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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Density helps New Yorkers keep the lights on

ConEdison, the electricity provider for New York City, says that überstorm Sandy caused the "worst damage" in its history. Which seems about right; some three-quarters of a million New Yorkers are without power.

ConEd (as it's better known) has a map of outages. Here's a section of it, as of early this afternoon.

Click to embiggen.

A quick geography lesson. At left is the island of Manhattan, the densest part of the city. In the center and to the right is mostly Queens; there's a bit of Brooklyn at lower left. At the top is a smidge of the Bronx.

You'll notice that most of the map has outages (those little triangles with numbers) pretty consistently distributed. But the long, finger-like island of Manhattan is different. There is a cluster of 50-plus outages at the lower end, but very few outages up north.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Chinese protesters kill plans for chemical plant expansion

Following days of raucous protests, residents of the city Ningbo in southern China have effectively shut down the government's plans for an $8.9 billion petrochemical plant expansion.

People shout slogans as they march during a protest against plans to expand a petrochemical plant in Ningbo, Zhejiang province October 28, 2012.
Protesters take to the streets of Ningbo.

The Wall Street Journal points to the activist victory as a sign of societal change:

The Ningbo protests are the latest example of increasingly well-educated urban residents aggressively resisting the heavy industrial expansion that many local governments are encouraging to keep China's economy humming. In addition, it highlights how local government bids to lure lucrative investments to their cities are meeting increasing scrutiny from concerned residents.


Romney doesn’t want to talk about preparing for or responding to Sandy

Pat Williams

What do you say if you're Mitt Romney? What do you say today, one week until the most important Election Day of your life, with the East Coast -- including swing states -- still trying to figure out what the hell hit it last night?

Mitt Romney is on record mocking rising ocean levels.

Mitt Romney is on record suggesting that emergency management services shouldn't be the province of the president. In fact, he thinks they should fall to private companies, which can then make a little money off the deal.


New York City’s latest massive disaster

The smartest thing we did when we got our apartment in Manhattan was the thing we thought about the least: We found a place on a hill. We watched Sandy hit New York in relative luxury. Working cable, internet, power, water. We were moderately, haphazardly prepared for the worst, but spared it. Many others were better prepared and fared far, far worse.
The wind, at about 11 Eastern last night.

New York City feels like the epicenter of the storm not only because I live here, but because it's a microcosm. It's the largest city in the country, with skyscrapers and beach houses, tenements and suburbs. It's a massive, centuries-old build-up of infrastructure and architecture, a city that's not shy about its embrace of government. Sandy hitting New York was like Sandy hitting the diversity of America at its best prepared. And New York City got slammed.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Your Sandy symbolism of the morning: An oil tanker stranded on Staten Island

There's much more to come on Sandy, from us and others, but this image seems to summarize the moment.

Michelle Charlesworth

That's the John B Caddell, a 712-ton oil tanker built in 1941, resting comfortably on a road in Staten Island.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Superstorm Sandy’s climate change connection

It's been a banner year for extreme weather conditions, from the drought that held the country hostage this summer to superstorm Sandy. But then, last year was a banner year for extreme weather too. And the years before that ...

Scientists are mostly agreed that climate change has had a hand in crafting the Frankenstorm. But how, exactly? From Boing Boing:

When the clouds have passed and everybody is done sleeping in airports, people are going to want answers. Was this an unavoidable act of nature? Or was this something caused directly by changes to Earth's climate that have happened because we burn fossil fuels which increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

Well, both. There are multiple factors that came together to whip up Sandy, and no one causal judgment, however attractive, is fair. But given the evidence, it's likely that no matter how Sandy came in to this world, climate change has helped this storm grow bigger, go faster, and head farther than it might have in earlier times and cooler seas.


Clinton speaks out for Michigan’s troubled renewable energy measure

Voters in Michigan will vote next week on what our David Roberts called "the most important clean-energy vote this year." Proposal 3 would expand the state's renewable energy standard so that Michigan uses 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. In case David Roberts isn't enough to convince you of the worth of the measure, it picked up an equally prominent backer earlier today.

Roger H. Goun

From Think Progress:

Former President Clinton — a man well-versed in the benefits of clean energy — has officially thrown his support behind the 25 percent renewable electricity target.

“Proposal 3 is Michigan’s best opportunity this year to jumpstart the state’s economy by creating 94,000 jobs and increasing the use of renewable energy,” Clinton said in a statement. “Proposal 3 invests in Michigan’s future so that it won’t get left behind by the 30 other states that are already creating new clean energy jobs and lowering consumers’ electricity costs. That’s why I’m so proud to endorse Proposal 3.”

The high-profile endorsement from Clinton comes as a utility front group spends millions of dollars on advertisements to kill the proposal. According to clean energy proponents, the organization fighting Proposal 3 is set to spend $7 million on television and radio ads in the weeks before the November elections.


Microgrids could bring big green changes to power systems

Sandy may look bad now, but could it (and the other Frankenstorms before it) actually inspire change? If enough power goes down, if enough damage is done, if enough people demand it -- well, maybe. But that change would be small. Micro, in fact.

An Army microgrid.

Millions of East Coasters have already lost power this week and millions more stand to lose it in the coming days. Our reliance on central power plants and large grids has a lot to do with this. Enter microgrids, which can be detached and remain operational when the big boys fail. From The Connecticut Mirror:

A jargony techno-term, a microgrid is a small electric grid with its own generation source. It normally operates linked to the main electric grid, but when that suffers widespread interruptions, as Connecticut's did during Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm, a microgrid can automatically isolate itself and keep running.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Murray Energy employees write a clearly voluntary defense of their boss

Robert Murray is a pretty cool guy. He runs his coal company like a fiefdom, demanding tribute from his white-collar employees and free labor from his blue-collar ones. I don't know where he lives, but if it turned out to be in a Gothic castle atop a thundercloud-choked mountain outside of Wheeling, I wouldn't be surprised.

Robert Murray
Reuters / Danny Moloshok
Robert Murray prepares to cast a spell.

Last month, Murray's company, Murray Energy, filed a lawsuit against Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward alleging libel. As part of a settlement on the suit, Murray Energy employees themselves wrote a glowing editorial for the Gazette. It is called "A Great Man For Coal Miners and Their Families" and Robert Murray was probably very pleasantly surprised when he opened his paper and saw it.

Some excerpts:

This letter is being written as your offered settlement in the litigation filed against The Charleston Gazette, The Daily Gazette Company, et al., and Mr. Kenneth Ward on July 25, 2012 by Murray Energy and Subsidiary Companies and Mr. Murray in the Court of Common Pleas, Belmont County, Ohio. The complaint is for profound damages, libel, defamation, and the deliberate concoction of lies by The Charleston Gazette newspaper, Gazette website and Coal Tattoo 'blog'.



‘Hope’ and ‘pray’: New York subway’s defense against Sandy

Up to 60 million people may be impacted by Hurricane Sandy this week and in the weeks to come. A hefty chunk of that population are subway-reliant New Yorkers, who would do well to read this while sitting down with a paper bag handy.

MTA Photos
MTA constructs a flood barrier last night on the tracks.

The city's been without subway service since last night at 7 p.m., only the second shutdown in the system's history. But how temporary is it? Gizmodo thinks this may be closer to a permanent condition.

This could be the storm that kills the New York subway system.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Read more: Cities