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Times are tough for the fossil-fuel lovers at ALEC

"end ALEC laws" light display
Light Brigading

Pity the poor right-wing schemers at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Things are just not going their way.

ALEC is a corporate- and Koch-funded group that pushes conservative bills in state legislatures around the country. Among many others, it's promoted bills to roll back renewable energy standards (unsuccessfully so far), and now it's trying to undermine net-metering rules that benefit solar-panel owners. In the first seven months of this year, ALEC helped get at least 77 anti-environmental bills introduced into 34 statehouses, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

But it was ALEC's advocacy for so-called "stand your ground" laws, made famous in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, that started scaring off corporate donors.

Now, as The Guardian reports, ALEC has a big budget hole. And as a trove of internal ALEC documents reveals, the group is also facing declining membership among state legislators and potential concerns that it could be targeted for improper lobbying.


Native American groups increasingly at the center of fights over oil and gas

indigenous protest
Jennifer Castro

In the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, European settlers stole a lot of land from Native Americans. They killed them, they cheated them, and they robbed them of most of the continent. But they made one mistake. Back then good land was fertile land for growing crops. The Great Plains and interior West -- dry, dusty, freezing cold in winter and broiling hot in summer -- had little to offer.

Now, however, the Europeans and their descendants lust for oil and gas to provide electricity, heat, and fuel for internal combustion engines. And guess where a lot of it is to be found? On tribal lands, or near them, requiring pipes, tracks, or roads to be laid through them.

You can see where this is going. Corporations and pliant local officials — today's equivalent of conquistadors and European crowns — are trying to gain control of what’s left of indigenous peoples' land.

“There are more than 600 major resource projects worth $650-billion planned in Western Canada over the next decade but relations with First Nations may be a major hurdle for those developments,” reports the Toronto Globe and Mail.


How scientists are using drones to fight the next big oil spill

oil sheen

More than three-and-half years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are launching drones and ocean-going sensor arrays off the Florida coast in an effort to map the path of future oil spills before they devastate beaches and coastal ecosystems.

Researchers from the University of Miami and other scientists are placing 200 GPS-equipped “drifters” in the surf zone just off Fort Walton to map where the ocean currents take the devices. Sensors placed on the ocean surface and seabed will track the movement of colored dye that will be released during the three-week experiment that began on Monday. Two drones outfitted with GoPro cameras will also monitor where the currents take the drifters and dye. Since the drones can only stay aloft for an hour at a time, a camera-carrying kite will also be deployed.

A comparative drift experiment in Biscayne Bay.
A comparative drift experiment in Biscayne Bay. Click to embiggen.

All the data collected will be used to construct a computer model of near-shore ocean currents to predict how future oil spills or other pollutants will disperse as the approach the shore.

Read more: Climate & Energy


When it comes to climate change, this artist lets the trees do the talking

Jerzy Rose

Sculptor Frances Whitehead calls herself a provocateur. She’s no Banksy. Instead, this professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago pushes people to think differently about how art fits into, and shapes, our lives, from the mundane to the political -- and how it might help us imagine a more sustainable future.

In 2006, Whitehead penned a creative manifesto called “What Do Artists Know?” The document is a point-by-point articulation of what a creative mind can bring to the broader cultural conversation. She later swayed city officials to place artists into government via her program, The Embedded Artist.

It was only a matter of time before Whitehead, a longtime gardener who frequently incorporated natural objects into her sculpture, began to focus on the combination of art and science. In 2004, Whitehead and her husband purchased a 3,000-square-foot warehouse and converted it into their Green House, a haven of sustainability and reuse. Replete with wind turbines and geothermal heating and cooling, the structure served as an educational classroom for design students and inspired new ways of approaching the post-industrial city.

Sustainability, Whitehead says, “is a cultural problem and artists can help find the solution.”

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Climate change will ruin Christmas by threatening Christmas trees

sad christmas tree
Matt Heltsley

It will take six to 10 years, but Christmas is ruined -- and not for the reasons Sarah Palin thinks. Climate change is continuing its rampage through everything you love by threatening Christmas trees. (Actually, maybe this will finally get the GOP on board with fixing climate change.)

This year was so bad for Christmas tree growers, what with heat waves and flash floods and whatnot, that a bunch of them have decided that they're not going to plant new crops. Trees, being trees, take a while to mature, so there are still a few years of tree crops on these farms waiting to get chopping down and trucked to living rooms across America. But once they’re done, that’s it.

Think Progress reports:

Though the young trees -- some growing for a few years -- had been able to withstand the warmer temperatures in late winter, they were unable to hold up to the subsequent flooding in the summer, tree farmer Bob White told the station. “It probably took out as much as half the farm,” he said. “You get used to 20, 30 years of how everything works, and now you don’t know anymore.”

This is the first year that localized extreme flooding has been said to cause a decrease in Christmas tree crop, and scientists have repeatedly linked increased unexpected flooding events caused by a warmer, moister climate to man-made global warming.

So, soon enough, we’ll have fewer trees that are more expensive.

Read more: Living


2,000 mice parachute into Guam to kill snake invaders


Back in the 1950s, brown tree snakes arrived in Guam, and thought "Ah, paradise." They have thrived on the small island, which is now home to something like 2 million of them -- much to the chagrin of local birds and the U.S. military, which has to deal with regular snake-caused power failures at the Andersen Air Force Base. So the Air Force is sending in the mice. NBC News reports:

They floated down from the sky Sunday -- 2,000 mice, wafting on tiny cardboard parachutes … the rodent commandos didn't know they were on a mission: to help eradicate the brown tree snake, an invasive species that has caused millions of dollars in wildlife and commercial losses since it arrived a few decades ago.

That's because they were dead. And pumped full of painkillers.

Read more: Living


Another reason to worry about methane: It’s leaking out of the Arctic Ocean hella fast

Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean: It's leakier than it looks.

We learned last week that Al Gore has become a vegan, and speculated that it might be because methane emissions from livestock are a surprisingly large driver of climate change. Meanwhile, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences argues that the U.S. EPA has vastly underestimated methane emissions because it calculates them from the bottom-up -- how much methane does a cow release times how many cows there are, for example -- rather than actually measuring the methane released into the atmosphere.

We often talk about greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide as if they are one and the same. CO2 is by far the most prevalent greenhouse gas, but while much less methane is released into the atmosphere, methane is about 21 times more potent over a 100-year period.

And now we’ve got another reason to worry about methane. New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf as a result of the degradation of submarine permafrost over thousands of years.”

Read more: Climate & Energy


Who needs Black Friday? Join Grist for #GivingTuesday

Chantal Andrea

We’ve suffered through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but more and more people are eschewing these frenzied traditions and participating in Giving Tuesday instead -- a day dedicated to charitable giving and volunteership. We love the idea of this holiday at Grist -- and what better way to celebrate than by hitting you up for cash?

I started Grist in 1999 to awaken more people to environmental concerns and spur them to take action. Over the years we’ve helped our readers find ways to de-stuff the holidays -- last year, we dedicated the entire month of December to “Shifting the Gift” -- and our surveys show that half of you have changed your consumption habits after reading Grist.

So, I invite you to join me in celebrating Giving Tuesday today. Drop off some groceries at your local food bank, teach your neighbors how to tune up their bikes, join the movement on Twitter, and maybe, just maybe, support your favorite nonprofit green news source.

Yes, Grist is a nonprofit -- and we’re aiming to raise 300 gifts today. We hope you’ll help us get off to a strong start toward our goal of 2,500 gifts by Dec. 17.

Each and every day, Grist brings you coverage of the latest climate politics, pipeline foibles, and other news; practical advice on green living, eating, and commuting; and quirky stories to keep your spirit light. Help us continue to lead this important conversation and inspire more positive traditions. Make a tax-deductible gift today.

Read more: Living


Talking trash: Baltimore students speak out against waste-burning power plant

Wheelabrator incinerator
Joe W.

It’s bad enough that someone thought it was a good idea to build a trash incinerator in one of the most air-polluted areas in Baltimore. But the New York-based company Energy Answers also wants to burn garbage near two schools, including an elementary -- and the state of Maryland seems poised to let it happen.

Here's the dirty truth: Despite landmark reports about the dangers of placing facilities that pollute the air near schools, most notably USA Today’s 2008 series, “The Smokestack Effect,” companies are still allowed to blast asthma- and cancer-causing agents where kids with developing lungs gather to develop their brains.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Rat retraction reaction: Journal pulls its GMOs-cause-rat-tumors study

A Sprague-Dawley rat.
Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier
A Sprague-Dawley rat.

When a 2012 study came out suggesting that a certain type of genetically modified corn caused cancer in rats, many were skeptical. Since then, one scientific group after another has said that the study doesn’t tell us anything new. So on one level it was no huge surprise when the journal that had published this paper, Food and Chemical Toxicology, retracted it on Thanksgiving Day. But it was surprising, or at least illuminating, on another level: Retractions are usually reserved for deliberate deception or major mistakes; in this case, the reason for retraction was simply insignificance.

In a statement the journal publishers wrote: “Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.”

What does it mean that a “not incorrect” but “inconclusive” paper fails to “reach the threshold”?