Do the Richest Companies in the World Deserve Government Money Too?

“While there may be more efficient instruments than environmental taxes for addressing some of the externalities, energy taxes remain the most effective and practical tool until such other instruments become widely available and implemented.”
—The IMF in a recent reoprt

Do you know what one of the richest corporations in the world is? Exxon Mobil, with a current value of $357.1 billion. Do you know what Exxon Mobil’s Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson is paid? In 2012 his salary was increased by 15 percent to $2.57 million, along with a $4.59 million bonus and stock awards valued at $19.63 million, this all according to a public filing. In fact, other than banking and investment companies—many of them Chinese—the energy industry makes up many of the richest corporations in the world. (By the way, Exxon Mobil doesn’t even make the top ten, so you get some idea of what these companies are worth.)

So with such incredible value, are you surprised to learn that globally the fossil fuel industry receives $5.3 trillion a year to cover additional costs? This is from a recent report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We’re not talking subsidies here. This is actually in addition to the $492 billion in direct subsidies governments give the fossil fuel industry around the world.

$5.3 trillion a year is difficult to comprehend, but it works out to about one third of the U.S. gross domestic product. This report gets its total from both direct assistance as well as the amount spent to cover pollution damage by fossil fuels, an “externality” ignored by the industry. Continue reading

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Simon Donner’s Elevator Pitch on Climate Change

Simon Donner is a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is also currently an associate in UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability as well as the Biodiversity Research Centre. On top of that, he is also an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow and a Google Science Communication Fellow.

Simon leads a broad program of teaching and research that investigates how climate variability and climate change influence society and ecosystems such as coral reefs. His research group examines a wide range of problems including climate change and its effects on coral bleaching, nutrient pollution in rivers, and adaptation requirements in the Pacific Islands, as well as some of the obstacles to public education about the issue.

Here is his his unique take on the Elevator Pitch for climate change.

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Our Planet Keeps on Warming

Last week NASA reported yet another record-breaker for global temperatures. It turns out this past January-to-April was the hottest first four months globally of any year we’ve ever recorded, thanks to repeated monthly records being broken including our planet experiencing the second-hottest April ever.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that we have a 90 percent likelihood that the El Niño will last all summer long, with a more than 80 percent likelihood it will last all year long. If that happens, there’s no doubt 2015 will surpass 2014 as the hottest year we’ve ever recorded.

In fact, for the last four months in a row, our planet has consistently broken the record for the hottest 12 consecutive months ever: the record set by Feb. 2014—Jan. 2015 was beaten by Mar. 2014—Feb. 2015, which was surpassed by Apr. 2014—Mar. 2015, which has just been beaten yet again by May 2014 – April 2015.

Sadly, these records are going to continue to be broken. Don’t be surprised when May 2015 breaks records, and that January to May 2015 is the hottest first five months of a year, and June 2014—May 2015 is the hottest consecutive twelve months ever.

These broken records are really starting to sound like broken records.

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Appreciating Mother Nature

Today is a holiday in Canada. Victoria Day celebrates Queen Victoria, England’s longest-reigning monarch—at least until this September when Queen Elizabeth II will surpass that record.

But for many Canadians like me, it also marks the weekend we open the cottage. This entry I’m reposting below has been a popular one before because it describes how my experiences there really help to enhance my appreciation for nature and solidify the importance of why we have to try to preserve it. I hope you enjoy it, I think its message is becoming increasingly important:

This summer I’m spending as much time as I can with my family at our cottage. It’s a little piece of heaven in Muskoka on Mary Lake. I’d like to say that Muskoka is a hidden gem but it’s not all that much of a secret. In fact, many celebrities have millionaire cottages on lakes throughout the region. “Look, there’s Goldie Hawn’s place! And that one over there belongs to Cindy Crawford. Shania Twain owns a place on Such-And-Such lake. Even Kenny G has one close by.”

Other than March Break and a week between Christmas and New Year’s, I generally work every week of the year except for the summer when I save up my holiday time so we can get to the lake as much as possible. We manage to make it most weekends because it’s only about an hour away from the hospital so even when I’m on call it means I just get up a little earlier that morning and drive right there.

But it’s the week-long breaks I most look forward to. I seem to get so much more sleep up there, and I recharge my batteries at the cottage better than any other method I’ve discovered, all by simply breathing in the fresh lake air. And we get to do so many outdoor activities that are tougher to do back home. Things like biking, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and swimming. So I get much more exercise than my busy weeks working as a cardiologist allow.

One morning when I was kayaking this week—I tend to go out around 8 a.m. when the lake is particularly placid—I started to imagine what it would be like if Muskoka sat on top of a large deposit of bitumen instead of the Canadian Shield as it does in reality. If this part of the world was like northern Alberta, I imagine companies would try to buy up the land so they could start to develop it and ultimately export the products of their efforts to China and the U.S. My little piece of heaven would get destroyed in the name of the economy. Continue reading

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Our Trillion Tonne Budget

“A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from buying it.”
—William Feather

We’ve heard many times before that we need to keep below certain emissions thresholds if we want to maintain a climate that’s at all hospitable for the majority of people living on this planet. The most common threshold we hear is that we need to prevent global warming below two degrees Celsius or it will make the more recent extreme weather phenomena we’ve been experiencing the last few years look like a light summer rain.

Another threshold often mentioned—indeed related to the two-degrees-Celsius one—is preventing the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from reaching 450 parts per million (ppm). For context, April’s monthly average globally was 403.26 ppm according to CO2Now.org. Lately surpassing 400 ppm is no big deal but only three years ago we reached that point for the very first time. (You’ll recall that we always reach the peak during the northern hemisphere’s spring, but as summer gets going the levels slowly drop thanks to photosynthesis until they reach their nadir in the fall and start to climb again.) A level of 450 ppm of carbon dioxide is predicted to be associated with two degrees Celsius of global warming, so that’s the reason these two levels are related.

But there’s another way to think about it, and one that might be a little easier to grasp: the global carbon budget. Given that most carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for centuries because photosynthesis isn’t keeping up with what we’re adding, this concept states that it doesn’t matter at what rate we add carbon dioxide, what matters most is how much we add in total. Continue reading

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