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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Monster ice sheets destroy homes, terrorize residents

Melting glaciers might have been the farthest thing from some lakeshore-dwelling Minnesotans' and Manitobans' minds these past few days.

ice surge destroys homes
Twitter user Jill Coubrough, @coubroughCBC
A home destroyed by an ice surge in Manitoba, Canada.

Fast-growing sheets of ice, marching steadily forward as if out of a horror film, destroyed homes near Dauphin Lake in Manitoba, Canada, and caused damage along the southeastern shores of Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota. They rose from melting lakes and were blown by powerful winds up foreshores into yards and homes.

Amateur video of the advancing ice was captured Saturday by anxious residents in Minnesota and posted to YouTube:

Read more: Climate & Energy


CO2 crosses dreaded 400 ppm milestone, and science is very disappointed in you

"Del Boca Vista is underwater, thanks to you!"
"Del Boca Vista is underwater, thanks to you!"

We already told you that carbon dioxide could pass a daily average of 400 parts per million (ppm) sometime this May -- an atmospheric concentration not seen in human history, and generally a sign that we're passing into the climatological period known as "the gnashing of teeth." The New York Times now reports that we've Usain Bolted past that milestone:

Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

Read more: Uncategorized


$1.9 billion wind project coming to Iowa

This wind turbine in Iowa is going to get a lot more company.
Shutterstock / David Lee
This wind turbine in Iowa is going to get a lot more company.

America's wind energy boom is about to deliver the biggest economic investment in Iowa's history -- and blow a whole lot of cheap, clean electricity into the appliances and lightbulbs of the state's residents.

Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Co. announced it would spend $1.9 billion building new wind turbines in the state, increasing the amount of wind energy generated in Iowa to about 6,000 megawatts, up from 5,000 megawatts today, according to a report in the Des Moines Register. The state aims to have 10,000 megawatts of wind operating by 2020. From the article:

The company said the project would “be built at no net cost to the company’s customers.” The added wind generation is expected to cut consumer rates by $3.3 million in 2015 and grows to $10 million annually by 2017, the company said. “This is real money back in the pockets of Iowans,” [Lt. Gov. Kim] Reynolds [R] said. ...


Shell to drill world’s deepest offshore oil well in Gulf of Mexico

It's getting harder to find the oil needed to fill 'er up.
Shutterstock / Tupungato
It's getting harder to find the oil to fill 'er up.

Royal Dutch Shell plans to stick its oil-extracting tentacles deeper under the Gulf of Mexico than any oil company ever has.

Shell is preparing to drill 9,500 feet -- nearly two miles -- beneath the surface of the sea to suck oil out of a reserve that was discovered eight years ago, 200 miles southeast of New Orleans. The deepest oil well currently in operation, at 8,000 feet deep, is operated nearby in the Gulf, also by Shell.

The quest for deeper wells reflects advancing technology and increasing desperation as shallower reserves dry up. From Reuters:


America wants Kyoto Protocol replaced with peer-pressure campaign

Can peer pressure save the planet?
Can peer pressure save the planet?

America never ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and it doesn't want the rest of the world ever signing anything like it again.

As world climate delegates try (not very successfully, mind you) to thrash out a new agreement to replace the protocol, which expired last year, the U.S. is pushing a very different approach to reducing the world's greenhouse gas emissions: international peer pressure.

Instead of agreeing to a set of emissions goals, America wants each country to set its own targets -- in the hopes that the glare of the international community will encourage governments to make those targets meaningful. America's goal appears to be to agree to not agree.


Coal-export plans going off the rails in Pacific Northwest

You shall not pass.
Scott Granneman
You shall not pass.

Plans for two Oregon coal-export terminals have gone up in smoke in the last two months. That makes for a total of three scrapped terminals in the Pacific Northwest, after a proposed facility in Grays Harbor, Wash., bit the coal dust last year. Three others in the region remain in the works, but they face many of the same challenges -- permitting and zoning issues, stalled negotiations, and delayed environmental reviews, not to mention fierce public opposition.

A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan, which announced Wednesday it was abandoning plans for a coal-export terminal at Oregon's Port of St. Helens, “blamed site logistics for stopping the project, not the intense controversy over exporting coal from the green Northwest,” reports The Oregonian. He said Kinder Morgan would continue to explore options for a West Coast terminal.

The abrupt announcement came barely a month after the Port of Coos Bay ended negotiations with a California company looking to build a terminal there. There's a chance the port could consider coal-export options with other companies, but the expensive rail improvements any project would require make a coal deal unlikely, said David Petrie, founder of Coos Waterkeeper.


Tesla sedan gets best Consumer Reports auto review of all time

Tesla's sexy Model S
Tesla Motors
Tesla's sexy Model S.

The good news just keeps flowing -- like electricity from a renewables-infused grid -- for electric-auto maker Tesla Motors.

Consumer Reports just gave the Tesla Model S Sedan its highest-ever score for an automobile. The glowing review and sky-high score of 99 out of 100 came in the same week that the 10-year-old auto manufacturer enjoyed its first profitable quarter.

Some highlights from the breathless review:

This electric luxury sports car, built by a small automaker based in Palo Alto, Calif., is brimming with innovation, delivers world-class performance, and is interwoven throughout with impressive attention to detail. It’s what Marty McFly might have brought back in place of his DeLorean in  “Back to the Future.” The sum total of that effort has earned the Model S the highest score in our Ratings: 99 out of  100. That is far ahead of such direct competitors as the gas-powered Porsche Panamera (84) and the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid (57).


Judge says EPA’s lax guidelines on dispersants can stand

A worker spraying Corexit in the gulf.
A worker spraying Corexit in the Gulf.

Should the federal government regulate where oil dispersants can be used and how much can be dumped into waterways following oil spills?

“Nah,” says the EPA.

Environmental groups filed suit last year seeking to force the agency to improve its oversight of the use of dispersants. But a federal judge this week tossed out the lawsuit after oil industry attorneys helped EPA win on a technicality.


Strawberry fields, not forever: Workers ditch farm after it punishes them for fleeing wildfire

Yum, smoky and injurious to worker health.
Strawberries: not worth choking over.

Workers on a strawberry farm in Southern California were fired last week when they became worried about smoke from a nearby wildfire and left mid-shift. After a media backlash, the farm offered the workers their jobs back, but the workers said, essentially, "Screw you."

The strawberry pickers had taken shelter inside from choking smoke and falling ashes from the Springs Fire, defying an order from a foreman who told them to suck it up and keep on picking. From NBC4:

The ashes were falling on top of us, one of them explained, adding “it was hard to breathe.”


California town of Sebastopol will require solar panels on all new homes


Vineyards won't be the only things flourishing when the sun shines on the fertile city of Sebastopol, Calif., in Sonoma wine country. The liberal stronghold of fewer than 8,000 residents this week became California's second city to require that new homes be outfitted with panels to produce solar energy.

A vote by the City Council on Tuesday evening came less than two months after a similar program was approved in Lancaster, Calif., a conservative desert city with 150,000 residents nearly 400 miles away.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat: