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Philip Bump's Posts


Morning chance of guilt, followed by afternoon desperation

Photo of disconcerted puppy by Corie Howell.

Did you have your morning cup of coffee today? Probably shouldn't have:

The international trade in Central American coffee has spurred forest clearing that eradicates habitat for the endangered [black-handed spider] monkey and, ultimately, the monkey itself.

The monkey’s woes come despite its protected status. This spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) shelters behind the legal shield of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning it cannot be openly sold, which is meant to keep it from becoming a pet (yes, it’s that cute). But no such protection exists for its habitat, which may ultimately make any other protections moot. Not even the monkey’s amazing gripping tail can help it hang on in the face of forest clearing.

And that’s why this spider monkey is just one of at least 25,000 animals currently threatened around the globe.


World Oceans Day: Don’t mess with them or they’ll mess with you

Our beautiful, garbage-infested oceans.

Tomorrow is World Oceans Day, in which we pause for a moment to remember that the existence of any habitable land is basically an aberration and that we're completely surrounded by a fascinating alternate universe which we're also polluting and altering pretty effectively and efficiently. Or, as the official site puts it, "our planet’s biggest celebration of the ocean!," which sounds nicer.

In honor of World Oceans Day (tomorrow!), here's what's in the news about our local oceans.


A guy: Saying ‘Big Oil’ is like saying ‘the Jews did it’

Photo by Jay Mallin.

In an opinion piece for U.S. News and World Report, Michael Lynch of Strategic Energy & Economic Research writes:

Recent references to "Big Oil" reminded me of a talk show where someone mentioned the theory that "the Jews" were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the comedian Susie Essman joked that she must have missed that meeting. Sadly, our political discourse is often misinformed by such sweeping generalizations, less these days about ethnic or religious groups than organizations or professions.

Not really anything else to add. Except: really, U.S. News?

Read more: Oil, Politics


Thieves steal grease; slip away

The modern Dillinger's main target. (Photo by roadsidepictures.)

From The Atlantic Cities: a new rash of grease heists.

The latest report of grease theft comes from Quincy, Massachusetts, just south of Boston. In a down and dirty story, WBZ News Radio reports that two men made a big score off of the stored grease behind Cathay Pacific Restaurant. (Google review: "i thought the food was excellent, and very reasonably priced for the quality and portion sizes.... and no, i didn't see any 'hookers or drug dealers' in the parking lot.") They loaded up nearly $500 in fetid lipids before pulling out; a baffled detective told the radio station that this was a "new type of crime to us."


‘Secret’ talks will fix budget — right after the election

A tree at the Capitol, possibly holding the treehouse that hosted the secret talks.

Close your eyes for a second (after you finish reading this paragraph) and imagine an ideal federal budget. Maybe it bolsters the social safety net. Eliminates fossil fuel subsidies, perhaps. Invests in sustainable job creation. Makes taxes more progressive.

Now wake up. You're dreaming.


Jobs taking the last bus out of Pittsburgh

Photo by dok1Photo by dok1.

Bill Griffin manages a call center in Pittsburgh. He'd planned on expanding his business, adding 150 jobs. He didn't.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to cut 46 of its 102 bus lines in September, while raising fares by about 10% to 15%, to help close a $64 million budget gap. The fare increase and historic service cuts have drawn fire not only from angry commuters but also from business groups, which want the state to help out. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett says the transit agency needs to put its fiscal house in order first.

More than half of DialAmerica's 300 Pittsburgh employees travel to work on a bus line slated for elimination, said Mr. Griffin, a vice president. "When we moved into this complex, the No. 1 consideration was to be near a public-transportation line," he said.

Public transport plays a central role in local economies, but tight budgets and hefty pension obligations are pressuring transit systems, just as the economic recession and sluggish recovery have depressed the state sales-tax receipts that fund many transit systems around the country.

Without bus lines, even existing employees couldn't get to work. Expansion, then, was out of the question.


BP’s Glenn Beck strategy for maybe saving a few million dollars

Both a representative image and a metaphor.

Three years ago, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig wrote an essay for The New Republic, "Against Transparency." His argument was an uncommon one: Political transparency is not an unalloyed good. His core argument is well articulated here:

[R]esponses to information are inseparable from their interests, desires, resources, cognitive capacities, and social contexts. Owing to these and other factors, people may ignore information, or misunderstand it, or misuse it. Whether and how new information is used to further public objectives depends upon its incorporation into complex chains of comprehension, action, and response.

I am not a Harvard Law professor, so I will paraphrase the movie Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire version): With great amounts of information comes great opportunity for abuse.


U.N. report: ‘Oh, man.’

Photo by jlusterPhoto by jluster.

First, the good news: The world has made some progress on its climate goals! Or, as the headline of the U.N.'s press release about the fifth edition of its Global Environmental Outlook puts it: World Remains on Unsustainable Track Despite Hundreds of Internationally Agreed Goals and Objectives.

Oh. The BBC summarizes a portion of the unhappy findings thusly:

  • Air pollution indoors and outdoors is probably causing more than 6 million premature deaths each year.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are on track to warm the world by at least 3 degrees C on average by 2100.
  • Most river basins contain places where drinking water standards are below World Health Organization standards.
  • Only 1.6 percent of the world's oceans are protected.


Climate change’s worst enemy is its first victim: The city

This is a gorgeous infographic. Go look at it. Scroll through. Savor. Appreciate the design -- but pay attention to the point.

The presentation is by C40, a group of 58 cities that work together to share information and best practices about addressing climate change. (Here's previous Grist coverage of the group.) Key points from the presentation, quoted directly:

  • Almost 50 percent of cities are already dealing with the effects of climate change, and nearly all are at risk.
  • Over 90 percent of all urban areas are coastal, putting most cities on Earth at risk of flooding from rising sea levels and powerful storms. [In fact, that process has already begun.]
  • Larger cities have a ravenous appetite for energy, consuming 2/3 of the world's energy and creating over 70 percent of global CO2 emissions.
  • Today, over 4,700 climate change actions are in effect in the nearly 60 Cities of the C40, with almost 1,500 further actions under active consideration.


Meet renewable energy’s new ally

Let's get the boring stuff out of the way up front.

The renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is an incentive provided to energy producers equal to 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, adjusted annually for inflation. If you generate electricity using a renewable system -- geothermal, wind, solar, etc. -- you're eligible.

For now, anyway. The credit is expiring for most forms of energy creation at the end of 2013. For wind, it's up at the end of 2012.

Which has wind energy producers understandably nervous. But don't worry, wind energy producers! Karl Rove has your back!