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John Upton's Posts


Mold responsible for Irish potato famine may be gone for good


Scientists used modern genetic sequencing and rotten old museum samples to peer back in time at the cause of the potato blight that led to more than 1 million deaths in Ireland in the 1840s.

The fungus-like water mold that ravaged the country's potato crop sent hungry Irish survivors fleeing for far-flung new countries -- which is why so many people now justify getting wasted every St. Patrick's Day, saying they're sure they have an Irish ancestor somewhere in their family tree.

What the scientists found was a strain of Phytophthora infestans that is different from similar water molds that are still ravaging the world's crops. From the BBC:

Researchers in the UK, Germany and the US analysed dried leaves kept in collections in museums at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, UK, and Botanische Staatssammlung Munchen, Germany.

Read more: Food


Inhofe supports tornado aid, says it’s “totally different” from Hurricane Sandy aid

Sen. Inhofe cares about his constituents.
Shutterstock / val lawless
Sen. Inhofe rides in on a white horse, shows his constituents he cares.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) opposed using federal money to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy rebuild their homes, roads, and tattered lives.

That's because he's a fiscal grinch who thinks disaster victims should fend for themselves, Lord of the Flies-style. Right? Well, perhaps not.

Residents of Inhofe's own state are about to receive a bounty of heartfelt help from the federal government in the wake of Monday's epic tornado, which killed at least 24 people and leveled buildings across five counties.

And Inhofe is good with that. He has adopted the very reasonable position that aid money should flow in from federal coffers to help rebuild Oklahoma's shattered neighborhoods.


Bill aims to tackle climate-caused health problems

Mosquitoes are bringing malaria to polar regions as the climate changes.
Shutterstock / Henrik Larsson
Mosquitoes are bringing malaria to more and more places as the climate changes.

It's not just thinking about climate change that can make you feel sick -- climate change itself is bringing maladies upon us. Allergies, fungal infections, malaria, and other health problems are taking a growing toll as the climate shifts — and they are expected to grow worse.

Some members of Congress want the U.S. government to start preparing for these health hazards. On Friday, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and two other Democrats in the House introduced the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act, which would authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research climate change's health impacts and would help public health officials better plan for the onslaught.


Manhattan to see more killer heat waves

Manhattan, one of the places where climate change will kill people.
Shutterstock / Joshua Haviv
Manhattan, one of the places where climate change will kill people.

Climate change is expected to boost homicidal heat waves in Manhattan, while cold snaps in the densely packed borough should become slightly less deadly.

Researchers from Columbia University and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention used climate models and two emissions scenarios to project seasonal patterns in temperature-related deaths in Manhattan. In all 32 of the scenarios developed by the researchers, the spike in summertime heat-related deaths was forecast to more than outweigh the decline in deaths caused by cold weather.

Hot and Bothered - small x  200
Susie Cagle

The study was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. "Monthly analyses showed that the largest percentage increases [in deaths] may occur in May and September," the scientists wrote.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


More than 100,000 electric vehicles now on the roads in U.S.

A Nissan Leaf.
Nissan USA
A Nissan Leaf.

America passed a milestone on Monday, according to electric-vehicle advocacy group Plug-In America. That's when the 100,000th EV was sold in the U.S., the group estimates.

From Plug-In America board member Barry Woods' blog:

Based on the average US household size, this means that over a quarter million people are now being exposed regularly to the benefits of electric transportation.  The vehicles themselves are reaching an even greater number of people simply by being on the road -- perhaps as many as 1 million or more people per day. While much work remains to be done, 100,000 vehicles means that we are ever closer to the tipping point for electric transportation.


Nation’s biggest uranium mine planned in New Mexico

The uranium mine is proposed on terrain such as this, near Mt. Taylor, seen in the distance.
Mike Fisher
The uranium mine is proposed on terrain such as this, near Mount Taylor, seen in the distance.

Two foreign-owned mining companies, betting that the world will quickly forget the horrors of Fukushima, plan to sink a pair of shafts into the rugged New Mexico landscape near near Mt. Taylor and begin 0perating the nation’s biggest uranium mine.

If approved by the U.S. Forest Service and state agencies, the mine would be the first of its kind to operate in the state in more than a decade, extracting as much as 28 million pounds of the radioactive heavy metal and desecrating as many as 70 acres of land sacred to Native Americans that's designated by the federal government as traditional cultural property.

Previous uranium mining left the state's landscape scarred and workers sickened. But the Roca Honda joint venture of Canadian and Japanese companies says the industry has learned from past mistakes and now has the whole safe-isotope-extraction thing sorted out. From the Albuquerque Journal:


BP, Shell, Statoil accused of fixing oil prices

Have we been paying too much for gas?
Shutterstock / Rob Wilson
Have we been paying too much for gas?

The good folks at BP, Shell, and Statoil would never break the law and screw over their customers in a quest for inflated profits, surely.

Yet that is the very accusation coming out of Europe, where the industry giants are suspected of colluding to fix prices for crude, biofuel, and refined oil products at artificially high levels, allowing them to reap greater profits than the laws of supply and demand would dictate in a truly competitive economy.

Offices of the companies were raided last week by European Commission officials, and the Justice Department is being urged to investigate whether the alleged price fixing spilled over onto American shores.


BP wants U.S. government to reduce court-ordered oil-spill payouts

BP logo covered in oil
There's still a big black mark on BP.

BP has gone crying to mummy over the big payouts it's having to make because of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It wants the U.K. government to ask the U.S. government to step in and give a hand.

BP says it's being forced to make overly large payments to companies in the Gulf Coast region that claim to have lost business because of the spill, and it says those payments are jeopardizing BP's own financial recovery and potentially putting the company at risk of a hostile takeover. The payments are being calculated by a court using a formula to which BP agreed.

But now BP has filed an appeal in court against that agreement, claiming that the compensation amounts are overinflated or, in some cases, entirely unnecessary. The company recently warned shareholders that the $8.2 billion it previously anticipated forking out in compensation was a significant underestimation.


New York Times editorial calls for Obama to get moving on climate

Get to work, Mr. President!
Shutterstock / Spirit of America
Get to work, Mr. President!

The New York Times editorial board is worried that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels recently hit 400 parts per million. And it's worried that President Barack Obama doesn't seem to be doing anything about it.

In an editorial published on Saturday, the Gray Lady called on Obama to quickly use his executive powers to tackle climate change:

The prospects for broad-based Congressional action putting a price on carbon emissions are nil. The House is run by people who care little for environmental issues generally, and Senate Republicans who once favored a pricing strategy, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have long since slunk away. Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have spent the last two weeks trying to derail Mr. Obama’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency — a moderate named Gina McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy has served two Republican governors (Mitt Romney was one) but is considered suspect by the right wing because she wants to control carbon pollution, which is driving global temperatures upward.


Huge tar-sands waste pile grows alongside Detroit River

A gift to Detroit from Canada's tar sands fields.
Detroit's Petroleum Coke PilesFacebook page
A gift to Detroit from Canada's tar-sands operators.

A riverside refinery that has operated in Detroit since the 1930s began refining a new type of oil in November: tar-sands oil from Canada.

In the few short months since it began handling the Canadian oil, the refinery has already spewed out a three-story mountain of black waste covering an area the size a city block. That mountain is still growing, and it is not covered with anything to prevent tiny carbon particles from blowing over the city.

The waste can't be legally used as fuel in the U.S., so the Koch brothers have bought up the pile and plan to sell it to be burned in poorer countries that enjoy freedom from all of America's bothersome environmental regulations.