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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

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Climate change likely to steer away Sandy-like superstorms, study says

Hurricane Sandy
Reuters / Rich-Joseph Facun
Waves crash on shore from high surf ahead of Hurricane Sandy at the pier at Virginia Beach.

A recurrence of Superstorm Sandy — which barreled head-on into the Atlantic coast, swamping New York City and large parts of New Jersey -- is less likely under climate change, new research suggests.

Scientists expect stronger hurricanes under climate change, and possibly even more frequent storms — especially those at category 3 and higher. But New York City and much of the seaboard will be at lower risk of taking a direct hit, the study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said.

Instead, climate change will make it even less likely future storms will follow Sandy's devastating track. The killer storm made a sharp left turn to slam straight into the Atlantic coast. The odds of a storm like Sandy were already extremely remote -- a once in 700 year event -- when it hit in October 2012. But it was that trajectory that made Sandy so devastating.

"What made Sandy so different was that it was steered into the coast rather than away from it," said Elizabeth Barnes, a climate scientist at Colorado State University and an author of the study.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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A Texan tragedy: Ample oil, no water

Beverly McGuire saw the warning signs before the town well went dry: sand in the toilet bowl, the sputter of air in the tap, a pump working overtime to no effect. But it still did not prepare her for the night in June when she turned on the tap and discovered the tiny town where she had made her home for 35 years was out of water.

"The day that we ran out of water I turned on my faucet and nothing was there and at that moment I knew the whole of Barnhart was down the tubes," she said, blinking back tears. "I went: 'dear God help us.' That was the first thought that came to mind."

Across the Southwest, residents of small communities like Barnhart are confronting the reality that something as basic as running water, as unthinking as turning on a tap, can no longer be taken for granted.