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High heat knocks out power to hundreds of millions in India

We've previously mentioned the link between hot days and increased power demand. Not like we're genius scientists for doing so; it's a pretty obvious connection. The hotter the day, the greater the demand for air conditioning and fans, the more strain on the electrical grid. Today, India faced the worst-case scenario.

The power grid across northern India failed Monday, halting hundreds of trains and leaving millions of people sweating in the heat in one of the worst blackouts in a decade, highlighting the country's inability to feed a growing hunger for energy. …

It was the first time since 2001 that the northern grid had collapsed. But India's demand for electricity has soared since then as its economy has grown sharply, and the outage was a reminder of the country's long road ahead in upgrading its infrastructure to meet its aspirations of being an economic superpower.

In addition, a weak monsoon has kept temperatures higher this year, further increasing electricity usage as people seek to cool off. Shivpal Singh Yadav, the power minister in the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, said that while demand during peak hours hits 11,000 megawatts, the state can only provide 9,000 megawatts.

Today's temperatures in India. (Image by Weather-Forecast.com.)

Temperatures in New Delhi hovered around 31 degrees C, or about 89 degrees F. With humidity, it felt like 100. The city's metro system shut down and hospitals reverted to generator backup.

Read more: Uncategorized

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(Koch-funded) scientist changes opinion, finds warming due to humans (including Kochs)

Average temperature using a 10-year moving average of surface temperatures over land. Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of ThinkProgress.)

That giddy squeal that echoed across America this weekend was from environmentalists who'd opened up The New York Times and read an opinion piece by Richard Muller. (Well, opened the website, anyway; it wasn't in the actual paper.) Muller, a professor at UC-Berkeley, had long argued against human-caused climate change. His piece in the Times? "The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic."

Call me a converted skeptic.

Okay, you are a converted skeptic.

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

Muller argues that the results from his research are even more alarming than existing projections.

Read more: Climate Change

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It’s 2012. Do you know where your 10 billion pounds of beef are?

This cow is missing. (Yes, we know that cows are not cattle.)

While you're out and about this weekend, keep your eyes open. It seems that the Department of Agriculture is missing some beef.

In its July 2012 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Update, the US Department of Agriculture announced some revisions to previous statistics, including a huge downward revision to 2011 beef production stats from 36,195 million pounds to just 26,195 million.

(Here's the actual report.) So, you know, just 10,000 million pounds less than they'd reported. 10 billion pounds. Three-quarters of the weight of the pyramids at Giza, in case you count your beef in pyramids.

Read more: Food

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As temperatures rise, cities are getting hotter, faster

A city dog enjoys ice cream.

Cities run hotter than the countryside. There are a number of reasons why: the predominance of concrete, exhaust from cars, the angry people yelling at each other. And the problem, like every other heat-related problem in America, is getting worse.

From Brad Plumer at the Washington Post:

On a hot summer afternoon, a large city can easily run 5°F to 18°F hotter than surrounding rural areas, enough to turn an unpleasant heat wave into a deadly calamity.

And as global warming pushes up temperatures around the country, this urban heat island effect is only getting stronger. A new study in the journal Landscape and Research Planning finds that many large U.S. cities are warming twice as fast as the rest of the country. Between 1961 and 2010, rural areas in the United States heated up at a rate of roughly 0.29°F per decade. Yet three-quarters of the biggest U.S. metro areas were heating up at an average rate of 0.56°F per decade, thanks in part to increased sprawl.

As part of their research, the team from Georgia Tech put together this map, showing how much the heat island effect had changed for various U.S. cities.

Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of the Urban Climate Lab.) 

Among the most affected, cities in the Southwest. Cities in the Northeast, particularly along the Great Lakes, saw some reductions. (It would be interesting to see this data correlated with economic activity.)

Read more: Cities, Climate Change

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Mountaintop-removal mining contaminated up to 22% of streams in southern West Va.

Here's an absolutely stunning look at the impact of mountaintop-removal mining on a section of southern West Virginia:

Decades of mountaintop-removal mining may have harmed aquatic life along more than 1,700 miles of streams in southern West Virginia, according to new research. Mining companies have converted 5% of the region to mountaintop mines. The resulting water pollution has caused so many sensitive species to vanish that 22% of streams may qualify as impaired under state criteria, the researchers report. ...

Using satellite images taken by NASA between 1976 and 2005, [lead author Emily] Bernhardt and her coauthors created maps of mountaintop mining in a 12,000-square-mile region of southern West Virginia. They found that companies had converted 5% of the land to mines during this period. ...

Bernhardt’s group found that salinity and mineral levels in the region’s streams increased with the total area of mountaintop mines. The researchers also found that as the number of mines increased, fewer sensitive insect species were detectable downstream.

Satellite view of the region. The light-colored area is actively being mined. (Photo by NASA.)
Read more: Coal

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Fracking takes a hit in Penn., while most states still do little to regulate

We often use the word "exploded" when referring to the growth of fracking. Not out of any sense of grim irony, but just because the industry is expanding rapidly as more and more natural gas is produced through hydrofracturing. (The technological breakthrough behind the boom is well-described in this New Yorker article, which you should certainly read.) Since the middle of 2006, the amount of natural gas produced each month has consistently trended higher. The gray line is monthly production; the black dotted line, the trend. Click to embiggen. A large part of why this is happening is that the fracking …

Read more: Natural Gas

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Romney suggests EPA worry about symptoms of pollution, not causes

The problem here is the white stuff in the sky, not the white things on the ground.

Last night, fresh off a day crackling with one diplomatic success after another, Mitt Romney attended a fundraiser and said this:

"The EPA has an important responsibility, and that is to keep clean and make more clean our air and our water. ... My view is that the EPA, if it keeps to its mission and does not use its power to foster or further an anti-carbon energy agenda, would be a more effective department," Romney told the crowd when asked about the agency. "I believe the EPA has to see itself as being responsible for our air and water and not take action which can prevent us from taking advantage of the extraordinary energy resources we have, such as coal, oil, natural gas.

Emphasis added.

Romney's absolutely correct. I mean, this is basically how doctors treat illnesses. You do absolutely nothing preventative nor even to treat the illness itself. All you do is clean up after symptoms. It's why all the best medical schools specialize in the proper use of vomit buckets and Band-Aid application.

Read more: Politics, Pollution

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Here’s another episode of ‘Shell Tries Drilling in the Arctic’

Previously on this little soap opera: Shell arrives in the Arctic, almost losing a boat. The company's friends back in Washington worry whether Shell will have enough time to drill before the ice closes in later this year. And now, back to our story.

I have to say, it's kind of amazing that Shell is profitable. Beyond, you know, the fact that it sells ridiculous amounts of an artificially cheap product that is deliberately integrated tightly into the fabric of nearly every global society. You'd think that a company that made about $2 million an hour last quarter would have this drilling thing on lock.

But, no. Shell is having to scale back its drilling plans in Alaska, even as one of the state's senators scrambles to buy it more time.

Shell had originally hoped to drill five exploratory wells this season. But what with chasing loose boats and sea ice, it'll probably have to settle for two.

Unusually thick shorefast ice is keeping Shell from sending drillships into the Arctic waters and shortening an already brief window. Under federal regulations, Shell has to stop drilling in hydrocarbon zones by Oct. 31 in the Beaufort Sea; regulators are requiring that work to end 38 days earlier in the Chukchi Sea.

In the past five years, ice has encroached over the planned drill sites as early as Nov. 1, but this summer, the slow melt of multi-year ice at the season’s start means the water is colder and is a signal it could return even earlier.

Shell had planned to launch its Arctic drilling program in July; now, it is anticipating an early August start date, said spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh.

(There's still ice in the Arctic? I thought Shell et al. had already taken care of that.)

Read more: Oil

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Extreme summer storms could tear us a new ozone hole

Storm clouds move in over New York City during yesterday's derecho.

Remember that big hole in the ozone over the South Pole? Beginning in the 1980s, we plugged it up. And we often look to that success as a guide for how to save the environment. Identify the problem, develop a solution, enact international policies that address it. By severely limiting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), we preserved the ozone layer, which is critical to blocking harmful ultraviolet radiation.

We didn't actually eliminate all CFCs from the atmosphere. There are still CFCs up there, combining with oxygen in the ozone layer and breaking it down. But the combination has generally been stable.

Until climate change came along. From The New York Times:

Strong summer thunderstorms that pump water high into the upper atmosphere pose a threat to the protective ozone layer over the United States, researchers said on Thursday, drawing one of the first links between climate change and ozone loss over populated areas.

Good thing there haven't been any strong summer thunderstorms lately!

Read more: Climate Change

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Today in coal: Americans hate it, India hates it, Siberia hates it

A coal-powered electrical plant.

Three updates on the coal industry. If you can't be bothered to read the whole thing, here's a summary. Coal: Ugh.

Americans see more future in renewables.

A poll from Rasmussen Reports indicates that Americans see investment in renewables as a better plan than investment in fossil fuels like coal.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 55% say investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind is a better long-term investment for the United States than investing in fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil. Thirty-six percent (36%) think fossil fuels are a better long-term investment.

What's particularly remarkable about this finding is that Rasmussen is often considered to be more friendly to conservative issues. In fact, Nate Silver, the Times' polling wunderkind, wrote that the firm's 2010 election polling was "biased and inaccurate," "overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average." He goes on: "The discrepancies between Rasmussen Reports polls and those issued by other companies were apparent from virtually the first day that Barack Obama took office."

If Rasmussen says that Americans prefer renewables, then you can take that to the bank.

Read more: Coal