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John Upton's Posts


San Francisco and 10 other cities move toward dumping stocks in fossil-fuel companies

San Francisco had another bright idea
Shutterstock / Nickolay Stanev
San Francisco had another bright idea.

Oil companies might be awfully profitable right now, but political leaders in San Francisco and 10 other U.S. cities want to dump their investments in them anyway.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted this week to urge the city’s investment fund managers to sell off more than $583 million worth of shares in Chevron, ExxonMobil, and some 200 other fossil-fuel companies. This makes San Francisco the biggest city to join the divestment campaign being pushed by, which began with a focus on colleges and universities. Seattle was the first city to join the campaign; its mayor got on board late last year. Divestment might still be months or years off, if it happens at all, but civic leaders calling for action is a critical first step.


Solar panels can protect you from terrorism

solar installer with a superhero cape
To the rescue!

Holy crime-fighting photovoltaic generation, Solar Panelman!

America's top energy regulator says the solar panels that are proliferating on rooftops all over the country could protect against power outages triggered by terrorists.

From Bloomberg:

The U.S. power grid is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and the growing use of rooftop solar panels will provide protection against lengthy blackouts, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said.

“It wouldn’t take that much to take the bulk of the power system down,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said [Wednesday] at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit in New York. “If you took down the transformers and the substations so they’re out permanently, we could be out for a long, long time.”


New bill in Congress would require GMO labeling

"Label it" sign and "No GMO" T-shirtSome federal lawmakers want you to be warned before you put food made from genetically engineered plants and animals into your mouth.

It's just common sense, right? Yeah, well, tell that to the Food and Drug Administration.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced legislation with bipartisan support Wednesday that would require genetically engineered foods to be clearly labeled. Such commonsense labeling is unpopular with big agribusiness, which fears that consumers would avoid many of their products if they knew about their freaky ingredients. But the idea is overwhelmingly popular with Americans.


Fuel barges explode, burn through night in Alabama

REUTERS/Dan Anderson

Two fuel barges exploded in flames and burned through the night in Mobile, Ala., critically injuring three people and causing minor injuries to emergency responders.

A fire chief initially said the two barges were loaded with a type of gasoline, but the owner of the barges told the AP they had been emptied of their loads of fuel and were being cleaned before they exploded.

The first explosion was reported at about 8:30 p.m. local time, with six more explosions shaking the area during the subsequent six hours as the barges burned uncontrollably. The fire was extinguished Thursday morning.

From the AP:

Authorities say three people were brought to University of South Alabama Medical Center for burn-related injuries. The three were in critical condition early Thursday, according to hospital nursing administrator Danny Whatley. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy


A big blow for Big Coal in Wisconsin

The Nelson Dewey coal plant will shutter.
Department of Energy
The Nelson Dewey coal plant along the Mississippi River will be shut down.

Wisconsinites will be breathing a lot easier after another coal-fired power plant is shuttered and two more are overhauled to reduce air pollution.

The coming improvements are courtesy of the EPA's latest legal victory over polluting coal-plant operators. The EPA and the Sierra Club reached a settlement with Wisconsin Power and Light Company and other utilities following allegations of Clean Air Act violations.


Fracking waste deemed too radioactive for hazardous-waste dump


A truck carrying fracking waste was quarantined and then sent back to where it came from after its contents triggered a radiation alarm at a Pennsylvania hazardous-waste landfill. The truck's load was nearly 10 times more radioactive than is permitted at the dump in South Huntingdon township.

The radiation came from radium 226, a naturally occurring material in the Marcellus Shale, which being fracked for natural gas in Pennsylvania and nearby states. "Radium is a well known contaminant in fracking operations," writes Jeff McMahon at Forbes.


TransCanada and GOP steamed over EPA’s Keystone comments

Is the EPA finally beginning to agree with this message?
Shutterstock / Rena Schild
The EPA would seem to agree.

TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, is pissed at the U.S. EPA for not quietly going along with the plan.

The EPA this week slammed the State Department's draft environmental report on the pipeline, saying in formal comments that it has a lot of shortcomings and contains “insufficient information” on the pipeline's potential environmental effects.

From the Montreal Gazette:

TransCanada Pipelines has accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of attempting to interfere in Canadian sovereignty by recommending that the State Department explore ways the U.S. can get involved in reducing emissions from Canada's oilsands. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy


Falling prices for renewable energy could lead to a tripling of investment

Solar panels in San Francisco
John Upton
Solar panels in San Francisco.

Catch ya later, failed renewable energy companies. We're sorry to lose you, but so long as your laid-off workers find other jobs in the ballooning clean energy economy, your collapse really doesn't matter.

That's one takeaway message from a new analysis of the renewable energy sector by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The plummeting price of renewable energy has bankrupted more than two dozen wind and solar manufacturers, but the BNEF analysts say it could lead to a tripling of investment in the sector over the next 17 years. Notable victims of the falling costs of solar panels include Solyndra and Suntech. But the collapse of those companies appears to be little more than natural attrition in a fast-evolving industry with an extremely bright future.


Most Protestant pastors don’t think climate change is real

Say, God, who do you think is turning the weather weird?
Say, God, who do you think is turning the weather weird?

A majority of Protestant pastors in the U.S. fail to grasp the scientific fact that humans are turning the weather weird. But, hey, at least they recycle!

Asked whether they "believe global warming is real and man made," only 43 percent of Protestant pastors said "yes" during a a recent survey by LifeWay Research, an arm of a company that sells Bibles, church supplies, and the like. That was up from 36 percent in 2010 but less than the 47 percent who said "yes" in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, Democratic pastors are far more likely to understand human-induced climate change than Republican ones. But in an odd twist, the older pastors are more likely to get climate change than their younger colleagues. Way to be, church seniors.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


World’s energy nearly as dirty today as it was 20 years ago

Shutterstock / Sergiy Telesh
We're still burning way too much of this stuff.

Between 1990 and 2010, the perils of climate change became very clear, as did the urgent need for renewable energy, but we still didn't do much to clean up the world's fuel supplies.

We produced almost as much greenhouse gas for every unit of energy used in 2010 as we did in 1990, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency [PDF]. While the U.S. and other countries have been making strides in moving away from coal, which is the worst of the climate-changing fuels, India, China, and some European nations have been burning more of the stuff.

Read more: Climate & Energy