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Biggest cities with biggest transit systems still face biggest congestion

LA-traffic-jam-carouselCongestion is gross whether it's in your sinuses or your city. Urbanists spend a lot of time complaining about clogged up city roads and all the cars full of only one commuter that contribute to the traffic.

But here's some good news for a change: Public transportation takes a huge chunk out of that congestion in dense cities. Transit saved drivers nearly a billion hours of potential car-driving delay in cities nationwide last year, according to the new annual congestion report from the Texas Transportation Institute.

"The 2012 Urban Mobility Report makes clear that without public transportation services, travelers would have suffered an additional 865 million hours of delay and consumed 450 million more gallons of fuel," the American Public Transportation Association said. "Had there not been public transportation service available in the 498 U.S. urban areas studied, congestion costs for 2011 would have risen by nearly $21 billion from $121 billion to $142 billion."

Read more: Cities


Fish DNA database aims to fight seafood fraud and promote conservation

Matthew Kenrick

Over the past few years, the FDA has been compiling a fish DNA library to help combat seafood fraud. But despite its best efforts, many sushi eaters and other seafood diners are still chowing down on mislabeled and unsustainable fish species on the regular.

Now a Canadian team has gone a step further, compiling a DNA barcoding library of tens of thousands of Atlantic ocean fishes, and making much of it available directly to other research scientists and the public. You can thank Canadian biologist Paul Bentzen and his colleagues at Dalhousie University. Yes, despite the funny name, this is a real university. From

According to Paul Bentzen, Professor in the Department of Biology, "With growing pressures from fisheries, climate change and invasive species, it is more important than ever to monitor and understand biodiversity in the sea, and how it is changing. Our database provides a new tool for species identification that will help us monitor biodiversity. The availability of ever easier to use DNA sequencing technology can make almost anyone 'expert' at identifying species -- and all it takes is a scrap of tissue."


Another climate poll demonstrates that climate polls are stupid

This is a test, not a poll, and the poll was by phone, not on paper, and this is about real estate, not the climate, but whatever.
This is a test, not a poll, and the poll was by phone, not on paper, and this is about real estate, not the climate, but whatever.

Hey, there's another poll about climate change. (You should know beforehand that it is from Duke University, which everyone hates because of its basketball team. Don't let this influence you.) Let's look at it together. (Or, if you want, go look at it by yourself, who cares [PDF].)

The poll starts with this question: "Is the earth's climate changing?" This is a dumb question for reasons articulated here. The answer? 50 percent of people are "convinced." A third say "probably" but would "like more evidence," so maybe they should try "Google." 8 percent say probably not, but more evidence could convince them. These are the worst 8 percent. They are lying and could easily find all of the evidence they need, but they don't want to do that because they don't accept climate change and there is nothing you could do to convince them, but they like to pretend they're being objective. Just the worst.

The next question: "Is climate change primarily because of human activity or natural causes?" Gahhhhh. We are two questions in and we're already in a cart that's missing a wheel flying down a rocky hillside toward disaster. 64 percent of people say it's our fault. Everyone else says it's natural. So I would assume that all of the respondents here have at least 10 years of experience studying the climate; each must have published at least two works on the subject of climate change. Because why else would you ask people how they feel about demonstrable fact? If you asked people what made a car go, 60 percent would say "an internal combustion engine," 22 percent would say "steam," and the rest would be a combination of "Jesus" and "magic."


Let’s name all of the ocean water that will someday flood us after Reagan

Once again, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has proposed naming the United States' offshore "exclusive economic zone" after Ronald Reagan. (He tried this last year, too.) The EEZ, as it's known, is the expanse of ocean between three and 200 miles off U.S. coastlines in areas we control. It's our ocean, which we can do with what we want. Maybe we want to build statues to former presidents there. We can; it's our water.

So why does Issa want to name it after the Gipper? Two reasons. First, because he can't suggest we go big and name a state after Reagan since there aren't any more states. Except maybe someday Puerto Rico, and I suspect Issa wouldn't consider that an appropriate tribute. And, second, because naming things after Reagan is how Republicans tithe.

From The Hill:

Issa on Wednesday reintroduced his bill to rename the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which generally extends from three miles to 200 miles offshore, as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone.

The late Reagan, a Californian like Issa, established the EEZ with a 1983 presidential proclamation that declared the nation’s sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting and conserving offshore resources, including energy. …

Under the proposal, references to the EEZ in U.S. laws, regulations, maps and other documents would carry Reagan’s name.

Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan! Reagan Reagan, Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan Reagan!

The new map of Exclusive Economic Zones
The new map of Exclusive Economic Zones. Click to embiggen and/or print out to use as a poster in your home


We answer your questions about the coming East Coast blizzard

A New York City bus, stuck during a 2010 blizzard
A New York City bus, stuck during a 2010 blizzard

It's going to snow on the East Coast tomorrow, lasting overnight until Saturday. That much is known and agreed upon.

The following points are up for debate.

How much snow will there be?

Boston's mayor, Thomas Menino, held a press conference this morning, canceling school and suggesting that people not be on the roads after noon. At that time, the city will be in a state of snow emergency. Why? Because of this:

snow forecast boston nemo

That blizzard could dump two feet of snow on the city -- perhaps as much as 30 inches. Or, according to one report: over four feet.

New York, meanwhile, could see an equal amount. Or it could see three inches. Gawker explains the discrepancy:

Right now, American (GFS) computer models are predicting a few inches of snow for much of the tri-state: a little over two inches for New York City; under an inch for much of New Jersey. Some of it might be rain. The sky-water is expected to start falling Thursday night through Friday morning, but the the brunt of the storm probably won't hit until late Friday night. …

The European model, like a European model, is much more intimidating (and mean). According to the ECMWF (European Center for Medium range Weather Forecasting — boring name; brainstorm improvements while trapped in your home this weekend), the amount of snow in New York could reach over a foot by Saturday evening (about 15 inches). The European model is generally considered by meteorologists to be the most accurate (it was the first to accurately predict the track of Hurricane Sandy).

So the answer to the question above is: We'll see.

Does the storm have a name?

If you work in the marketing department at the Weather Channel, your answer to this will be an emphatic "yes." The network has declared the storm to be "Nemo," after the terrifying submarine captain in that old book, or maybe the terrifying clownfish in that newer movie.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Marco Rubio keeps digging deeper on climate denial

Let's talk about Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Capitol Hill's "it" guy in the same sense that Hollywood has marginally talented people whom it seizes upon and promotes until the next guy comes along. So here's Rubio's moment, maybe three years earlier than he would have hoped.

Earlier this week, Rubio sat down with BuzzFeed's Ben Smith for a conversation about a range of topics. (The event was called "BuzzFeed Brews," intending to be an informal two-guys-have-a-beer sort of thing. Rubio didn't drink his beer.) At one point, Smith asked about climate change. Here's the clip:

Rubio's response?

Even if -- anything that we would do on that would have a real impact on the economy and probably -- if it's only us doing it, a very negligible impact on the environment. Ultimately, if you look at the developing countries -- which are not developing countries anymore; China, India, and others -- they're now the largest polluters in the world by far. So to the extent that that's what you're trying to get at, the United States is a country, not a planet.

On the other hand, if we unilaterally impose these things on our economy, you're going to have a devastating impact on economics, depending on which measure it is we're talking about. And I think that's what, more than anything else, is standing in the way of doing anything on this. There has to be a cost-benefit analysis to every one of these principles that people are pushing on. And the benefit is difficult to justify when it's just us doing it.


TransCanada is getting everyone it knows to hustle Obama on Keystone

TransCanada and its allies have reached the "begging" stage of their lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline. (The preceding stage was "obfuscation"; the final stage is "giving up and moving to space.")

This morning, the CEO of the company met with a key State Department official. From The Hill:

CEO Russ Girling is scheduled to meet in the afternoon with Kerri-Ann Jones, who is the department's assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. …

Secretary of State John Kerry, at his recent Senate confirmation hearing, kept his cards close to the vest when asked about his views on the pipeline.

Girling told Bloomberg Wednesday that he expects the project will be approved “very soon” and that he suspects "we’re looking at anything from a few weeks to a couple of months.”

The mention of Kerry there is important. It's a reminder that Jones isn't the decision-maker. And that Kerry's not either. Ultimately, approval comes down to the president, who I suspect won't spend a lot of time reviewing Jones' notes from this meeting. And what's Girling going to say in this confab anyway? "Hey, come on. Pleeeeeease? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?" It's not a great argument, but at this point it's probably the best he's got.

The president talks pipes.
The president talks pipes.


The USDA is gearing up to steal candy from babies

school_lunch11-hpThe USDA seems a little conflicted about what it wants you to eat, kids. A year ago, it put out new rules intended to make school lunches healthier. Then in December, it backed away from restrictions on servings of meat and grains. Now the agency says it wants to crack down on greasy 'n' sweet snacks sold both in vending machines and in school lunches. From the Associated Press:

Under the new rules the Agriculture Department proposed Friday, foods like fatty chips, snack cakes, nachos and mozzarella sticks would be taken out of lunch lines and vending machines. In their place would be foods like baked chips, trail mix, diet sodas, lower-calorie sports drinks and low-fat hamburgers. ...

Under the proposal, the Agriculture Department would set fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in schools. Current standards already regulate the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches that are subsidized by the federal government, but most lunchrooms also have "a la carte" lines that sell other foods. Food sold through vending machines and in other ways outside the lunchroom has never before been federally regulated.

Read more: Food, Politics


USDA report predicts all manner of end-times for crops and forests

Darla Hueske

Climate change will absolutely devastate American agriculture and forests. Don't believe me? Ask the feds.

The Department of Agriculture released a new analysis of cropland and climate, showing that bets are off after the next 25ish years. From USA Today:

"We're going to end up in a situation where we have a multitude of things happening that are going to negatively impact crop production," said Jerry Hatfield, a laboratory director and plant physiologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service and lead author of the study. "In fact, we saw this in 2012 with the drought." ...

Farmers will be able to minimize the impact of global warming on their crops by changing the timing of farming practices and utilizing specialized crop varieties more resilient to drought, disease and heat, among other practices, the report found. ...

By the middle of the century and beyond, adaptation becomes more difficult and costly as plants and animals that have adapted to warming climate conditions will have to do so even more -- making the productivity of crops and livestock increasingly more unpredictable. Temperature increases and more extreme swings in precipitation could lead to a drop in yield for major U.S. crops and reduce the profitability of many agriculture operations.

Warmer weather, the USDA predicts, will also help weeds grow, potentially stunting grains and soybeans.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


New-old disaster aid may be coming for troubled farmers

Drought eradicates the greenLast year, American farmers saw the worst drought in more than half a century. At the same time, some disaster aid programs went unfunded. Why? Blame the expired Farm Bill, of course.

Crop insurance and emergency disaster loans are still available to farmers and ranchers, but other relief programs designed to help during times of drought and other disasters saw their funding end more than a year ago.

But now Congress is considering a bill to reinstate that aid “until” a new farm bill happens. (Hahaha [weep].) From the Governing blog:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is sponsoring legislation that would retroactively restore those disaster relief programs for 2012 fiscal year as well as the rest of the 2013 fiscal year while Congress works on creating another long-term farm bill.

"These livestock disaster programs expired in September 2011, leaving our livestock producers with no safety net," Baucus said in introducing his bill. "For over a year and a half, through one of the worst droughts in recent memory, our producers have been left to fend for themselves."

Read more: Food, Politics