Pulling the plug on pipelines: Environmental wins against big oil

Activists enjoy two major victories against the fossil fuel industry. Plus, caterpillar hats and marauding macaques.

Illustration: The Green Read - July 9 [Jawahir al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
[Illustration by Jawahir al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

From dive-bombing monkeys in Thailand to the caterpillar that wears its moulted heads like a teetering hat, my inbox from the environmental cybersphere has it all this week.

More on the Mad Hatterpillar (as it has been nicknamed) and friends later, but first to something that may reflect the shape of things to come.

Pipeline shutdown

A court in the United States has ordered the shutdown of a controversial oil pipeline that runs about 1,800km from the Bakken shale field in North Dakota, across Iowa, to a shipping point in Illinois.

With a capacity of more than half-a-million barrels a day, the Dakota Access pipeline passes beneath the Missouri River and had been the subject of intense protests by environmentalists and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe because of fears of pollution.

Interactive: Green read - pipeline

In December 2016 the outgoing Obama administration denied permits for the pipeline and ordered a full environmental review. Shortly afterwards, in his first week in office, Donald Trump reversed the decision and signed an executive order to expedite construction. In June 2017, the oil started to flow. 

But now a federal judge has ordered a shutdown until a more extensive environmental review is done. This is a blow for the Trump administration’s effort to expand oil and gas development, and also puts the spotlight on the overall demand for fossil fuels.

Almost simultaneously, developers of the planned Atlantic Coast gas pipeline pulled the plug on the $8bn project after years of delays and ballooning costs. The aim was for this conduit to carry natural gas nearly 1,000km, passing underneath the Appalachian Trail, but it was ultimately foiled by projected low demand in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Shell, one of the world’s largest oil companies, has told investors that oil assets have plunged; the value could be reduced by up to $22bn. 

And coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel of all, has also been exposed. For the first time ever this year, more energy in the US was consumed from renewables like wind and solar than from coal. Only a decade ago almost half of US electricity came from coal.

Interactive: Green read - coal

Burning Arctic

The need to transition to renewables is pressing. At any given moment the impacts of a warming climate are evident, with unusual weather pushing the extremes.

Right now we are seeing record temperatures in Arctic Siberia, stoking some of the worst wildfires the region has ever known.

Meanwhile, millions have been advised to evacuate their homes across Japan due to record rainfall.

Next month it will be something else continuing to up the ante on the planet’s living systems.

Planet of the Apes

This brings us back to the antics of the animal world.

Hundreds of macaque monkeys are playing Planet of the Apes, as they run amok in a Thai town. They are struggling to cope with the new normal, as there are no tourists out to feed them.

Elsewhere, we can only wonder at how the randomness of evolution shaped the extraordinary caterpillar of an Antipodean moth. 

As New Scientist reports, this caterpillar sports a unique headpiece, stacking its old moulted heads on top of each other to create a bizarre hat. As the caterpillar grows, each empty head is bigger than the last, creating a tapering, sinister chapeau which they use to bat predators away.

Mad Hatterpillar et al, this planet of ours is worth protecting, don’t you think?

Interactive: Green read - hats

Your environment round-up

1. The good news is: Protecting at least 30 percent of the oceans and land could create bumper economic effects, according to scientists and economists looking at the ways nature conservation drives economic growth.

2. The bad news is: The World Meteorological Organization says there is a rising chance that global temperatures will increase by more than 1.5 degrees C over the next five years, compared to pre-industrial levels.

3. Start Here for all you need to know about the comeback: Al Jazeera’s quick-hit show contextualises and simplifies the main topics of the moment. This week, it looks at the comeback from COVID, and whether we can reboot the global economy without killing the planet.

4. Regaining paradise in Bali: After finding out that Indonesia was the second biggest contributor to marine plastic pollution, two teenage girls decided to do something about it.

5. Seafood fraud: Pressure on fish stocks has led to shark meat being passed off as tuna or swordfish in the Mediterranean, as biologists say the region is now the world’s most dangerous sea for sharks.

The final word

If governments take advantage of the ever-falling price tag of renewables to put clean energy at the heart of the economic recovery, they can take a big step towards a healthy natural world - which ultimately is the best insurance policy against global pandemics.

by Inger Andersen, United Nations Environment Chief

Source: Al Jazeera