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Philip Bump's Posts

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USA: No. 1 in air conditioning use – but not for long

My actual air conditioner, last seen in my rant in its defense.

The Guardian has an interesting look at the growth in air conditioning usage both within the United States and internationally.

[W]orld sales in 2011 were up 13 percent over 2010, and that growth is expected to accelerate in coming decades.

By my very rough estimate, residential, commercial, and industrial air conditioning worldwide consumes at least one trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Vehicle air conditioners in the United States alone use 7 to 10 billion gallons of gasoline annually. And thanks largely to demand in warmer regions, it is possible that world consumption of energy for cooling could explode tenfold by 2050, giving climate change an unwelcome dose of extra momentum.

The United States has long consumed more energy each year for air conditioning than the rest of the world combined. In fact, we use more electricity for cooling than the entire continent of Africa, home to a billion people, consumes for all purposes. Between 1993 and 2005, with summers growing hotter and homes larger, energy consumed by residential air conditioning in the U.S. doubled, and it leaped another 20 percent by 2010. The climate impact of air conditioning our buildings and vehicles is now that of almost half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

If the estimates made by the author (Stan Cook, who also writes for Yale's Environment 360) are correct, car air conditioning accounts for between 5 and 7 percent of the nation's entire 2011 gasoline usage. (The Energy Information Administration has a somewhat lower estimation of the amount of electricity spent on cooling -- some 479 billion kilowatt-hours -- though the excludes manufacturing.)

Read more: Climate & Energy

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USDA slashes projections for corn production; prices spike


This morning, the Department of Agriculture lowered its projection for the nation's corn production by 12 percent.

The worst drought in a quarter century will slash corn yields across the U.S. Midwest by much more than most analysts had expected, the government said on Wednesday in a report that reignited a record rally in grain prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the crop will average just 146.0 bushels an acre, down 20 bushels from its June estimate.

As a result, USDA reduced its forecast for corn ending stocks by 37 percent from last month, partly offset by lower exports and less ethanol usage.

The surprisingly deep cut to the yield outlook sjolted [sic] traders, who had expected the USDA to take a more conservative approach to adjusting its outlook. The reduction in ending stocks was deeper than the 32 percent cut expected by analysts.

Corn on the Chicago Board of Trade soared after the release of the report, with the December contract initially surged by 23 cents and settling to a 15-cent, or 2 percent, gain at $7.76 a bushel gain at mid-morning. Prices have risen 34 percent in the past four weeks.

Read more: Food

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How the oil boom in Montana has turned railroads into a pipeline

There was an interesting sentence buried in a Washington Post article that we referenced in a post earlier this week. The Post article assessed political support in Montana for an extension of the Keystone pipeline, noting:

In Montana, the majority of voters back it because TransCanada has included an “on-ramp” that will transport Bakken oil to the Gulf Coast. The oil is currently moved on rail cars, trucks and smaller pipelines.

"Bakken oil" is oil from the massive Bakken formation.

Image courtesy of Oilshalegas.com.

The region stretches down from Canada over the borders of Montana and North Dakota. Estimates of its reserves have fluctuated over time. But most likely it contains over 100 mllion barrels of shale oil. The scale of the deposit has created a boom in both states over the past two years, with one estimate suggesting that there are over 6,000 wells now active.

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Texas judge rules that the atmosphere is protected under the public trust doctrine

Last May, a group of teenagers filed a series of lawsuits seeking to force the federal and state governments to take action on climate change. A key argument made in the lawsuits is that the atmosphere is a public trust -- or, as described in one brief, that it is a "fundamental natural resource necessarily entrusted to the care of our federal government … for its preservation and protection as a common property interest."

Yesterday, a state district court judge in Texas agreed.

Our Children's Trust, one of the signatories to the lawsuit, issued a press release [PDF].

Judge Gisela Triana issued a written decision finding that all natural resources are protected under the Public Trust Doctrine and the state constitution of Texas in a climate change lawsuit brought by youth (Angela Bonser-Lain, et al. v Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Case No. D-1-GN-11-002194). In deferring to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) decision to deny the Plaintiffs’ petition for rulemaking while other ongoing litigation over regulations ensues, the Judge concluded that the TCEQ’s determination that the Public Trust Doctrine is exclusively limited to the conservation of water, was legally invalid. ...

In her written decision, Judge Triana declares, “The Court will find that the Commission’s conclusion, that the public trust doctrine is exclusively limited to the conservation of water, is legally invalid. The doctrine includes all natural resources of the State.”

Read more: Climate Change

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Baseball’s All-Star Game: So green, you’ll forget the game doesn’t matter

Photo by Rich Anderson.

Baseball fans will gladly tell you why tonight's All-Star Game doesn't matter. Even when the Bud Selig-tie-game debacle led to a contest that determined which league played host during the World Series (basically always the American League) it didn't make a whole lot of difference to the outcome.

So here's something that matters anyway: The All-Star Game is very, very green.

Very green. So green, uneaten hot dogs will be composted.

The Royals, in conjunction with Missouri Organic Waste, will divert organic waste from food prep and from the suites to composting. Uneaten food will be collected and donated to Harvesters.

So green, the toilet paper is made from recycled paper.

Paper products in the restrooms contain post-recycled content such as the toilet paper (30% post-consumer) and paper towels (up to 73% post-consumer).

So green, the power used in the stadium will be offset.

120,000 KWh of energy used during the All-Star Game and related events, including the Home Run Derby, the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game and the All-Star Futures Game will be offset with Green-e Certified Renewable Energy Credits supplied by Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

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The worst onshore oil spill in American history didn’t have to happen

A turtle rescued from the Kalamazoo River is cleaned. Click to embiggen. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Just under two years ago, on July 25 at 6 p.m., a pipeline carrying tar-sands oil split open in southern Michigan. Over the course of the next 17 hours, diluted bitumen -- a particularly dense form of petroleum -- spilled into the Kalamazoo River and a tributary. Estimates of the amount that spilled started at 819,000 gallons and went up, eventually topping 1,000,000. The spill made nearby residents sick: headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties. Many birds fared far worse.

It was the worst onshore spill in American history. And the entire thing was completely preventable.

Today, the National Transportation Safety Board released the results of its investigation into the spill. The San Francisco Chronicle summarizes:

Enbridge Inc. knew in 2005 that its pipeline near Marshall, a city 95 miles west of Detroit, was cracked and corroded, but it didn't perform excavations that ultimately might have prevented the rupture, NTSB investigators told the five-member board at a meeting in Washington.

Investigators also faulted Enbridge control center personnel for twice pumping more oil into the line after the spill began and failing to discover what had happened for more than 17 hours, when an employee of a natural gas company notified them.

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Oil

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High-speed rail in America: It might possibly actually happen

This is a picture of a bullet train that Japan was using in the '70s. (Photo by Ben Salter.)

Continuing the recent trend of zombies in the news: High-speed rail in America isn't dead after all.

This morning, Amtrak released a proposal for a $151 billion high-speed line in the Northeast. From Talking Points Memo:

The proposed high-speed rail line would travel at top speeds of 220 miles-per-hour in some sections and be able to deliver passengers from Washington, D.C. to Boston in a little over 3 hours.

Travel times between other major Northeastern cities would be shortened even more markedly, with travel times between New York and Boston or New York and Washington, D.C. down to 94 minutes, and a little over a half-hour between New York and Philadelphia.

(Please note: Amtrak's existing high-speed rail, the Acela, is "high speed" in the sense that driving kind of fast is "high speed.")

Probably don't need to tell you to hold off on buying tickets. If Congress signs off, the soonest the line would be operational would be 2025. Also, the "if" in the preceding sentence is not only a big if, it is the Guinness Book of World Records' record-holder for biggest if in the history of ifs. If it were a building, it would be Jupiter, if Jupiter were a building.

Read more: Politics, Transportation

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Gambling advice: Don’t bet that the warm weather is just a fluke

Every month, NOAA's National Climactic Data Center releases a "State of the Climate" report, analyzing weather trends and climate anomalies in the U.S.

This morning, they released the report for June 2012. As part of it, they did some math.

During the June 2011-June 2012 period, each of the 13 consecutive months ranked among the warmest third of their historical distribution for the first time in the 1895-present record. The odds of this occurring randomly is 1 in 1,594,323.

Brad Plumer quotes Jeff Masters from Wunderground.com, who writes:

[W]e should only see one more 13-month period so warm between now and 124,652 AD -- assuming the climate is staying the same as it did during the past 118 years. These are ridiculously long odds, and it is highly unlikely that the extremity of the heat during the past 13 months could have occurred without a warming climate.

It is over 40,500 times more likely that you'll pick the right number in roulette than that warm weather isn't due to climate change. (Photo by stoneflower.)
Read more: Climate Change

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Is fracking polluting Pennsylvania groundwater or not?

ProPublica has been at the forefront of examining the possible negative impacts of fracking. Yesterday, they posted a story titled, "New Study: Fluids From Marcellus Shale Likely Seeping Into PA Drinking Water." Here's how it starts:

New research has concluded that salty, mineral-rich fluids deep beneath Pennsylvania's natural gas fields are likely seeping upward thousands of feet into drinking water supplies.

Though the fluids were natural and not the byproduct of drilling or hydraulic fracturing, the finding further stokes the red-hot controversy over fracking in the Marcellus Shale, suggesting that drilling waste and chemicals could migrate in ways previously thought to be impossible.

The study, conducted by scientists at Duke University and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona and released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested drinking water wells and aquifers across Northeastern Pennsylvania. Researchers found that, in some cases, the water had mixed with brine that closely matched brine thought to be from the Marcellus Shale or areas close to it.

At FuelFix, an energy news site associated with the Houston Chronicle, a story from the Associated Press is titled, "New research shows no Marcellus Shale pollution."

New research on Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania may only add fuel to the debate over whether the industry poses long-term threats to drinking water.

A paper published on Monday by Duke University researchers found that gas drilling in northeastern Pennsylvania did not contaminate nearby drinking water wells with salty water, which is a byproduct of the drilling.

“These results reinforce our earlier work showing no evidence of brine contamination from shale gas exploration,” said Robert Jackson, director of Duke’s Center on Global Change and a co-author of the paper, which appeared online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So which is it? Is fracking polluting groundwater or not?

Read more: Natural Gas

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Ethanol: Beloved by farmers, detested by Big Oil, endlessly debated by Congress

Fetal ethanol.

In 2007, Congress finalized a new policy mandating the integration of renewable source fuels into America's gasoline. In other words, biofuels -- gasoline substitutes/additives that could be used by existing vehicles but that were both renewable and resulted in less harmful emissions. Here's the EPA's overview of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), as it's known.

This morning (right now, in fact), the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power is holding a hearing [PDF] that is focused on "the challenges and opportunities facing alternative transportation fuels and vehicles." A core topic of discussion/argument/fury is whether or not the amount of ethanol that's allowed in our gasoline should be increased from 10 to 15 percent -- a change from an E10 standard to E15. (Last month, the EPA signed off on the use of E15 at American gas stations.)

Let's take a quick detour to talk about corn-derived ethanol use in gasoline. In summary: It is not ideal. This explainer from Friends of the Earth [PDF] provides a good overview of the arguments against the RFS. Granted, it's much easier to plant more corn than it is to recreate dinosaurs, kill them, wait a few million years, and then siphon the oil from their transformed carcasses. Much easier. But the use of corn as a biofuel stock has ancillary impacts on food prices that other biofuels -- many of which are still in development -- might not. (There's also a huge debate brewing over a mandate that the military use biofuels, but that's a topic for another day.)

Read more: Biofuel, Politics