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Philip Bump's Posts

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Why the power industry is running away from coal

Beautiful -- but deadly.

Last September, we reported that "peak coal" had come to Appalachia. There's a reason that the industry is relying on destructive practices like mountaintop-removal mining: Coal is harder to come by. Mines have increasingly small seams of coal to extract.

Now it seems that the marketplace is catching up. The AP reports:

The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40 percent for the year -- the lowest level since the government began collecting this data in 1949. Four years ago, it was 50 percent. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30 percent.

"The peak has passed," says Jone-Lin Wang, head of Global Power for the energy research firm IHS CERA.

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Today’s climate change forecast: Colder winters, fiery summers

Our possible future. (Photo by H Dragon.)

Just so you know, humanity's grand, global scientific experiment called "global warming" is still running. And it continues to return some frequently counterintuitive results.

Melting Arctic ice may result in colder winters than normal, Ars Technica reports.

As a result of this, Greene told Ars two things happen to the jet stream: it gets substantially weaker, and it tends to meander widely from north to south as it traverses the globe. This can lead to the severe chills the US and Europe have experienced over the past several winters, but the meandering jet stream can also draw warmer southern air north, as happened in the US this spring.

Last year, when we covered Europe's deep freeze, Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center suggested that the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation may be the product of the loss of Arctic sea ice, though he described the idea as "very much in its infancy."

Global warming will likely cause more fires outside of the tropics, but possibly fewer within.

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Diesel exhaust causes cancer, WHO says

Photo by twicepix on Flickr.

In a report released yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared exhaust from diesel engines to be a carcinogen [PDF] -- the same status as secondhand smoke. In 1989, the fumes were deemed a "probable carcinogen." The suspected culprit? Particulate matter expelled during diesel fuel combustion. Gasoline exhaust, with a different chemical makeup, remains a possible carcinogen.

As reported by CBS News, the WHO study looked at a population of 12,000 miners over the course of the past 60 years. Those regularly exposed to diesel exhaust had three times the rate of lung cancer deaths as their peers.

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Bloomberg announces $9 million challenge to spur innovation in cities

The mayor in chief.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg today announced the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge, a "competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life."

From the press release:

The Mayors Challenge, which officially kicks off this week, invites the 1,300 mayors of U.S. cities with 30,000 residents or more to submit their city’s boldest idea. The innovative idea must improve city life by addressing a major social or economic issue, improving the customer service experience for citizens or businesses, increasing government efficiency, and/or enhancing accountability, transparency, and public engagement.

The prize? A share of the $9 million purse that will be divvied up among five cities: one $5 million grand prize and four additional $1 million runners-up. Additionally, 20 finalists will be invited to a sort of municipal leadership summit, followed by coaching aimed at helping to shape their concepts for the final competition.

Read more: Cities

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New York likely to limit fracking — to some of the state’s poorest counties

A hydrofracking facility. (Photo by Helen Slottje.)

The New York Times reports:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology.

Accompanying the article is this map of the areas in which fracking is likely to be allowed -- as well as those areas that have barred the practice.

Graphic by the New York Times.

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Why the rumors about the iPhone ditching walking, public transit are wrong

Image by Zoli Erdos.

Okay, everyone. Take a deep breath. The new Apple operating system didn't kill walking and public transit directions, as some have feared.

Feeling better? Good. Here are the details.

I happen to be a registered Apple developer. I'd like to pretend that it's because I'm constantly creating new, lucrative iPhone apps, but it's actually because I accidentally screwed up my phone last year and had to register as a developer in order to unbreak it. The plus side: I get to download beta versions of the Apple iPhone software, iOS. In order to test the validity of claims that Apple was planning to ship without walking or public transit directions, I downloaded iOS 6.

Here's what I found.

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Secretary Clinton will represent the U.S. at Earth Summit

From a report at The Hill:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation at the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (dubbed Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the State Department announced Tuesday.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will act as alternate head of the delegation and Todd Stern, special envoy on climate change, will act as chief negotiator.

Read more: Climate Policy

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Water officials aim for sustainability — if the pipes don’t break first

Black & Veatch, a global consulting and engineering firm, today released its "2012 Water Utility Report." The document is an effort to catalog the vision and concerns of executives in the water industry: people working for municipal water departments, for counties, for investor-owned utilities. (It's a companion to a similar report detailing the electric industry that they released last week.)

This is not necessarily general interest reading. So we read it for you, as a public service almost as important as ensuring that large municipalities have clean water. And we had two big takeaways.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Mayors: We’d appreciate it if coal plants stopped poisoning people with mercury, thanks

Mayors from over 90 cities wrote a letter supporting the EPA's mercury regulations.

As local elected officials representing big cities and small towns, we want to express our strong support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently issued Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants (MATS). Mayors are on the front lines of protecting public health and this long overdue safeguard will reap tremendous benefits for our communities.

Mercury pollution, much of it coming from coal-fired power plants, represents a particularly widespread threat to families nationwide. According to your agency’s own analysis, as of 2010, all 50 states have fish consumption advisories in place to warn residents of the potential health effects of eating fish caught from local waters. Of these advisories, 81% were issued in part because of mercury pollution accumulated within the aquatic food chain. ...

Read more: Cities, Coal, Politics

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Every state in the U.S. has gotten hotter since 1970

Our friend, the Sun. (Photo by Jalal Hameed Bhatti.)

Something weird started happening to the sun's cycles in 1970.

(Is that the current argument against human-made global warming? Something about sun cycles? I can't really keep up since it seems to change all the time.)

A new report from Climate Central finds that a general warming trend over the last 100 years has accelerated in the last 40. From their report:

We looked at average daily temperatures for the continental 48 states from 1912 to the present, and also from 1970 to the present and found:

  • Over the past 100 years, the top 10 states warmed 60 times faster than the bottom 10 (0.26°F per decade vs. 0.004°F per decade), when looking at average mean temperatures. During this timeframe, 45 states showed warming trends, although 21 were not statistically significant. Three states experienced a slight cooling trend.
  • Since 1970, warming began accelerating everywhere. The speed of warming across the lower 48 more than tripled, from 0.127°F per decade over the 100-year period, to 0.435°F per decade since 1970, while the gap between the fast and slowly warming states narrowed significantly; the 10 fastest warming states heated up just twice as fast, not 60 times as fast as the 10 slowest warming states (0.60°F vs. 0.30°F per decade). Over the past 42 years 17 states warmed more than half a degree F per decade.
Read more: Climate Change