Down the road from the Maker's Mark bourbon distillery in the central Kentucky town of Loretto, a feisty cadre of nuns has been tending crops and praying since the early 1800s. An order founded on social justice, the Sisters of Loretto are quickly becoming the face of a new grassroots campaign against what they see as a threat to holy land: the Bluegrass Pipeline. The 1,100-mile pipeline will carry natural gas liquids from the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia fracking fields, and will pass through Kentucky -- eventually connecting with an existing pipeline that runs all the way to the Gulf Coast.
The pipeline is in its early stages of development, but the nuns have already refused to allow company representatives to survey their 800-acre campus, and they are taking their message to local community meetings … sometimes in the form of song.
The rising price of food isn’t theonly thing driving the revolutionary fervor from Tunisia to Turkey to Brazil. The bad economy was surely a principal factor (remember that Adel Khazri shouted “This is Tunisia, this is unemployment,” as he burned). There was the effect of new social media technology. And then there was that tyranny thing that people seemed to dislike.
But food scarcity is different, because it looks as if it’s going to stick around even as the economy improves. And unless we do something about it, the riots and protests will spread.
First, the good news: The annual "dead zone" that smothers much of the northern Gulf of Mexico -- caused by an oxygen-sucking algae bloom mostly fed by Midwestern farm runoff -- is smaller this year than scientists had expected. In the wake of heavy spring rains, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been projecting 2013's fish-free region of the Gulf to be at least 7,286 square miles and as large as 8,561 square miles -- somewhere between the size of New Jersey on the low end to New Hampshire on the high end. Instead, NOAA announced, it has clocked in at 5,840 square miles -- a bit bigger than Connecticut. It's depicted in the above graphic.
Now, for the bad news: This year's "biological desert" (NOAA's phrase) is much bigger than last year's, below, which was relatively tiny because Midwestern droughts limited the amount of runoff that made it into the Gulf. At about 2,900 square miles, the 2012 edition measured up to be about a third as large as Delaware.
Smaller than expected though it may be, this year's model is still more than twice as large as NOAA's targeted limit of less than 2,000 square miles. Here's how recent dead zones stack up -- note that the NOAA target has been met only once since 1990. Low years, like 2012 and 2009, tend to marked by high levels of drought, and high years, like 2008, by heavy rains and flooding.
The petroleum we pump out of the ground turns into a range of useful things: fuel for all forms of transportation, a key ingredient in plastics, and more. Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic’s senior technology editor, takes a look at the chemistry of crude oil in the two-minute video above, explaining the process of distilling one barrel, gallon by gallon. Animated by Lindsey Testolin, this clip is part of a six-part video series in The User's Guide to Energyspecial report. If this short overview leaves you wanting to know more, check out Kyle Thetford's more detailed look at the process.
The Great American Road Trip -- it’s a rite of passage, a national pastime, and increasingly, a tool for spreading the word about looming climate catastrophe. Each summer, a motley parade of veggie buses, vintage motorcycles, and bicycles circulates around the country, its participants out to preach the gospel of green living, and perhaps learn a thing or two in the process.
Two of these eco-minded road trippers, Kirsten Howard and Allie Goldstein, recently dropped by the Grist offices in Seattle to tell us about their adventures aboard a 2000 Toyota Sienna minivan. The duo, who recently graduated from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, called their adventure the Great American Adaptation Road Trip. Their mission: to ferret out tales of how local people are adjusting to a warmer world.
That’s a little defeatist, innit? What about preventing climate change, guys?
Of all the business opportunities presented by global warming, Raytheon Company may have found one of the most alarming. The Massachusetts-based defense contractor -- which makes everything from communications systems to Tomahawk missiles -- thinks that future "security concerns" caused by climate change could mean expanded sales of its military products.
Raytheon, it should be noted, isn't exactly gunning for catastrophic global warming. Quite the opposite, in fact: In February, the company received a "Climate Leadership Award" from the EPA for publicly reporting and aggressively reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. It's working on renewable energy technologies. And it has publicly warned of significant climate change-related risks to its business -- from things like hurricanes, floods, droughts, and forest fires.
So it's particularly striking that these very same climate-induced disasters could also have a financial upside for Raytheon. Like many other companies, Raytheon regularly submits information to the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project about its carbon reduction efforts and how climate change could affect its business. In response to a question about climate-related opportunities, Raytheon wrote [reg. req.] last year that "expanded business opportunities are likely to arise as consumer behaviour and needs change in response to climate change."
What kind of business opportunities? Raytheon cites its renewable energy technologies, weather-prediction products, and emergency response equipment for natural disasters. But the company also expects to see "demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change."
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Northeast blackout of 2003, the largest power outage in North American history.
For a while, this colossal disaster was a shared reference point for millions. We salvaged a tub of ice cream on the roof, hitched a ride home with strangers, directed traffic at a darkened intersection, and so on. Everyone had a story.
But a decade later, it seems a faded memory. For those in the affected area, recollections have been supplanted by disaster stories of Superstorm Sandy, and then some. Despite regulations tightened in response to the 2003 blackout, power outages -- particularly those caused by the weather -- are more common than ever.
According to a new report released by the Department of Energy this month [PDF], there were 679 widespread (affecting at least 50,000 people) power outages due to severe weather between 2003 and 2012. The cost of these incidents has been calculated to be anywhere between $18 and $70 billion per year.
There are two explanations for this spike. First, the grid is getting older. Second, the weather is getting (or at least has gotten, in the last 10 years) worse.
My last post was about the evolution of conservative identity politics over the past 40 or 50 years, which made hostility to climate science more or less inevitable, regardless of how climate scientists chose to communicate their findings. Introduce climate science into a milieu characterized by suspicion of scientific elites, hostility toward government, and tribal support for fossil fuels and sprawl, and, well ... Al Gore big-government liberal U.N. hoax! 'Twas ever fated.
I make the point for two reasons. One is to push back against the endless tide of sentiment blaming climate scientists or advocates for the right wing's madness on climate. Nobody -- not Al Gore, not Barack Obama, not dirty climate bloggers -- can make the right behave rationally on this, except the right itself. Conservatives are grown-ups making their own decisions and responsible for their own actions. This is not to say that communication around climate change has been particularly adept -- I've spent 10 years criticizing it! -- but it is to say that conservatives are freestanding moral agents and not mere clay shaped by the messages of climate hawks.
The second reason is that an understanding of the historical roots of American cultural polarization sheds light on the climate fight. The clash of cultural identities brought about by the resurgent right, indeed the battle over modernity itself, precedes, both temporally and psychologically, many of the factors that people tend to blame for polarization on climate change. Especially in the U.S., polarization is so deep, I will argue, that any attempt to present climate science "neutrally," as pure facts and information with no cultural valence, is doomed to failure. We climate hawks cannot back our way out of cultural meaning; the only way out is through.
To begin, let's turn to a great recent post from Dan Kahan of Yale's Cultural Cognition Project. It is built around a simple observation: Realists and "skeptics" hold very different views on climate science, but they share a deep cluelessness about how science is communicated, how people assess evidence, and how polarization occurs.
I’ve spent the last week in mostly reception-free zones of Northern California trying to pay attention to the view, to granddaddy sugar pines, to river osprey, and to my wife, instead of to my computer. I did a lot of reading and zero reporting. So this post will be a bit of a detour from the thrust of our GM foods adventure.
Back when I started my research, I grabbed every book I could find on transgenic foods, and as I stared down this stack I yearned for a guide: Something to tell me which books were bogus, which were credible, and what assumptions each author started with. I had to do without that guide, but now that I've plowed through a first wave of reading, I’m in a position to create one. So, if this series I've been writing on GM foods has whetted your appetite for a comprehensive review of this subject (or if you just want to cheat with the one-paragraph version), here’s the guide I wished I’d had.
I set this down after reading a few lines that made me scratch my head, and did not pick it up again, on the advice of Margaret Mellon, staff scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists (which opposes genetically modified foods). There’s plenty of people who see the slightest suggestion of caution, in any scientific paper, as damning proof that genetically modified food is killing us. It’s all too easy to find dangers lurking in every study if you are convinced they are there. “And that kind of over-reading of the science is what you will find over and over again if you look at Jeffrey Smith’s book,” Mellon said.
In other words, skip it, and take Smith with a shaker of salt.
[UPDATE: After this post was published, Mellon contacted Grist and said she'd believed her comments about Seeds of Deception would be for background only (not quoted). She says she "advocates that people read widely on the topic of genetic engineering, including both critics and supporters of the technology.” In addition, she says the Union of Concerned Scientists "is not opposed to GE, but we are critics of its current applications."]
Uncovering a fraud is uniquely satisfying, which is perhaps why news outlets continue to provide electric car deniers with a platform to proclaim they aren’t as green as they appear. But close examination reveals the latest round of skeptics to be lacking in substance.
Numerous peer-reviewed articles have reached the same conclusion: From cradle to grave, electric cars are the cleanest vehicles on the road today. And unlike cars that rely on oil, the production of which is only getting dirtier over time, the environmental benefits of electric cars will continue to improve as old coal plants are replaced with cleaner sources and manufacturing becomes more efficient as it scales up to meet growing consumer demand.
“Did you account for the pollution from the electricity it takes to power the vehicles?”