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Jill Stein wants to #Occupy the White House

Here's one thing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have in common: They don't have to battle for attention with a squad of dancing jellyfish puppets. Jill Stein did, and won. The Green Party presidential candidate spent yesterday morning in Manhattan's Financial District with the environmental contingent of Occupy Wall Street, dodging cops, patiently waiting out street theater performances, and shouting hoarsely into the People's Mic.

"Wall Street has put our climate in crisis," Stein yelled, to an ample wiggling of spirit fingers. "It's up to us to lead the way on the economy and the climate."

Occupy Wall Street has long eschewed party politics, which makes the appearance of this long-shot presidential contender slightly discordant. But to see Stein, for whom environmental issues are a campaign centerpiece, marks an apex in what Occupy's environmental organizers call a yearlong struggle to bring climate change to the forefront of the movement.

Stein, 62, is a Harvard-educated physician who first entered politics 10 years ago as a Green-Rainbow Party candidate for Massachusetts governor, after years of public health activism. Despite her greatest electoral success being a seat on the Lexington, Mass., Town Meeting in 2005 and 2008, Stein will go head to head with Obama and Romney in at least 38 states this November, making her a contender for the votes of environmentally conscious Occupiers nationwide who are dissatisfied with both mainstream parties' mollifying of the fossil fuel industry.

Stein isn't naïve about her chances for the White House. But she's running anyway, because in her mind both parties are tarred by the same brush.

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Photos: See ya later, lovely glaciers

This summer could be dubbed The Great Melt. The belt of ice surrounding the Arctic has melted to its lowest level in history, a record seen by many scientists as evidence of long-term climate change. Adding to environmentalists’ fears, Royal Dutch Shell sunk its first drill bit into the Arctic seabed, taking the first steps in American offshore oil exploration in these frigid waters.

A new book by photographer James Balog, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, captures in vivid color just what’s at stake as climate change erodes ice in some of the world’s most extreme places. Balog shared six of his favorites with Climate Desk:

Aerial view, meltwater on Greenland ice sheet. Click to embiggen. (Photo by © James Balog.)

James Balog has spent the last 30 years donning crampons, paddling canoes, and hopping into dog sleds and helicopters to capture the world’s ice on film. He’s been everywhere from Bolivia and Nepal to Alaska and Montana to France and Switzerland, in an ongoing project that he says is “about getting in close to ice and experiencing all its colors and textures and shapes.”

This summer’s record melt in the Arctic, Balog told Climate Desk as he was en route to a glacier shoot in Iceland, is a reminder that “ice is the canary in the coal mine; you can touch and see and hear climate change.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Curtain rises on California’s planned carbon market

Every year at the Pacific Coast Producers (PCP) processing plant in Woodland, Calif., half a million tons of tomatoes are sliced, diced, canned, boiled, and shipped to grocery stores nationwide. The operation is driven by steam, lots of it, which comes from a suite of massive natural-gas-powered boilers. Together, these boilers emit over 25,000 metric tonnes (about 27,557 U.S. tons) of greenhouse gases annually, which means PCP will be forced to join California's cap-and-trade carbon market, set to kick off in November.

The plan, which officials hope will put the country's most populous state on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, isn't the first carbon trading scheme in the U.S.: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a collective of several northeastern states (including Massachusetts, which rejoined a few years after being forced out by then-Gov. Mitt Romney), has been auctioning carbon credits, called allowances, since 2008. But unlike RGGI, which applies only to power plants, California's plan extends to all sectors of the economy, which means businesses from paper mills, oil refineries, and universities to pharmaceutical manufacturers, steel mills, and food processors like PCP will have a stake in California's campaign against climate change.

Yesterday, some 150 of those businesses got their first taste, as the curtain lifted on a dress rehearsal of the auction where companies will bid for the allowances (each worth one metric ton of carbon) that determine how much they're allowed to emit, a dry run staged to let companies get comfortable with the system and work out any kinks before it launches for real in a few months. Over the next year, about 150 allowances will be bid on, together worth anywhere from $550 million to $1 billion depending on market forces. Some will be given away for free, to help businesses adjust to the added expense.

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Record drought sends cattle hoofin’ East [VIDEO]

Lifelong Wyoming rancher Neil Forgey is hoping the grass is greener in Winner, S.D. This year's drought has forced a terrible choice on ranchers in affected states: sell, or haul. Neil's usually verdant land in Douglas, Wyo. -- home for decades -- is "drier than it's ever been," he said. Every county in that state is a declared disaster area, eligible for federal money. Neil's property was also threatened by the Arapaho Fire, which destroyed nearly 99,000 acres, the worst in Wyoming this year. "It was selling them, or South Dakota," he said.

Neil found greener pastures seven hours and 330 miles east, in Winner, on an expansive prairie owned by a family friend. There, at risky expense, 120 head of cattle will graze until September in the hope next year will bring rain.

Not so lucky are ranchers just an hour south, in Bassett, Neb., where the local auction house can barely keep up with a brimming cattle yard.

As ranchers flee fire and drought, and scientists warn of more severe droughts driven by climate change, Neil's story is repeating all over the West.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The secrets drillers can hide about the fracking in your backyard

Photo by Shutterstock.

Are frackers in your state allowed to keep secrets?

A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that the majority of states where fracking occurs have no disclosure laws at all, and that those that do are woefully behind when it comes to revealing behind-the-scenes details of their operations. While the Obama administration has put some new rules in place, many decisions about what drillers are allowed to hide are left to the states; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar complained to Reuters that state-level regulation is "not good enough for me, because states are at very different levels -- some have zero; some have decent rules."

That's a problem, study author Amy Mall said, because unlike coal plants and other large-scale energy operations, fracked natural gas wells are often in close proximity to houses, schools, or other high-traffic areas.

At stake is a trove of information: exact ingredients of the chemical cocktail used to frack a particular site, when and where drillers plan to frack, how toxic wastewater is to be dealt with, and many more basic details, all of which could be useful to local politicians and residents concerned about health impacts, groundwater and air pollution, and seismic activity associated with fracking.

"The state laws on the books aren't anywhere near where they need to be for the public to have information to protect their communities," Mall said.

The maps below highlight just a few areas covered by the report. Click on states for info on their laws, and for more detail check out the full version here.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Smelling a leak: Is the natural gas industry buying academics?

Last week, the University of Texas provost announced he would reexamine a report by a UT professor that said fracking was safe for groundwater after the revelation that the professor pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Texas natural gas developer. It's the latest fusillade in the ongoing battle over the basic facts of fracking in America.

Texans aren't the only ones having their fracking conversations shaped by industry-funded research. Ohioans got their first taste last week of the latest public-relations campaign by the energy policy wing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's called "Shale Works for US," and it aims to spend millions on advertising and public events to sell Ohioans on the idea that fracking is a surefire way to yank the state out of recession.

The campaign is loaded with rosy employment statistics, which trace to an April report authored by professors at three major Ohio universities and funded by, you guessed it, the natural gas industry. The report paints a bright future for fracking in Ohio as a job creator.

One co-author of the study, Robert Chase, is poised at such a high-traffic crossroads of that state's natural gas universe that his case was recently taken up by the Ohio Ethics Commission, whose chair called him "more than a passing participant in the operations of the Ohio oil and gas industry," and questioned his potential conflicts of interest.

Read more: Natural Gas

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New York’s roofscape gets climate makeover [VIDEOS]

Most visitors to New York City crane their necks for a view of the city's famous skyline, but locals know better: To get the best views, you have to go up. Here's your chance to take a rare -- and vivid -- journey atop a few of the city's billion square feet of rooftops.

As the Big Apple faces ever-hotter summers, officials are looking for ways to cool off in some of the only unused space left in a crowded city: rooftops.

Fertile vegetated green roofs absorb the sun's rays, while reflective roofs bounce them back to space. Both are sprouting up in response to a 2008 city rule that requires new roofs to be climate-friendly. Meanwhile, the city is working with the Obama administration to overhaul its hulking construction bureaucracy, making it easier for solar panel installers to turn rooftops into the city's fastest-growing energy provider.

Climate Desk strapped on hardhats, jumped into elevators, and scaled ladders to see firsthand how the roofscape of New York is adapting to face a changing climate. Check out three different climate-friendly uses for roofs in the videos below.

Read more: Cities, Climate Change

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Brooklynites: Don’t frack our beer! [VIDEO]

Does worrying about fracking make you thirst for a drink? Before you raise that pint of ale to your lips, consider the source.

The brewmeister of Brooklyn Brewery says toxic fracking chemicals like methanol, benzene, and ethylene glycol (found in antifreeze) could contaminate his beer by leaking into New York's water supply. Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania, New York state has promised to ban high-volume fracking from the city's watershed. But environmentalists say the draft fracking regulations are weak and leave the largest unfiltered water supply in the U.S. -- not to mention the beer that is made from it -- vulnerable.

Read more: Natural Gas

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Can real-time pricing green the grid? [VIDEO]

Unless you've been living off the grid, you've probably heard about President Obama's "all of the above" plan for America's energy future, which embraces everything from oil drilling and natural gas fracking to wind, solar, and even pond scum. In the last couple years, the Obama administration has pumped billions into cutting-edge clean energy technology. But these all share a common problem: plugging into an electric grid that is mostly unchanged since the 1930s. Energy experts say meeting our carbon-footprint reduction goals will remain a pipe dream until we can revamp electricity distribution. The solution? The "smart grid," a nickname for a sweeping series of updates on everything from power stations to the meter in your home, which promises to save power and money by being sensitive to your energy use.

In the second installment of Climate Desk's Future Energy series, see how America is modernizing the largest machine on the planet.

Read more: Smart Grid