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Ask Umbra: Which gas station is the least evil?

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

Although I am trying to drive down my usage, I still buy gasoline to put in my car. Every time I pull up to the BP station, I cringe at the destruction their firm wrought in the Gulf. I wonder if there is any benefit to taking my dollars elsewhere. Is there a lesser evil among gas stations out there?

Jennifer R.
Chicago, Ill.

bad gas

A. Dearest Jennifer,

Loyal readers might see this first bit of advice coming down the pike: Drive less. From your opening line, I gather you have been trying to do just that, to which I say huzzah!


Global food waste explained (with five tomatoes)

Each year, the world produces about 1,471 pounds (670 kilograms) of edible food for every person on the planet. We only eat about half of that. What happens to the rest? This video breaks it down -- and gives you a few suggestions for what you can do to fix the problem. [Numbers from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. More on my methodology here. The food waste groups mentioned are FoodTank; Tristram Stuart; ThinkEatSave.] Related: Wasted food is a huge climate problem The solution to America’s food waste problem: Feed people This restaurant will help solve food waste by serving expired ingredients

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


China still leads the world in emissions, with no end in sight

Power plant stacks tower over a town in China's coal country.
James West/Climate Desk
Power plant stacks tower over a town in China's coal country.

People write about China's growth so much it's daunting to wring out something new. But -- wow -- when you see it for the first time in a few years, it still delivers one hell of a punch.

I lived in China for a year before the Beijing's 2008 Olympics (a kind of development event horizon in China’s history, towards which the whole country hurtled), and I've been back regularly enough to marvel at changes firsthand.

But I have never before been as dumbfounded as during a train ride this week from Beijing through a swathe of China’s northeast coal belt. My colleague Jaeah Lee and I were whisked away from the capital on rails that carry sleek new bullet trains (in just two years, China will have completed 11,200 miles of high-speed railway lines, leaving the U.S. limping). We zoom at 186 miles per hour through unabated upheaval.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Can we finally have a serious talk about population?

sao paulo skyline
A view of Sao Paulo, Brazil, one of the world's largest megacities with nearly 20 million people.

Climate Desk has launched a new science podcast, Inquiring Minds, cohosted by contributing writer Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas. To subscribe via iTunes, click here. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow, and like us on Facebook.

This episode of Inquiring Minds also features a discussion of the latest myths circulating on global warming, and the brave new world of gene therapy that we're entering -- where being rich might be your key ticket to the finest healthcare.

Today, as the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its latest mega report [PDF], averring a 95 percent certainty that humans are heating up the planet, there's an unavoidable subtext: the growing number of humans on the planet in the first place.

The figures, after all, are staggering: In 1900, there were just 1.65 billion of us; now, there are 7.2 billion. That's more than two doublings, and the next billion-human increase is expected to occur over the short space of just 12 years. According to projections, meanwhile, by 2050, the Earth will be home to some 9.6 billion people, all living on the same rock, all at once.

So why not talk more about population, and treat it as a serious issue? It's a topic that Mother Jones has tackled directly in the past, because taboos notwithstanding, it's a topic that just won't go away.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


The scary, the cautionary, and the stupid: Reactions to the IPCC climate report

Ban Ki-Moon
Shutterstock / ChameleonsEye
Ban Ki-Moon channels Glenn Frey: "The heat is on."

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Friday unveiled its first major climate findings in six years. (Here's our roundup of the findings; here's background on the IPCC and its fifth assessment report.)

How did the world react to scientists' latest assertions that climate change is real, threatening, and human-caused? Here are some notable quotes:

What officials said

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon: "The heat is on. We must act."

European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard: "If your doctor was 95 percent sure you had a serious disease, you would immediately start looking for the cure."


What the IPCC found: The big news from the new climate assessment


It's extremely likely that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s, according to a landmark report from the world's top panel of climate scientists. And we're failing in our efforts to keep atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, which many scientists say is needed to avoid massive disruption.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conducted an epic review of climate research over the last three years. It is summarizing the most important findings in its fifth assessment report, which offers the clearest picture science has ever painted of how humans are reshaping the climate and the planet.

Here, in a nutshell, are the main findings of a summary [PDF] of part one of the assessment report, which focuses on the science of climate change:

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. ...

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.

Read more: Climate & Energy


26 food films you have to watch


Films and short videos are a powerful way of increasing awareness of and interest in the food system. With equal parts technology and artistry, filmmakers can bring an audience to a vegetable garden in Uganda, a fast food workers’ rights protest in New York City, or an urban farm in Singapore. And animation can help paint a picture of what a sustainable, just, and fair food system might look like. Film is an incredible tool for effecting change through transforming behaviors and ways of thinking.

There are many incredible films educating audiences about changes being made -- or that need to be made -- in the food system.

Anna Lappé and Food Mythbusters, for example, just released a new animated short film on how “Big Food” marketing targets children and teenagers, filling their diets with unhealthy processed food products -- and what parents, teachers, and communities can do to combat it.

In addition to Lappé’s timely and compelling call to action, Food Tank has selected 26 films -- both long and short -- to share with you. From the importance of land rights for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to the insidious dominance of fast food in an urban community in California, each of these films can inform and inspire eaters all over the world. We ask that you, in turn, share this list with your networks in order that they may reach an even wider audience.


The Maldives, a fledgling democracy at the vanguard of climate change


On Friday, Sept. 27, the low-lying island nation of the Maldives will be given the date of its extinction; notice of a death by drowning. It will come in the form of a prediction for future sea-level rise in a landmark report on global warming by the world's climate scientists. On current trends, anything more than three generations will feel like a reprieve.

On the packed streets of Male', the mini-Manhattan that serves as the Maldives' island capital, there is a political clamor. But, perhaps surprisingly, the cause is not worry about the existential threat posed by the rising seas but over accusations of corruption and vote-buying in the presidential election.

Mohamed Nasheed, the nation's first freely elected leader and darling of the west for his warnings about climate change, was expected to be restored to the presidency in this month's elections. However, the vote that was supposed to restore Nasheed to the presidency is currently suspended following a complaint from the candidate who came third in the first round of polling.

Mohamed Nasheed.
Mohamed Nasheed.

The issue of climate change -- even given the credentials of Nasheed, the first round poll leader -- was as invisible during the country's election campaign as the carbon dioxide that drives it.


4 climate myths you’ll hear this week

Your uncle, yelling at you about how global warming has stopped.
Shutterstock and Jessica Robertson/USGS
Your uncle, yelling at you about how global warming has stopped.

Leading into Friday's upcoming release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report, climate skeptics have gone into overdrive. They're doing anything they can to undermine public acceptance of the dangers posed by global warming, which, at least according to a leaked draft of the report, is "extremely likely" (or, 95 percent certain) to be caused by human activities.

Unfortunately, much of this glut of misinformation is likely to make its way to people in your life -- whether it's your congressmember, your favorite talk radio host, or even your family. Heck, this stuff might even pop up in a heated conversation over your dinner table with your Uncle Larry (who always seems to be dying to argue about climate change).

To prepare you, here's the truth about four myths you're likely to hear about climate science and the IPCC report: 


Super foodie Alice Waters launches anti-fracking fight

Alice Waters
David Sifry
Alice Waters loves natural food and hates fracking.

Some of California's best-known chefs and restaurateurs are whipping up a fight against fracking in the Golden State.

High hopes that California would impose a moratorium on fracking, a process in which chemicals are injected into the ground to extract oil and gas, were dashed on Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that regulates the process but does not stop it. Opponents say fracking pollutes water and threatens farms. California is the source of 15 percent of the nation's crops.

On Wednesday, foodies led by slow-food movement champion Alice Waters launched an anti-fracking "cook's petition" to pressure the governor and legislature on the issue. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Chez Panisse chefs Alice Waters and Jerome Waag today launched a chefs’ petition urging their colleagues to take a stand against fracking in California. Working in collaboration with Food & Water Watch, founding member of Californians Against Fracking, the chefs are concerned about the threat fracking poses to the world-renowned food and wine that is grown, served and sold in California. The petition includes a letter calling on Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food