Skip to content Skip to site navigation
Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Comments

Burn Baby Burn

The four fossil fuel stockpiles that could toast the world

global warming
Shutterstock

By now it's old news that the U.S. is in the midst of an oil and gas boom. In fact, with 30.5 billion barrels of untapped crude, our proven oil reserves are higher than they have been since the 1970s. But if that oil doesn't stay in the ground, along with most U.S. gas and coal reserves, then the planet and all of its inhabitants are in trouble.

new report from the Sierra Club takes a look at what will happen to the climate if we burn through four of our biggest fossil fuel reserves -- and it ain't pretty. The four stockpiles are Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming and Montana; Green River shale in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah; oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska; and frackable oil and gas across the U.S. Together these deposits could release 140.5 billion tons of CO2, the report says, enough to get the world a quarter of the way toward a global 2-degree Celsius rise, aka climatological catastrophe.

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

Let's get ready to not rumble!

Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes

seismometer
Shutterstock

Ohio officials have linked fracking in the state to an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes that struck last month. Following its investigation, the state is imposing new rules to help reduce frackquake hazards.

It's well-known that frackers can cause earthquakes when they shoot their polluted wastewater into so-called injection wells. But a swarm of earthquakes that hit Mahoning County, Ohio, last month was different -- it occurred not near an injection well, but near a site where fracking had recently begun. State officials investigated the temblors and concluded that there was a "probable connection" between them and hydraulic fracturing near "a previously unknown microfault."

On Friday, following the discovery, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that frackers will need to comply with new permit regulations. Under the tougher rules, frackers operating within three miles of a known fault or seismically active area will need to deploy sensitive seismic monitors. And if those monitors detect an earthquake, even if the magnitude is as small as 1.0 on the Richter scale, fracking will be suspended while the state investigates.

Meanwhile, the fracking operation linked to the recent quakes will remain suspended until a plan is developed that could see drilling resumed safely, an official told Reuters.

Comments

More GIFs, please

U.S. urges IPCC to be less boring, try this whole “online” thing

IPCC makes you yawn
Shutterstock

Thousands of scientists volunteer to review research published by thousands of other scientists -- part of an effort to pack all of the latest and best climate science into assessment reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But anybody who takes the time to read these reports is in danger of being bored to tears -- even before they break down in tears over the scale of the damage that we're inflicting on humanity and our planet.

After publishing five mammoth reports during its quarter-century of existence, the IPCC is facing an existential crisis. How can it reinvent its aging self -- and its dry scientific reports -- to better serve the warming world?

The U.S. is clear on what the IPCC needs to do: It needs to get with the times.

Despite the exhaustive amount of work that goes into producing each of the IPCC's assessment reports, relatively little effort goes into making the information in those reports easily accessible to the public. The IPCC's main website is ugly and static, mirroring the dry assessment reports to which it links. The IPCC's online presence seems designed to meet day-to-day demands for climate information by bureaucrats -- and nobody else.

Comments

Mission not-quite-impossible

U.N. report spells out super-hard things we must do to curb warming

man pushing Earth up a hill
Shutterstock

Hooboy, it's gonna get hot. A U.N. climate panel on Sunday painted a sizzling picture of the staggering volume of greenhouse gases we've been pumping into the atmosphere -- and what will happen to the planet if we keep this shit up.

By 2100, surface temperatures will be 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C (6.7 to 8.7 F) warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution. That's far worse than the goal the international community is aiming for -- to keep warming under 2 C (3.7 F). The U.N.'s terrifying projection assumes that we keep on burning fossil fuels as if nothing mattered, like we do now, leading to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of between 750 and 1,300 parts per million by 2100. A few centuries ago, CO2 levels were a lovely 280 ppm, and many scientists say we should aim to keep them at 350 ppm, but we're already above 400.

These warnings come from the third installment of the latest big report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by hundreds of climate scientists and experts. (WTF is this IPCC? See our explainer. Feel like you've heard this story before? Perhaps you're thinking of the first installment of the report, which came out last fall, or the second installment, which came out last month. Maybe the IPCC believes that breaking its report into three parts makes it more fun, like the Hobbit movies.)

Here's a paragraph and a chart from the 33-page summary of the latest installment that help explain how we reached this precarious point in human history.

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

WINDË Power

IKEA makes big investment in wind energy (some assembly required)

Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.
Shutterstock
Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.

IKEA -- though not exactly a friend to forests, and way too fond of dubious meatballs for our taste -- still wins greenie points for having a Scandinavian way with alternative energy. Ninety percent of its massive warehouse stores will soon host rooftop solar panels, including sunny south Florida's largest solar array, and Brits will be able to buy solar panels in U.K. stores starting this summer. On Thursday, the company one-upped its own clean cred by announcing its investment in a giant wind farm in Illinois.

Hoopeston Wind is the most recent in a series of wind investments by IKEA, including several farms in Canada, where the furniture behemoth is the largest retail wind investor. The Illinois farm will produce 98 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in 2015, or enough to power 34,000 Expedit-enhanced homes. That's more than twice the electricity that all of IKEA's U.S. operations consume, and about 18 percent of the company's global consumption. All of those megawatts will be sold locally, and IKEA will count them toward its overall renewable energy goal: to be totally carbon-free by 2020.

Comments

Walmarts and all

Why you should be skeptical of Walmart’s cheap organic food

walmart_organics
Walmart

Out on the mean streets of the U.S. organic foods industry, Walmart has stepped onto the corner with both guns drawn. On Thursday, the superstore behemoth announced its plan to partner with Wild Oats (which you may recognize as a former subsidiary of Whole Foods) to offer a line of organic goods at unprecedentedly low prices in 2,000 of its U.S. stores. To start, the line will offer primarily canned goods and other pantry staples that will cost up to 25 percent less than those of other organic brands.

At first blush, this appears to be great news. Cheaper, more accessible organic food -- isn’t that one of the prerequisites for the kind of healthy food system we’ve all been waiting for? The New York Times notes that Walmart’s big move could ultimately create a larger supply of organic goods, pushing down organic prices in the long run.

Comments

El Niño could raise meteorological hell this year

lighthouse
Shutterstock

It's more likely than not that El Niño will rise from the Pacific Ocean this year -- and some scientists are warning that it could grow into a bona fide monster.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center put out a bulletin Thursday saying there's a greater than 50 percent chance that El Niño will develop later this year. Australian government meteorologists are even more confident -- they said earlier this week that there's a greater than 70 percent chance that El Niño will develop this summer.

Not totally clear on what this El Niño thing even is? Andrew Freedman explains at Mashable:

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

Weather-related blackouts in U.S. doubled in 10 years

storms and the power grid
Shutterstock

The current U.S. electrical grid is a far cry from smart. Climate change and aging infrastructure are leading to an increasing number of blackouts across the country.

A new analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central found that the number of outages affecting 50,000 or more people for at least an hour doubled during the decade up to 2012.  Most of the blackouts were triggered when extreme weather damaged large transmission lines and substations. Michigan had the most outages, followed by Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Click to embiggen.
Climate Central
Click to embiggen.

Severe rainstorms, which are growing more tempestuous as the globe warms, were blamed for the majority of the weather-related outages.

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

GMO labeling would be outlawed by new bill in Congress

GMO labeling march
mikescottnz

State-led efforts to mandate GMO labels are blossoming like a field of organic tulips, but members of Congress are trying to mow them down with legislative herbicide.

Maine and Connecticut recently passed laws that will require foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly marked as such -- after enough other states follow suit. And lawmakers in other states are considering doing the same thing. The trend makes large food producers nervous -- nervous enough to spend millions defeating ballot initiatives in California and Washington that also would have mandated such labels. They worry that the labels might scare people off, eating into companies' sales and profits.

So a band of corporate-friendly members of Congress has come riding in to try to save the day for their donors. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday that would run roughshod over states' rules on GMO labels. Reuters reports:

The bill, dubbed the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act," was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.

The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.

Comments

Droughts push beef prices to record highs

veggie grill
Shutterstock
A cost-saving barbecue.

Mo' drought, moo problems. Hamburger and sirloins are becoming more expensive than ever in the wake of drought-driven herd thinning.

Herd thinning isn't a bovine diet and calisthenics regime. It's a euphemism for unplanned cow slaughtering -- though the end result of the unfortunate practice could literally lower your meat and cholesterol intake. The L.A. Times reports that the retail price of choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 a pound last month, up from $4.91 a year ago:

Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food