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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Shell, BP join dozens of companies expressing support of carbon pricing

This young lady elegantly summarizes the request.

Everyone wants a carbon tax. Literally everyone. I just did a poll of my house and my dog Lucy kind of nodded slightly, so I feel confident in saying that 100 percent of Americans support a carbon tax (margin of error, 100 percent).

Really, it isn't just me and my dog. (Actually, I'm kind of iffy on it, but I'm willing to hear the dog's arguments.) Here is who else wants a carbon tax, according to Corporate Climate Comminqués, a project of Cambridge University: BP. Shell. British Airways. ING. Kodak. Ricoh. Unilever. That's literally every major corporation in the world (margin of error, like, 90 percent).

To be fair, they don't all support a carbon tax. They, in the words of the document, "urge policy-makers to focus on introducing a clear carbon price framework in a stable and timely manner." Which includes requesting that leaders:

  • Make carbon pricing a central part of national policy responses.
  • Work towards the long term objective of a carbon price throughout the global economy.
  • Set sufficient ambition through internationally agreed targets to drive change at a pace commensurate with the 2°C goal.


Climate change will be ‘devastating’ to world’s poor, World Bank says

It's not just America's poor who will pay the most for climate collapse.

The World Bank's new "Turn Down the Heat" report projects a 4 degree C (7.2 degree F) rise in global temperatures by 2100, a change that would have especially catastrophic consequences in the developing countries the World Bank is ostensibly attempting to aid. Yes, the climate class gap is global.

Dan Johanson

"We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim told the media Friday.

From the report [PDF]:

The projected impacts on water availability, ecosystems, agriculture, and human health could lead to large-scale displacement of populations and have adverse consequences for human security and economic and trade systems. The full scope of damages in a 4°C world has not been assessed to date.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Greatly increased greenhouse gas emissions found at Australian fracking site


Given a lump of coal or a tank of natural gas to burn for energy, there's no question which is the better choice for the environment. As David Roberts noted earlier this year, utilities switching to cheaper natural gas is one of the factors contributing to the U.S.' recent decrease in CO2 emissions. Good news.

There is, of course, a but. It is unclear how big the overall benefit of a switch to natural gas is if the switch relies on fracked gas. During the process of fracking, some amount of gas escapes into the atmosphere -- mostly methane, which is 20 times more effective at retaining heat than carbon dioxide. The amount that generally escapes is debated, ranging from 0.2 to 2 percent. That latter figure would be … bad.

So is this, via the Los Angeles Times:

[R]eported findings of methane, carbon dioxide and other compounds at more than three times normal background levels have stirred new controversy in eastern Australia over the pros and cons of boosting natural gas output by “fracking,” a process that blasts sand, water and chemicals into deep underground wells.

Researchers from Southern Cross University took mobile air testing equipment to the Tara gas field near Condamine in Queensland to measure the ambient gas content. They found more than three times the level of toxic gases than expected, based on the industry’s claim that leakage from the wellheads is “negligible.”

“The concentrations here are higher than any measured in gas fields anywhere else that I can think of, including in Russia,” Damien Maher, a biochemist who helped conduct the tests, told the Sydney Morning Herald.


How many times should the government rebuild at-risk areas?


That's some view, right? Imagine waking up to that every morning, heading out to the beach during the summer with a picnic and a book. It's a subset of the American dream: a place on the beach that you retire to, frittering away hours upon end.

Sometimes, though, things like this happen:

John de Guzman

That's a house in the New Dorp Beach section of Staten Island, an area ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Storm damage in coastal areas is not new. But the increased severity of storms seems to be, as is the increased urgency behind a long-standing question: Should the government facilitate rebuilding in areas that are prone to natural disaster?


Good news for nostalgists: The debate over the Keystone pipeline has returned

And it's official: The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline is back.

Yesterday, several thousand people protested outside the White House in a scene echoing the regular protests that made headlines last year. Led, as always, by activists from, the protest was intended to increase pressure on President Obama to deny permit approval to the pipeline. If approved, Keystone XL would dramatically increase the amount of tar-sands oil TransCanada ships from Alberta, Canada, to American refiners, perhaps even making the risky endeavor of tar-sands drilling profitable in one fell swoop.

Keystone protest

From The Guardian:

"It's no longer sort of a rag-tag bunch of kids -- it's the very heart of the environmental movement," said Bill McKibben, president of, who helped lead the protest. ...

Obama put the pipeline on hold in January, citing the need to review environmental concerns with a portion of the route in Nebraska.

TransCanada changed its route and reapplied for the permit. Nebraska's state government is expected to approve the new route by the end of the year, and Keystone proponents have urged the Obama administration to grant the permit soon afterward.


Abusive slaughterhouse fined $500 million in massive meat-recall case

More than four years after the biggest meat recall in U.S. history, a settlement has been reached in the Humane Society's lawsuit against Hallmark Meat. The California slaughterhouse not only abused sick cows but then sent their meat into the food system, putting American eaters across the country at risk. A federal court has handed down a $500 million judgment in the case, but as Hallmark is bankrupt, it'll be a symbolic end to this grisly story.

From the Associated Press:

The case marked the first time federal fraud statutes were used in an animal abuse case, the HSUS said. As a supplier of meats for the national school lunch program, the company had signed federal contracts certifying that it would provide humane treatment of animals sent to the company for slaughter.

The widely circulated video shot by an undercover operative in 2007 showed "downer cows" — those too weak or sick to walk — being dragged by chains, rammed by forklifts and sprayed with high-pressure water by employees who wanted them to stand and walk to slaughter.


Green progress in California could help the poor

It’s been a big month for progressive political wins in California, and some commentators are apparently still riding high from last Tuesday’s election.

Robert Scheer writes at Truthdig about the "progressive bellwether" that is California now: "The Land of Milk and Honey Once More."

It is refreshing to discover that not every super wealthy person need be a shortsighted pig. That is one lesson from California voters, and it should burnish the Golden State’s reputation as an inspiration for the nation. It helps that the cutting edge industries in the state, ranging from the older world of entertainment to the newest of information technology, are apparently more inclined to a progressive outlook than the entrenched economic interests in some other states. Texas comes to mind.

Andrew Leonard has also been infected with Golden State optimism. "As goes California, so goes the nation?" he asks at Salon.

Not so fast there, friends.

Jon Palos

Yes, funding for green industry and jobs, cap-and-trade auctions, and big progressive wins in the state legislature are all pretty awesome. And yes, that's a very nice picture you've got there, Robert Scheer, of a rainbow landing in a field of wind turbines in (extremely unsustainable) Palm Springs. And yes, California may well tip the scales further in favor of clean energy in America. Woo, yay, etc.

But the land of milk and honey this is not: California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, according to a new federal standard that takes into account food, housing, and utility costs, with 23.5 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Luckily, some of the millions raised through cap-and-trade auctions will now be funneled toward needy communities (as well as green innovations), thanks to legislation passed in September.


More bad news about glaciers — and therefore sea levels

A glacier in Nepal.

Summer Rupper, a geologist at Brigham Young University, traveled to Bhutan. Her goal in visiting the Himalayan nation in southern Asia was to predict how its glaciers were likely to respond to various climate scenarios over the coming decades. The answer: No matter what, the glaciers are likely to shrink substantially.

Rupper's most conservative findings indicate that even if climate remained steady, almost 10 percent of Bhutan's glaciers would vanish within the next few decades. What's more, the amount of melt water coming off these glaciers could drop by 30 percent. …

In fact, snowfall rates in Bhutan would need to almost double to avoid glacier retreat, but it's not a likely scenario because warmer temperatures lead to rainfall instead of snow. If glaciers continue to lose more water than they gain, the combination of more rain and more glacial melt will increase the probability of flooding -- which can be devastating to neighboring villages.

Note the point in that first paragraph: "even if climate remained steady." In other words, even if the climate didn't get any warmer, which is almost certainly not going to be the case.

Read more: Climate & Energy


‘The climate gap’: Extreme weather hurts poor the most

Over the last three weeks, we've seen the fallout from Hurricane Sandy hit the working poor and middle class the hardest. Droughts, heat waves, and wildfires also afflict the lower classes far more than the wealthy, according to a Center for American Progress analysis of extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012.

Damage in Alabama from a 2011 tornado.

Most of these extreme weather events typically harmed counties with household incomes below the U.S. median annual household income of $51,914:

  • Floods damaged households in affected counties with average household incomes of $44,547 annually -- 14 percent less than the U.S. median income
  • Drought and heat waves affected counties with households that earned an average of $49,340 annually -- roughly 5 percent less than the U.S. median income
  • Wildfires, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms devastated areas with households that earned an average of $50,352 annually --- 3 percent less than the U.S. median income

In fact, tropical storms and hurricanes were the only types of extreme weather events that affected more-well-off areas, on average, since January 2011.

The full report is here [PDF], with details on some of the poorest, hardest-hit states -- states that, as it happens, tend toward the politically conservative, such as Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

Read more: Climate & Energy


The wind industry doesn’t seem to know how to win the most important fight of its life

Yesterday afternoon, Politico hosted its "Energy and the Presidency" event, presenting an even-handed look at energy politics as relayed primarily by people who are beholden to fossil fuel interests. (We made fun of this event last month.)

During the event, an activist for Greenpeace challenged Jeff Holmstead, a former Bush EPA official and now coal industry lobbyist, over his pretending to be considering the issue objectively.

The activist raises a good point and no one blinks and the activist is escorted out and the conversation continues. Same as it ever was.

Meanwhile, sitting quietly somewhere in that room, in the shadows, watching as the young man spoke up, was a person paid to do exactly that sort of advocacy on behalf of the wind industry. As the young man grabbed his coat, yelling out his points, there was a representative of the wind industry listening, maybe looking down at his or her plate guiltily. How do I know this person was there? Because the wind industry sponsored the goddamn event.