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Lisa Hymas' Posts

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Can these three billionaire superfriends save the climate?

Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Hank Paulson
Jim Gillooly/PEIHelloaloe, & Fortune Live Media
Bloomberg, Steyer, and Paulson are teaming up for the climate.

A trio of powerful billionaires is preparing to launch a big bipartisan climate initiative next month, Ryan Lizza reports in The New Yorker. The players: Michael Bloomberg, outgoing mayor of New York City; Tom Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager who's now devoting himself fulltime to the climate cause; and Hank Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs and former treasury secretary under George W. Bush.

Not enough influential rich guys for you? OK, here are two more: Robert Rubin, another former treasury secretary and Goldman Sachs alum, will serve as an adviser to the new initiative, as will George Shultz, former secretary of state under Ronald Reagan.

No details yet on what the presumably well-funded climate initiative will aim to achieve.

Steyer is also moving forward with climate projects of his own, including a new anti-Keystone ad campaign that launched on Sunday. The first ad features Steyer standing on a ship along the Gulf Coast, making the point that much of the oil piped through Keystone XL would be exported. "Here's the truth: Keystone oil will travel through America, not to America," he says. Watch the ad:

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Canadian PM to Obama: Let’s make a deal on Keystone!

Harper and Obama
Jason Ransom / US embassy - Canada
Harper says, "Let's make a deal, eh"? Obama laughs inscrutably.

Looks like Canada is getting desperate.

The country's leaders and its oil industry really, really want the Keystone XL pipeline built so they can ship tar-sands oil from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast. But the Obama administration keeps postponing its decision on the pipeline.

In his big climate speech in June, President Obama said he would approve Keystone only "if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." And in an interview with The New York Times in July, Obama said, "there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release."

So now Canada is trying a new approach, offering to make a deal with Obama on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. CBC broke the story:

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Cool news: Big fridges to get more efficient under new Obama rules

Ben & Jerry's in supermarket case
Michael Kappel
Soon Ben & Jerry's will get to live in more efficient freezers.

After sitting on two energy-efficiency rules for more than a year and a half, the Obama administration finally released them on Thursday. They won't be official until early next year, after the public has time to comment and regulators have time to consider those comments, but at least they're now moving forward.

The proposed rules would require commercial refrigeration equipment, like restaurant fridges and deli cases, to use less energy. OK, that might not sound like the sexiest initiative, but efficiency matters -- a lot. Plus this means you'll soon have one more reason to feel better about buying Ben & Jerry's.

As The Washington Post reports, "The proposals have a significant environmental impact because of the size of the appliances involved." The White House says the new rules "could cut energy bills by up to $28 billion and cut emissions by over 350 million metric tons of CO2 over 30 years."

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Democrats will soon have a big, fat fight over fracking

man and woman boxing
Shutterstock

Most Democratic politicians say nice things about renewable energy and less-nice things about coal and earnest things about the need for climate action. But when it comes to fracking for natural gas, Dems and enviros are increasingly at odds.

Exhibit A: President Obama. He's provided unprecedented support for clean energy. He's making moves to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants. He's saying climate change is a top priority for his second term. But he's just fine with fracking. His administration has yet to impose any regulations on the process; it's only offered weak draft rules so far. It recently approved plans for a third project to export fracked natural gas. Obama thinks natural gas is part of the climate solution, a bridge fuel that will help us make the transition from coal and oil to renewables, as he made clear in his big climate speech in June:

We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions. ...

The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It's lowering many families' heat and power bills. And it's the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.

Even California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a long-time booster of clean energy and climate action, is open to fracking.

But as anti-fracking activism heats up around the country, pro-fracking Dems might find themselves increasingly at odds with their base. As we near 2016, any Democrat who wants to replace Obama might have to start singing a different tune.

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Climate scientists are 95 percent sure that humans are causing global warming

When it comes to climate change, the writing is on the wall.
Shutterstock
When it comes to climate science, the writing is on the wall.

Climate hawks are buzzing over leaks from the fifth big climate report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be officially released in September. Spoiler: Scientists are pretty damn confident that we're screwing up the climate.

An earlier draft was leaked in December by climate deniers trying to undermine the case for anthropogenic climate change. News of more recent leaked drafts comes to us from Reuters, which has no such agenda. Reuters sums up the report this way:

Climate scientists are surer than ever that human activity is causing global warming, according to leaked drafts of a major U.N. report, but they are finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades. ...

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the U.N. panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities -- chiefly the burning of fossil fuels -- are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Don’t expect that hybrid minivan any time soon

Toyota Estimate Hybrid
Toyota
The Toyota Estima Hybrid. The Japanese text translates to "Ha ha, you can't have one."

For years, Grist readers have yearned, ached, and virtually begged for a hybrid minivan. Sorry, folks. Keep dreaming.

Toyota has sold its Estima Hybrid minivan (44 mpg) in Japan since 2001, but it has no plans to sell a hybrid or plug-in minivan in the U.S., a spokesperson tells the Chicago Tribune.

Why not? Green-car expert Jim Motovalli explains:

I have brought up the concept of a plug-in hybrid minivan several times to automakers, and they always dismiss it. Their claim: Minivans are big and boxy, and the fuel economy wouldn’t improve that much with a hybrid drivetrain. Plus, they’d be expensive (the Estima is $50,000). Besides, that segment of the market is really not that big, they say.

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Why your hybrid doesn’t get that promised mileage

Ford C-Max
Ford Motor Company
The C-Max had a mileage fail.

Are you a hybrid owner who's never managed to get the high gas mileage advertised on the car window? You're not alone.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Bowing to criticism that its C-Max hybrid didn't get the fuel economy claimed on its window sticker, Ford Motor Co. has restated the compact car's mileage ratings and said it will ... make a "goodwill" payment of $550 to people who purchased the C-Max and $325 to those who leased the vehicle.

Ford had previously claimed the 2013 C-Max hybrid got 47 mpg for combined city and highway driving. Now it's saying 43 mpg. That's still higher than the 37 mpg that Consumer Reports got when it tested the model.

And it's not just Ford. More from the L.A. Times:

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Sometimes a hybrid is greener than an electric car

green-colored car
Shutterstock
Which car is greenest in your state? Find out.

If you live in California, the most climate-friendly car you can drive is a Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid. If you live in Ohio, you could go easier on the climate by driving a regular ol' non-plug-in Prius. And in Vermont, the best pick would be an all-electric Honda Fit.

That's according to a new report from Climate Central: "A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars." Here's how the researchers explain the state-by-state differences:

An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it. And in states that rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for their electricity there are many conventional and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are better for the climate than all-electric cars.

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Can a giant ice wall stop Fukushima radiation from leaking into the sea?

ice wall
Shutterstock
The Fukushima ice wall would not look anything like this.

It's been almost two and a half years since the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant and the place is still a huge, scary mess.

Here's how The New York Times introduced this week's grim news from the plant:

First, a rat gnawed through exposed wiring, setting off a scramble to end yet another blackout of vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Then, hastily built pits for a flood of contaminated water sprang leaks themselves. Now, a new rush of radioactive water has breached a barrier built to stop it, allowing heavily contaminated water to spill daily into the Pacific.

It turns out that radioactive water has been spilling into the sea almost since the initial disaster, at a rate of 75,000 gallons, or 300 tons, a day.

So now Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, which owns the plant, has a plan to build an underground wall of frozen earth to stop the radioactive water leakage. NPR explains:

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The craziest political race of the year is putting climate in the spotlight

There aren't many hot races in this off-off election year, but the Virginia governor's race is packed full of enough drama and weirdness for a dozen contests. Here's just a sampling of the crazy: An obsessive vendetta against a prominent climate scientist. A fledgling cleantech company under federal investigation. A $1,500 turkey dinner (let's hope it was organic and heritage breed). Dueling high-profile billionaire donors. And as a bonus, the Clintons are mixed up in it too  -- Bill, Hillary, and even Hillary's brother.

Some recent polls have shown Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a small lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, but the race is widely considered a tossup. Virginia voters seem equally disgusted by both candidates. The sniping between the two sides has become so intense that Time called the race "the dirtiest, nastiest, low-down campaign in America."

Here's how the contest is shaking out in terms of climate and energy issues:

Ken Cuccinelli
Gage Skidmore
The Cooch.

The Republican

Ken "The Cooch" Cuccinelli is no ordinary GOP climate denier. As Virginia's attorney general, he waged a two-year campaign to discredit one of the world's top climate scientists, Michael Mann. Mann was a professor at the University of Virginia when his research led to publication of the iconic hockey-stick graph, which shows how average northern hemisphere temperatures have soared since the late 20th century. (The hockey stick has been reaffirmed by multiple subsequent studies.) In 2010 and 2011, Cuccinelli accused Mann of fraud and repeatedly tried to obtain papers and emails from his time at UVA, a failed attempt to discredit Mann's climate research that proved costly for Mann, UVA, and Virginia taxpayers.