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John Upton's Posts


The southern half of Keystone XL is now filling up with oil

protest sign: pipelines spill, tar sands kill
Elizabeth Brossa

TransCanada had a nice little party last weekend.

The company has been battling for years to win the State Department's blessing to build the Keystone XL pipeline over the Canadian border to help export tar-sands oil to American refineries. Meanwhile, it has been building the southern leg of that same pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas.

On Saturday, the company started filling that southern leg with the sticky, polluting, climate-changing fuel that it will carry cross-country to the Texan refineries -- crude oil.


Wetlands are disappearing faster, just when we need them the most

Potomac River

Wetlands are going the way of the glaciers.

A new federal study has cataloged the alarming demise of the nation's coastal ecosystems. Mangroves, marshes, and other wetlands help protect homes and communities from sea surges and storms. But more than 360,000 acres disappeared between 2004 and 2009, much of it cleared to make way for coastal developmentThe Washington Post reports:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Organic milk is better for your heart

so much milk

Your diet is probably loaded with too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough of the omega-3 variety. Westerners often consume 10 to 15 times as many of the former as of the latter -- but doctors say that for a healthy heart, the ratio should be more like 2.3 omega-6 to 1 omega-3.

A peer-reviewed study funded in part by the organic milk industry has revealed that organic dairy in the diet can help right this imbalance.

Scientists studied nearly 400 milk samples from 14 American dairies over 18 months and discovered that the fatty-acid ratios were nearly ideal in organic milk. In nonorganic milk, not so much. For every 2.5 grams or so of omega-6 fatty acids in a glass of organic milk, the researchers found 1 gram of omega-3. Compare that to a fatty-acid ratio of 6 to 1 in milk from cows raised by nonorganic dairies.


Meet perfluorotributylamine, the world’s worst greenhouse gas

a gas

What synthetic compound has 27 fluorine atoms, a dozen carbon atoms, and a dash of nitrogen? The world's worst known greenhouse gas.

A class of compounds known as perfluoroalkyl amines have been manufactured for more than 50 years for use by the electronics industry. Climate scientists don't know much about them, but they have been worried for some time that they could be affecting the climate. And a new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Lettersseems to have confirmed some of their worst fears.


Wind energy becoming cheaper than natural gas

A true wind farm.

In the blustery Midwest, wind energy is now coming in even cheaper than natural gas. From Greentech Media:

"In the Midwest, we're now seeing power agreements being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt-hour," said Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley’s Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy, at the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November. "Compare that to the variable cost of a gas plant at $30 per megawatt-hour. ..."

Byrd acknowledged that wind does receive a subsidy in the form of a production tax credit for ten years at $22 per megawatt-hour after tax. “But even without that subsidy, some of these wind projects have a lower all-in cost than gas,” Byrd said.


Thanks to climate change, the world is going to need a lot more firefighters

Shutterstock / Portokalis

Memo to adventurous career seekers: The planet is going to hell in a handbasket, but you can make the most of it by joining an industry that's guaranteed to keep growing as the atmosphere keeps warming: firefighting.

As drought-parched forests and grasslands increasingly combust, the U.S. government is spending more than ever before on firefighting -- $1.9 billion last year. That should be creating some job opportunities.

Not content to just hang out in your own country, idly battling blazes and risking your life for the protection of exurban McMansions? Well, then why not jet off to a fireswept pyromaniac's paradise? Australia, the home of the bushfire, is going to need to double the number of firefighters it employs over the coming years as the already parched continent is ravaged by ever more droughts and heat waves. That's according to a study just published by Australia's Climate Council:


Greenpeace 30 might get Russian amnesty — and Pussy Riot might too

Shutterstock / plavevski

Vladimir Putin appears to be experiencing uncharacteristic feelings of humanity. And that's wonderful news for a crew of daring Greenpeace activists, among many others.

The Russian president has drafted an amnesty bill, posted on the Kremlin's website Monday and submitted to Russia's parliament, that could affect tens of thousands of activists and political prisoners in the country.

According to Al Jazeera English, Russia's Izvestia news outlet reported that government sources have confirmed that the amnesty would apply to the Greenpeace 30. It might also free members of Pussy Riot.


Dairy accidents spilled a million gallons of crap in Wisconsin this year

Dairy cows

More than a million gallons of crap were let loose following agricultural accidents in Wisconsin this year.

No, we aren't talking bullshit. We're talking about cow shit, the E. coli- and nutrient-laden fruits of the state's dairy industry. This is the kind of pollution that causes green slime to grow over the Great Lakes and that leads to dead zones at the other end of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that already this year farming accidents have spilled 1 million gallons of livestock manure in the state. That's more than five times the amount that was leaked during similar accidents last year. The figure only includes the most spectacular explosions of poo, not the cow pats that are washed off grazing lands into creeks and rivers during rains.


Turns out those old-fashioned ways of farming were actually pretty smart

Rice paddy
This worked better in the olden days when fish hung out here too.

Remember those things humans did for thousands of years to feed themselves before we came up with all kinds of newfangled methods? We might want to go back to doing those old-school things.

The United Nations recently formed the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a 115-country group that's trying to bring down skyrocketing rates of species extinction. During meetings in Turkey this week, the group is discussing a strategy that it thinks could help protect biodiversity: a return to indigenous systems of farming and managing land.

One example of a traditional farming technique that the group hopes to resuscitate: the ancient Chinese practice of rearing fish in rice paddies. Adding fish to a paddy helps manage insect pests without the need for pesticides, provides natural fertilizer for the crop, feeds birds and other wildlife, and produces a sustainable meat supply for farming families.

Read more: Climate & Energy


The U.K. government really, really wants to encourage fracking

anti-fracking protesters in U.K.
Push Europe
Activists are not pleased with the Tory government's fracking plans.

The past week was a topsy-turvy one for the fracking industry in Europe, where leaders and residents are sharply split over whether frackers should be allowed to tap shale reserves for natural gas.

The U.K. government is so anxious to see fracking companies get to work that it confirmed it will offer big tax breaks to help encourage the sector. The country's chief finance minister, George Osborne -- whimsically dubbed the chancellor of the Exchequer -- confirmed during his autumn budget update that the tax breaks would be put in place. He claimed a fracking boom would bring "thousands of jobs" and "billions of pounds of investment." (Memo to the chancellor: Frackers have been known to lie about these things.)