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How the environmental movement can save the environment

The environmental movement's challenge isn't energy, it's power.

Power is what prompts political change. Shifts in power, application of power. Not necessarily power on Capitol Hill, but at least enough power to force Capitol Hill to act. Environmentalists lack the power necessary to effect any major change because there are only a few environmental champions in positions of power in the United States: a few in the private sector, a few in Congress, a very few in the administration, almost no one in the media.

In order to make change, the movement needs to build political power. But instead it's consumed with building energy in an already-energetic base.

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Young people protest during Powershift 2011.

As David Roberts notes here and as I've noted before, passion and energy are critical to change. Without passion and a desire to make the status quo snap, nothing happens. But that passion has to exist within the powerful. And right now it doesn't.

Last weekend, tens of thousands of protestors met on the Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand that the president reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Organizers celebrated the turnout, hailing it as the largest climate rally in history.

That may be, but it's certainly not the largest environmental rally in history. On the first Earth Day in 1970, an estimated 1 million people rallied just in New York City, and nearly 20 million across the country. In 2000, a large Earth Day rally in D.C. was mirrored throughout the country. While those were more broadly focused on the environment, they likely matched last weekend’s crowd in energy. And large swaths of every such crowd shared a similar message: Take action to protect the Earth. Only the specifics varied.

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Pipeline companies will get a $7 billion tax break through 2016

pipeline-flickr-Travis_S

There are people in Washington, D.C., right now scratching their heads and writing memos and trying to figure out how on earth we might possibly avoid budgetary doomsday, the sequestration that will lop some $1.2 trillion out of the federal budget over the next decade. Again, this is only happening because Congress tried to threaten itself. It's like you threatening to rob yourself by holding a gun to your head and then trying to figure out how to keep from being robbed.

But while all of this is happening, something else is going on in Our Nation's Capital™: Pipeline companies are getting an even larger tax break than expected. From Bloomberg:

A tax break used by oil and gas pipeline companies such as Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP) will cost the U.S. government $7 billion through 2016, about four times more than previously estimated, Congress’s tax scorekeepers said this month.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation quadrupled its cost estimate for exempting the fast-growing “master limited partnerships” from corporate income tax in the year ended in September to $1.2 billion from $300 million. The annual cost will rise to $1.6 billion by fiscal 2016, the committee said.

$7 billion. $1.6 billion a year. Tack on the estimated $4 billion in tax breaks the oil industry receives each year, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

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Environmental, conservative, media organizations rank our lovable Congress

This place.
This place.

It is awards season, everyone! For cool people (well, cooler people than me) that means it's time for the distribution of Grammys and Emmys and Oscars and Whatevers. For other people, it's awards and accolades strewn upon Capitol Hill, meaning the various ratings of members of Congress by media entities and advocacy organizations.

It is, as I have analogized previously, like the trophies given out at the end of a season to kids in a youth basketball league, except some of the awards come from the coaches and others come from fawning parents. Like youth basketball awards, these accolades will sit on shelves in the corners of rooms for a few years and eventually be thrown out.

Anyway, here they are.

The League of Conservation Voters

Every year, the LCV ranks how members of the House and Senate vote on issues related to the environment. How did those august bodies fare this year, LCV?

From an environmental perspective, the best that can be said about the second session of the 112th Congress is that it is over. Indeed, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives continued its war on the environment, public health, and clean energy throughout 2012, cementing its record as the most anti-environmental House in our nation’s history. …

The good news is that while the U.S. House voted against the environment with alarming frequency, both the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration stood firm against the vast majority of these attacks. There are 14 Senate votes included in the 2012 Scorecard, many of which served as a sharp rebuke of the House’s polluter-driven agenda.

Very, very surprising, I'm sure you'll agree.

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Louisiana may see the highest-rising seas in the world

As Hurricane Katrina approached, many Americans for the first time learned about New Orleans' precarious, below-sea-level orientation. The city is described as "bowl-like," rimmed by levees and natural structures that might not hold back surging storm water -- and might make drying out nearly impossible. It turned out that the analogy was imperfect. New Orleans is more like a TV dinner tray, and only the Ninth Ward ended up flooded.

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After Katrina, anyway -- a category 3 storm when it hit. But as sea levels continue to rise, and warming promises bigger storms, New Orleans' complete submersion may be inevitable. From The Lens:

Stunning new data not yet publicly released shows Louisiana losing its battle with rising seas much more quickly than even the most pessimistic studies have predicted to date. ...

Southeast Louisiana -- with an average elevation just three feet above sea level -- has long been considered one of the landscapes most threatened by global warming. That’s because the delta it’s built on -- starved of river sediment and sliced by canals -- is sinking at the same time that oceans are rising. The combination of those two forces is called relative sea-level rise, and its impact can be dramatic.

Scientists have come up with four scenarios of sea-level rise, ranging from .2 meters (8 inches) to 2 meters (about 6.5 feet). They're using the mid-range figure, about 4.5 feet, to make local projections of relative sea-level rise.

For example, tide-gauge measurements at Grand Isle, about 50 miles south of New Orleans, have shown an average annual sea-level rise over the past few decades of 9.24 millimeters (about one-third of an inch) while those at Key West, which has very little subsidence, read only 2.24 millimeters.

For decades coastal planners used that Grand Isle gauge as the benchmark for the worst case of local sea-level rise because it was one of the highest in the world. But as surveying crews began using more advanced instruments, they made a troubling discovery.

Readings at a distance inland were even worse than at Grand Isle. “For example,” Osborne said, “we have rates of 11.2 millimeters along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain -- the metro New Orleans area. And inside the city we have places with almost [a half-inch] per year.

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Meet Ernest Moniz, who may or may not be the next secretary of energy

Everyone is excited about rumors that President Obama will name Ernest Moniz to run the Department of Energy. Reactions range from "Who is Ernest Moniz?" to "What happened to the other guy?" to "Who was the other guy?"

Well, we are here to answer those questions! (The first one, anyway; we've answered the other two before.) Since you live a fast-paced lifestyle, always on the go, we've broken it up into bite-sized pieces, one bit of info at a time. You are welcome in advance.

Who is Ernest Moniz?

Well, he might be the next secretary of energy -- if Obama nominates him and if the Senate approves him. It is possible that in two months time he will be of very little interest to you, having not been confirmed. Or he will be of very little interest to you because he was confirmed, but you, like most Americans, are fairly indifferent to the office of secretary of energy.

But you knew that. So here's who he is, as articulated by Reuters, which appears to have been first with rumors of his imminent nomination.

Moniz, a former undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

Ha ha. Sounds great! We will come back to this part, obviously.

At MIT, Moniz led intensive studies about the future of coal, nuclear energy and natural gas, and he helped attract funding and research momentum to energy projects on campus.

People familiar with Moniz's work said, if chosen, he would bring his own energy and pragmatism to the job. …

Moniz earned kudos for a pragmatic approach toward using research to find ways to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels and transition to cleaner forms of energy.

We'll come back to this, too.

What does he look like?

Well, he looks like this:

ernest-moniz-mit
MIT

But more evocatively, he kind of looks like a Founding Father who teaches high-school English in New Hampshire.

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Oil company executive swears at analyst, tries to get recording off the internet

Encana is a Canadian oil and gas company that's seen its share of troubles in recent years, as oil and gas companies are wont to do. One of its wells in Colorado exploded last August, killing a worker. In 2009, the EPA found evidence that its fracking fluid was contaminating water in Wyoming. In December, we learned that Encana has a permit from the EPA to do a little aquifer polluting, prompting a bit of blowback for both company and agency.

Encana executives, therefore, will be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated. They're just trying to drill up oil and gas and sell it at a profit while letting your lungs and the atmosphere incur the cost of the pollution, is that so wrong? So when a reporter asked executives a question they found insulting, one responded more colorfully than would be generally recommended. From Reuters:

Encana Corp, Canada's largest natural gas producer, apologized on Thursday because one of its executives cursed after an analyst asked about whether new Canadian investment rules would prohibit its takeover by foreign state-owned entities.

When asked the question by Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick, interim CEO Clayton Woitas said: "The answer would be no." Then, in a whispered comment that was clearly audible on a replay of the call, someone can be heard saying, "fucking asshole."

The good folks at Boing Boing got ahold of audio of the comment in question.

Clearly the company is obsessed with gas-filled orifices.

A fucking gashole in Pennsylvania
A fuckin' gashole in Pennsylvania.

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We are learning mosquitoes are basically invincible

monster mosquito
Shutterstock

Mosquitoes are, at best, horrible annoyances. At worst? They are genocidal maniacs, responsible for more than half a million deaths a year, transmitting malaria and other diseases. Were causing extinction subject to popular vote, mosquitoes would win in a landslide.

All of that, relative to the moment, is the good news. Now, the bad.

Mosquitoes laugh at your so-called repellant.

Well, they don't laugh, as such, lacking the capacity for forced expulsion of air from their probosci and, likewise, any sense of humor. Point is, the most common chemical used to repel the little idiots is losing its effectiveness. From Smithsonian.com:

A group of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine discovered that three hours after an exposure to DEET, many Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were immune to the chemical, ignoring its typically noxious smell and attempting to land on irresistible human skin. …

So why did the mosquitoes, as a whole, overcome their dislike of DEET? Previous studies by this group and others have found particular mosquitoes with a genetic mutation that made them innately immune to DEET, but they say that this case is different, because they didn’t demonstrate this ability from the start.

They suspect, instead, that the insects’ antennae became less chemically sensitive to DEET over time, as evidenced by electroantennography on the mosquitoes’ odor receptors after each of the tests -- a phenomenon not unlike a person getting used to the smell of, say, the ocean or a manufacturing plant near his or her house.

In other words, all picnics should now be scheduled for two hours, 55 minutes in length.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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America thinks we need to fix the climate — after we deal with the deficit

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"Americans' Priorities," the graph is labelled. Underneath, four issues, and the extent to which Americans feel they require urgent action, as suggested to Pew Research. And so:

The most important issue for Congress to address this year, supported by 70 percent of Americans? The long-term deficit. Least urgent of the four? Climate change. Incorrect, America.

From USA Today:

There is bipartisan agreement on this: Dealing with the budget deficit is urgent.

That's a change. When Obama took office in 2009, during a cascading financial crisis, Americans put deficit reduction in the middle of a list of policy goals in a Pew poll. Now it has risen near the top. Seven of 10 Americans (including not only 81% of Republicans but also 65% of Democrats) say it is essential for the president and Congress to enact major deficit legislation this year. ...

When asked which of four issues was most pressing -- the deficit, guns, immigration or climate change -- 51% chose the deficit, three times that of any other issue. However, there were some significant differences by race and ethnicity. Hispanics were inclined to choose immigration as the most critical issue; African Americans chose guns.

Here's the breakdown on the urgency question by political party (compared to "everyone", which represents the entire pool of respondents).

Even most Democrats don't see an urgent need for action on climate change -- fewer than half say it's a priority for this year. That's astonishing.

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Head of American Petroleum Institute doesn’t see a need to regulate carbon anymore

Last week, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced that they will soon introduce comprehensive climate change legislation. It would make for an interesting debate in the Senate; it would be light years better than policy that exists currently. It also has literally no chance of passing either chamber.

Which has prompted the American Petroleum Institute's Jack Gerard to dig the bill a grave for the purposes of offering a dancefloor. From The Hill:

American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard said he did not expect the Senate to vote on the bill …

“I think no, it will not get to the floor, and I think the reason it won't get to the floor is the dynamics surrounding carbon has changed,” Gerard told E&E TV.

Specifically, Gerard cited increased use of natural gas, which has helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. over the past several years. However, don't worry: Gerard is still spectacularly wrong.

Jack Gerard (file photo)
philipmatarese
Jack Gerard (file photo).

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Gas prices are spiking, and it’s not clear why

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Here's what gas prices have done over the last month:

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GasBuddy

This isn't an unprecedented rise; prices went up last February, too.

gas price one year
GasBuddy

What's odd, though, is that the recent rise isn't tied to rising crude oil prices, the traditional reason prices fluctuate.

gas and crude price one month
GasBuddy

So what's happening? The Washington Post dug into it, noting concerns over Middle East stability, lower production by OPEC, and the continuing high price of oil -- though crude prices dropped significantly yesterday.