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Josh Harkinson's Posts

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Slaughter-free milk is great for cows, but not the environment

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If you don't eat beef because you feel sorry for those cows in Chick-fil-A ads, then you probably shouldn't drink milk either. The typical male calf born to a dairy cow becomes veal. The typical female is milked for five years -- a quarter of her natural lifetime -- then sent to the abattoir to become pet food or low-grade hamburger meat. Elsie the Cow, Borden Dairy Company's famous cartoon logo, is smiling only because she doesn't realize that she's about to get euthanized with a cattle gun.

Yet if you're an ethical vegetarian who still can't bear to give up milk, you now have another option: slaughter-free dairy, which comes from farms where cows never get killed. Since 2011, the U.K.-based Ahimsa Dairy has offered slaughter free-milk and cheese to customers in London. In February, Pennsylvania's Gita Nagari Creamery, which has supplied no-kill milk to the local Hare Krishna community for many years, began offering it to the public through subscription and mail order -- for a whopping $10 a gallon. The price includes a $2.50 cow retirement fee and $1.50 for "boy calf care." Less than half of its 60-head herd gets milked; the rest of the animals pull plows or spend their golden years lackadaisically chomping grass.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Why Big Coal’s export terminals could be even worse than the Keystone XL pipeline

coal-export
IMAN HARTOYO

After spending years trying and failing to win a global climate treaty, environmental activists have finally changed tactics. Instead of pouring all their efforts into passing doomed legislation, they're picking big symbolic battles with the fossil fuel industry.

The campaign to derail the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's tar sands is just the start. On the West Coast, environmentalists have mounted a similar attack on the coal industry, which wants to reverse its steep national decline by exporting millions of tons coal to China. Green groups believe they can prevent the shipments (and keep the coal in the ground) by stopping the construction of huge new coal export terminals at ports in Oregon and Washington. "Based on our back-of-the-envelope calculation, the burning of this exported coal could have a larger climate impact than all of the oil pumped through the Keystone pipeline," says Kimberly Larson, a spokesperson for the Power Past Coal campaign, a coalition of more than 100 environmental and community groups that oppose the coal terminals.

Here's what you need to know about the biggest climate change fight that you've probably never heard of:

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The real lesson from the flaming Tesla video

Wednesday afternoon, a Tesla Model S burst into flames on Washington State Route 167 outside Seattle. The auto blog Jalopnik quickly posted a video of the luxury electric car engulfed in a ball of fire and smoke. Tesla later noted that the fire hadn't been spontaneous; the car had been hit by a metal object that damaged the battery pack. The car's alert system detected a failure and told the driver to pull over, the driver wasn't injured, and the fire never spread to the passenger compartment. Even so, at the close of the stock market Wednesday, Tesla's share price had fallen more than 6 percent (It dropped another 5 percent Thursday morning).

The sell-off may have resulted from the video, from a ratings downgrade released the same day by an R.W. Baird stock analyst, or both. Either way, the experience shows how hard it can be for companies to stake their success on radical innovation. Behind investors' (unfounded) hand-wringing over electrical fires or production hiccups is their unease over the basic fact that nobody has ever built anything like a Tesla before.

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Taxpayer subsidies helped Tesla Motors, so why does Elon Musk slam them?

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Tesla Motors

IT'S RUSH HOUR in Silicon Valley, and the techies on Highway 101 are shooting me laser-beam stares of envy. Beneath the floorboard of my Tesla Model S, a liquid-cooled pack of 7,000 laptop batteries propels me down the carpool lane at a hushed 65 miles per hour. Then traffic grinds to a halt, and I'm stuck trying to merge onto an exit ramp as Benzes and BMWs whip past. It's the excuse I'm waiting for: I punch the throttle, and the Model S rockets back up to speed so fast that I worry about flying off the road -- a silly fear, it turns out, because the car corners like a barn swallow. "And there you go," says Tina, my beaming Tesla sales rep. "Takeoff!"

Every bit as practical as a Volvo (rear-facing trundle seat!) and sexier than an Aston Martin, the Model S isn't just the world's greatest electric car -- it's arguably the world's greatest car, period. The curmudgeons at Consumer Reports call the seven-seater the best vehicle they've ever tested, and that's after docking it considerable points for only -- only! -- being able to travel 265 miles on a charge. The first mass-market electric car designed from scratch, it sports huge trunks in the rear and under the hood, an incredibly low center of gravity, and the ability to hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Plus you can recharge it for the price of a burrito. Named car of the year by Motor Trend, the Model S has recharged Tesla as well. In May, the company announced that it had repaid, nine years early, a $465 million loan it had received from the Department of Energy.

Tesla posted its first quarterly profit the same month, and by mid-July the share price of the decade-old Palo Alto-based carmaker had more than doubled. The buzz in the Valley is that Tesla has in the Model S something with the disruptive potential of the iPhone -- and in its CEO, Elon Musk, the next Steve Jobs. "Individuals come along very rarely that are both as creative and driven as that," says Jim Motavalli, who writes for the New York TimesWheels blog. "Musk is not going to settle for a product that is good enough for the marketplace. He wants something that is insanely great."

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Official Texas review: “Creation science” should be incorporated into every biology textbook

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Behind closed doors, textbook reviewers appointed by the Texas State Board of Education are pushing to inject creationism into teaching materials that will be adopted statewide in high schools this year, according to new documents obtained by watchdog groups. Records show that the textbook reviewers made ideological objections to material on evolution and climate change in science textbooks from at least seven publishers, including several of the nation's largest publishing houses. Failing to obtain a review panel's top rating can make it harder for publishers to sell their textbooks to school districts, and can even lead the state to reject the books altogether.

"Once again, culture warriors in the state board are putting Texas at risk of becoming a national laughingstock on science education," said Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that monitors religious extremists and "far-right issues." TFN and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) obtained the review panel documents in response to a state open-records request.

What's more, because Texas has one of the nation's largest public school systems, publishers tend to tailor their textbooks for that market and then sell the same texts to the rest of America.

Here are five striking examples of comments submitted to publishers by the state review panels urging them to water down scientific teachings.

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First tar-sands mine approved in U.S.

They're on their way.Photo: ShellThe Canadian tar-sands industry is invading the United States. Alberta-based Earth Energy Resources has won all necessary permits to excavate tar-sands oil from a 62-acre site in Uintah County, Utah. And that's just the start. Earth Energy has 7,800 acres of Utah state land under lease and plans to acquire more. The company estimates that its holdings contain more than 250 million barrels of recoverable oil. Over the past decade, Canada has become the world's largest exploiter of tar sands, paying a high environmental cost to extract and convert its heavy oil, known as bitumen, into usable forms. The tar-sands boom …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Oil

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chamber plot

Chamber of Commerce goes after climate dissenters in its ranks

A new split over climate policy is brewing within the ranks of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a breakaway group of local chambers is getting ready to publicly split with the business lobby's hardline stance against climate legislation. The new climate coalition, known as the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE), will press Congress to take stronger action on climate and energy issues. It has already signed up about a dozen chambers and will officially launch later this year. The U.S. Chamber is already working behind the scenes to discredit the new group. After it caught wind of the …

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Hit me baby, one more time ... with BP

BP's secret ticket request line

Want tickets to a Sacramento King’s game? Just drop a line to our good friends BP.Photo courtesy of Logan Sakai via flickrFor more than a decade, BP has operated a hush-hush phone line that California lawmakers can call to request box seats to NBA games and concerts at the Sacramento stadium named after its West Coast subsidiary. In the past five years, BP has given state officials more than 1,200 complimentary tickets to the Arco Arena, hosting them in its corporate suite to see Sacramento Kings games, World Extreme Cagefighting matches, and Britney Spears and Lil Wayne concerts. Getting the …

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Buh-bye east coast beaches

EPA scientist warns Atlantic seaboard will be swallowed by rising seas

For most of the 20th century, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, was known for its boardwalk, amusement park, and wide, sandy beaches, popular with daytrippers from Washington, D.C. "The bathing beach has a frontage of three miles," boasted a tourist brochure from about 1900, "and is equal, if not superior, to any beach on the Atlantic Coast." Today, on a cloudless spring afternoon, the resort town's sweeping view of Chesapeake Bay is no less stunning. But there's no longer any beach in Chesapeake Beach. Where there once was sand, water now laps against a seven-foot-high wall of boulders protecting a strip of …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Illegal gold mining in Ghana shafts locals’ health and the environment

At I Trust My Legs, an illegal mining camp along a gray stream in the West African nation of Ghana, trespassers have bored vertical shafts deep into the ground. On a recent morning, Maxwell Adzoka strapped a lamp to his head, pressed his bare back and shoeless feet against the slick clay walls of one of these shafts, and climbed down, his yellow bulb disappearing into the darkness. When he reemerged, he was bearing thick stones rippled with gold, enough to buy meat, palm wine, and clothes for his eight children. It was a lucky day for Adzoka, and not …

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