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Grist List: Look what we found.


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Fundamental breakthrough could double electricity from solar panels

It is a truth often repeated that fundamental physical limits mean solar panels can never capture and transform more than about 31 percent of the sun's energy. But Xiaoyang Zhu at the University of Texas apparently just did the impossible, and in a most spectacular fashion: He found a way to increase the efficiency of solar cells to 66 percent. Zhu announced a similar result in 2010, but he was only able to achieve theoretical efficiencies that high using concentrated sunlight. His new work outlines a practical way to use panels in a conventional layout to capture the "hot" electrons …

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The return of the Keystone XL pipeline

Keystone XL is back from the dead. After President Obama announced a delay in a final decision on the tar-sands pipeline, House Republicans’ first gambit was to try to speed up that process. But now, they have a more sinister plan: They are trying to force through wholesale approval of the pipeline project. They're doing this by attaching pipeline approval to a bill that's near and dear to the president's heart -- payroll tax breaks. Payroll tax breaks are pretty sweet! They make it easier for people to start businesses or hire new workers, because social security and Medicaid taxes …

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Critical List: Congress does everything it can to screw the environment; fabric cleaned by sunlight

Congress voted to put sanctions on Iran, which would make it harder for Iran to sell oil, but potentially make oil sales more profitable for the regime overall. After all the work that the anti-Keystone coalition did, Republicans are trying to tack a measure to approve the pipeline onto a bill that extends the payroll tax cut. The White House is saying the president "would reject a proposal that tried to mandate approval of the Keystone project" but won't say the V-E-T-O word. Oh, ALSO. Congress could defund the program that would implement the phaseout of incandescent bulbs. AUGH, CONGRESS. …

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Infographic: Fracking violations in Pennsylvania

The orange dots here are natural gas extraction operations with one or more environmental violations. But, you know, deer and rainbows! Click through to NPR's interactive graphic to find out more about each operation and how many laws they're flouting. (You can also get more detailed maps and information by county.)

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Congress passes the wrong pipeline bill

It turns out Republicans and Democrats truly can work together to craft a bipartisan pipeline safety bill that satisfies both parties! And then they can accidentally pass the old version instead. The bill, which laid out new penalties for pipeline safety violations following a deadly explosion last year, was laboriously hashed out in a bipartisan committee. Then the House went ahead and passed the old version anyway. Due to human error, the House on Monday and Senate on Tuesday both passed a pipeline safety bill all right, but an earlier version of the bill — not the final bipartisan, bicameral …

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Police seize computers in connection with Climategate hacking

When the University of East Anglia's servers were hacked and emails stolen, the victims -- the climate scientists whose largely innocuous messages got misrepresented all over the blogosphere -- were subjected to multiple independent investigations (and cleared). The hackers? Not so much. Nobody really knew who did it or apparently cared. But evidently they're cracking down now, because police in England just seized the computers of Roger Tattersall, a denialist blogger connected with the second hacked email release. Nobody's been arrested, and it doesn't look like the cops think Tattersall is responsible. Rather, he's one of at least five bloggers …

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Facebook and coal are no longer in a relationship

Until recently, Facebook had an "it's complicated" relationship with coal; an April 2011 Greenpeace report found that 53.2 percent of the company's electricity use was coal-generated. Now, the company is pledging to move away from dirty fuel and work towards powering its operations, including energy-suck data centers, using renewable energy. And they're helping to spread the word to others. The move from coal to renewables won't be as slow or rocky as the move from Facebook to Google+, but it's not going to be instantaneous. Still, the company has committed to foregrounding "access to clean and renewable energy" when considering …

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Radioactive monkeys will patrol Fukushima

Scientists have a new approach to monitoring radiation levels around Fukushima: They're outfitting local monkeys with radiation-measuring collars, then releasing them back into the wild. The monkeys will spend a month frolicking around the (potentially) nuclear forest, collecting data about radiation levels on the ground. The experimental device, which will also include GPS tracking and a device to measure height, will be attached to as many as three monkeys in the forest in Minami Soma City as soon as February, [the lead researcher] said. [Ed. note: No way, as many as three whole monkeys??] The creatures are expected to wear …

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Sucking carbon out of the air: Probably not an option

With all this talk of the impossibility of averting catastrophic levels of future climate change, it's tempting to daydream of using technology to clean up the bed we just shat. Economists, especially, love this kind of thinking -- if we just hoard enough precious gold today, maybe we can transmute it into a livable planet tomorow! Yay for wearing ties! But these fantasies are probably bullshit, says ClimateWire and Scientific American. Especially the one in which we attach a giant vacuum to the atmosphere, SpaceBalls style, and suck all the carbon out. That one’s gone from suck to blow. The …

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Arctic methane turns out to be a huge problem after all

While the nerd herd was busy declaring the threat posed by gigantic new plumes of methane from the Arctic Ocean to be a non-starter, we all managed to miss the real methane menace, highlighted by climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe: surprise. Surprise and fear. The two real methane menaces are fear and surprise. The bottom line: Existing climate models appear to have significantly underestimated the future impact of methane from the world's vast stores of rapidly thawing permafrost. In fact, the real impact will be 2.5 times as large as previously estimated. From a release on the new study, by ecologist …