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John Upton's Posts


Looks like the Arctic has been heating up even faster than we thought


Exhaustive efforts to calculate temperatures around the world based on satellite and weather station data may have missed a spot: the Arctic.

The area around the North Pole is warming faster than anywhere else in the world, but there's been a shortage of temperature data from the region. New research suggests that efforts to fill in those data gaps over the last 16 years using calculations and assumptions have underestimated the rate at which temperatures are rising.

That could help to explain why the apparent increases in global temperatures have been slightly lower than forecast by climate models -- and slightly lower than had been the case before 1997.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Denial dries up: Americans finally seeing the light on climate change


Looks like Fox News and Congress are becoming ever more intellectually isolated from the American people, perched together on a sinking island of climate denialism.

Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick led analysis of more than a decade's worth of poll results for 46 states. The results show that the majority of residents of all of those states, whether they be red or blue, are united in their worries about the climate -- and in their desire for the government to take climate action.

“To me, the most striking finding that is new today was that we could not find a single state in the country where climate scepticism was in the majority,” Krosnick told The Guardian.


Walmart’s carbon emissions soar despite all that green talk

Heather Ingram

Walmart's flagrant labor abuses have been well-documented, as have the effects of its sprawling big-box stores on town centers and small retailers. But less well-known is how much the mega-retailer is doing to wreak havoc with the world’s climate.

In greenwashing on an epic scale, the company has been making a lot of noise in the press over its pledges and occasional projects to reduce carbon emissions. The company's chief executive proclaimed in 2005 that "every company has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as it can."

Which is nice rhetoric. But apparently Walmart doesn't think it falls into the same bucket as "every company."

Eight years into the retailer's self-professed love affair with the environment, a new report [PDF] by the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance lays bare its hypocrisy: Walmart is significantly growing its carbon footprint, even as it claims to be reducing it.


U.S. says poor countries’ calls for climate compensation could screw up climate treaty process

Typhoon Haiyan

The U.N. climate treaty process, hatched in the '90s, was intended to fight the looming threat of climate change. But as climate negotiators meet in Warsaw this month to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, they are doing so not under the looming threat of climate change — they are doing so in a world currently being throttled by climate change.

That change in the weather is changing the tone of the negotiations. And it’s doing so in a way that some say is a distraction from the original purpose of the treaty process, which was to try to arrest climate change.

No longer are poor countries asking rich ones merely to shoulder the financial burden of reducing emissions. (In past talks, wealthy countries committed to pouring $100 billion a year by 2020 into the new Green Climate Fund to help the others reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.) Now developing countries are also demanding compensation for “loss and damage” caused by climate change, such as the typhoon that just ravaged the Philippines.


As world dithers on climate treaty, funding for climate projects dwindles

Solar power in Mongolia
The Clean Development Mechanism helps solarize poor, rural communities.

Failure thus far to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol means the world’s largest carbon-offset program is poised to shrink.

Since it began operating in 2004, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has supported 7,432 projects to rein in greenhouse gas emissions in poor and developing countries. Those projects have included wind, solar, and bioenergy installations, forest plantations, and energy-efficiency efforts. (Controversially, they have also included coal- and other fossil fuel-based projects considered cleaner than alternatives.) The $315 billion in funds for those projects came from wealthy countries looking to invest in opportunities abroad to help meet their domestic Kyoto Protocol commitments.

But that cash pipeline is starting to dry up as demand for such greenhouse gas-reducing projects shrivels.


The six U.S. nuclear power plants most likely to shut down

Three Mile Island
Sandia National Laboratories
Three Mile Island: still not popular.

The nuclear power industry is melting down in America, and in the rest of the Western Hemisphere too.

Nuclear plants still generate nearly 20 percent of electricity in the U.S. But a report by investment research firm Morningstar in its latest Utilities Observer publication warns about the sector's risks. The report says "the ‘nuclear renaissance’ is on hold indefinitely" in the West thanks to low electricity prices, largely driven by the natural-gas fracking boom but also by new renewable energy projects, and controversy in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown:

Aside from the two new nuclear projects in the U.S., one in France (Flamanville), and a possible one in the U.K. (Hinkley Point C), we think new-build nuclear in the West is dead. ...

We don’t expect an end to the new nuclear construction in China and South Korea or the development interest in India and elsewhere in Asia. ... Nuclear power is not going to disappear as a long-term option and it will continue to evolve. However, an investment in a new Western nuke plant even with the best available technology today will remain a rare experiment.


Oil refineries in Louisiana have accidents almost every day


Well, OK, Louisiana's oil refineries don't have accidents every single day. Just six days a week on average. Actually, to be specific, 6.3 days a week.

Last year, the 17 refineries and two associated chemical plants in the state experienced 327 accidents, releasing 2.4 million pounds of air pollution, including such poisons as benzene and sulfur, and 12.7 million gallons of water pollution. That’s according to a report published Tuesday [PDF] by the nonprofit Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which compiled the data from refineries' individual accident reports.

Nearly half of the accidents were triggered by the weather, including Hurricane Isaac. Nearly a third were the result of equipment or operational failures. The remaining 12 percent were caused by power outages.

“Year after year our state gets the pollution and the oil industry gets the profit,” said Bucket Brigade director Anne Rolfes.

The findings are grim, but they may actually understate the problem. The nonprofit claims many refinery accidents are underreported or covered up, as the Baton Rouge Advocate reports:


Divine intervention? Pope opposes fracking

Pope Francis
Catholic Church England and Wales

The worldwide leader of the Catholic Church, none other than the motherfracking pope himself, has come out in opposition to the worldwide scourge of hydraulic fracturing.

OK, so Pope Francis didn't exactly make a policy statement or a speech denouncing fracking. But hints have emerged that he might do so soon. And Twitter is afire with pictures of His Holiness holding up anti-fracking T-shirts. The pictures were taken Monday following meetings with Argentinians dealing with environmental issues:


No, global warming isn’t caused by solar flares or cosmic rays


Of all the fanciful folklore espoused by climate deniers, among the strangest is cosmoclimatology. It posits that climate change is not the result of the blanket of carbon dioxide we've pumped into the atmosphere. Rather, the theory goes, global warming is caused when changes in the 11-year cycle of the sun cause the Earth to be bombarded by cosmic rays, which are high-energy particles, most of which come from deep in Outer Space

"Evidence is accumulating that cosmic rays associated with fluctuations in the sun's electromagnetic field may be what drives global warming," explains the Texas-based Institute for Creation Research. "[W]hen the sun is more active -- more sunspots, a stronger magnetic field, larger auroras, stronger solar winds, etc. -- fewer cosmic rays strike the earth and cloud cover is reduced, resulting in warmer temperatures."

Nice theory. But actual scientists (i.e., those who believe in evolution and the like) have been rejecting it for years, and a flurry of new research is confirming that the theory is bunk.

One such paper (which is receiving a fair bit of media coverage) was published last week by a pair of British researchers in the journal Environmental Research Letters. From the paper's conclusion:

Read more: Climate & Energy


California, on track for record dry year, is ready to seed clouds

dry California hills with clouds overhead

California, already parched and fire-scorched following two consecutive snow- and rain-deprived winters, is on track to experience its driest year on record.

"It's absolutely dry," Bob Benjamin, a National Weather Service forecaster, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We just went through October where there was no measurable precipitation in downtown San Francisco. That's only happened seven times since records started." From the article:

The state's reservoirs are all well below their normal carrying capacity, according to Arthur Hinojosa, the chief of hydrology and flood operations for the California Department of Water Resources.

"Generally speaking, it has been dry across the state, and it has been remarkably dry where the population centers are and where the bulk of the water storage is," Hinojosa said. "Most operators plan on multiyear dry years, but nobody plans on as dry as we've seen."