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Californians to receive $30 to $40 climate credit this month

piggy bank
Shutterstock

A year and a half after California started forcing some big polluters to pay for pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, households in the Golden State are about to start cashing in on the program.

The state's cap-and-trade program has raised nearly $1.7 billion so far. About 40 percent of proceeds are earmarked to be spent on clean energy initiatives, while the rest will be distributed to small utility customers through various programs, helping offset any increase in electricity prices. Residential customers of the state's investor-owned utilities, which together serve more than two-thirds of the state's electricity, will receive the first California Climate Credits on this month's electricity bills, reducing the amount due by roughly $30 to $40. The next residential credits will be paid out in October. Small business customers will receive them monthly.

California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey said the credits will give "millions of Californians a stake in the fight for clean air and a healthy environment." He suggested electricity customers reinvest the money in efficient lightbulbs, smart thermostats, and other energy-saving measures to further reduce costs and to join the fight against climate change.

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What the U.N.’s new climate report says about North America

North America
NASA

Global warming is a global crisis, but the effects of climate change are being felt differently in different corners of the globe. The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of a world wracked by hunger, violence, and extinctions. But the IPCC also dedicates chapters to impacts that are underway and anticipated in individual regions and continents.

For North America, the report states there is "high confidence" of links between climate change and rising temperatures, ravaging downpours, and declining water supplies. Even if temperatures are allowed to rise by just 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 C), which is the goal of current international climate negotiations (a goal that won't be met unless everybody gets a lot more serious about curbing greenhouse gas pollution), such severe weather is going to get a lot worse.

North America's coastal regions will continue to face a particularly long list of hazards, with climate change bringing growing risks of "sea-level rise, warming, ocean acidification, extratropical cyclones, altered upwelling, and hurricanes and other storms."

Here are some highlights from the North American chapter of the IPCC's new report:

Observed climate trends in North America include an increased occurrence of severe hot weather events over much of the US, decreases in frost days, and increases in heavy precipitation over much of North America ...

Global warming of approximately 2°C (above the pre-industrial baseline) is very likely to lead to more frequent extreme heat events and daily precipitation extremes over most areas of North America, more frequent low snow years, and shifts towards earlier snowmelt runoff over much of the western US and Canada. Together with climate hazards such as higher sea levels and associated storm surges, more intense droughts, and increased precipitation variability, these changes are projected to lead to increased stresses to water, agriculture, economic activities and urban and rural settlements.

The following figure from the report shows how temperatures have already risen -- and how they are expected to continue to rise in different parts of the continent under relatively low ("RCP2.6") and high ("RCP8.5") greenhouse gas pollution scenarios:

Click to embiggen.
IPCC
Click to embiggen.
Read more: Climate & Energy

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U.N. climate report offers lots of bummer news plus a few dollops of encouragement

The maintenance costs are going through the roof.
NASA

Climate change has broken down the floodgates, pervading every corner of the globe and affecting every inhabitant. That was perhaps the clearest message from the newest report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the latest in a conga line of warnings about the need to radically and immediately reduce our use of fossil fuels.

Published Sunday, it's the second installment of the IPCC's fifth climate report. The first installment was released last September; the third comes out next month. (If you're wondering WTF the IPCC even is, here's an explainer.) This latest installment catalogues climate impacts that are already being felt around the world, including floods, heat waves, rising seas, and a slowing in the growth of crop yields:

Click to embiggen.
IPCC
Click to embiggen.

As we reported when a draft of key parts of the document was leaked in November, the IPCC says current risks will only worsen -- risks such as food crises and starvation, extinctions, heat waves, floods, droughts, violent protests, and wars.

Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke called the report an "S.O.S. to the world," reminding us that failure to "sharply curb carbon pollution" will mean more "punishing rainfall, heat waves, scorching drought, and fierce storm surges," and that the "toll on our health and economy will skyrocket."

But the report doesn't just focus on climate change's risks and threats -- it looks at ways in which national and local governments, communities, and the private sector can work to reduce those threats. And some of the news on climate adaptation is actually, gasp, slightly encouraging!

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A high seas fishing ban scorecard: (Almost) everybody wins

tuna
Shutterstock

When it comes to fishing, most of the ocean is lawless. Fish in the high seas -- the half of the world's oceans that fall under the control of no single nation, because they're more than 200 miles from a coastline -- are being plundered with aplomb by fishing fleets that observe virtually no fish conservation rules.

Some very smart people think that might be a very stupid way of managing the world's fisheries. They say it's time for the world to ban fishing on the high seas.

Many of the world's brawniest fish and shark species migrate through these open waters, where they are being targeted and overfished. Bluefin tuna are becoming so rare that a single fish sold last year for $1.8 million.

Last month, McKinsey & Company director Martin Stuchtey suggested during an ocean summit that banning fishing on the high seas would cause an economic loss of about $2 for every person on the planet. But he said the benefits of more sustainable fisheries, if such a ban was imposed, would be worth about $4 per person, creating a net benefit of $2 apiece. From Business Insider:

Hard numbers reveal that today's fishing industry is not profitable, and as fleets work harder chasing fewer fish, the losses grow and stocks are further depleted in "a race to the bottom," the economist explained.

Stuchtey's numbers were approximations. But the results of a study published in the journal PLOS Biology this week put some flesh on the economist's back-of-the-envelope calculations. An economist and a biologist, both from California, modeled the effects of such a ban and concluded that the move could double the profitability of the world's fishing industries -- and boost overall fishing yields by 30 percent. It would also boost fish stock conservation and improve the sustainability of seafood supplies.

Read more: Food

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States struggling to understand frackquakes

earthquake
Shutterstock

Frackers have been triggering earthquakes across the country by injecting their wastewater at high pressure into disposal wells.

That much is certain. The U.S. Geological Survey has linked the practice to a sixfold increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. from 2001 to 2011. It's also possible that the very act of fracking has been causing some temblors.

What isn't certain, though, is what governments can do about it. Bloomberg reports on a new initiative that aims to manage some of those earth-shaking dangers:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Congress successfully took the wind out of wind energy’s sails last year

wind energy
Shutterstock

America's fossil fuel-smitten Congress helped China blow the U.S. out of the water last year when it came to installing new wind energy farms.

A little more than 16 gigawatts of new wind capacity came online in China in 2013 -- nearly half of the 36 gigawatts installed around the world. Compare that with a little more than 1 gigawatt that was installed in the U.S. -- down alarmingly from 13 gigawatts the year before.

That means American wind installations plummeted in a single year despite the falling price of wind energy, which is becoming lower than the price of electricity produced by burning natural gas in some parts of the country.

Dude, where's our wind? Well, the latest figures were calculated by Navigant Research, and it blamed a "politically divided Congress" in a new paywalled report for the faltering wind growth in the U.S.

Congress allowed wind energy tax credits to blow away at the end of 2013 -- so why would 2013's installation figures be so bleak? According to the report, it was all about uncertainty. Lawmakers "failed to extend tax incentives in time to positively impact the 2013 development and construction cycle."

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Ohio lawmakers: All right, folks, we guess it’s OK for you to buy Teslas

Tesla sales center
Tesla

If you live in Ohio, your lawmakers are poised to allow you to purchase a Tesla from a sales center -- without forcing you to drive outside the borders of the Buckeye State to do your eco-friendly spending.

But legislative efforts to placate the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association will nonetheless cap the number of sales offices Tesla is allowed to operate inside the state at three -- and other auto manufacturers will be barred outright from hawking their wheel-spinning wares direct to buyers. Here's the news, courtesy of NJTV:

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BP’s newly upgraded refinery just spilled oil into Chicago’s water source

BP Whiting oil spill
Parker Wood / Coast Guard
Cleaning up after BP. Again.

Deepwater Horizawhatnow?

Less than a year after BP upgraded its Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana to allow it to handle heavy Canadian tar-sands oil, causing petroleum coke to begin piling up in nearby Chicago, an industrial accident at the refinery has spewed some of that oil into Lake Michigan. The Chicago Tribune reports that it's not known how long the refinery was leaking or how much oil was spilled. The leak was reported at 4:30 p.m. and plugged by 9 p.m., when an EPA official arrived at the scene. More from the Tribune:

Mike Beslow, the EPA’s emergency response coordinator, said there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs. The 68th Street water intake crib is about eight miles northwest of the spill site, but there were no signs of oil drifting in that direction.

Initial reports suggest that strong winds pushed most of the oil toward a sandy cove on BP’s property between the refinery and an Arcelor Mittal steel mill. A flyover Tuesday afternoon revealed no visible oil beyond booms laid on the water to prevent the oil from spreading, Beslow said.

The spill came at an ominous time, catching the attention of both of Illinois's U.S. senators. "[T]hree weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery," Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (R) said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

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Christie’s new woe: Court rules he illegally dumped climate protections

Chris Christie
Gage Skidmore

As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn't have enough problems!

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Christie's administration broke state law in 2011 when it withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

That's because it didn't bother going through any formal rulemaking procedures before pulling out of the carbon-cutting program. Instead, administration officials stated on a government website that the state wouldn't participate in the program -- and then argued in court that the online statement was sufficient public outreach under state law.

"The Christie administration sidestepped the public process required by law," said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey, one of two nonprofits that sued the government over its hasty withdrawal from RGGI, following Tuesday's Superior Court ruling. "New Jerseyans support action to reduce the impacts of global warming. We hope that today’s ruling will help their voices be heard."

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Air pollution kills 7 million people every year

Cairo air pollution
Nina Hale
Cairo air pollution.

The World Health Organization's latest advice could be reinterpreted as a cruel oxymoron: Stop breathing, or you'll stop breathing. A tall order, but one in eight deaths in 2012 was caused by air pollution. And more likely than not, that one air-pollution-wrecked body lived its shortened life in a poor or developing country -- probably in Asia.

WHO's latest air-pollution-linked mortality estimates double previous annual figures, due largely to medical discoveries about pollution's poisonous effects. Scientists have been discovering that a shockingly long list of afflictions can be exacerbated or triggered by air pollution -- everything from heart attacks and lung cancer to diabetes and viral infections. The inhalation of tiny particles is now regarded as the world’s largest single environmental health risk -- responsible for an estimated 7 million deaths in 2012.

Read more: Climate & Energy