Door County, Wisconsin

By: Moises Velasquez-Manoff DEC. 3, 2016

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Credit: Jérémie Fischer

You’ve saved your money and amassed a surplus. You’ve read a few books on investing and gleaned the basics — the importance of diversification, of investing for the long term, and of buying and holding rather than trying to beat the market. But you also know that human-caused climate change will (if it hasn’t already) start eroding economic output. Extreme weather, droughts and crop failures could mean mass migration and political instability. As Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary, recently put it, the “greenhouse-gas crisis” won’t burst like the housing bubble of 2008 because “climate change is more subtle and cruel.”

What’s a climate-aware investor to do?

Individuals aren’t the only ones contemplating this question. Sixty-nine percent of Fortune 500 companies reported more demand for “low carbon” products this year, according to the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project. And some of the country’s largest pension funds, including the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and New York State’s retirement fund, have begun tilting away from fossil fuels.

This approach has been called “socially responsible investing.” But these days, money managers aren’t doing it only because they think it’s morally correct; they also worry that, over the long term, fossil fuels are a losing bet.

Some experts told me that the historic accord on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions reached in Paris last year was a turning point in how investors think about climate change. The United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters, ratified it in September. It’s now unclear what will happen to the agreement; President-elect Donald J. Trump has said he wants to pull the United States out of it.

 

But it’s worth noting that business interests — and Mr. Trump sells himself as a consummate businessman — were integral to making the Paris deal happen in the first place. They realize that “environmental stability is absolutely at the base of financial stability,” Christiana Figueres, the diplomat who organized the conference, told me. Extreme weather, like the 2011 monsoon floods that ravaged parts of South Asia where electronic components that go into hard disks and cars are built, have driven that lesson home.

Something more hopeful is happening as well. Renewable energy prices have dropped, and are nearly competitive with fossil fuels. China aims to build enough charging stations to power five million electric cars by 2020. What will happen, Ms. Figueres asked, if China phases out the combustion engine altogether? “You can begin to see the signals,” she said. “The tide is beginning to change.”

Advances in battery technology are part of this change. The wind doesn’t blow all the time, nor does the sun shine all day. Energy produced intermittently needs to be stored. A lack of easy storage options has been an obstacle to renewables. But battery costs have declined by more than 70 percent since 2008. Mark Fulton, a founding partner of Energy Transition Advisors, says that what’s about to happen with the battery and renewables is an old-fashioned technological disruption story, akin to the advent of the internet. From an investor’s standpoint, this kind of disruption could mean losing your shirt or, if you plan properly, handsome returns.

One of the myths around socially responsible investing is that aligning investments with ethics means lower returns. But that’s not the case. George Serafeim, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and his colleagues analyzed data going back over 20 years. Companies that were committed to sustainability outperformed companies that weren’t, they found. A dollar invested in sustainability-minded companies in 1993 would have grown to $22.58 by 2014, but just $15.35 if invested in companies with no such commitments. Why might this emphasis increase profits? These firms may also be more likely to invest in human capital and be better run overall.

So what can an individual investor do? You might follow the Rockefeller Family Fund and divest from the fossil fuel companies entirely. The research firm MSCI offers fossil-free stock indexes — like the S.&P. 500 but without fossil fuel companies — as does a newer organization called Fossil Free Indexes. Various climate-aware mutual funds exist.
But even if you divest, says Jean Rogers, chief executive of the nonprofit Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, there’s no escaping the ripple effects of climate change. “Because it’s so ubiquitous, it’s very hard to diversify away from climate risk,” she told me.

Another approach is a kind of divestment lite. Asha Mehta, director of responsible investing at Acadian Asset Management, told me that her clients increasingly request a “decarbonization” of their portfolios. Worried that complete divestment might hobble a portfolio’s performance, however, Ms. Mehta might reduce a portfolio’s carbon footprint to, say, 80 percent of a benchmark like the S.&P. 500 by removing the biggest emitters.

A firm called Osmosis Investment Management takes a different tack. It researches the overall efficiency of companies — how many resources a firm uses to create how much product. And instead of excluding certain industries entirely, Osmosis chooses only the most efficient within a given sector. It caters to institutional investors, but plans to release a fund for individuals soon.

You can, of course, try to do what Osmosis does on your own; the Carbon Disclosure Project has a trove of information on how companies fare on the sustainability front. But here’s the problem. More than 5,600 corporations disclose sustainability information, but no standards govern these disclosures. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and others are working to devise such standards. Pressure is also mounting on the Securities and Exchange Commission to enforce the disclosure of sustainability information. The commission recently asked for feedback on reforming the disclosure process, and a good chunk of letters mentioned sustainability and climate change.

Under a Trump administration, it seems less likely that the S.E.C. will respond to these concerns. But that may have a paradoxical effect: If investors can’t count on regulators to enforce transparency on sustainability, says Sonia Kowal, the president of Zevin Asset Management, they may take matters into their own hands.

So if you’re concerned about how climate issues might damage your nest egg, you might begin by raising your voice. Ask your fund managers about their plans. And look at how the funds you own vote on sustainability-related issues, such as whether to calculate and disclose a company’s greenhouse gas emissions, or whether to develop a risk-assessment plan for climate change.

Some of the largest asset managers consistently vote against such resolutions. In so doing, critics argue that they work against their customers’ interests. An organization called Fund Votes tracks how mutual funds vote, and the nonprofit Ceres keeps a list of what happens with climate-related resolutions. The broader point is that climate-proofing your portfolio may require homework and some rabble-rousing.

Does that make you an activist? “The word I prefer is ‘investor advocate,’ ” Jackie Cook, who operates Fund Votes, told me. “You’re advocating for your own investments.”

For many, the perceived gap between socially responsible investing and good business has narrowed almost to the point of convergence. And maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. A Citi report from last year put the costs of climate change, without mitigation, at $44 trillion by 2060. Many analysts have pointed out that a yearslong drought preceded the conflict in Syria — an example of how shifting climate can encourage political instability that ripples around the world. And this year, a report from the World Economic Forum said that the No. 1 global risk in the next 10 years was water crises. Nos. 2 and 3 were climate adaptation failure and extreme weather.

The economy can be only as healthy as the planet that houses it. Pushing for transparency on sustainability issues, and asking money managers to consider climate change, is really the purest form of self-interest.

Original Article: Cashing in on Climate Change

By: Taylor Hill, an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The first underwater turbines are connected to Scotland’s power grid.

underwater-turbine

A tidal energy turbine is loaded onto a barge in Invergordon, Scotland. (Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

Two turbines installed off Scotland’s coast aren’t harnessing the country’s winds to generate power. Instead, these blades are spinning underwater, using an even more predictable renewable power source in the region—tides.

The offshore array is the world’s first network of tidal turbines to deliver electricity to the power grid, according to Nova Innovation, the company behind the development.

That’s a big step for green power generation, as it shows commercial viability for a marine-based power source to create renewable energy. Unlike solar and wind power, where power production stops when the sun isn’t shining or when the wind stops blowing, Nova’s tidal arrays continuously generate electricity by using perpetual incoming and outgoing tidal currents to spin its underwater turbines 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“We are absolutely delighted to be the first company in the world to deploy a fully operational tidal array,” said Simon Forrest, managing director of Nova Innovations. “Deploying the second turbine truly sets us apart and showcases our technology.”

So far, two 100-kilowatt turbines have been installed in the turbulent tidal stream of Bluemull Sound off the Shetland Islands—an archipelago about 120 miles north of mainland United Kingdom, where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Nova is planning to construct five turbines in the region, providing power to residents and businesses on the Shetland Islands.

 

Lang Banks, director at World Wildlife Fund Scotland, said the tidal array is an example of how the technology can help communities reach emissions reduction goals.

“Alongside energy-saving measures, marine renewables—including tidal—will have a critical role to play in helping Scotland reduce climate emissions as we phase out polluting fossil fuels and nuclear power,” Banks said. “Globally, tidal power has huge potential, which is why countries such as Japan are researching this type of energy technology.”

While the $3.9 million Shetland tidal project is small, marine energy’s potential looms large. Renewable energy agency U.K. Carbon Trust estimates a $165 billion global tidal energy market could be developed by 2050. The thousands of potential locations for tidal turbines could boost zero-emission energy, eliminating millions of pounds of greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise be released through fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

The U.S. Energy Department estimates tidal streams in the U.S. could generate enough electricity to power nearly 30 million homes a year.

The industry, though, is still in its infancy. Some projects in the works include French company OpenHydro, which says it is close to linking two tidal machines off Brittany to create a 1-megawatt tidal array. U.K.-based Tidal Lagoon Power has proposed to build a tidal turbine system called the Swansea Bay project that would generate 320 megawatts.

In the U.S., companies in Oregon, Washington, and Maine are in various states of trial and testing of tidal power systems. This week, the federal government selected 10 organizations to share more than $20 million in funding to be used to explore ways to generate electricity from ocean waves and tidal currents.

The ocean’s constant motion is a boon to steady power production but a bane for engineers, who must develop a cost-effective generator capable of withstanding the relentless pounding and corrosive marine environment.

On the Shetland Islands, residents are weighing the environmental impacts that would come with a beefed-up tidal array system against the potential impacts of a planned wind farm. One group, known as Sustainable Shetland, has been fiercely opposed to a proposed 103-turbine, 307-megawatt wind farm that’s been in the works since 2008.

Frank Hay, chairman of Sustainable Shetland, said the project would replace environmentally important peatlands, and many of the turbines would be placed within 1.5 miles of residences.

“We recognize that renewables must play a part in how we live in the future. However, these schemes must be fit for scale and fit for purpose,” Hay said. “A wind farm of this scale is wrong for Shetland.”

Hay said the group is not opposed to the smaller-scale tidal array but questions what a big project would look like.

“A major problem for tidal energy is that to make it large-scale it will require a large area of seabed, and this could have issues for fishermen as well as marine life in the area,” Hay said. “It would appear that nearly every renewable system would have some negative aspect.”

Government officials have already designated two regions south of Shetland—Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters—as Marine Energy Parks, aimed at streamlining the commercial-scale leasing process to get potential prototypes and projects online faster.

Those locations, Lang said, “offer further opportunity for Scotland’s marine renewable businesses to develop wave and tidal devices. We’re already at the forefront of these important technologies, and energy park status will help speed up the commercial development of marine renewable devices.”

 Original Source: TakePart.Org

 

Global Weirding is produced by KTTZ Texas Tech Public Media and distributed by PBS Digital Studios. New episodes every other Wednesday at 10 am central. Brought to you in part by: Bob and Linda Herscher, Freese and Nichols, Inc, and the Texas Tech Climate Science Center.

 

Visit http://globalweirdingseries.com/ for more videos by Katharine Hayhoe and KTTZ Texas Tech Public Media.

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Image obtained using a climate reanalyzer. (Climate Change Institute/ University of Maine)

Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else — the Arctic.

It’s polar night there now — the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken.

But in fall of 2016 — which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice — something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia.

At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic — the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean — is at a record low. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn’t doing so as rapidly as usual.

In fact, the ice’s area is even lower than it was during the record-low 2012:

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(National Snow and Ice Data Center)

Twitter’s expert Arctic watchers also are stunned. Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine who studies the Arctic, tweeted out an image on Wednesday from the Danish Meteorological Institute showing Arctic temperatures about 20 degrees Celsius higher than normal above 80 degrees North Latitude.

“Today’s latest #Arctic mean temperature continues to move the wrong direction . . . up. Quite an anomalous spike!,” Labe wrote. Here’s the figure:

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Daily mean temperatures for the Arctic area north of the 80th northern parallel. (Danish Meteorological Institute)

As you can see, temperatures north of 80 latitude were around -5 degrees Celsius — still below freezing, but not by that much — instead of the normal of around -25 degrees C.

“Despite onset of #PolarNight, temperatures near #NorthPole increasing. Extraordinary situation right now in #Arctic, w/record low #seaice,” added Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

This is the second year in a row that temperatures near the North Pole have risen to freakishly warm levels. During 2015’s final days, the temperature near the Pole spiked to the melting point thanks to a massive storm that pumped warm air into the region.

So what’s going on here?

“It’s about 20C [36 degrees Fahrenheit] warmer than normal over most of the Arctic Ocean, along with cold anomalies of about the same magnitude over north-central Asia,” Jennifer Francis, an Arctic specialist at Rutgers University, said by email Wednesday.

“The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream.”

Francis has published research suggesting that the jet stream, which travels from west to east across the Northern Hemisphere in the mid-latitudes, is becoming more wavy and elongated as the Arctic warms faster than the equator does.

“It will be fascinating to see if the stratospheric polar vortex continues to be as weak as it is now, which favors a negative Arctic Oscillation and probably a cold mid/late winter to continue over central and eastern Asia and eastern North America. The extreme behavior of the Arctic in 2016 seems to be in no hurry to quit,” Francis continued.

Francis cited the work of Judah Cohen, a forecaster with Atmospheric and Environmental Research, who has linked odd jet stream behavior with cold air over Siberia.

Indeed, another Arctic expert, James Overland with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that the jet stream at the moment is well configured to transport warmth northward into the Arctic. “There is strong warm advection into the Arctic, especially northern-central Canada, in through the Atlantic, and east Siberian/Chukchi Sea,” Overland said.

The whole situation is pretty extreme, several experts agreed.

“Both the persistence and magnitude of these temperature anomalies are quite unusual,” Labe added by email. “Large variability in temperatures is common in the Arctic (especially during the cold season), but the duration of this warm Arctic — cold Siberia pattern is unusual and quite an impressive crysophere/sea ice feedback.” (The “cryosphere” refers to that part of the Earth’s system that is made up of ice.)

Abnormally warm air has flooded the Arctic since October. Richard James, a meteorologist who pens a blog on Alaska weather, analyzed 19 weather stations surrounding the Arctic Ocean and found that the average temperature was about 4 degrees (2 Celsius) above the record set in 1998.

Since November, temperatures have risen even higher. “It is amazing to see that the warmth has become even more pronounced since the end of October,” James wrote on his blog.

Mark Serreze, who heads the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., agrees that something odd is going on. Not only are air temperatures unusually warm, but water temperatures are as well. “There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit above average now,” Serreze said. “It’s pretty crazy.”

What’s happening, he explains, is sort of a “double whammy.” On the one hand, there is a “very warm underlying ocean” due to the lack of sea ice forming above it. But, at the same time, kinks in the jet stream have allowed warm air to flow northward and frigid Arctic air to descend over Siberia.

“The sea ice is at a record low right now, for this time of year, that’s one thing,” Serreze said. “And why it’s so low — again, there’s so much heat in the upper ocean in these ice-free areas, the ice just can’t form right now. The ocean’s just got to get rid of this heat somehow, and it’s having a hard time doing so.”

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(NOAA)

The situation this winter could set the Arctic’s ice up for very thin conditions and a possible record low next year, Serreze said, although it’s too soon to say.

The weather in the Arctic can change swiftly. Temperatures could cool and the ice could rebound.

But the record-low sea ice extent and unprecedented warmth in the region fit in well with recent trends and portend even more profound changes in the coming years.

 

SOURCE: Original Article: The Washington Post

katherine-hayhoe-photoKatharine Hayhoe speaks about climate change to students and faculty at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. Photograph: Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

“Speaking of shills, if she teaches in Texas she probably gets grants from the oil industry.”

This is one of the more polite social media missiles Katharine Hayhoe has had fired at her this week. But it’s hopelessly misguided.

Hayhoe is a climate scientist. And she’s on a mission to persuade skeptics that humans are frying the planet and time is running out to stop it. The last people she would take money from is Big Oil.

While most US climate scientists live amid constant controversy, Hayhoe believes she is enduring an acute level of abuse because she reaches parts of the population many of her peers cannot reach.

She’s an evangelical Christian. Her husband is an evangelical pastor, even, in a faith whose followers are largely skeptical of climate science.
But stating the obvious doesn’t stop the hate mail. It’s stepped up a notch since the academic launched a new web series in recent weeks, Global Weirding – a twist on the term global warming – to explain to doubters why climate change is causing ever more peculiar, dangerous weather and it’s our fault.

“Oh, I’ve been called the C-word, I’ve been called an ‘eff-wit’, some really disgusting stuff. Most of it is just hateful, hateful language, a lot of it anonymous – and when it’s not nameless, 99% of the time it’s from a white man. Facebook and Twitter’s systems for reporting abuse are garbage, by the way,” she said.

Hayhoe is the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where she teaches and conducts research as an atmospheric scientist and an associate professor of political science.

As a Texas-dwelling, evangelical Christian, atmospheric scientist, Hayhoe can often win the ears of many religious communities, receive invitations to address students at Christian colleges, or have conversations with mega-church-going Republican climate cynics she otherwise mightn’t meet or who wouldn’t listen.

Her faith and, now, her web series, has led many people to tell her they had believed or suspected that human-influenced climate change was a liberal hoax but that she has changed their minds, she said.

But Global Weirding has also brought increased hate mail.

“I did have, a few years ago, a death threat, which I reported to the police,” she said.

Now new floods of insults are pouring in since she launched the web series last month.

She’s coping partly by seeing it as a “sort of encouraging, in a strange way” sign that she’s hitting new audiences, drawing contrarians and environmental converts alike.
Hayhoe has made Global Weirding in conjunction with her local PBS TV station, KTTZ, and it’s released via YouTube.

The short installments are released every other Wednesday, with the fourth one of the inaugural season due the day after the 8 November presidential election.

The series delivers a carefully calibrated, humorous, light-hearted lecture underpinned with serious science, featuring cartoons and Hayhoe talking on screen.

The first episode sought to “bust the myth” of stereotypical “green liberals” having a monopoly on environmentalism. The second explained the history of climate science and why global warming isn’t a blip, a natural cycle or a leftwing conspiracy.

And the third pointed out that while Texas emits more carbon than Germany, it’s also the US’s leading producer of wind energy and “has the potential to lead the nation in solar energy”.
Forthcoming episodes explore themes such as “it’s not just polar bears”, “what happened in Paris?” and “religion in relation to climate change”.

Evangelical Christians in the US are split on whether climate change is real and whether it’s mankind’s fault.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) supports the science but that body only represents a portion of the born-again faithful in America.

“We have to draw a very clear line between US evangelicals and those in the rest of the world,” said Hayhoe.

“I went to the Paris climate talks last December and the head of the World Evangelical Alliance, Efraim Tendero, was an official delegate. It doesn’t get more serious than that,” she said, referring to the talks that led to a historic deal in which, after years of conflict, almost 200 countries, including the US, signed an agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

That deal came into force on Friday after the US, China and the European Union agreed to ratify it in recent weeks.

“In the US, the NAE supports the science but evangelicals are not a coherent denomination here. It’s extremely fragmented, there are no bishops or hierarchy, most churches have one overworked pastor and there’s a leadership vacuum on climate that’s being filled by conservative politicians and media,” Hayhoe said.
She added that while evangelicals in other countries typically believe humans are changing the climate, only about 30 or 40% of US evangelicals agree.

However, she said the skepticism is more linked to conservatism than religion per se.

When Hayhoe encounters those insisting that what happens in the world is controlled by God, she explains the climate science – but can also reference the Bible.

She quotes the book of Genesis to illustrate that “God gave us the planet and says we are responsible for it” and then Revelation, warning: “God will destroy those who destroy the Earth.”

Hayhoe is Canadian, so won’t be voting on Tuesday. But she’s dismayed that “the US is the only country in the entire world where one major political party [the GOP] explicitly denies the reality of climate change,” she said.

Based on what the rivals for the White House have said on the campaign trail, if Hillary Clinton wins on Tuesday Hayhoe will be “cautiously hopeful” about action to slow global warming.

How will she feel if Donald Trump wins?

“Alarmed,” she said.

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SOURCE: Original Article

hamburger_1(Photo: Dan Burn-Forti/Getty Images)

How much extra should you be paying for your hamburger to compensate for all the damage that all-beef patty is doing to our climate? How about 40 percent more?
That’s the figure put forth this week by a team of British and American researchers in a provocative study that argues we should be putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to addressing the significant amount of global warming pollution generated by food production—especially livestock.

About a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from raising food, and much of it can be tied to the production of meat. The global beef industry is particularly egregious, from its massive clearing of carbon-storing forests to the cattle’s odious production of methane, which is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon.

As such, the authors of the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, propose what would essentially be a 40 percent carbon tax on beef. Taking into account the climate effects of other types of foods, the researchers likewise propose a 20 percent tax on milk, 15 percent on lamb, 8.5 percent on poultry, 7 percent on pork, and 5 percent on eggs.

Marco Springmann, a researcher at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at Oxford University and lead author of the study, told The Guardian, “It is clear that if we don’t do something about the emissions from our food system, we have no chance of limiting climate change below 2˚C”—that is, below the level climate experts say is necessary if we want to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming.

Yet addressing food-related emissions has often been overlooked in the debates surrounding climate change—even at the landmark international climate summit in Paris last year. This despite that global livestock production alone accounts for as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions from all the world’s vehicles combined, according to a report published last year by Chatham House, a British think tank. The trend lines don’t bode well for the future: Consumers in industrialized countries consume twice as much meat as medical experts deem healthy; in the U.S., it’s three times as much. Forecasts predict global meat demand will increase by 76 percent in the next 30 to 40 years, and as a result, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock could cancel out or even exceed reductions made in other sectors.
By design, the taxes proposed in the recent study dovetail with medical research, with higher rates assigned to foods that have a greater impact not only on the climate but on our health as well. All told, the authors say, the taxes could cut an estimated 1.1 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution from the atmosphere each year while preventing more than 500,000 early deaths from heart disease, stroke, and other diet-related diseases.

No doubt, if the battles over things like soda taxes are any indication, levying a carbon tax on American middle-class staples such as ground beef and milk is a tough sell—and that may be an understatement.

Still, for Springmann, who last year was the lead author of another study showing we could cut climate pollution by 70 percent if the entire world went vegan, the choice is clear. “Either we have climate change and more heart disease, diabetes and obesity,” he told The Guardian, “or we do something about the food system.”

SOURCE: The Other Carbon Tax: Why Meat Eaters Should Pay More for Beef

Even as the U.S. pledges to cut its emissions, it is helping to finance new coal-powered plants overseas.

A herd of Chital deer in the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh. (Video: BBC/Getty Images)

Sundarbans. The word means “beautiful forest” in Bengali, and it’s an accurate description of the 540 square miles of lush jungle, meandering waterways, and abundant wildlife straddling the southern end of the Bangladesh-India border. The world’s largest mangrove forest, a swath of dense verdant green bifurcated by thousands of rivers and streams, occupies the mouth of the river system that supports more people than any other on Earth, giving life to millions who inhabit the fertile alluvial lands surrounding it.

Intense population pressure—Bangladesh’s 160 million people make their home in an area slightly smaller than Iowa—has caused the forests to shrink, but they are still vital in feeding this huge population: The Sundarbans Reserve Forest and India’s Sundarbans National Park protect the land that provides three annual harvests of rice from the severe cyclonic storms that strike the region an average of three times a year. An enigmatic sentry, the Bengal tiger, patrols the barrier. The national animal of both Bangladesh and neighboring India can navigate the waterways and disappear amid the otherworldly vegetation; it’s one of the reasons the Sundarbans region was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. But despite nominal protections, it is—like the forests—endangered.

One reason is that Bangladesh and India plan to build the 1,320-megawatt Rampal coal power plant about 10 miles from the Sundarbans Reserve Forest; activists say part of the project falls within an exclusion zone that bars nearby development.

The plant’s emissions will include 7.9 million tons of carbon dioxide per year and large amounts of mercury. Coal ash from the plant has a “high risk of containing various toxic metals…all of which may cause serious damage to humans and the environment,” according to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Report on the Mission to the Sundarbans World Heritage Site, Bangladesh, from 22 to 28 March 2016, released last week. “Mercury contamination is of particular concern,” the report states, as “current projected control mechanisms and technology are not sufficient to prevent contamination” of surrounding areas.

The IUCN report is only the latest in a catalog of serious concerns that scientists have brought about the project. All have been summarily dismissed by Bangladesh’s government, which conducted the environmental impact assessment on its own project. The IUCN report notes that the EIA “was conducted with limited stakeholder consultation, uses a process that is inconsistent with globally accepted EIA practices, does not address effects of the plant on the [outstanding universal value] of the [UNESCO World Heritage–listed portions of the forest] and does not seem to reflect key concerns raised by national and international experts and scientists.” The report continues: “Air and water pollution have a high likelihood to irreversibly damage the OUV of the world heritage property. The possible threats arising from the power plant on the OUV of the property are not addressed adequately …and the plant itself is not applying the best available technology or the highest international standards for preventing damage commensurate with its location.” As a result, the IUCN scientists recommend “that the Rampal power plant project is cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location, where it would not impact negatively on the Sundarbans Reserve Forest.”

Rampal, however, is not a purely South Asian investment. About 70 percent of the money required to build the plant will be borrowed, and that means a lot of money will come from banks overseas: UBS, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Prudential Financial, HSBC, BlackRock, and Société Générale have all bought bonds that India sold to finance infrastructure essential to the plant’s operation, according to analysis of Bloomberg and ThomsonReuters data by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, an independent research group. It isn’t the developing world’s only such planned or recently built coal plant to rely on financing or advice from wealthy nations: In India, a coal plant was financed in part by loans from the U.S. government. Germany’s development bank provided funding for another coal plant in India. Japan’s development agency, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, practically wrote Bangladesh’s plan to boost its power-generating capacity using coal—even as the government has helped expand the reach of distributed solar power to at least 18 million people in the country, according to The New York Times. These wealthy nations’ attempts to ease construction of heavily polluting coal plants occurs while the cost of new onshore wind farms has fallen 30 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to International Energy Agency data released Tuesday, and the cost of large solar panels fell by two-thirds over the same period.

Air and water pollution have a high likelihood to irreversibly damage…the world heritage property. The possible threats arising from the power plant…are not addressed adequately.

IUCN REPORT ON A MARCH 2016 MISSION TO THE SUNDARBANS WORLD HERITAGE SITE IN BANGLADESH

Yet a report released this week by Overseas Development Institute, a British research organization, and the Vasdudha Foundation, based in New Delhi, says off-grid renewable electricity is “the cheapest and quickest way of reaching over two-thirds of those without electricity.” Building just one-third of the coal plants now planned, the report found, will bring about climate change that will plunge millions into poverty.

Though scientists pegged the amount of warming since preindustrial times that civilization can withstand at 2 degrees Celsius, and despite Paris’ declaration of a goal to keep warming below a 2-degree increase, ODI researchers the calculated that “planned coal development, mostly in the developing world, will singlehandedly max out the world’s two-degree carbon budget.” The World Bank seems to agree: Its president, Jim Yong Kim, noted in September that “if all the new coal plants on the books earlier this year were constructed, especially in Asia, it would be impossible to stay below two degrees.”

cyclone-tracks-inline2

This image shows the storm tracks of cyclones occurring in the Bay of Bengal between 1970 and 2005. Bangladesh is one of the most flood- and storm-prone countries on Earth, and such storms are predicted to increase in frequency with global warming. (Storm tracks: Jdorje/Tracks; background image: Courtesy NASA)

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