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Utah Republican proposes bill to prepare for climate-change-worsened wildfires

Yesterday, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment declared that the air in Salt Lake City constituted a health emergency. From CBS News:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has singled out the greater Salt Lake region as having the nation's worst air for much of January, when an icy fog smothers mountain valleys for days or weeks at a time and traps lung-busting soot.

That's what led more than 100 Utah doctors to petition state officials on Wednesday. They suggest lowering highway speed limits, making mass transit free for the winter and curbing industrial activities. They also call for a permanent ban on wood-burning, and want large employees to let people work from home.

Levels of soot in the air around Salt Lake City reached 130 micrograms per cubic meter -- well above the EPA's clean air standard of 35 micrograms.

Smog over Salt Lake City, 2006
Smog over Salt Lake City, 2006.

Interestingly, at about the same time that the physicians group made its declaration, a (Republican!) state legislator in Utah introduced a bill targeting one key contributor to air pollution and soot: wildfires. Climate change is expected to vastly increase the number of wildfires in the state, for which Rep. Kraig Powell suggests the state should plan in advance. From The Salt Lake Tribune:


Shell wins prestigious award for ineptitude

Quick word of congratulations to our friends at Shell. Yesterday, the company was awarded the Public Eye People's Award for 2013 -- making it (as far as I can tell) the first two-time winner of this estimable honor, having also won in 2005.

What's the Public Eye Award? From the website for this esteemed prize:

The Public Eye Awards mark a critical counterpoint to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Organized since 2000 by Berne Declaration and Friends of the Earth (in 2009 replaced by Greenpeace), Public Eye reminds the corporate world that social and environmental misdeeds have consequences - for the affected people and territory, but also for the reputation of the offender.

Emphasis added.

Guilty ... of winning awards!
Guilty ... of winning awards!

And why did Shell earn top honors? (Well, alongside Goldman Sachs.) (I accidentally typed "Goldamn Sachs" and thought briefly about keeping that.)

Shell is always involved in particularly controversial, risky and dirty oil production projects. Thus, this Dutch-British corporation, chosen by online users for the public naming and shaming award, is also out in front in the highly risky search for fossil fuels in the fragile Arctic. This has been made possible by climate change and the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap, to which Shell has contributed. Every Arctic offshore oil project means new CO2 emissions. The Arctic's oil reserves are enough for just three years. For this, Shell is jeopardising one of the Earth's last natural paradises and endangering the living space of four million people, as well as unique fauna.


World leaders emitted 2.5 million kilograms of CO2 getting to Davos

The World Economic Forum worries about climate change. Here is the organization's page on the issue, including its "CEO Climate Policy Recommendations." (For example: “‘Environmentally effective and economically efficient’ framework proposed to succeed Kyoto Accord.” Get on that, U.N.!) This week, WEF's CEO friends are at the Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which we've mentioned.

Which made us wonder: How much did getting all of those CEOs and government leaders and baseball players together itself contribute to climate change?

The answer is: quite a bit. But before we get to the actual number, here's how we got it. Earlier this week, the business site Quartz got its hands on the complete attendee list for this year's Davos gathering. Quartz parsed the data about 15 different ways (go play with the sorting tool!) and, when we asked, were happy to share the data with us. (The Forum has an updated list [PDF], but Quartz' data is more than enough for our purposes.)

Davos Town

Getting to Davos isn't easy. The picture above shows the town itself, small boxes at the base of various Alps and foothills. There's no airport. The only ways in are by train, car, or -- for the elite of the elite -- helicopter. The closest major airport is in Zurich, about a three-hour train ride away. For the smallest possible carbon footprint, then, someone from the United States would fly to Zurich and take the train in. (This is what I did, in 2009.) Seems modest. Until you realize that over 700 people came from the United States to attend the Annual Meeting -- not including World Economic Forum staff or support staff.


Americans are consuming less high-fructose corn syrup

High-fructose corn syrup was our sweetener of choice in the late '90s, when we were all high on junk food and the potential for this crazy new thing called The Internet. Those were fast times!

Now we are jaded and less interested in the sweet stuff. According to the USDA, this year only 4.5 percent of the U.S. corn crop is expected to be used for production of high-fructose corn syrup, the lowest amount since 1997.

12-10-24banksysodaFuck you, soda!

Corn costs have tripled since 2004, making the syrup a less cost-effective sweetener. And some health advocates say efforts to combat obesity have helped to curb HFCS consumption, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s much-despised and much-lauded big soda ban.

From Bloomberg the news source, not Bloomberg the mayor:


Kerry’s new gig weighing in on Keystone means giving up Keystone-related stocks

Remember when Susan Rice, the likely nominee for secretary of state, had those investments in fossil fuel companies -- including companies linked to Keystone XL? This was considered hugely problematic, given that the State Department is responsible for final approval of the pipeline. But Obama didn't nominate Rice.

John Kerry points at a pile of stock
spirit of america
John Kerry points at a pile of stock.

Meet John Kerry, nominee for secretary of state, who has investments in fossil fuel companies -- including companies linked to Keystone XL. For now. From The Boston Globe:

Within 90 days of becoming Secretary of State, Senator John F. Kerry and his wife have agreed to divest nearly 100 separate investments in the United States and abroad -- ranging from oil companies to weapons makers and a Chinese food company -- in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest, according to a copy of his so-called ethics agreement. …

The divestitures of Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry, the heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune, include Cenovus Energy Inc., the Canadian company that would benefit from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline; Waltham-based Raytheon Co.; Exxon Mobil Corp.; drug maker Pfizer; communications giant Qualcomm Inc. and AT&T; American Express; Microsoft; a number of international private equity firms; and dozens of others.


Manhattan micro apartments will come at a high price

Are you sick of micro apartments yet? Well, too bad. Yesterday New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the winner of a competition to design teensy live-in closets for an East Side apartment complex of 55 units. Here are drawings of the winning design, showing how an apartment might be adapted throughout the day:

adAPT NYC micro-unit design
From the Associated Press:

To make up for the shoe-box dimensions, the building will offer residents common spaces like a rooftop garden and lounge area on nearly every floor. The aim is to offer more such tiny apartments throughout the city as affordable options for the young singles, cash-poor and empty nesters who are increasingly edged out of the nation's most expensive real-estate market...

If the pilot program is successful, New York could ultimately overturn a requirement established in 1987 that all new apartments be at least 400 square feet.

A third of Manhattan residents live alone, and apparently hate the idea of communal housing, so Bloomberg says the city needs these units to "keep us strong in the 21st Century" with "new ideas" and the young gentry that hatch them. Young gentry like Manhattan resident Sam Neuman, who loves his tiny apartment, but not in a super-healthy way:

"I've developed this weird Stockholm Syndrome, which you identify with your captors," said the 31-year-old publicist. "When I go to other people's apartments, I think, 'Why do they need more than one bedroom?' I'm really very happy here. There's not really time to let things accumulate because ... where would I put them?"

Read more: Cities, Living


Sierra Club OKs law-breaking in battle against Keystone

The Sierra Club seems like the kind of folks who button the top button, not the ones who hang out on the barricades. Until now.

For the first time in the hallowed green group's 120-year history, it will be engaging in civil disobedience at the Feb. 17 Washington, D.C., rally against the Keystone XL pipeline. Is the Sierra Club really getting wild? Well, probably not. The group won’t say what the civil disobedience will be exactly, but it will be invite-only (!), it's been approved by the board of directors, and it’s a one-time-only event.

A 2011 Keystone XL protest at the White House
A 2011 Keystone XL protest at the White House.

From the Club's Executive Director Michael Brune:

Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance. We’ll be following in the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir founded the Sierra Club.

Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it’s the issue of right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this unprecedented decision. ...


Baseball person Derek Jeter to world leaders: Climate change is a thing

Here's how you know that the World Economic Forum's annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, attracts all of the world's best and brightest: This morning, an audience heard from Derek Jeter.

If you don't know who Derek Jeter is, allow me to explain. Imagine a group of pirates, a vile, filthy band of lawbreakers and miscreants. Now imagine this group had a captain who seemed perfectly nice and was very good at being a captain, but he's spent his life in service to an evil, repulsive entity. That's Derek Jeter. He's the captain and star of the New York Yankees.

Jeter yells at someone, probably not about the climate
Jeter yells at someone, probably not about the climate.

But living in New York (until recently, in a $15.5 million apartment atop Trump World Tower) means that Jeter (despite his deep and abiding flaws) saw firsthand the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. From the Columbus Dispatch:

"It's just something that's gotten so much attention," Jeter said of climate change. "Regardless of how you feel about it, it's something that needs to be addressed because we're seeing more and more natural disasters each year, it seems like. Something has to be causing it."

But Jeter, himself a global icon as the captain of one of the most recognizable and successful sports franchises in the world, said he doesn't try to interject into politics.

"I know my place," Jeter said.

Jeter's place is clearly among amoral, hypercompetitive overachievers.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


TransCanada accidentally emails its internal media information to reporters

TransCanada, the company that would like to build a large pipeline carrying toxic oil from the Canadian border to Texas, got pretty excited yesterday when the governor of Nebraska removed a key obstacle to the project. Very excited. So excited that the public relations team forgot how to use email.

Hopefully this pipeline worker is better at using that backhoe then TransCanada's PR guy is at email
Hopefully this pipeline worker is better at using a backhoe than TransCanada's PR guy is at email.

Yesterday afternoon, TransCanada’s Shawn Howard inadvertently emailed a number of journalists an internal report on how the media had covered the news about Nebraska's governor. The report notes the areas in which TransCanada feels it has been most effective, the questions it gets frequently, and the company’s go-to message points to be used when responding. Argus Leader reporter Cody Winchester posted the email on his blog. Excerpts:

Earlier today, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman sent a letter to President Obama, indicating that the State had now approved the re-route of Keystone XL through the state. Shortly after the announcement, External Communications provided more than 55 reporters with quotes from [TransCanada CEO] Russ Girling on the announcement. Following that, TransCanada issued its own news release with more detailed information (based on content drafted prior to and after Christmas). …

The main range of topics included: eminent domain in Nebraska, if we expect President Obama to approve KXL (juxtaposed against his comments in his Inaguaral Speech on climate change), what steps come next in the process, how quickly we could begin construction if we receive a Presidential Permit and the importance of the route approval through Nebraska. ...

As of now, there have been more than 440 media hits on this story and many have taken directly from our news release and background information on our website. …

Many of our supporters were active online in their support for today’s Nebraska announcement. Those tweets and social media postings will be re-tweeted by TransCanada tomorrow and included in our next Media Today report.


Somehow, the renewable sector in Sicily was infiltrated by the mob

If you look at it in one way, this is pretty good news. After all, if renewable energy weren't a growing market with potential for profit, why would the mob have any interest in it? From the Washington Post:

The still-emerging links of the mafia to the once-booming wind and solar sector here are raising fresh questions about the use of government subsidies to fuel a shift toward cleaner energies, with critics claiming huge state incentives created excessive profits for companies and a market bubble ripe for fraud. China-based Suntech, the world’s largest solar panel maker, last month said it would need to restate more than two years of financial results because of allegedly fake capital put up to finance new plants in Italy. The discoveries here also follow so-called “eco-corruption” cases in Spain, where a number of companies stand accused of illegally tapping state aid.

Because it receives more sun and wind than any other part of Italy, Sicily became one of Europe’s most obvious hotbeds for renewable energies over the past decade. As the Italian government began offering billions of euros annually in subsidies for wind and solar development, the potential profitability of such projects also soared -- a fact that did not go unnoticed by Sicily’s infamous crime families.

Would you buy a solar installation from this man?
Would you buy a solar installation from this man?

Unsurprisingly, the discovery of deep Mafia infiltration in a heavily subsidized industry prompted the government to step in.