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April 2012

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We lost, we laughed, we cried: An April Fools’ post mortem

Photo by jonhoward.

Some of you liked "We Lost," our April Fools' item on green leaders throwing in the towel, but some of you didn't.

"April Fail," the comments read. "Stupidest idea ever. This is too big to joke about." "This scared the shit outta me until I realized the date. Don't do this to us." Over on Twitter, @BobbyHertz complained, "Awful April Fools' Joke, bad taste ... trivializes the fight for Climate Justice." Some readers reported tears.

Though we certainly didn't set out to make anyone cry, we'll never apologize for our attempts at humor here at Grist. We know some will work better than others, and one person's laugh is another one's gaffe. Chacon a son Grist.

Read more: Inside Grist

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Romney supported cap-and-trade in 2003 as a way to combat climate change

Photo by Dave Lawrence.

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

A new document has surfaced [PDF] showing Mitt Romney’s strong support for regulating carbon dioxide in 2003, when he called cap-and-trade “an effective approach” to combating climate change.

The comments were made in a letter from Romney to New York Gov. George Pataki (R) about a regional cooperative system for regulating greenhouse gases. In the letter, Romney agreed with Pataki on the need to “reduce the power plant pollution that is harming our climate.”

But today, in trying to align himself with conservative political backlash against climate science, Romney says “we don’t know” whether humans are warming the planet, and that doing something about the problem “is not the right course for us.”

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April fooled? Spot the real news among made-up stories

Photo by Mykl Roventine.

Everyone knows we love a good April Fools' Day story. But in the rabbit hole of daily existence, it gets harder each year to distinguish between bizarre true stories that land on April 1 and genuine leg-pulling. Below is a sampling of some of our favorite gags from this year — plus a few legit stories. See if you can find the fakers.

Read more: Media

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HEAT stroke: House energy action plan reads like a bad April Fools’ joke

With its latest energy action plan basically a how-to for warming the planet, HEAT lives up to its name.

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

It’s April 2. So you know that what we print here today isn’t a joke.

But after reading the latest energy action plan from House Republicans over the weekend, I wish I could tell you that I’m making up their latest strategy.

Last May, ThinkProgress reported on the creation of a House Energy Action Team (HEAT), a group of more than two dozen House Republicans pushing an “all of the above” approach to energy. But it should really be called an “all of the below” strategy -- as it focuses exclusively on carbon-based fuels buried in the ground.

HEAT has just released its latest messaging plan for House Republicans to use while working in their districts on recess this summer. It’s no surprise that the plan calls for greater domestic use of fossil fuels. But the document reveals just how disconnected Washington politicians are from what scientists are telling us about global warming.

Read more: Uncategorized

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If a tree falls in the city, does it do anyone any good?

Planting trees in West Philly. (Photo by Danielle Clarke.)

One Saturday in November, a few hundred volunteers descended upon parks and creek banks in and around Philadelphia to plant more than 2,000 trees. That day’s plantings were just a piece of a broader initiative to plant 300,000 trees in the City of Brotherly Love by 2015. And that initiative is but one part of a much larger program spearheaded by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that aims to plug 1 million trees into the ground across 13 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The mid-Atlantic is seriously putting the moves on Mother Nature.

As cities around the country jockey to be the King of Green, mayors and community organizations have been eager to claim their place as the next urban Johnny Appleseed. (Upon becoming mayor in 2008, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declared the city would become the greenest in America, and established an office of sustainability to show everyone he meant business.) But despite all the work days and feel-good volunteerism, urban forests are losing ground, in part because many, if not most, trees planted in cities die early deaths.

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How butterflies are teaching scientists about better renewable fuels

What do the latest hydrogen fuel production technology and your tramp stamp have in common? They both take inspiration from butterfly wings.

Read more: Renewable Energy

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Three questions about energy for Maggie Koerth-Baker

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing, the popular group-blog where she gets to link to stories about booze-based semiconductors or the science of farting. But her writing has always displayed two traits that give it power far beyond BoingBoing's geeky precincts: She's got a knack for explaining really complex science in an unintimidating way, along with a hardheaded Midwestern pragmatism that's tough to dismiss.

She brings both those qualities to Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before it Conquers Us, her new book about the choices we face in continuing to power our world without wrecking it. It's a fast, filling read that will arm you with a deeper understanding of the precariousness of our electricity grid, the distinction between efficiency and conservation, and the pros and cons of each of the energy sources we imagine as our savior. Koerth-Baker plants herself firmly in the climate-activist camp, but she knows how to talk across the political divide, and, refreshingly, her perspective is rooted in the heartland and draws examples from places like Kansas and Minnesota more than California and New York.

We've got an excerpt of Before the Lights Go Out for you, which looks at the relative importance of individual choice and policymaking in reforming our energy system. I collared Koerth-Baker via email to answer some questions the book raised for me about the climate debate, the possibility of dialogue, and the tenuousness of hope.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Only system-wide change can cure our climate hangover

This is an excerpt from Maggie Koerth-Baker's new book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us. We've also got an interview with the author, in which she talks about finding common ground with climate deniers, the value of individual action in fixing a broken energy system, and the price of gas.

We could theoretically put climate change on pause right now -- lock in atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide at its current level and stop the process from getting worse. Efficiency and conservation could do that. But you wouldn’t like the outcome very much, says Stephen Pacala, the director of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University. To solve the problem that way, we’d have to adopt a very strict and meager rationing of greenhouse gas emissions -- just one ton of emissions per year, per person.

A ton sounds like a lot, but in this case, it’s not. The resulting budget would look less like a prudent belt-tightening and more like the work of Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-Christmas. One ton of greenhouse gas emissions buys a year’s worth of heat for one average home in the United States, Pacala says. That’s not including electricity, clothes, food, or transportation. Do you travel a lot for business? Maybe you could spend your one ton of emissions on airline flights instead. On that yearly budget, you can afford to fly 10 thousand miles in coach. Of course, again, that leaves you with no food to eat, no clothes to wear, and no house to come home to.

So, there’s saving the future, and then there’s actually being able to enjoy the future we saved. If you want the latter, it’s clear that simply reducing energy demand won’t be enough. In fact, no one change will be enough. Pacala made this point about efficiency and conservation not because he’s a killjoy or because he doesn’t think those efforts are worthwhile. He made it because he’s convinced that no single change can solve our energy problems.

You can’t do it only with efficiency and conservation. You can’t do it with nuclear power alone. You can’t do it with only biofuels or wind and solar generation or a smart grid.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Biodegradable slippers are the new creepy toe shoes (we hope)


I'm pretty sure this is the ultimate eco-product: a biodegradable shoe modeled after the Amazonian practice of painting resin onto one's feet to protect them.

Should you invest in these lovelies? Let us examine the advantages and disadvantages. Advantages:

  • You can dispose of them in a compost bin. (Pre-shredding required.)
  • You can get rid of the weird foot smell by washing them.
  • They roll up really tiny!
  • They are less weird-looking than those creepy shoes that look like gloves for feet.
Read more: Living

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Indian man single-handedly plants hundreds of acres of forest

In the northern Indian province of Assam, there's a forest named after one man — not a politician, or a historical hero, but a guy who lives there today. It's named after him because he planted most of its 1,360 acres.

Jadav Payeng, known as Molai, has been living in the area for more than 30 years, planting trees. Once this area was a desolate sandbar; now it's a jungle that's home to tigers and rhinoceroses and elephants.

Payeng told the Times of India that he first started working on the forest in 1979, when he saw flood-stranded snakes die from heat on the barren sandbar, with no trees to protect them. He told the paper:

I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested.

Later, he says, he started planting real trees and transported red ants from his village area to help improve the sandbar's soil quality.

Read more: Living