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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Words the coal industry doesn’t want to hear: Senator Ashley Judd

Here is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying something very stupid in late 2010:

That was his political priority for two years. It's not clear that he currently has any political priorities; our attempts to reach out to his office didn't happen.

How does that priority compare with those of, say, Hollywood celebrity Ashley Judd? Well, here's Judd speaking out against mountaintop-removal mining at the Kentucky state house.

Think Judd might make a better senator than McConnell? Well, so does she.


California pot farms poison animals, cute and less cute alike

Mourad Gabriel is not feeling very mellow, dudes. The Northern California wildlife disease ecologist has been tracking and studying forest-dwelling fishers for the last 10 years, but lately he's become more of a wildlife coroner.

First, let's get this out of the way: Fishers deserve your sympathy, but they are not very cute.

A part of the weasel family, cat-sized fishers have hunted turkeys and bobcats, and have few predators besides humans, who used to poach them for fur and now just kill them with pesticides on illegal marijuana farms. From On Earth:

Fishers once roamed our northwestern forests in abundance, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically in the region. Now Gabriel, 38, believes he has unlocked the mystery as to what's keeping this species from bouncing back. And his discovery, alas, is what has outlaw pot growers reaching for their guns ...

"I'm not focused on the pot plants," Gabriel says. "What makes my blood boil is the environmental damage being done on public land."

Read more: Living


An Indiana utility would like some of your money for creating less pollution

Coal’s value proposition these days is this: 1) It is cheap, and 2) it is getting cleaner so it’s OK to use. Point 1 is hard to argue with; it is artificially cheap though getting more expensive. Point 2 is easy to rebut — coal itself is no cleaner than it ever was. But people are slowly waking up to the dangers of coal and demanding that the burning of it actually get cleaner. (Those people include the EPA.) Turns out, though, that making it cleaner 1) isn’t 100 percent effective, and 2) raises the cost of coal. It’s a conundrum!

clean coal

The best part is that the mandated and socially desired push to get coal cleaner introduces new points of pressure for people who want to phase out the use of coal, something that must be deeply annoying to coal companies (and, therefore, amusing to everyone else).

Case in point: an action in Indianapolis last week. The public utility, Indianapolis Power and Light, needed to upgrade some coal-burning power plants to bring the promise of "clean coal" a microscopic bit closer to reality. But activists rightly note that it's ridiculous for ratepayers to bear the cost.


So much for the Grinch: Exxon CEO gets much-deserved raise

Rex Tillerson demonstrates the size of the gold nugget he plans to buy.
Tillerson demonstrates the size of the gold nugget he plans to buy.

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, got a raise. On Jan. 1, 2013, Tillerson will earn a base salary of $2.71 million, according to Reuters -- a 5 percent raise. He will also get a bonus this year of $4.59 million. He also got 225,000 shares of stock, worth, as of writing, about $19.7 million (though there are restrictions on how he can sell it). Exxon's stock is up 3.26 percent so far this year.


Will twentysomethings head for the suburbs?

The millennial generation stands to shape our cities for decades to come, largely because it's so big: 86 million, compared to 77 million baby boomers. Millennials are just starting to turn 30, and middle-aged demographers are wondering how many of them will run to the suburbs like their parents and grandparents before them.


From USA Today:

Now, cities face a new demographic reality: The young and single are aging and having children. If the pattern of the past 50 years holds, they might soon set their sights on suburbia.

"We know young people move the most," says Richard Florida, whose book The Rise of the Creative Class published 10 years ago helped spark the wooing of young professionals to revive declining urban centers. "So capturing people early on in their lives in a metro really matters. It's important to compete with suburbs for people once they get a little older and have children."

The older they get, the less likely people are to live in cities, according to recent Census data. The peak age for urban living is 25 to 27, when 20% of that age group are nestled in urban centers. By the age of 41, about a quarter have moved to the suburbs.

Experts say getting cities baby-ready would entail improving schools, building housing near public transit, and expanding and improving parks. That all sounds well and good to me, but here's the hitch: Demographers say millennials want to bring the suburbs to the city with more low-rise townhouses and single-family homes instead of apartments. So much for that density thing?

Read more: Cities, Living


As oil production hits a 14-year high, a look at how it affects one North Dakota family

Another reminder of how much Barack Obama hates oil: U.S. production reached its highest point in 14 years in September, rolling out 6.5 million barrels a day.

oil production

Much of that is thanks to a massive increase in production in North Dakota as oil companies use hydraulic fracturing to extract oil from the Bakken Shale formation.

north dakota oil production

We've previously noted how this is transforming the state for the worse -- crime, housing prices, spills. But today The Guardian describes those changes in the context of one North Dakota family, the Jorgensons, who've lived in the state since 1979.


Ghana will soon be home to the largest solar farm in Africa

The marker on this map shows the location of Aiwiaso, Ghana, a town small enough that one could count the number of buildings within it in short order. And, if all goes according to plan, it will in 2015 be the location of the fourth-largest solar photovoltaic plant in the world and the largest in Africa.

From The Guardian:

Blue Energy, the renewable energy developer behind the $400m project, which has built a solar farm 31 times smaller outside Swindon, [England,] said the 155MW solar photovoltaic (PV) plant will be fully operational by October 2015. Construction on the Nzema project is due to begin near the village of Aiwiaso in western Ghana by the end of 2013, with the installation of some 630,000 PV modules. …

The company said it expects to create 200 permanent jobs and 500 during the construction phase, which already has the go-ahead from planning authorities.


Scot who stood up to Trump development deservedly named ‘Top Scot’

Earlier this year, a film was released documenting the efforts of a Scottish farmer to oppose a new development by Donald Trump. The movie is called You've Been Trumped, and it is racking up accolades and awards.

I haven't seen the film. But I am confident that part of the reason it's earning such praise is that Donald Trump is an odious, preening buffoon. We've written before about his development plans in Scotland, and about his methane-soaked project in the Bronx. We have not, however, spent a lot of time otherwise mocking his stupid opinions and trolly comments. This is because one does not engage with children as though they are your equals. If the child is yours, you would put him in timeout; if he is not, if you are just an observer to a child's bad behavior, you merely sigh heavily and thank the Heavens that you were not cursed with such a useless little pile of crap.

Anyway. The farmer at the center of the film, Michael Forbes, is in the news again. This time, it's for winning "Top Scot" at the Spirit of Scotland awards.

"Blah blah blah blah"
"Blah blah blah blah."
Read more: Living, Politics


Huge, unusual storm slams into Philippines because that is what happens all the time now

This is Typhoon Bopha, as seen from the International Space Station.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

That's what it looks like from space. It's hard to get a sense of scale from that image, so here's another, showing it against the arc of the Earth. It extends for more than 300 miles in diameter.


More importantly, here's what it looks like from the ground.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Bumps on the road to EV infrastructure in California

About a third of the electric cars in the U.S. are spinning on California roads, but the state still has much work to do to build the charging infrastructure to support them.


There are about 1,000 public chargers in the state right now, and New Jersey-based NRG is poised to install 200 fast chargers and the wiring for 10,000 more regular chargers throughout the state by 2016. A fast charger can juice up a vehicle in as little as 15 minutes, while the regular kind can take hours. But building up the infrastructure isn't simple, as KQED reports:

Still, a multitude of challenges face NRG and other charging companies, like Bay Area-based ChargePoint andEcotality. Fast chargers produce very high voltage. They require complicated permitting. And they cost upward of $40,000 each.

Right now, the financials don’t add up says NRG’s Terry O’Day.