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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


A tropical disease takes hold in a warming Alaska

We have mentioned previously the various diseases that climate change will likely make more robust or more common, or more robust and more common.

A bird flies over the Alaskan tundra.

It's not only humans who need to worry. A version of avian malaria has begun to infect birds in an unlikely place: Alaska.

Because mosquitoes transmit the disease, it tends to reside in warmer and wetter parts of the world, areas that are hospitable to these insects. However, migratory birds can carry versions of the Plasmodium parasite, which causes the disease, to new locales, creating test situations that could model how human malaria may behave under similar conditions.

What the scientists have found is that the parasite that infects migratory birds is now infecting local birds. Because the Arctic is the fastest-warming area in the world, Alaska amounts to a vast test tube that helps scientists see the health impacts of rapid change. ...

With help from the Alaska Bird Observatory and the Bureau of Land Management, the researchers captured birds with mist nets and collected blood samples before letting the birds fly away. They tested birds at three locations and found malaria parasites as far north as Fairbanks, at a latitude of 64 degrees north. Out of 676 sampled birds, 7.2 percent were infected with one of seven varieties of Plasmodium.

Tropical diseases in Alaska! Great.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Here’s Romney’s latest attack on green investment: A123 Systems

During tonight's second presidential debate, you will hear mention of A123. There's no question of that; Mitt Romney has already started working it into his regular routine. In keeping with our motto ("Post things on the web"), Gristmill is here to explain what, exactly, an "A123" is.

Showing off A123 batteries at UC Davis.

A123 Systems is (was?) a manufacturer of "advanced batteries," energy storage systems primarily used in electric cars. Today, after at least one high-profile attempt to raise revenue, the company filed for bankruptcy. According to the Department of Energy, Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls will purchase two of A123's manufacturing facilities and fund the company during its bankruptcy transition.

Why does the Department of Energy care? Because A123 was one of the department's investments in bolstering the domestic advanced-battery manufacturing sector.


Rogue ‘geoengineer’ dumps iron into the Pacific to create massive algal bloom

Grant Hutchinson
An algae bloom not created by a mad scientist.

Five years ago, Grist wrote about a man named Russ George, the head of an organization called Planktos. Planktos' big idea for combatting global warming: You dump some iron into the ocean, it creates a massive algae (phytoplankton) bloom, then the algae absorbs carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis.

Here are some words Grist and our contributors used to describe the idea in 2007: risky, thin soup, possibly reckless. After all, algae dies. And dead things emit methane, which is worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Given the obvious risk of experimenting with dumping chemicals into the ocean in a half-baked effort at geoengineering -- and given that George's plan was to sell the blooms as carbon offsets -- we were unenthusiastic about George's proposed experiment, which, at the time, was focused on the Galapagos.

That experiment never happened. Instead, George recently dumped 100 tons of iron sulphate into the Pacific near Canada.

Lawyers, environmentalists and civil society groups are calling it a "blatant violation" of two international moratoria and the news is likely to spark outrage at a United Nations environmental summit taking place in India this week.

Satellite images appear to confirm the claim by Californian Russ George that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed -- a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilisation that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits.

George is the former chief executive of Planktos Inc, whose previous failed efforts to conduct large-scale commercial dumps near the Galapagos and Canary Islands led to his vessels being barred from ports by the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments. The US Environmental Protection Agency warned him that flying a US flag for his Galapagos project would violate US laws, and his activities are credited in part to the passing of international moratoria at the United Nations limiting ocean fertilisation experiments


American acceptance of the existence of bears is again on the rise

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center announced that acceptance of climate change by Americans is once again climbing. Here are excerpts from Pew's release, except with climate change references changed to the word "bear" or "bears," and references to human causation replaced with "bear cubs." After all, the existence of bears and human-caused climate change are equally suspect.

The percentage of Americans saying there is solid evidence of [bears] has steadily increased over the past few years. Currently, 67% say there is solid evidence [of bear cubs], up four points since last year and 10 points since 2009. …

The national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 4-7 among 1,511 adults finds increasing numbers of Democrats, Republicans and independents saying there is solid evidence of [bears], although there continues to be a substantial partisan divide on this issue. Fully 85% of Democrats say there is solid evidence [of bear cubs], up from 77% last year and similar to levels in 2007 and 2008.

Nearly half of Republicans (48%) say there is solid evidence of [bears], compared with 43% last year and 35% in 2009. The percentage of Republicans saying there is solid evidence of [bears] is still lower than it was in 2006 and 2007, but is now about where it was in 2008. A majority of independents (65%) say there is solid evidence of [bears]; that is up from 53% in 2009 and lower than from 2006 to 2008.

Do these exist? Let's ask voters.


As the climate warms, corn production starts slowly moving north

One of the predicted effects of global warming is a shift in agricultural regions. Over centuries, certain areas have demonstrated suitability for certain crops -- the right mix of rain and temperature and seasons. As the world warms, that balance shifts, meaning that areas good for agriculture suddenly aren't, and regions that once weren't good for production suddenly seem to be.

In the Midwest, that migration is beginning to happen. From Bloomberg News:

While farmers nationwide planted the most corn this year since 1937, growers in Kansas sowed the fewest acres in three years, instead turning to less-thirsty crops such as wheat, sorghum and even triticale, a wheat-rye mix popular in Poland. Meanwhile, corn acreage in Manitoba, a Canadian province about 700 miles north of Kansas, has nearly doubled over the past decade due to weather changes and higher prices.

Shifts such as these reflect a view among food producers that this summer’s drought in the U.S. -- the worst in half a century -- isn’t a random disaster. It’s a glimpse of a future altered by climate change that will affect worldwide production.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


A Romney administration would create 3 million new energy jobs — but then, so would yours

Mitt Romney wants you to know that he will create 12 million new jobs if he's elected president.

His argument starts with this:

First, my energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs, many of them in manufacturing.

(In case you missed it, here's Romney's "energy independence" policy, which doesn't actually claim American energy independence.)

So what about that claim of 3 million new jobs in energy? He'd approve the Keystone pipeline, which would be about 6,000 jobs. So where do those other 2,994,000 jobs come from?

Here's the Washington Post:

As we have noted before, the 12 million figure is not a bad bet by Romney. Moody’s Analytics, in an August forecast, predicts 12 million jobs will be created by 2016, no matter who is president. And Macroeconomic Advisors in April also predicted a gain of 12.3 million jobs. …

The rest of the numbers are even more squishy.

For instance, the 3-million-job claim for Romney’s energy policies appears largely based on a Citigroup Global Markets study [PDF] that did not even evaluate Romney’s policies. Instead, the report predicted 2.7 million to 3.6 million jobs would be created over the next eight years, largely because of trends and policies already adopted -- including tougher fuel efficiency standards that Romney has criticized and suggested he would reverse.


Wall Street Journal hypes ‘little-known’ decision limiting oil drilling that it reported in August

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial today blasting the Obama administration for banning drilling in just shy of half of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. From the editorial:

President Obama is campaigning as a champion of the oil and gas boom he's had nothing to do with, and even as his regulators try to stifle it. The latest example is the Interior Department's little-noticed August decision to close off from drilling nearly half of the 23.5 million acre National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. …

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says his plan "will help the industry bring energy safely to market from this remote location, while also protecting wildlife and subsistence rights of Alaska Natives." He added that the proposal will expand "safe and responsible oil and gas development, and builds on our efforts to help companies develop the infrastructure that's needed to bring supplies online."

The problem is almost no one in the energy industry and few in Alaska agree with him.

That's the problem. That the energy industry doesn't agree with him.

Why, if the announcement was made in August, is this coming up now? Certainly not because of the proximity of the presidential election, no way, it isn't that, bite your tongue, how'd you get so cynical anyway. It is because Salazar did this sneakily. It was a "little-noticed" decision, mind you, one that the Journal thinks has gone unnoticed for too long. It is the Journal, fellow Americans, that will let you know about these secret government machinations.

Just like it did on Aug. 13, when it ran "Plan Opens Over Half of Alaska Reserve to Drilling" on page A2.


Don’t expect any new coal-ash regulations within the next 23 days

Coal ash is exactly what it sounds like: the residue of burned coal. It might sound innocuous, like what you might find in a used fireplace.

It isn't. In its a proposed regulation for coal ash released in 2010, the EPA outlined its concerns:

The constituents of concern associated with [coal ash] include antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, and thallium. … [T]he Agency believes that the metals identified are sufficiently toxic that they are capable of posing a substantial present or potential hazard to human health and the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported disposed of, or otherwise managed.

That 2010 proposed regulation has not been implemented. And, unsurprisingly, there's no chance that it will be implemented within the next few weeks. After all, we're on the cusp of Election Day.

Appalachian Voices
Ongoing cleanup from the Tennessee Valley Authority's 2008 coal-ash spill.


Last month was the [FIRST] hottest [SEPTEMBER] in recorded history

Last month, SEPTEMBER, was the TIED FOR FIRST hottest SEPTEMBER in world history. Combining land and sea temperatures, the month was 0.67 degrees C above the 20th century average.

A map illustrating the above point. Click to embiggen.

The most-recent January-to-SEPTEMBER period was the EIGHTH warmest on record.

Things that happened during the month in question. Click to embiggen.
Read more: Climate & Energy


Koch Industries offers its employees a handy voter guide

In other fossil-fuel-company-is-desperate-to-keep-the-good-times-going-despite-the-international-shift-away-from-fossil-fuels-(which-is-occurring-however-slowly)-and-therefore-is-insistent-on-its-employees-voting-a-hard-right-ticket-in-the-hopes-that-it-might-somehow-postpone-the-inevitable-degradation-of-the-planet-long-enough-to-wring-a-few-more-bucks-out-of-its-industry news, Koch Industries sent out a letter suggesting cool people for its employees to vote for.

From In These Times:

In a voter information packet obtained by In These Times, the Koch Industries corporate leadership informed tens of thousands of employees at its subsidiary, Georgia Pacific, that their livelihood could depend on the 2012 election and that the company supports Mitt Romney for president. The guide was similar to one the company distributed before the 2010 midterm elections, which Mark Ames and [Mike Elk] reported on in The Nation last year.

The packet arrived in the mailboxes of all 45,000 Georgia Pacific employees earlier this month. The cover letter, by Koch Industries President and Chief Operating Officer Dave Robertson, read: …

"If we elect candidates who want to spend hundreds of billions in borrowed money on costly new subsidies for a few favored cronies, put unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses, prevent or delay important new construction projects, and excessively hinder free trade, then many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills."

Enclosed with the letter was a flyer [PDF] listing Koch-endorsed candidates, beginning with Romney. Robertson’s letter explained: “At the request of many employees, we have also provided a list of candidates in your state that have been supported by Koch companies or by KOCHPAC, our employee political action committee.”