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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Hawaii is overflowing with solar power because it’s obnoxiously perfect

Hawaii residents are generating so much power from solar panels that utilities are worried about accommodating the excess electricity. This is because Hawaii never has any real problems and is a goddamn paradise.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Solar power has grown increasingly popular across the U.S. Sun Belt, but hardly anywhere has it taken hold as it has in Hawaii. Friendly tax credits, the highest average electricity rates in the nation and the most aggressive renewable energy program adopted by any state have sent homeowners scrambling to install photovoltaic systems on their roofs.

The number of solar power systems across the island state has doubled every year since 2007, with nearly 20,000 units installed. But with homeowners and businesses now producing nearly 140 megawatts of their own power -- the equivalent of a medium-size power plant -- and solar tax credits biting seriously into the state budget, Hawaii legislators and electrical utilities are tapping the brakes. …

Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu, which oversees subsidiary utilities on Maui and the Big Island, has warned that the explosion of do-it-yourself solar could threaten parts of the power grid with the possibility of power fluctuations or sporadic blackouts as the power generated by homeowners — unpredictable and subject to sudden swings — exceeded output from power plants in some areas.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Keystone XL fight heats up again in East Texas

Yesterday was another intense day of direct environmental action and resulting pepper spray in East Texas.

Tar Sands Blockade

More than 100 activists intent on shutting down construction of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline again gathered in the small East Texas town of Nacogdoches, again constructed treesits, again chained themselves to TransCanada's equipment, and again were brutalized and arrested for their efforts. (We reported on a previous day of action last month.)

Tar Sands Blockade

"Everyone who took action today knew the risks inolved and for many of them it was an act of conscience. They understand that the risks of this toxic pipeline far outweigh the cost of inaction," the group wrote on its website. "Despite brutal police repression, we will not be intimidated and continue to resist TransCanada’s bullying of our friends and neighbors."

According to the blockaders, 12 were arrested, seven of whom are facing felony charges. Their report:


Will the U.S. dump the U.N. climate process?

Let's just bring this out into the open, since I've made jokes about it in posts over the last two days: The U.N.'s annual climate change conferences -- like next week's, in Doha, Qatar -- are pointless. They are very good for providing an excuse for the well-heeled to tour the world every winter, but they are fruitless in terms of adopting remedies for global warming and obviously ineffective in curtailing greenhouse gas pollution.

Disagree? Well then, I'll play my trump card. You know who agrees with me? The United States government, that's who.

Kind of; maybe -- and not entirely because the U.N.'s process is ineffective. From Euractiv:


The world plans to build 1,200 new coal plants, because climate change is happening too slowly, I guess

Remember when people learned that cigarettes cause cancer and sometimes fatal lung disease and smokers were still like, yeah, well, I like to smoke?

The world has more than 1,000 new coal plants that it's planning to build, because, yeah, well, we like to burn coal.

From The Guardian:

The huge planned expansion comes despite warnings from politicians, scientists and campaigners [Ed. -- and church leaders and social scientists and probably children and dogs and Muppets and the concept of "happiness"] that the planet's fast-rising carbon emissions must peak within a few years if runaway climate change is to be avoided and that fossil fuel assets risk becoming worthless if international action on global warming moves forward.

Coal plants are the most polluting of all power stations and the World Resources Institute (WRI) identified 1,200 coal plants in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India. The capacity of the new plants add up to 1,400GW to global greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of adding another China -- the world's biggest emitter. India is planning 455 new plants compared to 363 in China, which is seeing a slowdown in its coal investments after a vast building programme in the past decade.

"This is definitely not in line with a safe climate scenario -- it would put us on a really dangerous trajectory," said the WRI's Ailun Yang.

Yeah? No shit?


Greenhouse gas levels higher than ever and still climbing

A literal greenhouse

Quick little update from the World Meteorological Organization:

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing -- the warming effect on our climate -- because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, about 375 billion tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere as CO2, primarily from fossil fuel combustion, according to WMO’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which had a special focus on the carbon cycle. About half of this carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial biosphere.

That's from the specifically titled "Press Release No. 965," which I appreciate because it suggests a scientist completing his calculations, then wearily turning to his typewriter to knock out yet another press release about how doomed we are.

Press Release No. 965 includes graphs showing how three of those gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide -- have increased since the 1980s.

Click to embiggen.


One dead, one missing in Gulf explosion that was caught on video

Some guys (dudes, really) were out in the Gulf of Mexico last week filming a fishing show when suddenly, on the horizon: boom.

This was the oil rig explosion that killed 42-year-old Ellroy Corporal, injured nearly a dozen others, and initiated a search for another worker, Jerome Malagapo, who has still not been found. The Houston Chronicle has updates:

Federal officials deepened their probes Monday into the safety and procedures aboard a Gulf of Mexico oil platform where an explosion and fire last week left one worker dead and another missing. …

On Monday, federal investigators issued a broad subpoena to Black Elk Energy in connection with the fatal fire. In the subpoena, the Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency that probes industrial accidents, raised a question about the use of combustible gas detectors on the platform.


Protest theater troupe flash-mobs British Petroleum

Wherefore art thou destructive drilling?

BP or Not to BP

On Sunday, this rabble-rousing crew flash-mobbed on the Great Court of London's British Museum, which is currently hosting a Shakespeare exhibition sponsored by British Petroleum. It was the ninth and final performance for the approximately 200 members of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, who treated the museum to an adorably literary chant of, “Double, double, oil is trouble, tar sands burn as greenwash bubbles.”

From the group's site, BP or Not to BP:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


University gives ‘frackademics’ the boot

SUNY Buffalo has shuttered its Shale Resources and Society Institute, aka a pro-fracking, on-campus think tank with big energy connections and a record of shilling for junk science.

CREDO Policy Summit

The closure comes as a direct result of the center's misleading and error-filled May 15 report touting a warmer, fuzzier, safer fracking industry.

University of Buffalo President Satish Tripathi announced the closure.

Given our geographic situation as well as our extensive faculty expertise in issues related to energy, water, and the environment, the University at Buffalo is positioned to play a leading research role in these areas. Understanding and addressing these issues effectively therefore requires a program of sufficient scale to encompass the scope and complexities of this topic ... The university upholds academic freedom as a core principle of our institutional mission. With that being said, academic freedom carries with it inherent responsibilities. The Shale Resources and Society Institute's May 15, 2012, report, "Environmental Impacts during Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies," led to allegations questioning whether historical financial interests influenced the authors' conclusions. The fundamental source of controversy revolves around clarity and substantiation of conclusions ... Because of these collective concerns, I have decided to close the Shale Resources and Society Institute.


A sluggish start for California carbon auctions?

In perhaps the most lackluster initial public offering since Facebook, California officials today released the results of last week's landmark cap-and-trade carbon auction, in which a ton of carbon sold for $10.09. That's one nickel and four pennies above the minimum the state had established.


The Sacramento Bee reports:

Mary Nichols, chair of the board, called the auction "a success" because it showed that California can reduce greenhouse gas emissions at an affordable cost. She said fears that the cost of carbon would "go out of sight" proved unjustified.


World superpowers are about to get a brand new coast

Someday the northern coast of Alaska could look like this.

This is a remarkable thing to consider:

"[T]he northern coast is about to become a real coast; maybe not today, maybe not this year, but in a short time. We need to start thinking about that."

So says an authority no less than Major General Francis G. Mahon of the U.S. Northern Command. The comment came during a panel discussion this weekend in Washington, D.C.

“There are many, many others who have economic interests who would like to harvest [resources in the Arctic] and sell them on the economic market,” Mahon said.

Mahon said, as an example, that for Chinese exports to Europe, it is 40 percent shorter to move goods through the Bering Strait than to move those goods through Panama or around the southern tip of South America.

“From an economic standpoint, you know that will be exploited as quickly as possible,” Mahon said. “Ultimately, we will be operating up there more.”

We knew this, of course, and have written about it. But that frame, the creation of a new coast, is remarkable.