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As BP battles in court over Deepwater Horizon, oil spills are happening all over the place

A "small" spray of crude gushes into the Gulf after a boat crashed into a wellhead
U.S. Coast Guard
A "small" spray of crude gushes into the Gulf after a boat crashed into a wellhead.

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill was notable because of the huge number of barrels leaked, the economic and environmental devastation wrought, and the number of people directly affected. But oil spills are not an aberration. Spills are a constant and poisonous cost of the world's dependence upon fossil fuels.

Little attention is paid to this steady stream of spills. That's in part because company and government officials often labor to convince us that each single spill is minor, unimportant, and environmentally benign.

This week, while BP was defending itself in court against claims and potential fines stemming from the 2010 disaster, emergency responders were kept busy dealing with new oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.

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Energy-efficiency program killed in Louisiana

This guy just killed an energy efficiency program.
Facebook
This guy just killed an energy-efficiency program.

Ooh, so close. Louisiana was about to become the 47th state to help electricity customers buy efficient appliances and make other energy-saving investments.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission had voted 3-2 to in December to approve an energy-efficiency program. Money raised from a new fee on electricity sales would be funneled back to customers in the form of energy-saving subsidies. But then longtime board member Jimmy Field, a supporter of the program, retired from the commission. He was replaced by Scott Angelle, Gov. Bobby Jindal's former natural resources secretary.

And then commission chairman Eric Skrmetta, who opposed the energy-efficiency program, decided it was time for the commission to cast new votes.

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Calories make you fat, but sugary calories make you fat and diabetic

Pick your poison
Valerie Everett
Pick your poison.

The more readily available sugar is your country's food system, the more likely you are to get diabetes.

That's the conclusion an exhaustive worldwide study of diets, obesity rates, and Type 2 diabetes. It found that for every 150 calories of sugar that could be drunk or eaten daily by a resident of each of the countries studied, whether that sugar was squeezed out of sugar cane, beets, or corn, each resident became on average 1.1 percent more likely to develop the disease. (The researchers didn't analyze how many calories individuals actually eat and drink, but rather how many calories are available to people through their national food supply chains. Some of those calories are wasted without being consumed.)

A 12-ounce can of soda typically harbors about 150 sugary calories (which scientists, including the authors of the new study, confusingly call kilocalories). Many candy bars contain more calories than that, though not all from sugar.

Read more: Food, Living

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How the USDA plans to plant around climate change

A few weeks ago, the Department of Agriculture released a pretty devastating report on just how bad climate change is going to suck for things we plant in the ground in America. Short version: T minus 25ish years until we hit Armageddon-like scenarios for agriculture and forests.

That might sound hopeless, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is not discouraged. The Natural Resources Defense Council's Switchboard blog reports on a followup speech Vilsack gave this week, saying the USDA will help farmers adapt to climate change and become part of the climate solution.

"We're going to be very aggressive in this effort because we understand and appreciate, after the floods of 2011 and the drought of 2012, that folks need this assistance now," said Vilsack. "And by doing this, by taking these actions, we can help to mitigate and help to manage risks."

From the Switchboard blog:

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Al Gore’s ‘Reality Drop’ gamifies climate news commenting

Today Al Gore's Climate Reality Project dropped Reality Drop, aimed at dispelling climate myths by getting you invested in a weird new social network.

The Reality Drop website highlights articles on climate change, both bad and good, and gives you pre-written, smart, science-y language that you can cut and paste into their comment threads. Depending on how active you are, you can move up the police-style ranks from "rookie" to "lieutenant."

Mashable says Reality Drop "gamifies the climate change conversation":

"No matter how much is occurring in the world with extreme weather, the industry keeps feeding denial. Though not all denial occurs online, we want to give people the tools to respond quickly and sharply to that denial," Maggie Fox, CEO of Climate Reality, told Mashable.

"It's time for us to go on the offense in a space that we can not only dominate, but change opinions."

Basically, Reality Drop wants you to troll for change.

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Japan is going nuclear again, Fukushima be damned

After the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, Japanese leaders vowed to phase out nuclear power over the next two decades, but new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe isn't having any of that.

The reactors at Fukushima
The reactors at Fukushima.

Speaking to Parliament on Thursday, Abe said nuclear plants around the country would restart after meeting stricter safety standards and instituting upgrades, an expensive process that could take months if not years to complete. Japan used to get a third of its energy from 50 nuclear plants. From The New York Times:

On Thursday, Mr. Abe said that Japan had learned the need for tougher safety standards from the Fukushima accident, which forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate. He said the new safety standards will be enforced “without compromise.”

Mr. Abe also said Japan would continue seeking energy alternatives to reduce its dependence on nuclear power, even without going so far as to eliminate it.

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Drought is taking a toll on the Texas beef industry

Where's the beef? Well, it's not in West Texas these days. It's always been kind of dry and desolate, but the last two years of epic drought have taken a serious toll on the region, driving in tumbleweeds and driving out agriculture and related business.

cattle-grazing-climate-desk

Earlier this month, a West Texas Cargill cattle processing plant suspended operations, leaving about 2,300 residents of Plainview out of work, more than 10 percent of the town's population. The company says it's not a permanent closure, but let's be real, Cargill: This is looking a lot like devastating dust-bowl economics, round two. From The New York Times:

Dozens of former plant workers have already moved, finding new jobs with the plant’s owner, Cargill, or other companies outside Plainview or outside the state, many pulling their children out of the town’s 12 public schools. When workers receive their last paychecks in three weeks, the question is whether they will stick around. And then, the more existential question, can the town survive without those who leave?

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ExxonMobil wins and regular folks lose in $1 billion pollution ruling

Guess who wins.
Thomas Hawk
Guess who wins.

Susan and Robert Lazzaro buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. Their jacuzzi sits empty and baths are out of the question. They limit their showers to two minutes or less.

And like many other homeowners in Jacksonville, Md., the Lazarros fear that the savings they invested in their home were wiped out when a local ExxonMobil gas station leaked for more than a month in 2006, poisoning the groundwater upon which they depended.

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Sequestration would be bad news for clean energy and a clean environment

"sequester ahead" sign
Shutterstock

If the environment could be likened to a punching bag, beaten up by pollution, climate change deniers, and rampant deforestation, then a colossal political impasse that the U.S. is facing this week could be likened to a redwood log connected to a battering ram being swung at Mother Earth's punched-up face.

Sequestration would help polluters escape probing government eyes. It would slow down renewable energy and energy conservation projects. And it would keep Americans out of national parks.

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Entire food system may be contaminated with BPA and other plastic nasties

Not ooze-free.
sea turtle
You still probably shouldn't cook your turkey in plastic.

Eat organic all you want. Avoid plastic like the plague. It may not matter after all -- you could still be ingesting a lot of nasty bisphenol A and phthalates, chemicals that leach from plastics and potentially disrupt human endocrine systems.

A study by Sheela Sathyanarayana published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology compared one group that avoided BPA and pthalates in accordance with written directions and another group that ate a catered, local, organic diet prepared without use of plastic for cooking or storage.

From Fast Co.Exist:

The researchers assumed that urinary BPA and pthalate levels would drop in the catered group compared to the group using written instructions -- people are generally bad at following advice from their doctors after all. "Instead we saw big spikes and increases in the catered diet group and no changes at all in the written education group," she says.