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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Ticks are turning victims into vegetarians

Are you ready to never read "blood meal" the same way again?

Travellin' John

There is now scientific confirmation of the tick-borne meat allergies we first told you about in August. From ABC News:

A bite from the lone star tick, so-called for the white spot on its back, looks innocent enough. But researchers say saliva that sneaks into the wound might trigger a reaction to meat agonizing enough to convert lifelong carnivores into wary vegetarians.

"People will eat beef and then anywhere from three to six hours later start having a reaction; anything from hives to full-blown anaphylactic shock," said Dr. Scott Commins, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Read more: Living


Building climate resilience through smarter cities and tighter communities

It's been nearly two weeks since Hurricane Sandy decimated large parts of the Eastern seaboard. The subway may be back, but more than a half million people are still without power and thousands are still without water. The conversation continues about how best to adapt to a new world of monster weather.

Jeremy Zilar
An Occupy Sandy distribution center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Scientific American has an interview today with climate scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig, who has been studying the impact of climate change on New York since the '90s, and first analyzed risks to the city infrastructure from rising waters in 2001. Rosenzweig says a new way forward for coastal communities will require "an integrated approach that covers three areas: engineering, ecologically based adaptation and policies."

Overarching all of this is design, urban planning. What we really need to do is recover, rebuild and create a vibrant and sustainable coastal city region. Let's do this in creative ways. For example, the Dutch are not just looking to engineering solutions, they are looking at a mix of solutions. So there are the iconic floating houses but they are also doing a lot with raising apartment buildings and allowing water to slosh in and out when floods come. We have to accept that we are a coastal region. There are going to be coastal floods. How do we live with it?

How do we live with it? The Census has this great and kind of shocking visualization of how Americans are drawn to coastlines like moths to flame. That "we" is huge, and climate change will touch all of us.

We haven't been able to look to the government for leadership on climate change, so why would we look to it for leadership on cleaning up the mess that climate change creates? In an interview at Salon, disaster historian and New York resident Jacob Remes discusses what "living with it" would look like from the ground up.

Read more: Cities, Living


Obama limits oil-shale development OK’d by Bush

Oil shale is a weird energy source. It’s a rock that contains shale oil, a type of hydrocarbon that differs from regular petroleum in part because it needs to be heated in order to be released. And it differs from the sort of shale in the Bakken Formation that’s feeding North Dakota’s oil boom — it's much harder to extract. So hard to extract, in fact, that oil companies don't even really try any more.

Oil and water don't mix. (Oil shale isn't this kind of oil, but, still.)

But that doesn't mean they're not irritated that the government intends to lock away federal land that sits over oil shale. After all, oil companies are ridiculously thin-skinned and greedy and use any opportunity to score political points. From The Hill:

The Interior Department on Friday issued a final plan to close 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West originally slated for oil shale development. …

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management cited environmental concerns for the proposed changes. Among other things, it excised lands with “wilderness characteristics” and areas that conflicted with sage grouse habitats.

Under the plan, 677,000 acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming would be open for oil shale exploration. Another 130,000 acres in Utah would be set aside for tar sands production. …

“This is another step in the wrong direction that limits development and investment in one of the nation’s most energy-rich areas and goes against a prior government decision that would allow for research and development over a much wider geographical area," [said some jerk from the American Petroleum Institute.]


Will baby boomers just keep on driving?

Every day, the generation that drove America's love affair with the automobile draws closer to death retirement. And who better to help us figure out what that means than the AARP?

Stefan Amer Royalty

A new report out from its Public Policy Institute considers whether America’s baby boomers may be moving toward lives that rely less on cars. From the Associated Press:

How long those 74 million people born between 1946 and 1964 continue to work, whether they choose to live in their suburban houses after their children leave home or whether they flock to city neighborhoods where they are less likely to need a car will have important ramifications for all Americans.

On the one hand:

Most boomers live in the suburbs and are expected to remain in the homes where they raised their children even after they become empty nesters. The housing bust has also trapped many older boomers in large homes whose values have fallen, sometimes below the balance of their mortgages.

On the other hand:

Demographers have noted an uptick in retirees moving to central cities where they're less dependent on being able to drive. Because there are so many boomers, if a significant number move to central cities, it could drive up housing costs and force cities to make greater accommodations for the elderly, such as more benches at bus stops or a slowing of the timing of pedestrian crossing lights.

Read more: Cities, Living


Hundreds of thousands still without power post-Sandy, provoking backlash against utilities

The New York transit authority's success getting the subways back online is probably not appreciated by the region's power companies, which have had, shall we say, less success.

At midday yesterday, about 700,000 customers were without power, including 200,000 who lost power after winter storm Athena swept through.

Manhattan, half-dark after Sandy.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who estimates that Sandy could cost $50 billion in economic damage by the time it's fully cleaned up, started dropping bombs on the utilities yesterday.

"The progress is unacceptable," Cuomo said at a press conference. "To say that I am angry, to say that I am frustrated, disappointed, would be the understatement of the decade."

All of the state's utilities who have powerless customers, he suggested -- Con Ed, the Long Island Power Authority, the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG), and Orange & Rockland -- could be in for a rude awakening after cleanup is over.

"I promise the people of this state that they will be held accountable for their lack of performance," he added. "These are not God-given monopolies. I will review all of them."


Obama might push for a carbon tax, according to optimists unfamiliar with ‘the House’

A few weeks before the election, I had a conversation with a friend who works for an environmental organization about the possibility of a carbon tax being implemented in the U.S. during the next four years. To me, the prospect seemed unlikely, regardless of who won last Tuesday. He seemed more optimistic -- but then, he's much better with economics than I am.

His optimism may have been warranted. From Bloomberg, reports that a carbon tax could be considered as a deficit-reduction tool.

Barack Obama may consider introducing a tax on carbon emissions to help cut the U.S. budget deficit after winning a second term as president, according to HSBC Holdings Plc.

A tax starting at $20 a metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent and rising at about 6 percent a year could raise $154 billion by 2021, Nick Robins, an analyst at the bank in London, said today in an e-mailed research note, citing Congressional Research Service estimates. “Applied to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2012 baseline, this would halve the fiscal deficit by 2022,” Robins said.



Fired coal mine employee shares letter from evil coal boss with the world

A post popped up on the link-sharing site Reddit earlier today: "Yesterday I was laid off because President Obama was re-elected. AMA!" "AMA" is short for "ask me anything," inviting the Reddit community to do exactly that. Accompanying the post is this image:

Click to embiggen.

The Reddit poster, who said he worked in a warehouse for a coal company, didn't identify the company, but we can tell you: It was Murray Energy, a coal company based in Ohio and run by our old friend Prayin' Robert Murray.


U.S. oil production headed for 20-year high

As predicted, oil production in the United States hit its highest level since 1994. Production is on pace to have its highest year since 1991.

From Bloomberg:

Output swelled by 8,000 barrels to 6.68 million barrels a day in the week ended Nov. 2, the Energy Department reported today. It was the most since Dec. 23, 1994. Improvements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have unlocked fuel trapped in deep underground rock formations in states such as North Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma.

Oil production since the 1920s, in case you were wondering. Click to embiggen.


2012 has been the hottest year ever in the United States

For the first time in 17 months, the United States was cooler than average in October. Is global warming therefore a hoax? Yes, of course. Obviously.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration yesterday released its monthly overview of the country's weather. The slightly cooler average temperature for October -- 0.3 degrees F below the long-term average -- was offset by the month's closing out the warmest year-to-date on record. So far in 2012, the average temperature has been 58.4 degrees F -- 3.4 degrees above average, and 1.1 degrees above the previous warmest year ever. Is global warming therefore a hoax? Yes, of course. Obviously.
Click to embiggen.

Meanwhile, the drought (remember the drought?) continues.

The October 30, 2012 U.S. Drought Monitor showed 60.2 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought, less than the 64.6 percent at the beginning of October. Drought conditions improved across parts of the Midwest and Northeast, while drought conditions worsened across parts of the Northern Rockies.

Jeff Reid
It feels like forever since we've used a drought photo. I missed them.
Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


‘Magic': How New York dried out and fired up its subway system

An empty, dry tunnel under the East River.

On a normal day, New York's subway system is magical. That the largest city in the United States, one of the densest and tallest places on Earth, should have running beneath it an intricate, extensive series of tubes linked at various places to the surface is an achievement we rarely reflect upon. Right now, as they have been for months, crews are digging a new tunnel along Second Avenue, a brand new subway line, under homes and stores and businesses like it's just the regular way things are done.

Public transit is never simple, but when it's done elegantly and well, it seems like simplicity incarnate. Go down, get on the train, get off where you wanted to be.

Sandy shook that. For a week, the subways were soaked and silent. For the first two days after the storm, New Yorkers were immobile. But only for two days. What happened next, as the head of one riders' advocacy group told the Times, "borders on the edge of magic."