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Philip Bump's Posts

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NYC’s homeless bee swarms are good for bees, scary

Bees swarm a light pole in Central Park.

On a rooftop a few dozen blocks south of my apartment, there's a beehive. The hive's owner, a woman named Susan, keeps what she described as an Italian species of bee, Carniolans. (In reality, the species is from Slovenia.) Pedigree aside (we are talking about the tony Upper West Side, after all), Carniolans have other traits to recommend them. They're more docile, for example, and more resistant to certain diseases. They are also more prone to swarming.

This week, The New York Times reported that bee swarms are increasingly appearing around the city.

This spring in New York City, clumps of homeless bees have turned up, often in inconvenient public places, at nearly double the rate of past years. A warm winter followed by an early spring, experts say, has created optimal breeding conditions. That may have caught some beekeepers off guard, especially those who have taken up the practice in recent years.

There's a link between hive overcrowding and swarming. When a hive becomes too crowded, bees can be displaced. New beekeepers, the Times suggests, can be unprepared to deal with a number of bees suddenly looking for a place to stay. The New York City real estate market is tough for everyone.

Bee swarms are frightening. Several weeks ago, my wife and I encountered one on a light pole in Central Park. An audible hum; a teeming mass orbited by a few stragglers. We did what anyone would do: took pictures, Instagrammed them, quickly moved on. (See above!)

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Your iPad is costing you (a tiny bit) more than you think

And at a low, low price! (Image courtesy of Engadget.)

An iPad costs you at least $400. That's for an older model; the latest version runs up to $830. And that doesn't include the data plan. Depending on your carrier and options, you could be paying another $50 a month. So for a year, the high-end iPad with the most expensive data plan will run you over $1,400.

On top of that, you have to charge the thing. According to a study from the Electric Power Research Institute, adding the cost of powering your $1,400 investment brings your annual total up to ... $1,401.36.

Consumers who fully charge their iPad tablet every other day can expect to pay $1.36 for the electricity needed annually to power the device, according to an  assessment by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

The analysis shows that each model of the iPad consumes less than 12 kWh of electricity over the course of a year, based on a full charge every other day. By comparison, a plasma 42” television consumes 358 kWh of electricity a year.

Read more: Energy Efficiency

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How will New York respond to thousands more bikers? Angrily, of course

My favorite biker-in-New-York image.

What happens when you throw 10,000 publicly available bikes into one of the most crowded, dense cities in America?

Check New York City in a few months.

The announcement earlier this year that the city (with a "y") was partnering with Citi (with an "i") to create a network of bike-sharing stations met with broad approval. (Except from the New York Post, which will hate anything as long as doing so generates a funny headline.) Stations will be predominantly located in Manhattan, with a few outposts just across the river in Queens and Brooklyn -- though not in heavily Orthodox South Williamsburg.

This week, Bloomberg interviewed people around the city to gauge anticipated reactions to the influx of two-wheeled transport. Their prediction: "Bikelash."

Chris Johannesen, who rides recreationally near his home in Queens, said the bike-share will succeed only if riders feel safe on the streets.

“I love to bike in the city, personally, though I feel like it’s more dangerous for some people than others,” Johannesen, 34, said on his lunch break in Times Square this week. “If people don’t feel safe riding the bikes in the city, then it may never take off.” ...

Read more: Biking, Cities

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The New York Times’ unwarranted attack on my air conditioner

This is my actual air conditioner. Adorable, no?

There was a report in the Times this morning that outlines the various ways in which the coolant gases in air conditioners are bad for the environment. Here's the key section:

The leading scientists in the field have just calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the newest gases currently employed in air-conditioners, up to 27 percent of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050.

So the therapy to cure one global environmental disaster is now seeding another. “There is precious little time to do something, to act,” said Stephen O. Andersen, the co-chairman of the treaty’s technical and economic advisory panel.

For me, sitting in New York City where the temperature is still hot (as I won't shut up about), this article is basically like The New York Times decided to tell me that my best friend is the world's biggest jerk. I know that, New York Times. I know my best friend is a jerk. But he is my best friend.

What's next, New York Times? An expose about how sitting can kill you? Oh, you already covered that. Great.

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The farm bill passes the Senate — and it’s not all bad news

The farm bill passed the Senate! The farm bill passed the Senate!

We don't get to say this very often, so forgive our enthusiasm. The bill is a massive piece of legislation passed by Congress every five years (or so), so we get excited about it while we can. An expenditure of about $100 billion a year, it touches nearly every part of our food system. Food stamps? Farm bill. Subsidies to the sugar industry? Farm bill. Insurance for failed crops? Farm bill.

Or, at least, those things all were in the bill. The version that passed the Senate today nearly 2-to-1 is a mixed bag -- with a few bright spots. It leaves sugar subsidies in place, while revamping assistance to farmers in a way that benefits Big Ag. Food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) took a hit, but it could have been worse.

Okay, it will probably get worse. When the House considers what to include in the legislation (a process that is still a few weeks away), it's highly unlikely that the balance of cuts will be the same, and SNAP will probably bear the brunt.

Last week, we presented a list of five amendments worth keeping an eye on. Here's how they fared.

Read more: Farm Bill, Food, Politics

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General public still unaware of what fracking is – much less its impacts

Flammable tap water still from Gasland.

Sixty-three percent of Americans don't really know what fracking is. Which is, what? Mind-boggling? Unbelievable? What's the description I'm looking for here?

The figure comes from a study conducted by the University of Texas, which asked this question: How familiar are you with the term "hydraulic fracturing" (sometimes referred to as "fracking")? Thirty-two percent of respondents indicated familiarity; nearly everyone else was either not familiar or had never heard the term (which is a weird distinction).

Talking Points Memo (TPM), citing that report, indicated that they'd received a slightly different response from their readers. In 2010 and 2012, TPM asked readers how they felt about increased government investment in natural gas exploration.

The response: In 2010, 55.5% either agreed or strongly agreed and two years later 56.1% either disagreed or strongly disagreed. That’s a big difference. And the polarization also increased: substantially fewer people didn’t have an opinion.

The comparison is not one-to-one. TPM's survey was just that, a survey, administered to a self-selecting population that is markedly more liberal than the general population. Likewise, TPM's question was about government investment, not mere awareness. With those caveats, though, it's clear that TPM saw a shift away from support for natural gas extraction.

Read more: Natural Gas, Politics

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Stuffing the ground full of toxic fluid turns out to be a bad idea

Like this, but the orange is the Earth, and the needle contains toxic fluids. (Photo by celesteh.)

There's an episode of The Simpsons ("Trash of the Titans”) in which Homer is elected sanitation commissioner. He blows his budget on fancy uniforms and big trucks, making up the shortfall by allowing other cities to dump their garbage in an abandoned mine under Springfield. Eventually, the garbage starts pouring out of manhole covers and faucets, forcing the entire city to move.

Cartoons, right? No one in real life could ever be so foolish as to pack the ground full of waste and cross their fingers! Actually, according to a new report from ProPublica, they could.

Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation's geology as an invisible dumping ground. ...

Records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury this waste deep beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation's drinking water. …

There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids thousands of feet below the surface. Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Colorado Springs probably didn’t need to worry about demand for wind power

On June 4, the city of Colorado Springs' electrical utility signed a two-year contract for 108,000 megawatt-hours of wind power in a new effort partly aimed at gauging demand.

As of yesterday, 96.5 percent of that power has been claimed by customers.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Large customers such as military bases and universities have tentatively agreed to take 102,730 megawatt-hours, and Utilities’ existing Green Power customers will take another 1,578 megawatt-hours of the pool, leaving 3,800 megawatt-hours up for grabs. ...

Council members said they were concerned that Utilities wouldn’t find enough customers willing to pay a premium for renewable energy, leaving other ratepayers to foot the bill, which would have increased bills by as much as 2 percent. The short-term contract with Xcel will be cost-neutral to average ratepayers, Romero said.

The city considered a 20-year contract for a large amount of power, but worried that a lack of demand would commit all of their costumers to higher rates over the long-term. Based on initial response, that concern seems to have been unfounded. A 20-year contract would have had additional benefits, as noted by the Sierra Club's Bryce Carter: locking in a cost that, while higher now, promises to become cheaper than fossil fuel-based power as extraction costs of the latter climb. If the federal production tax credit for wind is renewed, the utility will consider a longer contract next year.

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Today in weather events that are clearly not related to climate change

The High Park fire in Colorado. (Photo courtesy of the National Guard.)

It doesn't make sense to me why we are so painstaking in not attributing severe weather events directly to climate change. I don't mean intellectually; I get that climate change is a macro trend and that we can't ascribe specific outliers to it. I've seen the walking dog video.

I mean more that I don't get why we just don't do it anyway. Point to something and say: "That's climate change." What are deniers going to say in response? "Scientifically, you can't say that with certainty"? Because if that were the response, I would respond with a sober, academic, "LOL oh, now you are super respectful of science? SMH."

But I know. We can't say these things are due to warming. It's intellectually dishonest. So with that I present to you:

Today in weather events that are clearly not related to climate change

Wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico

This is time-lapse video of the Little Bear fire near Ruidoso, N.M. To date, the fire has burned over 41,000 acres and destroyed 242 residential structures. Caused by lightning, it's about 60 percent contained.

Then there's the High Park fire in Colorado. Since we last checked in on it, 8,000 more acres have burned for a total of almost 70,000. It's about 55 percent contained. It, too, was started by lightning.

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NYC’s first day of summer: White hot, hungry for power

Photograph of the author, taken today.

It's hot on the East Coast today. Very hot. To the extent that I'm fairly confident that my brain isn't working properly. The first day of summer is saying, "Hey, everyone! I'm here! Look at me!" Yeah, we see you, summer.

Temperatures in New York and Washington, D.C., are still over 90 degrees F. A local station in Baltimore reported that it was 775 degrees there, but that seems a little high. These are the days when we look wistfully at our air conditioners, appreciating all that they do for us even as we know that we shouldn't use them, but we use them anyway. (Love you, air conditioner!) (Need tips on buying one? Voila.)

Here's how the temperatures in New York between yesterday and today compare. (The gap is missing data, probably obviously.)

Here's a chart of the average temperature for June 20 in New York.

Image courtesy of Weatherspark.com.

Today's temperature is somewhere above and outside the graph.