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Suburban Warfare

Out-of-touch dads still want gas-guzzling SUVs, apparently

Father's Day is just around the corner!
Scott Robbin

Watching the cultural backlash against all the mongo SUVs that ran us off roads, CO2'd our cities, and ruined Hype Williams videos for something like two decades remains one of the unexpected pleasures of the recession. Soccer moms now want Priuses instead of Escalades; carmakers embraced fuel efficiency as a selling point; the Tesla S seems poised to own poster space on the bedrooms of car-obsessed teenagers. But like brachiosaurs in Jurassic Park, Suburbans aren't dead yet. Today, the New York Times reports that SUV sales have very nearly singlehandedly kept GM afloat with almost $1 billion in profits this year, and the company commands 70 percent of …

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On climate change, Republicans are even more backward than oil companies

old white guy
Shutterstock

Ask your average liberal or environmentalist to name the primary impediment to action on climate change, and the response will probably be: “Easy. It’s the fossil fuel industry.”

It's not that easy, however. The fossil fuel companies are actually more accepting of climate reality than virtually every Republican in Congress.

That’s the conclusion I came to after watching a presentation by Cho-Oon Khong, chief political analyst at the Shell Oil company at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month. Khong called a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius “the flu,” leading to heat waves, sea-level rise, and 10 to 20 percent less arable land. “But the worst effects are beyond that limit, when you start to see feedback loops,” he warned.

Accepting the 2 degree Celsius target is the same thing as accepting the recommendations of the global scientific community. Khong laid out possible world energy portfolios for keeping warming to 2 degrees. None would thrill environmentalists, as they rely to varying degrees on increases in nuclear energy, natural gas, and the deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). But he nonetheless acknowledged that we needed to change our ways.

“We have to talk about using any fossil fuel more efficiently, and CCS,” he said. Afterwards, he told Grist, “I think it would be foolish to dispute the science [of climate change].”

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hot seat

Sit down, relax, and charge your phone at this cool new solar-powered smartbench

solar bench
Soofa

Welcome, friends, to tomorrow. Thanks to the Soofa electricity-generating park bench, the tyranny of the non-solar seating is at an end! That old dude sitting across the way isn’t just feeding pigeons; he’s recharging his I-Pacemaker! Put a propeller on his fedora and he can also power his jazzy. Actually, metric ton of snark aside, it’s a pretty good idea. With solar panels getting cheaper and easier to install, they’re popping up everywhere, and with our insatiable need for electricity to power every aspect of our once unpowered lives, strapping panels to the thing we were going to sit on …

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Halliburton fracking spill mystery: What chemicals polluted an Ohio waterway?

Dead fish near the site of the spill.
Ohio Environmental Council

On the morning of June 28, a fire broke out at a Halliburton fracking site in Monroe County, Ohio. As flames engulfed the area, trucks began exploding and thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals spilled into a tributary of the Ohio River, which supplies drinking water for millions of residents. More than 70,000 fish died. Nevertheless, it took five days for the Environmental Protection Agency and its Ohio counterpart to get a full list of the chemicals polluting the waterway. "We knew there was something toxic in the water," says an environmental official who was on the scene. "But we had no way of assessing whether it was a threat to human health or how best to protect the public."

This episode highlights a glaring gap in fracking safety standards. In Ohio, as in most other states, fracking companies are allowed to withhold some information about the chemical stew they pump into the ground to break up rocks and release trapped natural gas. The oil and gas industry and its allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-business outfit that has played a major role in shaping fracking regulation, argue that the formulas are trade secrets that merit protection. But environmental groups say the lack of transparency makes it difficult to track fracking-related drinking water contamination and can hobble the government response to emergencies, such as the Halliburton spill in Ohio.

According to a preliminary EPA inquiry, more than 25,000 gallons of chemicals, diesel fuel, and other compounds were released during the accident, which began with a ruptured hydraulic line spraying flammable liquid on hot equipment. The flames later engulfed 20 trucks, triggering some 30 explosions that rained shrapnel over the site and hampered firefighting efforts.

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Scientists could finally find extraterrestrial life – by spotting its pollution

space_pollution_tentacle
Shutterstock / Nikki Burch

My flying saucer? Yeah, it’s a hemi. Or at least scientists involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (a.k.a. SETI) hope so. Thanks to a wizbang new telescope, researchers will soon be able to detect life on other planets by observing the contents of their far-away atmospheres. In particular, they'll be looking for chlorofluorocarbons, because any old single-celled life form can spew a bit of oxygen and methane -- but pollution? That takes intelligence. Here’s more from today’s Harvard-Smithsonian press release on the search for extra-terrestrial coal-rollers: New research by theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) shows that …

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The NFL’s newest stadium is also one of the greenest

NRG Solar Terrace (1)
LevisStadium.com

Traditionally, sports fans have not been the most eco-minded lot. One way pro leagues and team owners can help fans jump on the green bandwagon: LEED by example. That's the promise of the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium, which on Monday received LEED Gold certification. Levi's Stadium, set to open next month, is the second NFL arena to earn Gold cred (the Baltimore Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium is the other). Here are more details on the Niners' new digs, from The Sacramento Bee: The 49ers’ stadium achieved the certification through a number of means, including water use. About 85 percent of the water used in the stadium …

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Knockout

How a town in Maine is blocking an Exxon tar-sands pipeline

tar sands protestors in Maine
350.org

Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction.

“It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.

The measure is intended to stop ExxonMobil and partner companies from bringing Albertan tar-sands oil east through an aging pipeline network to the city’s waterfront. Currently, the pipeline transports conventional oil west from Portland to Canada; the companies want to reverse its flow.

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The Bot Digest

Will drones save the rhinos? Some conservationists say it’s launch time

drone_alaska
Shutterstock

Even as the teensy unarmed planes continue to invade American skies, words like "drones" and "surveillance" tend not to elicit warm and fuzzy feelings. But are there certain cases where being kept under bot watch will be welcomed?

Because drones are both nimble and thrifty, idealists are launching drones on feel-good missions across the globe. Yesterday, I wrote about the potential for drones to keep us in the know of what goes on with our food. Here are some other projects that aim to use camera-armed drones for the good of the planet -- and why skepticism might keep these projects from taking off.

Drones that spot illegal fishing

ocean
Shutterstock

Ocean conservationists may be psyched about Obama's plan for a supersized marine protected area. But, given that 20 percent of seafood is caught illegally, marine sanctuaries may matter a lot less when the rules aren't enforced. That's why the government of Belize is testing the waters with drone surveillance by using them to monitor their Glover's Reef Marine Reserve.

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Hatin' it

Good news: Mother jailed for sending daughter to playground is freed. Bad news: McDonald’s fires her

McDonalds_streetart
Felix J. Fuchs

If there weren’t enough reasons to protest McDonald’s, here’s another: Remember Debra Harrell, the mother who went to jail for sending her daughter to the playground? Well, McDonald’s, her employer at the time, fired her.

Bryce Covert reports for Think Progress:

While Robert Phillips, the attorney representing her pro bono at McGowan, Hood & Felder, said that she was released from jail the day after she was arrested on bond, he confirmed that she had been let go from her job. He didn’t have any information as to why. A spokesperson for McDonald’s declined to comment, saying it is inappropriate to discuss a human resources issue. She also said the company is cooperating with local police in their investigation of the situation.

It is believed that Harrell let her daughter go to the playground alone because she couldn't afford childcare. But daycare will be even farther out of reach without a job.

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For $5 a month, you can put food on a stray climate writer’s plate

adoptjourno_feature
Hallie Bateman

I’ve written recently about the importance of small news websites to cities, especially during and after natural disasters. These sites, which have proliferated like crazy in the past five years, are filling in some of the holes left by dwindling daily newspapers. The trick, of course, is keeping them afloat.

Well, here’s another approach to funding strong journalism — not publications, per se, but individual writers. It’s called Beacon, and it’s the Adopt-A-Manatee program of the increasingly colorful online news ecosystem.

I first learned about Beacon via an email from a writer and some-time Grist contributor, Josie Garthwaite, who has joined forces with five other journalists to create Climate Confidential, a “micro publication” that publishes weekly stories about the environment and tech. To get the project off the ground, the four were soliciting subscriptions and sponsorships via Beacon — a combination publishing and fundraising platform that's billed as a sort of "Netflix for news."

Since its launch in February, Climate Confidential has raised $45,775, according to Beacon. And I'm getting emails almost weekly from other journalists (and groups of journalists) who are launching their own projects on Beacon and asking for help.