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Thanks to the fracking boom, we’re wasting more money than ever on fossil fuel subsidies

burningmoney
Mike Poresky

You probably know that the U.S. government subsidizes fossil fuel production. But here’s something you probably don’t know: Those subsidies have recently increased dramatically. According to a report released last week by Oil Change International, “Federal fossil fuel production and exploration subsidies in the United States have risen by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009, from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion.” We are, as the report observes, “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.”

At first glance, this seems strange. Why would there be such a big increase under a Democratic president who has committed his administration to combatting climate change, and who has even repeatedly called for eliminating exactly these kinds of dirty energy subsidies?

The short answer: fracking. The fracking boom has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production in recent years: Oil production is up by 35 percent since 2009, and natural gas production is up by 18 percent. With more revenues, expenditures, and profits in the oil and gas industries, the value of the various tax deductions for the oil industry has soared. So, for example, the deduction for “intangible drilling costs” cost taxpayers $1.6 billion in 2009, and $3.5 billion in 2013.

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Hackers hack monster burritos down to sensible size

BurritoGodzilla2
Tyler Parker | Justin Brown

“Burrito creep” is the sort of jargon you’re unlikely to hear unless you descend deep into a highly specialized world. In this case, that world is the food company Chipotle, and "burrito creep" is the term of art employees have come up with to describe a seemingly unstoppable phenomenon: No matter what they try, the burritos keep getting bigger. And the bigger they get, the larger the proportion that ends up in the trash.

Thanks to some creative thinking at the Food+Tech Connect Hack//Dining event in New York, there may be a solution to burrito creep -- one that gives eaters an incentive to control portions and cut back on the most carbon-intensive ingredients (like meat).

The point of these hackathons is to bring clever people together and set them loose on bite-sized food and sustainability problems. “The problems in the food industry are complex, and they aren’t going to be solved in a weekend,” said Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect. “The point is to get new ideas into circulation, new people working on this, and to do rapid prototyping -- to actually make a real product in a weekend.”

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Inside Yingli, the giant Chinese solar company sponsoring the World Cup

solar.jpg
Climate Desk

It takes about two hours by car from the Chinese capital Beijing to get to the smog-blanketed city of Baoding. I don't mean to be rude, but it's nothing much to speak of, typical of the Northeast's expanse of industrial wastelands, threaded together by super-highways.

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Is the carbon bubble about to bust? One unlikely pundit thinks so

bubble
Jeff Kubina

As Grist readers, I'm sure you've heard of the "carbon bubble" -- the idea that the oil, gas, and coal industries are overvalued in the market because that value is calculated using energy reserves that they won't be able to sell in any future that isn't a climate apocalypse.

I've read a lot of articles about the carbon bubble, but recently I ran across a particularly interesting one, written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Daily Telegraph -- which, as Britain's Tory paper, isn't exactly a hotbed of anti-corporate sentiment.

Evans-Pritchard sees a lot of crazy things going on in the markets right now -- China's construction boom, in particular -- but he says that the most disconcerting is the amount of effort that oil and gas companies are spending looking for new resources in areas with such low profit margins. The gradual end of the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing policy in the U.S., and similar monetary tightening elsewhere, may also cause oil and gas prices to fall, turning the infrastructure that has been invested in finding oil and gas and getting it to market into an expensive liability.

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A gassy, icy concoction

New shipping channel will carry natural gas through the Arctic

sea ice
Shutterstock

Most people think the thinning of the sea ice at the top of the world is a bad thing. But not shipping and fossil fuel interests.

Shipping companies this week announced that they would use icebreakers to carve a new Arctic shipping route to help them deliver natural gas from a processing plant in western Siberia to customers in Japan and China. The Wall Street Journal reports:

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Oh, heck yes: Check out these farm tools for women

female-farmer.jpg
Shutterstock

When it comes to products designed for women, the field is full of bubblegum-colored toolkits and dainty pens. "Shrink it and pink it" tends to be the default philosophy of the men wearing ties (presumably uttered as they do Mel Gibson impressions around the boardroom table).

So what happens when the product designers have no Y chromosomes and don gender-neutral polar fleeces instead of suits?

You get Green Heron Tools and a batch of farming and gardening tools that are actually useful for women. Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger founded the business after farming for 20 years and noticing the tools didn't quite work for their bodies. Deborah Huso interviewed the pair over at Modern Farmer:

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keeping it cool

Another climate crackdown from Obama’s EPA

AC
Shutterstock

The Montreal Protocol, arguably the world's most successful environmental treaty, rapidly reduced CFC use around the globe -- and, in doing so, put us on the path to save the ozone layer from threatened annihilation. But the treaty had an unintended consequence. Many manufacturers switched from CFCs to HFCs, which we now know to be especially potent greenhouse gases.

So now we have to put out that fire. And on Thursday, the EPA took a major step toward doing just that, issuing new draft rules that would limit the use of the chemicals.

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Join us for a bumpy ride through Uber’s myriad challenges

Lately, app-based ridesharing company Uber has had a maze of issues to work through. Legal challenges from the taxi industry, disgruntled drivers looking to unionize, and protests in Europe and the U.S. are taking the company, recently valued at $18.2 billion, for a rough ride.

Will Uber make it through the maze of problems it faces from taxi companies and its own drivers? The company has several fine lines to walk drive.

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frond memories

Forget potato salad — fund this science project and help cure the climate

azolla fern crop
David Midgley

Azolla, otherwise known as duckweed, is a tiny aquatic fern with a secret superpower: It can turn nitrogen from the air into plant food.

Actually, azolla can't do this on its own. It relies on symbiotic bacteria tenants who do the real work of 'fixing' the atmospheric nitrogen into a more plant-accessible form. As a result of this tasty talent, azolla can also double its biomass every few days, sequestering large amounts of carbon all the while.

So no wonder a group of researchers at Duke University want you to pitch in to help them sequence the fern's genome, as well as the genomes of all the little microbes who give the plant its edge. Understanding the mechanics behind azolla's magic power may help farmers move away from artificial fertilizers and the pollution associated with them -- Asian rice farmers were planting the stuff alongside their crops 1,500 years ago.

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Hand it over!

Europe really wants America’s oil and gas

EU flag
Shutterstock

It isn't just oil companies that are pushing the U.S. to drop its near-total ban on crude oil exports. European Union negotiators are trying to convince America to not only end the ban but agree to a "legally binding commitment" that would guarantee both oil and gas exports to its members.

The Washington Post got its hands on a secret E.U. document describing negotiations related to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The free-trade agreement could affect $4.7 trillion in trade between the U.S. and Europe -- and energy supplies are at the forefront of the European negotiators' minds.

"The EU proposes to include a legally binding commitment in the TTIP guaranteeing the free export of crude oil and gas resources," the "restricted" European Council document states.

So far, it seems that U.S. negotiators have been stonewalling the bid for such a legally binding commitment. "The U.S. has ... been hesitant to discuss a solution for U.S. export restrictions on natural gas and crude oil in the TTIP through binding legal commitments," the document says.