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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Big military guy more scared of climate change than enemy guns

Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, doesn't look like your usual proponent of climate action. Spencer Ackerman writes at Wired that Locklear "is no smelly hippie," but the guy does believe there will be terrible security threats on a warming planet, which might make him a smelly hippie in the eyes of many American military boosters.

Commander U.S. 7th Fleet

Everyone wants him to be worried about North Korean nukes and Chinese missiles, but in an interview with The Boston Globe, Locklear said that societal upheaval due to climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen ... that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

Read more: Climate & Energy


Insurance companies on climate change: ‘What climate change?’

Too many insurance companies aren't connecting the dots.

Insurance companies have been paying out big bucks of late, funding cleanup in the wake of wildfires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events likely made worse by global warming. Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $50 billion in economic losses, and it was just one of 11 American catastrophes in 2012 that wrought more than $1 billion worth of destruction.

So one would logically think that insurance companies would be among the most clued-in businesses when it comes to understanding and bracing for humanity’s horrendous effects on the weather.

Not so, according to the results of an industry-wide survey of 184 insurance companies that operate in California, New York, and Washington state.


NYC judge throws out Bloomberg’s big sugar drink ban

Good news, soda lovers and Bloomberg haters!


Reuters reports that New York State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling threw out New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's pet ban, calling it "arbitrary and capricious," in response to lawsuits brought by the American Beverage Association and other unapologetic sugar peddlers business groups.

Read more: Food


N.Y. Times and Thomas Friedman call for killing Keystone

New York Times building

The New York Times editorial board and Times columnist Thomas Friedman have both come out swinging against the Keystone XL pipeline.

A strong editorial today calls on Obama to kill the project. The headline: "When to Say No."

[Obama] should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem. ...

Supporters of the pipeline have argued that this is oil from a friendly country and that Canada will sell it anyway. We hope Mr. Obama will see the flaw in this argument. Saying no to the pipeline will not stop Canada from developing the tar sands, but it will force the construction of new pipelines through Canada itself. And that will require Canadians to play a larger role in deciding whether a massive expansion of tar sands development is prudent. At the very least, saying no to the Keystone XL will slow down plans to triple tar sands production from just under two million barrels a day now to six million barrels a day by 2030. ...

In itself, the Keystone pipeline will not push the world into a climate apocalypse. But it will continue to fuel our appetite for oil and add to the carbon load in the atmosphere. There is no need to accept it.

In an op-ed published on Sunday, Friedman also calls for rejecting Keystone, but with a different spin. He thinks Obama will end up approving the pipeline, so he wants activists to make such a stink about it that Obama feels compelled to take other big steps to forestall climate change in exchange.


Forests growing in thawed-out Arctic

Arctic forests are marching northward.
Shutterstock / Anders Hanssen
Forests are marching northward into the Arctic.

Where not so long ago there was nothing but ice, now there are miles of forests.

As frigid Arctic tundras have melted during the past 30 years, swaths of the northern lands have grown over with lush stands of trees, bushes, and other plants. That's the conclusion of NASA-funded scientists who studied 30 years of satellite data. They published their results Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"In the north's Arctic and boreal areas, the characteristics of the seasons are changing, leading to great disruptions for plants and related ecosystems," said one of the researchers, Ranga Myneni. From NASA:

As a result of enhanced warming and a longer growing season, large patches of vigorously productive vegetation now span a third of the northern landscape, or more than 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometers). That is an area about equal to the contiguous United States. This landscape resembles what was found 250 to 430 miles (400 to 700 kilometers) to the south in 1982.

"It's like Winnipeg, Manitoba, moving to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in only 30 years," said co-author Compton Tucker of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Smash patriarchy, save the planet

woman with globalWomen might make up more than half the Earth's human population, but we often bear the brunt of the same sorts of policies and destructive ways of thinking that are responsible for global climate change.

Do those things seem unrelated? Well, they're not, which is why International Women's Day is a perfect time to remember that the systems that degrade the planet are also the ones that oppress women.

Eve Ensler, the artist and activist behind The Vagina Monologues, connected the dots between abusing the planet and abusing women last month in this interview with Grist, where she called out the global economy's destructive "pressing rape mentality, which has to do with the powerful getting what they want at the expense of the person they’re taking it from, without an awareness of reciprocity or mutuality."

From former Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, writing at Fast Co.Exist:

Conflict and environmental degradation compound the problem in many contexts, leaving women even more vulnerable to violence. Soldiers and militias commonly use rape as a weapon of war. As climate change affects the availability of water, food and firewood, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, women have to travel longer distances to fetch supplies, putting them at greater risk of molestation, harassment, rape and beatings.

Read more: Living


Everyone to Asia: We don’t want your stinkin’ unsustainable palm oil


There's great news this week for everyone except the people producing tons of unsustainable palm oil: Customers are jumping ship right and left, swearing off of the processed food grease that has become the top cause of deforestation in Southeast Asia.

Dunkin' Donuts has agreed to phase out the palm oil it stuffs into its sweet, fatty pastry rings. The move came under pressure from the green-minded comptroller of New York state, Tom DiNapoli, who leveraged the state's investment in Dunkin' to bring about the change, style.

From the New York Times' City Room blog:

The comptroller is best known for his role overseeing the state’s pension fund, not for pushing for breakfast-food reform. But in this case, the goals are one and the same: as of last week, the pension fund owned 51,400 shares of Dunkin’ Brands Group worth about $2 million, and Mr. DiNapoli seeks to prod companies in which the fund invests to embrace sustainable practices ...

“Consumers may not realize that many of the foods and cosmetics they eat and use contain palm oil that has been harvested in ways that are severely detrimental to the environment,” Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement. “Shareholder value is enhanced when companies take steps to address the risks associated with environmental practices that promote climate change.”

Read more: Food


Whole Foods to label frankenfoods by 2018

whole-foods.jpgOut of the pure goodness of its big corporate heart, Whole Foods wants you to know if there are any GMOs in your $8 kombucha and $30 take-out salad.

Several states are kicking around proposals to require labels on genetically modified foods, but the (w)holier-than-thou natural foods giant waits for no government! It will wait for its suppliers, though. Whole Foods announced today that, by 2018, it will require genetically modified foods be labeled as such.

"We are as excited about this announcement as we are dedicated to supporting transparency and our customers’ right to know what’s in their food," read the statement from Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and COO A.C. Gallo. "By 2018, we will require our supplier partners to label products containing GMO ingredients, and we will work in collaboration with them as they transition to sourcing non-GMO ingredients or to clearly labeling products with ingredients containing GMOs."

Here's Robb reading more Whole Foods PR off a teleprompter. (Also, when I think Whole Foods offices I think earth tones, not hot pink, but that's not a judgment.)


For the price of a few dead whales, Spain gets to grow food in the desert

Sperm whales in happier times.
Sperm whales in happier times.

Recently, the city of Almeria in arid southern Spain has transformed itself into prime farmland by building more than 150 square miles of plastic-sheeting-encased greenhouses. That means there's more out-of-season, non-native foods for local Spaniards -- and more out-of-season, non-native plastic foods for local Spaniard sea creatures.

Only about 1,000 sperm whales live in the Mediterranean sea. When one recently beached itself and died on the coast, scientists determined the cause quickly. (Any guesses?)

“[I]t had a real greenhouse inside its stomach. We did not expect it, but it did not surprise us," marine biologist Renaud de Stephanis told Agence France-Presse. “It was as if it had a rock inside its intestine, nothing could get through. There was so much plastic that it finally exploded."

When it died, the whale had eaten about 37 pounds of plastic, including a lot of the plastic sheeting from those greenhouses, two flower pots, an ice cream tub, and some mattress chunks.

Read more: Food, Living


Global temperatures are at a 4,000-year high

It's getting awfully warm
Shutterstock / Andrzej Kubik
It's getting awfully warm.

The news lately has been so full of broken weather records, it's easy to just glaze over. But today we have one worth paying attention to: Mean global temperatures are warmer now than they have been at any time during the past 4,000 years.

A new study in the journal Science paints the clearest picture yet of the climate since the last ice age ended.

The researchers combined the results of 73 scientific studies that together pinpointed historical weather conditions, using analyses of sediment samples and ice cores and other methods, back 11,300 years. The result was a new hockey-stick graph, reinforcing the data in the old hockey-stick graph, as we noted yesterday.

Read more: Climate & Energy