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Susie Cagle's Posts

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Abu Dhabi mega solar plant will free up oil to export

Using a combination of 258,048 parabolic mirrors and the one powerful Arabian desert sun, Shams 1, the new 100-megawatt concentrated solar power plant just southwest of Abu Dhabi, is now cranking out power.

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Masdar

More Shams 1 by the numbers: It's the biggest plant of its kind in the world, it cost an estimated $750 million to build, it should power 20,000 homes, and it's expected to save 175,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

The project is a joint venture of state-owned renewable energy company Masdar, French energy company Total, and Spanish company Abengoa Solar.

“From precious hydrocarbon exports to sophisticated renewable energy systems, we are balancing the energy mix and diversifying our economy -- moving toward a more sustainable future,” Sultan and Masdar CEO Ahmed Al Jaber said in a statement.

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Los Angeles to ditch coal by 2025

Coal currently powers almost 40 percent of sprawling and thirsty Los Angeles, Calif. But the "era of coal" is sunsetting.

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By 2025, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will phase out all coal-fired power, putting it slightly ahead of the 2027 deadline imposed by the state. The LADWP is the country's biggest municipal utility.

"By divesting from coal and investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, we reduce our carbon footprint and set a precedent for the national power market," L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) said in a press release.

The mayor's office said the switch will reduce Los Angeles' greenhouse gas emissions to 60 percent of 1990 levels. The fashion's back, but the epic smog might be gone forever. Dumping coal: Even hotter than flannel.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

On Tuesday, commissioners at the Department of Water and Power moved forward with plans to dump the utility's interest in a coal-burning plant in Arizona and convert another one in Utah to natural gas. ...

Villaraigosa declared victory Tuesday, calling the coal divestment plan "game-changing" even though it won't meet the timeline he set. "I believe the only way to get the goal is to set aggressive timetables," he said. "Climbing mountains that have never been climbed before [isn't] easy." ...

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Farmland prices soar — along with farm debt

While small-scale producers of fruits and vegetables are scraping by, it's a whole 'nother story for corn and soy farmers. (It's always a whole 'nother story for corn and soy farmers, really.) Well-oiled subsidies, overseas demand, ethanol like whoa, plus a drop in production thanks to the drought are all pushing crop prices up -- and, in turn, prices for the land those crops are grown on.

farmer
Shutterstock

The New York Times reports on the gleeful farmers, speculating investors, and impending economic doom.

Across the American heartland, farmland prices are soaring. In places like Waco, Neb., and Chickasaw County, Iowa, where the boom-and-bust cycle of farming reaches deep into the psyche, some families are selling the land that they have worked for generations, to cash in while they can. ...

Sensing opportunity, investment firms are buying, too. David Taylor, of Oskaloosa, Kan., said he was saddened to sell his family’s farm but that the prices were too good to resist. ...

“I bawled like a baby,” Mr. Taylor, 59, said. His crop-producing fields sold for $10,100 an acre.

In Iowa, despite the drought last year, farmland prices have nearly doubled since 2009, to an average $8,296 an acre, far surpassing the last boom’s peak in 1979. In Nebraska, the price of irrigated land has also doubled since 2009.

That's given farmers who've chosen to stay a whole lot of value to borrow against, and borrow they are. Farmers' debt load has risen almost a third since 2007.

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Thanks for the oil, Iraq, here’s some cancer

Turns out depleted uranium (DU) munitions are a great thing to use when you're going to war, so long as you plan on terrorizing people for generations to come. Military-related pollution is suspected of causing a huge spike in birth defects and all kinds of cancer in Iraq since the start of the Gulf War more than 20 years ago.

The last 10 years of the Iraq War, especially, cost a lot of money that we could've done way better things with and also killed 190,000 people directly, but that doesn't cover the full extent of the damage.

An American soldier stands near a 2006 oil field fire near Kirkuk
expertinfantry
An American soldier in front of an oil-field fire near Kirkuk in 2006.

"Official Iraqi government statistics show that, prior to the outbreak of the First Gulf War in 1991, the rate of cancer cases in Iraq was 40 out of 100,000 people," Al Jazeera reports. "By 1995, it had increased to 800 out of 100,000 people, and, by 2005, it had doubled to at least 1,600 out of 100,000 people. Current estimates show the increasing trend continuing." That's potentially a more than 4,000 percent increase in the cancer rate, making it more than 500 percent higher than the cancer rate in the U.S.

More from Al Jazeera:

As shocking as these statistics are, due to a lack of adequate documentation, research, and reporting of cases, the actual rate of cancer and other diseases is likely to be much higher than even these figures suggest.

"Cancer statistics are hard to come by, since only 50 per cent of the healthcare in Iraq is public," Dr Salah Haddad of the Iraqi Society for Health Administration and Promotion told Al Jazeera. "The other half of our healthcare is provided by the private sector, and that sector is deficient in their reporting of statistics. Hence, all of our statistics in Iraq must be multiplied by two. Any official numbers are likely only half of the real number."

Dr Haddad believes there is a direct correlation between increasing cancer rates and the amount of bombings carried out by US forces in particular areas.

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Farmers markets are growing, but farmers’ incomes are not

woman selling at farmers market
She's not getting rich.

It's National Agriculture Day! What an appropriate day to celebrate the awesome work of our nation's farmers! The awesome work they are so crappily compensated for, that is.

They may seem to be raking in the cash at all those new local farmers markets, but America's food-growers -- those producing fruits and veg, not soy and corn -- aren't having an easy go of it. NPR's All Things Considered reports:

The market for locally grown food has seen dramatic growth over the last decade. Despite this boost in sales and popularity, evidence suggests that the economics behind the movement still don't favor the farmer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has new programs to try to prop up small-scale operations, but many local farms only survive because they scrape by on below-market wages, or by doing without things like insurance.

Read more: Food

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America’s infrastructure grade improves to a still very sad D+

America is full of potholes, slumping levees, and fraying electrical grids. So it may surprise you to learn that the country's physical infrastructure is actually apparently improving.

For the first time in 15 years, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country's infrastructure a higher grade than it did last time. Congrats, America, you've improved from a D to a D+! Soo you'll still have to repeat the class.

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deborahfitchett

The New York Times reports:

Some connected trends have led to the shift, according to the engineering organization. It cited a rise in the private financing of public projects and renewed attention from state and local government to kick-start their own projects, rather than wait for Washington to send money. The jump in private investment was instrumental, for example, in the improved outlook for the nation’s rails, according to the report. That evaluation jumped to a C+ from a C-. The group also cited short-term increases in financing — a reference to President Obama’s economic stimulus package, which focused in part on “shovel-ready” projects like road and bridge repair.

“When investments are made and projects move forward, the grades rise,” the report stated.

Gregory E. DiLoreto, the group’s president, said, “A D+ is simply unacceptable for anyone serious about strengthening our nation’s economy,” but he added that the improvement “shows that this problem can be solved.”

In addition to the overall grade, ASCE handed out individual marks for specific kinds of infrastructure: near-failing D- grades for levees and inland waterways, and D grades for drinking water, hazardous waste, roads, transit, and wastewater, among others.

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Green tech incubator Greenstart ups its game

We'd all like to accelerate cool green tech, but maybe the initial acceleration is less important than the distance traveled.

At least that's what Greenstart, which Grist profiled back in October, seems to be thinking as it retools its business plan: No longer an accelerator, Greenstart will essentially become a venture capital endeavor, with a focus on helping companies through multiple stages of their development instead of just shoving them off a cliff with bags of money.

"This change was 100 percent motivated by listening to our startups," writes founder and managing partner Mitch Lowe in a post today very effectively titled "We Killed Our Accelerator."

Greenstart's Mitch Lowe
Greenstart's Mitch Lowe.

Fast Co.Exist reports:

This week, Greenstart announced that it’s shutting down its three-month accelerator program -- and morphing into a combination early-stage venture capital firm and design studio. What happened?

"It was simply because entrepreneurs were saying loud and clear that 90 days is nice but we want a partner for the life of our company," says Mitch Lowe, managing partner at Greenstart. "You just get to the good stuff at 90 days. You’re starting to add real value."

Greenstart will now be writing even fatter checks to its portfolio companies, funneling $250,000 to $500,000 into about a dozen startups each year. And those companies won't just be incubated -- Greenstart is in it for the long haul.

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A cool new way climate change is killing bivalves

We already know that carbon-dioxide-filled, acidic ocean water is no-good, very-bad news for mussels and other underwater shelled creatures, causing their shells to dissolve. But, as these things so often go, it turns out that climate change is even worse for bivalves than we thought: It's unleashing an awkward kind of anti-puberty on them. They're growing smaller and weaker, and now we find out that they're basically losing their hair.

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sapphireflutterby

New research published in the journal Nature shows that mussels' proteinaceuous byssal threads -- the little stringy bits that allow them to stick their bodies on stuff -- are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification. The researchers found mussels' little stringy bits were 40 percent weaker when exposed to elevated CO2 levels, even when their shell strength and tissue growth weren't affected.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Colorado wildfires get an early start this dry year

Colorado on fire in 2012
USAF
Colorado on fire in 2012.

An early start to wildfire season took northern Colorado residents by surprise late last week. Two fires broke out on Friday, fanned by unusually high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds, which forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. And the state has been suffering from epic, epic drought, so that’s really helping with the burning.

Reuters reports:

The early-season wildfires could be a bad omen for drought-stricken Colorado, which had one of its worst ever wildfire seasons in 2012.

All of Colorado is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Snowpack levels in the Colorado mountains are below the annual average. The state's high-population urban corridor and farmers on the eastern plains rely on melting mountain snow for drinking water and irrigation.

As local fire captain Patrick Love told the Los Angeles Times, "the drought that we have been in, in this portion of the state, has somewhat played a role in the dryness of all the fuels.”

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Fastest-growing metro areas in U.S. are sprawling and water-challenged

Yep, New York grew too, but not nearly as much as Texas.
Shutterstock
New York grew too, but not as much as big metro areas in Texas.

It's time again for another fun-filled Census report on how much bigger U.S. cities are getting! Happy Monday, Southern and Western states: Y'all dominated the top 30 winning metropolitan areas, crushing the Midwest and Eastern seaboard.

"While most metro areas didn’t experience significant swings in population over the past year, several in the Sun Belt and Mountain West saw noticeable gains," the Governing blog reports.

Here's the thing about these Census city growth reports, though: While we at Grist like to celebrate cities, the Census doesn't calculate urban growth. The agency looks at total metropolitan-area growth, which includes suburbs and sometimes even exurbs. And it turns out that many of the fastest-growing metros are among the sprawlingest and least sustainable.

The top three metro winners for population growth from July 2011 to July 2012, according to the Census, were car-dependent areas with water problems: Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas; Houston-the Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas; and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif. Shouldn't-even-exist Phoenix, Ariz., is No. 7 for big growth; Las Vegas, Nev., is No. 20. City growth is great, but not when it's really sprawl, which is what happens most of the time when metro areas expand.

Read more: Cities