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John Upton's Posts


West Coast leaders team up on a new climate plan

San Francisco

The left coast just got more lefty. Leaders from California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia gathered in San Francisco on Monday to sign a climate action plan [PDF].

But this is no Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; that's the legally binding carbon-trading program among nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states. Rather, the West Coast leaders agreed that their states and province would work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but only in non-binding and somewhat vague terms that commit no actual funds. So specific outcomes from the agreement are about as clear as a summer morning in California’s polluted Central Valley

The deal grew out of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a group formed in 2008 that counts the three states and one province as well as Alaska as its members. The collaborative describes the agreement in a press release [PDF]:

Through the Action Plan, the leaders agreed that all four jurisdictions will account for the costs of carbon pollution and that, where appropriate and feasible, link programs to create consistency and predictability across the region of 53 million people. The leaders also committed to adopting and maintaining low carbon fuel standards in each jurisdiction. …


Australia’s climate-denying prime minister is convinced he’s the authority on climate change

Tony Abbott
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Global warming is bringing droughts, heat waves, floods, and fires to Australia. The good news for the land down under, however, is that its new prime minister, Tony Abbott, is the self-declared expert on all things climate related. And he says everything is just fine.

The Australian state of New South Wales has been enduring some of its worst bushfires in recent history, fueled by unseasonably hot and dry spring conditions. Asked by CNN about the fires and global warming, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, explained that there is "absolutely" a link between climate change and wildfires in general: "the science is telling us that there are increasing heat waves in Asia, Europe, and Australia; that these will continue; that they will continue in their intensity and in their frequency."

Abbott dismissed those comments by saying that Figueres was "talking out of her hat." (Which might well be true, if her hat was fashioned from her résumé cataloging her many years of international climate policy work.)

When that failed to shut up the journalists who kept connecting the dots between bushfires and climate change, Abbott piled on the rhetoric, describing their coverage as "complete hogwash."


Virginia voters know we’re changing the climate, Republican candidate does not

Terry McAuliffe
Terry McAuliffe gets climate change. So do most Virginians.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe is ahead in the gubernatorial polls in Virginia, despite accusations from his climate-denying Republican opponent that he's waging a "war on coal" in a coal-powered state. His lead might be partly attributable to the fact that Virginians actually are concerned about global warming.

With a week remaining before the election, Old Dominion University polling [PDF] is showing that 44.1 percent of likely voters intend to support McAuliffe in the race for governor. Republican Ken Cuccinelli is favored by 36.9 percent of poll respondents, while 6.9 percent said they plan to vote for Libertarian Rob Sarvis.

Notably, the pollsters found that Virginia voters strongly shared their favored candidate's views on climate change -- which is bad news for the Republican:


The Arctic hasn’t been this hot for 120,000 years

Baffin Island
Christophe Roudet

The last time the Canadian Arctic was as warm as it is today, our ancestors were only just beginning to migrate out of Africa.

A study published in Geophysical Research Papers suggests that recent temperatures in the region were unmatched during the last 120,000 years.

"Our results indicate that anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gases have led to unprecedented regional warmth," said University of Colorado at Boulder professor Gifford Miller, the lead author of the new paper.

Over three years, Miller and his colleagues collected dead clumps of moss that were left exposed by receding ice caps on Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada's Arctic Archipelago. They concluded that the oldest were last exposed to the elements at least 44,000 years ago -- but that they were probably far older than that. From the paper:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Africa’s biggest wind farm starts spinning

Ethiopian flag on a lightbulb

Ethiopia's infamous droughts don't just condemn the country to periodic famine; they also deprive it of electricity.

In a major step toward diversifying a power system that's almost entirely reliant on hydropower, the country has built Africa's largest wind farm. Power production started at the $290 million Ashegoda Wind Farm on Saturday, four years after construction began. From Reuters:

The 120 MW, 84-turbine farm -- straddling a sprawling field of grassland dotted by stone-brick hamlets more than 780 kilometers north of Addis Ababa -- is part of a plan to mitigate the impact of dry seasons on the country's dams.


Hundreds of oil spills kept secret by North Dakota

Shhh ... oil spills are unpopular.

North Dakota's fracking frenzy is leaking like a sieve. And you haven't heard about it because fracking companies, oil pipeline owners, and state officials have been keeping information about hundreds of oil spills secret for years.

After a huge spill of more than 20,000 barrels on a wheat farm was hushed up for 11 days, the Associated Press discovered the extent of the years-long cover-up:

Records obtained by the AP show that so far this year, North Dakota has recorded 139 pipeline leaks that spilled a total of 735 barrels of oil. In 2012, there were 153 pipeline leaks that spilled 495 barrels of oil, data show. A little more than half of the spills companies reported to North Dakota occurred "on-site," where a well is connected to a pipeline, and most were fewer than 10 barrels. The remainder of the spills occurred along the state's labyrinth of pipelines.


Scientists refuse to participate in silly Nebraska climate study

J. Stephen Conn
How might climate change affect farming in Nebraska? Don't expect a new state study to provide any useful answers.

Nebraska is looking for scientists to conduct a study into how climate change could affect the state, but climate scientists want nothing to do with it.

That's because the legislation calling for the study limits its scope to "cyclical" climate change, whatever that is. State Sen. Beau McCoy (R), a climate denier and gubernatorial candidate, inserted the word "cyclical" into the bill before it was passed and signed into law this past spring.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientists at [a Wednesday] meeting said they wouldn't participate in the climate study if it excludes the influence of humans. Some said they wouldn't be willing to ask others to consider doing the study, either.


Coal-plant owner offers to wash cars after spewing ash over city


This was not a good week to be a neighbor of the John Twitty Energy Center in Springfield, Mo. Unless, that is, all you care about is getting your car cleaned for free.

A piece of equipment at a coal-fired power plant failed on Tuesday, sending a cloud of burned coal residue with the consistency of talcum powder out over the city. Homes, yards, cars, and unfortunate pedestrians within two to three miles were left coated with fly ash.

"I headed outside and [my cars] were just covered," Springfield resident Bob Pasley told Ozarks First. “Neighbors' cars were covered and we were walking through the grass and dust was coming up like you just put limestone on your lawn."

City Utilities, which operates the plant, apologized and offered to pay to clean the cars of affected neighbors. “Our concern is on people's vehicles," spokesperson Joel Alexander said.

But what about all the lungs, plants, and ecosystems that were assaulted with stray bits of burned of coal? What does City Utilities propose doing about that? It's already done all that it plans to do: It has denied that there are any dangers.


Federal solar auction flops in Colorado

San Luis Valley
Tee Poole
No one bid to build solar projects in the San Luis Valley this week.

Oh come on, solar industry. You know you want a piece of Colorado.

The rights to build solar projects on 3,705 acres of high-altitude, federally owned desert in Colorado were put up for bid on Thursday. But not a single bidder showed up.

The outcome was a disappointment for U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials. They were conducting the first of many planned solar auctions on public lands in the West.

The officials are describing the auction as a learning experience and say they will try again. The Denver Post reports:

Five companies had filed preliminary applications for the three San Luis Valley parcels, and there were another 27 inquires about the sites, according to Bureau of Land Management officials.

Based on that interest, officials scheduled an auction at the BLM Colorado office in Lakewood for the 3,700 acres of valley land.


Barnacles are accidentally eating our plastic trash

Barnacles on a boot.
Gooseneck barnacles attached to a washed-up boot.

Barnacles in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are attaching themselves to trash and eating little plastic particles. Researchers don't yet know the implications of these findings, but it's a safe bet that they're not good.

American scientists inspected the gastrointestinal tracts of 385 gooseneck barnacles collected from the garbage patch, aka the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, and found microplastic in a third of them. Some specimens had a single piece of plastic in their stomach, while others had gobbled down as many as 30. Results of this research were published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.

Miriam Goldstein of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography described her research in the blog Deep Sea News:

Gooseneck barnacles look kind of freaky. Like acorn barnacles (the ones that more commonly grow on docks), they’re essentially a little shrimp living upside down in a shell and eating with their feet. Unlike acorn barnacles, gooseneck barnacles have a long, muscular stalk. ...

Read more: Living