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What are they on about?

It’s virtually certain that the IPCC needs to dump its “very likely” crap

What is the IPCC saying?

It’s hard to understand what the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is yammering on about.

The IPCC -- which has released its latest climate assessment in three huge installments -- uses confusing language to describe how certain it is about its findings. This could be misleading the public into thinking scientists are less certain than they really are about global warming, according to a new study.

Consider this statement from the first installment of the IPCC report, which came out in September: “It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale.”

By using the phrase “very likely,” the scientists mean that there’s a 90 to 99 percent likelihood that the statement is true. But when normal people read "very likely" in a statement like that, they think the IPCC’s scientists are just 55 to 90 percent confident in it, according to the new study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Here are the seven main descriptors that IPCC report authors are told to use, and what percentage of certitude they're meant to communicate:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Apple will now recycle your old products and give you store credit

Luke Dorny

Forget smashing your old iBook Office Space-style. Just send it back to Apple, and if it isn’t ancient, you could get some sweet sweet store credit. Even if it is ancient, Apple will recycle it for you.

Here are the deets from Apple:

When you recycle with Apple, your used equipment is disassembled, and key components that can be reused are removed. Glass and metal can be reprocessed for use in new products. A majority of the plastics can be pelletized into a raw secondary material. With materials reprocessing and component reuse, Apple often achieves a 90 percent recovery rate by weight of the original product.


Jon Stewart jokes with the EPA’s Gina McCarthy about Texas, burning trash, and his Hummer

The Daily Show

"Are we clean yet?" That's how Jon Stewart got rolling on his interview with EPA head honcho Gina McCarthy last night.

She called climate change her top priority -- “the biggest public health challenge that we face, as well as the biggest economic challenge we face” -- and emphasized that the EPA's proposed rules cracking down on carbon dioxide from power plants will be coming out in June.

“All these regulations put the mom ‘n’ pop oil companies out of business!” Stewart protested.

But McCarthy made the point that avoiding environmental apocalypse does not mean causing economic apocalypse. She boasted that the EPA over its 40 years has cut air pollution by 70 percent while the nation's GDP has doubled.

Watch the whole segment, including Stewart joking about burning things in his backyard, bragging about his "Hummer within a Hummer within a Hummer," and taking a jab at Texas:

Read more: Living


For cleaner air, plant a tree in your belly button


Happy Earth Day! Have you planted a seed in your belly button yet? And if not, why not? Let two dudes in crop tops convince you (green stuff starts at 1:35).

Rhett and Link, seemingly the American Flight of the Conchords, are convinced that “These [trees] are gonna get massive and absorb a lot of greenhouse gases.” Why hug a tree when you could rock it as navel jewelry?

Then things get weird(er). After realizing “We carbon-offset ourselves!” the guys decide that justifies driving separate Hummers door-to-door selling DIY mini coal plants for children. Bizarre, but we can’t resist outfits so clearly inspired by Mean Girls.

And you have to admit, planting a maple sapling in your umbilical-hole is less repulsive than using it to store your barbeque sauce.

Read more: Living


aw, nuts

Turkey’s nutty green idea for heating its eco-city? Pistachios


Pistachios may be a lot of hard work compared to Cheetos, but at least their shells could double as heating fuel. That is, if authorities give the OK for their use in a planned Turkish city.

The new eco-city will be built in southeast Turkey’s Gaziantep region, with housing for 200,000 people. The heat’s gotta come from somewhere, so why not from nature’s snack wrapper? Writes Gizmodo:

The region exported 4,000 tons of pistachios last year -- just think about how many shells that is. The pistachio shells could be burned for biogas that is then used for heat, providing up to 60 percent of the city's heating needs.

Here's more background from AFP:

Read more: Food, Living


Corn waste-based ethanol could be worse for the climate than gasoline

corn growing in stover
Ron Nichols, USDA
Young corn growing in the residue of the previous crop.

A lot of carbon-rich waste is left behind after a cornfield is stripped of its juicy ears. It used to be that the stalks, leaves, and detrital cobs would be left on fields to prevent soil erosion and to allow the next crop to feast on the organic goodness of its late brethren. Increasingly, though, these leftovers are being sent to cellulosic ethanol biorefineries. Millions of gallons of biofuels are expected to be produced from such waste this year -- a figure could rise to more than 10 billion gallons in 2022 to satisfy federal requirements.

But a new study suggests this approach may be worse for the climate, at least in the short term, than drilling for oil and burning the refined gasoline. The benefits of cellulosic biofuel made from corn waste improve over the longer term, but the study, published online Sunday in Nature Climate Change, suggests that the fuel could never hit the benchmark set in the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires that cellulosic ethanol be 60 percent better for the climate than traditional gasoline.

The problem is that after corn residue is torn out and hauled away from a farm field, more carbon is lost from the soil. This problem is pervasive throughout the cornbelt, but it's the most pronounced in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, owing in part to the high carbon contents of soils there.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food



Street artist Swoon takes on rising sea levels and drowning communities

Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn street artist Swoon creates art that makes you feel like a kid again. She's wheat-pasted life-sized portraits on the sides of industrial buildings and transformed an abandoned warehouse into a playground for art and community in post-industrial Braddock, Pa., where she lives and works.

And then there are the rafts, whimsical floating creations that make you want to pull a Peter Pan and hop on board to start your new life as a junk boat sailor. In 2006, Swoon and the adventurous crew of the Miss Rockaway Armada built a raft made entirely from salvaged materials -- wood from dumpsters, ropes found on the sidewalk, and a vegetable oil powered engine -- and sailed down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans. Since then, she's made two more boat trips: one with a flotilla of seven rafts and one steam-powered paddleboat down the Hudson River, and another across the Adriatic Sea from Slovenia to Italy for the Venice Biennial with the Swimming Cities of Serenissima.

Click to embiggen.
Tod Seelie
Click to embiggen.

This time around Swoon's given the old rafts new life and brought them indoors to the Brooklyn Museum, for a new exhibit that addresses the loss of people's homelands because of climate change and rising sea levels. She sat down to talk about the inspiration for the exhibit, and the role of the artist in raising awareness about climate change and other environmental issues.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


The secret life of Rust Belt beekeepers

Hallie Bateman

Deep in the defunct industrial zones and backyards of Buffalo, N.Y., there’s a buzz developing -- quite literally, in the form of secret beehives. Across the city, a small network of under-the-radar beekeepers has formed. They keep hives in backyards, vacant lots, and even on garage roofs.

“Two years ago, I was just kind of wandering around one of the smaller, cottage neighborhoods that we have here, and I noticed one woman with all this bee art covering her garage,” says Alexandra Farrington, a beekeeper in Buffalo. “I asked her if she kept bees. First she asked if I was a cop, and then she said, ‘Well, if you promise not to tell ... yeah, I’ve got a few hives on the roof of my garage.’”

While Buffalo has no laws explicitly banning the practice of beekeeping, many neighbors view the critters as a public nuisance. Keepers worry that enough complaints might add up to local legislation that would prohibit beekeeping or severely regulate it. “That’s usually how things go,” Farrington says. “People start to complain, and then the laws are revised and regulations are put into place.”

Farrington and her fellow Buffalonians aren't alone. In cities across the United States, more and more urbanites are taking it upon themselves to create habitats for bees. Urban beekeeping is not only a crucial component of a city dweller's fully functional homestead -- offering both fresh honey and crop pollination -- it's also a response to growing concerns over colony collapse (just this month, the New York Times reported that commercial beekeepers are losing roughly a third of their colonies each year). As the urban beekeeping trend grows, so does the rift between well-intentioned, hyperlocal food producers and neighbors who aren't down with all the buzz.

Read more: Cities, Food, Living


Numbers on the board: The Gulf Coast, four years after the BP disaster

Reuters/Lee Celano

How could you relate when you ain’t never been great?
And rely on oil money to keep food up on your plates?
I might sell a rig on my birthday
36 years of doing dirt like it’s Earth Day.

You might recognize those lyrics from the song “Numbers on the Board” from the artist Pusha T., though slightly modified. Those bars are how I imagine someone like BP CEO Robert Dudley might spit them, as he eagerly declares that the Gulf Coast is clear four years after his company’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded.

The date of that disaster happens to coincide with Earth Week, which means millions of faithful environmentalists are at attention -- and they want a full accounting of just how clear the coast actually is. Given that most of the nation benefits from the spoils provided by the Gulf -- its seafood, storm protection, beaches, vacation resorts, and fuels -- that accounting is expected from Americans in general. And what would your favorite shows like “True Blood” and “True Detective” be without the Gulf’s glorious backdrops?

Last week, I wrote about three victories that have emerged since the BP disaster, but the flip side of that is a host of problems that continue to plague the Gulf, which has suffered a whole string of insults, from Hurricane Katrina to ongoing erosion of its coastlines due to to erosion and fossil fuel extraction. Below is an index of statistics on the Gulf’s health, cobbled together from recent news articles, reports, and datasets documenting damage done to the coast:

Read more: Climate & Energy


When it comes to climate change, don’t think of the children


No one wants their grandkids growing up in an apocalyptic world with soup-thick air and crusty land. Making the abstract idea of climate change more personal and immediate is a good way to make people care ... right? But as Greg Lusk argues, the “child trope” -- “Let’s leave a safe, clean world for our descendants!” -- is flawed and not all that effective.

For one thing, this “Think of the children!!!!!” alarmism ignores the fact that kids are part of the problem (see: overpopulation). And for the kidfree, children aren’t exactly a compelling reason to care. Should I ride the bus to lock down a better future for ... my cat’s kittens’ kittens? (If she weren’t already spayed, that is.)

Then there’s the fact that climate change is already happening -- shit’s in the present, not the future! As Lusk writes:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living