Skip to content Skip to site navigation

John Upton's Posts


Republicans vote to deny climate change

Fred Upton
House GOP
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Miss.) is among the deniers who sit on the House energy committee.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee wasted a good chunk of time Tuesday on yet more anti-environmental legislation that doesn't stand a snowflake's chance in climate-changed hell of becoming law. H.R. 3826, The Electricity Security and Affordability Act, would suspend the EPA's proposed climate rules for power plants.

And for bonus points, the committee threw out an amendment to the doomed bill that would have acknowledged that climate change is real.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), presumably tired of yawning her way through anti-scientific charades, added the amendment, merely acknowledging the banal fact that greenhouse gas pollution "threatens the American public’s health and welfare" by contributing to climatic changes. Here's ClimateProgress explaining how the Republicans responded:


Thousands of Californians are about to run out of water

no water

All Californians are being asked to cut back on their water use to help the state survive its drought emergency. But for members of 17 communities across the state, such reductions might not be voluntary -- they're in danger of running completely dry in the next few months.

Officials in these communities are considering the very real possibility that they'll need to truck in water or even install portable desalination equipment.

The 17 vulnerable water systems serve as many as 11,000 residents apiece, though the tiniest serves just 39 people. Here's the San Jose Mercury News with more:


Hawaii lawmakers move to block local bans on GMOs, pesticides

Pineapple farms on Hawaii

Late last year, the Kauai and Hawaii County councils passed laws restricting the use of pesticides and experimental GMOs on their slices of Hawaiian paradise. But those laws could soon be sunk by state lawmakers.

Hawaii County's rules ban biotech giants from the island and prohibit the new planting of GMO crops (farmers who already grow GMO crops may continue doing so). Kauai's rules require disclosures from anyone growing GMOs or spraying agricultural pesticides and the creation of pesticide-free buffer zones near schools, parks, hospitals, and homes.

Enter House Bill 2506. Hawaii has long been a haven for scientists conducting trials for Monsanto, Syngenta, and other agricultural giants -- and the bill aims to keep it that way. If passed and signed, it would block local governments from enacting their own agricultural rules.

"No law, ordinance, or resolution of any unit of local government shall be enacted that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices not prohibited by federal or state law, rules, or regulations," the bill states.

If you were to glance at the legislation, you could be forgiven for thinking it was designed to help Farmer Bob continue tilling his land despite opposition from NIMBY new neighbors. From the bill:

The legislature finds that during the last several decades, population growth and migration to Hawaii has resulted in urban encroachment into rural areas traditionally reserved for agricultural activity. This intrusion brings inevitable conflict when new neighbors face dust, pesticide use, noise, and other activity typical of farming operations.

The purpose of this Act is to protect the farmer's freedom to farm and promote lawful and proven agricultural activities by bona fide farmers that are consistent with long-standing state and federal laws, rules, and regulations.

Read more: Food, Politics


We can harvest methane from cow guts. Should we?

Dairy cows

Cows' weird digestive systems, including four stomach compartments and the eternal chewing of cud, help them get the most out of their grassy diets -- but it also produces a lot of methane. Controlling the methane is not easy once it gets burped or farted out of a cow's digestive system. (Just ask the German farmers whose barn was recently blown up by a buildup of the gas.)

But now scientists have come up with a way of harvesting the climate-changing methane that they produce: by piping it directly out of their guts.

Cattle are responsible for two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock. And livestock are responsible for nearly 15 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting down on their methane emissions could help slow global warming.

So Argentinian scientists are punching holes in the sides of cattle and passing pipes through to their stomachs. The other end of the pipe goes into a bag fitted on the cow's back. The captured gas, which is basically the same natural gas that frackers and other drillers mine out of the ground, can be burned to produce energy. That releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instead of the methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Sorry, San Franciscans — New York rated as nation’s best transit city

New York Subway
Ed Yourdon
Subway life in New York.

If you loathe cars and want to live in an urban transit utopia, your best bets in the U.S. are San Francisco and New York.

And stay the hell away from Colorado Springs.

Walk Score, a website that grades the walkability, transit options, and bike friendliness of localities across the country, just published its 2014 list of urban oases that are best served by public transit.


Rice paddies providing respite for birds in drought-ravaged California

Birds in a Californian rice paddy.
Bob White

Water is in dangerously short supply in California, and most of the state's wetlands have disappeared. So where are all those migratory birds traveling the congested Pacific Flyway supposed to stop for a rest and a feed?

Here come rice farmers to the rescue.

Rice farms are sometimes criticized for using a lot of water. But much of that water is released back into rivers and streams after the growing season. And it is the temporary layer of funky water that makes these fields, found the world over, potential habitat for wildlife.

Experiments led by University of California at Davis researchers have found that salmon fry raised in inundated rice fields grow faster and stronger than their cousins maturing in faster-flowing rivers. The muddy fields also resemble wetlands where birds naturally congregate.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Australian Open heat was a climate-change preview, but at least nobody died

Melbourne is smoking hot
41 degrees Celsius is 106 Fahrenheit.

The Australian Open ended in Melbourne on Sunday, when a Swiss man wearing a sweat-drenched shirt with yellow and red stripes won in four sets. It was bloody hot, and his nose burned red as he smooched a silver trophy.

In fact, the sweltering heat captivated the world's media and arguably stole the show. One player burned her bum when she sat down on a chair; another's plastic water bottle melted on the court's artificial surface. Athletes collapsed left and right, and one of them hallucinated. Emergency rules designed to help players survive the scorching heat slowed down play.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


ABC, CBS, and NBC nightly news covered climate for less than two hours in 2013

No climate coverage

If you got all your news from television, you might not even know that the planet is warming.

"Altogether, ABC, CBS, and NBC reported on global warming for nearly an hour and 42 minutes during their nightly newscasts in 2013," Media Matters reported recently. "Out of a year's worth of coverage, the Sunday shows focused on climate change for 27 minutes."

When you see appalling figures like that, it can be tempting to find a television and yell at it. Problem is, it would just keep yell back at you about Justin Bieber, the Super Bowl, or what the weather was like today.

So members of the new Senate Climate Action Task Force went a step further, yelling at the network bosses about their pitiful climate coverage -- in letter form.


Midwestern farmers harvesting solar power

Solar panels at a Wisconsin farm

It's not just milk, cereal, and soy that's being produced on Midwestern farms. Increasingly, farmers in the region are also harvesting their own solar power. That's according to a report in Midwest Energy News:

Solar installations have been taking off in many areas of the Midwest, but perhaps nowhere more so than in farm country.

“It’s a huge buzz now throughout the agriculture industry,” said Todd Miller, sales director for CB Solar in Ankeny, Iowa.

The Midwest is a conservative place, and today's conservatives tend to reject renewable energy. So what is it about farms that has the region's growers so eager to reap power from the sun?

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Free trade deal on solar and wind could hurt the environment

Environmental goods deal

Pssst ... hey, foreigner, you wanna buy some green?

Government leaders huddling with business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos agreed on Friday to remove tariffs on so-called "environmental goods." Unfortunately, that agreement could end up warming the globe and harming the environment.

If a "joint statement regarding trade in environmental goods" that was signed by the U.S. and 13 other countries evolves into a binding World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement, then the container ships and trucks that crisscross the globe could start hauling more solar panels, wind turbines, and other such goodies from factories to consumers across international borders.

"We are convinced that one of the most concrete, immediate contributions that the WTO and its Members can make to protect our planet is to seek agreement to eliminate tariffs for goods that we all need to protect our environment and address climate change," the joint statement says.

We're talking about some serious green here. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which describes such an agreement as a high priority for the U.S., says total global trade in environmental goods is worth $955 billion a year -- and that 86 percent of that involves the signatories to the joint statement. Some countries apply tariffs of more than a third to such products.

On the face of it, that could seem to make some sense. So why isn't everybody buying it?