Shell forced from climate project it helped found – over Arctic drilling

corporate waiting room
Waiting for the corporate jet to pull up to the gate

Shell has been forced to leave a Prince of Wales climate change project which it helped found after a row over the oil company’s controversial drilling programme in the Arctic.

The departure from the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leader Group is another embarrassing setback for the oil and gas company, which has been battling to preserve its reputation in the face of a vociferous and growing campaign against its operations in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska…

The exit was announced in a short note on the climate change programme’s website, based at Cambridge University, which said: “As of September 2015 longstanding member Royal Dutch Shell is no longer a member.”

Sources said there had been a falling out with other companies unhappy about Shell exploring for more fossil fuels in the Arctic.

Many experts believe that some existing oil and gas reserves cannot be burned if CO2 levels are not to rise to dangerous levels. They feel further drilling is not needed, especially in such high cost areas.

A Shell spokesman declined to comment on why the company had left the group which includes Unilever, Tesco and others, saying it was a matter for the other members to explain. He said: “We can confirm that we are no longer a member of the Corporate Leaders’ Group, of which we were a founder member in 2005…”

The spokesman defended the company’s stance on Alaskan drilling which was recently given the go-ahead by Barack Obama but which has been opposed by Democratic leadership hopeful, Hillary Clinton, and many others.

OTOH, the fossil fuel barons – intellectual and political fossils on their own – have the Republican Party and other conservative parties around the world lining up to protect their corporate butts from environmental responsibility.

Individually and collectively, it is worth recording which side our politicians come down on in this part of the fight for a cleaner planet, a better life. Who defines success in terms of quality of life – and who chooses profiteering from environmental degradation.

Liar loans redux — They’re back!

The pitch arrived with an iconic image of the American Dream: a neat house with a white picket fence.

But behind that picture of a $2.95 million home in Manhattan Beach, California, were hints of something darker: liar loans, those toxic mortgages of the subprime era.

Years after the great American housing bust, mortgages akin to the so-called liar loans — which were made without verifying people’s finances — are creeping back into the market. And, like last time, they’re spreading risks far and wide via Wall Street.

Today’s versions bear only passing resemblance to the ones that proliferated in the mid-2000s, and they’re by no means as widespread. Still, they reflect how the business is starting to join in the frenzy that’s been creating booms in everything from subprime car loans to junk-rated company bonds.

The Manhattan Beach story — how the mortgage on that house was made and subsequently packaged into securities with top-flight credit ratings — recalls a time when borrowers, lenders and investors all misjudged the potential danger…

…Federal regulations put in place following the crash effectively outlawed liar loans. Under so-called ability-to-pay requirements, lenders must take specific steps to ensure homebuyers actually can afford the mortgages. If they don’t, homeowners can sue and potentially win damages that can dwarf the value of the homes.

But in a throwback to subprime times, Velocity and other specialty lenders routinely offer certain mortgages with limited reviews, if any, of borrowers’ finances. That’s because the rules exempt mortgages made for “business purposes.” The setup lets borrowers avoid typical paperwork, in return for paying higher mortgage rates…

Chris Farrar, Velocity’s chief executive officer, says his company takes steps to ensure customers really are buying homes for business purposes…“Our goal is to never make a consumer loan,” Farrar said. Velocity’s lawyers have advised the company, previously known as Velocity Commercial Capital, that its processes would put it on solid ground even if it somehow failed to weed out inaccurate applications, he said…

Representatives for Nomura and Citigroup declined to comment…

It’s difficult to say how far the problems might go, but industry experts agree that mortgage lending is nowhere near as sloppy as it was during the last go-round, which created a bust that produced about 6 million foreclosures…

To Jeffrey Naimon, a partner at BuckleySandler, the real danger would be if unscrupulous mortgage brokers once again encouraged homebuyers to get in over their heads.

RTFA. We witnessed the same hustle last time – just before the tsunami of the Great Recession swamped millions of Americans in debt and unemployment. No one seriously at the top did time. No one suffered much more than a golden parachute to another Wall Street job.

Hear anyone in our fiscally-responsible, Republican-controlled Congress letting out a peep this time?

A hummingbird-friendly trait-mediated trophic cascade

Harold F. Greeney

Sometimes it pays to have big, bad neighbors. Weighing in at about 3 grams, black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri) can do little but stand by and watch Mexican jays 40 times their weight chow down on their eggs. So in the mountains of southeastern Arizona, the hummers have learned to build their nests near goshawk and Cooper’s hawk nests (Accipiter gentilis and Accipiter cooperii).

Almost five times bigger than the jays (Amphelocoma wollweberi), the hawks enjoy these birds for lunch. So to avoid hawks swooping down and surprising them, the jays only forage above the hawks’ nests. Thus a cone-shaped safe zone exists below the 20-meter-high hawk nests, extending out about 100 meters…Of 342 hummer nests studied over three years, 80% were near hawk nests—and for good reason.

The researchers monitored hummingbird egg and fledgling survival near six active and six inactive hawk nests. Those hummers unlucky enough to be near inactive nests lost all but 8% of their young, while those in a “good” neighborhood had a 70% success rate, they report. Hawks could eat the hummingbirds, but these morsels are too small and agile to be worth the effort, the researchers note. This phenomenon, in which one species is changing the behavior of another and benefitting a third species is called a trait-mediated trophic cascade, and is similar to what happened in Yellowstone National Park when the introduction of wolves changed the behavior of elk, which may have benefited shrubs and trees that the elk fed on.

Now, we know.

Dumb crook of the day

Authorities say a burglar who broke into a middle school got stuck on an elevator and was forced to call 911 for help.

Local media outlets report that police say 19-year-old Michael Claude of Laurel broke into the school Monday. Officials say he was riding down the hallways on a buffing machine before he got on the elevator. After he got stuck, police say, Claude called 911 for help, and an elevator maintenance service was able to open the doors.

Police say Claude was found wearing a Laurel letterman jacket that did not belong to him. He was charged with third-degree burglary, criminal mischief and theft. He was released on $3,800 bond.