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San Francisco’s private-public spaces go public-public

It may be one of the most expensive places to live in the country, but San Francisco is still sticking to its hippie roots and trying to look out for its commoners. A city mandate requires that downtown developers include a space in every new building for the city's scruffy thousands who can't afford Financial District condos. Some of these privately owned public spaces, or POPOS, look especially nice and fancy. Some have weird but glorious monster head sculptures. All languish relatively unused -- but that may be about to change.

Moonrise by Ugo Rondinone
Scott Beale

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The provision of privately owned public open spaces is governed by the city's 1985 downtown plan. The formula "to meet the needs of downtown workers, residents and visitors" requires 1 square foot of public space per 50 square feet of office space or hotels.

Read more: Cities


The real gun crisis is in America’s urban sacrifice zones

Friday's shooting at an elementary school in sleepy suburban Newtown, Conn., may have rekindled our national conversation about gun control, but that conversation consistently ignores America's real gun crisis. Suburban rampage killings are on the rise, but they are not the country's scourge. The vast majority of the guns are in the cities, they are neither big nor particularly scary looking, and they are killing a lot of people, old and young, every day.


On Friday, President Obama said, "Our hearts are broken." On Saturday, Bob Herbert wrote, "Our hearts should feel broken every day."

Read more: Cities


For the 36th November in a row, global temperatures were above average

Last month, we had a popular post noting that people 27 years old or younger had never experienced a month of cooler-than-average global temperatures. A lot of people -- presumably ones who lead such full, busy lives that they cannot click links and/or read past the first paragraph of an article -- were quick to point out that where they lived (invariably somewhere in the northern expanses of Canada) it had in fact been very cold one winter, and that this personal, localized experience trumped 332 months of above-average global air and land temperatures because the world revolves around them.

Anyway, the point is: We're up to 333 months.

The average November temperature across land and ocean surfaces around the world was 1.21°C (0.67°F) above the 20th century average, marking the fifth warmest November since records began in 1880. ... Including this November, the 10 warmest Novembers have occurred in the past 12 years. The 10 coolest Novembers on record all occurred prior to 1920. November 2012 also marks the 36th consecutive November and 333rd consecutive month with global temperature higher than the long-term average. The last month with a below average temperature was February 1985, nearly 28 years ago.

333 months! Halfway to the apocalypse, one can only assume.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Wyoming considers adding fossil fuels to school curriculum — with the industry’s help

The state of Wyoming likes the fossil fuel industry. A lot. So much so that it wants to make sure its kids know everything there is to know about energy development. And, so:

State officials and representatives of the energy industry will be asked to develop a course of study focusing on the energy industry and natural resources to be taught in Wyoming schools under a bill approved Thursday by the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee.

The bill, which will now be considered in the Legislature’s general session beginning Jan. 8, is intended to give students more appreciation and knowledge of Wyoming’s resources and opportunities, according to Nick Agopian of Devon Energy, who led an initiative with other energy officials to develop the bill.

This seems kind of unnecessary. About 5 percent of the population of the state of Wyoming works in an extractive industry: mining, oil and gas extraction, logging, etc. After a dip following the recession, that figure is growing steadily, thanks largely to fracking.

wyoming pop v extractors

Doesn't it seem likely that with one in 20 Wyomingites working in an extractive field, kids have some understanding of the sector?

Here's some language from the proposed legislation:


Coal museum installs solar panels to save money (obviously)

Today in irony:

Wales’ National Coal Mining Museum located at Big Pit, Blaenavon, Nr Abergavenny in south Wales, now has 200 photovoltaic solar panels erected on the Big Pit museum’s roof with another 200 solar panels installed on the National Collection Centre in Nantgarw.

Wales' National Coal Museum
Wales' National Coal Museum.

Why? Because solar panels save money, obviously. I mean, why use other fuel sources, whatever those might be, when you can generate your own electricity and make some money off of it?

It is estimated that the solar panels will offset about £400,000 [$648,000] during the next 25 years. [It] cost about £70,000 to install the panels, which was funded by the museum. The electricity generated will be used on site with any surplus being sold to the National Grid, which can produce additional income for the museum.

“Coal is such an important part of Wales’ heritage and yet green energy will play a major part in its future. A solar powered coal-mining museum is a fantastic way to celebrate this national journey," said Peter Walker, Museum Manager of Big Pit. "But it’s far from just symbolic — the museum will benefit from huge reductions in energy bills and a solid return from the feed-in tariff.”


Soot pollution may cause as many as 3.2 million premature deaths a year

St. Louis
Morgan Burke

There are several factors that probably contribute to what the Atlantic Cities refers to as St. Louis' "asthma epidemic." High rates of smoking, for example. And: air pollution.

The number of children suffering from asthma in the St. Louis metropolitan area is nearly three times the national average, according to Asthma Friendly St. Louis, a community program designed to help school-age kids and teens manage respiratory illness. Despite the efforts of several community initiatives, the disease is often poorly managed because of a lack of access to care and educational resources. …

In East St. Louis, which sits across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Illinois, asthma rates are among the highest in the nation, and experts suspect that this is linked to the high rates of pollution and poverty in the city. 44 percent of East St. Louis residents live on incomes below the federal poverty line.


Fracking companies want to ship wastewater by barge, since boats never spill

Over the summer, ProPublica revealed that the wastewater produced through the fracking process -- primarily water mixed with salt and who-knows-what chemicals -- was often stuffed into over-pressure wells, and that an unknown number of those wells are leaking. Fracking companies stroked their chins and said, "Hm," and came up with a proposal: Well then, why don't we ship the wastewater in barges on rivers before we stuff it into the ground?

A barge carries environmentally-friendly coal up the Ohio River
A barge carries environmentally friendly coal up the Ohio River.

From PublicSource:

The shale gas drilling industry wants to move its wastewater by barge on rivers and lakes across the country. But the U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates the nation's waterways, must first decide whether it's safe. …

The Coast Guard has been considering whether to allow the industry to use the waterways for about a year, according to [Commander Michael Roldan, chief of the Coast Guard’s Hazardous Material Division], who said the question came up when the Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh -- the local office of the Coast Guard -- called the Washington office to clarify whether bulk transport was allowed after Marcellus Shale drillers began making inquiries.

The Coast Guard's decision would affect more than Pittsburgh's iconic three rivers. Nearly 12,000 miles of waterways could be open to these waterborne behemoths, each carrying 10,000 barrels of wastewater.

Of course it's safe, Coast Guard! Jeez. I challenge you to name one time when the fossil fuel industry has transported fluids by ship and anything bad has happened. (Here is a list of 140 of them.) And it's not like you have scientists saying anything could go wrong, except Benjamin Stout, a biology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University, who told PublicSource, "Oh, crap. A lot of things could go wrong."


Senator famous for shooting cap-and-trade bill argues for gun control

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) pledged to always defend West Virginia. To that end, in an infamous 2010 campaign ad, the good senator (then governor) loaded up his rifle and shot a hole in the already-dead cap-and-trade bill.

In Manchin's mind, that's defending West Virginia -- halting policies that would demand coal companies incur the costs of their pollution. And what better visual metaphor than the gun? Blam. Shot dead.

But Manchin's had a change of heart. Now, it seems, he sees the error in that ad. No, not the part about how he was arguing against a policy that held coal to account. No, now Manchin thinks we need more limits on guns.


Reliance on coal forces another company into bankruptcy

Midwest Generation's Fisk plant in Chicago
Midwest Generation's Fisk plant in Chicago.

Oh, is it Monday? Ah. Well, then, there must have been another coal-reliant company filing for bankruptcy. Let's see … yup, here it is.

The parent company of Midwest Generation, owner of some of Illinois' dirtiest coal plants, has (as predicted) filed for bankruptcy protection. From Reuters:

Edison Mission Energy, a power company that operates in Illinois and several other U.S. states, has filed for Chapter 11 banktruptcy protection as it tries to restructure about $5 billion in debt. ...

Edison Mission Energy has suffered as the 2008 recession cut power demand. Wholesale power prices have also fallen with cheaper natural gas, making it harder for Edison's coal-fired plants to remain competitive.

If this surprises you: Welcome to Gristmill! Clearly it's your first time here.


Feds predict end times for Colorado River water

Add another item to the list of things in peril due to climate change: the entire American West.

According to a new study from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River won't fare well over the next 50 years. Climate change, drought, and population growth all add up to far greater demand for water than the river will be able to supply by 2060.


A large portion of the American West, especially its cities, rely on the Colorado. Almost 40 million residents of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming depend entirely on the river's water.

"This study should serve as a call to action," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. But some of the possible actions outlined in the report are, well, nuts. From the Los Angeles Times:

The analysis lists a range of proposed solutions, including some that Interior officials immediately dismissed as politically or technically infeasible. Among them: building a pipeline to import water from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers and towing icebergs to Southern California.

But Salazar said a host of practical steps could be pursued, including desalination of seawater and brackish water, recycling and conservation by both the agricultural and urban sectors.

For states draining the Colorado's Upper Basin -- Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico -- there is a less insane option, according to National Geographic.

The Bureau of Reclamation study also highlights an opportunity to help water users in the Upper Basin (WY, CO, NM and UT) save water for use in extended droughts while at the same time improving conditions essential to the $26 billion river recreation industry. An Upper Basin water bank is the kind of modern river management that can ensure prosperous farms and ranches, thriving cities, and healthy river flows.

At risk of stating the obvious, predicting the future is hard! Even for the federal government. Some critics said the report overestimates population growth in unsustainable desert towns like Phoenix and Las Vegas that have seen recent real estate and population collapses. From the L.A. Times:

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy