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Exposed: ‘Academics-For-Hire Agree Not To Disclose Fossil Fuel Funding’

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A Greenpeace undercover investigation has exposed how fossil fuel companies can secretly pay academics at leading American universities to write research that sows doubt about climate science and promotes the companies’ commercial interests.

Posing as representatives of oil and coal companies, reporters from Greenpeace UK asked academics from Princeton and Penn State to write papers promoting the benefits of CO2 and the use of coal in developing countries.

The Professors agreed to write the reports and said they did not need to disclose the source of the funding.

Citing industry-funded documents – including testimony to state hearings and newspaper articles – Professor Frank Clemente of Penn State said: “In none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar.”

The leading climate-sceptic academic, Professor William Happer, agreed to write a report for a Middle Eastern oil company and to allow the firm to keep the source of the funding secret.

Happer is due to appear this afternoon as a star witness in US Senate hearings called by Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

In emails to reporters he also revealed Peabody energy paid thousands of dollars for him to testify at a separate state hearing, with the money going to a climate-sceptic think-tank.

The investigation also found:

US coal giant Peabody Energy paid tens of thousands of dollars to an academic who produced coal-friendly research and provided testimony at state and federal climate hearings, the amount of which was never revealed.

The Donors Trust, an organisation that has been described as the “dark money ATM” of the US conservative movement, confirmed in a taped conversation with an undercover reporter that it could anonymously channel money from a Middle Eastern oil and gas company to US climate sceptic organisations.

Princeton professor William Happer laid out details of an unofficial peer review process run by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a UK climate sceptic think tank, and said he could ask to put an oil funded report through a similar review process after admitting that it would struggle to be published in an academic journal.

– A recent report by the GWPF that had been through the same unofficial review process, was promoted as “thoroughly peer-reviewed” by influential columnist Matt Ridley a senior figure in the organisation.

The full story and all the documents have been published on http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/

The findings echo the case of Willie Soon, a prominent academic exposed in a New York Times investigation as having accepted donations from fossil fuel companies and anonymous donors in return for producing climate-sceptic scientific papers.

Reporters approached the academics claiming to be representatives of unnamed fossil fuel companies looking to commission ‘independent’ research.

Professor Frank Clemente, a sociologist from Penn State university, was asked if he could produce a report “to counter damaging research linking coal to premature deaths (in particular the WHO’s figure that 3.7 million people die per year from fossil fuel pollution)”. He said that this was within his skill set; that he could be quoted using his university job title; and that it would cost around $15,000 for an 8-10 page paper

Asked whether he would need to declare the source of the money, Professor Clemente said: “There is no requirement to declare source funding in the US.” He then shared examples of a testimony and an op-ed, explaining: “Note that in none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar.”

Clemente also disclosed that for another report on “the Global Value of Coal” he was paid $50,000 by Peabody Energy – the sponsorship was mentioned in the small print of the paper, but the amount has not been disclosed until now.

The academics’ willingness to conceal the source of funding contrasts strongly with the ethics of journals such as Science, which states in its submission requirements that research “should be accompanied by clear disclosures from all authors of their affiliations, funding sources, or financial holdings that might raise questions about possible sources of bias”

The investigation has also revealed a system by which foreign oil and gas companies can anonymously fund US climate-sceptic scientists and organisations.

When asked to ensure that the commissioning of the report could not be traced back to the Middle East oil and gas company, Professor Happer contacted his fellow CO2 Coalition board member, Bill O’Keefe, a former Exxon lobbyist. He suggested channelling it through the Donors Trust, a controversial organisation that has previously been called the “Dark Money ATM” of the US conservative movement.

When investigators asked Peter Lipsett of the Donors Trust, if the Trust would accept money from an oil and gas company based in the Middle East, he replied that, although the Trust would like the cash to come from a US bank account, “we can take it from a foreign body, just we have to be extra cautious with that.”

Professor Happer, who sits on the GWPF’s  Academic Advisory Council, was also asked by undercover reporters if he could put the industry-funded report through the same peer review process as previous GWPF reports claimed to have been “thoroughly peer reviewed”. Happer explained that this process had consisted of members of the Advisory Council and other selected scientists reviewing the work, rather than presenting it to an academic journal.

He added: “I would be glad to ask for a similar review for the first drafts of anything I write for your client. Unless we decide to submit the piece to a regular journal, with all the complications of delay, possibly quixotic editors and reviewers that is the best we can do, and I think it would be fine to call it a peer review.

GWPF’s “peer review” process was used for a recent GWPF report on the benefits of carbon dioxide. According to Dr Indur Goklany, the author of the report, he was initially encouraged to write it by the journalist Matt Ridley, who is also a GWPF academic advisor. That report was then promoted by Ridley, who claimed in his Times column that the paper had been “thoroughly peer reviewed”.

Commenting on the investigation, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “This investigation exposes a network of academics-for-hire and a back channel that lets fossil fuel companies secretly influence the climate debate while keeping their fingerprints off. Our research reveals that professors at prestigious universities can be sponsored by foreign fossil fuel companies to write reports that sow doubt about climate change, and that those professors will keep that funding secret from the public.

“The question now is very simple. Down the years, how many scientific reports that sowed public doubt on climate change were actually funded by oil, coal and gas companies? This investigation shows how they do it, now we need to know when and where they did it. It’s time for the sceptics to come clean.”

He added: “Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has serious questions to answer. Does it condone a member of its academic council agreeing to be secretly sponsored to write a report by a group purporting to be from a Middle Eastern oil company? Have reports by senior figures in Lawson’s foundation been secretly paid for by the fossil fuel industry?

“Would they have agreed to Professor Happer’s suggestion that the ‘oil-funded’ report be put through a ‘similar review’ process to the GWPF’s own ‘peer-review’ process? Does it accept that the foundation’s so-called ‘peer review’ process is flawed, given Professor Happer’s revelations about how it operated on an earlier report? And does the foundation stand by its academic advisor, Viscount Ridley, who described that earlier report as ‘thoroughly peer-reviewed’?”

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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