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John Upton's Posts

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France looks at America, says non to fracking

France's vineyards are safe from frackers.
Shutterstock
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.

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Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris partied at Sean Parker’s eco-wrecking wedding

Perfect for elves.
California Coastal Commission
Just your average Game of Thrones-style wedding backdrop.

We told you about billionaire Sean Parker's obnoxious wedding romp in a Big Sur redwood grove. The Napster cofounder and former Facebook president will pay $2.5 million to the California Coastal Commission to help heal damages caused when a temporary wonderland backdrop was illegally built in the forest for his nuptial vows.

Well, it turns out that two of California's most senior elected officials attended the wedding, living the kind of high life that only comes with an assault on threatened fish species and the trashing of a forest. Those officials were Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Newsom's attendance at the anti-eco bash was interesting, given that the former San Francisco mayor has spent his political career yapping about how much he loves the environment.

Harris' was interesting because she is the state's top law enforcer, and Parker's penalties stemmed from violations of state law.

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Oklahoma’s cyclones were all kinds of freaky

A scene from Oklahoma last Friday
Brian Khoury
A scene from Oklahoma last Friday.

Not only did Friday's tornado outburst in Oklahoma lead to at least 20 deaths, but analysis by NOAA has revealed that it included the widest tornado ever recorded in the U.S. and one twister that spun the wrong way.

The diameter of the El Reno tornado, which on Friday killed three famous weather chasers, reached a mind-boggling and record-breaking 2.6 miles. Both the El Reno cyclone and the Moore tornado, which struck nearby a week earlier, were rated EF5, the most damaging type of cyclone on the Enhanced Fujita scale. From LiveScience:

"To have two EF5s within less than two weeks in the same general area — that's highly unusual," [University Corporation for Atmospheric Research scientist Jeff] Weber told LiveScience. "Off the top of my head, I haven't heard of it happening before."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Gulf oil wells have been leaking since 2004 hurricane

Taylor Energy's unchecked oil slick.
On Wings of Care
Taylor Energy's unchecked oil slick.

Oil has been gushing from a group of wells south of New Orleans since a platform at the site was wiped out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and it appears that nothing is being done to staunch or control the leaking.

Efforts to cap the ruptures seem to have been abandoned in 2011. Instead of working to clean up or stop the spill, driller Taylor Energy Company is now providing the government with daily updates about the resultant slick.

Even those updates appear to be half-baked. A long ribbon of oil can clearly be seen spilling out from the site, but Taylor Energy claims it's much smaller than does NOAA.

On June 1, NOAA reported to the Coast Guard that the slick was 20.2 miles long and a mile wide.

That same day, a routine report filed by someone whom activists assume to be a Taylor Energy consultant stated that the slick was 6.5 miles long.

Even if the lower estimate were correct, it should be bad enough to set off alarm bells somewhere in the federal government. But this is the environmentally battered Gulf of Mexico, where petrochemical accidents are an everyday occurrence.

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Monsanto says opponents may be to blame for GMO wheat escape

bread and wheat
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A week after word got out that unapproved GMO wheat was found growing on an Oregon farm, Monsanto has announced the results of an internal investigation into the mysterious outbreak. The results can be summarized thusly: “Nothing is wrong at our end and everybody's crops are safe. Maybe our opponents planted our freak wheat to try to hurt us.”

From the Associated Press:

A genetically modified test strain of wheat that emerged to the surprise of an Oregon farmer last month was likely the result of an accident or deliberate mixing of seeds, the company that developed it said Wednesday.

Representatives for Monsanto Co. said during a conference call Wednesday that the emergence of the genetically modified strain was an isolated occurrence. It has tested the original wheat stock and found it clean, the company said.

Sabotage is a possibility, said Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer.

“We’re considering all options and that’s certainly one of the options,” Fraley said.

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Arctic summers could be nearly ice-free in seven years

Say goodbye to this stuff.
Shutterstock
Say goodbye to this stuff.

Everybody get ready to grab your swimsuit and head north. The latest melting projections by government scientists suggest that the Arctic could be nearly ice-free during summer in seven years -- or maybe even sooner.

But before you get all excited about the novelty of taking a dive into waters that once harbored year-round ice, we should warn you that the seven-year thing is a worst-case scenario. But even the best-case scenario published in a recent scientific paper projects that the summer ice will virtually disappear during the first half of this century.

(Also, we should warn you that the water will still be pretty damned cold, if not quite as cold as before. Also, you might get run over by a container ship. Or coated by an oil spill.)

Read more: Climate & Energy

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BP to pump $1 billion into its Alaska drilling efforts

These North Slope caribou gain nothing from BP's drilling blitz.
ARM Climate Research Facility
These North Slope caribou stand to gain nothing from BP's drilling blitz.

Not content with wrecking the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem, BP has announced that it is expanding its operations at the far northern end of the country, on Alaska's North Slope.

BP plans to increase its spending in the region by $1 billion over five years, increasing its fleet of oil rigs at the North Slope from seven to nine by 2016.

The announcement came after state leaders reduced taxes on oil companies. In May, Gov. Sean Parnell (R) signed legislation that cuts oil taxes to a flat 35 percent -- down from a progressive tax that went above 50 percent during times of high prices.

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Airlines propose weak, vague climate plan

Powerful, but not climate friendly.
Shutterstock / Maxene Huiyu
Powerful, but not climate friendly.

Major airlines have come up with yet another way of imposing delays upon the world.

Under international pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most members of the International Air Transport Association have agreed on a proposal for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions -- but the plan lacks details, aims low, and would sit on the tarmac until 2020 or later.

Aviation is an awfully energy-intensive way of getting around; the industry accounts for an estimated 2 percent of global carbon emissions.

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Carbon pricing is catching on around the globe — just not in Washington, D.C.

Should it cost money to do this?
Shutterstock
Should it cost money to do this?

More than 40 national governments and 20 states or other "sub-national" governments are now charging polluters for emitting greenhouse gases, or plan to start in the coming years, according to a new report from the World Bank.

The U.S., of course, is not one of the countries with a national cap-and-trade plan or carbon tax, but California and parts of New England are pushing ahead despite Congress' refusal to act.

All in all, about 7 percent of the world's greenhouse gases are now priced -- the equivalent of 3.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of the total 50 gigatons emitted annually worldwide. Not a lot. But, says the report, "If China, Brazil, Chile, and the other emerging economies eyeing these mechanisms are included, carbon pricing mechanisms could reach countries emitting 24 [gigatons of CO2 equivalent] per year, or almost half of the total global emissions."

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Obama admin to lease New England waters for offshore wind

offshore wind energy
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Wind turbines, long a feature of the American landscape, are slowing advancing toward the American seascape.

The Interior Department announced Tuesday that it will auction off wind energy rights to 164,750 acres of federal waters off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts at the end of July -- the first such offshore lease sale. If the leased waters are all fully developed with wind energy farms, they could produce as much as 3,400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than a million homes.

Wind turbines can kill birds, and construction of turbines in the water can harm marine life, but a federal environmental review found that wind farms in the area up for lease would have no significant environmental impacts.