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John Upton's Posts


Party like it’s 1994! America’s CO2 emissions hit 18-year low

Disco ball

The last time America's carbon dioxide emissions were this low, Nelson Mandela was being inaugurated as South Africa's president, O.J. Simpson was being chased by police in a white Bronco, and Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin were agreeing to ease up on the whole let's-point-countless-nukes-at-each-other thing.

U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions steadily rose from the mid-90s until they hit a peak in 2007. Since then, emissions have fallen in five out of seven years. In 2012, emissions were 12 percent below the 2007 level, dipping back to 1994 levels. That's according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

Let's celebrate with a trip down memory lane. Here are the reasons the EIA gives for America's falling emissions, set to a soundtrack of some of the biggest hits of 1994.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Here’s why privatizing food inspection might not be the greatest idea

An unlikely killer.

The U.S. government has been getting out of the food-inspection game in recent decades, replaced by a for-profit inspection industry that's rife with conflicts of interest. The risks of that arrangement became evident with America's deadliest food-borne disease outbreak in almost a century.

In 2010, Primus Group food auditors visited a Colorado melon farm run by brothers Ryan and Eric Jensen. The company told the farming brothers how to install a new cooling system. In 2011, the inspectors returned and gave the flawed new system, which violated federal guidelines, a "superior" safety report.

Within a year, 33 cantaloupe consumers had died painful deaths after being infected with Listeria monocytogenes, a type of bacteria that was harbored by the brothers' fruit. Federal investigators concluded that the installation of the new cooling system was a fatal flaw.

After four generations, the brothers' farm has been sunk by lawsuits filed by victims and their families. Now the Jensens are striking back against the flawed inspection system with a lawsuit of their own. The Denver Post reports:

The lawsuit filed against Primus Group, a food auditing company based in California, is rare — even in an industry in which favorable audits have preceded the most notorious national food outbreaks.


Colorado frackers paying tiny fines for keeping chemicals secret

poisoned landscape
What exactly are Colorado frackers pumping into the soil? They're supposed to be telling us.

One of the few things that frackers need to do when they operate in fracker-friendly Colorado is post information about some of the chemicals they pump into the ground. But even that seems too hard for the industry.

Following press reports that Colorado frackers were failing to report their chemicals as required on the FracFocus website, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission warned companies it would begin actively enforcing its rules in the summer.

Since then, 11 companies have been cited for failing to disclose their chemicals on the website. From EnergyWire:

Seven of the companies have agreed to settle the cases with $1,000 fines, and commission staff is still negotiating with one of the companies. Two cases have been continued to December, and one case, against Marathon Oil Corp., has been set for a contested hearing at the commission's Oct. 28 meeting in the eastern Colorado city of Limon. ...


Gulf fisherman: “There is no life out there”

Fried oyster sandwich
There are many ways of preparing oysters. BP has the recipe for destroying them.

If it's true that oysters are aphrodisiacs, then BP has killed the mood.

Louisiana's oyster season opened last week, but thanks to the mess that still lingers after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, there aren't many oysters around.

"We can't find any production out there yet," Brad Robin, a commercial fisherman and Louisiana Oyster Task Force member, told Al Jazeera. "There is no life out there." Many of Louisiana's oyster harvest areas are "dead or mostly dead," he says.


Winery plans to chop down California redwoods to make room for vineyards

Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious
Fuck off, redwoods. We've got grapes that need that space.

Global warming and the growing global appetite for wine have vineyards on the march.

As the climate in southern England warms to resemble that of France's Champagne region, British growers are cultivating grapes that make bubbly. Viniculturists are also setting up operations in remote parts of British Columbia and China. And in California, the booming wine industry is crawling out of warming valleys and edging toward the coast -- which is bad news for coastal ecosystems.

Areas suitable for vineyards in the world's major wine-producing regions could shrink between 19 and 73 percent by 2050, according to a study published in April in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers say growers will look for new lands on which to plant their vines, razing wild areas in their wine-making quests.

"Climate change may cause establishment of vineyards at higher elevations," the scientists wrote. That "may lead to conversion of natural vegetation."

And so it is in California's Sonoma County, where environmentalists are fighting in court to prevent a Spanish winemaker from leveling 154 acres with coast redwoods and Douglas firs to make space for new grapevines. NPR reports:

Redwoods only grow in the relatively cool coastal region of Northern California and southern Oregon. Parts of this range, such as northwestern Sonoma County, have become increasingly coveted by winemakers.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Oil and gas train runs off tracks, explodes in Canada — again

Another train loaded with fossil fuels derailed in Canada over the weekend, triggering explosions and fueling a big fire.

A train derailment in Gainford, Alberta is seen in this aerial photo courtesy of the RCMP and Parkland County, October 19, 2013.

Firefighters did not bother battling the flames at the accident near Edmonton in Alberta. Instead, they allowed the propane that was leaking from ruptured rail cars to burn itself out. Nobody was hurt, but a nearby town was evacuated. From a weekend Globe and Mail report:

The train belongs to Canadian National Railway Co. It derailed in Gainford, a village about 90 kilometres west of Alberta’s capital, at around 1 a.m. MT Saturday. The train was en route to Vancouver from Edmonton.

Thirteen tanker cars went off the track, according to Louis-Antoine Paquin, a spokesman for CN. Nine of those are pressurized tank cars filled with liquefied petroleum gas in the form of propane, and three of them are on fire.


U.N. lists air pollution as carcinogen

Air pollution

If you want to avoid lung cancer, the United Nation's cancer-research body has some advice for you: Don't breathe.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer on Thursday added air pollution, and the particulate matter that it contains, to its list of carcinogens.

The airborne poisons were classified as "Group 1" carcinogens, meaning there is "sufficient evidence" that they cause cancer in humans. They are mostly produced through the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants, and stoves.

And it's not just lung cancer that can be triggered by air pollution. In a statement [PDF], the agency noted "a positive association" between polluted air and bladder cancer.

Read more: Climate & Energy


America to EPA: We missed you, babe


During the 16-day federal government shutdown, clueless GOP staffers posted a top 10 list of "Reasons The Government Shutdown Isn't All Bad" on a Senate website. The list mostly celebrated the fact that the EPA's work was crippled by the budget spat.

"Fewer bureaucrats at the EPA makes it less likely that they'll make up science on new regulations," was among the witticisms listed on the blog post. The post then rattled off fantastical agency scandals that sounded cribbed from a fossil fuel industry dream journal.

But polling commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council over the Columbus Day weekend revealed that EPA bashing is unlikely to win much public sympathy for the Republicans. The vast majority of people polled were bummed out that fighting in Washington had prevented the EPA from doing its job.


Welcome back, federal workers! Look how we screwed up your research

Here's hoping that federal researchers enjoy catching up on weeks of missed work.

Hooray! Congress has given the federal government permission to begin functioning again. National parks and monuments are reopening and the National Zoo's panda cam is back. But after a 16-day hiatus, which by one estimate cost the country up to $24 billion, there have been painful impacts on scientific research -- including research that could help tell us WTF is going on with the climate.

The most-discussed climate-science impacts from the shutdown have been those affecting studies in Antarctica, where a narrow annual research window is approaching. From Politico:

In Antarctica, scientists who study the Adelie penguin worry that they won’t be in place when the fast-declining species arrives later this year at its nesting and breeding grounds. “If we have breaks in that record, there are a lot of scientific statistical analysis of our observations that we can’t do. And so in our case, these data, the observations are all just gone forever. We never get them back,” said Hugh Ducklow, an oceanographer and professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.


Colorado frackers pump out cash to ward off ballot initiatives

Broomfield, Colo.
Broomfield, Colo.

Flush with cash, the fracking industry is liberally throwing bills around as it battles anti-fracking groups pushing suspensions and outright bans on the practice in four Colorado cities.

Anti-fracking ballot measures have been put forth by residents of Fort Collins, Boulder, Lafayette, and Broomfield. (Similar initiatives are planned in Greeley and Loveland -- and some activists are pushing for a statewide initiative.)

Opponents of fracking have raised about $16,000 in total as they fight for votes in those four cities, The Denver Post reports. That's not bad for a grassroots effort, but it pales in comparison with fundraising by the pro-fracking sector, which is separately fighting a fracking ban in Longmont in court:

Groups opposing four anti-fracking measures have campaign contributions of $606,205 -- 99.7 percent of which came from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, reports filed Tuesday show. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy