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Amanda Little's Posts

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Chaos and grumbling outside Bella conference center in Copenhagen

Tired, poor, huddled masses, yearning to get in.Photo: Australian Science Media CenterCOPENHAGEN--What requires more stamina? Childbirth or standing outside COP15's Bella Center for five solid hours in sub-freezing weather in a line of hundreds trying to pick up badges to enter? They're both ravaging, but at least childbirth has a payoff. On my first day in Copenhagen, after a sleepless red eye, I and thousands of others -- including delegates, business leaders, and other accredited journalists -- were prevented from entering the conference center because the event has been way overbooked. Word is that more than 45,000 people have registered …

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The U.S. military’s battle to wean itself off oil

Don't ask what kind of mileage it gets.In the summer of 2006, Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer sent the Pentagon an unusual "Priority 1" request for emergency battlefield supplies. Stationed at a temporary base in Fallujah, Zilmer was commanding a force of 30,000 troops responsible for protecting Al Anbar, the vast territory in western Iraq bordering Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Heavily armed insurgents were hammering the region, and Al Qaeda was quickly gathering recruits. Zilmer's beleaguered soldiers were running low on fuel for the diesel generators powering their barracks -- fuel that cooled their tents in the 135-degree …

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Our old electric grid is no match for our new green energy plans

The bowels of New York City's electricity system.Often referred to as "the world's biggest machine," the North American electricity grid as a whole is an integrated network of generators and millions of miles of wires that crisscross the United States and Canada. It snakes across fields, over mountains, through tunnels, along highways, beneath sidewalks, under rivers and seas. If you live anywhere in Canada or the continental United States, this mega-machine "reaches into your home, your bedroom," as one writer put it, "and climbs right up into the lamp next to your pillow." The grid is designed as a hub-and-spoke …

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Can you taste the fuels in your food?

Amanda Little on the farm. If you pinned a map of the United States to a dartboard, Kansas would be the bull's-eye. Smack dab in the center of the country, the Sunflower State is one of America's most productive agricultural hotbeds -- the fifth-biggest producer of crops and livestock in the country. More than 90 percent of the state consists of farmland endowed thousands of years ago with rich glacial loam. This fertile topsoil is no longer as robust as it once was, having offered up its nutrients season after season, decade after decade, century after century, to produce great …

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NASCAR and the high-octane American dream

The action at the Talladega Superspeedway.At dawn on a hazy autumn morning, the rising sun spilled over the steel grandstands of the Talladega Superspeedway like foam from a cracked can of Bud. This image likely came to mind because I was lying beneath a tarp in a scrubby Alabama meadow carpeted with empty beer cans -- an area known as Talladega's Family Parking Field C. The 2.66-mile Talladega racetrack, located about 50 miles east of Birmingham, is the world's second-largest car-racing venue, with a mile-long grandstand built to accommodate more than 140,000 fans. Around my L.L. Bean tent were some …

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Exploring the extreme frontiers of oil drilling

The "Cajun Express" oil rig, tapping the black gold deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico.The oil field known as "Jack" is located 175 miles off the coast of Louisiana, below 7,200 feet of water and another 30,000 feet of seabed, occupying a geological layer formed in the Cenozoic Era more than 60 million years ago. This layer -- the "lower tertiary" -- lies deeper under water than any other Gulf of Mexico oil discovery, which is one reason why many in the industry initially dismissed it as too remote to exploit. But in 2006, Chevron defied the odds when its …

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Confessions of a fossil-fuel addict

The power grid: more feeble than you think.The trouble started on an August afternoon in a remote field in northern Ohio, miles from any town large enough to be marked on a standard road atlas. The only trace of humanity hung above the trees—an electrical cable known as the Harding-Chamberlin Line, carrying 345,000 volts of power. By 3:00 the air temperature had risen to 90 degrees, and the cable itself had reached nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit—roughly twice its average temperature. The aluminum core of the 3-inch-thick wire was expanding with the heat and beginning to sag. Five hundred miles due …

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Coal is here to stay, says Obama’s chief environmental adviser

In an exclusive interview with Grist, Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, says coal isn't going away anytime soon.  She also says the administration can't promise a slowdown in mountaintop-removal mining.  Here are highlights in video and text. (For more, read the full Q & A.) On coal: [C]learly coal is a part of our energy mix now and it's likely to be so in the future. ... I think there is hope for technology that will help to reduce both the environmental impacts of mining coal and producing electricity with coal. ... [E]ven if …

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EPA chief Lisa Jackson on mountaintop removal, climate legislation, toxics, and more

In a wide-ranging interview with Grist, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson hit on a number of hot-button topics. Here are highlights in video and text.  (For more, read the full Q & A.) On mountaintop-removal mining: [T]he current state of the law and regs doesn’t allow us to just change the law and the regs to say that this process will no longer be allowable. There’s no way to do that under current law. What we can do at EPA is commit to a couple things: rigorous scrutiny of permits to make sure that we look at potential impacts to water …