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John Upton's Posts


In the renewable energy race, solar power is hot hot hot

Solar panels and wind turbines
It's all good.

Solar power installations are expected to edge out new wind farms this year for the title of fastest-growing clean energy source.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has projected that photovoltaic plants will add 36.7 gigawatts of capacity this year -- up 20 percent from last year. New wind farms, meanwhile, will add 35.5 gigawatts. That's an awesome figure, too, but it's nearly a quarter less for wind than in 2012. From Bloomberg:

Lower panel costs and government support are accelerating deployment of solar energy even as growth slows in the mature European markets. Wind installations, more than double solar before 2011, are also being slowed by Europe, as well as a lack of clarity on policy in the U.S. and China.


North Carolina rejects federal funds for fracking studies

Smoky Mountains
North Carolina is begging for some fracking.

North Carolina's water department doesn't know if fracking will poison drinking water or despoil wetlands -- and that's just how department leaders like it.

We told you recently that the state is pushing to allow oil and gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing without property owners' permission. It's part of a Republican-led push to hurry-the-fuck-up-already on fracking, environmental and health concerns be damned.

Now comes news that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's administration has turned down a pair of EPA grants that would have paid for monitoring of water quality and wetlands as the much-ballyhooed fracking bonanza gets underway. Because, um, well, they say it's because the fracking boom isn't happening quickly enough to justify any pre-fracking baseline environmental monitoring.

The state wetlands program's development unit applied for the two EPA grants before Gov. McCrory was sworn into office in January. Under McCrory, however, the unit was dissolved amid a bureaucratic restructure, and the Division of Water Resources turned down the nearly $600,000 worth of federal assistance that the state had previously requested.


Al Gore: Gutless media caves to climate deniers

Al Gore
CGIAR Climate
Al Gore

Should the media be giving as much ink to fossil fuel-funded shills as it gives to the hundreds of climate scientists who collaborated on reports being published by the United Nations?

As coverage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest assessment report reaches fever pitch, some mainstream media outlets are treating climate science as if it were just an abstract political debate. They are falling into the trap of treating it as a mind-numbing to-and-fro argument with no right and no wrong -- instead of something produced through good old-fashioned scientific rigor.

That pisses a lot of people off. One of them is Al Gore.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Government shutdown would close EPA, too

John Boehner
John Boehner's Facebook page
Republican House Speaker John Boehner loves America as much as he loves a styrofoam cup full of coffee.

The chief aim of the congressional Republicans who are poised to shut down the U.S. government over the next 24 hours or so is to block the implementation of President Obama's health plan. But if they do live out their fantasy of paralyzing the federal government, there will be plenty of other consequences -- including the effective shuttering of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here's the latest from Reuters on the looming government blackout:

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives early on Sunday passed a measure that ties government funding to a one-year delay of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare restructuring law. Senate Democrats have vowed to quash it.

Read more: Politics


The scary, the cautionary, and the stupid: Reactions to the IPCC climate report

Ban Ki-Moon
Shutterstock / ChameleonsEye
Ban Ki-Moon channels Glenn Frey: "The heat is on."

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Friday unveiled its first major climate findings in six years. (Here's our roundup of the findings; here's background on the IPCC and its fifth assessment report.)

How did the world react to scientists' latest assertions that climate change is real, threatening, and human-caused? Here are some notable quotes:

What officials said

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon: "The heat is on. We must act."

European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard: "If your doctor was 95 percent sure you had a serious disease, you would immediately start looking for the cure."


What the IPCC found: The big news from the new climate assessment


It's extremely likely that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s, according to a landmark report from the world's top panel of climate scientists. And we're failing in our efforts to keep atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, which many scientists say is needed to avoid massive disruption.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conducted an epic review of climate research over the last three years. It is summarizing the most important findings in its fifth assessment report, which offers the clearest picture science has ever painted of how humans are reshaping the climate and the planet.

Here, in a nutshell, are the main findings of a summary [PDF] of part one of the assessment report, which focuses on the science of climate change:

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. ...

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.

Read more: Climate & Energy


How to clean a lake with an unstoppable oil spill: Drain the lake

Oil spill at Cold Lake, Alberta
Photograph obtained by the Toronto Star
Oil polluting the ground at Cold Lake in Alberta.

We told you in July that tar-sands oil had been leaking into the Canadian wilderness from a drilling site for well over a month -- and that nobody knew how to stanch the flow.

It would be nice to update you on how that leak was finally fixed. No such luck: The oil is still leaking.

More than 12,000 barrels of leaked bitumen has been mopped up, but at least 100 animals have died at the Canadian Natural Resources' Primrose oil extraction site. So much bitumen has flowed into a 131-acre lake that Alberta's environment department has ordered the company to drain it and dredge it before the waterbody freezes over. From Reuters:

The leak, one of four on the sprawling project site, sprung up from an oil sands reserve produced by a process that melts bitumen with high-pressure steam so that it can be moved and processed. The leak has yet to be stopped, and has become the latest focus for environmentalists concerned about the impact oil sands production.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Can’t afford a Tesla? Rent one in California

Tesla Roadster
Tesla Motors
Can't afford to buy a Telsa Roadster? Head over to California and rent one.

Next time you're visiting California, you can race along famous Highway 1 without making a sound: Hertz is adding electric vehicles manufactured by Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors to its fleet. (Catch: You can only rent them from San Francisco and Los Angeles.)

You might want to book in advance, though. Hertz is starting with just five vehicles and two models: the Model S sedan and the Roadster.


Super foodie Alice Waters launches anti-fracking fight

Alice Waters
David Sifry
Alice Waters loves natural food and hates fracking.

Some of California's best-known chefs and restaurateurs are whipping up a fight against fracking in the Golden State.

High hopes that California would impose a moratorium on fracking, a process in which chemicals are injected into the ground to extract oil and gas, were dashed on Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that regulates the process but does not stop it. Opponents say fracking pollutes water and threatens farms. California is the source of 15 percent of the nation's crops.

On Wednesday, foodies led by slow-food movement champion Alice Waters launched an anti-fracking "cook's petition" to pressure the governor and legislature on the issue. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Chez Panisse chefs Alice Waters and Jerome Waag today launched a chefs’ petition urging their colleagues to take a stand against fracking in California. Working in collaboration with Food & Water Watch, founding member of Californians Against Fracking, the chefs are concerned about the threat fracking poses to the world-renowned food and wine that is grown, served and sold in California. The petition includes a letter calling on Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


WTF is the IPCC?

man holding report
What are the IPCC and the AR5? LOL, only the hottest acronyms on the planet right now.

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during the next couple of weeks. And then again in spurts during the coming year. The IPCC is the world’s foremost authority on -- you guessed it -- climate change. It’s the top cat, the big cheese, the heavyweight champion of the world community of climate experts.

So, WTF is it?

It's a scientific group set up in 1988 by two divisions of the United Nations. The goal was to form a body that would provide policymakers with trusted, cutting-edge information about climate change.

Thousands of climate scientists from around the world volunteer their time to analyze and summarize the latest and best science. The result: Big, fat reports.

And now the IPCC is dropping its first big report in six years -- a scientific inventory of the combined knowledge of all the brightest minds in climate science. Needless to say, climate skeptics are not too pleased at such a robust body of science coalescing before the world’s eyes.

Who's running the show?

Rajenda Pachauri
Rajenda Pachauri, IPCC chief and author of steamy novels.

Rajendra Pachauri, a septuagenarian economist and engineer from India who has chaired the IPCC since 2002. He oversees a small staff of about 10 people. Those staff help coordinate working groups, each of which can involve up to 800 scientists. Sound tedious? It probably is.

But we’re not convinced that Pachauri spends all of his time during IPCC meetings thinking about climate science. He is the author of Return to Almora, a sultry 2010 novel loaded with group-sex scenes and other such non-scientific escapades. Here are a couple of tantalizing quotes from said novel:

Read more: Climate & Energy