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John Upton's Posts


Here’s how the world can get on track with climate goals

bad weather over a road
Take the off-ramp, please!

The world is driving itself into a future of climate hell, but experts say it's not too late to take the off-ramp.

Despite declining greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and other developed nations, global emissions broke a new record last year. They were pushed 1.4 percent higher than the year before by rapid growth in China and India, and by Japan turning to fossil fuels instead of nuclear power.

During U.N. climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in 2009, most of the world agreed to aim for a post-Industrial Revolution temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But if the world keeps traveling along its current path, the International Energy Agency warns in a new report that long-term average temperature increases of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C are more likely.

Climate negotiations are underway to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which could help stem the tide of rising emissions. But no new agreement is expected to come into force until 2020 -- and who knows if it would even be strong enough to make a difference.

So it would be easy to conclude that we're royally fucked.

But in its new report, the IEA outlines four strategies that countries could pursue during the next seven years to help spare us the "royally fucked" scenario of skyrocketing temperatures -- all at zero net economic cost.

Read more: Climate & Energy


NOAA weather-monitoring program hit by sequester cuts

COSMIC satellites. Sequester cuts could see the planned second generation of this weather-monitoring array axed.
COSMIC satellites. Sequester cuts could see the planned second generation of this weather-monitoring array axed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is trying to figure out how to meet sequester cuts demanded by Congress -- without upsetting Congress by furloughing the agency's weather forecasters.

One proposed solution might sound fine if you just want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow, but it's not so fine if you care about improving the accuracy of such forecasts in the coming years.

An earlier proposal from NOAA that would have required employees of the National Weather Service to take some furlough days this year was recently nixed amid tornado-induced horror at the thought of meteorologists being kept away from work.

The agency's new plan would see funds drained instead from the COSMIC-2 satellite program, the second phase planned in a joint U.S.-Taiwan project that aims to improve weather forecasting. From Politico:

“The beauty of this program is it generates an extraordinary amount of useful data and we don’t have to pay the whole freight,” said Clifford Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

“It is an extraordinary mistake to take away the money,” he told POLITICO. “This will be really controversial in the discipline.” ...


Organic farmers lose court battle with Monsanto

germinating seed

"Trust us, we're Monsanto."

That's pretty much all the untrustworthy company had to say to win yet another round in a drawn-out court battle with organic farmers and seed producers.

The U.S. court system is refusing to protect the organic growers from future Monsanto lawsuits in the event that traces of genetically engineered genes accidentally end up in the farmers' crops. That's because of a single paragraph on the biotech giant's website that says it has no such litigious intentions.


EV owners jolted by new taxes

car made of money

States have begun introducing taxes on not using gasoline.

As the number of electric vehicles on the roads starts to climb, a number of states are introducing new fees to offset the projected losses in gas-tax revenues.

The AP reports that at least 10 states have considered or passed legislation that would impose such fees on electric or hybrid cars.

The new charges could help governments build and maintain the roads and bridges upon which the new generation of vehicles are being driven. But it seems that owners of gas-free cars are also being eyed to plug holes left in government budgets by the improved efficiency of traditional vehicles.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Gas taxes are one of the main sources of funding for bridges and roads. But people are driving more fuel-efficient cars, and many states’ tax rates haven’t kept up with inflation during the past decade. That’s left less money available for repairs. Nationwide, gas tax revenue declined every year from $40.7 billion in 2004 to $37.9 billion in 2010, according to inflation-adjusted data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a research group in Washington.

That’s a big reason Virginia and Washington State are levying green-car taxes and New Jersey, North Carolina, Indiana, and at least four other states are considering doing the same. “The intent is that people who use the roads pay for them,” says Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, a Democrat who wrote a bill to tax electric-car drivers 1¢ for every mile they log on state highways under a yet-to-be-devised tracking system. “Just because we have somebody who is getting out of doing it because they have an alternative form of fuel, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay for the roads.”


Boulder and other Colorado cities try to fight fracking

Boulder, Colo.
Boulder tells frackers to piss off -- for the next year, at least.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) loves fracking -- he once even drank fracking fluid to prove it -- but other elected officials in the state are not so gung ho. A handful of Colorado cities are trying to limit or ban the practice -- and are finding that it's not so easy to do.

Boulder is the latest Colorado municipality to take on the frackers. Last week, its city council unanimously passed a one-year moratorium on fracking within city limits and on city-owned open space, and council members are considering options for a more long-term policy. From the Boulder Daily Camera:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Nicaragua may let Chinese company build a canal to rival Panama’s

Lago de NIcaragua would become a shipping channel, part of a proposed inter-ocean canal
Lago de Nicaragua would become a shipping channel, part of a proposed inter-ocean canal.

It would take an estimated 11 years and $40 billion to excavate a proposed canal through 130 miles of Nicaragua to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, providing shippers with an alternative route to the Panama Canal. And the project would have a huge environmental impact on the country, slicing through rainforest and messing with waterways.

But enough already with boring facts and details. President Daniel Ortega is trying to ram the project through his country's congress faster than Dick Cheney rammed America's Patriot Act through after 9/11.


U.S. and China team up to fight climate-changing HFCs

Xi Jinping and Barack Obama
White House / Pete Souza
Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, having a tie-less chat about cyberespionage and climate change.

Hydrofluorocarbons, the climate-changing twins of ozone-ruining chlorofluorocarbons, had best watch out. The world's two most powerful countries have agreed to join forces to prevent the harmful chemicals from entering the atmosphere.

Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping spent Friday and Saturday talking in California. They couldn't find much middle ground on cyberespionage, or on a handful of other security issues. But they agreed that their two countries will work together to tackle one of the world's greatest climate threats.

"[N]either country by itself can deal with the challenge of climate change," Obama said at a press conference with Xi.


Canadian power plant is buying up Detroit’s pile of tar-sands waste, burning it

Detroit's ugly petcoke pile
Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands
Detroit's ugly petcoke pile

Residents of Detroit who've railed against the recent mushrooming of a three-story-high pile of petrochemical waste on their riverfront may be pleased to know that the petcoke is gradually being shipped back to Canada.

But while the news might be good for Detroiters, it's not so good for Canadians -- or anyone who cares about a livable climate. A Nova Scotia power plant is now burning the cheap, filthy fuel to produce electricity.

The petcoke is a byproduct of refining tar-sands oil, which began recently at a Detroit refinery. The pile's growth over the past six months has disgusted residents and their elected leaders. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced legislation in Congress that would direct the federal government to investigate the health and environmental impacts of the uncovered waste. A state lawmaker introduced a bill that would require such waste to be stored inside enclosed structures. And the Detroit City Council is mulling options [PDF] for dealing with the blight.

It's difficult to legally burn petcoke for energy in the U.S. because of the pollution it creates, but power plants in other countries -- like Canada, apparently -- are happy to buy it up and burn it.


Keystone XL isn’t even built yet and already it’s faulty

A section of faulty pipeline.
David Whitley via Public Citizen Texas
A section of faulty pipeline.

Property owners who watched with disgust and fear as TransCanada contractors ripped up their land to lay the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline are being treated to a repeat performance.

The pipeline isn't even in service yet, but already TransCanada is digging up stretches of faulty piping and replacing them, raising fresh safety fears. The pipeline is intended to link up with the Keystone XL northern leg -- which is still waiting for approval from the Obama administration -- and then carry tar-sands oil down to refineries in Texas.

From a Public Citizen press release:

Dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds, reportedly have been identified along a 60-mile stretch of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, north of the Sabine River in Texas.

In the past two weeks, landowners have observed TransCanada and its vendor, Michels, digging up the buried southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline on their properties and those of neighbors in the vicinity of Winnsboro, Texas. Some of the new pipeline has been in the ground on some owners’ land for almost six months. It is believed that problems identified on this section of the Keystone XL route must have triggered the current digging, raising questions from landowners about the safety of the pipeline and the risk to personal property and water supplies.


France looks at America, says non to fracking

France's vineyards are safe from frackers.
France's vineyards are safe from frackers.

France's energy minister looked at the destruction being wrought on America's environment by hydraulic fracturing and said "non, merci" to the latest push by her country's business lobby to make fracking legal.

Fracking was banned in France in 2011, and it looks like it's going to stay banned. From Bloomberg:

France’s ban on hydraulic fracturing should not be eased because the oil and gas drilling technique is causing “considerable” environmental damage in the U.S., according to a government minister.