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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Michael Bloomberg: The consequences of making a mistake on climate change are severe

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) made a weird comment about climate change:

Is this -- a storm like this that is so strong and so unusual -- a global warming incident? I think what is clear is the climate is changing, nobody knows if it is a [cyclical] or secular thing. I think each of these storms we have to learn to see if we can do some things better the next time.

Bloomberg has long been a leader on climate change, including helping to found C40, a group that focuses on how a shifting climate will affect cities. In light of that, questioning the cause seemed out of character.

Last night, he returned to form -- and explained his somewhat nuanced position more fully.


In wake of Sandy, media may finally be willing to discuss climate change

Yesterday, Wen Stephenson, a former Boston Globe editor (and occasional Grist contributor), described how the paper's inaction on climate change prompted him to focus on activism from outside the media. Perhaps he should have stuck around a bit longer.

Josh Tyrangiel is the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. This morning he tweeted:

This cover story:

The scale and destruction of Hurricane Sandy has made the issue of climate change impossible to ignore. It's as if the media and politicians are at last free to discuss something they have been keeping secret -- which is basically the case.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Post-Sandy, bike generators bring joy to NYC in the form of charged gadgets

Post-superstorm, cell charges are waning and urban dwellers are getting cranky. Or are they? It seems there's some good neighborly cheer happening amidst the flood waters, as drawn here by Kate Beaton.

Kate Beaton
Read more: Cities, Living


New York City’s urban farms gasp for air after Sandy

Yesterday, we brought you the sad story of the Brooklyn Grange's lost beehives. Today, there's more bad news on the urban farm front in New York City. From Brooklyn to Manhattan, some farms fared OK while others were entirely drowned.

Brooklyn Grange
Some of the Grange's destroyed beehives.

The New York Observer reports:

The Red Hook Community Farm was under more than two feet of water during the storm, executive director Ian Marvy told us. Even the crops that remain after flooding are a total loss and cannot be sold or donated because of water pollution. The farm also lost two bee hives; it’s unclear how much of the equipment can be salvaged.

It is likely that flood waters also destroyed Battery Urban Farm in Lower Manhattan. Phones were not working and emails to staffers went unanswered, but reports of extensive flooding on the streets surrounding the farm leave little doubt that the agricultural operation is more than likely done for the season, if not longer.

It was a pattern that played out consistently across the city: the bees, birds and the plants withstood the gale’s winds, but not even the most diligent preparations could stop the floods.

Read more: Cities, Food


Green Party’s Jill Stein arrested while resupplying KXL blockaders

It's day 38 of the Keystone XL pipeline blockade in East Texas, and that means more treetop activists, more scuffles with police, and more arrests -- including that of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

Tar Sands Blockade

Today was what blockaders are calling their 11th action -- the construction of a new pair of tree perches more than 100 miles south of Winnsboro, where the main protests have taken place.

Meanwhile, in Winnsboro, Jill Stein and others successfully delivered supplies to activists who may or may not actually be delaying the pipeline's construction. From the Tar Sands Blockade:

Jill Stein was joined by seven others, including three blockaders and four members of the press. They were delivering fresh fruits and vegetables, canned proteins, trail mix, and Halloween candy. They were not warned of imminent arrests; and the arresting officers did not self-identify as police. Instead, the impression the officers gave was that they were private security working for the Canadian oil corporation, TransCanada.


FYI, Sandy did not initiate nuclear Armageddon

NEWS FLASH: You will not be killed in a nuclear explosion, probably, at least not from muchostorm Sandy.

Shortly after the worst flooding receded, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey had raised its action level to "alert." Everyone (not everyone, really, but the sort of people who easily bug out) bugged out. An "alert," we'll mention, is one notch above "literally nothing is happening" and a notch below "hm, this isn't good." An ABC story from yesterday suggested that there were "Problems at Five Nuke Plants," but that alert was the worst of the problems. Don't read that article, especially if you're the sort of person who easily bugs out.

And anyway, that alert is over. From the New York Times' Sandy liveblog:

With Hurricane Sandy’s surge receding, the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, in Lacey Township, N.J., ended its “alert” at 3:52 a.m. on Wednesday and returned to normal operations, meaning a shutdown for refueling that began a week before the storm. …

The storm disrupted the grid at several reactors and forced their shutdown, but only Oyster Creek reached the “alert” stage, a status that requires notification of various government agencies but no public action.

So that's that.

Is this going to explode? Share this article on Facebook to find out.
Read more: Climate & Energy


Nebraska says new Keystone XL route is slightly less likely to ruin state

Thomas Beck Photo

During the most heated point in the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline last year, the state of Nebraska was poised to act as spoiler. The pipeline as initially proposed ran over Nebraska farmland, but also -- critically for the region -- over the Ogallala Aquifer, a pristine water source widely tapped for drinking and irrigation.

Given the significant possible damage to the aquifer from a spill, TransCanada, the Canadian company that hopes to build the pipeline, proposed an alternate route. That new route avoids the Nebraska Sand Hills, a region that acts as a sort of sponge for the aquifer. Mother Nature Network describes it:

[The Sand Hills] may not be as well-known as the Mississippi Delta, the Everglades or the Chesapeake Bay, but they harbor one of the most pristine wetland ecosystems in the entire Lower 48 states. Not only is the area home to swaths of unspoiled prairie and wetlands -- which themselves are home to a diverse menagerie of wildlife -- but it also serves as a capstone for the Ogallala Aquifer, a giant underground freshwater source that provides nearly one-third of the country's irrigation groundwater. …

As much as half of the region's annual rainfall percolates down to the Ogallala Aquifer, which contains an estimated 1 billion acre-feet of groundwater below the Sand Hills.

An uncontrolled spill of thick, corrosive tar-sands oil would be a massive disaster. Here's the new route proposed by TransCanada, threading the needle on the Sand Hills.


Energy company CEO: Why do we have to talk about climate change today?

"We understand. We get it."

The words of the CEO of Southern Company, Thomas Fanning, when asked about climate change. Oops, wait. Not climate change. He said that about how his company was helping ConEd restore power in New York. Here's what he said about climate change:

I don't think that the data supports that the storms are more frequent or unusual than they have been in the past. But the point is right now we are not dedicated to getting into an ancillary argument. We gotta get the power back on. That is our business at this point.

That's great. Let's get the power back on. But climate change as "an ancillary argument" is like a defense attorney suggesting that the real issue was the failure of the tree to step aside for the car, not the ancillary argument of his client's drunkenness.


Sandy spooks East Coast Halloween

More Frankenstorm fallout, this time on the sweetest, creepiest, oddly sexiest night of the year. Will Sandy ruin Halloween? From the Huffington Post:

Some children may be feeling fearful of trick-or-treating, even if mom and dad aren't. Heading into the spookiest of holidays on the heels of a threatening natural disaster may take a toll on a young person's psyche.


Another thing that might take a toll: being denied an annual sugar-laden ritual. Yesterday New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tweeted this act of heroic leadership in the face of holiday disaster.

Read more: Living


Coal company gets in on the election fun, blaming EPA for mine layoffs

Sorry, kid. We're gonna have to let you go.

More bad news from the coal industry, reeling at the hands of Barack "I hate coal so so much" Obama.

From the AP:

Consol Energy told 145 workers in southern West Virginia on Tuesday that it will start laying them off in late December because of a dispute over permits for surface mining related to the King Coal Highway project.

The Pittsburgh-based coal producer said it plans to idle its Miller Creek operations in Mingo County, which include Wiley Surface Mine, Wiley Creek Surface Mine, Minway Surface Mine, Minway Preparation Plant, and Miller Creek Administration Group. …

Consol has sought U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits to redirect the Mingo County operations to mine land that would then become a 5-mile stretch of the King Coal Highway. The agency has raised several concerns about the Buffalo Mountain mining operation, including its planned burial of several area streams.

DeIuliis noted that while the EPA had relented in objecting to one of the two permits sought, "that permit alone is not sufficient to allow miners to begin work.''

Come on, EPA! Consol Energy is just trying to make a buck, create some jobs, bury some streams, that kind of thing. And you're being a bummer, because Obama. Super lame.