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Inside the huge solar farm that powers Apple’s iCloud

lisa-jackson.jpg
Climate Desk

The article was reported by the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg, and the video was produced by Climate Desk's James West.

The skies are threatening to pour on the Apple solar farm but as the woman in charge of the company's environmental initiatives points out: The panels are still putting out some power. Apple is still greening its act.

The company, which once drew fire from campaigners for working conditions in China and heavy reliance on fossil fuels, is now leading other technology companies in controlling its own power supply and expanding its use of renewable energy.

After converting all of its data centers to clean energy, the Guardian understands Apple is poised to use solar power to manufacture sapphire screens for the iPhone 6, at a factory in Arizona.

And in a departure for its reputation for secretiveness, Apple is going out of its way to get credit for its green efforts.

"We know that our customers expect us to do the right thing about these issues," Lisa Jackson, the vice-president of environmental initiatives told the Guardian.

This week, the company invited journalists on a rare tour of its data center in North Carolina to showcase its efforts.

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Climate change threatens America’s ‘king corn’

Drought-afflicted cornfield
Shutterstock

The days of "king corn" could be numbered as climate change brings higher temperatures and water shortages to America's farmland, a new report warned on Wednesday.

Nearly one third of U.S. farmland is devoted to raising corn and the country produces about 40 percent of the world's corn crop. But the $1.7 trillion industry -- the equivalent of Australia's GDP -- is under threat from water shortages, heat waves, and unpredictable rainfall caused by climate change.

"Corn is an essential input to our economy, and climate change, water scarcity, and pollution are a critical threat to that sector going forward," said Brooke Barton, director of the water program at the Ceres green investor network and author of the report.

The report amplifies warnings earlier this year from United Nations climate scientists and the National Climate Assessment that America's agricultural industry -- and specifically its corn crop -- was at risk from the high temperatures and water shortages anticipated under climate change.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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At-risk cities hold solutions to climate change

miami-wave
Ines Hegedus-Garcia

It is already taking shape as the 21st century urban nightmare: A big storm hits a city like Shanghai, Mumbai, Miami, or New York, knocking out power supply and waste treatment plants, washing out entire neighborhoods, and marooning the survivors in a toxic and foul-smelling swamp.

Now the world's leading scientists are suggesting that those same cities in harm's way could help drive solutions to climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), obtained by the Guardian, says smart choices in urban planning and investment in public transport could help significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developing countries.

The draft is due for release in Berlin on Sunday, the third and final installment of the IPCC's authoritative report on climate change.

"The next two decades present a window of opportunity for urban mitigation as most of the world's urban areas and their infrastructure have yet to be constructed," the draft said.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Can this coal plant save the climate?

Climate Desk coal
Climate Desk

This story was written by the Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg. It was originally published in the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk initiative. The video was produced by Climate Desk’Tim McDonnell.

The massive block of steel towers and pipes rises out of the morning fog like a sci-fi fantasy. But this coal-fired power plant could help save the climate, or at least that's the hope of the Obama administration.

The plant in Mississippi was repeatedly invoked by the Environmental Protection Agency to justify sweeping new climate change rules. When it comes online later this year, Kemper will be the first power plant in the U.S. capable of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA says the Kemper County Energy Facility offers a real-life example that it is possible to go on burning the dirtiest of fossil fuels and still make the cuts in carbon dioxide emissions needed to avoid a climate catastrophe.

But with staggering costs -- $5 billion and rising -- and pushback from industry and environmental groups who say carbon capture is an unproven technology, now even the company that built Kemper is having second thoughts about the future of "clean coal."

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Anti-fracking activist barred from 312.5 square miles of Pennsylvania

Vera Scroggins, an outspoken opponent of fracking, is legally barred from the new county hospital. Also off-limits, unless Scroggins wants to risk fines and arrest, are the Chinese restaurant where she takes her grandchildren, the supermarkets and drug stores where she shops, the animal shelter where she adopted her Yorkshire terrier, the bowling alley, the recycling center, the golf club, and the lake shore.

In total, 312.5 square miles are no-go areas for Scroggins under a sweeping court order granted by a local judge that bars her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest drillers in the Pennsylvania natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

"They might as well have put an ankle bracelet on me with a GPS on it and be able to track me wherever I go," Scroggins said. "I feel like I am some kind of a prisoner, that my rights have been curtailed, have been restricted."

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ALEC calls for penalties on “free rider” solar-panel owners

solar panels on roof
Shutterstock

An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilizing to penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels -- casting them as "free riders" -- in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy.

Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalizing individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama's main channel for climate action.

Details of ALEC's strategy to block clean energy development at every stage -- from the individual rooftop to the White House -- are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.

About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and fellow Wisconsinite and Republican budget guru Paul Ryan.

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Scaring polar bears in order to save them

polar bear churchill
Alex Berger

Churchill in northern Manitoba bills itself as the the polar bear capital of the world and its tourism-based economy depends on it. But as climate change forces the polar bears inland in search of food, attacks on humans are increasing. Can this small community continue to co-exist with the world's largest land predator? Suzanne Goldenberg reports from Churchill where its bear alert program uses guns, helicopters, and a polar bear jail to manage the the creatures.


This story first appeared on The Guardian as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions

smoke stacks
scalesoffmedia

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

The companies range from investor-owned firms -- household names such as Chevron, Exxon, and BP -- to state-owned and government-run firms.

The analysis, which was welcomed by the former Vice President Al Gore as a "crucial step forward," found that the vast majority of the firms were in the business of producing oil, gas, or coal. The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Climatic Change.

"There are thousands of oil, gas, and coal producers in the world," said climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado. "But the decisionmakers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two."

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Canada bans researchers from discussing snowflakes, findings. Scientists protest

If you attack us, Canada, we will protest with logical and occasional droll signage.
Paul McKinnon/Shutterstock
If you attack us, Canada, we will protest with logical and occasionally droll signage. Click to embiggen.

The Canadian government in recent years has banned government scientists from talking about a growing list of research topics including snowflakes, the ozone layer, salmon, and previously published work about a 13,000-year-old flood.

Now it seems the scientists are talking back.

Researchers in 16 Canadian cities have called protests on Monday against science policies introduced under the government of Stephen Harper, which include rules barring government researchers from talking about their own work with journalists and, in some cases, even fellow researchers.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Climate change exacerbated half of recent extreme weather events, study says

Hurricane Sandy.
NASA GOES Project
Hurricane Sandy.

Half of last year's extreme weather -- including the triple-digit temperatures of America's July heatwave -- were due in part to climate change, new research said on Thursday.

The study [PDF], edited by scientists from NOAA and the U.K. Met Office, detected the fingerprints of climate change on about half of the 12 most extreme weather events of 2012.

The researchers said climate change helped raise the temperatures during the run of 100-degree-F days in last year's American heatwave; drove the record loss of Arctic sea ice; and fueled the devastating storm surge of Hurricane Sandy. "The analyses reveals compelling evidence that human-caused climate change was a factor contributing to the extreme events," Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center, told reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

But the researchers said they found no evidence of climate change on other extreme weather events -- especially those involving rainfall, or its absence.

Read more: Climate & Energy