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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?
Shutterstock

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

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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

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Minnesota can’t say no to coal power, judge rules

coal power plant
Shutterstock

Minnesota did something really cool in 2007. As part of its Next Generation Energy Act, which aimed to reduce per capita fossil fuel use 15 percent by 2015, it effectively barred utilities from buying electricity from any fossil fuelburning power plants built after July 2009 -- unless the carbon emissions of those purchases were entirely offset.

In response, North Dakota, which gets a staggering 79 percent of its power from dirty coal, did something decidedly uncool. It sued its neighbor in 2011, claiming the air-cleansing and climate-protecting rule violated federal law because it limited interstate commerce.

And on Friday, a federal judge ruled in favor of North Dakota. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

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Ukraine belatedly seeks renewable energy as weapon against Russia

Ukraine flag
Shutterstock

It took a military invasion to get Ukrainian leaders to look seriously at renewable energy.

Ukraine is buying up as much natural gas as it can from Russia before its military tormentors cut off the spigot. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his Eastern European neighbor had a month to pay its back bills or be forced to start paying in advance for its gas. Bloomberg analyzed energy data and reported Monday that Ukrainians nearly trebled their daily gas imports following Putin's statement.

But the crisis hasn't just triggered a fossil fuel buying spree. It has prompted Ukrainian officials to reimagine their embattled nation's very energy future. From a separate Bloomberg article:

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Obama delays Keystone decision — again

pipeline delayed
Public Citizen

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay -- and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, "A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana."

The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay:

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It's just capitalism, right?

Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted

Deepwater Horizon
SkyTruth

When Keith Seilhan was called in to coordinate BP's oil spill cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the senior company official and experienced crisis manager looked at the situation and thought, "Fuck this." He dumped his family's $1 million worth of BP stock, earning a profit and saving $100,000 in potential losses after the share price tanked even further.

But Seilhan knew something that other investors did not know when he made that trade. The company was lying to the government and the public about the amount of oil that was leaking from the ruptured well -- by a factor of more than ten. And the feds say that doesn't just make Seilhan an awful person -- it means he was engaging in insider trading. Charges and a settlement were announced Thursday.

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BP claims mission accomplished in Gulf cleanup; Coast Guard begs to differ

Deepwater Horizon
Katherine Welles / Shutterstock

BP this week metaphorically hung a "mission accomplished" banner over the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems that it wrecked when the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up and spewed 200 million gallons of oil in 2010. Funny thing, though: BP isn't the commander of the cleanup operation. The Coast Guard is. And it's calling bullshit.

Here's what BP said in a press statement on Tuesday, nearly four years after the blowout: "The U.S. Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on the final three shoreline miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon accident. These operations ended in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in June 2013."

Helpful though it may have seemed for BP to speak on behalf of the federal government, the Coast Guard took some umbrage. From The Washington Post:

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A bright idea

Obama makes a push for solar power

Obama and solar panels
Nellis Air Force Base

The White House threw a solar party on Thursday, and the streamers and ticker tape came in the form of millions of dollars of new support for solar projects. The Hill reports:

The Obama administration on Thursday announced a $15 million program to help state, local and tribal governments build solar panels and other infrastructure to fight climate change.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and White House counselor John Podesta announced the program at what the White House billed as a "solar summit" designed to push governments and private and nonprofit businesses to up their use of solar power.

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New hurricane maps will show whether your house could drown

hurricane-flash-flood.jpg
Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

The federal government will begin making its hurricane warning maps more colorful this summer, adding a range of hues to represent the danger of looming floods.

Red, orange, yellow, and blue will mark coastal and near-coastal areas where storm surges are anticipated during a hurricane. The different colors will be used to show the anticipated depth of approaching flash floods.

Severe flooding that followed Superstorm Sandy helped prompt the change -- NOAA says it had a hard time convincing Manhattanites that they faced any real danger from such floods.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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No more mystery food

Vermont poised to mandate GMO labels on food

Vermont store
Stacy Brunner

Vermont is on the verge of becoming the third American state to require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

State senators approved a GMO-labeling bill on Tuesday with a 28-2 vote, sending it back to the House, which approved an earlier version with a 99-42 vote last year. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said he's likely to sign it.

The bill would require the words “partially produced with genetic engineering” to be stamped on packages of GMO-containing food sold in Vermont. The lists of ingredients would also need to specify which items contain GMOs. It would be illegal to market such foods as  “natural,” “naturally made,” or “naturally grown."

Connecticut and Maine have both recently passed similar laws -- but those laws will only take effect if enough other states do likewise. The two states don't want to face the inevitable lawsuits from Big Food on their own.

Vermont is the first state willing to go it alone. Its bill would take effect in July 2016. State lawmakers say they crafted the language of the bill carefully, hoping it could survive court challenges.

Read more: Food, Politics