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This drought ain’t the Dust Bowl, but it ain’t good

We're not quite to this point. (Photo from the Library of Congress.)

The Dust Bowl was one of the worst weather-based disasters to ever strike the United States, prompting the largest migration in American history. While the ongoing drought is bad, it's not Dust-Bowl-bad.

Not yet, anyway.

A report coming out today from the National Climatic Data Center is expected to declare the current drought one of the 10 worst of the past century. Weather.com notes that the percentage of the lower 48 states currently in drought is at 54.6 percent -- the sixth-highest since 1895.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Shell celebrates new Alaska drilling by apparently losing control of a ship [updated]

According to KUCB, the community radio station in (the oddly named) Unalaska, Alaska:

Shell Oil has run into a number of problems with its Arctic drilling plans over the last few days. The Coast Guard refused to certify its oil spill containment barge, the EPA is reviewing the Noble Discoverer drill rig's air permits -- and now, there may be damage to the rig itself.

The Noble Discoverer appears to have run aground in Unalaska on Saturday afternoon.

Well, of course. If you're curious, here's what the Noble Discoverer looks like. (The words "noble" and "discoverer" are not meant to be taken literally.)

Despite rain and 35-knot winds, more than a dozen residents came to Airport Beach to watch the Shell's contract tugboat Lauren Foss straining to pull the rig back out to sea. ...

Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith says the company has activated a dive team to inspect the hull, which could help determine whether the ship actually touched bottom.

Shell is also evaluating the Noble Discoverer's mooring system to determine how the vessel moved toward shore, he says. But Smith did not say that the ship had run aground.

Read more: Oil

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The U.S. is the most environmentally sustainable country in the world, except all the others

A bit of optimism to end your week. Wait. Not optimism. The other thing.

National Geographic conducted its inaugural Greendex survey in January 2008. That first Greendex survey of 14 countries around the world ranked average consumers in those countries according to the environmental sustainability of their behavior. National Geographic replicated these studies in 2009, 2010 and now again in 2012 to track progress or the lack thereof. Consistently, consumers in the large developing economies of Brazil, India and China have scored highest, while Canadians and Americans, with their relatively massive environmental footprints as individuals, have scored lowest.

That's from the introduction to National Geographic’s Greendex 2012 [PDF], a look at consumer attitudes toward environmental issues. How'd America do in 2012? Like this:

Click to embiggen.

The top-scoring consumers of 2012 are in the developing economies of India, China and Brazil, in descending order. Those in emerging economies continue to round out the top tier of the Greendex ranking, while the lowest scores are all earned by consumers in industrialized countries. American consumers’ behavior still ranks as the least sustainable of all countries surveyed since the inception of the study, followed by Canadian, Japanese and French consumers.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Hazing gone amok: How the EPA is trying to clear up our national parks

The Environmental Protection Agency can't do anything about humidity. It hasn't been able to do much about heat, though it's trying. Then there's that other scourge of "hazy, hot, and humid" summer days. Haze, the EPA can do something about.

In June, the agency proposed new rules limiting soot pollution, one of which would create a new standard that cuts particulate matter pollution to improve visibility primarily in urban areas.

Which is all well and good while you're in the city. Haze in rural areas is a whole other issue.

A side-by-side comparison of the view at Shenandoah National Park on clear and hazy days. (Photo by the National Park Service.)

In 2004, USA Today ran an article lamenting the sorry state of visibility in our national parks. Eight years later, things haven't greatly improved. The New York Times looked at how the EPA's efforts to curb haze are faring.

Read more: Clean Air

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Apple caves, adds products back into environmental registry

Image by Earl Wilkerson.

Last week, Apple pulled its products from the EPEAT environmental registry.

Times change. From Mashable:

It’s probably the fastest policy reversal in Apple’s history. After a week of being pilloried for withdrawing from the EPEAT registry -- a set of environmental standards for tech products -- the Cupertino giant has changed course.

The announcement came in a letter from Bob Mansfield, Apple veteran and the soon-to-retire senior VP of engineering. “We’ve recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system,” he wrote. “I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT.”

The reversal comes shortly after San Francisco vowed to stop buying Apple products in response to Apple's decision.

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Heat waves lead to a rise at nudist resorts

"To the nudist resort!"

Attention: Official policy change at Grist.org. We no longer oppose global warming.

We are motivated by this report from CBS 13 in Sacramento discussing one aspect of the region's economy that is doing quite well:

“It’s a nudist resort, not a colony, silly. And business, thanks to the area’s heat wave, has never been better,” wrote Kittyy.

(The extra "Y" in her name is for "Why are you still wearing pants?" Ha ha, no, it's a typo.)

Here is a list of the nudity "jokes" contained in this article, emphasis added:

  • "Temperatures rising means business is booming at a place where folks are letting it all hang out."
  • "Kitty told CBS13 the naked truth."
  • "CBS13 ventured out to Wilton to Laguna Del Sol on, yes, Rawhide Lane to see how these sun-drenched skinny dippers are soaking in the summer sizzler."
  • "Suzanne Schell and her hubby, Wayne, have been urging people to come out of their shell for years…"
  • "Archery might be kind of dangerous." [Ed. -- Isn't it always? Do people in Sacramento wear chain mail around?]
  • "Their sense of humor was easy to find. Where would they hide it?" [Ed. -- A sense of humor is a mental construct, not something visible.]
  • "If you’re ready to have a ball [Ed. -- !!!] and come out to Laguna Del Sol, there is a day rate. Everyone’s welcome, and don’t worry about what to wear."

We only left out about three sentences. The reporting was by Tony Lopez, but there's no byline indicating who actually wrote this brilliance because Dane Cook is too modest.

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Global cleantech investment picks itself up off the floor

A wind farm in Minnesota. (Photo by Nic McPhee.)

Global investment in clean energy rose 24 percent in the second quarter of 2012, hitting $59.6 billion. The rise is largely due to China:

China was the main contributor to a 24 percent rise in new global investment in clean energy in the second quarter as large Chinese solar and wind projects raised millions of dollars of finance, said research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

New global clean energy investment totalled $59.6 billion in the second quarter of this year, up 24 percent from the previous quarter but still 18 percent below the near-record high of $72.5 billion in the second quarter of 2011, the company said in a report on Wednesday.

Investment increased in other countries as well.

Europe saw investment rise 11 percent in the second quarter to $20 billion, while the United States gained 18 percent to $10.2 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Some of the largest projects financed in the second quarter included the 270 megawatt (MW) Lincs wind farm off the UK coast at $1.6 billion; the 419 MW Flat Ridge Wind Farm in the United States at $800 million; the 250MW Guodian Shanxi Qinyuan Taiyue wind farm in China at $317 million and the Shanlu & Shengyu Bayannur Wuyuan solar PV plant in China at $316 million.

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Conservative think tank hosts discussion on cap-and-trade. Is it Friday the 13th?

There's money in that there exhaust.

Well, this is unexpected. From the (conservative) Washington Examiner:

On Wednesday, the conservative American Enterprise Institute [AEI] hosted a secret meeting with other Washington, D.C., think tank officials, including members from several prominent liberal ones, to discuss how to build political support for a carbon pollution tax.

The discussion even apparently raised the subject of trying to get the upcoming post-election “lame duck” Congress to address the issue.

Representatives from such liberal groups as Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Brookings Institute, the Climate Action Network and Clean, Air-Cool Planet joined centrist groups such as the Concord Coalition, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and conservatives scholars from AEI and R Street, a group that broke away from the Heartland Institute.

"Liberal groups" like the Union of Concerned Scientists. Got it.

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Today, Congress will hear about how chickens are impairing the oil industry

WARNING: NO LONGER CUTE
Stewart Black
Watch out for me.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In theory, the committee is meant to ensure the proper, ethical functioning of the body. In practice under Issa, it's a little more free-ranging. (We've written about Issa before.)

Today, Issa's committee is tackling an issue that strikes close to the heart of governmental malfeasance with a hearing entitled "America’s Energy Future Part I: A Review of Unnecessary and Burdensome Regulations." I mean, it's basically the next Watergate.

Here's Issa's argument for the hearing's necessity.

In the midst of the economic morass, the oil and gas industry has gained distinction for the many new jobs it has created and the affordable energy it has provided the rest of the nation. I am convinced that increased domestic energy production is one of the keys to economic recovery. In fact, energy is the lifeblood of a strong economy. ...

The cumulative effect of unnecessary federal regulations threatens to derail the American Energy Renaissance that the citizens of this state have helped to spark.

So in other words, the oil industry is booming, but regulation is killing it. Sure, got it.

Read more: Oil, Politics

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Why we must fight for Canada’s greatest triumph, the apple that won’t brown

A full apple? This child wants you to fail. (Photo by Sean Dreilinger.)

You're busy. You live an active lifestyle. You're constantly juggling multiple tasks, running between your high-powered workplace and a home-that-always-needs-to-be-cleaned. You're reading this, where? On a treadmill? At a stoplight? While piloting a fighter jet? You are the ultimate have-it-all type -- but having it all always comes at a price.

You don't have time to eat a whole apple.

Who does? No one, that's who. Whole apples can take minutes to eat in a world that only allots seconds. If you were to eat that apple, that whole apple, that means you can't be doing something else that's more important with that hand and that mouth. Want to write a thank-you note to your biggest client while putting a Band-Aid on your kid's skinned knee? Can't do that if you're eating an apple for 10 to 20 minutes. Need to finalize the sweetheart deal for your new house on the coast? Good luck with a mouth full of apple pulp.

That's why you, on-the-go consumer, will be furious to learn that Big Apple (the uber-powerful fruit lobby, not the city) is the one thing standing in the way of your enjoying a delicious apple while still maintaining your outrageously complex lifestyle.

Read more: Food