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John Upton's Posts


Monsanto virtually gives up on growing GMO crops in Europe

Farmer in a corn field
Europeans who don't want Monsanto's GMO crops on their land can rejoice.

Monsanto has pretty much given up any hope (at least for now) of selling its genetically engineered seeds for corn, sugar beets, and other crops in Europe, where opposition to GMO food is overwhelming.

From the L.A. Times:

Monsanto Co. said Thursday it will largely drop its bid to grow some of its genetically modified crops in Europe.


Deepwater Horizon blamed for still more oil spills

Gulf of Mexico oil testing
David Valentine, UC Santa Barbara
Analysis of oil-sheen samples revealed that the Deepwater Horizon rig was the source.

More than three years after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, triggering the worst oil spill in American history, the sunken wreckage of the rig may still be leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Beginning in the fall of last year and continuing through the winter, mysterious oil sheens were spotted in the vicinity of the rig wreckage.

A team of researchers set about trying to figure out exactly where the oil was coming from by studying its chemical composition. They matched the slicks to samples taken from Deepwater Horizon debris. They also tracked the trajectories of the oil sheens as they spread across the Gulf, tracing them back to the wreckage.

Now they have concluded that pockets of oil trapped in the wreckage bubbled to the surface, triggering the oil sheens that were spotted in recent months.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Ohio lawmakers who oppose fracking tax have gotten lots of money from frackers

Fracking protestor in Ohio
bill baker
This Ohioan opposes fracking, but she is not a lawmaker.

Oil and gas companies have been on a fracking spree in Ohio for a couple of years now, but they're not bringing many jobs to the state, so Republican Gov. John Kasich has been trying to get them to give back in another way: via a fracking tax.

Under Kasich's proposal, revenue from the fracking tax would be used to reduce income taxes, an idea that proved overwhelmingly popular with voters, including many Republicans. And the tax would be in line with those imposed by most other oil- and gas-producing states, Kasich said.

But GOP members of the state legislature have repeatedly blocked the tax from being enacted. Why are they standing in the way? The Cincinnati Enquirer has a theory:


Wind power is a steal: Big deals in Midwest show wind’s affordability

wind turbine
Doing it on the cheap.

Xcel Energy announced deals this week that will boost its use of wind power in the Upper Midwest by 33 percent, demonstrating that wind is increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels, even natural gas.

The Minneapolis-based utility is buying into three 200-megawatt wind farm projects, enough to power 180,000 homes, saying they will save its customers $180 million over 20 years. Xcel already has 1,800 megawatts of wind capacity up and running in the region, but it’s hungry for more. From an Xcel press release:

“Wind prices are extremely competitive right now, offering lower costs than other possible resources, like natural gas plants,” said [Xcel official Dave] Sparby. “These projects offer a great hedge against rising and often volatile fuel prices.”


Disinfecting wipes are clogging the nation’s sewer systems

Wet Ones Fresh 'n Flush
Don't believe everything you read.

Disinfecting toilet wipes may feel soft on the skin, but they're really rough on sewage infrastructure.

Manufacturers like Cottonelle and Charmin claim the bathroom wipes are flushable, but wastewater treatment agencies around the U.S. disagree, saying the wipes are clogging up systems. From USA Today:

"It's getting to be more and more of a problem," says Marty Sunderman, superintendent for the city of Sauk Centre, Minn. This spring, the city had to hire a contractor to vacuum out a lift station to remove a truckload of cloth material.

"Ideally, what we'd like to see flushed down the system is just toilet paper," Sunderman says. "When you put these type of rags down there, they don't come apart. They just stay with it all the way to the pumps."


World Bank joins war on coal

Coal on money

There's a new ally in the fight against the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

The World Bank's board of directors approved a strategy shift this week that will move the lending body formally away from its longstanding support of coal-fired power plants in favor of cleaner and smarter alternatives.

Following the adoption Tuesday of its Energy Sector Directions Paper [PDF], the World Bank will "provide financial support for greenfield coal power generation projects only in rare circumstances," such as where there are "no feasible alternatives to coal."


E.U. bans another bee-killing insecticide

A bee on a sunflower
This sort of bee behavior is safer in Europe than it is in America.

Bees of America, please don't take this the wrong way, but it might be time to buzz off to Europe.

The European Union will limit the use of yet another bee-endangering insecticide, part of its efforts to protect pollinators from agricultural poisons.

The use of fipronil, a nerve agent produced by German company BASF and widely applied by farmers to kill insect pests, will be outlawed on corn and sunflower seeds and fields across Europe. From Reuters:

The restrictions take effect from Dec. 31 but seeds which have already been treated can be sown until the end of February 2014.


Antarctic marine reserve plans scuppered by Russia

Still open for fishing.

You can't get much farther from Antarctica than Russia. Yet it was Russia that this week sunk American- and New Zealand-led efforts to create sprawling marine reserves around the South Pole.

The multi-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources met in Germany this week to discuss proposals to protect more than 1.5 million square miles from the growing threat of fishing. The meeting was called after the countries that make up the committee failed to reach agreement on the proposals last year. From Nature:

There was widespread hope that new reserves in the Ross Sea and in East Antarctica would be approved this week ...

But [Tuesday] at the meeting the Russian delegation questioned the very authority of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which regulates fishing in Antarctica, to create reserves, several participants said. To establish any reserve requires the agreement of all 25 members.

Read more: Food, Politics


Keystone XL could hike gas prices as much as 40 cents a gallon

Gas prices will rise if Keystone XL is built
Going up, up, up ...

If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, Americans could pay as much as 40 cents more per gallon for gasoline in some parts of the country, according to a new report by the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog [PDF].

That's because oil extracted in Canada would start to bypass traditional American markets, traveling through the pipeline to the Gulf Coast and onto tanker ships bound for international markets where oil fetches higher prices.

"The pipeline is being built through America, but not for Americans," Consumer Watchdog researcher Judy Dugan said in a statement. "Keystone XL is not an economic benefit to Americans who will see higher gas prices and bear all the risks of the pipeline." From the report:

The aim of tar sands producers with refining interests on the Gulf Coast -- primarily multinational oil companies -- is to get the oil to their Gulf refineries, which would process additional oil largely for fuel exports to hungry foreign markets. Other oil sands investors, including two major Chinese petrochemical companies and major European oil companies, have an interest in exporting crude oil and/or refined products to their markets. Such exports would drain off what the tar sands producers consider a current oversupply, and help push global oil prices higher. ...


Climate policy is dominating Australian election

The climate is a hot topic in Australia.

The land down under has its political priorities the right way up.

While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney avoided discussing climate change during the 2012 U.S. presidential race, a federal election campaign in Australia is being dominated by debate over climate policy. From The Australian newspaper:

The 2013 election now may come down to policy differences rather than popularity, or the lack of it. And it seems two of the three issues that have dominated Australian politics for 15 years will once again define this election: climate change and asylum-seekers. ...

[O]n climate change the difference is fundamental. It's the carrot v the stick; paying to encourage emission abatement v charging companies that emit.

The climate debate has blown up in Australia in recent days following news that the governing party plans to change its approach to carbon pricing. The weekend announcement is still dominating headlines and air time. This gets wonky, but it's the wonky nature of the political debate that makes the nation's preoccupation with it so fascinating: