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Philip Bump's Posts


New York court backs greenhouse gas initiative, draws Sauron’s eye

This is the U.S. Supreme Court. It's more photogenic than New York's.

New York state can continue to participate in a multistate effort to curb greenhouse gases, after a court dismissed a conservative legal challenge to the effort, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

From a report by The New York Times:

Members of Americans for Prosperity, a group founded and largely financed by oil industry interests, filed the suit last year in state Supreme Court in Albany against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and two state agencies, arguing that the program imposed what amounted to an illegal tax on electric ratepayers.

The group said that by making power companies pay for their carbon dioxide emissions, the program imposed costs that the companies then passed on to consumers. Such “coercive taxes” are illegally levied without approval from the state legislature, the group argued.

But in a decision signed on Tuesday, Thomas J. McNamara, an acting State Supreme Court justice, wrote that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to press their case because they had failed to establish that they had suffered a “distinct” injury from New York’s participation in RGGI (pronounced reggie).


These elderly fatality statistics may spoil your affection for big-box stores

Photo by Trevor Stoddart.

Obviously, everyone loves a nice strip mall. The parking lot, the low-slung, cheap-looking buildings, the pedestrian walkways that no drivers pay attention to.

And big-box stores! The lots! The long walks down busy parking lanes! The Brutalism-meets-Brady-Bunch aesthetic! What's not to like?

So it pains me, truly,  to be the bearer of this bad news. There's a slight (actually, not-so-slight) correlation between strip malls and big-box stores and increased deaths among the elderly.

A recently released report [PDF] from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M is the bearer of this bad news. Anticipating that some 10 percent of the population would be 75 or older by 2050, they set out to study how the design of traffic flow within a community related to accidents involving pedestrians and drivers at that advanced age.


Australia announces massive ocean reserve, takes early lead with bragging rights

Once every few summers, the world meets in one of its greatest cities for a competition with roots that extend far back into history. Bravado on display, nations vie for the right to brag that their nation truly leads the pack.

Obviously, I'm talking about the Earth Summit.

Every time there's an international environment confab, it seems like countries take advantage of the moment to announce major green initiatives. Before the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the United States and India announced a new partnership aimed at curbing emissions. At the same conference in Durban last year, Canada declared its intention to contribute $1.2 billion to greenhouse gas reduction.

Map of protected areas.

This year, the competition started early -- and with an impressive salvo.

Read more: Climate Change


The farm bill may be about to make a lot of chickens very happy

In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that established stricter guidelines for treatment of animals in the poultry and veal industries. Most notably, the measure eliminated the use of "battery cages" for laying hens, small cages crammed with birds who are often unable to even stand. Prop 2 passed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, despite strong opposition from egg producers across the country.

Though full enforcement of the battery cage ban wasn't mandated until 2015, many producers didn't wait to make changes. Some moved out of state. Others implemented the changes early.

A group of egg producers in this latter category have joined an unexpected crusade: a push to enact rules similar to those in Prop 2 nationally. The Los Angeles Times looked at this unexpected effort last month:

In a rare alliance, the Humane Society of the United States and egg ranchers have joined forces to lobby for federal legislation that would set national standards for egg ranches similar to those implemented at JS West [a California producer that met the Proposition 2 standards early].

"No question about it: Proposition 2 was a major wake-up call to the entire U.S. egg industry," said Chad Gregory, senior vice president of United Egg Producers, a trade organization that represents most of the nation's egg farmers.

Read more: Farm Bill, Food, Politics


And the award for highest all-time May land temperature goes to …

It reads, "Participant." (Photo by Shorts And Longs.)

Congratulations, world! We did it again!

Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that land temperatures in May were the highest recorded in 133 years -- since records began. Combining land and ocean temperatures, it was the second-warmest May in recorded history -- so the encouraging news is that there's still room to grow. For now, prepare your acceptance speeches.

The NOAA report includes lots of detailed / terrifying graphs. Below, land temperatures as deviation from the average temperature between 1961 and 1990. The bigger the red dot, the hotter this May was than usual. Only Alaska, bits of Sweden, and Australia saw cooler than average temperatures.


Farm rentals, dumpster dives: Europe crisis is mother of invention

Greek vineyard. (Photo by ZeroOne.)

In the midst of Greece's economic crisis, one entrepreneur has come up with a novel way to earn extra cash: He's renting out farmland. Dimitris Koutsolioutsos started to connect city dwellers to rural farmers. The urban resident rents out a section of the farmer's land to grow whatever produce is desired, which is then delivered to the city each week -- either to the resident or, if desired, a local soup kitchen.

The benefit to the city dweller is obvious: fresh, cheap produce. For the farmer, the benefit lies in having a guaranteed market for what he makes. (Like a CSA box, but more tailored and one-to-one.)


Oh, great: OPEC considers cutting production to boost oil prices

The Washington Post reports:

With the global economy at a tipping point, a deeply divided Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Vienna wrangled over whether to cut production and prop up crude oil prices.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and the cartel member with the greatest latitude for tightening or opening its taps, arrived vowing to maintain its output and hold the line on quotas for the group. Other OPEC members, led by Iran and Venezuela, have wanted to trim output quotas to boost the price of oil.

Analysts said they expect no change in the end. ...


Crowdsourced solar gets a nod — and a check — from the Department of Energy

Photo by Solar Mosaic.

I was once in a meeting with a guy who sold and installed solar panels. When he asked a woman sitting next to him if she'd thought about putting solar panels on her house, she replied that she'd love to, but she couldn't afford it. His response came with the casual immediacy of the salesman: "That's what you think."

The challenge to broad adoption of solar used to be a lack of awareness. Now, it's often a lack of capital. People understand that solar promises to save on utility costs over the long term, but many are discouraged by the investment cost of installation and the time it takes to recoup. One approach to offsetting those initial costs is the revolving loan fund, a pool of money often from a government body that provides initial capital the borrower can repay from the eventual savings. Once the loan is repaid, the fund invests in another similar project.

Oakland's Solar Mosaic takes a different tack. Its process, as Greg Hanscom outlined in April, is to create a one-time pool of investors who provide initial capital -- a strategy often compared to Kickstarter or Kiva. It's brilliant in its simple adherence to the tried-and-true: You invest, money is made (in the form of reduced electric bills), you are repaid. (Currently, the pool doesn't return any interest on the loans, but it's easy to imagine that it someday could.) The company is still in its beta stage, but it has already tapped over 400 investors for five installations.


U.S. market for solar likely to double this year

Photo by Solarworld USA.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. market for solar panels is likely to double in 2012, thanks to government policies and falling prices, although new tariffs on panels imported from China could contribute to slower growth in 2013, according to a new study.

U.S. developers are likely to install about 3,300 megawatts of solar panels this year, nearly double the amount installed in 2011, according to the study released Wednesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. ...

Government subsidies, such as a federal tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of each system, and state and local incentives have been driving growing demand for solar. Better prices also have played a role.


Here are some of the death threats sent to a climate scientist

University of East Anglia. (Photo by mira66.)

James Delingpole is a British journalist for The Telegraph who was primarily responsible for the pseudo-controversy known by the unoriginal name "Climategate." Last month, he wrote an opinion piece mocking claims by climate scientists that they'd received death threats -- in particular, Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia.

Delingpole wrote:

Maybe it's time someone did an FOI to see whether the UEA's dodgy and discredited Phil Jones really did get any of those "death threats" he claims to have received after Climategate and which allegedly drove him to consider suicide. Speaking for myself, if Phil Jones released a report claiming that grass is green I'd feel compelled to go outside just to double check.

Simon Hopkinson did exactly that. Yesterday, the university responded.