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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Chris Christie slams ‘selfish’ homeowners blocking coastal protection measures

Some waterfront residents would prefer to risk storm surge destruction such as this, in unprotected Mantoloking after Superstorm Sandy, than lose their views.
Shutterstock / Glynnis Jones
Some waterfront residents would rather risk devastating storm surges than lose their views.

Would you like a dose of utter destruction with that view?

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, some New Jersey residents living in vulnerable oceanfront properties are stymieing efforts to build sand dunes and widen beaches along the coastline to block storm surges. Some fear losing their views. Others worry that new public-access beach areas could be opened up adjacent to their properties.

Gov. Chris Christie (R) said on Tuesday that he has "no sympathy" for property owners standing in the way of a $3 billion federal project to widen beaches and build protective dunes. He announced plans for dealing with these "selfish" property owners during a town hall meeting in Middlesex Borough.


Oil industry likely triggered big 2011 Oklahoma earthquake, scientists find

Mining in Oklahoma and other states is inducing earthquakes.
Shutterstock / Anthony Butler

A 2011 earthquake in Oklahoma, the most powerful ever recorded in the state, can probably be blamed on the oil industry, according to new research by university and federal scientists.

The 5.7-magnitude quake and a string of smaller quakes that rocked central Oklahoma in November 2011 appear to have been induced by oil-drilling wastewater being pumped into the ground at high pressure. That's the conclusion of a study published Tuesday in the journal Geology.

Turns out that pumping tainted water into the ground at high pressure creates problems. Go figure.


Climate change is killing the corn cob pipe

Add another item to the list of things climate change will kill! But this one makes me a little gleeful.

NPR reports that "corn cob pipes have made a comeback in recent years" (which, what?), but now higher temperatures and drought are severely cutting into the supply of this "natural product."

ilmo joe
Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Do trees fight crime in Philadelphia?

trees in Philadephia

We already know that having more trees around protects our health. Turns out those trees might also protect our wealth and safety, according to a new study from researchers at Temple University, published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

Controlling for some socioeconomic factors such as poverty, education, and density, the researchers examined crime and tree data and found that "the presence of grass, trees and shrubs is associated with lower crime rates in Philadelphia, particularly for robberies and assaults."

Here's where things get a little presumptuous. The authors "surmise this deterrent effect is rooted in the fact that maintained greenery encourages social interaction and community supervision of public spaces, as well the calming effect that vegetated landscapes may impart, thus reducing psychological precursors to violent acts," according to a Temple University press release.

A study published in the same journal last year backs up the connection: A 10 percent increase in trees in Baltimore correlated to about a 12 percent decrease in crime. “It’s really pretty striking how strong this relationship is,” said Austin Troy, lead author of that study.

But is it truly a causal relationship?

Read more: Cities, Living


Green labels on candy bars are designed to trick you

'Ooh, green nutritional information, how healthy this Snickers must be.'
"Ooh, green nutritional information -- how healthy this Snickers must be!"

Here's a question that should be easy to answer. Which is more healthful: A candy bar with a green nutritional information label or a candy bar with a white one?

(Ignore, for the moment, that the very notion of “nutritional” is a farce when it comes to diabetes- and obesity-inducing candy bars.)

The color of the label is obviously irrelevant. But green nutritional panels -- which now adorn Snickers, M&M's, and other candies made by Mars -- appear to fool shoppers into thinking they’re buying something that’s more healthful, according to a research paper published last month in the journal Health Communication.


Melting ice is a boon for archaeology

As glaciers melt, they are revealing old tunics and bodies and stuff.
As glaciers melt, they are revealing old tunics and bodies and stuff.

As glaciers melt and recede, they are revealing archaeological treasures from the civilizations that came before ours.

A humble tunic found at a site normally covered over with ice in south Norway is among the discoveries that wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of global warming.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Wyoming and energy companies can keep fracking chemicals secret, court rules

Wyoming, where the government is winning a legal battle to help keep Haliburton's secrets.
Shutterstock / Julie Lubick
Wyoming, where the government knows what's in fracking fluid but won't tell you.

Halliburton and other companies are pumping chemicals into the ground beneath Wyoming to lubricate cracks created during fracking, which allows sand to slide in and hold the cracks open so natural gas can be extracted. Many residents, property owners, and environmentalists would like to know what mixture of chemicals is being used. The state of Wyoming knows, thanks to a 2010 rule requiring companies to disclose the information to the state government, but officials refuse to release that information to the public.

And now a county judge has weighed in, ruling against the public and in favor of energy company secrecy. From the AP:

Read more: Climate & Energy


What does the collapse of solar-panel giant Suntech mean? Pricier panels, probably

solar panels on roofThe bankruptcy of Chinese solar-panel heavyweight Suntech may be an omen that the sun is about to set on super-cheap solar energy.

The world’s biggest solar module manufacturer is on the verge of collapse under a pile of more than $1 billion in debt. The problem is not that the market for solar panels is weak. The problem is that there is too much competition among manufacturers of panels, which has driven prices down to unsustainably low levels.

As Suntech’s hometown tries to bail out the company, its woes are pointing to what could be ahead for other firms operating in the solar sector -- and for those who were looking forward to buying cheap solar panels for their homes and businesses.


Protests against tar-sands pipelines heat up in U.S. and Canada

Anti-tar-sands protests escalated last week, aiming to block both the Keystone XL and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines. In the U.S. and Canada, activists staged more than 50 actions -- raucous marches, another sit-in outside the White House, and a full-on blockade of a refinery, altogether resulting in more than 50 arrests and at least one restraining order. There was even a light brigade in Tampa, Fla.!

And, marking a new front in the war, activists broadened their scope beyond oil and pipeline companies to include firms investing in tar-sands projects, like TD Bank, a major financier of Keystone. “We will demonstrate to companies bankrolling KXL that their investments are as toxic as the tar sands they want to pump through the pipeline,” the Tar Sands Blockade group said in a statement.


Native American and First Nations leaders also made headlines last week by coming out strongly against tar-sands pipelines. From the Global Post:


There are even more dead pigs in a Chinese river

dead pigs in a river

In the week and a half since we first brought you the all-important details on those dead pigs filling the Huangpu River in China, officials have raised the body count to more than 16,000.

On Sunday, the government said the pulling-dead-pigs-out-of-the-water operation was "basically finished." Chinese official media reports that some of the dead animals were traced by their ear tags to pig farms in Shaoxing, and their owners have been prosecuted. Farmers in Shaoxing have recently been charged with selling meat from diseased animals.

The New York Times points out the silver lining of the porcine flotilla: At least the diseased pigs aren't ending up on dinner plates. As the government cracks down on contaminated meat, the only place to put them is in the river. Three cheers for food safety!

Read more: Food