to Venezuela, citing expected upcoming El Niño shortages of water for hydroelectric production; so, they have to save their gas (the contract allows this in the face of ‘acts of God’). Meanwhile, the contract is ending (June?) and the pipeline is scheduled to be reversed in Sept. after a new contract is negotiated. Of course, this won’t happen as Venezuela has no gas to send to Colombia However, although people say the cutoff is because Venezuela might not be paying for the gas (which is of course likely), meanwhile, I am told by people who know the gas sector and Zulia well that in fact the El Niño explanation Colombia gives is a very real issue.

So, on top of all the other deep troubles in the west of Venezuela (Zulia and Tachira) face, presages serious shortages of gas for cooking and for electrical generation there. So, as you say, many effects of the swings in weather cycles… but esp. on top of a totally dysfunctional Venezuelan state that’s certainly not prepared whatsoever. Recall all the preoccupation with exactly how many meters and centimeters behind the damn at Guri a few years back? Here we go again!

Guri, as it happens, is in much better shape than it was in the 2010 El Niño, which followed showed up while Venezuela was still in a drought that started with the 2007 El Niño. But this is a great illustration of the kind of disruption that happens even with the kind of climate variability that is well within the historic norm.

Now think about how this bodes for climate changes that exceed historic norms.