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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


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.


Best bed-bug poison may be Merck meds for humans

From hotel beds to movie theater seats, it seems bed bugs are absolutely everywhere these days (and if they're not, oh god, they might be, so you'll drive yourself insane investigating every little speck you spot). Standard methods for trying to get rid of the bugs are long, arduous, and heavy on the pesticides. Now, though, preliminary research suggests that one answer could be a little pill from drug giant Merck.

Armed Forces Pest Management Board

While no one seems to agree on the cause, the bed-bug population is spiking, especially in big cities. In September, New York's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which advises people on how to deal with bed-bug infestations, had to fumigate itselfSan Francisco is instituting a bed bug Census. This week, Cleveland held a bed bug summit. Bed bugs have become a mainstay of contemporary urban living, an inconvenience we're forced to accept along with crowded buses (where, oh god, you might catch them).

Now comes new research suggesting that the Merck drug Stromectol kills bed bugs within a few hours -- of them, uh, feeding on you after you take the stuff. From Bloomberg:

Read more: Cities, Living


A New Jersey plant is dumping millions of gallons of sewage into New York Harbor

Two hundred million gallons is a lot of liquid. It's an amount equal to what could be held in one and a half of the world's largest supertankers. And it's how much of another brown, sludgy liquid -- partially treated sewage -- is escaping from a New Jersey treatment facility into New York Harbor every day, right by the Statue of Liberty.

From NBC New York:

Human waste has been pouring into New York Harbor from the fifth-largest sewage treatment plant in the nation since it was hit by Sandy, and the operator of the plant cannot predict when it will stop.

A 12-foot surge of water swamped the Newark plant that serves some three million people when Sandy struck on Oct. 29. The plant has pumped more than three billion gallons of untreated or partially treated wastewater into local waterways since then.


Oil rig catches fire in the Gulf, two reported missing [UPDATED]

After yesterday’s settlement between BP and the Justice Department over liability for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, we thought we could finally put the idea of such a disaster behind us.

Until this morning.

According to early reports from the Coast Guard, there were 28 people on the rig, which is not one that produces oil. During some maintenance work, an oil line was cut and caught fire. There is no active spill, but appears to be a localized sheen. The rig is about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, marked on the map below.


If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month

This image sums up 2012, temperature-wise.

Click to embiggen.

Nowhere on the surface of the planet have we seen any record cold temperatures over the course of the year so far. Every land surface in the world saw warmer-than-average temperatures except Alaska and the eastern tip of Russia. The continental United States has been blanketed with record warmth -- and the seas just off the East Coast have been much warmer than average, for which Sandy sends her thanks.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summarizes October 2012:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature.

Emphasis added. If you were born in or after April 1985, if you are right now 27 years old or younger, you have never lived through a month that was colder than average. That's beyond astonishing.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Hostess is going out of business, but Twinkies will live forever

Let's be clear up front: For better or worse, Twinkies aren't going anywhere. (You may make your own jokes about their longevity at this point.)

Hostess Brands -- the company that makes Twinkies and Ho-Hos and Drake's and Wonder Bread and all of the other archetypical Americana that we love to hate and love to eat -- is going out of business and selling off its assets. All of the brands I just listed will exist again, and soon, but under different management -- and apparently with an entirely different workforce.

Earlier this year, the company announced that it was filing for bankruptcy. As Business Insider noted at the time, much of the debt the company held was owed to the unions that represent the company's workers in the form of outstanding healthcare and pension obligations. When Hostess moved to enact wage and benefit cuts among its workforce, the workers struck.



Occupy’s ‘Rolling Jubilee’ is a model for cooperative purchasing power

Today, Occupy Wall Street launches the "Rolling Jubilee," something the group is calling a "People's Bailout." Basically: People pony up cash that Occupy will use to buy bundles of individual people's toxic debt for pennies on the dollar on the dirty market where previously only big evil bastard companies were allowed to do business. Then Occupy cancels the debt. They've already raised enough cash to, as of this post, knock out more than $4.5 million worth.

Read more: Living, Politics


Americans less optimistic about Obama’s environmental impact

Americans aren't feeling the hope and change anymore when it comes to President Obama's ability to make environmental progress. A new Gallup poll asked 1,009 people with a range of political views what they thought about the potential for the Obama administration to improve several aspects of American life, including the environment. Fifty-seven percent answered "yes," compared to 70 percent in 2008. The 13 percent drop in eco-optimism was second only to the 21 percent drop in those who believe Obama can heal political divisions in the country.

Read more: Politics