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John Upton's Posts


Farm kills millions of bees with illegal pesticide spraying, gets slap on wrist

An orange grove
Orange you glad you aren't a bee in Florida?

A huge Florida citrus farm is being fined by state officials for poisoning millions of honeybees to death -- but it's not being fined very much.

Ben Hill Griffin Inc., one of the state’s largest growers and a supplier to Florida’s Natural orange juice, is accused of illegally spraying pesticides (i.e., not following the directions on the labels) in ways that led to the deaths of bees kept by nearby beekeepers. One apiarist told officials that the farm used crop-dusters to douse its groves at least a dozen times — presumably to control Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads the devastating citrus greening disease. He estimated his losses at $240,000 worth of bees and reduced honey production. Another beekeeper says he is down $150,000.

So how much is the Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Department fining the company? A paltry $1,500.

"That laughable penalty has environmentalists and beekeepers fuming," reports the Miami New Times.


Antarctic moss a charming but chilling sign of warming

Antarctic Peninsula moss
Peter Convey, British Antarctic Survey
The world's southernmost moss bank began growing around 1860.

A fleecy clump of moss growing on the Antarctic Peninsula might not seem like much of a sight to behold, but it's a sign of a climate in flux.

The patch of Polytrichum moss, sampled in 2008 by scientists at Alexander Island's Lazarev Bay, either did not exist or was slumbering beneath ice when the peninsula was first spotted by Russian sailors in 1820.

But now it is flourishing on ice-free rock -- the world's southernmost such moss bank.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Climate denier Ron Johnson denies denying climate change

Ron Johnson
Gage Skidmore
Sen. Ron Johnson: He was for climate denial before he was neutral about it.

An ad campaign targeting climate-denying politicians appears to be having something of an effect.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), under fire for being a climate denier in a world ravaged by climate change, this week denied believing that humans are not warming the planet. Yet the senator still will not acknowledge the basic fact that humans are warming the planet.

Confused? So are we. But we'll try to explain.

Johnson is one of four members of Congress being targeted by a $2 million TV advertising campaign funded by the League of Conservation Voters. LCV went after Johnson because of statements he's made denying climate science, like in 2010 when he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change," and speculated that sunspots or "something in the geologic eons of time" might instead be responsible for the changing weather.

But on Wednesday, Johnson stepped back from such strong assertions. During a Madison Rotary Club luncheon, he said he's a "strong environmentalist." (What is this -- 1984?) Here were his comments to the group when asked about climate change, as reported by the Isthmus Daily Page:

"I don't have a belief one way or the other," he told the crowd of some 300 Rotarians. "I'm willing to accept the science. I'm willing to accept the facts. What I'm not willing to accept is that until we know conclusively what's doing it and if any action we take would have any kind of measurable impact, I don't think we should be spending trillions of dollars unilaterally."


To avoid diabetes, eat fruit, don’t drink fruit juice

Blueberries are bloomin' delicious -- and they can help stave off type 2 diabetes.

Another study has shown that fruit is good for you. Just be sure to eat it in solid form.

Research published Thursday in the British Medical Journal analyzed the results of long-term health studies that tracked the diets of nearly 200,000 people over two decades, some of whom developed type 2 diabetes.

The scientists found that those who ate at least a couple of servings per week of certain whole fruits -- notably blueberries, grapes, and apples -- were 23 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who avoided them.

Click to embiggen.
This graph from the paper shows that blueberries are particularly good at staving off type 2 diabetes. Cantaloupe -- not so much. (Click to embiggen.)

On the other hand, those who drank at least one serving of fruit juice daily were 21 percent more likely to develop the disease. The BBC breaks it down:

The study calculated that replacing weekly fruit juice consumption with whole fruits could bring health benefits.

For example, replacing fruit juice with blueberries could reduce the risk of contracting type-2 diabetes by 33%, with grapes and raisins by 19%, apples and pears by 13% - and with any combination of whole fruit by 7%.

Read more: Food, Living


Kalamazoo pipeline protester could get two years in jail

"Remember the Kalamazoo" sign
Erica F

One oil spill in his community was more than enough for Kalamazoo resident Christopher Wahmhoff.

To protest Enbridge's replacement of the pipeline that burst along a Michigan riverbank in 2010, Wahmhoff spent 10 hours of his 35th birthday inside the new pipe, slowing construction for a single day in June.

Now Wahmhoff, a member of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, has been charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, charges that could see him put behind bars for more than two years.

“It was worth it, without a doubt,” he told the Battle Creek Enquirer on Tuesday following a preliminary hearing before a district judge. “We got awareness out.”

Read more: Climate & Energy


North Carolinians could be forced to accept fracking on their property

Chatham County
Donald Lee Pardue
Forced fracking could be coming to Chatham County, N.C.

Not willing to sell out to frackers? If you're a property owner living above natural gas reserves in North Carolina, you might not have a choice.

A panel charged by the state's legislature with developing hydraulic fracturing guidelines recommended Wednesday that property owners be forced to allow drilling beneath their property if enough of their neighbors want it. From the Associated Press:

A panel commissioned by state government said Wednesday that forced fracking should be allowed in North Carolina.

Forced or compulsory pooling allows the state to let energy companies drill into natural gas reserves under non-consenting property owner's land. Property owners in the state receive a percentage of the profits from gas extracted from under their property.


Bobby Jindal doesn’t think Big Oil should have to clean up its mess

La. Gov. Bobby Jindal
Derek Bridges
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants everyone to stop picking on poor oil companies.

Oil and gas companies have ruined coastal wetlands that formerly helped protect Louisiana from storms and floods, but Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) doesn't believe they should have to pay to repair the damage.

The governor opposes a lawsuit filed last month by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. The suit seeks billions of dollars from energy companies, including BP and ExxonMobil, to restore coastal ecosystems that have been trampled to make way for oil and gas infrastructure along the state's coast. The Times-Picayune explains:

Jindal said the state needs to protect and restore the coast, "but this lawsuit is not the way to do it." [His] statement also called the lawsuit "a potential billion dollar plus windfall" for the attorneys representing the levee authority.


Superstorm Sandy washed away half of Fire Island’s sand

Fire Island after the storm
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Cleaning up Fire Island after Hurricane Sandy.

It was obvious to locals that Fire Island, N.Y. -- Long Island’s longest barrier island -- lost a lot of sand during Superstorm Sandy. And now federal scientists have quantified the staggering loss: 54.4 percent.

The researchers warn that the disappearance of more than half of the island's sand dunes and beachfront sand has left the tourist mecca more vulnerable to further storms and floods.

During winter storms that followed Sandy, the shoreline on the exposed island was sucked back a further 200 feet in one place, though most of the sand lost during those smaller storms washed back into place by April. Much of the sand lost during the superstorm, by contrast, is still missing.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Fukushima keeps on leaking, Japan keeps on issuing confusing explanations

Oh, fuk ... ushima.

Problems continue to burble up at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant -- or, in this case, gush out.

We learned last month that contaminated water has been leaking from the plant into the sea at a rate of about 300 tons a day. Then last week came word of a more serious spill of 300 tons of extremely radioactive water, which the government classified as a level 3 incident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.

The scale runs from zero, where everything is peachy, past level 3, which indicates a “serious incident,” up to level 7, which means the kind of living hell that engulfed the facility when its reactors melted down following an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

From CNN:

The decision to issue the level 3 alert came two days after a Japanese government minister had compared the plant operator’s efforts to deal with worrying toxic water leaks at the site to a game of “whack-a-mole.”


U.S. government paid $17 billion for weather-withered crops last year

Drought corn
Drought-ravaged corn.

Desiccated corn and sun-scorched soybeans have been in high supply lately -- and we're paying through the nose for them.

The federal government forked out a record-breaking $17.3 billion last year to compensate farmers for weather-related crop losses -- more than four times the annual average over the last decade.

The losses were mostly caused by droughts, high temperatures, and hot winds -- the sizzling harbingers of a climate in rapid flux.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen

Could some of these costs have been avoided? The Natural Resources Defense Council says yes. In a new issue paper [PDF], NRDC analyst Claire O’Connor argues that these taxpayer-reimbursed, climate-related losses could have been largely avoided if farmers used tried-and-true conservation-oriented strategies. But she points out that the Federal Crop Insurance Program provides little incentive to farmers to employ techniques that save water and soil.