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First Nations, first dibs, says Canada’s Supreme Court

indigenous protest
Jennifer Castro

With just one court ruling, the situation of pipelines in Canada has changed in a big way.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on a 14-year-old battle over logging rights on Tsilhqot’in Nation territory in British Columbia. Its decision says that any First Nation land that was never formally ceded to the Canadian government cannot be developed without consent of those First Nations that have a claim to it.

To say that this has huge implications for the Canadian oil industry is an understatement. The only thing that stands between Alberta, the province that is the hub of the country's oil boom, and the Pacific Ocean, which connects Canada to the lucrative oil markets of Asia, is unceded First Nations territory. The Northern Gateway pipeline, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved earlier this week, runs along a route that First Nations have already begun blockading, a full 18 months before the pipeline is expected to begin construction.

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The public comment process is where bureaucracy and democracy get a room

PublicComments
Kelsey Amelia Bates

On a beautiful summer afternoon recently, a handful of people across America decided it was high time to make their feelings known about the Obama administration's most significant response yet to climate change -- the EPA's Clean Power Plan. Here is what they wrote:

"I am thrilled that the EPA is tackling this issue ... Stand firm against the inevitable backlash - countless lives (our own descendants!) are quite literally at stake." -- Anonymous

"The EPAs proposed carbon reduction rule is a flawed rule based on hopes and dreams. ... If these rules go through and we have 60000 megawatts of coal power closing in 2015, if another polar vortex hits us, there will be a lot more people die than what asthma will ever effect. Thousands of people will freeze to death.” -- Anonymous

"Thanks EPA for making the new bold rules to limit the carbon emissions from power plants this is one step in the right direction hopefully more to come." -- Kenneth Weiss

"Dear EPA: Shut down the EPA and get government out of the way." -- Sincerely, Mr. David Robertson Sr.

Welcome to the most democratic, weird, and earnest corner of our federal government: the public comment system. On any day, you can go scrolling through Regulations.gov and offer up your learned (or completely unlearned) opinion on upcoming federal regulations.

Public comment is the place where the 400-page environmental analysis compiled by the Sierra Club sits next to the two-sentence statement typed in by a busy suburbanite. It's also where the party is right now. That's because, after the cap-and-trade bill crashed and burned, the Obama administration figured out that it simply wasn't going to get any environmental legislation through Congress and pragmatically shifted its focus to the kind of work that didn't need congressional approval -- but does require public comment.

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Hope springs infernal

To motivate climate activists, use optimism

sign pointing to the village of Hope, Derbyshire UK
Pol Sifter

So it turns out, hope is important.

Did we know that already? We sort of knew that already. But -- according to a new study put together by researchers at George Mason University and Yale's Climate Change Communication Project -- hope is particularly critical as a motivator in the very doom-heavy world of climate change activism.

The paper's authors contacted a "nationally representative" sample of  50,000 people across the U.S. via an online survey, and asked whether they had contacted their elected officials to support climate change mitigation action; attended climate-related rallies or meetings; or donated to or volunteered with an organization working to reduce global warming.

One thing that was interesting -- but not especially cheering -- about the results: Believing climate change is a major risk does not necessarily predict you will take any kind of action about it. Out of the 2,164 people who actually responded to the survey, 16.9 percent had done at least one of the above things in the last year. While the people who had taken some action were more likely to believe that climate change was a serious problem, a substantial portion of people shared that belief but said they were planning on doing absolutely nada about it. Among the reasons given for not participating were: not thinking they were an "activist" (33 percent) and not believing that humans could get their act together in time to make a difference (78 percent).

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Ma, why does my scratch and sniff smell like a gas leak?

child-holding-nose
PathDoc

Back in January, I interviewed a very nice Texan who was organizing a neighborhood pipeline watch. While both oil and natural gas pipelines are the responsibility of the companies that build them (and the agencies that are supposed to keep an eye on them), in reality, the majority of leaks -- both natural gas and crude  -- are spotted by regular people.

Which is why the news that the pipeline company TransCanada is handing out scratch-and-sniff cards to Canadian farm kids so that they can identify pipeline leaks is both sensible and creepy. Sensible because: These kids and the pipelines occupy the same rural territory, so what kind of a jerk would judge an attempt to make that relationship safer? Creepy because: Children already have to deal with so much from adults -- is asking them to monitor our pipelines for us taking it a little too far?

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How to not lose your shirt when the climate goes bust

Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Hank Paulson
Jim Gillooly/PEI; Helloaloe/Wikipedia; Fortune Live Media

Much of the computing power that crunches the data for the Bloomberg financial empire lives in a building on Houston and Hudson, in Manhattan. It won't be there for much longer, though. After Hurricane Sandy, having a data center three blocks from the Hudson River no longer feels like a great idea.

"I own my company," former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference Tuesday morning. "I want to sleep at night. I do some things so I can do that."

Bloomberg was there -- along with Tom Steyer, Henry Paulson, and a bipartisan League of Superfriends-style "Risk Committee" of political and financial heavy hitters -- to announce a project called Risky Business. The project, summarized in a report released today, is an ambitious attempt to spell out, in plainspoken, unvarnished business talk, the threat that climate change poses to the serious work of making money.

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Climate change is the next market crash, says former Treasury secretary

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

It's not every day that a Republican finance guy -- one who remembers George W. Bush as a "terrific boss" -- writes an op-ed in The New York Times imploring the nation to set up a carbon tax. Not this year, anyway; just a few years ago, it might've been ho-hum.

Once, the carbon tax was the conservative, free-market solution to the climate problem, as opposed to the big-government, heavy-handed-regulation solution. Now that so many Republicans don't accept that there is any climate problem at all, the whole idea just looks like another evil tax to them. And when a former Treasury secretary under the GOP flag steps forward to advocate it -- to insist that we have no choice, we're crazy not to act fast and act big -- it's news.

In June of 2006, Henry Paulson left a position as CEO of Goldman Sachs to become secretary of the Treasury. At the time, Paulson reports telling President Bush and his economic team that he was fairly sure the country was headed for a financial crisis before the end of Bush's last term, based on the size of hedge funds and the lack of transparency in the over-the-counter derivative market, though he wasn't sure how specifically the collapse would happen.

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Put solar on it

Celebrate solar power at a solstice event this weekend

installing-rooftop-solar-panels-shutterstock
Shutterstock

It is a question for the ages: How does one go about making solar panels seem fun instead of just noble? This weekend's national celebration of all things solar, which goes by the very Portlandia name of "Put Solar on It," answers that question: in a way that is both dweeby and endearing.

On Saturday, June 21, the longest day of the year, Put Solar on It events will take place in cities and towns around the U.S. (you might be able to find one here or here). Some involve tours of local solar installations, others will have solar-related presentations and talks. If you can't make it to one, you can still play along at home by voting for your favorite solar installation (50 votes = $100 donated to a project).

The campaign is being put on by more than a dozen organizations, including Al Gore's Climate Reality Project and Organizing for Action, which is run by the organizers of Obama's reelection campaign. But "Put Solar on It" has its origins with the solar investment company Mosaic, which brainstormed the phrase back in December. "It made a good hashtag," said Katie Ullman, the company's communications manager.

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Buying a bike? Now you can use Twitter to find out if it’s stolen property

bike-thief-cutting-bike-lock-shutterstock
Shutterstock

Back in the olden days of 2005, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, bicyclist and web developer Bryan Hance had his bike stolen yet again in Portland, Ore. In response, he did what web developers so often do as a part of their grieving process: He built a website.

Hance wasn't the only person doing this. The rise of bicycling and everyone crowding onto the internet meant that anyone who had their bike stolen found themselves wading through a plethora of bike forums and Google groups dedicated to tracking down bikes and bike thieves. There were plenty of websites, but there wasn't a widely used database for stolen bikes, the way that there was for cars. While there was a national site affiliated with McGruff the Crimefighting Dog, it charged a stiff fee and only let law enforcement run searches through its database.

But Hance's database was particularly popular, even with people outside of Portland. When Hance announced early this week that his site StolenBikeRegistry.com had joined forces with an another bike registry -- a company named BikeIndex.org, which has ambitious plans to register bikes before they even reach their first owners -- it became, arguably, the closest thing we have to a national bicycle registry. From now on, whether you're looking at a bike in a used bike shop, or in someone's suburban garage, you can post the serial number to @isitstolen on Twitter, and a bot will report back to you on whether or not it's been reported stolen. (I just tried it and the bot told me that my bike isn't stolen, but sent me some depressing pictures of stolen bikes that look like mine.)

Read more: Cities, Living

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Oil-train info does not need to be secret, feds say

oil train
Pressmaster

Public release of details about oil-train routes and shipments does not pose a serious security risk, the federal government said yesterday.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how the Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring railroads to tell states about shipments within their borders of the more-explosive-than-usual Bakken crude, so that those states and relevant municipalities could prepare for the Lac-Mégantic-sized explosions that might be lying in store for them.

Railroads said, "Yeah, sure," and then turned around and drew up non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for every state they were routing oil through. By the conditions of the NDAs, the states could only use the crude shipment information for disaster planning and response. Any other disclosure and it was lawsuit time.

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The Canadian pipeline (almost) everyone hates gets a go-ahead

Stephen Harper
The Prime Minister's Office

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has approved the Northern Gateway pipeline.

This is not a huge shock. This is the man, after all, who called Barack Obama to personally register his displeasure over the president's failure to approve Keystone XL. In the years before he was prime minister, Harper was a second-generation employee of the Imperial Oil Company. The man has governed in a way that is not only anti-environment but anti-environmental science. What else was he going to say to a pipeline besides "yes"?

Northern Gateway is tremendously exciting to those who invested big in Canada's tar sands, and then found that the pipeline that would get their product to market -- Keystone XL -- had become a symbol of everything dangerous about current energy markets. The Northern Gateway pipeline would carry diluted bitumen (a.k.a. dilbit -- tar-sands crude oil diluted in solvents so it's liquid enough to be pumped through a pipe) from Alberta through British Columbia to the Pacific port town of Kitimat. There, it would be loaded onto tankers bound for China -- now the world's largest net importer of petroleum and other liquid fuels -- and other countries in Asia.