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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Electric vehicles could stabilize grid, make money as batteries

Makin' money.
Makin' money.

Electric vehicles aren't just cars that are cleaner to operate than internal combustion dinosaurs. They're also powerful batteries on wheels. Andthat quality could spur EV owners to buy electricity at night, or operate their own solar panels or wind turbines, and store the excess energy in their cars. Then they could sell that electricity onto the grid from their parked vehicles during the day, when energy prices are highest.

The University of Delaware began working with NRG Energy in late 2011 to try to realize and commercialize that concept. Last week, the project hit a landmark: It has begun selling power from parked EVs into an energy market being developed by wholesale electricity dealer PJM.


CO2 in atmosphere poised to blow past 400 ppm mark


Sometime soon, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is expected to hit a scary new milestone: 400 parts per million. That would be higher than at any time in human history -- and it's bad news for anyone who cares about a livable climate.

The latest daily average level recorded by Scripps Institution of Oceanography sensors at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, was 399.5 ppm, on Monday. The CO2 level fluctuates throughout the day, and hourly levels in excess of 400 ppm have already been recorded. The level also fluctuates throughout the year, with May being the month when CO2 reaches its highest concentrations.

The big thing to watch for is whether the average for the month of May will exceed 400 ppm.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Venture capitalists are funding green food innovation

a lettuce light bulb
idea for life / Shutterstock

Big corporations are feeding Americans a diet of crap, but a swarm of start-ups is chewing away at their market dominance.

The New York Times brought us the news this week that venture capitalists -- normally the lifeblood of innovation in the technology and cleantech sectors -- are increasingly providing the financial fodder for food-related start-ups. The injections of cash could be helping to fertilize a green agro-culinary revolution.

From the Times article:

In some cases, the goal is to connect restaurants with food purveyors, or to create on-demand delivery services from local farms, or ready-to-cook dinner kits. In others, the goal is to invent new foods, like creating cheese, meat and egg substitutes from plants. Since this is Silicon Valley money, though, the ultimate goal is often nothing short of grand: transforming the food industry.


Keystone XL oil would be processed in sick East Texas community

Children playing and Valero flaring in Manchester, Texas
Tar Sands Blockade
Children play at a park in front of a Valero refinery in Houston, Texas.

For many, the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline is about national energy strategy and global climate change.

For residents of the Manchester neighborhood in Houston, it's also about what will be processed and spewed into the air in their backyards.

Activist Doug Fahlbusch recently brought some attention to the community when he held up a sign at a Valero-sponsored golf tournament that said, "TAR SANDS SPILL. ANSWER MANCHESTER." That protest got him carried away from the links by security guards and arrested.

What did Fahlbusch mean? Why are he and his colleagues at Tar Sands Blockade so concerned about Manchester?


Louisiana Senate kills a bill that tried to rein in dispersants

Don't worry about it, just spray some chemicals over the top.
Don't worry about it, just spray some chemicals over the top.

Oil companies can keep on spraying toxic oil dispersants willy-nilly over toxic oil spills in Louisiana waters.

An effort to encourage -- not to require, just to encourage -- oil companies to use nontoxic alternatives to dispersants when cleaning up their spills was killed amid oil industry opposition in the Louisiana state Senate.


We have known about climate change for 75 years

Guy Stewart Callendar, pictured in 1934
University of East Anglia Archive
Guy Stewart Callendar, who predicted climate change in 1938.

Carbon dioxide emissions have been altering the climate since the Industrial Revolution, some 200 years ago, though it took us a while to figure that out. NASA scientist James Hansen first warned Congress about the dangers of greenhouse gases in 1988.

But an earlier climate warning came five decades previous, way back in 1938. That's when Guy Stewart Callendar, an engineer specializing in steam and power generation, published a paper that theorized that carbon dioxide emissions from industrial activity could have a greenhouse effect. His prescient paper appeared in the quarterly journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Beleaguered bees catch a break as E.U. bans dangerous pesticides

Now I can forage without fear.
Nick Foster
Now I can forage without fear.

Heads up, pollinators of the world: Now would be a great time to take that European vacation you’ve always dreamed of. The European Commission -- the E.U.’s governing body -- voted on Monday to implement a continent-wide ban on the class of insecticides widely suspected of contributing to colony collapse disorder, the mysterious phenomenon that’s been decimating bee populations since 2006.

In January, the European Food Safety Authority warned that three types of neonicotinoid pesticides should be considered unacceptable for use based on their danger to bees. A growing body of scientific evidence has found that, while neonics can't be blamed directly for colony collapse disorder, they do mess with bees’ navigation, foraging, and communication abilities, throw off their reproductive patterns, and weaken their immune systems, leaving colonies more vulnerable to natural threats like mites and fungi. Neonics are the world’s most ubiquitous pesticides, used extensively on major crops like corn, soy, and canola. They're applied to seeds before planting and then show up in the pollen bees come to collect.

Three neonics -- thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid -- will be banned for two years from use on crops bees pollinate, likely starting in December. From the BBC:


Anthony Foxx, Charlotte’s transit-friendly mayor, tapped to be transportation secretary

Anthony Foxx
City of Charlotte
Anthony Foxx in front of one form of transportation: an electric vehicle.

Today President Barack Obama will nominate the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., to the post of transportation secretary.

If confirmed by the Senate, Anthony Foxx will succeed Ray LaHood, who is stepping down from the position. Early media reports paint the Charlotte mayor and former city council member as a bright, up-and-coming leader who has prioritized public transportation projects in the city that he has led for almost four years.


San Francisco and 10 other cities move toward dumping stocks in fossil-fuel companies

San Francisco had another bright idea
Shutterstock / Nickolay Stanev
San Francisco had another bright idea.

Oil companies might be awfully profitable right now, but political leaders in San Francisco and 10 other U.S. cities want to dump their investments in them anyway.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted this week to urge the city’s investment fund managers to sell off more than $583 million worth of shares in Chevron, ExxonMobil, and some 200 other fossil-fuel companies. This makes San Francisco the biggest city to join the divestment campaign being pushed by, which began with a focus on colleges and universities. Seattle was the first city to join the campaign; its mayor got on board late last year. Divestment might still be months or years off, if it happens at all, but civic leaders calling for action is a critical first step.


Mark Zuckerberg’s political group funds ads promoting Keystone and ANWR drilling

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

ThinkProgress has the story:

Mark Zuckerberg’s new political group, which bills itself as a bipartisan entity dedicated to passing immigration reform, has spent considerable resources on ads advocating a host of anti-environmental causes — including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and constructing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The umbrella group, co-founded by Facebook’s Zuckerberg, NationBuilder’s Joe Green, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Dropbox’s Drew Houston, and others in the tech industry, is called FWD.US. ...

FWD.US is bankrolling two subsidiary organizations to purchase TV ads to advance the overarching agenda — one run by veteran Republican political operatives and one led by Democratic strategists.