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Richard Martin

A View from Richard Martin

Recommended Reads on Energy This Week

A weekly roundup of the best and most important reads on the Web, compiled by MIT Technology Review energy editor Richard Martin.

  • November 7, 2015

Explaining Extreme Events of 2014
Tropical cyclones in Hawaii. Extreme drought across East Africa. Massive floods in Jakarta and across the Canadian prairie. Heat waves in Australia. All of these weather events were caused, to some degree, by human-induced climate change, according to the newly published report, Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 from a Climate Perspective, published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The annual report examines scientific studies from around the world to “break out various factors that led to the extreme events, including the degree to which natural variability and human-induced climate change played a role.” The report editors avoid the loaded word “caused,” opting for “influenced.” But the conclusion is clear: “human-caused climate change greatly increased the likelihood and intensity for extreme heat waves” and other weather events last year. More of the same is sure to follow.

Global Concern About Climate Change, Broad Support for Limiting Emissions
While there is “a global consensus that climate change is a significant challenge,” according to the Pew Research Center’s latest survey of people in 40 countries, that consensus varies widely across regions. Paradoxically, the Pew survey found that citizens of the highest greenhouse gas-emitting countries, the United States and China, tend to be the least worried about the effects of climate change. “While four-in-ten around the world are very worried that global warming will harm them personally, just 15% in China and 30% in the U.S. share this fear.” Also of note: less than a quarter of the respondents believe that technology will solve the problem, and two-thirds agree that major lifestyle changes will be required.

Who Will Pay for Climate Change?
The Pew survey distinguishes among respondents by country of residence, demographics, and ideology, but not profession. If it did, it would likely find that among those most worried about climate change are insurance executives. This long, well-reported New Republic article by Jeffrey Ball, scholar-in-residence at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford, examines the insurance industry’s response to growing climate change threats and reaches a provocative conclusion: multinational corporations could help save the world. Concerned that climate risk threatens their profits, “a widening web of corporate powerhouses—most notably in the finance industry, led by big insurers and banks—have begun to demand serious, sophisticated, and specific steps to counter global warming.”

New Bailout Plan for State Power Utilities
One country the executives must focus on is India, where prime minister Narendra Modi has set out to bring electricity to the more than 300 million Indians who lack it today—a program that could lead to drastic increases in the burning of coal and completely derail international efforts to limit carbon emissions. As I wrote in my MIT Technology Review cover article, “India’s Energy Crisis,” a major impediment to bringing clean energy to the Subcontinent is India’s utility industry, which is essentially bankrupt. This week the Modi administration announced an ambitious new reform plan for the state power utilities (known as “discoms”), called “Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna.” This analysis from the excellent Indian news site LiveMint concludes that bankers and corporate executives are cautiously optimistic about the Modi plan, which calls for state governments to take over 75 percent of the debt of the discoms. “I rate it as more comprehensive than any other [utility] restructuring scheme seen to date,” said Debasish Mishra, senior director of consulting for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India.

U.S. Chases New Role in Central Asia Against Mounting Security Concerns
“He who controls the heartland controls the world,” wrote Sir Halford Mackinder, referring to the vast Central Asian steppes, stretching from Hungary’s eastern border to the defiles of Afghanistan. That’s less true in today’s world of instantaneous communications and aerial supremacy. But since the opening up of the Caspian Sea oilfields in the late 1990s, the world’s major powers, including the U.S., Russia, and China, have waged a twilight struggle in Eurasia, this time not for trade routes and access to India’s riches but over energy. In the wake of secretary of state John Kerry’s five-nation tour of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, Foreign Policy’s Reid Standish writes that this new Great Game “has grown even more tense — in large part due to poor security in Afghanistan and Washington’s fraying relations with Russia.”

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