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The U.N. climate conference wraps up, and now all of our problems are solved

There are pretty good odds that the atmosphere already contains enough greenhouse gases to push global temperatures more than 2 degrees C higher by the end of the century, an increase broadly understood to mean catastrophic effects across the globe. If the atmosphere isn't yet at that point, the amount that we'd have to curb our pollution to prevent it becomes steeper and less realistic by the day.

Which is why the United Nations -- having previously eradicated from the world the scourges of war, poverty, inadequate medical care, and hunger -- holds annual meetings during which it consistently and efficiently ratchets down the levels of greenhouse gas emissions from all of the nations of the world. Every schoolkid, no matter his or her nation of origin, has a photo of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the bed, dreaming of one day attaining that most-powerful position on Earth.

This year's annual meeting, held in Doha, Qatar, wrapped up over the weekend. Two weeks ago, we offered a fairly cynical preview of what to expect from the United Nations' gathering. Our prediction for its ineffectiveness was almost too optimistic.


Could clones save California’s endangered redwoods — in Oregon?

True story: My grandmother built her California house entirely from redwood. It's a really nice house! But it makes me pretty uncomfortable to be inside the place with its massive beams made of ancient, dead trees when we've got only 5 percent of old-growth redwood forest left standing today. And as the climate keeps heating up, those trees will be subject to new dangers -- and new potential for rebirth further north.


According to new research published in the journal Science, the California redwoods, American pines, Australian mountain ash trees, and other living giants are in danger of being lost forever if we don't change how we treat them.

Just as large-bodied animals such as elephants, tigers, and cetaceans have declined drastically in many parts of the world, a growing body of evidence suggests that large old trees could be equally imperiled.

From The Bangkok Post:

The study showed that trees were not only dying en masse in forest fires, but were also perishing at 10 times the normal rate in non-fire years. The study said it appeared to be down to a combination of rapid climate change causing drought and high temperatures, as well as rampant logging and agricultural land clearing.

"It is a very, very disturbing trend," said Bill Laurance of James Cook University.

"We are talking about the loss of the biggest living organisms on the planet, of the largest flowering plants on the planet, of organisms that play a key role in regulating and enriching our world."

Large old trees play critical ecological roles, providing nesting or sheltering cavities for up to 30 percent of all birds and animals in some ecosystems.

Some people are now taking action to save the remaining redwoods and repopulate West Coast forests with new-old trees. In Santa Cruz, activists are trying to raise millions to purchase a section of old-growth forest. And this week in Oregon, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive began planting 250 clones from 28 of California's biggest, oldest redwoods and sequoias on the southern Oregon coast. From the Associated Press:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Green branding sells for Patagonia

A company that actively dissuades its own customers from buying any stuff and transparently tracks its own environmental failings -- and still turns a profit selling clothes. No, this isn't a weird dream. It's fleece-'n-flannel purveyor Patagonia, which has built a brand, and corresponding loyalty, around sustainable, built-to-last goods, resulting in $400 million in annual revenue. It even recycles its products that you've worn out.

Worn-out Patagonia clothes bound for the recycling center.
Reno Patagonia
Worn-out Patagonia clothes bound for the recycling center.

From Fast Company Co.Create:

Patagonia makes some of the best, and most expensive outdoor gear in the world, but the company’s mission is bigger than simply maximizing profit. The mission is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

That would be an easy pursuit if Patagonia didn’t care about running a great business. But therein lies the lesson. Patagonia has found a way to marry good business with its brand promise. According to Patagonia’s Director of Environmental Strategy, Jill Dumain, “If I wanted to make the most money possible, I would invest in environmentally responsible supply chains … these are the best years in our company’s history.”


Go skiing now, while you still can

Hopefully, this lady also enjoys walking down mountains
Hopefully this lady also enjoys walking down mountains.

From the Denver Post:

A new study says a warming climate could cost the country's winter tourism industry as much as $2 billion a season as snowpack dwindles.

The analysis -- authored by a pair of doctoral students from the University of New Hampshire -- concludes that rising winter temperatures since 1970 are threatening winter tourism in 38 states. The report said the difference between a good snow year and a bad snow year from 1999 to 2010 cost the industry between $810 million and $1.9 billion; 13,000 to 27,000 jobs; and 15 million skier visits.

Looking forward, the researchers estimate snow depth could decline to zero at lower elevations in the West and that the ski season in the East could shrink by as much as half in the coming decades.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


The fracking boom, as told in six railroad industry graphs

You can learn the story of the fracking boom by looking at one set of data: railroad shipments. Because, you know, it's 1890.

Our Lisa Hymas explained how and why oil companies are increasingly relying on rail shipments; in short, no new pipelines plus a huge spike in extraction. But how big is that spike? Here is how the Association of American Railroads depicts it [PDF].

us canada oil weekly
Association of American Railroads

Or, if you prefer, here's the percentage change in carloads of petroleum, year over year.

change in shipments us canada
Association of American Railroads


Greenland’s ‘extraordinary’ summer ice melt may have been caused by tundra fires

Last July, over the course of a week, 97 percent of Greenland's ice surface melted. The response from scientists can be summarized as: "Um, shit." Or, by way of a direct quote: "This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?"

It was real. And it's one of the things that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2012 Arctic report card cites as an unexpected anomaly in a season full of them.

Researchers now think they know why it happened. Like so much of what's happening in the Arctic, the melt likely stems from another aspect of climate change: fire.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Students’ fossil-fuel divestment campaign aims at colleges’ creamy moral centers


Those kids today, amirite? What with their video games and their Facebooks and their grassroots organizing to create sociopolitical change.'s campaign to create pressure on universities to divest from fossil fuel companies is not just rolling -- it's snowballing.

From Inside Climate News:

The goal is to turn global warming action into the moral issue of this generation.

"Bottom line, for a college or university, you do not want your institution to be on the wrong side of this issue," said Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College in Maine.

Unity became the first college to authorize divestment using's guidelines last month. "We realized that investing in fossil fuels was an unethical position, especially considering our focus on environmental issues," Mulkey said.

That point, that fossil fuels companies are inherently unethical, is where the campaign derives its real power. From The New York Times:

Students who have signed on see it as a conscious imitation of the successful effort in the 1980s to pressure colleges and other institutions to divest themselves of the stocks of companies doing business in South Africa under apartheid.

But that comparison might not be the most apt. First, the student apartheid movement didn't start and finish in the 1980s -- it was a movement of the '50s, '60s, and '70s first. It also didn't really work like this.

"The divestment movement against apartheid was not aimed directly at the South African government -- it was divestment from companies that were based in South Africa and companies that were doing business in South Africa," says City University of New York historian Angus Johnston. "The idea was you would divest from companies that were doing business in South Africa to put pressure on them to pull out, which would then create not only an economic crisis in the country but also a cultural crisis. If white South Africans couldn't get McDonald's and Coca-Cola and Mercedes cars, that would press the white people of South Africa to sort of reassess the goodies they were getting from apartheid."

"That's a different sort of pressure. It's much more similar to the Israel divestment thing," he says.

The campaign for fossil fuel divestment, says Johnston, has much more in common with the campaign for tobacco divestment.


Famed idiot Lord Monckton banned for life from U.N. climate talks

Image (1) lord_monckton_flickr_matthew_mcdermott.jpg for post 36394

Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, better known as Lord Monckton, is a buffoon. He created a film called Apocalypse? No!, the name of which is a funny joke playing on the fact that Monckton doesn't believe in climate change. Climate apocalypse? No! says this guy whose scientific credentials are listed on a grain of salt that can be found at the bottom of the ocean. Monckton has built his name (or, perhaps more accurately, ruined the name he inherited) with his climate antics, prompting Grist to several times mock him.

And now Monckton brings a new ignominious distinction to a family name that has survived lo these many centuries, as a clown who got kicked out of a United Nations climate conference.

From the Telegraph:

The hereditary peer, who is not a member of the House of Lords, took the chair of Myanmar and spoke into the microphone against U.N. climate change protocols.

After a short speech, in which he was booed, he was escorted out of the meeting by UN guards.

He is understood to have claimed there is no global warming in the last sixteen years, and therefore the science needs to be reviewed.

Claiming to represent Asian coastal nations, he is understood to have said: "In the 16 years we have been coming to these events there has been no global warming at all."


Fossil-fuel extraction on public land yields massive economic boom, kind of

This is what a government windfall looks like (in Bizarro America).
This is what a government windfall looks like (in Bizarro America).

Good news from the L.A. Times:

Energy development on public lands and waters pumped more than $12 billion into federal coffers in 2012, $1 billion more than the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"These revenues reflect significant domestic energy production under President Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy and provide a vital revenue stream for federal and state governments and American Indian communities," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

Yes! Win win win win win. Winners all around. Lots of cash money/moolah just pouring out of the ground like so much crude oil, thanks to the president's staunch commitment to fossil fuels. Everyone line up for your cut! [PDF]

Just such good news. But we need to do a smidgen of accounting work here.


Nearly half of Los Angeles car accidents are hit-and-runs

In one sense, this is a bit of good news about Los Angeles and its car-heavy transportation culture: More than half of the time people are involved in car accidents, they actually stick around and take responsibility for it. Slightly more than half.

From LA Weekly:

About 20,000 hit-and-run crashes, from fender benders to multiple fatalities, are recorded by the Los Angeles Police Department each year.

That's huge, even in a city of 3.8 million people. In the United States, 11 percent of vehicle collisions are hit-and-runs. But in Los Angeles, L.A. Weekly has learned, an incredible 48 percent of crashes were hit-and-runs in 2009, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available. According to data collected by the state, some 4,000 hit-and-run crashes a year inside L.A. city limits, including cases handled by LAPD, California Highway Patrol and the L.A. County Sheriff, resulted in injury and/or death. Of those, according to a federal study, about 100 pedestrians died; the number of motorists and bicyclists who die would push that toll even higher.

In other words, Los Angeles drivers are four-and-a-half times more likely to bail after an accident than the country on the whole.

An accident scene near Long Beach.
An accident scene near Long Beach.
Read more: Cities, Living