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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Conservatives vs. liberals: Who wastes more electricity?

red and blue power plugs

Researchers at UCLA tested whether liberals were all talk when it comes to caring about the environment.

The findings: They are not, at least in the American West.

In a comparison of electricity bills and voter registration records of 280,000 households, left-leaning voters were found to be more likely to leave their lights and air conditioners switched off and conserve more energy -- especially in the summertime -- than were Republicans.


River full of dead, diseased pigs is just another food safety nightmare for China

The Chinese are pissed, and if I were them I would be too.

One week after local residents first spotted them by a water treatment center, Chinese officials are still fishing dead pigs out of the Huangpu river. To date, they've used a dozen barges to pull 5,916 pigs out of the water. The pigs are believed to have originated from upriver farms after a series of investigations revealed illegal trade of meat harvested from diseased pigs. But don't worry, the government says: The water's fine!

Cleaning workers retrieve the carcasses of pigs from a branch of Huangpu River in Shanghai
REUTERS / Stringer China

The Guardian reports:

While the cause of the incident is still under investigation, water quality tests along the river have identified traces of porcine circovirus, a virus that can affect pigs but not humans. ...

China's toxic smog, rubbish-strewn rivers and contaminated soil have emerged as a source of widespread anger over the past few weeks, as profit-minded officials jostle with aggrieved internet users over how to balance the country's economic development with its environmental concerns.

Experts say the groundwater in half of all Chinese cities is contaminated, most of it severely, and that soil pollution could be widespread in 15 of the country's 33 provinces.

If China's trying to go green and quell community anxiety and anger over environmental pollution, it best get all those pigs out of the drink right quick.

Read more: Food, Living


Perfect swarm: Giant mosquitos invade Florida

"Huge,” “giant,” “mega,” and “aggressive” are not the words you want to hear before "mosquito." But that's how experts describe Psorophora ciliata, or the “gallinipper” mosquito. Native to the eastern U.S. and immortalized in stories and folk songs for decades, these big biters are now expanding into Florida.


Up to 20 times the size of other mosquitos, the gallinippers aren't known for spreading disease, but their bites are likened to being stabbed with a knife -- and unlike Florida's other invasive species, they don't make for an even remotely good meal (we presume). From the Huffington Post:

Doug Carlson, mosquito control director for Indian River County, told WPTV that the insects are so big, "it can feel like a small bird has landed on you." Meanwhile, Gary Goode of Palm Beach County Mosquito Control told WPBF the mosquito "practically breaks your arm" when it feeds on you.

A warmer winter and stagnant waters left over from Tropical Storm Debby (some parts of the state got 75 inches of rain in 2012) have scientists and residents nervous about the bites to come. The Gainesville Sun reports:

Whatever the mosquito type, locals could be destined for "a very rough summer," said Paul Myers, administrator for the Alachua County Health Department.

Read more: Living


Flammable ice will help power the planet, then make it even hotter

Methane hydrate burning in a laboratory
USGS Gas Hydrates Lab
Methane hydrate burning in a laboratory.

It sounds like an addictive drug.

And that may become an accurate description for the frozen fossil-fuel deposits that go by the name "flammable ice."

On Tuesday, Japan announced that it had tapped into flammable ice beneath the deep-sea floor and burned the methane that it contained. The achievement was a milestone victory in long-running international efforts to extract and burn the world's richest source of untapped fossil fuels.


Oil barge crashes into gas pipeline in Louisiana, triggers big fire

An oil-laden barge crashed into a gas pipeline in Louisiana
Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office
An oil-laden barge crashed into a natural-gas pipeline off the Louisiana coast.

A grotesque collision of fossil-fuel-laden vessels happened in a bayou south of New Orleans on Tuesday evening, where tug-boat operators crashed a barge carrying crude oil into a submerged natural-gas pipeline.

The result was predictable: A spectacular conflagration erupted that injured two of the four members of the tug-boat crew, including the captain, who reportedly suffered burns covering more than three quarters of his body. Emergency crews on Wednesday were scrambling to contain spilled oil spreading south of the accident.

The crash occurred at about 6 p.m. local time 30 miles south of New Orleans on Bayou Perot, according to the Coast Guard.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Another George Bush runs for office in Texas, talks up oil and gas drilling

George P. Bush
Gage Skidmore
George P. Bush -- related to all those other Bushes, but Hispanic too!

George Prescott Bush has kicked off a campaign to run for Texas land commissioner next year. Haven't heard much about this Bush? Just wait -- you will. He's the 36-year-old son of former Florida governor and 2016 presidential aspirant Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife Columba.

"A Spanish-speaking attorney and consultant based in Fort Worth, Bush is considered a rising star among conservative Hispanics, and his political pedigree is hard to match," writes the Associated Press. As the nephew of former President George W. Bush and the grandson of more-former President George H.W. Bush, he's got quite the dynasty behind him.

In a campaign video set to aggressively swelling music, Bush notes that Texas' land commissioner is responsible for "energy policy through the leases of our public oil and gas resources," and declares, "As Texans, we recognize the need for safe and reliable energy produced right here in our Lone Star State."

Drill, baby Bush, drill!


The new SimCity: Green urbanist dream, gamer nightmare

First released in 1989, the computer game SimCity is "arguably the single most influential work of urban-design theory ever created," according to this gushy 2006 New Yorker piece. The game has gone through many iterations over the years, but the latest -- released last week -- appears to be the most beloved by wonks and also the most loathed by players.


New SimCity has been plagued by so many epic fails since its launch last week (DRM problems, corporate lies, no freaking undo feature) that gaming site Kotaku created a special "disaster watch" section for it and Amazon stopped selling it entirely. Yet the game has "city wonks downright giddy," according to Fast Co.Exist, which set up an urbanist tournament to find out who could build the best pretend city.

Nearly every team planned to create a city independent of finite energy resources and the help of other cities. ... Every city was solely focused on economic autonomy. There was no talk of creating mutually beneficial partnerships. In fact, teams merely saw one another as potential buyers of their wealth of goods and services. The easiest political philosophy is, apparently, Western European mercantilism.

“I would’ve expected everyone to come together and cooperate,” [said SimCity game designer Stone Librande].

While the planners didn't exactly go in for the whole sharing economy thing, they did focus on creating sustainable cities. But Librande, who built the new SimCity "over the past three and a half years with Netflix documentaries on urbanism as his only academic resource," insists that sustainability was not his focus with the game. From Popular Science:

Read more: Cities, Living


Catch shares help corporations more than fish populations

new animation out from the Center for Investigative Reporting makes sense of the wonky and wacky world of individualized transferable quotas, or catch shares, which were ostensibly meant as a solution to overfishing. "If a small group of people owned the fish, they might take better care of them," explains the animated grandpa in the video.

It's not totally clear whether the catch-share system, implemented across the U.S. in 2011, has helped fish populations rebound. But it has helped large corporate fishing operations at the expense of small fisher-people, according to an investigation by CIR.

Fishing quotas, which are based on past fishing levels, can be sold on the open market, making it easier for fat-cat corporations to scoop up as many as they can afford. The system initially only allowed fishing with trawlers in certain areas -- a type of fishing that has caused heavy environmental destruction.

From CIR:

Thousands of jobs have been lost in regions across the United States where catch-share management plans have been implemented, researchers have noted.


Solar power set to shine in 2013

Solar panels in San Francisco
John Upton
Solar panels in San Francisco.

This year is shaping up to be a bright one for solar power.

New solar generating capacity expected to be installed around the world in 2013 will be capable of producing almost as much electricity as eight nuclear reactors, according to Bloomberg, which interviewed seven analysts and averaged their forecasts.

That would be a rise of 14 percent over last year for a total of 34.1 gigawatts of new solar capacity, thanks in large part to rising demand in China, the U.S., and Japan. From Bloomberg:


Mississippi poised to pass ‘Anti-Bloomberg’ bill banning healthy food regs

fast food road sign

Mississippi is just the kind of place one might expect to find a backlash against the "organic agenda." Apparently spurred on by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's (newly tossed out) pet ban on big sodas, Mississippi is currently on the verge of passing a bill that would bar every local government in the state from requiring that restaurants post calorie counts or cap portion sizes.

A far-reaching, big-government bill to counter other far-reaching, big-government bills? Uh, sure, Mississippi. NPR has the full scary deets:

"The Anti-Bloomberg Bill" garnered wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature in a state where one in three adults is obese, the highest rate in the nation.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. It was the subject of intense lobbying by groups including the restaurant association, the small business and beverage group, and the chicken farmers' lobby.

"The chicken farmers' lobby" could be a caption for an unfunny New Yorker cartoon, but in Mississippi it's also apparently a powerful business group -- though hardly the only one with skin in this game.

Read more: Food, Politics