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John Upton's Posts


Get ready for more “extreme” El Niños

crashing wave

Batten down the worldwide hatches. Scientists say baby Jesus' meteorological namesake will become a thundering hulk more often as the climate changes.

The latest scientific projections for how global warming will influence El Niño events suggest that wild weather is ahead. El Niño starts with the arrival of warm water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and it can culminate with destructive weather around the world. It was named by Peruvian fishermen after the infant Jesus because the warm waters reached them around Christmas.

We've previously told you that El Niños appear to be occurring more frequently as the climate has been changing. The authors of the latest paper on this subject, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, don't project that El Niños will become more common in future. What they do project, though, is that twice as many El Niños will be of the "extreme" variety.

Read more: Climate & Energy


We export carbon emissions to China, get smog back in return

Factory pollution

Barack Obama recently warned supporters at a fundraiser that the U.S. will be "four feet under water" if China and India start consuming energy the way Americans do, The New Yorker reports.

The comment reflects growing international angst over the swelling carbon footprints of the two developing countries -- each of which is home to more than a billion people, many of them understandably eager to emulate Western lifestyles.

But in a draft report, the U.N. is reminding Western countries that the carbon footprints of developing countries are oversized in part because they are manufacturing so much of our junk for us. From The Guardian:

The world's richest countries are increasingly outsourcing their carbon pollution to China and other rising economies, according to a draft [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report.

Outsourcing of emissions comes in the form of electronic devices such as smartphones, cheap clothes and other goods manufactured in China and other rising economies but consumed in the US and Europe. ...


Will the U.K. follow the U.S. on a fracking binge?

British PM David Cameron
UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

British Prime Minister David Cameron seems desperate to mimic America's natural-gas boom. He's practically bribing local officials, saying they can keep tax revenue raised from frackers, and he's come out in favor of "cash payments" to homeowners who would be affected by fracking operations.

"We’re going all out for shale," Cameron said. "It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country.”

The BBC reports:


We may have to suck up CO2 to prevent planet from frying, U.N. says

woman vacuuming sky

The climate situation is so dire that we may have to resort to geoengineering to keep the planet livable, according to a leaked draft of a forthcoming report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The New York Times reports:

Nations have so dragged their feet in battling climate change that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is rising, according to a draft United Nations report. Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found.

A delay would most likely force future generations to develop the ability to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground to preserve the livability of the planet, the report found. But it is not clear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would probably be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions.

More from Reuters, which first obtained a leaked draft summary of the report:


Congress moves to restore ban on horse slaughter

A horse

Hear that whinnying? It's not the sound of horses being led to slaughter. It's the sound of would-be horse killers reacting to budget cuts.

In 2006, Congress cut funding for inspectors of horse slaughterhouses, which shut down the industry one year later. Funding was restored in 2011, and New Mexico company Valley Meat Co. planned to start slaughtering horses again, intending to export the meat to countries where people might actually want to eat it. But legal challenges and sabotage have stymied Valley Meat. It didn't help when one of the company's workers videotaped himself shooting a colt in the head and saying "fuck you" to animal activists -- and then asininely posted the footage online. Last month, New Mexico sued in an effort to block the slaughterhouse, which Attorney General Gary King (D) described as “completely at odds with our traditions and our values as New Mexicans.”

And now Congress is once again getting in the way of Valley Meat's plans, AP reports:

Congress' latest budget bill tries to block the resumption of horse slaughter in the U.S. by cutting funding for inspections of the process.

The prohibition on spending by the Department of Agriculture is included in the $1.1 trillion budget bill that Congress sent to President Obama on Thursday.

Animal protection groups applauded the vote.

Read more: Food, Politics


Safety rules to prevent oil-train explosions delayed

DOT-111 rail cars
U.S. Department of Transportation

Sounds like we might need to get used to oil-hauling trains exploding. New rules that would require railways to use stronger cars for transporting crude will not be ready until next year, the federal government announced this week.

There are a few reasons why we're seeing more oil-train explosions these days. The main one is the huge rise in the amount of oil being extracted in the U.S. and then transported by rail to refiners. Also, fracked crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota is particularly explosive thanks to its higher levels of light hydrocarbons and, possibly, the presence of flammable fracking chemicals. And DOT-111 tanker rail cars, which make up 70 percent of the nation’s tanker fleet, puncture easily. 

Here's Fuel Fix with an update on forthcoming railcar safety rules:


Big green groups demand an end to Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy

White House

Leading environmental groups are telling President Barack Obama that it's time to drop his climate-screwing "all of the above" energy strategy, which promotes rampant drilling and mining of fossil fuels as well as green alternatives.

Eighteen groups sent a letter to Obama on Thursday, pointing out that his strategy "fails to prioritize clean energy and solutions that have already begun to replace fossil fuels," and arguing that it's "a compromise that future generations can’t afford." The signers include the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Oceana, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Here's more from the letter:

We believe that continued reliance on an “all of the above” energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation’s capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption. With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We understand that the U.S. cannot immediately end its use of fossil fuels and we also appreciate the advantages of being more energy independent. But an “all of the above” approach that places virtually no limits on whether, when, where or how fossil fuels are extracted ignores the impacts of carbon-intense fuels and is wrong for America’s future. America requires an ambitious energy vision that reduces consumption of these fuels in order to meet the scale of the climate crisis.


U.N. climate chief calls for fossil-fuel divestment

Christiana Figueres
Arend Kuester

Take your money out of dirty energy and put it into clean energy. No, that's not talking (not this time, at least) -- that's from Christiana Figueres, chief of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

On Wednesday, Figueres called on big firms that manage trillions of dollars of investments to dump fossil fuel stocks in favor of greener alternatives, arguing that such a shift would help the firms’ clients as well as the climate.

“The pensions, life insurances and nest eggs of billions of ordinary people depend on the long-term security and stability of institutional investment funds,” she said. “Climate change increasingly poses one of the biggest long-term threats to those investments and the wealth of the global economy.”


Pebble Mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay could be environmentally devastating, EPA says

Boating on Bristol Bay
Friends of Bristol Bay
Locals enjoy Bristol Bay in its pre-polluted state.

A colossal gold, copper, and molybdenum mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay could devastate the region’s ecosystem and fishing industry, according to a new report from the U.S. EPA.

“[L]arge-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant near- and long-term risk to salmon, wildlife and Native Alaska cultures,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran told reporters upon releasing the report.

Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty wants to build the Pebble Mine in the area, but it hasn't yet applied for federal permits, so the EPA's study was about the potential impacts of hypothetical mining in the region rather than the Pebble Mine specifically. Still, it was a damning indictment of Northern Dynasty's plans. (The U.K.-based Anglo American mining corporation dumped its stake in the project in September, and the U.K.-based Rio Tinto is considering whether to do the same.)

Tribes, fishermen, and environmentalists are pressuring the agency to block Pebble Mine under its Clean Water Act powers. This new EPA report was all about the science -- it doesn't make any policy recommendations -- but its findings could be used to support such a move.


Older trees best at fighting climate change


As humans age, we tend to pass more gas. As trees age, they tend to suck more of it up.

A new paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature has blown away old misconceptions about the roles that the most mature trees in forests play in combating climate change.

It has long been believed that younger trees are better than their older neighbors at absorbing carbon dioxide. But the new research suggests that the opposite is true. It turns out that big trees just keep on growing, at fast rates, and the growth depends on carbon that the trees draw from the air around them.

"In whatever forest you look at, be it old or new growth, it is the largest trees that are the greater carbon sinks," William Morris, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, told Grist. "Not the smaller, younger trees, as was previously thought."

Read more: Climate & Energy