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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Renewable energy consumption is expected to keep rising in the U.S. — sort of

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has what seems, at first blush, like bad news. Renewable energy consumption in the U.S. is expected to drop 2.6 percent this year. Here's a graph of the dip. (Note: Both the 2012 and 2013 values are estimates.)

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

But buried in the data is the explanation: The drop is only due to hydropower "[beginning] to return to its long-term average." Take out hydropower, and you have a 4.2 percent increase.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

But there's another caveat. The estimates are based on two assumptions.


Is it just us, or does it seem a little warm for December?

Well, it is December, everyone. It's the time of year when you just want to stay huddled up cozily inside, maybe with a roaring fire to provide comfort given the … unseasonably warm temperatures outside.

The projected high-temperature map for today looks like this:

high temps december 3

Again, it is Dec. 3. Here in New York City, it is expected to reach 64 degrees today, 70 tomorrow. Normal high temperature for Dec. 4 in New York is 49.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


The world is producing 2.4 million pounds of CO2 a second

the power station Pocerady

We have a correction to make. In an article last month we provided some erroneous information that may have painted an inaccurate picture of the state of the atmosphere. We stated that carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.5 percent in 2011. That figure appears to be incorrect.

The actual figure is probably 3 percent.

From The New York Times:

Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project. …

[T]he decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year. …

Over all, global emissions jumped 3 percent in 2011 and are expected to jump 2.6 percent in 2012, researchers reported in two papers released by scientific journals on Sunday. It has become routine to set new emissions records each year, although the global economic crisis led to a brief decline in 2009.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Are trendy homesteaders clueless about class differences?

Organic gardens! Canning! Sewing clothes! All the chickens! The modern rise of homesteading (of the hipster variety) has gripped the nation's urban centers. It's been kind of like this:

Self-sufficiency can't be bad, though, right? At least when we're aware of our motivations. Today at Bitch (based in Portland! hm!), Marianne Kirby takes a long look at modern homesteading through the lens of class. She pulls together the history of the 1862 Homestead Act, slave and victory gardens, and '70s recession efforts at surviving tough times, providing context for how the lifestyle has been newly embraced by the petit bourgeoisie.

"For large portions of the poor and immigrant classes, homesteading skills are still survival skills," she writes. "Can you really have a rebirth of something that never actually died out in the first place?"

Kirby calls out "capitalistic homesteading" and product branding. But this isn't just about shopping and culture.

[I]t’s also about policy. My central Florida town recently implemented an urban-chicken pilot program due to a clamor of interest from young, middle-class community members. The program allows people to keep hens, but no roosters. Participants are allowed to raise chickens for eggs, but not for meat. This means urban homesteaders who want to raise eggs in fancy coops have won out — but anyone who needs to raise chickens for subsistence reasons suffers, and is subject to fines and seizure if they get caught.

Governmental limitation of the “wrong” kind of homesteading can be seen elsewhere. In 2011, Denise Morrison’s garden was chopped down by Tulsa, Oklahoma, officials who claimed it violated city ordinances. Morrison grew more than 100 edible and medicinal plants in her yard. Subsistence gardens are more about function than design; they aren’t always pretty, and Morrison wasn’t raising organic fruit and vegetables in neat rows of raised beds. Despite a stay issued by local courts, officials removed every last one of her plants. Unemployed and without health insurance, Morrison had relied on her garden for food and medicine. “They basically took away my livelihood,” she told Tulsa’s KOTV.

Read more: Food, Living


AAA, EPA, GM trade barbs over ethanol

Maybe it's holiday stress, maybe it's seasonal affective disorder, or maybe it's just that the American Automobile Association is still really bitter that it lost on this issue in court in August.

AAA released a statement today calling for federal regulators to stop the sale of fuel that contains more than 10 percent ethanol. EPA-approved E15 -- a mix of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol -- is supposed to only be used in vehicles made after 2000, but AAA says that it might still cause damage that warranties won't cover, and that 95 percent of people don't even know what E15 is.

The EPA was all, We're trying! We're making stickers!


General Motors called the EPA "irresponsible" (hee) and AAA "eloquent" (haa).

Then the Renewable Fuels Association was all:


Prominent fundamentalist: God gets sad when we don’t use the oil He gave us

Bryan Fischer, ranting about something
43rd State Blues
Bryan Fischer, ranting about something.

Bryan Fischer runs the American Family Association. He is … a piece of work. He spends most of his time bashing homosexuals, but is not afraid to dip a poison-soaked toe into the broader waters of far-right conservatism. Some tweets of his, to set context:

Charming. That last one, though, gets to the point of this story, why we're bothering to write anything about him. Fischer is also a climate change denier. And on his radio show today (he has a radio show, apparently), he suggested that failing to use fossil fuels was an insult to God.


Hundreds of cyclists demand safer Austin streets

On Thursday night, Austin, Texas, was like a microcosm of modern urban American cycling. Downtown, people gathered at benefit concerts to raise money for the mounting medical bills of a local man struck and critically injured by a drunk driver in October.


Meanwhile, nearly 1,200 cyclists biked to the state capitol in a really, really sad kind of Critical Mass, with one cargo bike toting a large banner that read: "No More Deaths." The event was sponsored by the group Please Be Kind to Cyclists, which is about as passive as you can get when it comes to life-or-death street safety issues.

Read more: Cities, Living


Too much carbon dioxide can have a negative effect on some crops

Here is a thing dumb people say about carbon dioxide pollution:

lol carbon dioxide isn't bad for you I totally exhale it and stuff. Also, plants need it to eat I read somewhere, and I hypocritically rely on that bit of science as a counterpoint to your asking that I stop burning tires in my toilet

Here is something you can say in response to such people, if you want to keep talking to them, which you should not: Too much carbon dioxide is bad for plants, too.

From the Max Planck Institute:

[T]he more carbon dioxide the better? The equation is unfortunately not as simple as that. The plants, which ensure our basic food supply today, have not been bred for vertical growth but for short stalks and high grain yields. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and the University of Potsdam have now discovered that an increase in carbon dioxide levels could cancel out the beneficial effects of dwarf varieties.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Mexican environmentalist murdered by drug gangs

For years, Juventina Villa Mojica worked to preserve the virgin forest surrounding her small Mexican town. Drug traffickers wanted to strip the forest to expand the area in which they could grow poppies and marijuana, but Villa Mojica and her husband led an effort to organize farmers in opposition to the gangs. Last year, her husband and two of her children were murdered. On Wednesday, she and her 10-year-old son met the same fate.

From the Washington Post:

A band of gunmen killed an environmental activist who had received death threats for standing up to drug gangs and had a police guard when she was ambushed in southern Mexico, authorities said Thursday. …

Villa and her children had ridden in an all-terrain vehicle near the top of a mountain where she could get a cellphone signal since there are no telephones in the village. They were ambushed despite the presence of 10 state police officers who were protecting them, state prosecutors said in a statement.

Five of the officers were in a patrol car ahead of Villa and her children and the other five where on foot behind them, the statement said. Villa got ahead of the officers on foot and that’s when the assailants fired their weapons, it said.

Mexican authorities prepare to destroy seized drugs.
Mexican authorities prepare to destroy seized drugs.

The Post notes that Villa Mojica had been uncommonly lucky; more than 20 members of her and her husband's families had been killed by drug gangs in the past year.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Controversial California oyster farm returned to wilderness

How sustainable are California oysters? Trick question: not sustainable enough, apparently.


A years-long battle over an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco ended this week in the farm's definite closure. The 70-plus-year-old Drakes Bay Oyster Company will be forced to vacate the area before year's end, turning it over in full to a colony of seals, who are adorable but kind of indifferent to all the people losing their jobs before the holidays.

The seashore area was added to the national parks system in 1962. Ten years later, a 40-year lease was granted to the oyster farm, with the understanding that it would then be returned from “potential wilderness” to the actual kind. The farm had been seeking a 10-year extension of its lease, but the feds decided to stick to the original plan.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the decision yesterday. The Marin Independent Journal reports on reactions:

"This is going to be devastating to our families, our community and our county," [oyster farm owner Kevin] Lunny said. "This is wrong beyond words in our opinion." ...

The oyster farm has outspoken supporters, Sen. Dianne Feinstein among them.

"I am extremely disappointed that Secretary Salazar chose not to renew the operating permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co.," Feinstein said. ...

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune lauded the decision.

"We're thrilled that after three decades this amazing piece of Point Reyes National Seashore will finally receive the protections it deserves," he said. "Once the oyster factory operations are removed, as originally promised ... this estuary will quickly regain its wilderness characteristics and become a safe haven for marine mammals, birds and other sea life."

Read more: Food