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World’s richest woman would prefer to pay her miners $2 a day

Gina Rinehart, in a still taken from video.

Meet Gina Rinehart. Born Georgina Hope Hancock, Rinehart is heir to her father's fortune built at Hancock Prospecting in Australia, where Rinehart remains as executive chair. Hancock Prospecting holds the rights to the world's largest iron ore deposit and has made Rinehart the richest woman in the world, sitting on a fortune of almost $30 billion USD.

Yesterday, Rinehart lost her cool.

Asia's richest woman, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, warned on Wednesday that Australia was becoming too expensive for mining firms which she said could hire workers for under $2 a day in Africa.

Rinehart's comments, promptly denounced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, coincide with growing concern about the strength of Australia's mining boom in the face of weaker demand from main customer China and tumbling prices of iron ore, its single biggest export earner. ...

"The evidence is inarguable that Australia is becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export-oriented business," Rinehart told the Sydney Mining Club in a rare public appearance. A video of her address was posted on the club's website.

"Africans want to work, and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day," she said in the video. "Such statistics make me worry for this country's future.

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Paul Ryan’s wind power hypocrisy

Ryan, thinkin' about somethin. (Photo by Gage Skidmore.)

On Wednesday, Paul Ryan echoed Mitt Romney's opposition to extending a tax credit for the wind industry:

We think these tax credits are important to get industries up and running, but we don't think they should continue on indefinitely. … We also want to make sure our tax code isn't one that has too many loopholes, which rewards some industries and not the others.

Subsidies for the oil and gas industry were instituted in the U.S. in 1918. Those subsidies comprise about two-thirds of all energy subsidies ever given. Ryan has voted for the indefinite extension of oil industry subsidies on multiple occasions.

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The Arctic is getting wetter and the Amazon is getting drier and cats are chasing dogs

Two updates on how the world is turning inside out, basically.

What a rainforest looks like, ideally.

The Amazon is getting drier

From Agence France-Presse:

Deforestation may cause rainfall in the Amazonian basin to decline disastrously, British scientists said in a study published on Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Rainfall across the vast basin could lessen by 12 percent during wet seasons and 21 percent during dry seasons, potentially inflicting astronomical costs on farmers and reducing hydro-electricity output from receding river flows.

Plants take in water at the root, then release a small amount of moisture into the air. On a small scale, that water vapor is tiny. Over acres of tropical forest, it adds a huge amount to atmospheric moisture, contributing to rainfall.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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When it comes to the weather, we are basically cavemen

We scoff at the primitiveness of our ancient predecessors, coming up with complex theories for the motion of the sun or seeking shelter from the capricious, unpredictable rain. And then we spend all summer discussing global warming or the drought or hurricanes, with all of the effectiveness of scribbling a drawing on the wall with charcoal.

Which brings us to today's sun and rain update. Or, as I've taken to calling it: the 2012 Caveman Report.™

The rain
There was hope that Hurricane Isaac would put a dent in the drought. And, in some areas, that's been the case.

Several days of rain have given farmers in the nation’s midsection a welcome break from irrigating and hauling water for livestock as they contend with the worst drought in the U.S. in decades.

The remnants of Hurricane Isaac dropped several inches of rain on wide areas of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri as the storm trudged north. Some spots got more than a half-foot of rain.

For most farmers, the rain came too late to make a difference in their year. Corn farmers have been harvesting for weeks, and soybeans are far enough along that the rain won’t significantly improve their quality or growth.

And, of course, the storm also did its own damage, because hurricanes are incorrigible jerks.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Mixed blessing: New Yorkers can get free cab rides from Uber this week

Here is a taxi blocking a bike lane, to add into the mix. (Photo by bitchcakes.)

For your convenience, this article is available in both Manhattan and non-Manhattan versions. Please read the one appropriate to your New York living/visiting situation. Thank you.

Manhattan version
Uber, as those 98 percent of Manhattanites with iPhones already know, is a service that makes summoning a town car as simple as using an app on your phone. Open the app, hit a button, boom. A car is on its way.

The last time we wrote about the company was to celebrate an interesting experiment, its one-day ice-cream delivery truck service. This week, it's starting a service that goes one better (jk nothing's better than free ice cream): on-demand taxis, promising faster, cheaper rides than its town cars -- but still more than a normal cab ride.

Between today and next Wednesday, everyone in the city gets one free Uber taxi ride as the company unveils this new service. Don't feel like taking the train? Having trouble getting a cab during the shift changeover? Just take out your phone.

As Will Oremus notes at Slate, there's a practical reason for Uber's generosity.

Just last night, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission balked at approving the service, citing the city's laws against pre-arranged cab rides. The rule is that taxi drivers can't refuse a ride to [someone] who flags them down on the street just because they're on their way to pick up someone else. ...

Uber is confident that it can work with New York's commission as well [as it has in other cities]. But in the meantime, rather than scrap the launch, the company has come up with an alternative: free taxi week! If it isn't allowed to charge customers, Uber reasons, it can at least give them a taste of the service in hopes that will pressure city officials to find a way through the regulatory roadblocks.

So Manhattanites, if you can't grab a cab within two minutes, for this week only Uber will provide one for free.

Read more: Cities

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Hurricane Isaac leaves tar balls, oiled animals on Louisiana beaches

Hurricane Isaac did more than wipe out thousands of swamp rats -- it also regurgitated Deepwater Horizon oil along a wide stretch of Louisiana beaches. From AP:

Weathered oil in the form of tar has washed up on some Louisiana beaches from Gulf waters churned by Hurricane Isaac, prompting restrictions of fishing in some waters and tests to determine whether the source is submerged oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. ...

Officials Tuesday evening restricted fishing in waters extending a mile off a roughly 13-mile stretch of coastline from Port Fourchon eastward to just west of Caminada Pass. ...

The state Wildlife and Fisheries Department said there was a large mat of tar on one beach and concentrations of tar balls on adjacent beaches. [Garret Graves, gubernatorial adviser on coastal issues,] said later surveys found several more mats. The size of the tar mats was not immediately clear. Graves said high water has prevented a thorough examination.

Original caption: "Post Isaac staining on Pensacola Beach Aug. 29, 2012."

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Coal company: Global market prompts miner furlough. GOP rep: I blame Obama

CONSOL Energy today announced plans to halt production at at least one coal mine in Buchanan County, Va.

The Pittsburgh, Pa.-based CONSOL, which operates coal mines across Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, announced Tuesday that it was idling the Buchanan Mine for 30 to 60 days.

“CONSOL Energy is responding to weak market conditions throughout its export markets in Asia, Europe and South America,” the company said in a written announcement of the decision.

The Buchanan Mine -- CONSOL’s only mine in the county -- produces about 400,000 tons monthly of metallurgical-grade coal for steel production. According to information on CONSOL’s website, Buchanan set a company record for coal production in 2011 with 5.7 million tons mined that year.

The move will furlough more than 600 workers indefinitely.

Consol Energy Center is not expected to furlough any of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by fatherspoon.)

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Three-man crew traverses Northwest Passage by sailboat

Two weeks ago, a Chinese icebreaker became the first vessel from that country to traverse the Canadian Arctic -- the fabled Northwest passage, sailed in reverse. That success was thanks to rapidly melting ice in the region, but it still required an icebreaker.

The route of the Belzebub II.

On Monday, a group of three men reported that they completed the trip last week by sailboat, the Belzebub II. From the Los Angeles Times:

[L]ast week, scientists said the area of floating sea ice in the Arctic had fallen to the lowest level ever observed. As the Belzebub II lingered in the Prince of Wales Strait, its crew -- which includes Morgan Peissel, a Boston native and an assistant to filmmaker Errol Morris -- received the message from Canadian ice-watching officials that set them in motion: “Good afternoon. It's not recommended to go into M’Clure Strait, but there is a window open north of Banks. There is a lead developing all along the North shore of Banks Island.”

The ice would return soon, but the decision to go was made “in a heartbeat,” the crew said Monday in a blog post. The Belzebub II then swam into the dangerous strait as walls of ice surrounded the small sailboat, the crew uncertain of whether the ship could make the passage. …

Twenty-four hours into the attempt, going without any sleep, the explorers said they got word that walls of ice were closing the passageway behind them. They hurried ahead, and their craft knifed through clear waters for another 12 hours and finally brought them to their destination just beyond the strait on Wednesday.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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New York City will soon start zapping its water with ultraviolet light

Map of New York City's water sources. (Click to embiggen.)

The famously delicious water that comes out of New York City taps originates in the Catskill Mountains, up near Albany. It flows through a series of tunnels and aqueducts until it reaches the two massive tunnels that bring it into the city. Those tunnels, built in 1917 and 1936, were recently joined by a still-in-progress third, which has been under construction for more than 40 years.

The city's water system will also soon be getting another upgrade: ultraviolet radiation.

The Delaware–Catskill watersheds, located 160 kilometers north of the metropolis, have historically not required filtration or multiple methods of disinfection. More stringent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations in recent years and increased development around these bodies of water over the past decade, however, have prompted the city to add more protection against potentially disease-causing microorganisms.

The new, $1.6-billion Catskill–Delaware Ultraviolet Disinfection Facility -- built some 50 kilometers north of Manhattan on 62 hectares in the towns of Mount Pleasant and Greenburgh in Westchester County, N.Y. -- is scheduled to go live by October 29. As water flows through each of its 151-million-liter disinfection units, the UV light will alter the DNA of cryptosporidium, giardia and other waterborne pathogens, rendering them unable to replicate. Blooms of these microorganisms can cause nausea, cramps, diarrhea and even more serious maladies.

Read more: Cities

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Projecting the very hot future of California’s cities

Between 1961 and 1990, California cities averaged four extreme heat days a year. Last week, the state's Climate Action Team projected how that figure would change by 2050 and 2099 for several large cities. From the report [PDF]:

Bakersfield and Fresno, cities in the already-warm Central Valley, will see a number of days with extreme heat -- at least 105 degrees -- equivalent to three solid months. Temperate San Francisco, known for its not-warm summers, could eventually experience 126 days of extreme heat annually -- more than one-third of the year, though at a much more acceptable 77 degrees. In San Jose, where extreme heat means a day of 90 degrees or more, almost four months of the year will see those temperatures.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy