Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Philip Bump's Posts


The government can’t afford its greenhouse gas monitoring regimen anymore

A photo of the atmosphere, containing an unknown amount of carbon dioxide.

From Energy and Environment News:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spends roughly $6 million per year to sample carbon dioxide, methane and nearly 20 other gases using a global network of ground stations, tall towers and aircraft.

But faced with shrinking budgets and an uncertain fiscal future, NOAA has stopped measuring greenhouse gas levels at a dozen ground stations, eliminated some aircraft monitoring and cut the frequency of remaining measurements in half. The agency scrapped plans to expand its network of tall towers and is now moving to shut down some of the seven existing sites.

It's interesting how NOAA collects data. In addition to monitoring stations and towers, the agency also collects samples submitted from volunteers and pays small plane operators for flasks that collect samples mid-flight.


The Democratic Convention kicks off, its greenness in the eye of the beholder

Remember how much fun America had last week when the Republicans were marching around Tampa, Fla., beating on their chests and talking about politics and such? I think we can all agree that it was the best thing that ever happened, entertainment-wise and politics-wise. After seeing how cool the Republicans looked with their balloons and elderly celebrities, the Democrats just decided to do the same thing, except in a place called Charlotte. (To get there, call your travel agent and say, "gimme the US Airways.")

Today, the Democratic Party will officially approve its 2012 platform. The platform is meant to embody the purest articulation of what the party stands for, but it reads much more like an extended white paper from the Obama campaign. Mitt Romney had at least one (mild) objection to his party's platform; I suspect that President Obama won't have any. Here's a word cloud of the platform:

Click to embiggen.

The Democratic Party's most important political topics are "President" and "Obama."

The Washington Post's Brad Plumer did a good job tracking the party's evolution on environmental issues since its 2008 platform. You will be unsurprised to learn that they basically mirror President Obama's own softer tone on the issues. Plumer notes four ways the 2012 platform is different from the 2008:


Romney attributes climate change to humans — but won’t make humans do anything about it

A coalition of science organizations put forth a series of questions to the two leading presidential candidates, ranging from climate to water to space. And in a somewhat unexpected twist, they got answers.

The two people being discussed. Not sure which is which. (Photos by Shutterstock.)

There is only one thing in the lot that's at all surprising, that strays remotely from the public platforms of either party. That's Mitt Romney's answer on climate change, which begins:

I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences.

And then he starts the next sentence with "However." There's no point in curbing emissions, he argues, given China's greenhouse gas output and the theoretical impact on manufacturing jobs that would come from increasing the cost of carbon pollution.


BP thinks the Gulf is copacetic. The government disagrees. Tony Hayward doesn’t care.

British Petroleum is claiming in a civil suit that it's pretty much done cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico after its massive spill two years ago. The federal government's response: Fuck that.

BP: "Totally finished cleaning this up." Department of Justice: "Like hell."

In November, Louisiana Eastern District Court judge Carl Barbier will decide if BP's proposed final damages settlement for those affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion (pictured above) is adequate. To make its case, the company filed a motion a few weeks ago arguing that the scope of damage was assessed and that substantial progress had been made.

Late last week, as noted by New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith, the government filed an objection [PDF], even though it's not a party to the case. The Department of Justice's filing is harsh, gutting the BP motion and leaving its entrails in the open air. DOJ suggests that it would normally have been “unlikely” to get involved, but “[t]hat changed … as a result of arguments, new evidence, and plainly misleading representations in BP’s papers” concerning liability and damage to natural resources. The government is concerned that if BP's overly rosy assessment is allowed to stand, that would, as Smith puts it, “put a legal seal of approval on what they consider to be false or misleading claims by the oil company," which could hurt separate criminal and civil cases that the federal government is pursuing itself.


Your controversy for the day: Researchers find few pluses for organic foods

At least "vegetarian" still means something.
From the Associated Press:

Patient after patient asked: Is eating organic food, which costs more, really better for me?

Unsure, Stanford University doctors dug through reams of research to find out -- and concluded there's little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics.

Eating organic fruits and vegetables can lower exposure to pesticides, including for children -- but the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits, the researchers reported Monday. Nor did the organic foods prove more nutritious.

Organic foods did have some demonstrable value.

Her team did find a notable difference with antibiotic-resistant germs, a public health concern because they are harder to treat if they cause food poisoning.

Specialists long have said that organic or not, the chances of bacterial contamination of food are the same, and Monday's analysis agreed. But when bacteria did lurk in chicken or pork, germs in the nonorganic meats had a 33 percent higher risk of being resistant to multiple antibiotics, the researchers reported Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Read more: Food


Massive bailout of energy company prompts predictable response

This is a photograph of the currency of the United States. These bills are non-negotiable.

Because of adverse market conditions following Hurricane Isaac, a prominent renewable energy company appealed to the government for a short-term loan, to be repaid within three months, with interest.

As expected, Republicans hit the roof, railing for hours about the Obama administration's decision to grant the loan, invoking the name of Solyndra as often as they noted their opposition to the "socialism" inherent in such a government bailout. On the eve of their convention in Charlotte, Democrats were left having to explain the decision to grant yet another massive loan to a private sector company, even as the public is leery in the wake of TARP and the auto bailout.

Ha ha, just kidding.

The U.S. Department of Energy will lend 1 million barrels of oil to Marathon Petroleum Corp. after the company requested it because of impacts related to Hurricane Isaac.

The government will lend the barrels from a Strategic Petroleum Reserve site in Louisiana.

Marathon will have to return the same quantity of oil within three months, plus additional “premium barrels,” which the department described as “similar to interest.”

With oil priced at $97 a barrel this morning, that's a bailout of $97 million.


New project in Oregon could make wave power a reality

For more than a century, people have tried to figure out how to turn the endless, repetitive motion of the waves into a source of energy. At Wired, author Alexis Madrigal outlined some of the bizarre contraptions intended to serve that purpose, metal and wood constructions depicted in complex diagrams that evoke alchemy more than science. As Madrigal notes, more than a thousand patents for converting waves into electricity exist, which "generally didn’t work at all or only worked for a short period of time."

An Ocean Power Technologies buoy.

Enter Ocean Power Technologies. The New York Times reports:

[T]he first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the nation, designed by a New Jersey company, Ocean Power Technologies, is in its final weeks of testing before a planned launch in October. The federal permit for up to 10 generators came last month, enough, the company says, to power about 1,000 homes. When engineers are satisfied that everything is ready, a barge will carry the 260-ton pioneer to its anchoring spot about two and a half miles offshore near the city of Reedsport, on the central coast [of Oregon].


As you enjoy your Labor Day, here’s something to worry about

Please allow me to ruin your Labor Day weekend.

Image from The Australian. Click to embiggen.

Agence France-Presse reports:

A vast outcrop of the Arctic Siberian coast that had been frozen for tens of thousands of years is releasing huge carbon deposits as rising temperatures thaw parts of its coastline, a study warned yesterday.

The carbon, a potential source of Earth-warming CO2, has lain frozen along the 7000km northeast Siberian coastline since the last ice age. But atmospheric warming and coastal erosion are gnawing at the icy seal, releasing about 40 million tonnes of carbon a year -- 10 times more than previously thought, said a study in the journal Nature.

Ten times more than previously thought. We knew warming was a vicious cycle, just not this vicious.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Global food prices spike 10% in July, thanks largely to drought

bad cornThe drought that desiccated the Midwest severely reduced the quality and quantity of this year's corn harvest. This isn't news in and of itself. The international impact of the drought, however, is.

Yesterday, the World Bank announced that global food prices went up substantially in July.

Global food prices soared by 10 percent in July from a month ago, with maize and soybean reaching all-time peaks due to an unprecedented summer of droughts and high temperatures in both the United States and Eastern Europe, according to the World Bank Group’s latest Food Price Watch report.

From June to July, maize and wheat rose by 25 percent each, soybeans by 17 percent, and only rice went down, by 4 percent. Overall, the World Bank’s Food Price Index, which tracks the price of internationally traded food commodities, was 6 percent higher than in July of last year, and 1 percent over the previous peak of February 2011.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Utah OKs nation’s first tar-sands mine

A section of Utah’s Book Cliffs, near which the tar-sands mine will operate. (Photo by Shutterstock.)

Look, America, you're getting tar-sands oil whether you like it or not. Kiboshing the Keystone pipeline? Big whoop. Utah's going start mining tar sands of its own. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

An administrative law judge has affirmed Utah’s decision to OK a Book Cliffs tar sands mine without requiring a groundwater pollution permit.

The decision nearly concludes the state’s permitting for the nation’s first fuel-producing tar sands mine, leaving two state boards who were waiting on the judge’s recommendation to sign off. …

Judge Sandra Allen’s decision hinged on whether there was groundwater around PR Spring in the arid high country between Vernal and Moab. If so, the state might require a pollution permit for any chemicals that might leach into it and ultimately reach the Colorado River. The company, Alberta-based U.S. Oil Sands, argued that there was no saturated groundwater -- just intermittent precipitation and a deep regional aquifer that would be unaffected -- and therefore no need for a permit.