The United Nations says it is necessary to phase out fossil fuels to stop catastrophic man-made climate change. But getting rid of them is going to be hard. Around the world, communities rely on fossil fuels for their energy, their jobs, their livelihoods. And, in turn, governments rely on their votes and taxes.
Poland is spending $35 million to buy up unwanted coal to relieve an industry “shaken by the pandemic.” In Canada, the province of Alberta is investing $1.1 billion into a new oil pipeline, deemed “essential” for economic recovery. Australia’s Queensland is fast-tracking a new coal mine to help the state “bounce back from the impacts of Covid-19.” And India is opening up dozens of coal mines to the private sector to “turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity.”
Lignite mining in Turów
In this part of Poland, the local scouts campaign to keep their town’s coal mine open
- By Ivana Kottasová, Mick Krever and Phil Black
- Photographs by Sarah Tilotta
Civil engineer Piotr Pupin has been working at the Turów lignite mine in southwestern Poland for the past 19 years. And just like his father did, he hopes to continue working there until it’s time to retire in a couple decades’ time.
He’s got a problem. While the open pit mine holds enough coal to continue operations until 2044, its current permit is set to expire in just six years. And because of the climate crisis, there’s plenty of opposition in the European Union to further extensions.
The 44-year old civil engineer grew up in the nearby town of Zgorzelec. While at university in Wroclaw, he won a scholarship paid for by the company that operated Turów at the time. In exchange for the funding, he signed a three-year contract to work in the mine. He stayed ever since, rising through the ranks to his current role as an investment supervisor. His team oversees investment into all of the infrastructure within the mine, from roads to buildings and electrical equipment to the huge machinery roaming the site.
“I didn’t plan to stay for this long, but it so happened. My career was progressing, it was going well,” he said. “It’s not the job of my dreams, but it gives me comfort and stability and security.”
Investment supervisor Turów lignite mine
In this region, most people work either in the mine complex or across the border.
The potential shutdown of the mine and its affiliated power plant, run by the same company, would be disastrous for Pupin and thousands of others.
“I’d have to search for a new job. Most likely, that would mean going across the borders,” he said. His skills are not limited to mining, but he doubts there would be work for him in the region.
“All of the construction companies in this area, the companies which I could potentially work for with my qualifications, they all work for the mine. When the mining plant closes, these companies will not have a bright future.”
Pupin knows the mine will shut eventually. Demand for coal is decreasing in Poland, being replaced by gas and renewable energy sources. Turów is already feeling the impact. “Every year, the number of workers at the mine goes down. People retire and new people are not hired to replace them,” he said. He knows his two daughters will likely move away when they grow up. The region is so dependent on the mine, it’s hard to come by a good job that’s not related to the site in one way or another.
But he is hoping to stay until the end. “Two of my sisters left Poland for Ireland. That’s enough,” he said.
Turów’s long-term future is more than uncertain. Located in a tiny, appendix-like tip of Poland, the mine complex is nestled between Germany and the Czech Republic, where it faces fierce opposition from environmental and climate activists as well as residents. Both countries have petitioned against the mine, even though they also rely on coal for power. According to the International Energy Agency, 80% of Poland’s domestic energy comes from coal, compared to 54% in the Czech Republic and 43% in Germany.
Lignite, sometimes called brown coal due to its color, is the least efficient and most polluting type of coal. It has lower fuel value and higher emissions intensity compared to the geologically older hard coal that is mined underground. Lignite is difficult to transport, so it’s usually burnt for energy at the same place where it’s mined. In Turów, the freshly mined coal travels on conveyor belts to a power plant just some three kilometers away.
The Polish government says Turów plays a strategic role in the country’s energy security. It supplies power to around 2.3 million Polish households, according to PGE, the state-controlled company that runs the mine. PGE is now planning to expand the digging closer towards the Czech border, a plan that has caused tension between the two long-time allies.
The Czechs have launched a complaint with the European Union, arguing that Poland breached EU rules when it unilaterally decided to extend the mining permit for further six years in March.
Local activists across the border are worried about the mine’s impact on ground water levels, dust and noise. “The wells are drying out. As the mine becomes deeper and inches closer to the border, more ground water flows away. There are people who — in the 21st century — are now left without water,” said Milan Starec, one of the residents on the Czech side of the border protesting the mine.
PGE and the Polish government say the planned mining area is within the boundaries stipulated in the original 1994 permit. PGE says its studies have shown a minimal impact on ground water levels. To prevent drainage, the company is also building an underground barrier on the site.
The EU, including Poland, will need to slash its coal-related emissions close to zero by 2030, if it wants to be compatible with the Paris Agreement, according to a 2017 study by the research institute Climate Analytics.
The study estimates the Turów power plant needs to shut down sometime between 2024 and 2028. Going beyond that date will make future warming more difficult to control.
But PGE is set on keeping the operations going until 2044. It’s currently building a new unit at the power plant, a 3.5 billion Zloty ($930 million) investment project that will only become economical if it’s allowed to run its planned course. The new unit is scheduled to start operating in April next year.
Poland is fiercely resisting the calls for a rapid phaseout of coal. The country is the only EU member state refusing to pledge carbon neutrality by 2050.
The Polish government is propping up the increasingly uneconomical coal industry by buying up unwanted coal and banning imports of cheaper coal. The country has also been investing into renewables, especially offshore wind farms and solar.
Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin told the Polish TV channel Polsat this month that while phasing out coal will be necessary in the future, he doesn’t expect coal mining to stop until “between 2050 and 2060.”
Poland is on a collision course with the EU, which is itself running behind on some of its own climate goals. According to a soon-to-be-published policy analysis by the Climate Action Tracker, shared exclusively with CNN, Europe’s current policies are still not compatible with the Paris Agreement.
The EU must set more ambitious near-term goals if it wants to comply with the accord, according to the new study. The current 2030 target is to cut emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, which the Climate Action Tracker says is “severely inadequate.”
Under the Paris Agreement, countries should aim for the “highest possible ambition” when it comes to emissions reductions, but there are currently no guidelines on what each nation’s share of the global burden should be.
The Climate Action Tracker has calculated country-by-country figures, based on each nation’s economic and historical circumstances and backed by published scientific literature. In order to contribute its fair share to global efforts, the EU should be aiming to cut its emissions by around 65% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, according to the Climate Action Tracker.
“It’s insufficient because it was based on the situation 10 years ago,” said professor Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute, one of the lead authors of the Climate Action Tracker study. “The emissions in the last 10 years have gone up much more than we had thought at that point in time. And we have the new Paris Agreement goal.”
The EU is trying to negotiate a more ambitious 2030 target, but reaching an agreement will be tough.
When the bloc agreed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief fund in the summer, its original aim was to tie the disbursement of the cash to the climate neutrality pledge. Poland successfully campaigned against that requirement and will be able to access the funds without agreeing to cut emissions to net zero by 2050.
The EU has still earmarked 30% of the funds for climate, but it has watered down safeguards designed to prevent any of the rest of the money from going into polluting sectors. Poland has not yet revealed how it plans to spend its share. The Polish government has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment, but its long-term energy plan published earlier this month reveals it is planning an increased investment into renewables and nuclear power.
Few in Turów see a connection between climate change and the power plant. The complex has adopted more stringent environmental standards in the past two decades and its visible impact on the environment is less severe than it used to be. Gone are most of the poisonous emissions that caused environmental disasters in the nearby Jizera Mountains in the 70s and 80s. The snow no longer turns black because of the fine dust escaping from the mine.
Most people in the area feel like they can’t afford to worry about the climate crisis when it’s their livelihoods that are at stake.
“I don’t link my job with there being less snow in the winter. These things change every year. These things change naturally. We are, the mine is, producing fewer and fewer emissions each year. We are mining less coal,” mine worker Pupin said.
Acting director Turów power plant
I don’t really understand the problem. This region has been a coal region for many centuries.
I started working here almost 20 years ago. I was employed here right after school. My brother works in the mine. He has been working there for 25 years. My father worked in the mine. It happens very often in our region that whole families work in the complex.
I don’t really understand the problem. This region has been a coal region for many centuries. Many mines and power plants in Germany and the Czech Republic are bigger than ours and they operate without such problems.
I feel proud and I feel responsible. The plant is located in a unique location, our activity does impact our neighbors. And we are investing a lot into the efforts to be good neighbors. We are meeting the most stringent requirements, even if they are not mandated by the law.
For sure, changes are necessary. We must progress with the energy transition. But this need to be sustainable, they must take place over a long period of time. We need a chance to adapt.
It’s a really big deal. A lot of people work at the mine and the power plant. It pays very well. It’s important it keeps going, for the economy. I think more than 50% of people [in the region] work there. There’s a lot of connection to it.
I am a physiotherapist and osteopath. Many of my clients work there. A lot of people go to Germany for work, but there’s not a lot of work. It’s work for young people. The mine is for older people. Some have been working there 20, 30, 40 years.
For me, waste is a bigger problem [than climate change]. We need to rethink how we deal with waste.
If the mine stays open for six years, it changes nothing. In 25 years? I don’t know what will happen. No way. We have a pandemic now. Anything can happen.
Employee of the Municipal Cultural Center in Zgorzelec
When I was a child, we never, never had white snow here. It was black. The snow was black because of the dust.
I would close all of the coal power plants now, because of climate change. Absolutely. We don’t have to ruin the Earth anymore, there is technology now that makes it possible to switch to greener energy.
I was born here and I remember, when I was a child, we never, never had white snow here. It was black. The snow was black because of the dust. Now, the mine doesn’t have these problems.
I know many people who work in the mine. I know I am in the minority here. But even the people who work there, they know this is just a matter of time.
I work in the municipal cultural center. The lockdown has impacted us a lot. And the economy too. This is a municipal facility, so if the tax revenues go down, they can’t fund us. Usually, when the economy is down, the culture is the first to see cuts. If the mine closes, the economy of the town will suffer. We would definitely feel the impact of it. But I hope that the government will find a solution. We pay taxes for that.
We began our professional career at the Turów mine 21 years ago. My family has been connected with the mine since after World War II. My grandfather settled here in the west after this part of the land was annexed to Poland.
He worked for a company searching for the coal deposits and after some time he was employed by the mine as a conveyor operator. My mother took up a job in the mine as a 20-year-old girl. She met my father in 1967 or 1968 and they both began working at the mine.
I am proud to be a miner. I am proud of my heritage. I associate myself with this place.
We already experienced [the mining decline] in Wałbrzych, when mines there were closed down in a rush, and what kind of consequences it caused. We saw people in poverty, community degradation, and actually it took 20 years, and maybe 30 years, until this city rose again.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
The international pressure for the mine to shut down is scaring the local residents. According to PGE, the complex employs around 5,000 people. The jobs of a further 10,000 in the region depend on it. As of 2018, the Zgorzelec region had a total labor force of 20,500 people and a population of 90,000.
The region’s mayor Artur Bieliński said that if the mine and the plant shut down suddenly, it would be a disaster.
“There would be big social problems if this many people got unemployed suddenly,” he said. “It has happened in the 1990s in Wałbrzych when four mines closed … people develop bad habits, addiction, alcoholism and there’s crime.”
Bieliński knows the mine will eventually close. But he wants it to happen slowly and with financial help from the Polish government and the EU that he hopes could make the region attractive to investment. It’s the mantra that is repeated throughout the region: “Evolution, not revolution.”
The EU has set aside €17.5 billion ($20.7 million) for its Just Transition Fund which is meant to help regions that stand to lose from the coal phase-out. The European Commission has already drafted a shortlist of areas that should be prioritized under the scheme, including nine regions in Poland. Zgorzelec is not one of them. According to the Commission, that’s because only regions with a clear commitment to a transition in the near future are eligible for the funds, and Turów’s expansion plans rule that out.
When 13,000 Czechs signed a petition against further mining and sent it to the EU, people from the towns surrounding the mine on the Polish side mobilized in defense of the power plant. They collected 30,000 signatures calling for the operations to continue until 2044.
Kids from the local scouts group, the 69th yachting scouts group “Przystan” in Zgorzelec, took part in the effort.
Sandra Beczek, 15, is one of the scouts involved in collecting the signatures. “My parents run a shop. And many people are working in the mine. If they lose their jobs, they won’t come to the shop. So the mine drives the whole economy in this region,” she said.
From left: Sandra Beczek, Weronika Stambuli, and Amelia Tokarska are three of the local scouts involved in the petition.
The lake where the “Przystan” scouts group sails is man-made, designed to hold water for the Turów power plant. Credit: Sarah Tilotta/CNN
Just like scout groups around the world, “Przystan” takes part in activities designed to help the environment, including local rubbish cleanups. But their activism doesn’t extend to the kind of school strikes started by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“I think that because we support the mine doesn’t mean that we don’t support the environment. It doesn’t exclude one another,” said Amelia Tokarska, 15. And as for Thunberg and her call for countries like Poland to shut down coal power plants immediately?
“She should rethink what the consequences for the community would be if she closed down the mines right away,” Tokarska said. “That she is not alone in this and should think about other people’s lives, how they are affected.”
Oil sands in Fort McMurray
An oil-addicted world is what this part of Canada is banking on
- By Ivana Kottasová
- Photographs by Codie McLachlan
Shawn “Big John” McDonald was born and raised on the Kikino Metis settlement in Alberta, a piece of land set aside for the local aboriginal population.
He got into the oil and gas industry straight after school, “like my father did and so many people within the family and the community and other communities in Alberta,” the 49-year-old business owner said.
For McDonald, developing the area’s oil sands is a logical continuation of his ancestors’ traditions.
“The harvesting rights used to be exercised by hunting, you know, moose, deer and trapping and selling the furs and picking berries and fishing and all that stuff,” he said. “But over time, the oil and gas industry came into the area and we started getting into working for oil and gas … we are still harvesting our rights, but in a different way.”
Shawn “Big John” McDonald
Business owner Lac la Bich, Alberta
I am big on supporting local. When companies like mine flourish, the whole local area feels that.
He feels strongly about the community’s connection to its natural resources. His company, Black Scorpion Contracting, provides services to many local oil and gas operations. Based in Lac la Bich, a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of the region’s oil capital, Fort McMurray, McDonald himself employs many locals.
In 2009, McDonald and other indigenous representatives in the area founded the Region One Aboriginal Business Association (ROABA), to promote the community’s interests. There’s no doubt in his mind that oil sands production is benefiting them. “Aboriginal people are flourishing in this way, because we are bush people. Not many of us come from the city, we come from settlements and reserves, so oil and gas is a good fit,” he said.
McDonald has been campaigning in support of Alberta’s oil sands operations.
Last year, McDonald organized a truck rally across northern Alberta in support of the oil and gas industry. Credit: Codie McLachlan for CNN
One of ROABA’s key activities is voicing the community’s strong support for the oil sands business, in stark contrast to protests against the oil industry by other indigenous groups and their supporters — like the Indigenous Climate Action group which has been campaigning against Alberta’s plans for more oil sands projects and a new pipeline, which it calls “antiquated energy and economic projects.”
Last year, ROABA staged a truck rally in support of a new oil pipeline. “We stand against the policies of the federal government in Canada, put in place back in 2014, that really hurt our industry … and in turn, really hurt aboriginal people as well.”
The local government in Alberta agrees with McDonald. It is now pumping money into the oil and gas sector, hoping to speed up the recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
It has invested 1.5 billion Canadian dollars ($1.1 billion) in the Keystone XL pipeline — an investment it says will support the economy and create 7,000 jobs. The province has also promised a 6 billion Canadian dollar ($4.5 billion) loan guarantee to the pipeline’s builder.
As part of the recovery package, the province is also investing into emission reduction technology — although the amount earmarked for the program is far lower at 476 million Canadian dollars ($361 million).
A number of indigenous groups have opposed the pipeline. The Indigenous Climate Action group said the decision to pour taxpayers’ money into the project “demonstrates the continued disregard of long-standing environmental, human and Indigenous rights abuses in the province.”
Critics of the choice also point out that the industry has struggled in recent years. To break even, oil sands operators need US oil prices to be between $50 and $60 per barrel — far higher than the current $40.
“[The Premier of Alberta] Jason Kenny has repeatedly indicated that he does not value the health of our communities and continues to ignore signs from the global economy that fossil fuel projects do not align with future plans for prosperity,” Mike Mercredi, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said in a statement.
The Alberta government rejects that criticism. In a statement to CNN, it said the world will have a demand for oil for the foreseeable future, a point industry analysts agree with. The latest forecast by BP says demand will decline gradually over the next 30 years.
“We believe it’s much better that that oil come from a liberal democracy such as Canada, as opposed to dictatorships like Russia and Saudi Arabia,” it said, adding: “Pipelines are both more efficient and safer for transporting that oil, as opposed to methods such as rail.”
Alberta’s unequivocal support for the oil and gas industry also appears to go against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promises to turn Canada into a climate champion.
“You have the national government, which has very good intentions, and then you will have certain regions and provinces that are really dependent on fossil fuels, and so you have conflicting interests here,” said professor Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute.
Trudeau has been vocal on climate change on the international stage, announcing last year that Canada would slash its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 and set legally binding five-year emission reduction targets. However, he is also a strong supporter of the oil industry, and has been campaigning for the Keystone XL pipeline project to go ahead. Canada is the world’s fourth biggest oil producer and its economy relies heavily on royalties and other oil taxes.
“The federal government is not always consistent in what they’re doing. And especially building infrastructure — pipelines, energy ports, new power plants — that is exactly the thing that one should not do, if one takes climate seriously,” Höhne said.
And although Canada signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, an upcoming study by the Climate Action Tracker shared exclusively with CNN shows that Canada is running behind its plans.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries should aim for the “highest possible ambition” when it comes to emissions reductions, but there are currently no guidelines on what each nation’s share of the global burden should be. The Climate Action Tracker has calculated country-by-country figures, based on each nation’s economic and historical circumstances and backed by published scientific literature.
In order to contribute its fair share to global efforts, Canada should be aiming to cut its emissions by 40% compared to 2005 levels by 2030, according to the Climate Action Tracker.
Höhne, one of the authors of the study, said Canada was not the only country pledging net-zero emissions at home, while at the same time selling fossil fuels to other countries. Under current agreements, countries are responsible for emissions from their territory. “Canada wants to go net zero, but at the same time is building infrastructure that is really in the way of net zero,” he said.
Annual average temperatures in the south of the province have gone up by between 1 degree Celsius and 2.5 degrees Celsius since the 1950s, according to analysis by Stefan Kienzle of Alberta’s University of Lethbridge. In the north, temperatures rose by between 2 degrees Celsius and more than 3 degrees Celsius. Winter temperatures have increased by 4 degrees Celsius to 5 degrees Celsius in the south and 6 degrees Celsius to 7 degrees Celsius in the north. According to Kienzle’s data, the number of extremely cold days, when the minimum temperature falls below minus 20 degrees Celsius, has roughly halved across Alberta since the 1950s, with a few exceptions.
The rapidly rising temperatures have a direct impact on life in Alberta. The growing season is now between two and five weeks longer, according to Kienzle. The amount of energy required for heating has gone down by 10% to 15% since the 1950s, although the demand for energy used for cooling is increasing in southeast Alberta.
Although the number of extremely cold days has dropped significantly, extreme weather events are becoming more common, and the number of heatwaves and cold snaps has increased.
And while Alberta has always been prone to wildfires, blazes are becoming more common as the climate becomes warmer and drier.
Estella Petersen, a heavy equipment operator in Fort McMurray, lost her home in the fire. “It took three years before [it] was rebuilt and I could move back in,” she said. “And then this year, we had floods, which damaged a lot of property and I was also affected by that … and now we have the pandemic … so I think the people that are here, I think the ones that remain are pretty resilient,” she said.
Petersen is an Ojibwe woman from Cowessess First Nation. Growing up in a small town in Manitoba, her family, like many in the area, was dependent on government handouts. “Being poor and collecting government assistance, you can become really accustomed to it,” she said. “I’ve always known that I didn’t want to be dependent on the government for checks.”
Heavy equipment operator Fort McMurray
I think that the industry up here does help a lot of indigenous people. I know it does because there are so many indigenous businesses.
Petersen graduated from high school, moved to Calgary, married, put herself through college, got divorced and raised two kids. Then, when her children left home nine years ago, she decided it was time for a change. So, she moved to Fort McMurray, hoping to find a lucrative job in the oil sands industry. She applied for around 25 positions before being hired by a company happy to train her up.
Now in her mid-50s, Petersen says she loves her work and the independence it gives her. She enjoys the fact that her job keeps her in shape. The schedule — six days on, six days off — suits her. And she says the pay is way better than any job she had in the past.
“I feel like I work really hard in my life and I feel like everything I did, it was always a struggle, and … this job makes it worth it all … even though I have long hours and … in the wintertime it can get to minus 45 degrees Celsius,” she said.
Like many in Fort McMurray, Petersen is worried about the future. The international pressure on Canada over its controversial oil sands operations is growing, with high-profile activists like actor Jane Fonda getting involved.
“Most people here are associated somehow with oil and gas and I think if oil and gas ever had to leave, Fort McMurray would be almost a ghost town,” she said. “There is a lot of pressure from activists and I hate to think of what’s going to happen. Right now, the mental health in Fort McMurray, people are stressed out … and even though we’re resilient, I don’t know how far can we be pushed.”
Petersen believes activists are failing to see the other side of the story: “Oil and gas is the backbone of Canada … and I think, if it wasn’t here, there would be another country supplying oil and gas to Canada, and I’d rather see Canadian oil, just because we are environmentally responsible.“
Roughly three-quarters of Alberta’s oil is in fact exported abroad, mostly to the United States. The rest is used within Canada to produce gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and other petrochemical products.
Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and a thick type of oil called bitumen. Most of Canada’s proven oil reserves are in oil sands and most are in Alberta.
Recovering crude oil from oil sands is the most polluting and expensive way to extract oil. It requires a lot of energy and large amounts of water. The technology involved has improved in recent years, but the process still produces large quantities of greenhouse gases.
Oil sands are usually found deep underground, but in Fort McMurray, some deposits are shallow and can be extracted from open pit mines. Once recovered, the substance is crushed and moved into separation vessels where it is mixed with hot water, allowing the bitumen to be separated off.
The resulting waste is dumped into tailings ponds — large muddy dams full of dark toxic sludge that are the industry’s biggest problem. Environmental watchdogs and activists including the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the environmental arm of NAFTA, have warned about the danger of the substances leaking into groundwater and their impact on wildlife.
Under Alberta’s law, oil sands operators must have plans to turn tailings ponds into reclaimable land. Many of those who work within the industry highlight this process as something environmental activists rarely focus on.
“There’s been so much media hype about how ugly it is up here, but it’s actually really, really beautiful,” Petersen said. “I am proud of what I do … I love seeing something so ugly turn into … a reclaimed piece of land that looks beautiful.”
While reclamation work can be successful, it is a slow and complex process. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an oil and gas industry association, tailings ponds can remain part of an active mine operation for 30 to 40 years. It can take decades more for vegetation to return.
As the pressure to slash greenhouse gas emissions grows, many in Alberta are beginning to think about the future without fossil fuels.
For Kevin Weidlich, president and CEO of the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation, based in Fort McMurray, this doesn’t necessarily mean a future without oil. “That oil could be diverted for other uses, other than fossil fuels,” he said. “It’s entirely conceivable that it could be used to supply petrochemicals, plastics, pharmaceuticals, but also new types of fuels, for example hydrogen fuel cells.”
Alberta’s government is sponsoring several tech programs trying to find other uses for the bitumen. Among other initiatives, it is running a 15 million Canadian dollar ($11.4 million) international competition to fund technology that would convert it into carbon fiber, to replace steel.
“It’s a different way of thinking. People are saying that the oil and gas industry is dying. But I believe that you still need it to go green — our cellphones, laptops, batteries … everything. So you can’t just say stop oil because it’ll stop the Canadian economy,” Petersen said.
Still, people in Alberta are hopeful that the world’s growing demand for energy will keep oil operations there going for a long time. “The demand and the population growth … until we have the [green] energy to replace it, it’s not going to happen,” McDonald said.
“Start with yourself and turn down your heat, put on an extra sweater, walk or take a bike instead of dropping in your car and cut your own usage of oil and gas. If everybody did that, we would drop the need for [energy] dramatically. So to me, people got to start with themselves before they start trying to take down the whole industry,” he said.
Coal mining in Mackay
Mining is a tough job to quit in this part of Australia
- By Ivana Kottasová
Tony Caruso doesn’t have to struggle to recruit people to work for him. “If I put out a job tomorrow for 50 new people to come into the industry, it wouldn’t be unusual to get 500 or 600 people apply for those 50 roles,” said the managing director and CEO at Mastermyne, a coal mining contractor based at Mackay, in the Australian state of Queensland.
Mining is an attractive profession in Australia, boasting the highest salaries in all sectors of the country’s economy. Average weekly pay in the industry was almost 2,700 Australian dollars ($1,970) in May this year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, compared to 1,680 Australian dollars ($1,220) in construction and 2,020 Australian dollars ($1,471) in finance.
And while the work can be hard and the hours are long, many companies offer ample benefits and shift patterns that allow people to work five, six or seven days followed by an equal number of days off — an appealing option for many, especially younger people.
Riley Farrow, a 23-year-old apprentice at Mastermyne, is making the most of that schedule; last year he took a three-week vacation in Japan, and only had to take five days off work.
Farrow works at the Moranbah North Coal Mine, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive inland from Mackay. When he’s working, he stays at a mining camp near the work site. When he’s off-duty, he lives with his partner and dog, back in the city.
It’s the stability of the job, as well as the pay, that Farrow finds attractive. After leaving school six years ago, he says he struggled to find a permanent role, working odd jobs as a laborer.
He jumped at the chance to interview for a mining job three years ago and was recruited as a “cleanskin” miner — a nickname for those with no experience. After training, he moved onto Mastermyne’s mechanical workshop, where he spends most of his time servicing the company’s diesel machinery.
He’s planning on buying a house soon, something he said would have taken him a lot longer if he didn’t work in mining. “The pay is a lot, lot better than what you’d get in town. But I am away from home for a large amount of time. You’ve got to weigh it up … do you want to be home with friends and family or are you willing to be away and miss some important events and whatnot?” he said.
Farrow concedes that the lifestyle isn’t for everyone. People with small children often find it difficult to be away for extended periods of time, he said. “I don’t know if I’ll stay out on site for the rest of my life. If I do, one day, end up having children, I can apply for a job in Mackay.”
But leaving isn’t easy once workers get used to the perks. “If you talk to any young fellow, they’ll tell you that they’re only going to do it for a couple of years and then … once they settle down and have kids, go and get another job,” Caruso said. He knows what he’s talking about. Now aged 51, he began his career as one of those youngsters who only intended to stay a couple of years, “just to make some money and to get ahead in life.”
“I did enjoy the pay, but I enjoyed the work as well and I think that’s what ends up happening for a lot of people … they get accustomed to that lifestyle, and they get accustomed to the money, and they are still there when they’re 55 years old, 30 years past when they said they weren’t going to be there.”
There’s a saying about Australians and coal: To find out what people think, you need to draw a horizontal line across the country, somewhere just north of Sydney. For those who live above the line, coal equals the economy and jobs. For those below it, it’s all about climate change.
Australia is the world’s second biggest coal exporter after Indonesia, according to the International Energy Agency, and Queensland in particular relies heavily on the resources sector. Mining accounts for almost 12% of Queensland’s economy and half of its export revenues, making it the state’s biggest industry, according to government data.
It’s also a major employer. One in seven jobs in the wider Mackay Isaac Whitsunday region is in mining.
When the economy suffered a major hit because of the pandemic this spring, the Queensland government quickly stepped in to provide relief for the all-important sector. The package included rent waivers, new exploration incentives and the capping and waiving of charges and fees.
Then, in June, the state government decided to fast-track a new Glencore coal mine in the Bowen Basin, a 1.5 billion Australian dollar ($1.1 billion) project.
Plans for the new mine have been met with criticism by climate groups. Dan Gocher, climate and environment director at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said Glencore was “making an absolute mockery” of its previous pledge to limit coal mining because of climate change.
Queensland’s government says the Glencore project will create 1,400 construction jobs while it is being built, and 950 mining jobs once it is operational. “This new mine has the potential to create hundreds of new jobs as Queensland recovers from the extraordinary shock of the global coronavirus pandemic,” said Queensland’s Treasurer, Cameron Dick, adding: “Coal mining has a long history in Queensland and will continue to be a major industry for many years to come.”
That optimism is shared by many in the industry. David Hartigan, chair of Mackay’s Resource Industry Network, a lobby group, points to the fact that much of the coal mined in Australia is high-grade bituminous coal.
“As far as we’re concerned, when humanity does step away from coal, the very last ton of coal that’s burned, it should probably be Australian coal because it’s a little bit cleaner and it produces well more energy than the alternatives … however, we do know that it won’t last forever.”
Australia’s black coal has a higher heating value, which means fewer emissions are produced to create the same amount of heat compared to brown coal. However, it still produces much higher emissions than other fossil fuels including oil and gas.
Australia produces two types of coal: Thermal coal, which is used to generate power and is seen as replaceable with renewables, and higher-grade metallurgical coal, which is used in steelmaking.
“It’s well understood that thermal coal will eventually transition out,” Caruso said. “There wouldn’t be a resource owner or a supplier into the coal space who doesn’t understand that, and isn’t starting to think about how they position their business going forward because, you know, otherwise they’re going to be like the dinosaurs and when that stops, they’re going to become extinct.”
But he argues that metallurgical — or coking — coal is a different story, since there isn’t yet a technology that could replace the current steelmaking process at a global scale.
Physicist and climate scientist Bill Hare disagrees; he says there is a line of sight to carbon-free steel making technology, “particularly using green hydrogen.”
“It would be a very foolish country and a very foolish company that bets its future on coking coal,” said Hare, founder and CEO of Climate Analytics. “The trend in the cost of hydrogen is so rapidly downwards that it won’t be more than 10 years before green hydrogen becomes the energy of choice to make steel.”
Climate scientists say it will be necessary to phase out coal power in developed countries by 2030, and in the rest of the world by 2040, if the world wants to avoid catastrophic climate change.
But Australia is going in the opposite direction.
According to an upcoming analysis from the Climate Action Tracker, Australia’s coal production is set to increase by 4% from 2020 to 2030.
The new Glencore mine alone is set to produce up to 17 million metric tons of metallurgical and thermal coal every year for 35 years, according to the company.
And on top of that, the federal government has invested 4 million Australian dollars ($2.9 million) in a feasibility study for a new coal-fired power plant in Queensland.
The Australian government says coal is still essential for its energy security. Well over half of the country’s power came from coal last year, government data shows, with just over a fifth generated from renewable resources.
But the Climate Action Tracker analysis shows a worrying trend: Investment in renewables is declining because of uncertainty over the government’s climate policy.
Australia’s determination to keep its coal business going is just one part of its failure to act on climate change. Data from the Climate Action Tracker shows Australia is running well behind its already insufficient climate change promises.
“The federal government is going backwards on climate change,” said Professor Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of the climate think tank NewClimate Institute, and one of the lead authors of the study.
According to the group’s analysis, Australia does not have an effective climate policy. It says the government has shown no intention of adopting new Paris Agreement targets and has so far refused to make a net zero emissions pledge. The Australian government did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries should aim for the “highest possible ambition” when it comes to emissions reductions, but there are currently no guidelines on what each nation’s share of the global burden should be. The Climate Action Tracker has calculated country-by-country figures, based on each nation’s economic and historical circumstances and backed by published scientific literature.
In order to contribute its fair share to global efforts, Australia should be aiming to cut its emissions by 30% compared to 2005 levels by 2030, according to the Climate Action Tracker.
Australia is lagging on climate change — even though it is among the nations most affected by it.
The country regularly struggles with extreme heat waves and changing rainfall patterns which have made its bushfire seasons longer and more intense.
Last year was the hottest and driest year ever recorded in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Of all Australian states, Queensland has the most to lose from climate change, according to an Ernst and Young report prepared for Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.
Apart from increased fire danger, the state is facing more frequent and more severe cyclones and intense rainfall events.
Its top tourist attraction — the Great Barrier Reef — is also suffering because of climate change. Earlier this year, the reef experienced its most widespread bleaching event on record. It was the third mass bleaching event on the reef in just the last five years.
Hare, a co-author of the Climate Action Tracker study, said that even if the global community manages to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, some 70% to 90% of the world’s coral reefs will likely be destroyed because of climate change.
Farrow says that — just like many young people in Australia — he worries about climate change. “My generation, despite being around here, we’ve always had that importance of looking after the planet ingrained into us, so it sorts of is always in the back of my mind at least,” he said.
Farrow says his skills are not limited to coal mining and he would be open to working in a different field — but he doesn’t expect that to be necessary any time soon.
“I don’t think there is the infrastructure right now to totally cease the use of coal-fired power,” he said. “So I think the calls for it come from people who don’t see the economic impact it has on the regions that actually rely on it.”
Coal mining in Chhattisgarh
India’s plans for a coal-fuelled recovery are threatening this ancient forest
- By Swati Gupta and Helen Regan
- Photographs by Brian Cassey
The dense jungles of Hasdeo Arand, in India’s central Chhattisgarh state, are home to endangered species including leopards and sloth bears, medicinal plants and herbs.
Wild elephants lumber through the 170,000 hectares (420,080 acres) of contiguous forest on their migration routes.
Hasdeo Arand is also home to the Gondi, one of India’s original indigenous tribes, known as Adivasis. Like most of these vulnerable communities, the Gondi rely on agriculture and produce from the jungle for their livelihoods.
Jainandan Porte, a member of the Gondi group, has spent the past six years fighting the coal mining operations he says are destroying the pristine forest he grew up in.
“Generations of our ancestors have lived in this forest and generations to come will live here too,” Porte, 40, told CNN.
The lives, history and culture of those living in the Hasdeo Arand are deeply intertwined with the forest.
“We have always been self-dependent,” Porte said. “The jungle gives us — without any monetary transaction — firewood, food, herbs, and that is the natural state of our village.”
“Our festivals are tied to the plants and trees in this forest,” he said. “We pray to some of them, and if they are destroyed, our culture will be incomplete.”
The mining industry is keen to tap into the estimated 5 billion metric tons of coal that sit below Hasdeo Arand. The indigenous population is battling to save the forest, and its way of life, from destruction.
India’s government divides land that sits atop valuable deposits of coal into so-called “coal blocks,” which it then auctions off for development.
In 2014 Porte says he helped bring together 40 villages in the region to set up the Save Hasdeo Arand Struggle Committee, in protest at the nearby Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) coal mine, one of two operational mines in the forest.
The Indian government gave the go-ahead for the development of the Parsa East and Kente Basan coal block in 2011 — despite a report by the government’s Forest Advisory Committee which voiced its opposition to the proposal.
When the Parsa Kente mine became operational in 2013, an entire village was lost to make way for it, said activist Alok Shukla, convener of the Save Chhattisgarh campaign. He said hundreds of people were displaced, not just from their land but from the only livelihoods they had ever known.
Ramlal Kariyam, from the village of Salhi, near the PEKB mine, has seen the displacement over the past few years. “People here now believe that the government will come and take away their land and livelihood and they are now ready to fight. We will not give up our land,” he told CNN.
Sunil Kumar Mishra, a senior official at the Chhattisgarh forest department, didn’t deny that locals had been kicked out. “If villages have been displaced, the people there are compensated. There is a rehabilitation plan in place,” he told CNN.
The district official who deals with compensation for displaced people did not respond to CNN’s repeated requests for comment. India’s national environment ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.
There are 18 coal blocks in the Hasdeo Arand region; only two are under active development. The rest are tied up in legal disputes over land acquisition or environmental clearances.
Kariyam said he and the other villagers in Salhi live under the constant threat of the environmental destruction that another coal mine would bring.
“We are scared that once these coal mines start, our forest will be destroyed and the land will become fallow,” he said. “We will not be able to do anything on that land.”
Porte and Kariyam have seen first-hand the environmental degradation that coal mining brings.
Thousands of trees were chopped down to make way for a 48-mile railway track to service the mine, and the river has been polluted with black sludge from the processed coal, Kariyam said.
“Before, the air was pristine, now because of the coal mine, the dust from that is coming. When they blast through the mine, there are tremors in our village,” he said. “The water they use for the coal — that black water — they release it into the river. We cannot use that water.”
Shukla had a similar story. “During monsoon [season], because of the mining, polluted water still flows into the river. But before 2019, they were releasing polluted water directly into the river,” he told CNN.
The PEKB mine is owned by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL), a state-run power generation utility company in Rajasthan. P.S. Arya, a project director working at the utility, said air pollution from the mine was not an issue but acknowledged that runoff from the mine has entered the water.
“It is like this — where there is coal and where there is coal mining, during rainy season water will collect and because this is an open cast mine, that water will be going somewhere,” Arya told CNN.
Adani, a private firm that operates the PEKB mine on behalf of RRVUNL, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. On its website, the company says its project is “touching millions of lives” and that it has “been working closely to improve education and healthcare facilities in India’s hinterlands.”
The Gondis’ fight to save the forest is set to take another turn, however.
With the aim of making India “self-reliant,” boosting the economy wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic and getting thousands of people back to work, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in June that 41 new coal blocks across five states would be opened up to commercial mining.
“India will overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and the nation will turn this crisis into an opportunity,” Modi said on June 18. “We are not only launching the auction of commercial coal mining today but also freeing the coal sector from decades of lockdown.”
The Indian government plans to invest $16.6 billion into 500 projects across the country linked to coal mining, infrastructure, exploration and “clean coal technologies,” which can lead to some reductions in harmful emissions, to enable the production of one billion metric tons of coal by 2023-24.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit India hard –- its economy contracted by more than 23% in the last quarter, and more than 85 million people lost their jobs between March and June 2020, according to a survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.
Since the start of the outbreak, Modi has doubled down on the need for India to become self-dependent, so that any future crises will not cripple the country’s economy.
Until now, India’s coal industry has been largely state-owned. But the auction process for the new coal blocks has been opened to private operators and, for the first time ever, to foreign direct investment, allowing non-Indian firms to invest in coal mining.
Less than three months after Modi’s announcement, his order was amended to remove five environmentally sensitive mining locations in the Hasdeo Arand from the list, following public opposition. The neighboring state of Jharkhand has filed a lawsuit against the Indian government, challenging the auction of nine blocks in its territory.
That doesn’t mean the threat to the forest has subsided. Looming over the locals is the fact that the Parsa East and Kente Basan coal block is expected to move into Phase 2 later this decade, which would expand the mining area further.
And despite the Gondi taking their protests to the streets, earlier this month the Indian government added three new coal blocks in Chhattisgarh to its list, meaning that seven such blocks in the state are up for auction.
The Minister of Coal and Mines, Pralhad Joshi, says commercial mining in Chhattisgarh will create 60,000 new jobs, bringing in an annual revenue of $600 million.
Save Chhattisgarh’s Alok Shukla disputes that claim.
“You can look at any coal mining project in Chhattisgarh, and none of them followed up on the promise of job creation,” he said. “So many jobs do not exist. The coal mining process is highly mechanized. The chances of job creation are minimal.”
Modi’s government insists the new projects will enable millions of people, including informal laborers, to find work in construction and infrastructure. But at what cost?
“The destruction is more than the development,” Shukla said. “We are losing forests, people are losing livelihoods, they are being displaced, pollution is increasing, the water bodies in the area are vanishing. This issue of climate change is being justified by [the government] for money, revenue and employment.”
Shukla fears that more mining could lead to large-scale displacement of the Gondi communities. Most residents haven’t experienced life outside of the forest and would struggle in the cities, he said.
India is the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, after China and the United States.
The country’s coal production has steadily increased from 532 metric tons in 2010-2011 to a projected 810 metric tons for the year 2019-2020, and the government has a five-year plan to grow the coal sector 8% by 2024.
India also imports a lot of its coal. One major reason for the recent push into domestic production is to wean itself off imports, while still satisfying the growing energy needs of its 1.3 billion population.
But the Modi government’s push into coal as a way to help the economy recover from the ravages of the coronavirus is at odds with his global image as a leader on climate.
In 2016, India ratified the Paris Agreement, pledging to cut its carbon emissions by more than a third — up to 35% below 2005 levels — by 2030.
According to an upcoming study by the Climate Action Tracker, shared exclusively with CNN, India is still broadly on track to meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement, with a target of 40 percent renewable energy by 2040.
“India does it quite well,” said Professor Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute, one of the lead authors of the Climate Action Tracker study. “There’s a lot of expansion of renewables. There’s a push for electric vehicles. And there’s a push for forest management,” he added.
But a report by India’s Central Electricity Authority released last year found that coal power could still account for half of India’s power generation in 2030. And the call for more coal mining is making climate scientists nervous.
“During this crisis, there are some steps backwards,” Höhne said. “If we take the Paris Agreement seriously, we need much less coal and no additional coal-fired power plants.”
Meanwhile, India is being heavily impacted by the climate crisis.
The past decade was India’s hottest on record, according to the Indian Meteorological Department, with temperatures up to 0.36 degrees Celsius above average.
Under a “business as usual” scenario where global average temperatures rise by 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, large parts of India could experience temperatures beyond the limits of human survivability, according to a 2017 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Under a more optimistic scenario — where warming is held to 2.25 degrees Celsius — researchers found that no parts of South Asia would exceed the limits of survivability by the year 2100.
India is also staring down the barrel of an extreme weather crisis, with droughts, floods and drinking water shortages devastating thousands of lives each year — and impacting the country’s already battered economy.
Erratic monsoon rains have made it difficult for farmers to predict when to plant and harvest crops, and flash floods bring major cities to a standstill every year, claiming the lives of hundreds of people.
Porte said he has experienced the climate crisis first-hand.
“Our wells are running dry and we are forced to use borewells during the summer,” he said. “Earlier, we knew how much rain we would get every month and how hot it will be in the summers. In the past two to three years … we get rain all through the year and our crops get destroyed.”
The only solution for Porte and his community, he says, is for the government to halt the coal mining plans, and to protect the Hasdeo Arand region.
“If we lose our forest, our culture and traditions will cease to be a reality and instead become a story for the coming generations,” he said.
All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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