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This apartment building comes with its own algae-fueled power supply

Green paint and panels filled with green algae provide an environmental aesthetic for an environmentally friendly building.
Arup
This building doesn't just have green paint, it has green algae. 

When it comes to powering a home with energy from the sun, solar panels seem passé compared with the technology embedded in the façade of a new apartment building in Hamburg, Germany.

Green slime, not dissimilar to that which taints the Great Lakes and other nutrient-rich water bodies in the warmer months, grows in panels mounted along exterior walls of the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House. The algae will be harvested to produce biofuel and help heat the 50 apartments inside.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Chevron ignored a decade of warnings before Richmond refinery explosion

Refinery fire from a distance
Stephen Schiller
The Chevron refinery explosion was visible from far away.

An August fire and explosion at a refinery in Richmond, Calif. -- which sickened 15,000 residents of the San Francisco Bay area -- was the result of Chevron not giving a shit about safety.

That's the paraphrased conclusion of an investigation into the accident by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. While releasing an interim report Monday, the board said a regulatory overhaul was needed to protect the public from such accidents.

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Wind produces almost twice as much power as nuclear in California

Blowing away the competition in California
Shutterstock / Tim Messick
Blowing away the competition in California

When winds were at their strongest in California this month, wind turbines were providing the state with nearly twice as much electricity as nuclear reactors.

The Golden State saw a surge in new wind farms last year, taking its wind power capacity to 5,544 megawatts. That put it second in the nation behind Texas, which has more than 12,000 MW of installed wind capacity.

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One of the awful things about a nuclear meltdown could be the traffic

Get me out of here!
Shutterstock
Get me out of here!

It's hard to imagine a worse traffic jam than the traffic jam that slows your escape from a nuclear meltdown.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is warning other federal agencies that they need to be thinking about that scenario as they plan emergency responses to nuclear accidents.

Current planning focuses on evacuating or sheltering people living and working within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear power plant. Such planning assumes that everybody living, say, 11 miles from an exploding nuclear reactor would sit on their asses watching the disaster unfold on CNN. And the GAO thinks that's unlikely. Those people might instead rush into their cars and onto the streets in an understandably panicked bid to escape the area, worsening traffic congestion and making escape more difficult for those closer to the accident.

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Did climate change cause the epic Great Plains drought?

Prairie dog populations were among the wildlife hit hard by last year's Great Plains drought.
Shutterstock / Christopher Elwell
Prairie dogs were among the animals hit hard by last year's Great Plains drought.

The Great Plains are finally beginning to enjoy cloudbursts of relief from two years of epic drought -- the worst in the region's history, and part of the most widespread drought to afflict the U.S. since 2000. As farms and ecosystems rehydrate, it's worth asking: Did we do this? Did climate change cause the Great Plains drought, and the tens of billions of dollars of damage it inflicted?

The answer to these questions appears to be "no." Or, wait, make that "yes." Or ...

Read more: Climate & Energy

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InsideClimate wins Pulitzer for reporting on tar-sands spill

pulitzer

Nonprofit news site InsideClimate has done killer work reporting on the dangers of tar-sands pipelines, work that's gotten far too little recognition -- until now. On Monday, three reporters at the organization were honored with a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on national affairs. The Pulitzer site notes that the prize was awarded to ...

Lisa Song, Elizabeth McGowan and David Hasemyer of InsideClimate News, Brooklyn, N.Y., for their rigorous reports on flawed regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines, focusing on potential ecological dangers posed by diluted bitumen (or "dilbit"), a controversial form of oil.

More from InsideClimate:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Fracking for uranium, first accidentally, and now on purpose

uranium
Shutterstock

What has 92 protons, deforms growing children, sickens adults, and is being squeezed out of its underground lair by frackers operating in Pennsylvania?

U[hh], uranium!

The toxic and radioactive heavy metal is naturally trapped in the Marcellus shale, the fossil-fuel-laden rock formation popular with frackers that stretches from upstate New York through Pennsylvania to West Virginia and Ohio. We know the uranium is in there, and we know fracking sets it free, because scientists have been saying as much for years.

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Oceans are absorbing excess heat, for now

Missing heat has shown up in the oceans, particularly in shallow tropical depths.
Shutterstock / Willyam Bradberry
Missing heat has shown up in the oceans, particularly in shallow tropical depths.

Pity the oceans. Not only do we dump oil and plastics and all kinds of nasty chemicals and garbage into them. Turns out we're dumping heat into them too.

Studies of ocean temperatures are revealing that a lot of the excess heat we're creating by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is ending up in the oceans.

That's helping to keep the atmosphere cooler than scientists had previously projected; the rise in surface temperatures slowed during the first decade of this century. (The effects of aerosols spat out by volcanoes and other phenomena are also thought to have helped keep temperatures on the surface of Earth lower than expected.) That may seem a good thing from the perspective of terrestrial creatures like us. But the oceans won't suck up all that heat forever.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Jailed for eco-activism, and then jailed for blogging about eco-activism

daniel-mcgowan_apr-2013
NYC ABC
Daniel McGowan

Environmental activist Daniel McGowan is out of prison, but he’s not out of the woods. He was incarcerated for seven years for his alleged involvement in arson at an Oregon lumber company, then thrown back in prison for writing about how his beliefs got him branded  a terrorist. He's now been released, but only after being told he can't publish his opinions or talk to the press.

McGowan is the central figure in the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary If a Tree Falls, which details the lead-up to his prison sentence for arson credited to the Earth Liberation Front. He was released this past December to a halfway house in New York City.

McGowan spent more than two years of his sentence in a Communication Management Unit (CMU), where his contact with the outside world through letters and phone calls was highly restricted. In a piece published in The Huffington Post on April 1, McGowan explains how he ended up in the CMU: The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) didn't like what he was writing about environmental activism from his cell. "In short, based on its disagreement with my political views, the government sent me to a prison unit from which it would be harder for me to be heard, serving as a punishment for my beliefs," he writes. McGowan learned these details after filing a lawsuit on behalf of himself and other CMU prisoners. Through the lawsuit, the BOP was forced to reveal some damning internal memos. McGowan:

The following speech is listed in these memos to justify my designation to these ultra-restrictive units:

My attempts to "unite" environmental and animal liberation movements, and to "educate" new members of the movement about errors of the past; my writings about "whether militancy is truly effective in all situations"; a letter I wrote discussing bringing unity to the environmental movement by focusing on global issues; the fact that I was "publishing [my] points of view on the internet in an attempt to act as a spokesperson for the movement"; and the BOP's belief that, through my writing, I have "continued to demonstrate [my] support for anarchist and radical environmental terrorist groups."

On April 4, three days after McGowan's post was published, the BOP responded by -- what else? -- throwing him back in prison for talking about what he wasn't supposed to talk about.

Read more: Politics

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Kansas may mandate unsustainable development

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, where the magic happens.
Shutterstock / Katherine Welles
The Kansas statehouse in Topeka, where the magic happens.

Legislation introduced in Kansas would ban the promotion or practice by state agencies of sustainable development.

Don't they know that when sustainable development is outlawed, only outlaws develop sustainably?

House Bill 2366, introduced into the House Energy and Environment Committee, would prevent any state funds from being "used, either directly or indirectly, to promote, support, mandate, require, order, incentivize, advocate, plan for, participate in or implement sustainable development."

Read more: Climate & Energy