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John Upton's Posts


Cow farts still stink up the climate — but relief is possible

Cow behinds
There's your biggest problem right there.

The latest official estimate of the extraordinary role that livestock-rearing plays in global warming comes with a glimmer of hope: Switching over to established best practices could slash the sector's emissions by a third.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations caused an international stir when it estimated in 2006 that livestock contributed 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Some critics derided the claim, saying T-bones and Big Macs couldn't possibly be so bad. The FAO has since updated its numbers, checked its facts and performed new calculations based on newer standards. The latest conclusion is little different from the earlier one: Livestock contributes 14.5 percent of worldwide emissions.

Flatulent, manure-dropping cows are by far the largest contributors to the problem. Beef production is responsible for 41 percent of the sector's emissions, and dairy farming can be blamed for 19 percent. Pig meat, poultry meat, and eggs are responsible for a little less than 10 percent apiece.

Why are cows so harsh on the climate? The same reason Auntie Flora doesn't get invited to parties: Because they belch and fart so damned much. Only the FAO doesn't say it like that. Rather, it blames the "enteric fermentation" of cattle and the methane that bovine rumination produces for 39 percent of the livestock industry's emissions.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Feds to frackers: “No, please — let us help you find a place to dump your wastewater”

Fracking protest
Bill Baker
Good call.

The Northeast's fracking boom has left drillers with millions and millions of barrels of wastewater and nowhere to dump it. Some frackers have simply injected into deep wells, causing earthquakes; others have simply allowed their waste to flow into rivers.

Big government to the rescue: The Department of Energy will fund a $1.8 million, two-year project by Battelle that aims to find somewhere to stash that gross dross for an eternity. From the Columbus Dispatch:

With more drilling and fracking expected, oil and gas companies will need to find the best locations to safely inject more waste, said Neeraj Gupta, senior research leader for Battelle’s subsurface-resources group.

“That’s one of our objectives. Where is the injection capacity?” Gupta said.


Wacky jet stream to blame for wild North American weather

A lot of wild weather has afflicted North America this year: deluges in Colorado and Alberta, a heatwave in Alaska, and bitter cold in Florida. But there's a high-altitude link between each of these unusual events which itself might be tied to climate change: erratic behavior by the polar jet stream.


This famous current of air zips eastward at high altitudes from the continent's West, normally passing over North America somewhere near Seattle. It is one of two jet streams in the Northern Hemisphere -- the other being the subtropical jet stream. Together, these powerful currents have long held weather patterns in their normal places, one year after another. But something weird is going on up there.

Storm clouds
Vagabond Shutterbug
Storm clouds over Denver, Colo., Sept. 14.

The normally direct polar jet stream has been swinging wildly this summer, dipping north and south like the line graph on a U.S. jobs report. At times it splits in two. From Popular Mechanics:

The jet stream is a year-round feature of our atmosphere, but the double jet stream phenomenon is more common in winter. When it shows up in the summer, watch out.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Aussies open wallets to save climate advisers from new prime minister

Down Under is going back in time.

Tony Abbott, Australia's new climate-denying prime minister, is wasting no time in driving the country backwards on environmental policy -- in a metaphorical diesel-chugging logging truck.

But his draconian climate policies don't appear to be as popular with big business as he'd hoped, and a climate advisory body he tried to kill may come back even stronger, thanks to some of his more enlightened countrymen and women.

Within his first few weeks on the job, Abbott scrapped top-level ministerial jobs that separately oversaw science and climate change policy and dismantled a government climate change commission. He wants to remove some of the world's tallest forests from the list of World Heritage areas, potentially opening up hundreds of thousands of pristine acres for mining and logging. And he has promised to eradicate the country's carbon tax.

Amid this carnage, horrified Aussies have begun donating to fund the Climate Commission to keep it operating as a nonprofit. From a story posted Wednesday on the online news site Crikey:

The commission has been reborn as the Climate Council and is now funded by public donations. It had raised $420,000 from 8500 donors as of 9am today (the website only opened to donations 33 hours previously). This should fund the Climate Council for at least six months, probably longer.

So it’s a goer financially.


World’s biggest solar thermal power plant fired up in California

Business Wire
Ivanpah on Tuesday.

The 3,500-acre Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a startling sight in the Mojave Desert. Three sprawling units each contain a circular array of mirrors reflecting rays from the sun toward a 459-foot central tower. Water in the tower is heated by the rays to produce steam, which spins turbines and -- voila -- electricity is produced.

It all seems a bit magical, but as of Tuesday, the world's largest solar thermal power plant began feeding energy into a power grid for the first time.


Yarr! Russia says Greenpeace protesters are pirates

Greenpeace protest in Russia
Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace
Russian Coast Guard officers responded to Greenpeace with water cannons, guns, and a mass arrest.

Greenpeace activists last week scaled the Prirazlomnaya platform, the first of many offshore Arctic oil platform planned in Russian waters. The protesters, perched high above the frigid waters, were forced down with water cannons. Armed officers boarded Greenpeace's icebreaker, and arrested all 30 activists.

The demonstration was designed to bring international attention to Russia's burgeoning plans to allow Big Oil to drill in its offshore waters (onshore drilling is already widespread). ExxonMobil and Statoil are among the companies planning to take part in the precarious deepwater plunder.

Obviously, the 30 activists are not pirates. Pirates are seafaring robbers. Yet that's what some Russian law enforcement authorities are claiming, and that's how the Greenpeace arrestees may be charged.

"Yarr, maties, we've come to loot your oil drill! Wait, whar's the treasure?"

Read more: Climate & Energy


Stellar warming will turn Earth into Venus (eventually)

For a snapshot of Earth's future, look to Venus.

Assuming life on Earth survives humanity's fossil-fuel binge (it probably will), it will nonetheless inevitably be doomed by climate change of even-more-epic proportions. We're talking about stellar warming.

Life is only possible on planets that orbit stars inside a particular band of space that enables things like moderate temps, liquid water, etc. Earth currently sits within our sun's habitable zone, but that won't be the case forever: As the sun ages and grows hotter, its so-called habitable zone creeps outward by about a yard every year.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Great Lakes shipping terminal for Bakken oil hits dead end

Lake Superior
Holly Kuchera
Lake Superior.

The Great Lakes have been spared the ignominy of becoming a conveyor for crude oil fracked at North Dakota's Bakken fields.

At least for now.

Plans to build a crude shipping terminal at Duluth, Minn., on the western shore of Lake Superior, have been shelved because of a lack of refining capacity on the East Coast. From Wisconsin Public Radio:

The oil terminal would have shipped crude from the ever-expanding Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, where production has tripled over the past five years and is expected to double in the next six years. It’s a challenge for transportation to keep up with production.

Even so, Superior Calumet Refinery manager Kollin Schade says the size and cost of an oil terminal means they need a refinery on the east coast as a partner.


Court to EPA on Gulf dead-zone rules: Make up your freakin’ mind

Is it time for the federal government to drop the hammer on the farmers whose fertilizer gushes into the Mississippi River, fueling sweeping dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico? The Environmental Protection Agency now has six months to decide.

The deadline comes via a federal judge in New Orleans in response to a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups. The enviros argue that states aren't doing enough to tackle the problem, and have petitioned the feds to use the Clean Water Act to take charge. But the EPA has been wishy-washy, neither agreeing nor disagreeing that regulating the nutrient runoff should be its responsibility.

Mississippi River
Travis S.
The Mississippi River is loaded with nutrients that fertilize algae outbreaks.

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

[The environmentalists'] petition asked EPA to establish numerical water quality standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico. They also asked EPA to establish “total daily maximum loads,” specific numerical amounts of the two pollutants that would be allowed in individual segments of the river and its tributaries.

Read more: Food, Politics


Republican solution to wildfires: Sell the trees!

House Republicans have a cunning plan for tackling the wildfires that have been ravaging the American West this fire season: They want to allow loggers to haul away the trees before they burn.

No forests means no forest fires, see?

Stanislaus National Forest after the Rim Fire
Chris Roberts
The charred aftermath of California's Rim Fire is as vacant as the minds responsible for Congress's new wildfire bill.

The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act was approved mostly along party lines by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Friday. The bill would more than double logging nationwide and turn some forestlands into pasturelands.

But the bill will never become law. President Obama has vowed to veto it if it ever reaches his desk.