This Startup Wants To Fix The Way The World Eats, One Genetically Engineered Cow At A Time BY NATASHA GEILING

On the surface, James West and Warren Gill might not seem like the most natural pair to team up in an effort to overhaul the way the world eats.
West, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has spent most of his career working with human diseases — particularly lung diseases — and genetic engineering.
Gill, a professor as well, is less interested in human health. Born on a Tennessee cattle farm, Gill has worked as a rancher and cattle specialist for over three decades, managing his family farm since 2000 and serving as department chair of the Middle Tennessee State University agriculture department for the past eight years.
In 2012, out of the blue, Gill received a phone call from West, asking for a meeting. West came into Gill’s office at MTSU and explained the research he was doing with genetic engineering, like editing genes to give animals the same diseases as humans and using bio-markers to find both beneficial and deleterious genes. Gill was intrigued, and the two set out working together to create a gene test for copper deficiency — something that has long plagued cattle herds throughout Tennessee.
The next year, Gill attended a conference in Orlando, where he heard other farmers and cattle ranchers talk about the impact of climate change on livestock. It had been nearly two years since the summer of 2011 — a particularly hot summer where heat waves claimed the lives of thousands of cattle across the Midwest. Ranchers and farmers were beginning to think about raising cattle in warmer climates, and wondering what could be done to strengthen their herds against rising temperatures.

When Gill got back to Tennessee from the conference, he asked West a question.
They had been trying to increase heat tolerance through traditional breeding methods, by breeding animals with lighter coats, or by crossing heat-tolerant breeds with especially productive breeds like Angus, but weren’t having much luck.
“Can you make me a white Angus?”
West thought about it for a minute. A cautious person, he didn’t want to promise Gill something he couldn’t deliver.
But after a few days of researching, West came back with an answer.
“I think we can do it,” he told Gill, and Climate Adaptive Genetics — the project to genetically engineer a heat-tolerant, high-performance Angus — was born.

How Do You Double Meat Production Without Doubling Resources?

Black angus is one of the most popular, productive breeds of beef cattle, but it's also not very heat tolerant.
Black angus is one of the most popular, productive breeds of beef cattle, but it’s also not very heat tolerant.
Forty years ago, beef ruled the American diet, with each person eating an average of 91 poundsof beef a year in 1976. Over the last four decades, however, despite the influx of low-carb and Paleo diet fads, beef consumption in the United States has steadily declined. In 2012, the average American consumed just 52 pounds of beef a year, down 43-percent from the 1976 high.
But while beef consumption in the United States has fallen, global beef consumption is on the rise. People that live in developing countries tend to eat much less meat and animal products than those in developing countries, but as the global economy continues to grow — spurred by advances in technology, trade liberalization, and population growth among other factors — meat consumption in developing countries continues to rise.
To environmentalists, an increasing demand for meat is a huge problem, because meat production has a huge environmental footprint. Ruminants, like cows, digest food by first fermenting it in a specialized stomach, a process that helps extract nutrients from tough plants but also releases methane as a byproduct. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, some25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period. Globally, the livestock sector is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle produce 65 percent of the livestock sector’s emissions.

But livestock production is also economically beneficial, especially for poor communities. According to the FAO, livestock production creates livelihoods for
 987 million poor people living in rural areas — roughly 36 percent of the world’s poor. In 2014, Slate’s Laura Anderson took a look at what might happen if everyone suddenly stopped eating meat. There would be instant good news: the decline in antibiotic-resistant infections, a surge in the availability of new land, a sharp drop in livestock-related greenhouse gases. But there would also be negative impacts: a decline ineconomic security for farmers who don’t have an alternative to livestock, and a drop in food security.It’s not just cow gas that is responsible for those emissions — there’s the fossil fuel burned throughout in the supply chain, the methane released from cow waste stored in temporary pits or lagoons, the carbon lost when vast forests are felled to make way for livestock grazing. There’s the soil degradation that comes from grazing — since 1945, the United Nations Environment Program estimates that 20 percent of the world’s grazing lands have become degraded. And, in an increasingly water-scarce world, there’s the strain livestock production places on water resources, using eight percent of the world’s freshwater.
That leaves food security and livestock specialists with a conundrum: for environmental reasons, we can’t keep producing cattle the way we’ve been doing it, and while we can work to reduce the consumption of animals, we can’t cease cattle production completely. To meet increasing demands of population growth, agricultural production is actually going to need to grow by 60 percent by 2050, while enduring higher temperatures, competing for less land, and facing demands that the industry consume fewer natural resources.
The livestock industry is a driving factor in climate change — but can it adapt to a changing climate?

Finding — And Preserving — The Right Gene

Irene Hoffman, who leads the Animal Genetic Resources Branch of the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, thinks it can. The key, she says, is using genetic resources to make livestock more efficient — not just more productive, but better at maintaining productivity in extreme environments.
“Most of the breeds that are really the high-output breeds that we see today, they come from temperate areas,” Hoffman told ThinkProgress. “If you breed an animal, like we have done, to have a high performance, this brings with it some physiological changes. A body can only do so much with dealing with stress and high performance. That means, naturally, if you dedicate a lot of your body energy into the production of one product, other body functions reduce.”
The breeds that dominate the U.S. cattle markets — Angus and Herefords — belong to a subspecies of cattle known as Bos taurus. They’re productive breeds, effective at converting feed to muscle mass and exhibit vigorous growth from birth onwards. But that productivity comes at a price, as they’re not well-adapted to living in hot, humid conditions.
In tropical areas, cattle belonging to the subspecies Bos indicus are more widely used. Popular Bos indicus breeds like the Brahman or Nelore are useful for ranchers in hotter parts of the world because they are more heat-tolerant than their Bos taurus counterparts, but they take longer to reach puberty and yield less meat, milk, and offspring than a Bos taurus.
Brahman, a breed of Bos indicus cattle, is heat resistant but not very productive.
Brahman, a breed of Bos indicus cattle, is heat resistant but not very productive.
But outside of the big names — the Angus and Brahmans of the commercial livestock world — are some 800 recognized breeds of cattle. Most of these are local breeds that are often better suited to the environment, whether through heightened heat tolerance or increased disease resistance.
But local breeds are disappearing, as the livestock industry has long been dominated by systematic breeding that places preference on a few traits at the expense of many. According to the FAO, up to 30 percent of global livestock breeds have populations below 1,000 and are at risk of extinction — and some local breeds could go extinct without anyone knowing if they possess genetics that might be especially good for climate adaptation.
“We can only do genetic improvement on traits we measure,” Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal genomics and biotechnology cooperative extension specialist with UC Davis’ Department of Animal Science told ThinkProgress. “We keep great track of traits that are important economically, like weaning weight and marbling. Where we don’t have good databases is, for example, resilience. How do you measure that? How do you rank that?”
A few places around the world are trying to tackle that issue head on, by creating genetic databases and genebanks in order to categorize and preserve the traits of rapidly disappearing livestock breeds. In 1987, the FAO launched its Domestic Animal Diversity Information System, meant to compile information about specific breed traits around the world. As of 2013, the database contained information about 12,345 breed populations from 182 countries around the world. But that information tends to skew in favor of breeds from developed countries — in developing countries, research about livestock traits tends to be less advanced, making it more difficult to correctly categorize traits, or know what traits might be useful in different environmental scenarios.
“For developing countries, we are very much at the descriptive state. We only know that these animals perform under extremely harsh environments with very high temperatures and not enough feed and not much water and they still produce something,” Hoffman said. “That’s a very indirect way of measuring performance.”
And categorizing traits is just one step — after a useful trait is identified, it still needs to be preserved. That’s where places like the National Animal Germplasm Program come in. Started in 1999, the NAGP is like a seed bank for livestock; throughout the halls of its repository in Fort Collins, Colorado, are hundreds of thousands of samples from about 25,000 animals around the world — frozen semen, embryos, ovaries, and tissue that could be used to reconstitute livestock populations or simply lend a useful gene to an intrepid breeder.

But Gill worries that, with the disappearance of local and heritage breeds, finding the right traits to create a robust cow might become more and more difficult.
West and Gill didn’t have to go to the frozen halls of Fort Collins or search the FAO’s database to find the genetic traits they needed for their white Angus — they just had to cross the Tennessee border and head to an Alabama farm, where a breeder had a few of the white-haired Silver Galloway cattle they needed.
“What if somebody had done away with the Silver Galloway? We’d have been stuck,” he said. “Thank goodness for the people that were wise enough to keep these around. Who knows what’s going to be important in 50 to 100 years.”

Creating A Climate-Adapted Cow

For a long time, Bos taurus’s poor performance under heat stress wasn’t a pressing issue for the livestock industry. Large commercial operations have been able to mitigate heat stress issues through things like fans, sprinklers, and building shade structures. In places like South Dakota that might see periods of extreme heat for only a brief period of time, measures like these can often be enough to keep cattle safe from heat stress, Joe Cassady, head of animal science at South Dakota State University, told ThinkProgress.
In places like Texas or Louisiana, however, where heat and humidity happen more frequently, external measures might not be enough — and, if climate change brings increasingly long stretches of heat to the American Midwest, external management might not be enough there, either. In 2011, one of the hottest summers on record sent temperatures rocketing across the Central and Eastern United States, causing the death of thousands of cattle. To make matters worse, during periods of extreme heat, people tend to use more power. This places excessive strain on the grid that can lead to power outages, shutting off things like sprinklers and fans.
Heat tolerance in cattle is an incredibly complicated matter. Scientists and ranchers have an idea of traits that can contribute to heat tolerance — metabolic rates, ability to shed their coats, hair color — but there is no silver bullet. “Physiologically, there are no completely isolated reactions to heat,” researcher W. Bianca wrote in 1961, “because of the relationships existing between the various body processes.” Several independent studies, however, have managed to link heat tolerance — at least in part — to the the color of a cow’s hair. A 2011 study in Australia, for example, found that cattle with tan and white-colored coats had significantly lower body temperatures, even while in full sunlight without shade, than black and red-haired counterparts.

So when Warren Gill asked James West to make him a white Angus, he wasn’t just interested in aesthetic properties — the two believe that through
 gene editing, they can create an Angus with a white, slick coat and a protective black hide that would allow ranchers in tropical areas to raise productive Angus cattle in warmer climates.Part of what makes an Angus so heat intolerant is its black hide and black hair, which trap heat like a dark shirt on a hot summer day. “The laws of physics do not cease to exist in cattle,” Cassady said. “Black absorbs sunlight to a greater degree than other cattle, so black hided black haired cattle are going to be more susceptible to heat stress.”
“That ought to increase the point at which Angus begin to feel heat stress from 75 degrees [Farenheit] to 90 degrees,” West told ThinkProgress. “It makes the cattle more comfortable, it reduces the need for water, and it reduces the need to clear land.”
And, perhaps best of all in West’s estimation, gene editing could create a heat-tolerant cow much more quickly than traditional breeding. To create a white-haired, black-hided Angus, West and Gill simply take skin cells from a champion Angus and alter its DNA, adding the genetic traits of a slick coat from an African cattle and white coat from a Scottish Silver Galloway cattle. To edit the DNA, they use a technique known as “transcription activator-like effector nuclease” — TALEN, for short — which damages existing DNA and uses the DNA that has the intended change — in this case, the white hair of the Silver Galloway — to repair the damage. The skin cell is then turned into an embryo, through cloning, and implanted into a female cow and carried to term.
“What we’re doing here is not something you couldn’t do with breeding, but it would be a 40 or 50 year breeding project,” West said. In contrast, gene editing could create a slick, white-haired champion Angus in a single generation.
Gill thinks about it in slightly different terms, recalling his grandfather, who was a master horse breeder.
“He was always looking for those traits that made the horse better for pulling, or running, or a gentle ride. Essentially we’re not doing anything different. We’re trying to find those traits that help the animals, improve the quality of animals life, and make things a little easier for animals and humans,” he said. “We can just do it a little quicker than my grandfather could do it.”

So How Close Are We To Certified (White) Angus Beef?

If today’s estimates are right, in 50 to 100 years, the world will be both hotter and more crowded — and ranchers will be pushed to producing more livestock with fewer natural resources.
That’s a challenge that West thinks the livestock industry can — and should — tackle.
“We’ve got to be able to produce the protein that people want without tearing up the planet to do it,” West said. “The only way to make that work, without destroying the rest of the wild spaces on the planet, is to be able to produce twice as many animals on the same land, and the only way you can do that is by improving the animals themselves.”
But Gill and West still have a number of hurdles to jump through before they see their dream of a white Angus become a reality. First, there’s actually implanting the embryos, which will happen simultaneously in labs in the United States and Brazil.
If that goes according to plan, and 270 days later two white Angus calves are born, the cattle will face another unprecedented obstacle: obtaining approval from the FDA, which has never approved a genetically engineered animal. The FDA released its regulatory guidelines for genetically engineered animals in 2009, before gene editing showed real commercial potential — as such, it’s unclear if the FDA’s existing guidelines even cover gene editing.
Gene editing, while more precise than other genetic engineering techniques like gene guns, still isn’t one-hundred percent foolproof. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with the Consumers Union — the policy arm of Consumer Reports — worries that gene editing can lead to off-target consequences, where sequences of DNA identical to the sequence that the scientist wants to replace are also unintentionally deleted during the editing process. Hansen told ThinkProgress that it’s impossible to know what consequences would occur when unintentionally deletion and replacement happens during gene editing, because it’s so specific to the particular DNA sequence being edited.

“Transgenesis works best if few, very well known genes are involved. Changing the color of a breed … is relatively easy and has been done by conventional breeding, as most colors follow simple Mendelian genetics,” Hoffman said. “However, climate change adaptation in general involves many traits and genes that influence morphology, physiology and behavior of the animal; they are more difficult to select for.”
Another hurdle — perhaps the most important — will be proving that a white-haired, slick-coated Angus really does have better heat tolerance than a black Angus would. West and Gill are confident, but other animal scientists worry that the solution might be too simple.
Van Eenennaam is also skeptical that white hair is the only thing necessary to make cow more tolerant to heat.
“Conceptually, I’m not sure that having black fur isn’t the only thing that makes [an Angus] less heat tolerant,” she said.
Gill and West acknowledge that there are undoubtedly a complex mix of factors that make one cow more heat tolerant than another, but say that it’s important to start making changes somewhere.
“At this point, we are focusing on hair color, skin color, and hair length, knowing perfectly well that there are many factors involved in climate adaptability,” Gill said. “We will take those into consideration as time goes on, but you gotta crawl before you run.”
But even if West and Gill can successfully implant the edited embryos, obtain FDA approval, and prove that the white Angus truly is more heat tolerant, they’d likely face an uphill battle for consumer acceptance, at least in the United States. To qualify as certified Angus beef — one of the most recognized brands of beef in the country — a cow either has to trace its DNA back to Angus parentage, or be at least 51 percent black — raising some question as to whether or not West and Gill’s white Angus could technically qualify as a certified Angus. Even if it does qualify, the public might be wary of an animal created through gene editing, even when those genes come from the same species (West initially wanted to use a gene for white hair from a Leghorn chicken, but thought better of it).
West and Gill hope that gene editing will be more readily accepted than genetically modified products because gene editing is so similar to traditional breeding, just on a faster timeline. Gill also sees a market in places like Brazil or India, which haven’t been able to use productive breeds like Angus due to their lack of heat tolerance.
“We have hot climates already and billions of people in those hot climates that would like to have these quality animals,” Gill said. “Climate change may have spurred some of our thinking, but that probably is not as important as feeding the world.”

More evidence that global warming is intensifying extreme weather by John Abraham

An Indian farmer inspects her agricultural field which is badly affected by the heat wave and scanty rainfall in India.
 An Indian farmer inspects her agricultural field which is badly affected by the heat wave and scanty rainfall in India. Photograph: STR/EPA

A new study finds that global warming is causing weather whiplash.

Just this week, a new article appeared in the journal Nature that provides more evidence of a connection between extreme weather and global warming. This falls on the heels of last week’s article which made a similar connection. So, what is new with the second paper? A lot.

Extreme weather can be exacerbated by global warming either because the currents of atmosphere and oceans change, or it can be exacerbated through thermodynamics (the interaction of heat, energy, moisture, etc.). Last week’s study dealt with just the thermodynamics. This week’s study presents a method to deal with both.

The authors, Daniel Horton, Noah Diffenbaugh and colleagues used a new technique to tease apart the complex influences of warming on changes to atmospheric circulation. Dr. Horton told me,

Our study focuses on the need to understand the underlying physical causes of extreme weather events, and to systematically test whether the probability of those underlying conditions has changed in recent decades. Events that are so extreme that they fall outside of our historical experience often result from a suite of complex interacting factors. To better understand these factors we’ve developed a method that allows us to partition the climate influences.

In particular, the authors focused on pressure levels up into the atmosphere (heights of approximately 5 km) from 1979 onwards. Those patterns gave information about atmospheric circulation. The authors grouped the patterns, using seven geographical regions (Europe, Western Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, Western North America, Central North America, and Eastern North America) and four different periods of the year (winter, spring, summer and fall).

They separated changes in circulation from changes in thermodynamic effects. What they found is that most regions have seen increases in summertime warm temperatures in the past three decades. Furthermore, they found that in some regions, a large part of this trend is due to the increases in anticyclonic circulation and atmospheric blocking. The blocking that has been associated with extreme swings of weather (bringing very warm weather to the Western USA and simultaneous cold weather to the east for instance). 

The authors show that as the Earth warms, we expect fewer cold temperature events generally. But, in some cases the circulation changes has led to extreme cold outbreaks in some regions. What has happened is that the arctic front, which typically confines cold weather to the Arctic region, has undulated sufficiently to allow cold-air breakouts to the south. Think of the polar vortex from last year. 

These findings support the commonly-heard term that has emerged in the past few years of “weather whiplash - wild swings from one extreme to another. Importantly, the authors show that the trends are “statistically significant” and are unlikely just random occurrences.

That said, the authors clarify,

The majority of the observed changes in extreme temperature occurrence have resulted from changes in the heat content of the climate system. However, we also find that the risk of extreme temperatures over some regions has been altered by changes in the motion of the atmosphere via changes in the frequency and duration of regional circulation patterns. 

It’s important to note that the authors do not explicitly attribute the trends to human causes or natural causes. The authors state clearly that we need a deeper understanding of the causes of the trends they’ve found. In particular, a future step will be to separate human-causes from natural variability in the climate on the decadal scale. At the same time, they write,

our quantitative partitioning, in conjunction with targeted climate model simulations offers the potential to fingerprint dynamic and thermodynamic influences in isolation, which in turn may facilitate attribution of the observed trends and projection of future trends.

And that is really what we want to know. How much of this is from humans? How much is natural? And how will things change into the future?


Greenhouse PR named Green PR Company of the Year By Charlotte Malone

green path by Susan Maxwell via Freeimages

Awards that celebrate businesses and NGOs taking action to tackle environmental risks and take the opportunities sustainability presents, have named Greenhouse PR as Green PR Company of the Year 2015.

The PR firm collected the BusinessGreen Leaders Award in front of 500 executives, entrepreneurs, campaigners, and politicians from across the green economy during an award ceremony in London.
Anna Guyer, founder of Greenhouse PR, commented, “We love the work we do and put everything into it, so it fantastic to be recognised for the results we achieve.
“We have a focus and mission to work with businesses, entrepreneurs and NGO’s to create change and build a more sustainable future. What was so inspiring about the Awards was seeing not only green innovators and pioneering entrepreneurs, but also major businesses like IKEA making tangible commitments to taking actions on sustainability.”
The judges were unanimous in choosing Greenhouse as the Green PR Company of the Year being recognised for delivering “global multi-platform campaigns” that show communications can deliver real change
Other individuals and organisations recognised in the awards include Andrew Wordsworth of Sustainable Venture Development Partners, which works with investors, entrepreneurs and partners to create and develop sustainable companies, and Good Energy, a 100% renewable energy firm.
The National Trust’s Plas Newydd marine source heat pump was also named Renewable Energy Project of the Year. The marine-source heat pump, the largest in the UK, was completed in May last year and is part of the organisation’s wider plan to halve its use of fossil fuels by 2020.
Photo: Susan Maxwell via Freeimages

DECC budget cuts could put energy and climate plans at risk Friday By Charlotte Malone

Wind turbines by Janie.hernandez55 via Flickr

Budget cuts to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) could have a major impact on innovation research, energy efficiency and the UK’s ability to meet climate change goals, according to a report from thinktank Green Alliance. The paper comes ahead of next week’s budget.

The report – What new spending reductions could mean for DECC – argues that large historic liabilities from the nuclear and coal industries, a commitment to protect capital expenditure and the effect of applying spending reductions early on in parliament could reduce DECC’s budget by half in 2017-18 and it resource budget, which pays for programmes and staff, could fall 90% by 2018-19.
Green Alliance state these reductions would have a “major impact” across a number of areas and raise energy costs for consumers, making it harder for the government to negotiate good deals for back up capacity, low carbon generation and other energy services.
Matthew Spencer, director of Green Alliance, commented, “Less than a fifth of DECC’s budget is spent on its core mission of reducing energy costs and accelerating low carbon energy investments. Spending reductions will focus on these areas because the department is lumbered with historic liabilities from the nuclear and coal industries.
“The government’s ability to get a good deal for current consumers and future citizens will decline rapidly unless DECC gets a much better settlement than predicted in next week’s budget.”
Eight senior academics have written a letter to Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, minister for government policy, to raise their concerns about potential budget cuts and the impact on UK energy policy and climate action. They state that such reductions could inadvertently undermine the government’s ability to complete its important energy market reforms and deliver climate policy.
It continues, “Costs to consumers from energy policy are likely to be higher, and energy supply less secure if the government does not protect its in-house expertise to negotiate contracts with the energy industry, to complete energy market reform, and to develop new energy saving programmes for the most vulnerable customers.
“It is also vital that government protects its impressive track record in climate diplomacy and developing innovative carbon reduction policy, given that we have so much work still to do to reduce emissions and slow the rate of climate change.”
Photo: Janie.hernandez55 via Flickr

Prince Charles: rewire the global economy to stop climate change Heir to the throne calls for end to ‘business as usual’ approach that does nothing to avert catastrophic global warming – and praises Guardian’s climate campaign

Prince Charles: rewire the global economy to stop climate change
Heir to the throne calls for end to ‘business as usual’ approach that does nothing to avert catastrophic global warming – and praises Guardian’s climate campaign

Prince Charles
Prince Charles has called for profound changes to how businesses are run and economies are managed. Photograph: William Deshazer/EPA

Prince Charles has said that “profound changes” to the global economic system are needed in order to avert environmental catastrophe, in an uncompromising speech delivered in front of an audience of senior business leaders and politicians.

The heir to the throne – often criticised for his meddling in political affairs – argued that ending the taxpayer subsidies enjoyed by coal, oil and gas companies could reduce the carbon emissions driving climate change by an estimated 13%.

Although the prince’s passion for environmental causes is well known, the speech delivered on Thursday evening in St James’s Palace, London was particularly pointed in its criticism of companies that protected vested interests and came with a report that proposed raising taxes on them.

Speaking at a event for the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), of which he is a patron, the prince complained that “the irresistible power of ‘business as usual’ has so far defeated every attempt to ‘rewire’ our economic system in ways that will deliver what we so urgently need”.

There seems to be a strategic chasm between where the world agrees it should be headed and the direction of the economy
Prince Charles
He said: “Yet if we are to limit climate change, conserve resources and keep ecosystems functioning, while at the same time improving the health and wellbeing of billions of people – including the several billion who are projected to be added later this century – then we will need to see profound changes.”

The prince also attacked what he characterised as the wastefulness of modern society. “The challenge now is to go much further and much faster, progressively eliminating waste by developing a circular economy that mimics nature’s loops and cycles, rather than perpetuating our largely unsustainable and linear way of doing things,” he said.

The prince’s latest intervention comes soon after the release of 44 “black spider” letters he sent to government ministers between 2004 and 2009, in which he gave advice and requested action from government on environmental and other topics. In that correspondence, released following a 10-year legal battle fought by the Guardian, the prince lobbied ministers for detailed and specific measures including a badger cull. .

At the event, the prince unveiled a report from the CISL. It argued the world’s current course revealed “a monumental market failure” and that “there seems to be a strategic chasm between where the world agrees it should be headed and the direction of the economy”. The report made a series of recommendations that would affect business, include raising green taxes, requiring companies to reveal their environmental impacts and ending the damage caused by short-term profit-seeking.

In his speech the prince also noted that abolishing fossil fuel subsidies, estimated at $500bn (£320bn) a year by the International Energy Agency (IEA), would cut global carbon emissions by 13%. He also said cities equivalent to 175 Londons would be constructed by 2050 and that the new houses, roads, schools and hospitals had to be sustainable.

Broad political momentum around the need to tackle climate change has been building in recent months. In a high-profile intervention, Pope Francis also criticised the damage caused by the world’s current economic model. “The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces,” he said in his encyclical in June.

The prince emphasised the geopolitical importance of the issue, and said that “2015 is a vital year for the future of humanity”, referring to a year in which critical UN summits must agree deals to tackle global warming and set goals for sustainable development, including ending poverty, hunger and inequality.

The prince praised efforts to persuade pension funds and other charities to stop investing in major fossil fuel companies, arguing that the divestment movement has attracted broad-based support. He added that it had “sharpened investors’ focus, not just on the risks of holding hydrocarbon stocks within their portfolios, but also to the ever more pressing need to divert vastly more capital into clean energy, low-carbon investments and infrastructure projects”.

He singled out the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign, which calls on the world’s biggest health charities – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust – to divest their funds from major fossil fuel companies. “The Keep it in the Ground campaign is the first action of its kind from such a newspaper, and has – like the broader fossil fuel divestment movement – focused the mind very considerably as to the scale of the transition before us.”

He described the campaign as, “clear, compelling and powerfully resonant with many millions of people around the world.”

The dinner was also addressed by Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency. He said, with the energy sector responsible for two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions, that ending fossil fuel subsidies and raising the cost of carbon pollution was essential: “We need to phase out these wrong-headed energy policies and phase in right-minded energy pricing,” he said. Birol added that the construction of highly polluting coal-fired power stations should be banned and investment in renewable energy increased by 50%.

Polly Courtice, director of the CISL, said that while an increasing number of business leaders were turning ambitions of sustainability into practice, “it is undeniably the case that inequality is rising, ecosystems degraded, resources depleted and greenhouse gas levels are increasing”. She added: “Our analysis is that a fundamental rewiring [of the global economy] is required.”

The prince concluded that he thought times had changed significantly during his lifetime and recalled “the Guardian newspaper thinking it was hilarious when I managed to encourage the installation of one of the country’s first bottle banks – which they described as a ‘strange engine’ – at Buckingham Palace 25 years ago”.


After Years Of Litigation, BP Agrees To $18.7 Billion In Claims And Penalties For Historic Oil Spill BY RYAN KORONOWSKI

In simultaneous press conferences in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida, the attorneys general of the states most directly impacted by the massive 2010 BP spill announced a “global deal” to settle years of litigation with the oil giant for a total of $18.7 billion.
The settlement, largely split between the five Gulf Coast states, includes $6.8 billion to Louisiana,$3.25 billion to Florida, $2.3 billion to Alabama, $2.2 billion to Mississippi, $750 million to Texas, and $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties.
“Today, I am pleased to say that after productive discussions with BP over the previous several weeks, we have reached an agreement in principle that would justly and comprehensively address outstanding federal and state claims, including Clean Water Act civil penalties and natural resource damages,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “BP is also resolving significant economic claims with the impacted state and local governments.”
Lynch said the agreement in principle would be worked into a consent decree, which would then undergo a public comment period.
“If approved by the court,” she said, “this settlement would be the largest settlement with a single entity in American history.”
Louisiana Attorney General Caldwell called the agreement a “game changer” — “the largest environmental settlement in history.” Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) called it a “landmark agreement.”
Calling April 20, 2010 “a day Alabamians will never forget,” Gov. Bentley described the enormous impact the spill had on tourism, coastal businesses, and public health before providing more details about the settlement.
“The BP/ Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the worst environmental disaster in United States history, and the impact to the Alabama Gulf Coast was detrimental,” he said.
Bentley was the only governor to attend his state’s press conference announcing the Gulf States settlement, calling it a “significant step forward,” that would help Alabama “become a stronger, safer and more resilient state as a result of this terrible disaster.” He also thanked BP for coming to the table and “settling this in a fair way.”
Last year, BP’s lawyers fought all the way to the Supreme Court to cap the amount of Gulf oil spill-related fines it must pay at $12 billion, almost a third less than the amount U.S. prosecutors sought.
The Supreme Court refused to hear their case, confirming a District Court judge’s finding of “gross negligence,” which triggers the maximum permissible fine — up to $18 billion.
A federal judge was preparing to announce how much the company owed in Clean Water Act penalties because of the damage the spill caused to the environment. The settlement goes to resolve those penalties as well as claims involving natural resource damage and local government economic damage. It will also settle state economic claims.
This does not include cleanup costs BP has already incurred, nor a separate settlement with businesses and individuals over spill-related losses. The Wall Street Journal estimates that, combined with Thursday’s announced settlement, BP will have paid $53.8 billion as a result of the spill.
However, the damage caused by the spill could actually be larger than what is reflected in the settlement.
“$18.7 billion may sound like a lot of money, and it is, but it pales in comparison to what BP owes,” said Jacqueline Savitz, vice president of Oceana. “The Clean Water Act violations should have amounted to $13.7 billion alone, due to the company’s gross negligence and the sheer amount of oil they spilled. And that’s using conservative estimates.”
Savitz noted that under the Oil Pollution Act, BP has to pay for the natural resources the spill destroyed.
“The exact amount is still being worked out by NOAA, but based on the amounts paid for a much smaller spill, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, these damages could be in the $30 billion range,” she said. “Even if it’s a smaller amount, it’s certainly a lot more than the $7.1 billion they are proposing to pay in this settlement.”
Put another way, the $18.7 billion settlement is comprised of $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, $7.1 billion in natural resource damages, and $4.9 billion in economic damages. The state settlements will be paid out over the next 18 years, while federal penalties will be paid over the next 15 years.
Louisiana’s share, $6.8 billion, is the largest of all the affected states. It includes $5 billion for natural resource damages, at least $787 million in Clean Water Act civil penalties, and $1 billion in state economic damages. Gov. Bobby Jindal has been facing a $1.6 billion state budget shortfall.

Alabama’s settlement will be split, with $1.3 billion going to environmental projects, and $1 billion going to the state’s general fund. Attorney General Luther Strange said it would “return the state’s finances to where they would have been, and should have been,” prior to the spill.
Mississippi will receive an additional $1.5 billion, split between environmental and economic damage compensation, in addition to $659 million in early funding.
Florida’s $3.25 billion share is mostly for economic damages ($2 billion) and the rest, $1.25 billion, from their natural resource damage claims. State Attorney General Pam Bondi said the settlement avoids going down a “black hole” of litigation.
The spill, which occurred deep below the Gulf of Mexico 100 miles offshore, released 4.9 million barrels of oil from the Macondo well and resulted in a fiery explosion that killed 11 people on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
This agreement settles all federal and state claims, as well as over 400 local government claims.
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